I read a fair bit of the Russell autobio today. His family seemed connected to everybody famous in England in their time, filled with
unconventionality, publications and witty aphorisms. My grandfather on the one side, by contrast, was a telegraph operator for the railroad, and my grandfather on the other side was a district agent who travelled from town to town buying cross ties from little sawmills for a St. Louis concern. Russell accordingly seems like an oddly connected fellow, someone inside the great shop against which I would at best be able to peer into the window. Still and all, I had a rather happy childhood, and I wonder if Mr. Russell really did, quite. It's hard to say from the evidence of his autobio just what demons he faced down. He says in the preface that he was always driven by the search for love, the need for education and pity for human suffering. I worry that if I set out manifestoes like that in my own autobio (as, sadly, I seem over-wont to do lately in my journal), some recording angel will strike through some of my "great themes" and insert words like Pop Tarts, quiet walks, and science fiction.
I do not believe that I am at all more profound in my ideas than my favorite science fiction novels. I was thinking just today of the novel Dune, and the Bene Gesserit religion's test in the first book for whether someone achieved humanity. The Reverend Mother put Paul's hand in a box in which he would be subjected to unimaginable pain. If he pulled his hand from the box, he would be instantly killed. A "human being", the theory goes, will have sense enough to endure the torment, mind over matter. Oddly, in college, I experienced a variation on this experiment. I took Psych 101, which at my school was subtitled as "Available Guinea Pigs for Grad Student Studies". I signed up for several, but one was a game built loosely on the Bene Gesserit principle. A light traversed up a scale. The further up the scale it went, the more points one scored. One got chocolate for a winning score. The game was simple--if one was patient, the points ascended geometrically at the top of the scale. A bit of quick calculation, and I won the candy. The grad student explained that many folks nonetheless kept resetting the light,
taking the small but inadequate score, in search of the gratificatoin of immediate points. I don't know if I would make much of a Bene Gesserit witch, although that chant about how "I must not fear, Fear is the mindkiller" and how I'm supposed to let fear go through me and around me, is really cool. I also liked that Dune species the Tleilaxu, who set endless traps for other folks, but who always left one clear avenue of escape for the victim. This is far too complex for the way anything happens in my life, but the whole notion that I have at least one good means of escape appeals to me. I never get much past the third Dune book, though, and if I could ever get through the fourth one, where the guy turns into the giant sandworm, I might be a better person, capable of dining with greatness.
I fell asleep as "The Caine Mutiny" was beginning, even though I like Bogart and particularly like to see him play a "non-Bogart" role. Soon I will have to mow and weed eat, and before that I wish to get in a brief walk. My key challenge is not saving the world or commencing some grand novel, but instead finding a place that does not bore me, with nice trees, and yet still getting the weeds cut.