Kobayashi Issa, "the butterfly I passed"

There are moments when we're more than we are, and they're not necessarily moments of triumphant heroism.

Kobayashi Issa, "the butterfly I passed"

Welcome! Happy to share a few things with you

August is over. For me, it's been a remarkable past few months. I've visited my family twice, learning to appreciate that time much more. While I didn't read as much as I planned, what I did read shaped and changed my thinking. (I have to sometimes remind myself this is what reading really is—it's not just a thing done for the sake of a career.)

I think tonight's goal, after this entry is published and promoted, is to take a long, slow walk. I don't want to feel like I'm in a rush to go anywhere.

A few things on Twitter caught my attention, and I'd like to share them with you. First, @vidyarrrr's brilliant send-up of the tone and language of COVID press conferences:

I think about bureaucratic ways of talking quite a bit nowadays. I feel like having some sense of professional standards is important. However, here in the US, our disastrous military actions and human rights abuses are obscured by jargon, a nondescript, even tone, and signs of office and authority.

The second thing I'd like to share is this complete evisceration of Glenn Greenwald by David Neiwert. It's a long read but well-worth your time. I've read a lot about extremists and neo-Nazis in America and I'm still stunned by all the details in Neiwert's story.

Thank you all for reading. I appreciate your support--please do spread the word about this newsletter/blog. New subscribers are welcome; the sooner I have more, the sooner I can offer premium content. Would love likes on the facebook page and any blurbs you wish to offer mean a lot to me.

Kobayashi Issa, "the butterfly I passed"

In the evenings I walk alone, along a street that goes up a hill. A pond at the base of the hill has small frogs. A bit further, a drainage ditch may house a bobcat. An armadillo at the top of the hill feeds constantly, almost seeming to vacuum the ground.

I track progress by markers such as these. Where other forms of life are in an assigned place. Usually, I'm thinking of myself and how I was as reference points. I can imagine how I'd act when I was an absolute mess. It's unnerving to see that and relieving to believe myself beyond myself.

When Issa says "the butterfly I passed / two miles back / is ahead now," I don't see a creature, delighting in its simple being, overtaking me. Maybe I should, though. I'd probably be more useful if I had the focus and movement of a butterfly. I could certainly learn fashion from one.

"the butterfly I passed" (from @bashosociety)
Kobayashi Issa

the butterfly I passed
two miles back
is ahead now

However, I don't believe maligning our narratives about progress is always a good idea. Yes, many goals and strivings ultimately look absurd, if they actually aren't absurd. But what about the times we genuinely change for the better? It doesn't have to be as dramatic as a caterpillar becoming a butterfly. It can be as simple as hearing a song lyric differently or being a bit less angry. I can't really appreciate a butterfly being ahead of me as a comment on trying to achieve a destination.

I can see it as a past self reappearing. A memory of a me I want to be.

It will always be ahead. Am I just chasing a ghost? A ghost that isn't even me? I can't lie, my mind is selective. It likes to make things glossy when it can. I feel if I'm not committed to remembering myself as a mess, I run the risk of selling a previous self as a saint.

Butterflies are real and whimsical. There are moments when we're more than we are, and they're not necessarily moments of triumphant heroism. I read the following in Ross Gay's The Book of Delights today and was shattered. No further comment is needed:

...about a week before my old man was diagnosed with liver cancer I was hanging around the house when he was getting ready to head out to his job at Applebee's. I said, "Aw man, blow it off. Let's go watch Hell Boy." He looked at me wistfully while tucking in his shirt and sliding his belt through the loops. "You have no idea how bad I wish I could. That was the first time he'd said anything like that. I was twenty-nine. And so, in honor and love, I delight in blowing it off.


Ross Gay, The Book of Delights. Chapel Hill: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2019. 12-13.