Friday, February 29, 2008


For longer than I’d let on to my wife, we’ve had critters scrabbling and scratching in the wall behind the kitchen sink, in the ceiling insulation over the family room, and thumping on the backside of the bathtub.

When it seemed they weren’t just wayfarers passing through, but cold-weather residents, I knew I had to act—as humanely as possible. So I picked up the smallest Havahart catch and release trap that Miller’s Hardware carries. It is a boxy wire-mesh cage about ten inches long with 4x4 entrances at each end, over which little spring-loaded garage doors hang ready to clang shut when triggered by a tilted bait tray in the middle of the cage.

All I needed to do was swab a gob of peanut butter on the tray and encrust it with a few of the shelled peanuts we toss out every morning to the squirrels in our backyard.

Carrying the small baited trap to our attached garage where I can climb a stepladder toward an opening to the attic rafters, I set it on a board atop the fleecy, blown-in insulation. Then I carefully pulled down the steel levers that lift and poise both doors, and I hitched them. Any slight twitch of the bait tray would trip the spring and slam the doors, one of which might swat the butt of the wee beastie nibbling peanut butter inside.

Night after night the doors clanged down, as I found in the morning. The nuts were snatched but the thief had fled—once because I’d forgot to set the latches that secure the dropped doors, but often times mysteriously, our best guess being that the varmint was too big and the door couldn’t drop far enough to latch, so he dined, cleaned the whole tray in fact, then backed out to freedom.

What were we dealing with—mice, citrus rats, squirrels, a possum, even a raccoon? Each of these creatures traipse through our yard at night, and our guardian barred owls can’t eat them all. I’d thought small at first, judging by the wall and ceiling skirmishing I’d heard. But a bait tray licked clean of peanut butter boded bigger.

A bigger trap, then, seemed in order, up from the $17 to the $30 model in the same design, only fiercer and louder, and a more formidable jail, if only it could incarcerate the malefactor.

My wife, now apprised of what I was about, grew scareder every day as night by night the trap was looted but untripped and empty. Once, as before, I had failed to set the locking latches. But another time, when I’d secured a roll of string cheese with tough packing tape around the middle, the trap remained open while both ends of the cheese roll were gnawed off. Then I discovered how to set the trigger more sensitively.

Tonight, at last, after a week of fruitless attempts, I nabbed him, or one of them. And, despite my wife’s inflamed fantasies, fomented by exterminators’ web sites she’d been scouring, it was wee indeed: no more than five inches of furry brown body and another five of worm-like tail. He had satellite dish ears, half a dime’s size, two ink-drop eyes, and a pink scrape on the bridge of his nose (not caused by the cage door’s slamming, I hope).

He was timorous in my flashlight’s beam, shining through the cage grate, but not terrified. He’d eaten much of the peanut butter and all but one of the embedded nuts. And he’d begun decorating his new abode, having reached through the grates to pull in clumps of white batting from the surrounding insulation, hunkering down, I guess, and making do.

It was 3 a.m. and I’d come down stairs to check the trap. Our protracted battle of wits was giving me greater admiration for my opponent’s cunning, as well as a game-like eagerness to see if my strategizing had finally worked.

That he turned out so small was amusing, and that he was cunning in another sense, and spunky, made me want to look out for his welfare, so I gently climbed down the step ladder hoisting his outsized cage by its roof-top handle as he scibbled about inside.

After flashing a couple of photos of him in his jail on the hood of our garaged car, I toted him in his cage like a salesman’s case down our lamplit street toward the lake. In a leveled lakeside lot with plenty of overgrown shrubbery, I released him on the walkway of the salvaged boat dock. He scooted directly to the edge and jumped a foot down into a sandy puddle, vanishing into the reeds. In my pajamas, robe and slippers, I trudged up-hill homeward.

Now for his mate to share his fate. Tomorrow night, we hope.


“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy” (HAM, 1.5.166).

Just so, say I to Hamlet. And what Hamlet here calls “philosophy,” I’ll interpret as one’s “conception of reality.” Hamlet tells Horatio that Reality—what ultimately is—exceeds the comprehension of any human consciousness; that what any of us can know as real—is limited and partial and may vary widely from what others call “real.”

For some, “ghosts” are real. For some, “angels” and “devils” are real and “souls” are real and “God” is real. For others, not. Ultimate Reality is larger than anyone’s reality concept can encompass, and we apprehend only that portion of Reality that our reality concept gives us scope to comprehend.

