Tuesday, January 26, 2016

"It takes a heap o’ livin’ in a house t’ make it home"

Besides the Psalms, Song of Solomon, Job, Ecclesiastes, and other books in our well-worn Bible, I remember only one book of "poetry" in my childhood years at home in Kansas: the folksy, kitschy verse of a transplanted Brit, Edgar A. Guest, who spent 40 years in Michigan writing thousands of poems for books, newspapers, radio broadcasts, and even TV.  His most famous line is quoted above as title of this piece, and is taken from his best loved poem, "Home."

My relationship with housing has been exceptionally promiscuous.  I was born at home, not in a hospital.  And in the course of eight decades I have made my home in small and large houses, condos, coops, and apartments--in cities, suburbs, and countryside.  I have also lived in a dorm room, a mobile home, 2 basements, above a garage, in 2 garages (made into an apartment), 2 boats, a treehouse,  in Maine, Manhattan, France (Paris, Nice), Oklahoma, Kansas, Indiana, Pennsylvania, Long Island, Flushing, California, Maryland, and, given the boating adventures, every state between Maine and Florida.  So where/what is home?

Though I have lived in scores of houses, from one point of view (the bucolic-Romantic construals of Gaston Bachelard and Martin Heidegger), I have mostly been homeless.  Bachelard's The Poetics of Space, which is assigned in many schools of architecture, argued that a "home," properly so called, requires a house with three levels, set in nature.  The basement, locus of the irrational, fears, and alimentary provisions, is balanced at the other pole by the attic, which provides a long view, an assessment of the grounds and building as a whole. These poles sandwich the main floor, where living, effort, work, and sociality reign.  Plato's social anthropology is thus echoed with its tri-level division of lower appetites (irrationalities), "thoracic" willful action (heart, lungs, arms), crowned by the sublimity of the soul and its Reason--just as the State is best organized by a hierarchy of the appetitive workers under the courageous military class, both governed by the rational dictates of the philosopher-king. More than two thousand years later, Freud proposed his own three-level analysis of the person as an ordering of unconscious drives under the supervision of the dictates of the ego, and both checked by the conscious strictures of the superego "above." Anyone with a passing knowledge of Western culture could immediately supply myriad parallels in Dante, Milton, Wagnerian operas and children's fairy tales--not to mention contemporary movies, video games, and travel guides.

I come honestly to my own default preference for this topomythology: my birth-home, and those of my grandparents and neighbors in Kansas and Oklahoma were--or were intended to be--of this sort, though many had only a root-cellar, and most had no second story, though there were aspirations when budgets (rarely) allowed.  Our current house is a small Victorian with full basement, main floor (living/cooking/socializing), second floor (sleeping/bathing/offices), and an attic floor (art studio). I am always more comfortable seeing "nature" from my windows: in Kansas it was our Victory Garden, livestock pens, and weedy fields. Now it is our gardens, lawn, the many trees that line the streets, and the large wooded park across the street.  Heidegger--as one might have anticipated from his monumental Being and Time, and his patrimony of southern German peasant stock and agricultural preoccupations--carried aspects of such meditations into some core ideas of his later work, in his  Building, Dwelling, Thinking (1954), in which "dwelling" comes to assume the central role in the "unfolding of Being."
"[H]uman being consists in dwelling and, indeed, dwelling in the sense of the stay of mortals on the earth...But ‘on the earth’ already means ‘under the sky.’ Both of these also mean ‘remaining before the divinities’ and include a ‘belonging to men's being with one another.’ By a primal oneness the four—earth and sky, divinities and mortals—belong together in one."
Dwelling is being at home, where one "has a place." This sense of place is what grounds Heidegger's notion of spatiality.  In dwelling, then, human existence is located within a set of practices that are "familiar,"   Being has us in unfolding within the "four-fold" of earth/sky/gods/mortals, and the poet and "thinker" can be our only real guides in this risking by means of language.  By a scandalous oversimplification, I'll risk saying that this simply means that we have no access to the world apart from our situation:  Dream as we may about knowing God, nature, ourselves and others by access to the Absolute, history, science, revelation, reason, or intuition, we are still, always in the limited here and now of living as experiencing bodies standing on the earth and under the heavens.

It seems obvious to me that a major weakness in the views of Bachelard and Heidegger stems from their ethnocentrism.  I would be surprised to find that people from non-European cultures, and people from epochs at great remove from the 20th century, would find any recognition of these definitions of "home." Eskimos? South Pacific islanders? Brazilian jungle dwellers? African tribal peoples? Native Americans--from the 6th, 12th, or 18th century? Such people could hardly respond to the mythic structures indicated with any sense of resonance! Children from tower coops in bustling New York City would likely find Heidegger's beloved peasant hut in Bavaria a prime candidate for representing hell. Circumnavigating sailors find "home" on the high seas: Vita Dumas, leaving the turmoils of Argentina felt comfort in returning to the rolling oceans, as did Moitessier as he began his second consecutive circumnavigation, passing the point of turning northward towards "home" to finish the race in England, in favor of sailing on to eventually reach the south Pacific islands.

Another sometimes overlooked flaw in the view of domesticity as a peaceable kingdom was developed, after Bachelard, by Foucault, who rightly noted that not all "homes," reflect anything like "dwelling in the harmonic fourfold."  Rather, many such spaces can be wrenching, disruptive, victimizing and illusory. Prisoners under surveillance are not dwelling, as Erving Goffman's heartbreaking analysis of life in "total institutions"--the military, hospitals, prisons, residential schools, and, indeed, patriarchal families--spells out in his catalog of the defining behaviors and rituals of institutions of 24-hour control.

But this is hardly the place to explore further the range and depths of this detour into Heidegger's work. Nevertheless, if one can get past the uncomfortable echoes of Nazi ideologies of blood and soil (Blud und Boden), it can be instructive to spend some time with Heidegger's texts on this matter--which do go beyond the simple germanic mysticisms of the 19th century.

If I read the European etymology correctly, however, there is a nice irony in the choice of "dwelling" as the core idea of one's thinking about the notion of "home." (This point is my own pure speculation.)

