Reassessments

According to Google Ngram, use of the word reassessment peaks around 1990, a climb beginning in the 20s, rarely used prior to 1900. We suspect what’s driving that curve are real estate markets. But to reassess is still relevant to publications, which is to say, books will go out of print, magazines fold, newspapers disappear – and folks will leave Twitter or abandon once again their high school acquaintances or second cousins found on Facebook. Clicking on a blog one has not visited for some time may turn up: This account does not exist: try another search.

So too, does one reassess one’s involvement in both writing and reading: annually, quarterly, monthly, daily, or with each post or page. What am I doing here? Who is reading this? Will anyone like? Do I like? Who, what, when, why, where, and how – how to write, and why? How to read, and why?

When we read a book, we turn the page, back and forth, if you read like me, up and down. So called social media sites generally all work upward: we page up, but as we page up, what’s down continues falling and disappears through some virtual cutting room floor. Usually, only the most recent posts, comments, tweets, pics – whatever – get any attention. Form is in the driver’s seat. And the form of social media sites requires constant replenishment (Google Ngram shows constant and regular use of the word replenish from 1800 past 2000). But the social media publications get replenished even though the stock is still full, even if nothing has been depleted.

The social media cup is neither half empty nor half full; it’s always full, as this post no doubt attests. Full of what, might make material for a different post.

Photo: The Teacups ride at Disneyland, exiting the park at closing time, Joe Linker, around mid-90s.

Advertisement

All advertisement is argument.

We start arguments when we say something and we know someone will disagree. Happens all the time. We are never safe from disagreement. If you say, “The sun rises in the east,” you might think you’d be safe from argument. But an astrophysicist listening in might say the sun does not actually rise. The earth spins in orbit around the sun, and so on and so forth. A rebuttal around what you said about where the sun rises might productively explain the importance of point of view and perspective, presuppositions and assumptions, audience and expectations, proof and fallacy. Or it might be met with an eclipse of the eyes.

Most of the above, in one form or another, you can find in books on rhetoric, and most of those have as their ultimate source of reference, Aristotle. When “The Coming of the Toads” started out, on December 27, 2007, the first post was about argument. Since then, the Toads has posted 866 arguments. Not that frequency or redundancy leads to persuasiveness. Some readers will no doubt argue that’s 866 arguments too many.

Artists enjoy argument. A poet might say, for example, “Wouldn’t it be nice if the sun rose in the west for a change?” Buckminster Fuller suggested we replace the words “sunrise” and “sunset” with sunsight and sunclipse. Fuller, a scientist and inventor, was arguing that language both informs and betrays how we see and understand things. Both physicists and philosophers might ask, “Why does the sun rise?” Their answers will be arguments. Advertisers can’t afford arguments, so they cleverly disguise saying anything someone might disagree with. An advertiser might suggest sunopen and sunclosed.

Silence, too, is often met with disagreement. “You should speak up,” someone says. “Say something.” Or your silence alone might be understood as disagreement, particularly if your arms are folded tightly across your chest. Advertisers never fold their arms or cross their legs.

Aristotle saw that arguments happen everywhere and all the time. But listening closely, he also saw that some people were better at argument than others. Some people always seemed to be right, no matter what they said. And Aristotle thought that if he studied how those people argued, he might be able to explain the tools of argument.

The proper use of those tools is the subject of another argument.

Diary

A diarist keeps a daily record of everyday experience, regardless of relevance or importance to the outside world. The prototype might be Pepys. One of the characteristics of a diary is that it is usually meant to be private, and it might become more interesting the farther it gets from its time of origin. In that sense, a diary might be that letter to the world that never wrote to you, because it was unable, that world being a future after your time. A diary is not a blog.

“Diary: How to Improve the World (You Will Only Make Matters Worse)” was a John Cage project that went on for 16 years. And Cage made it a public project. A diary need not have rules. It doesn’t even need to be written. It might make use of photographs, or drawings, or quilting or needlepoint. A diary might be impressionistic, or some other artistic or technical expression. Or it might be cut and dry and matter of fact and as unambiguous as possible. But of course what readers can’t know is what the diary has left out.

Out, for a morning walk up to the park, my thoughts distracted by a sign at the outset: “Drive Like Your Kids Live Here.” I thought of the days I was busy with rhetoric, argument. That sign was an argument of proposal. The appeal is logical but also of pathos, for it causes us to think of our own kids. But what if we have no kids? Or, we do, but we are not particularly safe with them, either? Another assumption the sign makes is that children are in harm’s way. No doubt. But if you care about your children, shouldn’t you keep them out of harm’s way? And what of old people? Should we not also drive as if our grandparents live here? Maybe a more effective sign would read: Drive as if you love your neighbor like yourself. But note that assumes one love’s oneself. I’ve never quite understood that biblical proposal, having known so many people whose behavior, full of bad habits, suggested they did not love themselves. Maybe an even more effective sign might read: Drive Like You Are The Child.

By the time I got up to the park, my thoughts had cleared of argument, and I was in among the trees, and I continued as if they were my trees.

