Myself and My Circumstances
I’m back at the diner. It’s a real place and once again I’ve got real car problems. Minor ones perhaps, but they require genuine attention. A bigger problem would be having to sit in the dealership’s “service lounge” and wait for the car. So I cross the busy street and wait instead at the diner, where country music is blaring over the hi-fidelity sound system as three large-screen TVs, each tuned to a different morning talk show, demand attention. I take my seat in a booth and try to figure out what’s going on.
Ignoring the music, I consider what’s happening on the TV screens. I think I recognize some of these TV “personalities”—there’s Savannah Somebody, George Somebody-else, and Somebody-or-other Scarborough. My god, these people are all looking older and doughier than the last time I saw any of them! When was that? I can’t remember. It’s been a long time since we got rid of the TV. I’m getting older too. Should I worry about my memory going? I feel so blessed.
Anyhoo, I brought along some good company—William James. Or rather his book “A Pluralistic Universe”. I’ve read it before. Twice, I think. But I’ll have to check my records to be sure. Good thing I keep a list of every book I’ve read. I’ve been doing so since I was in junior high. I wish I was as meticulous with my financial ledger. William James is one of the more companionable philosophers. In the early pages of this book, he says that “a man’s vision is the great fact about him.” So I take a look around the diner. Not many here this morning. Just a few other woebegone souls. They’re all concentrated on their breakfast. I admire that. Mine hasn’t arrived yet. So I go back to my book. I must admit, sometimes Professor James spends a little too much time swatting philosophical flies. My mind wanders.
I’ve always been interested in the practice of philosophy. But apparently I have no talent for it. In college I enrolled in a class called “Philosophy of Time”. I rather enjoyed it. I don’t know why, as I didn’t have a clue as to what was going on in there, but it sure beat what was going on in my forestry classes. There, herbicides were being touted as the new holy water. Remember, I was the kid who got kicked out of Catholic school for being a “behavior problem.” So, I spent a lot of time writing a term paper for the philosophy class. It was returned with a brief note from the professor: “Beautifully written but this is not philosophy. Try the English Department. B.”
Years later in graduate school I thought I’d try the philosophical waters one more time. By that point, I was working on my PhD in English and needed a break, so I enrolled in a seminar called “Environmental Ethics”. Toward the end of the semester, I gave a presentation on the philosophy of Baruch Spinoza. It really pissed off the professor. After class he hauled me into his office. Shaking with anger, he pointed a finger at me and yelled: “You’re a dangerous thinker and should be locked up! You must be some kind of anarchist!” I said thank you. That did not help the situation. But at least I was being sincere.
That put an end to my formal education in philosophy. These days I pretty much go about my days doing what Professor James decried as “passing from one idiosyncratic personal atmosphere into another, almost as if we were turning over the pages of a photograph album.” Or scrolling down somebody’s Facebook page.
I could go on and disambiguate things for you here, but my scrambled eggs and toast just arrived. I will now turn my attention to them. As Pythagoras—or somebody like him—used to say: “Never take anything seriously. Except breakfast.”