Be Kinder

Be Kinder

Early in the day I got an e-mail
In it a woman said,
“It’s hard for me
To accept the fact
I’ve lost both my parents
In such a such short time.”
By mid-afternoon I was talking
With another woman about the web
I said, “You know, it’s glitchy sometimes.”
She said, “A whole lot of things
seem glitchy for me these days…”
Later in the day
I drove past an old Cadillac
Stopped in the middle of the lane
Hood raised
A man stood beside it
Hands in his pockets
As he looked at the ground
We turned the corner
I watched him in the mirror
And thought of something
A wise man once said,
“Be kinder than you need to
Because everyone you meet
Is fighting some kind of battle.”

Dewey Dirks copyright 2011

Writing and Perception

I’ve been reading a lot of poetry and essays lately.  In appreciation of the poetry I’ve seen penned by many outstanding writers, I wrote the following poem called “Sharing Water” celebrating poetry.  It imagines a variety of powerfully written poetry and its possible effects on a reader.  When I wrote it, I was thinking of both emotional poetry written out of sorrow and emotional poetry written out of love, who might be writing some of it and how it effected me as a reader.  One of the things you soon learn as a writer is that if you show a dozen people a piece of writing, you will get a whole range of responses that reflect not only what you put in the poem, but also what people get out of it.  From this you learn that writing isn’t just a matter of putting some words on paper and having people retrieve the information.  It more a matter of an interaction or collaboration between the writers imagination and the readers imagination. Comments I’ve gotten about “Sharing Water” include a person who imagined I was writing about a single poem, a reader who imagined a large room with a warm fireplace, a fellow who joked that the Formica table in the poem might be my own table, and woman who imagined the title refereed to Robert Heinlein’s novel “Stranger in Strange Land.”  I had no idea when I wrote it that it might invoke such images. The imagery that was in my mind as I wrote it was somewhat different than the images in my readers minds as they read it.  This doesn’t make them wrong, and me right in our imagery.  It makes the written word something of itself that can mean a lot of different things to many different people.  It teaches us that written words aren’t just about writing and reading, they’re about perception itself.

Sharing Water

Words rich
With the sensual fabric of life
Full of emotions and heartbeats
Lounge on the page
Resting like a high mountain cat
Fur soft and thick
Deep in thought
Washing a paw
In whispers
Of fluid movement and lithe power

Words born of bone deep pain
Words written alone
In a room with nothing
But an old Formica table
A bare light blub
And a stubby brown pencil
Reach out in desperation
Plead for empathy
Cry for care
Eyes soaking wet
Or sit forsaken
Alone in a crowd

Words born of love
Words gentle and kind
Softly touch me
Welcome my soul home
From a long, long journey
On a straight desert road
With a cool cup of sharing water
Or brilliant and bright
Warm me inviting rest
In the afternoon sun
Golden and honest with joy

Nothing in this old world
Like a good poem
Written deep
From the human heart

Dewey Dirks copyright 2011

Decent Person

Going to church makes into you a decent person about as much as standing at the airport makes you a plane.  What makes you a decent person is being kind, forgiving and fair minded to all the people you meet.  Being a decent person has to be a habit all day long every day, not a visit once a week to some building on a street corner.  Always keep yourself  straight up and the rest will pretty much take care of itself.

Constructs and Inquantas

Constructs and Inquantas
Everything man has ever known, thought, felt or encountered can be divided into two groups.  We’ll call them “constructs” and “inquantas.”  A construct is something that can be analyzed by reducing it into constituent parts.  Matter, most energy and many of the concepts we use to think about the world are constructs. Examples of constructs include a bottle, a diamond,  dirt, air and electricity.   If you reduce a construct down to its constituent parts, it is often easy to reconstruct or reproduce it simply by sticking its parts back together or duplicating them.  On the other hand, an inquanta is something that disappears when you try to analyze beyond a certain point. For this reason, at some point in any analysis, an inquanta defies attempts to describe or define it.   Some concepts and a few of the things we feel at an emotional level are inquantas.  A perfect example of an inquanta is a joke.  The moment you begin to try to analyze or define a joke, the ‘ha-ha-ness’ of it goes away.  For example, look at the following definition of humor put forth by William O. Beeman, professor of Anthropology at Brown University

”Humor is a performative pragmatic accomplishment involving a wide range of communication skills including, but not exclusively involving, language, gesture, the presentation of visual imagery, and situation management.”

