Tag Archives: writing

to write a book

to write a book for peat’s sake

I’ve been keeping notes and files since I was on the ‘net twelve years ago (my current desktop machine has a terabyte of memory and it isn’t full yet).  Last week I started collating my previous annotations from 52 books (and re-reading them as I go). Boiling that all down will be like making a fine whiskey.


An Ode to Laphroaig  



Previously, I’d assembled a small clutch of about 25 books on how to write, including media programs from two top-level college programs; one of the most recent books is entitled “The Craft of Research (4th edition)”.  Another is an old edition of “The Mansion of History”.  Stephen Pressfield’s works enjoy their slots on the bookshelf, as does “Tempo” by Venkatesh Rao. At the top of the list is  “A Way of Working”, edited by Dorothea Dooling; I paid 99 cents for that one, but it’s priceless.

My wife bought me two large pegboards so I can play the Post-It Note and push-pin game. [$2.50 at the consignment shop.] 

I bought a 32gb encryptable jump drive so I can use either my desktop in the basement or the laptop on the deck. There is nothing secret here; it’s all open source.  But nobody reads books anymore; most people are caught up in TV, social media and the chase for income. There are few people who’ve heard of most of these books, and even fewer who’ve read them. I’m going to cull out “the juicy bits”. 

I’ve only just begun. I wouldn’t even venture a draft thesis at this point. I think I know what I have, but I have to verify it and update it. 

The internal codeword for the project when I started it a decade ago was “mega”.  That had to do with the concept of overview, not size.  

The current code phrase has to do with understanding what is hidden and obscure

My high school yearbook noted that a goal was to write a book. I might get there before my 55th reunion.

I want to get this right. I can’t even yet see how big the thing will be. It will be a hard-core history synthesized from multiple sources, about which I must still labor to maintain research and writing integrity, along with personal credibility and personal responsibility for what I say.   My intent is thorough references with extensive footnoting with maximized flow and ease of reading. Hopefully, its abrasive edges will be sanded, hand-rubbed, stained and polished.  The process will involve at least three waves of editing and re-write. 

I’ve set a lofty goal. Pray for me, and cheer me on.  This is my personal answer to the five questions I’ve previously noted about peak performance, especially this one:

What is it that I, and only I, can do which, when it is done well, will make a real difference?

I will try to provide progress reports that don’t include spoilers. 

pressing matters

pressing matters

Hannah Arendt (October 14, 1906–December 4, 1975) examined those peculiar parallel dimensions of loneliness as a profoundly personal anguish and an indispensable currency of our political life in her intellectual debut, the incisive and astonishingly timely 1951 classic The Origins of Totalitarianism (public library).

Arendt paints loneliness as “the common ground for terror” and explores its function as both the chief weapon and the chief damage of oppressive political regimes. Exactly twenty years before her piercing treatise on lying in politics, she writes:

Just as terror, even in its pre-total, merely tyrannical form ruins all relationships between men, so the self-compulsion of ideological thinking ruins all relationships with reality. The preparation has succeeded when people have lost contact with their fellow men* as well as the reality around them; for together with these contacts, [they] lose the capacity of both experience and thought. The ideal subject of totalitarian rule is not the convinced Nazi or the convinced Communist, but people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction (i.e., the reality of experience) and the distinction between true and false (i.e., the standards of thought) no longer exist.

What perpetuates such tyrannical regimes, Arendt argues, is manipulation by isolation — something most effectively accomplished by the divisiveness of “us vs. them” narratives. She writes:

Terror can rule absolutely only over men who are isolated against each other… Therefore, one of the primary concerns of all tyrannical government is to bring this isolation about. Isolation may be the beginning of terror; it certainly is its most fertile ground; it always is its result. This isolation is, as it were, pretotalitarian; its hallmark is impotence insofar as power always comes from men acting together…; isolated men are powerless by definition.

Although isolation is not necessarily the same as loneliness, Arendt notes that loneliness can become both the seedbed and the perilous consequence of the isolation effected by tyrannical regimes:

In isolation, man remains in contact with the world as the human artifice; only when the most elementary form of human creativity, which is the capacity to add something of one’s own to the common world, is destroyed, isolation becomes altogether unbearable… Isolation then becomes loneliness.


While isolation concerns only the political realm of life, loneliness concerns human life as a whole. Totalitarian government, like all tyrannies, certainly could not exist without destroying the public realm of life, that is, without destroying, by isolating men, their political capacities. But totalitarian domination as a form of government is new in that it is not content with this isolation and destroys private life as well. It bases itself on loneliness, on the experience of not belonging to the world at all, which is among the most radical and desperate experiences of man.

This is why our insistence on belonging, community, and human connection is one of the greatest acts of courage and resistance in the face of oppression….”



Vice Joins Trend Of Killing News Comments Because Giving A Damn About Your Site’s Community Is Just Too Hard

from the i-love-you.-here’s-your-new-muzzle. dept

We’ve talked a lot about how the trend du jour in online media is to ditch the news comment section, then condescendingly pretend this is because the website just really values user relationships…. napalming your on-site community because you’re too lazy to weed the garden certainly is a slight against those users. And as we saw with NPR, these users are well aware of this fact, and are more than happy to spend their time on websites that actually value conversation and user interaction, instead of just paying empty lip service to the concept.








Maternal genealogy is unknown beyond my mother except for the presence of a Scots-Irish (Presbyterian) family in Western Pennsylvania. The paternal genealogy includes DNA that is apparently (but confusedly) of Normal or Saxon origin which moved from the Iberian peninsula after the last Ice Age up into Norman or perhaps Breton turf until, apparently as mercenaries or in followership, the Norman conquest of England. My father’s mother was of Prussian heritage. Ancestral history in my family from before the crossing of the English Channel is very clouded.   

More precise records extend from the summer of 1638 when two brothers caught a ride aboard a ship out of Hull, England to cross the Atlantic to come to England in search of religious freedom. “They were men of respectability, ‘of good estate,’ and could probably have no hopes of improving their worldly condition by emigration. They were lovers of liberty, and men of distinct and well-marked religious views. They were non-conformists. They had too sturdy an independence, as well as too strong a sense of duty, to abandon what they held as truth even in the midst of the bitterest persecution. For this reason they left their homes and sought in the wilds of America a resting place from oppression, a spot where they and their children might enjoy freedom to worship God. They were men of thought and character….”  In 1639, they settled on land north of Ipswich with which to raise and breed sheep and establish the first wool clothier’s trade. The ship’s cargo included “the first printing press, later to be set up in Cambridge, the only printing press in the country until 1685”.


That familial reference to the first printing press in colonial New England seems uncertain but is confirmed by other references and sources. 

“… The first printing press came to British North America two years after the founding of Harvard College. The press was brought by Reverend Joseph Glover, who, when deprived of his position in the Church of England, shipped his family, his possessions, and his printing press to the colonies. Glover also paid for the passage of the man in charge of running his press, Stephen Daye, a locksmith by profession. Daye was under financial contract to work in Glover’s home in Cambridge in order to repay the cost of passage for himself, his wife, and his household—a total of around £51. Rev. Glover, however, did not survive the passage to the New World. When Daye and the press arrived, his debt was transferred to Glover’s widow, Elizabeth, now owner of the printing press.

Daye set to work almost immediately along with his son Matthew, an apprentice printer, and perhaps more skilled than his father. Within the first year in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, they printed The Freeman’s Oath, a broadside, which is generally believed to be the first tract printed in British North America. This was completed around the same time as “an almanac made for New England by Mr. William Pierce.” 1 By virtue of exploiting a loophole in colonial legislation, Daye printed the first book in the New World, The Bay Psalm Book, in 1640. This book became extremely popular and influential throughout the colony for the remainder of the 17th century.  It was only three years later that the first Bible published in the New World was also published in Cambridge.

Elizabeth Glover (born Harris), as an unmarried woman, was a rarity in colonial New England. Especially unique was that she was not only an eligible woman of property but also the owner of the only printing press in the British colonies. Her attractiveness as a mate was clear to the President of Harvard, Henry Dunster. On June 21, 1641 they were married, transferring all of her property to his home on the now-named Dunster Street. Elizabeth died in 1643, and her land and property, including the printing press, was passed on to Dunster and subsequently to Harvard College. During the same year Matthew Daye replaced his father as official operator of the press after the elder Daye was briefly jailed for fraud.

As Harvard grew in size and reputation, it became a logical center of printing in the American colonies. Cambridge was the location of not just the first printing press, but also the second when in 1659 a press was sent to the colonies from the British firm “The Company for the Propagation of the Gospel Amongst the Heathen Natives of New England and parts Adjacent in America.” Matthew Daye’s successor Samuel Green was in charge of printing at this point, but the British firm also sent over the America’s first professional printer, Marmaduke Johnson, to assist Green. The new press was set up in Harvard Yard, in a building called the Indian College, to print Reverend John Eliot’s “Indian Bible.”

Marmaduke Johnson acquired his own press in England in 1665, and planned to bring it to Boston in order to establish his own business. However, Harvard wanted a replacement for Glover’s original press, having become fragile over the years, and the Harvard leadership successfully lobbied for a state law stating that no printing could be done outside of Cambridge. Forced into staying in Cambridge, Johnson instead, without any affiliation to Harvard, opened the first independent printing press in the colonies and went on to publish 20 books between 1665 and 1674…..”



Facsimile of the first and only issue of the English-American colonies’ first newspaper, published in Boston 1690.

Early American Newspapering

by James Breig

We are here at the end of the World, and Europe may

bee turned topsy turvy ere wee can hear a word of it.

-Virginia planter William Byrd, 1690

In seventeenth-century America, colonial governments had rather do without newspapers than brook their annoyance. In 1671, Governor William Berkeley of Virginia wrote: “I thank God, there are no free schools nor printing and I hope we shall not have, these hundred years, for learning has brought disobedience, and heresy, and sects into the world, and printing has divulged them, and libels against the best government. God keep us from both.” As the British government once told the governors of Massachusetts, “Great inconvenience may arise by the liberty of printing.”

Not until 1690 did the first English-American news sheet debut—Boston’s Publick Occurrences Both Forreign and Domestick, published by Benjamin Harris. The authorities, in “high Resentment” that Harris dared to report that English military forces had allied themselves with “miserable” savages, put him out of business four days later.

By the end of the eighteenth century, however, scores of homegrown broadsheets and tabloids satisfied the information appetites of Americans hungry for intelligence of the Old World, for news about the Revolution, and for the political polemics of the infant United States. The history of newspapering in that century digests the beginnings of much of what is served on newsstands in this one.

As the century began, the fledgling colonial press tested its wings. A bolder journalism opened on the eve of the Revolution. And, as the century closed with the birth of the United States, a rancorously partisan and rambunctious press emerged.

The eras can be traced in the history of the family of Benjamin Franklin—the preeminent journalist of his time. But it best begins with another Boston newspaperman, postmaster John Campbell. In 1704, Campbell served up The Boston News-Letter, the nation’s second paper. It was a publication the powers-that-be could stomach. The News-Letter lasted seventy-two years, succeeding in an increasingly competitive industry, supported by the growth of communication and of commerce.

Campbell’s fellow postmasters often became newspaper publishers, too; they had ready access to information to put on their pages. Through their offices came letters, government documents, and newspapers from Europe. Gazettes were also started by printers, who had paper, ink, and presses at hand. Franklin was a postmaster and a printer.


Eighteenth-century editors filled their columns with items lifted from other newspapers—”the exchanges,” as they are called still—and from letters, said Mitchell Stephens, a New York University journalism professor and the author of A History of News. European news, taken from newspapers that arrived in ports like New York, Philadelphia, and Charleston, got good play. The November 8, 1797, issue of the Pennsylvania Gazette, for example, carried this item from New York: “Yesterday arrived here the ship Mary. . . . By this arrival we are furnished with London Papers . . . from which the most important intelligence is extracted.” David Sloan, a University of Alabama journalism professor, lists the sources of stories as “European newspapers, primarily English ones; correspondence sent in by readers; other newspapers in the colonies; and individuals who would drop by the print shop and talk.”

Julie K. Williams, a history instructor at Alabama’s Samford University, said publishers had such altruistic motives as improving communication and educating the public, but profit was their primary purpose. Maurine Beasley, a University of Maryland journalism professor, puts it plainly. The purpose of newspapers was “to make money.”

