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Posts Tagged ‘Wendell Berry’

The Scale of Our Competence

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“Our understandable wish to preserve the planet must somehow be reduced to the scale of our competence – that is to wish to preserve all of its humble households and neighborhoods.”

― Wendell Berry, The World-Ending Fire: The Essential Wendell Berry

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I wrote a longer post about the power of the small actions of one person in the face of the big problems hovering over this world based on the words above from poet Wendell Berry but ended up trashing the whole thing.

It was just way too much… well, way too much.

I simply like the term Berry used: the scale of our competence.

Simply put: Don’t wait for big answers. Do what you can do where you are. And do it now.

Big things often begin from the actions of one single person doing what they can do where they are.

Don’t focus on the scale of the problem. Focus on the scale of your own competence, of what you can do in the here and now.

Then do it.

Amen. End of sermon.

Now leave, okay? Go do what you can.

 

 

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The Gallery Talk was a bit of fun on Saturday at the West End Gallery. But more than that, it gave me a bit of hope being in the midst of people who were concerned at that moment with things that affirm our own existence rather than condemn the existence of others. As I said in the talk, I am pro-affirmation. It became a running joke on Saturday but I would like to believe it is true.

Unfortunately, there are a lot more of those who condemn the existence of others out there today. Maybe it is the same amount as always. But they feel emboldened and have the ear of a president* who will say and do anything to maintain his control.

And along with them, there are a lot of folks who have refused to pay attention and just assume that it will work itself out without them needing to lift a finger or even think about it. These folks are the ones who really worry me, maybe more than those who willingly hate others, who willingly despoil our world, who knowingly twist the rule of law and gleefully profit from it all.

These folks who just turn a blind eye enable them because they think they have no power to stop anything. They accept a gentle cut here or there. It doesn’t hurt anyone they know so what’s the harm? But in doing so, they move the line for what is acceptable and normal away from where it has been for generations. Soon, the cuts are not gentle any more and hurt some of the people around them, maybe even themselves. And the line for what is normal keeps moving away from them to create a world they couldn’t have imagined when they weren’t paying attention.

They will be as powerless then as they feel now. But, in fact, they have the power to stop much of it now if they simply open their eyes and refuse to accept this new normal. They must pay attention, they must speak out, to act if needed. But most of all, they must be willing to say “No.”

How do you make these sleeping giants understand that they need to turn their eyes to this situation? That’s a tough one. The great poet Wendell Berry wrote this poem below, Questionnaire, back in 2009 and it asks us how much awfulness we are willing to accept as normal. We need to answer with great honesty if we want to live in a world that is acceptable and beneficial for the most of us.

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QUESTIONNAIRE
by Wendell Berry

  1. How much poison are you willing
    to eat for the success of the free
    market and global trade? Please
    name your preferred poisons.
  2. For the sake of goodness, how much
    evil are you willing to do?
    Fill in the following blanks
    with the names of your favorite
    evils and acts of hatred.
  3. What sacrifices are you prepared
    to make for culture and civilization?
    Please list the monuments, shrines,
    and works of art you would
    most willingly destroy.
  4. In the name of patriotism and
    the flag, how much of our beloved
    land are you willing to desecrate?
    List in the following spaces
    the mountains, rivers, towns, farms
    you could most readily do without.
  5. State briefly the ideas, ideals, or hopes,
    the energy sources, the kinds of security,
    for which you would kill a child.
    Name, please, the children whom
    you would be willing to kill.

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I was going through the blog from a few years back and came across this post, one that had slipped my mind. Reading it again was what I needed this morning. Sometimes you need a reminder to just sit down and be quiet. Thought it might be a good replay for these hectic days..
GC Myers- Trio:Three Squares
I came across this poem from author Wendell Berry on Maria Popova‘s wonderful site, Brain Pickings. It’s a lovely rumination that could apply to any creative endeavor or to simply being a human being. I particularly identified with the final verse that begins with the line: Accept what comes from silence. I’ve always thought there was great wisdom and power in silence, a source of self-revelation. Perhaps that is why so many of us shun the silence, fearing that it might reveal our true self to be something other than what we see in the mirror. Berry’s words very much sum up how I attempt to tap into silence with my work.

At the bottom is a recording of Wendell Berry reading the poem which gives it even a little more depth, hearing his words in that rural Kentucky voice. It’s fairly short, so take a moment, sit down, be quiet, and give a listen.

HOW TO BE A POET
(to remind myself)

Make a place to sit down.
Sit down. Be quiet.
You must depend upon
affection, reading, knowledge,
skill — more of each
than you have — inspiration,
work, growing older, patience,
for patience joins time
to eternity. Any readers
who like your poems,
doubt their judgment.

Breathe with unconditional breath
the unconditioned air.
Shun electric wire.
Communicate slowly. Live
a three-dimensioned life;
stay away from screens.
Stay away from anything
that obscures the place it is in.
There are no unsacred places;
there are only sacred places
and desecrated places.

Accept what comes from silence.
Make the best you can of it.
Of the little words that come
out of the silence, like prayers
prayed back to the one who prays,
make a poem that does not disturb
the silence from which it came.

