Friday, September 30, 2011


Language is our main means for construing and comprehending and representing our experience of the world—to ourselves and to others.

Therefore, the more capacious our vocabulary and the more capable our skills of grammar, syntax, logic and rhetoric, then the more fully and clearly may we make sense of what we apprehend.

Without such a tool for sense-making, for conceptualizing and articulating, we could not be fully realized as human beings employing the whole potential of our unique intelligence.

Master language, then, if you mean to achieve the sapience inherent in Homo sapiens sapiens.



an essay topic

From my informal observations, I would propose that in our contemporary American society much more conscious and intentional artistry is required of a girl in becoming a woman than of a boy in becoming a man. 

Perhaps it’s like the difference between arts and crafts: while craftsmanship is a prized ability, useful and handsome at the best, artistry is more highly esteemed for its refinement, subtlety, expressiveness and beauty.

If this topic clicks with you and you feel like supporting or contesting my proposition, then bring in the particulars of your own experience and observations to illustrate how you reckon the respective transformative processes of girls becoming women and boys becoming men.



for Jonathan Miller

For what some say is nothing, we have names,
Like psyche, spirit, daimon, essence, ghost,
Implying an implicit Self with aims:
An animus at least, a Soul at most.

What is it that gives us integrity
That makes us at our highest reach feel whole?
It’s something more than personality,
No artificial construct, but a Soul.

This Higher Self, this essence of our being,
Is what we live and long to realize;
Though no imperious autocrat decreeing
A destined fate, it shows us what is wise.

     Consider then your Soul an inner guide
     That points your way and helps you to decide.


Tuesday, September 27, 2011


Lo, Everyman, who passeth on his way,
Neglectful of his destined ending day,
Until on that day Death confronted him
And suddenly his hopefulness went dim.
For all that he had long depended on—
His Strength, and Beauty, Goods and Friends—were
And nothing but Good Deeds could ease his woe
Or stead him in the dark where he must go.
But what of penitent confession and
Heart sorrow—will our Father understand
If on our last day we have grown contrite
And shown repentance—shall we see the Light?
     Will not Christ’s sacrifice be our envoy
     To save our souls and gain us heavenly joy?


Sunday, September 25, 2011


Though it be filled with peril, harm and strife,
What greater miracle is there than life?
And such a marvel is vitality
We cannot penetrate its mystery.
What is this spirit that inspires us:
Our breath, our being, our bright animus,
As easily extinguished as a flame
And yet the pinnacle of Nature’s aim?
While we can’t fathom our essential spark
That briefly shines against eternal dark,
We may still praise the quintessential force
Engendering vital consciousness, our source,
And hope that, beyond time, eternity
Discovers to our souls its mystery.


Saturday, September 24, 2011

The Wife of Bath’s Tale, ll. 1225-1235

“Choose now just one of these two things,” she said:
“To have me foul and old until I’m dead,
Yet be to you a true and humble wife
And never to displease you all my life,
Or else young, fair and fitting for romance,
In which case then you’ll have to take your chance
For what befalls your house because of me
(Or in some other place, as it may be).
Now, choose the option toward which you’re more
The knight took thought and made a sorry moan.


Friday, September 23, 2011


Though he had many sins to be forgiven,
The old man never thought he should be shriven,
But went his own way, negligent as ever,
Determined in his errors to persever.

Though current memories no longer lingered,
The past he knew too well and always fingered
And, like the Ancient Mariner, recited
To passersby what left them undelighted:

Old stories of sea battles and ships sinking,
Which recitations came as close to thinking
As his old brain could summon in its falling,
A spectacle both rueful and appalling.

     His fondest dream—to wake to eggs and bacon
     And then, on his last day, not to awaken.


Thursday, September 22, 2011


The start of any sonnet just occurs
Spontaneously arising in the mind,
But then the work begins of making verse
And finding words that rhyme with those behind
While all along contriving fluency
By smoothing out the numbers as they flow,
A labor that progresses tediously,
Though yet such sweat and effort must not show.
A well-made sonnet seems inevitable
As if it sprang full grown from the head
In god-like glory, grand, a spectacle—
Only the poet knows how much he bled.
     For all of that, it’s still a mystery
     How any decent sonnet comes to be.


Tuesday, September 20, 2011


The motive of my versecraft is to win
The game the form presents, progressing through
Each turn as blithely as a skier in
A slalom course would nonchalantly do.

