A Stranger in a Strange Land

You can’t go home again… nor ought you try.

Thomas Wolfe, dear brother, lost and gone, but never far from my ear, I remember reading your wild books the first time, raging around that mountain college campus, no one giving a damn, you and I silently trading stories in the catacombs of my soul.

But the trade was mostly one way as you had lived and I was just a cheap 1980s version of a half-drunk Childe Harold and Eugene Gant filled with great sorrows at the ruins of humanity, but equally grandiose visions, hopes, for a future rebuilt on that wreckage.

There was no way back. I had no business where I was, no life, the marrow had been taken from the cracked bones of that place a century before my wayward birth. Wasted. Gold and copper gouged out of the earth, the miners’ families scattered to make do at… whatever.

What was there to remain for?

But I thought “home” lay off and far away, a “someday” as much as “somewhere.”

Thirty-something years would pass before I discovered there is no home here to be found or made, exactly, nothing permanent or even aeviternal. All is flux and fire in this world and this is the world in which I was made to live, to make a life, to share, travel within, to receive. To leave behind.

I am Gershon, a stranger in a strange land, the wanderer, the one who prepares.

Thirty-something years wrong as I could be before that stupidity in me, the haunting ghost of optimism that lingered from childhood, was buried with the whispering corpse of pessimism. Life is here and to be cared for, cherished in all its imperfection — what it amounts to, we’ll see. Neither good or bad, but what can be made of it or endured; what lies beyond is not my business.

My suspicions are that there will be an age of more ruination before anyone cares to build something better again on the wreckage I began to glimpse 33, 34 years back — I will not live to see that. That is my fate; perhaps yours as well, whoever you are. There is no going back — what lies forward may be an even more ridiculous form of ruination.

A petty, greedy, cheap age this turned out to be; gaudy, all surface and shallow as a mirror. Ages such as this come about… they can be the end of civilizations. We’ll see, in this case.

I’m a stranger here, sent to witness and wander. What it will or won’t end up mattering is as much beyond me as HaShem. And in my case, I must become who I must be.

Sleep well, Thomas Wolfe, Byron, Goya, Hogarth, Voltaire, Swift. and so many others close and far — we each play our roles. None small but most unnoticed. How well we pull it off, we’ll see in the long stretch of time and fiery change.

Richard Van Ingram
22 January 2017

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For All and For None

Trepidation — that is what I experience much of the time when I speak of anything important, make an image, write words.  The struggle with this, for me, is intense and often crippling: Is this a genuine fear of hubris — of trespassing on matters I am not called to explore?  Or is it a form of grandiosity — and, mind you, grandiosity resides in the strangest of locales?  I mean, am I afraid to speak because I “know” many will hear  and some believe?

Do I really possess that latter power?  People will be moved to action because of my words and drawings?

That, truly, is foolishness.

The power to speak, to a degree, is something I can perform; the power to speak rashly and with poor judgment, even incorrectly out of naivete or stupidity — that is a defect that often possesses me.  The desire to please: well, that is a wretched thing indeed and often lies behind the moments I’ve played fast and loose with truthfulness in favor of rhetoric.  A tongue may be golden because it passes on a genuine gift; or it may be but gold-plated because it is manipulative, seeking lesser things, seeking ultimately to receive, not share, not help, not mentor.

Those moments, the latter sort, are fewer and fewer as I mature, and haste born of passion is something I spend time in extinguishing.  Delay and consideration are not luxuries, not for a human being — they are among the necessities.

So, I can speak, I can write, I can make art — and these may emerge from deep meditation and consideration, restrained, or they may be extravagant and self-aggrandizing. Even the silence can be grandiose if not properly motivated… and no one, outside myself, can tell or judge my motivations in such matters without themselves attempting to substitute a manipulating fiction for my own story, the story that is my autobiography, is me in this world.

As for treading where angels fear to go… that is the birthright and responsibility of a human.  The world, this world, the world of life was no more made for angels than it was for monstrosities — morally stunted or deformed egomaniacs or zealots who never doubt themselves because “They Know.”

“They Know” what the Absolute Truth is, as if they were gods, and they know what they desire, and they will possess what they want or destroy any who get in their way or resist.  In such manner, people make themselves a living plague, something to be completely avoided or resisted.

Angels have no choice.  Monstrosities choose to serve the black depths of insatiable ego at any cost, rationalizing and creating whatever fiction suits them best in the moment and in the long-term.

‘Hillel says, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am only for myself, who am I? If not now, when?” ‘ Ethics of the Fathers, 1:14

I’ve considered this passage from the sage for a very long time.  Years.  In fact, I meditated on it before knowing Hillel (or anyone else) summed this very human crisis up as succinctly as he did.

Notice the three questions: One without the next is misleading.  And the first question has, itself, two portions, and if that question is not adequately faced with some humility, all is lost.  The error in interpretation will breed a deadly monstrosity called “egoism.”

The commentaries point out that, in the first question, two “I”s, not one, are referred to — The first is said to be the sacred, holy “soul,” my – and your – true self that has never departed from the presence of HaShem – The Ineffable One.  That “I” is pure and untouched by this world, in a deep sense — the sense of the prayer, “My soul within me, she is pure.”

Obviously, I am not pure in any really meaningful way — I am full of error, stupidity, foolishness, imperfections, even evil.  Part of me is stained black as night.  I have done wrong, many, many times.  But that other “I” — she has done no wrong and will not.  How odd.

Why?  How can such a paradox exist as a unified “me”?

Because, in part, the burning mystery of that Spark of the Divine — the “image and likeness” – is the “I” whom I must strive to bring forth within this world of history, circumstance, flux, through the vehicle of my actions and intentions, however limited.  The first “I” is my destiny, the one that I must choose to realize and make my vital project, that guides and gives form to my life in whatever time and in whatever place I am given to perform it.

If justice is to be here in the world, I must choose it, value it, interpret it, and become a just person by consistent and painful degrees.  If there is to be mercy, forgiveness, courage, thoughtfulness, carefulness, generosity, peacefulness, beauty, truthfulness, hopefulness… if there are to be qualities such as these, I must bring them into the world in my own way without departing from their standards, their requirements.

Thus, if I am not for me — if my deepest Self does not shine even dimly for me, guide me, orient me, direct me to true Light, and if I do not choose to “become who I am,” to actually perform my proper labor, my destiny, my work… no one else can force me, perform my work – however modest – in my place.  No one else can become me… or you, or any of us.

In the words of Ortega y Gasset, paraphrased, “We are each irreplaceable, each necessary,” all of us, each pursuing her destiny, all supporting her.  Human existence is a matter of “all of us or none of us.”