Wendell Berry

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The Peace of Wild Things

 

When despair grows in me

and I wake in the night at the least sound

in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,

I go and lie down where the wood drake

rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.

I come into the peace of wild things

who do not tax their lives with forethought

of grief. I come into the presence of still water.

And I feel above me the day-blind stars

waiting for their light. For a time

I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

 

–Wendell Berry

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You can’t go too far wrong on those rough days when you look to the words of Wendell Berry. It generally will provide the needed stillness to overcome the anxiety of these times.

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The past is our definition. We may strive with good reason to escape it, or to escape what is bad in it. But we will escape it only by adding something better to it.

Wendell Berry

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I finished this 40″ by 16″ canvas just the other day, readying it to take with me to the Principle Gallery for my Gallery Talk on Saturday. It was one of those times where the painting itself felt good and invigorating, to the point that I wished there was more to do when I was done with the painting.

Everything came easily and every stroke seemed to add something evident and valuable to the piece. There was no struggle to try to determine what path to follow- it all was there waiting for me to simply take action.

That’s a rare and wonderful moment, at least in my experience.

That ease of process normally shows in the final product. It doesn’t seem worked over and has a freshness in its color and line rhythms. I think that holds for this painting, at least to my eyes which I admit may be somewhat biased.

The meaning that I have attached to this painting adds to to my pleasure in it. A lot of what I see can be gleaned from the words at the top from poet Wendell Berry. I see this as about how one rises above their environment, their past, their failures, their shortcomings and the examples set by those around them.

Betterment.

Trying to be better at whatever they choose, be it their jobs or relationships or their knowledge of the world around them.

Just being a better person, allowing yourself to rise to new heights where you can see beyond the encroachment of the past and the obstacles of the present.

I call this painting Above and Beyond.

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GC Myers Eternally FreeAll of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.

–Blaise Pascal, Pensées 

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This week’s quote continues the theme of silence that showed itself in yesterday’s post where poet Wendell Berry advised us to sit alone and to be quiet, to accept those things we might find in the silence.  This oft-quoted line from  French mathematician/philosopher Blaise Pascal from back around 1660 shows us that even in that world without smartphones and the constant crackle of 24/7 electronic and social media the idea of sitting in silence made most people anxious.

It’s an interesting thing to ponder.  As I sit here, a little before 7 AM in my quiet studio, I can hear the thump of a bass from someone’s car stereo probably almost a mile away as it goes down the road.  That is someone who obviously isn’t ready to embrace silence and believes that they are doing everyone else a favor by breaking it up so we won’t be bothered by it.

Hard as it is to admit, I was that guy at one point in  my life.   Noise was a way of making my presence, my existence, known.  

The lion’s roar.  The barbaric yawp.  

It was all an existential scream that tried to break through the ever-growing wall of sound from the outside world that threatened to obscure everything, melding all the noises into a huge suffocating drone of anonymity.

But my noise made no difference.  No single sound, no one angst-filled scream could break through and show that I was indeed alive, that I mattered.

No, existence was found sitting quietly in a room alone.

It wasn’t always easy.  In the silence there is nowhere to hide from every random thought, every fear, every diminishment of yourself. But silence provides the gift of acceptance after a time and every relived thought and moment, good or bad,  becomes equally part of the make-up of your self.  You come to realize that proof of your existence is in this acceptance and not in that barbarous scream that you once thought would scar the world as that proof.

It sounds too simple, I know.  But simplicity is sometimes very difficult and I still find myself struggling to stay in the silence, to not revert to screaming out.

But most days I find that it is worth the effort.

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GC Myers- Trio:Three SquaresI came across this poem from author Wendell Berry on Maria Popova‘s wonderful site, Brain Pickings.  It’s a lovely rumination that could apply to any creative endeavor or to simply being a human being.  I particularly identified with the final verse that begins with the line: Accept what comes from silence.  I’ve always thought there was great wisdom and power in silence, a source of self-revelation.  Perhaps that is why so many of us shun the silence, fearing that it might reveal our true self to be something other than what we see in the mirror. Berry’s words very much sum up how I attempt to tap into silence with my work.

At the bottom is a recording of Wendell Berry reading the poem which gives it even a little more depth, hearing his words in that rural Kentucky voice.  It’s fairly short so take a moment and give a listen.

HOW TO BE A POET
(to remind myself)

Make a place to sit down.
Sit down. Be quiet.
You must depend upon
affection, reading, knowledge,
skill — more of each
than you have — inspiration,
work, growing older, patience,
for patience joins time
to eternity. Any readers
who like your poems,
doubt their judgment.

Breathe with unconditional breath
the unconditioned air.
Shun electric wire.
Communicate slowly. Live
a three-dimensioned life;
stay away from screens.
Stay away from anything
that obscures the place it is in.
There are no unsacred places;
there are only sacred places
and desecrated places.

Accept what comes from silence.
Make the best you can of it.
Of the little words that come
out of the silence, like prayers
prayed back to the one who prays,
make a poem that does not disturb
the silence from which it came.

Wendell Berry

Read Full Post »

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