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An Unidentified Sail on the Horizon

Today's homework is none other than an essay (about 30 pages long) that any fan of William James would include on his greatest hits album: "A Certain Blindness in Human Beings," contained in a larger book on Gutenberg.

Me and the boys were at Starbucks again, halfway through a bicycle ride. As usual the blarney spilled over the curb and flowed out to the shopping mall parking lot.

Then an older woman -- interrupting yet another shopping trip for yet another trinket, no doubt -- walked up to our table, and began to ask some questions. She appeared quizzical. Her reception was not unfriendly by our group. She seemed to think that a kaffee-klatsch of bald/grey/white heads in bicycle garb was so silly that only politeness kept her from laughing out loud. Perhaps it we presented ourselves well, her good nature would have granted us the status of licensed lunatics. I wasn't even going to try to please her. Instead, I seethed at the old crone's presumptuousness in even having an opinion on a group as admirable as ours.

Snowbird country is filled with people resembling her. You know the stereotype. How could she possibly appreciate what this group of older cyclists was capable of? Of course, I was just as blind to anything interesting, significant, or non-routine in her, because I had already reduced her to a demographic stereotype.

And in her defense, how could she know what road-cycling meant to me? Recall that I am rereading Patrick O'Brian's "Master and Commander" series of novels. It is doubtful that any of the cyclists at the table would have appreciated how pleasant it is to imagine cycling through the windy and flat lettuce fields of Yuma, AZ, while under the influence of these nautical novels. I hope to explain in the next episode. 

Frequently I decide to make a blog-post out of explaining some odd little experience or observation. 'Where there is smoke, there is fire,' is a useful old adage. Getting upset with the old crone when nobody else did, seemed like one of those minor things that could reveal something more important. We shall see.


edlfrey said…
I think William James has me bested hands down for being the Quotemiester in your homework assignment. Many of them are very good and explain well your experience with the 'old crone'.
She was blind to the "tin bull's-eye lanterns" that you and your cycling companions had on your belts. So you are certainly correct when you say that she could not know what road-cycling meant to you.
I also read that James wrote in support of your long held belief that most RVers and other windshield tourist are blind to the 'common'. He says it best: ". But we of the highly educated classes (so called) have most of us got far, far away from Nature. We are trained to seek the choice, the rare, the exquisite exclusively, and to overlook the common."

I don't know if you remember my book review of Sharpe's Devil by Bernard Cornwell on 16 November 2013 but Lord Cochrane plays a part in that novel also. He is in Chile in this historical fiction novel.
Ed, it looks like you go right to the head of the class for this comment and your diligence with the assigned reading. Thanks for including the extra quote from James; I wasn't aware of it.

Who is Lord Cochrane?
edlfrey said…
Master and Commander is a historical naval novel by English author Patrick O'Brian. First published in 1969 (US) (1970 in UK), it is first in the Aubrey-Maturin series of stories of Jack Aubrey and the naval surgeon Stephen Maturin. Closely based on the historical feats of Lord Cochrane, O'Brian's novel is set in the Napoleonic Wars.

Admiral Thomas Cochrane, 10th Earl of Dundonald, 1st Marquess of Maranḥo, GCB, ODM (14 December 1775 Р31 October 1860), styled Lord Cochrane between 1778 and 1831,[1][2] was a Scottish naval flag officer of the Royal Navy and radical politician.
He was a daring and successful captain of the Napoleonic Wars, leading the French to nickname him Le Loup des Mers ('The Sea Wolf').
He was dismissed from the Royal Navy in 1814, following a conviction for fraud on the Stock Exchange. He helped organize and lead the rebel navies of Chile, Brazil and Greece during their respective wars of independence through the 1820s. While in charge of the Chilean Navy, Cochrane also contributed to Peruvian Independence through the Freedom Expedition of Perú.
In 1832, he was pardoned by the Crown and reinstated in the Royal Navy with the rank of Rear Admiral of the Blue. After several more promotions, he died in 1860 with the rank of Admiral of the Red, and the honorary title of Rear-Admiral of the United Kingdom.
His life and exploits inspired the naval fiction of 19th- and 20th-century novelists, particularly the figures of C. S. Forester's Horatio Hornblower and Patrick O'Brian's protagonist Jack Aubrey.