Tag Archives: philosophers

Paperback Editor #1

I published The Intimacy of Communication last year. As I read through the introduction recently, I found things I wanted to change or eliminate. Below you will find the original version of the intro, followed by the revised one. A writer is never done with a book; he or she simply runs out of time.

Introduction: World Processor (Original 2016)

“If anything, I’m a metaphysician, perhaps a moralist, but certainly not a sociologist.”
—Jean Baudrillard

I started a blog in 2008 called Writing is Knowing. A year later it became Sharp Left Turns. My purpose has remained the same: to explore complex ideas with passion and wonder. The Intimacy of Communication, a collection of fifty-eight revised Sharp Left Turns posts organized thematically, is an extension of that mission.

The phrase “writing is knowing” comes from a composition theory course I took during my senior year at Elmhurst College. My professor argued that writing is not merely a matter of sharing information, but a vehicle for the creation of new ideas. Writing is a moral endeavor, an attempt to process the world.

I’ve developed several themes on my blog, including the notion of authentic communication. I define authentic communication as two or more people engaged in meaningful, fully present, device-free conversation. It involves empathy and mutual recognition that texting fails to provide.

How did my smartphone become an object of desire? When does anxiety at the thought of putting down my tablet constitute an attachment disorder?

Is there space for intimacy in a hyper-connected world?

French philosopher Jean Baudrillard (1929-2007) shared my concerns. He wrote about the simulated nature of reality in an image-driven global society. We’ve mastered our environment through the magic of technology, but the efficiency of machines threatens to lull humanity to sleep.

Later in his career Baudrillard sided with “the evil genie of the object” in an ironic quest to chart the demise of human agency. One of my favorite Baudrillard books, The Ecstasy of Communication, inspired the title of this book.

Baudrillard was brilliant, which is to say he was nuts. Trained as a sociologist, Baudrillard traversed multiple fields: philosophy, politics, psychology, literature, semiotics. He’s provided intellectual refuge in my darkest moments.

And there are many dark moments. I was diagnosed with depression over twenty years ago, as a high school sophomore. Although some symptoms vary depending on my body’s reaction to stress, there’s a persistent fog in my eye, a twitch in my shadow when I’m perfectly still. The constant worrying, excessive guilt, debilitating self-doubt—my depression is a life-threatening illness. Even on my best days, in the most serene or quiet moments, it’s dreaming up new ways to bring me down.

Depression is a spiritual affliction. A dis-ease of the soul. Medication and therapy are part of a dynamic, lifelong healing process that also requires patience and surrendering control. Recovery is a moment-to-moment battle, and I commend survivors with wounds both seen and unseen for continuing to fight. I hope my story helps break the stigma surrounding mental illness and encourages others to speak their truths.

Blogging helps me cope when I’m open about my struggles. New posts serve as preemptive strikes against future distress, and the act of sharing combats an impulse to isolate. This book ups the ante. It’s a challenge to be vulnerable in a different format.

Can a blog support authentic communication? Can a book? Addressing subjects like psychology, politics and philosophy may sound like an esoteric exercise, but a contemplative approach to life has real-world implications. Attuned to the frequency of instant messages, we must consider our words carefully. Words mean more than we imagine, and contrary to the old playground adage, they can hurt us more than sticks and stones. But even at their most poetic, in the service of profound truths, words can’t account for love or kindness, or quantify the soul.

Introduction: World Processor (Revised 2017)

I started a blog in 2008 called Writing Is Knowing. A year later it became Sharp Left Turns. My purpose has remained the same: to explore complex ideas with passion and wonder. The Intimacy of Communication, a collection of fifty-eight revised Sharp Left Turns posts organized thematically, is an extension of that mission.

The phrase “writing is knowing” comes from a composition theory course I took during my senior year at Elmhurst College. My professor argued that writing is not merely a matter of sharing information, but a vehicle for the creation of new ideas. Writing is a moral endeavor, an attempt to process the world.

I’ve developed several themes on my blog, including the notion of authentic communication. I define authentic communication as two or more people engaged in meaningful, fully present, device-free conversation. It involves empathy and mutual recognition that texting fails to provide.

How did my smartphone become an object of desire? When does anxiety at the thought of putting down my tablet constitute an attachment disorder?

Is there space for intimacy in a hyper-connected world?