Williams said, “Newspapers brought in ad revenue and circulation revenue.” That income supplemented receipts from books, government printing jobs, merchant invoices, forms, and other ephemera.

Making money is still what keeps newspapers in business, and that is but one similarity between eighteenth-century papers and the twenty-first’s. As Sloan said, “Newspapers are still printed with ink on paper.” But more than that, newspapers then and now “still have opinions and letters. There was a sense then that newspapers should publish both sides of an issue, even during the Revolution and factional periods.”

Williams ticks off the surface differences in the newspapers of the two centuries—there were no headlines and few illustrations then, for example—as well as cosmetic similarities. “You can look at an eighteenth-century newspaper and recognize the column layout and the general news-ads look of a paper today,” she said. “It is interesting that the ‘look’ is still basically there.

“But the biggest similarity is what news is. We decided in the eighteenth century that newspapers were about ‘occurrences,’ and basically we have stuck to that. I think ‘departments’ are clearly an idea in the eighteenth century. The colonial printer had a standing format that he followed religiously that involved dividing the news by type. These sections were often labeled ‘foreign reports’ and so on.”

To Carol Humphrey, an Oklahoma Baptist University journalism professor and secretary of the American Journalism Historians Association, “The primary legacy of the eighteenth century for modern journalism is the right to comment on political events. The modern-day editorial has its beginnings in that era.”

The DNA of modern newspapers is found in the eighteenth century, Stephens said. “The look is the same,” and “the sense of what news is, is basic to human beings.”

Most colonial newspapers were weeklies, had four pages, and printed most of their advertisements in back. With little space, printers kept many stories brief, encapsulating even significant information into “one short paragraph, even a sentence,” Sloan said.

Newspapers also contained “essays, poems and humorous material, some of which they wrote themselves, like Ben Franklin,” Beasley said. “Sometimes, items that had a sensational or religious aspect appeared, such as a report of a strange creature being sighted or some unusual event occurring attributed to ‘divine providence.’”

Readers wondered about the course of wars in Europe and were curious about happenings in other towns and colonies—especially events that could affect their lives. But they were as interested as readers of today in the ordinary events of the life of their times. When they got their newspaper, subscribers perused such advertisements and news as:

Run away . . . a small yellow Negro wench named Hannah, about 35 years of age, had on when she went away a green plain petticoat and sundry other clothes, but what sort I do not know.—from a 1767 issue of Williamsburg’s Virginia Gazette

For Sale—The spars, anchors, rigging, and hull, of a brig, sixty four feet keel, twenty four and a half feet beam, and ten feet hold.—from a 1782 issue of the Virginia Gazette and Weekly Advertiser

The noted High Bred Horse Old Mark Anthony, now in high perfection, and as vigorous as ever, stands at my stable this season in order to cover mares, at £3. the leap.—also from a 1782 issue of the Virginia Gazette and Weekly Advertiser

Last Friday, the fatal and ever memorable Day of the Martyrdom of King Charles the First, a most extraordinary Misfortune befell this Place, by the Destruction of our fine Capitol. . . . The Cupola was soon burnt, the two Bells that were in it were melted, and, together with the Clock, fell down, and were destroyed.—from a 1747 issue of the Pennsylvania Gazette, but datelined Williamsburg, Feb. 5.


When, as the century began, Campbell and his colleagues set up their forms, they entered a risky business. Printers were licensed by the government, and they could be unlicensed swiftly, and imprisoned. That happened to Benjamin Franklin’s older brother James, publisher of the New-England Courant.

James Franklin inspired his sibling’s interest in printing. “In 1717,” the younger Franklin wrote, “James returned from England with a press and letters to set up his business in Boston. . . . My father was impatient to have me bound to my brother.” The boy was at length “persuaded, and signed the indentures when I was yet but twelve years old.” But like the publisher of Publick Occurrences, James Franklin ran afoul of the authorities. “One of the pieces in our newspaper gave offense to the Assembly,” Benjamin Franklin said. His brother “was taken up, censur’d, and imprison’d for a month. . . . During my brother’s confinement . . . I had the management of the paper.”

When the government freed the older Franklin, it forbade him to print the Courant any longer. The brothers circumvented the order by putting Benjamin Franklin’s name on it.

John Peter Zenger, editor of the New-York Weekly Journal, was arrested in 1734 and charged with seditious libel for criticisms of Governor William Cosby. The facts were against Zenger, but a jury more sympathetic to free speech than to authority acquitted him. Franklin, who had moved to Philadelphia, where he founded Poor Richard’s Almanac and the Pennsylvania Gazette, endorsed the verdict in a couplet:

While free from Force the Press remains,

Virtue and Freedom cheer our Plains.

Typical for Franklin and his colleagues, the lines are lifted from a poem by Mathew Green, “The Spleen,” published in 1737.

As happy as editors were to see Zenger vindicated, they noticed that he had spent ten months in jail awaiting trial. His wife had carried on the Journal, but clearly a newspaperman’s livelihood and liberty depended on the forbearance of the government.

At mid-century, the press began to alter its stance and became more outspoken. In 1754, during the French and Indian War, Franklin published America’s first newspaper cartoon, a picture showing a snake cut into sections, each part representing a colony, with the caption: “Join or Die.”

Franklin became a wealthy publisher and editor. He linked print shops and post offices in a coastal chain, and spread newspapering up and down the seaboard. Newspapers founded under his aegis prospered and, as troubles with Great Britain mounted, became precisely the “great inconvenience” England feared.

Stephens said the purpose of newspapers “changed to the political and polemical after 1765—around the time of the Stamp Act-as tensions snowballed.” Sloan said, “During the Revolution, the main goal was to support the American cause.”


“Prior to the Revolution, newspapers existed primarily to inform people of what was going on in the rest of the world,” Humphrey said. “The Revolution changed the focus to events in the other colonies.”

Daily publication began in the 1780s, just as the new American republic emerged. There were about 100 newspapers by 1790, many of them were spirited, and some were great annoyances to men in high positions. It was a time of enormous press freedom, a freedom exercised frequently in behalf of the Federalist or Republican parties, which subsidized their own publications. Humphrey said, “Many newspapers in the 1790s were intended to accept a particular political party.” Two examples are the Gazette of the United States for the Hamiltonian Federalists; the National Gazette for the Jeffersonian Republicans. “Their editors believed that they should support their particular party in all that they did,” she noted, “so they wrote essays in support of their party and included editorial comments in the news pieces that either supported their party or attacked the opposition.”

This was the era of Philip Freneau, John Fenno, and James Callendar, sharp-penned scribes who used their journalistic skills to laud their friends and denigrate their enemies. This was the era when government officials and political figures—Alexander Hamilton and James Madison among them—adopted pseudonyms to promote their politics in the public prints anonymously.

Many of the founding fathers were enthusiastic about a free press. Thomas Jefferson wrote in 1787 that “were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.” Samuel Adams said in 1768 that “there is nothing so fretting and vexatious, nothing so justly terrible to tyrants . . . as a free press.”

But newspaper partisanship had evolved from the Revolution. “Newspapers that were used to denouncing Tories and the King,” Stephens said, “slid easily into denouncing opposition parties, even the President of the United States.”

George Washington declared a lack of interest in newspapers before he was president, writing in 1786 that “my avocations are so numerous that I very rarely find time to look into Gazettes after they come to me.” But while in office, he sometimes was incensed at what he saw in print. In notes about a 1793 cabinet meeting, Secretary of State Jefferson recorded how the president went on in such “a high tone” about the paper of “that rascal” Freneau that the cabinet officers were momentarily stunned into silence.

Benjamin Franklin’s grandson and namesake, Benjamin Franklin Bache—also known as “Lightning Rod Junior”—edited the Aurora. Bache delighted in harassing President Washington, once labeling him “the source of all the misfortunes of our country” and declaring him “utterly incapable.”

When John Adams wrote “A Constitution or Form of Government for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts” in 1779, he included a guarantee of liberty of the press. But as president, Adams endorsed the Alien and Sedition Acts, aimed at muzzling the opposition by jailing editors who dared criticize the chief executive.

Sloan said Bache was “a really ardent, zealous partisan. He epitomizes the intensely partisan editor.” Bache was indicted under the Alien and Sedition Acts but died before his case came to trial. Adams’s successor, Jefferson, released imprisoned journalists and allowed the law to lapse.

Stephens said that the free—and free-wheeling—press of the federal period helped to create the United States: “It is hard to imagine the United States arriving when it did without a free press. It was a wild, unruly press, but democracy was a great experiment and an aggressive press was part of it.”

Much has changed in the centuries since Benjamin Harris set up his type. Among other things, the web press, the linotype, and, eventually, offset printing came to the business. The telegraph and news services supplanted the exchanges. The First Amendment, written originally to protect the press only from the federal Congress, was interpreted to apply to the governments of the states. Illustrations and photographs became as important as words. Journalism emerged as a diplomaed, white-collar profession. And the role of the press as a “great inconvenience” to government is a hallmark of democratic government.

“How,” asks Stephens, “can you run a country without a free press?”

Jim Breig, an Albany, New York, writer and weekly newspaper editor, contributed “Out, Damn’d Proverbs: Eighteenth-Century Axioms, Maxims, and Bywords” to the winter 2002-2003 journal.



In 1638, the first printing press arrived in Boston.

By 1700, Boston became the second largest publishing center of the English Empire. The Puritans were the first to write books for children, and to discuss the difficulties in communicating with them. At a time when other Americans were physically blazing trails through the forests, the Puritans efforts in areas of study were advancing the country intellectually.

The Bible stimulated their intellect by promoting discussions of literature. Greek classics, Cicero, Virgil, Terence and Ovid were taught, as well as some poetry and Latin verse. The Puritans also encouraged themselves to create their own poetry, always religious in content.

Anyway, three English diversions were banned in the Puritans’ New England colonies: drama, religious music and erotic poetry. The first and last of these because they led to immorality. Music in worship, instead, created a “dreamy” state which was not conducive in listening to God.

The first newspaper was issued in Boston in 1704.


[Ed.: Today, of course, there is a growth industry involving audio forms of meditation, the neuro-cognitive research done to examine the concept of spiritual perception, in essence a merger between neuroscience and New Age approaches.]


In 1754, four newspapers only were printed in New England, these were all published in Boston, and, usually, on a small sheet.; They were published weekly, and the average number of copies did not exceed six hundred from each press. No paper had then been issued in Connecticut, or New Hampshire. Some years before, one was printed for a short time in Rhode Island, but had been discontinued for want of encouragement. Vermont as a state did not exist, and the country which now composes it was then a wilderness. In 1775, a period of only twenty-one years, more copies of a newspaper were issued weekly from the village press at Worcester, Massachusetts, than were printed in all New England, in 1755; and one paper now published contains as much matter as did all the four published in Boston, in the last year mentioned.

At the beginning of 1775, there were five newspapers published in Boston, one at Salem, and one at Newburyport, making seven in Massachusetts. There was, at that time, one published at Portsmouth; and no other in New Hampshire. One was printed at Newport, and one at Providence, making two in Rhode Island. At New London there was one, at New Haven one, one at Hartford and one in Norwich; in all four I Connecticut;and fourteen in New England. In the province of New York, four papers were then published; three in the city and one in Albany. In Pennsylvania there were, on the first of January, 1775, six; three in English and one in German, in Philadelphia, one in German, at Germantown; and one in English and German, at Lancaster. Before the end of January, 1775, three newspapers, in English, were added to the number from the presses I Philadelphia, making nine in Pennsylvania. In Maryland, two; one at Annapolis, and one at Baltimore. In Virginia, there were but two, and both of these at Williamsburg. One was printed at Wilmington, and one in Newbern, in North Carolina; three at Charleston, South Carolina; and one at Savannah, in Georgia. Making thirty-seen newspapers in all the British colonies, which are now comprised in the United States. To these may be added one at Halifax, in Nova Scotia; and one in Canada, at Quebec.

In 1800, there were at least one hundred and fifty publications of this kind printed in the United States of America, and since that time, the number has increased to three hundred and sixty. Those published before 1775 were weekly papers. Soon after the close of the Revolutionary war, daily papers were printed at Philadelphia, New York, &c., and there are now, 1810, more than twenty published, daily, in the United States.

It was common for printers of newspapers to subjoin to their titles ‘Containing the freshest Advices both Foreign and Domestick;’ but gazettes and journals are now chiefly filled with political essays. News do not appear to be always the first object of editors, and, of course, ‘containing the freshest advices,’ &c., is too often out of the question.

