From Another Hand – “Folksonomies” & “Controlled Vocabularies”

Here follows a rambling response to a course discussion post relating to social-media-tagging and authority-derived-taxonomies in information resources (pros/cons, advantages/disadvantages, issues, etc.)…from my unedited perspective.  Perhaps it will interest some.

Option 2: Discuss issues surrounding social vs. professionally created metadata, citing examples from the readings. What are the problems and challenges as you see them?

“Naming entities in the world is a tricky business” (Mai, 2011, p. 116).  Socially-created metadata is a fascinating approach and response to the inherent ambiguity, flexibility and complexity of the human use of language and the co-ordination of communicating the range of contextual usages of information resources / objects in contemporary life.  I particularly appreciated Mai’s attention to the plurality and “heterogenous settings” (settings where there are “no unified contexts, goals, or objectives against which objects can be named and ordered…” p. 116) of networked global information resources.  “Naming, indexing, has its limits – it can only be done within a given context” (Mai, p. 116), and as George W. Trow pointed out long ago – we are in the “Context of No Context” once we’ve embarked on a world-wide web engagement.  The stimulating idea is that if you have those who are interacting with the resources “tagging” their meaningful engagement with those resources “in their own terms” – you are replicating the range and breadth and depth of ACTUAL human use and inference and representation of interaction with information.  Now THAT is FASCINATING!

On the other hand.  By now we are all mostly aware of the extreme subjectivity involved in perception, acquisition, attention, selection, and utilization or effecting of data-available-to-us (individually) in the experiences that afford us, expose us, enable us to actuate and in-form whatever available reality that resource represents for us.  This means that each individual organisms experience of a given interaction with an available resource is intensely situation-specific.  Which also implies that their report, account, or “tricky naming” of said interaction is apt to be highly idiosyncratic.  Which (OBVIOUSLY) presents an enormous problem for the stability or repeatability or findability or accessibility of the potential import of said resource for any other organism.  This, it seems to me, is where even collective or massive social input still engenders community-and-individual-sized gaps in findability and usability of digital information resources.

As I see it, the concept of “folksonomy” and social democratic tagging is a practical response to Wittgenstein, Heidegger, Uexkull, et. al.’s realization that any and all conscious human individuals will seek, access, perceive and select elements of their environment FOR THEMSELVES – limited by every aspect of their own physiobiology, neurobiology, social contextualization and environmental situation – if a WHOLE BUNDLE, an aggregate, a swath of humans “tag,” “name,” “label” a resource according to the meaning it gave rise to in them – we might get an approximately adequate representation of the (at least human) RANGE of meaning or import that resource might have for our species – the uses to which it might be put, the ideas it might give rise to, the practical effects it may indeed effect.  HOWEVER – it will by no means have overcome the inherent ambiguity, openness and possibility of said entity/resource/ordination of “information” for any further context / individual / situated need going forward, unknown.  This is where things like mathematical language, artistic form/contents, agreed-upon languages, domain-specific terminologies, “controlled vocabularies” SERVE our species – they give us COMMUNAL resources by which to evaluate and organize our experiences – and COMMUNICATE.  Private languages, really, tell us no more than the barking of a dog.  We infer and intuit, but then, that is OUR language imposing order on someone else’s expression.  Standardized, collectively agreed-upon terminologies and languages allow us to participate, interact and coordinate our experiences and understandings, while “folksonomies,” “tagging” and so forth allow us to nuance and extend or specify aspects of the agreed-upon discourse.  At least these are the uses I find compelling around both Controlled Vocabularies AND individual or privatized labeling.

It’s fascinating because it allows a democratic voicing which accounts for many more human facets to ANY and all resources, while “social” in a “societal” sense – domain-oriented, authoritative and agreed-upon terminologies allow us a way to flesh out, fuel and invigorate COORDINATED meanings – something accessible to us more like our own bodies – a corporate interaction – avoiding both solipsism (isolation) and equivalence (anonymity).  All sources seemed to agree that all things “con-” (con-sensus, co-llaboration, co-rrespondence and so on) are ESSENTIAL for our worlds to be useful and meaningful to us.

