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journals

I was trying to recall the details of something that happened to me almost 40 years ago, and my memory failed me. But I have kept journals since I was 16, which remember much better than I do. I say “journal” rather than “diary” because I never was able to do the daily entries. But I have been chronicling my life with entries that cover the past week or the past month (if I was busy with other things).

I was partially inspired by a diary my father kept while he was in the Navy in WWII (bottom left of the photo above) that recorded his travels and battles, including landing on Omaha Beach on D-Day. My own first journal was written in a notebook my father had from when he worked for Bell Laboratories in New Jersey (top left in photo). I found it after he died. I was 15, and I wanted to fill those empty pages.

Journals and diaries have a rich history and some actually get published, either because the writer becomes famous or because no one else has written about that time or place.

I went through a period when I was in junior high of reading a lot of adventure books and some of those were really journals. Herman Melville had two early best-sellers with his first book, Typee , and a follow-up narrative, Omoo, about his time in Polynesia and sailing the South Seas. Another one was Two Years Before the Mast by Richard Henry Dana. The story of his 1834 sea voyage was a big hit and at the time was one of the few books that described California.

One of my favorite journals that was published almost didn’t exist. One day in 1956 when Ernest Hemingway was having lunch at the Hôtel Ritz Paris with his friend A.E. Hotchner. The chairman of the hotel, Charles Ritz, told Hemingway that there was a trunk in the hotel storage room that he had left there in 1930.

Hemingway didn’t remember leaving it. But he did remember a trunk that he had lost in Paris at some point. When Hemingway opened it, he found clothing, menus, receipts, memos, hunting, fishing and skiing equipment, racing forms, letters – and most importantly, a series of notebooks and journals.

But this was 1956 Hemingway. He had won the Nobel and the Pulitzer prize. People knew who he was even if they had not been one of the hundreds of thousands of people who had bought and read his books. He was a celebrity author.

But he had been in a car crash in 1945 and smashed his knee, and in two successive plane crashes, had a bad concussion, a broken skull, cracked discs, burns, kidney and liver ruptures and a dislocated shoulder. Plus, he had the remnants of WWI injuries, bad insomnia, high blood pressure, arteriosclerosis, and was self-medicating with a lot of booze to deal with the pain.

Writing was not working for him. For someone who saw writing as what have his life meaning, no writing meant no meaning.

Hemingway had kept a detailed  journal when he lived in Paris with his first wife, Hadley, in the 1920s. He was a poor, young, struggling writer hanging out with other expat artists and writers. The writing he did in his notebooks is full of the people of that time and place – Scott Fitzgerald, Ezra Pound, Gertrude Stein, Pablo Picasso, James Joyce and Ford Madox Ford.

“But Paris was a very old city and we were young and nothing was simple there, not even poverty, nor sudden money, nor the moonlight, nor right and wrong nor the breathing of someone who lay beside you in the moonlight.”

Rediscovering those notebooks and rereading them must have been wonderful. I know the feeling. I sometimes – not too often – go back to my journals looking for something I can’t quite recall. But I always end up reading more.

When Hemingway was rereading his journals, it was a time when he found it difficult to write. The journals gave him a starting place. He worked from those notebooks for the next few years calling the project his “Paris book.” He started writing the book in Cuba in the autumn of 1957, and continued working at home in Ketchum, Idaho, in Spain and in Cuba. He made some final revisions in the fall of 1960 in Ketchum, but he was in a lot of pain and fighting a deep depression.

It would be the last book he would work on, but it wasn’t published while he was alive. His publisher wanted to call the book Paris Sketches, but his fourth wife and widow, Mary, didn’t like the title and asked Papa’s 1956 Paris lunch companion, Hotchner, to suggest something. Hotchner recalled that Ernest had said “If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a movable feast.” That became the book’s title.

In the revised 2009 edition of A Moveable Feast, Patrick Hemingway included his father’s “last piece of professional writing.” It was a forward to the book that had not been used. It’s sad. No wonder it wasn’t used in the original published version.

“This book contains material from the remises of my memory and of my heart. Even if the one has been tampered with and the other does not exist.”

Early in the morning of  July 2, 1961, Ernest Hemingway took a shotgun from the rack in his home, loaded it, put the barrel in his mouth and committed suicide. A Moveable Feast was published three years later.

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I suppose some people think of Watership Down as a children’s story, but it very adult in its language and themes.

I passed on reading the book to my sons and stuck to Peter Rabbit and, like Watership‘s author Richard Adams, I made up stories about rabbits for my sons’ bedtimes. My stories had a way of closely paralleling the boys’ lives, but they never seemed to notice.

