Indigenize!

Rekindle Your Wild Joy and sense of deep Belonging through spiritual ecopsychology and the arts, incl. bioregional awareness, animistic perspectives, strategies for simple living, & low/no-tech DIY fun.

Anthropology of Consciousness July 5, 2016

“Huge thank you to Tina Fields the 2016 SAC keynote address for her talk, ‘I am He as You are He as You are Me, and We are All Together’ — Fostering Ecopsychological Relationship with Place.  Here is a snippet from an interview at Naropa University in 2012 on culture, consciousness, and conditioned assumptions about reality.”

That was reblogged from the Society for the Anthropology of Consciousness (SAC)’s Open Access blog. It was a great honor to serve as their Keynote speaker.

If you are interested in exploring issues of consciousness with a group of very smart, kind interdisciplinary thinkers who look at wild topics with both rigor and open-minded humor, SAC may be the group for you.

The interview they spoke of follows below. I’m posting it here for the first time on my own blog (what a concept!) Perhaps you’ll like it too.

Source: SAC in 2016

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Brain Deposed as Seat of Consciousness July 28, 2013

brain in jar by fuuka.warosu.org

These days, most people take it for granted that the seat of consciousness is of course in the brain. “Brain dead” means the person as a whole is dead. The rest of the body is either servant to the brain, as in delivering enough oxygen for optimal functioning, or sort of an addendum.

Witness the many “B” science-fiction movies featuring future societies in which the most wealthy and powerful have done away with the body and just live in an intellectually pure state as a brain in a jar.

SF head in jar

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Star Trek brains in jarsStar Trek episode

Donovan's Brain still

Donovan’s Brain, a 1953 B-grade movie based on the book by Curt Siomak. An evil millionaire gets his brain preserved in a vat, after which he develops mental powers that allow him to control those around him in even more inventive ways than before. (The movie co-stars the future Nancy Reagan, then Nancy Davis.)

Madmen of Mandoras

Madmen of Mandoras, example of the “Evil Genius” TV trope

In addition, you might notice how the brain is now discussed in computer terms: hardware (its physical structures such as the hippocampus) and software (the info, processing, data and other functioning, provided by the workings of the hardware). This is not new. You can see examples across recent history where a metaphor of the most current technology gets used to describe the workings of ourselves and/or the universe. In earlier days it was clocks; now it’s computers. Watch for this: it’s fascinating.

So we’re now considered to be made up of hardware and software, with the most important workings all centered in the brain. The rest of the fleshy self is just supportive frosting. Breathe deep to keep your brain oxygenated. We care for the body because we want optimal brain functioning.

But in earlier days, people thought quite differently about the seat of consciousness.

Folks in Shakespeare’s Britain thought the soul, or at least its most passionate part, mainly resides in the liver.

Many other cultures also find the seat of our selves to be not in the brain but in the heart. For example, the ancient Egyptians thought so little of the brain that when mummifying a body to preserve it for the deceased’s use in the afterlife, they tossed the brain away along with all of the other internal organs – with the notable exception of the heart.

And when C.J. Jung worked with people of the Pueblo nations, Hopi elder Ochwiay Biano (Mountain Lake, also a.k.a. Antonio Mirabal) informed him that in his view, white people were not only uneasy and restless, they were crazy mad. Why? Because “they say that they think with their heads. ‘We think here,’ he said, indicating his heart” (Jung 1973, p.247-8). Jung noted ways in which modern culture, construing the gift of knowledge as cognition alone, has deleterious side effects. He interpreted the ‘uneasy restlessness’ spoken of by Biano to mean Euro-Americans’ “insatiable lust to lord it in every land” (1933, p.213).  After his encounters opened his mind to other worldviews, Jung observed how, sadly, “Knowledge does not enrich us; it removes us more and more from the mythic world in which we were once at home by right of birth” (p.252).

In the history of philosophical thought about such matters, Rene Descartes was the one to finally limit consciousness to the brain alone. But he didn’t mean it in the same way we do today – it seems to me that what he was describing was less of a noun and more of a verb. According to A.C. Harwood (1964), Descartes was describing a shift from participatory consciousness (seated in the heart) to a spectator consciousness, whereby a person could witness events that s/he didn’t consider herself really part of; “looking at a world outside us to which we feel we do not essentially belong.” The spectator consciousness is, at least in its first manifestations, bound to the brain. (BTW, Harwood’s main argument is that Shakespeare first illustrates this new view in Hamlet. But I digress.)

