Abandon Text!

W. H. Auden once said: "Poems are not finished; they are abandoned." I have been abandoning writing projects for many years, since only the pressure of deadline and high expectations ever got me to finish, or even start, anything of merit. This blog is an attempt to create a more consistent, self-directed writing habit. Hopefully a direction and voice will emerge.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Like a teatray in . . . my house

Well, not in the house, per se, but on it. I was working, as usual, in my office, with the bright summer sun and green trees outside my windows. I looked up, and not six feet away, in broad daylight, a bat is clinging to the screen of the back porch.

At first I thought, "Rabid. Gotta be rabid. I've never seen a bat out in the day." But he slowly crawled his way to discrete, shaded corner of the screen frame, curled himself up, and didn't move from the spot for the rest of the day. I'm guessing that something had disturbed him from his usual roost, and he had just happened to bumble upon our porch. Which makes sense, since our porch is the closest thing to a cave for fifty yards around.

So, once again, I find myself on the phone with customers, trying to solve some technical problem, while some local wildlife is leaving me completely distracted. Half a dozen times I came close to saying, "There's a bat outside my window," and each time I have to supress the urge, figuring that no good came come from such a comment. Customers might think I'm distracted from their issues, or wonder just how far out in the boondocks I live, or (don't laugh) see it as some kind of omen. "No, really, the Wikipedia says bats are a symbol of longevity and happiness... Mr. Customer? Hello?"

The Essence of Religion

I just started listening to a college lecture series on tape, on the philosophy of religion. Like most modern academic philosophy, it is very tight with its definitions and structures, and starts out defining what "philosophy" is and what "religion" is. I fully expect to be bored with these initial lectures -- I figured I knew what philosophy and religion were.

What surprised me was how well the professor distinguished the two ventures, in terms of their focus and scope. Philosophy, he maintained, was inherently detached and somewhat removed from it's area of study, by definition, since it is the study of the mechanism of the ideas at work in any given field.

Religion, in contrast, is essentially defined as the involvement in the essential. Well, actually, the professor said he wouldn't use an essential definition, and instead use a "family resemblence" description of many traits that many religions shared without requiring all of them to be a "religion". But, for my money, one of his descriptors was the essential quality of the religious: religious beliefs are those that have absolute primacy. They are the world-views that are all-inclusive, the directives that are absolute and unavoidable, the judgements that are incontrovertible.

I have always maintained that one of the things that made the SKS (or any other disciplined, open-minded venture into spiritual life) was that it carried the "charge" of the religious, which meant that it would be difficult to ignore the demands it put on you.. To put it another way: I think most people, if offered the chance to speak directly to God and have him tell them what He wanted them to do, would not leap at the opportunity, because they sense, deep down, that He's going to ask them to do things they don't want to do, and they will ignore him at their peril. You know that there are certain limits on the demands that your boss can put on you, or your wife, or even your kids. But God . . . God can ask for whatever He wants. And that makes it very, very scary.

Most folks, when they hear about the absolute demands that religion can make on you, assume that such demands take on the form of orthodoxy. Such religion, they think, is the kind that tells you exactly what to wear, what to eat, who to talk to, where to work. Actually, I think they've got it dead wrong -- the fundamentalist hides in the law, the structure, the orthodoxy, because as demanding as the orthodoxy is, at least it is known. If you go off into the woods and have some gnostic mystical experience, God only knows what God will ask of you. Why risk it?

All real religion, then, comes down to the seriousness with which it is engaged, the recognition of its absolute claim to primacy. It's what Kierkegaard called "earnestness." What is religion? Religion is playing for keeps.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Tired but Happy

I had a good meeting with some SKS folks tonight. There is nothing earth-shattering going on, either philosophically or organizationally . . . just the usual suspects. Planning for the fall semester . . . meetings, lectures, social events, contacts. There is more to do and less certainty than there has been in the past; far from our best year, but not our worst, either.

And yet I feel mildly euphoric. I should be depressed by how much there is to do, and I'm not. I feel excited . . . the release of knowing that I'm doing what I ought to be doing. I've been in a rut for so long that jumping out of the track for even a single evening feels mind-altering.

Sometimes I think that, if I could just figure out where this feeling comes from, what really causes it and what I'm responding to, I would know my life's purpose. Because that's the way I want to feel all the time.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Warren Buffet, my hero

So, the announced yesterday that Warren Buffet was giving a huge portion of his wealth to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Everything I said about Bill Gates a few weeks ago can now be said doubly for Warren Buffet. Not only does Buffet have super-human powers when it comes to making money, he is so powerfuly humble that he has no trouble giving his money to someone else's big charity. (His family has charities of it's own, which he is also funding, but the bulk went to BMG.)

What amazes me the most about the coverage of this announcement is that nobody is reporting on how this announcement coincides with Bill Gates stepping down from his day-to-day responsibilities at Microsoft. This is not a coincidence . . . so what's the story. Did Bill stepping down inspire Warren to make the gift? Or did Bill step down in response to Warren's gift, because he wanted to be sure his best friend's wealth was well-spent? I think a little of both was at work, but more likely the latter. The coverage makes it sound like they've been discussing this move for the past year, and that was probably the sign to Bill that he needed to focus on the foundation.

Sunday, June 25, 2006


We built the second half of a bunkbed today for Aidan's room. We had originally thought that we would build the beds separately, so we could have one in the master bedroom to replace the air mattress he had been sleeping on, and another in his own room that he could transition to as he was ready. But he was sleeping pretty regularly in his own room for the last week, without any fuss at all, so we decided, what the heck, let's build the whole bunkbed in his room.

I cannot begin to tell you how excited Aidan was about all this. What is it about bunkbeds that are unspeakably intriguing and fun to someone under the age of ten? I remember I was the same way when I was young . . . there are a few factors involved:
  • Kids love to get high up. Climbing up to a high place, in a tree or swingset, almost defines fun for them. Something about the physical thrill of being in a precarious spot, combined with the changed perspective of being above it all . . . it creates a sense of liberty and power.
  • Beds are a very personal space. It's where you retreat to at the end of the day, when your conscious individual mind returns again to the undifferentiated Being of deep sleep. The place where you sleep becomes identified with something deeply personal, maybe even trans-personal.
  • So . . . take that very personal space and move it to someplace high and exciting. Whoa . . . altered state of consciousness.
  • What really makes it all work is the ladder. It's all about the ladder. Before, getting into bed was just a matter of flopping over. But the ladder makes it a distinct transition, and adventure. The top bunk is now Someplace Else. When you climb that ladder, you might as well have climbed into a spaceship.
  • The bottom bunk is also transformed. What once was merely a bed is now a cave, a shelter, something that must be Entered Into. I left Aidan alone for maybe half an hour this afternoon while I was outside playing with Mal, and when I came in I found Aidan had baracaded most of the entrance to the lower bunk with a fold-out play tent, and all his stuffed animals were arrayed inside. "There's a blizzard, and everyone's gathering here," he said. (We've been reading Laura Ingalls Wilder's The Long Winter.)