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Friday, February 22, 2019

Melbourne Journal #3: The Great Ocean Walk

This past week, Jen and I did the Great Ocean Walk. Around Melbourne, the Great Ocean Road is a famous tourist attraction. Fewer know about the Great Ocean Walk, which is a hiking trail hugging the same section of coast. It's not particularly remote by Montana standards - you pass through a car campground, or cross a road, every day - but it's unique, challenging and worthwhile. It's 100 kilometers long and can take anywhere from 4-8 days. We took six days to do it, with 1/2 day travel (bus and train) on the first and last day. It was challenging, with three 13+ mile days, but not oppressively so. It got us into shape for our next backpack in Tasmania, which we start this coming week.
Along the  hike I read Ralph Waldo Emerson. Nietzsche mentioned him, positively, more than once in my reading of his work, and since I've been wanting to read Emerson for a long time, I picked up one of his 'selected works' at Shakespeare Books while I was in Missoula. Emerson has really hit me hard and deeply, bringing spirituality and love back into my philosophical reading. I had a similar experience reading the Brothers Karamazov last fall, through the character of Alyosha. Here's one Emerson quote about gratitude and perspective:

The misery of man appears like childish petulance, when we explore the steady and prodigal provision that has been made for his support and delight on this green ball which floats him through the heavens.

Emerson's writings (at least what I've read so far) focus on how to live from our inner-nature and promptings. Like Nietzsche, he believes is that Western morality (inherited from mainstream Christianity) has taught us not to listen to our inner-nature/guide/intuition, and also like Nietzsche, he believes that we must do a better job of listening to ourselves. Here is a quote from the book Nature about the flow of nature through us. 

We learn that the highest is present to the soul of man; that the dread universal essence, which is not wisdom, or love, or beauty, or power, but all in one, and each entirely, is that for which all things exist, and that by which they are; that spirit creates; that behind nature, throughout nature, spirit is present; one and not compound it does not act upon us from without, that is, in space and time, but spiritually, or though ourselves: therefore, that spirit, that is, the Supreme Being, does not build up nature around us, but puts forth through us, as the life of the tree puts forth new branches and leaves through the pores of the old.

And here is a quote, later in Nature, in which Emerson says that a person should act from his/her own inner-sense of right and wrong and not from the dictates of someone else or of the dominant culture.  

Meantime, whilst the doors of the temple stand open, night and day, before every man, and the oracles of this truth cease never, it is guarded by one stern condition; this, namely it is an intuition. It cannot be received at second hand. Truly speaking, it is not instruction, but provocation, that I can receive from another soul. What he announces, I must find true in me, or reject; and on his word, or as his second, be he who he may, I can accept nothing. On the contary, the absence of this primary faith is the presence of degradation. As is the flood, so is the ebb. Let this faith depart, and the very words it spake and the things it made become false and hurtful. 

Monday, February 11, 2019

Melbourne Journal #2: Exploration (Jen Arrives)

Jen has been here about one week now, and since she's arrived, we've done a couple of walks downtown, a trip to the beach, and several bike rides along the coast. It is, of course, great to have her here. I was reminded once again, while alone for the first week, that she makes my life better.

I've been going in to work most days, but so far I've been struggling to figure out what my purpose is - in Australia, at work, and beyond. I have more freedom here, in terms of work, than I did in Denmark. On the surface, this is a blessing, but so far I am finding it much more difficult, as it forces me to face a deeper existential question: what is meaningful for me and what gives my life purpose? It used to be that, as far as work goes, career achievement alone was meaningful and purposeful, but now that I've achieved a measure of success, this is no longer the case. I need more, but what?

I have started to read Carl Jung, who writes about this precise issue. Here is a quote of his, from "Modern Man in Search of a Soul," in which he contrasts the psychology of mid-life with that of youth: 

"As a rule, the life of a young person is characterized by a general unfolding and a striving toward concrete ends; his neurosis, if he develops one, can be traced to his hesitation or his shrinking back from necessity. But the life of an older person is marked by a contraction of forces, by the affirmation of what has been achieved, and the curtailment of further growth. His neurosis comes mainly from his clinging to a youthful attitude, which is now out of season. Just as the youthful neurotic is afraid of life, so the older one shrinks back from death."

I do see in myself a tendency to revert to youthful pursuits as a way of coping with my current psychological struggles. But according to Jung, the angst I'm feeling is my psyche letting me know that I need to figure out what is meaningful for me now, even in the face of apparent meaninglessness. According to Jung, "The least of things with a meaning is worth more in life than the greatest of things without it."    

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Melbourne Journal #1: Getting Settled

I'm a bit behind on my blog posts, having been here almost two weeks. It's hot here in Melbourne, with February being the equivalent of August in the northern hemisphere. We've had some 100 degree days, but then it cools off again significantly, down into the 70s, so it hasn't been that bad. 