Bells, part 3, Relax

We should probably be wary of statements beginning with the pronouncement, “Never before, in the history of the world….”

Nevertheless, given our current world predicament, we might find ourselves in need of some relaxation – seemingly, like never before.

In his little book titled “How to Relax,” the monk Thich Nhat Hanh begins:

“You don’t need to set aside special time for resting and relaxing. You don’t need a special pillow or any fancy equipment. You don’t need a whole hour. In fact, now is a very good time to relax” (page 6, “How to Relax,” Parallax Press, 2015).

The same might be said for writing. You don’t need a fancy machine, a special desk or pen, or even a purpose. What you need – is a bell.

“There is tranquility, peace, and joy within us, but we have to call them forth so they can manifest. Inviting a bell to sound is one way to call forth the joy and tranquility within” (page 100).

Thich Nhat Hanh gives us a poem to remind us of the bell we want to listen for, to hear, to send out to others:

“Body, speech, and mind in perfect oneness,
I send my heart along with the sound of this bell.
May all the hearers awaken from forgetfulness,
and transcend the path of anxiety and sorrow” (page 100).

And we don’t need a fancy blog template or website to write. Again, nevertheless, here at The Coming of the Toads, I’ve experimented with a few of the WordPress templates over time. But what did I want, if not simply to write? This isn’t the only place, the only way, I write. I keep a pocket notebook in the left rear pocket of my pants (detail for readers in need), unlined because I like to doodle and wander. I keep a spiral notebook in a desk drawer. I started The Coming of the Toads, after a few hesitant starts, in December of 2007, and have posted something at least monthly since. Why then, lately, have I been having thoughts of ending it?

I wasn’t “inviting the bell.” Not Poe’s “the tintinabulation of the bells,” nor his “anger of the bells,” nor his “moaning and the groaning of the bells.” But the bell of the muse. I like this etymological note from Oxford: “Middle English: from Old French muser ‘meditate, waste time’, perhaps from medieval Latin musum ‘muzzle’.” Writing involves a good amount of self-muzzle, or should. First, we might want to relax. Invite the bell. Then take up the pen and notebook, or open the blog.

This is the third piece in a series on bells at The Coming of the Toads.

Coast Road Trip: Sans Pics

A perspicacious reader asked why I haven’t posted any pics from the road trip. I’m working on moving toward a new kind of blog, more like the one I started, back in December of 2007, which contained no pics, just short bursts of writing pleasure. I had in mind the kind of posts the venerable E. B. White wrote in the early New Yorker.

“From 1925 to 1976 he crafted more than eighteen hundred pieces for the magazine and established, in the words of editor William Shawn, “a new literary form.” That form was the magazine’s Comment essay—a personal essay that was, in White’s hands, light in style yet often weighty in substance. As White noted in a 1969 Paris Review interview, > I do feel a responsibility to society because of going into print: a writer has the duty to be good, not lousy; true, not false; lively, not dull; accurate, not full of error. He should tend to lift people up, not lower them down. Writers do not merely reflect and interpret life, they inform and shape life.

“Eighty-Five from the Archive: E. B. White,” by Erin Overbey, The New Yorker, June 7, 2010.

Not that I ever achieved anything everyone might call, “not lousy.” In any case, I drifted away, or off, and into a kind of academic stream, where I imagined I might augment my adjunct work at the time. And I tried to bring some attention to the books I was working on, both reading and writing. Then I began to work-in more slant, though never totally “false,” and found the proverbial bottom of the barrel when I started putting up some poetry. And I recently considered retiring The Coming of the Toads, leaving it to sink to the bottom of the archive abyss of the Internet, where some future crab scuttling along might find a few morsels to criticize.

E. B. White’s idea of the short, personal essay (note the importance of that comma) has been replaced in many blogs by the personal pic essay, with and without words, the latter like Beckett’s short play, “Act Without Words.” And I suspect more reading is done on phones these days than when I started The Coming of the Toads on a desktop computer back in ’07, and the phone and other smaller size formats encourage changes in aspect ratios of screen, pics, and writing. And thinking about that, I decided to remove this blog’s header pic, begin writing with a minimum of pics altogether, returning to the short, personal note or comment type essay. I even thought of a new tagline for the title space: The Coming of the Toads: No links, No likes, No comments. I know that sounds a bit anti-social, but what I’m aiming for is clarity, simplicity – a clean, well-lighted blog.

Besides, I don’t get many comments or likes, and many that I do get appear to be from spam and bots, and I lost all the pics I took on our recent trip, mistakenly thinking I had backed up my phone photos to Google Photos when I had not, in the meantime deleting all the photos from my phone, then crashing my Instagram account trying to retrieve what I had at least saved there. Seems poetic justice for an anti-social attitude.

Having at this point already exceeded my target word limit, not to mention having probably lost my target audience, those interested in hearing more about the Road Trip, I give you this portfolio of road trip pics, all taken by my sister Barbara and Susan as I was trying on the lighthouse keeper’s uniform jacket at the Yaquina Head Lighthouse, north of Newport, trying to strike poses I imagined a lighthouse keeper might have aimed at were he the subject of a live, on the job photo shoot:

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