A Love of Books

I have found another link in the chain of my past lives in the person of Richard de Bury (24 January 1287 – 14 April 1345). He seems to have been an exceptional man and I can only hope to approach his love of books as epitomized in his grand work, The Philobiblon. Writing and subsequently reading this work, which I’d like to discuss at some length, appears to be about the best possible use of anyone’s time in the fourteenth century.

I just need you to be prepared for what will follow. I will elaborate upon that volume and that is all that the rest of this post contains.

First, I would like to share with you the titles of the twenty chapters because each and every one is so wonderful and delightful.

  1. That the Treasure of Wisdom is chiefly contained in Books
  2. The degree of Affection that is properly due to Books
  3. What we are to think of the price in the buying of books
  4. The Complaint of Books against the Clergy already promoted
  5. The Complaint of Books against the Possessioners
  6. The Complaint of Books against the Mendicants
  7. The Complaint of Books against Wars
  8. Of the numerous Opportunities we have had of collecting a store of books
  9. How although we preferred the Works of the Ancients we have not condemned the Studies of the Moderns
  10. Of the Gradual Perfecting of Books
  11. Why we have preferred Books of Liberal Learning to Books of Law
  12. Why we have caused Books of Grammar to be so diligently prepared
  13. Why we have not wholly neglected the Fables of the Poets
  14. Who ought to be special Lovers of Books
  15. Of the advantages of the love of Books
  16. That it is meritorious to write new Books and to renew the old
  17. Of showing due Propriety in the Custody of Books
  18. Showeth that we have collected so great Store of Books for the common Benefit of Scholars and not only for our own Pleasure
  19. Of the Manner of lending all our Books to Students
  20. An Exhortation to Scholars to requite us by pious Prayers

This guy seriously loved books and, therefore, is a hero. Loving books was neither a common nor a generally acceptable pastime in medieval England.

I must confess, I have not read The Philobiblon in its entirety. However, I have perused a large number of quotations and have found them, one and all, to be exceedingly correct and meaningful and wow. I will not here present all of them but I do want to call a couple to your attention.

How highly must we estimate the wondrous power of books, since through them we survey the utmost bounds of the world and time, and contemplate the things that are as well as those that are not, as it were in the mirror of eternity.

The chapter goes on to relate how, in books, the whole of the world is opened to us, from digging minerals and jewels from the earth the the North Pole to the Milky Way. Through history and the lessons of those who came before; through  science and a growing understanding of the world around us; through diligent study of literature and scripture–a mind and a world are opened.

An argument oft repeated in his work is that the whole of wisdom is contained in books, and thus the title. You may know that philosophy comes from the Greek for love of wisdom and, accordingly, philobiblon is the love of books.

This second quotation, which I encountered via a picture of the main branch of the Los Angeles Public Library as inscribed over an entrance, inspired my journey of getting to know the venerable Richard de Bury. It says,

Books alone are liberal and free, they give to all who ask, they emancipate all who serve them faithfully.

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Books cannot give you everything in life, I confess. But what they can give, they will provide without fail. The freedom of the mind is the freedom of the soul, and books are one of its favorite tools. A love of books has always served me well. In times of loneliness or companionship, melancholy or joy, faith or doubt; reading has seen me through. May we all be grateful for the gift of books without which life would be that much darker. Books are not perfect but they are, I think, perfecting. They continuously add to the global body of knowledge and they lift us as a society when we need lifting.

They give to all who ask.

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The Difference between Chicago and a Space Colony

Most important update first, of course. This Airbnb has a cat, goes by California. Is super cute. We snuggled a great deal over the past couple days

I drove into Chicago on the early evening on October 8th and it was 87°F which, I’ll be honest with you, wasn’t great. Too hot in general, definitely too hot for the middle of October. Anyway.

I got an early start on Tuesday morning and, without much forethought, walked from where I was staying in Uptown to the Art Institute. Which is a long walk, FYI, especially when it’s hot. I worried about sunburns since I followed the shore directly south for approximately three hours. Luckily, I think I mostly escaped unscathed. Just felt kinda sticky and salty–not from the ocean breeze (would that it were so) but from sweat.

