Finger Exercises

Thought of something while walking in the garden today. Blogging is writers’ finger exercises. Thought you’d like to think about that . . .

Plants are not like people when they die. People have that something go out of them and wham! their eyes go all horrible even though the body might in many cases look quite fresh and undamaged. Plants are not like that. They’re not dead until they’re completely dried up, and even then grapes, for example, can still fool you and pull through. In fact, grapes are supposed to benefit from this kind of hardship. Then I’m not even talking about that stinky desert flower in Namibia that blossoms once every five years when Jupiter aligns with Mars.

So my mealies made it. I think. Anna, who seldom gives up on anything, pushed them back into the ground, and even plants know to obey when Anna sets her mind on something. So my dead corn have become undead. Not sure if that’s the right term—I certainly don’t want them attacking the house in the middle of the night. I’ll let you know how it goes with them.

I’ve inserted a couple of pictures so you know what the Three Sisters and one of the three Topsy-Turvy Gallowses look like. Plus some promising young tomahtoes.

Chicken’s Honor

Back to the short form of blogging: Write Only One Sentence per Day (but you will probably write more).

We noticed that Elvis, our rooster, acts as guardian of the flock. He is also pretty patriarchal and heaps sexual abuse on the girls, but we excuse that because they are, after all, only chickens. But several times now, I have seen him scratch up something tasty, just to peck at it once, call the girls over in North-Eastern Cluck (their mother beak), and then step away so they can eat. He also issues hawk warnings that set everyone scrambling under the shack. Except Maverick, of course, who heeds neither god nor devil nor rooster. When the sun sets, Elvis herds them back into the coop. He will come back for each one (except Maverick, who is lost) and chase them in.

A few days ago we bought Chicken magazine, and I came across a piece subtitled Philosophy and Behavior, in which Don Schrider says: “As ‘King of the Flock’ the role of the rooster—besides for reproduction—is that of flock protector, lookout, provider and sometimes scapegoat (the male’s bright plumage makes him standout [sic] to daytime predators).” [1]

This reminds me of a very old story idea of mine in which I tell how a young Zulu warrior of ages past realizes that he is not only protector and avenger of his tribe, but in the first place a sacrifice who willingly lays himself on the altar for the safety of his people. Paul writes in Romans 5:7 (NIV): “Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die.” And for one’s family, it does happen. For one’s nation: often. We see that in the caskets coming in from the Middle East.

This brings me to my last thought for today: I remember a class with Dr. Steve Tipton, coauthor of Habits of the Heart[2] and professor at Emory University, in which we talked about Émile Durkheim’s (1858–1917) dichotomy of sacred and profane.[3] We were looking for an example of a sacred object. I remember my own definition, not because it was so clever, but because it was mine: a casket wrapped in the flag. There may be “baby killer” yellers who disagree about this, but I suspect that most Americans will be tempted to remove their hats as the procession passes.

[1] Schrider Don, “Kings of the Dunghill,” Chickens, June 2010, 46.

[2] Robert N. Bellah et al., Habits of the Heart – Individualism and Commitment in American Life (Berkeley, Los Angeles, London: University of California Press, 2008).

[3] Émile Durkheim, The Elementary Forms of Religious Life (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008).

My System for Research Notes: Library Thing, Zotero and Dropbox

I bore my family to death, despite the fact that there are misguided souls who think I’m rather interesting. Myself included. I bore my daughter, especially, by giving her advice, continually, about how to do her citations. I worked on my system for years and it’s as near perfection as current technology allows. And by golly I’m going to share it with someone, even if it’s my unsuspecting blog readership of one or two people.

Now, for reasons that fall outside the scope of this blog post, I need to write and cite an article as fast as possible. I simply don’t have the time to sit down and laboriously insert citations “by hand.” Often, the gist of my paper will have been written in longhand and typed in by Anna. I will then pull it together in Word and insert the citations. If you’ve ever seen your grades drop because you can’t sit down long enough to do decent citations, you’ll know where I’m coming from.

Here’s how it works. Everything rests on Dropbox. Download and install Dropbox from This will store up to 2 GB of data for you on the Internet for free, or an unlimited amount if you subscribe.

Next, create a Dropbox folder on every computer you own, preferably on the C: drive (because every Windows computer has a C: drive) and make that your Dropbox folder. Call the folder something like MyDropbox, anything, as long as it’s the same name on all your computers. Important: create a folder named Zotero underneath MyDropbox.

