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Category: C***mas

what, me worry

philosophy-final-state-1907-jpglarge

    “Philosophy (Final State) (1899-1907) 

         Gustav Klimt

              ______

at lunch recently, a friend was telling 
me about taking her family, kids,
grandkids, to Hawaii

I hope we have a good time, she said

what do you mean, I hope, I asked 

I’ve been worrying a lot lately, I wake 
up in the middle of the night, I worry
about sharks, for instance, off the 
coast of Maui

I know what you mean, I answered, I
worry about an earthquake hitting 
while I’m asleep, the whole city does 
in fact, I confirmed, those here who 
worry

when I was going to Munich in December 
and January with my mother, I continued, 
and people were saying it’d be cold, 
determined that we’d have a wonderful 
time despite whatever obstacles we might 
encounter, I meant it as a gift to my mother, 
after all it was for the magic of the C***mas 
and New Year’s Eve festivities there we 
were going, kind of like your Hawaiian 
beaches, I pointed out

there was the uncomfortable flight over,
the usual stomach upsets, cold and 
snow, which I hadn’t experienced in 
several years, an unruly Internet 
connection, but they were the price of 
admission to the wonderland I’d 
determined to fashion out of the 
elements that we’d find there, and did  

there were neither sharks nor earthquakes 
eventually, nor even the terrorist attacks 
that had threatened, but that no amount of 
worrying anyway could’ve done anything 
about 

and I just read something out of the New 
Yorker, I continued, that put me back on 
track, put everything back together again 
before any great existential fall

it’s all in your head, it said, or rather it
quoted EpictetusEpictetus, the Stoic 
philosopher I’ve always profoundly 
admired, I said, I’ll send it to you, the 
articleStoicism was a way of facing 
the world bravely and seeing it as a 
condition of your worth

is still a way, I extrapolated

also I’ve found that focussing on what
you’ve been worrying about, and 
thinking about what you can do about 
it, helps

about sharks, for instance, what would 
you do – don’t go in the water – after 
which there isn’t much else to think 
about but go on to the next problem 

meanwhile, you’re not worrying, but 
actually being productive, and reducing 
everything to what you can indeed do,
which ends up being most often not 
much

pray for grace, I’ve been telling myself
for the longest while, and make sure 
your tie ‘s on right, that’s all you 
can ever do, I repeat to myself, and to 
anyone who’ll listen, like an incantation, 
a refrain

but still I take my anti-depressants just 
in case, I said

we drank to Stoicism

afterwards we saw a new play about 
Queen Elizabeth

Richard

psst: the New Yorker article 

    How To Be a Stoic

The Stoic philosopher Epictetus was born a slave, around 55 A.D., in the Greco-Roman spa town of Hierapolis—present-day Pamukkale, Turkey. I first encountered his teachings in 2011, shortly after moving from San Francisco to Istanbul. I lived alone on a university campus in a forest. In the midst of a troubled long-distance relationship, I sometimes went days without talking to anyone but my boyfriend’s disembodied head on Skype. I was demoralized by Turkish politics, which made both secularists and religious people feel like victims. If you were a woman, no matter what you were wearing—décolleté or a head scarf—someone would give you a dirty look.

The first line of Epictetus’ manual of ethical advice, the Enchiridion—“Some things are in our control and others not”—made me feel that a weight was being lifted off my chest. For Epictetus, the only thing we can totally control, and therefore the only thing we should ever worry about, is our own judgment about what is good. If we desire money, health, sex, or reputation, we will inevitably be unhappy. If we genuinely wish to avoid poverty, sickness, loneliness, and obscurity, we will live in constant anxiety and frustration. Of course, fear and desire are unavoidable. Everyone feels those flashes of dread or anticipation. Being a Stoic means interrogating those flashes: asking whether they apply to things outside your control and, if they do, being “ready with the reaction ‘Then it’s none of my concern.’ ”

Reading Epictetus, I realized that most of the pain in my life came not from any actual privations or insults but, rather, from the shame of thinking that they could have been avoided. Wasn’t it my fault that I lived in such isolation, that meaning continued to elude me, that my love life was a shambles? When I read that nobody should ever feel ashamed to be alone or to be in a crowd, I realized that I often felt ashamed of both of those things. Epictetus’ advice: when alone, “call it peace and liberty, and consider yourself the gods’ equal”; in a crowd, think of yourself as a guest at an enormous party, and celebrate the best you can.

Epictetus also won me over with his tone, which was that of an enraged athletics coach. If you want to become a Stoic, he said, “you will dislocate your wrist, sprain your ankle, swallow quantities of sand,” and you will still suffer losses and humiliations. And yet, for you, every setback is an advantage, an opportunity for learning and glory. When a difficulty comes your way, you should feel proud and excited, like “a wrestler whom God, like a trainer, has paired with a tough young buck.” In other words, think of every unreasonable asshole you have to deal with as part of God’s attempt to “turn you into Olympic-class material.” This is a very powerful trick.