I saw the animated adaptation of the novel and my kids did watch that, although I waited until I thought they were ready because these rabbits do battle and there is blood.

Rabbit battles? Is this an allegory?  I didn’t read it that way, but these anthropomorphic rabbits certainly seem human in many ways. But they are also very rabbit with their own language (Lapine), culture, history and mythology. And I learned a lot about real rabbits by reading it.

I had rabbits as a child – Coffee and Thumper. And my sons had a rabbit pet named Merlin (because his upright ears seemed to form a pointed wizard’s cap).

My wife had read the book before we met and it was something we had in common and talked about. When we were driving and we saw rabbits on the roadside in early evening, we knew they were at silflay.  We knew that the passing of our hrududu might frighten them, although rabbits get pretty good at living in or around human living spaces.

Emily Ruskovich, a teacher and writer who wrote a piece for the Paris Review about her own connections to the novel, and I could relate to much of it.

I revisited the novel this week via an audiobook. It read the book for the first time in 1973 and again the late 1980s as part of own bedtime storytelling inspiration. Not being a child or a young man or the father of children, it was a different story. Of course, books don’t change – we change and the times we read them change and have changed us.

People have read the book and compared it to the hero’s journey, The Odyssey, and The Aeneid, and see different types of religious themes in it. For example, the character of Frith created the world and promised that rabbits would always be allowed to thrive, and in Lapine his name  “the sun”.

I don’t doubt that those things can be found in the novel, even if Richard Adams maintained that those earlier tales were not its origin and the intents were not the same. He set the story in the real Watership Down that he knew, a hill, or down, at Ecchinswell in the civil parish of Ecchinswell, Sydmonton and Bishops Green in the English county of Hampshire.

Entrance to rabbit warren

I identify more nowadays with the aging rabbits. Hazel is the “protagonist” of the novel who is able to unite two rabbit societies and they live a peaceful life in the downs. But Fiver is my favorite rabbit. I guess I identified more with this runt of the litter who is a kind of a seer. He is not the leader, but others follow him or at least follow his advice through Hazel.

At the end of the story, Hazel is visited by the mythical black rabbit of death. I suppose he is “Death” but this ghost rabbit is quite peaceful and he comes to invite Hazel to join his Owsla, a rabbit warren’s military caste. The black rabbit says “If you’re ready, we might go along now.”  Hazel didn’t need his body any more, so he left it on the ground and made a leap into the afterlife.

Richard Adams died on Christmas Eve 2016 at the age of 96. Like most rabbits, Adams lived until his death in Whitchurch, which is within 10 miles of his birthplace. You don’t need to travel the world to find a good story.

 

 

cabin

Cabin with Northern Lights

On a chilly night that opens December here in Paradelle, I catch the scent of wood fires in the air tonight and when I step into the front porch of my house I smell the pine branches my wife is soaking to make a wreath.

It is not winter officially and the weather is still flirting with autumn, but my mind has turned again to the idea of building a cabin in the woods.

When I first started this website, I had been reading a series of articles by Lou Ureneck about him building a cabin in the woods of western Maine. In the one called “Building a Home for Another Life,”  he had not finished the foundation and he had already had two snows.

walden sign

I have wanted to build a cabin since I read Walden in eighth grade. I had sent for plans, read articles on it. I had even sent away for brochures about buying cheap land in Montana that I saw in the back of Field and Stream and Outdoor Life magazines. All this was before I had graduated high school.

But, I never bought the land – I probably should have back the late 1960s because it would have been a good investment – and I never built a cabin.

I agree with Ureneck that you build a cabin for “the satisfaction of making something with your own hands and the joy of living simply and close to nature, even if it’s just on weekends.”

In my adult home-owning life, I built a stone wall along our driveway. It took me weeks to do. From clearing away piles of dirt by hand with a wheelbarrow hauling crushed stone and fitting together the stones one by one to fit correctly.  I enjoyed it very much. I especially liked figuring out how to make the squares and rectangles form a smooth curve as it neared the house, and building two stone steps. I stared at those stones and that imaginary curve for hours. Very pleasant.

Other people have chronicled this kind of cabin dream online. I found another site by Mark van Roojen, a professor of philosophy at the University of Nebraska – Lincoln, who teaches  ethics and political philosophy who was building a timber frame cabin in the Sierra Madres.

Mark’s site directed me to Bob at wolfcreekcabin.blogspot.com who was beginning a timber frame cabin project in Montana and another in Idaho that was well on its way.

