We are still that child we vaguely recall

Standard

This might be long but IT IS WORTH IT.  From Brainpickings. Do consider donating a mere $3/month if you can for this fascinating material (I’ve added the bolded material):

The Mystery of Personal Identity: What Makes You and Your Childhood Self the Same Person Despite a Lifetime of Change

by 

Dissecting the philosophical conundrum of our “integrity of identity that persists over time, undergoing changes and yet still continuing to be.”

Philosophers and New Age sages have long insisted that the self is a spiritual crutch — from Alan Watts’s teachings on how our ego keeps us separate from the universe to Jack Kerouac’s passionate renunciation of the Self Illusion to Sam Harris’s contemporary case for self-transcendence. Modern psychologists have gone a step further to assert that the self is a socially constructed illusion. Whatever the case, one thing is certain and easily verifiable via personal hindsight — our present selves are unrecognizably different from our past selvesand woefully flawed at making our future selves happy.

In a remarkable passage from Betraying Spinoza: The Renegade Jew Who Gave Us Modernity (public library), her biography of the great 17th-century philosopher Baruch Spinoza, philosopher, writer, and MacArthur Fellow Rebecca Goldstein considers the perplexity of personal identity:

Personal identity: What is it that makes a person the very person that she is, herself alone and not another, an integrity of identity that persists over time, undergoing changes and yet still continuing to be — until she does not continue any longer, at least not unproblematically? 

I stare at the picture of a small child at a summer’s picnic, clutching her big sister’s hand with one tiny hand while in the other she has a precarious hold on a big slice of watermelon that she appears to be struggling to have intersect with the small o of her mouth. That child is me. But why is she me? I have no memory at all of that summer’s day, no privileged knowledge of whether that child succeeded in getting the watermelon into her mouth. It’s true that a smooth series of contiguous physical events can be traced from her body to mine, so that we would want to say that her body is mine; and perhaps bodily identity is all that our personal identity consists in. But bodily persistence over time, too, presents philosophical dilemmas.

Illustration by Salvador Dalí from his rare 1969 ‘Alice in Wonderland’ series. Click image for more.

To probe those dilemmas, Goldstein pulls into question the biographical and biological criteria we use to confirm that our childhood selves are indeed ourchildhood selves — roughly the same criteria we apply in identifying that the world’s oldest organisms are indeed continuously living individuals. Goldstein writes:

The series of contiguous physical events has rendered the child’s body so different from the one I glance down on at this moment; the very atoms that composed her body no longer compose mine. And if our bodies are dissimilar, our points of view are even more so. Mine would be as inaccessible to her … as hers is now to me. Her thought processes, prelinguistic, would largely elude me.

Yet she is me, that tiny determined thing in the frilly white pinafore. She has continued to exist, survived her childhood illnesses, the near-drowning in a rip current on Rockaway Beach at the age of twelve, other dramas. There are presumably adventures that she — that is that I — can’t undergo and still continue to be herself. Would I then be someone else or would I just no longer be? Were I to lose all sense of myself — were schizophrenia or demonic possession, a coma or progressive dementia to remove me from myself — would it be I who would be undergoing those trials, or would I have quit the premises? Would there then be someone else, or would there be no one?

She then turns to the quintessential threat to such bodily continuity, the source of our greatest existential anxiety and most profound longing:

Is death one of those adventures from which I can’t emerge as myself? The sister whose hand I am clutching in the picture is dead. I wonder every day whether she still exists.

Echoing Meghan O’Rourke’s poetic assertion that “the people we most love [become] ingrained in our synapses, in the pathways where memories are created,” Goldstein writes:

A person whom one has loved seems altogether too significant a thing to simply vanish altogether from the world. A person whom one loves is a world, just as one knows oneself to be a world. How can worlds like these simply cease altogether? But if my sister does exist, then what is she, and what makes that thing that she now is identical with the beautiful girl laughing at her little sister on that forgotten day? Can she remember that summer’s day while I cannot?

Alan Watts had an answer, but Goldstein is more interested in the question itself as a gateway to our deepest humanity:

Personal identity poses a host of questions that are, in addition to being philosophical and abstract, deeply personal. It is, after all, one’s very own person that is revealed as problematic. How much more personal can it get?

Complement with pioneering educator Annemarie Roeper on the “I” of the beholder, Anaïs Nin’s bold defense of the fluid self, experimental philosopher Joshua Knobe on the mind-bending psychology of how we know who we are, and psychologist Daniel Gilbert on how your present self’s delusions limit your future self’s happiness.

Even a friend’s published work is an unbelievable experience

Standard

The other day my girlfriend Emily Thornton Calvo picked me up from a doctor’s appointment. My husband was leaving town so he could only drop me off. Both daughters were working. For some odd reason, Emily actually had an hour break in her otherwise insanely busy schedule. And this, mind you, is post treatment for both cancer and leukemia. Look no further than Emily for an example on how to live life past the fullest, making over-doing it look like a vacation scenario.

