Commonplace book

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I’ve been experimenting with commonplacing. In the 1600s through the early 1900s, the commonplace book was a system of gathering texts and quotations in one place, usually a blank notebook, for the purpose of recollecting information and remembering key ideas about virtue, truth, health, leadership or what have you.

Doctors used them for recording “pearls”, key ideas about a pair or triad of symptoms and a specific diagnosis. Politicians used them to note useful quotations for speeches, and historians used them to categorize events and trends in the age before statistical analysis made more nuanced discussions possible.

I’m using a Moleskine/Evernote-branded softcover notebook to record poetry that I’m trying to memorize; pieces go into the book in the order that I’ve memorized them or intend to commit them to memory.  I attended a Burns Night supper in January last year; and I made an effort to memorize Robert Burns’ Epigram on Bad Roads, which is the first poem in the book, as you can see.

“I’ve now arrived —
thank all the gods!
Through pathways both rough and muddy;
a certain sign that makin’ roads
is no’ this people’s study.
Though I’m not with Scripture crammed
I know the Bible says
that heedless sinners shall be damn’d —
unless they mend their ways.”

It was nice and useful to memorize a funny poem for a change, instead of a serious one.  Most of my poetry tends to be pretty serious; and I tend to memorize serious poetry.  It’s a useful reminder that I should from time to time work on funny poetry as a form — both to memorize, and to write.  Something to practice!img_5468

Further on in the book, in the last three pages or so, is an index page listing the poetry and other elements I’ve put in the book.  Here’s part of that index, listing on page 1 the Epigram on Bad Roads, and Langston Hughes, and John Keats, and so on.   William Blake’s Auguries of Innocence takes up pages 7-11. You can see that I’m working on memorizing quite a lot of Thomas Taylor’s translations of the Orphic Hymns, as well, and the Aleister Crowley hymn for Coffee (not Covfefe).  The index continues; I’ve listed all of the pages, even if I haven’t filled them yet.  It’s rather more similar to the Digital Ambler’s Vademecum, really, or an Enchiridion, than a true commonplace book. A true commonplace book should not only have a table of contents at the beginning, but also an index by subject, such as hope or valor or kindness or coffee. Such an index would help one find appropriate material within the book more rapidly and easily.

img_5469Not everything in the book is poetic. Two pages include a list of all of the U.S. Presidents in order, which I’m working on memorizing, not just with their names but also their years.  It’s occurred to me frequently that this list serves a useful purpose as a time-counter; it’s much easier to remember when something occurred in time if you remember who was president at the same time.  That’s part of the reason why I also have the similar list of the Kings and Queens of England a few pages on from this — The English royal list extends back in time to 1066, and it creates a useful parallel list for European affairs.  Maybe I should also work on the list of the Emperors of Japan…


A Talk on Memory Palaces


Yesterday, at the District 53 Toastmasters Spring Conference (part of Toastmasters International), I delivered a talk on the Palace of Memory technique. These were my working notes and my slideshows.


Tai Chi Y2D248: Almost forgot

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I did my tai chi this morning, and then sat in meditation for about twenty minutes.  I’m not meditating as much as I want to or need to, and so I decided to put some effort into making sure that happened.

But doing so changed my morning schedule quite a bit, and it eliminated the writing time that usually goes into writing about the morning’s tai chi experience.  I remembered that I usually write in the morning, only once I’d gotten to work.  So this is a note to say I did the work, I didn’t forget to do the tai chi practice; but I did forget to write about it right after.

If there was something I was supposed to say in the course of writing about it, I’ve forgotten what it was.  It must have fled during the meditation session that followed immediately after.

Tai chi Y2D156: remember to bend

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Today, I discovered that if I am doing tai chi in the morning, it is important to remember to bend my knees. Not just a little bit about that, but a fairly deep one; yet not so much that I stand with my knees so far forward that I cannot see my toes. But doing that helps lock my hips in place, so that the twisting exercises actually engage the muscles in my lower back. Thus I stretch out the fascia in the place where it tends to be tight.

So much of tai chi appears to rest on remembering these small body shifts, until they become part of the muscle memory of doing the work. I have done tai chi now for 366+156 = 522 days. Get so much of my time is spent trying to remember all of the exact postures and make sure that I am matching the ideal body position. The last few days, I haven’t really noticed a twist in my hips. And yet today, I realized that I have been allowing my body to move from my ankles or my knees during the upper body qi gong movements. If my knees were bent properly, only my upper body would be moving; and the spring of the upper body movement, against the anchor of the lower body, would be what what gave force to the movement.

This makes me wonder, if there aren’t two different kinds of motion for posture here. One kind, would be the motion of the waist lock spring, where the lower body serves as an anchor to the flexibility of the upper body… The other, would be a motion where the feet or the knees provide the anchor for the rest of the of the body to be the spring loaded action of the movement. The anchor starting from the waist down, seems more stable; but the more flexible ankle-up motion may be more unexpected, or surprising.