For many years after the establishment of newspapers on this continent, very few advertisements appeared in them. This was the case with those that were early printed in Europe. In the first newspapers, advertisements were not separated by lines from the news, &c., and were not even begun with a two line letter; when two line letters were introduced, it was some time before one advertisement was separated from another by a line, or rule as it is termed by printers. After it became usual to separate advertisements, some printers used lines of metal rules; others lines of flowers irregularly placed. I have seen in some New York papers, great primer flowers between advertisements. At length, it became customary to ‘set off advertisements,’ and from using types not larger than those with which the news were printed, types of the size of French canon have often been used for names, especially of those who advertised English goods.

In the troublesome times, occasioned by the stamp act in 1765, some of the more opulent and cautious printers, when the act was to take place, put their papers in mourning, and, for a few weeks, omitted to publish them; others not so timid, but doubtful of the consequence of publishing newspapers without stamps, omitted the titles, or altered them, as an evasion; for instance the Pennsylvania Gazette, and some other papers, were headed ‘Remarkable Occurrences, &c.’ -other printers, particularly those in Boston, continued their papers without any alteration in title or imprint.

From the foregoing it appears that, from the time when the first public journal was published in the country, viz. in April, 1704, to April 1775, comprising a period of seventy-one years, seventy-eight different newspapers were printed in the British American continental colonies; that during this period, thirty-nine, exactly one-half of that number, had been, occasionally, discontinued; and that thirty-nine continued to be issued by the several establishments at the commencement of the revolution. The papers published in the West Indies are not included in this computation.

In the course of thirty-five years, newspaper establishments were, as previously remarked, multiplied in a surprising degree; insomuch, that the number of those printed in the United States in June, 1810, amounted to upwards of three hundred and sixty.

A large proportion of the public papers at that date were established, and supported, by the two great contending political parties, into which the people of these states are usually divided; and whose numbers produce an equipollence; consequently, a great augmentation of vehicles for carrying on the political warfare have been found necessary.

I cannot conclude what I have written on the subject of publike journals, better than by extracting the following pertinent observations on newspapers, from the Rev. Dr. Miller’s Retrospect of the Eighteenth Century.

‘It is worthy of remark that newspapers have almost entirely changed their form and character within the period under review* (*the eighteenth century) For a long time after they were first adopted as a medium of communication to the public, they were confined, in general, to the mere statement of facts. But they have gradually assumed an office more extensive, and risen to a more important station in society. They have become vehicles of discussion, in which the principles of government, the interests of nations, the spirit and tendency of public measures, and the public and private characters of individuals, are all arraigned, tried, and decided. Instead, therefore, of being considered now, as they once were, of small moment in society, they have become immense oral and political engines, closely connected with the welfare of the state, and deeply involving both its peace and prosperity.

‘Newspapers have also become important in a literary view. There are few of them, within the last twenty years, which have not added to their political details some curious and useful information, on the various subjects of literature, science, and art. They have thus become the means of conveying, to every class in society, innumerable scraps of knowledge, which have at once increased the public intelligence, and extended the taste for perusing periodical publications. The advertisements, moreover, which they daily contain, respecting new books, projects, inventions, discoveries and improvements, are well calculated to enlarge and enlighten the public mind, and are worth of being enumerated among the many methods of awakening and maintaining the popular attention, with which more modern times, beyond all preceeding example, abound. . . . “

Index to This Section:

Would there have been an American Revolution Without Newspapers and Mail? The Role of Communications in the American Revolution 

Getting the Word Out: Franklin’s Communications Revolutions

The Dangerous Lives of Printers:

The Evolution of Freedom of the Press

Newspapers in America Before the Era of the Revolution

Newspapers in Revolutionary-Era America and the Problems of Patriot and Loyalist Printers

A Patriot Printer and His “Forge of Sedition”: 

The Story of Isaiah Thomas

The Role of Newspapers in the Revolution:

Isaiah Thomas’s The History of Printing in America

Not Just the News: 

A War of Letters, Pamphlets, Broadsides, and Sermons




“But I thank God, there are no free schools nor printing, and I hope we shall not have these hundred years, for learning has brought disobedience, and heresy, and sects into the world, and printing has divulged them, and libels against the best government. God keep us from both!” 

Governor Sir William Berkeley, 1671


The Germination of a Free Press: A Dissident Print Culture and the Stamp Act in Colonial Virginia


Roger P. Mellen


42 pp.






“The editor objected to the use of Native auxiliaries in the invation of Canada during King William’s War after he heard reports of them torturing and killing captured French troops.”

“… The first newspaper ever printed in this country met the same fate dealt the first gesture towards press censorship and the first attempt to set up a commercial printing shop: “Publick Occurrances both Foreign and Domestick,” appeared on September 26, 1690, and was immediately forbidden from the Colonies. The Governor and council gave expression to “high resentment and disallowance” to this paper printed by Richard Pierce for Benjamin Harris of Boston, and forbade anyone “for the future to set forth anything in print without license first obtained.”




“… The most intriguing objects found in the Harvard Yard excavations were pieces of lead printing type dating back to the 17th century. At first glance, these lead alloy bars may not impress, but they are small pieces of an important story. Each bears the mold of a single letter. When arranged in rows, coated with thick ink, and pressed onto paper, they created the first books printed in North America. The fonts, or particular shapes, of some of these letters have been matched to surviving 17th-century products of Harvard’s early press…..”




“… Ezekiel and his followers pooled their money to organise their New England passage. They left Rowley in the summer of 1638 and travelled down into Hull where they joined the ship John of London, lying in the Old Harbour on the River Hull. After sailing out of the Humber, their ship called into London en route and there picked up the Reverend Joseph Glover, a wealthy nonconformist minister, who brought with him Stephen Daye, a printer, and also what is believed to be North America’s first printing press. Glover is thought to have first visited New England earlier in the 1630s and supported the foundation of Harvard College – which eventually became Harvard University, the oldest institute of higher education in the United States.

Unfortunately, on the long and tortuous journey across the Atlantic, the Reverend Glover died before the vessel reached Salem Bay, Massachusetts in the December of 1638. The migrants probably spent a long first winter in Salem but in spring 1639 Ezekiel Rogers and his followers moved on to land some six miles outside of Ipswich, Massachusetts. House lots and properties were laid out along the township’s brook, allowing each family access to fresh water. Here the new arrivals built many houses and, bringing spinning and weaving skills with them from the East Riding of Yorkshire, they were amongst the first to establish a clothing industry in New England. They called their little township, Rowley after their East Riding village….

Elizabeth Glover, continued with her late husband’s mission and supervised Daye in the setting up of the Press in Cambridge, Massachusetts. In January 1639, the Freeman’s Oath was the first piece printed. The following year, 1640, the press produced The Bay Psalm Book, the first book printed in the English colonies. This may also have been the first book to have been written in North America and is an important part of the history of print; it seems that only five original copies still exist.

The small town of Rowley prospered and Ezekiel Rogers bequeathed his library to Harvard when he died in 1660 and other benefactions from him also eventually went to this learned institution. Early settlers in Rowley played an important part in the establishment of this new country. Elizabeth Glover married Henry Dunster, Harvard’s First President, who had taken interest in the Press. Stephen Daye died in 1668. His son Matthew became an accomplished printer and indeed may have actually done much of the printing with that first press. Printing and publishing in the United States has certainly come a long way since Stephen Daye first sailed with the Rowley settlers back in the summer of 1638.”

Robb Robinson, December 2008



This past Christmas weekend has been an opportunity for long-range thinking, planning, learning, observing and more planning. Numerous things have been poking me in my ribs, tapping me on my collar-bone, and crackling synaptically inside my skull.                               

We are advised that rumination is unhealthy and should be stopped. 

We are told to return to the source of our creative fire. 

First among the various stimuli is a slowly-emerging intent to focus on writing. Winter has driven me indoors into a little gem of a house with my office, bookcases, coffee pot, pellet stove and functional iMac; in the summertime, I can sit on the deck overlooking the man-made pond and waterfall and the women-tended garden working on a MacAir.

A small bookcase filled with little gems about the art and practice of writing awaits my more complete attention. 

A desktop folder filled with writing ideas and my own stash of “prompts” is now popping fresh new green sprigs. 

Awaiting my investment of time is the half-finished two-hour lecture course on DVD on the craft of writing world-class prose by a distinguished scholar of contemporary literature; there is a similar but not yet started six-hour course in creative non-fiction

I bought myself a copy of The Trickster’s Hat. It’s a “mischievous apprenticeship in creativity”.

I just discovered a new resource when I went looking for background on the popular writer Michael Crichton whose book “Timeline” generated some thoughts; his simple method uses 3×5 cards to plot out storyline

(Note that that web site has a number of great resources for writers. See this year-ending compendium of the top posts from the past year at Writers Helping Writers.

My wife bought me a book of prompts for uncovering the gems in my life’s stories, as well as the fourth edition of “The Craft of Research”. It is “a fundamental and accessible text that explains how to build an argument that engages and persuades readers, how to effectively anticipate and respond to the reservations of readers, and how to find and evaluate sources and integrate them into an argument.” It ends with a 30-page appendix crammed with bibliographic resources in 26 topical categories, starting with a significant two-page compendium of online databases. At $15, it’s the gift of the decade. It may take me ten years to harvest it. 


Obama has signed legislation enabling criminal charges for exercising freedom of speech. 

And Social Security has been weaponized by the State as a means of punishment and intimidation for those arrested arrested while exercising their right to assemble in protest. 

Recently the Internet has become a war zone and people have begun to discuss and debate, from both technological and other perspectives, how they will maintain and exercise the right to create, express and thrive independent of political control. 

I’m re-reading a book about “timing, tactics and strategy in narrative-driven decision-making” called Tempo which surely has some value in deciding what direction I am going to take in the future. 


Four from http://www.strike-the-root.com: 








Alexa: Who dunnit?

SAN FRANCISCO – In what may be a first, police in Arkansas asked Amazon for recordings potentially made by an Echo device in connection with a murder investigation.






Obama Quietly Signs The “Countering Disinformation And Propaganda Act” Into Law

December 27th, 2016 by Kevin

Via: ZeroHedge:

Long before the “fake news” meme became a daily topic of extensive conversation on such discredited mainstream portals as CNN and WaPo, H.R. 5181 would task the Secretary of State with coordinating the Secretary of Defense, the Director of National Intelligence, and the Broadcasting Board of Governors to “establish a Center for Information Analysis and Response,” which will pinpoint sources of disinformation, analyze data, and — in true dystopic manner — ‘develop and disseminate’ “fact-based narratives” to counter effrontery propaganda.

In short, long before “fake news” became a major media topic, the US government was already planning its legally-backed crackdown on anything it would eventually label “fake news.”

Posted in Dictatorship, Perception Management |

New England Potpourri

New England Potpourri

There has been a lot of national attention and upheaval with regard to race relations, showing itself in externally-engineered confrontations, riots, police encounters and violence, and political gnashing of words and minds. 

These twin articles — selected from the weekly newsletter from “Brain Pickings” — lend a good deal of insight.

[I urge your subscription and financial support]






Version 2


Arthur Silber is hanging on.  In his powerofnarrative.blogspot.com update in late August 2016 he says 

“… goddammit, there’s still some writing to be done. Just recently, I discovered — quite by accident, as it happens (where are my spies when I need them? I can’t believe no one told me about this book) — Tribe, by Sebastian Junger. I’ve just begun reading it, and — oh, boy. The short Amazon description accurately provides the book’s perspective:

We have a strong instinct to belong to small groups defined by clear purpose and understanding–“tribes.” This tribal connection has been largely lost in modern society, but regaining it may be the key to our psychological survival.

Those readers familiar with my work will know that this subject is one I’ve addressed in some detail. They will also know that Junger’s perspective represents the complete inversion of what I consider the correct and psychologically healthy approach. Once I’ve finished reading Junger’s book, I expect to have quite a few articles to write, to clear up confusions, to explain many issues he appears to neglect entirely, and to offer some new material to build upon my earlier argument. (For that earlier argument, see this essay and this one in particular. They contain some of the best analysis I’ve ever offered here, in addition to which I am convinced that my thesis is both true and important.) I suspect that reviews of Junger’s book might also provide illuminating material for analysis. If any of you come across reviews that strike you as particularly interesting, please let me know. Junger’s book has been very successful, and most readers think his ideas are absolutely swell. That explains a lot.