On the other hand, not everything we may take as Real is so:

Lovers and madmen have such seething brains,
Such shaping fantasies, that apprehend
More than cool reason ever comprehends. (MND, 5.1.4)

Our apprehensions often prove delusional, imaginary; while comprehension reasons rightly, knows what’s Real.

This, then, for Shakespeare, is our predicament: we grasp at straws. There’s more to Reality than we can know, and what we think is Real is often wrong. We wander erroneously in benighted woods amazed, deluded, lost. “Cool reason,” could we use it, shows things truly, but that’s beyond our ken.

What must we do then but be humble, kind and generous, knowing we’re all fools fixated on our own philosophies, obtuse to Truth.


Thursday, February 28, 2008


So much to know before I go,
So much yet left unsaid,
So many verses, row by row,
Still uncomposed, unread.

I pray then for the time and mind
To do what should be done
So wit and artistry combined
Make sound and sense grow one.

To fail in this for lack of will
Would show ingratitude
For gifts God-given: latent skill
And native aptitude.

I owe it to myself and you
To write as well as I can do.


Wednesday, February 27, 2008


I asked a friend who aspires to be a well-published poet but isn’t yet, despite his many submissions, if he’d accept this deal: You can have ten poems prominently published this year with good hopes of their being anthologized long after your death, but you can never write another poem; or you can write poems for the rest of your life but go forever unpublished. He opted for publication and fame. His ego, he said, needed that.

That’s a tough dilemma, but I think I’d choose the other way, opting for process over product. It would suffice to have the pleasure of composing poems that pleased me to have written, sand castles though they were, especially if I could share them with others who enjoyed them. I would hope to grow better in my craft the more I practiced and to explore wide vistas of subject matter and various expressive styles over many years, regardless of what was currently in vogue. I would be like amateur musicians who love to play or sing but whose performances are never recorded and only briefly remembered.

Yet I wonder if my deepest motive for writing, that which compels me to practice it assiduously, is indeed the hope of high regard and lasting recognition, the need of being impressive and worthy of remembering. I think it is. Just as it must have been for the Great Ones in literary history whose works remain revered for their grand artistry, rare innovation, and well-tempered genius.

So I hope I won’t have to face this dilemma. I hope I can keep on writing and grow better over many years, good enough to linger long in admiration—a vain hope but one that keeps me going.

(How like the sonnet’s is the form of this short essay, the sonnet it should have been.)

Tuesday, February 26, 2008


There’s something I would say, the gist of which,
Inchoate in my mind, is like an itch
That prompts my pen to scratch a word or two
Then make a line and then another few
Until my form’s filled out, the page is full,
A sonnet’s wrought and—lo!—it’s sensible.

“Now where did that come from?” I fondly ask,
Yet knowing where or why is not my task,
Which is but to sit still and listen well
To what my verse unfolding has to tell.
The mystery of this I must abide
While listening to what whisperings confide.

The sonnet that emerges at the last
Implies behind my mind lies something vast.

Monday, February 25, 2008


I am essentially an essayist
Attempting to discover my own mind
Or make it up where thoughts don’t yet exist,
Which writing lets me seek and often find.

While some who write weave stories from their lives
Or fantasies, contriving characters
And plots exposing motives, manners, drives,
I’d rather follow rhymes till thought occurs.

It’s more like drawing water from a well
Or calling spirits from the vasty deep
Or contemplating in a rapturous spell
Till words I sow grow verses I can reap.

So night by night I wake to let words play;
How well I do, I’ll leave you to assay.

Saturday, February 23, 2008


So many words there are that never blay
Because in ancient times the ruling Squay,

Who arrogated all the power to blee
The common tongue eradicated squie.

And ever since, the only ones who dwigh
Live far from cities and must speak in swy

Lest anybody of a mind to dreau
Denounce their practice and demand they swough.

Yet even now, despite the threat of dweau,
Such vacant words persist: long may they vough!

Thursday, February 21, 2008



Left to my best devices and desires,
I seek for that to which my soul aspires,
As intuition guides me toward my goal
Of growing generous, compassionate and whole.

But when I’m clouded and distracted by
Things of this world, I all too soon deny
The subtle promptings of my inner guides,
Forgetting where true joyful peace resides.

Things of this world, however, still prevail
For I live in this world where I must fail
Perforce, and ill devices and desires
Invade my mind igniting lustful fires.

Yet that’s the challenge of this Earthly vale:
To conquer lust and gain the Holy Grail.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008


to John Keats

For long enough now I have lived in doubt,
Not knowing what this life is all about;
I’m ready to be conquered by conviction,
Regardless if it’s truth or if it’s fiction.

