From I Be to I Am, Part 3: Eve (and Adam)

Sat 07/09/16 at 10:41 am

Below is the third installment of my version of the Eve (and Adam) myth as presented in my, at this time suspended, work in progress, The First Voice:
“Let me tell you what really happened. For the first few hundred thousand years of life on earth, the only mitochondria present in living organisms, including the genus Homo, consisted of ‘to be’ symbionts. In other words, all life on earth was sentient. Everyone and everything just hung out, living and being — like the singularity before the big bang. Then one day, about 100,000 years ago in what is now Ethiopia, a homo sapiens female, let’s call her Eve, came upon an apricot tree. She’d never seen an apricot before, and she knew that sometimes certain foods made her feel bad, but she was very hungry. Throwing caution to the wind, Eve ate a few apricots. As it happened, the apricots growing on this tree contained ‘I am’ mitochondria.
“One of the ‘I am’ mitochondria migrated to Eve’s brain where it took the place of a ‘to be’ mitochondrion. There, it produced an electrical impulse which caused Eve to undergo an epiphany virtually identical to the one experienced by the original ‘I am,’ or Yahweh, string. In essence, the symbiote spoke the first words of what is now a long-forgotten language. You have probably heard the Latin equivalent, ‘Mememto mori,’ which freely translates as ‘remember that you are mortal;’ ‘remember you will die;’ or ‘remember your death.’ With this realization, something akin to the big bang took place in Eve’s brain. The ‘I am’ mitochondrion and its host cell started self-replicating until a highly specialized bundle of neurons formed in the center of Eve’s brain.
“You see, ingesting the ‘I am’ mitochondrion caused sapience, or knowledge, symbionts to form separate and apart from Eve’s sentience symbionts. The newly created neuron bundle was designed specifically to accommodate the ‘I am’ symbionts. It consists of two orientation areas. The left area creates the brain’s spatial sense of self, while the right creates the physical space in which the self exists.”
Elfredge distracted by Johanna’s account, began touching her fingertips with her thumb and then her forearm.
“I guess I never really thought about it before,” said Elfredge, slowly. “But I really don’t feel where I stop and the world starts, though now I do feel the breeze on my skin. I can see where I stop and the rest of the world stops. How weird if I couldn’t make that distinction. So what happened next?”
“Unable to bear her sense of isolation and the knowledge of her mortality alone, she convinced her mate — let’s call him Adam — to also eat some of the apricot. His brain and mitochondrial DNA, too, underwent the transformation. Their children were born with inner, personal awareness, free-standing, observant selves, possessed with all the attendant emotions, sensations, and cognition. Thus did sapience spread throughout the human race. Think of it as the first ‘Me’ generation. You, too, have such a bundle because mitochondrial DNA passes virtually unchanged from mother to daughter generation after generation.”
“Only matrilineally?” asked Elfredge.
“Good question,” said Johanna. “Male sperm contains only enough mitochondria to power the sperm to the surface of the egg – it does not enter the egg.”
Michael signaled Jim to bring another round to the table.
“And sapience is bad?”
“What you need to realize, Elfredge,” said Johanna, “is that in a sense, knowledge, or sapience, blew the singularity to smithereens.”
“You mean the ‘I am’ string, Yahweh?”
“That’s right. Yahweh is nearly pure sapience.”
“What does that mean, exactly?”
“Remember last night how Michael explained that dark energy is the fusion of knowledge and compassion?”
“Yes.”
“Think of sapience as knowledge and sentience as compassion.”
“So dark energy is sapient and sentient.”
“Yes, but before the big bang there was no such thing as sapience and sentience, or any other dichotomies for that matter. Everything simply was, and, for the most part, even now, the vast majority of the universe, simply is.”
“Except for earth.”
“I guess we still haven’t been clear,” said Michael. “For the most part, Gaia, too, simply is. Sapience separate from sentience has manifested in only one species — though other Gaian species, whales, dolphins, the primates, parrots, and ravens are close. Homo neanderthalensis would also be included, had any survived.”
“So, you’re telling me the human race is the only self-aware entity in the universe?”
“That’s correct,” said Johanna.
“And that’s bad,” said Elfredge.
“If Johanna and I believed that, she and I wouldn’t be sitting here having brunch with you.”
“Then why Yahweh’s prohibition?”
“I need to clarify one thing about the initial Garden of Eden encounter,” said Johanna. “Yahweh’s anger and disappointed that Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit stemmed from their disobedience rather than the actual eating. Secretly I think he was pleased by Eve’s initiative and, of course, desire to be just like Him.”


