Finding Patience on the Road

Route 8. Penniac, New Brunswick, Canada

I ‘met’ Bill Loundy on the internet in a weird convoluted way that I won’t bother going into. I found his website and then emailed him – because that’s what I do now. No social media – I just cold-email people. We’ve exchanged a bunch of long emails. This is my new philosophy. I’ll email anyone if the mood strikes – I really don’t care if they respond or not. It’s going fantastic.

He’s a twisted paradox – he is CEO of a smartphone app company, ReadUp, that he’s currently running while traveling around the United States in a camper he calls Sputnik with no fixed address and a flip-phone, only accessing the internet predominately at public libraries. We have some similar viewpoints and values – we are probably ‘kindred sprits’ – depending on your definition of the term. I have been enthralled with his tales from the road both out of envy and a sense of discovery. His recent post, ‘Slow and Steady Wins the Race’, did not fail to deliver the goods. A few nuggets:

Slow is like patience, gratitude, maybe even love. Slow is the mindset behind so much of what makes life better: intentionality, mindfulness, focus, calm. Anything that can be done can be done just a little bit slower, and that makes it better. Slow means more time. If you can drink a coffee in eight minutes instead of three, that’s five bonus coffee-drinking minutes. When time extends, awareness extends.

What I’m learning is that attention is the mack-daddy of all skills because it’s the path to all other skills. And the best part is that it only has two ingredients: time and focus.

Universally, I think that people are careless with their attention. They give it away without thinking – to other people and increasingly, tragically, to corporations and tech gadgets. To reclaim your attention for yourself is to reclaim yourself for yourself. Think about that.

That last one – bam.

Some of the best parts of Bill’s posts revolve around people he meets on the road.

I instantly hit it off with J. Born and raised on the Keweenaw Peninsula, he’s a 72-year-old with drifter vibes, but he never really drifted, geographically at least. He’s a bonafide free-thinker, who described himself, first and foremost, as a draft-dodger. He was a high school physics and English teacher (of course) who hated high school himself (also of course) but ended up finding his way to college (you get the point). I latch onto the fact that he doesn’t have a cell phone; to him, this fact is barely worth note. He looks like Jack Nicholson, but balder, with a pristine dome of shiny nothingness on the top of his head and long, grey hair cascading down the sides. He wears a Hawaiian shirt and bucket hat.

Bill says on his About page, that one of his two life-long goals is to write a novel. I look forward to that, but in the meantime his non-fiction blog posts are both compelling and fascinating. Check ’em out.

A Novel of Description and Attention

I haven’t read any Karl Ove Knausgaard, but Toril Moi’s critique of his multi-volume novel, My Struggle strikes a chord with me – particularly as it relates his work to a quest for presence, and ‘attention’. A question of one’s existence and an attempt to record or validate it. Might have to add My Struggle to the ‘to read’ list, though it seems like a behemoth.

Nothing is more ordinary than existence—than being there; nothing is easier to miss. This is the heart of the project of My Struggle: all these thousands of pages are attempts to pay attention. They arise from the realization of how easy it is to miss the adventure of one’s own existence, to live one’s life without noticing, without paying attention to that one thing: that I was there. But they also arise from the realization that we will inevitably miss much of that adventure, that our only hope is to recreate the moments of existence from memory. 

My Struggle is one man’s attempt to tell us how it is to be here, now. To show us existence as an ordinary phenomenon. But it is also an attempt to record his own existence. The book tells us that he, Karl Ove Knausgaard, was here. That he existed. That he struggled to be present in the world. This is why description is the key formal device in My Struggle. Description is precisely the literary form which unites the voice of the subject (of the narrator or writer) with his or her interest in the object of the description. Uniting the utterly concrete and precise with the question of existence, the description we just looked at achieves the “inexhaustible precision” which is Knausgaard’s aesthetic ideal.

Badass Librarians and Libraries

Photo by Janko Ferlič on Unsplash

I’ve caught some interesting stuff about libraries and librarians lately.

The first was an episode of Now or Never on CBC Radio, called Beyond the shelves: Discovering the magic in public libraries. Primarily about the opening of the new Calgary Library, the episode went on to talk about how today’s libraries are changing – becoming the new ‘centre’ of all types of services for communities. Personally, I really like the notion of a library as a ‘community hub’ – I think this type of thinking – and congregating could go a long way towards fixing a lot of what’s broken with society today. Check out the episode for the full meal deal.

