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John Roosevelt Boettiger
Mill Valley, CA, Seattle, WA, Phoenix, AZ, Los Angeles, CA, Amherst, MA, Hyde Park, NY, New York City (Manhattan), Dedham, MA, Vikersund, Norway, Paris, France, Sebastopol, CA, Berkeley, CA
Author, writer, editor, psychologist, father, grandfather, great-grandfather
Interests: Writing, reading, conversation, hiking, walking, bicycling, asking and responding to intriguing questions, metta, silence, prayer, meditation, justice (social, economic, judicial, political, familial, personal), the wily craft of coyote politics, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, family trees, redwood trees and live oaks, marsh land, hillsides, mountains, geese in flight, birds of a feather
Recent Activity
I find myself returning to the poetry and poetic prose of Jane Kenyon as I contemplate a fresh piece of writing unlike much of what I have done earlier. Maria Popova reminded me in a current issue of her blog, Brain Pickings, of Kenyon’s wise advice to writers: “Be a good steward of your gifts. Protect your time. Feed your inner life. Avoid too much noise. Read good books, have good sentences in your ears. Be by yourself as often as you can. Walk.” Continue reading
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Maria Popova, editor and author of a wonderfully capacious and thoughtful online journal called Brain Pickings, has just published a remarkable book, Figuring. Of the book, she writes, "It only took twelve years of Brain Pickings and the most beautiful, difficult, disorienting experience of my personal life. Figuring explores the complexities, varieties, and contradictions of love, and the human search for truth, meaning, and transcendence, through the interwoven lives of several historical figures across four centuries." Here is Maria Popova's prelude to Figuring: "All of it — the rings of Saturn and my father’s wedding band, the underbelly of the clouds pinked by the rising sun, Einstein’s brain bathing in a jar of formaldehyde, every grain of sand that made the glass that made the jar and each idea Einstein ever had, the shepherdess singing in the Rila mountains of my native Bulgaria and each one of her sheep, every hair on Chance’s velveteen dog ears and Marianne Moore’s red braid and the whiskers of Montaigne’s cat, every translucent fingernail on my friend Amanda’s newborn son, every stone with which Virginia Woolf filled her coat pockets before wading into the River Ouse to drown, every copper atom composing the disc... Continue reading
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In thirty-three short points, Wendell Berry says a great deal about the meaning of wildness, wilderness and domestication, assuming that the reader pauses and considers after each point. See if you're up to that discipline. Thanks to Orion. Wild and Domestic by Wendell Berry I. Gary Snyder said that we know our minds are wild because of the difficulty of making ourselves think what we think we ought to think. II. That is the fundamental sense of “wild” or of “wilderness”: undomesticated, unrestrained, out of control, disorderly. III. There are two ways to value this, as exemplified by the sense of “wild party”: from the point of view of the participants and that of the neighbors. IV. To our people, as pioneers, “the wilderness” looked disorderly, undomestic, out of control. V. According to that judgment, it needed to be brought under control, put in order by domestication. VI. But our word “domestic” comes from the Latin domus, meaning “house” or “home.” To domesticate a place is to make a home of it. To be domesticated is to be at home. VII. It is a sort of betrayal, then, that our version of domestication has imposed ruination, not only upon “wilderness,”... Continue reading
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“The end of life has its own nature also worth our attention.” —Mary Oliver Mary Oliver rarely granted interviews. The richest exception was a 2015 interview with Krista Tippett, during which the topic of death arose. She recited a poem that I would like to reprint here. "About an hour into our interview with Mary Oliver, the poet discusses what she calls 'the cancer visit.' In 2012 she was diagnosed with lung cancer and said that death had 'left his calling card.' She was treated and was given 'a clean bill of health.'" "In her collection Blue Horses, 'The Fourth Sign of the Zodiac' is a four-part poem that recalls the shadowy underworld of loss and survival. And yet, grief is coupled with a hopefulness. The poem is petitionary, asking of us to make what we can of the time we have left." The Fourth Sign of the Zodiac by Mary Oliver 1. Why should I have been surprised? Hunters walk the forest without a sound. The hunter, strapped to his rifle, the fox on his feet of silk, the serpent on his empire of muscles— all move in a stillness, hungry, careful, intent. Just as the cancer entered the... Continue reading
