Sunday, February 5, 2017

The Latest on my Purple Notebook

Regular readers may be interested in the latest fortunes of my purple notebook. Or they might not. I'm going to describe them anyway.

For newer readers who don't want to follow the link above, a quick explanation. My purple notebook is a collection of memories, images and ideas which have an enduring hold on my imagination, and of which I like to remind myself on a regular basis. They are inspirational to me.

My purple notebook had many precursors, going back to my teens. A few years ago, it was a little blue notebook. Then I lost the little blue notebook, and it became a purple notebook. It was in this incarnation that I wrote about it in the blog, so purple became its definitive colour. (Apparently, airplane 'black boxes' are actually orange.) Then that fell to pieces with overuse, so I got a golden notebook instead. I've now lost  the golden notebook, so I decided to digitise the purple notebook. I already had all the contents on Google Drive.

I downloaded an app to my smartphone that lets me randomly shuffle a list of items. One drawback of the purple notebook was that I tended to "randomly" open it at the same places, which is always the case with every sort of book. Sometimes I would browse the contents in sequence; for instance if I had to wait somewhere for a long time, and I had no other way of occupying myself. But randomness seems to make them more potent. Like the old memory that takes you by surprise, the suddenly encountered smell that brings you back twenty years.

Each time I compile a version of the purple notebook, the contents are slightly different. Some new entries are added and some other entries are dropped-- usually relatively new ones that didn't prove to have as enduring an effect on my imagination as I thought they would. I like the fact that there is no definitive version. A folk ballad or a folk tale has no definitive version, and the purple notebook is my own personal "folklore".

I like to ponder the entries in the notebook. I remember a professor in college explaining various pyschological theories to us-- one was that certain images, or other experiences, fascinate us for no discernible reason, that it's impossible to ascertain the hold they have on us.

I find that unsatisfying. The two things I require of a mystery is that it can't be explained away but that it can be explored. So I like to ponder these purple notebook items, and I'm often surprised at the insights I gain.

I realise this might sound terribly narcissistic, introspective, solipsistic, navel-gazing, etc. In fact, I've sometimes put away my purple notebook for this very reason, thinking I needed to be more outward-looking. I've come to think this is a false dichotomy, though. The inner journey and the outer journey are not at odds. In how many stories is the hero's journey to the ends of the earth, perhaps to entirely other worlds, accompanied by a journey deep into his own psyche? Experience doesn't make these inspirations any less powerful. They seem watermarked into my soul.

Also, it's not like I don't ponder more important mysteries. Every day I ponder the sacred images of the rosary and the Bible. I'm also profoundly interested in those enduring myths and stories which form our common human heritage, from Prometheus to Dracula. But that's an aside.

Today I found myself pondering a particular entry: "Russian doll toy, early childhood, Star Trek viewscreen."

This is one of my earliest memories, and it seems to be composed of a memory and a dream, or perhaps a memory and a fantasy. The memory is of sitting on the living floor, on Christmas morning, playing with some kind of toy like a Russian doll-- one doll inside another. The memory is entangled with an image of the Starship Enterprise's viewscreen, from the original series. (This was before the later series.) The emphasis is on the awareness of being in the depths of space, in the distant future-- a sense of vertigo, but not unpleasant vertigo.

Star Trek is a term that recurs in my purple notebook. I rarely watch it now, but it was very important in the formation of my view of the world. (More the Next Generation and Voyager-- I don't much like the original series.)

I can't really interpret the Russian dolls. They don't make much sense to me. But this morning, I realised that the memory partly has such power over me because of the opposition of the inside and the outside-- the dizziness of deep space and the distant future, and the "inside" represented by the viewscreen.

And indeed, this is much of the appeal for Star Trek to me. The crew of the Enterprise, and Voyager, travel vast distances and get in all kinds of adventures, but they are always in the same place, always together.

As a conservative, I place a very great emphasis on the idea of an "us"-- marriage, family, ethnicity, nation, and Edmund Burke's "little platoons" of civil society. They need to hold. They need to be solid, now more than ever. There must be an "inner" as well as an "outer", or the world becomes an alienating flux-- the individual floating in the vastness of space, rather than aboard a starship.

And no, society itself can't be the 'us'. It's just too big, too alienating, too characterless. But that doesn't mean 'us' and 'them' needs to mean 'us' against 'them'.

I think a fulfilling life requires novelty and adventure and freedom and exoticism and new frontiers. Absolutely. Not a doubt about it. Without those things, we stagnate as human beings.

I am a part of all that I have met;
Yet all experience is an arch wherethrough
Gleams that untravelled world, whose margin fades
Forever and forever when I move..   

But....we have no lack of such things, in today's world. We have all the flux and frontiers and future shock we could ever ask for. Our need is in the opposite direction-- for somewhere solid to stand, for a starship under our feet and over our heads. For home, for family, for heritage, and for stability. Not only for its own sake, but so that we can enjoy the giddy diversity of life without being lost in a vacuum.

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