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Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The House Only Matters if Every Little Corner Counts

Why don’t I write about the hottest news items of the day? Why, on the anniversary of 9/11, didn’t I even mention it? Why didn’t I evaluate the so-called debate between the Democratic and Republican presidential candidates the day after it occurred? And how can I write anything today that doesn’t zoom right to the heart of the latest financial news? Am I just asleep up here, with my head buried in Lake Michigan sand, or what?

If you search this blog for “economics,” you’ll find various entries on that very large topic. As for what’s going on in Congress and on Wall Street, what could I add to what’s all over the radio, the newspapers, the Internet? You see, in general, that’s the question I ask myself: What can I add to any specific discussion? Then, in a larger sense, what can I add to the sea of words in which we swim every day of our lives?

A lot of what I write about would rate as unimportant when compared to larger current issues. My “Sleeping Woman” images from the other day are photographs of a couple of wooded dunes that have been more or less the same for hundreds of years. No news there. Stories about my dog are nothing more than personal anecdotes from a very ordinary life, and most of the people I write about (with a few exceptions) are equally little known in the greater world. Many of my favorite books are out of print. The glimpses of nature that mean so much to me are, on the one hand, ephemeral, and on the other, predictably cyclical and repetitive. Not news at all. And who cares about one little small-town bookseller’s limited world? If I were trying to sell my memoirs, I’d have to worry about that question, but a blog is not a book, and no one has to buy it. A few people read Books in Northport, and a few care about the future of Northport and even of Dog Ears Books--but really, why bother?

Here’s what I think about that. If our brief, precious, individual lives—even that spider web on August 30—don’t matter, then the larger issues don’t matter, either. It often seems to me that my real job in life is to pay attention to what’s around me. There are so many people keeping their fingers on the pulse of national and international news that I don’t feel a need to follow those events blow-by-blow, minute-by-minute. I check in on a daily basis to keep the big picture in mind, but keeping track of that world is not my job. No one will care if I do it or not. My job—the job that no one else will do if I don’t--is to pay attention to David and Sarah and our life together; to notice the changing colors of the countryside, keep track of the geese and coyotes, watch the spider webs in the corners of my porch windows and the milkweed turning color in the meadow; to discover new books, cherish old books and share this love with others. It is to find the beautiful and priceless in the ordinary and the easily missed. If I don’t do this with my life, I have wasted my time on earth.

But economics! I’ll keep badgering you, my readers, to educate yourselves on economics because this subject is too crucial to our well-being to be left to suits in the academic and business worlds. And don’t think you can get away with reading one book on the subject, either. In fact, who out there has recommendations to share?

P.S. on paying attention, because I need to clarify my remarks. I don’t mean that other people are not enjoying fall colors or anything else I mentioned. What I mean is twofold. First, no one else can pay attention for me. If I don’t see, someone else’s seeing will not substitute in my life for what I’ve missed. Secondly, I’m not talking about “fall color” in general but about specific trees, specific leaves, specific moments. All of nature, all of life is particular. Generalities and concepts are useful but bloodless.

For the record, I am the opposite of a Platonist. I believe in and love the phenomenal world, distrust and doubt eternal verities.


Anonymous said...

Beautiful, Pamela. Thank you. And please continue.

P. J. Grath said...

Thank you for reading and appreciating.

Anonymous said...


I think that you've got it right. I agree 95%.

Big Steve

Anonymous said...

Paying attention is the main thing, isn't it! It gives us the perspective to just . . . think. And isn't that a good thing to do.

Thanks for always providing food for thought, and for the spirit, too!

P. J. Grath said...

You three will enjoy upcoming posts, one from me and another from my stepson, Adam. Food for thought is the special of the week. ("Push the soupe du jour! It's yesterday's!)