What’s In Your Suitcase?

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On a recent trip to Albuquerque I visited the Art Museum, which has a current exhibit of New Mexico artists, for which many artists have provided quotations.  This one comes from Melissa Zink (1932-2009):

It’s like you’re walking around with this enormous suitcase full of magic and you are never allowed to open it, because the rules say that the tings in that suitcase are not worthy of artistic consideration.  Worlds, childhood memories, pretend, fantasy, archaeology – all that.

What a great metaphor: a picture I can carry with me like that suitcase.  Zink has clearly found her way to break those “rules”: her piece in the exhibit is three dimensional wall art: clever, whimsical, thought provoking.

I was captured by this statement partly because one of the things in Zink’s suitcase is archaeology.  That is something that peeks out every time I open my suitcase.  Digging into the past, pottery sherds, separating the gem from the dirt: these are images I have used often.  There are also real memories from my time in Egypt and Italy. 

I never worked as an archaeologist, but I am one if you count digging in books, archives and other relics of the past.

Each of us has more past to explore than we can fit in one suitcase.


Light as in . . .?

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The term “Enlightenment” for that era some two centuries back when men (as they thought then) were gaining knowledge and science was beginning to separate from religion, is metaphoric and powerful in ways that later period names, such as Romantic, Modern, and Postmodern, are not.  The term has a draw, as if we could never get enough of light, whether literal or of the mind.

I’ve been pondering the thought that the Enlightenment was light in the other sense of the base word: light as in not heavy.  It was not grounded, not weighted with all the reality of our bodily existence.  If thinkers place too high a value on observation and thinking, they too easily miss the other half of the Myers/Briggs quartet, the intuitive and feeling aspects of the human mind.

Has this issue been raised, outside of women’s studies programs?

Can Freethinking Be Taught?


I don’t know whether anyone is trying to teach freethinking these days.  Both of my examples are from the past.  I suspect, however, that the authority factor between student and teacher makes it difficult.

My first example is from an era when freethought was not encouraged at all.  In the education of John Emerson Roberts, in the 1870s, the focus was on orthodoxy.  There was no acknowledgement of Darwin.  And the method?  Here is what one textbook author said about how to study:

            Let the lesson which was recited on one day be invariably reviewed on the day succeeding. . . . .As soon as any considerable progress has been made in the work, let review from the beginning be commenced. This should comprehend for one exercise as much as had been previously recited in two or three days; . . . As soon as the whole portion thus far recited has been reviewed, let a new review be commenced, and continued in the same manner; and thus successively until the work is completed. . . .(Francis Wayland, Elements of Moral Science)

What a dreadful way of learning to think!  Yet, my own education was not much better.  I made it through the Ph. D. in Classical Archaeology without learning to think for myself.  Later I learned about alternative theories about goddesses and lost history.  But this was little more than replacing a new “orthodoxy” for the old.

Dr. Roberts changed his ideas as he continued to read new material after he left school.  When did I become a freethinker?  I’m still trying to pinpoint that change – it was a slow process.

More on Dr. Roberts’s new ideas to come.  And for more on the man himself, see Books page.

What Would SheThink Of Green Beer?

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Moss Ellen McHenry is my reason for wearing green.  She’s not my only Irish ancestor, but she’s the closest, my father’s mother.  She was California born of Irish immigrant parents, Patrick McHenry and Kate Coyle, who were married at Santa Barbara mission in 1875.  Their marriage record is in Spanish.  Kate and Patrick gave their other daughters sensible names, Margaret and Kathryn, so I’ve always wondered where “Moss” came from.  She was called “Mossie.”

She was probably solid and sensible like her sisters, my father’s aunts whom I knew as a young person. The name Moss, however, leads me to imagine one with a connection to the fairy people, one who sang and danced and perhaps wrote poetry.  Did any of the little people sneak across the ocean with the immigrants?  Mossie died when my father was young.  Perhaps the fairies couldn’t let her go.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Coping with the Clock Change

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            Two coyotes are heading toward their dens.

            “Why are we quitting early?” the younger one asks.  “It’s still plenty dark.”

            “Where are your ears, boy?”  asks the elder one.  “Didn’t you notice that the two-leggeds are up and around already?”

            “Why is that?”

            “Don’t know, but it happens every year when the days are getting longer.  Must be something weird in their metabolism, ‘cause there’s no sense to it.”

            A third coyote has joined their homeward trot.  “My dad told me,” he says, “that his dad said he was prowling round a barn once and heard horses saying they were getting fed early so they could get on to plowing and planting.”

            The elder coyote scoffs.  “What do horses know?”

            “What’s plowing?” asks the younger.

Are Poets Freethinkers?

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You already know the answer: every creative artist has to keep an open mind about the “rules” of his craft.  Some of the rules for poets that come to mind are these:

Avoid gerunds (-ing words)

Don’t use question marks in poems

Haiku must have seventeen syllables.  (There are in fact two camps on this one.  It depends on which website you go to.)

Poetry is supposed to rhyme.  (This one only comes from the audience these days.)

Nobody uses metaphor any more.  Of course I consider this one a minority opinion, but it was spoken by a teacher of poetry.

All these I consider optional.  There is only one doctrine to which I still cling:

There is always another way to say it


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My “thousand words” on early spring in southern New Mexico.  A corner of my back yard.

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