Perhaps human life has always seemed cheap to most people — I do not know.  We are faced, once more, with entire groups of people, majorities, who have decided those “unlike them” are “The Other”: and The Other is the object of fear and hatred, to be expelled, monitored, locked up, destroyed.  Instead of beholding an Alter-Ego, “another I,” when considering others, they take full possession of “I” for themselves and themselves alone, their tribe, their beliefs, their skin color, their fictions.  Anyone else, any dissent, any culture, individuality, creativity, belief, even tribe or color or any other form of love than the majority’s becomes threatening.

Threats, if taken seriously enough, get eradicated after being randomly defined as “unnatural,” “wicked,” “abominable,” “lies,” “leeches,” — any and everything except “human” and sacred.  Criminals by birth.

So – “If I am only for myself, who am I?”  Even HaShem “stooped” to grant humans existence out of nothing; The Divinity shared with us the great gift of being, and there was no necessity in it.  We did not have to come into existence — any one of us or all of us together, even this or any other universe.  Even the possibility of universes is not, in itself, self-explicable in the sense of metaphysical being.  The Divine began – as far as we are concerned – by sharing something beyond comprehension with us, out of a free, creative choice, out of mercy.

Out of an inexplicable love and friendship.

And what is given, then, is given to be shared, not hoarded up.  Not given here but refused out of disdain there.  We receive, we learn, we create in order to pass on, to share, not because it must be “earned” by the other, but because if I do not share, who do I become by my selfishness? How can I become myself, my true self, without acknowledging the other?

It is not as if I, myself sprang into being without others — in reality, first, there are the others: only afterwards and slowly is there the “I” who exists in the world, who begins to value and choose and create.  I emerge from the others and their labor.  They gave me language, they gave me beliefs, ideas, they taught me to think, to value, they gave me culture, they passed on to me certain valuable (and not so valuable) practices — and even where wrong or misguided, I cannot turn around and perform the labor — give the gift — of improving, reforming, or even excising errors from the culture for the future without, first, being brought up and given certain gifts.

“If not now, when?”

When will I choose to learn that I and other implicate one another, require one another?  When will I begin to doubt myself long enough in to hear my “True Self,” my calling, my vocation, my destiny?  When will I perform who I am — become who I truly am?

Now.  Or never.  You and I have a now that is ever-passing; soon enough, there will be no “now” that includes me, even as a memory.  Only a now that includes whether or not I did my work, did it well, did it poorly… and no one save HaShem will have any memory of that.

“…[I]s it your reputation that’s bothering you? But look at how soon we’re all forgotten. The abyss of endless time that swallows it all. The emptiness of those applauding hands. The people who praise us; how capricious they are, how arbitrary. And the tiny region it takes place. The whole earth a point in space – and most of it uninhabited.”

Marcus Aurelius, THE MEDITATIONS

No, it is not that your life is meaningless: It is that your life and the lives of all other people are the only conduits of meaningfulness in this universe we know anything about.  Yet meaningfulness and fame, fortune, comfort, and other preferable situations — there is no link between these two sets of things at all except accidentally, in terms of “fortune.”  If one only lives for the “preferable” and falls apart when these depart — as they must, one will never strive for meaningfulness.  One will fail to value it.  One may even grow to find meaning repulsive and painful.

Hence, monstrosities are born, create themselves, serve themselves, demand service for themselves, all while ignoring and discarding… themselves.

And, so, we arrive at the end of all I wish to say for the moment.

Richard Van Ingram

20 November 2016

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ICE STATION ZEBRA TRANSMISSION 27 January 2016

ICE STATION ZEBRA SURFACING FOR TRANSMISSION
27 January 2016

The Doomsday Clock is now sitting at 3 minutes to midnight but, then again, I’ve lived with the assumption since age 14 that it was about a hair’s width off if not 7 or 8 minutes past.

Pessimism? Some days. “Realism?” I really have no use for most people’s “realism”; it’s usually just an excuse for lazy choices and no effort. And, sure, there are those days I collapse in exhaustion and don’t plan out how to get things done as well as I ought; I lose my temper; people disappoint me; I disappoint me. Like the Steely Dan song “Bad Sneakers” goes:

“Five names that I can hardly
Stand to hear
Including yours and mine
And one more chimp who isn’t here…”

3 minutes to midnight, people. It always is. That’s why I make the attempt to adjust myself to the situation and not expect the situations to adjust to me. That would be the depths of blinding idiocy. In the end, I just don’t have the time to waste on my temper, disappointments, other people’s foolishness, anyone standing in the way of my small but essential mission on Planet Earth. Essential because, if I don’t do it, no one else will and no one else can do it quite as oddly as I can.

Square peg, round peg — the problem is, I’m not a peg.

I’m neither hammer nor nail; knife or meat.

I have chromosomes but I’m not them, as wrecked as that corkscrew DNA of mine is on paper. Besides, once I’m dead, my corpse will still have those same chromosomes, the same number. Theoretically, you could clone my body — you wouldn’t get me back, though (not that I expect anyone would want to do so; and I wouldn’t want to be cloned, anyway). No, I am my autobiography in the context of my history and circumstance. Just as you are. The chromosomes and genetics are just circumstance — the stuff we adjust ourselves to and create ourselves with.

Sometimes the circumstances are helpful — as in, cooperative with my plans — and sometimes they resist and I adjust accordingly. Eventually, at least. Acceptance is the only meaningful alternative in the face of some situations, people, attitudes. I can’t change any of them without their cooperation. So, I’ve just got to go about my business as effectively as I can. Or change directions. Or make the resistance my rock to push up that hill.

“Acceptance” does not mean “approval.” No, many things and many activities and attitudes violate many standards that I reasonably measure my life against and values I work to instantiate in the world. They are antithetical to everything I’ve struggled to learn and correct within myself, no matter how imperfectly. I disapprove of many things, argue against many things and ideas and beliefs, offer alternatives, and satirize some of those as acidically as possible.

Will it have an effect? It doesn’t matter. It makes me who I am to do these things, to bear witness, to bark out the warning little dog that I am. The barbarians may be within the gates but my job was only to warn of the approach, being a guard dog, not a war dog or a master of anything except myself.

3 minutes to midnight.

I read, as a child, that it took maybe hours for the bodies of the large dinosaurs to die even though their brains were disabled, say, in combat. Why? The bodies were so large that the signals sent from the brain took quite awhile to play out even after the brain was gone. But, then again, cut a chicken’s head off: It’s not huge but it takes awhile for its body to figure out it’s dead, too. And dinosaurs evolved into birds… but the point is, we may be 7 or 8 minutes past midnight, people. We may be already dead as a civilization — we’re just so intricate and byzantine in construction that the stuff that keeps us, as a people, held together in a culture and collection of subcultures may be already be fatally “gone.”