By seating consciousness solely in the brain, we have become spectators instead of participants in an animate universe, and our people have thereby been robbed of many dimensions of relationship.  This is a wholly unnecessary diminishment, caused only by our thinking.

Fortunately, it is now being overturned.

Planaria decapitation

Photograph by Michael Levin and Tal Shomrat, Tufts University

Remember planaria flatworms? You likely tortured some in high school biology class by cutting them up and watching them go on regardless.  Well, it turns out that work with planaria happens in actual research too. Tufts University scientists Tal Shomrat and Michael Levin decapitated one (seen on left in the picture above), and then allowed its head to regrow (far right). And according to their study, planaria can retain functional memory up to two weeks after their heads have been cut off!!   Who needs a brain?  :-p

From their Abstract:

We show that worms exhibit environmental familiarization, and that this memory persists for at least 14 days – long enough for the brain to regenerate. We further show that trained, decapitated planaria exhibit evidence of memory retrieval in a savings paradigm after regenerating a new head.

For easier consumption of the same ideas, here’s National Geographic writer Carrie Arnold describing the study:

Off With Their Heads

After the team verified that the worms had memorized where to find food, they chopped off the worms’ heads and let them regrow, which took two weeks.

Then the team showed the worms with the regrown heads where to find food, essentially a refresher course of their light training before decapitation.

Subsequent experiments showed that the worms remembered where the light spot was, that it was safe, and that food could be found there. The worms’ memories were just as accurate as those worms who had never lost their heads.

Memory Beyond the Brain

The obvious question remains: How can a worm remember things after losing its head?

“We have no idea,” Levin admitted. “What we do know is that memory can be stored outside the brain—presumably in other body cells—so that [memories] can get imprinted onto the new brain as it regenerates.”

Researchers have long confined their investigations of memory and learning to the brain, Levin said, but these results may encourage them to look elsewhere.

Somatic psychologists have long known that the brain alone is highly overrated. With this new knowledge, seems to me that it would be a good idea to go out now, and honor our bods in relationship with the rest of the world. Let’s use our intuitive and somatic knowing without embarrassment; the kind that makes the hairs on the back of our necks prickle when someone is looking at us. It’s real. Let’s start to enjoy more of the full range of our “thinking.”

Hey, I just got a wild idea. You know how we’re told we use only a small percent of our brains? Perhaps the reason is that much of our thinking is actually not located there!!! I’ve gotta go now: gonna go dust out the other rooms of my inner house.

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To read more:

National Geographic article:  http://newswatch.nationalgeographic.com/2013/07/16/decapitated-worms-regrow-heads-keep-old-memories/

Original research abstract in the Journal for Experimental Biology: http://jeb.biologists.org/content/early/2013/06/27/jeb.087809.abstract

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References

  • Arnold, Carrie (2013, July 16).  Decapitated worms grow new memories. National Geographic,  Weird and Wild. Accessed at http://newswatch.nationalgeographic.com/2013/07/16/decapitated-worms-regrow-heads-keep-old-memories/
  • Elias, Jonathan. Egyptian mummification: Recent findings based on CT scan data from Egyptian mummies (Ptolemaic period). Akhmim Mummy Studies Consortium, accessed 7-28-13 at http://www.amscresearch.com/id2.html
  • Harwood, A.C. (1964) Shakespeare’s Prophetic Mind. Rudolf Steiner Press.
  • Jung, Carl Gustav. (1933). Modern man in search of a soul. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World.
  • Jung, C.G. (1973) Memories, Dreams, Reflections.
  • Shomrat, Tal, & Levin, Michael (2013, August).  An automated training paradigm reveals long-term memory in planaria and its persistence through head regeneration.  Journal for Experimental Biology 216 (16). 
 

Learning from Our Elders: Teacher Trees December 2, 2012

american-linden-pic by pubs intl,ltd

American Linden tree.
(Img: Pubs Int’l, ltd.)

