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Catching Up

I keep neglecting this blog! A lot has been happening since September 6.

For one thing, Phyllis and I went to “The Birches” on Moosehead Lake on the 16th and came back on the 18th. We actually climbed Mt. Kineo which was a short launch ride across the lake from the Rockwood landing, about a 15 minute drive from The Birches. We took the Bridle Trail which was recommended to those who want to avoid the shorter but steeper Indian Trail. But what a challenge the Bridle Trail was! We made it to a nice plateau near the summit and had our lunches.

For another thing, I’ve been on a Bergman kick and have watched Wild Strawberries, Cries and Whispers, The Seventh Seal, and Persona. Also, Tony gave me his DVD copy of The Magic Flute by Mozart as directed by Bergman. I’m in the process of watching that in stages. I also watched several Bruñuel movies and have a Godard on my Netflix queue. But I’ll be getting Bergman’s Scenes from a Marriage next.

What about books? Well, I’m reading two books by Joan Halifax on Buddhism which are very interesting, Being with Dying: Cultivating Compassion and Fearlessness in the Presence of Death, and with Stanislav Grof, The Human Encounter with Death. The latter describes the use of psychedelic therapy. But I’m also reading two other books at the moment, one by Thomas Nagel, Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature is Almost Certainly False. Quite a title! Also, Tony lent me his book on interviews of Ingmar Bergman by students and faculty at SMU. Bergman speaks in English and you get a feeling for his childlike imagination and creativity, I think.

The last novel I read was “The Sea, The Sea” by Iris Murdoch, a fascinating read.

My Lymphocytic Colitis has been in remission for at least a couple months now, but I still take the Cholestyramine and Asacol two times daily. However, my sleeping is still ragged. I’ve been trying to use meditation by focusing on my breath, or counting breaths, and I think this may work sometimes.

I still enjoy maintaining the Norway UU church website which I created. I wish more church people would use it. I had to skip choir last week because of the trip to Moosehead, but tomorrow the Rev. Fayre Stephenson is giving her first service, so I’ll be there, in the choir.

Have I forgotten anything? Probably. It’s still unreal that Cynthia has died.

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I seem to be neglecting this blog again. Just can’t stick to it. So much happens to distract. Am I just a busy octogenarian?

But today is worth mentioning. I attended my first class at the Osher Lifetime Learning Institute (OLLI) at the U of Southern Maine in Portland. It’s something unusual for me: I mean a class on American artists, two of whom are short story writers and one a photographer. Plus the fact that these are no ordinary artists, even though they in fact concern themselves with the ordinary. This latter concern explains the title, thought up by the teacher, Janet Gunn.

So who are these people? Raymond Carver, Flannery O’Connor, and Diane Arbus. The first two are the short story writers and they both died young. Diane (pronounced DEEann) Arbus takes pictures of ordinary people in extraordinary contexts.

I’ve read Flannery O’Connor before and even made a post on her and got comments, here. But I had never heard of Raymond Carver until a few weeks ago. They have certain similarities which probably should be discussed in this course. It runs for eight weeks. There were eleven there today taking the course, four men and seven women.

More later.

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Last night I finished Dreaming in Cuban by Cristina Garcia. We had had the book in the house for a long time. I’m not sure where we got it. But Kate read parts of it to Cynthia when Cynthia was in her last stages of illness. Then Kate read the entire book and told me it was beautiful, so, I, sick of endlessly gluing myself to this computer screen, decided to read it.

It is indeed beautiful and has a mystical quality, a quality which Garcia says in the interviews I’ve just been reading, is found in many Cubans and is absorbed from their culture. The main character of the book, a woman named Celia, leads a mystical inner life and worships her early lover before she marries the father of her children. She writes to this early lover throughout her lifetime but never actually mails the letters. She’s a strong supporter of Castro unlike some other family members but Garcia does not take a political position on this.

I find it interesting that Garcia says she wouldn’t be a writer if it weren’t for poetry. Here’s a quotation of hers from an Atlantic interview:


I wouldn’t be a writer if it weren’t for poetry. I think what catapulted me into wanting to write was reading poetry seriously, beginning around my late twenties, early thirties. Before then I was just a voracious reader. Discovering Wallace Stevens, García Lorca, and Octavio Paz—they were the three initially—was like falling in love. It’s become a daily essential. In fact, when you called I was just reading some poetry because I can’t really start my day until I read for an hour or two and think about stuff and have all these disparate images floating around, derailing me from more logical, more ordered thinking. I like the kind of messiness it engenders in me as far as images. The poets are my heroes.

Imagine that! In love with Wallace Stevens. I would be too if I could understand him. Well, I do understand him a little but I’m too left-brained in general. More messiness in thinking is perhaps a good thing. Let’s get some action out of the right brain before plunging into left brain analysis!

