Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Ancient Greece

I recently listened to an online course by Yale University Professor Donald Kagan on Ancient Greek History. A major theme of the course was how Greek culture could not understand the individual outside of society. Banishment from a Greek community was considered the highest form of punishment. I could feel where the Greeks were coming from, if not from my own personal experience leaving Madison, then certainly from the horrified faces of many a Madisonian when I mentioned my upcoming move. Banished from paradise? Madison is nothing if not a model of the Greek polis, no? I kept hearing the refrain, "you'll be back" which so many shared with me. Will I? At this point I can't say, but the strong reaction I got from so many people begs the question, "what's up?"

Kagan's contention is that our shared Greek intellectual heritage conflicts with modern ideas of romantic individualism (think Thoreau or Huck Finn), the notion that deep truths can be found in the personal journey. Kagan goes on to say that our modern dilemma is reconciling these two conflicting positions: do we find comfort and safety in the group or by setting out on our own romantic quest? So much of what we do, especially as we decide how to raise our own children, depends on which model makes more sense. Kagan posits that this is a great litmus test when trying to understand someone and that it is very unlikely that you fall directly in the middle on these utopian visions. So MB, what do you think? Ancient Greek or Romantic Individualism?

This question brought up almost as many strong reactions in me as the Myers Briggs, but that's another story. What do I think about those Ancient Greeks and why the hell did I choose to banish myself from Madison? Why was my vow to get out of there before I had to deal with high school all over again?

I would say that I am 2 parts Ancient Greek and 8 parts Romantic Individualist.

Doing the tally, I had some serious gut reactions. I had to turn off the Iliad audio tape the kids and I were listening to half way through due to boredom and horror at all the macho talk. I find Greek art and architecture super dull and overly obsessed with ideal ratios, bla, bla, bla (especially compared to Minoan art, have you seen their funky frescoes?). I love the Olympics, but when I actually learned about Ancient Greek competitive spirit it made me want to hurl.

I have certainly inherited some of my beliefs. My own family is passionately individualized. Oh yeah, I wanted to tell you about the Ron Paul fervor going on in my family but that's for another chapter. The idea of living off the grid and cheating on your taxes seems like romantic individualism, no? My parents were unschooling me and my sibs before it even had a name (they just knew that driving to Mexico in a van every winter and romping on the pyramids was "way more important than any of that boring school crap"). And Carleton was a bastion of weirdness and romantic individualism. Truly, I was thinking about this the other day -- I'm not even sure if Carleton had a school mascot. I only remember one sports team name and that was a frisbee team called Black Lung. I think they called themselves that because they smoked up before throwing their own form of discus.

I think most people in Madison would skew heavily on the side of Ancient Greek ideals. Needless to say, I often felt like a fish out of water. It took me a long time to admit that I was floundering. I seriously wanted to scream when I discovered Madisonians could go ape shit in their support of public schools and unions. Holy crap. I felt like the bad guy. But it happened way before that. I remember the election I voted for Nader. Damn. And the crazy reaction I felt when I took Henry off of one little kid soccer team (he was like 5) and switched him to another one where the coach favored quiet encouragement over raving. I felt like I had been banished. Henry and I didn't even give a shit about soccer, so why would anyone care on what team he practiced eye foot coordination? I digress. I am so glad that I didn't have to deal with Purgolderin.

Encinitas is a romantic individualized paradise. There is no East/West side thing (actually I think it's just who can afford to live closest to the beach, but whatever). And when I was looking at high schools I got this really interesting story about how the sporty kids go to this one school where they spend money on sports and the academic kids tend to go here and this other school has more arts programs....

I have yet to hear anyone recommend a school or neighborhood based on tribal enthusiasm.

In a yoga class tonight my teacher talked about going beyond boundaries and binary thinking, and about intuition. Of course, I started this whole post with a binary comparison. sigh. Writing is hard because I still haven't figured out how to write about any of the new things I'm thinking about without sounding wacked. Basically, I'm just happy to hear people talk about intuition like it's important. I feel like I have spent a lot of time around very hard thinkers and been found wanting.

I hope that my kids appreciate what I believe in. I want them to be able to pick up and switch sides and vote independent and avoid team thinking. I want them to embrace getting lost. I hope this journey with them is good practice.

I miss Madison friends terribly. I miss you. Thank you for starting the blog thing with me. It's fun to keep up like this.

I love your stories about those two field trip kids. Wow. Keep it coming, friend.

About your energy level. A long time ago I read that you should try to check in every once and a while and see how you feel after hanging out with an individual or group, even if they are old familiar friends or a friend group you have been with forever. Check in. See if you feel energized or depleted after being with them. Watch it for awhile. If you are depleted again and again, just take a break. You may be giving out way more than you receive in your social interactions.
Remember to hang out more with the people who help you feel great.

To answer your question about California trash style: you can't put trash out in front of your house. Everyone pays for their own trash pick-up monthly. It costs $30 for a single large item removal and $15 for each additional item. They are serious about landfill. I had a rummage sale and hardly anyone came. I tried giving away my furniture to charity and it was difficult to find anyone interested. Don't bring extra furniture to California. Throw it off the wagon!

The best thing in my life right now is Charlie is a budding artist. He only wants to draws pictures of me and rainbows.


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