I finished applying boiled linseed oil to the old fence as practice for treating the enclosed deck exterior with it. I really like how it made the wood planks look, deeper in tone. I don’t think the deck wood will become quite as dark because the wood on the deck is much newer than the fence boards. When the wood is older it seems to soak up more oil. We’ll see.
What I’m reading now:
I recently started reading Bertrand Russell’s Portraits from Memory and Other Essays. It’s the first time I’ve read him since university, and I barely read him then. I guess I thought I had better things to do. I was wrong.
Listen to me read this part about Bertrand Russell:
In university years ago I studied philosophy and I read the British philosopher, mathematician, serial husband, and campaigner for peace, Bertrand Russell (1872-1970). Not as thoroughly as I should have but enough to keep me interested all these years. That man accomplished more in a week than I’ll do in my whole lifetime!
Since we got our new computer, Pocket now pops up on my home screen and offers suggestions of articles I might like to read. Sure enough and big as day, there was a Bertrand Russell essay called “How to Grow Old” featured on the website brainpickings.org.
After reading this essay about how to age and die well (spoiler alert: the key is living well) I looked up Bertrand Russell to find out more about the man that nurtured these beautiful ideas and then grew them into words.
Young Bertrand Russell didn’t have it easy. Both of his parents, his sister, and his grandfather died by the time Bertrand was six years old. This misfortune left him and his brother Frank to be raised by their grandmother, apparently the last adult standing. Frank was sent to boarding school while Bertrand was educated at home. It was lonely, but he claims he didn’t mind the solitude, only the boring, repetitive meals in a household that could’ve afforded to feed a small village. Oh yes. Young Bertrand also loathed the strict routine including the hour-and-a-half piano practice each day. He admits his relief at leaving for Cambridge and discovering that there were others more like him out there in the world.
Despite early tragedy and a rigid upbringing, Bertrand Russell turned out all right. Over the course of his 97 years he published in excess of 70 books and approximately 2000 articles. In 1950 he received the Nobel Prize for Literature.
Bertrand Russell had his ups and downs. For example his first wife, Alys Pearsall Smith, was a bit disappointed when he returned home from a bicycle ride during which he made a realization. According to Wikipedia, “Their marriage began to fall apart in 1901 when it occurred to Russell, while he was cycling, that he no longer loved her. She asked him if he loved her and he replied that he did not.”
During his life of activism and of expressing his views, many liked Bertrand Russell and many hated him. Either way, it’s this philosopher and Nobel laureate that I’m researching and writing about today. The same can’t be said of some guy way back when who intensely disliked Russell. I’m not familiar with that grouchy man or his body of work. but I might have met his great grandson.
Hello everyone! I hope you’ve had a great week. This piece is my excuse to post a few of my favourite thoughts, quotes, and images. Have a good weekend and thanks for stopping by. ~ Lori
Divested – A Poem
Dig a hole,
Build a house,
Or buy a house.
Big screen TV,
a boat to tow behind.
Fix up the bathroom,
Replace the light fixtures.
And carpets to match.
First a garage sale,
Then the house sale.
Adult children post
accumulation on Kijiji.
Much smaller place:
Cremation or casket?
Dig a hole.
Don’t Assume There’s a Later
After dying in a car crash, three friends go to Heaven for orientation. They are all asked this question: “When you are in your casket, with friends and family mourning for you, what would you like to hear them say about you?”
The first guy immediately responds, “I would like to hear them say that I was one of the great doctors of my time and a great family man.”
The second guy says, “I would like to hear that I was a wonderful husband and school teacher who made a huge difference to our children of tomorrow.”
The last guy thinks for a minute then replies, “I’d like to hear them say ‘LOOK, HE’S MOVING!’”
Before beginning this piece I deliberated for a long while because I don’t know if you’ll be interested in reading about this experience or not. Why did I hesitate and why am I still wondering if this will be a suitable topic? As you know, dear reader, I tend to write quite a bit about death and, compared to the other lighter, funny topics I touch on, the death-themed blogs, strangely enough, aren’t as popular. Go figure.
In my experience, people generally don’t like to think about dying. As I’ve expressed before, though, death is one of those big things we all have in common and the greatest fact that makes me appreciate life. I would go so far as to say that death gives my life meaning. Why should I live fully, take chances, eat good food and drink good wine? Because I’m going to die, that’s why. I can’t think of a better reason or a more solid truth than that. Death has given me a deep respect for life. I’m not suggesting that mortality should be the centre of your thoughts; I’m only stating that considering my own mortality has benefited my living.
