January 24th, 2015

The Librarian

Then is now?

"In order to listen to the voice of our conscience, we must be able to listen to ourselves, and this is exactly what most people in our culture have difficulties in doing. We listen to every voice and to everybody but not to ourselves. We are constantly exposed to the noise of opinions and ideas hammering at us from everywhere: motion pictures, newspapers, radio, idle chatter. If we had planned intentionally to prevent ourselves from ever listening to ourselves, we could have done no better. Listening to oneself is so difficult because this art requires another ability, rare in modern man: that of being alone with oneself. In fact, we have developed a phobia of being alone; we prefer the most trivial and even obnoxious company, the most meaningless activities, to being alone with ourselves; we seem frightened at the prospect of facing ourselves. Is it because we feel we would be such bad company?"
-- Richard J. Needham, from "Needham's Inferno"

The above is from a 1967 collection of Needham's columns, so it was likely written and originally saw print in the early or mid-sixties. Had pulled the book from my bookcase to dip into here and there (the joy of Needham is that you can open to a page at random and read any paragraph and it will make sense ... a lovely quick reading/thinking fix) and this bit, of course, immediately brought to mind how so many people today have a phone glued to their head or keep walking into other people on sidewalks and step into streets without any awareness of traffic lights/vehicles because their eyes are locked on a handheld screen or go flying the length of a bus or train car due to refusal to hang onto pole or strap because that would interfere with them using both hands for texting or gaming. Not too long ago I spent a three-minute wait at a bus stop alongside a guy who was frantically dialling every number in his cellphone and nobody was answering ... he was freaking out because he couldn't get any of his friends to pick up and talk to him because he needed the entertainment to kill time during this horribly long wait (I know that's what was causing his increasing agitation because he was talking out loud to himself as he was doing this ... he honestly couldn't deal with a whole three minutes of stillness). As if not being continuously connected/distracted were the most terrifying thing in the universe. Needham had the whole Internet/cellphone era pegged without ever living to see it.

On a more positive note, from the same column (which happens to be jottings of random thoughts rather than his usual single topic) in the same book:

"The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance."

"Difficulty has always been life's stimulant, awakening and goading all our impulses, both good and bad, in order to make us overlap the obstacle which has suddenly risen before us. Thus we sometimes reach a point much further than we had hoped by mobilizing all our forces, which otherwise would have remained asleep."

Note that JLS devoted some time this morning to sipping coffee while staring out the window at the winter grass not growing, not having bothered to turn the radio on yet, just letting her brain freefall. She tries to do this regularly 'cause it feels good (In summer she switches up to a more exciting action level by watching the grass grow. And her cellphone is a 2003 model which is just a phone and spends most of its time switched off ... and sitting on a bookshelf because she hardly ever remembers to take it with her)
The Librarian

And in a total mental channel switch ...

The positive side of the electronic interconnectedness of all living things: Eleven :-)

P.S. If you read that (and you should), it's kinda fun to go back to where it all began: Welcome. With no idea this was going to lead her into a second career (she's a doula and breastfeeding consultant) of multiple book deals and fame.