previous post: From I Be to I Am, Part 2

From I Be to I Am, Part 2

Sat 05/07/16 at 7:29 pm

Below is another excerpt from my suspended novel, The First Voice, which excerpt recounts how humans acquired sapience:

Elfredge emerged from the 59th Street/Columbus Circle station into a glorious day in the neighborhood. An early morning rain shower had scrubbed the air, and a gentle breeze had sent the last of the rain clouds out over the Atlantic. Her eyes moved up the 70-foot granite column embedded with the bronze replicas of the Niña, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria, then settled briefly on the statue of Columbus staring into the Park. The first traffic circle in the United States and the point at which all distances to and from New York are measured. Elfredge spotted Johanna and Michael motioning to her from the Merchant’s Gate. She walked up to them, and Johanna handed her a Good Humor Bar.

“You are my hero!” exclaimed Elfredge as she removed the paper wrapping and bit through the hard chocolate shell to the creamy vanilla ice cream inside.

“Did Robin ride up with you?” asked Michael.

“Yes. She regaled me with tales of how she’s allegedly spent her years among the humans. You all definitely get credit for imagination. She also mentioned something about ‘the Cause,’ but wouldn’t elaborate. I told her, and I want you two to know, that if I don’t get some answers soon, I’m going to call it quits.”

“I promise, by the time we’re done with lunch you’ll have a fairly good idea of what’s going on,” said Michael.

“Good. I’d hate to have to take my ball and go home.”

As they walked into the Park, Johanna asked, “So, Elfredge, you knew something about string theory, what, if anything, do you know about the Gaia hypothesis?”

“Gaia? As in Mother Earth?”

“The very one,” said Johanna. “Though I’m speaking of the hypothesis named for her that was first formulated by Dr. James Lovelock.”

“I confess I’ve never heard of it,” answered Elfredge. “Technically, I’m still here in my capacity as audience surrogate, however, so have at it.”

Author’s Aside:  According to Wikipedia:

In the study of literature, an audience surrogate is a character who expresses the questions and confusion of the reader. It is a device frequently used in detective fiction and science fiction. In detective fiction, the audience surrogate is usually a minor character that asks a central character how he or she accomplished certain deeds, for the purpose of inciting that character to explain (for the curious audience) his or her methods. In science fiction, the audience surrogate frequently takes the form of a child or other uninformed person, asking a relatively educated person to explain what amounts to the backstory. In superhero comics, the audience surrogate is often the sidekick of the hero. The earliest example of this is Batman’s sidekick, Robin, who was created specifically for this purpose. A revealing line in mystery or science fiction stories is that after the author explains the backstory, the audience surrogate will frequently utter lines to the effect of: “Well, when you put it that way, even I can understand!”  One possible meaning behind John’s uses of an unnamed “beloved disciple” in the New Testament is to serve as an audience surrogate.

This description is also helpful in determining what genre The First Voice falls into. Elfredge is neither a minor character nor a superhero. She is, however, uninformed. According to the above, then, this novel should be most appropriately considered a work of science fiction.

“All right,” said Johanna. “I will. Lovelock postulates Gaia is a sentient biota and that life on earth acts in concert to self-regulate conditions on the planet enabling life to continue to exist. For instance, the energy provided by the sun has increased by as much as 25 or even 30 percent over the eons, but the planet’s overall temperature has remained relatively constant. So, too, have atmospheric conditions and oceanic salinity despite widely varying conditions from time to time. Chance alone simply fails to account for the earth’s ability to maintain this state of equilibrium.”

Elfredge interrupted.

“Actually, I was being facetious about the audience surrogate remark. Some other time I’d probably find what you’ve just told me fascinating, but right now the only thing I’m interested in hearing from you is who you are, why I’m being followed, and why you think I need a security detail. So, unless what you’re going to say next has something to do with the any one of those topics, I’d just as soon skip it.”

“I’m sorry, Elfredge. You need to know just a few more details before we get to your questions. Please. You get lunch at the Boathouse.”

“Weeelll, okay. But only because it’s the Boathouse and it’s such a fine day for lunch on the deck.”

“In return, I’ll try to be brief,” said Johanna. “We need to fast forward a billion or so years after the solar system first emerged to the time when certain protobionts developed into the first living cells called prokaryotes. Indeed, scientists have since proven, by applying the laws of physics and chemistry, prokaryotes could have spontaneously formed in this manner. Two billion or so years later, these prokaryotes evolved into more sophisticated cellular structures called eukaryotes. Eukaryotes went on to form an intracellular symbiosis with certain organelles such as mitochondria.”

