Posts Tagged ‘Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance’

Labor Day Fishing

September 2, 2019

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Canada Geese Keeping Me Company

Time is but the stream I go a–fishing in. I drink at it; but while I drink I see the sandy bottom and detect how shallow it is. Its thin current slides away, but eternity remains. 

Henry David Thoreau, Walden

On this second September morning, I still find the west Texas world comparatively cooler than what I knew during August. I found a shady spot again at a playa around 8:00 this morning, and again found the carp cooperating. I managed to land three of them, and lost two more. After two hours, I decided to call it quits when I caught a channel catfish the size of my hand.

Sitting in the shade in a comfortable lawn chair, I felt gratitude for a world that seemed to slow down where I sat. I chose to leave the national news alone, knowing it would most likely be more of the same–an avalanche of frenetic reporting on the same catastrophes and national embarrassments that I’ve know far too many years now. In the nineteenth century, Thoreau expressed dismay for a country that was living too fast when he was writing his Walden manuscript:

It lives too fast. Men think that it is essential that the Nation have commerce, and export ice, and talk through a telegraph, and ride thirty miles an hour, without a doubt, whether they do or not; but whether we should live like baboons or like men, is a little uncertain.

Today I found comfort in reading an article the theologian Paul Tillich published in The Saturday Evening Post back in 1958. His assessment of the American culture was that we had become a people, driven by an industrial society and recent technological advancements, in a frenzied horizontal direction. We were driven to work harder, faster, and produce more and more. He opined that we had lost our vertical sense of depth and no longer thought about the deeper issues of life that matter.

Robert Pirsig, in his celebrated work Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, wrote that our national conversation, thanks to mass media, had gotten out of control, like a mighty river flooding its banks and running shallow, silting up with debris of no lasting value.

The Chautauquas were pushed aside by faster-paced radio, movies and TV, and it seems to me the change was not entirely an improvement. Perhaps because of these changes the stream of national consciousness moves faster now, and is broader, but it seems to run less deep. The old channels cannot contain it and in its search for new ones there seems to be growing havoc and destruction along its banks. In this Chautauqua I would like not to cut any new channels of consciousness but simply dig deeper into old ones that have become silted in with the debris of thoughts grown stale and platitudes too often repeated.

William Powers, in his book Hamlet’s Blackberry, warns that we will never achieve depth in our thinking if we are all the time distracted by our smartphones and tablets. Jumping from link to link, like a bird flitting from branch to branch, we find ourselves in a state of perpetual distraction, and never pause to reflect over the better elements of our lives. Two mornings of fishing have helped ease my mind as I’ve felt the stress growing due to a major presentation I am scheduled to make in exactly two weeks. Every day I work on this presentation, but thanks to the last two mornings of quiet fishing, I’ve found myself in a better state of mind and creativity to focus on the task that is coming on very quickly.

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The Carp were Active again this Morning

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Using my Size 13 Boot for Scale

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And then . . . there were the Little Ones

Thanks for reading.

 

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What is Quality?

February 28, 2015
Greek for "excellence"

Greek for “excellence”

The school was what could euphemistically be called a “teaching college.” At a teaching college you teach and you teach and you teach with no time for research, no time for contemplation, no time for participation in outside affairs. Just teach and teach and teach until your mind grows dull and your creativity vanishes and you become an automaton saying the same dull things over and over to endless waves of innocent students who cannot understand why you are so dull, lose respect and fan this disrespect out into the community. The reason you teach and you teach and you teach is that this is a very clever way of running a college on the cheap while giving a false appearance of genuine education.

Robert M. Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

Texas ice and snowfall accumulation managed to eliminate the first two days of school this week, and ended today’s at noon. I took my philosophy class out into the courtyard for a few minutes, because they wanted to see the fat snowflakes filtering through the pines. As they pranced about in the winter wonderland, I looked at this pristine sheet of white on one of the benches, and decided to write in Greek uncials the word we translate as “excellence.” It’s a word that has driven me for years, elusive in its scope, yet always attractive with its possibilities.

I posted the Robert Pirsig quote because for a week now I’ve been dulled and neutered, not so much by teaching, but by grading, and I’m still not out from under the pile. But I resolve to blow away the last bit of grading this weekend so I can figure out where I am and what I want to do next. Leisure has been out of reach, and purpose has been even further, and I feel a deep dissatisfaction with this (no, I don’t want to post a whiny blog!). All of this is just to say: I’ll revisit quality this weekend in my art, my reading, my writing and my music. I’ve been bereft of quality due to a plethora of tasks, deadlines, responsibilities, etc. It’s time to get back to things that matter.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.