Some things, I am persuaded, can’t be proved
Nor every reasonable doubt removed,
So nothing’s left but taking a blind leap
And hoping that I'll fathom something deep.

A fledgling at the edge of my first nest,
I’ll fling myself out, hoping for the best;
I’ll raise my sails and pray the winds of grace
Will waft me toward some grand and sacred place.

This irritable reaching after fact
Is but a city eager to be sacked.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008


Rollins College president, Lewis Duncan, in a recent memo to the faculty, used the phrase “the growing educational needs of our students.”

That got me wondering if indeed Rollins students are needier now than in years and decades past, or if there’s simply more now that they need or lack or want which college should provide.

Perhaps the ever-growing cost of college reflects our greater efforts to address these new deficiencies or necessities.

Is it that students now come to college less studious and well prepared and therefore must be remediated intensively so as to graduate with properly elevated skills and college-level knowledge?

Or is it that the world of learning has expanded so rapidly that more academic material must be packed into denser curricula, or that success in post-collegiate life now demands comprehension of more data and disciplines?

Perhaps, more generally, it’s that we now recognize that college has a broader mission to effect in the lives of students than we have formerly assumed. Once there were just two defined categories of collegiate activities: the curricular and the extracurricular. There were academic programs and there were recreational programs in athletics, arts, and leisure pursuits.

Nowadays, a third activity category has developed: the “co-curricular,” which intends generally to address the development of students’ moral and civic character, preparing them to be “responsible leaders” and “global citizens,” particularly through engagement in “service learning” programs and volunteer involvements in off-campus communities and causes.

In this regard, Rollins has recently garnered an award for being a top “engaged college.”

But is there even more neediness in our students still to be addressed, and properly the mission of higher education?

What comes most immediately to my mind is the idea of wisdom, defined (by philosopher Nicholas Maxwell) as “the realization of what is of value, to ourselves and others.”

It may even be said that the highest aim of life and higher education is the attainment of wisdom. In fact, a recent distinguished visiting scholar at Rollins, Copthorne Macdonald, claimed just that in his lecture to the college.

Even though old age is no guarantee of growing wise, our inquiry into what is truly valuable ought to begin in college, if not sooner, for it is the growing need of all of us in this increasingly perilous world to wise up.

Monday, February 18, 2008


In the time I have left as a teacher, I want everything I do academically to have clear transformative effects on my students. I want them not simply to know something more but to become something more—and better—for what they have learned and performed in my courses. No students of mine should wonder what was the point or use of any course they've taken with me. The enhancements they recognize in themselves should be clear evidence of the growth and development of their humanity.

If education needs to be not only informative but transformative, and who we are is very much formed by our beliefs, we should examine our beliefs, especially our tacit suppositions about ourselves, others, and the world. I should examine my own beliefs, both overt and tacit. I should try to enunciate them and defend them and, where necessary, amend them. Allow me.

I believe that people need to “grow in love” throughout their lives (as Tolstoy said) in order to be healthy and whole in the highest sense (“spiritually,” some would say); in order to become more enlightened than benighted; in order to manifest their true or higher selves and live the lives they were born to live.

I do not know this to be true, but I believe it to be right and good; and to act on this belief, my experience tells me, will make me happiest. But I might believe otherwise.

I might believe, for instance, that triumphing over others is more satisfying than caring for them, sharing with them, and showing them compassion. Many do.

I might believe that some classes of people are inherently more worthy than others and should be privileged accordingly—for their race, religion, nationality, ethnicity, gender, or some other distinguishing mark.

I might believe the world should revolve around me and that my own ego’s gratification—“looking out for #1”—comes first.

I don’t. Not when I behave as I believe. And I believe that such a generous attitude is best for all of us, necessary to acquire, and the highest aim of education: a transformation devoutly to be wished.

Sunday, February 17, 2008


A credo, as I take it, is a set of suppositions about how things are that cannot be verified scientifically. Such things as we believe cannot be observed, tested and authenticated as can those things we know. Such scientific theories as human evolution and global warming are proving factual as our empirical investigations proceed. Whereas the existence of God, immortal souls, and destined human purpose remain subjects of our speculation and belief rather than of certain, objective validation—or knowledge.

Yet it is important to attend to both what we know and what we believe. The significance of knowledge to our survival and thriving is self-evident, even if some knowledge is painful and dangerous. Clearly, much of our formal and informal education involves increasing and clarifying what we know about ourselves, others, the world, and even the cosmos at large. But we also, for our better-being, need to cultivate a system of beliefs designed to benefit our psyches and to serve well the vital needs of other living beings.