Now for the research notes. Download and install Firefox if you don’t have it already, then install Zotero as a plug-in. Now find the preferences on Zotero (their website has excellent instructions) and set Zotero’s folder as C:MyDropboxZotero. Do this on all your computers.

The following step is to install the Zotero add-in for Microsoft Word. If you’re a more evolved being and you don’t use Word (I’m soooo getting an iPad!) then this recipe is, unfortunately, not for you. Do this on all your computers.

Oh, and go to Radio Shack and get a USB bar code scanner. Next, sign up with Library Thing at and sign up. Here, too, you can get a paid subscription that gives you unlimited books. Check it out.

Now you’re ready to start computerizing (or re-computerizing!) your research note system.

When you get a new book, open up Library Thing in Firefox and scan its barcode (normally on the back cover) into the Search box with your hand scanner. Kids love to do this, and you can use the Tom Sawyer method to manipulate them into doing it. As soon as Library Thing finds the book, it will show a little blue book in the URL box on the right hand side. Click on it. Your browser will now pump the book’s identifying information into Zotero. Once again, easy enough for grandchildren to do, God bless ‘em.

Use your favorite note taking system to record interesting passages. Personally I tend to write a page number and a short note on the inside front cover—that way my notes don’t flutter down into oblivion as they tend to do when written on index cards. And best of all, I can kick back in my recliner while doing it. The online downside is a often wake up with a drooled-up book on my chest, but you probably don’t need that level of information. You surely have your own system.

When you’ve finished the book, anyone can open up the book’s item in Zotero and use the “Add note” facility to add each note, preceded by the page number on which its reference is located. Voila, a computerized research note system.

Now, when you write your papers in Word, you open up the Zotero search dialog, right from within Word, find the specific citation in Zotero, add a page number, and add the citation into your Word document with one click. Saves me loads of computer time! Zotero will take care of your bibliography all by itself. Make sure you save the Word document somewhere inside your C:MyDopbox folder.

I have it now where I cite as fast as I write. No really. And I have my research notes for years to come. But the true beauty of this system is that Dropbox replicates both your Zotero database and your Word document onto the Internet, and from there back down to every other computer where you have a Dropbox folder installed.  The advantage of Dropbox over backup systems is that you don’t have to go and look for files and restore them in case of a mishap—all your stuff is active and live and stays so. Again, this saves me ‘butt time’ because I don’t have to sit and manually make copies of files I may need elsewhere.

I’m not going to quake in my little boots and add escape clauses such as “. . . but this is only my system; of course you may want to do it differently” or stuff like that. This is my system, and if you can use it, I’m honored. If not, why, good for you. I’m constantly evolving, so I might catch up one day and do it like you. Besides, I am a curmudgeon, you know. I respect everybody but I don’t respond to people going through a nightmare adolescence at the age of 40.

While writing this, I was listening to "Only If…" by Enya

Working Hölderlin

I’m working a bit on my thesis on unser arme Friedrich today and, as usual, cannot believe the extent of the philosophical quality of his poetry—or is it the poetic quality of his philosophy? But don’t be fooled: it’s not a simple mix of the two. Very little happens by accident in his work—until the very end, of course, where he is completely insane. But it is precisely there, Dieter Henrich says in  his Course of Remembrance[1] that even in his later, certifiable years, unser Friedrich produced gems that are deceptively simple.

Anyway, in accordance with my promise to myself to be okay with short posts, that’s my post for today.

While writing this, I was listening to "Too White to Sing the Blues" by Papa Joe Grappa


I have a postscript. I find that I cite a lot while writing my blog. The main reason is that I have done a lot of papers writing recently; but it also meant to give someone who might be interested a pointer to where I found the information. Even though I could make a few cents off every time one of my readers bought a book from, I haven’t monetized this blog. Purely for my kind of blog, and for me personally, trying to sell books while I discuss stuff would detract from the spontaneity of my blogging. (Okay, I know it’s mostly contrived anyway, but I try!) With this I am not saying that anyone else who has paying links to is not honest in their writing; this is purely how it works for me. If you’re selling books on your blog, I wish you all success and might even buy from you. If I have a million readers I’ll probably monetize

anyway—buy that time I should know what I really want to say on the blog.

[1] Dieter Henrich, The Course of Remembrance and other essays on Hölderlin (ed. Eckart. Förster; Studies in Kant and German idealism; Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1997).