“As in mitochondrial DNA?” asked Elfredge, finally snagging a term with which she had some familiarity.

“Precisely,” answered Johanna. “A cell’s mitochondrion contains DNA different and distinct from the DNA located in its nucleus. What scientists have yet to understand is that mitochondrial DNA evokes sentience.”

Michael, seeing the puzzled look on Elfredge’s face, broke in, “Let’s go back to metaphor. I imagine you are a Star Wars fan.”

Elfredge swung an imaginary light saber. “Use the Force, Luke,” she said, trying her best to imitate Obi-Wan Kenobi.

Michael laughed. “Do you remember in Episode I of Star Wars when Shmi, Anakin Skywalker’s mother, tells Qui-Gon Jinn that Anakin has no father, rather she simply became pregnant with him?”

“Sure, and that prompts Qui-Gon Jinn to test the level of midi-chlorians in Anakin’s blood.”

“And then Qui-Gon explains that midi-chlorians are microscopic life-forms that live in the cells of all living organisms and communicate directly with the Force.”

It took a moment for Elfredge to realize Michael had finished speaking. “And so?” asked Elfredge.

“So,” said Johanna, slowly, “think of the Force as the ‘to be’ singularity.”

A look of realization replaced that of puzzlement on Elfredge’s face.
“I need to sit down for a minute,” she said. “You two are starting to make sense.”

Elfredge walked over and took a seat on a vacant park bench. Michael and Johanna sat down next to her.

“Let me get this straight,” said Elfredge. “You’re telling me living organisms serve as hosts for matter particulates called mitochondria and mitochondria communicate with a real force, with dark energy?”

“Yes,” answered Johanna. “These organisms are more than alive. They are sentient, a word derived from the Latin verb sentire which means ‘to feel’.”

“And Gaia?”

“Gaia is a complex interacting system formed by the living and nonliving parts of the earth. Gaia’s sentience is particularly attuned to temperature and atmospheric conditions she senses may cause harm to life on earth and, by extension, threaten her continued survival. Upon perceiving any such conditions, Gaia has taken, and will continue to take, steps to rectify the condition.”

“In other words, we’d better stop trashing the earth.”

“It’s no secret that so far, humans have done far more harm than good. Gaia maintains a sense of equilibrium; specifically, she maintains what are recognized as set points of homoeostasis.  These points, however, can change with time, and, overall, there appears to be no special tendency on her part to preserve conditions conducive to the earth’s current inhabitants, or, for that matter, to keep them comfortable.”

“Does Gaia know she’s Gaia?”

“That’s a tricky question. Gaia perceives that she is, but she is unaware that she is what you understand her to be, that is, a self-contained entity also known as Earth, any more than most of the organisms that comprise Gaia are aware of their separateness from each other or, for that matter, the universe as a whole.”

“Sounds rather Zen.”

“If you are using the term ‘Zen’ as shorthand for the condition of being one with the universe, that’s a fairly accurate observation. Some philosophers argue sentience can never be understood, and in a sense, they’re right. To understand sentience requires enlightenment, and enlightened beings have no need to understand they understand; they simply understand.”

“And human beings?”

“Humans are both sentient and sapient, a term derived from the Latin verb sapere which means ‘to be wise.’ Sapience connotes knowledge, self-awareness, apperception. As I imagine you learned in high school biology, the first sentient human species appeared about two and a half million years ago. Since then several species have come and gone including homo erectus and homo neanderthalensis. Until a few years ago, scientists thought homo sapiens had been around for about 130,000 years. In 1997, an anthropologist named Tim White discovered the fossilized remains of an extinct subspecies of homo sapiens he classified as homo sapiens idaltu which loosely translates as ‘elderly wise men.’ These remains date from approximately 160,000 years ago. So now, to distinguish present day humans from this subspecies, scientific accuracy requires that you be known as homo sapiens sapiens, though I hope you don’t mind if I shorten it to homo sapiens for our discussion today.”

“Not at all,” laughed Elfredge.

“Approximately 100,000 years ago, homo sapiens emerged from the African incubator as a species of conscious, self-aware individuals. Scientists have yet to offer a satisfactory explanation for this rather sudden acquisition of sapience, or knowledge.”

“Something tells me you’re about to explain it,” said Elfredge.

“Right, again,” answered Johanna. “But before I do, I am unable to resist one more metaphor.”

“Okay, let’s have it.”