Much of Epictetus’ advice is about not getting angry at slaves. At first, I thought I could skip those parts. But I soon realized that I had the same self-recriminatory and illogical thoughts in my interactions with small-business owners and service professionals. When a cabdriver lied about a route, or a shopkeeper shortchanged me, I felt that it was my fault, for speaking Turkish with an accent, or for being part of an élite. And, if I pretended not to notice these slights, wasn’t I proving that I really was a disengaged, privileged oppressor? Epictetus shook me from these thoughts with this simple exercise: “Starting with things of little value—a bit of spilled oil, a little stolen wine—repeat to yourself: ‘For such a small price, I buy tranquillity.’ ”

Born nearly two thousand years before Darwin and Freud, Epictetus seems to have anticipated a way out of their prisons. The sense of doom and delight that is programmed into the human body? It can be overridden by the mind. The eternal war between subconscious desires and the demands of civilization? It can be won. In the nineteen-fifties, the American psychotherapist Albert Ellis came up with an early form of cognitive-behavioral therapy, based largely on Epictetus’ claim that “it is not events that disturb people, it is their judgments concerning them.” If you practice Stoic philosophy long enough, Epictetus says, you stop being mistaken about what’s good even in your dreams. 

                                                                                                 Elif Batuman

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up my idiosyncrasies – Plato‏

school-of-athens-detail-from-right-hand-side-showing-diogenes-on-the-steps-and-euclid-1511.jpg!Large

      “The School Of Athens (1510-1511)
 
                   Raphael
 
                       _____
 
 
he sounds just like you, my friend said,
who’d bought me the works of Plato
for C***mas maybe, or my birthday, or 
maybe just because he knew I’d very
much appreciate them
 
we were reading him together, as is 
always my inclination, his Meno 
according to my calculations, 
Socrates was doing most of the 
talking, with Meno, a Sophist 
acolyte, a school of philosophy then, 
the Sophists, which claimed it could 
prove anything by using the right 
arguments 
 
lawyers, of course, ensued, politicians
 
and rhetoric, the art of proving anything 
by using the right arguments 
 
philosophy had reached a structural,
indeed an existential, impasse, why, 
they therefore wondered, philosophy
 
wherein it entered a phase of moral 
speculation, StoicismEpicureanism,
ScepticismCynicism, and can you 
blame them, theories about the 
stars, the moon, the world, even 
matter itself, had become so 
questionable, was it fire, air, water, 
atoms, at its source, who knew
 
 
I thought so too, I said, and told 
him that Plato’s were the first   
texts studied in philosophy when 
entered university, that’s where I 
learned to talk like that, philosophy 
from the scratch, as my German 
teacher would’ve said, which is to 
say, from its very beginnings, 
whence I could view, I figured, the 
evolution of received wisdom in 
Western culture
 
I was young then, the young have 
such dreams 
 
 
my father had been agnostic, ever
asking questions, though we were 
being raised Catholic, my sister 
and I, on account of our mother 
tongue, our entire community, 
having been historically linked 
with that religion, and cause my 
parents wanted us to be educated 
in French
 
an existentialist crisis would
eventually follow, I intuited, as
indeed it did, so I majored in 
philosophy
 
 
Socrates taught me to ask 
questions, that no one had  
all the answers
 
Plato, usurping his master’s voice, 
created the paradigm for our present 
version of a Divinity, and Its Paradise
 
there is an ideal version of any 
item we might consider, he spouted,
an ideal table, for instance, exists
of which every material table is an
imperfect example
 
to virtue, love, beauty, truth, he 
applied the same principle, which
early erudite Catholics, Augustine
Thomas Aquinas, for instance, and
others, despite rejecting all of the 
other Greek cultural achievements
appropriated in order to bolster their 
impression of God, the ideal of the 
Ideal
 
this lasted uncontested for just
over a thousand years
 
for a thousand years our salvation
had been extraterrestrial, 
supranatural, this, our very, 
perhaps only, existence, an 
imperfect reflection of somewhere
else an ideal, a mere simulacrum,  
we were, a metaphor
 
Socrates had only asked questions,
what is virtue, what is justice, what
is beauty, truth
 
Plato presumed to have known the 
answers
 
 
Aristotle is making a comeback,
whose method, in opposition to 
his contemporaneous forebear,  
was much more like Charles 
Darwin‘s, working from the facts, 
which proved then, and are 
proving still now, to be multifarious, 
diverse, astonishing, and nearly 
enough to make you believe in 
God/dess again, this time, however, 
through the back door 
 
or in a multiplicity, a panoply, a 
very pavilion, even, of natural 
deities, otherwise known as 
angels, for better or for worse
 
