Siege Diaries 1/10/2021


Today’s Daily Stoic writing prompt:  Where can I find steadiness?

The associated meditation for today elaborates a bit on this–that steadiness, in the Stoic sense, is not to be found in retreating from the world, because the Stoic ideal is someone who is engaged with the world and actively working to make it a better place.  Rather, it’s produced by using one’s judgement as a filter and by making good choices based on an understanding of the external world.   If there’s one thing during the course of the pandemic that has saved me from any kind of “I am special, it can’t happen to me” kind of magical thinking, it’s this.  I’ve sought out news and information from experts–and I can recognize an expert because I’ve developed good critical thinking and analysis skills over the years, and the ability to dig deeper and to differentiate a conspiracy theory from someone doing legitimate, fact-based scrutiny of a statement.

You’ll run across people claiming to be “skeptics” who are often attached to conspiracy theories–for instance, “vaccine skeptics” are usually people who claim that vaccines not only do not work, but cause other diseases or disorders (e.g. autism) or are an attempt by some nebulous group or person to “control” people.  These aren’t “skeptics”–true skeptics are closer to something like the agnostic in terms of religion;  they argue that it simply isn’t possible to know (and the Classical philosophical schools of Skepticism go even farther than that).  They do not promote some kind of alternate, “secret” knowledge that has been hidden from the general public.  A true skeptic constantly questions.

I’m thinking again about high school.  In the years after Facebook had become ubiquitous, I connected with my best friend from those years, along with a smattering of other friends.  I could count them on a couple of hands.  Now, in the last year or two–and in the past couple of months, in particular–I’ve connected with a wider group.  Some were fairly close friends from earlier;  others were essentially acquaintances, and at least one or two were just names.  Why this group?  It turns out that we all lean left.  I’m not sure how many of these folks held these political beliefs in high school, but it turns out that there may have been a lot more liberals, socialists, and other left-leaning sorts at UAHS than I knew, or that we were just fairly quiet during the midst of the Reagan years, or that folks have evolved in the last 35 years.  In any case, it’s been fascinating to find out where some of these folks have landed in life. Many of them, like me, live (or have lived) all over the United States (and indeed, the world–one friend lives in Africa now).

It’s rather easy to remember high school as kind of a monolithic institution with a unified “popular crowd” of which I was not a part, a rag-tag group of geeks and nerds that I did belong to, and a small group of true outcasts who hung out in the smoking area.  It was likely never that simple, when I think about it.   My crowd was mostly the instrumental music kids and the “brains”–the folks for whom academics were the biggest priority.  But the choral music crowd and the theatre kids, the artists and creative types, the kids into foreign languages and exchange students, and the journalists all were represented.  In the ensuing years, we’ve all gone off in different directions, but something about these past few months have brought us back, often closer in many ways than we were in high school.

Something about me would love to sit down and chat with these people about their lives, what life was like for them during those years and where they’ve found themselves subsequently.  Maybe I will.  I’ve always regretted not having more detailed conversations with my parents about their lives, and I’ve always held back on asking too many questions of my friends, afraid to get too close or invade their privacy–ever the observer.  One part of me also wonders how they saw me back then, and whether it at all aligned with the way I saw myself.  And to that point, there are friends more recently in my life that I’d love to write about, to perhaps tell their stories as told to me.

Something to ponder.

Arrests are happening.  Impeachment plans are being made.  And the US is, in a way, holding its breath.  There is a feeling of a kind of suspension or stasis, while we wait to see what happens next.   But NFL football continues. Hockey pre-season games are happening. Everything is so not normal, and it’s the normal things that are accentuating the oddness.

Sunday night roleplaying was called off due to the illness of one of our players, so instead of blowing things up with alchemy, I have indulged in micro-stabbery.  I have gotten over the initial hump of starting an embroidery project and have started to move into obsessive mode.  But after writing this, I think I’ll return to War and Peace.  I have about 500 pages left.   I’m writing as finish off the last of the Sanderling Shostakovich recordings, the 15th symphony.  I listened to the 14th earlier today, and while it was quite good, it was not quite as mind-blowing as the 13th was.  The 15th is much more angular than the Kondrashin version I raved about a few days ago–the first movement is full of sharp elbows and sudden crescendos that turn the sense of childish play into one of more adult tinkering, with a darker undertone.  In general, this is a darker 15th than I’ve heard elsewhere–its dissonances stand out more, and the lonelier passages are more desolate.  The ending is much more clock-like than hazily magical, although the harmonies just vibrate, and there there is a  sudden crescendo right by the end that seems almost like one, last loud attempt to breathe before the whole thing resolves into that A major chord.  It’s an excellent interpretation, with lots of depth and crispness–parts heard I can’t recall really standing out before–but I suspect it may just lose out to the Kondrashin as my eventual favourite.

And, before I retire to my book, some important thoughts. Snyder’s short book On Tyranny has been on my desk now for well over a year.