“Well,” said Johanna, “the simple answer to how humans acquired sapience is what your ancestral mother Eve would tell you, according to Milton in Paradise Lost, ‘the serpent beguiled me and I ate’.”

next post: From I Be to I Am, Part 3: Eve (and Adam)
previous post: From I be to I am

From I be to I am

Wed 03/23/16 at 5:11 pm

Below is an excerpt from my (currently suspended) novel-in-progress, The First Voice. The below is based on research I conducted a few years back, and I’ve not made any effort to see how it has withstood the test of time, so please excuse any errors that have been corrected by subsequent advances in Quantum Theory. We find our hero, Elfredge Betisdatter, having dinner at Joe Allen with two new acquaintances, Michael Zadek and Johanna Elder. We drop in at the point Michael undertakes to explain the Big Bang and subsequent expansion of the universe to Elfredge:

“Lucky for you, the nature of quantum physics is particularly suited to explication using the standbys humans rely on before they discover the math — magic, myth, and religion. In a word, metaphor. The famous mathematician Alan Turing used to ask, ‘where is God in 2+2=4?’ For purposes of our current discussion, ‘God’ is what gets lost in the translation from the myth to the scientific proof. For instance, now that we know about gravitation, we no longer believe that Atlas stands on the western edge of the world holding up the sky. Make sense?”

Elfredge stuck out her lower lip and shrugged, “I guess so.”

Michael took a drink of his scotch, “All right, you majored in English. Think of all the vibrating strings that comprised the pre-Big Bang singularity as the infinitive of the verb ‘to be.’ Only back then, ‘to be’ was a regular verb. How would you conjugate that?”

Elfredge dutifully recited, “I be, you be, he/she/it be, we be, you be, they be.”

“That’s it. So now envision all those strings vibrating ‘be be be,’ or more accurately, ‘be-not be, be-not be,’ in perfect harmony.”

Elfredge interjected, “Like the music of the spheres, or the mother of all mantras, Om ah Hum.”

“Exactly. Now let’s say that some 14 billion years ago one of those strings had an epiphany similar to Einstein’s, and it came to the realization that under certain conditions matter and energy could be destroyed. From there, this string was confronted with the possibility of its own nuclear annihilation. Just the idea of this possibility caused the string to mis-bow, metaphorically speaking, and instead of vibrating “be,” it squawked the irregular first-person, ‘I am.’  This discordance caused the singularity’s three visible dimensions to fuse with the fourth, thereby creating spacetime, or what we call real time, which in turn set up the determination we now refer to as the expanding universe.”

Michael sat back in his chair.

“Well,” exclaimed Elfredge, “When you put it that way, even I can understand!”

Just then, Thom reappeared.    “May I take your order?”

“Perfect timing,” said Johanna. “I’ll have the red beans and rice with andouille sausage.”

“Eggs sound good, actually. I’ll have a spinach and cheese omelet. Whole wheat toast. And an orange juice.”

“I’ll have a bacon cheeseburger, medium,” said Michael. “Let’s also have a bottle of Ravenswood Zin.”

Johanna observed, “A dependable choice.”

Michael flashed a smile in her direction and turned back to Elfredge. “Any questions so far?”

“Not really. Keep going.”

Michael continued, “During the first fraction of a second after the big bang, the universe underwent an incredibly rapid inflationary period. As the singularity separated, more and more matter was created from the high-energy radiation, pieces of which, in turn, spun off to form galaxy after galaxy, including the Milky Way. About 4.6 billion years ago, our solar system emerged from a solar nebula that consisted principally of hydrogen, but also of other elements such as carbon and oxygen. In the next few million years, Earth and the other planets formed and began to orbit the Sun.

“A second planet named Theia, also formed and was orbiting the Sun in the same general vicinity of Earth. Theia was smaller than Earth, and as the Earth’s mass increased by the accretion of more and more material, its gravitational pull increased causing Theia’s orbit to destabilize until it finally collided with Earth. The collision sent a large portion of Earth’s crust spewing into space where it formed the Moon. The impact also altered Earth’s axis to produce the 23.5° tilt responsible for Earth’s seasons, which, in turn, created the conditions necessary to sustain life as we know it.”

Elfredge broke in. “I’ve never heard about Theia, but I do know about the 23.5° tilt because one of my friends is passionate about the number 47. He swears it’s the quintessential random number of the universe. He points to the fact that the axial tilt adds up to 47 as an example of its importance. He’s got a lot of other examples, too.”

“He is onto something,” said Michael. “You know that master equation I was talking about earlier?  Let’s just say the number 47 plays a fairly significant role in its formulation. But we digress. Back to the beginning. After the initial period of incredibly rapid inflation, the universe continued to expand. Scientists used to think that at some point the gravitational attraction of matter would eventually cause the universe to stop expanding, effectively reversing the process I’ve just described, and that eventually all matter and energy would compress back into another gravitational singularity. They called this theory The Big Crunch.”

