Wednesday, July 1, 2020

CONVERSATIONS with a Hypoxic Dog (CwHD) is now entitled WHIMSY. This is still a weblog about words and language and other inanities. CwHD began May 1, 2017. All posts are available in the Archives. The Bookstore opened in July, 2017, providing an overview of my published work. Essays are published monthly. More or less.


Archaic words are those terms which were once used commonly in a language, but which are now rarely used. They constitute a slow eddy, a back water, a stagnant pool in the stream of sound and image that is language. A synonym for archaic is antiquated which means characteristic of an earlier or more primitive time. Take primitive with a grain of salt. Homo sapiens today are no more evolved than the cave painters of Altamira. Evolution, like the water cycle, does not work towards perfection, only towards efficacy. And the same can be said for language.

The internet has a plethora of sites that list archaic words. Cheyne is such a word. Meaning? Pronunciation To read Shakespeare these days one must be well versed in archaic language. Both words and rhythms have changed over time.

Fools had ne'er less wit in a year;
For wise men have grown foppish,
They know not how their wits to wear,
Their manners are so apish.
(King Lear, Act I, Scene IV)

Not only is his language Elizabethan (17th century), but he also relished the words and phrases from the middle ages (roughly 1000 to 1500 CE). The Canterbury Tales (1387) provides a plethora of tasty verbiage; and the Tales are well worth a read. Cheyne is used in the following quote from Chaucer, and context provides ample clues to its meaning.

For with that faire cheyne of love he bond
The fyr, the eyr, the water, and the lond
In certeyn boundes, that they may nat flee.
(The Canterbury Tales
The Knight’s Tale, 2987–2993)

Vintage literature is not the only reason to be well versed in archaic words and phrases. To read history with some degree of understanding requires a knowledge of the language used during the period in question. 'Unique,' for example, no longer means unique. And, of course, the classic aphorism of Spanish philosopher George Santayana still applies:Those who do not read history are condemned to repeat it.

Use over time for the word 'plethora.'

Languages, like all concepts, have a flow to their pattern of development, their use, their misuse, their demise. The above might be described as a flow chart. This is but one of many ways to use the concept of flow to describe words and language. 'Plethora' seems to have made a comeback of late.

Flow theory, created by a somewhat obscure Hungarian professor of psychology, states rather baldly that humans are most content when they are in a state of flow; and flow is described as a state of mind which entails complete absorption in the task at hand. The state is further marked by intrinsic motivation and complete immersion. All else becomes lost to consciousness in these moments.

Language itself is fluent when the metered rhythm of the words matches both the measured syntax of sentences and the logical order of paragraphs. Once flow is established, various techniques can be used to emphasize content. Staccato delivery might be used to emphasize specific words (the hard boiled detective grilling a suspect; the emotional orator pushing an argument). Words with multiple syllables are often relied on to suggest the writer's or speaker's erudition. And space --- the long pause (look back at comedian Jack Benny) or blank in the middle or between paragraphs (common poetical device) --- is often used to change the flow of language.

When one has thoroughly learned a language, one is said to be fluent. Without an understanding of how languages evolve from origin to ending, fluency will be difficult. Non-native speakers prove the point. Even basic literacy will be compromised without some knowledge of both the old and the new and the rhythms of each. Who'd a thunk it. LOL.

Fluency has many definitions most of which pertain to reading and speaking well. The word simply means to flow.

Here is Santayana again:

... the whole machinery of our intelligence, our general ideas and laws, fixed and external objects, principle persons and gods, are so many symbolic, algebraic expressions. They stand for experience; experience which we are incapable of retaining and surveying in its multitudinous immediacy. We should flounder hopelessly, like the animals, did we not keep ourselves afloat and direct our course by these intellectual devices. Theory helps us to bear our ignorance of fact.
The Sense Of Beauty (1896), Pt. III, Form; § 30: p. 125

And click on the name to learn more about Mihály Csíkszentmihályi.

Monday, June 1, 2020


A song by Blind Alfred Reed (1880 - 1956) and performed by Willie Watson raises questions with no easy answers. Are we our brother's keeper? And is the concern for our brothers and sisters (lions and lambs? Trees? That rock you stubbed your toe on?) relative or absolute? Do we help this one, but not that one? Her but not him? Us but not them? Eeeny meeny miny moe.

Maestro, cue up the song. We'll have a listen. See what we think.