The Art Institute presented, of course, a large selection of Very Beautiful Things. I am no art critic but I do enjoy a good walk-through of art museums. Romantic landscapes, that’s the thing for me. Got to see several famous works in person, always cool. After the Institute, I walked along most of the Magnificent Mile because it seemed like the thing to do. There is some truly wonderful architecture in this city. Later, as I was staying in a very Vietnamese neighborhood, I had to go for Vietnamese for dinner.

On Wednesday, I got a much needed later start (though it wasn’t really that much later). Pastries for breakfast from the patisserie down the street, then onward to Navy Pier. Had a personal deep dish at Giordano’s, it was fine. Poked around Museum Campus and actually went through the planetarium because it was starting to rain. I went to Cheesie’s for dinner. They serve only different kinds of grilled cheese. Please go, it will be good.

I’m headed back to Michigan this morning. Back to fall, too. Trying to think of a big idea to take back from the trip and to share with you.

Overall, mostly positive Chicago experience. The fountain was drained and empty, my car was towed but only to a nearby park, the Art Institute store had a teensy postcard selection. But overall, plenty good. One little story for you as an applicable takeaway.

In the planetarium–which is more of a space science center, really, I didn’t even go into the original planetarium part. Very rainy outside. Extending my stay to avoid the rain. That’s the scene.

I found myself ushered into an open talk with one of the institution’s astronomers. A professional astronomer, how neat is that. She talked about some stuff, answered loads of questions. One question was along the lines of: should we colonize the moon or Mars? Her answer was terrific. I’ll summarize her main points because I liked them and they tie into things, you’ll see.

First, there’s feasibility. She suggested some starter stuff on the moon to prepare for a long-term and large-scale settlement on Mars. But her primary caution was not about the science, it was the ethics. Looking at the example of indigenous peoples and pristine environments here on Earth–and our abuses thereof– she insisted that any space colonization must first avoid the huge problems that we’ve created for ourselves here. She also said that systems of power, where the powerful get more powerful and the have-nots get even less needs to be righted in any theoretical space colony.

It doesn’t matter in the slightest what you’re doing with your life, justice is the cause of everyone. Even astronomers can forward the cause of justice. In my mind, I’m returning to that Mandela quote; let us live free and enhance the freedom of others.

Chicago has a history deeply marred by injustice and inequality. Space colonies don’t have to. You’ve heard it before but that’s just because it’s true: be the change.

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Ethical Quandary sans Quandary

Happy October, everyone. It’s no November but I guess it’s a decent month even so.

So this week is parent conferences, big thrills. The ones I’m involved with are tomorrow, we’ll see how that goes. But then it’s October Break! Because apparently that’s a thing here. A week off. I don’t feel like I’m really in need of a vacation and I suppose that’s a good thing, but I’m definitely not complaining. I have some plans but I’ll elaborate mostly after the fact next week. Should be nice.

And here’s an update on the princess, looking very regal with her arms crossed.

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Last week, I noted that I didn’t really have any musings for you and it looks like I’m making up for that by having some substantial space dedicated to it in this post. Prepare yourselves. Or don’t, you do you.

There’s a fabulous moment in the show Psych when the main character is naming the first books of the Bible. You know: Genesis, Exorcist, Leviathan, Doo… the Right Thing. It’s relevant, I promise.

When I studied abroad in Exeter, one of the classes I took was political philosophy. It remains the only philosophy class I’ve ever taken but it was super interesting. The format of the class was this: we examined one contemporary political philosopher (John Rawls) and responses to his major works. According to the professor (who was Scottish and had a lovely accent), the primary concern of political philosophy in the contemporary era was the question of justice. What is justice and how can it happen in the world.

To start with, we read a lot about how modern philosophers conceived of the creation of the state; its purposes and how those inform its operations. We talked about socialist critiques, libertarian theories, gender, multicultural lenses– all kinds of things.