"Dwelling": Old English dwellan "to mislead, deceive," originally "to make a fool of, lead astray," from Proto-Germanic  dwaljanan (cf. Old Norse dvöl "delay,"dvali "sleep;" Middle Dutch dwellen "to stun, make giddy, perplex;" Old High German twellen "to hinder, delay;" Danish dvale "trance, stupor,"dvaelbær "narcotic berry," source of Middle English dwale "nightshade"),from PIE dhwel-, from root dheu- (1) "dust, cloud, vapor, smoke" (and related notions of "defective perception or wits"). Related to Old English gedweola "error, heresy, madness." Sense shifted in Middle English through "hinder, delay," to "linger" (c.1200, as still in phrase to dwell upon), to "make a home" (mid-13c.).   [!]
Perhaps human development from nomadic hunting/gathering societies into animals who communicate, cultivate, and construct in a fixed place (who dwell), is unconsciously portrayed in linguistic changes as the result of a series of errors, mistakes, and confusions.  Born nomads and travelers, the species becomes confused, unhinged  (perhaps by means of herbal drugs and stress), and start to wander in circles, falling into trances, losing their minds, and finally "settling," putting down roots, building permanent shelters, adopting laws--and make themselves "at home"?  Such a hypothesis might shed light on the human desire to travel (think of all those songs about "ramblin'," rolling stones, the billions spent on travel and transport, the horrors of "cabin fever," the punishment in imprisonment and "time-outs," as well as the fascination with space travel, jet-men, star treks, and "cruising."

The astronomical dimension of travel obsession is perhaps an echo of a darker meaning of "home."
"This world is not my home.
I'm just a passin' through.
My treasures are laid up
Somewhere beyond the blue.
The angels beckon me 
From heaven's open door,
And I can't feel at home
In this world anymore."
For millions and millions of people of religious conviction, home=death.
"Goin' home." "God called her home."  Such people see themselves crossing the Jordan, passing into the comfort of sweet death to rock in the bosom of Abraham.

As I said earlier, "I have been homeless for a good part of my life--IF home is staying in a fixed place, a place with a proper natural surround, a basement, an attic, etc.--and if Edgar Guest is right that one must stay there long enough to accumulate a "heap o' livin'," by which he means marriages, births, deaths, illnesses, crises, triumphs, shared epiphanies, gardens kept, generations established. In spite of lacking so many of its "markers," I have always felt "at home," in so many different dwellings and circumstances--trailers, boats, one-level flats, cramped rooms, spacious multi-level villas, garden apartments, urban tenements, alone, in pairs, in groups, en famille.

We are torn, ambivalent, nostalgic, homesick for ..something else...(saudade, sehnsucht, eleutheromania, ecophobia, resfeber), yet we dream always of getting home, when we are "away."  We picture the "cottage small by a waterfall," a fire in the hearth, our loved ones around us, food smells from the kitchen, sturdy shelter from the cold and storm, and rush out to buy the nearest god-awful painting by Thomas Kinkade, choose equally awful greeting cards to lie to each other about our feelings, and put up hundreds of photos on Facebook to make a branding, communal "selfie" depicting the endless series of victories and perfections that have blessed us and our domestic progeny.  On one hand, we fetishize home, by advertising home-cooked, home-made, home-spun, "make yourself at home," "no place like home," and refer to friends as "homeys." On the other hand we speak of an unattractive person as "homely," and are advised by realtors to stage our houses for quick sale, by erasing all "homey" touches, and emphasizing clean, slick, hard, and technological surfaces.  We're told to avoid, "quaint," "cozy," "unusual," in ads and told to talk about stainless steel, granite, and sleek. Perhaps LeCorbusier's definition of a dwelling as a "machine for living" has won the culture wars? Perhaps it is a Freudian fear of animalistic contamination?  Or perhaps it is the longing for a jet or rocket to carry us away (with a suitably re-manufactured partner) to a simpler, faster, joyous, speedy life, without the travails of illness, cleaning, death, schedules, lists, and eternal sameness.  All of this makes for the possibility of a new nostalgia.  Families 40 to 50 years ago, after an evening sitting in front of the TV,  mourned the loss of the family table and hearth, where shared stories brought the brood together. Now families text one another while watching commercial programming on 6 different device screens in separate rooms or vehicles, to mourn the loss of the family gathered around the TV to watch "All In the Family" or "The Ed Sullivan Show."

I grew up listening to "O, give me a home, where the buffalo roam, where the deer and the antelope play," and had no trouble imagining "home on the range."
I chose a life of always moving.  At my retirement ceremony, a colleague and old friend noted that anyone who knew me had learned to enter my name in their address book in pencil, since it changed so often.  Later I synthesized the two poles of home and travel by the not-so-simple solution of living on a boat! Home on the range became home on the waterways.  Like turtles, tortoises and mollusks, we took our home with us, cruising in comfort from port to port to anchorage, snug in the familiar confines of cabin, cockpit, galley, and vee-berth, but blown next day by wind (or diesel engine) to a new town, new people, new seascapes and challenges.  It was the closest I ever got to a solution to this human dilemma.  By suffering the intellectual and physical confines of early life in Kansas and Oklahoma and Indiana, I absorbed the subliminal message that moving always made things better.  And the bonus was a palpable sense of freedom.  "I can always just leave." "Start over."  Much later, Sartre and DeBeauvoir provided the theoretical armature I needed to rationalize these obsessions: consciousness IS freedom.  Even the prisoner chained to a wall can always to some extent recontextualize his plight.

Having a home is then, in my view, nothing more than being embodied.  "I" am all the relationships that bind me to my "surroundings," including those of fantasy, memory, hope, and imagination.  I carry my home in my (extended) body, in a way somewhat analogous to the sailor in his boat.  Having absorbed the efforts, distances, motions required to navigate my house, my neighborhood, my decade, my fellow human beings, I am "at home," thus embodying all those cliches of dwelling peaceably: familiarity, safety, affection, satisfaction, emotional attachment, and sharing--a domain that extends from the erotic to the cosmic and back again.  There may never be anyone truly "homeless" in this sense (though no one denies the tragedy of human beings without shelter--especially in rich, industrial countries.)  Sometimes it is quite enough to have one's "clean, well-lighted place," a "room of one's own," a wild duck in the attic, or a vee-berth after a hard day's sail.

However, there is that lurking shadow of having finished my 70s, and approaching the inevitable end of consciousness, of living.  Death awaits us all. That death is bodily death, so there is no place, no need, for a home after death, though we are sold (by religion, and various death industries) the idea of making ourselves comfortable in our "eternal rest." and have to cope with offers of paying to have eternal Muzak piped into our well-appointed mausoleums.  My eschatology can be summarized by the great philosopher, Rodney Dangerfield: "A girl phoned me the other day and said... 'Come on over, there's nobody home.' I went over. Nobody was home."

So what are we to do before that day?  Keep moving, even if "in place." The grim reaper will always win the race, eventually ("Always at my back I hear Time's winged chariot hurrying near...") But he occasionally stumbles, gets the address wrong, has second thoughts, so I remember that he can't really run that fast with that stupid hoody flopping around his knees, and carrying that heavy and inefficient scythe.  Besides, as the Stoics knew long, long ago: "Where I am, death is not; where death is, I am not."

