The Trapeze Artist

I will have more essays soon. During the pandemic, I hope you don’t mind me taking the easy way out by sharing another song. I can’t say that I completely understand all of the lyrics, though the idea of wanting to be remembered probably stands out.  Perhaps it’s better to let everyone have their own interpretation. Anyway, I just liked it. 
 

The Parting Glass

I don’t plan to go for a while but when the time comes, play this at my funeral.

Ain’t it enough?

A friend shared this song by Old Crow Medicine Show with me years ago, and for some reason I am finding it relevant today. Maybe because it agrees with alife is beautiful” perspective, that we are all mortal beings on an ancient planet, even though – as James Baldwin wrote – we tend to imprison ourselves by denying our mortality and focusing on other things, most of which are human constructs. It also jibes with a cosmically connected primates theme, at a time when people don’t feel particularly connected.

This isn’t my typical genre of music, but I try to be open to different styles. If you like something, that’s all that counts, I guess. This one, to me, is beautiful. Anyway, if you haven’t heard it before I hope you enjoy it.

Lyrics

Show me a river, I’ll show you an ocean
I’ll show you a castle turn into sand
For we rise and we fall, and we crash on the coastlines
And only our love will last ’til the end


Fortune is fleeting, time is deceiving
Our bodies are weak and they turn into dust
Though following blindly, but love is like lightning
It strikes only one time, and ain’t it enough?


Ain’t it enough to live by the ways of the world
To be part of the picture, whatever it’s worth?
Throw your arms around each other and love one another
For it’s only one life that we’ve got and ain’t it enough?


Surely all people are made for each other
To join in together when the days turn to dust
So let the prison walls crumble, and the borders all tumble
There is a place for us all here and ain’t it enough?


Ain’t it enough to live by the ways of the world
To be part of the picture, whatever it’s worth?
Throw your arms around each other and love one another
For it’s only one life that we’ve got and ain’t it enough?

Late in the evening, feeling the wind blow

Talk through the treetops, warm in the sun
Lying beside you, watching the moon rise
If that’s all there is, babe, ain’t it enough?


Show me a river, I’ll show you an ocean
The stars just like diamonds all shining above
Where the heavens are beaming and all the world’s dreaming
Peace everlasting and ain’t it enough?


Ain’t it enough to live by the ways of the world
To be part of the picture, whatever its worth?
Throw your arms around each other and love one another
For it’s only one life that we’ve got and ain’t it enough?


Ain’t it enough?

Book Plug: Hivemind

I’ve been sitting on this post for a while. Sarah Rose Cavanagh published her book “Hivemind: The New Science of Tribalism in Our Divided World” last year. Sarah is a psychologist at Assumption College who studies human emotions and how these connect to well-being and learning. 

Her book is a joy to read, written in a fun and personable — but informative — style. She interviewed several academics and thinkers about their views on human sociality (disclaimer: I’m one of them), and she has some lessons on how to help make modern technology and social media work in our favor. For example: “Use social media for connection…. Dial down the outrage, dial up the empathy.”

Sarah has a good heart and a good head, and I think she’s put together a great book here that can help make the world a little bit better place. 

2020: To Our Braver, Bolder Selves

With the start of the new year, it’s usually a time for reviews and lists — accomplishments, things that went wrong, etc. etc. Last year was a slow one on this blog, and I didn’t publish much for a few reasons. For one, I felt I lost my audience, and my posts seemed not to go anywhere. Perhaps we’re over-saturated with the online world and this blog has lost its novelty. That’s OK. Nothing lasts forever. I still have some ideas, but I’ve written most of what I wanted to say. Well, the big things anyway.

The other reason, I think, is that I’ve become dismayed by the state of the world, and the U.S. in particular — the increasing frequency of climate disasters, the creeping authoritarianism, the growing political polarization, the disregard for truth, the uptick in right-wing extremism, the demonizing of immigrants, the damage done via the child separation policy, and the curtailing of refugees admitted (at a time when there are more displaced people in the world since World War 2). Anyway, this blog started to feel a bit futile in the big picture of a world that seems to be shedding compassion in favor of callousness, favoring insularity over connection.

Maybe that’s the wrong attitude. Last semester, I suggested an analogy to my class about velocity versus acceleration. When we’re traveling in a car at a constant speed, the movement is fairly imperceptible. It’s when there’s a change in speed or direction that motion becomes more noticeable to us. Applying that scenario, the current state of things would feel pretty good if, for example, we were just emerging from a war (at least in the U.S.). However, we seem to be accelerating in the wrong direction now. That shift doesn’t feel very good, but it’s important to hold the line and try to push the momentum back in the other direction. 

Continue reading

Wisdom and Suffering

“Even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget
falls drop by drop upon the heart,
until, in our own despair, against our will,
comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.”

 Robert F. Kennedy citing Aeschylus on the night of Martin Luther King’s assassination

 

A few days ago the town manager of Billerica Massachusetts, John Curran, wrote a courageous essay about the online abuse he has received. Curran has a self-described “very rare and significant facial abnormality” known as hemifacial macrosomia, but he added that he had not been mocked for it for a very long time. That is, until the last few years.

