Cosmos Café [11/27] - Open Frame

This week is an open frame. Insert personal thoughts/seed questions/media below :arrow_lower_left:

Context, Backstory, and Related topics


Thanks for the effort, Doug, but the frame was, apparently, too open. :wink:


I get the feeling ( a very strong feeling ) that our online culture is suffering from a Frame Crisis. I sense this is happening here at the Cafe, too. There is not enough time for me to participate in a meaningful way when I am not sure what the frame is. I am open to open frames but only if we have made an effort to develop some options.

I spent some time in the last conversation on line and in the forum trying to develop a frame. Since I knew some regulars were not going to be there and no one had by Monday initiated a plan I assumed nothing was happening. So I made other plans.

I value spontaneity when there is a structure in place. I dont like a free for all that goes nowhere. That is my preference. I dont know exactly how to give feedback to a group I am a member of when there is a frame crisis. Others may have a different description and a different interpretation. There are lots of topics to choose from. Maybe too many?

What is good feedback? This is a recipe that I like.

  1. This is what I liked______________
  2. This is what I didnt like_________________
  3. This is what I would like more of_____________

I want to create conditions for the arrival of the fittest. When we move between too many contexts and too many conversations without adequate feedback it is very hard to know exactly what others are referring to. I have noticed that when there are too many options left open the options start to vanish.


Oh, I’m not complaining. Given the short notice with which the thread appeared and given the fact that both @Douggins and @madrush had already said they weren’t going to make a get-together, I figured no one would show, but I had the time (which I haven’t had a lot of lately, having missed more than one session myself), so I thought the least I could do was show up.

@Mark_Jabbour had also recently asked just how “open” this forum (I’m guessing he meant the CCafés), so there was a bit of a pun in there as well. There are certainly different kinds of “open” hereabouts.

As you know, John, I have mixed feelings about the dynamic between openness and closedness, between freedom and restraint, between structure and spontaneity. For all things there is a season and a time for every purpose under heaven, to paraphrase the Preacher. I appreciate very much what you are trying to do not only in the CCafés but in your various project threads on the platform. Still, I’m not much of an active participator these days … or maybe just for a while … the jury’s still out. (Transitwise (and you’ll recall, for example, that Tarnas is all about (cosmic) transits, but when it comes to individuals, they play just as significant a role) I’m on something of a roller coaster right now, so I’m more than content to just listen – when I can – regardless of what topic/theme/issue/research question is on the table.) I realize that lurkers who are actually present can have a disruptive effect on the flow of the conversation, however.

Nevertheless, I know you have a couple of deep questions for which you are looking for answers, and Marco has expressed a desire to develop a fairly comprehensive model of cosmic time, so I’m not concerned that there isn’t more than enough structure and direction around. But I would also like to make a plea for the occasional decompression round … truly, the kind of conversational round – like over a beer at the pub or a cuppa at the café – where results don’t have to be presented nor goals achieved, just a sharing of thoughts amongst friends (as virtual as they may be). It’s much more a wish than a demand, of course.

Times and seasons, y’know.


I appreciate your self awareness, Ed. My assumption is that there won’t be a season or a time for anything unless someone makes a decision. This is a difference that could make a difference. I have found if I dont make a frame someone else will. Even a frame that is about not having a frame is a frame.

Great. Just let us know that is what you want. I am open to that. I dont read minds yet although I am getting better at it.

I do not intend to go gentle into that good night. I have a short window of opportunity to get something accomplished. Each day seems to resist my best efforts but sometimes there is a clear signal against the noise. I try to detect the signal and do something with it.

Have a great holiday, Ed, and may you enjoy your circumstances!


But we don’t always know who (or what) that someone (something) is … and then we call it synchronicity.

Last Sunday was Sunday of the Dead, the last Sunday in the church year, and I had to give a talk on … well, what else … death. You can’t talk about death in this day and age in Western culture without seriously engaging both the notions of linear (e.g., an everlasting (?) life hereafter) and cyclical (e.g., reincarnation or resurrection, depending on one’s “religious” take) time. I wrestled with those notions for weeks. The talk was well received, even if it wasn’t the one I wanted to give, and, oddly enough, just today, a mail arrived from the Meru Foundation that included a link to an article on recent brain research being done in Berkeley on the different neuronal networks that are activated when one or the other is involved. Of course, Stan Tenen has been talking about similar things and has an essay on that very topic that appeared in a Meru newsletter a year ago (which I, of course, didn’t recall), but which he is updating in light of these recent findings. I “obviously” had sent enough and strong enough thoughts out into the “ether” and this “stuff” “found” them and showed up in my inbox. (That I could have used them last week is not so important … I chalk that up to the day-late-dollar-short theme that informs my entire life :roll_eyes:.)

