Skip to content

Random photos from the labyrinth

Fall is here.

This isn’t autumnal color—ivy is evergreen.  But it’s still striking.

We recently cleaned out and culled our years of Halloween decorations.  This came to live in the labyrinth.

All the maple leaves are from the neighbor’s yard. The trees themselves are spectacular, especially in afternoon light.

I’ll say it forever: my labyrinth is a sacred space.

Lichtenbergianism: some progress

I have been surprised at my assiduity in writing Lichtenbergianism: procrastination as a creative strategy.

Here you can see that I have all that I need:

  • computer
  • coffee
  • reference works1
  • Assistive Feline™
  • new agey Pandora station (not shown)

Thus girded, I have written and written and written.  If I have a goal of 25,000 words total, I am 370 words short of being halfway there.

I know this because Scrivener, the authoring software I’m using, allows me to track my progress.  I’ve set a putative deadline of April 12, 2016, which is totally arbitrary of course, but the fun thing is that if I click the little “calculate session goal from deadline” thingie, then I only have to write like 130 words a day.  Pfft.  After allowing myself to revel in the idea that this is a really doable goal even for a Lichtenbergian, I turned it off and went back to a still-modest 500 words/day.

Still, today I knocked out more than 800 words, and that’s not bad at all.  I may be up to 1,000 by the end of the day, should I decide to keep writing rather than making cookies for Fuzzy Labyrinth holiday sales.  Or reading more on The Gift, an influential piece of work on my thoughts about creativity.

1 I begin to realize the daunting task ahead of me in obtaining permission, even in a research setting, to use other people’s work in mine, particularly Georg Christoph Lichtenberg’s aphorisms as translated by R. J. Hollingdale.

Dionysian entropy

Alas, sometime in the last 48 hours, Dionysus (aka The Dancing Faun) lost his right arm.

The arm had been cracked, so it didn’t come as a shock to me.  However, it was weird that I couldn’t find it.  Hm.

Lichtenbergianism: a realization

I was mulling it over and thinking that I want Lichtenbergianism: procrastination as a creative strategy to be a relatively short book.  I mean, it’s not a weighty philosophy to begin with, so I’m thinking it ought to be about the same length as Art & Fear.

So this afternoon I took my copy of Art & Fear out to the labyrinth to do a quick estimation of the word count and came up with about 34,000 words.


I already have 9,800 words just from transcribing my notes from the Waste Book [Precept #4].  Without even getting started, really, I’m anywhere from a quarter to a third of the way to my goal.


Happy birthday, St. Augustine, you %&^$#

Warning: this is an ill-thought-out post.

Today, according to the Writer’s Almanac, is the birthday of St. Augustine, he who wrote The Confessions to demonstrate his point that all of us are infected with sin, and whose ideas about “original sin” (i.e., because Adam and Eve ate of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, we have all inherited their “sinful nature”) became official Church doctrine.


“Watch that hand, buster!”

Of all the insidious kinds of woo on the market, I have to rank this one the worst.  Even when I was a small child, the story of Adam and Eve didn’t make sense.  First of all, what was wrong with gaining knowledge?  Was it not pounded into our heads that was the reason we went to school, to gain knowledge—that was supposed to be a good thing, right?  And here was God telling us don’t eat that fruit.

And why?  Reasons unclear, except that the Lord God Jehovah and his angelic gang seemed a wee bit petty about their privilege.

Then there was the inheritability of sin.  Somehow there was this little bead of BAD STUFF that was embedded in our souls, passed down from parent to child, and God hated us for it.  Sure, the adults in the room tried to soften that by saying it made God sad that we had this thing that we couldn’t help and was his fault in the first place, but the book is pretty clear: he was pissed.  He cursed the man and the woman, and threw them out of his special garden.

And why?  Did it actually solve anything?  Did it make them any less knowledgeable about good and evil?  Did it cleanse the Lord God’s creation of all the ickiness?  Quite the reverse: mankind rapidly spread over the earth like cockroaches, blundering their way through encounter after encounter with Jehovah and always coming out on the short end of the deal.