French philosopher Jean Baudrillard shared my concerns. He wrote about the simulated nature of reality in our image-driven global society. We’ve mastered our environment through the magic of technology, but the efficiency of machines threatens to lull humanity to sleep. Later in his career Baudrillard sided with “the evil genie of the object” in an ironic quest to chart the demise of human agency. My favorite Baudrillard book, The Ecstasy of Communication, inspired the title of this book.

Baudrillard has provided intellectual refuge in my darkest moments. And there are many dark moments. I was diagnosed with depression twenty years ago, as a high school sophomore. Although some symptoms vary depending on my body’s reaction to stress, there’s a persistent fog in my eye, a twitch in my shadow when I’m perfectly still. The constant worrying, excessive guilt, debilitating self-doubt—my depression is a life-threatening illness. Even on my best days it dreams up new ways to bring me down.

Depression is a spiritual affliction. A dis-ease of the soul. Medication and therapy are part of a dynamic, lifelong healing process that also requires patience and surrendering control. Recovery is a moment-to-moment battle, and I commend survivors with wounds both seen and unseen for continuing to fight. I hope my story challenges misconceptions about mental illness and encourages others to speak their truths.

Can a blog support authentic communication? Can a book? Addressing subjects like psychology, politics and philosophy may sound like an esoteric exercise, but a contemplative approach to life has real-world implications. Attuned to the frequency of instant messages, we must consider our words carefully. Words mean more than we know. They break our bones like sticks and stones. But even at their most poetic, in the service of profound truths, words can’t account for love or kindness, or quantify the soul.

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Silent Prayer

After writing two books—the first on philosophy, the second a collection of poetry—I see my writing in a new light. I am a better philosopher than a poet, and this is fine because I write always with the spirit of a poet. Blogs, emails, research papers. Even grocery lists.

I’m writing this now because I want to say what I truly am: a reader.

Recently my mother and I visited my father’s grave. She brought a book of prayers that bring her comfort and insisted I read one out loud, and I did because we both needed to hear it.

Afterwards my mother paused and turned to me. “You have always been a great reader, even as a child.” I took her at her word and said a silent prayer. Later I read a little Baudrillard and thought of this blog and the books I have written and the things I still want to say.

Have I ever written a word without reading it to myself first? Am I not my ideal reader?

A great writer is a patient reader who knows when to pause and see the world anew—not as it appears, but how it might have been, or how it will never come to be. A great writer erases him- or herself from the world word by word, offering a different version of events in which he or she has already disappeared, or never arrived.

Socrates, as envisioned by Plato, said philosophy is a preparation for death. Socrates wrote nothing down. He couldn’t see for himself that writing, too, is a preparation for death—that writing about the departed brings us closer to death.

Two interpretations among many: I went to read a prayer in a cemetery, but there was no sign of my father. Or it wasn’t clear I had read a prayer in a cemetery until I blogged about it here. All that remains of my father is a sign.

Until I die I will write, but not before reading every word back to myself—not to ensure clarity, but to suspend meaning, to render the world more enigmatic for those I’ll leave behind.

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Philosopher Of Kindness

I went today to my local mental health facility for a shot in my psyche. It’s like a shot in the arm, but there’s no vaccine for melancholy—the best you can hope for is a (self-esteem) booster.

A client stood at the check-in desk in front of me. He wore brown pants with black shoes and a gray jacket. He kept his knit hat on inside the building. Nothing about his appearance begged attention. I figured he’d gone about his life with little fanfare, a common man with simple tastes. The sun shined on him like everyone else. He’d get wet in the rain like any poor soul, but the weather didn’t concern him.

My initial impressions changed within seconds. He’d been to the center many times, it was clear. Staff members greeted him left and right. Another client walked by and smiled hello. He entertained the front desk ladies with a story about his dog. It must have been funny, but I didn’t hear the joke. I was more interested in his parting remarks, his signature goodbye.

“Thank you, Judy,” he said. “I will pray for you and your family. I love you, Judy.”

A minute later, to a therapist in a cast, navigating a knee scooter:

“I’m glad the surgery went well, Mary. I will pray for you and your family. I love you, Mary.”

He thanked a nurse. “I’ll pray for you and your family, Terrie. I love you, Terrie.”

Nobody batted an eye. Nothing felt inappropriate. At least here he felt safe, dealing with his struggles—whatever his condition or official diagnosis—on his own terms.

He’s praying for everyone and everyone’s family. He thanks you and he loves you. He’s refreshingly odd and disarmingly friendly—a poet of the everyday, a philosopher of kindness. Someone thinking of others beyond their awareness of him.

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