Does Anyone Want To Be Unhappy?

Well, Now, That’s Hardly a Surprise

Happiness is a very fickle thing. At one time or another, we all think that it can be secured and held on to and never let go. Perhaps we associate it in our minds with wealth, or finding (and retaining) the ideal spouse or significant other.

But then I always think of one of our former millionaire accounting clients who entered into a deal from which he expected to lose his fortune. So he blew his brains out. After the funeral, it was discovered that the deal far from depleting his fortune added considerably to it. It helped pay for a first class funeral.

In Buddhism, there is something called the Four Noble Truths, expressed by Gautama Buddha as follows:

Now this, bhikkhus, is the noble truth of suffering: birth is suffering, aging is suffering, illness is suffering, death is suffering; union with what is displeasing is suffering; separation from what is pleasing is suffering; not to get what one wants is suffering; in brief, the five aggregates subject to clinging are suffering.

Now this, bhikkhus, is the noble truth of the origin of suffering: it is this craving [taṇhā, “thirst”] which leads to re-becoming, accompanied by delight and lust, seeking delight here and there; that is, craving for sensual pleasures, craving for becoming, craving for disbecoming.

Now this, bhikkhus, is the noble truth of the cessation of suffering: it is the remainderless fading away and cessation of that same craving, the giving up and relinquishing of it, freedom from it, non-reliance on it.

Now this, bhikkhus, is the noble truth of suffering: birth is suffering, aging is suffering, illness is suffering, death is suffering; union with what is displeasing is suffering; separation from what is pleasing is suffering; not to get what one wants is suffering; in brief, the five aggregates subject to clinging are suffering.

The term “bhikkhus” refers to the Buddhist monks to whom this teaching was addressed.

Essentially, desires and cravings lead to suffering. Happiness is something that just happens and is not necessarily linked to our desires. But it is almost always transitory. In my life, I am sure I have been happy for minutes at a time in my 75+ years of existence.

So I hope that Sharon Stone appreciates what happiness passes her way.

Vastness Breeds Craziness

America Divided? Look to the Land and Its Myths

This evening, two thoughts came together in my mind with a kind of grim ferocity. On one hand, I am troubled by the 74 million voters who backed Trump in 2020. Where did they come from? And why?

On the other hand, I read a wonderful essay by Geoff Dyer entitled “Ranging Across Texas” in the July 17, 2020 issue of The Times Literary Supplement. Dyer is one of those writers whose words set me to thinking. Ostensibly, his essay is about his experience reading Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove. In it he quotes V. S. Naipaul who, in writing about John Steinbeck, says, “A writer is in the end, not his books, but his myth. And that myth is in the keeping of others.”

My ideas on this are still not well formed, but I am thinking that there is something about the American landscape and its vastness that gives rise to the crazies who belong to the Oath Keepers, QAnon, the Proud Boys, and others. In the narrowness of the European continent, people have to work together at the risk of repeated mutual slaughters. Americans, however, can hole up in a small town in the middle of nowhere and be as crazy as loons.

America is vast, particularly the West and the Great Plains, where much of Trump’s support is concentrated. (The rest is in the South, where the Civil War is still being contested in slow motion.)

In one of his essays, McMurtry writes:

In time I came to feel that there ought to be some congruity between prose and landscape. You wouldn’t adopt a Faulknerian baroque if your story was to be set on the flat unbaroque plains of west Texas.

I remember my visits to Patagonia where, in the rain shadow of the Andes, where there is almost always a howling wind, there is a similar history of crime and even anarchy.

We don’t much celebrate Columbus Day any more, because we are becoming more acutely conscious of the fact that we massacred millions of Indians for their land. In Patagonia, that was even more of a crime: There are relatively few aborigines in Argentina after the “Conquest of the Desert” of General Julio Argentino Roca in the 1870s.

I guess we have always tried to paper over our crimes with fine thoughts. We just have to recognize, in the words of Kyd’s The Spanish Tragedy, “Hieronymo is mad agayne!”

Return to Normal? Fat Chance!

A New Calendar Does Not a New Reality Make

We always tend to make too much of holidays like New Years. Let’s face it: All it means is a new template overlaid on the same old time period. Although I will probably still be awake at midnight, it is only because I am usually still awake at midnight. I don’t really care about somebody dropping the ball on Times Square, and I certainly will not watch any Year in Review shows or other New Years specials.

When I was a little kid, I marveled that in the year 2000, I would be 55 years old. That seemed so old to me back then. Now that I am twenty years past that milestone, or should I say millstone, I am not so quick to generalize about the passing of time. That what time does. It passes.

As William Butler Yeats wrote in his play The Countess Cathleen:

The years like great black oxen tread the world,
 And God the herdsman goads them on behind,
 And I am broken by their passing feet.