Everyone seemed to be building a cabin but me.

Some people call these photo site “cabin porn” and I find it is easy to fall into these sites on a cold winter night. A cabin in green leafy woods is very nice, but there is something about a cabin with a wood fire on a snowy night…

I concede that I don’t see myself doing any chainsaw milling, and the more I look online, the more complicated this gets. Check out Timber Framers Guild ,and www.HouseBlogs.net, or the more ambitious Housebuilding Illustrated, Cedar Ridge Farm, this Bungalow Blog and the Massie House Timberframe blog.

Maybe all I need is just a little 16 x 24 Michigan Cabin

I wanted this as a way to help me simplify my life, Thoreau in those Walden woods. My real weekend escape to go with this virtual escape. Not a retirement home. Not fancy.

My friend Steve told me years ago that I should think more about a tipi and had sent me some  links for them and some look bigger inside than the first floor of my house. Or maybe I should buy a yurt.

But I don’t want portable. I want permanent. And part of all this is that I want to build it, not assemble it.

What would a modern-day Thoreau do?

Right off, I am a big fan of the Seinfeld TV show.  I have heard  many times the description of it as “a show about nothing.” The show’s original premise was that it was a show about  how Jerry Seinfeld, a standup comic, uses the everyday things in his life as material for his comedy. It opens with a bit of standup and for some episodes that bit ties into the episode.

Most episodes have at least three intertwining plots. For example, in episode 51, “The Contest,” George confesses that “My mother caught me.” They never say  “masturbating” in the episode, but its clear.  George says he’ll never do “that” again. The gang is skeptical and Jerry, Kramer and George make a $100 bet to see who can abstain the longest. Elaine wants in on the contest, but has to put in $150, because the guys claim that it easier for women to abstain.

We switch to Kramer’s infatuation with a woman in the apartment across the street who walks around in her apartment naked with the curtains open. He watches her, goes back to his place and returns to slap down his $100. “I’m out. I’m out of the contest.”

Switch to George visiting his mother because she was hospitalized after catching George in the act with her Glamour magazine earlier. His new attraction is watching the shadowy silhouettes of his mom’s attractive roommate getting a sponge bath from an attractive nurse.

Switch to Elaine at her gym when she finds out that John F. Kennedy, Jr. also uses the gym. She plots to meet up with him.

Jerry is frustrated because the woman he’s dating won’t have sex with him since she wants to remain a virgin.

All of them are unable to sleep – except for Kramer.

Elaine arranges to meet Kennedy outside Jerry’s apartment later. The thought of them hooking up is more than she can handle and she is the second person out of the contest.

Jerry’s virgin is finally ready for sex, but Jerry makes the mistake of mentioning the contest and she leaves in disgust. Elaine arrives believing Kennedy stood her up, but George tells her that Kennedy did come, but missed her and went with the virgin. They then see Kramer with the naked woman across the street.

So, who won the contest? Jerry or George?  Not revealed here. In the fifth-season episode “The Puffy Shirt”, George mentions that he “won a contest” in a conversation about masturbation, but in the series finale, he confesses that he cheated.

That’s a lot of nothing.

In Seinfeld‘s 43rd episode, things get meta. Jerry and George pitch a sitcom to television executives and George says (mostly because they have no real ideas to pitch) that it will be a show where “nothing happens.” It gets picked up and the show that they develop is what we know as Seinfeld, with a George, Elaine, Kramer and Jerry as himself.

A book about the series, Seinfeldia: How a Show About Nothing Changed Everything, has a lot to say about that nothing concept. People often point to the episode “The Chinese Restaurant” in season two.  The episode is about Jerry, Elaine and George (no Kramer) waiting for a table at a Chinese restaurant. That’s it. Yes, George tries to use the pay phone (pre-mobile phones) and Jerry can’t place a woman that he is sure he has met before, but really they just wait and talk.

The episode is set in real time, without scene-breaks. NBC execs were not thrilled with it because it had no real storyline. C-creator/writer Larry David threatened to quit if the network forced major changes to the script. NBC gave in to production, but postponed broadcast to the near end of the season.

But if you really want to take a deep dive on Seinfeld nothingness, the video above by Evan Puschak (Nerdwriter) connects the show and its nothingness to 19th-century novelist Gustave Flaubert.

Apparently, in an 1852 letter, Flaubert wrote about his his ambition to write “a book about nothing, a book dependent on nothing external, which would be held together by the internal strength of its style.”  It may not have achieved all of that, but the novel was Madame Bovary.

