conversation is an engine

A lot can happen in a conversation

Electricity. All Around You.

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Questions About Your Grid

How much connectivity do you lose by waiting for someone else to speak your language?

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What would you gain if you reached out with what little you knew of a stranger?

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Image credit: Kirk Livingston

Written by kirkistan

March 3, 2015 at 12:59 pm

Gadamer: A Tormented Relationship to Writing

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The Best Writing Sounds Nothing Like Writing

Good writing is where you remember nothing about grappling with words but are instead transported with images and ideas that appeared in your brainpan. Effortlessly—or so it seems.

This kind of effortless reading is exceptionally rare with philosophers, who are well-known for obfuscation in their pursuit of parsing detail and cleaving difference from sameness. And yet Donatella Di Cesare, the biographer of philosopher Hans-Georg Gadamer, claims Gadamer’s writing style is “lucid” with “striking prose.”

We’ll see about that.

The lucid philosopher is the exceeding rare philosopher.

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I’ve just picked up Gadamer: A Philosophical Portrait by Donatella Di Cesare (Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press, 2007). In the introduction Di Cesare shared about her process:

There is a further difficulty that a monograph on Gadamer should not avoid, and that is his tormented relationship to writing. In order to get around his Socratic resistance to writing, he preferred the form of the lecture, the talk, or the debate. It is not an exaggeration to say that almost everything he wrote is based in dialogue.

She goes on to say Gadamer is “always careful to interrogate everyday language and to avoid rigid terminology,” so I am eager to see how his prose ends up as lucid and striking rather than simply tedious.

What piqued my curiosity was Gadamer’s alleged privileging of oral over written. It seems his inquiry was largely based in discussion, between people, rather than one man alone with a sheet of 20# bond and a pen. Again: I’m just at the beginning of reading Gadamer. I’ve got his big Truth and Method on order, but I know from my own writing that dialogue and conversation have a pull that abstract philosophizing rarely reaches.

The best writing sounds like a conversation with an interesting friend. I’m eager to see if Gadamer achieves that.

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Image credit: Kirk Livingston

Pick a Door: Blessed are the Poor

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How do you read this?

Jesus went up the mountain with his followers, as the great teachers do. His first words:

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

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How you hear those words depends on where you come from. The images that come to mind, the connections you make, the hope or lack of hope—much is prefigured and preloaded by the conditions you bring.

What did the original hearers hear? That is the question.

But we make a start toward answering that question by asking what door we just stepped through.

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Dumb sketch: Kirk Livingston

To Flee Corporate Dysfunction or Not?

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Where will you run?

My friend just quit her corporate job. She does not have another job.

“Too much dysfunction,” she said. “Why spend my days in a cube, following through on poor choices our leaders made under the guise of collaboration? There’s got to be a better way.”

“I hope you are honest in the exit interview,” several people said to her. Other top talent had quit as well and those remaining cherished a hope of productive work.

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Every company has these bouts of employee-flight. Maybe the department director is a megalomaniac. Maybe the boss simply doesn’t know what to do next and is not open to advice. Maybe the department trolls rule the roost. Every so often dysfunction catches up with a department or company and talented people throw up their hands and march to the exit. It is more common when the economy is on the rise, but even in a down economy, talented people choose flight over fight, even with no job on the horizon.

So it is with my friend.

She had had enough and hoped to parlay her high-end employee history into a freelance life. I often talk with people considering this move. What I liked about this conversation was that my friend could identify a few key skills and passions that she wanted to pursue. And she had already begun to push on these passions. She knew what she wanted to build next. So her “I quit!” was less about fleeing and more about “now is when I do this thing I love.”

Because, the truth is, you can never be entirely rid of dysfunction.

“Why is that?” you may ask. (I can hear you.)

It is because you bring it with you. Disagreeing and disagreeable. Seeing issues from your personal, rigid perspective. Combative. Megalomania. These seeds are planted in every one of us. Sometimes it doesn’t take much to cause them to flower. A good conversation harnesses different potentials in those seeds and helps us move forward. A dysfunctional environment feeds the bad seed and strife rises to the surface.

Such is the human condition.

But moving forward toward our passion, finding time to do those things we love—the things we are meant to do, even if no one else cares—that feeds the productive functional seeds in us.