Despite everything, I wish all of you well. May the New Year bring you peace, health, and prosperity. And if it doesn’t, just soldier on.

Yet Again: Uayeb

That Weird Time Between Christmas and New Year

To date, I have written four posts about the Maya “month” of Uayeb or Wayeb, which consists of the last five days of the Haab Calendar of 365 days. The Haab calendar has twenty months of eighteen days each, which isn’t quite enough to make up the full complement, so the Maya added a short stub of a month containing the five “nameless days.”

There is also a Maya god named Uayeb, who is the god of misfortune. That sounds about right.

Scott Stantis Has an Intuitive Understanding of Uayeb in His Cartoon Strip

Here is a link to my previous posts on the subject:

Below is the Maya glyph for the “month” of Uayeb, or Wayeb (kind of looks like a tiny-headed god flexing his muscles, doesn’t it?):

I am amused by how well a Maya calendrical belief fits in so well with our civilization, in which the days between Christmas and New Year and almost universally considered as dead time.

So don’t make any big plans until the New Year. But you kind of knew that anyway, no?

A Long Flight to … Where?

This may sound strange to you, but I am surviving the rigors of self-quarantine because I am good at lying to myself.

The Coronavirus Quarantine Is Sort of Like Jet Lag

I have on occasion taken some longish flights to Europe and South America. The ones to Europe are particularly problematical because I arrive early in the morning after a night that has lasted for only a few hours. I know that if I drop into bed upon check-in at my hotel, I will awake while it is still light; and I won’t be able to go to sleep until the next morning.

So what do I do?

  • First of all, I pretend to myself during the flight that I am somehow outside of time, and that during the flight, time has no meaning.
  • Most important, I set my watch to the time zone of my destination. Nobody else I know does this: They insist on holding on to the time zone of their city of origin.
  • When I arrive, I stay awake until it is a reasonable bedtime in my destination.

When I went to Iceland, for example, I arrived in June—when the sun doesn’t set until the wee hours of the morning. I ate extra meals, went on a walking tour of Reykjavík, and finally collapsed in bed while the sun was still up around midnight. I woke up refreshed at an acceptable time the next morning.

So what does all this have to do with the coronavirus? Fortunately, Martine and I are retired, so I could pretend that this whole period of the outbreak is like a long flight to nowhere.

A Nook of My Library Circa 2002

I have in my apartment several thousand books as well as hundreds of films on DVD. With my subscription to Spectrum Cable, I have access to hundreds of films for no additional cost using their On Demand service. Plus: As a member of Amazon Prime, I have access to thousands of other films.

So on my “flight” to nowhere during this seemingly endless quarantine, I am reading 12-18 books a month as well as seeing 25 or more feature films a month. (And in between reading and film viewing, I do all the cooking and go out for walks.)

I realize I would be in a radically different situation if I had to worry about a job, but fortunately I don’t. I have to worry that that madman in the White House may decide to cancel Social Security or destroy the value of the American dollar, but other than that I am not dependent on the workplace—though I am affected when restaurants are shuttered, museums and libraries closed, and so on.

There is an 1884 novel by a French writer named Joris-Karl Huysmans called Against Nature (in French À Rebours) about a dilettante names Jean des Esseintes who, instead of actually going on a vacation, does an armchair traveler “staycation” and is happy about it. The epigraph to the novel is a quote from the 14th century Flemish mystic Jan van Ruysbroeck:

“I must rejoice beyond the bounds of time…though the world may shudder at my joy, and in its coarseness know not what I mean.”

The Strange Case of Ion Aliman

He Won a Landslide Vote Despite the Fact That He Was Dead

It happened in the small town of Deveselu, Romania, of some three thousand inhabitants. The ballots had already been printed up with his name on them; but then Aliman died in Bucharest of Covid-19 on September 19. I could see this happening in the U.S., but not in quite the same way.

You see, Aliman was up for re-election, and the voters of Deveselu really loved him. “He was a real mayor to us,” one woman voter said. “He took the side of the village, respected all the laws. I don’t think we will see a mayor like him again.”

After the funeral, dozens of villagers visited his grave. “It is your victory,” one of them said. “Know that you will be proud of us. Rest in peace.”

A Small Town in Southern Romania

Obviously, there’s going to have to be a new mayor; but it’s not going to be any of the candidates who opposed the late incumbent. They’ll have a new election and vote in a replacement. I get a nice feeling, though, about the voters of Deveselu. If that happened here, no doubt a number of Americans would be gunned down and there would be a general feeling of hatred and paranoia. Maybe we can learn something about democracy from these Romanian villagers.