And that “stuff” is a certain core of values and ideas, interpretations of those, and belief in the interpretations through social institutions. We may well have “irony-ed” and “sarcasm-ed” and “distrusted” our way out of existence. And are just too damn amused to see it.

I’m unsure, but I fear I may be right. I thought about this hard for years before saying it out loud in 2008 on a friend’s porch one night. But I was drinking as was everyone and no one took me seriously. Lit another cigarette and let it slide… but the thought’s haunted me for years. Something very similar was probably haunting Nietzsche in his maturity before he lost his mind to permanent syphilitic dementia and exhaustion.

He was the watchdog sounding the warning nihilism was approaching but was optimistic new values could be created to replace out-of-effect ones. Ortega y Gasset, in the face of totalitarian communism and fascism, sounded the alarm that people were about to attempt to substitute science and technology for meaningful values.

Much less importantly, I’m here in the wreckage, the aftermath 80 years after Ortega wrote his essay on this topic, to bark that people chose to make nihilism a “style of living” and materialistic reductionism a pseudo-scientific dogma and, equally literalistically, to take up an anti-scientific religious fundamentalism and a legal theory called “Originalism.”

All that and world destroying technology besides. But all this technology is just the dinosaur’s dead body staggering in a pantomime of life, the headless chicken running drunkenly around the yard,

…Ideas which you aren’t paying attention to because they are not amusing, spectacular, or sexy as the cell phone you stare into: You can’t make “memes” out of them that will “go viral.” Legs are what we want on social media, right? Numbers, not qualitative gravity. Things that travel with the speed of push-button prejudice and half-second wisdom.

3 minutes to midnight.

Too much for me, all this. I’m just a guard dog, an underdog, largely an observer and a survivor. I get by being underestimated as my pedigree isn’t much. This means I’m not often noticed, much less heeded; but it does not mean I don’t see and know and put things together, if slowly. It doesn’t mean my small message doesn’t have an important core of truth beyond it.

Unfortunately.

Richard Van Ingram

ICE STATION ZEBRA ENDS TRANSMISSION

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The Letter to My Students, January 2016

 This is the letter I write my students each month; it differs from month to month, depending on circumstances and what I’m compelled to teach and leave each unique group — and some particular individuals who rarely know I’m speaking directly to them in passages.  I don’t know that it matters; I don’t know it doesn’t.  We never know — we do what seems best by our best efforts to discover who to be.   This is part of my effort, such as it is.
I send a letter to my classes each month.  Lucky you, it’s your turn,  The only test it’s “on” is life.  It begins with a quote from a song to set the mood:

“It’s a beggars life, said the Queen of Spain
But don’t tell it to a poor man —
‘Cause he’s got to kill for every thrill
The best he can.
Everywhere around me
I see jealousy and mayhem,
Because no men have all their peace of mind
To carry them.
Well I don’t really care
If it’s wrong or if it’s right,
But until my ship comes in
I’ll live night by night.

“When the joker tried to tell me
I could cut it in this rube town,
When he tried to hang that sign on me
I said, “Take it down.”
When the dawn patrol got to tell you twice
They’re gonna do it with a shotgun,
Yes, I’m cashing in this ten-cent life
For another one.

“Well I ain’t got the heart
To lose another fight
So until my ship comes in
I’ll live night by night.

“Well I don’t really care
If it’s wrong or if it’s right
But until my ship comes in
I’ll live night by night.”

Steely Dan

“Night by Night”

from the album Pretzel Logic

1974

When my thoughts bother me, I sit up half the night or longer.  Most nights, I’m awake as if Truth herself will come over for a visit and ask for tea and cake in return for a good talk.  That’s not going to happen.  Instead, I meditate on things; not idly, but actively, turning problems over and over in my mind.  Sometimes I actually make some progress, though it may take years.

 

Genius I don’t have.  But stubbornness and creativity – those are my cursed-blessings.  And all curses are blessings and all blessings curses, depending on what attitude you take to them.

 

Truth, goodness, beauty: These do not “just arrive” in our lives.  We have to go out and struggle for them, fight for and pursue them with all our might or we get no closer to them than the day we were born.  Maybe we fall further from them.  Because mature activity itself brings truth, goodness, and beauty into the world inasmuch as humans directly experience these.  We see them in an example of a life lived at a high level of intensity, not satisfied with just any old standard or none at all; we see them in works well-made, well-performed.

 

I have seen beauty and honor in a janitor assiduously laboring at cleaning toilets; I have seen viciousness and sluggardly behavior in managers and powerful people in high places.

 

It is ethics that allows us to take what others might take as a circumstance full of curses and turn them to a great gift for themselves – because we are what we choose to do, how we choose to do it, and the standards we choose to live up to; and the same is a gift for others at the same time.  It is a failure of morality that allows some to take the greatest of fortunate circumstances and turn them into a living hell for themselves and those they touch in any way.

 

Think of Enron.  Jeffery Skilling told his professor at Harvard, “Smart?  I’m a fucking genius,” if you recall.  If that is an example of “genius,” I’ll choose to remain poor, worried, cautious, contemplative, artistic, and stubborn.  I’ll choose to remain dissatisfied with myself and continue working at being a little better each day; I’ll continue being not so certain of myself, always having a bit of doubt, and judging myself by a higher standard than I use for others.

 

And, as I told you all, I’m not paragon of virtue.  Or anything else.  I just make a genuine attempt to care until I am exhausted from not sleeping.

 

I worry over my students.  This month has done none of us any favors and I’m not certain I turned the situation to the best effect in how I handled it.  As it’s practically over and I can only correct future versions of the course to adapt it to changing times, there’s little I can do about that.  I had more students in both classes than usual and the work isn’t designed for huge classes.  We had fewer days in which to do the work and I lacked about six hours of lecture to guide you.

 

I have compensated by grading with a lighter hand than usual, though many of you would have done well either way.

 

That aside, if you walk away from this class with anything, walk away with this much:  You cannot afford to make ethical decisions arrived at by “your own personal experiences” and nothing else.  Besides being haphazard and lacking in consistency, you, at the beginning, have no idea where your moral beliefs originated and whether that origin was to meet an actual problem you face or whether it was well or poorly constructed.  You have no idea if the interpretation of the belief you were taught and is reinforced by your culture or subculture is the best interpretation available.  Worst of all, you don’t know if “your personal experience” is limited (it is) to the point of being misleading.