Both motions of course require me to know when my knees are bent, and when they are not. It also requires me to practice consciously, so that I know which kind of motion I am doing.

Taiji Day 264: Where was I?

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Somewhere in the middle of the qi gong routine today, I forgot where I was in the form, and I had to stop and start over.  I mean, I had done one or two sets of the postures, but I’d literally forgotten where in the form I was, and what was to be done next.

This happens a lot, actually.  The dropped place, the moment of “wait, where was I?” in the form or in the two qi gong routines. My brain will just sort of ‘forget’ what it was doing.  It’s hard to know how much of this is the Dweller on the Threshold problem, and how much is just getting older.  I don’t get headaches or have any symptoms that suggest I’m developing mental challenges.  In terms of memory and imagination, I’m as strong as ever.  It’s just this thing that happens — even though I started doing tai chi this morning, and I’m doing fine, and it’s just about 100 days ’til I’ve done it for a year… oh look, where was I again?

But this happens in ‘regular life’ too… I’ll be typing something up, and then I’ll need to “just go check my e-mail for a minute” or “I need a drink of water”.  And I’ll lose my place in the world, in the sense that whatever I’m doing at that moment will stop mid-stride, and I’ll go do something else for a few minutes. Then my willpower returns, and I go back to my current activity.  It happens all the time.

And I think this is one of the benefits of tai chi. Because these ‘senior moments’ happen, when the body and mind just wander off on their own errands.  But as my Mother the Artist says, “we are our projects.” And if my project is to do a year of tai chi, then it’s important not to wander away from the work just because the mind wanders off; or, when the mind wanders off (because it will), to bring it gently back to the task at hand… and if it’s really wandered quite far, to begin again in a more focused way.

Taiji Day 259: Old Bedroom

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Today I am at home visiting my family.  Happy Thanksgiving!

I got to do tai chi in my old bedroom this morning — not the one I was a baby in, but the one in which I spent my teen and pre-teen years, and summers away from college. It’s a nice room, a little too dark maybe with brick-red walls which I thought I wanted once upon a time.  But there’s a dim echo of the bed in the room; as I was moving around, I remembered stubbing my toe on one of the wheels of the bed.  It’s kind of extraordinary that there is this kind of ancestral memory that goes back that deeply in time, more than twenty-five years. But there it is, and my big toe is throbbing at a half-remembered memory from almost three decades ago.  How time flies when you’re having fun.

My mom complained about her balance when she saw I was doing tai chi, and said it was something she was working on.  I showed her the postures that come up in the tai chi form for improving balance — the Golden Pheasant moves, the kicks, and Stand Like Tree.  We did them for a few minutes together, and then she pointed at my leg. “Ha!” she said, “you’re trembling too.”  And she put her foot down, and went off to do yet another one of the Thanksgiving-day tasks that she so often complains of, and yet loves doing so much she wouldn’t dream of having the Thanksgiving feast anywhere else but under her own roof.

How to answer that? Yes, of course I tremble.  But that’s sort of the point.  If my balance was perfect, I wouldn’t need to do tai chi at all.  If my balance wasn’t dynamic — constantly shifting as my muscles shift — then I’d be dead and unable to balance at all.  We humans (all beings, I suppose) are creatures-in-equilibrium, constantly operating in a dynamic tension with our environments — sometimes with fragments of mostly-forgtten memories, more often with the laws of physics like our balance’s tug-of-war with gravity, and always with the ever-present boundaries of what Western magicians might call Saturnian energy — time, age, and death.  Of course my leg trembles.  I am carrying out a long fight against gravity, and it is one which my body is destined to lose, as is yours.  We will lie in the ground in time, or go to our funeral pyre, or drop beneath the waves as food for the fish.

For now, though, I am glad that my leg trembles. For now, I am glad that my family is gathered under one roof. For now, there is food on the table and food in the pantry. For now, there is wealth enough to have and to share. For now, there is work. For now there is leisure.  For all that I have, for all that we have in common, let us feast and celebrate and give thanks.

Tomorrow we die a little more.Today we feast.

22nd Mansion of the Moon

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22nd Mansion of the Moon
Originally uploaded by anselm23

Today and part of yesterday, the Moon was in the 22nd Mansion: Fortune of the Sacrificers.

This is supposed to be an auspicious day to flee intolerable situations and difficult circumstances, and to break free of limitations. The name of the angel is actually Geliel, and I think the sigil or image turned out pretty well: it shows the interplay of Mercury, Venus and Mars forces pretty well, I think.

Via Flickr:
I wanted to work on this art project. But I don’t have a whiteboard at home. So I made do with a notebook. Here’s the 22nd mansion of the Moon: Geliel, the angel appointed to watch over swift escapes, ends to intolerable situations, rapid changes, and liberation from constraint.

I thought long and hard about drawing this image and then had a brief chat with a friend, who reminded me that I’m not charging the image, just making it.

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