Thursday, May 28, 2015

How Do You Find Eclectic Blogs?

Once again my internet browsing is wallowing in the gutter. Perhaps it would be better to say that I am bored to death. Blame laziness.

It seems like most blogs write about the same thing every day. Political blogs and travel blogs are the worst of the worst. Travel blogs could be replaced by a computer program. Indeed, maybe somebody should sell an "app" that automatically puts travel posts on "your" blog. How would anybody know? The result might be a blog with friends and followers in the thousands. 

Let's have some fun: what would today's blog title be if an app was writing it. "An Exclusive Paradise Adventure in the Grand Canyon, for Free, Topped Off with a Beautiful Sunset!" Nah, too long.

Perhaps we are so trained as mass consumers that our information-grazing habits imitate our consumption. Thus we fall into blogs that offer tired formulas and repetition.

My excuse for being so lazy is that one only has so much time, there are too many haystacks to look through, and blogs make it difficult to size them up quickly. Imagine you have just run into a new list of blogs and the title of the post is "Another Tuesday." How does that help you decide if it is even worth five more seconds of your time? Why is it so difficult for the blockhead (bloghead?) to choose a title that accurately and truthfully describes the theme of the post?

I prefer blogs that start off with first hand experiences that are odd, or at least non-routine, because these tend to raise interesting questions. Trying to answer the questions causes the blogger to graze in a wider pasture. The blogger might have to borrow an idea from here or there, and borrow an experience from one part of their life or from somebody else's book. 

If it didn't progress beyond the level of the concrete and immediate, it would probably degenerate into one of those dreadful "here's what I did today" blogs. At the other extreme, if the blog started with abstractions and platitudes it would freeze into dogma, bumper sticker slogans, or aphorisms meant for pretty calendars or Hallmark cards.

I guess the right word is "eclectic." But that word gets abused, so I'm not sure that doing a search with that term will do me any good. Dare I hope?

Until then, here are some words of wisdom from a successful, early "blogger", Michel de Montaigne. (Complete Essays):
...and no matter if he forget where he had his learning, provided he know how to apply it to his own use.
Bees cull their several sweets from this flower and that blossom, here and there where they find them, but themselves afterwards make the honey, which is all and purely their own, and no more thyme and marjoram: so the several fragments he borrows from others, he will transform and shuffle together to compile a work that shall be absolutely his own; that is to say, his judgment: his instruction, labour and study, tend to nothing else but to form that.
 That is my project: looking for blogs who know how to 'make the honey.'

Friday, May 22, 2015

Calming the Beast in the Cabin

I'm weakening. I hate camping underneath a thunderstorm. But the mud will dry up tomorrow.

There must be readers who are sick of my praise for wet snow and cold mud in May in the American Southwest. They are probably thinking, "Put up or shut up. Move to Puget Sound if you think wetness is so great."

My sermons are an echo of the ones from William James, presented in the page-tab at the top of your screen, Summiting: Ideals and Suffering. In trying to benefit from suffering, the key word is 'non-routine.' Over the long run, suffering loses its charm. In order to be stimulated, you must somehow idealize it, and that is hard to do to something routine. The weather the Southwest is having right now is definitely non-routine.

I'm not just opining and theorizing. My bouts with cabin fever have done me some good, and hopefully for the long term.

I was forced to do things that are easy to neglect: a book that was supposed to be re-read, but somehow wasn't; cleaning and organizing; off-line organizing on the computer; doing push-ups on the muddy trailer floor; cooking time-consuming foods such as rice and beans; crawling under the sleeping bag and napping at odd times, not because I was tired, but because I craved warmth.

It isn't good enough to just grit the teeth and try to force yourself to do these things. It is better to exercise the imagination on them, and visualize them as being valuable. At the very least I had to give them the benefit of the doubt, and judge them less harshly than usual. I had to be content with these half dozen activities instead of a dozen more activities which I should be able to pursue and which should be more exciting.

At first I saw only tangible things and activities. Over time a general principle appeared behind the scenes. Patience. I was developing patience.

