And on economics in general:
If I buy one necessary of life, I cheat myself to some extent, I deprive myself of the pleasure, the inexpressible joy, which is the unfailing reward of satisfying any want of our nature simply and truly.
From his Journal.
I’ve been enjoying the apocalyptic selfy earth-pain of this forgotten Michael classic… it came on the radio recently, which brought it back to mind. You can dance it pretty easily, and the video is a kind of pleasing exaggerated train-wreck dirge-dance.
We’ve had a cold spell recently, and it’s been below zero every night. During the work-week I experience the cold rather fully: not only because I work a great deal outdoors, but because with my small stove my house is cold when I am away. I came back from the city late Monday night, and it was seven degrees inside my cabin; I had to stay up a few hours with my stove warming the house up to about thirty, when I went to sleep. The next evening, coming home from the wind-turbine meeting late at night (around nine p.m.) it was eleven degrees inside the cabin, and, astonishingly, that felt warm to my skin: it was at least ten degrees colder outside even then. I like living with the cold – I do not want to homogenize life into modernity: when it is summer let me work in the sun and dirt, and drip with my own sweat, and then jump into the creek; when it is raining I want to be soaked and stand out in the rain all day like an old tree; when it is winter I want to feel the knife-air on my raw skin, and dance with joy and gratitude before a glowing stove at night. And to live this way is more than just pleasing contrast and fullness of experience (which it is): it is also living in accord with nature, living on less, and the kind of life we will have to have if we are to live sustainably. We cannot make summers cool and winters warm without cost. Everything will be paid for. Everything. ”Amen, I say to you, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.”
Last weekend I was teaching for a Latin immersion experience in West Virginia and the first night there I saw what I had never seen before down South: a sky of stars (a Southerner confessed to me that because of the humidity he never sees stars like the stars of the North). I brushed up on my mythology – just the story of Orion, really – and led a group of skywatchers out into the field and spoke to them about the constellations, in Latin. It was for me a visible, tangible, sacramental experience of a connection with the past: to watch and talk about the stars in a language that has been used for such discussions for literally thousands of years.
Everyone knows the constellation Orion, but very few know his myth, in part because his story has received no particularly complete or deathless treatment in what we have of the literature of the ancient world. But the important part of the story, to me, was the hubris of his death: Orion the great hunter, inflated with his success, decides to kill every animal on Earth. Earth, or Artemis (depending on the version, but the name matters not – the female Earth-principle) sends, as punishment, the Scorpion to kill him.
To the ancients this may not have even seemed like a terribly significant myth: it was not conceivable that a man should kill off the animals of the Earth. And of course even for us this is not possible without, as the myth indicates, our own death. This is the story our culture has written into the winter sky. And even in the city, this one constellation, and this one lesson, is visible.
Up here it is clear as crystal. In fact last night was the best display of stars I have ever seen in the Catskills. It was clear and cold and amazing. I stood outside and looked at my little cabin, dark in the white snow, stars everywhere all around it, and was amazed.
“The best written musical autobiography since Bob Dylan’s Chronicles.” – The Telegraph describing Morrissey’s Autobiography.
A piece I wrote for the Catskill Native Plant Society.
This morning I woke to the sound of large machinery. I was surprised: it had started snowing last night and a full-on blizzard was expected. I got up and looked out the window: there was an excavator trying to turn around on my driveway. The snow was melting, too, which surprised me, and there were patches of ground visible. On the other side of my cabin I saw two more construction machines. I got dressed and went outside. There was a construction crew on my property, working just uphill from my house. Down below I could see their handiwork: a newly graded, well-laid road, forty feet wide, running through the forest. It ran within twenty feet of my cabin, right through my garden, obliterating it. The men were continuing their work, felling and stripping trees while a bulldozer pushed out the stumps. The road was continuing up the mountain.
I saw someone walking by and told him, “I want to speak with the person in charge of this project.” He said “Sure,” and then walked me down to the paved road, off my property, where there was a kind of restaurant. Just inside the door, at the bar, a man was speaking with two women, who were obviously distraught landowners: they had property maps in their hands, and he was showing them the route. The worker I was with explained to him that I wanted to speak with him, and he excused himself to the ladies and stepped outside with me. I explained what I had seen to him. He seemed very upset upon hearing that my garden had been destroyed, but in a slightly patronizing way: he felt sorry for my pettiness, and seemed to feel he could get rid of me easily enough. I asked him what was happening. ”We’re building a new power line,” he said. ”A new route across the mountain. People have been upset about all the power outages and the fragility of the system, and this route will connect several areas which at present have only one branch and are very vulnerable.”