* * *

Coda: so here I AM, where death is "not yet."  And where I am truly "at home." We have now lived more than ten years in this little haven in Portland; home has manifested itself in deep ways in the feel, views, smells, and familiarities of this house with its hearth and books, its busy kitchen, its gardens built and tended by F., its stairs, offices, and studio, its shop, tools, garages and fencing, its art and computers, its stained glass and music hanging in the air.  It feels like home, perhaps most of all, those cold winter evenings, after a good dinner, when we sit for a few minutes by the fire in the library, almost ready to climb the stairs to bed.  And, again, next morning, when I have started the coffee as first sunlight streams into the kitchen through the giant oak branches next door.  For me, home is a day well-lived with my love, and us in our place at the day's center, as it opens to unknown paths.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Wind & Waves - Body & Mind - Sailing

My mother told me that as a toddler I was afraid of feathers and road grader machines (huge/loud/destructive/yellow). Later, I came to be afraid of Hitler and Tojo (this is '30s and WWII '40s in rural Kansas and Oklahoma), and much more: Satan (blame church 3 times per week), snakes (rattlers), Mrs. Estes (principal of Garfield Grade School), and falling (climbed lots of trees--the only way to get much above 600 feet elevation in my part of Kansas!),  But two fears entailed mythic and prognostic dimensions that I couldn't have guessed then: wind and water.

I was born in Kansas in Dust Bowl days, and saw sky-high walls of dust that blotted out the sky as winds out of Colorado carried away the topsoil, fallen victim to ill-advised farming practices, and giving rise to artworks by the likes of Steinbeck, Walker Evans, Dorothea Lange, and Woody Guthrie. One of them stripped most of the paint off cars left out during a noisy orange noon twilight, with dust mounds forming indoors from minuscule cracks under doors. Then there were the tornadoes threatening every spring in those greenish black clouds and ceaseless lightning storms that seemed much more terrible than anything portrayed in Dorothy's Kansas/Oz.  (This terror was permanently imprinted in my psyche when I was rescued from a building totally destroyed by one of the strongest recorded storms of the mid-century, mid-country, which hit my church summer camp near Wichita in 1947, when I was eleven.)

These concrete threats of bodily harm from wind were paralleled by a much more abstract threat and fear: water.  There were, of course, local manifestations--the floods of the Verdigris River, which rose to a position only a couple hundred yards from our house on North Central Street, and inundated parts of the Sinclair Oil Refinery across the street.  But the floods were, for us, benign, quiet, an inconvenience for a couple weeks--a chance to pray for the farmers and gather canned goods for those flooded out.  I took swimming lessons, and liked the chlorine-inflected green water in the pool up by the airport, but paid only perfunctory attention to my parents' stories of drownings, cramps, and the dire consequences of waiting less than two hours after lunch to risk a few laps in the pool.

No, the real fear of water came abstractly--from church!  We learned that full-immersion baptism was a definite work of grace, as a testimony to our salvation and sanctification from God, via Jesus and the Jordan River.  Healing waters. Artesian wells.  Springs in the desert.  Nothing frightening in any of that--though some people in their frayed white clothing coughed and sputtered in alarming ways when lifted upright from the baptismal pool by the frail pastor--resurrection in a bug-eyed public ordeal. But the hymns and scriptures also carried a much, much darker message and threat: the stormy ocean, central trope of literally hundreds of Protestant hymns (perhaps attributable to the role played by ocean trade, militarism, and travel so essential to the management of the British Empire in its 19th century years of religious revivalist exportation.)

There I was, in 1944, an 8 year old worshiper in a hard pew over 500 miles from the nearest salt water beaches in Galveston, and some 1500 miles from oceans west and east, singing my heart out about the "mighty billows" of seas, lost mariners, struggling seamen, lights on the shore,  and so on.

Brightly beams our Father’s mercy,
From His lighthouse evermore,
But to us He gives the keeping
Of the lights along the shore.

  • Let the lower lights be burning!
    Send a gleam across the wave!
    Some poor struggling, fainting seaman
    You may rescue, you may save.

Without TV, and forbidden by my church to attend movies, I had to imagine a disaster flick of my own, with credits to Treasure Island and The Book of Knowledge, casting myself in the role of heroic boy who saves the girl on the burning deck. In my nightmares I'd fall from the deck into the heaving water, feeling my lungs near bursting as I fought upward towards the lantern light, only to wake coughing like the newly baptized fat lady in the flowered dress.   The imagined fear of the sea was founded, enhanced, expanded, made cosmic, however, in every preacher's hell-fire sermon about damnation: being "Lost," in the sea of my sins, with Christ as my only hope for salvation.  Watery theology as thalassophobia.

By the obscure logic of the unconscious and its needs, you will not be surprised to hear that these twin terrors of my childhood, wind and water, gave birth in my late maturity to my passion for...sailing.  

Indulge me for a moment by imagining a Venn-like diagram of four overlapping/intersecting circles, then label the left and right circles "wind" and "water."  Label the upper circle "philosophy," and the lower one, "making/craft."  If you draw a small sailboat in the central space, you'll have a diagram to illustrate some points I want to make about sailing.  Sailing is for me a satisfying activity that merges philosophy/theory with physical work/praxis. At the same time it is the locus of my intersecting childhood fears (abstract fear of water, concrete fear of wind.)

No, this simplification will never do.  Sailing lives at the junction of so many of mankind's larger defining myths, relying, as it does, on two of Empedocles' four elements (earth, air, fire, water), that he considered the building blocks of all existence.

Sailing is ancient--much older than philosophy, mythically, as well as historically. Insert montage here of stone-age dugout canoes with animal hide sails, Egyptian boats with 30 positions for oars as well as sails, coastal trade ships plying the near-East in the 3rd millenium, BCE, and evidence of workable boats as long as 45,000 years ago.  It is no wonder, then, that every culture contributes to the mythological progeny of this basic techne: Noah and the Flood, Jonah and the Whale, Jesus and the Fishermen's storm, Moses in the Bullrushes boat and parting the Red Sea, the cosmogony of the Enuma Elish creation myth from Babylon (12th century BC), the great flood of the Gilgamesh, and, later, Odysseus's defining struggles with navigation, with departure and return, which provide an armature for substantial portions of western culture and self-definition.  