Still, I think the essay and info could be well-placed within the “cosmic time” model that @madrush is looking to develop, but it fits in well with much of what you have brought into several discussions regarding memory and dealing with the future, too. It also impacts what we’ve been talking about in terms of what “integral” means, but not necessarily with how one might “get there” (if there even is a there to get to). (I just don’t know, at the moment, where may the best place to share it, so I think I’ll wait till something more substantial develops.)

I think the same applies – at times – to our IC get-togethers, both planned and unplanned, scheduled and unscheduled. We can plan what we want, but if the fork in the road presents itself (and it may look like a fork and still be a rabbit hole) we may go down “the other fork” than the one planned. The size, shape, and intensity of detours as well as your mileage may vary.

There’s not always a direct relationship between decisions and seasons or times. Having said that, I’m not sure I want to leave it all up to Dame Fortune … but I still believe we end up where we need to be before it’s all over, whether we consciously recognize it or not. I’m striving for the conscious recognition side of things.

My wife tries it with me every day, but I keep flunking the tests. :smirk: But, in all seriousness, this is another topic (very related to a whole number of threads that have been woven into various CCafés and reading groups over the past few months) that needs to be picked up and worked on as well … not necessarily on its own, but in conjunction with what’s on the table anyway.

One of the differences between you and me, John, is that, well, I’m retired. This is not to say that there are not things left for me to accomplish. There are probably more than I can manage. But, I have noticed that my priorities have shifted considerably. Yes, like all wannabe writers, I have a novel, a novella series, and poems that I think I want (need to?) write but I also have a grandson with whom I love to spend as much time as possible because I learn so much; and I find myself wondering whether really getting a handle on what it means that Biblical Hebrew is a root-based language is as “important” as learning how to throat or diaphragm-vibrato or tongue-slap my blues harp. Neither one is going to redeem the world, but figuring out either could make the world a better place (i.e., one less stressed individual). You’re absolutely right, John, there’s quite a signal-to-noise ratio that has to be dealt with.

'Twill be what’t’ll be … my wife has the Advent Wreath together, the Moravian Star is together and hanging in the livingroom, all my needed-but-not-available-in-Germany ingredients have arrived (now I only need a good sized turkey), but I still have to figure out who gets which book from Santa.

Things are, oddly enough, as they are, and never otherwise. I trust you are on top of wrapping up your year. If not, get to it. Enjoy.


I think it would be good if we could get ahead and have some topics scheduled into the future. These could go on a public calendar, so everyone knows what’s coming up. I’m with John, in that I like to be able to prepare for these conversations (as we’ve discussed before, the prepared mind is the one that can seize upon the serendipities of the moment). However, I am also with Ed (and Mark J) in that I believe sometimes it’s good to just get together and jam on whatever’s on our minds. I think these latter ‘open frames’ work best, however, when they are themselves framed by some greater directionality.

So far, these Café have been mostly experimental and I feel we’ve learned a lot about what works and doesn’t work, what we like and don’t like, etc. I would like, in the next 3 weeks, to create more of a format and some standard operating procedures, so we waste minimal time on logistics and can focus better on developing our themes or “menu.” We could also invite guests, revisit previous topics, etc. Then we could hit the ground running (or walking at our own optimal pace) in 2019.


I think the schema helps a lot if you already have a frame. I am not so sure that the Loeffler paper is a good paper for the Cafe. I have a feeling that the two of us, Doug and I, intend to do a Social Dreaming session around that possibility. I am not sure that a pre-given format is the best way to figure out the Frame?

I imagine that a Post Money Future is a frame and the Loeffler would add something to that. I have spent thirty hours with Loeffler but I dont want to give a talk on Loeffler. I have half a dozen theorists I can draw upon ( and I’m sure others do too) but have two hours of public time. We want to keep it interactive The labor intensive nature of this is apparent. The constraints of the media and the attention spans of the persons are important to consider. We do know what works and doesn’t work but have we made this explicit yet?I am sharing with the group ( or whoever reads this) my internal process. Probably too much information given. What is good for me? What is good for the group? hummm!!*&%…I want to chunk down the topic and chunk slow. I think it will take more than a village to create conditions for a Post-Money world.