“This is kind of ironic,” I said with the intellectual detachment I reserve for very large disappointments. ”I live without electricity. I live very simply in general. I chose my property because it was so remote and removed from such things. If I had known it had a right of way cutting through it I never would have bought it.” He pretended to be upset that I hadn’t been informed and brought me to his office. He picked up a phone and began dialing, very slowly, on a rotary phone. He was just putting on a show of concern. The project was going forward. I might be able to get back the cost of my lily bulbs which had been dug up by the road. But that was about it.
As I waited I saw a strange hole on my left arm, about a quarter-inch in diameter. The blood at its bottom was dry, but the skin had not closed: a crisp round hole, about an eighth of an inch deep, remained in the skin, much like an old tap-hole on the outer bark of a tree. Looking more closely I saw more of them all over my arms, and my skin looked wrinkly, and I noticed I was losing flesh from my bones – I was too skinny. Something was wrong.
Then I woke up, and saw the snow piled up against my window.
I’ll be teaching this weekend at the Paideia Institute’s Living Latin in New York event.
As I started my fire yesterday, my eyes paused on the paper I was about to stuff into the stove: the envelope of a friend’s Christmas card. He had died shortly after Christmas. I thought for a moment: that hand, just weeks ago, could write me a card and send it in the mail; and now he could not.
Today there has been a blizzard and I could not go to work due to the condition of the roads. I walked down into town off the mountain, and I passed a neighbor’s daughter; she was clearing the snow from her driveway. I spoke with her awhile and found out that her mother’s boyfriend, R.J., had died earlier this winter. He used to come unbidden and clear the snow from my own driveway; I paid him back this fall in apple butter. His enthusiasm for the stuff pleased me all fall.
He helped build my garden too, bringing in topsoil with his excavator. But he cannot do such things now. It’s a mystery to me, an indigestible mystery.
There was something truly strange and self-defeating and remarkable about T.E. Lawrence (of Arabia fame). Like many artists his relation to fame seems to have resembled his relationship to himself: he hated it, despised it, and was also fascinated by it and could not quite give up his quest to possess it on some kind of happy terms. For some bizarre reason the 1938 Garden City Publishing edition of his Seven Pillars of Wisdom contains excerpts from his correspondence with his editor about the text of Seven Pillars. There was nothing hasty about the composition of the book: he says he composed it fully three times, revising and polishing the final text “with great care.” One can imagine the frustration the editor felt, therefore, when finding proper names of major characters in the text spelled in all kinds of ways, even on the same page. Here is what the edition gives us of their exchange:
I attach a list of queries raised by F. who is reading the proofs. He finds these very clean, but full of inconsistencies in the spelling of proper names, a point which reviewers often take up. Will you annotate it in the margin, so that I can get the proofs straightened?
Slip [i.e., section] 1. Jeddah and Jidda used impartially throughout. Intentional?
Slip 16. Bir Waheida, was Bir Waheidi.
Why not? All one place.
Slip 20. Nuri, Emir of the Ruwalla, belongs to the “chief family of the Rualla.’ On Slip 23 ‘Rualla horse,’ and Slip 38, ‘killed one Rueli.’ In all later slips ‘Rualla.’
Should have also used Ruwala and Ruala.
Slip 28. The Bisaita is also spelled Biseita.
Slip 47. Jedha, the she-camel, was Jedhah on Slip 40.
She was a splendid beast.
Slip 53. ‘Meleager, the immoral poet.’ I have put ‘immortal poet,’ but the author may mean immoral after all.
Immorality I know. Immortality I cannot judge. As you please: Meleager will not sue us for libel.
Slip 65. Author is addressed ‘Ya Auruns,’ but on Slip 56 was ‘Aurans.’
Also Lurens and Runs: not to mention ‘Shaw.’ More to follow, if time permits.
Slip 78. Sherif Abd el Mayin of Slip 68 becomes el Main, el Mayein, el Muein, el Mayin, and el Muyein.
Good egg. I call this really ingenious.
Lawrence got his way with all of them, and I’m sure there were many more, because on page 50 Prince Feisal, one of the most important figures in the book, is called both Feisal and Feysul. That’s just on one page. In fact both spellings occur on page 51 as well.
I’ve returned to Seven Pillars - whose tomish ponderousness I’ve never quite been able to read through – because the Museum of the Moving Image is screening the truly great David Lean film Lawrence of Arabia in its “See It Big!” series. I am filled with desire to get down to the city for it, but I have work the next day up here, and a squaredancing and folk music festival (the Hoot) before that. I think I’d certainly go if I could reserve tickets in advance, but that is not possible. There’s also a massive snowstorm predicted. Well, we’ll see.