While beliefs cannot, by definition, be verified and authenticated scientifically, they can be assessed pragmatically by their fruits. A belief is a good belief to the extent that experience shows it to serve us and others well. A belief in ethnic superiority and ethnic cleansing obviously leads to harming and killing human beings and must therefore be judged a flawed belief. Likewise we may all come in time to recognize the slaughter of animals for human food to be a flawed belief (as some already do). Human history can be written in terms of the evolution of our collective beliefs and prevailing ideologies, rising and falling over time, not necessarily in the direction of greater enlightenment.

Yet overall there seems to be more light in our present collective human consciousness than we have generated in earlier eras, and we are now better able to discern beneficial from malignant beliefs—good from bad, helpful from harmful. We are growing wiser in general. While we may recognize the rights of individuals to choose their own beliefs, we must deny that all beliefs are equally valid. A belief proves valid or strong not by logic but by effect: it serves life well or ill, as time and reflective observation will reveal.

It behooves us in our education ,then, to learn to discern what are the most serviceable beliefs we may adopt and live by: Which beliefs work best to benefit the biosphere, that interwoven matrix of all Earthly life, in which we live and move and have our conscious being? Together we must seek out such beliefs and make of them our sacred credo.

Saturday, February 16, 2008


for Abraham Maslow

My teaching needs to be transformative,
Concerned foremost with how we ought to live
And what contributes to that lofty goal,
Addressing these: the mind, the heart, the soul.

The mind must learn to think creatively,
As well as critically, and come to see
Not only heaps of facts but theories,
Discerning fruitful forests from mere trees.

The heart must learn the reason for our lives,
The only way our hapless species thrives,
And that’s, as Tolstoy said, to “grow in love”
By seeking blissful guidance from above:

Which is where souls essentially aspire,
Transcending lower needs and aiming higher.

Friday, February 15, 2008


Suppose the scene around us is suffused
With things unseen by faculties unused.
They’re there: those Little People, Fairies, Elves,
Quite visible to some, but not ourselves.

How is it that we cannot see such things?
Is there a mental attitude that brings
Them into view, so if I change my mind,
Attending differently, I won’t be blind?

How much is expectation part of sight,
So only what I know I see aright?
We simply see what we’re prepared to see,
And what we don’t believe in cannot be.

Yet in the night, imagining some fear,
How easy is a bush supposed a bear.

Thursday, February 14, 2008


How could we not as humans fail to wonder?
Thus failure and the Fall followed that “blunder”
When we first took it in our heads to ponder
Forbidden things and from the Way to wander.

Was it not right to seek to be profounder?
Does not through failure reasoning grow sounder?
What if from straight and narrow we meander,
Would not some great discovery make us grander?

Yet we were told we should put on a blinder,
Though if we never sought we’d be no finder.
So I decided I’d be our defender
For only from our freedom might come splendor,

And though the angels threatened us with thunder,
I thought it worth the pain so we could wonder.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008


I am a work in progress who will end
My journey here before I comprehend
All I would know or grow into my soul
Becoming wholly me, my grandest goal.

If I’ve a Higher Self to realize,
It’s reasonable that when my body dies
My soul lives on and earns another chance
To learn more Earthly lessons and advance.

How else can I make sense of our existence
And that we have prevailed through our persistence
To gain preeminence on this our Earth?
Can death extinguish beings of such worth?

One must suppose the universe intends
Our souls to be perfected when it ends.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008


The study of credology, its central inquiry, investigates the perennial need of our species to establish systems of belief, as distinguished from systems of scientific knowledge. Whereas systematic science is a very recent event in human history, established in only the 16th century, belief systems purporting to make sense of the mysteries that baffle human minds trace back to our most ancient myths, which probably had to wait upon the development of language in the course of human evolution. But once we learned to communicate, we possessed the means to express our wonderment about the world and our place in it, which distinguishes us from speechless, unreflective beasts bound to the present moment and the most immediate and practical of needs.

Our development of language permitted us to articulate higher-level needs beyond surviving and toward thriving. We came to require not only safety and comfort but solace and inspiration: psychic as well as physical satisfactions. Able now to wonder and speculate, to seek reasons and explanations, we began to devise suppositions to make sense of what we yearned to explain and know—we sought meaning. And out of such inquiry and speculation emerged beliefs and creeds, the subject matter of credology.

