Come Away with Me & other randomness


It’s always a world of tiny coincidences. A few weeks back we were batting about the expression ‘come away with me’, daydreaming of running away and doing things both out of control and outside of our “normal” lives. Eventually we more or less came to substitute ‘Norah Jones with me’ for the expression ‘come away with me’ – for what should be obvious reasons. I had not thought about Norah Jones in years, if ever. Then suddenly, the very next day, I saw that she gave the first performance at the Fox Theatre in Detroit after Soundgarden the night of Chris Cornell’s death. Jones did “Black Hole Sun” (who didn’t, though?) and made it sound more like something Tori Amos than Soundgarden.

In another coincidence, I told some colleagues at lunch the other day (sitting in glorious and rare sun) the story of someone I used to work with who was basically a complete lunatic (I used it as a story to show how difficult it can be to fire federal workers). I had not thought of the crazy co-worker in years, but I got a message from my mom later that same evening telling me he had died.

“The resultant fervor of human belonging”Wole Soyinka

Life is full of these little things – coincidences and things we want in some fiendish fever to connect: the pieces must connect! … I wonder if it is all completely random or if it’s feedback from “energy” we’ve put into the world by conjuring these things up actively that then comes back to us like a boomerang.

Probably it comes down to intent and motivation.

As Pamuk asks in Strangeness in my Mind: “Intentions come in two forms: That which our heart intends and that which our words intend”. And these are indeed different phenomena. The heart will lead us to do the most irrational things (‘come away with me’ and whatnot), intending as it does to make us connect, impervious to the knowledge that it is a bad idea. The head, our words, will instead look for reason and sense, and in some cases, protective gear and weaponry in the form of iron-clad excuses not to do things that maybe we should brave our fears to do.

Are we seeking the missing pieces that link our lives and events together? Are we looking for words to explain coincidental happenstance? Do we intend to share knowledge (“Human knowledge is never contained in one person. It grows from the relationships we create between each other and the world, and still it is never complete.” –Paul Kalinithi, When Breath Becomes Air)? Do we intend to join what Soyinka referred to as the ‘fervor of human belonging’ (which has its duality, light and dark)?

Motivation can be even more tenuous. I find myself succumbing, as Doris Lessing describes in The Golden Notebook, to the pull of acting out multiple personalities, playing different roles, playing off another (like Saul and Anna), driven by the one keenly stupid motivation: “I wanted to see what would happen”. Maybe this is a solid motivation in scientific experimentation. In human relations, not so much. But with curiosity the driver, the one great motivator, you do get adventures; you do get disasters. No one will claim your life was devoid of interesting stuff.

“And yet—an excitement. The unspeakable excitement you feel when a galloping disaster promises to release you from all responsibility for your own life.” -from Hateship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage  Alice Munro

Or is that just the cynic speaking?

Safe in Sweden: Intent versus content


Nothing at all has happened in Sweden – nothing out of the ordinary.

Various disciplines focus on the form versus content debate. I’m not going to get into the philosophical or artistic underpinnings of this discussion.

I will only make two points/observations.

First, we live in a time when the content of news does not matter because, according to the current US president, it’s all fake (at least, that is, if he doesn’t like it). Form still matters because of course the loudest, widest platform is going to carry the “fake news” (the facts) out to broader audiences – as well as the fairground funhouse that is the Trump administration and its lies. This past weekend, Trump invented an incident in Sweden – bloviating as usual – decrying how Sweden has basically gone to hell in a hand basket due to its welcoming refugees into the country. The ‘incident’ he cites, of course, never happened. All of Sweden is wondering what the hell he is talking about. (But then, who doesn’t wonder what he is talking about most of the time?)

My second thought, by extension, is about intent. Maybe the content (or the veracity of it) does not matter; maybe even the form is secondary. But what about intent? Trump may well know that nothing happened in Sweden – but his intent with virtually everything he says and does is to obfuscate fact, plant seeds of doubt and confuse people (there are apparently people out there who take the things he says at face value, believe them, pass them on; some even believe that some event did occur in Sweden, and that the entire world, Sweden included, is conspiring to cover it up?!). We will all busy ourselves making fun of this blunder to the degree that we will (continue to) be distracted from whatever shady and nefarious dealings are actually happening right under our noses.

I had a discussion with someone the other day about conversations and letters we exchanged early in our acquaintance. He asked me what I feel about them now that many years have passed. I laughed and said, “I can’t believe how full of shit they are.” He was pretty offended, even hurt (misinterpreting what I said, taking it personally). He explained that he had remembered the flow, the feeling and sense of possibility – and moreover, the intent – much more than he remembered the actual content. It made a lot of sense – he has always been more of a feeling and intent person. I, on the other hand, always hang onto the content itself (another dear friend said the other day, and I loved this: “as a person who values words so very very much, how when I am misled by words it’s not the words themselves but the complete lack of value that the speaker puts in them”. As always she hit the nail on the head; another great example of her eloquence and wisdom). It was perhaps the first time I really thought somewhat academically about content versus intent (even though I write all the time about people’s words versus actions, which is essentially the same debate). We cannot always know intent but as a part of analysis and “reading” people and moderating our own expectations, inferring/predicting intent may be our saving grace. Or at least save us a whole lot of trouble.

On the other hand, acting on what you imagine someone’s intent may be is dangerous. It’s like arresting someone before they commit a crime or, like Trump, deciding that every Muslim or every refugee is some kind of terrorist sleeper agent. He “infers intent” – but based on nothing. That is the difference. You don’t assume someone’s intent without taking in the content and context in which it lives.

Photo (c) SDH Photography/Sebastian Davenport-Handley