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…


Sonnet for Shakespeare on his 453rd Birthday

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Really, he doesn’t look a day over 380…

O Bard immortal by the Avon born,
in humble cottage to ambitious dad:
I give you greetings on your birthday morn
with tidings: The world so wide still is glad
that the work of your life and pen yet lives.
The curtain never comes down in this globe
but there is applause; each hearer forgives
some tin-tongued actor in a worn-out robe,
when your Hero emerges from the grave
or Hamlet drinks down the pearl of great price,
or Hotspur leaps to war, foolish and brave,
or Antipholus’ friends see him twice.
The faeries in their revels bless us still,
and your fame? Endures forever, sweet Will.
Composed 23 April, 2017.

Poem: For Jupiter & Saturn

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On Thursday this week, there’s an unusual astrological moment.  Jupiter will be in the third decan of Libra, and — 120° away or at a Trine Aspect, in the language of astrology — Saturn will be in the third decan of Sagittarius.  The two large outer planets, one governing expansion and rulership and the other governing discipline and boundaries, will be in a highly-beneficial relationship called “mutual reception” where each reinforces the other:  Jupiter granting expansiveness of ideas and courage in the face of challenges; and Saturn reinforcing discipline and deliberateness to accomplish difficult tasks.  A friend of mine, A.A., is undertaking a special operation, and this is composed for his work.

Hail, great lords of the outermost darkness,
stern Saturn in the skull of a stallion,
Jove at the center of spinning swiftness!
Guiding stars who lead this treasure galleon,
I glory in your lights and praise your Names.
For you, old one, with great discipline rule
the mariner’s careful contemplation
and the discipline that achieves results.
Jupiter — riding ocean like a pool,
remaining steady amid gyration,
the cheerful captain whom the world exalts!

Now each of you in palaces reside
where your dignities sit, enthroned in grace,
and each of you also may hear and heed
the other’s degrees, turned to each friend’s face.
Secret allies in steadiness of will,
and unafraid in the tumult and strife
of all the hazards of troublesome years:
when all is wording ’round, you remain still —
charting out the course of a mindful life,
and steering true, like clever engineers.

Great and glorious, reliable, stern —
steady and sure as the music of spheres:
make this ship a home, and often return:
be my bankers, my cautious financiers,
who grow my wealth and keep my accounts black,
avoiding the wave-troughs of debt and waste,
while leading me through confusion and cheat.
When the winds change, guide me to the new tack;
then help me face the gale properly braced,
with an agile ship, and sea-ready feet.


Bookbinding: For the Behenian Stars


Update 23 January 2017: You can buy a copy of these poems through my Etsy store. Would you be interested in buying the book-block, so you can hand-bind the book at home?

A few days ago, a friend asked me if I would make a few of my poetry pieces available for a weekend intensive workshop he’s running. I said yes — but he was planning to photocopy the work, and make seven copies. I thought about this, and decided this was silly. I have the text block more or less ready to go as a PDF file. There are only seven people in this particular intensive… how hard could it be?

Boy, are my fingers tired...

A stack of hand-bound books

Two days later, I have seven “special edition” copies of a book that’s not quite ready for print, and I’ve made a few discoveries I hadn’t expected to make. First of all, this book will need to be longer in the next edition if I intend to bind it using the Coptic stitch, as I did here.  Second, I learned that if you’re going to get all fancy with the stitching, it’s a good idea to get the geometry correct, too — although I do like the star (because a book about stars, and full of star poetry like this, should have a star on it, right?  And it should be worked into the theme and design of the book, right?)

I have a lot of complaints about this edition, as a result.  But I also have a really good idea now of how many copies of a book I can produce in a few days, on short notice — and how many I can produce if I’m really taking my time and being careful with each and every book. I couldn’t be that careful with these; I didn’t have time to slather all over these with a noon deadline for myself today.

But I also learned quite a bit about setting up a production line, as I did with carpentry — make seventeen sets of covers for books; then let them dry while you cut and fold pages; weight the pages while you pierce the covers for the stitching; pierce the pages while you weight the covers again to help them loosen up a bit before stitching.  Stitch the books one at a time while watching cheesy ol’ TV shows to keep yourself seated and on-task making the books. Clean up as you go, or face massive piles of paper.  There’s a Flickr album of photographs from the process if you care to see the process.  Otherwise, you can just admire the books from afar.

Special Edition for Twilight Covening 2016

Always nice to see your name in print… even on your own handiwork.

And now there are seven copies of this book that were not in the world before. In any form.  Are they perfect? No.  Are they real?  Yes.

But real is a tricky thing when it comes to books of poetry, as any working poet will tell you.  We issue chap books for ourselves and our friends quite frequently, and make copies of our work in the hope that it will somehow outlast us.  I spoke to someone only last night, sharing a poem with them, and — when they asked if they could read it to someone else — said that it was part of my immortality spell.  I was only half-joking.

But even a chapbook is a fragile thing.  How many copies do you need to put into the world, for your words to outlive you?  How many beautiful art books must come into the world for a single one to survive the drift of ages?  Likely far more than I can produce by hand.

Unless I make them beautiful.  Unless I make them worthy of love and care and protection. Unless I attend to the effort to make my words and their repositories something larger than simply myself.

