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Humble Hans and Bragadocious Bert

Humble Hans was the son of a woodchopper who got his epithet because of his humility  “How strong you are, Hans!” the old men and women of the village would say as they saw him dragging to market the immense tree trunks he had felled.  “How clever you are at piling them up!”   “How brave you were when you single-handedly drove off a bear that threatened your favorite dog Louise with nothing but your big axe and your big voice against eight hundred pounds of ferocious animal!”

But Hans would always demur.  “I am not so strong as you think but I know clever tricks to chop down trees.  And I am not so clever as you think because I did not come up with those clever tricks myself.  And I am not so brave as you think because I actually was terrified fighting that bear, and if I had had more than a second to think about how long those claws were and how strong those arms (that’s a thing that’s really strong! not me!) I would have run away for sure. If you want to see strong, and clever and brave, oho you should have met my father.  And his father — that man beat trees because he was a tree. He reached to the sky.”

The town formed a volunteer fire department and they needed a leader who would be strong, and clever and brave.  Bert, the son of the richest man in town spoke up.  “Make me the leader!  I am strong and clever and brave!”   “What say you, Hans?”  “That sounds like a great idea!” said Hans.  “Anybody who has the confidence to say he is strong and clever and brave would be a great pick.”

When the village started to burn Bert was in his house eating waffles with whipped cream. They came to ask him to put it out.  He said “I don’t think it smells like a real fire.” and returned to his waffles.  Five minutes later and half the village burned.  A few people ran to the fire station and it was empty.  It seems Bert had sold the fire trucks for a tidy profit.   Finally Bert finished his waffles and emerged from the house.  “Huh I guess there was a fire — probably started by Gypsies.  Beat up the gypsies!”  The rest of the village burned down.  Everybody was gathered in the last building which was an orphanage.  Everybody was watching Bert. He ran into the orphanage — just the front room of it really — picked up a child and tried to rescue him.  He struggled and then finally dropped the child on his head. “Wow, you’re heavy!” joked Bert. “What have you been eating?”

Flames crackled at the door of the orphanage.

Bert jumped on his horse and took off at top speed “To get help!” he said.  Although he never came back.  Some say he is still riding and when he returns will be driving the biggest fire truck the world has ever seen!  The emperor’s no God’s own firetruck — all made of gold and candy and ribbons.

Be that as it may — and it may well be true, I’ve never seen it but there’s much I haven’t seen – Humble Hans ran into the orphanage and emerged a minute later with ten children on his brawny back, then led the people with shovels to divert the town river into the flame and put it out.

He dropped down exhausted. Maybe dead.

Moral: Don’t be too humble.

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The Duke of Shan, the Duke of Chou

The Duke of Shan criticized the Duke of Chou for the behavior of the inhabitants of that state.  “The men of Chou are mean-spirited and resentful.  If anyone wrongs a man of Chou he never forgets.  He will sacrifice everything — honor, riches, family, piety — to do harm to him who harmed him.  What a burden to the kingdom of heaven are the men and women of Chou!”

The Duke of Chou criticized the Duke of Shan.  “The inhabitants of the state of Shan are more like dirt than like men.  Abuse them and they will come back for more.  Enslave them and they will struggle to see who can be the most obsequious.  There has never been a straight thing said or a pure song sung within borders of the state of Shan!”

After a war the state of Shan conquered the state of Chou.  For several generations the state of Shan imposed harsh penalties upon its subjects in Chou.  Any man who was found guilty of revenge was made subject to the penalty of three generations.  He, his siblings, his parents, and all of their children were killed.  By dint of this selective breeding in a few centuries all was peacable in the state of Shan-Chou.

The peacable kingdom of Shan-Chou was conquered by the barbarians known as Hsiung-nu.  The entire state of Shan-Chou then revealed its secret — although no particular inhabitant of the state was motivated by revenge, the state as a whole was capable of implacable vengeance.

Now no one even remembers the names of the barbarians known in the language of Shan-Chou as Hsiung-nu.

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To Do List

I wasn’t getting as much done as I wished so I decided to organize my life and my tasks by constructing a to-do list.  The idea was to prioritize and avoid “open loops” which sapped my productivity and marred my peace.

