Tag Archives: entropy

Dust Falls Down Again

Wooden Bridge Over Wide River at Sunset

Dancer

Marian We haven’t any rights, you know.
It’s icing, all of it, that the inanimate
behaves itself and that my daughter
makes a life of love and difference
for she was born to be magnificent
defying entropy whereas the dust,
not being sentient, does what it
does swept up by wind and with no
reason to do otherwise falls
down again

Voters in the Omaha Public School District recently elected my daughter (pictured at right) to the school board. If anything was ever deserved, Marian deserved to win this election. She is prepared by education, knowledge, wisdom, experience, compassion, leadership, and a passionate commitment to OPS. She campaigned hard and smart for at least a year. Plus she’s funny and nice to look at and I love her a lot.

Out of Order

How to Write Poetry and Live Poetically

Free E-Course Lesson 33.1
Chapter 11: Living Poetically

What Does It Mean to ‘Live Poetically’?

Moonlight Sonata, by Harrison Cady
Moonlight Sonata, by Harrison Cady

We are getting rather close to the end of this course, and I am finding bits and globs of material that should have been included earlier. If it’s a small bit or glob, I just quietly insert it. But if it’s a big fat key to the understanding of a major concept, which is the case here, I feel bound to call your attention to it. The left-out part is What Does It Mean to Live Poetically?” and I have stuck it in its logical place, namely, Chapter 11, “Living Poetically,” which began with Lesson 33. The new segment is Lesson 33.1 and you will find it here. 

A Living Poetically Fortune Cookie

I believe, when all is said and done, all you can do is show up for someone in crisis, which seems so inadequate. But then when you do, it can radically change everything. Anne Lamott, Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith

redoute-four-1

True and Not True

How to Write Poetry and Live Poetically

Free E-Course Lesson 7

 

Chapter 2, Why We Need Poetry

Part 4: ‘Acting Creatively through the Arts Is an Exercise of Genuine Power’

 

Join now! Find details about this free E-course at Lesson 1.

Key Component of Apple Crisp

Key Component of Apple Crisp

 

People worry. It’s unfortunate, but there you are.

 

The world is full of magic. I don’t mean phenomena that violate natural law. I mean that, in the vast body of natural law, we know maybe a toenail. Maybe a bacterium on a toenail. And by “we,” I mean “everybody in the world, including Stephen Hawking.”

 

We think that A plus B equal C, and often they do, assuming that we can wrap our minds around A and B, as in 2 plus 3 equal 5.

 

But then it gets a little more complicated. Two plus three of what? Apples?

 

Two apples plus three apples, plus some cinnamon, nutmeg, brown sugar, butter, an hour or so in the oven at 325F, and a little love and artistry, equal warm apple crisp upon which you must spoon an avalanche of real whipped cream. Then you serve it to your friends in pretty blue bowls, set upon doilies, set upon pretty blue saucers.

 

KEY CONCEPT: Metaphorical truth

 

In these tables, adapted from the assignments for Lesson 6…

 

…all the expressions are metaphorically, or figuratively, or spiritually true. They make sense in the language of poetry and emotion. It is one’s spirit that is in pieces when one is “torn up,” not (usually) one’s physical body. When your friend says, “Hey, Man, get it together,” he’s not telling you to go retrieve your hand or your cerebral cortex. If he’s a true friend, and your brain has gone missing, he’ll go look for it himself.

 

♦♦♦

 

We create in order to grow spiritually

 

I said earlier that “once we have achieved order, there remains a nagging discontent.” I explained that living things are programmed to grow. Without the energy of growth, there is entropy and there is decay.

 

The conscious incentive for growth is the lack of perfect contentment with the status quo.

 

However satisfying things are, they can be better. If that weren’t true, the concepts of wanting, improving, and evolving would be meaningless, and there would be no reason to get out of bed.

 

We might want nothing more at the moment than to open the blind and let a little more light in, or to warm our coffee. This little unit of life, perhaps this quarter of an hour in the early morning, would be better with a little more sunshine, a little more steam rising from the coffee cup.

Where's the Steam?

Where's the Steam?

 

We could probably agree about hundreds of qualitative comparisons. For example:
(1) Love and harmony in the home are better than bloodshed.

(2) It is better to be healthy than to have double pneumonia.

(3) Playing baseball is a better activity for children than using crack cocaine.

(4) It is better to live in a tidy neighborhood with flowers and trees than in a rusted station wagon under a bridge.