We have work to do in finding the dynamic balance in agreed-upon vocabularies as touchstones maybe not necessarily rules and the open source of additive description to equal something perhaps more in accord with human “reality.”  I sense that this is the dream of the Semantic Web…and of all communities worldwide.  I appreciate how the internet re-invigorates this ancient human process.

 

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Groundlessness

Chodron - groundlessness

 

I seem to be unable to stop digging in and reflecting on When Things Fall Apart.  My memories range over its engagements with this book, most of the circumstances blurred and dissipate, but not the wisdom of the text.  I was trying to explain to my teens the odd euphoria that follows suicidal determination – what neuroscience knows as “shut-down.”  As the body begins to burn, or be ripped apart by fangs, riddled with bullets or smashed into bits…pain ceases to be useful to the organism and it is flooded with endorphins…a kind of blissed-out euphoria like a systemic morphine drip.  “There is definitely something tender and throbbing about groundlessness,” Pema says.

hypnotic-notions-holly-suzanne-filbert

 

But the idea isn’t shut-down.  The idea is more like a drowning compression without a bottom…a fall…a float…if fear – flight; if anxiety – distract; if anguish – addictive comfort; all these options for moving away, slipping out, attempt at relief, escape, a concretization of experience, rather than its flow.  It’s now-ness.  This drowning compression without bottom – what if we BE THERE?  What if we sit in it, and breathe.  The groundlessness, bottomlessness, suddenly becomes some space.  A little room…there’s opening.  We don’t know what to do, don’t know where to go, don’t know how this happened, don’t know why we did.  “Letting there be room for not knowing is the most important thing of all...Life is like that.  We don’t know anything.  We call something bad; we call it good.  But really we just don’t know.”

“Things falling apart is a kind of testing and also a kind of healing.  We think that the point is to pass the test or to overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don’t really get solved.  They come together and they fall apart.  Then they come together again and fall apart again.  It’s just like that.  The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen:  room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy.”

Blemishes

“Only to the extent that we expose ourselves over and over to annihilation can that which is indestructible be found in us.”

– all quotations Pema Chodron

“Leaning into the sharp points”

Suzanne(Beckman-Filbert)Holly-suzanne-prayingman.jpeg

 

painting by Holly Suzanne

“Fear is a natural reaction to moving closer to the truth” – Pema Chodron

I modeled for the painting above.  It is propped beside the bed as I write.  A large painting, and heavy, maybe 4.5 feet long and 3.5 feet tall, loaded with layers of paint.  She called it “Praying Man,” but I wasn’t praying – the way it turned out I felt like a longshoreman, a hauler, tensed with the energy of pulling things out from the deeps.  I see why she called it that.

We’re reorganizing the house, and in that process I notice what’s gone, and discover things forgotten.  Today it was When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chodron, “heart advice for difficult times.”  I’ve depended on this one before.  It’s written with the situation in mind in which a human feels there is nowhere to escape.  Suffering floods in weights that compress one toward no option.  Chodron says that “No one ever tells us to stop running away from fear…the advice we usually get is to sweeten it up, smooth it over, take a pill, or distract ourselves…but by all means make it go away.”  “We don’t need that kind of encouragement, because dissociating from fear is what we do naturally.”  “Cheating ourselves of the present moment” according to Chodron.

Instead, she suggests, “we could step into uncharted territory and relax with the groundlessness of our situation…by inviting in what we usually avoid…adopting a fearlessly compassionate attitude toward our own pain and that of others.”  I am taking this on as the work of the “praying man.”  The longshoreman and hauler, reeling hand over hand over heart over hurt into the tumult of the pain of being.  “…getting to know fear, becoming familiar with fear, looking it right in the eye – not as a way to solve problems, but as a complete undoing of old ways of seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting and thinking…having the courage to die, the courage to die continually.”  The traditions align.  “He who saves his life will lose it.”  The terror that drives the boundaries, isolates the organism.  Protectiveness cuts the supply chain.  Security stanches generative flow.