 

“A beautiful essay on deep listening…to trees.”  ~ Jamie K. Reaser, Courting the Wild series co-editor (with whom, by the way, it was a pleasure to work). She has made the essay available for free now via a link on the publisher’s website.

‘…The maple advised, “Be like the linden tree. It bends and bends in every wind, yet its roots go down deep, deep, deep.”…’ ~ Tina Fields

That line, which Jamie chose to highlight, is the core of the story. That is the advice a maple tree gave me when I was nine years old, and I’ve never forgotten it.


Click here to read Learning From Our Elders at Hiraeth Press,

or just read it on this page, immediately below.

I hope you enjoy it.

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LEARNING FROM OUR ELDERS: 

TEACHER TREES

by Tina Fields

Featured in Courting the Wild: Love Affairs with the Land, ed. Jamie K. Reaser, Hiraeth Press.

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I was con­sid­ered a weird kid. When I was nine, my frizzy, dark auburn hair was far from the stylish straight-and-​​blonde. I didn’t care what my clothes looked like or whether they even matched, let alone what label adorned them. I was far from ath­letic. I wore glasses. I used big words, and under­stood their mean­ings. While other kids gos­siped and invented small tor­tures for fun, I read, drew, and day­dreamed. As an only child, I was poorly versed in mind games, and usu­ally lost out long before I even real­ized the teasing had begun. When I grew up, I wanted to be a philoso­pher and a witch.

All of this added up to the bleak reality that I didn’t have many friends. Most of the time that was actu­ally fine, as I enjoyed the freedom that came with soli­tude. Fortunately, I found myself to be pretty good com­pany. But there were also chal­lenges. Like many only chil­dren, I didn’t need to seek accep­tance through pack con­for­mity. (I knew it was a lost cause.) However, childrens’ cruelty toward the introverted social outcast can be brutal, and there were times when even my closest friends would turn on me in an attempt to keep their ten­uous places in the school­yard pecking order. When pro­voked, I wouldn’t fight with them; instead, this taunting made me turn even more soli­tary. The people-cen­tered life felt hard, and I often turned to the more-​​than human world for com­pan­ion­ship.

In the park across the street from my child­hood home, a pine and a maple wel­comed my dogs and me with open, low branches. The pine tree was enor­mous. I’d climb the rungs of its ladder self, rising as high as I could go, and cling to its wide but flex­ible trunk as the wind swayed us back and forth. It felt ecstatic to ride the wind like that, espe­cially in a high storm. Upon my descent, I’d be cov­ered with pitch and pitch-​​glued pine nee­dles. My poor mother tried to freeze the hard­ened gluey gunk out of my hair and clothes with ice, only to give up in dis­gust time and time again, and hack it out of my lion’s mane with scis­sors. I endured all this with equa­nimity, as my tree time made me feel com­pletely wild and at peace. The maple was smaller than the pine and oozed no pitch, so it was my most fre­quent tree-​​of-​​choice. However, it was also harder to scale, so I’d only go as high as its second branch. This was a com­fort­able branch; just the right shape for me. I could sit upon it for hours, and I would, too, espe­cially when life seemed par­tic­u­larly hard.

Being aloft held its own sur­rep­ti­tious plea­sures: People would walk by down below, and never know I was perched above them, over­hearing every­thing. Giddy, I learned that most people rarely think to look up. By staying silent and observing other people’s behavior, I began to awaken to the dark holes in my own aware­ness, and decided to try to notice every­thing.

After par­tic­u­larly dif­fi­cult days at school, I’d enter the maple in the way some church goers step into con­fes­sional boxes. Climbing up, I’d wrap my arms around it, lay my cheek against its rough-​​barked trunk, and tell it my woes and dreams. Sometimes I’d cry. Day after day, week after week, for a couple of years, I wept my sor­rows into that tree.

SAC 2006 tree t-shirt design, by Tina Fields

Arborial consciousness t-shirt design by Tina Fields

And then one day, the tree spoke back.

This might sound crazy or like a make-​​believe story, but it really hap­pened. I was so sur­prised that I nearly fell off the limb. I didn’t hear its voice with my ears. Rather, the mes­sage came in a word and pic­ture com­bi­na­tion that man­i­fested in my mind, yet was not my own. The mes­sage didn’t feel like it orig­i­nated from within me; the words didn’t sound like mine. In my gut, I knew they came from this tree. It was a full-​​blown cou­plet of image and speech, bearing a mes­sage I remember and live by to this very day.

