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BY: JAMES F. O’NEIL

“A good book is one that, for its time, is wise, sane, and magical, one that clarifies life and tends to improve it.”  –John Gardner, On Moral Fiction (1978)img0000071A

After some forty years in the classroom, teaching about writing and literature, telling THEM about so many greats…  On and on I would go, lecture after great lecture.  Book list and book list.  Reading assignment and reading assignment.  And, of course, test after test–to say nothing of those research papers and thesis projects.  I was the Giver, with all the pearls in the basket to hand out, like so many of my good handouts.  (I wonder how many of those made it home?)

They all supposed or assumed I liked everything we ever read for class.  Often times I was teaching what I was told to teach from the curriculum, not what was my choice, what I “liked.”  (Forbidden to teach The Catcher in the Rye?  Yes.  And I Am the Cheese?  That, too.)  Yet I did have opinions.

Nevertheless, I was doing my job–which included NOT speaking personals in the classroom.  Then as I became older, the classrooms became a bit friendlier (or did I?).  I became more pensive about my own education, recalling my being a student in high school and in college.  I did less professing, more suggesting.  Hah!  It took me only twenty years to “get it.”  These were (some of) the best of times (I admit, I still did get a lousy evaluation occasionally that set me aback).

young professorPicture of Young Professor 1983

So I began to write about reading.  And studying.  I even began to write a blog, this blog, about the importance of reading–

How We Come to Love Books

https://memoriesofatime.blog/2016/08/26/how-important-is-reading/

“Adults like to talk about their reading…to force the mind to recollect forgotten but important memories of how one became a reader.”  –G. Robert Carlsen and Anne Sherrill, Voices of Readers: How We Come to Love Books, 1988.

I had written how I became a follower/reader/addict of the writings of Joseph Joseph EpsteinEpstein whom I began reading so many years ago (more than 35!) who “taught” me about those “boring” books of the “masters” that are better left unread–  “Why I Read”….

http://memoriesofatime.com/2013/05/27/why-i-read/%5D

I questioned my education and whether I was an educated person, recalling my formative years and those who tried to influence my reading habits.  Was I an educated person?  Did my reading Ben-Hur do anything for me?  (That was a book given to me by my eighth grade teacher.)  I read the Bible once completely, the Iliad, the Odyssey, Cervantes, terrible romances, existentialists, Shakespeare.

I was reading what others thought was good for me.  What were my first books?  Spot and Jane.  I began a love life with books and reading: comic books, library books, and Sunday funnies.  My favorite comics (now expensive collectibles) were about war.  I was nine when the Korean War started.  My reading of everything about it (even on bubble gum cards) led to a life-long affair with war history.  By the time I began to baby-sit for the neighbor (whose husband was a former Flying Tiger pilot), I was a sixth grader reading The Junior Classics:junior classics etsy

My mom had bought them all beautifully bound, and had them placed, displayed, in the red-leatherette credenza we had forever.  (She must have paid a fortune for them.)  After I had the babies fed, bathed, and bedded, I went into the living room and read my classic stories: about Camelot, giants, heroes, myths.

Throughout high school, I read from those required lists–but took a charmingly delightful side-trip, with James Joyce, Graham Greene, Mortimer Adler, and others when I joined the Book Club.  Afterwards, the mainstream reading, through college and graduate school, was really more, and more intense, for this “English Major”: Shakespeare and Milton; Whitman and Dickinson; Thoreau and Emerson.  And?  I became a teacher.  One of those teachers…   Some Great Teachers: Growing Up with Reading https://memoriesofatime.blog/2015/12/23/some-great-teachers-growing-up-with-reading/

“You can get help from teachers, but you are going to have to learn a lot by yourself, sitting alone in a room.”  –Dr. Seuss

Yes: On my own I worked myself into Darwin, Chardin, and Eliade.  I have learned.  A Tree Grows in Brooklyn–I return to it, and should more often.  It’s about me, not about some other kid.  And the famous epiphanous beach scene by James Joyce, which moved me for all time, in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.  I read (present).  I read (past).  I have read (present perfect).  I am reading…  I have surrounded myself with books for most of my life.  books surround me 2020And have much around me to read, if I am so moved.  Like Sisyphus, I am happy. 

Until quite recently, rather sedentary.  Now I have to answer some questions.  No slipping away, equivocating, hesitating– “Oh, there is time for the answers, Professor, but I think it would be best if you could write down your answers and get them to me whenever you get some free time.”  I was the reader now, not the teacher, not the blogger, not The Great Professor (but, perhaps, the “confessor” confessing?).  Someone “from out there” asked WHO?  WHAT?  WHY?

