Hofstadter on the Self

Douglas Hofstader

Douglas Hofstadter

The main thrust is that meaningless symbols in a meaningful pattern create meaning; and depending on the system, be it mathematical, or sentient, when the system the pattern produces perceives itself it becomes self aware.

In this way, the system “acquires a self.”

His book(s) are extended metaphors for “how selfhood originates, a metaphor by which to begin to grab a hold of just what it is that makes an ‘I’ seem, at one and the same time, so terribly real and tangible to its own processor, and yet also so vague, so impenetrable, so deeply elusive.”


Art Eternal

(Ran across these notes while searching for something else. Isn’t that the way. Meant for a Christian publication I was writing for, but evidently never submitted this…)


The Gates in Central Park by Jeanne-Claude and Christo

David Wang writing in Mars Hill Review recently says God did not make us “time-bound orphans.” He created the world out of love and for beauty. Wang says God created art so that His children could play, could create, and could produce art and in the process we share in the Creator’s timelessness. Art is eternity. It stops time. Taft is a place of Art; Taft is one of those places Mircea Eliade said were thresholds of the sacred in an increasingly profane world. That is why I am here or rather that is why here I am. For all of us, inside Taft there is no time; and for us all, there was until we walked over its threshold, no Taft. Astrophysics expert Brian Greene might say the super strings of matter did not vibrate until we plucked the cord. God didn’t show us Taft, until we chose to step into eternity—a gesture, which begins with a memory so deep it requires faith and vulnerability: an open heart.

Taft is this space, this openness to fellowship. This is the story of friendship and family. It is a narrative written in our hearts, penned by God. We are saved and save one another. “[W]hen you are weak and vulnerable and paralyzed in body and spirit, having friends can save your life; and that even when you can’t or don’t believe, having friends who do can give you your life back” (Buchanan 3). Time and time again, my friends and family have given me my life back—the original gift. I only needed to seek, to ask, to knock.

Recently, I sought out this faith initiative and have met a new circle of friends. It was completely by accident—or so I thought—that we should cross paths. The pole of this ostensibly relative inaccessibility was a church cooperative (its mandate unknown to me at the time) far from my home. I had traveled there with Dyan to see a play—we were supporting a friend. While there I came across a bookstore, a café, an art gallery and a space where I felt a need; I don’t think I heard a single still, small voice. The air was susurrant. All was imprinted onto my heart. I investigated this small and vibrant community and found that it was run by individuals interested in reaching out, in bringing Christian culture to those yearning for it. Just like me. I signed up and have been with them every since. We work together in Christian fellowship, to promote literacy; to support one another and all who walk through the door. Although for the most part we spend our Sundays apart at myriad places of worship, our cooperation in this arts facility is a shared space found in brick and mortar, and yet stronger still in our hearts. It is intercessional; it is prayer. It is an extension of family and friends. “When we pray together, we are always praying on behalf of those among us who, for whatever reason, are not able to pray. …[W]e are believing for those who today have no belief left. When we give, we give also for those who cannot. Friendship heals” (Buchanan 3).

Friendship heals what anomie puts asunder. We Christians know this. It is in the secular culture that friendship is reduced to a medicinal cure or pyramid scheme. In the secular story the redemptive source remains individualistic and enigmatic. It is Jean-Paul Satre. It is Albert Camus. It is Judith in an Oates novel. It is a computer catalyst.

To those in the tribe of David, Jesus and Thomas: Over time we come to understand the might of blood, of propinquity: family and friends; we come to read clearly the story being uttered now as it has for thousands of years. We clearly deduce a hand at work on these jars of clay. It begins with the shaping of an open heart.

Here the clay pots are tattooed and pierced with metal bits. Here there are dreg locks and bald heads; here there are parents, friends, and there are lovers. Spoken word and the pages of our testimonies commingle here. Music swirls amongst our thoughts. Art of the times line our walls. We are facts of art. We are God’s artifacts.

This must be the space. This must be the space that I came searching for; a break in time; to touch God’s face, to stand in awe of an eternal beauty. This place is sensus communis and forever an expression of love and timelessness. Here there are no clocks. Walk through this portal and remain in the light.