One thing that I still remember pretty clearly was talking about this main libertarian guy. I won’t explain his who conception of the state and justice and all that, but basically it boiled down to a system that was very simple but absolutely impossible to bring into reality. And the professor asked us this: is his conception of justice wrong or just hard? It couldn’t happen in the world, problems with land ownership after colonialism and stuff like that. But the question still stands. Even if it’s impossible, it can still have merit.

So often and so easily, people and ideas are dismissed for being unrealistic. Certainly, there are good reasons for that sometimes. However, if ideas that weren’t readily applicable were never heard, there would only be the status quo forever. History is a varied fabric of the unthinkable coming to pass. Sometimes in terrible, unimagined darkness. Other times bringing fantastical, innovative light.

The sermon at church this past week was on ethics, how to think about them and how to live with them. In essence: it’s hard, but do good. It does not matter how many times we drive off the ethical road; the line it traces on the map does not change just because we are no longer following it. Some–many, even– ethical choices are hard. That’s why there’s a whole branch of academia devoted to thinking about it. The underlying motives, values, and beliefs don’t have to be.

It’s one thing to think ‘It’s hard to tell what the right thing is in this situation.’ It’s entirely different to think ‘I don’t care what the right thing is.’

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One element of the sermon’s description of ethics was thinking about how our actions benefit or harm those around us. Very utilitarian, though it was only one consideration among many. But I think we can agree that lust for personal power is generally unethical. Even when those people do good things. It’s like in The Good Place, it’s not enough to do good things, you should be doing them for good reasons. And apparently, we’ve abdicated our national social responsibility to hold people to that. Which is unfortunate.

I wanted to finish with some questions, as I am often wont to do here. Struggling to think of them, since I’m pretty medium at ethics. Do you think about ‘right’ when you make important decisions? When you make decisions that don’t seem that important? What’s the difference between nice and good? What role do you play in preserving harmful status quo by the operation of your ethics or lack thereof?

The world is a complicated place for ethical thinkers. As The Good Place amusingly depicts, constantly worrying about the morality of everyday choices will make you a nervous, incoherent wreck. I know I want to be more deliberate about thinking through the implications of my decisions–not just their consequences but their meaning, if that makes sense. But I’m also lazy and don’t want to go insane.

Hmm. Work in progress.

He Was My North

Once again, Tuesday proved to be my adventure day. Adventure in the relative sense, of course. I went into Traverse City and wandered around the “Commons” which appeared to be a really cool insane asylum repurposed as a hip shopping center. Anyway, I went to a brunch place and had red velvet pancakes, which are Important. Cream cheese in addition to whipped cream. Very Important. Obviously tremendously delicious.

After wandering around for a bit, nosing through the shops, I found out that it was, in fact, an asylum! The location was a state hospital and everything, very creepy. It didn’t close until 1989. Still, it’s a cool place now. Lots of interesting shops, chic hipster kind of vibe. Yes, I did have to look up how to spell chic again, I still think chiq or chique are better options. Anyway.

On my way driving back, I decided to just meaner around because I figured it was the likely last day of warm, sunny, pleasant weather until spring. I ended up going the opposite direction of Empire to Leland and the little historic district of Fishtown. Basically little shacks on the water, very destitute-fishermen-turned-touristy. Then I had the best sandwich of my life from the Village Cheese Shanty. Which, obviously, was Even More Important. I mean, a place called the Cheese Shanty. We were destined to find each other.

Just to be clear, the sandwich was the day’s special: turkey, cherry goat cheese, kream mustard, sunflower seeds, cucumber,  and lettuce on homemade pretzel bread (different from pretzel buns which I’m not wild into). Life changing. Such. A. Sandwich.

Moving right along. On Wednesday, I took a sec to do nothing (as per usual) and watch a couple movies that I’d been meaning to check off my list. Namely, Trolls and Moana. The first was alright, pretty nice. The second was marvelous. Moana in particular I enjoyed. The whole wandering over the horizon just to see what’s on the other side thing. That’s kind of my scene.

