History Lies

I’ve been asked at several points in my life by acquaintances and friends why I don’t write about past events, periods of life, etc. Was just reading this bit in The Paris Review by Karl Ove Knausgaard from his new book The Land of the Cyclops and it made sense to me.

As such, history always lies, it turns what was inconsistent, all over the place, perhaps even meaningless, into something consistent, systematic, and meaningful. The situations and events that occurred, the people who were there, and the discussions between them were of course real, it is not the case that writing about something is the same as lying or distorting, but the moment that reality is written down it is given a form that is basically abiding and unalterable, which pins it down in a certain way, whereas what was significant about it was that it was all over the place and could not be pinned down at all. To write about a situation is to take out part of its potential, at the same time as its remaining potential disappears into the shadows of the unsaid, the unthought, and the unwritten, in the valley of opportunities lost.

– Karl Ove Knausgaard

NYE 2020

An old friend of mine – I’ve forgotten which one – used to say he never liked New Year’s. He called it ‘forced fun’, like a ‘fake holiday’. People felt compelled to do something. I’ve tended to agree with the sentiment for the most part. The obvious idea being that the calendar – at least the one we’re using – is quite arbitrary and scientifically speaking with regards to ‘time’ no two years are exactly the same length anyway, but I’m not going to bother Googling links to all that stuff, you can do that yourself if you want, trying to stay up past an arbitrary deadline.

I posted a note last year about this very thing and I find it rings true even more so with each passing arbitrary time measurement unit (day).

So if I have a New Year’s Tradition at all, it’s that for the last at least 15 years or so – in the process of trying (with various levels of success) to stay up until midnight, mostly because the kids feel like this is a big deal – – I head out into my backyard to let the dog do his thing at some point and stare up at the sky and ponder my place in the Universe.

This year it turned out a little differently. After the wife and kids and I ate a whole bunch of little hot dogs wrapped in croissant dough, I wandered out as I usually do and said to myself, “well, Self, this is when you annually walk out here and stare at the sky and ponder your place in the Universe.”

Then I paused for a minute. Then I thought, “can I ponder my place IN the Universe, when I also AM the Universe?” Can you be IN something you AM?

Kinda stumped myself there.

And it’s only 11:16. Guess my new year starts now.

Might need a new tradition next year, but I’ve got some time to sort that out.

Joseph Campbell and The Power of Myth

Or find your Sacred Space

I have been listening to the audio version of an old PBS series with Bill Moyer interviewing teacher and philosopher Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth. To say it’s been a game-changer for me would be a massive understatement. What an absolute beauty of a man and intellect. I can only imagine what it must have been like to be a student of his, but I feel fortunate to have his books and items like this series still around. What an absolute delight it is to listen to these men in conversation.

BILL MOYERS: What does it mean, to have a sacred place?

JOSEPH CAMPBELL: This is a term I like to use now as an absolute necessity for anybody today. You must have a room, or a certain hour a day or so, where you do not know what was in the newspapers that morning, you don’t know who your friends are, you don’t know what you owe to anybody, you don’t know what anybody owes to you, but a place where you can simply experience and bring forth what you are and what you might be. This is the place of creative incubation. And first you may find that nothing’s happening there, but if you have a sacred place and use it, and take advantage of it, something will happen.

BILL MOYERS: This place does for you what the plains did for the hunter…

JOSEPH CAMPBELL: For them the whole thing was a sacred place, do you see? But most of our action is economically or socially determined, and does not come out of our life. I don’t know whether you’ve had the experience I’ve had, but as you get older, the claims of the environment upon you are so great that you hardly know where the hell you are. What is it you intended? You’re always doing something that is required of you this minute, that minute, another minute. Where is your bliss station, you know? Try to find it. Get a phonograph and put on the records, the music, that you really love. Even if it’s corny music that nobody else respects, I mean, the one that you like or the book you want to read, get it done and have a place in which to do it. There you get the “thou” feeling of life. These people had it for the whole world that they were living in.

Most mornings, I get up around 4:30 and head into my basement where I do some yoga or exercise, meditate, read or listen to items like the audiobook above, make coffee, read and answer emails from friends, and prepare for the day. I purposely avoid cracking open the Internet or anything external until after I’ve done this, then headed upstairs to see my kids off to school and wife off to work.

Yesterday, while drywalling a new room in my basement, listening to Mr. Moyers and Mr. Campbell talk, the section above deeply resonated with me. Mr. Campbell definitely knew his stuff.

The last week or so, the renovations and the associated temporary restructuring of living spaces (one of my kids is now sleeping in my home office space) have made it difficult for me to get this time in, but I’m ok, knowing that in another few days, they’ll be done and I’m looking forward to getting back into the routine – back into my sacred space.