We are super string and K lines. We are electrical spark and blinding faith. We are now and ciphered with God’s infinity. Here we erect the church built without hands. We are and will be broken clay vessels mattering not of time—that comes later—but yearning for space, in the heart, pierced by time’s arrow, where God returns to the center of our lives and the center holds.

An Andy Goldsworthy production

An Andy Goldsworthy production

A weighing of our souls: Is this the battle spoken of wherein the hearts of you and me, God and the Devil clash? Is this the “awful thing,” that is beauty, as Fyodor Dostoevsky sees it. Beauty is as “mysterious as well as terrible.” What could be terrible about beauty, other than its trance-like hold on us? In this trance is there but a tug-o-war? Is the human heart but a battlefield?

Is it played out in this place, this arts space cooperative of grunge kids and emerging church folk? I know very little about the origins of Taft, other than its loose affiliation of groups headed by a hip church—Ecclesia. The building itself sits in a neighborhood of eclectic homes of dodgy repute. Its immediate neighbor is a self-proclaimed junk store. A house behind Taft sports a church steeple in the yard to serve as a children’s play structure. The roads and sidewalks heave and pitch like undulating waves. The city din is constant and near.

Langer suggests that art, a painting, does not have meaning beyond its own presence. “In a work of art we have the direct presentation of a feeling, not a sign that points to it.” Art is rather than suggests. To put it another way: Timelessness is, it’s not suggested. God is; the art doesn’t suggest the possibility. “It formulates and objectifies experience from direct intellectual perception, or intuition, but it does not abstract a concept for discursive thought.” She goes on to say that the painting is a single entity, composed of materials that contribute, but do not in and of themselves constitute still more symbolism. It’s true that artists may use symbols in their art, but it is believed that these symbols lie on a different “semantic level,” (Langer) and that they are not a part of the larger works importance. In the end, a painting once nothing more than canvas, frame and paint is a new space, a “created apparition.”

“Music is time made audible.”

Poetry is not the result of words, but how the poet uses the words. What is being created is an appearance—of what? Langer and others say poets are attempting to have readers share an experience, recreate that experience if you will. First poetry gives us the words for the experience, perhaps words for the “unsayable said,” (Donald Hall); or simply the words for the actual experience. The tone and quality of those words is in their use in the poem itself through tension enjambments, rhyme and asymmetry. But we should be cautious in placing too much importance on the ability of the words to communicate. “…use of words is not essentially communicative” (Langer 148). “Poetic statements are no more actual statements that the peaches visible in a still life are actual dessert,” Langer said. In this way the words are not signaling, as words do as abstractions of the concrete, they are creating in time and space an image composed primarily of sound. What is created, the sensory image, is that of a shaped apparition of a new experience—shared between poet and reader. The medium is the message; nearby black holes simmer. What effect does the human extension have on us?

It is winter as I write this and in New York’s Central Park 7,500 gates have been installed with free-hanging saffron-colored fabric panels. The installation is called The Gates and it is the art work of Christo and Jeanne-Claude—individuals who were born in the same hour on the same day June 13, 1935. Christo was born Vladimirov Javacheff in Gabrovo, Bulgaria, of a Bulgarian industrialist family. Jeanne-Claude Denat de Guillebon was born in Casablanca, Morocco, of a French military family. They would first meet one another in Paris, in 1958, while Christo was working on Packages and Wrapped Objects. Their only child, the poet Cyril Christo, was born May 11, 1960. In 1964, the artists moved to New York City. Since the sixties they have been producing art outside the walls of museums and frames. They have been very busy with the world at large.

For decades, Christo and Jeanne-Claude have inspired the world with their art, which has been displayed on four continents and seen by millions. Other works by the artists include Wrapped Reichstag, Berlin, 1971-95; The Pont Neuf Wrapped, Paris, 1975-85; Surrounded Islands, Biscayne Bay, Greater Miami, Florida, 1980-83; Running Fence, Sonoma and Marin Counties, California, 1972-76; and Valley Curtain, Grand Hogback, Rifle, Colorado, 1970-72.