And is there a difference between an Open Frame and No Frame at all?

Who decides who frames the social events of our lives?

And how do we distinguish signal from noise?

And is there a relationship between the Frame and the sense of Agency?

And is there a relationship between a sense of Agency and a sense of Urgency?

Without a capacity for sharing attention I dont think much of this matters. I am looking forward to a response from someone, and if I dont get a response I will take that as a response and make other plans. It don’t mean a thing if it aint got that swing. It’s a big world out there, in here. And time that subtle thief is making me pick up my pace.

Your communication is only as good as the response that you get. And there is no such thing as unbiased intelligence.

Have a great day!


Yes, both logically and actually.

Somedays we’re the pigeon and somedays we’re the statue, and sometimes we can decide which we want to be.

We all develop filters for this … individually, for the most part, and we either trust them or we do not.

If one is framing, of course; if one is being framed, less so … but it’s not absent. One can always opt out.

Depends on what the agent believes is urgent.

There are a lot of themes, ideas, notions, concepts, approaches, and topics on the table. In a certain sense, they are, for obvious reasons, all related, but each and every one of them could be considered as separate and independent. Nothing new in that regard. But, trying to manage how we (or anyone for that matter) manage that is an issue that needs to be thought through. I thought @madrush’s foray was a reasonable start. Even more importantly, your response was a reasonable next-step: Loffler’s not a good choice for a CCafé, BUT he would be a good input to, say, the Post-Money-Future frame.

It seems to me that Frames are rather large, perhaps a bit unwieldy organizational tools. A post-money future or a model of cosmic time or what you and @Douggins and @Michael_Stumpf are doing may also be one (but I’m not completely clear on what it is yet (for, as you know, I’m a little thick sometimes and need very specific labels for things to click), though the “results” that keep popping out are interesting enough to follow for now). All of these, need multiple sessions, and I would say, of varying types: workshops like you, Doug, and Michael are doing, and perhaps a CCafé here and there to present, consolidate, get feedback on what you’re doing. We have Frames aplenty, but if they are to be contributively worthwhile, they need to be developed, refined, and perhaps even planned out over a longer time span by those who are primarily involved. I would hate to think that a “topic” is the driver of the format for the get-together, rather what can/should/needs to be done with that topic next (which only the agent behind the topic can decide) should be.

Just as examples, you, and @Douggins (various, his own and with overlaps with you and @Geoffreyjen_Edwards ), and @Geoffreyjen_Edwards (subversive pedagogy, with overlaps obviously with Doug), and @madrush (see above) all have some research question(s) that you are holding and would like to explore. I think that’s great, but how the questions get framed, and how the questions get pursued (in light of the time, resources, and technology we have at our disposal) is something the question-holder needs to think about and propose.

You have been exemplary in this regard, John, setting up what I would call workshops to explore various aspects of your questions, and @Geoffreyjen_Edwards has also organized reading groups, and @Douggins is always there to pick up whatever slack is necessary (even when it results in not much (e.g., the last CCafé … out of which, nevertheless, a minor thread has arisen … after all, where am I posting this?) or simply come up with more ideas than he knows what to do with at any given time (and it’s always the “better” problem to have too many than too few when it comes to such things).

It would seem to me that the ball is in the court of those who have “discussions/explorations/…” that need to be framed and pursued. Overlaps between frames (or whatever) are what I would call “interface issues”, and these need to be addressed and resolved on a case-by-case basis whenever they arise.

Yes, I know, I have it easy because I don’t have a research question I need answered, nor do I have that much of a future that strategically important topics (like a post-money future, for example) affect me directly. I’m interested, of course, because I’ve left progeny in this world who have to deal with such things, but they’re not drivers for me. Having said that, however, I do maintain that every project needs its breaks, and decompression opportunities, or whatever you want to call them, and the general format of our CCafés lends itself to those, even if it can be … and most often could and should be … more focused on specifics.

That’s my feedback, John, hope it helps.


