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Archive for the ‘Opportunity’ Category

“Thou Art a Cad, Sir.”

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May You Have Interesting Colleagues

This is the time of year when people refer to that old Irish blessing (about the road rising up and so on). But here—stuck in the middle of the work week—I want to offer you a more contextual blessing: the people around you.

Well, maybe not everyone.

But often there is someone you come in contact with who is, well, delightful. Their sense of humor, the wacko things they say over the cubicle wall, the inappropriate things they do in department meetings. The fact that they will trim your hair in the back room when the director is out of the office or dump Vaseline in the bigshot’s duffle bag or instigate rebellion at the slightest provocation. [Am I sounding like a bad employee?]

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In fact, it is typically the people around (the fun and interesting ones, anyway) who make work enjoyable.

Martin Buber made a point of differentiating between how we treat objects (“I-it”) versus the way we treat people (“I-thou”). One of his points was that we should never treat people as objects: ordering them about as if they had no will of their own. Instead we should engage with each other. That’s what humans do.

Of course that very object-treatment is one of the primary sins in many of our corporations, where people become known as “human capital.” Churches are not so different when they refer to congregants as “giving units.” Hey—we even take cues from our cultural bosses and call ourselves “consumers.” Our language makes no attempt to mask this object-laden perspective.

But no so with interesting colleagues, because of our connection with them. Because of conversations you’ve had with them (some even soul-baring), because you’ve talked shop and lamented death and rejoiced in birth together, you get to know each other as fully-human. Trust and connection fit in here. And the ability to say anything.

The ability to say anything and still be heard and respected, that is the fullness of connection with another Thou.

May the “Thous” rise up to meet you today and this week.

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Image credit: Kirk Livingston

Walker Percy: Small disconnected facts have a way of becoming connected.

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Cultivate a low-grade curiosity

Two years in the clink have taught me a thing or two.

I don’t have to be in a demonic hurry as I used to be.

I don’t have to plumb the depths of “modern man” as I used think I had to. Nor worry about “the human condition” and suchlike. My scale is smaller.

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In prison I learned a certain detachment and cultivated a mild, low-grade curiosity. At one time I thought the world was going mad and that it was up to me to diagnose the madness and treat it. I became grandiose, even Faustian.

Prison does wonder for megalomania. Instead of striking pacts with the Devil to save the world—yes, I was nuts—I spent two years driving a tractor pulling a gang mower over sunny fairways and at night chatting with my fellow con men and watching reruns of Barnaby Jones.

Living a small life gave me leave to notice small things—like certain off-color spots in the St. Augustine grass which I correctly diagnosed as an early sign of chinch-bug infestation. Instead of saving the world, I saved the eighteen holes at Fort Pelham and felt surprisingly good about it.

Small disconnected facts, if you take note of them, have a way of becoming connected.

 

–Walker Percy, The Thanatos Syndrome (NY: Picador, 1987) 67

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Image credit: Kirk Livingston

Written by kirkistan

March 11, 2015 at 8:41 am

Where Can I Buy a Fine-Art Mode?

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The Beauty of Knowing Nothing

I don’t have a fine-tuning mode that tinkers with physical detail. I draw and it is mostly crude. I cut plywood and pine shelves and they are rough enough to make my craftsman-father scoff into his hand. I make dinner and it is mostly broad-stroke stuff that requires very little finessing. I will confess my popcorn is a work of art, combining yellow and white kernels, salted and buttered and mixed to a sensuous, savory smack of flavor. And I am learning how words interact on a page—though it is slow going.

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How does someone get to the point of crafting from rough cuts to fine finished detail? It is possible that in this age of ordering clothes, pizza and romance from a button on our mobile devices, that some things still take time. Some things require beginning at the beginning. The question for each of us: do I have the courage to begin at the beginning? To know nothing for a time and do things badly?

The beauty about not having been taught drawing is that you are in a position of the acquirer: the process of figuring it out might take a while, and you will most likely continue to figure stuff out as you go, but that process is yours. There are no shortcuts and no tricks. Just the plain practice of drawing, screwing up, and drawing some more.

–France Belleville-Van Stone in Sketch! (NY: Watson-Guptill, 2014)

You cannot buy personal processes. Not really. You have to make them from scratch—those processes that help you make meaning in the world. And you have to begin at the beginning.

Mistake will be made.

You will make those mistakes.

And that’s OK.

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Image credit: Kirk Livingston

Mary Oliver: “Here you are, alive. Would you like to make a comment?”

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Just so.

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…for always the new self swimming around in the old world feels itself uniquely verbal. And that is just the point: how the world, moist and bountiful, calls to each of us to make a new and serious response. That’s the big question, the one the world throws at you every morning. “Here you are, alive. Would you like to make a comment?”

–Mary Oliver, Long Life (Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press, 2004)

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Image credit: Kirk Livingston

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

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