I WAS looking a long while for a clue to the history of the past for myself, and for these chants—and now I have found it;
It is not in those paged fables in the libraries, (them I neither accept nor reject;)
It is no more in the legends than in all else;
It is in the present—it is this earth to-day;
It is in Democracy—(the purport and aim of all the past;)
It is the life of one man or one woman to-day—the average man of to-day;
It is in languages, social customs, literatures, arts;
It is in the broad show of artificial things, ships, machinery, politics, creeds, modern improvements, and the interchange of nations,
All for the average man of to-day.
I have been paying visits on this trip–and talking. I started at home, at my brother’s place, high and lonesome in the southern Ohio hills. We played music together–he is a gifted singer and bassist. We listened to tons of music, from The Johnson Mountain Boys to Frightened Rabbit. We worked out old Greg Sage songs and old Connells songs. My dad and mom joined us on Kent’s deck, and we sang bluegrass songs and enjoyed the view.
I stopped in Paducah to visit Shane Ward and Carly Lane. Carly is one of my favorite writers, and Shane, her husband, is an artist, a sculptor. We ate pizza and talked about writing, growing up, about intellectual life both inside and outside the academy, and about the strangenesses of academic philosophy. We also ended up talking a lot about arguments for forms of color relativism, about objectivism, and about blue, a most shady color.
I left for Iowa City, where I visited my son, who just finished his second year (of three) in Iowa’s MFA program in Theater acting. He and his girlfriend, Natalie, and I spent a lot of time talking, much of it about teaching, and much of it about what is makes sense to expect from students in a core philosophy or acting class. I think we more or less agreed that about all you can hope for is to convince students that there is a real body of knowledge where philosophy and acting are concerned, and that they are mostly ignorant of that body of knowledge. But that kind of instructed ignorance is profitable, and can feed later growth.
From there, I headed to Bozeman, Montana, where I spent a few days with my good friend and former student, David Dyas and his wife, Katie. They live in an amazing spot, at the feet of the Bridger Mountains, in such proximity to them that I felt in supplication to the mountains for the entirety of my visit. I got to hear several wonderful new songs Dave has written. I heard a lot of other new music, or music new to me. We spent a lot of time talking about philosophy and public life, about religion and the shape of faith, and about the alarming willingness of chickens to cannibalize each other. I spent a fascinating day with Dave and his father-in-law, Dan, in Yellowstone, where we talked of the fate of religious movements, bible translation and varieties of proverbial wisdom. Oh, and we watched Old Faithful do its faithful thing.
I went on to Taos, where I got back to work on a novel I am tinkering with. I also got to spend a memorable morning with Bill Mallonee and his wife, Muriah. We talked of the relationship between science and knowledge–not coextensive–and about religion and ‘worldly wisdom’. I got to hear more about Muriah’s history, and about the specific circumstances (including guitar tunings) of the recording of The Vigilantes of Love’s *Jugular*.
I am now in Santa Fe. My wife will join me here for a few days and I will be a regular tourist. I am looking forward to that. There are limits proscribed to self-inspection.
All along the way, I have been listening to Jane Austen. I re-read all her novels at the beginning of each summer. This year, because of the trip, I have listened to them rather than read them. I expect to finish up on the final leg of driving back to Alabama. I supplemented what I was listening to by re-reading Stuart Tave’s *Some Words of Jane Austen*, a book for which my respect knows no bounds.
At a coffee shop in Taos, a woman noticed me reading Tave’s book and remarked pleasantly, “You don’t look like the right person to be reading that book.”
(When I interviewed for my job at Auburn, one of the faculty members looked at me disappointedly and pronounced: “You do not look like a Plotinian scholar ought to look.” I suppose I look like an elevator repairman ought to look–that is, like the stereotype of an elevator repairman.)
It turned out that what she meant was that I was a big, bearded man, and wearing an Auburn baseball cap. Her husband, she confided to me, is an Austen fan, at least of the movies, but is always chagrined by the ratio of women to men at the screenings. I don’t know what to say about that, but I will say that I find the (undoubtedly related) idea that achievement of Austen’s women is a woman’s achievement odd. Surely, the specific shape of that achievement in each of the novels is due to the central character being a woman–and a woman in that particular place at that particular time–but what each achieves is broadly human, deeply human, and completely compelling. –Oh, I would be more like Anne Elliot if only I could!
I think there come times in a life when regrets and fears have to be faced, acknowledged, owned. And, once owned, sifted, weighed. What regrets and fears are follies or the result of follies–and so rightly censured? What regrets and fears are miseries–and so rightly pitied, even in oneself?
I have been driving westward, away from the morning, my interstate journey mirroring my existential one, as I move ‘westward’, away from my birth. Closer to maker than mother, as Lloyd Cole once memorably more or less put it. I wanted time, but even more, I wanted space in which to come to grips with myself, to not just know but to believe myself 51. The lush claustrophobia of Alabama has yielded to the barren agoraphobia of the high desert, of Montana and New Mexico. There is space here to turn around yourself, maybe enough to see your back parts as you pass, assuming you have the stomach for it.
I’m in Taos for a couple of days, then I slip down to Sante Fe. A couple of days there and I begin the trek home. Eastward and ‘eastward’: can a man be born when he is 51?
This is the first summer in 26 years I have not taught classes. I am writing. And I am about to embark on a long westward driving tour, taking me all the way to New Mexico before I begin my return. I expect to continue with my writing while I travel, but I do not know if I will be updating the blog at all. (There may be some new Instagram photos, over on the side of the page.) Admittedly, that will not be much of a change; I haven’t posted much that’s new in a while. I hope to have some new material for the blog when I return (middish June). I wish everyone a terrific beginning to the summer!