About thirteen years ago now, I devoured the DVD boxset of the HBO drama Six Feet Under. The five-year-long series told the story of the Fisher family, of their friends and the people they meet along the way, and of their Los Angeles funeral home business. The show’s finale reveals how each main character reaches the end of the line, and by the time I’d finished watching this final episode, I knew what I was going to do.
Within a few months, I had made an appointment with a lawyer to get a will created, purchased a cemetery plot outside of town and wrote the script for my own funeral. Should I get taken out by a semi on the way to work one morning, everything is ready to go in a tidy manila file folder. I’m certain I’m going to die and uncertain about when, so it seemed most considerate to those who will have to deal with my departure that I prepared for it.
More than mere consideration for those left living prompted me to undergo this process. Writing my own funeral, standing atop that tiny prairie plot and discussing my last will and testament made death very real to me. It was no longer an event that was going to happen sometime. It became an event that could happen anytime. This new, sharper perspective brought to my life a kind of gentle urgency that whispers in my ear, “What’s most important? Do it now. Don’t assume there’s a later.”
Do I still go on autopilot several times throughout the day? Do I forget that each moment is unique and precious, never to be experienced again? Do I fail to remember that tomorrow may never come? You bet. But remembering death’s inevitability is the quickest way to swing my intentions back around to what matters most to me right here and right now. That’s the gift death has given me.
We tend to perceive time as linear, as running in a straight line out behind us and stretching unbending before us. I suspect that’s not exactly how it works, and many physicists have some interesting theories about the nature of time, how it moves, and how it flows. These ideas fascinate me, but right now, I want to write about my personal experience of time, a narrower perspective, a snapshot of time as I see it.
Listen to me read this post:
Lately, I see myself as The Little Engine That Could sitting on a short rail line with only a few metres behind me and only a few in front. Gone is the past and there’s no future in sight. I can’t seem to move ahead and I sure can’t go back. And so I sit stalled, and it seems as though time is moving around me, like water around rocks whose dry tops poke out from the current.
It’s not the worst feeling I’ve ever experienced, not by a long way. It’s just different for someone who likes action, who likes to change, who likes to feel she’s moving along with time. In fact, I find myself enjoying this chance to quietly watch as life moves around my still, stuck form. It’s interesting if a bit disconcerting because, sitting still like this, everything seems so close up as it passes by. I see more detail in all that comes my way.
Of course, I understand that whether I am aware of it or not, time is moving me along. None of us ever stands still. Not really. We are altered and changed moment to moment. Cells die and are regenerated constantly. We all age, babies are born every day and all the time, and every day, people die. I realize that although I feel static, the very existence of time itself forces me to be dynamic until I no longer exist.
And yet for the time being, I feel like more an observer than a participant in all these swirling changes, all this movement. Soon, I know that time will seem to open up again before me with all its perceived possibilities, and I’ll roll on down the line. For now, I’ll do my best to stay patiently put while time makes its way around me, coming in close but never quite touching me. It seems I have no other choice while I’m stalled on the tracks.
I think I may’ve read Walden or Life in the Woods in university. It rings a bell. It was a text that I was told I should read. Now, years later, I decided to read Thoreau’s best known nonfiction work for very much the same reason. I thought it was something I should read, something like taking literary vitamins or running on a brain-growing treadmill. Many of the writers I read and listen to these days quote Thoreau, and especially Walden, extensively.
I ordered the book from our interlibrary loan system and it arrived just before I was scheduled to fly off to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico for a little R&R. (I don’t recommend taking library books on vacation. That being said, I do it all the time.) I started reading Walden a little reluctantly. Published in 1854, the language is a bit different than today’s, but I found Thoreau’s style to be unencumbered and clean, easy to read. ten or so pages in, the reluctance dropped away, and I found it hard to leave the book alone. I’d become invested in Thoreau’s adventure and philosophy.
As I read on the sunny hotel balcony in the shady breeze, I was reminded of a phone conversation I’d had with my dad before leaving for Mexico. He’d said something like, “Things are changing too fast. Cell phone use is destroying us. It’s tearing people apart.”
I’ve heard nearly the same sentiment expressed by many people. Some of them are my older friends and some of them are younger than me. Henry David Thoreau thought something similar. He wasn’t yet concerned about cell phone use, but he did think that new technology, especially the railroad, would change people and society as a whole, irrevocably. He was right.
Here’s what Thoreau has to say about the railroad and how he perceives that it changed life in Concord, Massachusetts:
“Have not men improved somewhat in punctuality since the railroad was invented? Do they not talk and think faster in the depot than they did in the stage-office? There is something electrifying in the atmosphere of the former place. I have been astonished at the miracles it has wrought; that some of my neighbors, who, I should have prophesied, once for all, would never get to Boston by so prompt a conveyance, were on hand when the bell rang. To do things “railroad fashion” is now the byword; and it is worth the while to be warned so often and so sincerely by any power to get off its track.”
