Category Archives: life lessons

JKHOA 2.3 I am Beat

albert-camus-c

Albert Camus

Probably ought to have qualified my announcement that I have the Plague. I call any illness plague because I’m really into the plague. It’s true. Goes back to my childhood and my Dad. I remember being about 15 when he threw Camus’ book at me with the statement, “Read this if you want to understand human nature.” (It was a soft-cover.)

He considered himself a “Beat”.  He had returned from Korea and went to art school in the mid-50s, so that was his era. He explained to me that because he could never learn everything, read every book, go everywhere, and do everything in his life, that he was beat from the start. He tried to give me a better shot than he had.

I remember when he’d play music or a movie, he’d shout in his 1st Sergeant way “Listen! Listen! Listen!”,  “Pay attention!” and “Focus!” at the climatic moments of say: Pavarotti’s Nessun Dorma or The Beatles’ A Day in the Life, or at that iconic bone to space station cut in 2001. I found it irritating at the time, but I did develop the habit of listening,  paying attention and focus.

The result has been two-fold. First, I learn fast because I’m paying attention. But dear me, it’s never enough. Now I have to learn everything about everything I learn about. But you know what I’ve realized? I’m beat.

One person simply cannot learn, master and do it all. It clutters the “brain attic” and diverts attention. At some point you simply have to accept not knowing, not being the best and not giving a damn. So you have to give up on some aspects of life, the Universe and everything. You have to choose what matters. You cannot care about it all.

In Camus’ The Plague we find characters quarantined in an isolated port town on the edge of North Africa surrounded by only desert and sea. They have limited choices in the face of the hand life has dealt them, bubonic plague (because sometimes life just sucks for no reason).  Some people use the chaos for their own benefit, some have internal limitations that keep them from doing as much as they could, others rage against the unfairness of the situation, some try to keep up appearances. But eventually an odd kinship grows up around a Doctor and a group of misfits who are willing to put themselves out there in whatever capacity they have to fight for the life of their town and its people.

My favorite character is M. Grand. Grand is a low-level civil servant, but the only person still willing to do his job after all the other officials have either fled or died. He keeps all of the statistics by neighborhood, issues necessary permits and generally keeps the town running.  All while continuing his secret labor, working on his great novel. He carefully re-writes its first sentence every day. He tells the Doctor that he’s even gone back to the original Latin roots of words to get at their essence. His apartment, bereft of love since his wife left him, is full of his notes for his life’s work. His dream is that one day he’ll submit to a publisher, that publisher will complete his manuscript (apparently aloud to a room of rapt listeners), stand, and declare “Gentlemen, hats off!”

Of course, Grand is taken with the plague. And he burns all of his manuscript and notes. It is the low-point of the book. But he is given the first of a new serum, and he lives. And he continues his book.

Of course, the Doctor, the hero, who has coordinated every effort and done all he could, watches many tearful reunions after the quarantine on the town is lifted. But there will be none for him. His wife, who’d been sent away to a medical facility before the book began, has died. No tearful reunions. No life’s ambitions renewed. Just his work.

Pay attention. This is important. Listen. We’re all beat from the start. We all live under the sword. Focus on what you can and must do. Learn whatever you can while you still have time. Never burn your manuscript. Ultimately you do not know. None of us do. We may all be beat, but go down swinging.

 

 

 


JKHOA 1.6 Midpoint

Bilbo

The Road goes ever on and on . . .

So, last Friday I gave myself the challenge of writing 500 words a day on this blog every day for two weeks, no rolling on Shabbas. Half way in, what have I learnt so far? Well, for one, I’m taking a weekday off next week because I need a week day of. That’s my reason. What? That day will be Thursday or Friday. Other than that, I had a hell of a time. In both senses.

First: I really did have fun. It was a hoot. Glad I did this. I needed a jump-start. I got out a bunch of brain backwash that was just building up in there like soap scum on the tub. You know how when you need to clean the bathroom, and every time you go in there, you’re like “God, I gotta clean this.” But you don’t. Then one day you get skeeved by the idea of taking a shower or brushing your teeth. And you’re like “Right! This is on!” And you scrub the crap out of that tub, and then you’re like “Ah! I can feel like I’m getting clean again in here.” That’s kind of how my brain feels.

Secondly: Hey feedback! That’s really cool. I’m thankful for all of it. Especially everyone who’s just shown interest in my brain drivel, or pushed me to consider new ideas and ways to expand upon my work. I enjoyed all the conversations I’ve had with folks over the past week. It’s good. I’m not as social as some (most) folks. So that part is good for me. Talk to people, Jess! Most don’t bite.