What happens when we stay?  Nailed to the present misery.  Chodron suggests that when we move into rather than away from our life-threatening pain a kind of catharsis can occur – an acceptance that we are “precious beyond measure – wise AND foolish, rich AND poor, good AND bad…and totally unfathomable.”

2013-01-22 14.36.20

another painting by Holly Suzanne, emptied of me

The trick is to keep exploring and not bail out, even when we find out that something is not what we thought.  That’s what we’re going to discover again and again and again.  Nothing is what we thought.  I can say that with great confidence.  Emptiness is not what we thought.  Neither is mindfulness or fear.  Compassion – not what we thought.  Love.  Buddha nature.  Courage.  These are code words for things we don’t know in our minds, but any of us could experience them.  These are words that point to what life really is when we let things fall apart and let ourselves be nailed to the present moment.”

Preying Man then, hunched over and hauling it out, rhythmically breathing into the present, a turbulent pain fueled by fear…searching into what I usually avoid.  Hopefully not so much as a way to solve problems, but an undoing of native ways of seeing and hearing, smelling and tasting and thinking…along with the courage to die.

-all quotations Pema Chodron, When Things Fall Apart

Intimacy as Art

another old post intimately related

Precipitate Flux

Intimacy as Art

“A way of connecting, on relatively safe middle ground, with another human being”

“that ‘neutral middle ground on which to make a deep connection with another human being’… was what fiction was for.  ‘A way out of loneliness’…”

Jonathan Franzen, on David Foster Wallace

“If the novel were able ‘to give the reader, who like all of us is sort of marooned in her own skull, to give her imaginative access to other selves,’ it opens the potential that she might, as a result, feel ‘less alone inside’”

Kathleen Fitzpatrick, on David Foster Wallace

My son and I arguing about the nature of things – is there anything we can agree on?  mutually believe?  are we similar? – in what began as an attempt (on my part) to soothe obvious hurt and confusion (on his part).  He kept pointing to (referencing) his mirror, his bedside table, in…

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We Make Art

related items popping up from the past

Precipitate Flux

We Make Art: A Query toward Perceptive Extension

paper snowflakes by Holly & children paper snowflakes by Holly & children

Waking reminded –

I’ve been working over things in my sleep.  Parenting issues, marriage.  Vocation deadlines, assignments.  Logistics and payments and scheduling.  Improbable care of the self.

– that overwhelm is inevitable, inherent.

Everything we know (or surmise) about anything indicates vast beyonds unknown and ignored.  In order to see, to breathe, to speak, to hear, to feel, to think, to live.  We filter and avoid.  Press the vast majority of the world’s availability into a void.  So of course we can’t manage our world, or comprehend, even minimally control.  We can barely deal with even a relatively microscopic set of variables, and those only enough to survive.

Reminded, awake then, that overwhelm is constant and inevitable.  Inherent to the systems of which we are and are a part.  Living is processing vastness.  Essentially unscalable.  And…

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Intimacy

Greetings, in an effort I am making to “make sense”… I have been encouraged to chronicle the benefits of my experiences to investigate personal meanings.  That might not make sense.  Suffice it to say that I am plunging into the world of my recent past in an attempt to discover how it has changed me.  A working title might be “Intolerable Vulnerabilities,” (a phrase lent me by my mental physician) and its subject is yet to be defined…but here are the beginnings of an intro…

Intimacy - Amy Bloom

 

The hesitant beginning…

” Most all of us have been caught up in the proverbial “throes of love.”  The ecstasy and heartache of opening oneself to another, being enraptured, plagued with doubt and hope, captive to longing and the myopia of the significance of the beloved.  But perhaps less of us experience intimacy.  Intimacy may be something quite different from love.  Although usually initiated in its atmosphere, intimacy reaches beyond the experience of love and journeys toward closeness.  Intimacy is about the intertwining of lives, the multiform intricacies of barely-boundaried involvement.  What occurs when lives are meshed and melded – shaped with and around one another – physically and immaterially, actually and theoretically, imaginatively and really.  Where histories are remade and revamped together in a present.  Where hopes are remade and reshaped as a couple.  Where the unit and body that counts as an “I” extends to a “we,” and sensation, perception and thought happen always with an external mirror.