God/dess bless, or angels
 
 
Richard

Munich, the application‏

default

after a period of some indecision – 
the state of my health, an abysmally
low iron count that left me 
uncharacteristically unsteady, near
fainting, which I’d considered to be 
old age instead of something more
chemical, clinical, the distance to 
where we’d be going, time zones, 
jet lag, the difficulty of finding 
appropriate accommodations for 
the one month we’d be there, and 
at a reasonable price, none of which 
was a problem for my mother, 
incidentally, but which rattled only 
myself – it looks like the holiday 
we’ve envisioned will come to pass, 
my mom and I ‘ll be going to Munich 
for both the C***mas and the New 
Year’s holidays, with at least ten 
days on either end 
 
what clinched it was that not only
had my iron leaped from abysmal
to completely ordinary, though my 
thyroid is now acting up, you plug 
one hole, another one pops up, I 
told my doctor, one day the tide 
will roll in, inexorably, I proclaimed
 
showed up, we got for a song, 
something out of Hansel and Gretel, 
which, with the invaluable help of a 
dear friend in Germany, who was born 
in Munich, apparently we’ve managed
 
I am so happy for you, “Ich freue mich 
ja so sehr auf Euch, dass ich gerne helfe, 
damit der Traum wahr wird“, I’d be
happy to help make your dream come 
true, she said, like a very fairy 
godmother
 
we’re waiting on a response to our 
application
 
 
the house is of stone and wood, 
it has a wooden staircase along 
a wall of the living room going
up to a bedroom there under an 
attic roof, where the whole aerie 
is covered in red carpet, just, it 
would seem, what a poet ‘d be 
looking for, I think, take a look
 
downstairs has all the appliances
we’d want, including a wifi
connection, so I can write my stories 
about the art galleries and churches 
and operas and Bavarian dinners out 
we’ll delight in, the epiphanies we’ll 
cross in all that enchantment
 
a very fairy tale, I project, though for 
me it already is one, with me as 
Prince Charming, why not, and my 
mom as Queen of the Magical Realm,
why neither – your dream is what you 
make it
 
 
Richard
 
 
 

 

dinner out – Francesco’s Ristorante

self-portrait-with-wine-glass-gluttony-2000

 
                              Kent Bellows
 
                                  _______
 
 
my mom and I discovered a new 
restaurant, an old institution, in fact,
Francesco’s, opened in 1975
 
it was superb 
 
after our having been seated 
perfectly in an airy room, with 
windows all around looking onto 
an adjacent courtyard and the 
street, Grant introduced himself 
as our waiter, we tendered our 
names back, he was about 50, 
just my type
 
he was jaunty, full of good cheer, 
and was, despite a rapid fire 
delivery, utterly helpful
 
the bread came, hot, with a saucer
of butter in oil
 
I’d come back here just for the bread,
my mom said, I never have bread, but 
the prognostications were good 
 
my beef carpaccio, clung to my fork
like love, the thinnest slices dipped
in a caper and truffle oil vinaigrette,
with shaved Parmesan and an 
asparagus spear proud as a ***mas
nutcracker, and a mustard coulis
like hieroglyphs illuminating the 
artful concoction, went down like 
honey
 
I’m going to have dessert, I said, on 
the strength of just that appetizer,
she would too, she countered
 
my mom had the lobster bisque,
which despite her enjoying it she 
put aside to make room for her 
pesto pasta, she said, and which I 
refrained from finishing for her to 
leave room for my own main plate
 
rather than my usual pasta, I went 
for the veal piccata, this time, meat 
that brings back Vienna and Austrian 
fine dining, that’s what I’m having next 
time, my mom said, maybe I will again 
too, I thought, though her pasta looked 
delicious, the rest of which she took 
home in a designer doggie bag they 
send you home with, another touch 
of class, so she could enjoy it later 
 
for dessert I had crème brûlée, she 
had cheesecake, I also had three
limoncellos
 
by that time I can’t remember if she 
had coffee or not, I paid, I however
remember, it was Mother’s Day, and
every penny was entirely worth it
 
to excess, I toasted, and mothers
 
 
Richard
 
 
 
 

 

“Christmas Oratorio” – Johann Sebastian Bach‏

"Nativity" - Piero della Francesca

Nativity (1470 – 1475)

