While re-reading May Sarton’s At Seventy: A Journal, I recalled reading this essay about the book, by Jeffrey Levine, in June. I first read At Seventy when I was, I think, 40 years old…I recommended it to my mother-in-law, who–like Sarton–lived alone and loved to garden. I now recognize in Sarton’s journal aspects of life and aging and creativity that I had not thought much of when I was younger–at 40, I felt envious of her freedom as a single woman. I was raising young teens, managing a busy household, working on a master’s degree, feeling I had no time to myself.

One thing that interests me about Sarton is her decision to keep journals intended for publication, beginning I think with her journal about recovering from cancer, though she had written at least one memoir before that journal.

Another poet who wrote journals intended for publication was the Japanese writer Masaoka Shiki. Perhaps his most famous diary (in the West, at least) is “The Verse Record of My Peonies,” thanks to a translation by Earl Miner. Shiki kept writing haiku and haibun, as well as reviews, for the newspaper even as he was slowly dying of tuberculosis. His journal entries (there are others) were intended for readers.

My journals (and I have kept one ever since I was ten and read Harriet the Spy), however, would not make good reading; I would be embarrassed if they were published, especially unedited and unrevised, and no one would feel inspired, delighted, or edified by them. The concept of writing a daily journal intended to be read seems either brave or a bit dishonest, like a persona. Then again–many early weblogs were exactly that: daily public journals read by whatever online audience stumbled upon them. And perhaps this blog acts as my public journal, mostly about what I read, what’s in the garden, and what I’m teaching. Those pursuits, made public, do not mask who I am. They are the things I choose to reveal.

I don’t know if that’s different from a social media persona. But here’s a sleeping cat to look at while I ponder.


Reasons and felines

“Like my cat, I often simply do what I want to do.”

This sentence begins Derek Parfit’s book Reasons and Persons, a lengthy series of philosophical arguments examining the validity of the self-interest theory, examinations of hedonistic and altruistic behavior, among others,  as rational responses to life, and why people choose to do what is against their own or their community’s best interests (i.e., behave “irrationally”)–as well as whether irrational behavior is ever justified and why.

At right, my favorite cat, Topsy. He does what he wants to do.

Parfit’s book has been a good refresher course for me in how philosophers actually work, devise their analogies, create and endeavor to solve dilemmas, clarify and limit their claims, etc.

But frankly, my brain hurts. (See Monty Python skit, below).

There are times one simply wants to think less about the things that matter, and that desire may not be rational but is certainly human. So while humans do have the opportunity to be reasoning creatures, they also have the opportunity to be like cats: to do what they want to do.

Or not to do, as the case may be.

At present, I’m assessing student work for final grades. This work is rational and should be carried out as objectively as possible against specific criteria. This work is one of the jobs teachers do, besides the job of endeavoring to impart information and to encourage critical thinking on the part of the students. It’s my job, I get paid to do it, and I take it seriously. Nevertheless, today I find myself tired of being the reasoning person.

And so, because I cannot slink over to the sofa and curl up on a pile of blankets, I am posting this: