Ode to the Sunlight on a Church Pew

At times I am stirred to regret
The tenuous threads in my strings of logic,
Those points where intellectual rigor has failed
Or merely, perhaps, fallen asleep.
Shamefaced, I admit, I hold too loosely
To the strict principles, those straight-backed chairs
With their unyielding seats, upon which I fidget and shift,
And let slip the patient persistence
Of a mind habituated to careful discipline and slow thought.
But there is a sunlit corner even for such a one as I,
Where, sitting humbly, slightly hunched, in stillness
I cup my warm palms like psalms of adoration
Around the feathered creatures with their quick-beating hearts.
The heart yearns as the mind yearns:
To hold the beautiful mystery thus, and share
This fragile, winged child of heaven
Come down to us in the form of a sacred word.


Seen From Another Angle

I very recently started work at a new job, and one of the tasks of involved in that process is the salary offer and negotiation. When you're working your way up from $25,000 a year, most offers seem generous, but of course there are all sorts of statistics and articles that say superiors respect people who negotiate and also women are less assertive in these areas, meaning that they often are complicit in their own lower wages.

I feel that I am doing quite well and am perfectly happy with the arrangement as things stand, but it did get me thinking about financially structuring my life and the undergirding assumptions and values that we bring to our ideas about appropriate remuneration. For example, as Robert Reich has been reminding me as I read Saving Capitalism, salaries do not reflect worth, except in the most shallow sense imaginable. But just as a CEO of a Fortune 500 company isn't really "worth" the enormous pay package, so also my "worth" both to my employer and to myself is equally untethered from whatever yearly sum I happen to be bringing home.

Which brings me to a question I've been mulling over. If salaries aren't based on worth, what should they be based on instead? (Always ethics.) The thing is, I don't *need* to be making an enormous amount of money. My father managed to hold things together (just barely, but still) for between four and six people while grossing maybe $20,000 more than I am individually making now. I think living wages, especially where children are involved, should be generously sufficient, and I gather that these things are or can be taken into account. However, as an individual with minimal needs and debts, I consider myself fortunate to be able to make myself comfortable enough on what I have at present.

What I'm getting around to, but don't really have time to flesh out, is this thought that maybe instead of planning for pay raises and always wishing (and being prompted to wish by advertisers and advocates of consumerist ideologies) for more, we should spend more time thinking, planning, and defining for ourselves what exactly is enough. I have my non-essential pleasures, but at the end of the day and the end of my life, I would rather say that I am content than rich.

Post-Script: I'm not opposed to making more than enough, per se, but the value of that, to me, is in the opportunity for generosity (I say, as someone who has primarily benefitted from the generosity of others and perhaps not so often been the generous one).

Also, I am intrigued by the notion of vocation and of commitment to a workplace such that you are willing to prioritize factors other than solely what you get out of it, which I think most non-invested wage workers don't typically think of because they're not motivated to participate in the long-term future of the company, but that's a different subject.


Parting Words

A new morning
A new letting go
Where I have drawn the riches
Of these few passing days
Close to my heart
(For they are warm)
Now I must open my hands
Spread my fingers wide and
It is not for me
To make the sweet things bitter:
I have had my moment
And now it goes.
That must be enough.


The Last Quarter Mile

Let me say, in beginning, that this is not meant to be a self-aggrandizing post. It's just something that I've observed in myself and it may not even be a good thing, depending on the circumstance. So that's my disclaimer. Now that you're curious or just like "shut up and get on with it," some stories.

When I was in high school, we had to do presidential fitness tests in P.E., and so twice a year we'd trek out to the soccer field and run four times around the boundary laid out in plastic cones, panting in the late summer and mid-spring humidity. My miles always went about the same: pace myself through the first three laps and then put all of my meager strength into running all out for the last quarter mile.

Then there was college. Final semester of my senior year, that semester when everyone else is like, "I only need to take three classes to graduate? Awesome! Where can I register for Underwater Basket-weaving 101"? I added a minor, took 6 classes and wrote an A+ honors thesis on a subject that my advisor was not sufficiently familiar with to give  me close guidance.

Fast forward again, and I'm in my last week at a pretty painfully crummy job, where the work is dull and repetitive and I can't wait to get out the door, but... I clocked out late today because I'm busting my butt to get a ton of stuff done so my supervisor doesn't have a huge mess on his hands when I leave, and he actually told me that I care more about my  dealing with these issues than he does.