Piero della Francesca

__________

on the first day of Christmas, which
is to say December 25, 1734, the first
cantata of Bach’s Christmas Oratorio“,
“The Birth”, was presented at the
Nikolaikirche, or the Church of St
Nicholas
, in Leipzig

it was followed by five other cantatas,
each corresponding to its own
elaboration of the holy event

the Annunciation to the Shepherds, December 26, 1734
the Adoration of the Shepherds, December 27, 1734
the Circumcision – if you can believe it – and Naming of Jesus, January 1, 1735
the Journey of the Magi, January 2, 1735
and the Adoration of the Magi, January 6, 1735

the cantatas are usually played in
groups of three, or in their entirety,
to more easily accommodate too
either long, or short, performances
– the cantatas last only about 25
minutes – though Leipzig, and other
neighbouring communities might
still adhere to their more reverent
original position

an oratorio, of course, is an opera
without sets or costumes, usually
associated with religious services,
and, quite specifically, mostly, with
Bach’s, of whose manifestly prolific
output an astonishing 209 still
survive

a cantata is a work for voice and
instrumentation in several
movements, or contrasting musical
episodes, in Bach’s liturgical ones,
four voices, usually, cover the
ranges, soprano, alto, tenor and
bass, they tell the story, while the
choir stand in for the angels

this performance, conducted by the
eminent Nikolaus Harnoncourt, is
from the Nikolaikirche in Leipzig
itself, the Oratorio‘s very cradle,
its stunning altarpiece, flanked by
two mighty Christmas trees, is
glorious

incidentally the soprano and the
alto voices are taken over here by
cherubs, in the obvious guise of
prepubescents, you can tell by
their missing wings

their more stentorian counterparts,
tenor and bass, are aptly authoritative,
arresting, you’ll feel utterly blessed

here’s the text in English

Richard

psst: merry, incidentally, Christmas

 

walking in beauty – January 9, 2015‏

Vincent van Gogh - "Orchard in Blossom (Plum Trees)"

Orchard in Blossom (Plum Trees) (1888)

Vincent van Gogh

__________

walking in beauty must be a conscious
thing, you don’t wake up doing it in the
morning unless you train yourself to

for the past few days I’ve incorporated
the prayer, am intending to learn it
through, not just its kernel, however
itself highly inspirational

In beauty I walk.
With beauty before me I walk.
With beauty behind me I walk.
With beauty around me I walk
With beauty above me I walk.
With beauty below me I walk
In beauty all is made whole.
In beauty all is restored.
In my youth I am aware of it, and
In old age I shall walk quietly the beautiful trail.
In beauty it is begun.
In beauty it is ended.

during the past several days the weather
has been grey, bleak, uninviting, there
was beauty only in the candles I lit, the
pyjamas I never took off, and, truth be
told, the chicken I broiled with soya
sauce, lemon juice and honey, with
baby carrots to dip, and carrot cake to
top it all off, with lots of icing

nor do I ever run out of wine

what’s not beautiful about that, I needed
to conclude after all those days moping,
feeling sorry for myself

I said the same to a friend today over
lunch, at presently the best restaurant
in Vancouver
, there she sat poised,
dripping in grace, a tailored olive
jacket, an ochre pendant with a light
brown scarf wrapped loosely around
her neck, stretched towards me with
just the right amount of both discretion
and attention, presenting her Mona Lisa
smile
, as she’d herself called it

she had crossed her defunct great love
inadvertently somewhere, his jaw had
dropped, she had smiled that mysterious
smile, she told me, and slipped beyond
his ken

should I go to Australia, she asked,
where her nephew’s daughter is
getting married, it’s hot, it’s humid,
it’s a long trip, I could die on the
way

every time I go downtown, I think I
might not make it, I retorted, but I do,
and I don’t

when was the last time you saw your
nephew, I asked

four or five years ago, she replied

you love him, he loves you, he would
be so honoured, I said, and if you die
on the way he’ll still be honoured,
they all will

this is how you walk in beauty, I said,
you latch onto the poem as it passes,
they’re fleeting, be they ever so many,
we let them go by, they would’ve been
our memories, instead of our default
position, where you could die anyway

today I left home, I said, saw my first
cherry blossoms of the season, midst
the gnarled van Gogh branches of the
other trees lining both sides of the
street, emerald moss growing already
along their trunks

a woman selling wares mouthing the
words to Billy Holiday’s “God Bless
the Child”
so that I thought she’d
been the one singing

beside her someone selling wooden
marionettes he was dangling, grinning,
trying to look enchanting in his Charlie
Chaplin clothes, looking more like
Ebenezer Scrooge, a wolf in sheep’s
clothing

but a cover of You, You’re Driving
Me Crazy
I sent Apollo, my Sun God,
for ukulele, megaphone, and of course
voice, inspired me more than anything
else today, I continued, turned my
frustration into poetry, how not to
mope, he’s been gone since before
C***mas, much too long

beauty is in the eye of the beholder, in
beauty all is made whole

to walking in beauty, we toasted

Richard