Thursday, October 18, 2012

How to Live: Or A Life of Montaigne...

How to Live: Or A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer My book group read How to Live: Or A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer in September.  That's a mouthful.  These convoluted titles seem to be a trend lately.  Don't let that stop you from checking out this book. Almost all of the book groupees loved this book, though some were hesitant to begin.

This was one of my subversive picks.  Since I am the one who tallies the votes for our year's picks, I get to target my votes.  I made sure this one made the cut.  I needed to have a reason to read this book, and sometimes, no matter how much I want to read a book, I won't get around to it unless duty I made sure duty called. Several of my co-conspirators in book group facilitation do the same thing.  And as I suspected, I loved it.  And I fell in love with Montaigne.  As I said in the book group, I am so jealous that I never get to meet Montaigne, that I can't travel back to his time.

This book also made me feel like I could begin blogging again.  How to live?  That is indeed the question of my life, right next to 'What does this mean, to be alive?'  Along with getting a taste of Montaigne and a peek at his life, we get the view of Montaigne down through history.  Individuals brought him forward into their age and found their own reflections in his essays.  There are the Stoics and the Romantics...everybody finds something in Montaigne. Pascal and Descartes hated him (as he anticipated and decimated their arguments).  Regarding thes two, some of what Sarah Bakewell says is this:

Descartes cannot truly exchange a glance with an animal. Montaigne can, and does. In one famous passage, he mused: “When I play with my cat, who knows if I am not a pastime to her more than she is to me?” And he added in another version of the text: “We entertain each other with reciprocal monkey tricks. If I have my time to begin or to refuse, so has she hers.” He borrows his cat’s point of view in relation to him just as readily as he occupies his own in relation to her.
This comfortable acceptance of life as it is, and of one’s own self as it is, drove Pascal to a greater fury than Pyrrhonian Skepticism itself. The two go together. Montaigne places everything in doubt, but then he deliberately reaffirms everything that is familiar, uncertain, and ordinary—for that is all we have. His Skepticism makes him celebrate imperfection: the very thing Pascal, as much as Descartes, wanted to escape but never could.

Montaigne was the first to write the essay, and now, in this world of personal blogs, we live his legacy.  He wrote like we do, in stream of consciousness, about anything he encountered and pondered in his life.  Unlike blogging, where we may never revisit our blatherings, Montaigne goes back, and inserts new thoughts into old essays, often, according to Bakewell, not bothering to make his difference in age make sense.  Some editions of Montaigne indicate different timelines with A, B, and C.  Of course, we do link back to our past lives in essays.

Montaigne is a man of my own heart.  He resolved to pay attention, and did so in his essays.  Of all the vows I have made through the years, this is my top pick.  I trust in paying attention.  All the while I was not blogging, at least I was paying attention.  Whatever I noticed may have slipped through the sieve of my brain...sometimes if writing is anything it is to catch the sand of thoughts before the grains slip through the holes...but I was waiting with my attention for something to give me a reason for my frozen state.

I hoped this book could inspire people to read Montaigne.  It certainly did me, and I hope to read Montaigne and find my reflection in him, as so many others have before me.  I've tried a slow read of hefty non-fiction tomes before.  I fizzled out with A People's History.  So, I only say, "I hope."  I only know my way in to blogging feels kinda broken, and perhaps I need a mentor of sorts, like Montaigne.  It won't just be a reading of a text, but it will be the query, "How to live?"  As I've mentioned, I don't seem to be able to stick to a plan unless I have an externally imposed deadline, so I'm making no plan.  Maybe I'll visit Montaigne once a week and reflect...maybe once a month, but I do know I look forward to meeting his mind.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Blogging About Books

I did a tiny little bit of blogging this past a library book blogger.

They were seeking new blood for the library's blog, and I put my name in.  It's not very often, but gratifying.  I've been posting under the name Enji because there already was a Heidi writing for the blog.  This is going to end, and my future posts will be under the name Heidi H.

Here they are:

Great Books I Never Would Have Chosen
(I forgot to submit a title, so it's not exactly a title in my style.)

YA for Grown-ups: Historical Fiction Edition

Highlanders, Fairies, and Vampires, oh my!