 

The values that underlie these comparisons are widely, almost universally shared. If you are an adult, the Gallup people might call and ask whether you think a particular Republican would make a better president than a particular Democrat, but they will never mail you a survey like the following:

 

Which Alternative?

Which Alternative?

 

Because some things, such as health and harmony, are self-evidently better than others, then there must be, at least theoretically, a best. When we move from point A (bad) to point B (neutral) to point C (better) to point D (better still), our progress is usually represented as being upward toward the ideal or the perfect.

 

Moving Up

Moving Up

 

If a theoretical Ideal and theoretical Perfection exist, then so, in theory, does God. (The English word theory arrived in our language in the sixteenth century through Latin from the Greek thea “a view” plus horan “to see.” Thea was also the feminine form of the Greek word theos “god,” which gave us theology in the fourteenth century. Some etymologists insist that the linguistic resemblance between theory and theology is only coincidental. These are the types of things etymologists like to argue about.)

 

A perfect box of eggs

 

The words perfect and perfection are often misused. (See “The Perfect Game” in the appendix.) If there are a hundred questions on a test and you answer them all correctly, you are said to have a “perfect score.” But that’s like claiming that if you buy an item labeled “one dozen eggs” at the grocery store, and you take the item home and open it and, yes, there are twelve eggs in it, you have a perfect box of eggs.

 

Accuracy is not perfection.

 

 

Whether or not you use the vocabulary of religion, art is fundamentally spiritual. Any creation begins with an idea (inspiration) and gives it form and function—“the Word made flesh,” in a sense.

 

If you don’t yet understand this, it may become clear the first time you create something that is more than the sum of a series of mechanical processes… something that seems to have a life of its own. It’s like seeing your child, almost grown and blooming, and realizing that he is more than a genetic combination of his mother and father.

 

Except that you can’t go on creating children indefinitely, whereas your unique artistic capacity is infinite, once you find the source.

 

 

* Dictionary.com. Online Etymology Dictionary. Douglas Harper, Historian. http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/theory (accessed: September 02, 2007).

 

Lesson 7.1 Assignment

What are the meanings of metaphor?

 

Write one or two paragraphs (about fifty words) on the meaning of metaphor and the differences between metaphor and simile, with examples.

 

Please send assignments via e-mail to Mary@LifeIsPoetry.net. Submissions will not be graded but will be returned with comments.

 

Go to Lesson 8—Chapter 3: Art, Poetry, and Beauty

Core of the Heart

Join now! Find details about this free E-course at Lesson 1

How to Write Poetry and Live Poetically

Free E-Course Lesson 6
Chapter 2, Part 3: Participating in Your Own Creation

We are called to be architects of the future, not its victims. —Buckminster Fuller

Hear from the heart wordless mysteries! Understand what cannot be understood! In man’s stone-dark heart there burns a fire That burns all veils to their root and foundation. When the veils are burned away, the heart will understand completely… Ancient Love will unfold ever-fresh forms in the heart of the Spirit, in the core of the heart. Rumi

Rumi

Rumi

Let’s assume that you have your systems in place. You have workable plans for taking care of your basic physical needs — food, water, shelter from excessive heat or cold — and for maintaining health and energy by exercising, eating properly, getting enough sleep, having medical checkups, and so forth. You have a system for acquiring other physical necessities — housing, clothes, furniture, transportation — and for keeping them in good working order. You have a system that sees to your social needs; perhaps you live in a family and belong to the Red Hat Society or have breakfast with your buddies at the grain co-op.

So life ticks along. It is not just one big emergency after another. Should an emergency arise, you have a system for dealing with it. A well-ordered life can be very satisfying, especially after a time of chaos.

For human beings, there are two problems with a life that is merely well organized:

  • It is not ultimately fulfilling. Once we have achieved order, there remains a nagging discontent.

  • In the universe of possible events and experiences, we have control over very little.

The futility of control

There are several ways of dealing with the things we can’t control. Six of them are mentioned below. I can recommend numbers 1, 5, and 6 — which are closely related — having used them myself with excellent results. Conversely, every experience I have had with strategies 2 through 4 has ended badly.

African Lily

African Lily

1. Living in the moment

This is the response favored by the Lilies of the Field. “Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” [From the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 7, New King James Version] 25 Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?

27 Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature?