What is striking about this art latest installation, in a public place, is that it exists for only a short period of time, as did most, if not all, of the artist’s work. By the end of a few weeks The Gates will be gone. What remains? What exists now outside the installation itself that we could point to and say that is art? Is the art also the problems and hurdles placed before the artists in their attempt to have the installation come to fruition? They began their quest to have The Gates installed in the park in 1979. Is the art also the public discourse over the validity of The Gates as art? What does it say when a public place is infused with a private moment—the realization one gets looking at the art, going through The Gates that they are partaking in something that has been created and that they are part of it? Is not in a park in the middle of one of the largest cities in the world, 7,500 thresholds through which sojourners may enter the sacred? Since they are temporary erections, I wonder if years from now contemporaries will have to convince generations that The Gates were even there; or that Jeanne-Claude’s wispy bouffant was bottle-saffron; will we have to convince people that there was among us a man named Christo?

What of two paintings recently discovered beneath two paintings by Picasso. One was found beneath Rue de Montmartre and another was found beneath La Gommeuse. It is called underpainting, when an artist too poor to purchase a canvas will paint over an earlier, perhaps inferior work. The underpainting isn’t discovered until a collector or curator x-rays the painting or when a painting is rematted—on the reverse side of La Gommeuse a new Picasso was discovered.

Alexander The Great is buried there. In Siwa, Egypt the ephemeral nature of art is explored. Recently, in late November, for five days the desert surrounding this oasis was abloom with color—in the sky. Chinese artist Cai Guo-Qiang had children fly 300 kites he produced, which while in the sky ignited in an explosive blaze. This place is for this kind of exploration: Desert, temporary, wandering. Richard Long, another artist, fulfills this rather nicely recently when he walked into the desert alone to install his work: the wind blew the piece away before anyone else could see it.


(a) Writer Retreats

As I write this, I am finishing my so-called writing retreat—little more than a social media sabbatical—and finally I have hit my groove, so to speak. I had a Eureka! moment, and came up with a great way to work on my memoir, and I continued to work on a shitty first draft of a novel. But up until this morning, nothing was happening.
In other words, I haven’t been getting a lot of my own work done.
I haven’t been writing. A strict definition: writing The Project. The Monster in the Box, as monologist Spalding Gray (pictured below, one of my early writing role models) called his creative endeavor he created and then stashed in a box.


I’ve been rearranging furniture. Cleaning up piles of paper. Staring at too much text. Inside my skull far too much. Typing on Ernest, my Underwood Standard Portable, in order to feel my fingers, moving. So they didn’t atrophy. To be fair, I had a camping trip last weekend to the Kentucky Lakes for the Fourth and I’ve had to wrap up Spring quarter classes, prepare for Summer quarter classes, do laundry, run (!), be a husband and puppy Daddy, and create my second workshop of three for local veterans. So it hasn’t all been navel gazing.
I’m no slouch. Summers have been for some time now a key period of time to get some work done on The Project. Time was, summer began in early May and lasted until early September; times have changed. For the past three summers I have taught right through summer, in some cases teaching more sections of a course than I’d done in a Fall/Winter semester. Go figure. But the summer habit of cranking out the pages on The Project remains, a legacy. When summer came there was the usual two-week decompression period where I could barely speak in complete sentences and then a period of work would begin and I’d go at some kind of project and somehow I managed. Under the current tutelage, somehow, I got it into my head I need to Produce Big Time… and instituted or demanded an insane writing schedule. An article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, “A Realistic Summer Writing Schedule” <link: https://chroniclevitae.com/news/1044-a-realistic-summer-writing-schedule> made me feel a whole lot better about myself. I wasn’t nuts or going freaking batshit crazy, I was being unrealistic. Instead, the author of the article suggested to:

  • Stop thinking in terms of large projects (Derp: The Project)
  • Set up a realistic schedule and stick to it—mostly
  • Find out what kind of schedule works for you