The maple advised, “Be like the linden tree. It bends and bends in every wind, yet its roots go down deep, deep, deep.”

I had never even heard of a linden tree before, much less had any idea what one looked like or how it behaved. It would not be until twenty years later, while living in Europe, that I would meet my first linden tree and feel as though I’d been reunited with a long-​​lost, much beloved rel­a­tive.

The ancient Greeks and the Slavs believed the god­dess of love abided in the linden tree. Other Europeans, espe­cially the Poles, regarded linden trees as sym­bols of divine power, family, faith, and valour. When Christianity arrived in the region, the linden became the tree of the Blessed Mother. In many a folk­tale, the Blessed Mother hid among the tree’s branches, waiting patiently to reveal her­self to chil­dren.

The linden’s white blooms are fra­grant, making them a favorite of bees and bee­keepers. Bees pro­duce wax for can­dles, honey for mead. Laws often pro­tected the pre­cious trees. To cut down a linden meant bad luck, per­haps even bringing tit-​​for-​​tat death to self or a family member. Such was the rev­er­ence for lin­dens.

The maple’s mes­sage to emu­late this unknown cousin rever­ber­ated in me from that moment for­ward. The world was sud­denly full of far greater pos­si­bility than I’d ever before imag­ined. A tree can speak? It’s con­scious? What else is hap­pening that I haven’t noticed or par­tic­i­pated in? I set out – and within — on a mis­sion of curiosity and deeper explo­ration.

Before that day, my par­ents had taken me camping many times. Every time, they had exhorted me to “look at the beau­tiful scenery!” but I ignored them, pre­fer­ring to read a comic book. No more. Suddenly the world was so much more than mere stuff. I went from being sur­rounded by dead matter to being part of a com­mu­nity of aware beings with desires, thoughts, and voli­tion. Life, motion, spirit abounded every­where. I began to realize how how utterly accom­pa­nied I was in the world and how much I was missing because I had not been looking with truly aware, open-​​minded eyes. I began to closely observe other ani­mals, plants, rocks, clouds, and to con­sider how best to serve our col­lec­tive well-​​being. I became inter­ested in mys­ti­cism and spir­i­tu­ality, and began to explore com­par­a­tive reli­gions, looking for human wisdom about relating to the numi­nous in every­thing.

Whatever hap­pened in the purely human realm took on far less import. Personality glitches or opin­ions of me, whether coming from other kids or my own self-doubt, seemed fleeting and insignif­i­cant. I was deter­mined to be kind, but to also put human inter­ac­tions into a much larger con­text. Like a tree, I stood in a forest of mys­tery and hope. And amusingly, as soon as I stopped caring what any­body thought of me, I attracted good friends and even became pop­ular.

Trees, each in their own way, have been my great teachers. They cra­dled me, brought me into con­tact with ele­mental excite­ment, and woke me up to the living world in all of its intense spir­i­tual mys­tery and innu­mer­able dimensions. They ini­ti­ated me as a par­tic­i­pant in life instead of a reluc­tant observer.

The influ­ence of trees has made me a better, wiser, and more aware animal who lives fully in an expanded world sprouting with pos­si­bility, fun, and friend­ship. I will honor these elders of other species as long as I live. I hope that they will con­tinue to teach us all, and that we young­sters along the evo­lu­tionary scale will keep actively seeking out ways to listen.

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When searching for a photo of a linden tree to include here, I came upon a fun site about word etymology. Its logo is a musical pun in medieval illumination style. Who can resist that?

Bill Casselmans etymology logoBill Casselman’s entry about linden trees has a component that blew my mind. It turns out that the root of its name means the very quality that was touted to me by my maple tree!

“Linden, like aspen and like ‘the old, oaken bucket’ was originally an adjectival form of Old English lind ‘lime tree.’ Many Indo-European languages have this root *len whose prime meaning is ‘flexible’ in reference, to flexible fibres of the inner bark, much like the basswood-linden-tilia labels. Compare Old Norse lind, modern German gelinde ‘gentle’ but first meaning ‘supple, flexible, soft,’ Latin lentus ‘slow’ but first ‘supple, soft, lazy.’ Other English words containing the same root are lithe, and perhaps linen and line, as Eric Partridge suggests, from an ultimate Indo-European root *li ‘flax.’ This would make *len an extension of the flax root meaning ‘flexible as threads made of flax,’ then of rope or cord made of other materials, like the inner bark of the linden.” (emph. mine.)