WHO is your favorite author and what might be a favorite quotation by that author?  Shakespeare may not be my “favorite” author, but my favorite play is his Othello.  It is the best Shakespeare did–for human weakness, love, lust, tragedy, marriage, evil, friendship, jealousy, treachery–all condensed.  It’s about a soldier who is not promoted, who plots to make his commanding officer jealous.  The quotations from Shakespeare abound.  From this play, one stands out that has surpassed “Chaos has come again!”  jealousy 719907557-OthelloIt’s my favorite: The soldier says, “O, beware, my lord, of jealousy; // It is the green-eyed monster which doth mock // The meat it feeds on…”  Beware the green-eyed monster jealousy!  To me, this is right up there with “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned!”

 

 –WHAT is your favorite book and the main theme of that book? PORTRAIT OF AN ARTIST A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man I first read in high school then much later in graduate school.  The character Stephen Dedalus, a young man, by James Joyce, had to leave family, church, and country to grow into manhood–to question the taught values–then to accept or reject them, but not to take them without question.  I believe I am Dedalus, the Questioner.       

Do you have a favorite quotation?  What does that quotation mean to you and WHY is it your favorite?    John Milton, “On His Blindness” (1655).  “They also serve who only stand and wait.”  WHEN I consider how my light is spent… “Doth God exact day-labour, light denied?” I ask.  God doth not need either man’s work or his own gifts.  Who best bear his mild yoke, they serve him best.  john miltonThousands at his bidding speed and post o’er land and ocean without rest. They also serve who only stand and wait.”  Milton lamented his blindness, and felt that he was not serving God the way he could be were he able to see.  But those are doing their duty, awaiting their assignments, even simply by being around.  I’ve felt that I have not always been able to be a do-er in many aspects of my life, but have been a follower, waiting to be invited or waiting to be told what to told.  In other words, waiting is also a noble office.

So, The Grand Inquisitor Classroom Professor has been inquisited.  No blood has been let.  All proceeded painlessly.  However, the process took time–and much thought, which I gave.  Sometimes easy to say “Best 10” or “Top 5”; but more difficult to announce, “And the Award goes to…”  Therefore, Dear Reader, Please answer the following…

WHO?  WHAT?  WHY?

©  James F. O’Neil 2017

readers and parents

“After all these years, I may have found my own best reader, and he turns out to be me.”  –Joseph Epstein

 

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“The one exclusive sign of thorough knowledge is the power of teaching.” –Aristotle

“Today, class, we are going to answer, What are the three types of Greek columns?”

“Somewhere over the rainbow is, well, not really OVER it but is it, R-O-Y-G-B-I-V–…”

“You must know these three fundamentals before you can pass: love, sex, family; romantic, erotic, familial…”

* * *

Once upon a time, in a land far, far away, Aristotle taught his students a handy method for making presentations to their students, for organizing lessons.  His method was like a show and tell, a method that has been passed down from generations of teachers to generations of teachers: pre-school to Cambridge University History Professors, to executives, to coaches. 

Aristotle said, in his favorite Athenian Greek voice, “My students, three things you need to do when presenting a new topic or lesson or subject:

TELL THEM WHAT YOU ARE GOING TO TELL THEM

TELL THEM

THEN TELL THEM WHAT YOU TOLD THEM.


1–Tell them what you will tell them. What is it nice for them to know, but most importantly What do they NEED to know? What do they NEED to hear?  This is the essence of the lesson.  [“Today we are going to see what makes the prism do what it does.”]

2–Tell them. Aristotle no doubt shouts out in the Lyceum, “THIS IS THE STUFF!”  Here is the raison d’être of the whole operation, our reason for being here, the whole enchilada.  He exhorts, “Here is what my Nicomachean Ethics is all about.”  And he lays it out–of sorts….  [“And so, from this, you can understand what Oliver Cromwell did, some historians aver, was far, far more genocidal than any act done by any Confederate general in the American Civil War.”]

3–Tell them what you just told them. “Thus, as we can see, the fifth element is Aether, that divine substance making up the heavenly spheres and heavenly bodies (stars and planets).” Here is the opportunity for the late-arrivals to catch up on their notes, whispering “WhatdidImiss?” Reiteration.  Re-iter-a-tion: journey again.  Going over it again.  “Are there any questions?”     