There’s really not much else to report for this week, just work and life and stuff. I like having thoughtful thoughts to think for you, but I feel kinda like I’m fresh out. I did really have a pleasant day on Tuesday. And Wednesday was plenty nice as well.

I was just thinking how I didn’t really have any existential angst nor contemplative philosophizing for you this week. I’m feeling pretty good, which is nice. But, as I was wandering through the internet as I wrote this, I encountered afresh the wonderful poem by W.H. Auden, Funeral Blues. Which is also a lovely jazz number and also an amusing satire on dictatorship–at least, according to the play that he originally wrote it for. So I’ll leave you with that thought. Tyranny is satire, doves can’t wear mourning, and compasses aren’t attracted to human beings.

The View from Empire

Greetings, friends. Thank you for taking a sec to read this, even if it’s just the preview on Facebook. I appreciate you.

Now that I’m feeling more settled in my job and its happenings (though by no means totally on top of things), there’s really not a whole lot to say. It’s hard for me to gauge whether there ramblings of the life updates are more interesting to you. Obviously, the cats are Reason #1 for reading so over included a couple later in the post. I thought for today I’d mostly just describe one afternoon for you. Kinda cheesily poetic and kinda combining philosophising and daily life.

On Tuesday, I drove down the road a ways just to explore a little. In the next town over, there’s a little park on Lake Michigan and I stopped to read there for a while before getting dinner. It wasn’t quite blustery and it wasn’t quite chilly but it was windy and cool cloudy and the first day that really felt autumnal.

I walked along the beach a while but mostly I sat in the car and read. I had parked right in front of the water, maybe ten yards away. The sky slowly darkened as the clouds went from lightly overcast to a duller blanketing. My windows were cracked so I could hear the water with its steady white noise. The sea grasses trembled in the wind and the trees shivered with the first oranges and yellows of the season.

I don’t know if I’ll return here often, but during my time there I certainly thought about it. It’s only fifteen minutes away from school on a relatively flat drive (I’m constantly evaluating topography from a driving-in-snow perspective). Coming here in winter with no other visitors, sitting in my car by the water, reading contentedly before heading to dinner in the village. It sounds very appealing. I just might make a habit out of it.

 

 

How, I ask you, am I supposed to deal with such cute cats.

Anyway. One other note. On Wednesday, I finally went and got my Michigan drivers license. And, because it happens at the same time, I registered to vote. So that’s handy. I reflected to the coworker I went with that voting in Leelanau County, Michigan is going to feel very different for me from voting in Pierce County, Washington. Things will not be nearly as aligned to my preferences. Here’s hoping with that, I guess. At least I can vote on some statewide stuff as well. Votes always matter but I guess I’ll feel like my vote will count more here, if that makes sense.

Good luck this week, have a happy equinox. Register to vote, if applicable.

Welcome

So this week, I’ve had a better handle on the day and such. Things haven’t been totally passing me by and I had myself together enough to write some bits and bobs through the course of the week, as I typically have done. Hurray, routines are forming!

Anyway, I now have some standard shifts under my belt and I kind of even know what I’m doing. The job itself doesn’t really entail a whole lot, it’s mostly just making sure you know where students are, they get to where they’re supposed to be when they’re supposed to be there, and you handle problems and pass them off as the situation requires. Even the lateness of the hours hasn’t proved too much of a problem (yet).

There’s truly not much else to say about the job itself. Its activities don’t really merit a long discussion unless you’re the one actually doing it. In a broader sense, though, there are things that I’m still trying to figure out. As I’ve hinted before, my role here is primarily that I have a Role. Our head of school is fond of saying that we’re all teachers, all of the time.

Since it’s the beginning of the school year, I’m still getting to know people and routines and processes and all that jazz. In particular, I’m trying to get to know my three main charges. Which is hard largely because, as this blog has shown repeatedly, getting to know people isn’t my forte. So I’m working on that. Trying to be a compassionate and interested listener as I pry answers out of them. But I’m also trying to do something else.