Watson, 'Always Lift Him Up'
(click photo to listen)

We live in interesting times. Old folks, goes one suggestion, have become expendable. The president of the united states (lower case intentional: he could use the humility) is at best an ignorant thug. A pestilence lives next door.

A poet's task is to reflect in metered words and phrases the tenor of the times. William Butler Yeats wrote "The Second Coming" in 1919. The first world war had just ended. The so-called Spanish flu had killed more than 20,000,000 people. Grim times.

Yeats was a notorious rewriter. The version of his poem below is from 1921 as it appeared in the Dial Magazine. What follows Yeats' poem is a bit of annotation. The poem has suffered pillaging for decades, from a Joan Didion essay to an obscure rock band's title song. A Paris Review article suggests the words and phrases of this poem are the most used and abused --- few, apparently, understand Yeats' meaning and many disregard his context --- in the English language.

The Second Coming

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

Spiritus Mundi translates as the spirit of the world. The phrase, according to most philosophies, is used to mean that all living things on the planet are interconnected. Intrinsically. Innately. Plato fostered this notion, and it was an important component of most Neoplatonic philosophies both East and West. John Donne's poem, 'No Man Is an Island' (published 1624), uses this idea as its theme.

Some think even the broad scope of Spiritus Mundi is short sighted. Is inorganic matter without spirit? And what of other celestial bodies? What of the Universe itself? A long walk off a short pier, this business. Enough, perhaps, to simply consider the beast who slouches next door. What of him? Or her? Or them?

In “The Waste Land”, published in 1922, T.S. Eliot has a poem that captures the same atmosphere of impending doom as the Yeats' work. His opening stanza is entitled 'The Burial Of The Dead'. Eliot, however, chose to end on a somewhat enigmatic, yet, essentially positive note. The end of stanza 5:

These fragments I have shored against the ruins
Why then Ile fit you. Hieronymo's man againe.
Datta. Dayadhvam. Damyata.
Shantih shantih shantih

The meaning of the Sanskrit 'da' words can be rendered as charity, empathy, self-control. The meaning of shantih is peace beyond understanding, and is the usual conclusion of the Indian philosophical Upanishads. Eliot has said that he used difficult allusions and Sanskrit incantations to make things difficult for his readers. If a line is hard to understand, if meaning must be worked for, then the thought will be better appreciated. Or so thought Eliot.

Intellectual hurdles or no, is our dilemma resolved, our questions answered? Perhaps. Maybe. Charity, empathy and self-control are fine virtues difficult to obtain. But what they offer one's brothers and sisters and dogs and cats is not always what is wanted or needed. Alas, alack. And peace beyond understanding? That 'beyond understanding' does put the wrench in the works. That which is beyond understanding is also beyond words and language. Doesn't leave much. Inanity perhaps. How whimsical.

So: Our brother's keeper? The ceremony of innocence is some long time dead and drowned. “We are all murders and prostitutes.” Which is to say that folks living in the proverbial glass house shouldn't cast aspersions. Or, conversely, lifting others, lifts yourself.

Datta. Dayadhvam. Damyata.
Shantih shantih shantih

Plato, in Timaeus, wrote:

Therefore, we may consequently state that: this world is indeed a living being endowed with a soul and intelligence ... a single visible living entity containing all other living entities, which by their nature are all related.

R. D. Laing, from his book The Politics of Experience, 1967.

Friday, May 1, 2020


Whimsy, by definition, is a whim, freak, or caprice; but this definition does not take one to the heart of the matter. Whim, on the other hand, provides four meanings as a noun and two more as a verb, one intransitive, one transitive. I am not referring here to the ornithological whim which is but another local name for the wigeon.

whim, noun:
1. A pun; double-meaning.
2. A sudden turn or start of the mind; a capricious notion; a humor; caprice; fancy.
3. A fanciful or fantastic device, object, or person.
4. Any of various machines for hoisting.

Let us forego the fourth definition (at least until we are hoisted on our own petard); and put aside the verbal usage as well. Whims and to whim are rather rare these days. 'A sudden turn of the mind' suits my purpose best; but note that the word seems to range widely from madness and mayhem to joyful meandering. Behind the freak lies chaos; bolstering the joy lies wholesomeness. I have written elsewhere that wholesome and integral seem synonymous to me; and so, too, the words wholesomeness and integrity.