Leonard Cohen ("Suzanne") opines that "Jesus was a sailor /When he walked upon the water /And he spent a long time watching /From his lonely wooden tower /And when he knew for certain /Only drowning men could see him /He said 'All men will be sailors then /Until the sea shall free them.' "

Some back story: I have owned boats and sailed for something approaching 50 years.  Some were small--dinghies, a Hobie Cat, a PortaBote, inflatables, a little Chrysler daysailor, etc. Others were larger--a Southern Cross 31, a C&C Landfall 35 (Dalliance), and a Hallberg-Rassy Rasmus 35 (Chantey). and our current boat, a 36 year old Bristol 24 (Wayfarer). One, the Southern Cross (Thalia), was our home for the better part of a year and a half in 1991-93.  Ma femme, F., and I lived aboard on the slowest of cruises from Maine to the west coast of Florida and back, anchoring out almost every night, raising innumerable bridges on the Intracoastal Waterway, and sampling seafood restaurants and quiet gunkholes up many of the rivers of the Eastern seaboard.  We, like so many others, had read the classic texts by sailing couples and singlehanders: the Roths, the Pardeys, the Hiscocks, Chichester, Knox-Johnston, Slocum, Moitessier, Graham, Aebi, and other hardy mariners and admired adventurers.  Unlike those listed here, but like so many others with sailing ambitions, we finally never crossed oceans, nor ventured far from terra firma. We were fair-weather sailors, cautious, heading offshore only when it seemed safest and easiest to get to the next intended port.  Oh, there are stories--of groundings, unexpected fog, near collisions, alligators, difficult passages, and so on...but we were rarely in any danger, compared to any ordinary drive on the Interstate, and were always a bit relieved to get the anchor down, set, and think about plans for dinner, whether cooking afloat, or taking the dinghy and bikes ashore to a restaurant.  We gave up plans ten years later to repeat the entire adventure in a larger boat after getting less than 200 miles down the coast, motivated by horrible weather patterns (10" of rain in less than a week, and winds on the nose) along the coast to head home and take a land-based driving vacation to the American Far West (If you are interested in THAT failed seafaring story, my first blog from 2002 is still online. It includes long letters en route describing our (mis)adventures.  It can be found HERE. )

All of which is to say: I was, and still remain,  a lousy sailor.

Why?  There are many reasons: as with skiing, I didn't start early enough; being a teacher with a doctorate, I, perversely, avoided lessons; I never learned to trust the physics of sailing in those cases when my body was giving me messages of danger; I have a vivid imagination of unwanted consequences for errors in judgment, distracted perception, sloppy navigation, possible but unlikely scenarios, and so on.  But under it all there are the remnants of that FEAR derived from childhood religious, mythic, and traumatic elements.  It's all that wind and water. 

So I sail to test my fear a little, and to bring myself back to the center a bit, having taken to heart some lessons from the ancient Greeks.  I was always a questioning child with a head full of "Why?".  Lost in books, checked out by sixes from the Carnegie Public Library in Coffeyville, Kansas, it would have been easy to slip slowly into a life spent "in my head," in philosophy, theory, argument in the university--and at the bars. But growing up on a quasi-farm with chickens, gardens, a cow, rabbits, and possessing a body that seemed to find numerous wanted sensations in sports, sexual activity, and, most of all, making things, I never quite became the intellectual that I sometimes aspired to be. I liked the "How?" as much as the "Why?"  My childhood was full of activities like building my own darkroom using scrap wood, a light bulb, some leftover etched glass, and old fabric to kill the window light.  I made crystal set radios, using WWII surplus earphones to listen to programs coming in on frequencies determined by moving a "cat-whisker" wire around on a piece of mineral.  I built a transmitter and receiver and got my novice license as a "ham radio" operator so I could tap out code messages to other "hams" from around the world, who sent me their QSL cards to confirm contact by means of my little soldered together contraptions.  There were bird houses from my garage "shop," pole-vaulting stands and sand pit, chemistry experiments, soldered tin trinkets, lanyards, skate-wheel carts, crochet and knitting attempts, clay models for new car designs, and endless evenings of shooting hoops with a basketball goal hung on the garage until after dark.

In short, I always suspected that Aristophanes had a point in his satire of Socrates--and all sophists--in The Clouds, with its "Thinkery." and its ridicule of those who go about with their heads in the clouds.  I wanted my head to be occasionally in a real cloud--say, the fog of Casco Bay on a boat that I'd worked on, and coaxed into being as a sailing vehicle by my own physical work.  I wanted to test my ideas about sailing against the realities of the wind and sea, however mildly, and carefully undertaken.

I thought that if I persisted, I'd absorb all that I needed to improve.  I'd watch those 12-year-old kids in sailing prams racing on a cold windy day, popping up and down like whack-a-mole toys, ducking under the boom, hiking out on the leeward rail, effortlessly controlling a boat at the mercy of wind and water, and find myself wishing I'd grown up near an ocean.  These kids were sailors in their bones and instincts, feeling the boat's next move, anticipating the next tack, having absorbed the boat into their virtually expanded bodies, just as I feel how to "shoulder" my way into a tight parallel parking space without thought or calculation.   So, lacking the option of having a different childhood,  I tried to think my way into comfortable skill as a sailor: we read about boat characteristics, sail area to displacement ratios, righting moments of various rig choices, and I got to know our boats stem to stern by becoming more adept in plastics, electronics, plumbing, woodwork, electrical circuits, engine maintenance and repair, and the thousand little challenges of keeping a sailboat seaworthy, as it ages, corrodes, rusts, decays, delaminates, and wears out in the harsh environments of salt air, sea water, extremes of temperature, wind and water force stresses, and unexpected mechanical failures.  Here, I was much more in my element: my childhood of making things, fixing things, learning the "how" of  electronics, woodwork, sewing, and mechanical building gave me a confidence in boat maintenance that I did not have in actual sailing.  Sometimes it seems that my late-life career has been essentially buying good boats, making them a great deal better, and then selling them at a substantial loss!

But this self-mocking assessment overlooks some deeper channels of interpretations.  Why sailing?  Practically, it is suitable for my old, less agile, weaker body--but so are many other ostensibly pleasurable pursuits.  Rather, I think, it is the "poetry" of the thing. Sailing, like a lover's caress, passes over the skin of the sea, leaving no trace, but quietly transporting the participants into unexpected feelings and perceptions. It is the "right" speed for taking in the world.  Like leisurely bicycling, it is fast enough to avoid boredom, slow enough to notice a thousand details we'd miss at 50 mph. In my kind of sailing, there are no heroic ascents (I still hire someone younger and stronger if a bulb needs changing at the top of the mast.)  There is no "Protestant" mythology of  effort required to "deserve" the pleasure of the view--no hike up miles of rocky cliffs to see...other rocky cliffs, from a different angle, no agonizing, drug-assisted ascents as in the mountainous stages of the Tour de France.  There is no substantial risk of breaks, sprains, and concussions, as with skiing.  Unlike poker, fantasy sports, bridge, chess, and such, which entail no outdoor component--no mythic return to the rocking amniotic fluid of the womb--no connection to the deeper mythologies of human culture across the millenia--sailing takes me into nature as a partner and participant, of sorts.  It suits me.  

