I read an essay over the weekend by Carl Sagan. Sagan says there's no
truth in contemplation, only in empirical analysis and the scientific
method, that meditation fails in the face of experimental inquiry.
How can I disagree? Puzzles are solved using rational analysis and
controls, but a life that includes emotions, defense mechanisms and a
conscience that wants to do what's right is unfortunately a lot more
complicated than that. The essay resounded with me, however, because of the
contemplating I've been doing concerning this Web site and whether or not to
maintain it any longer. The whole endeavor feels somehow self-centered and
too self-exposing, and I'm still not comfortable trying to market myself
even though I'm proud of the things I've created.
I had a conversation over a glass of wine with one of my wisest friends
last week. The conversation meandered from capitalism and psychology to
relationships and self-improvement, but among the topics discussed was my
internal debate about this Web site.
"What's the purpose of the site?" she eventually asked.
"I'm not sure."
"Well, what was the purpose?"
"The original purpose was to learn HTML and maybe to prove to myself
that I could do it."
"What was the purpose once you'd learned how to do it and before you
started taking things down last month?"
"I guess it was to tell the truth," I said. "As well as I know it
"What's the truth?"
"The truth is a lot of things, but for me the truth is that love is
beautiful, that love hurts, that life's not always as pretty as we think it
should be, or clear-cut for that matter. That there's something worth
celebrating in the resilience of the human spirit and that there's something
worthwhile in contemplation even if the avenues it takes you down are
strange. Maybe part of it was to try to illustrate that answers can be found
"Did you succeed?"
"To some degree, but I felt exposed, like I was trying to hold a candle
in the wilderness or something. I'd be more comfortable leaving things up if
I felt like I had more peers."
"Well that's the catch, isn't it? It's tough going against the grain."
"That's a lot of what I ended up trying to do, I think. I feel like we
run from our own realities too much, and that's one of the problems with
capitalism. It's something I've learned from my investigation on writing
about myself. If you're goal in life is to make money you're going to find a
way to do it, and stepping on someone is almost inevitable, but your story
will make sense because the initial goal was to make money. My story has to
be different. My initial goal has to be to make a difference in as kind a
way as possible. That's how my story will make sense. Part of that
examination has led me to ponder taking the site down. Maybe I can promote
myself in a way that seems more discreet and soulful, less self-centered."
"Do you really feel like it's selfish?"
"Sort of. Not really. Yes. No. I feel like other people might think it
is. I really don't want to be perceived that way, and part of my gut feels
like I am. In keeping it up, though, I'm certainly not running, not running
from myself or the events that have crossed my life. I'm owning my thoughts,
and that's really hard, especially when your audience is potentially as big
as the world. And the world can be awfully critical."
I recalled aloud how I'd spent considerable hours over numerous miles
which a 16-year-old girl was charged and convicted of murdering her parents.
The days in the courtroom were so depressing I found myself running in the
middle of the night to try to erase them. I'd also been disgusted with the
national media attention the trial achieved. Court TV, CNN and 20-20 covered
the proceedings, and I viewed their presence as an effort to make a buck
from the poor family's misfortune.
"Have you ever written about that trial?" she asked.
"Not since it ended. When it was over I turned around and never looked
back. Those were two of the most depressing months of my life."
"Your thoughts on the situation are justified," she said. "Why don't you
write it? Why don't you write about the running? Why don't you write about
how much you detest Nancy Grace, or what she represents?"
"I'm still not sure I'm comfortable writing in first person."
"You're good at it. And, again, your opinions are justified."
So, for the first time in four years and in a way I'd never done before,
I did. I wrote about that trial in first person. I wrote about how it ripped
me inside out to attend those awful proceedings every day. I wrote about
Nancy Grace and Court TV's overtly sexy reporters. And I wrote about the
running. For the first time in four years I confronted a two-month slice of
my life I didn't want to acknowledge. And in doing so I concentrated and
meditated on ethical positions within me that are becoming more cemented as
I move forward in life.
Of course those positions come with their own set of problems. Perhaps
because I can't cow to a culture that seems to praise all things
superficial, and appears to esteem the almighty dollar above most anything
else, I am destined to be poor in a money-centered culture. More than that,
however, it points out the incredible irony in these very words and the
place they've landed. While this site began at least in large part as my
attempt to learn a new technological language it has become promotional. And
the very thoughts I am now promoting are thoughts prompting me to consider
taking the site down. Partially I feel exposed. Partially I feel selfish.
I'm reminded now of a quote from another philosopher, Thomas Merton:
"The first thing that you have to do, before you even start thinking about
such a thing as contemplation, is to try to recover your basic natural
unity, to reintegrate your compartmentalized being into a coordinated and
simple whole and learn to live as a unified human person. This means that
you have to bring back together the fragments of your distracted existence
so that when you say 'I,' there is really someone present to support the
pronoun you have uttered. Reflect, sometimes, on the disquieting fact that
most of your statements of opinions, tastes, deeds, desires, hopes and fears
are statements about someone who is not really present. When you say 'I
think,' it is often not you who think, but 'they'—it is the anonymous
authority of the collectivity speaking through your mask. When you say 'I
want,' you are sometimes simply making an automatic gesture of accepting,
paying for what has been forced upon you. That is to say, you reach out for
what you have been made to want."
Life would be simpler if I could subscribe lock, stock and barrel to
Carl Sagan's empirical approach. But the truth, "as well as I know it," is
that the truth actually resides somewhere in between these two philosophers'
positions. They're both right. And they're both wrong.
Writing. Such a strange activity. It bucks all the rules of social
conduct. "Hi. Nice to meet you. I'm Greg, and I'm going to share with you my
thoughts on life, love, capitalism, murder and heartache. And I'm going to
do it before we've even shaken hands." Maybe I'd be more comfortable if
people could see in my eyes that my intentions are sound, my heart pure.
It's something I know people get from me in person. But in writing I don't
Without doubt, however, I know this: Thomas Merton struck gold when he
wrote that "If a writer is so cautious that he never writes anything that
cannot be criticized, he will never write anything that can be read. If you
want to help other people you have got to make up your mind to write things
that some men will condemn."
Maybe, just maybe, I'll find the guts to post my reflections on that
two-month trial. Or, gasp, try to sell them.
Friday, March 21, 2008
I read an essay over the weekend by Carl Sagan. Sagan says there's no
Posted by Idaho Conversation League at 8:39 AM