I first made a list of things I wanted to do:

WASH HAIR

WRITE LETTER TO FRIEND

THINK ABOUT THE EPISTEMOLOGICAL SIGNIFICANCE OF THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN BILATERAL AND RADIAL SYMMETRY

BUY A SMALL NOTEBOOK

And the I put a number in front of each item on the list, like this:

2)WASH HAIR

3)WRITE LETTER TO FRIEND

1)THINK ABOUT THE EPISTEMOLOGICAL SIGNIFICANCE OF THE IDFFERENCE BETWEEN BILATERAL AND RADIAL SYMMETRY

4)BUY A SMALL NOTEBOOK

So I did the first thing on my to-do list:

And I thought — those creatures with bilateral symetry have a head with sense organs so they can achieve their goals.  But thos ecreatures with radial symetry do not know that their goals will be in front of them — they may be on either side or above or below.  They are more like a net of signiifance that catches whatever stray particles of food or krill the environment sends towards them.  Adn I may be such a thing.  My hair is unwashed still, but everyone is my friend and everything I do or say or am is a letter, and I have no need of notebooks beccause I don’t want to or need to remember anything.  If there is anything I need to remember the ocean will make me sure to know it now, and rather than a list of things to do, I am a simultaneous expression every moment of what it wants to use me to get done.

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The Soft Tread of the Bat

“I think you know the difference among the wings of:

  1. the pteranodon
  2. the bird and
  3. the bat”

said Saint-Martin.   I had taken an elevator down to the level

“Where the beechwoods grow and I remember what your face looked like before I realized that everyone forgets sooner or later”

And as to why I had finally after hearing about him had sought out Saint-Martin and his renowned ability to not let it get to him, I won’t tell you the story because you can look it up anywhere about the day they got mad and deliberately tore up the fish nets, and as a result “we don’t got no fish” because one of them said if we tear up the fish nets we won’t have to fish and The Big Guys will have to GIVE US fish –and the girls will stop bragging about how good they are at fishing – and we will sit around like kings having them serve us and eating bigger and better fish.  But of course it didn’t happen and I took the elevator down to see Augustus Saint-Martin who sat in the forest at evening, smoking.

(“Look, Pa if the Level Lights were always on dim what makes it evening rather than dawn on that level?”

“You’re a very clevery youngster and Daddy will reward you with a monkey made of sugar who sucks his thumb and makes real poopies out of raspberry.”)

Anyway — and this is what they used to call us in school a  Euphemism — should really be Someway — Auguste St. Martin said:

“The pteranodons’ wing is a finger.  The bird’s wing is an arm. The bat’s wing is a hand.  The pteranodon is the man who just dips his finger in the darkness.  The bird is the man who hugs the darkness to him with both arms.  The bat is the man who grabs a handful of darkness.  That’s enough.”

“Are you saying I should be that man?”

“Are you saying I should be that man?” he said mockingly.

“Well anyway that morning I stopped feeling sorry for myself and I got Beardy Dan and Snappy and Ong-Sam-T’pee and we found the marvelous Rag Bush and we made a new net and we went off in the Amazing Three Whistle Canoe and we caught fish and set up Newtown.”

“Was there fighting in the story, Pa?”

“Fighting?  Why would there be fighting?”

“Did they try to destroy the new nets too and steal your fish like they did before?”

“Only two handfuls of it.  The rest of the story was eating fish and figuring out clever ways to solve our problems with ingenuity, and coming up with clever riddles and puzzles and “love you too” songs to pass the time and make us merry.”

“Was there missing the ones you left behind?”

“Well okay. Maybe there were three handfuls.”

And he walked away with the soft tread of the bat.

CHAPTER TWO

But bats fly, Slippery Anita!

Not when they’re climbing from place to place on the roof of their cave.

So then the whole story was upside down?  We thought Lopey Tom was on standing on the floor but alls along WE WERE the ones standing on the floor and HE WAS HANGING FROM THE CEILING?

Shush shush shush and eat your mush mush mush?

What? Said the snow dogs waking up and pulled the sled — fast fast fast.

CHAPTER FIVE

Chapter five was written in the snow with honey and snow butterflies came and settled on it forming words.

CHAPTER JULIUS

He had a little rock that he’s pick up and that little rock said “Ok then, you tell another.”

Imagine he says close your eyes and you do.

Imagine he takes your hand and puts the rock in it.

Imagine you open your eyes and he’s gone.

CHAPTER BLESSED BE THE ROCK

Julius was hiding behind the tree the whole time!