“Now what do they think?” asked Elfredge.

“These days, physicists posit that approximately 73 per cent of our universe is comprised of dark, or phantom, energy and another 23 percent is comprised of cold dark matter. All the visible atoms are contained in the remaining 4%. With the discovery of dark energy, scientists now think it’s more likely the universe will continue to expand at an ever-increasing rate of speed until finally the electromagnetic forces holding molecules and atoms will be overcome and even the atomic nuclei will be torn apart. Scientists call this theory The Big Rip.” Continue reading From I be to I am…

next post: From I Be to I Am, Part 2
previous post: What I Am

What I Am

Fri 03/11/16 at 10:27 am

As evidenced by earlier Walking Raven entries, I have long struggled to formulate satisfactory answers to the fundamental questions, “Who am I?” and “Why am I here?” Indeed, whenever I stop mid-step because I realize I’ve forgotten what it was I’m intending to do, my automatic response is to ask aloud, I “Who am I, and Why am I here.”

A few years ago I read a book entitled Why God Won’t Go Away by Andrew Newberg, et al. It provided me with an explanation for question number one, “Who am I?” According to the authors, somewhere in the evolutionary process, the human brain developed a highly specialized bundle of neurons which enables us to differentiate between ourselves and the rest of our surroundings. Essentially, these neurons create two orientation areas. The “left orientation area creates the brain’s spatial sense of self while the right side creates the physical space in which that self can exist.” I still remember this idea of separateness led me to stand up, and, without touching anything or being touched, I closed my eyes and tried to feel my physical self apart from the rest of the world. I felt nothing but was keenly aware of my mind floating “out there” at about eye level. That night, as I settled into bed, I experienced the sensation of my physical self as a dark blob also suspended in space. With closed eyes, I also saw, in my mind’s eye, the blob that was me silhouetted against a somewhat less dark background.

According to Why God Won’t Go Away, “there seems to be, within the human head, an inner, personal awareness, a free-standing, observant itself.” I have long imagined I have a “mini-me” who stands like a Captain on the bridge situated in the center of my forehead. From there, she filters the surrounding incoherent din of the universe into understandable thoughts.

Why God Won’t Go Away offers the following explanation for this vision:

 We have come to think of this self, with all its emotions, sensations, and cognitions, as the phenomenon of mind.  Neurology cannot completely explain how such a thing can happen — how a somehow nonmaterial mind can rise from mere biological function; how the flesh and blood machinery of the brain can suddenly become “aware. ” Science and philosophy, in fact, have struggled with this question for centuries, but no definitive answers have been found, and none is clearly on the horizon.

I paused from my reading and tried to locate my mind. I fully expected to find it somewhere in my brain. Instead, I sensed what I now identify as The Mind which acts as an objective force of static energy that interacts with my brain causing my synapses to fire, thereby creating thoughts. The Mind is where everything exists in its cosmic form.

The Mind also has a subjective component, as illustrated by my favorite New Yorker cartoon ever:

Picture1

I believe each of us is tapped into the Collective Unconscious. Jung coined the term and explained that it consists of structures of the unconscious mind which are shared among beings of the same species. I envision a broader scope of structures where homo homo (sic) sapiens are concerned. I think there’s a cultural element involved that is further shaped by one’s individual experiences. In other words, a combination of nature and nurture works to customize an individual’s unconscious. This customization factor accounts for how we perceive our reality and why certain innate aspects of a culture (or subculture) makes it on some level impossible for an individual to appreciate fully the nuances of a culture different from their own.

For instance, individuals who convert to Catholicism in later life will never quite be Catholic. In a broader sense, much has been made about the differences between Western and Eastern “Thought.” As I was researching  my [at-present suspended] novel, The First Voice, I came across the Japanese term ma. In Japanese, ma, is a word for space that suggests interval. It is best described as a consciousness of place, not in the sense of an enclosed three-dimensional entity, but rather the simultaneous awareness of form and non-form deriving from an intensification of vision. The West has no comparable word or concept.

Perhaps nothing underscores cultural differences better than difficulties often encountered with translation from one language to another. Some time ago, I downloaded a Dictionary of Untranslatables: A Philosophical Lexicon onto my Kindle. This volume has 1344 pages of entries denoting important philosophical, literary, and political terms and concepts that defy easy–or any–translation from one language and culture to another.