 

No, you must acquaint yourself with the history of ideas to find out where your beliefs came from; you must acquaint yourself with general history to find out how the culture you emerged from originated; and you must study philosophy and the branch of it called ethics to learn the basic theories to give you rational grounds to examine and judge better ideas from worse, better interpretations from worse, and how to make better choices over worse.

 

This itself will not make you moral, but it will put you miles ahead of most people and give you fresh eyes to see the world.  It will instill within you a tendency for a healthy skepticism for slick claims and manipulation.  It is the beginning of being an effective and responsible human and citizen.

 

The rest of it is up to you and your choices and how open you are to hearing others’ perspectives and integrating them into your own and keeping a check on your own prejudices.  It is up to you to learn to expand your world to be more inclusive, though selective, and to walk a reasonable balance between these.

 

Being ethical is a skill, like driving a car.  It is the skill of building a good human life and, like driving, not just any actions will yield the results you need.  Learning to want what you truly need and looking for that in your limitations instead of just “wanting” things without an understanding of your full needs as a human is itself a skill.

 

Skills, once practiced enough and worried over enough become transparent we just begin to perform them as “second nature,” as Aristotle once said.  You no more think about all the steps in driving a car while driving than a good person is consciously thinking about all the things involved in living well.  No, the only two times that happens is when we make a mistake and snap into awareness or we, in the luxury of contemplation, review and revise what it is we do in light of new experience — our own or that we’ve heard from others.

 

Hence, we must be open to hearing from others, alive and dead.

 

Form bad habits, poor skills, skills for manipulation, cleverness, become locked up in “your own personal experience,” as limited as it is, and you will fall into selfishly motivated disasters as sure as a poor driver causes wrecks and Jeffery Skilling and Ken Lay wasted billions of investors’ dollars and years of other peoples’ lives who worked for them based on promises that were lies.

 

I gave you the shadow of a beginning here.  I suggested a direction and have told you what you, on your own, as responsible adults must study on your own to truly advance and lead, be examples not followers looking for someone to exploit them.

 

People in college exert themselves beyond the curricula of any particular course: Course work begins to teach you how to think, not what to think, no matter how strongly an instructor accents some content over others.  Figuring out the true values you need to live up to, ultimately, is your choice.  And you must choose and will choose, regardless (that’s our common fate) – I just hope it is in such manner that you learn how to transform even curses to blessings, not the other way around, and bring some measure of peace into your lives and those around you.

 

The future needs you and it is yours, not mine, to make.  Choose your path well.

 

22 January 2016

Mr. Ingram

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Sometimes.

“If you see something that looks like a star
And it’s shooting up out of the ground
And your head is spinning from a loud guitar
And you just can’t escape from the sound
Don’t worry too much, it’ll happen to you
We were children once, playing with toys
And the thing that you’re hearing is only the sound of
The low spark of high-heeled boys

“The percentage you’re paying is too high priced
While you’re living beyond all your means
And the man in the suit has just bought a new car
From the profit he’s made on your dreams
But today you just read that the man was shot dead
By a gun that didn’t make any noise
But it wasn’t the bullet that laid him to rest, was
The low spark of high-heeled boys

“If you had just a minute to breathe
And they granted you one final wish
Would you ask for something like another chance?
Or something sim’lar as this?
Don’t worry too much It’ll happen to you
As sure as your sorrows are joys
And the thing that disturbs you is only the sound of
The low spark of high-heeled boys

“The percentage you’re paying is too high priced
While you’re living beyond all your means
And the man in the suit has just bought a new car
From the profit he’s made on your dreams
But today you just read that the man was shot dead
By a gun that didn’t make any noise
But it wasn’t the bullet that laid him to rest, was
The low spark of high-heeled boys (heeled boys)

“If I gave you everything that I owned
And asked for nothing in return
Would you do the same for me as I would for you?
Or take me for a ride
And strip me of everything, including my pride —
But spirit is something that no one destroys
And the sound that I’m hearing is only the sound
The low spark of high-heeled boys (heeled boys)”

TRAFFIC

“The Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys”

Sometimes.

Sometimes is a bad location in the terrain of life; it is in my case.  It’s the ever-shifting space not on any map — suddenly, one arrives upon it and has no idea how long it must be endured.  It is an occasion of indefinite duration that may immediately be followed by another… and then another.  Or one may traverse it and not encounter such again for quite awhile.

How many times a day did Voltaire contemplate throwing his quills out the window, do you suppose?  How many days did this happen in a lifetime?  Physically, he could have gotten by perfectly well without writing a revolution into being — especially not knowing whether there’d be any revolution or not at the time.  Lacemakers gave him income; writing made him trouble.

But once a year on the anniversary of the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre, he became violently ill without fail, ran a fever, vomited, had to take to bed for a space.  All because the utter injustice and hate of it ate away at him so badly and his conscience was such that he suffered for the dead in his own flesh.

So, back to the quills and ink.  Like it or not.

He was a man of good, high spirits not often given to fits of melancholia; instead, his bile came forth as bouquets of wit and satire.  Right and wrong, it was beautiful and effective.

The temptation to quit all his creative activities or hide them away never seemed to be part of his life — his “sometimes” came in the form of having to escape the censors and the crown by fleeing to Switzerland.  A dangerous but adventuresome sometimes that at least let him know: “Voltaire, you are one effective son of a bitch.”

I am no Voltaire.  Yes, I become physically ill when wars erupt — I ran a 104 degree fahrenheit fever during the debate over the first Gulf War after protesting it with the Quakers and became so sick I wound up at the hospital.  The whole thing, as a memory, is hallucinatory and terrible: I felt to my depths that this was the beginning of a string of horrors for humanity.  And so it was though I could do nothing about it but lie in a bed of torment for a couple of weeks.

My art turned more political after that and my writing often the same until I became a lone voice crying in the wilderness during George W. Bush’s administration — in a small Appalachian town, I wrote lead-heavy long essays for the county’s only newspaper, the only weapon of protest I had to oppose illegal domestic spying, torture, kidnapping, lying, our soldiers being sent to die for Halliburton, human beings — as vicious as some were — redefined legally to the point they were outside the possibility of due process.

Hatred, in the main, was my repayment.  That and $10.00 a pop for the privilege of penning those 5 and 6 page essays every couple of months.  But all that’s external and insignificant: I had to bear witness to the times and use my small voice to say what someone more important should have been saying from the floor of the Senate.  My own conscience would not let me throw my pens out the window.  Maybe that’s why Voltaire never threw his own.

People think it’s my paranoia acting up like a bout of rheumatism, but I swear to you at the height of my writing, the last two years of nearly six years as a freelancer at that paper, all my mail arrived in the box pre-opened.  Was it angry locals at the post office trying to dig up dirt?  Was it the FBI not even bothering to cover their tracks anymore?  (After all, who was I going to call: The FBI?)  All I know, once I was banned from writing for the paper — yes, that happened — my mail was fine thereafter.