Such symmetry in threes…

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Are there any questions?…

 

BY: JAMES F. O’NEIL

“A fingerprint in its narrow sense is an impression left by the friction ridges of a human finger.  Fingerprints are easily deposited on suitable surfaces (such as glass or metal or polished stone) by the natural secretions of sweat from the eccrine glands that are present in epidermal ridges.  In a wider use of the term, fingerprints are the traces of an impression from the friction ridges of any part of a human hand. 

“Deliberate impressions of fingerprints may be formed by ink or other substances transferred from the peaks of friction ridges on the skin to a relatively smooth surface such as a fingerprint card.  Fingerprint records normally contain impressions from the pad on the last joint of fingers and thumbs, although fingerprint cards also typically record portions of lower joint areas of the fingers.

“Human fingerprints are detailed, nearly unique, difficult to alter, and durable over the life of an individual, making them suitable as long-term markers of human identity.  They may be employed by police or other authorities to identify individuals who wish to conceal their identity, or to identify people who are incapacitated or deceased, as in the aftermath of a natural disaster.”  [See Wikipedia for more material’]

Where is Thumbkin?  Where is Thumbkin?
(Hide hands behind back)
Here I am! Here I am!
(Show L thumb, then R thumb)
How are you today, sir?
(Wiggle L thumb)
Very well, I thank you.
(Wiggle R thumb)
Run away, run away.
(Hide LH behind back, then RH)

[This is a song often sung in Head Start classes I taught, bringing memoriesofatime.]

jim's thumbThis is my Thumbkin [my thumb].

 fingerprint identification chartThis is a fingerprint identification chart.

History of MY LEFT THUMBKIN: SMASHED in a church door when I was a youngster in Chicago (with little memories of that pain).  SMASHED in a friend’s car door while I was in college:  “Good night.  Thanks for the ride home.”  SLAM!  Car begins to pull away.  “WAIT!” as I scream in pain, pounding on the passenger’s side window, Thumbkin still in the door.  In the Emergency Room, I looked at the thumb twice the size as normal, bruised and blue and internally bleeding.  But flattened.  And the throbbing.  Throbbing.  Throbbing.  “Scalpel.”  Holes drilled into the nail.  Pain and blood. 

Later: August 1964: Rochester, Minnesota, Airport parking lot.  Slipped, fell, and slid along asphalt, Thumbkin extended.  ER: cleansing of bits and pieces of Minnesota, stitches, and awful drilling into the bruised and battered nail, throbbing.  And throbbing.  And throbbing.  Young ER resident took an alcohol lamp, bent a paperclip, grabbed it with a forceps.  Taking the red-hot paperclip, he pssit pssit pssit pssit pssit five holes into the nail, blood squirting and oozing.  NO PAIN!  “Just a trick I learned in med school.”

My fingerprints are on file.  Or not…

I was first fingerprinted in the spring of 1963, for a government position: The U. S. Post Office [USPS].  Once more, in 1980, then in 2003–all for positions with public agencies.  After retirement, I applied as a free-lancer, and once more needed to have my prints updated.  “Mr. O’Neil, could you come with me, please.”  I followed down the long hall in the administrative offices, in 2010, and was led into a small room.  On a small table was a device I had never before seen.  “You’ll have to insert your left thumb into that hole with the red light.”  “Is there a problem?”  “You don’t seem to have fingerprints.  We need to do a deeper, thorough examination of your ridges, that’s all.”  After some time, I was given the proper directions and allowed to leave.  “But whatever happened to my prints?”  I had asked before leaving.  “Acid…” 

My professional career began in 1963.  I had a few hobbies–coin collecting, for one– but none like doing stained glass work, from 1990-2014, until my back “gave out”–and I could no longer lift and bend like before.  I had to stop.  An essential part of working with glass and solder is the use of acid flux.

flux

Paste Flux

A flux (derived from Latin fluxus meaning “flow”) is a chemical cleaning agent, flowing agent, or purifying agent, for metal joining.  Flux allows solder to flow easily on the working piece rather than forming beads as it would otherwise.  Flux is usually, normally, applied with a brush, to the joints to be soldered. 

soldering and leading

Stained Glass Piece Soldered Restoration

But in the turning and moving of a glass piece being worked on, if the artist does not wear gloves, flux begins to work on the skin and, of course, the finger tips.  Flux is an acid, and a poison.POISON SYMBOL.pngMy fingertips would peel; I thought nothing of it.  No pain.  Just washed well.  I did my best to take care, and did wear gloves as often as possible, but…

And that’s the real story of my thumb and fingerprints… 

In the minds of some, however, there exists another story, one of fascination, intrigue, and cover and covert operations:  passportThat my forty-year teaching career concealed my true identity and sheltered my true profession:  CIA Operative.  How this story may have been initiated and by whom puzzles me.

