Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Maximizing Time

A Maxim:  gen. A proposition, esp. one which is pithily worded, expressing a general truth drawn from science or experience. OED.

One appealing aspect of fairy tales is the magic word, the fantasy that simply by speaking it we get something done, like Yahweh making the world.

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Our younger selves schedule our days in the morning and dream of what we will accomplish. By evening, we can recapture only vaguely that naïve vision of clean stables in just one day.

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A word is a metaphor: it is both the thing and not the thing. Language simultaneously brings us the world and holds it at a distance: we float in the balance.

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Self-pity is comfort food for the inert mind, the pity-patty of little feat.

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It is not so hard to set priorities within a frame of reference—which vegetable to plant first, which book to read next—but since we do not plant books or read vegetables we need a frame frame in which to set priority priorities.

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Fleeing to imaginary worlds or imaginary futures or the imaginary past—where we can do nothing—we create gardens where over and over we cannot eat of any tree.

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We make lists to remember what to do in the complex web of the present; we keep journals to remember what we have done in the simplifying web of the past.

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Sometimes I write in my journal about writing in my journal. Here I write about writing about writing in my journal. But it's turtles all the way down.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013


This passage appears in an article by Andrew Crumey referring to a statement by Walter Benjamin, "in an oppressive regime every day is presented as a new emergency." In response to a comment, Crumey quotes the relevant passage from a translation of Benjamin's original essay:

The tradition of the oppressed teaches us that the "emergency situation" in which we live is the rule. We must arrive at a concept of history which corresponds to this. Then it will become clear that the task before us is the introduction of a real state of emergency; and our position in the struggle against Fascism will thereby improve.

According to the administration, the university where I teach is in a constant state of crisis, a crisis which precludes our reflecting on what we are doing in any meaningful way. We must spend all our energy bailing out the boat to prevent it from sinking so that there is no time to consider the direction it is heading in. I had not realized before that "the emergency situation" is itself a tool of oppression. It is even more effective when a crucial cause of the emergency is articulated as too many faculty, and the current round of crises is announced by saying that it is hard to see how we can deal with it without the retrenchment of faculty. This emergency may well be real, but we have had false alarms in the past, and over the past five years students have declined by about 5% and instructional faculty have declined by almost 20% (full-time, tenured or tenure-track faculty by 11%).

Ultimately, however, the association of a state of emergency and an oppressive environment, one that inhibits the free flow of ideas, is an evocative perspective that suggests that rather than focusing merely on the emergency at hand, we must come to understand why we are formulating the current state of affairs as an emergency.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Letting Go

Yesterday, we sold the cheese board that had been given to us forty-three years ago as a wedding present by two people we knew casually in graduate school. It spent at least half the time we owned it in a plastic bag in the basement. The tray itself was a thick, walnut-stained piece of wood with a circular ceramic cutting surface—white with a golden rooster printed on it—with a glass dome on one end and, on the other, a cracker holder that looked like an extended v-shaped manger from a crèche scene. A knife with a tip like a forked tongue was attached to the tray by a chain. I remember using cheese tray once, though I fear it may be a manufactured memory. In its life we have packed it up and moved it seven times. After two days of our moving sale, yesterday after it had officially ended, still no one had taken it. We called someone who was willing to pick over what was left, and they took it as part of a pile of random stuff for $20. Our parting was unsentimental.

Why did it take so long for us to get rid of it? How do we get rid of such things? We could not just throw it out because it was not damaged. Who would we give it to?  We are not cheese-board people, and if any of our friends were, we would know it because they would already have a cheese board. Besides giving one as a gift would imply we believed in them. But we have had garage sales before. Why was this not part of one? Why did we wait until now to get rid of it?

The difference is that now we are moving to a place that will force us to make decisions about what objects we have. Up until now, we have always had houses with places where we could store things we never used without interfering with daily life. Now we must be more deliberate. It is not just about enough space; however, it is also about time. Over the past weeks many of our decisions about objects have forced us to admit we can no longer harbor the illusion that someday something will be useful to us. We have limited time left, and the aged perspective makes clear how quickly time is moving, how few things will fit into the boundary of a day, and how rapidly one day replaces another. This moving sale was less about making money than about settling up with the limits of space and time.