(Have you ever noticed that?  In other mythologies, there’s someone who’s able to outwit the gods.  Not Jehovah, man—the only person who came even close was Abraham when he tried to bargain the Lord God down to sparing Sodom if he found ten virtuous men there, and we know how that ended.  I’m thinking Jehovah was kind of dickish even in that, because if he’s omniscient he already knew there were not ten good men there. (For one thing, according to St. Augustine, no one’s good anyway.))

Then there was the crowd that tried to make it all about Free Will, and that it was our fault for disobeying God.  God gave us this Free Will, and we failed the test by exercising it.  All of us.  Forever.  Dick move, Jehovah.

And if there were ever a phrase to pitch a boy headlong into the morass of sinful thoughts, it would have to be “And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed.” [Genesis 2:25]  Woo boy!  Nekkid grown-ups!  I somehow knew that there must be something really cool about being naked—it was fun and felt good, for one thing.  For another, just like God told Adam not to eat that fruit because reasons, grown-ups didn’t want you to be naked.  Because reasons.

Of course, the prohibition failed in its prime directive, to keep me innocent of that knowledge of good and evil.  There were so many paintings of the couple available in art books that if the goal were to keep me ignorant of the human body, it was a complete failure.  I could not help noticing, though, that these portraits were missing some crucial information that I really wanted to know: down there.  I know I am not alone when I say I spent half the time gazing at Renaissance art mentally moving fig leaves.

Anyway, the puzzlement for me was that God seemed to be completely okay with nudity, but then for some unexplained—and inexplicable—reason changed his mind.  He plopped the two down in Eden, buck nekkid, and didn’t flip the switch that it was “shameful.”  What was up with that?  So many questions.  Suffice it to say that I have spent a lot of time since exploring my options.

In the end, I have come to view Augustine’s personal shame as one of the worst intellectual pogroms in Western culture, just a Scholastic meme to convince humans that they were separate from the divine.  It has never done humankind any good that I can see, so happy birthday, Augustine—good riddance.


Lichtenbergianism: oy.

While on the Lichtenbergian Retreat last weekend, I may or may not have started writing Lichtenbergianism: procrastination as a creative strategy.

The stone is Fancy Jasper; its woo apparently “encourages not to procrastinate, helps make positive plans for the future, stimulates creativity and self-discipline.” So I have that going for me.

I’m using a piece of software that I’ve owned for quite a while but have never used for anything, Scrivener.  Apparently while I wasn’t paying attention, it’s become a major player in the “let’s write a book” arena.  So far, I have really enjoyed using it to transcribe all my notes from my Waste Book, and now as I begin to flesh the text out, I find that it’s performing exactly as advertised for keeping everything organized.

If I come up with anything worth sharing, I’ll let you know.

The REMS Scale: So what?

As the title says, so what? We have a perfectly serviceable model for placing ourselves in a matrix to define our approach and response to woo. So what?

When I proposed the idea, we joked that we could create one of those Buzzfeed quizzes that would ask you 20 questions and place you on the matrix:

That kind of thing. And then you get your results:

Honestly, I can’t see any difference it would make in anyone’s life to have their self-knowledge confirmed, any more than it does to know that one is in fact a Slytherin or that one really ought to be living in Oslo. For one thing, and let me make this clear, the REMS scale is descriptive, not prescriptive. No end of the scale is pathological, so there’s nothing to “fix” in anyone who finds themselves to be a Spiritual Mystic.

Instead, we could use it l like we use the Myers-Briggs or the True Colors instruments: not only as self-knowledge but as a tool for understanding our interactions with others. Just as those of us who are “green” have learned not to rely on “reds” for planning and execution but instead to use their energy as a motor for the project, knowing that one’s significant other is at the opposite end of the quadrant would be helpful in understanding that no, they do not want to join you in the couples crystal workshop.

And that’s OK.

But but but, I can hear you sputter—mainly because my brain is doing the same thing—surely it’s important for them to understand that woo is/isn’t (pick one) real!