As we headed home, she reached into the backseat and handed IT to me. Her New Book! Lending Color to the Otherwise Absurd is a compilation of her insightful, eloquent poetry honed over decades of life-transforming experiences and more recent watercolor artwork, both of which present a sample of beautiful in the otherwise crazy world we inhabit. If you’re a Poetry Slam supporter, you must know her work through her Sunday evening readings at the Green Mill Lounge. Her artwork is already so spot-on, she’s had several successful art shows, too.

She’d been talking about putting the two together into a book for a while. Recently she revisited visual art through watercolors, and I am proud to have one of her masterpieces on my wall. Emily’s no rookie, having already published two other books with a co-author, so she’s well awareLCOA of the time and challenge of taking the traditional route to publish her latest creation.

Therefore, in 2014 when Emily applied for an individual Artists Program Grant from the City of Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs & Special Events and the Illinois Arts Council, it’s really not that much of a leap to believe she won the grant. As a result, Lending Color to the Otherwise Absurd became her latest masterpiece within one year, self-published through the generous support of this Arts’ program.

I held the book. I propped it up between the shift and dashboard to stare at it. Then I held it again, until we reached my front door. To know Emily is already a gift. To understand and access her vision of life in various stages is such a huge and special expression of the world  that only her words within the pages of this book begin to articulate it.

I can only hope to one day have a book of my own, capturing so many universal truths, to share with others. This creates a standard tough to achieve, but still worth the effort. To journey through all the physical, emotional, wonderful and agonizing experiences my friend has conquered, and to capture them with such presence of mind, is a rare talent. As is Emily.

The book will be available in print and electronically on Amazon and on her website, emilycalvo.com, later in October. It’s a holiday present no-brainer just as it’s a must-have for anyone searching for some sanity in this otherwise crazy world we call home.

I’m so happy and proud of you, Emily. And so honored to call you my friend. Congratulations!

Those Short Summer Breaks

Standard

I have a princess visiting over this and next week. She’s everything one imagines of royalty: beautiful, poised, self-confident, someone you’re proud to say you know and be seen with. Of course, as is also true of royalty, she can be high maintenance. She prefers to be served her favorite food on her schedule. She counts on her wardrobe clean and at her disposal. She enjoys books read to her, arbitrary trips to her favorite stores, mani-pedis and at least one person with or near her at all times.

Those who know me have already guessed I’m talking about my six-year-old granddaughter, Princess Caitlin. There’s a three-week gap between camp and first grade. Her mom, the original princess and my oldest daughter, Jill, has taken off the third week. She’s excited to get her pix1354681652941daughter new supplies and wardrobe for the start of school, 12 years that neither of them realize zip by in such a distorted span of time it defies any normal understanding we have of days and years.

After all, it was only a few years ago we were preparing Caitlin’s mom and aunt for grammar school, then high school and finally college. And now they’re out in the world doing remarkable things without holding our hand or calling us for permission or even advice. So when Jill asked the family if anyone might be available to watch Caitlin during the two weeks between camp and her week off, I didn’t hesitate to ask for every one of those days.

Caitlin grows more independent by the minute. She prefers Justice, a clothing story, over toy stores, Buffalo Wild Wings over Chuck E. Cheese. She’ll ask for Nutella and crackers too close to dinner time. She has known every word of Olivia Helps with Christmas for at least three years, but she asks me to read it to her all the time. And if I step out of the room for more than a few minutes, a sing-song, “Grandma where are you? Are you coming back?” is routine.

Sure we’re spoiling her. But she’s a loving, caring, kind little person who somehow also knows this time together is special and doesn’t expect everyday life to be as accommodating. At the same time, her grandfather and I know all too well that being able to make this remarkable little girl content so easily is a finite ability. Happiness will be more complicated, her needs something only she can find a way to achieve.

Thankfully, Jill agreed to let us revel selfishly in the little time we have left to soak in all that is Caitlin, fighting over our own time to spend with her. Soon enough we’ll revisit paddy cake paddy cake and Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star with our new grandson while Caitlin follows her mom and aunt out into the bigger world where greatness awaits her, too.

The G-Word

Standard

Hundreds of emotions rushed through me when my daughter announced she was pregnant with her first child. Her health, age, future, childbirth, anything a mom can fret about simmered within me throughout her pregnancy. The biggest surprise, though, was the difficult time I was having accepting the reality that I was old enough for grandparenthood.

If that doesn’t prove “youth” is relative, I don’t know what does. As if I couldn’t have passed for a grandmother without my daughters having children. I’d already had practice. My stepson had three handsome kids of his own who I adore. I spent a great deal of time with the oldest when he was young, and it remains among my greatest experiences. Gus is the first little person I didn’t give birth to who enjoyed being with me as much as I loved being with him. Nonetheless, he’s a reminder my husband is older than me, and another Grandma rightfully ranks first in all their big hearts. Bottom line: I avoided the “I’m-a-grandma-now” reality check.

Daughter #2, Niece, Daughter #1, aka Mom, and Cait

Like the teenager who knows everything, I was an early-in-my-50’s mom who still had much to learn but didn’t think so when daughter #1 announced her daughter was due in September, 2007. I was abuzz with busy―baby showers, learning the latest in all things baby, and calling friends, most of who held their Grandma comments to themselves, although I could see the smirk in their eyes.