The skill of such an art is to hide art
And, as the dancers say, “Don’t let them see
You sweat.”  Don’t put the horse behind the cart;
Let wildness find originality.

You never know where you’ll come out, or should,
For what’s the fun in following a route
To some predestined point, and what’s the good
Of knowing, when the goal is the pursuit?

     A game like this provokes discovery,
     Yet how it does remains a mystery.


Monday, September 19, 2011


There is a mental place I love to go,
A twilight zone where everything’s serene
Yet eerie when the spirits start to show
And suddenly my torpid brain grows keen.

I’m in my right mind there and see how wrong
The daylight way of apprehension is
That only knows by speaking, not by song,
And thinks that knowing means to pass a quiz.

It’s intuition, not the intellect
This secret garden grows in moonlit rows,
Which when the daylight comes you may inspect
And realize it’s something more than prose.

     For in this keen serenity I see
     A new dimension spelled in poetry.


Sunday, September 18, 2011


Can human beings and human societies be “fixed” so as to eliminate or notably reduce aberrant, harmful behaviors and produce flourishing lives?

Or must we believe, according to the Judeo-Christian premise, that we are rotten at our core, carriers of a vicious malady, Original Sin, and therefore naturally inclined toward malice and mayhem, beyond self-engineered salvation, and salvageable only by the grace of God?

Obviously, for all of contemporary humanity’s brilliant “advancements” on many fronts in the areas of science and technology, we still have failed to perfect ourselves and our social systems in the direction of fully humane and civilized functioning.  While knowledge grows apace, wisdom—our reckoning of what is valuable and our commitment to realizing it in fact and action— languishes and fails to mature.

What hope have we collectively for wising up on our own, for cultivating reason and generosity, good sense and kindness, intelligent humaneness?  Should not exactly that be the ultimate aim of educational programs at all levels?  Divine assistance is welcome, but we’d be wise to pursue this educational initiative on our own.


Saturday, September 17, 2011


My student Oscar, a mild-mannered undergraduate, serious in his studies as an English major, and talented as both a scholar and writer, is also, I recently found out, a world champion in the martial art of muay thai.

The same young man who wrestled last year with the whole of Milton’s epic, Paradise Lost, and is presently practicing the gentle art of personal writing, diverts himself in his off-hours with kicking and boxing hostile contenders in the fight ring, a fact Oscar casually mentioned and then wrote a personal essay to illustrate.

When I Googled muay thai, I found You Tube clips of this (by my reckoning) brutal sport.  For me, boxing is more than bad enough, but add hurling feet and legs to the fighter’s arsenal, then the prospect of horrific injury multiples.  A whirling kick to the neck of your adversary looks capable of decapitation or, at the least, cervical trauma lasting a lifetime.

Granted, it’s gripping to watch, shooting adrenalin straight into your heart, a potent mixture of vicarious fear and aggression, primal passions.

But is this any way to behave for a peace-loving person, even if only a spectator?  How can someone who advocates non-violence condone such a “sport,” much less take pleasure from either performing it or watching it?

That’s the dilemma I feel when confronting muay thai or boxing or any other brutally aggressive, war-like sport, such as football.

Using violence in self-defense against a criminal assailant may be necessary at some time, yet regrettable, and no occasion for exultation.  That would be self-preservation, not sport.

The best kinds of martial arts I know of, such as ju-jitsu and aikido, are purely defensive, not aggressive.  Their whole motive is to foil an attacker by turning the antagonist’s force against himself and thereby proving his violent intention pointless.  The practitioner’s motive is more like teaching than beating: persistence is futile.  \Whereas in aikido there’s a bad guy and a good guy, in muay thai there are two skillful brutes battering away at each other until somebody breaks.

Why would you want to hurt someone else?  There may be many answers to that question, but are there any good ones?


Thursday, September 15, 2011


Although preachers exhort us to empathize with others, the trouble with empathy is that it hurts: you have to feel the pain that others feel, even if only vicariously.  When your heart goes out to someone in pain, you hurt too.

Which is to suggest that empathy requires courage, the courage to soften your heart and make it vulnerable to the suffering of others, resonating vicariously with their agony and loss and grief, carrying their burdens in your own aching heart.

No wonder that real empathy is rare.