So there’s that to be done. And I suppose I should try to offer a few words about this Marx Bros. election. I apologize: what a terrible insult to the Marx Bros….”


Boston – Augustana



What if there were a crop that, instead of creating pollution, consumed it?  
















Fall in New England means warm sunny days, chilly nights, and fall foliage.  It means it’s time to get the chimney swept, the firewood stacked (or the pellets stocked), the snowblower serviced, the storm windows hung, the spring bulbs planted and the garden winterized.  In between all that and raking the leaves, you’ll want to see them in all their glory and there’s no better place than in New England.

I gave some thought to a premier fall foiliage tour last spring and actually started to chart it out and drive it.  I’ve lived in New England for the better part of six decades and I know some secret places that have the best color in the world.  If you live here, you’ve probably discovered your own.  If you’ve never been to New England and need or want to see the best, pay attention.  If you’ve been city-bound and need a get-away, jump into the tour I’ve envisioned below.

Get out a map. Google Maps are online, you may have Apple Maps, you might have something else. No matter.  Get yourself oriented.  What I envision is a grand event, a very slow automobile rally not unlike the famous Mille Miglia in Italy but without the tense and competitive auto race elements. That way, you may enjoy a leisurely pace that will allow you to explore landscape, culture, art, restaurants, antique stores, book shoppes, or whatever other interests you might have. Be sure to bring your camera, your GPS device of choice, and a bagful of credit cards, and the person closest to your heart.

I’m going to help you envision a loop around New England that you can attack in one big swoop, or more likely in piecemeal fashion.  If you’re living in New England, you can access this loop from a wide variety of places. If you’re flying in from somewhere else on the planet, you can come in via Logan at Boston, or Bradley International.  You can drive up from New York to northwest Connecticut to get on this “trail”.  Ditto if you’re coming down from Montreal or Quebec, where you’ll start on the northern segment just below the Canadian border. Of course the idea is to give you as much freedom of choice as possible while still directing you to quintessential locations.

Okay, get out the map and find Granby, Connecticut.  Granby is one of the foci of my automotive ellipse.  It’s just to the west of Bradley Internaitonal Airport, with lots of hotels to choose from, and easy access off of the north-south Interstate 91.  It’s the southernmost tip on a key road in the roadway ellipse, US Route 202. As a starting or ending point, use @TheBarn, managed by James Chen and Kristin Garcia.  My wife and I had dinner there and the meals were weak-in-the-knees stupendous.

From there, navigate to the other side of the Barkhamstead Reservoir on US Rte. 44 and look for Route 8 north near Winsted, Connecticut. Once you hit Route 8 North, you are in for the long haul.  Essentially you are going to cross over the state border into Massachusetts, staying on Route 8, and follow Route 8 all the way north through Massachusetts. You will be running north to the east of the Berkshires and dozens of you will want to veer west to take in Great Barrington, Stockbridge, and the rest of the Berkshires.

But Route 8 is pure back road through some small places inside a large tract of forest, so you’ll see some leaves. Another side trip at the top of Berkshire County could bring you into North Adams and Williamstown, home to world-class museums, great restaurants and some damn fine foliage.

The road  (Route Two) that runs across the top of the state of Massachusetts between Greenfield and Williamstown is legendary for its color.  It’s called the Mohawk Trail.  You’ll bisect it, along with Route 9 and the Mass. Pike on the first part of your drive north.

You could easily spend two to three days exploring this terrain, but you might want to do a straight-through boogie (about 80 miles, requiring three hours without stops). Essentially you’d be running down the middle of a vast tract of near-wilderness forest between Route 5 along the Connecticut and Route 7 along the New York State border. Your midpoint target is Stamford, Vermont. This is a critical juncture because you want to continue off Route 8 onto Route 100 North in Vermont.

The critical step is to veer east on Route 8A north out of Dalton, home of Crane Paper (the folks who make the precision-manufactured top-secret high-tech “linen” on which your Federal Reserve notes are printed) and also home ot the founder of the Israel Baseball League.  Turn left at Windsor to continue north into Savoy. Turn right at Savoy and go into Plainfield, then north into Hawley, then Buckland.  Buy a box picnic liunch and scramble around for a while in Hawley, Buckland, Shelburne Falls (stop for the Bridge of Flowers and wave to Bill Cosby who lives out in the hills), and the hook up with Route 2 West.  Route 2 will take you up into the Hoosac range over the Cold River (drive carefully up Deadman’s Curve and then down through the Hairpin Curve), then take an obliquely sharp right north at the bottom of the hill just outside North Adams to rejoin Route 8 north into Stamford. If you haven’’t shot at least 100 frames of photography by then, you were driving way too fast.

Route 100 North through Vermont is famous on a number of counts. First, it’s sometimes referred to as the ski road because it will take you close by some of the finest ski resorts in Vermont. There will, of course, be no snow, but you’ll know where to return to when it arrives. Secondly, it’s simply a great road to drive. Thirdly, it goes past some of the finest restaurants in New England. It drives through the heart of the Green Mountains. [You brought your luggage for this part of the trip, didn’t you?] There are no navigational tricks in Vermont; simply stay on Route 100 all the way to Newport, Vermont, just below the Canadian border and close to Interstate 91.  This is the northern foci of the ellipse.

From there, you’re going to drive south on Interstate 91 and then take Interstate 93 into New Hampshire. You’re at the top of the Connecticut River. Buckle your seatbelts and refresh and renew your camera-recording technologies because you’re headed through Crawford Notch and then across the Kangamangus (Rte. 112).  Stay on Interstate 93 South until you get to Lincoln, NH and then turn left into and across the White Mountain National Forest. You’re going to pop out at North Conway, Conway, and Center Conway.

From here, you have a choice; how much time and money do you have?  Again, you can attack the foliage ellipse freom the sides in piece-meal fashion. If you flew into Portland, you could approach the loop in Southern Maine.  Alternately, you could have skimmed the top of the White Mountain National Forest on US Route 2 and run across into Bethel and Norway, Maine.  How much time do you want to spend in Maine? They have lots of rivers, pine trees and bears, and seafood on the coast, but less of those colorful deciduous trees.

reservoirthree.jpg in foliage trip folder

Whether you drop down out of Maine or through the Lake Ossipee region west of Winnepesaukee, your eventual target is Rochester, NH and US Route 202.

Remember US Route 202?  It was that benchmark road in Granby, CT, and yes, you can follow it down out of Rochester, across New Hampshire, into Massachusetts, across Route 2, down the inside of Quabbin Reservoir, through Granby, MA into South Hadley, across the Connecticute River in Holyoke, down into Westfiueld, across the Westfield into Southwick, MA and eventually back to Granby, your starting point near the Bradley International Airport.

Or you could do the loop in reverse, setting out for the White Mountains.

Frankly, for my money, the best foliage is on the northern and western edges of the ellipse, not that long southeastern leg.  But decide for yourself based on your own interests, available time, and budget. If you need further help, try this link:





A recent experiential writer’s craft workshop held in my locale focused on how to extract and sharpen “family tales”.  It featured Steve Layt and Jill Hackett.  Hackett is the author of “I Gotta Crow” [see http://www.jillhackett.com/docs/Crow_reviews.pdf ]; she noted the Ted Talk noted below by the author of “Eat, Pray, Love” as a shareable take-away.

Layt is the principal at https://glidepathleadership.com/coaching/.  I got to spend two and a half hours with these two (and I’m grateful for it). If you were to understand who he is and what he’s done, you’d understand why I could easily spend an evening with him at the cocktail and appetizers bar at Applebee’s.  For openers, he was an EMS worker. And he’s an executive coach who could have written half of Summon The Magic.

Participants got to work through a process in which they listed ten “tales” from within their lives that might be interesting to others (“when an elder dies, an entire library burns”).

They worked through an exercise in which they told the story in a snippet, got feedback and questions from others, and learned something about how to identify the most compelling parts of that story for the potential reader.

There was discussion about the craft of writing, the use of voice and perspective, about crafting fiction and writing about unknown people, and about remaining true to one’s own voice.

Said Layt: That piece of writing that some might do can be broken down into what we know, what we don’t know, and what we don’t even know that we don’t know. [That sounds like something that would work when doing not only “historical” fiction, but investigative research and journalism too.]

Elizabeth Gilbert: Your elusive creative genius


And Steve capped off the writing workshop with this:

“What is the question for which your life is the answer?

That is your strongest message.”



One of the chapters in Julia Cameron’s book “The Right to Write: An Invitation and Initiation Into the Writing Life” is entitled “This Writing Life” and so it is wholly appropriate — as I settle in on the upper floor overlooking the garden waterfall where a crow, a robin and a chipmunk are simultaneously frolicking — because it asks the reader to stop procrastinating and start writing.


“Writing is alchemy”, she says, perhaps a premonitory echo of my having written the outline for a major piece, a riff on a phrase in Joseph Farrell’s book on transhumanism. One term he used piqued my curiosity and gave me a key that would let me in to a fascinating and troubling shift in our barely-visible culture. See http://www.thesullenbell.com/2016/08/20/engineering-human-evolution when you’re done metabolizing this.

If you want to write, you have to read. Perhaps it is better said “if you want to write well, you have to read widely”.  Or, if you want to write something that is of interest and value, you have to do your homework.

The carpenter came by yesterday.  He’s already put in the hand grips and bannisters that will allow me to get into and out of the 800-square foot space in which he is constructing a half-bath that will serve the household, the visitors to the garden patio, and the grandkids sleeping over. After the carpenter comes the electrician and then the plumber and then we empty the storage unit with the desks and chairs, the mountain of books, the bookshelves, and so on. Two windows look out through the tunnel under the bedroom deck onto the first three feet of airspace over the patio; the prominent image in that frame is the potting shed which will become the prime office of the resident gardener.  Once my office is set up, some time around Labor Day, I’ll have my full computer, the ability again to process digital photography, the music playback/storage/production capacities, and a library amassed over decades.  I’m just getting warmed up here. I envision a portable high-quality wireless speaker with which to entertain myself, the birds and the chorus of frogs.

Diamond (pages 31-32) says that writing is about change in our lives and how we can help it along, lean in to it, cooperate with it. She offers up an exercise through which we can document and reflect on our life and the environments and situations in which we found ourselves, in which we lost ourselves, in which we gained new understandings, new directions.  Speaking from the perspective of her experience in screenwriting, she speaks of “entrances and exits”.  The writing challenge she lays out at the end of that chapter is to write about those times in your life (past, present and future) when you had to “metabolize”.

Metabolization suggests change and acceptance. The first thing it brings to my mind is Reinhold Niebuhr’s “Serenity prayer”:

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, Courage to change the things I can, And wisdom to know the difference.”

Is the serenity prayer a passive-aggressive insistence that insures the success of the hidden powers of social engineering and the collective?  Keep calm and carry on. Hold still; this will not hurt you.

The textbook definitions of metabolism use the word biotransformation, or “the physical and chemical processes by which living organized substance is built up and maintained (anabolism), and by which large molecules are broken down into smaller molecules to make energy available to the organism (catabolism).”  In other words, “the sum of all biochemical processes involved in life”, which obviously focus on food, nutrients, fuel for the cells, but must also include breath.

This obviously also intimates that we may reject, toss back, or excrete that which has been forced down our throats.

If we include breathing, we must also include spirit. Where in the body does the spirit live, the ki?  Is it in the brain?  It is associated with the breath.  Is it in the lungs? The diaphragm? The belly?

“The human body is not an anatomical structure that is fixed in space and time. The human body is more like a river alive with energy, information and intelligence. It has a cybernetic feedback loop and can influence its own evolution and its own expression. It has the ability to learn from mistakes and the ability to make choices. The human body is an astronomical amount of raw material that comes from everywhere. In the last three weeks, a quadrillion atoms have circulated through our bodies that have circulated through the bodies of every other living species on the planet. We could think of a tree in Africa, a squirrel in Siberia, a peasant in China…. In less than one year, we replace 98% of our physical bodies… a new liver every six weeks, a new skin once a month, a new stomach lining every five days, a new skeleton every three months. The bones that appear so hard, solid and permanent are dynamic structures. Even the DNA, which holds the memories of millions of years of evolution, comes and goes every six weeks. The physical body is recycled elements — recycled earth, water and air — matter in all of its solid, liquid, gaseous and quantum mechanical forms.