I see no resemblance to any “secret agent.”

JIM 1966 SMC haircut 2

JIM

jason bourne as Matt Damon

JASON

These pictures were taken many years ago, and I never remember telling stories to my boys who might have had over-active imaginations, with their Batman and Robin, and other hero-Super-hero themes in their lives.  Why would I have told the kids about the CIA?  Did someone else tell them?  Well, that story–and the fingerprint issue–just needs to be put to rest once and for all.  And that is that.

BTW: Here’s a picture of one of my favorite authors who, along with Robert Ludlum, did write good political intrigue fiction.

P612300 RED

TOM CLANCY

Here’s a recent picture of me that fell out of a folder…jim tom clancy.jpg 

© James F. O’Neil  2017 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, SJ: 1 May 1881–10 April 1955, was a French idealist philosopher and Jesuit priest who trained as a paleontologist and geologist, and Teilhard de Chardintook part in the discovery of the Peking Man.  He conceived the vitalist idea of the Omega Point (a maximum level of complexity and consciousness towards which he believed the universe was evolving).

Although many of Teilhard’s writings were at one time censored by his Catholic Church, in our time he has been posthumously praised by popes.  However, some evolutionary biologists are still negative.  Nevertheless, Chardin has had a profound influence on the New Age movement, being described as “perhaps the man most responsible for the spiritualization of evolution in a global and cosmic context”–even being described as a “visionary” philosopher and a contemporary “truth-sayer” or “prophet.”  Teilhard de Chardin has two comprehensive works, The Phenomenon of Man, and The Divine Milieu.

(Teilhard is mentioned by name and the Omega Point briefly explained in Arthur C. Clarke’s and Stephen Baxter’s The Light of Other Days.  The title of the short-story collection Everything That Rises Must Converge by Flannery O’Connor is a reference to Teilhard’s work.  The American novelist Don DeLillo’s 2010 novel Point Omega borrows its title and some of its ideas from Teilhard de Chardin.  Robert Wright, in his book Nonzero: The Logic of Human Destiny, compares his own naturalistic thesis that biological and cultural evolution are directional and, possibly, purposeful, with Teilhard’s ideas.)  [Wikipedia]

“The perception of the divine omnipresence is essentially a seeing, a taste, that is to say a sort of intuition bearing upon certain superior qualities in things.  It cannot, therefore, be attained directly by any process of reasoning, nor by any human artifice.  It is a gift, like life itself, of which it is undoubtedly the supreme experimental perfection.”  (The Divine Milieu, p. 131.)  

“When a distinguished but elderly statesman states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right.  When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.”  –Arthur C, Clarke

“Mystics seem intent in regarding the death of earth as the birth of the new cosmic man.  In this respect, Teilhard de Chardin’s vision is remarkably like A. C. Clarke’s Childhood’s End”: ‘Let us suppose from this universal centre, this Omega Point, there constantly emanate radiations hitherto only perceptible to those persons we call “mystics.”  Let us further imagine that, as the sensibility or response to mysticism of the human race increases with planetisation, the awareness of Omega becomes so widespread as to warm thechildhood's end jackeet earth psychically while physically it is growing cold.  Is it not conceivable that Mankind, at the end of its totalisation, its folding-in upon itself, may reach a critical level of maturity where, leaving the earth and stars to lapse slowly back into the dwindling mass of primordial energy, it will detach itself from this planet and join the one true, irreversible essence of things, the Omega Point?  A phenomenon perhaps outwardly akin to death; but in reality a simple metamorphosis and arrival at the supreme synthesis.’”  –Chardin, The Future of Man, p. 127, in Harper’s, December 1971: 77-78)

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Sir Arthur Charles Clarke, CBE, FRAS (16 December 1917–19 March 2008) was a British science fiction writer, science writer and futurist, inventor, undersea explorer, and television series host.

How dare he change the symbols for evil used by Christianity for hundreds of years and iconoclasticize them into order, truth, and peace?  He did dare, in a small, powerful, prescient novel published in 1953–Childhood’s End–, taking place in the year 19–.  In 1968 came 2001: A Space Odyssey–filled with myth, archetypes, rituals–and IBM and HAL.  An odyssey by the master artisan who writes a sequel to Homer’s story of the wanderer.  Then, among others, Rendezvous with Rama (1972); 2010: Odyssey Two (1982); and 3001: The Final Odyssey (1997).