28 So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; 29 and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?

(I wonder if Jesus was prophetically referring to an event that would take place some two thousand years later, when I went out of town for a few days and left my adolescent son in the care of a trusted neighbor. As it happened, I arrived home several hours early. I walked through the door and knew instantly that grass had been thrown into the oven. My son and the trusted neighbor’s son, David, had, under cover of night, harvested several stalks of an illicit crop discovered in a fenced backyard a few blocks away. The boys were nowhere to be seen, and the phone was ringing. I picked it up. It was Officer Holmgren, and this was not my first conversation with him, nor would it be my last.)

31 Therefore do not worry, saying, “What shall we eat?” or “What shall we drink?” or “What shall we wear?” 32 For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 But seek you first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.

Emulate Your Labrador

Emulate Your Labrador

Living in the moment is also the favored response of your Labrador. Look at him, snoozing in his square of sunlight. Is he worried about his next meal? Is the threat of a bioterrorist attack gnawing at his innards? No. He is at peace, secure in the knowledge that when something gnaws at his innards he need only leap onto your stomach while you are sleeping, lick your face to wake you up, and fix you with a Look of such potent worshipfulness that you would break eight of the Ten Commandments to give him his two cups of kibble.

The above-cited passage from the Beatitudes, part of JesusSermon on the Mount, asserts that seeking the kingdom of God is the ultimate anti-entropy strategy. Mow the lawn and make entries in your planning calendar if you must, Jesus might have said, but first, emulate your Labrador and his attitude of potent worshipfulness.

2. Attaining power

As people acquire money and influence, they also gain more control over certain aspects of their lives. If you are poor and a tree falls on your house, you have big trouble. If you are wealthy and a tree falls on your house, you can just pay somebody to fix it.

The problem with power is that it is based on fear. Since there will always be things you can’t control, you will never be satisfied. There is always something to fear, so you will always need more power than you have.

3. The illusion of controlling the uncontrollable

This futile strategy is often employed by people who want to make their spouses or children behave in certain ways. Trying to make somebody love you, or adopt your values, or practice your religion, are examples of trying to control the uncontrollable—as are roughly ninety-five percent of city ordinances and state and federal laws, and virtually all wars.

4. Diversion

There are many ways of distracting yourself from the ever-present threat of being struck by an asteroid while you are walking down the street. Diversions range from “keeping busy” to watching television to injecting temazepam in your eyeballs.

5. Meditation

I could have included meditation under “living in the moment,” above. But I wanted to make a point: Dealing with the things we can’t control by trying to control them anyway, or by gaining power or through diversion, assumes that the cosmos is a hostile place. If we can’t control it, it must be dangerous. Most forms of meditation, however, view all the uncontrollables as part of a neutral or benevolent universe of infinite possibility.

6. Creating

Acting creatively through the arts is an exercise of genuine power. At its loftiest, it is a spiritual practice and the artist inhabits a transcendent, spiritual universe where all things are possible. This is not an “escape from reality,” as critics protest. The artist is not unaware of global terrorism or gang violence or the execrable conditions under which much of the world’s population lives. These are entropic conditions, and art, by definition, brings order out of chaos. The artist is a healer and a peacemaker, but her focus is on the ideals of healing and peace rather than on hatred and violence.

That, really, is what this book is about.

Lesson 6.1 Assignment
Emotional altitude and organization

People worry. It’s unfortunate, but there you are.

It takes a worried man to sing a worried song...

It takes a worried man to sing a worried song...

The world is full of magic. I don’t mean phenomena that violate natural law. I mean that, in the vast body of natural law, we know maybe a toenail. Maybe a bacterium on a toenail. And by “we,” I mean “everybody in the world, including Stephen Hawking.”

We think that A plus B equal C, and often they do, assuming that we can wrap our minds around A and B, as in 2 plus 3 equal 5.

But then it gets a little more complicated. Two plus three of what? Apples?

Two apples plus three apples, plus some cinnamon, nutmeg, brown sugar, butter, an hour or so in the oven at 325F, and a little love and artistry, equal warm apple crisp upon which you must spoon an avalanche of real whipped cream. Then you serve it to your friends in pretty blue bowls, set upon doilies, set upon pretty blue saucers.

Apple Crisp

Apple Crisp

Our emotional geography is often mapped vertically. When we feel good, we are “up,” when we feel bad we are “down.” Fill in the spaces below with at least five more examples in each column. (Phrases beginning with highly, as in “highly pleased,” don’t qualify.)

 

 

 

Table 2 Emotional Altitude
Table 2 Emotional Altitude

Lesson 6.2: Assignment
Everything’s under
control

Other expressions of how we feel are related to space in a different way. Feeling good is equated with unity – being all of a piece. Feeling bad is related to entropy – being scattered or dispersed. Fill in the blanks below with at least three more examples in each column.