Number three, all the rest of my other goals-stuffs and things are lining up around this small enterprise. I’m managing my time better. I’m making sure that everything is in place so that I can take care of me, my life, my dog (she got super-walkies the past few days after a few neglectful ones — and she’s the best listener and has some great ideas too. Thanks Molly!). I’m sleeping better. I’m making an effort to eat before 5 pm. I’ve had to do some yoga and walk to work out the back issues, and that also helps my thought processes. Hell, I even cleaned the house. I haven’t been that productive since before the day we don’t speak of.

Number four. I’ve been back to work on my other projects as well. I needed the self-inflicted ass-kicking.  It’s been a tough past half year. And I was getting all anxious and pissy because I wasn’t doing what I apparently need to do, which was get back to work. So I’m sure the people around me appreciate the less pissy part. Besides, if I dump all my excess brain energy here, I’m a lot more mellow IRL. (That’s “In real life”, Mom.)

So yeah, brain juices are flowing. I’m feeling better overall (although I think I have a cold). The people around me aren’t as afraid of me, and I’m feeling cool and groovy with them as well. I’ve enjoyed talking to new folks too. My neglected work is no longer neglected. Molly is also pleased to have her long talkie-walkies again. She’s such a help. And, finally, I have to thank my Mom for giving me this topic to write about over the phone while she was shopping at BJ’s  I was stuck. Thanks Mom Now when are you going to take the challenge with me? Your story needs to happen, too. I think we can manage better together.

Happy blizzard 2016 everyone. Hope you’re someplace warm and cozy with something or someone you love. No you cannot borrow Molly. I don’t care how much you need the touch of another being. You can have the cat though.

* I must say, this is the perfect day for the Master and Commander soundtrack. Why is that nobody ever talks about how awesome that movie is? It’s just like this magical thing only a few people know about and love.


JKHOA 1.5 Mystery

Type “Amen” like and share 😉 

One of my many nerd-denominations is Sherlockian. I owe an existential debt to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. When I got to third grade, I had run out of Nancy Drew stories, so I started reading Sherlock Holmes. I sat there with the dictionary my Dad gave me and looked up the words I didn’t understand. I didn’t get it all, but I did so well on my language testing that my teacher announced it to the whole class. Then everyone laughed at me, and I comforted myself that some day I’d be just like Sherlock Holmes, and they would all still be stupid. (Hey, I was in 3rd grade! Leave me alone.) Anyhow, Sherlock Holmes is a great nerd mentor. He confirmed my belief in the beauty and power of a curious human mind. He taught me that magic is something awesome you just don’t understand…yet.

Sherlock Holmes adventures unfold like a magic trick. Usually they begin with Holmes whiny and pissy because he’s got nothing to do and the world is stupid and he hates how dull everything ever is. And then there’s Watson getting irritated because he’s trying to read the paper. So he jumps in and starts challenging Holmes. Into this bickering, the plot appears in the form of a messenger or a lady or some strange person. While Watson listens patiently to the inciting incident, Holmes just sits there until he hears some bit that is just slightly odd, “outre” was his phrase. Then we follow Watson follow Holmes on the adventure. In the end, Holmes gives Watson the “need to know” for a cunning plan. Excitement ensues, and then everyone asks Holmes “How did you ever…?” And Holmes’ intellectual vanity overwhelms him so he explains how he figured out who-dunnit. Then everyone, except our lovely Watson, is like “Oh! That was easy.” Poor Holmes goes home and plays some lonely violin, while Watson takes the girl to dinner.

So, for most of the story, you are Watson. You don’t see what Holmes is seeing, you simply see him, through Watson, doing his thing. So when the reveal happens, you feel Watson’s wonder at the “magic” of his friend. And it’s not cheap magic. The magic of Holmes is the magic of watching the beauty and splendor of the workings of a human mind. And a great and creative mind too. I’ll take that sort of magic as much and as often as I can. It’s the most wondrous thing that I know of in the Universe, and that’s a pretty big and wondrous place.

So what? Well, I get asked a lot about my thoughts on spirituality especially in relation to my creativity, and a lot of folks are shocked that I can find all the magic and meaning and inspiration I could ever want in just life, the Universe and everything. In the mysteries big and small. Holmes took cases because they tickled his curiosity, and he read a world of import and significance into scratches on watches, in a person’s shoes, in types of soil. He was infinitely fascinated by his world. And so am I. What more could anyone want than to be alive and have a brain capable of observing, learning and reflecting on this amazing world full of infinite expressions of Universal laws?

To me the magic of Holmes also reflects the magic of a Mozart or Newton or Michelangelo or Shakespeare, of great generals and leaders, of people who use their investigation of the world and its workings to discover, imagine and create. This world is so full, as Holmes observed “No ghosts need apply.” There’s just so much out there that really exists. And it’s all awesome. This Watson thanks Holmes for turning her on to that magic. And to everyone out there making awesome from the world, thanks. “My blushes, Watson!”

“The Cosmos is also within us. We are made of star stuff. And we are a way for the Cosmos to know itself.” – Carl Sagan

 

 

 

 


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