I agree, Ed, and appreciate your contributions at the Cafe. I recognize that there are different motivations and styles and your descriptions ring a bell. And thanks for taking the time to answer my impromptu questionnaire. I would appreciate it if you would let the group know when decompression wants to happen. As we all have different thresholds and are overwhelmed by different things do it helps to find a way to press the pause button in public before we slide into discontent and rabble rousing. I am not always good at picking up on that, as the medium we are working in is not at all transparent to me. There is still a feeling of artificiality about these flat screens that makes me feel constrained. Like trying to sing opera with your hands tied behind your back. My timing and my pitch are sometimes off but I aim to please.


Will do.

We’ve had a couple of looser (or lost) sessions lately, so it is probably time to start buckling down again. Of course, with the holidays upon us, and a relatively heavy meet-up on Tuesday coming, we’ll have to see how we phase out this year and crank up the next one.


Agreed. The winter of our discontent is up ahead. The winter months though can also be a nice time for hunkering down with a pile of good books. Or I can get grumpy, too, Ed, and complain about a lot of things. You aren’t the only curmudgeon.

I think Death would make another good topic to explore if and only if we look at the non linear ways that people have greeted this Stranger. I loathe self pity, especially in the elderly, who had there score of days. So what I value most, is front and center in my attention, and I notice the periphery and where I make the cut and all of those myriad distinctions, sizes and shapes and colors, in many different dimensions. We, who are about to be snuffed out, salute you!

Death is the Mother of Beauty…( Wallace Stevens)

I have been half in love with easeful Death ( Keats)

In my beginning is my end….( Eliot)

Death be not proud, though some have called thee great.…( Donne)

All lovers young, all lovers must,
As chimney sweepers come to dust ( Shakespeare)

I think the poets are trustworthy on this topic in a way that other disciplines (like modern medicine) are not.

And what wants to die?

And what wants to live?

I have seen young men die horribly, at an early age, who would have envied my status as someone who made it to my sixth decade. I recall some of their names. But some of their names are starting to fade but not the face. I can still recall the face. I still connect with a presence that is absent. Different kinds of space for the so called living and the dead. I have heard that ants bury the dead at a distance from where the living are active. Bury the dead? When did we decide that was a good idea? And to put flowers around the corpse? Some ancients buried the dead under the house.

There is nothing uglier than watching the sheet pulled over the body of someone you cared about and efficiently wheeled off to the morgue.

I have seen men complain because they are old.

I think being old is better perhaps than the alternative but that is entirely up to the person I suppose. Finding something to give attention to, something deep and complex, makes the barbaric times we live, shopping at the mall, and all that bother, more tolerable.

I try never to take away another person’s security blanket. I am a stranger here myself. And It is getting stranger. That’s not a bad thing. And I can live with that.

But there is no need to bring the group down about such things as we are living in an age of mass extinction. I am hyper aware of that even as I perceive the busy shoppers, buying as much as they can, while things are on sale.

How the Manifest Image and the Scientific Image ( dominant mental structure) clash would be an interesting topic. Something perhaps on the Fourth Dimension in Art and Culture? How we navigate among these descriptions and interpretations. I would be open to that.


Personally, I think Death is much overrated, and I found, say, Aurobindo’s presentation very refreshing. What dies? And is “die” really the right word?

Comparatively speaking, I think Americans have a much bigger problem with it than do most Europeans. Things here are still fairly “natural” (that is, it is accepted that one day you check out, period; those who see it as a natural part of life, so to speak, often prepare for it when they see it coming; and I know lots of old people who have simply told me they’ve lived long enough; they’re ready to go). Many people (at least around here) die at home, so there’s not all that clinicalness that you mention, for it is not uncommon for the deceased to spend their first night at home. Accidents and unclear circumstances involve bureaucracy, but otherwise, you call the family doctor who (finally) makes a house call to certify exitus; the undertaker comes to your home to sort the details. But things are changing. At least I sense it to be so. And I don’t know what it’s like in the larger cities. I still live (for German circumstances) fairly rurally. I’m guessing there are more people living in your apartment building, John, than reside in the village where I live.

Poets often handle most things more sensibly than most other “professionals”.

There is a sight in Spain in which the remains of 27 individuals and (my favorite artefact at the sight) a pink stone axe were found in a pit apparently dug for the purpose. The site has been dated as 350,000 years old. That would mean that homo heidelbergensis was the culprit. The site is disputed, of course; and the oldest undisputed site is in Qafzeh, Israel and dated as 100,000 years old. The bones were colored with almagra (a deep-red ochre), and there were animal bones and fetishes there as well, and this indicates to me that whoever buried the individual went back later to “reconnect” (since the bones couldn’t have been colored before). That site is attributed to early homo sapiens. It looks like the idea’s been around for quite a while.