The etymology of the word whim places its origin in the Scandinavian languages. In Norway, kvim is foolery, as in our Tom Foolery, acting the fool, pretending to be mad. In Denmark, vimse means to be giddy, skip or whisk about. A selection of synonyms for whimsy gives some idea of the range of the word:

bee, caprice, crank, fancy, freak, humor, kink, maggot, megrim, notion, vagary, vagrancy

This brief introduction is necessary to support my notion that making a decision is, for the most part, a whimsical endeavor. Deciding, of course, is an integral part of all behavior; so that one might conclude that most of human behavior is, well, freakish or fanciful. Think not? And just how did you come to that decision? Make a list, did you? Pro and con and what-have-you. Enumerated this and that, skipping about until giddy; then, finally, pulling the trigger. Deciding.

This business of decision is a function of one's mind, and can be lumped under the general rubric of problem solving. Just how one goes about solving problems is not well understood by neurologists, psychologists, or the fellow down the block. While it is a myth that one only uses 10% of the brain, the fact remains that homo sapiens only understand about 10% of the brain's function.1

How problem solving actually comes about falls largely into that cloudy 90% area of confusion. Einstein, when confronted with the abstruse, use to go for a ride on his bike. "Intuition is a sacred gift," he said. Intuition. "The rational mind is a faithful servant." Reason. I would have added '... but a faithful servant ...' The intention is to downgrade reason from all-powerful to merely another tool, blunt though I find it, to shape one's thoughts. Trying to decide whether to fish or cut bait, for example, is a common metaphoric conundrum that rarely succumbs to reason. Listing pros and cons is enlisting the aid of that faithful servant, reasoning. This method will barely get you to the door; but allowing intuition to have its say (how is that done, you ask? How much time do you have?) is receiving the gift. Wham, bam, the door slams open. Decision made. Problem solved. Why didn't I think of that! A bit whimsical, this business, don't you think?

If you are struggling with your intuition, not hearing those little voices, it should come as no surprise. All of modern society from public schools to corporate management, from parenting to politicking, is a wet blanket thrown over intuition to keep it down. If not used, one loses the knack.

You get your intuition back when you make space for it, when you stop the chattering of the rational mind. The rational mind doesn’t nourish you. You assume that it gives you the truth, because the rational mind is the golden calf that this culture worships, but this is not true. Rationality squeezes out much that is rich and juicy and fascinating.
Anne Lamott

And from 1500 years ago, while the Greeks were poisoning the well of Thought with reason, Chinese mystics were telling stories like 'The Empty Cup.' Many versions of the story exist. Here is mine:

The Magistrate went to the Master seeking advice on the latest outbreak of lawlessness. The Master bade him sit and prepared tea. "The District is all higgledy-piggledy," the man said. "I have done all I can, and am now at an impasse. What should I do? What can I do?"" He wrung his hands in agitation. Sweat beaded across the man's broad forehead.

When tea was steeped and stirred, the Master placed a cup before the portly Magistrate. He began to pour. As his guest looked on, the cup filled. The Magistrate became increasingly anxious. The Master poured. As the cup overflowed, spilling over the table and running off into the man's lap, he pushed himself up with an oath. "Fool," he cried. "What are you playing at?" The Master merely nodded his head. "Just so," he said. "Like this cup, you are much too full of yourself. Emptiness must precede wisdom."

A mind replete with facts, opinions, anecdotes, and preconceived notions, will fail to recognize wisdom. Every time. Such a man with such a mind will not even accept the mildest piece of advice, or the most gentle rebuke. He is lost in the hurly-burly of his mind.

Whimsy, I would suggest, is the function of an empty head. And the back side of whimsy is ... wisdom.

A petard is a bomb, and to be hoisted by one is to be blown up. Shakespeare coined the phrase '...hoisted with his own petard...' for Hamlet, and it has since become something of a cliché.

Anne Lamott is a writer, educator, and political activist from northern California.

Sunday, April 5, 2020

CwHD 93

Toss One Down For John Prine

The response to the hospitalization of singer-songwriter John Prine has been startling in its size and support. The man has come a long way since his debut album in 1971. I still have that album. Listened to it yesterday. What follows is my two bits worth.