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Here’s a list of the books I purchased from Amazon during 2011 and have not finished reading yet.

  • Betraying Spinoza: The Renegade Jew Who Gave Us Modernity by Rebecca Goldstein, 9-Feb, read 172 pages out 0f 263. I was having difficulty following her. Should restart at the beginning.
  • Beware Invisible Cows: My Search for the Soul of the Universe by Andy Martin, 17-Feb, read 78 pages out of 303. This was fun but I’ll need to refresh myself on it before I continue.
  • God, Chance & Necessity by Keith Ward, 11-Apr, read 84 pages out of 204. Not sure I was following him, but was intrigued.
  • Uncommon Gratitude: Alleluia for All That Is by Joan Chittister and Rowan Williams, 12-Apr, no placemark, might have read a few selections. Was curious about Rowan Williams.
  • Science and Religion: A New Introduction by Alister E. McGrath, 1-May, read 80 pages out of 204. Fairly straightforward but not clear what he’s leading to.
  • Post-Secular Philosophy: between philosophy and theology edited by Phillip Brand, 3-May, no placemark, extremely difficult going. It was maddening trying to read this.
  • Lost in the Cosmos: The Last Self-Help Book by Walker Percy, 17-May, read 150 pages out of 262. This was fun but I think I became saturated. Must take it up again.
  • 23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism by Ha-Joon Chang, 27-Jun, read 17 pages out of 263. This is excellent. I could learn a lot if I would continue.
  • New Proofs for the Existence of God: Contributions of Contemporary Physics and Philosophy by Robert J. Spitzer, 18-Jul, skipped around and read several chapters of the 291 pages. Tries to combine modern physics and Thomas Aquinas. Tried hard to follow proofs.
  • The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World by Iain McGilchrist, 9-Aug, read 44 pages out of 461. I’m on this now. Fascinating treatment of the right and left sides of the brain and how predominant the right half is.
  • I learned about several of these books from reading Psybertron, a blog which I always consult for the latest meta insights on joining the dots.

    Am I having fun yet?

    I’ve had time to read a few books in the past several months in spite of all the effort I’ve been putting in trying to develop a new church website for our Norway UU church using Joomla. OK, while I’m at it, why not mention loose bowels? I seem to have not diarrhea exactly but a pronounced looseness bowelwise and also perpetual sleep problems, not unrelated perhaps. Good God! I didn’t intend to get off on this subject!

    A few weeks back I finished “My Stroke of Insight” by Jill Bolte Taylor, Ph.D., a neuroscientist. Her stroke deactivated a significant part of her left brain making it possible for her to function only through her right brain. The experience of this was what was amazing to her, and to the reader as well, I’m sure. The world, the universe, becomes something totally different. A feeling of oneness with the world and remarkable insight, a certain kind of spirituality where there exists no pressure to do anything, just to exist in the lap of the profoundest of feelings of wonder and, yes, joy. Of course, this was dangerous for her as the bleeding in her left brain was not stopping. With great effort she managed to save herself.

    So, the mind has resources and perceptual abilities we never imagined.

    Speaking of mind, I’m now working my way through “Absence of Mind: The Dispelling of Inwardness from the Modern Myth of the Self” by Marilynne Robinson. She really takes on the Richard Dawkinses of the world! She’s saying that there is a place for subjectivity and indeed religion, although so far she hasn’t said much about the latter. Some of it is hard for me to follow, but other parts ring bells. She goes after memes in a big way and tries to show how memes theory contradicts gene theories. I haven’t read the rejoinders by the rationalists yet, but I’m sure they’re tearing into her unmercifully because she really goes after them in this book.

    Incidentally, Jon Stewart even gave her a favorable interview recently.

    This quote from her has been highlighted by several reviewers: “Our religious traditions give us as the name of God two deeply mysterious words, one deeply mysterious utterance: I AM.” In other words, why the Hell am I here, who am I, why is anything here, and what does it all mean?

    OK, that’s it for now.

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    Here I am back to Terry Eagleton again with his first Yale lecture series talk, “Christianity Fair and Foul”, in the middle of which he invokes the “mind-blowing contingency” of the cosmos, the fact it might just as well never have happened, and captures for me again my one feeling of mystery, namely, the Why is there something rather than nothing? feeling. He’s totally brilliant and amusing throughout this talk and sums up Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens as Ditchkins. I was led here this morning from another old flame of mine, James P. Carse, to whom I was led by the remarkable Rebecca Parker, UU “theologian” of the Starr King school in Berkeley, Calif., after having heard her beautiful North Conway Friday evening talk about earth being our only paradise, as proclaimed by among others, Jesus H Christ, and the early Christians. How I found James P. Carse from this comes from a UU World interview of Parker and co-author Rita Nakashima Brock, under Recent Articles in the sidebar. Parker’s latest book, again with Brock, is titled, “Saving Paradise: How Christianity Traded Love of This World for Crucifixion and Empire”. OK, there’s enough material here in these links to last a lifetime, certainly my lifetime.
    😉
    ps. I forgot what really set me off on this track this morning, Stanley Fish’s recent article in the NYT, God Talk. It’s a review of Terry Eagleton’s latest book, Reason, Faith, and Revolution: Reflections on the God Debate.
    Happy reading! 😆