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If too many critics were not kind to Mary Oliver, she was probably the best read and most admired poet in America. On the day after she has left us, perhaps this is the poem to offer. May her death have been as she wished in this poem. I can testify confidently that she did not "end up simply having visited this world." When Death Comes When death comes like the hungry bear in autumn; when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse to buy me, and snaps the purse shut; when death comes like the measle-pox when death comes like an iceberg between the shoulder blades, I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering: what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness? And therefore I look upon everything as a brotherhood and a sisterhood, and I look upon time as no more than an idea, and I consider eternity as another possibility, and I think of each life as a flower, as common as a field daisy, and as singular, and each name a comfortable music in the mouth, tending, as all music does, toward silence, and each body... Continue reading
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“Your great mistake is to act the drama as if you were alone.” — David Whyte In no small measure because of their shared devotion to the Irish philosopher and writer John O’Donohue (a devotion that captures me as well), I am drawn toward these excerpts from a conversation between Krista Tippett and the poet and philosopher David Whyte, on Tippett’s truly marvelous program called “On Being.” This episode was recorded in 2016 and replayed in December 2018 (https://onbeing.org/programs/david-whyte-the-conversational-nature-of-reality-dec2018/). In that conversation, David Whyte said of the poem below, “This poem is written almost like a conversation in the mirror, trying to remind myself what’s first order. We have so many allies in this world, including just the color blue in the sky, which we’re not paying attention to, or the breeze or the ground beneath our feet. This is an invitation to come out of abstraction and back into the world again. Everything is Waiting for You by David Whyte Your great mistake is to act the drama as if you were alone. As if life were a progressive and cunning crime with no witness to the tiny hidden transgressions. To feel abandoned is to deny the intimacy of... Continue reading
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This is a somewhat longer talk I first gave as the keynote address for a conference at The University of California at Berkeley on the subject of Women and The New Deal, and then, in a somewhat revised form, at The Redwoods in Mill Valley, California. Readers will see a little repetition of phrases and anecdotes included in the already posted talk on Eleanor Roosevelt and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. That was shortform, if you will. This is longform. The Spirit of Eleanor Roosevelt John Roosevelt Boettiger Thursday, January 3, 2019 I’m inclined to identify my grandmother as among those William James called the “twice-born,” those who have experienced a renewal—a personal transformation, after enduring trauma and loss that could have buried the gift of a loving life but decidedly did not. In fact, the rebirthing that followed her trauma and loss drew her into an adulthood that nourished us all and led her to be one of the most well-known women of the 20th century. She was a great gift to me, and to so many others. Like her other grandchildren, I knew my grandmother as Grandmère. (Thanks to her early caretakers, she was bilingual since childhood.)... Continue reading
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I gave this talk to the United Nations Association of San Francisco on Human Rights Day, December 10, 2018. Remembering Eleanor Roosevelt and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights John Roosevelt Boettiger San Francisco, December 10, 2018 Good afternoon. Thank you for the privilege of talking with you about a subject that is simultaneously very dear to my heart and also a little daunting. That’s always been so, as long as I can remember, not only on special occasions like today’s celebration. Junior high and high school, college and graduate school years; whenever. Anticipating a visit from my grandmother subtly changed the normal emotional tones of my family. We were excited but—what? — a bit less relaxed? a tad anxious? She was “Mummy” to my mother, “Mother” or “LL” to my father (the initials stood for “Lovely Lady,” dreamed up by a small group of admiring newspaper reporters, including my father, well before my parents had met), and she was “Grandmère” to us kids, my sister, my brother and me. But we all knew that she was also Eleanor Roosevelt. Thus the frisson, the small undercurrent of anxiety, perhaps that she would hold us as she held herself, to a... Continue reading
Sara, I have replied via email to you. Please reply if you have any questions. And may good fortune smile on your festival.