That was one of those “sometimes” I felt so defeated I considered just quitting.  I had no platform to speak to the community; some people who were very friendly  to me when I was infamous quit and wouldn’t even do me the grace of saying “hello” when face-to-face; the invitations to come over and discuss ideas failed to arrive anymore.  In short, I was shut down and shut up.

A friend let me begin putting essays and art on a page in his popular website… but it was mainly an exercise in keeping me busy, not gaining readers.  Too broke to get my own site — like this one — no one knew to read it except by word of mouth.  I couldn’t advertise it in the sole paper in the county: That cost money and I’m unsure the ad would have been accepted.  Decline followed and depression as I am melancholic.

I got letters and e-mails now and again from people who said I spoke for them because they were afraid to say anything, or that something I’d said touched them, or to keep up the fight.  Those were good moments, but I rarely responded; I had no words for praise and barely knew what to do with it.  I’m not used to such.  Abuse, yes — that I can do something with; sincere praise and agreement — that’s shocking and frightening, perversely enough.

Someone standing by me and fighting the fight would have been nice, or at least people writing their own ideas, even more moderate, and picking up where I fell would be good.  I was replaced in the paper by a high school girl who wrote columns about the trials and tribulations of being a teenager.  God bless her for at least putting herself out there and getting something in print and her $10.00 a week.  She made more than I did overall for her efforts and it looked good on the college applications. And the people had their wholesome sweet nothings to not bother their consciences — a must for every editorial page.

But it truly made me wonder why I’d bothered in the first place.

The years passed, I mostly moved on, physically if not entirely in spirit.  Loss of my job with insurance, cut-backs in the number of lectures I had at the local university due to underfunding the state educational budget, loss of my marriage… then, I moved to Texas.  Georgia, except for my son and friends who barely speak to me anymore, has nothing but very bad memories for me.

Here, I got to work trying to make comic books and eventually to lecture again, and I do both and attempt to sell some art.  But now, a few years after all the aforementioned,  I’ve wandered into one of those “sometimes.”  I’ll hit 50 in a couple of weeks and Americans have some sort of psychic time-bomb that goes off each birthday ending with a zero.  But 50 is a half-century and 50 is easily more than half my potential lifetime on planet Earth.  In fact, my life could easily be over with at any minute I have so many chronic illnesses and a major mental illness with an average 30% fatality rate.  Manic depression is a hard thing to live with, especially when the tension and pressure becomes intense and all these thoughts of failure and stupidity come boiling up.

I’m becoming too tired to write anymore and I imagine this is tiresome to read if you’ve made it this far.  50 years.  I did not do much damage or accomplish much, really.  My work is uneven, my art difficult to look at, my underground comix are appreciated by other artists and that’s about it — not nothing, but not the popular audience I was looking to speak to, either.  If I last a little longer, maybe more people will read.  Maybe not.  If I last a little longer, some gang of misfits might decide my art is inspirational or speaks to them — who knows?  If I keep writing, I am at least a writer and spreading ideas… then again, I’m unpaid and have no idea whether actual humans are looking at this and not “robots” and webcrawlers.

And my students: some benefit, some don’t; some resist and just don’t care, say so openly, and act as if, because they are “paying customers,” they have arrived at Burger King College where they can say and do as they please and “have it their way.”  The others — I have no clue.  We rarely do: Teachers do their best to plant seeds that might sprout years down the road in their students’ lives and must be content with that, content with having planted better seeds than worse.

As a philosopher… I don’t know and don’t even wish to hazard a guess.  Philosophy, thank God, has kept me alive and given me guidance through Hell several times.  Including the Hell of “sometimes.”  Maybe I gave a good example if anyone noticed.  You never know.

You never know.

16 January 2016

Richard Van Ingram

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A Letter to My Students, December 2015

It’s that time again, the one where I share the letter I wrote my students last month. The usual disclaimer is this: I don’t share it out of pride but because maybe the words might carry some meaning for someone and it records where I and my students were as of last week, the end of our compressed semester together. I already miss most of my students, as I usually do — but I have a new set of people and a different class to teach next week and I do look forward to that. Change, like a very few other things, is constant and to be expected and accepted. So, without further ado, the letter for December 2015:

“One of the great things about teaching is that I meet many people from a variety of backgrounds that, otherwise, I would not know. Each of your perspectives, insofar as you choose to share it with me through class and discussion, gives me a broader view of the world – each of your sets of eyes have seen things I will never personally experience directly, just as mine have seen things you will never directly experience. Together, by sharing, we have the opportunity to widen and enrich our own notions of what the world and life are like and can be: Life, your life, my life, the life of each end every one of us must be lived by ourselves, alone, yet, paradoxically, my life includes the people I meet and the ideas and beliefs of the many, many who came before us all and yet influence us, even in the resonance of their actions. People we may know by name and a vast number we never will in this life, if ever.

“So, I always tell my students, I learn more from you than you ever learn from me in many, many ways – which, again, is the benefit of my calling as a philosopher and as a teacher. I learn to question again and again my positions, my choices, the complexity of the world I may have ignored, details I need to make room for and explain – or just accept. Teaching affords me the opportunity and necessity of having a bit of humility and exploring the limits as well as the extent of my own learning and theories, ethical and otherwise. Over time, I have learned to be more merciful and more tolerant than I began, which is good, and more open, more effective, and to take each person as they arrive in my life and open myself to learning from them.

“I hope I have given you that example simply by how I act – the only “sermons” that count for anything in this world are our actions. No, I am no paragon of virtue, not an example of the most moral person one could hope to be; I have my flaws and failings. Yet, I strive. I reach, most days to be better at being, becoming myself more and more, a bit at a time, to become someone good for others, my world, and, in the process, myself.

“That is the ethic I’ve shown and taught, the ethic of being resilient and trying to live up to standards of excellence in dealing with oneself, others, and the world. Of course, this entails work, which is part of life, and each of you have chosen a field where it is imperative that you are trustworthy, stable – someone who cares and can be counted on to recognize each person as a person in need of your care, someone who takes people, each person and their needs, seriously and does not see them as numbers, dollar signs, diseases, and so forth…. Even if you never meet them and only experience them as diagnostic codes and charges flying by on a computer screen.

“Remember, people are more than that, just as you are and I am. There is a secret life and beautifully important things each of those people have to contribute, a work each is here to do and they are irreplaceable. You are irreplaceable. You must recognize that and develop a sense of mission, destiny, and make that your life’s work: to improve what can be improved and to guide what can be guided in all your living moments, as long as you can with as much intensity as you can muster.