Any time I explain the quantum mechanical model to my friends and colleagues, they ask me this question: “If it is really true that the human skeleton replaces itself every three months, then why is the arthritis still there?”

The answer I give is that, through our conditioning, we generate the same impulses of energy and information that lead not only to the same behavioral outcomes but also lead to the same biochemical processes, and that these biochemical processes are under the influence of our consciousness, our memory and our conditioned responses.”


“Quantum Physics and Consciousness”, by Deepak Chopra, M.D., in The Emerging Mind, ed. by Karen Nesbitt Shanor, PhD, Renaissance Books, Los Angeles, CA 1999.

If, however, we are a brick factory that continually re-builds itself, that is subject to rapid and ongoing changes that may be manipulated or stimulated in some way, there is still that certain something that keeps us centered on a core intent and belief.  While core intent and belief is malleable or plastic, it is under your own control and it can also be hardened against external interference.

While we are arrogantly reminded that “The Mind Has No Firewall”, the spirit is nebulous (by definition, it has none) and thus is not subject to short-term hacking. Long-term engineering is another matter.

Political systems, pharmaceutical companies, the new sciences of epigenetics, and transhumanism are topics for another time and approach, as is the teleportation of information. We have the ability, however unused and undeveloped, to project or transmit information to others, just as we have micro-antennae that are tuned to receive.  What’s playing on your channel?

Julia Cameron’s metabolism exercise focuses on the personal.  In my case (and yours to the extent that you want to play along at home on your own writing pad), metabolization involves birth, family, maturation, adolescence, learning, geography, the behaviors of parents and siblings, the deaths of family and friends, interpersonal relationships, employment and career, geographic relocation, marriage, children and grandchildren, health, aging, and the decay and disease of physical and perhaps mental capacities.

For some, lather, rinse and repeat may be appropriate.

If you are writing, you can zero in on any sub-topic, any selected span of time, any place, any individual, any situation.

The questions may be “Did you change? How did you change? What happened to create the change?  What happened after the change?” Or how did you metabolize the inputs, turn them into energy or re-direction? What did you bring to that time or moment, and what did you take away?

There are three constants in life, says Steven Covey: change, choice and principles. As a child, and even up through the age of 25 (give or take a few years), you don’t get much choice, and your principles were not firmly cemented in place.

Socio-cultural context and physical/geographic environment have a good deal to do with the shaping of an individual. There’s a great degree of emphasis (too much, in my opinion) on development in utero, though in my case, I did try to return meditatively to that time when I was within ten days before birth. I’d have fitted my mom with a body cam if they’d been available then and I had the option, but we can’t go back, can we? She died of causes only hinted at, and there was no autopsy that I’m aware of; I wonder if in fact my father’s attitudes over the years were because he didn’t want a third pregnancy but got one anyway. The female is in charge of birth and its control and most often the mother who carries a child into the ninth month has created a bond that most men can only guess at.

So there I was, without her, five days out, in the land of pretzels and beer and coal and railroads and Pennsylvania Dutch farmers’ markets, in the era of Hopalong Cassidy, eventually with one male friend whose father ran a chocolate factory and another female friend whose father was my pediatrician and who drove a Cadillac in which we drove to ice shows at Hershey. My two most prominent memories were of sitting in a vacant lot pulling up and eating wild scallions, and of packing a suitcase, loading it into my red wagon, and running away.  What was I metabolizing back then? What happened in my first 10-12 years that still generates influence on my life?

I was pulled up by my roots and transplanted to a rural area tucked in just to the west of the Appalachian chain under the ridge across which ran the Appalachian trail itself out behind the plot of land we shared with a pileated woodpecker, a swamp, a pond and a deer trail. I was given the responsibilities of cleaning out the chicken roost, stacking the wood, breaking down the loose kindling, mowing and raking, and being told where and when to go to school.

Getting an education in grades 4 through 10 requires a ton of metabolization, especially when you change schools five times. It wasn’t as bad as being a military brat, but it’s hard to develop long-term relationships, themselves miniature training grounds for growing up and taking a seat in society, with anyone. If you are in an extended family that is spread around over a wide geographic space, or is distant from one another for other reasons, then you have to assimilate the arts of bonding and dialogue in other ways.

As an adolescent, you get to begin to assimilate world-view from your family, your teachers and, to some extent, the media. You begin to think about the world and your place in it. Your teachers begin to assess you with the tools of testing, psychometrics, and the challenges of a curriculum. In the classroom and out of school, you begin to gain a sense of what you are good at, and what perhaps you should avoid. Teachers, coaches and parents are quick to tell you; perhaps you have other ideas. If you are lucky, you are able to find a key teacher or instructor with whom you might start an ‘apprenticeship’ of sorts, even if it only lasts a short while. Perhaps you were lucky enough to have been graced with a parent who showed you, over many years, how to go about things, how to master a skill, how to build a toolbox, something of the external world. And then there you are, out in the world. Perhaps someone has had your back; perhaps you grew up with a pre-ordained life, a silver spoon in your mouth.  Perhaps you jumped or got shoved out of the nest, brandishing six-plus years of having assimilated or absorbed or experienced more than can be written anywhere except in your journal or in your DNA. You do understand how epigenetic change happens, don’t you?

So there you are outside the previous safety zone with a clear idea of where you are going (or not), how you are going to get there (or not), who is going to pay how much to put your through your learning curve and just what they expect to extract from you thereafter. I had the option of getting a lot of help from the US government in return for at least one tour of duty on point in some Southeast Asian jungle but I grew up in New England where the poet laureate wrote something about a fork in the road.  I did three tours of duty in an ambulance stateside. When someone asks me if I served my country, I can honestly say “yes”. I didn’t know where I was going, but I got there anyway.

Certainly the whole of life gives you the necessaries for metabolization.  Changing jobs, let alone careers, means re-wiring your brain and your situational awareness. Reading the unexpressed intent of your boss is an art form; most of my jobs entailed working for large groups of directors.  Physical and geographic relocation rewire your brain in different ways, both on the wider scale of terrain, weather, and road nets as well as inside the limited space of household.  My wife and still learning that we keep that particular thing over here now; it is no longer with those things over there.


Moving at large in the world, politics and people are what you get to deal with.  You look around with innocence and wonder and you get introduced to learned and important people who are conning you all the while, treating you like a disposable or dispensable plaything or tool. They use you if and while they can, blindside you, and then sweep you away.  And then you get your own kids.  Some of us promise our kids something different and sometimes we are able to deliver.   Sometimes some of us promulgate a continuation of the grand hoax while they feed them junk food and junk thought.  And we watch astutely as we necessarily hand them over the the guidance and direction of others who mean well and are well-prepared, or who are prepared by people with a hidden agenda, or who simply don’t have the slightest fracking clue what in hell they are doing with the tender minds and spirits of the special human being you’ve brought far down the path.

And then we discover the new diagnosis and we get to metabolize a drawerful of pharmaceuticals, half of which bring side-effects for which there are more pills. And then we discover the bureaucracies through which we learn to navigate.

There are really nice people out there who will help when illness and disease come to your doorstep; if and when you find them, treat them well. Love them. Thank them. Learn from them.

Keep learning.  Believe in yourself. Learn to pray.  Learn to meditate. Read voraciously.

Keep metabolizing.

If you stop metabolizing, you’re finished.

“The resistance to the unpleasant situation is the root of suffering.” — Ram Dass

The capacity to choose one’s attitude, as well as “purposeful work, love, and courage in the face of difficulty” have been noted by Viktor Frankl,

the neurologist and psychiatrist imprisoned at Auschwitz

“There is only one way to happiness and that is to cease worrying about things which are beyond the power of our will.”  Epictetus

To Epictetus, all external events are beyond our control; we should accept whatever happens calmly and dispassionately. However, individuals are responsible for their own actions, which they can examine and control through rigorous self-discipline.

The philosophy of Epictetus is well known in the U.S. military through the writings and example of James Stockdale, an American fighter pilot who was shot down over North Vietnam, became a prisoner of war during the Vietnam War, and later a vice presidential candidate. In Courage under Fire: Testing Epictetus’s Doctrines in a Laboratory of Human Behavior (1993), Stockdale credits Epictetus with helping him endure seven and a half years in a North Vietnamese military prison—including torture—and four years in solitary confinement.[63]

Faith and The Stockdale Paradox

Jim Stockdale was the highest-ranking United States military officer in the “Hanoi Hilton” prisoner-of-war camp during the Vietnam War. He shouldered the burden of command, doing everything be could to create conditions that would increase the number of prisoners who would survive unbroken while fighting an internal war against his captors. He deliberately disfigured himself so that he could not be videotaped as an example of a well-treated prisoner. He exchanged secret intelligence information with his wife through letters, knowing that discovery would mean more torture and perhaps death. (His story is told in a book written by he and his wife called In Love and War.) He instituted rules that would help his fellow prisoners deal more effectively with torture. He instituted an elaborate secret internal communications system to reduce the sense of isolation imposed by their captors. Personally tortured over twenty times during his 8-year imprisonment, he lived out the war with no prisoner’s rights, no set release date, and no certainty as to whether he would ever survive to see his family again. When asked years after his release how he dealt with this uncertainty, he said “I never lost faith in the end of the story. I never doubted that not only would I get out, but also that I would prevail in the end and turn the experience into the defining event of my life.” He went on to explain that it was the optimists who never made it out, the ones who said “Oh, we’ll be out by Christmas”, and then Christmas would come and go, and then Easter too, and Thanksgiving. They died of a broken heart.”

The lesson, he explained, was this:

You must retain faith that you will prevail in the end, whatever the difficulties,., and, at the same time, you must also confront the brutal facts of your current reality and act on their implications.

from the book Good To Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap… and Others Don’t, cited in the sixth chapter of “Summon The Magic: How To Use Your Mind to be a Better Athlete (or anything else you want to be)” 

“… I really remembered Mark Van Doren’s quote. He said, “An intelligent person is one who, should a catastrophe strike, say doomsday… he could re-found his own civilization,” and I said, that’s what I’m here to do. And we had our own laws. I mean, I wrote them. And we had our own customs, and traditions, and proprieties.”


“… Every individual is connected with the rest of the world, and the universe is fashioned for universal harmony.[49] Wise people, therefore, will pursue, not merely their own will, but will also be subject to the rightful order of the world.[51] We should conduct ourselves through life fulfilling all our duties as children, siblings, parents, and citizens.[52]

For our country or friends we ought to be ready to undergo or perform the greatest difficulties.[53]

The good person, if able to foresee the future, would peacefully and contentedly help to bring about their own sickness, maiming, and even death, knowing that this is the right order of the universe.[54]

We have all a certain part to play in the world, and we have done enough when we have performed what our nature allows.[55] In the exercise of our powers, we may become aware of the destiny we are intended to fulfill.[56]

We are like travellers at an inn, or guests at a stranger’s table…”



Do the right thing even if it means dying like a dog when no one’s there to see you do it.

James Stockdale


Advance to meet the incoming negative energy and step out of its way; then redirect that energy and move to your advantage in a way that forces its submission.



Two political conventions have come and gone; we are getting more toward the meat and potatoes of the US Presidential campaign circus.  Perhaps we should call it a plateful of goulash: lots of paprika, kosher noodles, some form of grey meat in gravy. No slight meant to Hungarians or other Eastern Europeans.


I am formally transplanted. We bucked the trends and actually bought a yard with a house in it. The yard is quite small; the house is even smaller. It’s a one-bedroom, one bath on a plot of land that has been engineered for gardening enjoyment.  It’s Mrs. Blogger’s playground. There are bunnies, butterflies, and many birds, including cardinals and others that come by to drink and bathe in the book and ponds.  The house been wired for voice, TV, sound, Internet, and burglary and fire protection. It has a better kitchen than this fellow has seen in a long long time, complete with an island than can seat six, a convection oven and appliances that sing to us. The patio has been fitted with a fire pit with swing-away cooking grill as well as a standard backyard propane grill. . The bedroom has a deck overlooking this sanctuary. The bath has a built-in laundry. A second bath will be installed behind the pellet stove in the cellar where I will establish an office for photography, writing, our extensive library, and a family room/sleeping area for visiting kindertotten. Outdoors is ideal for hide-and-seek, complete with two outbuildings, many bushes, trees, slopes, and space for two four-foot vegetable gardens. We have had more interaction with surrounding neighbors in two weeks than we had in either apartment world or condo world in two years.  And the great surprise is that the total cost is several hundred dollars less per month than we were paying for less attractive living space.