If you really want to view Seinfeld as a show about nothing more literally, watch the video below which is an edit of moments from the series when nothing happens. Turn off the sound for a Zen of Seinfeld experience.

 

Mr. g is God, but small g god. Probably not the one you were taught about. He is the protagonist of a novel carrying his name written by Alan Lightman.

Right off, I’ll say that Mr. g, the book, worked for me because he is the god I have come to believe exists. If I had to explain him to you or hang a label on this god, I would say look up “Deism.”

Deism is something I have so far only touched lightly on here in the past. It is the belief in a supreme being,  a creator, who could but chooses not to intervene in the universe.

It is not a new belief. It was an intellectual movement of the 17th and 18th centuries that took in a number of the founding fathers of the United States. They accepted the existence of a creator on the basis of reason but rejected belief in a supernatural deity who interacts with humankind.

This “fictional God” (we could have a discussion about that term) exists in a Void before any creation along with his Aunt Penelope and Uncle Deva. I cannot explain who they represent or even why they exist. I understand why the Creator couldn’t have creator parents but…

Mr g is omnipotent but not omniscient. He creates universes. He put creatures into one. And then he lets it go on its own. (I was going to say he lets it evolve but that is a troublesome word.) It is trial and error. Though he has created rules/laws for these universes, he is surprised by what occurs.

There is also Belhor and his toadies living in the Void. Is B the Devil or just a way to question and challenge him and allow him to explain things.

The book actually avoids outright talk of religion, though the idea of a soul or something that lives on beyond the mortal life is brought up by Uncle Deva. But, like Deism, if a religion, it is one whose followers believe in a God who “created the universe, established its rules of behavior, set it going, left, and
hasn’t been seen since.”

I depart from that description in that I believe that his God can and may occasionally interfere with the course of human events, as Mr. g does once in the book.

A creator God as all-powerful but not all-knowing is probably not a comfortable fit for most readers.

Lightman also wrote Einstein’s Dreams, a collection of stories that are dreamed by Albert Einstein in 1905 as he ponders in his waking life time, relativity and physics.

Each dream/story explores another possibility. In one dream, time is circular and we are fated to repeat the good and bad over and over. But in another one, time stands still and people cling desperately to what they have in fear of it going away.

Lightman teaches in the humanities at MIT and his books span science, theology, and philosophy. Sometimes, as with Mr. g,  he both ignores and observes the questions that arise when those three things cross paths.

Albert Einstein once said “I believe in Spinoza’s God, who reveals Himself in the lawful harmony of the world, not in a God who concerns Himself with the fate and the doings of mankind.”

http://www.deism.com/

http://www.religioustolerance.org/deism.htm

https://cmsw.mit.edu/alan-lightman/

 

I’m not a star seed. I didn’t even know there was the possibility that I could be until this week. I’m still not so sure that anyone might be one.

I am sure that we are made of stardust, just as Joni Mitchell sang in “Woodstock.”

Science bears this idea out – “Everything we are and everything in the universe and on Earth originated from stardust, and it continually floats through us even today. It directly connects us to the universe, rebuilding our bodies over and again over our lifetimes.”

But Star Seeds are way beyond that. Star Seeds are defined as beings that have experienced life elsewhere in the Universe on other planets and in non-physical dimensions other than on Earth. They may also have had previous life times on earth.

Also known as Star People, this New Age belief seems to have been introduced by Brad Steiger, a very prolific writer of oddities, in his book Gods of Aquarius. He posited that people originated as extraterrestrials and arrived on Earth through birth or as a walk-in to an existing human body.

Alien-human hybrids sends my mind right to some X-Files episodes and more than a few science-fiction tales. Going back further, there are “star people” in some Native American spiritual mythologies.

Steiger said that one of my favorite sci-fi writers, Philip K. Dick, had written to him in the late 1970s to say he thought he might be one of the star people, and that his novel VALIS contained related themes.

There are several websites listing characteristics of a Star Seed – and I definitely have a few of them – but I don’t think I am one of them.

But humans are made of stardust, in that humans and their galaxy have about 97 percent of the same kind of atoms. The building blocks of life are carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus and sulfur and fairly recently astronomers have cataloged the abundance of these elements in a huge sample of stars.

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Yes, that’s where I’m at today. Not so long ago, but it already seems far away. Makerspace action. At the opening of the NJIT Makerspace. Every end is also a beginning. First snow of the season.  Not enough to start the snowblower, but enough to start a fire.

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