Archive for February 9th, 2023


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The knack of our species lies in our capacity to transmit our accumulated knowledge down the generations. The slowest among us can, in a few hours, pick up ideas that it took a few rare geniuses a lifetime to acquire.

Yet what is distinctive is just how selective we are about the topics we deem it possible to educate ourselves in. Our energies are overwhelmingly directed toward material, scientific, and technical subjects and away from psychological and emotional ones. Much anxiety surrounds the question of how good the next generation will be at math; very little around their abilities at marriage or kindness. We devote inordinate hours to learning about tectonic plates and cloud formations, and relatively few fathoming shame and rage.

The assumption is that emotional insight might be either unnecessary or in essence unteachable, lying beyond reason or method, an unreproducible phenomenon best abandoned to individual instinct and intuition. We are left to find our own path around our unfeasibly complicated minds — a move as striking (and as wise) as suggesting that each generation should rediscover the laws of physics by themselves.

~Alain de Botton, The School of Life: An Emotional Education

Alain de Botton is right. We have accumulated the knowledge of the ages and made it virtually accessible to almost anyone anytime anywhere. Yet, though we stand at the current and ever heightening apex of knowledge, our emotional and behavioral development has not accompanied us on the climb.

The world has become increasingly complicated and interconnected and we are left to fend for ourselves with little more than our brains and minds. And while that brain might be suitably equipped for the job, we have no idea how to control it. It’s like we have instant access to a very powerful computer yet barely know how to turn it on or off let alone perform up to its capabilities. There’s no owner’s manual or website for customer service.

Some of us fumble around in the dark trying to find out how to make better use of these brains and minds on our own. Some band together and use theirs sparingly, often following the thoughts and guidance of religious and ideological leaders. Some give up altogether and run on autopilot, simply echoing the words and behavior of the mobs.

We try to use it as best we can– with mixed results, which often leaves disappointed, disenchanted, and disturbed.

This brings me to the character depicted in the current Ring of Fire series that is part of the Little Gems show that opens tomorrow at the West End Gallery. They feel as though they are among those who feel lost in this world, who don’t quite understand how the state of things came to this point and are struggling to make their way through it. Faced with a complicated world with complicated dangers, they can only respond in a primal manner.

Trapped in their own rings of fire…

That’s the last thing I am going to say about this series, at least for some time to come. I am having second thoughts on showing this series at all and have few expectations for it. But despite these misgivings, this work serves a great purpose for me in fumbling my own way through my own ring of fire.

I am playing a song from Johnny Cash today that is not Ring of Fire, which you might have anticipated. This is from his later work, near the end of life. This song might also apply to these characters who feel lost and alone, with no other person to turn to. Here’s Nobody.

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