The clanging of the bells and the prompt train schedule that Thoreau writes about caused me to consider our bleeping phones and how, to folks like my dad, owners of those phones seem to be quite ruled by the technology they own just as Thoreau thought that people were becoming governed by the railroad. I’ve heard it said that we are talking and thinking faster than ever before, like in Thoreau’s train station, or not talking at all, but typing faster than ever before.
Either way, both Dad and Thoreau agree that all this technology is leading to a communication breakdown. And as Thoreau states that we should get off the railway’s track, Dad and others proclaim that we should get off the track of internet-based technology use. But time marches on and things change. For better or for worse, neither Dad nor Thoreau can halt the train of technology.
Talking to my dad and reading the timeless words of Henry David Thoreau, it became evident to me that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Living in the countryside and quite a distance from larger city centres, I think about my experience of traveling into the city to shop. There’s a general store here, and a bank, a hairdresser, an insurance agency and a daycare centre. It’s pretty quiet, somewhat like Thoreau’s woods. I can’t help but compare my trips into the city to Thoreau’s experience of going into town. He calls it “running the gauntlet of businesses.”
“…so that every traveler had to run the gauntlet, and every man, woman, and child might get a lick at him. Of course, those [businesses] who were stationed nearest to the head of the line, where they could most see and be seen, and have the first blow at him, paid the highest prices for their places; and the few straggling inhabitants in the outskirts, where long gaps in the line began to occur, and the traveler could get over walls or turn aside into cow-paths, and so escape, paid a very slight ground or window tax. Signs were hung out on all sides to allure him; some to catch him by the appetite, as the tavern and victualling cellar; some by the fancy, as the dry goods store and the jeweller’s; and others by the hair or the feet or the skirts, as the barber, the shoemaker, or the tailor.”
By this account, the way businesses lure and seduce customers has changed very little since Thoreau’s time. After all these years, businesses provide the same basic type of services and merchandise as they did in the mid-1800s. After spending half a day running from store to store, bombarded visually and auditorially by products and advertising, I feel exactly as if I’ve run a gauntlet. I hear you, Henry David Thoreau, and I share your pain.
One thing I never knew about Thoreau or expected to discover is that he is the king of the backhanded compliment. I mean, I should’ve guessed. In Walden, he doesn’t always come across as a great lover of the human race, and he is obviously a skilled wordsmith. I like how he describes this guy, the ill-fated Colonel Hugh Quoil, a resident of Walden Woods who died shortly after Thoreau began his stint there:
“All I know of him is tragic. He was a man of manners, like one who had seen the world, and was capable of more civil speech than you could well attend to.”
I’ve run into a few folks capable of more civil speech than I could attend to. I’ve sat there bored stupid, praying that God would strike either the speaker or me dead, and past the point of caring which. Just shut-up already! Thoreau says it much more eloquently than I. I am, alas, not the queen of the backhanded compliment. Sadly, I’m both a bit too kind and a touch too straightforward to reign, but I appreciate how Thoreau sits on that throne.
It took about five hours to fly home from Puerto Vallarta. Now usually I drug myself into a semi-stupor with a couple Gravol, a strategy I highly recommend to make any flight fly. It’s not the first time an old guy has sat pretty much in my lap for an entire flight, but those other times were due to the closeness of the seats and the girth of the guy. This last flight, with Thoreau in my lap, the journey was smooth and enjoyable.
I didn’t quite finish reading Walden on the plane. When I’m enjoying reading something, I read it slowly, I savour it. I like to give the words time to sink into my brain and often I’ll read certain passages over. There are lots of books I skim. Walden is philosophy and Walden is poetry. These words deserve to be tasted and remembered.
Back at home in my recliner I discovered that, besides being the king of backhanded compliments, Thoreau wins the prize for most anticlimactic ending I’ve ever read. True, it’s not quite the ending, but it’s the ending of the account of his time spent on Walden Pond at the end of the second last chapter called “Spring”:
“Thus was my first year’s life in the woods completed; and the second year was similar to it. I finally left Walden September 6th, 1847.”
I can’t say exactly why the understatement of this ending, this big finish, struck me as so funny, but I just howled with laughter. “Similar to it.” That’s a good one. Sure, all my recent years in the same location are similar to one another, as well, but I try to pick out a few unique events from each as story material, a tidbit or two to tell about later. Not Thoreau. I guess he was done the book and, after reading the conclusion, so was I.