Monthly Archives: May 2020

Catch-up/March 29/20







Big party and book-signing here in town, it was crowded and sold over 70 books, more on order, musicians came and played — Tom, Kim, Chuck, and when I didn’t have any books to sign I went and played with them, it was a great party and community event, thanks to Wanda and Diane and Auriel, so many people came! Much gratitude for the arraignments, food, drink and good cheer!

5/19/2020 Walter Benjamin

I discovered Benjamin in college more than thirty years ago, lost my copy of Illuminations, and then rediscovered it recently on Amazon. His essay, ‘Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction’ I found riveting. Only recently have I learned of Hannah Arendt’s heroic escape with his manuscripts, his death on the Spanish border.







I inadvertently cut off the bottom in this scan, it says ‘Edited by Hannah Arendt’.

When France was taken over by the Nazis, Benjamin made it to the southern ‘safe zone’, along with other Jews, but the Nazis were soon closing in. Hannah Arendt and her husband got passports and managed to get across the border into Spain, and Benjamin sent his manuscripts along with her in case he didn’t make it. He was actually at the border there in the Pyrenees, with a proper passport, when some obscure rule changed and the Spanish would not let him through, nor any of the group of four he was traveling with.

He would have been turned over to the Nazis the next day. He committed suicide that night. The Spanish official was so shaken and moved by Benjamin’s suicide that he broke his own (brand-new) rules and let the other four through into Spain.

That’s why these essays are such treasures, aside from their wonderful insights. They were rescued at a great and terrible price.

I re-read ‘Art in the Age…’ again, but this has repeatedly been addressed, recently, and all his doubts have been shown to be very prescient.

What now interests me is ‘The Storyteller’, which I find I did not read with enough attention at the time and it bears re-reading and quoting which I will do tomorrow.

Benjamin paid little attention to the intellectual fashions of his time, either in phrasing or concerns, which is why he seems ever fresh and new. Here’s to his courage and his memory.







May 5/20 Book Review; Attention, A Love Story







Naomi Nye highly recommended this to me and I read it in two sittings, enjoyed it.

“In the early days of our (families’) digital life, I had been the doomsday old crone in a twenty-year-old’s body, rolling my eyes at the new code of behavior I witnessed online.” But she realized she was “staring into glowing screens of all sizes for more and more of each day.”

Nice to find somebody who has come to some of the same conclusions I have, and one of the most rewarding things about this book is that it is also a compendium of many other books and studies that investigate this social behavior and its problems.

Although I don’t personally know anybody who has had their life taken over by social media or their phones to the extent that Casey Schwartz claims hers was, I still find the amount of hours spent watching television to be worthy of some thought. Never happened before in human history. Never.

Much of this book is autobiographical in the most intimate way but like all autobiographies the author must select and emphasize, even exaggerate, to make a point. From beginning to end she tells of her addition to Instagram and other social media, taking her phone out of her pocket many times a day to check the latest. I imagine it can’t have been that bad, but her point is not only Attention, as given, as a gift, but her addiction to Adderall as well as glowing screens.

Along the way she quotes Silicon Valley studies and many other writers who have addressed the problem of focus and attention. You will be interested to learn what “variable ratio reinforcement” is. The book is a resource work as well as a confessional and extremely useful. I will quote some of her quotes;

“Sean Parker, Facebook’s former president, admitted to being afraid of what social media is ‘doing to our children’s brains’  (And) Just as Steve Jobs and Bill Gates had both strictly limited their children’s access to their devices, by 2017, it had become increasingly popular for the Technorati to send their own kids to tech-free schools, to want for them not shiny iPad screens but old-fashioned tactile finger paints, wooden blocks and paper books. It is only outside of Silicon Valley that we turn such a blind eye to the effects of unmitigated technology on developing brains,”

James Williams, a former Google employee; “I felt…distracted. But it was more than just “distraction”—this was some new mode of deep distraction I didn’t have words for…I felt the story of my life being compromised in some fuzzy way I couldn’t articulate..”

This is from his book Stand Out of Our Light.

What I see as the real discussion is focus and long-term concentration. To own or possess private aims, apart from social approval, and set out to do these things even if it is only (!) embroidery or a garden plot or woodwork. Which is not an “only” as the Zen masters have repeatedly said.

All my friends and relatives are on some kind of social media and they like it and they don’t seem to have had their souls stolen by it. As for me I just blog about it and since this little blog has only about 2500 readers, I remain The Shadowy Griper.

A great many useful books mentioned and a cautionary life story of addiction, the search for deep focus, and love. Love wins.



May 2/20 Found this interesting map of cases




And thought I would share it. I am living in the pale green. Everything seems relatively normal here; I don’t hear as much traffic in the mornings as people up my road are not going to work, it appears, although I know house-building is still going on, the feed store is open. The wonderful and amazing General Store is open as well but they require masks and only ten people in the store at a time. The way Shirley has managed this is, there is a board with ten big metal washers hung up on nails, and if they are all gone you have to wait outside until somebody comes out and gives you a washer. Very clever!

Still no choir or performances with my music group, nobody getting together to ride. Evelyn has come by a couple of times with her darling granddaughter Riley in tow on the big and patient mare Brandy and so all three of us followed the trails nearby but not a big group of us.

Plenty of peace and quiet to work on new book. Researching 19th century telegraphy. I need to re-learn Morse, I learned it somewhat as a kid and my brother and I tried to tap out messages to each other but we dropped it for other things like tooling around on bikes and exploring old houses.

I would love to try sending on one of the old sounders. But do they even exist anymore as operable units? Doubt it.