So let’s talk about real woo.

Recently an alert reader sent me this article to read and asked if perhaps this indicated that woo is in fact measurable, objectively provable. I replied that I thought that the experiment wasn’t measuring woo, it was measuring physiological responses. If it had tried to measure enlightenment, that would have been wootastic.

I said that at the risk of falling into the No True Scotsman fallacy, I thought that if it can be measured, it’s not woo.

In other words, the Woo that can be named is not the Woo.1

I think that another strength of the REMS scale is that it frees us from the discussion of whether the woo is real—some people are inclined to grant woo an external reality, others are disinclined. Whether we’re talking past life regressions, or chakra balancing, or shamanic journeys, or the One True God, the REMS scale just sorts people into their approach and response to that.

Just as in the True Colors model, each of our types has its strengths and weaknesses, and perhaps with more discussion, observation, and thought we could develop a more complete picture of those. But, just as in the True Colors model, we have to disabuse ourselves of the notion that our type is the One True Type and those others need converting.



1 I am particularly proud of that formulation.

2 In discussion, tell me whether you think we’re done here. I always feel I have left something on the table when I write these things. But what?

A short break

We will take a short break from examining the REMS Scale of Woo, mostly because I don’t have the next post ready to go.  We will resume our regularly scheduled blatherings tomorrow.

Thank you for your patience.

The REMS Scale: The Four Types

Now we have our two axes:

the REMS Scale

The EXISTENTIAL <—> SPIRITUAL axis defines the individual’s inclination to grant woo an independent reality, the approach to woo. The REALIST <—> MYSTIC scale defines the individual’s willingness to experience or interpret an event as woo, or the response to woo.

You might suppose that all Realists would be Existential and all Mystics would be Spiritual, but that is—oddly—not the case. Although we will first examine the two obvious combinations, my four subjects actually represent the four possible combinations of the two axes.

Let us suppose that our four subjects, having gone to the wellspring of American New Age Woo, Sedona, AZ, have decided to pop in to the Center for the New Age and see what kind of woo they can experience.1 The CNA offers a rather complete range of woo: besides the store full of crystals, candles, occult objects, books, and tarot decks, they have a large staff of trained specialists who can give you tarot readings, crystal work, aura readings, past life regressions, chakra balancing, and other psychic guidance.

At the main counter, you can flip through a notebook with the vitae of the psychics on duty and book your session there. Given our two scales of approach and response, we can expect different reactions to the situation.

The Existential Realist

The Existential Realist neither thinks woo is real nor is willing to acknowledge that he has experienced any such thing. In the CNA, he may browse the shelves and may even find a book that interests him, but the crystals are just pretty rocks and the candles smell.

If he’s an asshole, he may openly disparage the shop and its denizens. If he’s nicer than that, he may decline to book a session or evade the topic altogether. If he decides to enter into the spirit of the thing, he will politely endure the ministrations of the chakra balancer, but he will feel nothing and will chalk it all up to being a good sport.

The Spiritual Mystic

The Spiritual Mystic, on the other hand, feels acutely the spiritual nature of the place. In fact, he may be overwhelmed by it, or react negatively to this particular location’s vibe and seek his woo experience some place more simpatico.

If he decides to book a session, he will select a practitioner exactly as the staff has instructed—by using his intuition—poring over each page to see if he feels a connection with the man or woman in the picture. He will listen earnestly to advice from the staff about which service would be best to meet his psychic needs.

Once in the session, he will feel the energy of the room, the practitioner, and the process. The energy will inform his experience, and he will come away from the session feeling very different than when he went in.

The Existential Mystic

Here’s where our model flies in the face of logic but is actually a useful descriptive tool: The Existential Mystic does not think there is anything out there that is worth the name of woo. He can pick up any number of quartz crystals without feeling a single tingle.

However, if in his chakra balancing he sees specific images or feels a warmth/coldness/whatever in one of the chakras, then he is more than willing to acknowledge that he cannot—or does not need to—explain it away. He evaluates it as ineffable and includes it in his spiritual makeup.