CHAPTER-CHAPTER CHAPTER

“What’s all this tapcrastic sham-shasm about paranodons, birds and bats — the butterbug and the happenfly and the Gnat all fly and the Man-skeeter and there wings are nor fingers nor wings nor hands!”

“That’s cause their just part of the air and you know it!  The air don’t need nothing to fly — IT’S AIR!  Night or dark, fulla a photons or all-photoned-out it’s air its air its air!   Come on inside” said the little children “There’s fresh coffee on the stove and a biscuit or two on the stove, even for the likes of you.  Especially!  Especially for you.”

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Maybe Xenophobia (Fear of the Stranger) Is Really Nostophilia (Love of the Home)

People who argue for their God, their sexual mores, their past, their family, their community often get branded as xenophobes but what they are I think is scared nostophiles.  They have an emotional attachment to home and view change and outsiders as threats.

When I have had my most conservative moments I was fighting an internal sense of panic — that what I loved was actually either going to be lost forever or, more frighteningly, had never been real at all, and I fought back against this fear.

What if the parents whose presence and smells (slightly burnt coffee for breakfast, damp leaves in autumn) were themselves anxious?  What if the feeling of familiarity was just fortuitous?  Scary thoughts because they meant my own ability to create a home for my children was vulnerable.

Fear of losing what we love leads to a blind rage against what we think can destroy what we love.  It is all the blinder because it is often a self-blinding; the fear that the more we learn the more fear we will have to undergo fosters, below the level of awareness, a hatred of learning anything new, because learning the new will cause more pain and more panic.

Obviously this sort of fear of the new, and hatred of thought, and hatred of self can have bad consequences for other people.  To give just one example — Heidegger’s hatred of Jews, whom he really should have loved: a weird bunch of particularistic people sticking to old ways.  And he would have loved Kabbalah.  But instead he thought of Jews as a creep frightening symbol of everything that threatened him: de-racination on two legs wearing a yarmulke.  (Or he pretended to in order to get promotions and be a big shot– who can judge someone else’s sincerity?)

Obviously the xenophobes and the nostophiles are the same people.  But rather than hectoring our friends for being xenophobes I would like us to all acknowledge that home and the past are worth loving but start a conversation about how to best preserve them.

Do racial and religious wars help preserve our home?  No.

In fact if we take a look at our childhood home we will find a lot of wonderful stuff that is inconsistent with a fear of the new and of others.  Curiosity and a desire to grow nad meet new people.

The goal is not to go back to our childhood home (which is impossible — because time marches on and we are adults).  The goal is to make this planet a home for everybody.

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“The Chemical Wedding by Christian Rosenkreuz” by John Crowley

I just read this; it was the 400th anniversary; John Crowley is the great public-spirited man who instead of pursuing private enrichment wrote the cornucopia-like “LITTLE, BIG” which is a boon to struggling, vulnerable, courageous humanity; it will take a long time for me to process my conclusions, but it is a life-transforming work and provides a flickering ray of illumination in this dimly-lit time.  Three quick take-aways

  1. Post-modern literary self-reflexiveness and meta-fictionality as I long suspected are a species of the genus which includes esoteric religion
  2. Retroactive temporality is the watchword of our age.  Our decisions now give us the categories by which we comprehend the past so we are always creating the past.  A simple thing — a flirtation is the meeting of two grandparents if and only if it leads to having children and them having children.  So what the flirtation is NOW is determined by the future.
  3. The powerful effect of a sudden loss of information, going from extremely detailed explanations of characters and events to the sketchiest facts — it induces anxiety — what is behind the curtain that just dropped so suddenly, obscuring nearly everything?  Anxiety we know is an antipathetic-sympathy and a sympathetic-antipathy.  Something like this happened at the end of Gravity’s Rainbow.  It makes us aware of the shifting seas of obscurity and clarity in which we build our own castle, seven-layered or more.
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Good to Have the Capacity to be Depressed

And heartbroken because it shows Greatness of Desire; the frustration of desire is a sign we are able to imagine what it is that we want; the fear that we will never get what we want is the mother of Anxiety; but the same principle applies: the greatness of fear shows the potential greatness of courage that will someday vanquish this fear; and those who are greatly able to master their own great fear are courageous ones to whom much will be given, even more than that for which they hoped.

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