These copies are reserved.  I intend to inform the people to whom they are given that this is a gift, and in exchange for this gift I ask them to respect my copyright, and not to publish them, copy them, or hand the book on to someone else.

If you would like a copy, you will have to contact me.  I will be making more; but those will be for sale.

The Book Everyone’s Talking About

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This book that everyone is talking about has finally arrived, and it’s amazing.

For once, I’m not talking about a Gordon White book, although I’m waiting eagerly for the second volume all the same. More

Top Ten Posts of 2015


These are the top ten posts of 2015.  I’m posting them a few days early.  Maybe this will be interesting to you, maybe not, but it’s a chance to see what I’ve done this year, and maybe remind yourself of what people thought of as my best writing in the past year.

  • Learning to Lucet — a lucet is a fork used for braiding string into thicker and stronger cord.  It’s a pretty interesting technique, and the braid can be used as rope or as ornamentation on a sewing project. I’ve used it both ways.
  • Design Lab: Finished workbench — I made four tables, and this three-part workbench for my school’s new Design Lab. In the process, I learned a great deal about basic carpentry, and taught my students and school a great deal about how Design Thinking is game-changing for schools.
  • Design Thinking: Paper Engineering — Want to start a maker-space in your school?  You should really think about starting with paper engineering.  You will learn a great deal about the tools and materials you want to work with, you’ll learn about what you should do yourself and what you should teach kids directly, and what you should make them learn for themselves.
  • Geomancy: A Technique for the Shield — Geomancy is a binary-based system of fortune-telling or divination, and this is a post on how to use geomancy in a way that I don’t think is attested to in the historical version of the system, but has nonetheless proved useful. (Like Geomancy? Check out my poem, Quatrains on Geomancy which explores some of the key meanings of the sixteen symbols or characters of geomancy.
  • Hymn to Juno, Queen of the Gods — I’m a student of Jason Miller’s.  In late April, as his students were getting ready to do an around-the-world ritual in honor of Juno, I composed this hymn as part of the effort to provide tools and resources to everybody.  A lot of people read it and used it, apparently. Very few people bothered to tell me. Pretty common, actually. (The other poem that people visited a lot was this one for the Mighty Dead).
  • Magic: the Book of Mars — Developing the right tech for magic is always a complicated process.  One of the things that I’ve done is turn to paper-engineering resources (see the post above) and the paper-craft community to borrow techniques for making books and albums and paper-craft machines.  This book follows a paper-craft album style, but its subject is less about family photos and more about the Lord of Might and Severity. Included in the book is the Neo-Orphic Hymn for Mars.
  • Magic: Neglect Not the Robe — Want to be a more effective magician? Learn to make your own robe.  There are good reasons (physical, intellectual, energetic, and spiritual) for doing so, and here’s both the reasons why and links to resources about how to (learn to) do it.
  • Go forth and Make: Summer Camp — Lots of people read about the Maker Summer Camp project I ran this summer; very few people participated.  No one participated in the Autumn Maker School either, though (and lots of people check out Seventeen Things, but no one has told me they’re following through).  Would you participate in a Spring Maker School? let me know in the comments.
  • Millennials Challenges — In this post from mid-December, I identified four major challenges that affected Millennial students in ways that haven’t really been significantly studied or confirmed.  But colleagues of mine to whom I’ve articulated this theory find it very compelling.  What do you think?  
  • Tidying Up — This is a review/put-into-practice of the book by Marie Kondo called “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up”.  I’ve had difficulty keeping up with this practice, but I found it pretty compelling at the time that I read the book and performed her initial practices.  Quite useful.

I think it’s interesting that none of these are tai chi posts.  It’s interesting because that is, of course, the thing that I write about daily.  But the only post that even came close to being in the top ten was this one, about moving through water, and I think it’s because it contains a photograph. The other post about tai chi that got a lot of visits was this one, the Tai Chi Poem, but it wasn’t composed this year so maybe it doesn’t count.

What about the posts that receive the most visits generally?

  • The Tattwa Cards — Tattwa cards are used for training the mind to understand the five elements.  I can’t really say much more than that, but this appears to be one of the few sets available for download online. Composed March 2014.
  • The Memory Palace — Training the mind to use a memory palace is difficult; here’s some of the tools that I assembled to make that possible.
  • Pagan Days Calendar — I assembled one of the few (Greco-Roman-oriented) calendars on Google Calendar for pagan holy days; apparently there’s quite a few people who use it.
  • The Sun and Moon Sonnets — This is, again, one of the more popular posts: a links page to all the sonnets that I’ve written in celebration of the New and Full Moons over New England; and all the sonnets in celebration of the Sun over Connecticut at the Nones, Ides, and Kalends of each month.

So. There you have it. Some of the most popular posts on this website, and in particular the most popular posts of 2015.  Posts that I thought would get big, didn’t;  posts that I thought would be obscure, enjoyed fresh popularity.  Either way, if you’re a fan of my writing, you’ve got some things to check out and catch up on.  Enjoy your end-of-year reading, everyone.  Happy New Year.

Two Model Mechanisms

Two model mechanisms

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.

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