While making slow progress with the move and the unpacking (I think Santa is bringing me some used library shelving for the sixty boxes of books still in storage), I have been catching up on my reading. I just finished a novel from the fertile imagination of the famous and somewhat controversial whistleblower Sibel Edmonds which brings past and current events into very sharp focus. There’s even a gratuitous sex scene which falls out from within a panoply of murder, torture, covert ops and Deep State shenanigans. It’s pure fiction, and it isn’t. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0tK7yI23AWE

Before that, I read — and mined for its ideas — Julia Cameron’s “The Right To Write” [ http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/184825.The_Right_to_Write].  I am often asked about writing tips, techniques and so on, and Julia Cameron’s books rank highly. [There are others, but the 54” linear inches of writing books I own are currently in storage, awaiting their new home.]

Cameron’s thematic volume did not fail to make me want to write. It generated 26 categories noted in a wire-ruled composition book kept by the bedside, at least eight of which are major in that they will spawn either multiples articles, chapters or entire books. In an era of cheap online blogging and easy self-publishing, entire strings of cheese, hops, beans and more lie ahead. With a backyard that is its own photographic studio in a complex of villages that will provide fertile ground, stay tuned.

What computing/writing/online reading I’ve been able to do has been accomplished with borrowed and stolen time on my wife’s laptop, a prime input for which is a touch pad, not a mouse. I’m mouse-trained-and-experienced and it’s been an exercise in learning curve, especially in terms of cut-and-paste. I have thought of getting one myself and have been stopped by the thought that for only a few more dollars I could acquire an iPad Pro, complete with its photo, film, and artistic tools. I already have a copy of Eric Booth’s “The Everyday Work of Art” as inspirational guidebook. http://boydownthelane.com/tag/eric-booth/  Perhaps I can enhance “Summon The Magic” into an assortment of videos. In the end, the cost of an iPad Pro may be prohibitive. I can and have set up my iMac in the basement to function temporarily, only to be taken down again when the plumber, the carpenter and their dirt and dust come by. And I still have my Canon EOS Rebel Vi that I’ve only begin to enjoy, as well as the tempos, the seasons, the neighborhoods and the villages around my new home.

Speaking of Tempo, that’s the name of another book with which I’ve spent more companionable time. I read it before but the second reading was more lucrative. Venkatesh Rao’s little nugget is available through his blog http://www.ribbonfarm.com and, while it takes time to digest, its nutrients are available to become seeds for almost anything you might be doing in terms of writing, thinking, re-organizing, changing, etc.

Also recently read was Atul Gawande’s book “Complications”, http://atulgawande.com/book/complications/, certainly of interest to someone who is under the care of physicians and has undergone several life-saving surgeries. He is an outstanding physician and a better writer. I recommend this book as well as the previous ones mentioned, and especially commend Gawande’s book “Better”.

Oh, and I just ordered a copy of Keith Johnstone’s seminal book “Impro”. http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/306940.Impro

On page 129 of Complications, in a chapter devoted to the management and analytic diagnosis of pain (a subject near and dear to my ass), he says

“… a compassionate approach to chronic pain means investigating its social coordinates, not just its physical ones… for the solution may lie more in what goes on around us. Of all of the implication of the new theory of pain [chronic pain outbreaks behave like social epidemics], this one seems to be the oddest and most far-reaching: it has made pain political.”

My new most recent Occurrences [Enormous Apparatus] — newest since moving —  is relevant.


invisible wisdom

invisible wisdom

Recently, I took a short mini-seminar in spirituality and writing with an articulate practitioner of same, with whom I will cross paths again soon.  

Serendipitously, two articles show up almost immediately, both book reviews and thus vehicles for discussion about that topic.  I’ve bought the second book; I’ll contemplate buying the first one. 

My own take on the topics of religion, spirituality et alia is that I was borne of a Presbyterian choir member, raised by a Menonnite, attended Methodist Sunday School, was trundled off to a Congregational/United Church of Christ house of worship in my adolescence at the base of Thoreau’s Mount Greylock  (broken by a year at Dwight L. Moody’s work camp in Northern Franklin county), married in multiple ways by multiple agents of God and the state, and worked for a while in Concord where I discovered Thoreau, Emerson and the fact that I was a cousin ten times removed of a noted transcendentalist by exposure and temperament if not by definition. 

I’ve had three sublime experiences within the confines of the Mount Greylock Reservation, which has been extended as part of a massive land/forest conservation effort to include the very “neighborhood” and acreage where I grew up. 

Recently, over at Occurrences, I noted my sense of what a confessional looks like

Click on image:




The first article:

Existential Therapy from the Universe: Physicist Sean Carroll on How Poetic Naturalism Illuminates Our Human Search for Meaning

“The world is what exists and what happens, but we gain enormous insight by talking about it — telling its story — in different ways.”


“We are — as far as we know — the only part of the universe that’s self-conscious,” the poet Mark Strand marveled in his beautiful meditation on the artist’s task to bear witness to existence, adding: “We could even be the universe’s form of consciousness. We might have come along so that the universe could look at itself… It’s such a lucky accident, having been born, that we’re almost obliged to pay attention.” Susan Sontag, at the end of her fully lived and intensely meaningful life, articulated the same idea in considering what it means to be a good human being: “To be a moral human being is to pay, be obliged to pay, certain kinds of attention.”

Scientists are rightfully reluctant to ascribe a purpose or meaning to the universe itself but, as physicist Lisa Randall has pointed out, “an unconcerned universe is not a bad thing — or a good one for that matter.” Where poets and scientists converge is the idea that while the universe itself isn’t inherently imbued with meaning, it is in this self-conscious human act of paying attention that meaning arises. [Editor’s purpleness]

Physicist Sean Carroll terms this view poetic naturalism and examines its rewards in The Big Picture: On the Origins of Life, Meaning, and the Universe Itself (public library) — a nuanced inquiry into “how our desire to matter fits in with the nature of reality at its deepest levels,” in which Carroll offers an assuring dose of what he calls “existential therapy” reconciling the various and often seemingly contradictory dimensions of our experience.

A 1573 painting by Portuguese artist, historian, and philosopher Francisco de Holanda, a student of Michelangelo’s, found in Cosmigraphics by Michael Benson

With an eye to his life’s work of studying the nature of the universe — an expanse of space and time against the incomprehensibly enormous backdrop of which the dramas of a single human life claim no more than a photon of the spotlight — Carroll offers a counterpoint to our intuitive cowering before such magnitudes of matter and mattering:

I like to think that our lives do matter, even if the universe would trundle along without us.


I want to argue that, though we are part of a universe that runs according to impersonal underlying laws, we nevertheless matter. This isn’t a scientific question — there isn’t data we can collect by doing experiments that could possibly measure the extent to which a life matters. It’s at heart a philosophical problem, one that demands that we discard the way that we’ve been thinking about our lives and their meaning for thousands of years. By the old way of thinking, human life couldn’t possibly be meaningful if we are “just” collections of atoms moving around in accordance with the laws of physics. That’s exactly what we are, but it’s not the only way of thinking about what we are. We are collections of atoms, operating independently of any immaterial spirits or influences, and we are thinking and feeling people who bring meaning into existence by the way we live our lives.

Carroll’s captivating term poetic naturalism builds on a worldview that has been around for centuries, dating back at least to the Scottish philosopher David Hume. It fuses naturalism — the idea that the reality of the natural world is the only reality, that it operates according to consistent patterns, and that those patterns can be studied — with the poetic notion that there are multiple ways of talking about the world and of framing the questions that arise from nature’s elemental laws.

Echoing Nobel-winning physicist Frank Wilczek’s case for complementarity and Bertrand Russell’s insistence on “the will to doubt,” Carroll writes:

We have to be willing to accept uncertainty and incomplete knowledge, and always be ready to update our beliefs as new evidence comes in… Our best approach to describing the universe is not a single, unified story but an interconnected series of models appropriate at different levels. Each model has a domain in which it is applicable, and the ideas that appear as essential parts of each story have every right to be thought of as “real.” Our task is to assemble an interlocking set of descriptions, based on some fundamental ideas, that fit together to form a stable planet of belief.

Illustration by Lisbeth Zwerger for a special edition of the fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm

Carroll considers how poetic naturalism addresses the great paradox of the necessarily self-referential experience of selfhood unfolding within our creaturely materiality:

The most difficult problem is a philosophical one: how is it even possible that inner experience, the uniquely experiential aboutness of our lives inside our heads, can be reduced to mere matter in motion? Poetic naturalism suggests that we should think of “inner experiences” as part of a way of talking about what is happening in our brains. But ways of talking can be very real, even when it comes to our ability to make free choices as rational beings.


Poetic naturalism strikes a middle ground, accepting that values are human constructs, but denying that they are therefore illusory or meaningless.

In a sentiment that calls Strand’s poetic premise to mind, Carroll adds:

Life is a process, not a substance, and it is necessarily temporary. We are not the reason for the existence of the universe, but our ability for self-awareness and reflection makes us special within it.


Purpose and meaning in life arise through fundamentally human acts of creation, rather than being derived from anything outside ourselves.

Illustration by Soyeon Kim from Wild Ideas

Carroll argues that naturalism — “a philosophy of unity and patterns, describing all of reality as a seamless web” — is the organic byproduct of our expanding knowledge, advancing us toward simpler and more unified models of how the world works. (Stephen Hawking’s search for a theory of everything is perhaps the most famous culmination of that impulse.) Carroll peers toward the end point of this knowledge-trajectory:

How far will this process of unification and simplification go? It’s impossible to say for sure. But we have a reasonable guess, based on our progress thus far: it will go all the way. We will ultimately understand the world as a single, unified reality, not caused or sustained or influenced by anything outside itself.

That’s a big deal.

And yet, in a passage reminiscent of physicist and novelist Alan Lightman’s beautiful account of a transcendent experience, Carroll juxtaposes the central proposition of naturalism with some of the most familiar and universal intensities of being human:

Naturalism presents a hugely grandiose claim, and we have every right to be skeptical. When we look into the eyes of another person, it doesn’t seem like what we’re seeing is simply a collection of atoms, some sort of immensely complicated chemical reaction. We often feel connected to the universe in some way that transcends the merely physical, whether it’s a sense of awe when we contemplate the sea or sky, a trancelike reverie during meditation or prayer, or the feeling of love when we’re close to someone we care about. The difference between a living being and an inanimate object seems much more profound than the way certain molecules are arranged. Just looking around, the idea that everything we see and feel can somehow be explained by impersonal laws governing the motion of matter and energy seems preposterous.

Illustration by Sydney Smith from The White Cat and the Monk

Although naturalism has furnished our present understanding of how the world works, such skepticism of its completeness is reasonably grounded in its as-yet unfilled gaps. “This is the greatest damn thing about the universe,” Henry Miller exclaimed in contemplating the mystery of the universe and the meaning of existence at the end of his long life, “that we can know so much, recognize so much, dissect, do everything, and we can’t grasp it.” Generations later, Carroll writes:

We don’t know how the universe began, or if it’s the only universe. We don’t know the ultimate, complete laws of physics. We don’t know how life began, or how consciousness arose. And we certainly haven’t agreed on the best way to live in the world as good human beings.

Yet even so, Carroll is quick to remind, naturalism is “still by far the most likely framework” — of how the world works, that is, but it does little in the way of helping us discern how the world should work. That’s the domain of practical moral wisdom, which is where poetic naturalism can help. Carroll writes:

In some number of years I will be dead; some memory of my time here on Earth may linger, but I won’t be around to savor it. With that in mind, what kind of life is worth living? How should we balance family and career, fortune and pleasure, action and contemplation? The universe is large, and I am a tiny part of it, constructed of the same particles and forces as everything else: by itself, that tells us precisely nothing about how to answer such questions. We’re going to have to be both smart and courageous as we work to get this right.

The craftsmanship of meaning amid the unfeeling laws of nature invariably calls on us to use human tools like ethics and art to answer questions of what is right and beautiful. Saul Bellow captured this memorably in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech: “Only art penetrates … the seeming realities of this world. There is another reality, the genuine one, which we lose sight of. This other reality is always sending us hints, which without art, we can’t receive.” Indeed, Carroll argues that the meaning with which imbue reality — the personal, subjective reality of our human experience of life and self, not the universal reality of energy and matter — is largely contingent upon how we receive and articulate its signals. That reality, he argues, is shaped by how we talk about it:

Our fundamental ontology, the best way we have of talking about the world at the deepest level, is extremely sparse. But many concepts that are part of non-fundamental ways we have of talking about the world — useful ideas describing higher-level, macroscopic reality — deserve to be called “real.”