Webb Chiles is 78 years old. His weblog of March 30 had this:

An article in the NY TIMES yesterday on medical ethics confirmed what I expected:  I am expendable.  If decisions have to be made between giving medical treatment to some and not others, the criteria are likely to be who has the best chance of survival and who likely has the most years left.  I agree entirely.  Quality of life cannot be measured; quantity can.  Those of us who have lived as long as I have had a life.  Twenty year olds have not.  So it is incumbent on me to avoid being in the situation where others have the power to make that decision about me.  That is not entirely in my control,  but I am going to do what I can.

I, too, am an old man; and I agree.

John Prine is 73 years old. Though he, too, is expendable, doctors are working hard to keep the man alive. He remains, as of yesterday, in critical condition. His first album appeared in 1971; his latest, 'Tree Of Forgiveness', just last year. His songs have made me laugh and cry, provided needed perspective, provoked thought, and inspired my own creativity.

Yesterday afternoon, I cued up 'John Prine' on my turntable, poured a couple of fingers of Green Spot, and sat down to have a listen. All the songs, though nearly 50 years old, are worth hearing. Two songs struck me as more relevant now than when they were written. Links to both are added below. The third song, 'Please Don't Bury Me', is something of a novelty tune. Good for a laugh. John has an active sense of humor, and likes to make me people laugh. The song is good for much more than just a laugh, though, if you think about it. What better way to consider one's mortality? nd, of course, maintaining a sense of humor is a key ingredient in any survival situation.

The song's fifth stanza could well serve as Prine's epithet:

Please don't bury me down in that cold, cold ground.
No, I'd rather have them cut me up and pass me all around ...

That 'passing around' ends with this:

... send my mouth way down south and kiss my ass good by

No better way to pass the time then listening to John Prine.

Hello In There

Flashback Blues
Please Don't Bury Me

One more time, a live version of old JP singer 'Please Don't Bury Me'

Sunday, March 1, 2020

CONVERSATIONS with a Hypoxic Dog (CwHD) is a weblog about words and language and other inanities. CwHD began May 1, 2017. The Bookstore opened in July, 2017, providing an overview of my published work. Print and ebook copies are available at my publishing website, majikwoids. A link is provided to these sites below and in the sidebar.

Visit majikwoids for editorial services, free reads and my latest stories.
Subscribe to receive this weblog when new content is available.

CwHD 92
(A glossary of archaic or uncommon words is added at the end of the essay.)

Slack Water and the Crinoids of Chomolungma

For all of us, mountains turn into images after a short time and the images turn true. Gold-tossed waves change into the purple backs of monsters, and so forth. Always something out of the moving deep, and nearly always oceanic.1

Can buoys, green in color, six to nine feet in diameter, as tall as twenty feet, can weigh several tons. The Owner had decided to follow the green cans across the bar and stood by the forward shrouds directing traffic. The Cabin Boy, Mozzo by name, manned the helm. The two men might have been friends ...

A four or five foot swell, rather benign, provided a bit of spice. The boat, a 41 foot ketch designed by William Garden, wallowed about, struggling up the steep face of wind waves, motoring, slamming into troughs, the tide making. The boat, stuffed to bursting with the Owner's toys, was taking him, his dog, and his family on vacation. Mozzo and the dog had come along for the first part of the journey, delivering the boat to Victoria where the family would join the Owner. The family, apparently, wanted no part of the voyage up the coast.

The helm was sluggish, and Mozzo, in his inexperience, became anxious. Just off Peacock Spit, the Owner suddenly thrust out his right arm, pointing, and yelled, “Turn.” The dog, a Norwegian elkhound, barked.

Mozzo cranked the wheel to the right.

The other way,” screamed the Owner, arms waving. The dog stood on the gunnel peering over the combing. He looked at Mozzo and barked. Twice.

And so Mozzo cranked the wheel back the other way. The Owner had pointed at the green can buoy coming just a whisker off their bow. Mozzo saw it then, close to, bobbing down the starboard side, a near miss. Not the most auspicious start to the voyage.

Three miles out, ten miles up the coast, still motoring, the ketch decided it had had enough and stopped. The sudden quiet was unnerving. They drifted a bit. Mozzo suggested sails, but with little or no wind the suggestion was ill received. Besides, the sails had not been out of their covers in years. The Owner motored; he chose not to sail.