“This month’s classes – by which I mean my students – have inspired a measure of hope in me for the future that, sometimes, people do not inspire within me. There is a tendency to pessimism in my constitution because of the history I know and the history I have lived through and witnessed. These are bizarre times. If they are to improve, if the future I will not live to see, but you will, and your children and their children, is to be improved, it will be because of your choices, because of whom you choose to become and the degree of effort you put into creating yourself and influencing your surroundings by your life. You get to choose a portion of the future in how you raise children, in voting, in being a good citizen, in doing your work well, in choosing reasonably, in recognizing your abilities and limitations and making the absolute best of them. Together. That is how all of us got here in the strange world we have now – people in the recent past, in the majority, did you no favors in how they haphazardly and selfishly made themselves and history.

“That is no excuse to lie down and give up or give minimal effort, worry about “you and yours,” to hell with everyone else. You have the privilege of a college education which means you will have the responsibility to lead and make decisions in whatever your station in life. So decide and act and do it with excellence. All of you are capable of it; some of you already do it to a degree; all of you have been through terrible things and come out the other side. Now, make things around you so people do not have to go through the same trials. Make a better world beginning with where you are and who you are. Have an openness to others and show some care in your actions, and care for yourselves.

“Care for yourselves at least as intensely as your instructor does because I teach because I do care. It is the best thing I can do. You will do your work in the medical field and will go as far within it as you try, even against any obstacles that block your path. Push through or at least push and have a measure of belief in your dream. Help one another and ask for help. Do not give up – you are being counted on.

“And that is my final word to you for this month. Think on it for what it is worth. I will see you in the future which always arrives surprisingly soon.

“Mr. Ingram” (December 2015)

Richard Van Ingram

2 January 2015

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To My Students in a Time of Trouble

Most every month, I have parting words for my students. This month, I felt the need to say a few things early… it is never too early to encourage and guide if one can. The events of the past few days — atop the sheer insanity on all sides since 2001 — disturbs and saddens me in a way I cannot yet contain in the vessel of words. Perhaps I’ll never get it across. Nevertheless, I have hope for my students — my source of hope lies within the promise of my students’ very lives. My day is nearly done, literally and in the most final of ways. That isn’t sad — as I pass, perhaps that will signal that this age, too, is on its way off the stage to be replaced by those hopeful younger people who have the chance to do better and actually uphold beliefs worth living. Perhaps is better than “no.” In any case, for what it’s worth:

20 November 2015

As I am in a writing mood, I will say what I usually withhold until the end of the semester; perhaps you need to hear it now as this is the most difficult period in any class.

At this point, you are tired. Perhaps you are more than ready to “get on with it” and get past this experience – each month may seem like this by third week. But I encourage you to slow down a bit and take in what you are being shown – your life is time and how you choose to spend it. That makes you, you. Your life, and therefore the “you” that you are building, can be sloppy or well-established, or haphazard – a little of both.

For many of us, it is a little of both – we pay attention to what we are doing sometimes and not so much at other moments. And that, generally, is fine since we are humans and do nothing perfectly or well the first time; part of living will be, for you, going back to correct or fill in what you missed in the past. Just be certain that you constantly work to improve yourself and examine what you may be lacking.

Becoming conscious of your context – the wider world of the present and the past that makes the world you live within, that limits and provides the choices you may make – is one of the greatest gifts a college education can provide. Or, I should say, it gives you the opportunity to begin to learn this. What I am saying here may sound a bit mysterious because it is abstract. Let me be more concrete.

Most of us are fortunate if we know our family of origin back to our great-grandparents and something of their lives; a few may have some vague notion of a couple of generations previous to them. Very few of us know any detail of their circumstances, their world, and why they made the choices they did. But be aware – the choices they made, first, got us here, and secondly, played a part in how our lives up to this point turned out. Not all of it, of course, because there are no very young people in this class and where you are now is also due to your own efforts, values, and beliefs.

But some of those beliefs, perhaps most of them, arise from the story you were told about yourself by your surroundings as you grew up. As a philosopher and someone keenly aware of history and the history of ideas, I will reveal to you now that most of what you were told, the story you were given, is a mythology.

Mythologies can be good things – at their best, they are stories that symbolically contain truth. At their absolute worst, they are misinterpretations and, sometimes, lies. These lies may be intentionally invented by our ancestors to cover over some injustice… or they may be “lies” in the sense they were made up to substitute for truths no one cared to exert themselves to look for. They can also contain false theories – that the sun moves around the Earth, for example, or that “races” actually exist – as a misinterpretation of the fact our ancestors developed different skin pigmentation and eye shape by mutations and to deal with abundance or lack of sun.

Or, that one group has an absolute grasp of reality in a way no one on Earth possibly can as we are humans and are limited: some know the existence and mind of Deity so well they are willing to fly jets into skyscrapers and gun down crowds of people assembled to hear rock music; or they want to define entire groups of people as “dangerous” because of whom they love and make that illegal, even punishable by death; or make others, because of their religion carry identification cards so they can be singled out and treated unjustly even if they have never done anything wrong. Some even call for the return of the concentration camps in the name of some mythological thing called “safety” that no human being has ever seen or experienced.

Human life is perilous. Live is an adventure and a risk. It is never safe. It never has been and never will be.

What a human life can become is free from ignorance and the sort of mythology we call “superstitious fanaticism.” We can free ourselves from poor choices by discovering genuine virtues, or standards of excellence; we can become just and treat others as they deserve; we can be merciful and grant exceptions when that would be more beneficial to another and ourselves; we can show courage and stand up for decent things and push ourselves to do what others won’t in the face of adversity or resistance; we can exert self-control when tempted to have none at all and simply do what our emotions prompt us to do.

And far more.

Your college textbooks and classes will be the ground floor, not simply to a career but to the task of living as educated, cultured people who set the example in the community you chose to live within. But they are only the ground floor. The building of culture has higher floors, as many as you wish to climb and explore, in fact, from which to bring back treasures that will enrich your life and give you the materials from which to construct an interesting and high quality self.

The route to the higher floors is exploration on your own.

You must read. You must learn to commune with those people who lived in the past, set good examples in their day, and created the ideas and works of beauty, high quality, and insight that affect you now. And you will have to root out those who created the horrible ideas and misinterpretations so you can do intellectual combat with them as well.

The only way to do this is read. Begin with the classics of the ancient world and work your way forward. Read histories and biographies and autobiographies. Study art and literature. You have no time to waste now as your future – and the world you will leave behind by your contributions or lack thereof – is coming, like it or not. You may learn how to become a good example in the world and do that through your actions… or you may choose not to care.

