So many words, so little time

by Wolf Pascoe on January 25, 2012

Ol’ man river, dat ol’ man river
He mus’ know sumpin’, but don’t say nuthin’
He jes’ keeps rollin’
He keeps on rollin’ along

— Jerome Kern/
Oscar Hammerstein

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When I was in college I thought I was pretty smart. Actually, I thought I knew everything. That was how scared of the world I was. Since then I’ve gotten braver, allowing my ignorance to expand.

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Watching the Internet go by today it’s hard to escape the feeling that things are completely out of control. They’ve always been out of control. It’s just that now I
can watch it roll by on a screen, an incomprehensible river of psychic debris.

You cannot step into the same stream twice, for the water is ever flowing on.
— Heraclitus

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NEW IDEAS

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Are there any new ideas?

This is probably the wrong question, for there are certainly many good old ones I’ve never heard of, never dwelt in. Heraclitus, for starters, and his idea that the only constant is change. Which idea  pretty much discounts the chances of keeping up.

When, I ask myself, will I get that the point is not to sample, but to dwell?

The idea of lingering and inhabiting what you read, as by curling up with a good book, has gotten so quaint it’s been given a name: immersive reading. This is to distinguish it from jumping around reading, the thing I am so good at on the Internet. (The concept of immersive reading was invented by some academic who calls himself a “digital thought leader,” but let’s not get into that.)

Here’s something to get into:

I have walked along many roads,
and opened paths through brush,
I have sailed over a hundred seas
and tied up on a hundred shores.

Everywhere I’ve gone I’ve seen
excursions of sadness,
angry and melancholy
drunkards with black shadows,

and academics in offstage clothes
who watch, say nothing, and think
they know, because they do not drink wine
in the ordinary bars.

Evil men who walk around
polluting the earth . . .

And everywhere I’ve been I’ve seen
men who dance and play,
when they can, and work
the few inches of ground they have.

If they turn up somewhere,
they never ask where they are.
When they take trips, they ride
on the backs of old mules.

They don’t know how to hurry,
not even on holidays.
They drink wine, if there is some,
if not, cool water.

These men are the good ones,
who love, work, walk and dream.
And on a day no different from the rest
they lie down beneath the earth.

—Antonio Machado

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A FEW INCHES OF GROUND

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A man read this poem the other night in my men’s group. When he was done, we asked him to read it again. I’m struck by how prescient the poem seems. But then, here is Koheleth, writing 500 years before Heraclitus:

There is no new thing under the sun.  — Ecclesiastes

The point is to work the ground.

Machado is the man at the restaurant table above. He taught high school French. I suppose he wrote the poem around a hundred years ago.

I can’t look at the photograph without wanting to join him at that table. But I’d be happy to be the waiter in the mirror.

This is a man who knew how to dwell.

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Poem Credit: “I Have Walked on Many Roads” by Antonio Machado, from Times Alone: Selected Poems of Antonio Machado, translated by Robert Bly, Wesleyan University Press, 1983. © Wesleyan University Press. Used by permission.

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EXPRESS YOURSELF!

What’s the river like for you? Just Add Father is listening. (Add your thoughts by clicking a few lines below below, where it says comments or add one. I always respond here.)

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{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

BigLittleWolf January 25, 2012 at 12:25 pm

There’s so much here to comment on, but, I’ll keep to two items.

First, this: The point is to work the ground. Well, yes – and no. Yes, to recognizing what is solid, tangible, accessible; what holds us in steady fashion and what we can always benefit from exploring further. Then again, if we didn’t set our sites on the mysterious, the fluid, the dream, looking up in the dark at the stars and imagining how to reach them – would we, ever? Would we miss out on all the discoveries on our journeys to wherever we may end up?

Now, this: The speed with which everything seems to move, and the youthful certainty (in college) that we knew everything. May I simply say that the speed which seems overwhelming to us may not seem quite so uncomfortable to our children? My own sons (to my dismay as well as pride?) also seem to suffer the very slight hubris of the college-age kid – swelling with a sense of vitality and freedom, feeling as if they know everything or, at the very least, it’s possible to do so.

Or is that another example that there’s nothing new under the sun?

😉
BigLittleWolf recently posted..Parisian Parenting: Should We Take a Lesson?

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Wolf Pascoe January 25, 2012 at 2:34 pm

Ah, those stars. Ad astra per aspera. (“To the stars, with difficulty,” as Buzz Lightyear said.) Well, I want to go there, too. But also, I find much that is fluid and mysterious in the ground.

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pamela January 25, 2012 at 10:21 pm

Will I get that the point is not to sample, but to dwell?

This took my breath away. Dwell. What a beautiful word and even more beautiful concept. That is what it feels like to give up hope – without hope you are able to dwell.

Thanks for the poem too!

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Wolf Pascoe January 25, 2012 at 10:47 pm

Yes. Without hope or ambition, but with presence. Exactly. Today we will leave ambition and the stars for BLW.

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Barbara S. January 25, 2012 at 11:38 pm

I lingered on ‘curling up with a good book’. That’s my favorite kind of reading, but I’m more in the jumping around reading mode, just like you, and I miss the luxury of enough time to curl up.
P.S. I knew everything when I was in college, too. That’s why I dropped out. Sigh.
Barbara S. recently posted..Under Attack

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Wolf Pascoe January 26, 2012 at 7:58 am

It doesn’t help that they reserve the term sophomore for the second year, as if you outgrow it.

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Alameda January 26, 2012 at 11:15 am

Just remember your parents and grandparents. Don’t you catch yourself saying now what they used to say then?
Dwell! Let’s do that every moment we can

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Wolf Pascoe January 27, 2012 at 1:26 am

Occasionally, I do hear myself sounding like them. Which isn’t fair.

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Chopperpapa January 26, 2012 at 10:09 pm

Wolf, you sir, are awesome.

Here’s to the hope of our paths crossing.
Chopperpapa recently posted..She doesn’t want sex anymore and why it’s your fault

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Wolf Pascoe January 27, 2012 at 1:27 am

I look forward to that, CP.

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Privilege of Parenting January 26, 2012 at 10:59 pm

Simplicity. What is it that limits us from grasping this?

Here’s to wine if there is any—and if it’s not too early in the day; and if it does happen to be too early in the day, then to cool water and lunch well-lunched with whoever shows up, in the mirror and otherwise.

Namaste

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Wolf Pascoe January 27, 2012 at 1:32 am

This is apropos of nothing, but I just noticed I misspelled the word prescient above, when I was talking about that poem about the wine and cool water. I am mortified. I left out the s. It’s corrected now. I grovel in mortification.

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