Another tidbit that I find here of personal import is the linden’s genus, Tilia. My mother’s name was Tilla. And what do the best mothers give their children but the combo of deep, secure roots and supple, flying freedom?

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I love it when synchronicities like this show up. The first one affords the mind-blowing confirmation that the tree was right.

On the one hand, duh! So when do trees lie?  Yet on the other, how amazing is that to realize that this was not “mere” internal imagination, but actual communication. It’s so easy to default to lowest-common-denominator cultural normative thinking, and no matter how many times such things happen to me and how many times I’m shown that ‘there’s more in heaven and earth, Horatio,’ etc., I’m still always amazed.

Some might consider this focus on synchronicity to be overly magical thinking but to me, such occurrences signify that I’m in sync with the Tao; the flow of mystery in this planet and beyond, of which each of us is one small musical phrase. And since it makes the world more fun and encourages me to be even more engaged in life, why not think that way?

Go forth and listen to a tree now, and see if it changes you like it did me.

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Linden tree leaves (img: billcasselman.com)

(My essay is linked & presented here with permission of Jamie K. Reaser, co-editor. This version printed here has a few changes from the one published by Hiraeth Press.  Artistic license, y’know.)

 

Rat Empathy January 24, 2012

It will be no surprise to readers of Indigenize! what Univ. of Chicago researchers found in their most recent rodent study, published December 9, 2011 in Science.

According to Inbal Ben-Ami Bartal, one of the co-researchers, it turns out that rats will spend a lot of time and energy figuring out how to open a cage if they see another rat trapped in it.

In fact, if faced with two cages, they’d choose to free their pals just as often as they’d choose to open a cage full of delicious chocolate for themselves. Now *that’s* compassionate action! The freedom of their friend was as just sweet to them as a big hoard of chocolate chips.

Further, even when the rats got the chocolate, they weren’t stingy with it. In more than half the trials, rescuer rats left some chocolate to share with the newly freed. Researchers were surprised by this rodent kindness or perhaps shared celebratory meal. Bartal says, “The most shocking thing is they left some of the chocolate for the other rat. …It’s not like they missed a chocolate. They actually carried it out of the restrainer sometimes but did not eat it.”

This was not the first time such an experiment had been done; not by a long shot. Stéphan Reebs reported in the October 2007 issue of Natural History reported on a study done at the University of Bern, Switzerland in which researchers Claudia Rutte and Michael Taborsky trained rats to pull a lever that gave food to a rat in a neighboring cage. These rats were then placed either next to other helpful, lever-pulling rats’ cages or near those untrained to be generous in that way. On the sixth day, they discovered that

“…rats that had been paired with helpful neighbors were, on average, 21 percent more likely to pull a lever for a new neighbor they had never encountered than were test rats paired with unhelpful neighbors. What’s more, the rats could distinguish between strangers and former benefactors. In another experiment, test rats that encountered a rat that had given them food earlier were—not 21 percent—but 51 percent more likely to return the favor. Notably, Rutte and Taborsky studied only female rats. No word on whether males would be equally obliging.”

Similar empathetic behavior has long been observed in other animals as well. Franz de Waal’s brilliant work Peacemaking Among Primates comes immediately to mind, as does the chapter about animals in the “Anarchist Prince” Pyotr Kropotkin’s Mutual Aid. Not to mention all those videos on YouTube.

What do such studies prove? Scientists now state it’s plausible these rats demonstrated “empathically motivated pro-social behavior.” The same behavior exhibited in people would generally be called helpfulness and even kindness or compassion. In the Swiss study, we also see how empathy begets more empathy; kind actions spread and come back to benefit the generous. University of Chicago neurobiologist Peggy Mason said, “Rats help other rats in distress. That means it’s a biological inheritance. That’s the biological program we have.”