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I'm glad that my son Joshua and his family are in Europe for the next months, starting with several weeks in Portugal. Vanessa, having been born and raised in Brazil, speaks fluent Portuguese, and has been teaching the language to their seven-year old daughter Paloma. They're going to settle down in a quiet locale for the next few weeks, but are still staying in the southern Portugal coastal town of Lagos, which has beautiful beaches and cliffs. Ponta da Piedade, Lagos, Portugal Continue reading
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My sister sent me yesterday an article in her hometown newspaper, The Washington Post, about Mary and The Magnificat, taking its text from the first chapter of the Gospel of Luke, verses 46-55, in which Mary—who will become the mother of Jesus—speaks the words that have come to be known as The Magnificat. I hope you find them as important as I did, and that you will take the further step to become familiar with the author of the essay, D.L. Mayfield. Here it is: Mary’s ‘Magnificat’ in the Bible is revolutionary. Some evangelicals silence her. The artist Ben Wildflower's depiction of Mary, based on the Magnificat. by D. L. Mayfield [www.dlmayfield.com] December 20, 2018 When I was 15, I was cajoled into playing the role of Mary in our church’s Christmas nativity scene. I was embarrassed, stuffing a pillow under a robe to signify pregnancy, but I felt I had no choice: I was the pastor’s daughter, and there was no one else who could play the role. My cheeks burning in shame, I remember feeling little connection to Mary, the mother of God. I was silent in the play. Mary, in our tradition, was a vehicle for Jesus:... Continue reading
Alan, many thanks for your leading me to Tolkein's poem, and indeed to the word "errantry," which refers to the very Bilbo-like practice of wandering in search of chivalrous adventure. In turn it leads me to the lovely Hobbit poem by Bilbo: I SIT BESIDE THE FIRE AND THINK I sit beside the fire and think of all that I have seen of meadow-flowers and butterflies in summers that have been; Of yellow leaves and gossamer in autumns that there were, with morning mist and silver sun and wind upon my hair. I sit beside the fire and think of how the world will be when winter comes without a spring that I shall ever see. For still there are so many things that I have never seen: in every wood in every spring there is a different green. I sit beside the fire and think of people long ago and people who will see a world that I shall never know. But all the while I sit and think of times there were before, I listen for returning feet and voices at the door. _________________ And thence to Bilbo's last song: Day is ended, dim my eyes, but journey long before me lies. Farewell, friends! I hear the call. The ship's beside the stony wall. Foam is white and waves are grey; beyond the sunset leads my way. Foam is salt, the wind is free; I hear the rising of the Sea. Farewell, friends! The sails are set, the wind is east, the moorings fret. Shadows long before me lie, beneath the ever-bending sky, but islands lie behind the Sun that I shall raise ere all is done; lands there are to west of West, where night is quiet and sleep is rest. Guided by the Lonely Star, beyond the utmost harbour-bar, I'll find the heavens fair and free, and beaches of the Starlit Sea. Ship, my ship! I seek the West, and fields and mountains ever blest. Farewell to Middle-earth at last. I see the Star above my mast!
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Amos Oz, one of my favorite Israeli authors (alongside David Grossman, the poet Yehuda Amachi, A. B. Yehoshua), peace activist, memoirist, novelist extrordinaire, died yesterday in his sleep, of cancer, at his home in Tel Aviv. He was 79, just a month younger than me. I admired his writing and his activism: his tenacious devotion to a two-state solution for Jews and Palestinians in Israel. I think the last of his books I read was his novel Judas (2016), a complex and moving story, and before that his memoir, A Tale of Love and Darkness (2004), more beautifully told and different in many respects, but which I've always thought, not only in its title, a companion to my own A Love in Shadow (1978). Emily Barton concludes her nuanced review of Oz's Judas, "The novel grapples with the humanity of Jesus; the basis of anti-Semitism in particular and prejudice in general; the hope for eventual peace in the state of Israel; love. Oz pitches the book’s heartbreak and humanism perfectly from first page to last, as befits a writer who understands how vital a political role a novelist can play." The interview that follows—that appeared in The New York Times... Continue reading
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Thanks to Heartbeat: A Sacred Journey Towards Earth's Wellbeing. (double-click to enlarge) Continue reading
Editor's note (JRB): I came across the following short essay by felicitous accident, browsing The Times this Christmas morning. I am unfamiliar with Ed Simon and happy for this encounter. If I find myself in disagreement with some of what he writes here that's primarily to say I would have written a few passages differently, something unexceptional in writers sharing the same fundamental persuasion. For example, neither God nor Christ is truly foreign; both are mysterious and omnipresent. Fighting on behalf of wonder is an infelicitous usage—active devotion to wonder is perhaps clearer. I am uncomfortable with uses of capitalization in phrases like "the Other." But more important, I am moved and persuaded by Simon's praise of wonder and its centrality to the Christmas story. I share his love of Blake's illustration of the Nativity. I think his characterization of anxiety as a terrible obstacle to wonder is an inspired and important insight. He has enriched my experience of Christmas this year, and for that I am grateful. In Praise of Wonder By Ed Simon Mr. Simon is a staff writer for The Millions. New York Times, Dec. 24, 2018 William Blake, Illustration 1 to Milton’s “On the Morning of... Continue reading