The Spiritual Realist

This one is even odder than the Existential Mystic. The Spiritual Realist does believe in God/auras/the Force, but is apt to deny any manifestation of it unless presented with overwhelming evidence.

At the CNA, he glosses over all the items for sale as being irrelevant trinkets, but he does take the time to choose a psychic and book a session. He represses giggles during the chakra balancing, but then turns around and books an additional reading from the psychic, which he finds both impressively accurate and helpful. (He nonetheless inquires about the man’s credentials.) After the reading, he may feel the need to buy a crystal or two.


Faced with woo:

  • The Spiritual Mystic says, “I feel it; my [choose one] chakra needs opening.”
  • The Spiritual Realist says, “I believe in [choose a woo], but I doubt this is it.”
  • The Existential Mystic says, “Honey please, but that one I felt.”
  • The Existential Realist says, “Bah! Humbug!”

Next: So what?


1 Although the four subjects are real people, I am fictionalizing their responses to the experience. I do not presume to know the originals’ innermost thoughts, nor do I claim that how I portray their responses is in any way an accurate representation of them. To further muddy the waters, I am portraying all four subjects as male.

The REMS Scale: The Response to Woo

Yesterday I proposed a scale to delineate a person’s approach to woo, i.e., their willingness to grant the woo in question an independent reality, howsoever they defined it: New Age energy, the Force, mana, God. It’s important to realize that this mindset (Existential <—> Spiritual) is the subject’s “resting state,” in the absence of any particular woo encounter.

But after woo is encountered, what is the subject’s response? What is his willingness to experience or interpret an event as woo?

Before we define the scale, the question arises: can a person who is more Existential than not actually experience woo? I think they can, and I don’t think we can say it’s any less “real woo” even if we take into account that bane of social researchers, suggestibility.1 As I said in yesterday’s post, we should not discount an inner reality just because it cannot be measured by calipers.2

Response to woo: the Realist

The Realist’s response to an encounter with woo is, in a nutshell, “Bah! Humbug!”  (For those who may not have ever thought about what this phrase actually means, humbug is quackery or bullshit.)

The Realist may be completely gobsmacked by a tarot reading or prayer session, but he is apt to put it all down to physiology or coincidence or, of course, suggestibility. He takes a good hard look at Marley’s face and sees that it is, after all, just a door knocker.

Once again, this is not meant to be derogatory, merely descriptive of one possible response to woo. Given the elastic reality of woo, it’s only smart to think that the disturbance in the Force which you felt may be an undigested bit of beef or a fragment of underdone potato.3

Response to woo: the Mystic

On the other end of the response axis is the Mystic.

The Mystic will emerge from an encounter convinced that he has encountered woo of some sort: his chakras are now balanced, the crystal has opened his Third Eye, God has spoken to him. Again, the question of “real woo” need not concern us at this point, only that the Mystic has interpreted his experience as woo.

The Response Axis

Now we have our second axis:

This scale is even more slippery than the Approach axis, because people definitely have different expectations and tolerances for all the various woos of the world. The same person who offers to pray for your illness may scoff at Reiki. Someone who loves a good tarot reading may look askance at a good smudging (although to be sure that is less likely than the first scenario). Those who speak in tongues do not practice Feng Shui.

As S. Elizabeth Bird found in her study of tabloid newspapers, people will often believe one kind of woo while rejecting all the others. (In For Enquiring Minds, for example, those who read The Weekly World News at all seriously were apt to do so for one topic. The Elvis believers thought the aliens were bogus, and vice versa.)

But even if we need to apply the scale on a case-by-case basis, it still allows us a descriptive, and I hope useful, framework.

Next: The four types


1 Thanks to Marc Honea for keeping this concept in the forefront of my mind.

2 I’ll take up the issue of “real woo” in another post.

3 Yes, I know that by using Ebenezer Scrooge as my exemplar makes it look as if I’m disparaging our Realists as merely unconverted Mystics, but I am not.