Mozzo sat at the lifeless helm watching the Washington coast bob up and down. Willapa Bay, he reckoned, off there to starboard. Japan, off there to port. The Owner on his hands and knees down below, cursing, as he tinkered with fuel lines and filters; but the ketch adamantly refused to cooperate. The dog sat on the stern sheets watching gulls lift and turn and mewl. They drifted.

Call the Coast Guard,” suggested Mozzo.

Shut up,” retorted the Owner.

Time passed. The Long Beach peninsula continued its up and down, the purple hills beyond provided a backdrop at once maudlin and sublime. The mizzen boom rolled to starboard then back to port, giving the winches a good bang each time. Though frustrated with the failure of his motor, untoward anxiety, edginess, also marked the Owner's face. He cursed. A box wrench was flung through the companionway into the gentle heave of sea. The boom swung to port. The boom swung back. Thump.
The dog went below. He hopped onto the settee, sat and considered the Owner.

"What?" said the Owner.

The dog turned and curled up in the corner. He sighed.

Damn it, yelled the Owner.

Raised eyebrows from Mozzo. Definitely out of sorts, he thought. More than the situation warranted. He wondered, knowing the fellow's history, what goodies might be stashed aboard. Did he fear having the federales on board?

Reluctantly, the Owner called the Coast Guard for assistance. They waited in silence. The dog slept. The Coast Guard arrived, a stout line looped the ketch's samson post and off they went. They crossed back over the bar which was, of course, a milk pond. Mozzo thought he might easily canoe this glassy expanse. Well timed, this rescue. Slack water.

Trail Dog

Between ebb and flow is slack. Not always a milk pond, but usually quite benign. For the businessman, slack is a slow period. For a climber, a loose bit of rope. Also, the dictionary tells us, the word suggests negligence. The link below is to a video that is not about ocean, but about ocean's obverse which is mountain. The Euclidean perspective (a hairball best left to mathematicians, but useful in this context) suggests that all space is unique yet comparable. Its otherness lies in its nature.2 Many mountains were once sea floor; much of the seafloor was once mountains.

Slack features prominently in the short film. The contention made in "Trail Dog" that happiness is beyond good and guilt is almost so. Almost. But beyond happiness and its opposite,which is sorrow, beyond all dualities, is what I chose to label Slack Water. Slack Water is a place as well as a state of mind. It is where animals---dogs and cats, deer and whales---live. That is, if the animal in question has not been too domesticated. Slack Water is what humans---especially those who are out of sorts---seek. Slack water, to all who know the tides, gives a tangible image for an abstract concept.

No words can adequately describe that which is beyond all dualities. The term offered here merely suggests the complete integration that lies beyond concepts. The film linked below is narrated, and the words are well written and compliment the images equally well. But it is the images themselves which tell the story. The Runner and his friends are beyond mischief, happiness, dancing Slack Water.

A story is one medium for explicating the difficulties of concepts. A film is able to provide visual information to fill in the blanks. Ultimately, humans, with their limited ability to see beyond the end of their noses, must be moved by some epiphanic occurrence and then expand themselves, physically and mentally, to find Slack Water, and so become their obverse.


Chomolungma, Tibetan name for Mt Everest (K15)

crinoids, marine fossils some of which can be found on the summit of Chomolungma. See website linked here ( ) for more information

epiphantic, an intuitive perception or insight, usually unexpected, into the reality or essential meaning of something, usually triggered by some commonplace occurrence or experience.

obverse, the counterpart of a fact or truth.

1Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It (The University of Chicago Press, Chicago and London, 1976), 144.
2The tallest mountain on the planet is Mauna Kea, Hawaii, at 33,000 feet from its underwater base to its summit.

Monday, December 16, 2019

CONVERSATIONS with a Hypoxic Dog (CwHD) is a weblog about words and language and other inanities.  CwHD began May 1, 2017. Besides thematic essays, the site provides a vehicle for sharing my own words and language. In July, 2017, I opened The Bookstore. This page provides an overview of my published work. Print and ebook copies are available through my publishing website majikwoids. A link is provided below and in the sidebar. 

Visit majikwoids for editorial services, free reads and my latest stories.
Subscribe to receive this weblog when new content is available.

CwHD 91

A glossary of archaic or uncommon words is added at the end of the essay.

