Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Notes on My Desk

I've just finished days of reading Dante's Divine Comedy and the scholarly reading that accompanied it. Post-it notes on my desk remember pieces of thought for me until I can write them here.

...Dante wrote to authenticate himself: poet, Florentine, legitimate, yet present though exiled. Writing as a means to authenticate oneself brings to mind the want of a witness and the thought that to write is to compose oneself as a document, to invest "being" into material text - whether into ink or bits, onto paper or screen, and before many or no one at all. To write is then to substance(iate) - to become "real" in a medium that outreaches the boundary of skin. Dante wrote so commandingly as to overcome great spans of time, and I am easily intimidated by the thought that, unless I have something in some part equally profound to say, I have no business writing. But as I type out these words, I remember my Aunt Ester's letters to me from more than twenty years ago, saved in a drawer and well-worn from reading. ...not Dante, and not for countless audiences across time, but "she" is in those words. Her voice lives: authentic, real, and present.

...In a discussion addressing the sin of false council and the state of Ulysses in hell, lecturers Cook and Herzman suggest Dante's discussion fundamentally addresses the issue of trust and the "sin" that comes from too great a reliance on one's own experience as guide. Excuse this painfully inadequate framing, but it is Cook's summary statement that made it to a post-it note on my desk: "In fact," he states, "it's really not an issue. Everybody trust something. The question is what do you trust? 'Nothing beyond my own experience, beyond what my senses tell me' refuses everything beyond one's own experience and excludes faith altogether. Part of learning you're not the center of the world and that the world does not revolve around you is coming to terms with the idea that human knowledge is limited, and human experience is limited, and you simply have to trust someone or something." To believe otherwise is to inevitably offer the (false) council that one's own experience alone is a reliable measure for critical judgment ... at least according to Dante via Cook.

It is the "center of the universe" thinking that grabs my attention - the thought that the world revolves around me, and I note the "cure" Cook takes from his poetic reading: sound judgment follows only in realizing the inescapable condition of having to trust somebody or something beyond the reach of my own being. And I ask myself who or what I trust. There are some big, "easy" answers that come quickly to mind, but the question gets more interesting when I get past the rhetoric of public presentation. What I find myself most trusting is what I will call "my neighbor" and fact that she will share the road with me, pay for the services I deliver, stock grocery shelves with food, and generally respect boundaries. I count on his civility for all the permission I take to "be free," and I trust him every day with hardly a thought for the depth risk engaged. Maybe my less-than-sunshine life should have taught me more caution. It didn't. Lucky me.

... last post-it treasure: Dante's guides shelter, encourage, and provoke him as he navigates his own redemptive climb. It occurs to me that they become that "just enough" measure of safety necessary for Dante to be bold, secure in person, and certain enough to keep going. I consider my own life and the "guides" who make me feel safe enough to be brave. Thank you.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Living in a Park

A week away and three days of rain meant an immediate need for mowing after the recent trip out of town. Then wind storms swept through and took down a dozen trees - more than half falling into the yard. The damage here and there has been repaired and the lawn put right again. An early morning walk convinces me again how lucky I am. This is why home feels so good.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Firsts: "Conversation" with an Android

Conversation with Zou Ren Ti was a "first" for me at the Chicago Robotics and Vision Conference. I was photographed here visiting with the android copy of Mr. Zou who was watching nearby. ... a great bit of conference fun!

Zou Ren Ti: Android Twin Robot,

Rated as one of the Best Inventions 2006 by Time magazine

Xi’an Superman Sculpture Research Institute (XSM) was established in 1997. A well-known private company, XSM specializes in designing displays for museums and exhibition centers. It is the first and the largest Chinese company to specialize in simulated silicone figures and android robots. Its work has filled the void of super-realistic sculptural arts in China. Its artistic work and craftsmanship have reached an advanced level in the world.

Chicago Robotics Conference and a Whirlwind Driveabout

A week away in photos and bullet points:

International Robots and Vision Show - CTA Metra, Union Station Trains, great weather, Sears Tower, awesome food, amazing technology, exhibitor schwag, and androids

A drive to Columbus, Ohio: Chicago tolls, shoe shopping, apartment viewing in W.Lafayette, more shoe shopping, a late-night departure, and Jennifer is home again *Jenn's shares her particular view of the world at Life Without Words ...bits worth seeing that are too often overlooked.

Driving on to Alma, Michigan - a visit with my mom: 3:00 a.m. arrival, talk 'till 6:30, sleep 'till 9:30, gardens and flowers, catching up, photos and reminiscing 'till 4:00, and on my way again

Drive to Grand Rapids, Michigan - a visit with Glenn, Suzanne, and Ben: great family times, talk of wood ticks and chocolate-covered coffee beans, trampoline jumping (falling), love and great food, inevitable good-byes, and on the road back to Chicago again, a next-day departure for home in northern Minnesota

...good days, great memories, and a lawn overdue for mowing. The big ball keeps on turning.

Now back to Dante Alighieri's The Divine Comedy ...

Friday, June 08, 2007


A leave of absence from graduate study at Purdue University gave me the opportunity to teach in new venues: college composition and literature for the University of Minnesota, Crookston; and, eighth and tenth grade English at Battle Lake High School. Of course, one never teaches without learning, too, and I'm a better teacher now as a result of the learning I did.

That chapter having passed, preparations for an August return to Purdue are underway, and I find myself excited in anticipation of the work ahead - even while knowing the challenge it will be/already is. I live in a kind of exhale that foretells of almost being home. Detours are good moves for growing - no complaints, but I'm glad to be on the road again.

I am more confident now, less distracted by lofty aspirations, and comfortable to be the thinker I am in company with friends ... the "body electric" that Whitman so rightly sings. Encouragement from Ken moves me to write again, so here I am to think aloud about the books I'm reading, questions that might prompt a compelling dissertation, and connections arising along the way. I have ideas, but the wind is still blowing, and I'm ok with that.

If you've found me again with this writing, don't leave without saying "Hi." It would be great to know some of the old connections have held. -mg