In the days following my lung transplant, the meds I received led meto  imagine I had somehow managed to slip through a small opening in the veil separating this plane of existence from my Collective Unconscious. I beheld a seemingly infinite interior subterranean space with a jumble of avatars, totems, and archetypes floating in the darkness. I was unable to detect the light source that illuminated them but it was coming from above.  I reached this place by locating what seemed to be a portal in my brain. I opened the portal and fell into blackness, much, I suspect, like Alice’s descent into the rabbit hole.

Thus far, I think the above speaks more to what I am rather than who I am, hence the title. As Alice can attest, answering the Caterpillar’s question is no mean feat. Even so, in the next entry, I will endeavor to identify certain constants I find worth considering as to my/our whoness.

 

next post: From I be to I am
previous post: Tink’s Encyclical f/k/a The November Encyclical: First Attempt (Fail)

Tink’s Encyclical f/k/a The November Encyclical: First Attempt (Fail)

Wed 01/20/16 at 12:57 pm

Below is my initial attempt to communicate some of the thoughts I’ve had and observations I’ve made over the years.  It was a short-lived effort. What happened? Destiny happened. Destiny is a video game. I mainlined it for over a year. Had I not surrendered the disk to Darcy a few days ago, I would still be hooked, metaphorically speaking, of course. As I leveled my avatars and collected the treasures much  has gone unread, unsaid. It is with some satisfactiont that what went undone has significance only to me. Even so, i want to accomplish something that matters to me, if no one else. And so,  in the coming days, through a series of posts to Walking Raven and reposted to a newly created Facebook Page,  I will to pick up where I left off in November of 2014 and  undertake, once again, the task to create meaning where there otherwise is none.

  The November Encyclical

By

Kristine Osnes a/k/a Walking Raven

To Thomas 

The Means

The Means

The Cast

[This space intentionally contains no listing of names. I’ve tucked the original list safely away in a digital file. I refrained from including the list herein so as to spare any hurt/hard feelings on the part of those who either failed to make the list or whose names have been struck through. (Bygones, NOT.)

The Soundtrack

Joni Mitchell (all), Leonard Cohen (all), Tea and Sympathy, Diamonds and Rust, The Innocent Age, Heart Like a Wheel, American City Suite, Hymns, The Messiah, Opera, Bist du bei mir, Imagine, I Won’t Last a Day Without You, Mary Chapin Carpenter, There’s a Train Everyday, Willie Nelson, Susan Boyle, Sarah Brightman, A Whiter Shade of Pale, Golden Slumbers, Bridge Over Troubled Water, Old Man, Lay Down Candles in the Rain, Pachelbel’s Canon, Old Friends, Broken English, Old Friends, Miller’s Crossing, Jennifer Warnes, Who Could Know?  . . . actually, nearly all of the 10,000 or so tracks in my iTunes Library uploaded from the  hundreds of backup cds stored in my closet.

Out of the Many, A Chosen Few

Don Quixote, Superman Comic Books, Robin Hood, A Wrinkle in Time, Lord of the Rings, Joseph Andrews, Robert Frost, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Demian, The Madman, Shakespeare, Christopher Marlowe, Tristram Shandy, Moby Dick, Huckleberry Finn, The Sound and the Fury, Little, Big, The Secret History, The Man with the Golden Arm, Under the Volcano, Virginia Woolf, The Little Prince, Ulysses, Nightwood, Appointment in Sammara, Master and Margarita, The Recognitions, Gravity’s Rainbow, Pattern Recognition, Tales of the Otari, His Dark Materials, The Sun Also Rises, The Great Gatsby, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, Gilgamesh, His Dark Materials, Harry Potter, Infinite Jest, War and Peace, Dr. Strange and Mr. Norrell, The Satanic Verses, Midnight’s Children, The Indian Clerk, Frankenstein, The Stand, Cavalier and Clay, Jack Reacher, Gabriel Allon, Eve Dallas and Roarke, Douglas Adams, American Gods, Stardust, Lamb, Story of Edgar Sawtell, Can You Forgive Her?, The Crimson Petal and the White, Ahab’s Wife, Dante’s Inferno, The Brothers Karamazov, Professor’s House, A Song of Ice and Fire, Pendergast, Mallory, The Last Report of the Miracles at Little No Horse, Cat’s Cradle, A Confederacy of Dunces, Oryx and Crake, Middlesex, The Sparrow, John Sandford, Perfume, The Great Stink, The Smoke Tree, Going After Cacciato, Blood Meridian, Infinite Jest, Kingkiller Chronicle, Forever, To Kill a Mockingbird, I Heard the Owl Call My Name, The Iceman Cometh, Waiting for Godot, Cyrano de Bergerac. 