And it synthesizes that tension I earlier evoked in my imagined Venn diagram--it allows me to recognize myself at the juncture of what I've made and what I fear, what I think and what I do.  Mind and body, theory and praxis, wind and wave. Marx taught us that in the dialectic of Master and Slave, the slave is the ultimate winner: the Master owns the means of production, controls the vast powers of the State, buys the laws needed to keep control, and decides the agenda of the apparatus of control. But, by that very position of assumed superiority, in his lack of equals, his paltry cohort of power-holding moguls, rulers, and CEOs, he finds himself multiply alienated--from others and from his own identity.  He lives in fear of revolt from the superior numbers and strength of the mass of workers he controls. The Slave, on the other hand, does not live in fear of losing what he owns, and moreover, he possesses the keys and tools of all the engines of production. He is skilled.  He is the Maker, the Worker, the productive element of the social whole. And, best of all, he recognizes himself in what he makes, what he is capable of doing and being. Marx says that history is on the side of the workers.

Of course I mean this comparison as a rather silly and grandiose allegory, only.   In my little boat I am nothing approaching a mystical synthesis of human history and personal redemption.  I'm just a slightly nervous near-octogenarian in a plastic hull with a couple large fabric sails and a smile, as we're sailing off the mooring with my love coming back to the cockpit from the bobbing, tilting bow, an osprey there over her right shoulder high up under the quiet clouds. It is enough.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Is Cher Still There? Stopping Time to Salvage Identity

Is Paris still Paris?  And the Loisaida, aka Alphabet City?  Is a massively restored work of art or building or gentrified neighborhood the same painting, building, or hood as its original? Am I the same person I was 70 years ago?  Is a single difference from a moment before sufficient to call any being's identity into question? How much of Cher would have to be replaced by plastic surgery to justify a claim that she's not the same person?

Time's passing plays havoc with our ordinary language concerning such matters. What can be meant by "same"?  We define a "noun" as name of a person, place, thing, or idea--as if Heraclitus (500 BC) had never written about not being able to step twice into the same river.  Does modern physics teach us that all nouns are really verbs--shorthand for processes, passages, structured changes? Language seems to be a web of useful lies to allow us to survive the processes that surge through us.  "I" "am" a momentary "kink in space-time" as "energy-event"--though any formulation of this sort is immediately misleading and false.

Or is it the other way around?  Do we invent time to keep everything from happening "all at once," while the universe/Absolute dwells incessantly in self-referential, unchanging perfection?  Such questions were exhaustively explored over 2,000 years ago, but most cultural production since (religion, philosophy, science, law, history, art, politics, myth, literature, and so on) cannot dispense with the ongoing debates, nor settle the question in any satisfactory way, stuck, as we are, in the viscous melange of language and existence.  Somebody will always be writing some version of Being and Time.

To borrow a Jesuitical term: the "proximate cause" of these thoughts was a fascinating article, "The Custodians," by Ben Lerner in the January 11, 2016, New Yorker, which provides a peek into one of the inevitable consequences of questions of change and identity, as it applies to museum practices in restoration of works of art. (How to respect the original work of the painter--by restorative interventions to recreate the intended object as of its inception, or by allowing the ravages of temporal change to re-present a work in historical process?)  We see the same sort of debate in the Supreme Court arguments concerning the Constitution, the framers' intent, the ontology of law, and so on.  If my DNA is permanently altered by stem-cell transplant, can I be tried for a crime committed before the transplant?  More radically, if only neurons in the cerebral cortex are never replaced in me in the course of my lifetime, then I am quite literally a different being every decade or so.  May be time to change the marriage vows to "till death do us part, or 51% of our current carnal cell cohort are no party to this contract."  Could a clone of myself be tried for a crime I committed?  If I pay 56 million dollars for a painting by Picasso that turns out to be by a counterfeiter who has successfully replicated down to the molecular level a painting that was subsequently destroyed in a fire, what is the actual value of what I've bought?

Once noticed, it is in fact, difficult to avoid the question everywhere, ...so we throw up our hands, apply a band-aid to the issue at hand, and proceed as though the matter had been settled--usually building an elaborate ideology around our way of treating it--a kind of blindfold against the temporary character of the band-aid.  Are you listening, Justice Scalia?

I should not have singled out Cher to serve as example: her alterations are, by entertainers' standards, minimal, and there is so much unchanged of her and her work, that it would make no sense to seriously question whether a new album by Cher is, in fact, by Cher, whether or not I subsequently decide that the music was worth the purchase price.

I sit here, three weeks from my 80th birthday, with a related, but different sort of question in mind: Who am I?  What have I been?  Are all biographies, diaries, memoirs, photographic, aural, and memory-based histories entirely fictional?
Who the hell is this guy?

All three photos were taken 60-65 years ago.  All were labelled with my name. All were taken in Oklahoma, outdoors with trees.  I remember the striped tee and the old folding Kodak case that I took to camp that summer. This guy had hair. There are structural hints of continuity, of course: male, facial bones, arm length, and such.  One wants more evidence.  We look for "signs" of the future, retroactively known.  Destiny is a comforting alibi; it takes away responsibility. "See? Always liked water.  Interested in photography. Couldn't decide between dignity and slapstick. Obviously same guy."  But I crave more: did "he" guess that he'd be a philosophy teacher, that he'd love France, that he'd live on both coasts, that his last years would be spent in Maine, that he'd get to know New York and Paris as well as he knew Coffeyville and Tulsa?  No.  And not the slightest sign of any of that in the photo.

The author (Ben Lerner) of the "proximate cause" article, linked above, was, it turns out, like me, born in Kansas.  His birthday is one day different from mine in February (though he was born 43 years after me).  Does he grin over old photos of himself being 13 in Topeka? There are a few differences besides 4 decades of living: he is a much honored poet, novelist, essayist, and winner of a MacArthur Fellowship, a Guggenheim, and a National Book Award, just for starters.  He and Adam Gopnik also comprise my private roster of "must-read-immediately" regular contributors to the New Yorker and many other prominent print venues.  They are still here, still developing as writers and thinkers.  Will they turn out to be icons of our century?  Where will they be in 2084?  This year my dad would be 109, my mother, 102.  They are not here--just like the kid in the 3 photos above, but it seems different since I am still here, however difficult it might be to explain this identity over time.  In one physical sense, they, too are still here: their dust is still inventoried in the Oklahoma soil.  And the rust molecules of my first car, a 1941 Plymouth are also still here...somewhere...

So what am I doing, sitting here typing this blog post?  No way the words will live on after me (I don't even have my collection of movies on Betamax tapes any longer, and my floppy disks have no port on my computer any more, and the hard drives on this computer, and on the web servers sending my words onto the network will also pass into obsolescence and landfill, as will I.

We're thrown onto the dance floor without having asked to appear there.  May as well dance to the music, until it rocks us to sleep.  We'll take turns.  I'll keep you being you, if you'll keep me being me, at least until someone fails to notice.  A quick bow to Yeats, "How can we know the dancer from the dance?"