Where intimacy takes us is awesome.  I mean this in the most fearsome and incredible ways.  Human closeness is fraught with archetypal danger.  When exposed in such nearness, our lives seem at stake.   It goes to the “heart of us.”  Within the weathers of love, the wedded experience that intimacy brings seems to make us or break us – our futures and fortunes, significance and meaning rise or fall in accord with an Other.  We, in ways, “are not our own” but become something new, something larger and fresh.  Something open, extended and possible.  Something at risk, distended, and vulnerable.  Our lives shared in the hands of another.  Our minds shaped with the mind of another.  Our purposes, intentions and behavior ever effecting conjoined scenarios.  The world is different.  Intimate.  Involved.  Precious and fragile.

There are (at least) two sides to the story…a territory of doubled strength and minimal safety.  Of terrifying exposure and (possibly) multiplied protection.  Of enhanced security and absolute danger.  This is the province of love.  This is the prospect of intimacy.”

Love - John Armstrong

 

-John Armstrong, The Conditions of Love

In the Sea above the Sea: transitory reflections from above the Atlantic

P5151753-001

Look at things, see them exposed

in their metaphysical innocence

unsure of their existence.

When do paintings shrug off

the painter, when will this same material

become a new idea?  The evening mist crept over

the lawn, drowning the avenue, the fountain,

the house.

.

Music, the splash of oars.

Someone turns on the light, someone

doesn’t believe in dusk.

The unanswerable question drifts

past the window.

-Cees Nooteboom, Cauda

Heathrow Airport

As I make my way back over the Atlantic from the nominally United Kingdom to the (equally nominally) United States, I am considering what things most prominently infected me.  Partly “I think I wanted to get lost to see what happens next” (Deborah Levy, Things I Don’t Want to Know) and partly I wanted to know what to do – my coursework and library visitations – to anchor my lostness while providing anonymity and foreignness in which to search for peace and move through grief.

 nobody

More and more the invisible was named,

the blind man grew mightier.

How he wandered and called out to his echo!

.

which called back with the screech of gulls.

He is still searching among flags and vistas

for that same statue.

.

Sounds blow to the far side of the river.

Nobody is standing there.

.

Nothing takes shape.  Newspapers melt,

photos fade.  The stone is made of wax,

the notebook of ash, time takes itself

and repeats the appearance

.

until his life becomes a mirror

in which he disappears and appears,

but nobody looks at himself,

because nobody can see himself.

-Cees Nooteboom

IMG_0280my “self” photographed in front of Gerhard Richter’s “painting” Grey Mirror

-Tate Modern, London-

I noted how clear the signage.  Clear and direct with no soft-pedaling of consequences stated.   Mind the gap, way out        (and way in), “moving through these doors may result in death or injury” (on the Underground), smoking kills.  The ubiquity of concern for mental health – that Bibliotherapy is not just a bookseller’s or librarians metaphor of expertise – but is in fact a prescriptive cure – scripts are written by doctors for BOOKS! (hundreds a week, one library reported).  Along the same culture-historic lines, perhaps influenced by the longevity and prevalence of hundreds to thousands year-old architecture and artefacts, traditions, and tangible evidence of time and identities – the apparent insistence on QUALITY – of life, of drink, of service – of literature and art and purposes.  So while everything costs about twice as much as the USA, the options often doubled the quality.  A local pub on every corner, small grocers, fresh markets – in the miles I walked I only spotted a handful of McDonald’s, Krispy Kremes or other international chains (and only in heavily touristed areas) – aside from Starbucks.  I saw 3 gas stations.

