A life of words, a life of quiet actions


I want to understand myself more fully, and so I have begun taking pictures of myself. Robert Nozick writes that examining one’s life is like painting a self-portrait; I wrote the same about Jane Austen.

I took this screen shot on the morning of April 30 around 7:20 a.m. It was then that the sunlight was bathing my treetop home. Hours later, I would leave the city for a five-day retreat upstate. I look again at the photo. The face strikes me as being calm, at peace with itself and its surroundings. There is perhaps a tightness around the edge of the lips, but the the eyes and nose and lips tell a different story. They imply that I am neither fighting the sun, despite its brightness, nor letting myself go or giving in. What is more, the neck and shoulders are relaxed but also ‘put together.’ I do not want to let myself go, it says, but when the time comes I will have to let go of this world.

I take a final look: there is, above all, a sense of placidity as well as courage. I am here, the photo says, I am content with life, alive to life, facing up to the present. Soon I will be gone but now, however long the now, I am here.


During the past week, I have been learning how to occupy space with a sense of lightness. It is not that I want to stay out of the other’s way; it is not that I want urge her one way or another; it is not that I am seeking not to interfere. Rather, I am trying to enhance, bring out, draw out a shared life together. I want to make this space feel like a song, sound like our song, a song which we both can sing, are singing, are singing along to. And when we are not singing this song aloud, we are humming the same time, quietly, to ourselves.

The philosophical life is so gentle and tender, so delicate and attentive as to be not unlike thumbs and forefingers holding up to us our higher selves. Thumb and forefinger invite us to look, to see and be seen, to love our aliveness, the transcendent nature of the ordinary. I have felt this thumb and forefinger all week, this calmness, this gentle lift even during the brooding days and falling rain and morning mists. I know she has felt them too.


In my recollection, the week all seems a single day filled with different rhythms, tempos, and shades. Sometime in the middle, she took this photo of a leaf. The leaf seems woven together with many interlocking patterns.

She wrote, “After I got back, I happened upon this photo of the chevron leaf. It is us: reflection, symmetry, convergence.” I love the contrast between the lines on the leaf, the lines on the thumb, and the dark brown stalks in the background. I love most of all the pink nail, barely visible. It has a sheen, a life, a story.


There is the church bell again, ringing the 9 o’clock hour. Had I forgotten it and that so very soon? This morning it reminds me, as do the sketches above, of how much my life has changed over the past two years. The words “how much” can scarcely account for the difference in nature and kind and tenor. When, in February of 2010 (revised in February of 2011, submitted in November of 2011 or thereabouts), I wrote this recently published paper on the need for speculative philosophy today, I was already on my way out of the academy. Then, a life of words about words, now a life of quiet action. I would not have it otherwise.