The key word there is “useful.” There are certainly non-useful ways of talking about the world. In scientific contexts, we refer to such non-useful ways as “wrong” or “false.” A way of talking isn’t just a list of concepts; it will generally include a set of rules for using them, and relationships among them. Every scientific theory is a way of talking about the world.


The world is what exists and what happens, but we gain enormous insight by talking about it — telling its story — in different ways.

One of Arthur Rackham’s pioneering 1917 illustrations for the Brothers Grimm fairy tales

Carroll’s poetic naturalism is braided of three storytelling strands — the description of the deepest, most fundamental nature of physical reality, accounting for even the most microscopic detail, which science is yet to fully discern; emergent descriptions that fully explain a narrow realm of reality; and higher-order values that offer a framework for concepts of right and wrong, shape our ideas about things like beauty and love, and address questions of existential purpose. He writes:

Poetic naturalism is a philosophy of freedom and responsibility. The raw materials of life are given to us by the natural world, and we must work to understand them and accept the consequences. The move from description to prescription, from saying what happens to passing judgment on what should happen, is a creative one, a fundamentally human act. The world is just the world, unfolding according to the patterns of nature, free of any judgmental attributes. The world exists; beauty and goodness are things that we bring to it.

Illustration by Dasha Tolstikova from A Year Without Mom

All of this, of course, brings up the inescapable question of free will. I’m reminded of Hannah Arendt’s exquisite treatise on the subject, in which she cautioned: “Before we raise such questions as What is happiness, what is justice, what is knowledge, and so on, we must have seen happy and unhappy people, witnessed just and unjust deeds, experienced the desire to know and its fulfillment or frustration.” Carroll considers this vitalizing role of willingness, or desire, in our freedom to find meaning amid a universe of fixed laws:

In human terms, the dynamic nature of life manifests itself as desire. There is always something we want, even if what we want is to break free of the bonds of desire… Curiosity is a form of desire.


Our instincts and unreflective desires aren’t all we have; they’re just a starting point for building something significant.

Human beings are not blank slates at birth, and our slates become increasingly rich and multidimensional as we grow and learn. We are bubbling cauldrons of preferences, wants, sentiments, aspirations, likes, feelings, attitudes, predilections, values, and devotions. We aren’t slaves to our desires; we have the capacity to reflect on them and strive to change them. But they make us who we are. It is from these inclinations within ourselves that we are able to construct purpose and meaning for our lives.


The personal desires and cares that we start with may be simple and self-regarding. But we can build on them to create values that look beyond ourselves, to the wider world. It’s our choice, and the choice we make can be to expand our horizons, to find meaning in something larger than ourselves.

Illustration by Bonnie Christensen from I, Galileo, a picture-book biography of Galileo

Reflecting on his own path from his childhood in a family of “regular churchgoers” to a thoroughly unreligious adult life as a scientist, Carroll considers what that “something larger” might be:

Everything we’ve experienced about the universe suggests that it is intelligible: if we try hard enough we can come to understand it. There is so much we still don’t know about how reality works, but at the same time there’s a great deal that we have figured out. Mysteries abound, but there’s no reason to worry (or hope) that any of them are unsolvable.


The important distinction is not between theists and naturalists; it’s between people who care enough about the universe to make a good-faith effort to understand it, and those who fit it into a predetermined box or simply take it for granted. The universe is much bigger than you or me, and the quest to figure it out unites people with a spectrum of substantive beliefs. It’s us against the mysteries of the universe; if we care about understanding, we’re on the same side.

Although I tend to prefer Henry Beston’s notion of whimsicality, for it dances with the language of fairy tales rather than that of religion, I appreciate Carroll’s endeavor to reclaim the notion of miraculousness from its antiscientific connotations:

The universe is not a miracle. It simply is, unguided and unsustained, manifesting the patterns of nature with scrupulous regularity. Over billions of years it has evolved naturally, from a state of low entropy toward increasing complexity, and it will eventually wind down to a featureless equilibrium. We are the miracle, we human beings. Not a break-the-laws-of-physics kind of miracle… It is wondrous and amazing how such complex, aware, creative, caring creatures could have arisen in perfect accordance with those laws. Our lives are finite, unpredictable, and immeasurably precious. Our emergence has brought meaning and mattering into the world.

With an urgent eye to the fact that the average human heart will beat three billion times over the course of a lifetime — a fact rooted in our biological materiality — Carroll encourages us to see this physical exigency as a mobilizing force for our metaphysical synthesis of meaning:

All lives are different, and some face hardships that others will never know. But we all share the same universe, the same laws of nature, and the same fundamental task of creating meaning and of mattering for ourselves and those around us in the brief amount of time we have in the world.

Three billion heartbeats. The clock is ticking.

In the remainder of The Big Picture, Carroll goes on to explore such centralities and subtleties of poetic naturalism as the perplexity of death, the wild possibilities of the quantum realm, and how the crucial difference between awe and wonder illuminates our relationship to mystery.

Complement it with Oliver Sacks’s lived testament to poetic naturalism as a gateway to meaning and legendary psychiatrist Irving D. Yalom on uncertainty and our search for meaning, then revisit this comparative inquiry into how art, science, and religion explain the universe.


[Ed.: I have not included the illustrations but you can see them at the link.]



Quote du Jour

Catherine, Daily Musings on May 28, 2016 at 8:05 am

“That all things are shaped by fields that are beyond energy and matter is now what we must oxymoronically yet truthfully call “solid science.” As a result, in the realm of language the scientific facts of our physical situation are becoming impossible to express in spiritually neutral terms. Science has moved in a generation from the easily stated but mistaken claim that we are mortal matter, chemical compounds, and little more, to the inspiring but linguistically problematic claim that we are living repositories of the invisible wisdom of primordial electromagnetic and morphogenetic fields. Scientists who disdain religion seem horrified by the mounting pressure to deploy overtly spiritual terms such as Jager, Teilhard, and Schumacher use.. . . my advice to scientists with regard to all this is: relax. If unseen fields beyond literary or scientific expression lie at the root of all life-forms and matter— if these fields are invisible yet deducible, ineffable yet artful, evasive yet omnipresent, and if in the attempt to describe them science has never sounded so much like ancient myth or scripture—so be it. I realize that to many an old school scientist the words “ancient myth and scripture” translate to “superstitious pap”. But isn’t this mere arrogance? Ancient thought as expressed in Wisdom literature is unanswerably profound and poetic, and scientists who study the ancients know this. Cutting edge physicists have been pondering India’s five-thousand-year-old Upanishads for decades, stunned by its exacting observations of how unseen fields and mayavic forces create this world of forms.” . .”Is there anything we more experienced Uncomprehenders can do to help these scientists feel more comfortable with swimming in the end where you never touch bottom?”

~David James Duncan, God Laughs and Plays

Related reading:

David James Duncan on Wikipedia

God Laughs & Plays: Churchless Sermons in Response to the Preachments of the Fundamentalist Right


a thought provoking, medium-length visual narration documentary film by Max Igan of the Crow House exploring the nano-tech and transhumanist agenda currently being implemented globally.




A United Nations summit in Korea this week adopted a global “action plan” demanding a planetary “education” regime to transform children around the world into social-justice warriors and sustainability-minded “global citizens.” Among other elements, that means the UN-directed global education must promote “integrated development” of the “whole person,” including the formation of their ethics, values, and spirituality, the final document declared. The global-citizenship programs, with definitions to be incorporated in curricula worldwide, should also indoctrinate children so that they understand their responsibilities to “protect the planet,” and promote what the UN and its member governments consider to be the “common good.”


From the website:

Risen is the epic Biblical story of the Resurrection, as told through the eyes of a non-believer. Clavius (Joseph Fiennes), a powerful Roman military tribune, and his aide, Lucius (Tom Felton), are tasked with solving the mystery of what happened to Jesus in the weeks following the crucifixion, in order to disprove the rumors of a risen Messiah and prevent an uprising in Jerusalem.


link includes several trailers and other videos

hoka hey

hoka hey

The weekly newsletter I get from Holstee (which is, be forewarned, a vehicle through which they sell you their “stuff”, some of their stuff being stellar

— like the Holstee Manifesto of which I have only purloined printouts, but that’s good enough for me, and like their NOW clock poster which I bought and sits framed upon my living room wall)

speaks to a question of apparent interest to my readers.  

It’s the question of creativity, writing, writers’ block. how do you get started, how do you make it work.

It’s written by Felix Morgan, “a writer, professor, and online-dating consultant. She lives in Austin, Texas with two warrior-princess-ninja-superheroes and some other wild animals. You can read more of her musings, emo poetry, and weird fiction here.”

Felix coughs up a variant of Julia Cameron’s “morning pages”.

I do not mean to disparage Felix when I say that.

Everyone borrows a trick or two from “The Artist’s Way” or one of its sequelae; if you can get through one of her books without running away to get deeply involved in something creative that bubbles up and out of you, you are inert.

Julia teaches us how to tap our own wellspring. Julia wants to be ripped off.  Her work is a gift to the rest of us who can’t find our way, or can’t find an easy way, or can’t find a way that works regularly enough to become a routine.

Felix (almost guaranteed to be a pen name and a play on words, a bit of textual felicity) found a way that works for her, and it might work for you.

Those of us who are curious about these kinds of things are constantly searching for new ways, because sometimes the old ones become worn, or too routine or because, like the vein of gold Cameron talks about, they’ve been mined thoroughly.

But at the risk of blowing my own horn, I have to take issue with the quote she posts up from Neil Gaiman:

“Cellists don’t have cellist block.

Gardeners don’t have gardener’s block.

TV hosts do not have TV host block.”

Quite the contrary, folks, and you can explore those realities (and their remedies) by slowly tickling your way through parts of my e-book “Summon The Magic”.

I hate to sound like a broken record but I am begining to get clear on the fact that the results of my own deep encounter with Julia Cameron, the one that took years to fashion, more years to polish, and the grace of God to finish, still channels the sparkling run-off from a mountain of books by experts in sports and performance psychology that you can pan to find your own little nuggets.

Two books in the bibliography by Greene, a fellow affiliated with Juilliard (no stranger to excellence) talk about how to overcome performance butterflies that show up just before you are about to audition for that big opportunity. Kate Hays is mentioned; she’s a psychologist in Toronto who has counseled day traders and emergency physicians.

I don’t have a clue about what it’s like to be a day trader, but I ran a society of emergency physicians and provided educational symposia for them and married a certified emergency nurse/department head and come from an experience in emergency respsonse myself, so I have some feel for what’s involved when that complex and unknown problem that requires your clear thinking instantly lands at your feet. I know physicians and nurses who are seriously attracted to TV shows like House because they provide mental exercise in medical problem-solving. I know a nurse who is proven to be a capable diagnostician by glance; we used to teach people about using a trauma/coma checklist; inside the trauma center, you have seconds to get it right and to act on your perceptions and intuitions.

The mind map and its explanation found at Summon The Magic here inside BoyDownTheLane will provide you with some structure by which you can dissect your own situation and what you bring to it, your weaknesses and strengths. When you find the part(s) you don’t understand or about which you feel weak-kneed, you can start by putting that word into the search block in the various pdf’s (start with the expanded table of contents) and build up a list of pages which contain something relevant to you. Think of them as a prompt.

That e-book is built of an interlinked group of excerpts given some order by the editor; they are all foot-noted and there’s a bibliography, so you can chase down the source book and find it at your local library, a used bookseller, or perhaps online, and take it further.

You can find the parts that I left out. They will educate you in depth.

The e-book is 1,400 pages long so it would seem that I didn’t leave out much, but nooo, the bibliography consists of over 250 books, each easily 200 pages long or longer, so there’s a lot left to discover.

Indeed, it was built on books published mostly in the last two decades of the previous millenium, the latter of which was the seminal decade of the brain in which was begun an intense amount of research in the cognitive sciences, and which also saw an explosion of interest in performance psychology. There’s probably 500 books on the topics that I’m not even aware of.