Table 3 Spatial Words and Phrases
Table 3 Spatial Words and Phrases

Please send assignments, OR assignment summaries or comments, via e-mail to Mary@LifeIsPoetry.net.

Go to Lesson 7.

Dis-entropized: Staying Alive

Join now! Find details about this free E-course at Lesson 1.

How to Write Poetry and Live Poetically

Free E-Course Lesson 5

Chapter 2, Part 2: Why We Need Poetry

Are babies programmed for language?

Hard-Wired for Speech?

Hard-Wired for Speech?

Current linguistic research is exploring the hypothesis that “children [are]… programmed to learn language, just as they seem to be programmed to learn to walk… Indeed, children in the first five years of life have such a remarkable facility for language that they can effortlessly learn two structurally quite different languages simultaneously—if, for instance, their mother is Chinese and their father American—without displaying the slightest signs of stress or confusion.” *

 

In other words, according to the theory advanced by Noam Chomsky and others, babies are apparently wired to get what’s inside their heads—thoughts, ideas, questions—out into the Great, Wide World, through the medium of language.

 

Part of the evidence for an “innate appreciation of language,” according to Bill Bryson, writing in The Mother Tongue: English & How It Got That Way, is that children everywhere, in every culture, whatever its language, no matter how complex or “wildly inflected” it is, learn to speak in exactly the same way.* By the time they are barely a month old, they show a preference for the sounds of speech over all others. Their infant babbling consists of the same sounds and commences at the same time—four to six months before they begin to talk. Their first words are simple labels (Me, Da), advancing to subject-verb combinations (Me want, Da go), and so on—my older son excepted. His sister, who was nearly 11 when her baby brother Jack was born, recorded in his Baby Book that his first words were carrots and onomatopoeia.

 

Additional research appears to confirm the theory that “children are programmed for language,” which is good news for those of us who use poetry as a way of gaining access to buried emotions and inclinations. Learning the discipline of expressing ourselves through poetry creates a channel to the unconscious—one that is wide enough to accommodate something as unruly as rage, but narrow enough to keep all our feelings from spilling out at once so that we can identify what emerges bit by bit.

Staying alive: God trumps entropy

This is not a religious book. Virtually anyone who wants to write poetry and to grow in self-knowledge and self-expression can benefit from it.

I Find God in All Things

I Find God in All Things

 

As a person who experiences God in all things, I am unable to write a shopping list, much less a book about poetry, that is entirely secular. Strip anything of spirit and there’s nothing left, is the way I see it.

 

But I am not going to preach or to espouse any particular theology. When I speak of God, for our present purpose, I am referring to the Ideal, the Perfect, the Goal that motivates all growth and change, the Organizing Principle—the opposite of entropy.

What (not to put too fine a point on it) is entropy?**

Entropy is the tendency of things to get messier when left on their own. You first heard about entropy from your parents: “Why are you just sitting there? The lawn’s not going to mow itself.”

Entropy is the tendency of everything to fall apart unless something, some form of energy, is holding it together. Think (but not too hard, because this is not a perfect analogy) of a Popsicle after it’s been out of the freezer for a while.

The inanimate universe leans toward chaos, decay, disorganization, and disintegration. Entropy is, you might say, the natural state of things when energy is not applied to them.

The attributes of God are counterentropic—a word I just made up because I can’t think of a better one. Anti-entropic won’t do. God isn’t against entropy. God is life and order. God is love, and growth, and beauty. It is the way of God and nature to lift things up, and these attributes are manifestations of energy, and they are the reason we are all still here. It is the way of entropy to melt like a Popsicle.

Entropy is not evil. Decay, in fact, is necessary to growth. Think of compost, which is decaying organic matter, and how it literally feeds growing things.

Life = order

Harry Potter Postage Stamps

Harry Potter Postage Stamps

A living thing — I’ll use myself, the living thing with which I am best acquainted, as an example—is highly organized at the cellular level. All I have to do consciously is eat, drink, and breathe, really, to exist. It might not be a giddy or intellectually satisfying existence, but the potential is there. When I breathe, my body gets the oxygen it needs to convert food to energy, which keeps my various systems functioning more or less efficiently, which enables me to walk and talk, and from there it’s a short step to giddiness or scholarly pursuits.