Friday, January 8, 2016

Exocentricity and Travel: Where is "Somewhere Else?"

I usually list "travel" among my interests when asked by a website or new acquaintance.  But what is travel?

We probably would not count just any displacement in space, any lat/lon or other spatial coordinates previously missing from our collection of bodily occupied origins (0,0) as travel.  Any untouched stone in a neglected garden zooms relentlessly around the sun, logging more frequent-flier miles than anyone has ever claimed against any airline, but we'd find it odd to say the stone is traveling.

We find ourselves immediately in the throes of Relativity Theory.  When the train on the next track at Penn Station starts to pull out, I am tempted to certainty that my train is moving.  In the absence of other clues, the truth can be ascertained only by appeal to an observer exterior to both trains, and the "truth" will need to be stated in some tedious form such as "from my observer's position C it appears to me that train B is moving with respect to the stationary train A--by which I mean that train A is not being displaced relative to my perception of MY position in 3-dimensional space.  Of course we'd need yet another observer D to verify the relative state of motion of train A and the initial observer C...and so to infinity.

When I travel, I tend to favor mundane activities over "attractions."  I usually prefer to sit in a cafe in Paris, or walk along the Seine, or through the Jardins de Luxembourg, rather than wait in lines for the elevator to the deck of the Eiffel Tower, or queue up for the Beaubourg or the Louvre.  Usually.   I have, however, slept in my car in the lot next to Chartres cathedral to be able to enter as early as possible and spend the day in awe and contemplation.  Why?  I could walk with so much less effort from my bedroom to my office to spend the day there in similar rapt enthrallment.  Sailing alone around the room. Circumnavigating my back yard. When my mother asked Dad if he'd like to drive with her to California, he answered, "Why? I didn't lose nothin' over there." (My aunt agreed to make the trip with her.)  Tony Bourdain: "I eat, I travel, I'm hungry for more." We'll always be hungry for more, since once we've introjected another locale as our own, it is no longer "travel."  My brief rental of a basement apartment with a water view taught me that over time it was little different from looking out upon any other view.  Once I get somewhere else, well, there I am!  Memo to self: "How can I miss you, if you won't go away?"

I therefore question my oft-repeated contention that the value and beauty of a liberal arts education is to make oneself "at home" in the widest possible variety of worlds: Gregorian chants, Elizabethan dramas, surrealist poetry, 12-tone music, Bororo tribesmen, the Athenian agora, quadrilateral equations, string theory, Chinese dynastic history, Muslim theology.  But once inhabited in a familiar way, they all become just...me again.  "Here comes everybody."  We dream of exotic travel, but we are forced, finally, to admit that a "bucket list" is nothing but an enumeration of prospective "selfies."  And we look at the image of ourselves at St. Moritz or the Kremlin, trying to get back inside the moment of the camera click, while hoping that others note the awesomeness of Being-Me-There.  They are still outside me, outside the photo, and so now am I, in that moment of lost merger and transcendence. There's not even the satisfaction of ordinary masturbation, since I don't experience the situation at the same moment that I'm perceiving it from my distance.  Zen Master to hot dog vendor: "Make me One with Everything..."

Mystical eroticism always tends towards that moment when I can't distinguish the flesh of my beloved from my own--but the moment passes.  Medieval theologians logically concluded that God, being perfect, could not waste his time and spoil his perfection by contemplating his dependent/finite creation (imperfect me!).  He could only contemplate Perfection--that is, Himself in His infinite perfection.  (All of which is subverted by the masculine pronoun:  S/He?  I know no man is perfect. Agnostic about XX-chromosome beings, but still in doubt.) Hegel and Mormons provide maps for achieving divine perfection as Absolutes...but I still have to tie my shoes in the morning and deal with the latest news regarding Donald Trump, as Kierkegaard might have noted.

Shortcuts?  Maybe sex, drugs, and music--which provide occasional intimations of immortality in immediacy.  Bacchantes, LSD, universe in a grain of sand, St. Teresa in ecstasy, orgasm, Sufism's musical mysticism. Maybe also habits--a poor man's dreamt substitute for immortality: conceiving eternal life/heaven as doing the same thing...forever. Maybe it will never stop.  If I have coffee every morning at 7, and have always had coffee at 7, then maybe I'll never die. (Though that's my idea of Hell: Chipmunks Christmas music, repeated forever. Would harps and Hosannahs wear any better?  High-minded discussions with the Apostles?  Just an interminable Faculty Meeting.)

All of which provides a motive to distinguish between egocentric and exocentric viewpoints.  Most films are shot exocentrically: the camera makes us an observer of the interactions of the actors--even when we are being invited to identify with the hero or protagonist: we watch John Wayne slug the bad guy or in The Searchers watch his ambivalence in the search for his kidnapped niece, Natalie Wood--all from outside the mind and eyes of Ethan.  But a few rare films adopt an egocentric camera mode: in  Lady In the Lake, we, the audience, see from Marlowe's (Robert Montgomery's) perspective.  Exhaustively.  With a couple brief exceptions, when he addresses the audience, we live "inside the head" of Marlowe.  This disorienting experience should seem normal, since we "live inside our own heads" always.  In fact a great number of films shift between the two modes rapidly, and we accommodate the transitions seamlessly, living in the perception of passengers A and B, as well as the observer C, without confusion. We could note that we are simultaneously accommodating the equally puzzling merger belonging to the Paradox of the Actor: we see Ethan looking for his daughter, but we also see John Wayne's short-legged walk and hear his idea of a cowboy's drawl.  We know he is being false to himself, mimicking artificially to be able to make Ethan "real."

I would hazard a guess that the key to travel is "staging."  We build an armature, a set and setting, and cast ourselves in the starring (selfie) role.  Here I am with a beautiful woman in a gondola in Venice: now what?!   Well, mauvaise foi, as Sartre would have it:  bad faith.  I enter the persona or mask of Mastroianni, lower my chin, raise an eyebrow and take a "selfie," whether mental or actual, then invite my "Friends,," whether Facebook or actual, to credit my performance, while suffering the quiet knowledge that I am Darrell trying to BE Mastroianni, and am not, therefore, Mastroianni, thus abandoning responsibility for choosing this role in favor of a fixed, essential identity.  This is a reason why I'm not a fan of meeting people at parties.  Parties are a fight to the death among actors demanding recognition and identification as Essences: the Philosopher, the Rebel, the World Traveler, the Sensitive Listener, the Lover, the Most Interesting Man in the World. That world-class XTreme climber, hanging in a hammock off the face of El Capitan, is just a shivering guy running through his thoughts about mortality and future stories to tell at parties (with the proper seasoning of self-deprecation.) The wealthy fund manager in the best 5-star restaurant is a mammal with his mouth full of sweet, sour, bitter, salty, smooth, hot, cold organic bits with names requiring some translation--for which he's willing to pay the better part of a year's salary of another  less privileged mammal...so he can tell the people at Truman's party about this most extraordinary culinary pilgrimage.  And so it goes.

