Archive for January, 2007

I Know J. Alfred Prufrock

So, we are reading the T.S. Eliot poem, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”, which is another poem in a succession of readings dealing with time, aging, thoughts, etc. Eliot is reckoned by many to be the most difficult, dense poet to read, given his tendency to use vague historical references while using words and phrases that can convey more than one meaning. On the other hand, one’s interpretation of the work can generally find acceptance with the professor since multiple meanings can apply. Yet, the over-arching theme is the indecisive nature of Prufrock, his low self-esteem, and his tendency to procrastinate.

All art finds meaning in the present. While this wonderful work was published in 1917, I have no trouble understanding Prufrock; I know him. He lives today, apparently reincarnated as a friend of mine, known to his friends as The Sad Man (TSM).

TSM is a well educated, attractive professional who lives in a city 100 miles from my hometown. Never married, he has lived life on a slippery downhill slope ever since earning his post-graduate degree. The apogee of his life occurred in the 25th year of his existence. Some 28 years later, he has walked away from at least two serious long-term serious relationships, held, until he was forced out, a low-level job in his profession because he could not make the decision to strike out on his own, and has long tormented his friends with his indecision and last-minute cancellations of social commitments. As well, his closeness with a dollar goes beyond meanness to ridiculous frugality. Perhaps you, too, have a friend like this.

There is a story that captures the essence of Prufrockian behavior as practiced by TSM. It happened many years ago:

A close college friend of TSM was to be married on a posh island off the Northeastern Atlantic coast. Another friend, rapidly climbing the corporate ladder of his family owned business, had access to a corporate jet that could transport the group of college friends to the wedding quickly and efficiently. TSM was invited to join but deferred, claiming that he could not afford his share. The friends agreed to absorb TSM’s share, not wanting his cheapness to deprive him of the fellowship of friends.

The plan was set to rendezvous in a common city, where the corporate jet would land and board the party. TSM arrived, met the group, loaded his luggage, and boarded the jet. There was a slight delay while the co-pilot was sent to purchase adult beverages for the two hour flight. TSM sat in the plane, surrounded by his friends, and silently dithered, concerned about spending money, having a fun weekend, and seeing old friends. Before the co-pilot could return, TSM made the decision to deplane.

His friends were aghast. They did not understand his thought process and could not believe that he would actually get off the aircraft. How could he change his mind after making such an effort to commit to the trip? But deplane he did. A minute later, the co-pilot returned with an ice-filled cooler of imported beer, and the crew prepared for takeoff. TSM walked away from the jet, unable to get his luggage removed. The door was closed, the engines spooled up, and the jet, with his friends looking out of the windows and hoping for TSM’s change of heart, taxied to the runway and took off. Alone at the airport, TSM could only weep with frustration and sadness, knowing that he had, once again, lived the life of J. Alfred Prufrock.

True Story.

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To Strive, To Seek, To Find, And Not To Yield

A poem that says so much to so many on so many levels:

Ulysses

It little profits that an idle king,
By this still hearth, among these barren crags,
Match’d with an aged wife, I mete and dole
Unequal laws unto a savage race,
That hoard, and sleep, and feed, and know not me.
I cannot rest from travel: I will drink
Life to the lees: All times I have enjoy’d
Greatly, have suffer’d greatly, both with those
That loved me, and alone, on shore, and when
Thro’ scudding drifts the rainy Hyades
Vext the dim sea: I am become a name;
For always roaming with a hungry heart
Much have I seen and known; cities of men
And manners, climates, councils, governments,
Myself not least, but honour’d of them all;
And drunk delight of battle with my peers,
Far on the ringing plains of windy Troy.
I am a part of all that I have met;
Yet all experience is an arch wherethro’
Gleams that untravell’d world whose margin fades
For ever and forever when I move.
How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
To rust unburnish’d, not to shine in use!
As tho’ to breathe were life! Life piled on life
Were all too little, and of one to me
Little remains: but every hour is saved
From that eternal silence, something more,
A bringer of new things; and vile it were
For some three suns to store and hoard myself,
And this gray spirit yearning in desire
To follow knowledge like a sinking star,
Beyond the utmost bound of human thought.
This is my son, mine own Telemachus,
To whom I leave the sceptre and the isle,–
Well-loved of me, discerning to fulfil
This labour, by slow prudence to make mild
A rugged people, and thro’ soft degrees
Subdue them to the useful and the good.
Most blameless is he, centred in the sphere
Of common duties, decent not to fail
In offices of tenderness, and pay
Meet adoration to my household gods,
When I am gone. He works his work, I mine.
There lies the port; the vessel puffs her sail:
There gloom the dark, broad seas. My mariners,
Souls that have toil’d, and wrought, and thought with me–
That ever with a frolic welcome took
The thunder and the sunshine, and opposed
Free hearts, free foreheads–you and I are old;
Old age hath yet his honour and his toil;
Death closes all: but something ere the end,
Some work of noble note, may yet be done,
Not unbecoming men that strove with Gods.
The lights begin to twinkle from the rocks:
The long day wanes: the slow moon climbs: the deep
Moans round with many voices. Come, my friends,
‘T is not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.
Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