And the bookstores!!!  Sometimes 3 or 4 in a block, flush to the gills – but hardly a bestseller, a romance, or fluff!  Amazing – perhaps the most profound difference between the USA and UK that I noticed: their stores FEATURED literary quality, and only sometimes provided mass appeal items that could be had anywhere online – in many stores 80% of the stock I encountered did not have an eBook format – the books were books meant to be books in the purpose of books – to be engaged with the body and mind and retained and gone back to – like the architecture, museums and galleries – not disposable pleasures – but necessary cultural artifacts made from the human condition and accessed repeatedly for its benefit.

Of course there are the “places”: Trafalgar Square and the National Gallery, the British Library and British Museum, the Tate, Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Buckingham Palace, Shakespeare’s Globe, the Tower of London and on and on…walking over 15 miles a day, finding “oldest churches” in every nook and alley, colleges and universities every other block, London is a place swamped with culture and continuity, the high and the low, and great gaps to mind in between.

So with those great anchors securing me, I tried to see myself.  In the reflections of great art and architecture, thousands of years of history and culture, thousands of languages in cosmopolitan streets, thousands of unknown faces and voices, habits and practices and sayings…my “life became a mirror in which he disappears and appears,” but, of course, “nobody looks at himself, because nobody can see himself.”

What did I see?  Well by looking through others that I could see, I found “I wasn’t sure my skeletal system had found a way of walking freely in the Societal System” and the need “to find a language that is in part to do with learning how to become a subject rather than a delusion, and in part to do with unknotting the ways in which I have been put together by the Societal System in the first place” including the “many delusions of my own”…”it’s exhausting to learn how to become a subject – it’s hard enough learning how to become a writer” (Deborah Levy).

And I thought of how, like the forest and the trees – it often seems we are unable to see reality for our experiences.  So many of us semi-automatically equate our experience with reality – rather than note how small our perceptual bubble really is.  Just try using the “Powers of 10” idea – start anywhere – with your pain, your fingernail, your happiness.  Now imagine IN a power of 10 – you’re into the cells, into one strand of what’s causing you pain, into a moment eliciting joy.  10x more and you’ve gone beyond atoms and quarks – matter and energy ill-defined and inexplicable and ALWAYS dynamic.  Imagine OUT a power of 10 – you’re viewing a street full of private perceptual experiences very different from your own – and trees and birds and squirrels and buildings.  X 10 and you see miles and miles of earth – filled up with all kinds of creatures and systems, connectors and wonders and weathers and mountains and rivers – x 10! and you’re out in the galaxy of planets much larger than our own, stars much bigger than our sun, and still more galaxies to go…

Either way you go there is gargantuan forest – and our experience, our body – barely a branch…yet we evaluate so often from that individual outlook – incredibly distorting bubble of lens – with a minimal scope – not engaging the forest, absorbing the forest, wandering and listening and looking and opening – so that “the unanswerable question drifts by” and “unsure of its existence” can “become a new idea…” the beginnings of subject-ivity – a particle in relation from within and without – from mattering energy to butterflied effects…an individual instancing of human.

Be mindful.  Be curious.  Be patient.  Don’t know, and enjoy your hands.  Be generous, take refuge, find strength.  Be grateful, keep going, be glad.  Respond, don’t react.  Slow down and forgive.  Let go, accept limits, and do what you can.  Take in the good, relax, have compassion.  Feel safer, fill holes, and love.

-all chapter titles from Rick Hanson’s just one thing

It’s okay.  Be human – the extremely hard, most natural thing.

cheers!

an added and unexpected catharsis – on the night I tried British telly due to trouble falling asleep – Synechdoche, NY – a remarkable example of how complex and generative our perceptive bubble can be…and yet how barrier’d from the world outside of that bubble…forests and trees / reality and personal experiences – beautiful drops in the sea… (and perhaps my favorite movie to date)..

February 23, 2014

Abroad – Notes from the Petrie Dish

Melancholy Musings

“Meaning, if there is such a thing, involves more than what there is.  Minimally, it involves a truthful assessment of what living a finite human life adds up to.”

