tumbledry

Spirit

*The opening montage of Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron begins playing*
I just HAVE to run at this part, Dada! I have to run when the horses are running!
*Essie runs many laps around the first floor of the house.*

Gratitude

I see people. Every day, I see them. Ostensibly, they’re there for a dental appointment but of course everything’s connected. I hear of sudden deaths, grinding mental illnesses, slow goodbyes. If I release the exigencies of those days from my mind, it leaves me with this low note: there’s not a lot we can do to make sure we are here tomorrow. We have the time we have, and nobody, no-thing knows when that time will run out.

Does this knowledge help me rise to meet the challenges of marriage and fatherhood and personhood? So far, not really, no. This is perhaps because I have assembled a logical progression: if we take A premise as true, then B and C must follow and thus life is precious. When you build your life and your thinking around the opposite, assuming you’ll be there indefinitely, it takes time to restructure from a new, actual, real and true premise: finitude. After all, youth is for the young.

So I’m trying to build a foundation of gratitude. Not gratitude de novo, not one derived from first principles — for that would be exhausting and is likely beyond my lilliputian philosophical understanding and reading. Rather, a gratitude growing from neither abstract reasoning nor current conditions — which is to say, well, one condition: that of being here. I don’t always meet challenges with any sort of composure or big-picture calm. I rarely perceive the grace, the luck, that put me here. But trying to do it is important: I don’t know how many chances I have to get it right.

Decorating

Decorating

We got a Siberian Fir tree this year and the smell is SPECTACULAR. Mykala said the smell is slightly fruity, which is precisely what the articles online say. Essie is helping to trim it here. It’s our first Christmas season in the new house. More to say, more to write, more to post, but she’s sleeping soundly upstairs and we’re watching a Christmas movie down here and maybe it’ll all be alright.

Greta Thunberg

Transcript: Greta Thunberg’s Speech At The U.N. Climate Action Summit : NPR:

This is all wrong. I shouldn’t be up here. I should be back in school on the other side of the ocean. Yet you all come to us young people for hope. How dare you!

You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words. And yet I’m one of the lucky ones. People are suffering. People are dying. Entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction, and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth. How dare you!

For more than 30 years, the science has been crystal clear. How dare you continue to look away and come here saying that you’re doing enough, when the politics and solutions needed are still nowhere in sight.

When I see Ess tonight after work, I could apologize, but she wouldn’t understand. I’ll have to find a better way to apologize.

Eggs

A few weeks back, Essie found an egg at the base of one of our front yard shrubs — we haven’t seen the mom of the egg at all, and Mykala and I are pretty convinced that this egg isn’t going to hatch. Why should we share that guess with Ess, though? We don’t even know what animal it is from. Then recently, another one appeared by the base of one of our tomato plants.

I just love the enthusiasm and hope and joy Essie takes in little things like this. We’ll keep checking every day.

To-Do List

So Ess drew up this to-do list in early August. This is the list of things she wanted to do this next day:

Here’s the list itself:

EssieList

And guess what? We did all of it.

This Life

James Wood wrote a tremendous review of Martin Hägglund’s This Life: Secular Faith and Spiritual Freedom called If God Is Dead, Your Time Is Everything. Since I’ll be quoting a review that quotes the book, we’re two degrees removed from the source, but I don’t have the book yet and there are tons of ideas here I want to mark. Here’s one:

The problem with eternity is not that it doesn’t exist (Hägglund is uninterested in the pin dancing of proof and disproof) but that it is undesirable and incoherent; it kills meaning and collapses value. This is a difficult truth to learn, because we are naturally fearful of loss, and therefore attached to the idea of eternal restoration.

So you could write a book (or, heck, a novel) about this one point, but Hägglund is going to continue to pull the threads of this logic and see what we can learn both about how to live our daily lives and how to conceptualize life itself.

The great merit of Hägglund’s book is that he releases atheism from its ancient curse: its sticky intimacy with theism. Hägglund has no need for a parasitical relationship to the host (which, for instance, contaminates the so-called New Atheism), because he’s not interested in disproving the host’s existence. So, instead of being forced into, say, rationalist triumphalism (there is no God, and science is His prophet), he can expand the definition of the secular life so that it incorporates many of the elements traditionally thought of as religious. Hägglund’s argument here is aided by Hegel’s thinking about religion. For Hegel, as Hägglund reads him, a religious institution is really just a community that has come together to ennoble “a governing set of norms—a shared understanding of what counts as good and just.” The object of devotion is thus really the community itself.

These two ideas together force one who has grown up in religion (could be any religion, could be many religions, doesn’t matter) to ask themselves (a) which of their human anxieties are they salving with religious conceptions and (b) what societal ills are quelled by the existence of religion. Asking these questions allows one to recontextualize religion in life: only then can you choose or reject religion itself. In the absence of this deconstruction, you are simply choosing or rejecting religion’s idiosyncrasies, specificities, and people, not the ideas put forth by it or the social institutions buttressed by it.