I stopped and dove into my production phase right after I read about the work and insights of a dying research radiologist by the name of Roland Perlmutter. You can read about it in Tab S, the last chapter of Summon The Magic, “Towards Extraordinary Capability” as told by a PGA golf performance psychologist named Richard Keefe in his book On the Sweet Spot: Stalking the Effortless Present.

When I hear about cellists and gardeners and TV hosts, I have to ask: Have you ever had a bad case of the yips?

Here is a focus on the ten worst cases of the yips in sports.

Here is an article about emotional intelligence for an audience of entrepreneurs and business executives.

Now do you get the point about emergency physicians confronted with a life-threatening hidden internal injury?

Your exemplary situation, your question about how to get started and stay on track, becomes easier, and you can likely solve it without having to employ a high-priced consultant.

I once witnessed an accomplished fastpitch softball pitcher — she held the NCAA record for strikeouts at that time — get dressed down, shamed and berated because she suddenly couldn’t remember how to make a simple routine throw of a ground ball 25 feet to first base with accuracy. Repeatedly then being asked by the opposition to handle bunts back to the circle, she made error after error until the coach pulled her out of the game.  She left the field in tears.

This was an adult college graduate who’d already earned an Olympic Gold Medal.

I circled around the bleachers and met her as she walked away and gently approached and told her I could solve her problem with a one-minute mental exercise if she could spare the time.

I told her about Gallwey’s “Association with the Easy”, gave her an example, helped her construct her own mental tool, and then left her.  A year later she shouted out to me across another diamond that it had worked. You can read more about this technique at the beginning of the ninth chapter, Tab I, “Moving Toward Magic”.


The state of mind reflected by this process, enhanced by meditation and reported by athletes in the zone and by mystics for millennia, is elemental to our existence.

We all have it, but we rarely talk about it.  We intend, and our intentions are resolved without conscious effort. A rudimentary form of this skill, to be able to resolve our intentions, has probably been around for a long time, back to when life began on this planet.

We’ve had 3.5 billion years to become expert at figuring out what we want by developing a clear internal picture of it, then moving toward that picture in the outside world.

Page 3, Toward Extraordinary Capability, Tab S, Summon The Magic


You can become a warrior.

You can begin that process now.








Just yesterday, I attended a workshop sponsored by a writers’ collaborative on writing and spirituality.

A proven practitioner of the art worked us through a 150-minute process in which we defined the differences between spirituality and religion, spoke about the art of expressing spirituality in writing, detailed a list of authors to explore in this realm, and gave us an exercise.

Eight people were in attendance. The writer who led the group handed out samples, lists of authors and spoke at length about literary and spiritual tools available to our use.

He gave us two lists of prompts, or incomplete sentences and thoughts that are intended to jump start us, that trigger the finger and wrist muscles that hold our pens so that they start moving across the blank page. Numerous forms of writing prompts are available in book format at a bookseller near you.

He gave us a short list of his own favorite examples of a spiritual autobiography, some of which are noted below:


Spiritual Evolution, George Vaillant


The Solace of Fierce Landscapes, by Belden Lane




Grounded, Diane Butler Bass


Words That Sing: Composing Lyrical Prose


Testify to the Light: The Spiritual Biography of Andy Gustafson, M. Waters


related articles:



Attendees were then asked to write for 20 minutes using one of the prompts he’d provided. I jumped to a variant of “where I’m from” and came up with

“Hoka Hey”

I am made of clothiers

fresh off the boat from England, sea

captains of Maine, a Scots-Irish artist of the Allegheny region, and Prussians from Ohio.

I arrived three quarters of a century ago delivered of a woman who died five days later.

Raised by a Mennonite nanny, I atechocolate slag, fresh scallions, and shoe-fly pie.

I fell in love with

food at a Pennsylvania Dutch farmers’ market,

stacked hard wood near the glacial brook

babbling off the west side of an old growth forest

filled with rock maple,

and mowed acres and acres of lawn.

I was schooled by a captain in the Civil Defense.

I sat in classes stuffed with only seven other

kids whose parents were all wealthier than sin.

I lived near a eugenicist’s agricultural laboratory

with a million dollar cow barn

and a garage full of phaetons.

My family exploded slowly like a silent dark nova.

I scrubbed the insides of steam boilers for the Dean of Students after we got the news about the dead President. I played games of world domination with a Presidential historian’s children. I played war games with a conscientious objector at Big State U.

Then there was radio, that interview of Paul Simon, short order lessons about how to make potato skins, and lessons in high energy physics, anatomy and physiology, kisses and febrile illness, and ambulance work.

I was disowned twice, and then renewed by a nurse, two athletes, and disasters (both real and imagined).

I saw light in the forest and ran away repeatedly.

I am Hopalong Cassidy and Crazy Horse.



“People who pay attention to what matters most in their lives, and who learn to ignore everything else, assume a freedom that is highly creative as well as potentially dangerous in contemporary society. Having abandoned everything of insignificance, they have nothing to lose. Apart from being faithful to their God, they no longer care what happens to them.”

Belden C. Lane, The Solace of Fierce Landscapes: Exploring Desert and Mountain Spirituality



Je Ne Sais Quoi #5

Je Ne Sais Quoi Day Five

Stephen Pressfield

Steven Pressfield “is an American author, of historical fiction and non-fiction, and screenplays born in Port of Spain, Trinidad, in 1943, while his father was stationed there, in the Navy. He graduated from Duke University in 1965 and in 1966 joined the Marine Corps.[1] In the years following, he worked as an advertising copywriter, schoolteacher, tractor-trailer driver, bartender, oilfield roustabout, attendant in a mental hospital, fruit-picker in Washington state, and screenwriter.[1] His struggles to make a living as an author, including the period when he was homeless and living out of the back of his car, are detailed in his book The War of Art.[1]

His first book, The Legend of Bagger Vance, was published in 1995, and made into a film of the same name, starring Will Smith, Charlize Theron, and Matt Damon, and directed by Robert Redford.[2]

His second novel, Gates of Fire, is about the Spartans and the battle at Thermopylae. It is taught at U.S. Military Academy[3] and United States Naval Academy, and at the Marine Corps Basic School at Quantico.[4][5]

In 2012, he launched the publishing house Black Irish Books with his agent Shawn Coyne.[6] ….”

Stephen Pressfield’s “writing philosophy is a kind of warrior code—internal rather than external—in which the enemy is identified as those forms of self-sabotage that I call “Resistance” with a capital R (in The War of Art ). The technique for combating these foes can be described as “turning pro.” ….

[His] conception of the artist’s role is a combination of reverence for the unknowable nature of “where it all comes from” and a no-nonsense, blue-collar demystification of the process by which this mystery is approached.”


PDF:  Resistance


Short Videos:


Overcoming Resistance


Turning Pro


Do The Work


An 80-minute audio interview

Other resources:

http://www.stevenpressfield.com/ (home page and blog)


Newer books:



His complete list of works: http://www.stevenpressfield.com/books/

Books by others about Golf: http://www.stevenpressfield.com/category/additional-reading/golf/

Books he recommends on war (he is and was a warrior): http://www.stevenpressfield.com/category/additional-reading/ancient-modern-warfare/

Writing Wednesdays An ongoing, blog-version of The War of Art.


Breakout (focused on the music & song-writing business):


Breakout (focused on the film-making world)


Musical Interlude for Notes:

The Good Life, Ahmad Jamal

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dIjQN9g5hSQ (4:35)

I Get a Kick Out of You, Brubeck

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Ji6wt6VMyQ (5:16)

Anthenagin (Woody Shaw w/ Art Blakey & the Jazz Messengers)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3jvoztry5rg (4:21)


Tomorrow, we’ll talk about your brain and how you use it… about re-programming your brain so that it helps you accomplish your goals and visions.  How the bleep can you do that? 

On Writing A Blog

In the past, I’ve noted (and readers have reacted with interest and enthusiasm) the topic of writing a blog, or alternately, learning to write well. I’ve noted several possible books in “Ex Libris”. I enjoy writing, and am dedicated to continuing to do so.

Still on the horizon, but moving up nicely on the outside of my “to do” list now that I am more settled in my new digs, are the following:

  1. tons of work based on masses of archived material (and hopefully some new and fresh stuff found just before “deadline”) from within the topic of performance or sports psychology, or “coaching”;
  2. a piece on the media (dominantly television), likely in multiple parts because of its sheer length;
  3. a long piece on revolution.

Photography and music haven’t gotten out of the barn yet, but I just ordered subscriptions to Outdoor Photographer, as well as Digital PhotoPro, and attended my first meeting of a photography club tonight. And I filled four large freezer bags with sand to weight down the GarageBand synthesizer keyboard stand.

But this isn’t about me, it’s about you, and that’s why I thought you would like to know abut the free online course noted in this e-mail I received:

Explore Longform with Writing 201

by Michelle W.

We often think of blog posts as being just a few paragraphs long, or being a “less serious” kind of writing. Not so! In this challenge, we’ll focus on writing longform pieces that are equally at home on your blog or in a magazine. Whether you have trouble organizing your thoughts in longer pieces of writing or simply want to challenge yourself as a blogger, Writing 201: Beyond the Blog Post can help.

What is Writing 201: Beyond the Blog Post?

Writing 201: Beyond the Blog Post is a four-week course to help those beginning to explore longform writing (or who are frustrated with their past attempts). Each week, we’ll focus on a different kind of piece, working our way from interviews — one of the easiest ways to get started with longer pieces — through instructional pieces and opinion pieces, ending with a personal essay. It’s the product of a range of writers and editors, including the founders and editors at Longreads — folks who know a thing or two about high word counts.

The course doesn’t have “assignments.” Publish a draft on Monday, a work-in-progress on Thursday, a new post on Saturday, or even commentary on the writing process. Don’t publish at all, or submit your piece to an online magazine. What you publish and how is up to you.

For those who’ve never worked with other writers before or are scared to open your work up for feedback, don’t worry! We’re a friendly bunch, and we’ll offer tips on workshopping before getting started.

The most important part isn’t our advice, but the feedback you offer one another. As with all Blogging U. courses, you’ll have a private community space, the Commons, where we encourage you to workshop your writing. Workshopping is all about collaborative brainstorming: share excerpts from pieces you’re working on or links to your published pieces, ask focused questions, and provide critique. You offer specific, constructive feedback to others, and they do the same for you.

The nuts and bolts

Writing 201: Beyond the Blog Post begins on Monday, December 1.

•New workshops are published at 12:00 AM GMT on Mondays. Each one helps you create a new longform piece of writing — interview, instructional, opinion, and personal essay/memoir. (And since you’ll get your final workshop on December 22, you can wrap up in time for the year-end holidays.)

•What “longform” means depends partly on you, but we use it to denote writing that’s 1500 words or more.

•There are no posting requirements; the emphasis is on exploring new forms and workshopping your material. Publish your work when and where you’d like.

•Participants will have a private community site, the Commons, for workshopping, chatting, and connecting with others. Daily Post and Longreads staff and WordPress.com Happiness Engineers will be on hand to answer questions and offer guidance.

•This course is completely free and open to bloggers and writers from any platform.

Note: this is not a course about blogging, it’s a focused writing workshop. If you’re interested in learning to blog or developing your existing blog, you’ll want to try our Blogging 101 and 201 courses — Blogging 101 will be back in January.

How to register

Want to join? Fill out the form [at the bottom of this link http://en.blog.wordpress.com/2014/11/21/writing-201-longform/ ]  to register. You’ll receive an email before the course begins with instructions on how to access the Commons. Thanks for joining us!

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Michelle W. | November 21, 2014 at 3:00 pm | Tags: blogging u., longform, writing | Categories: Better Blogging, Community | URL: http://wp.me/pf2B5-7BR





Note also that I’ve partially figured out what the problem is/was with web site management, plug-ins, etc. .

In a word, terminology.  Or semantics.

They speak a foreign language known only to coders and IT experts.

I speak English.

My Bing translator was of no use to me in this case.

Peace has been made, and offers to share a pint are being traded.


While I have to think on this a little longer and harder, it became clear to me that I am now able to offer users (subscribers) some opportunity to become contributors.

I need to think about both the technical process of this, as well as the more obvious social, linguistic and political ramifications.

But I’m all about conversations, dialogue and understanding, so you needn’t agree with me or have all of our molecules in alignment the way water does when it freezes.

Nor would it be a requirement that you take the course noted above, or any other course.

Simple requirements would include clarity, quality, integrity, authenticity, and humanity.

Suggestions and recommendations about the process are welcome via the contact page.