Just as a child's imagination tends toward personification, I imagined Impatience as an unruly beast who I was trapped with. It seemed a huge wet dog, young and puppyish, and erratic. This even made it destructive in such a small trailer: scratching at my air mattress, getting excited and peeing on the floor, shaking off all over the bed. 

The beast wasn't malevolent by intent. In fact its flaws were rather common to its breed and age. Neverthless it was necessary for It to calm down.

So it is with the virtue of patience. Impatience always seemed to be a common and petty vice, before, and thus boring and easy to underestimate and neglect.  

But what profound consequences Impatience has in the long term. We are forever scratching an itch, driving to stores, spending money. So much of the money and time of our lives is spent fleeing boredom. We only needed to conquer Impatience. This issue is triply important to early retirees.

The great advantage of cabin fever is that we can no longer shrug off Impatience.  We are faced with a crisis, and the villain becomes apparent.

This may be an example of what Malcolm Muggeridge was writing about in A Third Testament. In his chapter on Dostoevsky, he writes:
Dostoevsky found himself in solitary confinement in the Peter and Paul Fortress where so many revolutionaries – Bakunin, for instance – were at one time or another incarcerated. For Dostoevsky it was the true beginning of his inner life, and of the illumination out of which his great works were to come. 

Prisons, let it be said, have fostered far more art and mystical insight than any Arts Council, Ministry of Culture or other such effort in the way of governmental encouragement. In the Peter and Paul Fortress he was willy-nilly introduced to the theme of punishment, which he was suffering, and crime, to which a long, elaborate examination sought to relate it. The punishment was tangible, the crime more elusive...

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Cabin Fever of the Mind

In an earlier post I played at visualizing cold wet weather and mud as medicine. Not only does it postpone the wildfire season later into June, when the monsoons are only a couple weeks away, but it also rebuilds a healthy appreciation for sunshine in your own mind.  Depending on where you live, you might not need any help in appreciating sunshine; but a gringo in the arid western states certainly needs help.

What Southwestern weather is supposed to be like, in May and June.
And Mother Nature is at it again. When cabin fever reaches a crescendo, you can fight back, but don't fight back too soon: there is an art to enjoying a miserable day. Your rebound is robbed of its glory if it isn't prepared by a nadir. Artificial aids are permitted: consider watching the first five minutes of the latest "Jane Eyre" movie, the one with the faint lighting and the haunting score by Dario Marianelli.

It is quite amazing how tuned in you can get to the amperage and voltage of your solar controller. Even doing pushups on a muddy trailer floor brings instant relief.

But even better, slap on some rubber-bottomed mudder boots and take the dog frolicking in wet snow and mud. People who have never had a dog might not realize how medicinal it is to watch your dog enjoying the very thing that you think has got you down.

Yesterday I would go for short walks during the day's more-lucid moments. Once I was walking through the forest and doing my best to fight the anxiety of hope, but usually losing. Then I looked down to the grass and saw the faintest shadow of my own body. There is an exquisite point when you are torn between reality and your own imagination.

I want the shadow to be objectively real. I don't want to bounce around in the prison-confines of my own mind. That is just another type of cabin fever. And yet, Reality is such a bitch goddess at times, leaving the Imagination as the most effective tool.

So, am I getting a bit crazy to attach so much importance to a barely visible shadow? Let's look as some of the usual symptoms of insanity. There is nothing destructive or unhealthy about this pleasure. It is also quite practical: the trailer batteries need to get charged up. 

In fact, to doubt one's sanity in this example is really just confusing Sanity with mere Conventionality. Look at what a huge industry scenery-tourism is. Do people think it is necessary to squander vast sums of money to appreciate nature? If so, it is because they visualize nature, beauty, and pleasure as objects to be consumed, hopefully in an ostentatious or bourgeois-respectable way. 

They would be better off to stay home and enjoy the miracle of gardening, help their dog deliver a litter of squirming puppies, or look for faint shadows on a cloudy day.