Beliefs, then, serve our distinctly human need for meaning, and more particularly for authority (What is true?), ultimacy (What is absolute?), purpose (Why is anything?), direction (Where should we go?), guidance (How should we get there?), protection (What will keep us safe?), and connection (How are we related to everything else?). Connection is the root idea of religion, which means binding back, or reconnecting with our ultimate source.

Thus credology is the study of our speculative attempts to discover meanings beyond what science can reveal, meanings that are vital to our thriving as human beings.

The world is not enough for us, we who
Seek Truth and yearn to find an apt worldview,
For something in our intellect compels
Us to investigate where meaning dwells;

When eyes are blind, we peer into our hearts,
Since where our seeing ends, believing starts,
And thus we make our suppositions creeds
By which we judge and justify our deeds.

But woe to those who propagate beliefs
That lead us not to gladness but to griefs;
Faith by itself is not enough, though strong,
For creeds, like our opinions, can be wrong.

The meanings we believe that we have found
Must still be wisely tested and judged sound.

Saturday, February 9, 2008


What, I wonder, would my life be like without language, to be like Helen Keller, possessed of a human brain, replete with its innate potentialities, yet disabled from full functioning for lack of visual and audial stimulation?

Even so, Helen craved that larger experience of her humanity which was denied her, and she was fortunate for the patient tutelage of Annie Sullivan, who instilled language in her and thereby opened to her a world of vicarious seeing and hearing.

This makes me wonder what inoperative capacities our “normal” brains contain that “fust in us unused” (as Hamlet said). Somehow human brains have evolved with latent, unlocked abilities, like upper stories in a mansion we inhabit but haven’t yet explored.

We have learned as a species many tongues and dialects, each of which enables us to perceive the world through the unique refraction and tint of its own lens. Likewise, we’ve learned the ‘languages’ of music and mathematics, giving us access to other wings in our brains’ mansions. Even writing is a different ‘language’ than is speaking.

These languages are, more generally, technologies, and with every technology we invent, we flip a switch that lights up a new room of consciousness, previously invisible to us, after which we’re never the same. Learning a new technique, a new art, is like growing a new limb, a new organ, one that lets you do something you couldn’t do before. You are enlarged, enhanced, transformed.

All of which understanding points to what seems our implicit imperative as a species: to grow into the whole scope of our potentialities, to explore the complete terra incognita of what we might become. Theodore Roszak once dubbed us “the unfinished animal” because of our open-ended capacity to grow and grow, ever more realizing new aspects of our humanity, making them manifest, while probing our intellect farther and farther into the cosmos at large.

As our organic intelligence amplifies itself by coupling with the new artificial intelligences we invent, who knows what marvelous creatures we’ll evolve into? But what a ride that will be as the human enterprise becomes the Starship Enterprise exploring the furthest reaches of our mental microcosmos.

Friday, February 8, 2008


for Eddie Fung

What is this craft I practice patiently?
I don’t just make a verse, but let it be;
I set it free from where it dwells within
By quieting the raucous outward din
And sitting in serenity until
The words arrive as if by their own will.

Waiting till spirit moves me, like a Quaker,
I am as much observer as a maker.

My mind flows on, impelled by meter’s beat,
While rhyme awaits to make each thought complete,
All while the shape of fourteen lines demands
A certain arc that rises and then falls,
That reaches to an apogee and stalls,
But sputters back to life and safely lands.

Thursday, February 7, 2008


What is it that immortal sages share?
What is their Wisdom, seemingly so rare?
Is it achievable by you and me,
Accumulated here by slow degree,
Or does it come like lightning in a burst
And sudden rain to quench a burning thirst?

I think it comes when yearning in one’s soul
Grows to a force like a magnetic pole
That draws toward itself what corresponds
With what it craves, with which it dearly bonds.

For what is Wisdom, anyway, but Love,
Like lightning that we’ve summoned from above
Electrifying those that it elects,
Now charged to cause spectacular effects?

Tuesday, February 5, 2008


My Ego and my Essence duke it out
As every day presents another bout,
Another chance for Essence to emerge
And realize its soulful inner urge.

This Essence is my Higher Self revealed,
Which Ego tries so hard to keep concealed
Beneath its selfish, narrow-minded schemes,
While Essence stretches toward transcendent themes.

Essentially we know what life is for
And what, above all else, we should adore:
Ideals of Love and Justice, Sympathy
And Care, knowing all Life one Family.

For is this not a living universe,
And is not our denying that our curse?

Monday, February 4, 2008