Second, a recent episode of the 99% Invisible podcast called Weeding is Fundamental (har har) discusses the process – yes there is one – and it even has an acronym, MUSTY – by which libraries decide when to retire books. It includes discussion of a landmark dispute (and subsequent Librarian show-down) in San Francisco triggered by, of all things, an earthquake in 1989. Fascinating stuff. The capper of the episode is a bit of a ‘bonus feature’ by The Kitchen Sisters about the The Packhorse Librarians of Eastern Kentucky. Amazing stuff. Even if you’re podcast -averse – the link above has an article with most of the info from the episode and some cool related links interspersed.

All Minus One: Notes

There’s been quite a bit of ugliness down in the States the past few years, particularly on college campuses with ‘deplatforming’ and ‘disinviting’ of speakers, speakers and professors being shouted down, censured or even fired, mostly over free speech issues. A disturbing trend for sure.

Professor Jonathan Haidt and others started an organization called the Heterodox Academy to address this.

“Heterodox Academy is a non-profit alliance of professors from across the political spectrum who agree with Mill that “he who knows only his own side of the case, knows little of that.” We advocate for increased viewpoint diversity in higher education. We offer tools and ideas that help universities create the vibrant cultures of debate that Mill thought were essential for the pursuit of truth.”

HeterodoxAcademy.org

I mentioned in a previous post that one of the projects they’d undertaken was to edit the chapter from John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty to make it more accessible to high school and university-aged students as well as a tool for teachers. In my opinion, they did a fantastic job. I wanted to share a few chunks of Mill’s that seem particularly relevant to the issues facing universities.

“The peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is, that it is robbing the human race; posterity as well as the existing generation; those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it. If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth; if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error.”

“Yet it is as evident in itself, as any amount of argument can make it, that ages are no more infallible than individuals; every age having held many opinions which subsequent ages have deemed not only false but absurd; and it is as certain that many opinions, now general, will be rejected by future ages, as it is that many, once general, are rejected by the present.”

“However unwillingly a person who has a strong opinion may admit the possibility that his opinion may be false, he ought to be moved by the consideration that however true it may be, if it is not fully, frequently, and fearlessly discussed, it will be held as a dead dogma, not a living truth.”

“But there is a commoner case…when the conflicting doctrines, instead of being one true and the other false, share the truth between them; and the non-conforming opinion is needed to supply the remainder of the truth, of which the received doctrine embodies only a part. Popular opinions, on subjects not palpable to sense, are often true, but seldom or never the whole truth.”

“Not the violent conflict between parts of the truth, but the quiet suppression of half of it, is the formidable evil; there is always hope when people are forced to listen to both sides…”

The Art of Rush

When I was in art class in 7th grade I used to hang out with this ‘heavy metal kid’ – not because I was into heavy metal per se, but because I was good at hand-drawn band logos. We bonded over our versions of Iron Maiden’s unique workmark. One day I mentioned I played drums and he asked if I’d heard Rush. When I replied in the negative he said I had to hear Exit..Stage Left – the drum solo was nuts. Some time later I bought the cassette and indeed, it was nuts, and I became an enthusiastic fan of the band.

I’ve been a steady fan since then, an appreciation that progressed from drumming and the music quickly into drummer Neil Peart’s lyrics and imagery. Peart’s lyrics in no small way introduced me to themes and ideas pertaining to philosophy, morality, perception, our state as beings in the world – and the importance of thinking on such things. I’ve followed their music and evolution from my young adult years, into middle age, into – whatever age I’m in now, and in many ways they have been one of only a few constants over time – their music has always been a component of my life. In addition I’ve always enjoyed their liner notes and album artwork and the fact that it was always well executed and relevant to the album contents.

Around 2008 – after working for several years as graphic designer, I moved to Atlantic Canada when I landed a gig working for Goose Lane Editions as a graphic artist and book designer. There I was fortunate enough to do the design and layout for Bob Mersereau’s book, The Top 100 Canadian Albums – which features two Rush albums, Moving Pictures at #9, and 2112 at #17 – and which also sparked an interest and appreciation for book design which I retain to this day. The only downside was having the author, Bob, tease me with tales of getting to talk to Neil on the phone for a sidebar of the book that he was responsible for, ‘The Top 10 Canadian Drummers.’

Sometime later I sent a goofy, fan-boy letter to Neil thanking him for all the music, memories and wisdom over the years – along with a few other books I’d worked on that I thought he would enjoy – expecting nothing in return. He very kindly replied with an autographed postcard out of the blue one day.

Seeing all of these intertwining interests and threads I’ve developed over the years combined into one – what no doubt is a very well done – package is something I look forward to enjoying in the future.

The Art of Rush is a 272 page coffee table book that delves into the 40 year relationship with Rush and their longtime artist and illustrator Hugh Syme. The stunning book begins with a foreword penned by Neil Peart, and contains original illustrations, paintings, photography, and the incredible stories behind each album that he has designed with the band since 1975.

rushbackstage.com