By The Editorial Board of The Washington Post “DO NOT be afraid,” the angel tells shepherds in the Gospel of Luke. “I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people.” The good news in Scripture was, of course, the birth of Jesus and the coming of the Kingdom of God. But as the Christmas story proceeds, there is still bad news to confront. Herod, the Roman-installed king of Judea, upon hearing reports of the birth of a child whom he fears will be a potential rival for power and glory, orders the killing of all male infants from Bethlehem — an event known as the Slaughter of the Innocents. And so, Jesus of Nazareth, by some Gospel accounts, spent his earliest years as a refugee in Egypt, where his family had fled, and did not return to Judea until Herod had died. When he began to teach and preach as a young man, he found a ready following for his message, which was one of love, humility and understanding. But it was also profoundly upsetting to the established order. The author Tod Lindberg says of Jesus’ Beatitudes (“Blessed are the meek . . .... Continue reading
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Maria Popova so often evokes a grateful response from me in her own online journal, BrainPickings. Here she is again, describing the poet Mary Oliver's long love of her partner Molly Malone Cook, in Oliver's book Our World. Oliver says she drew from Molly, "Attention without feeling, I began to learn, is only a report. An openness — an empathy — was necessary if the attention was to matter." "Our World — part memoir, part deeply moving eulogy to a departed soul mate, part celebration of their love for one another through their individual creative loves. Embraced in Oliver’s poetry and prose, Cook’s photographs reveal the intimate thread that brought these two extraordinary women together — a shared sense of deep aliveness and attention to the world, a devotion to making life’s invisibles visible, and above all a profound kindness to everything that exists, within and without.' "Oliver — who refers to Cook simply as M. in most of her writings — reflects in the opening essay: 'Though you have known someone for more than forty years, though you have worked with them and lived with them, you do not know everything. I do not know everything — but a... Continue reading
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Landscape with the Fall of Icarus, Circle of Pieter Bruegel the Elder, ca. 1590-95, Museum van Buuren, Brussels, Belgium (double-click to enlarge) Musée des Beaux Arts W. H. Auden About suffering they were never wrong, The old Masters: how well they understood Its human position: how it takes place While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along; How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting For the miraculous birth, there always must be Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating On a pond at the edge of the wood: They never forgot That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer's horse Scratches its innocent behind on a tree. In Breughel's Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry, But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green Water, and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen Something amazing, a boy falling... Continue reading
Editor's notes (JRB): Long reads of more than more than 5 or 10 minutes are seldom posted on Reckonings, but I hope readers will enjoy this exception. (Anyway, it barely makes it into the long-read category.) Notto Thelle is an old and dear friend. We came to know each other during my years living and working in Norway. We continue to nourish our conversation via Skype every other week or so. He is professor of theology at the University of Oslo, a Christian minister in the long-prevailing Church of Norway, and a longtime student of diverse spiritual traditions, especially those whose homes include China and Japan, to both of which he has been a frequent visitor. Whatever my talents as an adult, they have not included facility in the learning of languages other than English, which remains late in my eighth decade a deeply pleasurable work-in-progress. It is partially in anticipation of the response I would elicit that I don't say, when asked, that my favorite book is the Oxford English Dictionary. As a psychologist, I have necessarily become adept in the practice, as Notto puts it, of "taking the dark side seriously." Doing so, indeed, is essential to our... Continue reading
From Wendell Berry: "Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias. Say that your main crop is the forest that you did not plant, that you will not live to harvest. Say that the leaves are harvested when they have rotted into the mold. Call that profit. Prophesy such returns." Continue reading