Chop Wood, Carry Water

Sir Isaac Newton is noted for his concise descriptions of the physical world. His three laws of motion are well known and the third law is so often cited that it has become something of a cliche. The third law states that for every action in nature there is an equal and opposite reaction. If object A exerts a force on object B, then object B also exerts an equal force on object A. The lift generated by a wing exemplifies this principle as does the game of billiards, the martial arts of aikido and judo, tsunamis, marbles, walking, and intercontinental ballistic missiles.

While this exchange of forces is quite predictable for inanimate objects and the autonomic movement of animate objects, any attempt to apply the principle to human behavior is far more problematic.

How does one respond to an upraised middle finger (action)? Certainly, context is critical to any informed decision. However, the phallus finger seems to trigger such an emotional, visceral response (reaction) that informed reasoning is short circuited, adrenaline surges, and before we can say oh fooie one's middle digit is raised in return, the arm outthrusted, jaw clenched.

Thus the conundrum. Controlling one's emotional reactions is often beyond reason.

Neville Chamberlain is often reviled for his vain attempt to appease Adolf Hitler. Appeasement, of course, is most often considered a form of flight. In order to avoid confrontation, one attempts to pacify and conciliate one's opponent. Winston Churchill, on the other hand, is often lauded for his famous speech to Parliament in June of 1940 that proclaimed " ... we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight in the fields and streets, we shall fight in the hills ..." Two of the Bible's most often quoted anecdotes suggest either course as correct: One can passively turn the other cheek or vengefully take an eye for an eye.

The United States Supreme Court, that once august body, has given this opinion on unbridled responses: "fighting words," speech and actions that incite others to imminent lawless actions, obscenities that might do the same, as well as certain types of defamatory speech and specific types of threat are not protected by the rights guaranteed by the First Amendment and so can be regulated and even punished by the legal entity involved (the state of Pennsylvania in this case). Laws that have been upheld as constitutional are laws whic range from a simple summary offense of Disorderly Conduct to felonies such as Terroristic Threats.

Controlling one's limbic system, it seems, might well be imperative in order to remain at large and free from the capricious nature of some hanging judge. No simple matter apparently. Statistics from the Bureau of Justice from the year 2012 give the total of federal, state and local expenditures on prisons, jails and the like at just over $80 billion.

So consider the movement of water which is, of course, a body of knowledge encompassed in the science of hydrology. Moving water offers an analogy that might serve to untie the Gordian knot that is the feedback from one's limbic system. If one embarks on a river of some size, or a coastal voyage in a small boat whose motive power is the wind or one's muscles, the analogy becomes more apt.

The Columbia River does not need much encouragement to run at four or five knots. If the main channel is narrow or the flow is constricted by islands, the water will crown and carry away the less than intrepid sailor or paddler. Head on confrontations with currents, however they may arise, rarely profit the small boat sailor, paddler or rower. Flight is the order of the day. Back eddies, slack water and the lee side of some prominence provide the means to tame the aggressive current (might such current be labeled the aqueous world's limbic system?).

Flight, unfortunately, carries a connotation of cowardice. So euphemisms are in order.

Flight can mean simply running away; but the word surely connotes more than that. In terms of the working analogy, both back eddies and lee sides can equate with avoidance, a more complicated form of flight which involves keen awareness of one's environment as well as an astute awareness of human nature. Slack water, my personal favorite, at first glance appears to be merely indifference. The following anecdote implies much more.

Morihei Ueshiba, the man who put aikido on the map, often traveled by train. As a slight seemingly frail old man, eighty-something, he had his students carry the luggage. No matter how crowded the platform Ueshiba was able to walk sprightly along, parting the waters as it were, with his students hustling along behind in his wake. Committed to neutrality, focused, the old man lived upon slack water. He gave no thought to fight or flight. His only concern, to add an old Chinese analogy, was to chop wood and carry water.

Concentrating on one thing at a time seems beyond possibility in this digital age. Focus is wanting generally. But there is this: Sick with flu, prostrate on the couch, wallowing in self-pity, the cell phone rings (vibrates, chortles, clangs, dingdings, whatever) and reluctantly the call is answered. A long lost friend has reached out. Smiles and laughter and hail-fellow-well-mets blossom and flourish. And the flu? Well, one's illness is apparently in remission for the moment. Similar focused moments are common experience, if one but considers. And it is such moments that I label slack water: the disconnected haven between Scylla and Charybdis. And if moments are possible, why not hours or days or a lifetime.