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    Just finished a great book: Atonement by Ian McEwan. It’s blood curdling real in two senses: the psychological and the actual. Psychologically, McEwan knows how to get into his characters, to develop them so well you know them intimately and in fact grow to love them dearly. The actualities of the WW2 scenes in France are deeply and tragically believable and have tremendous descriptive force. The experiences of the young nurse, Briony her name, with the returning soldiers from the battle of Dunkirk are psychologically real and deeply affecting. And the final atonement of Briony is heart breaking but necessary as she makes further confessions to the young lovers, one of whom she had nearly destroyed through a crime she committed as a child, a crime which came about because of her fantasizing and desire to be a novelist at the age of thirteen. This is fiction but it all seems so real and believable: we see how seemingly trivial actions and events produce far reaching and tragic consequences.

    OK, you can see I’m carried away with this. I knew nothing about Ian McEwan before I read this book. Here’s an interview of McEwan by Richard Dawkins:

    [youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o7LjriWFAEs&ap=%2526fmt%3D22[/youtube]

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    Ragtime

    Aside from all your stimulus ranting, Mr. Seavey, how was the book? OK, the book was great! More fun than a barrel of monkeys, and also deadly serious. You hear about the America of the turn of the 20th century, from 1900 to about 1914, as seen through the eyes of three disparate fictional families.

    Think that period was boring? Think again! You have hilarious yet insightful descriptions of people like J. Pierpoint Morgan, fabulously rich, Harry Houdini, fabulously unbelievable escape artist, Henry Ford, totally bigoted inventor of assembly line, and John McGraw, legendary wild-assed manager of the New York Giants baseball team.

    The hero and central character of the book is a gifted piano player of ragtime, and a real Mr. Cool until he experiences real injustice, by the name of Coalhouse Walker, Jr. The story of his adventures becomes a page turner toward the latter part of the book. His involvement with the no-named central family of the book, namely, Father, Mother, Mother’s younger brother, Grandfather, and Little Boy, is something you don’t want to miss!

    It’s a quick read, 270 pages of short punchy sentences and chapters, a classic novel, and judged one of the ten best books of the decade (which decade?) by that bourgeois magazine which I don’t subscribe to, TIME. But seriously, you’ll love the book.

    Ragtime by E. L. Doctorow, available at your local libraries and on Amazon for about $13.50 including postage. It’s a great read!

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    Books Recently Read

    OK, I’ve started a lot of books but have not managed to complete them. Now, however, in the recent few weeks I’ve actually completed two books!

    They’re both novels. I think my problem has been that I tend to pick heavyweight books in politics, science, philosophy, religion, etc., which by their nature are not “page turners”. I wade into these tomes and often get bogged down, then put them aside.

    Ah, but in the case of Ken Follett’s “World Without End” I stuck with it to the very end, all 1014 pages of it! This book was indeed a page turner. The characters may have been two-dimensional but I was fascinated by them anyway. The story, or stories and developments, were exciting throughout, if somewhat improbable. I do believe one got a good feel for life in the 1300’s though, black death and all.

    The second book I finished, this one just a few days ago, was The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini. This a beautiful, heart-rendering book about an emigre from Afghanistan and his relationship with his boyhood friend. The themes of racism, agonizing love, betrayal, and the reality of Afghanistan are woven together in an intricate fabric. Improbable coincidences do happen but after all, at basis this is a story and a wonderfully powerful one.

    I’d recommend each of these books if you want to take a break from blogging for a bit and curl up with a good book by the fire.

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    I find I’m hooked. Hooked on the Web. It’s just so easy to keep clicking and clacking, going here and there, looking at this, reading that. Lots of good stuff online. And blogging takes up much of this time, if one wants to do it right, and, yes, have fun in doing it. But in this surfing and blogging I’ve found books to read and gone ahead and ordered them. But when can I read them? Not while I’m online, not while I’m blogging and surfing and clicking and clacking. 🙄

    So, I’ve got to take a break. Try to rejoin the real world for a while, read my books, do non-online things.

    So, thanks fellow bloggers for looking at this blog and for your many great comments. I’ll be back later, after I’ve detoxed a bit. 😆

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