A quote:
“It’s possible to feel like you’ve used your summer months wisely, I promise. But not if you’re starting out with impossible goals and a completely unrealistic writing schedule. Professional writers don’t write all the time. In fact, many of us goof off a fair amount and yet still manage to churn out essays, talks, grant applications, op-eds, and books. The secret sauce is that we’ve discovered sustainable writing practices and we stick to them.”
True dat.
I knew these things.
Practiced these things.
Did these things.
And yet. Still.
Wracked with self-doubt, I spent far too long (of late) seriously doubting my ability to write anything. Ever. Again. Not a Dark Night of the Soul. More like I’d fallen into a pot of the blackest squid ink and couldn’t see or breathe. In Orlando: A Biography Virginia Woolf writes:


“Anyone moderately familiar with the rigours of composition will not need to be told the story in detail; how he wrote and it seemed good; read and it seemed vile; corrected and tore up; cut out; put in; was in ecstasy; in despair; had his good nights and bad mornings; snatched at ideas and lost them; saw his book plain before him and it vanished; acted people’s parts as he ate; mouthed them as he walked; now cried; now laughed; vacillated between this style and that; now preferred the heroic and pompous; next the plain and simple; now the vales of Tempe; then the fields of Kent or Cornwall; and could not decide whether he was the divinest genius or the greatest fool in the world.”
Right about the time I thought myself the greatest fool in the world—after all, I am grown man who sits in a basement most of the year in various guises of the tortured worrying over the stupidest things and typing it all up for human consumption—when I hauled my dissertation off the shelf, which sighed in relief having been unburdened of such a dead weight, cracked it open and began to read portions of my work. And dang.
It was pretty good. Downright brilliant. I was the divinest genius!


My dissertation is called The Eight Leaves and it is a memoir, of sorts. Having reread portions of it, I thought it deserved another round of terse not-quite-right-for-us missives and sent it out! It’s there now in the ether of possibilities alongside my other book The Smallest Universe, which apparently is being read by the slowest readers on the freaking planet.
I digress.
The realization that I’d done good work (albeit work often rejected) in the past, work that pleased me then, and still does, allowed me to admit that while I was not the divinest, I was not a complete fool, and began to think that the élan that produced those two babies still resides within me and I should simply ask it out on a play date.
And then things began to click.

Lining up the Spines

2015-05-19 10.33.50

Reading is complicated sometimes.

I don’t mean the actual reading of the book, but rather the volume of books we all end up accruing and stacking in those wonky piles, in our digital files and on various tables around the house. I hate to miss something.

From time to time I need to make a list of what’s in the current rotation and what, while interesting, can await a future date. And forget about defending our ziggurats of books, Daniel Pennac writes in Better Than Life:

Our reason for reading are as eccentric as our reasons for living

God Bless This Child by Toni Morrison
My Struggle, Book Four by Karl Ove Knausgaard
Treadmill Nearly Done/Academic Now
Satin Island by Tom McCartney (treadmill)
The Novel by Michael Schmidt
The Art of Slow Writing by Louise deSalvo
On The Move by Oliver Sacks
Treadmill Next
The Hundred Year House by Kate Walbert—June 3 (treadmill, next)
Notebook by Jeff Nunokawa
Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace—May 30th (nearly finished)
Within a Budding Grove by Marcel Proust—June (schedule)
The Hundred Year House by Kate Walbert—June 3 (treadmill, next)
August Reads
My Brilliant Friend, The Story of a New Name and Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay by Elena Ferrante (Anniversary by the Sea)
No Time to Say Goodbye: A Memoir of a Life in Foster Care by John William Tuohy
Late Summer/Fall Academic
Writing Life Stories by Bill Roorbach
How to Write Inspirational Memoir by Emily Wierenga
Camping Titles
Dune by Frank Herbert
Moby-Dick by Herman Melville
Music without Words by Phillip Glass
2015-05-19 11.54.08

my “self-help” stack

Weekly & Occasional
My Self-Help Stack — Mondays
Music and Literature Journal — Tuesdays
Harper’s — Wednesdays
New York Review of Books — Thursdays
New York Times — Weekends
Writing Projects Related
On Being Ill by Virginia Woolf
Dream, Death and the Self by JJ Varberg
The Origins and History of the Consciousness by Erich Neumann
The Sunken Cathedral by Kate Walbert (June 9)
Voices in the Night by Steven Millhauser (add to treadmill)
The Vorrh by Brian Caitling (add to camping)
The Story of the Lost Child by Elena Ferrante (September)


A lot surrounds the life of a writer, and most of it doesn’t have anything to do with writing.

