An unproblematic state is a state without creative thought. Its other name is death. –David Deutsch
I. Rough work, hanging out laundry in desert wind. I got caught up in it. Simple chore versus crazed local element, favored to win. I moved clothespins in strategic haste, clamping in place fresh-washed fabric dripping spring chill. Gusts slapped cloth at my face, wrapped it ’round my arms. I wanted it done. And so, I nearly missed them.
Before seeing, I heard. A voice of the air. One voice, two birds. Geese, a pair, seeking mown fields to settle down for the cold March night. One had just said something (that I’d heard) to the other. The other replied in wing beats of side-by-side flight.
Around them, evening fanned plumes of its own. Clouds and molted shadows glowed shades of lilac, the horizon’s notched vanes, pink tones found deep in layered petals of a summer tea rose. The familiar had turned exotic bird of passage. The whole beauty stopped me, arms uplifted— to hang my clothes.
Two birds, one flight, their winging, a single act done between them. In seconds, they crossed acres of purple dusk. But the moment filled to brim, quivered there. I admit, I thought of us.
“Meant to use these, never got to it,”
she says. “Oh, well!” Four—no, five—she takes
them to the door, throws them through as far
as she can onto crusted snow. “Such waste.”
But I’m not fooled. I tell her, don’t feed wildlife.
They say the wild things lose their fending for
themselves. Or worse, become destructive. “Eh!”
she says. She waves me off. “Mebbe,” she says,
“something to that last one—true for bears—
true for people who are brutes like bears—
but they, those they, they say that same of all
impoverished souls—handouts ruin them. Any
those things at all, they happen only ’cause
you go Lawrentian on the creatures, exploit
their need and presence to glut your own thin nerves,
twanging for touch and bridling. Animals like
to do for themselves. Good times, they will. They don’t
come looking here. Too risky. Important thing?
Don’t ever ask for something in return.” Continue reading “For the Birds”
As part of my professional training as a tutor and tutor supervisor, I’m taking an online course called the Isakson Literacy Program. The purpose of the program is to teach students how to break into the seemingly locked language vault of any textbook, but especially a complex textbook. I have an assignment to apply a “Launch” and “Met Purpose” practice to a textbook I’m reading. Truth: I don’t really know if the book I’m reading is a textbook. It’s certainly set up like one, and I can imagine its use in an advanced linguistics classroom. The name of the book is The Evolution of Language, by W. Tecumseh Fitch. It is truly a complex book. But it’s growing on me.
The last step of this part of the literacy practice is to take action(s) to confirm to myself that in the course of reading I met my purposes. Writing about a new idea is the best practice I have for confirming I’m approaching understanding of a topic.
Before I “launched” into Section 1 of the book, I laid out my purposes as questions. I wrote down 11 questions I had, based on an earlier practice that required I skim the chapter and “snatch” what I supposed would be predictably important questions, explanations, terms, goals of the book, etc. One of the ways the course suggests I confirm to my satisfaction that I’d met my purposes (or answered my questions) was to participate in a study group. But I’m not in a course, so I have no cohort or study group. I’m on my own journey to explore the nature of language and its effects upon the quality of human cognition and human life and answer the question, Is human language a man-made environment?
This post may seem out of step with this site’s “wilderness” or “environmental” character. But it’s a post urging more responsible behavior in the sphere of language, especially on the internet, where rhetorical global climate change seems to be raising the temperature of social media sites to the level of frog-boiling. To my mind, the quality of a language environment and the condition of the natural world connect intimately. Successful changes in environmental policy result from carefully designed language that takes into account past, present, and future well being. Conversely, poor behavior toward the physical world only succeeds through unsustainable reasoning and often bullying rhetoric–that is, it forces itself on its audience, because it can’t otherwise connect with them. So here we go.
The title of this post comes from the novel 2666 by Chilean writer Roberto Bolaño. The full quote is, “Metaphors are our way of losing ourselves in semblances or treading water in a sea of seeming.” It’s a complex metaphor that…well, kinda expresses something a lot of us do when, in conversation, we plunge into the fluid realm of metaphor–especially in our online conversations, where anonymity and the here/not-here nature of virtual presence make many of us bold.
But metaphors. Metaphors are great, right? And all-purpose. A clever metaphor can carry the battle in an argument, thus proving the supremacy of razor wit over club-tongued lunacy. The winner takes home the Truth Booty, cuz, you know, booty is truth, truth booty. Agreed?