So why do those of us who live in Maine--Vacationland--spend thousands to travel to New Orleans or Dubai, when the people who live there are spending thousands to come see Maine?  Why not Nebraska?  All that's required is staging: same sky, same moon, same rocks, same retail chains,  strip-malls, 6-lane thoroughfares, stop-lights, motionless squirrels, women with beautiful smiles, minerals, Toyotas, and traffic lights.  Ansel Adams could have skipped Yosemite and shot Yazoo City, MS, instead.

Finally, travel is an almost fool-proof universal alibi.  Say I am able-bodied, modestly educated, and "employable" in standard ways, while spending my time walking, looking out windows, reading, going to concerts, plays, galleries, and shops.  Say, further, that I avoid all gainful employment, sleep when I please, and obey only the dictates of seasonal survival and the pleasure principle.  If asked, "What do you do?", I am suddenly a candidate for all sorts of negative judgments: I am a slacker, a bum, a lazy, leeching, dysfunctional, pitiful excuse for a human being.  Not at all:  I calmly answer, "I am travelling," and all is well. Travel is the only vocation that allows me to do nothing at all, and garner near universal admiration and even envy.

I'll take Borges, over Theroux, or Baedeker, as my guide to travel.  We live in staged constructs, exocentrically synthesizing components we choose to include in our egocentric roles--rebuilding the ship of self, while at sea.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Snow, Red Bull, Pork Chop, Bad Knee: Only Connect!

There's a difficult and popular BBC quiz show called, "Only Connect," which rewards the team that guesses the connection among several seemingly unrelated elements--fitting as a 21st-century pop-culture coda to the last century which began with a hearty British debate over the doctine of "internal relations," pitting Bertrand Russell against A. N. Whitehead, and a group of neo-Hegelians, who believed that relations among things are internal to the reality of that thing--that the relation "smaller-than" is part of the reality of the moon with respect to the sun, for example. Most would be amazed by the importance of one's answer to such a question.  All the major imponderables of truth, reality, value, history, and meaning seem to hinge on it.

But here I will leave the Big Question itself aside to undertake a brief writing exercise for this new blog (though noting that my Marxist view of history is unthinkable without adherence to some version of the theory of internal relations, as do most of the key tenets of contemporary astrophysics.)  (Maybe.)

My less ambitious goal here is to write about my day from yesterday afternoon to today in a manner that I used as armature for my lectures in front of philosophy classes and film seminars over 2-3 decades: free association.  I hasten to add that when a human mind is involved, there are no "free" associations--indeed a computer requires a mathematically careful program to generate any truly random series.  I relied on a version of Freud's powerful theory of the unconscious motivations of any "spontaneous" association to provide a structuring invisible hand to give form to my stand-up classroom performances. Down that road lies the entire history of surrealism!  And the comedy of Jonathan Winters and Robin Williams. And jazz improvisation.  Finally,... most artistic creation.

You may have noticed that it is too damned cold.  Winter has come to extract its tax against the best Maine summers.  Snow, ice, and single digit temperatures are readily available.  Three days ago on my morning walk, while stepping over a wide spot of ice on an uneven section of sidewalk, I felt something give in my left knee--just a brief unexpected displacement, followed by a few limping steps before continuing my walk.  That night I was awakened by sharp pain in that knee, and since then, I have had to limit my mobility, and reacquaint myself with ice packs, Nsaid medications, and new ways to descend our stairs.  Also a few blasphemous invocations.  Finding myself less mobile and in need of icing, I settled myself at the computer for yesterday's afternoon. One can only read so much about The Donald, so boredom led me to have a look back at the long-abandoned blog, Exocentrist, that used up my winter 3 years ago.  I thought I might update the software version of Word Press, the database, and the various widgets and extensions that populated several hundred computer screens with my
digital expostulations.  Software updates being what they are, one button-click delivered the message, "Fatal Error: Call to undefined function get_taxonomies_for_attachments()..."  My access to the command center dashboard had been dashed, putting a full stop to my vague plan to update and reanimate the blog.  You see where this is leading.  A couple hours later I had decided to start a new blog with different software (Blogger, rather than Word Press, since F., ma femme, had used it to make a blog for her class last week, and the results were impressive).

So blame the snow for this sequel, Exocentrist2.

Could have gone so many other ways.  Could be trying to write poetry after recalling Frost's snowy classic. Could have tracked down old photos of ski trips decades ago to wonder again why people enjoy X-country slogs in the woods, when the exhilaration of whooshing descents in France, Vermont, Colorado, or California still exists for those with legs (knees) not approaching 80 years in age. Could have started planning in earnest for our move to Delray Beach,  or Sarasota, Florida.  Could have scuttled my no-alcohol resolve of last May to seek out a good bottle of cognac or armagnac to toast the pleasures of a long afternoon in bed with the latest by Knausgaard or an old familiar E. B. White collection. Instead, I spent the afternoon typing English into rectangular boxes and clicking on links to connect up the innumerable zeros and ones of someone else's programming idea of a good way to spend a snowy afternoon.  Why, o why, did s/he offer such lousy layout and background options?  Such limits on options? Such invitations to Spam and toxic commentary?

Today, I resumed my Drunkard's Walk decision procedures:  oatmeal for breakfast, because COLD, and I grew up eating Quaker Oats every morning for about 30 years.  F. off to teach.  Realized we needed coffee and such, and decided to go to get groceries, thinking about oats, which led me to choose a packet of thin-cut pork-chops of the sort that my grandma always made in Oklahoma.  While thinking of that I passed a box of Gluten-Free Bisquik!  So long since I've had biscuits--best were at Grandma's house before my wheat sensitivity years.  Yum.  Oh, we're out of shortening.  I'd heard of Red Bull (just passing it there on the high shelf). What is it?  Decided to try it since a little extra caffeine might perk up my cold day indoors?  No wine.  Lunch time: why not just throw a chop into a skillet. Better pick up some apple sauce.  Grandma was 5' 9," thin as a rail, and in her 80s, after 7-8 kids, still driving well past any Oklahoma speed limit, while cackling and complaining to my 5' 5" ox-like grandpa, a blacksmith, then welder for the town's wealthy founder and big time philanthropist boss.  Kicked by horses.  Gimpy from that--and falls off houses. They hated snow, but pork chops, biscuits, and white gravy kept them their idea of healthy.  Never a drop of alcohol.  Jesus 24 hours a day.  Racist to the core. No blogs. Would they have voted for Trump? Did his knee always hurt in the night?  Grandma once told me that she worked in the garden every afternoon, since Charley always wanted her to come in and rub his leg.  "I knew what THAT meant!  Pretended I couldn't hear him."...