One of those things is “the reading.”

A friend of mine, about to have his debut novel published, contacted me recently to ask if I wanted to do some readings with him. It was kind of him to consider me, but he was a little surprised when I wrote back saying while I would help him in any way get his book out there, I wasn’t interested in doing readings.

What? What author today doesn’t do readings? Well, this one.

Readings are obstensibly author-events where passages from books are read aloud in order to sell books. But readings don’t sell books. Unless you’re one of those Big Time Authors–a reading is a chance for fans to hear their favorite author’s voice, have their book signed, get a Selfie, be in the room with the author, etc. And that’s one of my issues with author readings, this idea that somehow if I read my book out loud to you this magically entices you to buy the book. It works if you know me, or are family, but reading my book to a complete stranger is hardly going to result in a purchase; more likely not. Especially for small press literary authors, readings don’t produce buyers. If I might borrow a term: the profit margin is slim. 

So why do public readings. Again, if the book is authored by a biggie or a newcomer with a big time publisher, a reading is required and usually advantageous. Poetry/poets is an entirely different kettle of fish. For authors like me, come on. Whose kidding who? Readings are a bore, odd and uncondusive to having your work before new eyes. The reading is an ego booster for the author without an ability to imagine their readership. It’s like an unstated agreement between the author and their friends: I am going to read to you and you will pretend to enjoy it, and pretend that I have readers, a following. Why having an adult read aloud to another adult came to be some form of commerce I’ll never understand. And that’s the rub for me.

Readings are public begging by an author. I won’t do it.

I’ll read to start a conversation. I’ll read to celebrate. I’ll read to honor someone (well, isn’t reading with a friend whose book is coming out a way to honor him, true, but I’d have to preface my reading by stating this very intention and it would be just too weird to do so). I won’t read in order to sell a book. There are other ways. (Word of mouth. Radio interviews. TV interviews. Book reviews. Newspaper articles???) 

Have you been to a good reading? I’ve been a member of the writing community for decades, and I can recall perhaps one or two readings that I actually enjoyed. Most were these horrendous bores, overlong sessions of gibberish where an author at a microphone, book open to a page marked with a Post-It, head down, wearing glasses, drinking water, turns pages, offers pregnant pauses, affects stutters….ugh….reads. Meanwhile the audience coughs, gets a sore ass and allows their minds to wander over hill and dale.

My dislike for readings was the reason why I started the Orr Street Studios Hearing Voices Literary Salon in Columbia, Missouri, which was designed to have writers read their work for less than fifteen minutes, but be a part of a conversation for a longer period of time. In every way, the conversation afterwards was far more enticing and engaging than the actual reading. Readings are off-putting unless it’s highly performed, a narrative with a plot or offered by Benedict Cumberbach or Sappho (to overstate matters). 

Readings don’t sell books. Good writing does.

But how to get the word out?

Author signings? Even more idiotic than readings, if that were possible. 

So how?

Really, I haven’t a clue. 

Other than good writing.

What did you expect? I’m a writer, not a marketer. 

I’m a throwback. I’m a throwback to a time when writers wrote and sellers sold. Today, a writer has to be both. I understand, and I still don’t care.

I write. 

Someone else can do the selling. 