-Owen Flanagan, The Really Hard Problem

“I’d tell you all you want and more, if the sounds I made could be what you hear”

-David Foster Wallace-

“You are – your life, and nothing else.”

-Jean-Paul Sartre-

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“That Spring when life was very hard and I was at war with my lot and simply couldn’t see where there was to get to…” So begins Deborah Levy’s succinct “response to George Orwell’s 1946 essay ‘Why I Write,’ entitled Things I Don’t Want To Know.  It speaks to me.  Sentences like “Smoking cheap filthy sock-tobacco under a pine tree was so much better than trying to hold it together on escalators.  There was something comforting about being literally lost when I was lost in every other way.”  And here I am in London, far from home, wandering scattered Lego streets, half of the time having an idea of where I am, where I might go.  Like life with children – the half provided that’s never lost – versus the “self:”

 

I am the sign, I am the letter,

I am the language that cannot be come to terms with.

I will go to my resting place

                                                and will not be born again.

I am what is scattered and cannot be gathered up.

I am small, I am silence,

                                                I am what is not found.

Charles Wright

 

“It occurred to him that he would disappear into a hole in a girder inside him that supported something else inside him.”

-David Foster Wallace-

– that sort of thing, left to one’s own musings.  Levy speaks of her notebooks as “always gathering evidence for something I could not fathom.”  Dan Beachy-Quick speaks of the blank page as “one version of chaos…the movement outward and the movement inward are simultaneous…that we enter writing to threaten the security of the knowledge we possess before we read it…” knowledge that isn’t reason – “but the plank that, in reason, breaks.” (from Wonderful Investigations).

As a kind of practice, as it turns out, (Beachy-Quick also says “language offers a method of experiencing death without dying” and “Life, world: we die into it.  Words kill us.  We lose the tops of our heads.  Then we open our eyes.  Then we walk out of the poem into the world.”) I recently labored over messages to those significant to me (including myself) –

what would I want to say or have said if I were to leave the living?

Beachy-Quick suggests that “poetry is birthed from such awful realizations – a fact which denies the fact of one’s own being, that says the self, even the godlike self, is not sufficient unto itself.”

Here some parts from The Letter to Myself:

“I believe the world has had enough of me, and I of it.  Life is generous: overabundant with pain, surprise, people, noise, joy, danger, grandeur, poverty, tastes and sights, sounds and smells, anguish, glory and grief and their very complex mixtures.  As are we – individual organisms – capable, unique, agentive…

      We cannot capture life.  It is ‘more than.’  As mine ends, I find myself desperately wanting to summarize and somehow represent it, but I find no words to do so.

      Aside from the brevity of the fullest portion of my lived experience … with ease what I most grieve is not seeing my children shape and become themselves.  That is the question I most toil over – have my children had enough of me? 

      In the main I have experienced myself as a person whom others accommodate, adjust to, endure.  In classes, families, and communities of practice, even in friend groups, I’ve never FITTED – conjoined smoothly – BELONGED.

      My children have never known another father, so they might find me definitive, ‘right’ only, unique and special.  But my parents have known other children, spouses other partners and lovers, friends other friendships, teachers other students, bosses other employees and so on…and none would consider me ‘best’ or ‘only,’ definitive or unique.  No one has chosen or selected me as theirs.

      I know I’m not alone in this, nor do I need to be the BEST anything, but I would have loved to have been chosen, claimed, selected and pursued – not for being the best, or special, not for characteristics or qualities, talents or things I do well – but for being me, for the am I am.

      How “uniquely me” turned out was never quite enough for others, or not the ‘right’ enoughs.  I surely don’t blame others I‘ve encountered – no one was obligated to choose me, or owed me selection, I simply was not suited to my contexts.

 

      I hope that my children and loved ones are able to discover and co-generate contexts in which they thrive.

 

      I had my moments, my ‘times’ – the births of my children, my weddings, days of writing and travel, dialogues with friends and multitudes of sensations and aesthetic and enriching experiences – I do not lack,

            but it’s a struggle my organism is tired of. 