Of made-up languages, Immanuel Kant, JRR Tolkien, Karl Jenkins and Miriam Stockley

While writing this, I was listening to "Cu Chullain" by Karl Jenkins/Adiemus. Niiice.

It takes years to get to know Immanuel Kant. At all. I met him for the first time, really, at Emory’s Candler School of Theology in Dr. David Pacini’s seminar on “Augustine, Descartes, Kant, and Wittgenstein” in 2007. For me, unschooled in the great philosophers as I was (and still am), it was a little bit like drinking from a fire hose! Pacini’s Doktorvater, Dieter Henrich, in his Between Kant and Hegel (Henrich, Dieter. Between Kant and Hegel : Lectures on German Idealism. Edited by David Pacini. Cambridge: Harvard Univ Press, 2008) confirms that Kant was a phenomenon in the history of human thought on a level of impact with Socrates and that kind of figure. I know you know that, but it’s a big deal that Henrich agrees. My summary, at this point of my understanding of Kant, is that Kant gave us permission to think for ourselves. Before him, the obvious phrase: “I can think what I want” wasn’t so obvious.

I wonder what Kant would have thought about Karl Jenkins, who makes up his own language for music such as his Adiemus. His methods and aims are somewhat different from those of JRR Tolkien, the master maker upper of languages, but the principle is the same: create an internally “true” language to which humans can respond. Kant would have said, perhaps, that since language is learned through your perception of the world, a made up language, if you knew no other language, is as valid as any other language. Would he?  I’m messing with the big boys here!

Jenkins’ music language does not have syntax or grammar like JRR’s—its purpose is simply to use the human voice as a musical instrument. That distinctive voice on Adiemus, by the way, comes from Miriam Stockley, who used to be part of the Stockley Sisters, who had a hit with Venus and used to sing backup for some big acts that toured South Africa when I was a teenager. The Africanness of her voice is unmistakable, although she is white. And that’s Jenkins’ trick—he overlays world music voices singing in a universal music-language over Western classical music.

Does this have anything to do with the six degrees of separation? After all, I saw Miriam performing in person. 

Write about the brick in the middle

While writing this, I was listening to "In The Grip Of Stronger Stuff" by Ian Anderson

Many people have read Robert Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. In it he tells how he once told a student with writer’s block to look at a certain wall and write about one single, specified brick. And before you Zen aficionados jump on me like ants on peanut butter, it’s been a decade since I’ve read the book, so please bear with me regarding the finer details of the story. Anyway. This injunction seemed harsh and unreasonable, and, indeed, Pirsig was not, as I remember him writing, being very sympathetic. The student cried and cried, and then started writing, and wrote and wrote about that brick.

Twisting the logic of this story only slightly, I call my writing strategy the One brick in the wall method; even the phrase Little Brick Out comes to mind, after an eighties Apple II game. It is hardly original—I’m convinced that Roman inscription chiselers, for example, knew this. In fact, Hemingway wrote (and, you guessed it, I paraphrase): “Just write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence you know how to.”  It works like this: if you’re writing something, just write something every day. Tell yourself it doesn’t have to be any more than one sentence. Just write it. I wrote most of my unpublished book The Four Lions late at night, promising myself that it takes only five minutes. I would often catch myself five pages later, having written what I obviously regard as brilliant prose—the same words that some editor will probably later on consign to the cutting floor. So, the method is in reality a way to deal with the inherent laziness, exacerbated by abject fear of a blank MS Word screen from which so many writers suffer.

Now for my third move. I plan to apply this rationalization of my utter uselessness to the upkeep of my blog. I mostly only get to the blog late at night, and I’ll never post anything if I face a couple of hours of slogging. So I keep my goals modest—post something everyday (I know I won’t)—but keep it modest. Keep the topic modest. Don’t develop a new response to Immanuel Kant’s Kritik der reinen Vernuenft or a divergent mode of Heidegger’s Dasein; not right now. Blogging is probably not the place for a prequel to Gone with the Wind. Just write something humble about something humble. In fact, I strongly suspect that’s how you write great prose. Build your blog one brick at a time.

That’s what I just did. See how the dough rose? It’s amazing.

Tot volgende keer!

PS: For blogs, always put in a picture.

PPS: Write your one senntece befroe you take youtr Ambien, not aftre.