Asians seem better at this mindset than western folk. Two prominent individuals who attained neutrality (centrality?) were Mahatma Gandhi and the Dali Lama. In an interview with Bill Moyers (still available on YouTube), the Dalai Lama was asked a question that cut to the core of the issue. How did he deal with insect pests like mosquitoes. The Dalai Lama laughed (a very happy fellow this fellow) and said at first he would gently wave a hand. And if that didn't work? asked Moyers. Ah, then perhaps a puff of air. And ... The Dalai Lama laughed his laugh, and then smack, he slapped his forearm. Chop wood, he said. Ha ha ha.

autonomic, involuntary or unconscious, relating to the autonomic nervous system which includes heartbeat and breathing among other less obvious examples (cellular homeostasis, e.g.).

conundrum, a confusing and difficult question or problem.

limbic system, that part of the brain involved in our behavioral and emotional responses, especially when it comes to behaviors one needs for survival: feeding, reproduction and caring for one's young, and fight or flight responses.

Scylla and Charybdis, in Greek mythology, Scyylla was a rather nasty six-headed monster who lived on a rock on one side of a narrow strait (said to be the Strait of Messina between Italy and Sicily), and Charybdis was a whirlpool on the other side.

summary offense, the least serious type of crime. Felonies are most serious and misdemeanors less so. Summary offenses can be decided without jury trial.

Sunday, October 6, 2019

CONVERSATIONS with a HYPOXIC DOG (CwHD) is a weblog about words and language and other inanities. CwHD began May 1, 2017. Besides thematic essays, the site provides a vehicle for sharing my own words and language. In July, 2017, I opened The Bookstore. This page provides an overview of my published work. Print and ebook copies are available through my publishing website majikwoids. A link is provided below and in the sidebar.

Visit majikwoids for editorial services, free reads and my latest stories.
Subscribe to receive this weblog when new content is available.

CwHD 90

A glossary of archaic or uncommon words is added at the end of this essay.

The Folly Of Personal Pronouns

Leuthold's Couloir does not belong to Joe Leuthold. The couloir is a gully decidedly vertical rather than horizontal which splits the southwest face of Mt Hood. Like other geological features throughout the known universe, the couloir was named for the man (far less often are places and things named for women) who first climbed the route, and does not signify possession. The apostrophe 's' can, at times, indicate ownership; but the construct is far more ambiguous than the personal pronoun.
from the base of Leuthold's Couloir, lookinng NNW
photo by gv simoni

'My dog' is more specific, and certainly indicates possession. Dogs are usually rather affectionate creatures and not wont to complain. Some dogs, however, are not the least bit impressed with that 'my', and will blatantly disregard their master's wishes, making their escape, jumping fences, tunneling, chewing through leads, doing whatever is necessary to go gallivanting about the neighborhood. Inorganic creatures, like pickup trucks, are more easily 'owned'; although internal combustion engines are notoriously finicky, and perhaps this is due, in part, to the tyranny of ownership.

Rarely will someone claim ownership of, say, a doorknob. In the grand scheme of things, doorknobs have little importance. The value of an object seems to be proportional to the desire to own that object. Old boats, more often than not made of glass reinforced plastic, are rarely claimed. They languish in backyards and boat yards gathering dirt and mold. A Weldcraft Cuddy King 300 with twin inboard diesels will make hardhearted landlubbers salivate. That's my boat, they'll say. Ain't she a beauty. 20 years of water under the bridge and that same boat will likely be scrap, the victim of electrolysis and neglect.

The folly of personal pronouns? Ownership is a dubious concept. Man's tenure on planet earth is something less than a burp. If you build it, nature will, sooner or later, reclaim it. Mountains, though majestic and seemingly eternal, come and go like governments. So one argument against this penchant for acquisitions surely must be life's brief passing. Does one have time to spend foolishly trying to own things? Like Hitler and other megalomaniacs (saying you have the DTs takes on a whole new meaning these days), is it the 1000 year Reich you are after?

Curiously, folly has a second meaning. The word denotes an edifice that costs far more to build than it is worth, one that has no practical purpose, is merely ornamental, and is commonly found in the hidden reaches of a garden. Many of our 'possessions' are much like follies. They are expensive, impractical, and end up rusting in the yard or gathering dust in the closet.