Tuesday, September 13, 2011


Since Knowing’s not enough for most, Belief
Fills in the gap with spiritual relief.
For all that savvy science can provide,
Most need a God in whom they can confide
And in whose providential power they
Can trust to guide them on their journey’s way,
In whose protective love and care they find
Balm for the heart and solace for the mind.
Some others, though, more independent souls,
Autonomous, with self-selected goals,
Deny there’s guidance in the sky, and go
Alone or with companions here below.
     Whose way is true, who fares the best depends
     In every case on how each story ends.


Monday, September 12, 2011


If you are a citizen in a democracy—where “the people rule”—then you have a political obligation to develop your knowledge, intellect and wisdom to the highest degree you can, so as to carry out to the best of your abilities your duties as a ruler, as part of the collective leadership of the nation.

Although your decisive voice is but one among millions, it must offer the best counsel you can provide.  That is your sacred duty.  To scant it or shirk it by not exercising citizenly prudence and care—by not making well-informed and judicious decisions in electing leaders and representatives, or in determining policies and laws—is to undermine our democracy.

We, the people, must rule well.


Sunday, September 11, 2011


As you have doubtless learned in many contexts, humanity now faces some major problems of sustainability.

Owing to our rapidly increasing population and the resource demands we place on the planet and the glut of wastes we produce, the viability of our biosphere is declining: much of life on Earth is endangered.

What ideas do you have for changes and improvements that societies need to effect so as to ensure the health of our Home Planet?

And how might you in particular become less of the problem and part of the solution?  What are you already doing in that regard, and what should you do henceforth?


Saturday, September 10, 2011


I write for my life.

It is both vital and vitalizing for me to write.

Without writing—writing essays, writing verses—my life would be diminished: less thoughtful, less interesting, less artful, less significant.

Writing enhances my experience of life as no other practice could do—not conversation, not meditation, not contemplation, although something of all three feeds my writing.

And old, seemingly silly saying has long been my motto as a writer: “How do I know what I think till I see what I say?”  Although attributed to a garrulous Old Lady, it proves true with me quite seriously. 

The pen in my hand moving across the lines of the pad in my lap seems like a magic wand that summons something out of nothing, something visible and tangible where only blankness was.  What flows from my pen is not perfect, only palpable.  It will need reconsidering and revising, but at least it’s now manifest.

What till then was only latent, inchoate, unrealized is now a wordstream, formulated and recorded, no longer nebulous.


Friday, September 9, 2011


Why do we study the writings of Chaucer and Shakespeare and other “Great Writers”?

Answer: to know greatness, to encounter and attempt to comprehend what makes their works worthy of being deemed “great.”

That they are great is the judgment of generations of readers and audiences, both popular and scholarly, a judgment reiterated over decades and centuries.

Their works are now deemed “canonical,” indicating a near-holy eminence and reverence.  Infinite ink has flowed to celebrate and explicate their poetry and drama, appreciating in ever-subtler ways the nature of the genius each author expressed.

We study their writings to learn to enjoy and appreciate the further reaches of human talent, not only for pleasure but possibly for inspiration, as a prompt to our own latent genius longing to awaken.


Thursday, September 8, 2011


It is all too easy and common for us human beings not to realize or remember what our purpose is, what we are designed for.

Therefore, what our generic challenge is—is to wake up and recall the end implicit in our being, that goal we are intended to reach, which may be stated in various ways:

          •    Refining consciousness
          •    Cultivating spirit
          •    Growing soul

“Refining consciousness” is the least religious sounding of the three, avoiding such words as spirit and soul; though consciousness is no less mysterious a term than the other two.

Consciousness, spirit and soul are all words pointing to something in us or about us that is vital and essential to our being and our awareness.  Without them we would be inanimate.

But just how animated can we be is the essential question we must ask and pursue to a true conclusion: What can we become?  What are the further reaches of human potential and possibility not yet manifested and realized?  What latencies in us lie undeveloped?

These are questions to be asked individually and generically, for oneself and for humanity at large. 

Promising questions.


Wednesday, September 7, 2011


The great, if subliminal, appeal of traditional fiction—stories, novels, plays—is that they present us with wholes made up of carefully designed parts well fitted together.  They may be life-like tales, but they are radically unlike life in their being made up and intentionally created. 

Whereas stories are designed, life happens.  Or so a skeptic would say, not believing in an authorial divinity who shapes our ends, roughhew them how we will.

Thus we turn to fiction for what we lack in life: design, intention, comprehensibility; the satisfaction of wholeness, conclusion and meaning.  We escape into fiction’s meaningful schemes and plots all destined to end as the author has prescribed, not necessarily happily, but explicably and often justifiably.