And to sidestep the fact that I don’t have the time to read Ludwig Feuerbach’s “The Essence of Christianity”, I have to avoid Wood’s deep dive into Feuerbachian thought and instead head to this conclusion:

Feuerbach wanted to liberate human beings from their harmful self-deceptions, but Hägglund sees no imperative to disdain this venerable meaning-making projection, no need to close down all the temples and churches and wash them away with a strong dose of Dawkins. Instead, religious practice could be seen as valuable and even cherishable, once it is understood to be a natural human quest for meaning. Everything flows from the double assumption that only finitude makes for ultimate meaning and that most religious values are unconsciously secular. We are meaning-haunted creatures.

Dayum. I’d wear a t-shirt that read MEANING-HAUNTED. So let’s look at meaning more:

Savagely compressed, Hägglund’s argument goes something like this: If what makes our lives meaningful is that time ends, then what defines us is what Marx called “an economy of time.” Marx is, in this sense, probably the most secular thinker who ever lived, the one most deeply engaged with the question of what we do with our time. He divided life into what he called the realm of necessity and the realm of freedom. Hägglund adopts these categories: the realm of necessity involves socially necessary labor and the realm of freedom involves socially available free time. Rationally, Hägglund says, we should strive to reduce the realm of necessity and increase the realm of freedom. But capitalism is systemically committed to exploiting most of us, and to steadily increasing the amount of labor at the expense of our freedom. Capitalism treats the means of economic life, labor, as though it were the purpose of life. But, if we are to cherish this life, we have to treat what we do as an end in itself. “The real measure of value,” Hägglund says, “is not how much work we have done or have to do (quantity of labor time) but how much disposable time we have to pursue and explore what matters to us (quality of free time).”

So at this point, with these enormous excerpts, I’m just providing thin and ill-informed color commentary on Wood’s great piece of writing. I’ll stop. Just go and read the thing! I have to leave with one more quote, though:

…as Hägglund puts it, “our own lives—our only lives—are taken away from us when our time is taken from us.” We are familiar with the secular charge that religion is “life-denying.” Hägglund wants to arraign capitalism for a similar asceticism. Religion, you might say, enforces asceticism in the name of the spiritual; capitalism enforces asceticism in the name of the material.

And one more thought: ask yourself why capitalism works. Sure, it’s a way for us to specialize, to agree on a system where we barter our effort and our skills not onesie-twosie by individual transactions but rather in service of the whole scorekeeping system called money. And what happens when there’s a system of scorekeeping? We get to declare winners and losers, villains and heroes, us and them. Humans LOVE “us and them”. It’s like their favorite thing in the whole world to do: exclude and judge. So while I love love these ideas of annihilating fundamentally inhumane capitalism, doing so means you still have to solve a tougher problem: replacing the human need to count dollar by dollar why they are winning a game (only some of us agreed to play) with something else, to satisfy the desire to score-keep.

It sounds tautological, but we love games and capitalism persists because it is a game we love. You have to find a game that’s just as pervasive and distracting to the human animal, without being so harmful. And then: world peace, right?

Stitches

Hi, Ess. I really should check in more often here, but of course I have many excuses: all those little things I’ve been working on that seem big now and I’ll forget in the future. In between those, I get to see you. I’m not always there, though. For that, I am very sorry.

Sometimes you dress up as Super Essie:

SuperEssie

And sometimes you dress up as a cat:

EssieCat

Or you tuck Poppy in for bed:

Poppy

But sometimes you fall and lacerate your forehead so badly that, when your Mama looks at it, she immediately knows that it is time to go to Children’s Hospital:

EssAtChildrens

And you then endure days of heat and constant applications of Bacitracin:

EssWithStitches

After which your Puppy Surprise named Missy, whom you received after doing a spectacular job listening and holding still at the hospital, comes with you for removal of those stitches, but has her puppies at the doctor’s:

MissyAtDoctors

And even though she’s having a big day herself, Missy still has time to comfort you when you’re waiting to see the doctor.

EssWithMissy

I’m not going to forget driving straight from work and coming in to see you at your room at Children’s, wrapped up in your Mama’s hug, new stitches in your head, wanting nothing more than to show me the colorful rainbow popsicle you were eating.

And I’m really really not going to forget that when we were all leaving the hospital together, you wanted to ride home with me, and that I drove around town, watching the sun get lower and lower in the sky, listening to your gentle breathing while you napped away the troubles of a long, long day.

Francine Swings

This is Francine, she is a swan who wears a tutu and dances ballet. I am like 9 months behind on posting pictures and videos, but this is hilarious.

“She’s pumping her legs!”
— Ess

Essie Reading List

Some library books we’ve been reading to Ess recently:

EssieApril2019ReadingList

Herman and Rosie is a jazz and NYC-themed love story and when Ess wanted a story read to her in the middle of the night, that’s the one she picked. I think she picked it because it’s long for a children’s book, but it still has a nice gentle pace for late-night.

The Life Cycle of a Penguin is representative of these little (and sometimes not-so-little) factual books that she devours when she’s into something. Right now she’s really into animals having babies. She’s got a birthing center (padded with Kleenex) set up in her room, and after emerging (with plenty of labor sounds — she’s very clear that having an animal is difficult for the mother), her stuffed mammals promptly get licked clean by their moms and begin nursing. Lots of nursing. SO MUCH nursing. It’s very sweet.

And then When the World is Full of Friends — what a great title. Plus, those illustrations by Anna Currey just make your heart sing, don’t they? Mykala and I are going to find something by her to put on our wall.

More