Possessiveness, the desire to own more than we need, goes hand in glove with domination. Greed seems a likely root cause of this wayward desire. Advertising does nothing but feed these desires. The American educational folly (in both sense of the word) does little to ameliorate the problem. An argument can be made that public education exacerbates the issue. Well educated, intelligent people are often badly and sadly disconnected from reality. They want the American Dream, however transmogrified that fleeting apparition has become. Does happiness come with a six figure income? Not likely.

Emotions are not easily controlled. Reason is often elusive. Homo sapiens are not reasonable creatures. The ability to think clearly must be acquired. Mathematics affords an excellent opportunity to hone this skill. The answers are clear; the process is straightforward though sometimes complex. Aerobic exercise, music and other arts, and various crafts also work well to eliminate the extraneous and focus one's mind on the specific. It is not coincidental that those whose culture focuses their thoughts produce outstanding crafts.

Commonly, knowledge is divided into two general types. Explicit knowledge can be written down, verbalized, and taught. For example, 2 + 2 = 4 is a bit of explicit knowledge. Or: The capital of Oregon is Salem. Or: the jointed rock in the Columbia River Gorge is columnar basalt Tacit knowledge is implicit. Largely subjective. Understanding comes intuitively. What one knows implicitly cannot be verbalized or taught. Most arts and crafts are imbued with tacit knowledge. One can learn the chords on a guitar and even strum a song; but to play well involves mastering sounds emitted from the vibration of strings which require precise plucking with flesh, nails or plectrum, various pressures and positions, equally precise fretting, and a host of other details which one cannot express in verbally. Sheet music is, at best, a skeletal outline of the composers intentions. Interpretation, using all the tacit knowledge at his or her command, is the responsibility of the artist.

Ownership is explicit and binding. One becomes territorial. Defensive. And, in turn, aggressively offensive. "I'll give you my gun when you pry it from my cold, dead hands," is a slogan common among aficionados of firearms. One so often becomes a prisoner of what one possesses.

Wisdom is tacit knowledge. One cannot purchase wisdom on the installment plan. Freedom is tacit. People living through the Great Depression of the 1930s, acquired tacit knowledge. "Necessity is the mother of invention" is a proverb attributed to Plato 2300 years ago; and is often rephrased in English as "having less, means knowing more." Conversely, having more, it seems, often means knowing less.

We have too much. Some have far too much. The wealthiest 1% of the world's population owns more than half of the world's wealth.1 10000 years of human greed has done the planet irreparable harm. And the material objects from cars to shoes seem to be poorly made: all sizzle and no steak. Often disposable. Gimcrack gimmicks.

Cultures that eschew materialism have a curious knack for producing exquisite crafts. The Navajo is one such. Their tradition maintains that one only needs enough to take care of one's family. Hozho is the Navajo belief system that delineates how one must stay in harmony and beauty with the world. A simple tenet is to own less. Though Hozho is a culturally specific aesthetic idea of the Navajo; many of its tenets are held by indigenous people everywhere. Doing more with less, for example. Respect for the natural world. A greater kinship with all living creatures. The Navajo, of course, are renown for their crafts, especially blankets, jewelry, and sand paintings

The Amish rely on a pragmatic code (though the source for their belief that separation from the modern world is essential to their salvation does come from a literal interpretation of their Bible) that severely restricts their behavior. The primary motive belief is akin to the vow of poverty taken in many monasteries east and west. They are farmers. They avoid contact with the outside world. The horse still provides their transportation. Theirs is a communal existence. Ownership, such as it is, is shared. And, of course, their skill at woodworking and cookery is widely admired and copied.

A simple means to achieve less is to recycle all the detritus in one's life. Redistribute assets. Give it all away. Both minimalism and living off the grid have their roots in a desire for shared communalism and respect for the natural world. Minimalist are known to be quite self-sufficient. Craftsmanship is part of the creed.

An addendum to all of the above is that once past possessiveness, personal pronouns can be useful. They often register a commitment. 'My dog' necessarily implies ownership; but the phrase can also suggest a determination to provide and care for the dog, a kinship quite apart from ownership.


couloir, a French word, with the meaning of a passage or corridor, commonly used by climbers generally.

eschew, deliberately avoid using, to abstain from

gimcrack, flimsy or poorly made but deceptively attractive.

ilk, archaic Scottish, meaning type of people or things already referred to.

transmogrify, to change or alter greatly often with grotesque or humorous effect.

wont, in the habit of doing something, accustomed