I think there's this point that I get to where I can see the end of something, I evaluate my energy and capacities, and my will just says, "Okay, now all of it." I pace myself carefully when I'm in the long game, always making sure that I'm getting enough rest or that I've balanced whatever in my life needs to be balanced. But if you never go all out, push beyond endurance, and feel your heart pumping so hard that you think it's going to burst, you've missed something, I think.

Say you were at the head of the field by a big margin and you knew you were going to cross the finish line first. You would probably slow down a little, a subconscious easing of the pace. But what if you could see not just the competitors immediately present, but also all your selves past and future and all the other runners who've ever run this track, and maybe they're not behind you: wouldn't finishing well mean that you're still running with all your heart?

I probably make a lot of stupid decisions and I have my messes, but something there is that wants to finish well. However much I waver or stumble or struggle: to keep going, as well as I am able. And not just to go for the going's sake, but to be able to complete the journey, such as it may be, with persistence, wisdom, and endurance to the end.


Harping on a Theme

I think a lot about the subject of an unread library. As someone with an enormous number of books that I have not read or have only half-read, I have a personal stake in explaining the whole business in a way that is favorable to me. But I think there is so much that is revealed in this peculiar tendency, and it's that that I can't help exploring, as much in an act of seeking after self-knowledge as it is self-justification.

My thought yesterday was to link this personal library, abounding with mystery, to a public library, which doesn't favor the tastes of any one individual, but deliberately seeks to provide a diverse range of titles and subjects, so that it may better serve a broader community. I am free to load my shelves with classics and tomes of philosophers long dead, but the library has all of those and also books on volcanoes and tarot card reading and autobiographies of famous lacrosse players whose lives are of no interest to me. The public library, on a much grander scale, always gives one the impression of a super-abundance of knowledge and of the bounty of subject matters. Take a walk through the non-fiction section and it is difficult to believe that you have a monopoly on wisdom and understanding, for you, frail and evanescent human, have not enough life to read a tenth of these books, and were you to do so, could your mind hold all those ideas within its grasp?

While the personal library, usually curated to the tastes of the one who owns it, can never attain to that degree of magnificence, there is monetheless a feeling of a similar type when simply confronting all the books you have yet to read. If I were only to look to my bookshelves, I would be occupied for years. And they are but a drop in the ocean by comparison with, say, a single hall of the Parkway Central Library branch of the Philadelphia Free Library. Even accounting for duplicates, my mind can't grasp the number of books they have circulating. And even if I were never to do aught else with my life but read, I'd still fail in attempting to read them all.

The key here is a sort of humility that we must all face in the attaining of our projects and our desires. We can do so much that is amazing, beyond imagining (except clearly not, for someone dared to dream that we could go to the Moon), and yet we can only do that as one of a particular species, and not as ourselves. Were I born alone in the dawn of the world, I could not in my limited life reach even a small number of the civilizing elements of progress that mark our lives today. There is something to be said for reaching similar conclusions at an intellectual level: we are ready in our criticisms of dead geniuses of a bygone era, whether it's Descartes' magical pineal gland or Socrates' justified true belief theory of knowledge, but as individuals we are the beneficiaries of a vast, depthless pool of knowledge, learning, and break throughs, and we are certainly not the holders of all wisdom, nor will we ever be.

That was yesterday's thought.

Today's thought begins with an observation. That part of the reason why I have so many books I haven't read is because I cull the ones I do read and pass them on to new readers. Some survive, and that's the interesting part to observe. Yes, I have my Harry Potter series, much loved and well read (the more so because I deliberately collected used first versions of the original English paperbacks), and those I'll keep forever. Those are an exception to the interpretive analysis.

Which is this: that the books I give away are not necessarily inferior or somehow undesireable. The difference is simply that the ones I've read and kept have been almost exclusively those that I have had the opportunity to discuss in some setting or another, drawing out their meanings in such a way that they have become as friends rather than as mere objects to be traded and given away. Hence most of the books I read in college and high school literature classes remain on my shelves, but a supply of contemporary fiction is ever rotating in and out.

I suppose in this way, my personal library has been molded by my communities. For they have been the bridge to bring me insight and understanding, connections to a text where I had none before. Through them, I have befriend unusual characters with whom I have no other sympathetic link. And so they have kept these books for me, giving them a greater place in my life and affections than they might otherwise have warranted.