      I want to say that in my life with my love I realized it – I knew myself as a unique person with particular qualities, capacities, failures, weaknesses and strengths.  I accomplished and risked, expressed and developed more of myself during those years than perhaps the entirety of my life until then…

      …in the end it’s only rambling, ever trying to grasp something of experience…ever unable…

      Perhaps something, but not what I mean to.  Always less, never enough… I’m sorry.  Thank you for enduring me this wonderful long.”

 

To speak up is not about speaking louder, it is about feeling entitled to voice a wish.  We always hesitate when we wish for something…A hesitation is not the same as a pause.  It is an attempt to defeat the wish.  But when you are ready to catch this wish and put it into language, then you can whisper but the audience will always hear you.”

-Zofia Kalinska, quoted in Deborah Levy, Things I Don’t Want to Know 

So speak up, practice, be gentle with yourself – “the story of this hesitation is the point of writing” – into and out of yourself…the activities where things con-fuse…

I wish to write.

I wish to parent.

I wish to love and be loved.

I wish to learn.

I am thankful the “I” is “what is not found,” for then we can keep searching (together), and in the searching, the interaction, perhaps begin a “truthful assessment of what a living finite human life adds up to” –

to matter and to mean.

Arrivals (cont’d, crossed over the Atlantic)

Isles from the air

Arrivals

“We may ask of our destinations, ‘Help me to feel more generous, less afraid, always curious.  Put a gap between me and my confusion; the whole of the Atlantic between me and my shame.’ Travel agents would be wiser to ask us what we hope to change about our lives rather than simply where we wish to go.”

-Alain de Botton, A Week at the Airport

I must have slumbered, unattractively and fitfully, for the plane windows were open and it was very very bright in the sky.  My glasses had fallen, my head scrunched under an arm rest, legs tightly angled and restrained from the aisle by the arm rest just one seat away.  And below, there were moments of Ireland.

I finished the book, thinking de Botton’s observations might make the arrival more profound.  But Rick Hanson’s Just One Thing helped me more.  “Find beauty, take in the good, be compassionately for yourself.  Breathe out long and the intentions (little by little) will seep out around you” (a paraphrase).  As we circled London, having skewed our arrival from delay, the clouds thickened and soon we were scuttling through the wet and the grey.

I thought: ‘Experience is like this’ (of course it is, it is my experience!) – most of it a thickened ambiguity – the swirl and swoon of our passing – when the winds are right you can make something out – particles of cloud, the edge of the wing, sometimes even a reflection.  That was the moment – clouds surrounding the wing, the wing itself, and the reflection of the scumbling clouds on the wing:  world, ourselves, and occasions where we catch our perception – our experience.

And then we touched down, wet splashing the plane, 21 hours and 41 minutes (by the clock) since I’d set out on this journey.  Customs went smoothly, my luggage arrived, and I tunneled by train to my host.  Now I’m in place at my window as the city becomes squares of lights.  de Botton states it thus: “I returned to my room at three in the morning, struck by a sense of our race as a peculiar, combustible mixture of the beast and the angel.” Assessing out from myself and this view of the city, I agree.

“We forget everything: the books we read, the temples of Japan, the tombs of Luxor, the airline queues, our own foolishness.  And so we gradually return to identifying happiness with elsewhere:  twin rooms overlooking a harbor, a hilltop church boasting the remains of the Sicilian martyr St Agatha, a palm-fringed bungalow with complimentary evening buffet service.  We recover an appetite for packing, hoping and screaming.  We will need to go back and learn the important lessons of the airport all over again soon…”

It’s good to have help on the way.  Thanks to Alain de Botton, Rick Hanson, Cees Nooteboom and David Foster Wallace for “a kind of writing that could report on the world while still remaining irresponsible, subjective, and a bit peculiar” – moving me (little by little) from a here to a there.

view from hotel window

view from hotel window

15 February 2014