 

Where English Fails

A Word With Too Many Meanings

It is said that the Inuits have some fifty different words for snow, covering snowflakes, frost, fine snow particles, drifting particles, clinging particles, fallen snow, deep snow, and so on almost ad infinitum. And yet, the English language has this one word—love—which covers a whole host of emotions, from liking an inanimate thing, to strong affection for a person, to to attachment to one’s children, to copulation, to a score of zero in tennis, and so on.

When one tells a woman one loves her, it could mean any of a number of things, ranging from a momentary feeling of affection to a lifetime of devotion.

I became more conscious of this lack while reading a fascinating book published in 1942 by Austin Tappan Wright called Islandia. In it, there are four terms for love, with the Greek equivalents in Italics:

  • Apia, sexual attraction (eros)
  • Ania, desire for marriage and commitment (storge)
  • Amia, love of friends (philia)
  • Alia, love of place, family lineage, and the land (heimat)

It is a wonderful book about a nonexistent country called Islandia in the Southern Hemisphere on the remote Karain continent. In it, the hero, an American called John Lang, keeps falling in love with beautiful young Islandian women with numerous misunderstandings due to differences in culture. It is a thousand-page novel of which I have read only some 600 pages thus far,

 

 

The Cancer Deal with the Venusians

Downtown Dallas Skyline

It is the opening of William Burroughs’s Nova Express:

“Listen to my last words anywhere. Listen to my last words any world. Listen all you boards syndicates and governments of the earth. And you powers behind what filth consummated in what lavatory to take what is not yours. To sell the ground from unborn feet forever—

“Don’t let them see us. Don’t tell them what we are doing—

“Are these the words of the all-powerful boards and syndicates of the earth?”

“For God’s sake don’t let that Coca-Cola thing out—”

“Not The Cancer Deal with The Venusians—”

“Not The Green Deal – Don’t show them that—”

“Not The Orgasm Death—”

“Not the ovens—”

Whenever I think of these lines, I think that Burroughs, in his own way, saw the cancerous growth of modern civilization. I have already written of the crazed commercial and residential real estate construction during the coronavirus epidemic.

Almost two hundred years ago, Henry David Thoreau writing in Walden saw where it would all lead, even before the first skyscraper was ever erected (or did the Tower of Babel not count?):

Men have an indistinct notion that if they keep up this activity of joint stocks and spades long enough all will at length ride somewhere, in next to no time, and for nothing; but though a crowd rushes to the depot, and the conductor shouts “All aboard!” when the smoke is blown away and the vapor condensed, it will be perceived that a few are riding, but the rest are run over,—and it will be called, and will be, “A melancholy accident.”

I saw this quote from Thoreau at the end of Joseph Wood Krutch’s The Forgotten Peninsula: A Naturalist in Baja California written in 1961. This was almost sixty years before the massive development of Los Cabos and La Paz changed the state of Baja California Sur forever.

The 190th Rule of Acquisition

The Ferengi Have Begun to Influence Me

The quarantine has resulted in my watching television more than usual. The one show that I like most is Deep Space 9 with its plethora of interesting characters, one of which is Quark (played by Armin Shimerman), shown above. If you are familiar with the series, you may have heard of the Ferengi “Rules of Acquisition” of which there are some 300, which can be viewed here. (Interesting that the website comes from Belgium.)

These Rules of Acquisition would be much loved of Ayn Rand and most Tea Party conservatives. They include such admonitions as:

  • Once you have their money, you never give it back.
  • The best deal is the one that brings the most profit.
  • Never spend more for an acquisition than you have to.
  • A woman wearing clothes is like a man in the kitchen.
  • Never allow family to stand in the way of opportunity.
  • Keep your ears open.
  • Small print leads to large risk.
  • Opportunity plus instinct equals profit.
  • Greed is eternal.

My favorite is one of the most simple (and most true):

190. Hear all, trust nothing.

In these days of False News—both real and imagined—that is excellent advice.

Trust Nothing from This Notable Liar

I will continue to watch Deep Space 9 with interest.

 

 

¡Adios Muchachos!

See You All in February!

In the wee hours of tomorrow morning, my flight leaves for Guadalajara, where I will putter around for three hours, and then take another Volaris flight to Mérida. I will drive to the airport with Martine, and Martine will drive back by herself. (She’s not coming with me because she is allergic to anti-malaria medications.)

During my absence, I will not blog. Instead I will go into experiential mode to get something to write about when I return in February.

Incidentally, today is my 75th birthday, which is a milestone for me. My father died at the age of 74, so I had always wondered whether I would outlive his span of years. It appears that I already have, so that is one less morbid imagining. To spend the time after my birthday in a place I love (Yucatán) can only lengthen my life, no?