Anthropologists and archaelogists, ethnologists and psychologists (here, I prefer German: they have one word for those who systematically study all these subjects related to humans, namely Humanwissenschaftlter, or lit. human-scientists) use burial as a strong indicator for the presence of symbolic thinking, which many like to consider a human-only characteristic. I don’t know about the ants, but it wouldn’t surprise me, yet I think there is a difference between just burying and burying-with-artifacts (even if these are only flowers). The latter says something about acknowledgement and recognition of the deceased, or at least one’s relationship to them. If you spend much time with someone and have developed some kind of relationship to them, to me it seems reasonable that the intentional enhancement of the internment process says something about that relationship.

While preparing my talk, I learned that the German word for “to mourn”, trauren comes from an Old High German word trure which meant “to fall, to fall down, to sink down (on one’s knees), to lose strength”. In other words, the term has more to do with physical posture than an affective one, but I can see why bowing one’s head is appropriate at such times. Let us also not forget that the Ancient Egyptians built an more than thousand-year-old culture solely on the notion of Death. It all gives me pause to think. I don’t find it depressing, but as you pointed out, it does bring a lot of people down.

An interesting description … care to specify it a bit more? What do you mean by “manifest” in this context? I suspect there is more here than I’m picking up on at the moment.


I misspoke about the ants. They dont bury the dead but they move them elsewhere and keep them in the same place. They differentiate a dead ant from the living ant. I am sorry I made that unclear. Humans bury the corpse or burn it in some places.

It is confusing what a person is as we oscillate quite a bit between scientific accounts and the actual lived phenomenological accounts ( first person). When I walk down the street I have an awareness of a front and back, eyes in front, and others do as well. Up, down, left, right. Nature does not come with a front and a back or an up or a down. So the Physical, with atoms and molecules and the Biological with organs and tissues and neuronal assemblies, is not exactly the same as the phenomenological although all of these descriptions and interpretations overlap in significant ways. Pardon the rather brief explanation but I hope you can appreciate that when “I” talk about a person I care about " I " am not talking about their liver or their pancreas or their blood count on any given occasion. Nor do I have any access to any of this unless I am shown an x-ray by someone trained to read x-rays.

Eric Weiss mentions that we confuse the Physical with Matter. This is a mistake in his view and I tend to agree. There is much more going on than the physical and that is not probably what most of us will ever have direct access to. I am glad that I am protected from having to know what my liver is doing although I can have an educated guess that if I avoid lot of fats and sugars I can have a better functioning liver. But that would be because I have constructed a coherent Scientific Image.

So Inquiries are muddled by the clash of these Images that arise in paradoxes and impasses all the time. People when they use the personal pronoun I, or We or Me or My or You are moving between different zones with often no awareness of where we came up with these categories. As language users or music makers we are changing our locations in logical or Imaginal spaces. How do I ascribe intentions to others? How do we ascribe beliefs to others? Where do our theories of Mind comes from? How do I know the difference between a melody and a lot of noise? This would be what the Manifest Image does for us.

This is where the history of the Fourth Dimension can be interesting. Our Culture is very in contact with these wierd spaces but has to go undercover to discuss this in certain circles. Neo Liberal versions of AI will insist that we are just meat that can be enhanced or re -programmed and this is well under way. Some of us resist. Longo, a Mathematician, I am exploring, consider the Computational Metaphor is a violation when applied to Biological Systems. So the Scientific Image is no longer fixed in the Neo Liberal Image we are used to. It is very volatile.

It seems that Death whatever it is has a lot more complexity than is allowed in the current Neo Liberal Scientific Image. But our Scientific and Manifest Images may be changing. I would be open to exploring this and what I offer here is a very rough sketch of a very big subject that may be beyond the scope of the Cafe. I am however open to checking in with some ongoing presentations that are easier to absorb if I can practice them in another place on the site. That is what might be happening for next year as I move my experiential practices elsewhere. You need coffee to stay in contact with all of this complexity, but not beer.