Videos I own

Wings of Desire: Angels on the Streets of Berlin, Das Boot, The Seventh Seal, Prophesy I-III, The Madwoman of Chaillot, The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, Nashville, Ghost Dog Samurai, Kill Bill I and II, Bladerunner (Director’s Cut), Harry Potter Set, The Matrix Set, Hamlet (Kenneth Branagh), Michael, MacBeth (Judy Dench), Dark City, Dogma, Babette’s Feast, Farewell my Concubine, The Hobbit Set (to date), Magnolia, RepoMan, Star Wars Set, McCabe and Mrs. Miller.

The Table of Contents

The Preface

Academic Writing

The Law and Legal Writing

The Preface

I decided to give NaNoWriMo a bye this year, as the past few years have been rather disappointing. Then I started thinking outside the novel, and realized I could change the goal of writing a 50,000-word novel to writing 50,000 words about anything I felt like. Remembering a recent dream in which there was a discussion of papal encyclicals, my dream self wondered if perhaps they were akin to the State of the Union addresses. My awake self performed some research, and  learned for the most part use of the term is restricted to publications by the Pope. Even so, “encyclical” comes from Latin encylicus meaning “general” or “encircling” which is also the origin of the word “encyclopedia.” That worked for me. I decided to write an encyclical. Initially I intended to write it as a poem, but soon realized it was a perfect fit for NaNoWriMo.

At the beginning of 2004, I spent two glorious weeks on a solitary retreat at my Sister’s wonderful cabin on the banks of Cass Lake in Northern Minnesota. It was here that my blog Walking Raven was born. I described it as a Miscellany, and intended to post with some regularity entries exploring different subjects but with an emphasis on presenting backstories and discussions related to my partially written novel The First Voice. In reality, I’ve managed to post a handful of entries each year on on all manner of things, but many more were relegated to a on line description added to a file labeled “Writing Ideas.”

You see, I am a writer who doesn’t particularly like to take the time to write. To paraphrase Descartes, I have thought it, therefore it is written. Now, in the Eleventh Month of my 60th year, I pledge to transcribe in the next 30 days as many of these these ideas as I can to the digital screen of my MacBook 11.6 in. Air. From there they will become Walking Raven posts. Together they will comprise The November Encyclical; i.e., an account of the  State of Walking Raven Union. For those you few (you happy few) who have read, or perhaps more precisely, tried to read my Walking Raven compositions over the years, I envision these new entries to stay more “on task” without the distraction of parentheticals, tangents, and digressions.

I use the term “transcribe” deliberately as writing can take many forms, including printed or cursive writing with pencil or pen, typing, word processing, and so forth. I’m as yet unsure whether I would classify thinking in words or dictating as “writing.” The bottom line is I believe the end product will be different depending on the chosen technique. Over the years I’ve gone back and forth which is best for me. I have settled on word-processing as the overall best method for this project.

I will say, however, I continue to be intrigued with a company called Livescribe which produces a series of digital ball point pens. One writing implement consists of a pen with an ink cartridge that also boasts wi-fi capabilities and memory capacity up to 8GB. It also has a microphone. One can purchase a headset with earbuds that have built in speakers. It’s perfect for taking lecture notes. Using special paper, one can tap “record” and then go on to take handwritten notes. While reviewing these notes, however, touching any written word will queue up the point in the lecture when the note was written. If one wants to simply write without recording, the pen scans each written word producing a physical piece of writing as well as a digital copy that goes straight to an Evernote notebook. In turn, an app called My Script will turn handwriting into text. Pretty sweet. I suspect this will be my chosen means of writing poetry should I ever get back to it.

And so it begins. See you on the other side.

Academic Writing

I thought it fitting, since this is my NaNoWriMo offering, that in this first The November Encyclical entry I would present a few observations about writing. Ever since I can remember, I’ve wanted to be a writer. As I grew older, that desire narrowed to being a writer in Paris in the 20s and 30s smoking and drinking and hanging out at Shakespeare and Company or ay Gertrude and Alice’s place at 5 Rue de Christine de Christine de Christine. I surrounded myself with all manner of pens, pencils, and notebooks. Even so, I rarely wrote anything – although there was, of course, the obligatory stint as an adolescent poet expressing the depths of her existential angst. As an English Major at the University of Minnesota, I wrote several papers, none of which were especially memorable except for one about Under the Volcano by Malcolm Lowry.