Arthur C. Clarke opens up the possibilities of gaining or losing: souls or history, in speculative fiction in the spirit of Jonathan Swift.  He writes of trade-offs for survival.  He speculates upon the worlds of peace, the new/next Golden Age.

As much as Milton or Bosch, he has a vision.  But he is sometimes, not unlike Teilhard de Chardin, showing evolution continuing, not stopping with the human, which may be a missing link.  Man is moving toward the Omega Point.

One looks to Clarke–SERIOUSLY–for metamorphosis, for mysticism, for the awareness of the fragile beauty surrounding [us] earthlings.

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“Once upon a time…” Sam Keen told and repeated the story of the death of his father.  Keen’s world was shattered, he writes, leading to his finding “a new myth by which to live.”  He realized that he “had a repertoire of stories within my autobiography that gave me satisfying personal answers about the meaning of my life.”

“Everyone has a fascinating story to tell, an autobiographical myth.  And when we tell our stories to one another, we, at one and the same time, find the meaning of our lives and are healed from our isolation and loneliness.”

“We don’t know who we are until we hear ourselves speaking the drama of our lives to someone we trust to listen with an open mind and heart.”

[“In a strict sense myth refers to ‘an intricate set of interlocking stories, rituals, rites, and customs that inform and give the pivotal sense of meaning and direction to a person, family, community, or culture.’”]

“The organizing myth of any culture functions in ways that may be either creative or destructive, healthful or pathological.  By providing a world picture and a set of stories that explain why things are as they are, it creates consensus, sanctifies the social order, and gives the individual an authorized map of the path of life.  A myth creates the plotline that organizes the diverse experiences of a person or community into a single story.”

“Every family, like a miniculture, also has an elaborate system of stories and rituals that differentiate it from other families.  …  And within the family each member’s place is defined by a series of stories.”

“Each person is a repository of stories.  …  We gain the full dignity and power of our persons only when we create a narrative account of our lives, dramatize our existence, and forge a coherent personal myth that combines elements of our cultural myth and family myth with unique stories that come from our experience.”

[Santayana: “Those who do not remember history are condemned to repeat it.”]

“To remain vibrant throughout a lifetime we must always be inventing ourselves, weaving new themes into our life-narratives, remembering our past, re-visioning our future, reauthorizing the myth by which we live.”

TO BE A PERSON IS TO HAVE A STORY TO TELL.  WE BECOME GROUNDED IN THE PRESENT WHEN WE COLOR IN THE OUTLINES OF THE PAST AND THE FUTURE.”  –Sam Keen and Anne Valley-Fox, Your Mythic Journey (1973; 1989)

So, “Tell me a story, pleeeeze…”

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Omne agens agit propter finem.    Every agent acts on account of an end.

To begin, let us focus on statements regarding human action from Thomas Aquinas, the Summa Contra Gentiles [I.II:1:6]: That is to say, every subject acts toward an end that is a good for him.

The act of love is the first of all acts and gives rise to all others.

Thomas asks whether love is the cause of all that the lover does.  His reply is brief yet incisive: “I reply that every agent acts for an end.  The end, however, is the good which is loved and desired by each thing.  Hence it is clear that every agent, whatever it may be, carries out every action from some love.”

The primacy of the person in Aquinas’ “moral universe” is evident.  The first affective motion is love (amor).  The priority of love holds not only for the passions, but also for the rational appetite or will.  Thus love is the most basic motion of the will and the principle of all moral action.  The absolutely first appetitive motion in rational beings is the love of persons.  It is this love that gives rise to all moral action, whether good or evil, since in all action the agent aims at the perfection of some person, either himself or another.  It is no surprise then to find Thomas explicitly stating this position: “The principal ends of human acts are God, self, and others, since we do whatever we do for the sake of one of these.”

BUT: “A subject isolated from sensory stimulus and social interchange begins to hallucinate rapidly and to lose all sense of reality.  Sadists who subject prisoners to solitary confinement understand intuitively that the cruelest punishment is to remove a man [or woman] from the community and thereby deprive him [or her] of his [or her] humanity.  Confusion results when community is lost.

HEALTH DEPENDS UPON THE CONVICTION THAT OUR ACTIONS COUNT.  I remain potent only so long as I get feedback which demonstrates that the force of my action is felt…I [obtain] the knowledge of the resonance of my actions, as well as the joy of knowing that my gifts are received and appreciated.

[I become] a responsible agent, with a sense that the future is open, [and] I understand myself to be essentially in a social context, and therefore my fundamental desires always involve other persons.”  –Sam Keen, To a Dancing God [1970]

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