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.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

What do you Know?

I've continued to listen to a tape lecture series on the philosophy of religion. The bulk of the course seems to focus on arguments about the existence of God, which is about as classical as you can get when it comes to philosophers contemplating religion.

At first I thought I was going to be bored with this sort of thing. I kinda figured out long ago that no argument was going to be sufficient when it comes to religious questions, and arguing the existence of God always seemed to betray a certain shallowness in thinking to me.

What I liked about the lecturer's approach, though, is that he didn't start with argument at all, but rather spent a few lectures talking about evidence, and how disbelieve turns into belief and possibly into knowledge. While it doesn't necessarily add to what we know in terms of content, it was quite reassuring to see such a thorough examination of knowledge itself, and what we mean by it, and what we want out of it. There is a certain existential comfort in being able to take stock, intellectually: "I might not know if there's a God, but at least I know what it would take to convince me."

I also appreciated the standard he forwarded for what differentiates knowledge from mere belief: you know something when the evidence places it "beyond reasonable doubt." I like this because it short-circuits radical skepticism while still being fairly rigorous. It also closely approximates our actual pragmatic appreciation of the truth. We don't need to be completely free of all competiting hypotheses to be convinced; "yes, my life might be a vast Truman-Show conspiracy and total fraud . . . but I kinda doubt it." Nor does it completely remove all Matrix arguments from the table, either . . . because there are some experiences that can introduce "reasonable doubt" about the nature of reality and experience.

This is all helpful in helping me recognize where my own personal theology now stands. My philosophy always held that no religious conviction could be solid and sound without experiential validatation (e.g. an "enlightenment" experience) . . . but that doesn't change the fact that I do have some pretty well-formulated opinions about what's going on in the universe, based on all the wisdom I've received from old and new spiritual traditions, and my own unspoken hunches. In a lot of ways I think my spiritual life has been one long attempt to take my own intuitive understanding, veiled in darkness, and pull it out into the light. I know that something is going on here . . . something "important, and great" as Thornton Wilder would say. I'm just waiting to know what that really means.

Bad News

It seems like there has suddenly been a flood of bad news in the world. Bombs in Mumbai. Nukes in North Korea. Nukes in Iran. Israel fighting with Palestine. Israel bombing the bejeezus out of Lebanon. More murmurings of global warming. And all that on top of the two wars that are still going on. Is it just me, or does there seem to be an overproduction of headline-grabbing news events lately?

All of which, of course, contributes to a broader perspective on one's life . . . I had been slogging away at my work, feeling beset because I'm up to my eye-balls with work, but at least I'm not getting bombed or flooded or starved to death. You would think that a constant barrage of how bad things are out there would condition people to be darn grateful for what they've got . . . but it doesn't seem to work that way. It just seems to make the suffering of the world a little more unreal and unrelated to our world, the world of "drycleaning, Pampers, and plans for dinner," as Augie would say.

Friday, July 14, 2006


It's been a looooong week. One of my colleagues is having a baby this week . . . about nine weeks early. Of course he's going through hell . . . Harry and I told him to be with his family, and we'll cover everything. I have no problem making less money because we're down one man in a crisis . . . but I'm covering all of his work this week, in addition to my own, and it's killing me. I'm just not as durable as I used to be when it comes to working unrelenting hours. I feel good about what I'm doing . . . at least I know I'm doing it for the right reasons. And it gives me another occasion, among many, to be thankful for what I have. No matter how exhausted I am, I know someone else is having it a lot worse. Or, as Socrates said, "Luck is when the arrow hits the guy next to you."

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

"Daddy, what's GoldMine?"

"Daddy, where are you going?"
"I can't stay with you tonight, Boo-boo. I need to go back downstairs and work tonight."
"You're going to work on GoldMine?"
"You know about GoldMine?"
He sighs. "Yeah, I know about it . . . but it's really hard to explain."

Really, really local politics

All politics are local politics, as Tip O'Neill said . . . and the most local of local politics is home-owners' associations. I have recently become involved in a local tussle over restrictive covenants in our neighborhood . . . so far everyone is being polite and reasonably politic, but boy, the Machievellian intrigue is involved.

One neighbor is trying to sell their home. They have a buyer, but the buyer wants to build a detacted garage, so they can turn the existing garage into an accessible living space for their disabled son. The covenants in the neighborhood don't allow detacted garages, so the neighbor is lobbying everyone else to get an exception made.

It seems to me that this ought to be simple. I have no objection to detached garages, and I doubt anyone else does either. But there is an architectural review committee, and evidently (I've heard second- and third-hand) some members are not keen on any new construction in general. So there has been a flurry of documents, emails, point-by-point pro-and-con arguments, proposed amendments, proposed meeting times, objections to meeting times, etc. etc. Everyone in the neighborhood (some of whom are lawyers) are scrutinizing the covenants document line-by-line, and it is fair to say that while the covenants are fairly straightforward, it ain't exactly the Constitution when it comes to outlining procedures for disputes.

We have lived here for nearly a year, and we have managed to largely ignore our neighbors for all that time. There are friendly chats on the roadside and beside the mailboxes, but otherwise, we have nothing to do with each other and everyone likes it that way. But now, suddenly, I am in a position where I have to take a position. One the one hand, it seems like a small thing . . . but the sale of homes are at stake, and property values in the balance, and neighbors I will probably have to live with for the next twenty years lining up on different sides. Oy . . .


Monday, July 10, 2006

Take the fifth

Sometimes I stare at the screen and don't write anything because I think I don't have anything good to say. And sometimes I know exactly what needs to be said, but it's too close, too personal, too uncomfortable to write about just yet. Tonight is one of those nights. I just don't have it in me right now. Let's just say that I went to the SKS office in downtown Raleigh, rummaged through the archives, and got heartbreakingly depressed.