I appreciate others are more interested in going to the tap and getting another round. And that is fine with me. I have no problem with taking a break. And some us do come up with the best ideas when we take a break. But you have to prepare the mind before that usually happens. Otherwise the drunks at the end of the bar would be all be geniuses. As someone who has spent a lot of time in Bar Culture I admit that it possible to have some great conversations if the timing is right. But I have also found that with the rise of social media and the wide use of devices a bar is probably the last place to go to find a good conversation. Social space is mostly virtual. That is another topic, too. We have subtle, physical and virtual bodies to deal with. Much more complex than what Aurobindo was working with. But that is way too big a subject!


Thank you for this, John, it was very helpful in getting some things sorted in my own mind.

Still, let me ask – and please don’t take it as provocatively as it sounds, for it is certainly not meant to be so – do you really think all of this is all that complicated? It’s complex, no doubt about that, but are we perhaps not complicating matters when we want to make all these fine distinctions between matter and the physical and all?

As long as my liver is functioning as it’s supposed to, I don’t care, nor do I think it’s necessary to want to. Yes, it’s a significant phenomenon, but really only to whomever is particularly interested in that particular phenomenon, and what they find out can be very helpful later when my liver no longer functions as it’s supposed to. But, really? Is it important in knowing who I am (if there even is an “I”) or where I came from or where I’m going to (just to paraphrase Gebser’s “big questions”? I’m not sure. It seems to me that a certain amount of “muddle” is fine.

Ascribing intentions or beliefs or sorting a melody from noise may be somewhat different, and these actions are most definitely culturally informed, if not determined: I’m more of a bluser, but I appreciate (especially now, around Christmas, classics (in the traditional sense of the word), like Bach and Mendelsohn, and there are some Westerners who think Far Eastern, e.g. Chinese, music is like fingernails scratching on a blackboard (and vice versa). But these are orders that we human have posed upon “reality” and exploring the whys and wherefores of these can be informative and helpful. But I ask myself just how much (and more recently, I’m asking, how many) theory(ies) are necessary to come to terms with these particular phenomena, or others for that matter? Just how precise do we need to be? Overpreciseness, I think, is a very mental-rational characteristic (i.e., it must be this and not that, but to what degree?). I’m not challenging as much as I’m simply poking.

I’m not convinced there is a history of the 4D, other than we impose one on whatever past records we choose to view and interpret. There are, on the other hand – and here I’m very much in your boat – weird spaces that need to be discussed and explored, but it is simply the way things have developed that a lot of us think we need to go undercover to discuss them. If one thing has (and I think is) changed(ing) it’s that we can be much more open about being weird. (BTW, the clip by Longo that you posted was interesting, needless to say, and it is encouraging to see that there are academics who are stepping up to address the Emperor directly … though he had more than one story to tell about those who spoke to him too soon.)

Agreed, but the question immediately springs to my mind, just how much of that complexity is it necessary to grok to come to terms with the notion. My dad didn’t know about any of this stuff that I am constantly immersed in, nor did my father-in-law, but both of them made it patently clear that they were soon to going to catch the D-line downtown, upstreet, or wherever.

And if we learned anything from the mental-rationals, it should be that sometimes chunking down is a good thing. Unfortunately, too many of them forget that at some point you have to reconstruct and re-chunk, but we’re all very aware of that so we’ve got a leg up on them. We all know (and constantly remind one another) that we’re only look at part of the picture and there is always more, and sometimes more to come.

My son-in-law told me recently of a study that was done … fundamentally on the notion of the placebo effect (or at least that was the trigger word that made him think about it). They took college students and divided them up into groups. Some of them got beer that was really beer and they told them it was beer; others got beer that was alcohol-free and told it was real beer; others got alcohol-free beer and told it was alcohol-free; others were given real beer and were told it was alcohol-free. The results were that the people who were told they had been given alcohol got drunk, while those who thought they were getting none tended not to. You are right that prepared minds are necessary. But how do we know we are preparing our minds in the best way possible to figure out what we may be trying to figure out? That’s where it all gets to complicated for my simple mind, so I just order another beer, because I happen to like beer (not that stuff you Americans call beer … I’m talking about something else).

And so, as a wise man noted more than once, perhaps that’s why we need to “chunk down and chunk slow”. Steady small steps could be much more productive than large uncertain ones. I think part of the issue is to unravel (at least some of) the complexity and definitely scrub out what’s just plain complicated.

Just a thought, John, and not as provocative as one as it may sound.