YA for Adults: Tough Girls You'll Love

Mary Doria Russell: From Sparrow to Doc

In July, we had to cut hours and staff at the library, so the library's blog went from several posts a week to one post or less.  We all have less time to do these kinds of things, because you know if a library's hours reduce, there aren't necessarily any less items checked out, right?  We're just that much busier during the times we're open.


Oh, should I mention, if you live in Multnomah County, you should be voting for the Library District?  That's right, I knew I didn't have to, because you already are planning to vote Yes.  You are not my friend if you are voting No. Ppffffthhht.

Hey, I just noticed the Google Doodle for today is commemorating the 161st Anniversary of Moby Dick.  And a few minutes before that I noticed my own blog's post with the highest page views (6705) is Moby Dick: Chapters 29-34, from my slow read.  I don't know why that one over all the other ones.  My second-highest page view is Moby Dick: Chapters 55-60 with 2695 views.

Sunday, October 14, 2012


How does one resurrect a dead blog? In 2010 and 2011 I tried with a few fizzles.  I consciously knew of some reasons. This has never been simply a book blog, but it was devolving into one.  My sweetie is never quite as comfortable as I am talking about certain things, and I was feeling hesitant about some topics for his sake. Whenever I come up with a plan, as I attempted to, I invariably lose some kind of impetus.  Is that self-sabotage?  Or is that feeling the loss of the energy of spontaneity?  I know I do well with the duty of deadlines, but I can never seem to trick myself into imposing them on myself.  In some ways, I didn't feel like I had much interesting to say.

IMG_0064 copy
My mom, July 2007
More recently, though I felt the wish to write, and have had quite a few hefty topics I wished to write about, I'd think about it for a day and then never get around to it.  I was only interested in reading.  Reading became an obsession.  I was consciously aware I turned to predictable pap after my mom died.  Yes, my mom died and I couldn't bring myself to write about it here.  It was partly because I didn't know what to say, and partly because I didn't want to bring this thing back to life with a death. I knew I needed to grieve, but reading was a way to take a break.

Until it tilted over into my default activity.  If I didn't have anything else to do, and even if I did, I read.  I keep an eye out for free kindle books, but I buy many as well.  So much so that when my kindle stopped working, Amazon replaced it for free even though it was past warranty.  I certainly became too sedentary.

Even more recently, when I shared this embarrassing obsession a person at the right time suggested perhaps depression is involved. Often when I mentioned it, people said well if I'm going to have an obsession, reading is a good one to have.  This is why I'm's not good when it affects my health, and not when I can't set it aside.

Fortunately, it has been my pattern that once something is conscious and able to be Named, its days are numbered.  Even just the thought sequence, 'oh yeah, i'm depressed, that's why this is hard' has lessened the feeling of depression.

Patrick, ?2009
So then, I started adding up the reasons why I could be depressed. Several deaths: a few years back, my nephew, and in January this year, my mom.  She was just a few days shy of 70.  And I've confessed it before to individuals, and I'll confess it now for the world to see, well, he even said it himself, her husband was supposed to die first.  He's a jerk, and someone should have diagnosed him a sociopath at least 30 years ago.  Then this May, my friend Patrick died almost immediately after a cancer diagnosis.  Happily, I was able to help with hospice vigil, and go out to lunch one last time along with his brother, oh jeez, was his name Brian?

Also in there I lost another friend.  After nearly 20 years, she broke it off with me.  There was conflict, but nothing that couldn't have normally been dealt with and forgiven. There's no divorce when friendships end, but there is heartbreak.

I'm sure there are other things that contributed to the sink into depression, including the reading thing that at first was a comforting salve, along with the lack of activity.

I am not prone to depression, which is perhaps why I couldn't see it.  Perhaps I didn't want to see it, as well.  One other time in my life I was seriously depressed, heartbroken. The thing that helped me climb out? Some feisty no-strings sex, along with some happy dope.  Ahhh, endorphins and dopamine!  At that time, meditation did not help, but now, with this creeping malaise, I think it would.

For now, I am seeking those fun endorphins (wink wink).  It is already helping.  I've started keeping my Dharma School blog again, and here I am, excited to write again, feeling like I might have something interesting to say.  I feel the urge to take photos again.  I appreciate the friends I still have, and the deepening friendship of a couple in particular with whom I can talk about anything...I mean anything.  Perhaps soon I will be able to pick up that daily habit of meditation again.  Oh, and since I picked up those extra endorphins, I have actually put the kindle away for hours at a time!