I just spoke with Miss Mary Depuydt, a friend with whom I have spoke too little in the past months. She and I shared a number of late night, heated conversations, sometimes downright arguments, but always executed with that certain affection I have for quality interlocutors. Phone calls are rarely a sound medium of dialogue. I struggle to make my thoughts clear to another person and without the physicality of someone, the body language, the facial gestures, I cannot respond the way I really wish to. Last week I had a phone interview for a graduate program in Boston. At the end, I felt satisfied with it, but readily acknowledge that more than once I stumbled over words and failed to convey certain thoughts with much clarity.
Mary is full of ideas, arguments, stray thoughts, creative impulses, and determination. She makes an amazing conversationalist when she is engaged with someone. Her background in speech and debate, training in political science, and dedication to her principles (which may be too strong a word) means she won't stop until she is satisfied; that is unlikely until one if not both are thoroughly exhausted. I very much want to hear more of her thoughts, but beginning the process of writing, or speaking, or what-have-you (Mary is also an artist, and for many, that is a much more precise means of communication than spoken or written words) can be, well, traumatic.
By trauma, I mean that the message undergoes a rough and tumble transformation. Some people refer to this as "encoding," which is to say, the message is put into a transferable medium--usually thought of as spoken or written language, but by no means always--and then passed on fr "decoding," where another person or an audience takes the coded message and makes sense of it. I recall writing my philosophy paper for Professor Deane Curtin, "Dōgen’s Mountains and Waters Sūtra as Environmental Virtue Ethics." Most of the time I spent writing this paper, I was in the small commons room of Lundgren House, which no one used. I could hear the steps of people upstairs and some of the chatter in my proper apartment in that house, but it was pretty silent. I also worked late, which meant a bit more quiet and concentration. This was one of those pivotal papers for me; that is, I enjoyed writing it just for the act of writing it. One of the reasons, I suppose, was that I felt confident in my ability to encode my thoughts properly such that they were intelligible to others. I was able to argue my point--having knowledge of the text, familiarity with the language, a suitable mindset, and personal determination--with simple, direct words.
Mr Tim Loughlin works at Ivanna Cone with me. He has had longer and more defined education in philosophy. He is a logician, by training, and we have had a few debates in the time I have known him. We often disagree. On one point I think we disagree is on language. For me, language is essentially a metaphor: One uses language to represent that raw material in our minds to be taken apart by others, to be interpreted; language itself is meaningless without the activity of coding and decoding it by persons. Language is a tool. I am under the supposition that language is stronger for Tim. Language has a definitive role on ideation in the brain and for some, that means that our ideas are demarcated by the language we are able to explore. Mary expressed amazement at people's diligence in their quotidian experiences when they are environmentally ravaging and intellectually numbing. Perhaps she is more tuned into this because she has the language and, therefore, the ideas to express herself so. Many people are not as skilled in understanding and expressing themselves, even if it is just to oneself, the way Mary does.
This is not purely academic or linguistic. Take, for example, the thousands upon thousands of religious, mythical, and folkloric stories all the cultures of the earth have to tell one another. The characters in these stories undergo trials and travails, joys and hardships, triumphs and failures to rival most any single listener has or will experience. All the same, the reality of those characters allows a narrative by which most people, living in communities with narrative traditions (anything we would think of as a society or culture), can come to appreciate their own experiences via comparison and contextualization. Lore acts as a metaphoric language itself for understanding ourselves and the experiences of those around us.
I asked Mary to write me a letter. In it, I want her to tell me what has been on her mind and why she thinks those ideas have gained her attention. In a way, that is how I began writing here. Friends of mine mentioned that they would miss speaking with me, so now I can "write" to them what I have on my mind. The notion is that this is less like a day-to-day log and more like a sounding board or "whiteboard session" that dear friends of mine shared at school. It is an effort to make my own ideas meaningful to those around me and to do so well, clearly, creatively, and pleasurably. I wish I wrote more, but writing is often a difficult, trying process. It is a skill I must maintain and develop. Here is just a prime locale to do it.
In many ways, I feel far from the conversations that surrounded me at school. Classes and study sessions, conversations over coffee and tea, late nights with wine and beer, each provided venues for dialogue. Now, I try to keep up with others' blogs and certain periodicals in an effort to work my way into a wider conversation, a national and global one, which itself maintains connections with the individual speakers. I explore in a way that is dominated by written language, which I fortunately excel at myself. (That is not to say everything I write is golden. Virtually everything posted herein is a first draft, un-outlined, and spurred by recent experiences. This comment I make with the support of friends, colleagues, and mentors.) I am greatly interested in the musical exploits, the artistic endeavors, the dramatic developments of others who are trained and practice in those media, which I myself enjoy but have not fostered an ability therein.
I long for dialogues. I enjoy reading and writing, listening and conversing; and I love to argue. Argumentation is, at its best, an affectionate act. I do not mean shouting, I mean real arguments in which two people earnestly debate and explore together. It is a fraternal act, a unifying act because it connects two people, over time, by their minds, their ideation, their vantages on the world. It is a method for expanding one's vision and leaning deeply into the lives of others. It is intimate learning.