I have hope for you. I see in this class a group of people, roughly the same generation, all capable of far more than they, themselves, dream at the moment. My generation, the one they called “X,” and especially the much larger one before mine, the “Boom,” are leaving you one hell of a challenge, one mixed up, disarranged world that has almost abandoned everything except violence, prejudice, intolerance, and greed. What you do with this situation, what you transform it into, is your generation’s challenge.

My generation largely dropped out or went silent, lost faith in itself. But some of us took on a mission to learn and transmit the tools for a better tomorrow to the generation behind us (you, that is) by teaching and setting our own small examples.

“Individually, we do not succeed,” said the philosopher, Aristotle, “but together, we do not fail.” Every instructor at this college I am familiar with is here for one major purpose: So that, together, we do not fail, so that you learn to believe in yourselves and do things beyond what you think you can presently, and so that you will have the opportunity, long after I and the others are gone, to become the people you ought and have the quality of world you deserve.

Not a perfect world, but one good enough to live decently within and build a future on. A world that is always a work in progress, yet, hopefully, at least progresses.

Welcome to college, the place where you may gain the skills for a career, and also for living honorably as educated people and citizens of this country… and the world. I truly have faith in you or else I’d not be here. Now, have faith in yourselves and accomplish your destinies. You’re in the right place to begin.

Mr. Ingram

Richard Van Ingram

20 November 2015

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A Few Words to a Few Students

The hour rolled ’round at last when I address my students and maybe three or four of them read my final words — the summation of the semester, my last thoughts to pass on.  I’m exhausted in every imaginable way and it probably shows in this, written at about 4:00 AM.  So now, I rest and go back at it in a week.

RVI

*********************

At this point in the semester — the final moment — it is my habit to say a few words to the class, a sort of summary of themes involving ethics, philosophy, life.

For the first time since February 2015 I find I’ve little to say. It was a difficult semester for this class all the way around: we switched to a blended format and I had to switch up how and what was taught; several students decided they did not have to show up for physical lectures as long as they attempted the online content; many students did not read or respond to e-mails or speak with me; and so, in the end, my contact with the class as a whole was severely limited.

Additionally, I’m unsure most of my contact, as brief as it was, was understood and I had little chance to elaborate or explain. Usually,when the class was four days face-to-face, I had much time to convince, to argue, discuss, until most students could see my point. As it is, some here took their own interpretations from brief statements or concepts and ran with them — I’m unsure any further questions or observations I made, even in discussions, were read or grasped.

From my end, this is not the best class I’ve ever taught here. Partly because I could not reach many of you or sufficiently motivate the class to look more deeply or consider the relevance of thinking with clarity about moral issues — even attempting it. There is nothing more important to your life than this and a first encounter with the approach can be shocking, threatening, irritating; it provokes in some great resistance, a desire to run and avoid the subject entirely, take refuge in feelings (subjectivism); in a peculiar and illegitimate appeal to a version of religion (Divine Command theory); by hiding behind “we’ve always done it this way” (cultural relativism); or simply by demanding one’s unjustified selfish desires receive moral recognition as valuable in themselves (ethical egosim).

Anything except setting all these irrational tendencies aside and attempting to answer the moral question, “Why?” with only good evidence and principles that all humans can see and interpret, put to use in their own specific situations.

I watched a movie the other day called “Saint Vincent” with Bill Murray and Melissa McCarthy. Vincent is a crotchety old man, in debt, drinks too much, keeps company with a pregnant “woman of the night” who is not carrying his child, gambles, smokes, and is generally a seeming ne’er-do-well. He winds up taking care of the neighbor’s kid after school by accident as she is a working single mother — he charges her, of course. But he also cares for that boy as best as he knows how, protects him, teaches him how to fight bullies, teaches him to be a caring person, diligent, do his homework with discipline. Vincent listens to the boy, keeps trying in spite of his many imperfections.

Go watch it — I won’t tell you how it ends.

But beneath the corroded veneer of many years of bad choices and rough luck, Vincent has been caring for his wife, raising money to keep her in a good nursing home — she has Alzheimer’s and hasn’t recognized him for eight years. He visits each week, dressed as a doctor so as not to frighten her and talks with her. He is devoted. Part of the gambling is to make enough money to pay for her room because he is devoted and will do anything for her.

He is a Vietnam vet, a war hero, bronze star recipient, saved many men under fire. Doesn’t talk about it at all. His everyday life is combat of a sort and he faces it the best way he knows how — not necessarily with the absolute consistency that would have pleased Immanuel Kant or with a blind utilitarianism that Mill would have approved of, but he does practice virtues in his own way. An imperfect, human, but honorable way not easily seen from the surface. And he doesn’t do it for show or for praise: he does it because he must in order to be himself. He has to try.

Morality, in practice, often looks like this: an everyday “sainthood” — the word “saint” comes from the Greek word “hagios” which is a translation of the Hebrew “kadosh”: which means, “to be set apart, dedicated to a divine purpose.” Now, “kadosh” is a neutral term — it does not mean either good or evil, but capable of either: one can be set apart to accomplish either the good or the evil and that is the meaning in the Tanakh (The Old Testament). We are all called to be set apart and be dedicated to our mission — but it is up to us whether we will devote ourselves to the decent and virtuous or to the destruction of these values. That part of the matter is up to us, our choice. Whether that choice is to be based upon something worth serving or not… well, that is why we have been granted the capacity to think clearly.

Everyday sainthood of a sort. Being “good enough,” not perfect, but always seeking to be and do better as we are nothing more than what we do and why we do it.

Ethics at work — that’s nothing more than a specific application of general, universal ethics for living within the confines of the workplace and the laws and rules governing that situation, making choices in light of those circumstances.

None of this is easy. Hardly. None of you are so young or naive as to think life is easy, that life does not throw disaster and surprise atop disaster and surprise at us time and again, daily, weekly, yearly, for the entirety of our sojourn in this reality. Ethics, morality is nothing mysterious, though: it is the human skill for being prepared to meet disasters and surprises and walk away, if that is our fate, with our souls and integrity intact, regardless what anyone else may think or judge from the outside.

In the end, we will meet death, our universal fate. If we live well, we will meet death well — our final battle — and do so with courage and patience, or at least without utter surprise and regret. Even had this course been years long, I am not capable of giving this gift to you. It is one you must seek out and gain through your own search, your own journey and experimentation in life, hopefully dedicated to the better rather than the worse.

Someone like me can only show you the banquet table of ideas, well or poorly; it is up to you to eat, to desire to eat, to recognize you need nourishment for living as a proper human being.