No humor to be found there.  Analyze jokes and suddenly they are no longer jokes.  Upon any attempt at taking it apart, the funniness of a joke—the very thing that makes you notice it in the first place simply disappears.  Another example of an inquanta is love.  It lends it self to a certain amount of analysis and description but after a certain point in the examination of why a person loves, the essential feeling or element that makes it love —the reason why we love in the first place,  just disappears.   Curiosity and imagination are also examples of inquantas, although curiosity lends itself to analysis better than most other inquantas.  Imagination is a special case as well since it involves a vital aspect of human creativity looking at itself.  Like holding a mirror up to a mirror showing infinite reflections, instead of quickly disappearing, it explodes in a myriad sunburst of possibilities.  Although we can describe in detail the effects of inquanta, accurate measurement and detailed scientific or analytical analysis of them is often very difficult.  Still, inquantas display no lack of attempts to analyze them and over time we’ve accumulated a good amounts of knowledge about them and how they affect us.  However, since they don’t lend themselves well to analysis, no one really knows if irreducibility is actually an inherent property of inquantas or if it just reflects the limits of human understanding.  Are hate and fear inquantas?  The short answer is no.  They lend themselves to analysis too quickly for them to be inquantas.  Although, by no means is it the sole reason why people sometimes hate or fear, the lines between them and ignorance are often obvious.  Likewise, just like ignorance is no more than the absence of knowledge and wisdom, hate and fear are often no more an absence of things more substantial.
Most of the things science has ever discovered and allowed us to make use of are constructs.   At the same time, virtually everything that is truly fulfilling in life, everything that makes us each get up in the morning and get on with the day, is an inquanta.  At the bottom of it all, we don’t love our cell phones, we love or care about the people and the world that cell phones allow us to connect to.  We all live to love, smile and laugh or for the hope to love, smile and laugh.  In the end, everything that makes each of us really want to get on with life are things that are inquantas.  In fact, to the limits of current human understanding, life itself is an inquanta as is the incredible strength of the human spirit.  Constructs help us all perpetuate inquantas.  This is the value of science.  Although analysis often illuminate inquantas to fairly good effect, humans have other idea tools as well that help us understand them.  This is the value of spirituality.   At a very basic level it helps us fit many inquantas into our worldview when analysis seems to fail.  Personally, I don’t find science and spirituality at all incompatible.  They each carry an array of idea tools I utilize to help me better understand the world around me.
An assumption that is essential to the proper functioning of scientific inquiry is that anything and everything can be successfully analyzed to increase human understanding.  In making this assumption, it serves us very well.  One of the things that spirituality often assumes is that some things are forever simply beyond our ability to analyze.  An essential part of any truly balanced world view is the acceptance of the paradox that both assumptions carry equal amounts of truth to the limits of human understanding.   Neither science nor spirituality are going away anytime soon.  Both provide idea tools that are good to get your head around.  Better to arrive at an arrangement of peaceful co-existence than to contend ourselves with bickering and fighting between the two for the next several thousand years.   As for constructs and inquantas —well, it’s very, very good that human curiosity forever strives to find out what really makes things tick.  We gotta keep doing that or we’ll get nowhere.   Meanwhile, it’s equally good to remember laughter is the point of a joke but it doesn’t make you laugh after you’ve taken it apart.  To make it a joke again, someone else has to find it anew.

Dewey Dirks

Three Shorts

Today’s post is three short poems that kinda go to together and were written as a result of some conversations I’ve had recently about human nature—

Shape Up

Have some faith in yourself
Life certainly must have
It put you on the planet didn’t it?
After making a trillion creatures
You can kinda figure
Evolution ain’t exactly stupid
About such things

Dewey Dirks copyright 2011


Everyone Is

Everyone is a fool
For at least
Five minutes a day
The trick
Is to try to keep it down
To just five minutes

Everyone can be as wise
As hope
And human wisdom
Know how to be
For at least
Five minutes a day
Consider yourself
A resounding success
If you can
Get it up to ten

Dewey Dirks copyright 2011

Piece of Peace

Life is forever a journey
Always a process
Never a destination

If you’ve had the calm
To read these lines
And think about them
For even a few seconds
You’ve wandered by
A piece of peace
Along the road
Why not look for more?

Like trees and and bushes
Along the way
You happen by them often

Dewey Dirks copyright 2011

Mitakuye Oyasin

Mitakuye Oyasin

Mitakuye oyasin is a Lakota phrase used as an opening in many prayers and songs.  It means “All your relations” It expresses an idea that is a dialectical holism.  It is the notion that many things (in fact, everything) are related to make one thing. It carries implications that are much greater than just its name.  Mitakuye oyasin, carries with it the idea that a person is not only his body but also his relationships to everything else in existence.  It  carries a very great deal of illocutionary force because it conveys with it, the idea that whomever utters it and believes the utterance, understands that he is not only himself but also a very small piece of something fantastically, tremendously large.  It can also be considered a performative utterance because its effect is dependent upon the act of understanding and believing in the utterance although I must say it is unlike most phrases I’d ordinarily consider performative..  It’s like saying ‘universe’ and meaning that word as one thing in and of itself, spanning back into the past and out into the future with yourself included in the statement by definition.  You are not it, but it is you and its existence becomes verifiable only upon acceptance of the possibility that both you and it exist.
It is interesting to compare our common conception of the universe with an idea like mitakuye oyasin.  Now, everyone knows that they are part of the universe but when your average English speaker utters the word, he doesn’t ordinarily mean to include himself so implicitly as part of the utterance—as does mitakuye oyasin.  We ordinarily speak of ourselves and the universe as  entirely separate things. ‘Here I am. Out there is the universe’. Even when we include ourselves, we still draw a distinction.  We say ‘Myself, and everything in the universe’  Neither do we ordinarily include time in our common conceptions of the universe—even though our physicists know that space and time are aspects of the same thing.  Perhaps your average Lakota in say, the 18th century, had a more accurate conception of his place in the greater environment than your average American urbanite in the early 21st century.
An all-encompassing concept similar to mitakuye oyasin, is the Chinese word ‘Tao’.  Tao is very often translated into English simply as ‘the way’ but a far better definition of what the word intends to convey is ‘everything that exists, has ever existed, or that will ever exist and everything that anything ever does, has ever done, or will ever do, all together, all at once’.  The two notions have many similarities.  For example, according to John P. Clark, professor of philosophy at Loyola University, Tao is a dialectic holism.  Tao is also not a thing, but rather, is best viewed as an  process-in-motion whose validity is contingent upon understanding the phrase and believing it, so like mitakuye oyasin, it represents a peculiar kind of performative utterance.
Janet McCloud says that she marvels at mitakuye oyasin.  I agree.  I think that once you begin to take in the great breadth of meaning found within words like mitakuye oyasin and Tao, you cannot help but be profoundly moved.  Both phrases carry the power and weight of their meaning in all that they imply rather than in the simple conveyance of their definitions.  The  illocutionary force entailed in ideas like Mitakuye oyasin and Tao can show us many things.  I believe a great deal can be gathered from the study of all human cultures as one system stretching back in time and out into the future.