I’m trying to create an atmosphere. Or, rather, participate in the creation of one. Most of the time, it’s not really a conscious choice, just how I am in situations where I don’t really feel totally comfortable. But I’m trying to be open and friendly and encouraging in each interaction I have–students, staff, whoever. The other staff here are also pretty excellent with that, so it’s not at all like I’m doing this on my own. But it’s something that I’m thinking about because it’s the first time I’ve really had occasion to do anything of the sort.

I titled this post Welcome because that’s what I think I’m striving for. Welcome, belonging, feeling at home. I wish this were a reality for more people in more places. At work, at school, at home, at church. Even at the grocery store, the dentist, the library. Everywhere has the possibility of giving that peace, few places manage it. Or so it seems to me.

The feeling of belonging is so elusive and so essential. It means so much to each individual as we move through school and work and life. How much more so for communities, for nations. On a note totally outside of this school but, I think, quite related, it’s got me thinking about immigration. And from there, living in diversity. And prison. And all the people that people don’t like.

I say it all the time and it kind of annoys even myself, but it’s such a thing that matters–and such a thing that seems to have so little traction right now. Jesus was very clear: love everyone. Welcome the immigrant, the homeless, the unclean, the criminal, the unpleasant, the different.

Thinking about the ‘American dream’ and how easy it is for people in power to snatch that dream from any and all. Also, I once said here “love the lukewarm” and I think about that a lot.

If we love only those who love us, we are shirking our responsibility, nay our opportunity to live in the Kingdom of Heaven. Love your enemies. Bless those who persecute you. Build welcome wherever you can, with whomever you find yourself, because we are all hoping to get it somewhere.

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Shel Silverstein wrote, “If you are a dreamer, come in.” Would that we could all offer such a welcome.

The Land of No Routines (Yet)

So here’s the thing. I’d forgotten it was Thursday again. Michigan has not been good for my normal routines yet. And I haven’t really had time to process much new-job-wise. But also, not much has happened. I’ll do my best to fill you in.

In my dorm, there are currently four freshmen and sophomore boys who arrived yesterday. It was a bit of a whirlwind of registration for them but for me I mostly just introduced myself and handed out keys when they were ready. This morning, they left for “Exploratory” so they’re out at an outdoor center and then camping for the next couple days. I’ll visit them this afternoon, but otherwise I’ll be here.

Saturday will be the real start for me, and then we’ll see. First impressions, things seem good, doable, reasonable. The timing of the shifts will be an adjustment, much more so than Korea, but I think it’ll be okay once I get into a routine.

Most things, I think, will be better once I get into a routine. I’m a very routine-based person. Not in the boring way but just in the sense of having a baseline of activity from which I can depart occasionally. Okay so maybe in a boring way. Whatever, I’m over it.

As a random aside, the dining hall has some flags hanging around and I want to tell you about them because it’s a random assortment. On one side are state flags: West Virginia, Indiana, Washington, Illinois, North Carolina, Montana, Texas, Colorado, California, Iowa. Which, oddly, excludes Michigan. The other side has national flags: Costa Rica, the Bahamas, Guatemala, Russia, Germany, Spain, Canada, Thailand, Mexico, Israel, Turkey, Bangladesh.

So that’s a thing.

Chantel is sitting across from me at the lunch table and complaining that I asked her to tell me what else to say when she’s only had four hours of sleep. She told me to add that it’s a valid argument, which I agree. Time will tell but I’ll probably get there before too long. (She’s a house parent in the girl’s dorm).

I’m sorry for this post being late again. I know that most of you truly don’t care but it feels weird to be. Going back to the routine thing, I’ve usually had a good blog routine and I don’t have one right now. I don’t like that. But I’m working on it.

Chantel was also so kind as to provide a fitting conclusion to this post: to anyone reading this, send good vibes. Welcome to the start of the school year.