During my first semester as a graduate student at the University of New Mexico I experienced a rude awakening, I received a B-/C+ on a paper that I considered to be a brilliant comparison/analysis of the Circe episode in Ulysses  and Djuna Barnes’s Nightwood. The accompanying comment allowed as how the paper appeared to contain some good ideas, but they were hidden in the jumbled incoherency of the writing itself. Needless to say, I was devastated. In my best Scarlet O’Hara imitation I swore then and there that I would rectify the situation.

Ironically, I was teaching Freshman English at the time of the above incident. I supplemented my teaching materials with two or three “style” books, and worked alongside my students in pursuit of the perfect “5 paragraph essay.” Thesis, analysis, conclusion, again and again and then again. Thinking about it, the formulation of a thesis statement is akin to Hemingway’s quest for the perfect sentence.

And I learned. Things like, as much as one might want to add any number of random insightful comments, confine the analysis section to remarks in support of the thesis. Know one’s audience and make sure to provide enough analysis to allow the audience to follow one’s thought process. Wrap it all up in a tidy, satisfying concluding paragraph. In the ensuing years, I went on to write several paper exploring subjects like the “homosexual question” in Shakespeare’s Sonnets, or Britomart and Eve as Christian Heroes in Spencer’s The Faerie Queene and Milton’s Paradise Lost respectively, or Sydney Carton’s alcoholism as the motivating factor for his sacrifice in A Tale of Two Cities. And I loved every moment. My dream was to one day rewrite and publish that catalytic Joyce/Barnes paper and be invited to read it at the annual MLA convention. Instead, practicality set in and I sold out. I traded in my aspirations of being an English professor for the sure thing, law school. Three years and I would be a lawyer. To this day I wonder whether I did right by me. But overall it has worked out for the best.

It turns out I had a talent for The Law – especially legal writing. I soon developed an “office” practice, and for 10+ years I spent most days (Monday thru Sunday) (at first) dictating, editing, and critically analyzing hundreds of legal memoranda and briefs. Only toward the end did I begin to feel even remotely comfortable with written English. It still takes a lot of polishing to write what I mean, but eventually I get there – at least most of the time. Some concepts are, and will always be, ineffable.

The Law and Legal Writing

Law is based on the premise there are (at least) two sides to every story. At it simplest, Law is the process of determining which side has the “right answer.” As good an illustration as any is that of Solomon and the need for him to conduct a “best interest of the child” inquiry to determine which of two women was better qualified to have custody of a child they both claimed as their own. In the end, we’re pretty sure the child’s biological mother got the kid, but the only thing that changed in the case was judicial intervention to flush out who most loved the baby.

Law has managed to improve the tactics used to arrive at “the truth of the matter,” since the days of trial by water. [Okay, trust me, I have shown remarkable restraint in staying “on task” so far. But I feel a compulsion to point out that the expressions “trial by water” and “baptism of fire” seem the reverse of what happens in reality. What’s up with that? Whew, feel better now.)] To continue, these days we have juries and judges who act as fact-finders. To my mind, the process offers a decent answer to Pilot’s question: “What is Truth?” Truth is what a judge or jury says is the truth.

For instance during a jury trial, a grievously injured Plaintiff swears the Defendant ran a red light. Defendant swears the light was green. Plaintiff calls a witness who testifies under oath the light was red. On cross-examination it turns out the witness has recently been found guilty of fraud and has received treatment for being a pathological liar. In turn, Defendant offers the testimony of 100 Carmelite Nuns, all of whom swear the light was green. The jury accepts Plaintiff’s version that the light was red, and renders a verdict against the Defendant and in favor of the Plaintiff. At the time of the accident, and taking the yellow light out of the equation, the light was either red or green. It is up to the jury to decide, for the purpose of assessing liability, the color of the light in question.

The first step in any trial then, is to “find” the facts. The role of fact-finder is filled either by members of a jury or, if no jury, a judge. Once found, a judge must decide what law to apply to these facts. At the end of this process, the judge or jury renders a verdict disposing of the case.

There is a saying that the best attorneys keep their clients from going to trial. This goal is usually achieved in one of two ways, either by settlement (including arbitration or mediation) or by summary judgment. A motion for summary judgment maintains there is no need for a trial because there is no need to find any facts. Instead, a judge need only apply the law to the existing set of facts to find in favor of the moving party. During my first year in private practice I managed to convince a few judges that my clients was entitled to summary judgment. My future as a lawyer was decided, and for the next several years I spent much of my time researching the issues and gathering the information necessary to determine if a case warranted a motion for summary judgment.

. . .

next post: What I Am




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