So we can read into this finding a very important message for the currently dominant culture: Collaboration is hardwired into us as animals. Not cold, me-first, gotta win and get mine and the hellwithyou competition, but cooperation and collaboration. It’s NOT “survival of the fittest,” as ‘social Darwinists’ Thomas Malthus and Herbert Spencer mutated the message to be. It’s as Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace themselves originally observed: “survival of the FIT,” meaning those who best adapt to the situations in which they find themselves. Both anthropological studies and game theory statistically show that cooperatively working together creates the most likely conditions for long-term survival.

You can read more about the U of Chicago rat study in this accessible report by Laura Sanders in the Dec. 31, 2011 issue of Science News:  He’s no rat; he’s my brother

Rat liberation: gotta love it.  I’ll end by saying that if we have to do studies on our kindred in other kinds of bodies, I like this trend of doing studies that involve the animals as themselves, instead of merely as test items for some product.

 

No Witch Tax November 3, 2010

Elections having just ended here, the outcomes that both please and distress us are naturally on our minds. But even California’s Shakespearean machinations for gleaning shekels from the pockets of the people can’t compare to what just happened in Romania.

According to the AP, the country is desperately seeking new sources of revenue. They’ve raised sales taxes and slashed the wages of public servants (sound familiar?) Nevertheless, the Romanian Senate recently rejected one revenue-enhancing proposal – namely, a proposal to regulate and tax witches and fortune-tellers.

The bill, introduced by by lawmakers Alin Popoviciu and Cristi Dugulescu of the ruling party, would require witches and fortune tellers to produce receipts for their professional services. Wait, there’s more: from now on, they would also be held financially liable for wrong predictions!

A famous Romanian witch, Maria Campina, told the media that practitioners’ erratic income from these endeavors would make record-keeping difficult.

This is likely true. But the bill’s sponsor Popoviciu thinks that the opposition actually arose not out of enforcement concerns but from lawmakers who were afraid of having curses and spells put upon them.

<<<…and Margaret Hamilton’s cackle echoes throughout the land…>>>

Not a bad strategy, eh? Wonder if we could get our corporate raiders to fear spells?


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I was first alerted about this newsworthy item by Chuck Shepherd’s most excellent column, News of the Weird. Each month, Shepherd collects legit but odd news items from the mainstream press and offers them as excerpts. (Yes, I did search, and easily confirmed this piece with original sources.) I read NotW in my favorite newspaper, Funny Times, to which I subscribe. Sometimes it comes quite late and rather wrinkled: I suspect that the post office workers are having their way with it before it reaches my box. But that’s okay. They likely need it, and besides, I’m saving my curses for the truly worthy.

 

post-perspective April 5, 2010

Writing these posts about perspective is reminding me to attend, attend, attend.

The implications are so far-reaching.

Today’s example:  I like to read while eating, but today I’m realizing how insulting my lack of attention is to the beings whose bodies make this food; who gave their lives so that mine might continue. Also, this multitasking likely contributes to my being not so skinny, since when we’re unconsciously shoveling it in, we don’t notice we’re satisfied. And to top it off, I’m also not giving proper attention to the wonderful gift of words from the minds of my favorite writers.

So this afternoon, just now, I ate outside and put down my book. Instead, I felt the sun and looked at the clouds while smelling and tasting and feeling the textures of the good vegies and rice and tempeh and garlic pickle as I ate, feeling all of this invigorate me.

Lots of ‘ands’ here!

Wait, here’s one more: And as I was eating, this crazy bird kept looking at me from atop a nearby roof. Then she flew over and landed on the fence right by my head, peered down, and deliberately gazed into my eyes. I tell you, I doubt that would have happened were I still in the world of my book; and even if it had, I would not have noticed.

That moment felt like a gift; a pat on the head from the universe, training me.  Good girl! Nice job!

Meta-observation: I think I’m finally learning how to blog. Short is okay! Man, it’s rough overcoming the learned tyranny of academia, where everything must be perfect; never show anything until at least the third draft, etc. Some of the stuff I’ll post here will indeed be very well-thought-out; I care about craft and beauty. But it’s also very cool to just say something quickly, like a conversation with you, O mysterious one who is reading this now, in my future. (Twilight Zone music here.)

You’ll know the difference and will be able to find what you desire.

And everything will still be spelled right.

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