Is there a way to do the things you were meant to do today—right now—even as you wade through the current dysfunction?

That is the question.

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Image credit: Kirk Livingston

Josephine Humphreys: When writing from the center of things

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The world keeps aligning with what I just wrote.

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Interviewer: When you’re writing, is it that you notice things more acutely?

Humphreys: Yes. You notice everything, and everything seems to be full of meaning and directly centered on the thing you’re writing about. I heard E.L. Doctorow say something like that—that when you’re writing, all experience seems to organize itself around your themes, which can give you some really strange feelings of coincidence and ESP. You start to think you’re onto the secrets of life.

–Josephine Humphreys, quote by Dannye Romine Powell, Parting the Curtains: Interviews with Southern Writers (Winston-Salem, NC: John F. Blair, 1994) 192

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Image credit: Kirk Livingston

The Lamp Repair Man and the Factory Owner

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How do business and passion mix?

A man had a small business repairing oil lamps. He repaired wicks or refilled lamps with oil—whatever was needed. He took his cart to different neighborhoods and called out for business: “Lamp repair” and “Fix your lamp.”

When people brought their lamps to the man, they would watch him trim or replace the wick, refill the oil and polish the glass. The man had a quick rhythm to his method: he sang a song softly that guided him through his process of checking each lamp. The man was unfailingly kind and full of joy and neighborhood kids loved to watch him as he worked. He would often say providing light was what he was meant to do.

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One day a factory owner was home for the morning. He was feeling a bit unwell from celebrating late into the night after successfully negotiating deep concessions with the largest union at his factory. When he heard “Lamp repair” shouted outside and remembered his children exclaiming over the charms of the lamp repair man, he stood and picked up the lamp he had been reading by and made his way outside.

The lamp repairman took the lamp and quickly sang his song to himself as he checked it over. Then he trimmed the wick, polished the glass and handed it back to the factory owner since it was nearly full of oil.

“What do I owe you, Mr. Lamp Repairman?” asked the factory owner.

“Oh, nothing,” said the man. “That took no time.”

The factory owner would not have it.

“But surely your time is worth something,” he said. “Surely you have some small fee for checking and trimming and polishing. I own a factory and I must pay for every bit of my employees’ attention.”

“Well,” said the man. “I’ve found that I am most interested in how light works and what it provides. I love a well-lit page when I read and I am eager for good lighting for others. So it actually rewards me when I can get someone’s lamp working well.”

“But can you live on good feelings?” asked the factory owner. “Do your good feelings buy potatoes or flour? Can you pay your landlord with good feelings?”

“True,” said the man. “Good feelings don’t buy much in the open market. But good intentions find their way back. I have found that helping those along my regular route helps build my business. People return when there lamp needs repair because they know I’ll be fair and they know I’ll do my best to get their cherished lamp working. You give a little, you get a little.”

“I see,” said the factory owner. “Give a bit away free and then get rewarded with loyal customers. Good strategy.”

“Yes,” said the man. “It was a good strategy for many years. But today I am actually well-provided for. I’m not rich, but my wife and children and I have enough. I actually charge only rarely because I don’t need to and because I am interested in the lives of these customers who have become friends over the years. Children and grandchildren of long-time customers bring out their lamps. I am eager that they have enough light for the many books they read and drawings they make and conversations they have.”

The factory owner took his lamp and walked back to his home, thinking back to the work he did that started his own factory.

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Image credit: Kirk Livingston

Written by kirkistan

February 25, 2015 at 10:14 am

Pat Conroy: How to tell when the story has started

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Sometimes Mr. Subconscious arrives at the work site before Mr. Conscious

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I think dreams are very important. I think dream journals are important. Extremely important. I have dreamed the ends of books. When I start dreaming about the book, I know it’s now starting.

–Pat Conroy, quoted by Dannye Romine Powell, Parting the Curtains: Interviews with Southern Writers (Winston-Salem, NC: John F. Blair, 1994) 51

 

I can’t vouch for dreams, but I cannot help but notice how Mr. Conroy’s stories seem to start without him. Writing is hard work, but there’s no denying these bits where the subconscious fills in gaps at the work site before you even arrive.

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Image credit: Kirk Livingston

 

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