There are as many different kinds of writers as there are books produced. While all share the vanity of self-possessed flowers, each blooms with a unique fuse.
Being a Writer | Writers wore a certain kind of clothes and lived in a certain fashion–bedraggled barflies. And to my way of thinking there was a particular way to be a writer. All of this is hogwash, I now know, but I allow it once rang true and might even still be so for beginning writers today. Old habits die-hard and sometimes stereotypes live much longer afterwards; after all it is work to dispel stereotype, and the happy coincidental byproduct is the creation of new habits.The first thing to help you on becoming a writer is to simply be one. This isn’t to mean you need to fake anything until you make it, rather it means you should write. Type on a keyboard, write in longhand, anything. Just write. As much as possible.
Write | This is the first and the only step required to begin a writing practice. Here are some other tips which can be adopted or ignore.
Read | I would suggest that you read every thing you can get your hands on, but I know this sounds a little too zealous. It is not presumptuous however to assume you are now a reader; you read books in prose both short and long. You might even have some favorite authors. If you don’t read it has to be said you are in the wrong business wanting to be a writer. Reading is completed writing, it helps in a back and forth way to become a better writer. From reading the works of others you learn from their mistakes and their success. Carve out time every day to read. Anything.
Time | Pause for a moment for some self-reflection and during this interlude ask yourself honestly what time of day are you at your best. This is not to say your best is anything other than a time when you feel the most yourself. For example, I am at my best fairly early in the morning. This doesn’t mean I could hold great conversations with you or build a bookshelf; for me it means it’s the time I feel is the best for writing. I can concentrate, I feel good about getting work done early and I tend to be able to sit for longer spells in the morning. I have learned over the years the exact calibration of what times exactly work for me. Too early and I’m only kidding myself. Too groggy. Too late and I begin to panic my best material has been swallowed by the day. Each of us has a specific time. Pick yours.
Space | It is equally important to my thinking, which might not be your own, to have a regular space to spend some time every day to sit down and be your best while writing. For me, it’s a desk in a quiet part of the house. For you it could be in a busy coffeehouse or on the deck of a houseboat. I don’t really care. But what is important here is that you decide where you want to be when you are writing. It is important in establishing your practice to have as few variables as possible.
Tools | I don’t chide anyone their whims. Every writer comes to the page differently. Some write directly into their computers, others write longhand. My own choice, over many years, is to write longhand in a journal and as material accumulates I then begin to translate this material in a digital form. For some projects I add step between paper and computer by typing up material on a manual typewriter. Choose was works for you. People will give you plenty of advice here, but ultimately it’s all about you and you’ll figure it out for yourself. Once you do you’ll need no one’s advice on what to do to get your work down.
Feedback | At a point in time, again a decision that is solely yours, seek out some readers; they can even be fellow writers. Let others read your work and provide you with some feedback as to what you have produced. In draft form the idea is simply to understand how others will come to perceive what you were intending. Writing for yourself alone is not to be devalued, but for now it’s best that in beginning your practice you share the fruits of your labor. This feedback helps you continue to sit down and attempt to write given either nebulous or specific criticism; more on levels of criticisms later on.
The Take Away:
1 Decide to write
2 Write as much as you can
3 Read
4 Find a time
5 Find a space
6 Choose your tools
7 Get feedback

An Andy Goldsworthy production

An Andy Goldsworthy production

As you can see there is a lot of room here for personal choices to be made because remember for every different kind of book out there, there’s a different kind of writer who penned it.
Write and write well.

Hundred Feet Tall

(for San)


You’re a hundred
Feet in the air
Quarantined, parting a sheer curtain
Waving to me
In a vacation-bound station wagon
We were heading West
You to motherhood: I was looking for you
And thirty years, forty, fifty doesn’t matter
I’ll still see you
There, up at the hospital window
White gown, flaxen hair
Your porcelain hand gently moving
But incredibly your eyes
They sink into me the most
Looking out
With a love a hundred feet tall

Poetry Month

Found this digging through my files today, the first day of National Poetry Month. (click on picture to enlarge)


Yellow Bird

oil by E. Sivas

E. Sivas www.pixshack.com


As with all dreams

Fortune and ill alights

When you call it back

From its far-flung adventures

Amazing some with your gentleness

Others your gentile brutality

The room both lit and filled with witnesses

Darkness and echoing emptiness

Something comes your way to carry

To peck to bring no one knows

But the bird