https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/27/magazine/insect-apocalypse.html?emc=edit_nn_p_20181129&nl=morning-briefing&nlid=1872223section%3DlongRead&section=longRead&te=1 The address above points to an article that appeared in the NYT Magazine last Sunday, and I find myself circling back on it: reading of deep consequence. I found it fascinating and deeply troubling, confirming much that I knew but often extending my understanding and making connections I hadn't made. It sticks in my mind. Here's the last paragraph: "In addition to extinction (the complete loss of a species) and extirpation (a localized extinction), scientists now speak of defaunation: the loss of individuals, the loss of abundance, the loss of a place’s absolute animalness. In a 2014 article in Science, researchers argued that the word should become as familiar, and influential, as the concept of deforestation. In 2017 another paper reported that major population and range losses extended even to species considered to be at low risk for extinction. They predicted “negative cascading consequences on ecosystem functioning and services vital to sustaining civilization” and the authors offered another term for the widespread loss of the world’s wild fauna: 'biological annihilation.'" Continue reading
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Vincent Van Gogh, "The Starry Night" I was reading today an essay about turbulence, and came across a comment about Van Gogh's "Starry Night." He painted it in June 1889, depicting the view from the east-facing window of his asylum room at Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, just before sunrise, with the addition of a village that was wholly of his creation. He had voluntarily admitted himself to the asylum after cutting off his left ear. From the essay I was reading: "Recently, when physicists examined Van Gogh's work, they found something remarkable. They discovered that there is a distinct pattern of fluid structures which are nearly identical to those found in Van Gogh's sky in 'The Starry Night.' This pattern is not found in works he created when not in periods of mental distress; only in periods of great mental anguish was Van Gogh able to illustrate one of the most complex processes in all of physics." "Vincent Van Gogh transformed the chaos in his mind into beauty on the canvas. And, without any proper training in mathematics or physics, he was able to illuminate a concept which confounds physicists to this day: turbulence." Continue reading
I confess that I am at a loss on the very first line of this fine parable by Louise Glück: I have failed, at least thus far, to divest myself of worldly goods, as I use my computer to maintain this journal and remain in touch with friends and family near and far; and my closets are full. Since argument is a prevailing presence in this parable, however, I can quibble about whether electronic possessions are really worldly, but I would surely lose that argument. Unless... ah, another opening, perhaps a bit more accessible than the first: is it possible that those particular worldly goods do not distract me by gain and loss? Sometimes — right now, in fact — I do not feel such distraction. But truthfully that case feels a slippery slope. I think I'd do OK on the mountain passes. On the second question, should we have purpose, I am among the pilgrims more than the wanderers, though I partake of both modes. I am more among those who dream, who seek glimmering among the stones. My journey began long ago, continues to this day and beyond, I expect until I die and perhaps beyond. I am... Continue reading
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Florida Scott-Maxwell (1883-1979), whose striking thought Parker Palmer uses as an epigraph in the short essay below, was a remarkable woman, a young actress who moved from New York City to Baillieston House, a 17th century home east of Glasgow, Scotland, when she married John Maxwell Scott-Maxwell in 1910. In addition to raising four children, she worked for women's suffrage and as a playwright. Later, living in London as a divorcee, she studied analytical psychology in Zurich with Carl Jung, and afterwards practiced as an analytical psychologist in both England and Scotland. She is best known for The Measure of My Days, an autobiography begun as a private journal about the experience of growing old, published when she was 82. Deeply engaging and insightful, sometimes stark, often with quiet humor, something of the book's spirit can be gleaned from these six passages: “I was astonished to find how intensely one lives in one’s eighties. The last years seemed a culmination and by concentrating on them one became more truly oneself. Though old, I felt full of potential life. It pulsed in me even as I was conscious of shrinking into a final form which it was my task and stimulus... Continue reading
Audacious is one of those words whose splendor consists, at least in part, of its representation of two diametrically opposed meanings. Most of the information herein is from the incomparable Oxford English Dictionary; Merriam-Webster is a useful adjunct to the OED, not a substitute. It may be characterized (as it is audaciously on its website) as "America's most trusted online dictionary;" the OED is English. On the one hand, daring, bold, confident, intrepid, as in T. Nicolls' translation of Thucydides' History of the Peloponnesian War ii. cvi. 67: "More bolde and audacious in this thing, wherein we have much experyence." On the other, unrestrained by or expressing defiance of the principles of decorum and morality; presumptuously wicked, impudent, shameless, rash, insolent, as in Daniel Defoe's Moll Flanders (1722), 323: "I grew more hardn'd and audacious than ever." Merriam-Webster has a helpful descriptive paragraph: "Audacious first appeared in English in the mid-1500s. It was borrowed from the Middle French adjective audacieux, which was derived from the noun audace ('boldness, audacity'). Audace came from the Latin audacia, a derivative of the Latin root audac- ('bold'). Audac- is also the source of audacity, which appeared in Middle English (as audacite) in the 1400s.... Continue reading