Time to ice my knee.  What ever happened to that anvil in grandpa's basement? My other grandpa was born in 1860, I think, before the Civil War.  He was an itinerant preacher and farmer out of Tennessee, and in Oklahoma while it was Indian Territory.  Could barely read the Bible. Did he preach by free association? Dad only finished 8th grade.  They'd all say, "What's a blog?"  "What's a computer?"  "Pass the pork chops."   Better go find some Crisco. Butter?  We don't have grandma's coffee can of bacon grease.  When mom told her I had finished my Ph.D., she wrote me to ask for advice about her roses.  Over fifty years ago, and the only letter I ever got from her.  Please pass the pork chops.

Koons and Trump, etc.

...speaking of Jeff Koons and Donald Trump...I'm just back from a few days in New York, where I confirmed the ongoing relevance of a photocollage that I made a few years ago, Metropolis Redux:  (click to enlarge)

This very large work, recently exhibited in a group show at the University of New England, can be seen with zoom software at photocollagist.com.

"Art" Now

M. Kakutani (NYTimes) reviews Julian Barnes promising new book on painting, Keeping An Eye Open.  A tasty sample:
Mr. Barnes can be blunt, even snarky in articulating his tastes in art; he writes that Warhol “is an artist rather as Fergie is a Royal.” But, at heart, his essays are animated by his keen, appraising eye, and a wellspring of common sense. He dismisses critics who have discerned a misogyny in Degas’s work — based, it seems, on rumors of his own absent love life — when, as Mr. Barnes points out, his radiant studies of dancers and bathers make it clear that he “plainly loved women” in his art. He also turns out to be shrewd in reminding us how Picasso — whose life seemed vulgar and egotistic in comparison to, say, Cézanne’s — now appears high-minded in contrast to “the most ‘successful’ artists of the 21st century, flogging their endless versions of the same idea to know-nothing billionaires.”
Much to argue about here, as always, but I, for one, would much prefer an afternoon with anything written by Barnes or Jed Perl (and a laptop to look up the artwork discussed) to an afternoon in some Chelsea gallery puzzling over the latest shiny objects by Koons, Hirst, or Yi.  (Same goes for the soul-less current Biennial at the Portland Museum of Art--Maine's contribution to the push for "21st century" art.)  And, uh...Donald Trump is a "21st century statesman."

Monday, January 4, 2016

Begin Again: Exocentrist2

About Exocentrist2: This is the "second coming" of a short-lived (3-month) blog I created three years ago--exocentrist.com--still online, including scores of posts, but no longer maintained.
Capt. Henri Rochard: “You from Brooklyn?”
Sentry: “Yonkers.”
Capt. Henri Rochard: “What are those?”
(Cary Grant, “I Was a Male War Bride”)
Fair enough.  What are exocentrists?
exocentric   adj.
Standing “outside” the egocentric view of a situation--a
n indirect move, a head-fake, an unexpected emergent meaning. Etymologically, it means “standing outside the center”–a more extreme form of eccentricity.  Ex-stasis = standing/being “beside oneself” = ecstasy.  A mashup of these definitions sounds about right.   This blog is a hymn to Outsiders--not to centrist politics, centrist artists, or centrist style. Quite the reverse! 
I’m Darrell Taylor, a retired professor of philosophy and film, living in Maine since the late 1980s. I was one of the first few web developers in Maine, starting my Eyemagic company in 1995, and making scores of web sites for artists, companies, therapists, a wrestler, and so on, until closing Eyemagic around 2003.  I blogged for a while in 2003 as lightandvariable, then used that name for my renewed computer/web company. In addision,  I have made very large (8 – 12 foot long)  photocollages since the early '90s (photocollagist.com), and have exhibited my work in various galleries. I have been with F., my photographer/teacher wife for 29 years. We sailed our 31′ sailboat from Maine to the west coast of Florida and back, living aboard the boat for a year and a half (mostly 1992). My interests in philosophy were largely French 20th century (Sartre, Merleau-Ponty, Derrida, Barthes), but I taught Hegel, Nietzsche, Freud, Husserl, and Heidegger, as well as many courses in film theory, film and politics–perhaps 30 different courses over 25 years, mostly at Queens College, CUNY, but also visiting at Penn State, Yale, USC, and other schools. Helped found the Film Studies department at Queens, and taught mostly film courses last 13 years of my time at Queens. Don't bother googling my publications--I avoided most professional expectations. Politically, I am Left Progressive–much to the left of any Democrat holding national office. I am angry that our country has been taken over by Republiclowns, fundamentalists, Fox/Limbaugh clones, and anti-science “know-nothings,” and hope to live long enough to see America regain something of its heritage as inclusive, free, a bastion of civil liberties and justice, and an example to the world.  I'm surprised to be turning 80 in a month!
My Work History
Kansas childhood: lawn care, newspaper delivery, salve salesman (1936-49)
Oklahoma Jr. High, High School + : newspaper delivery, antenna installer, radio repairman, factory worker–assembly line in corrugated box plant (1949-55)
Indiana College: gospel quartet singer, choir director, associate pastor, publicity/art director for national religious radio program (1955-59)
California Grad School: Danforth Fellowship through Ph.D. Children’s choral director, associate minister, cantor in reform temple, soloist, factory worker (windows), mason’s helper, interior decorator deliveryman and janitor (1959-1966), college teacher in 2 colleges.
France: study, no pay. (1966-67)
New York
 and Pennsylvania: professor, visiting professor (1967-91) in 4 colleges and universities.
Maine retirement, 1991. Sailing adventures, 1991-93,  founder/owner of Eyemagic Web Developers, 1994-2003, founder/owner of lightandvariable, photocollagist–large-scale murals, frequent travel to France.(2003-now).

Exo2 - Changing Course

I abandoned exocentrist.com three years ago after three months of almost daily posts.  Burn-out.  I couldn't keep the pace--whether writing new copy that I hoped someone would find interesting, or directing my readers' attention to noteworthy work by others (movies, articles, photos, critique, political theory, or humor.)

I deactivated my Facebook account long ago.  I'm still on Twitter (@photocollageart), but extreme brevity does not suit my style nor my preoccupations.

This time will be different.  I will treat Exo2 as a sort of Twitter account with no 140-character limit--a place to vent, notice, reminisce, comment, and criticize in my own words, with fewer links to found web-objects.  I will not seek primarily to entertain, but will be pleased, if a post should  provide some mix of surprise, pleasure, and readerly satisfaction.  I'll write for myself, but hope to stand close enough to you to share something worth sharing.  Occasionally.

All aboard.