Our anatomical systems are programmed upward, toward life and growth. They make new cells and dispose of the old ones, filter the blood, manufacture various proteins, and so forth, and I don’t even have to pay attention. I can kick back and read Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix for the fourth time without having to check even once on whether my pancreas is still doing whatever it is that a pancreas does.

Disease and death = entropy

Entropy in the Human Body

Entropy in the Human Body

It is no accident that diseases are called “disorders.” Injuries and illnesses are entropic. Cancer cells, for example, reproduce in a chaotic, unpredictable manner, whereas healthy cells are in balance, new cells replacing old cells as needed. Healing from injuries and illnesses is a process of returning cells to their normal, orderly functions.

When a living thing dies, entropy takes over. I know this because not long ago a couple of rats died under my shower. They did not die where they could be conveniently scooped out by someone, anyone, please, God, other than me. Removing them required a major bathroom overhaul that took several weeks.

Meanwhile, major entropy was occurring at the cellular level within these rats, as their cells ceased to regenerate. They decayed. They rotted. And they did these things no more than three feet from where I brushed my teeth.

I hardly need point out that dead cells are not programmed toward life and growth. They aren’t programmed at all. The programming quit when the life went out of them. They are completely at the mercy of entropy, so they disintegrate. As far as I was concerned, they couldn’t disintegrate fast enough.

The opposing, or perhaps complementary,*** effects of entropy and order take place at every level: microscopically and personally; in your household and your community; globally and universally. The body may run okay on automatic pilot — at the cellular level — but when you move up to the organism level, there’s a lot you have to do to, consciously and intentionally, to keep things from falling apart.

A street corner in the ghost town of Bodie, California (photographed by Jon Sullivan and released into the public domain)

Entropized: A street corner in the ghost town of Bodie, California (photographed by Jon Sullivan and released into the public domain)

Consider what happens when you fail to “apply energy” to something — from combing your hair or washing the dishes after supper, to doing your homework or going to your job. Parents have to impose order on their children. Car owners have to keep their vehicles maintained. Homeowners have to paint their houses. Gardeners have to water and weed their flower beds.

We expend much of our energy in a race with entropy, maintaining ourselves and our stuff before they descend into chaos. If we don’t do it, or if someone doesn’t do it for us, everything goes to pieces. The car rusts. The grass dies. The wood rots. The porch sags. Our teeth fall out. We flunk out of school. Our kids grow up to be axe murderers with absolutely no table manners.

Psychologically, we are programmed to prefer order and we are cranky when it is lacking.**** The most miserable people I know are those who are constantly running after their lives. “I don’t have time to plan,” they say. “I’m too busy fighting fires.” They don’t buy new car tires until there’s a blowout. They don’t clean the yard until a family of weasels takes up residence behind the garage.

These are not orderly lives. They are continually being snatched from the jaws of entropy. The only organizational principle is urgency. There is little joy in such an existence.

If you are wise, you make conscious decisions about what’s truly necessary and, just as your cells do, you (the organism) develop systems for taking care of necessities so that you can also attend to wants and desires. A planning calendar is such a system. It is a powerful anti-entropy device. I actually own one. I’m not sure, at the moment, where it is. Perhaps the weasels have taken it.

Other obstacles to orderliness

Entropy is not the only thing that interferes with maintaining an orderly existence and indulging your wants, interests, and talents. Other people’s expectations, real or perceived, throw a lot of us off course. The more you are concerned with the opinions of others, the more obligated you feel to do unnecessary things. Your life slips out of your grasp like the Little Gingerbread Boy, and all you can do is to run after it and try to rein it in.

My sister, Pipi Campbell Peterson, is an author and professional organizer who specializes in decluttering—closets, offices, lives—so that her clients can have greater serenity, enjoy more time for the Good Stuff, and find their keys. If  you are going to Live Poetically—indeed, if you are going to finish this book—you will probably have to declutter and create some space for it, just as you would if you were taking dance lessons in your basement.


* Bill Bryson, The Mother Tongue: English & How It Got That Way. William Morris & Co. (New York), 1990.
** Entropy = The physical Universe’s macrocosmic proclivities of becoming locally ever more dissynchronous, asymmetric, diffuse, and multiplyingly expansive. —Buckminster Fuller
*** Order, in the form of growth — and entropy, in the form of decay — are complementary in that they rely on one another. 
**** Psychological entropy is “the distribution of energy in the psyche, which tends to seek equilibrium or balance among all the structures of the psyche.” Hall, Calvin S.; Nordby, Vernon J. (1999). A Primer of Jungian Psychology. New York: Meridian.