Norms seem to have changed, he observed, where cruelty – particularly online, anonymous cruelty – has become more frequent. Curran also wrote that his childhood was not easy, and that he encountered a lot of adversity due to other children mocking him. However, he concluded on a positive note:    

It saddens me that I still have to deal with this from adults at 53 years old, but I would like to say to any young people that are different and happen to read this not to despair.

Your challenge will make you stronger, too, and you are better and wiser than anyone too ignorant to understand how to be civil and kind. Hang in there. It gets better.

Like Curran, I too think that kindness goes a long way. As a species, humans would not have gotten very far without it. And the notion that we are strengthened, not weakened, by our challenges in life is an interesting, though controversial, one.  

Borrowing a term from Nassim Taleb, the psychologist Jonathan Haidt likes to say that people are not just resilient, but “anti-fragile.” This is the idea that we don’t merely weather storms and adversities; rather, we grow from them, in terms of character and learning, as well as physiologically such as building aerobic capacity or muscle from repeated exercise. Haidt cites people like Friedrich Nietzsche (“that which does not kill me makes me stronger”) and Mencius about gaining strength through suffering, noting that:

“it’s not always true; there is PTSD. There are some things that can damage you, but for the most part it’s true… You cannot be a great man or woman unless you have suffered, faced adversity, been banged around, failed and come back, gotten back up fifty, a hundred, five hundred times. That’s the only way to greatness.”

Continue reading

Sixteen Anti-War Songs

“Since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defences of peace must be constructed.” — UNESCO

 

I made a list of sixteen anti-war songs that have meant something to me for a while, including a few lyrics from each and then a brief description. It would be too cumbersome to include all of the lyrics, or to make a comprehensive list, though you can find one here. Most are in English, so this will be limited in scope. I guess the songs are sort of “ranked,” but it’s not meant to be scientific; it’s just a list from which I find some meaning. Originally I sought to create a top ten list; however, it just kept growing.

Perhaps you have your own list, and it’s likely different than mine. We probably have different tastes, and that’s OK. I’m not going to fight anyone over anti-war songs. Maybe this list will do some a tiny bit of good, at a time when divisions appear to be growing.

 

 

16. Radiohead – “Harry Patch: In memory of” (2009)

Give your leaders each a gun and then let them
Fight it out themselves

 

This is Radiohead’s tribute to Harry Patch, the World War 1 veteran who died at age 111 in 2009. Patch once said that “War is organised murder and nothing else….politicians who took us to war should have been given the guns and told to settle their differences themselves, instead of organizing nothing better than legalized mass murder.”

Continue reading

Thinking of California

I’ve been watching the news on current events around the world, including the massive wildfires in California that so far have killed at least thirty people and displaced hundreds of thousands. I know a number of people in the area, and even though they are not in the direct path of the fires they’ve been on my mind for the past several days. We’re still due to arrive in San Jose in just a few days for an anthropology conference, but it seems surreal to travel so far to talk about anthropology while there are many people suffering not too far away. From what I understand the smoke has traveled far and wide across the state. In fact, we just got an email from the American Anthropological Association reaffirming that the conference will proceed as planned, but also warning us that the air quality may not be suitable for older adults, young children, and people with health problems. Maybe that’s what we’re supposed to do—try to live life as normally as possible in times of stress. I’m not sure that it feels totally right, but I also donated to help some of the people affected (some suggestions here ).

Continue reading

R.I.P. Dolores O’Riordan

“You’ll always be special to me.”

Yesterday, it was reported that singer Dolores O’Riordan passed away unexpectedly at age 46. This one was a gut punch to me. I must have played The Cranberries‘ CD’s hundreds of times in college and graduate school, and I often had their songs on my playlist while traveling, including on a long, memorable bus ride through the mountains of Laos. Her voice and lyrics will be with me for a long time.

Somewhere between Phonsavan and Luang Prabang in northern Laos, 2009. I’ll long remember the breathtaking scenery, paired with the Cranberries’ music.

Continue reading

8th Anniversary at a Crossroads

“The purpose of anthropology is to make the world safe for human differences.” – Ruth Benedict

“Imagine what seven billion people could accomplish if we all loved and respected each other.” – Anthony Douglas Williams

 

I just received notice from WordPress that it is the 8th anniversary for this site. To be honest, I have not been feeling too great about this site lately. Readership is down noticeably, and it has been harder to get the attention of my targeted audiences. I’ve even contemplated folding the tent.

Surely, part of that is me, as I’ve found it hard to maintain the volume of essays compared to prior years. Perhaps it’s merely the nature of today’s Internet. Eight years ago, there were fewer personal blogs and sites to compete for readers’ attention, and people seem to prefer shorter, more digestible, essays before moving on to the next item on their list. I understand. Time is finite, and we have things to do. 

Continue reading