Alfred, Lord Tennyson

The Freshness of Youth

Among the many challenges involved in a return to academe, there occassionally arise moments of surprise and pleasure. Such was the situation today.

Sitting in my English class, discussing a new poem, the professor was asking questions and guiding us through an analysis of what is considered by many literary experts to be a very dense, difficult poem. As we struggled to interpret the poet’s mind, perhaps dimly aware that many great people had tried to do the same with little success, a small femal voice emerged, hesitantly offering her thoughts to the classroom discussion. And provided a moment of great insight!

And it was an insight that had avoided the craters of my aged mind.

Yet again teaching me that wisdom comes to all ages, and oft it is that true wisdom can come from a life not yet lived in its fullness……and therefore is free to think in ways that time can often foreclose.

It’s great to be around college kids.

Is This What the Future Looks Like?

The future of computing could look like this.

For details, if you are as fascinated as I am, go here.

Like, I Don’t Really, Like, Like Like

Standing in the hall, waiting for the preceding class to vacate:

Rachel: “Like, what did you guys do this weekend?”

Ashley: “We, uhh, like went to this like bar, where there was, like, a band and we kinda, like, hung out there for awhile, and then we, like, you know, went back to Bill’s, like, apartment.”

Rachel: “That sounds really, like, cool.”

In the classroom, as a question is asked:

Constance: “Professor C******, is there like any relationship between, like, Hinduism, and, like, Christianity? Because, like, it seems that there is, like, a common theme between, like, Vishnu and God.”

Like, when will this colloquialism finally die the death it so richly deserves, and most deservedly needs? I don’t like it……..

Firsts

When thinking about the return to college, I imagined many scenes of campus life. I imagined studying in the library. I imagined walking from classroom to classroom. I imagined participating in the campus wide events in the afternoons and in the evenings.

The one thing I did not imagine, possibly because I cannot remember it, is the anxiety one feels just before a test or just before handing in a paper.

Today, I handed in my first paper. I worked over it for about 4 hours altogether, and I felt as if I had captured the essence of the professor’s requirements. That sensation vanished as papers were handed forward, and I saw that other students papers looked a lot heavier in verbiage than mine, and a lot lighter in quoted text than mine.

Tomorrow, I have my first math test. I have done all of the homework, I have reviewed my notes, and I have done all of the homework again. Right now, I am trying to memorize theorems using flash cards. The anxiety is palpable….this is as bad as preparing a presentation for a boss.

So, this is really the beginning. All before has been the easy stuff, the looks, the tentative friendships with classmates, the awkward exchanges with professors. Now the first challenge: Have I been working hard enough and smart enough, and can I handle the pressure.

Update to follow.

My Papa’s Waltz

The whiskey on your breath
Could make a small boy dizzy;
But I hung on like death:
Such waltzing was not easy.

We romped until the pans
Slid from the kitchen shelf;
My mother’s countenance
Could not unfrown itself.

The hand that held my wrist
Was battered on one knuckle;
At every step you missed
My right ear scraped a buckle.

You beat time on my head
With a palm caked hard by dirt,
Then waltzed me off to be
Still clinging to your shirt.

Theodore Roethke, 1948


“Life’s hard, son. It’s harder when you’re stupid.” — The Duke.

Education is a companion which no misfortune can depress, no crime can destroy, no enemy can alienate,no despotism can enslave. At home, a friend, abroad, an introduction, in solitude a solace and in society an ornament.It chastens vice, it guides virtue, it gives at once grace and government to genius. Without it, what is man? A splendid slave, a reasoning savage. - Joseph Addison
The term informavore (also spelled informivore) characterizes an organism that consumes information. It is meant to be a description of human behavior in modern information society, in comparison to omnivore, as a description of humans consuming food. George A. Miller [1] coined the term in 1983 as an analogy to how organisms survive by consuming negative entropy (as suggested by Erwin Schrödinger [2]). Miller states, "Just as the body survives by ingesting negative entropy, so the mind survives by ingesting information. In a very general sense, all higher organisms are informavores." - Wikipedia

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