Pauline Kael, film critic from the New Yorker, was a huge influence on me back in the 80s . I met her in London and later in New York and saw her exchange views with often hostile audiences. She had some criticisms for me and my then boyfriend, who were performing plays downtown and trying to get careers started. She was a no nonsense critic but was very generous with her time and energy for young people who were struggling. I think I still have a manuscript of a play that we were writing, a play that she marked up with all kinds of questions. It was never produced. My co-author, my lover at the time, got hit by a truck on his biyclcle. That ended that project.

Kael probably was sympathetic because she had a very hard climb to the top of her profession. What impressed me about her is that she seemed to have seen and read everything.

I once heard her speak to an audience about never seeing a movie twice. She always prefers to watch another movie. A man rose from the audience and claimed that he always saw a movie he liked more than once. Maybe even two or three times.

Kael, with her usual bluntness said, " Well that’s the difference between me and you."

I confess I have never reread anything except once. I first read The Brother’s Karamazov when I was twelve. I reread it when I first came to New York, living in a flea infested dive in the old theater district, for eight dollars a night. It was right out of Raymond Chandler. I was twenty three at the time. I realized that I liked the great over the top novel much better when I read it the first time. I have never reread anything since except for poetry. Poetry I often reread. And I skim most science articles. Tons of them.

So I am not an academic nor do I reread. And that may have something to do with why I find so much that is complex that you consider merely complicated. At any rate you have convinced me that the Cafe is not the place to hang out with my vast uncertainties. I fear that my comments have created more boredom than curiosity and so will work out my private and public conundrums elsewhere. Maybe I will try to find that old play we never produced and try to redo it.

So it is my turn to declare that I need a break. I will probably be back after the first of the year. And as always wish everyone the best.


Personally, I’m downtrodden to hear that, and I feel dreadful that I might have caused that. I find your inputs, your energy, and your persistence admirable (and even enviable). I’m anything but bored, and poking at the complexity/complicatedness nexus was just that: a poking, a question I’ve been wrestling with for years. You are the only one who ever even got close to addressing it. I’ll miss that.

Like you, I don’t reread things (though I have on occasion and am always disappointed), and I rarely watch movies twice, unless it’s for purely entertainment (read: thought-stopping) reasons. I agree with Kael, in principle, but as is so often the case, I’d be hypocritical to claim it is in practice.

In my own inept way, I was hoping to encourage you in your chunk-down-chunk-slow approach, but I now have the feeling I misunderstood what you were saying. It happens. We only have language, and we all know how limited that is.

Still, I certainly do hope that you pursue your uncertainties and come back to tell us of your adventures. I’m only speaking for myself when I say that I learn a lot from you.


Thanks for your generous support, Ed, and I hope that after the holiday season ( which I really find depressing ) i will be making better sense.


I read somewhere that the largest number of suicides occur in the Christmas season.

For all the glamor and glitter, this has to be the absolutely most miserable time of year: children are on their worst behavior, commercialism is in overdrive, nobody knows what we’re celebrating, and, to make matters absolutely worse, most other religions have their “light festivals” at this time of year as well.

The fact remains that astronomically this is the darkest time of the year in the Northern Hemisphere … which is where we happen to live … and so many of our Southern Hemisphere denizens are tapping into our northern darkness. How could it be otherwise.

But, as a wise person once said, “This, too, shall pass.” There’s hope. And as any German can – and will – tell you: Hope dies last (_Die Hoffnung stirbt zuletzt).

May the Peace that surpasses all human understanding abide with you always, John. The new year is … well, whoda thunk? just that, a NEW year. Let’s see how it goes.


Well, I for one enjoyed catching up with this exchange. And if you don’t mind me imposing my bedtime story frame—I am in the final chapters of Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings with my older daughter, and you two (@achronon and @johnnydavis54) remind me of no one so much as Gimli the Dwarf and Legolas the Elf, at the interface of heaven and earth. I know I’ve said this before, but it feels so weirdly true. That’s the power of story, eh?

I count myself beyond fortune to be amongst such good company, even if it’s only virtual most of the time and I do need my down- and off-screen time, and time for renewal. I feel especially blessed for all the soul-nourishing and mind-expanding conversations we’ve had this year, in various incarnations, as inchoate at times and non-linear as they’ve been. I feel it’s been time very well spent indeed, and I know that even when our frames seem fallow there is life incubating under the dark surface. I am look forward to what the new year will bring.