Happy New Year

Happy new year to all.

As you know, there are as many different calendars as there are reasons to establish a cycle of days. We think first of the annual calendar. [1] It starts in January, to honor Janus, the two-faced god, and ends in December, which was, apparently once the tenth month. Some of us think of the federal budget calendar, which begins in October and runs to September.Some might think of the Christian church calendar, which begins very plausibly with the celebration of Advent—the birth of Jesus—and which is marked on the four Sundays before Christmas. [2]

And that is more or less where I begin my Blogging Year. Like the federal budget, I date the “year” by when it ends, so the 2016 BY, the one that just started, begins on the first of December 2015 and goes until the 30th of November, 2016.

So Happy New Year.

I was sitting with a new friend recently who had just been told about my blog. “Oh,” she said, “What’s it called?” I said, “The dilettante’s dilemma.” And she said what a lot of people say who are accustomed to noticing their own reactions to events [3] “Why do you call it that?”

There are two parts to the answer. This essay will begin to veer in the direction of seriousdilettante 1 thought as I begin to treat the second one: dilemma. I call myself a dilettante for several reasons. The first is that it is a negatively connoted term. [4] This is an easy way to preempt criticism. I use and thereby affirm the charge you were just getting ready to make. The the second, and the original, reason was that I got such a bump out of learning that the root of dilettante is the Latin delectare = “to charm.” “See delight,” says my dictionary. [5] And that is why it says, “Delight is the heart of the dilettante” just below the title. I aspire to write about the things that delight me.

But, as simple as that might sound to anyone who has never tried it, writing about the things that delight you and not about other things, is difficult to do. People say sometimes, “You really ought to write about that.” Do you write about it? You write an essay that gets Version 2an amazingly popular response. People write in from all over the world and say what a terrific post that was. And right away, you want to write more posts like that one, whether these later posts interest you in the way the first one did or not. I notice sometimes that the topics in my posts are leaning heavily in the direction of politics or biblical studies or something and I have the urge to “balance” the blog by the addition of other topics. What if those other topics don’t delight me at the time?

So, as I was saying, it is hard to maintain the inner silence that will allow me to hear the voice of a curiosity or a grievance or a celebration that is just beginning to take form. [5]
And that is the dilemma. A “dilemma” is being confronted by two (and only two, contrary to the illustration here) lemmas. “Lemma” is an English word. Look it up. It means “proposition.” But when we say “the horns of a dilemma,” we are thinking of two lemmas, either of which might pierce us and cause damage (to our person or to our pride), and in which over-attention to one of them makes you more vulnerable to the other one. The bull, tdilettante 5he bearer of the horns which represent the lemmas, will see to that.

So the dilemma is that I need to orient myself outwardly, so as to have enough follower to sustain a conversation [6], and to orient myself inwardly so I can hear the first rustlings of an idea that would like to make my acquaintance. It’s not a bad dilemma, as dilemmas go, but too much attention to the one weakens the equally necessary attention that must be paid to the other.

It is, briefly, a dilemma. This delight? Or that one? Or both if some way can be found that makes them allies for even brief period, rather than antagonists. [7]

[1] Just a note of appreciation for the a- in annual. We get it from the Latin annus = year. dilemma 6The a- saves it from being annul (Latin again: ad + nullus) = “to bring to nothing.” I have had years like that so I am well placed to appreciate the difference.
[2] That always seemed so reasonable to me. You begin the Christian calendar with the birth of “the Christ.” Sorry for the quotes, but I wanted the parallel of Christ and Christian and I wanted to avoid the whole briar patch about when Jesus of Nazareth “became” the Christ.
[3] A smaller group than you might think. Knee-jerk reactions do not require any consultation of what your own reaction actually was.
[4] You can verify this very easily by googling “dilettante” and looking at the collection of images.  The back story of delectare has a dark side to it. It can apparently mean “to charm” in the sense of “to befuddle” as one “charms” a snake. I don’t do that myself and I think the people who claim to be able to are fakirs. Behind “charm” is de- plus lacere = to entice, literally “to ensnare.”
[5] Not to make this a bigger deal than it ought to be, but the experience of Elijah in the wilderness comes back to my ear sometimes. (See 1 Kings 19 for his version of the story.) I grew up with the translation, “still, small voice.” After all the natural phenomena (hurricane, earthquake, fire) have done their thing, Elijah hears “a still small voice.” Quite a number of modern translations say that he heard “the sound of silence.” That would have struck me as deeply philosophical or even paradoxical had not Simon and Garfunkel taken out a patent on the phrasing.
[6] Very often, the conversations following the posting of an essay are the best part of the whole experience, particularly with friends who follow the blog regularly and who see how one thing has led to another or how one emphasis weakens another.
[7] Who, according to the Greek derivation, “wrestle each other.”


About hessd

Here is all you need to know to follow this blog. I am an old man and I love to think about why we say the things we do. I've taught at the elementary, secondary, collegiate, and doctoral levels. I don't think one is easier than another. They are hard in different ways. I have taught political science for a long time and have practiced politics in and around the Oregon Legislature. I don't think one is easier than another. They are hard in different ways. You'll be seeing a lot about my favorite topics here. There will be religious reflections (I'm a Christian) and political reflections (I'm a Democrat) and a good deal of whimsy. I'm a dilettante.
This entry was posted in Advent, Living My Life, Words and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Happy New Year

  1. Happy New Year BY to you!

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