My daughter allowed me to be with her when Caitlin arrived. I was overwhelmed remembering all the love and happiness greeting my oldest when she was born. My parents and I spent years staring at her, awake or asleep. My youngest daughter, Caitlin’s new aunt, joined us in the birthing room soon afterwards, and I remembered how excited my mom and dad were at her arrival, especially my dad who’d finally slowed down enough to revel in all things infant and toddler. Every mispronounced word worthy of a story, told repeatedly. Then in came my niece, and I relived the joy my grandmother, mom, dad, sister and I felt when she made her debut―the first girl born near enough to hover over since my birth.

I held Caitlin close for a few minutes, introducing her to these women whose blood she shares. I told her about the long line of strong women preceding her, a tribute to those who instilled a love so powerful that those remaining were present now. The notion of missing even the first few moments of this new life unthinkable to each of us who instantly became part of her story through no choice of her own.

cait+gramma

Grandma and Cait

What an aha moment for this mom. Just when you think you’ve experienced all the great stuff in life―job promotions, marriage, rock star kids, beautiful homes, and even the significance of surviving the big 5-0―it’s not a leap to believe any big, magical milestone moments might be behind you.

Silly, inexperienced me. It took a year before Cait could say “Gamma.” Now that she’s getting ready for 1st grade, she can pronounce, spell and read Grandma as her mother, aunt and great-aunt did before her. And, I learned that just when I thought there were no longer any more big life lessons left,  being a grandmother is perhaps the most definitive life-affirming experience.

Caitlin and now her little brother multiple infinitely the profound love I felt when I gave birth to their mom. I don’t think either my very tired and hard-working daughter and equally exhausted niece can process the concept of so much love. Nor can my youngest who will be a terrific mother after she ventures down the many paths still before her. They have plenty of time. But this mom, who’s more motivated than ever to stay healthy to experience her baby’s babies, too, alternately laughs and cries at that naïve 50-something woman who feared the thought of being called Grandma.

It’s only when we stop learning new things every day that we genuinely have something to fear.

Swag, Song, Images & Words

Standard

Ragdale held a contest for its residents. We had to respond to “Ragdale is…. ” with words and/or images. Both the awesome visual artist Olivia Petrides and I won. Chances are this is the only time Olivia and I will ever be in the same sentence, she is an artist beyond words I can express.

We won some Ragdale swag―↗︎a coffee cup and t-shirt. My memories of the last three weeks won’t ever need prompts, but it’s cool stuff and I’ll use/wear it all the time, and therefore remind others that once upon a time….

Last night artist Jane Deschner and composer/pianist/songwriter/uke-strummer-extraordinaire Vanessa Vincent from the Old Town School of Folk Music both shared their work. And after dinner, writers read portions of ours.

 ⬆︎ Jane, and on the other side of the studio, Vanessa shared the hauntingly moving music she created to complete an album.

↙︎

My very first dorm-mate had never read her memoir’s word’s aloud before an audience, so we broke her in……………….➩

My mentor happened to be here. She just completed her first novel! She protested the chapter her editor chose, but read it anyway.  ⬇︎


The other fiction writer, and the last remaining representative of the Y-chromosone bunch (we gave the last one heart-problems), shared the first  ↖︎chapter of his second novel.

And what’s a retreat without a resident poet and playwright? Both shared their beautiful words.

 The poet:
⬅︎
               The playwright: ➡︎

Yes, I read, too. But I don’t possess a photogenic gene, and that was proven without doubt again last night so you’ll have to trust me on this one. I’ll be happy to read my personal essay to anyone who cares to listen. It’s not my words, it’s my images that pose a problem 🙂
Tonight we get a peek at Olivia’s work; I can hardly wait, and I’ll share it with you soon. Until then, back to the little remaining time to write. It is, after all, the first time since I’ve been writing my own words that they’ve earned me anything concrete. That’s heading in the right direction―I like black almost as much as green!

The last Sunday Sunset at Ragdale

Standard
Sunday Sunset at Ragdale.

As this three-week artist- and writer-in residence program at the Ragdale Retreat settles into the final stretch, I at last captured a sunset.

It happened on cue, just as I completed re-editing the first essay I wrote on arrival. And, just as I used up the last of the woodpile for the fireplace in this beautiful room.

Sunsets, fireplaces, scenes just like this are now on the list of my favorite things. If one can’t draw inspiration here, I’m not sure where it might be.

I’m honored to be part of this community, and that it’s the last week is bittersweet. I have new friends, and we share the common awe and appreciation of art. Words, music, images―they offer beauty to a world that’s often hard and unpredictable. That’s magic.

Next Sunday’s sunset will look different, but I hope it occurs surrounded by family. Distance and time to reflect are reminders of how precious family is. Each one miraculous in his and her unique way.

What I know now: we all can create magic and miracles. What gifts. But like the sunset and the fire, these moments are fleeting. Take time to revel in them.