Explanation (“Why?”) and justification (“Because”) are, in daily life, notably rare.  But a good story is some compensation or, at the least, an escape.


Tuesday, September 6, 2011


That life’s a miracle, I soon forget,
Yet what could be more wondrous to behold?
In all the universe, what would you bet,
There’s not another being in our mold,
Perhaps no living creature anywhere?
Yet I, myopically, ignore that view
Not seeing Earthly life as rich and rare,
Until some loss reminds me it is true.
It takes calamity to wake me up
And recognize what I have always known,
Or beauty can—a flower, a bird’s chirrup
At dawn, enlightening as a cryptic koan.
     To be awake to wonder all the day
     Is how to live, as ancient sages say.


Monday, September 5, 2011


When I was just a kid I had a craft:
I wove potholders on a little loom,
So many that my friends and parents laughed
To see my hoard of colored squares mushroom.

I took them door-to-door around our block
But soon ran out of willing customers
Despite the varied patterns in my stock,
And now I see the same thing with my verse.

I see my bygone hobby did not die
But has transmogrified to a new form,
And now it’s sounds and syllables I ply,
So many that my sonnets are a swarm.

     It seems again I’m in a patterned rut,
     Unable to dispose of my fine glut.


Saturday, September 3, 2011


The designers of our society long ago determined that all its young citizens must be compelled to undergo a program of schooling intended to civilize them, that is, to make them into good citizens: well-functioning, useful members of an orderly, productive society, but also intellectually prepared to think freely and clearly for themselves and to form independent judgments about what is good for themselves and for a democratic society ruled by the will of the majority of its adults.

What then ought to constitute such a compulsory educational program?  What necessary knowledge and skills should be inculcated in students for them to serve as citizens and thrive as human beings to the best of their abilities?


They must know language, their national language certainly, and other languages advisedly.  The greater their facility with reading, writing and speaking, the better—of which there is no end of development and refining.  No clarity and cogency of thought or communication comes without linguistic facility.  Language skills are primary.


Numeracy, as well as literacy, is a vital skill, at least to the level of measurement and financial accounting.  Reckonings of quantities and sizes, areas and volumes—hence arithmetic and geometry, at the least—are basic mental functions to perform. 

Social Sciences

History is vital so that we can stand on the shoulders of our forebears.  We can learn vicariously from their experiences and experiments in social and cultural modes of communal life, avoiding their failures and transcending their successes.  Social systems continually evolve, but that process is best guided by clear understanding of what in the past has proved most viable; hence the need to study not only history but anthropology, sociology, psychology, politics, and economics—the social sciences that reveal the dynamics of successful social aggregations.

Natural Sciences

Science too is vital, necessary to understand, because it is our most practical means of knowing the world, ignorance of which means danger and debility.  Science serves our natural human curiosity about how things are and how things work, an impulse that facilitates our efforts to improve our circumstances by invention.


Then when it comes to enhancing the quality of human experience beyond merely getting by, the artistic and spiritual potentials need to flourish lest the vitality and beauty of self-expression be stifled.  How can life be felt as good without music, art, literature, and imaginings of many kinds?  How can the human spirit soar without updrafts of expressive creativity, the gusts and lusts of invention?  Once the human soul has expanded into joyful creativity, it grows increasingly generous and kindly, an attitude needed for inspiring the moral behavior requisite for a good society.



Now what do I directly know of Soul,
Assumed to be the essence of my whole,
My True Identity, the Real Me,
Whose first and last abode’s Eternity?

Closed in this muddy vesture of decay,
I’m blind to Truth, have wandered far astray,
And cannot tell the purpose of it all,
Unless it be to punish and appall.

Mortality entails such pain and fear
And bafflement within our brief career
That it’s a miracle beyond our ken
That any stumbling soul comes home again.

     But I’ve at least a glimpse of saving light
     To guide me back to that lost sacred height.


Thursday, September 1, 2011


Why do things happen in the ways they do?
Why do most suffer while a happy few
Seem blessed by Fortune or the hand of God,
A few exalted but the mass downtrod?

This Mystery of Iniquity is cause
To think there is no justice, are no laws
But randomness and chance presiding here,
Unbridled horses on a wild career.

Yet something beyond thought supplies a hope
That life is more than a cascading slope
Bound for oblivion and senseless ruin,
With mayhem, slaughter, loss and sorrow strewn.

     Perhaps it’s mere delusion conjured by
     Despair.  Or Faith that sees the reason why.