Developing the desire is the first thing, not the ideas; only then will you go looking for the ideas, have any real desire for them beyond a grade.

My hope is that you stir up within yourselves that need, that discomfort, and go looking. Good fortune to you in your journey.

24 September 2015
Mr. Richard Van Ingram

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A Remnant of a Remnant

Every instructor, adjunct, teacher, professor probably has a sort of “Dark Night of the Soul” now and again.  There arrives that class — that one roomful of students the majority of whom could care less if they learn anything, even to the point of willfully failing and not even attempting to make a passing grade no matter how many chances they are given.

One cannot teach anyone who has no desire for it.  Should anyone arrive before someone who could help them on their journey with the attitude they are already fully equipped with all knowledge and are the images of perfection itself, regardless of the apparent reality which is says quite the opposite, what can be offered they will want?

Any questioning of their beliefs is experienced as “disrespect.”  In our age, “respect” is owed simply by turning up — it is not hard-won, it involves no labor, no self-doubt, no wonder and no wandering in search of a better way to live and be.  Oddly, the instructor who may well have spent her entire life in pursuit of such things will, in turn, not be shown even the formalities of respect due the position.  For the instructor is thought of by such “students” as merely an equal, at best, or an inferior — the employee, the hired-hand whose function is to bow, scrape, and dole out the demanded grade.

A grade owed simply by gracing a chair in a classroom (once in awhile) with the aristocratic glory of the employers’ (i.e. the students’) butts.

My journey in education as a perennial student full of doubts and questions, a traveller in search of better, of ways to be better as a human, has been long, difficult, demanding — as it should be, or else I’d have no right to stand before a classroom.  Aristotle once said, “It is better to deserve honors than receive them” and I’ve really sought no honors other than the few that adorn my life by labor.  And by sharing what I’ve learned.  My honors — irreplaceable, invaluable — come when students from past classes return to me and tell me I made a difference in their lives which happens frequently enough to keep me going.

I really haven’t had that class, the baffling students, before this month after years of teaching philosophy and ethics.  It truly made me doubt whether I had taught the class effectively.  Perhaps the problem lay within myself — my first thought, usually, when things don’t flow or work out in the normal way.  Certainly, I’ve had individual students who didn’t care, were resistant, or who took an instant dislike to the subject and transferred it to me.  Philosophy and ethics runs against the grain for many — but after some work, some jokes, some explanation, even many of these usually come around if just to make a grade.  They may well hate my guts when all is said and done (as if they know me, much less my innards), but they pass and move on.

But this month of a compressed semester — I’m not certain what lesson to take away.  I have some excellent students who are on top of things and learning.  But the majority in this one class are either openly hostile and resistant in a way I have difficulty believing — these are all adults in their 20s and 30s, some acting like petulant little children, others just drifting and barely responding, never working.  I have certain expectations of adults, as should we all, and some of these folks appear to have been emotionally arrested around the age of 9.

I don’t know.  It’s going to take me months to analyse this and abstract anything intelligible from it, if there’s anything there to grasp.

All I can hope is this is not a sign of the future and this class was a fluke, a bad mix and an unlucky draw.  Because I care too much to stand before a roomful of people who are starving for the little I have to offer and who, in their delusional omniscience, refuse to even take a nibble from the banquet table of questions and ideas our ancestors bequeathed them as their birthright.  They know all and Google has filled them to the brim with information — they do not need to know how to feed their own minds with their own experiences and think creatively.  Not one bit.

I do not enjoy watching even the most hateful of these people starve because they starve of a learned ignorance — they have a specialized knowledge in one thing, their job, and have the common opinions of a ditch digger about the underpinning of life, culture, meaning…. Why they thought they needed college, I’m not sure, except for the piece of paper, signifying they arrived perfect and left untouched.

I am a remnant of a remnant.  A stranger in a very strange land… one of the final witnesses to a bygone age.

20 September 2015

Richard Van Ingram

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Intimations of Mortality

I perceive the change in seasons before others do, especially the change from summer to autumn which is often a time of devastation, death, or severe change. Fate linked me inextricably with the sun and lengthening or shortening of the shadows as the sun rises or falls by degrees in the sky — science calls this Seasonal Affective Disorder, a form of light-linked depression. But that’s science and my life is more than science, deeper, broader, contains an interiority that science cannot know anything about as I experience it directly. It’s the same with you, all of you.

Leaves begin to dry up and fall, trees barely, almost imperceptibly change color, lighten a bit, even here in San Antonio where there is hardly any change in temperatures. But the sun does as it does as the earth tilts and moves and does her dance that I experience as the day star also sinking toward the horizon shortening the days.

Trees and plants, too, have my disorder. We are equally disordered.

But it’s the dread that begins to come along, the memories of all the disasters of autumn or the cataclysms, tragic and comic, and some just absurd. One is set up to expect more of the same.

Probably, from the interior of my life where no one but me and Deity and The Angel can see, that dread, the anticipation of “more of the same” is as much a cause of the depression that may or may not follow as the change by degrees of the sun. But the disasters and hilarity and absurdity are in the hands of fate. Things go as they go regardless of whether I approve or not and autumn is an inevitability, even if the heat remains like a bright lie in the midst of shadowy truth.

Perhaps we are not allowed to go from this place until our mission is complete, whatever it is, and once completed or we fail so badly the mission cannot be salvaged, it could be we may not remain. We must go on to the next thing.

Pure speculation that most people I like, love, and admire would find ridiculous, but they seem to accept my poetic ridiculousness. My coat many colors is just a beggar’s patchwork of seeming nonsense, anyway that replaced the original cloth or normalcy long ago, bit by bit.

But it could be that “reality” is such a patchwork, also; interpretations that serve us well or not, that allow us to plan ahead and live richer lives and accomplish something, some sort of fixing and repair in our day, our moment beneath the sky whether bright or smouldering with those jewels in what we call night.

We each leave something behind whether we are remembered or not and the something we leave behind becomes the raw material for what is called “the future.” Whether what we leave behind is of value to the others who remain or come along even many years after our departure is, at least in part, up to us. With care or carelessly, mindfulness or mindlessly, selfishly or in devotion to values beyond ourselves, we all leave behind a direction within our own ambit, a direction others will be left to deal with as a help or a hinderance.

My life and your life and the lives of us all are intertwined and intermixed, even while none may be substituted for another and one interior perspective cannot be exchanged with others. But we may share, reach out, make the attempt. And we do change the small portion of reality that we touch.

For good or ill. For good and ill.

My dread will remain close but I’ve learned to go on living and doing as I must and attempt to figure out how I should act, what I should choose, who I should be and become. Keep at the work.

Richard Van Ingram
20 August 2015

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