For the first week of my stay, I was alone, and during the first couple of days, my host TC (in the pictures) took me around the city. Melbourne is a big city, at around 5 million people, and we live in the neighborhood of East St. Kilda, which is a few miles from downtown. It's the Jewish neighborhood in Melbourne and is a cool, bustling place. 


I have finally finished reading Nietzsche, and there are a few ideas of his that I hope to take forward into the rest of my life. The first is encapsulated in the following quote: Redemption is to recreate "it was" into "thus I willed it." In our modern era, we no longer have to worry about survival. This frees us to reflect critically on our lives and on the lives of those around us. A pitfall of this kind of critical reflection is that we can end up regretting our past decisions, resenting our loved ones and ourselves for falling short, and generally, feeling like a victim. In this quote, Nietzsche says that instead we should accept, and even embrace, our past - say a radical Yes! to it all - turning "it was" into "thus I willed it." Given that the past can't be changed, this leads to an optimal psychological orientation toward life, though it is very difficult to implement. It's worth noting that Nietzsche experienced a great deal of hardship and misfortune, so these are not empty words coming from him.

The second concept from Nietzsche that I want to take with me going forward is a combination of his three ideas: the will-to-power, the relativity of values, and the over-man. The will-to-power defines (for me) the application of the will toward, in Nietzsche's words, 'becoming who you are.' This requires first deciding what actions empower/diminish you, and then doing/not doing those things. The distinction between actions that empower/diminish is different for every individual, hence the relativity of values. And once a value system is in place, the act of doing/not doing what empowers/diminishes you requires an effort of self-overcoming that defines the over-manThis may seem abstract, but I don't think it is: figure out what empowers/diminishes you, then strive to do/not do those things. 

The final concept of Nietzsche's that I hope to retain is the error of confusing cause and effect. This very Buddhist notion goes as follows. We are biased to think that, as Jen is fond of saying, our actions define us: if we do bad things we are bad, and if we do good things we are good. This is an essential aspect of Western morality, inherited from Christianity, and it is problematic because it allows for someone, or something, other than ourselves to define what is good and bad for us. Nietzsche argues that the direction of cause and effect is wrong here; that in fact, our inner-state will determine the quality of our actions: if our inner-state is "good" our actions will be good, while if our inner-state is "bad," our actions will be bad. This distinction is important, because in the latter view, we must decide for ourselves what defines "good" and "bad" inner-states, which brings us back, again, to the relativity of values

Friday, January 25, 2019


I'm writing from the Salt Lake City Airport, after having spent two weeks in Missoula. I'm on my way to Melbourne, Australia now, where I'll spend the next four months. Jen will follow in one week. It's been a very full two weeks, with family visits, some skiing at Snowbowl and other outdoor recreation, and a bit of work. 

It's surreal stopping off at your home when it's not actually your home. Everyone I spoke with was fully in the midst of the busyness of life, while I was in the waiting, in-between place. The paradox is that although my Missoula friends and family are all busy-as, not much has changed in their lives. Whereas, Jen and I went through the crucible last fall, and I feel like a lot has changed for us.

While in Missoula, we've been staying at my Mom's condo on lower Grant Creek. It's a hidden spot and is nice. I've been holing up and reading Nietzsche - the self-seeking continues. I recall a copy of The Portable Nietzsche in a collection of books of my Dad's from the 70's, when he was a young man. I got myself a copy, as it was recommended, and it is as if the text is speaking directly to me. Nietzsche is a seeker, focused on the question, "How to live?" As am I right now. What answers await in OZ?

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Copenhagen Journal #18: New Years

Three photos of a water trough tunnel that we hiked through. Jen is barely visible in the lower-right of the last photo.
As the New Year approached, it became clear that Ellie was lukewarm about going to Finland. Given that the Nordic darkness was feeling increasingly oppressive to Jen and I, and we had been to Finland twice already this year, we made a last minute change to our travel plans, deciding to go to the Canary Islands instead. 

The Canary Islands are off of the cost of Africa and are part of Spain. I had heard stories about high-rise hotels and beaches filled with tourists, so I resisted going there. But it isn't hard to get off-the-beaten path. We found an Airbnb in the small beach town Puerto de Guimar, and we seem to be the only English speakers here. Our place is across the street from the beach and there is some good hiking nearby. It's been relaxing, though the relative idleness of the last couple of weeks has been difficult for me.     

It's been great having Ellie with us. Although she won't admit it, I'm pretty sure the relative ease and higher quality food has been good for her. She'll be ready to hit it hard again once we're home. She starts school the day after we arrive, this coming Thursday.

Looking back on 2018, it's a year that's been filled with the gamut, from failure to accomplishment. Highlights for me are my book, the four months in Denmark, fruitful marriage work with Jen, and the kids out of the house and in school. 

This is my last 'Copenhagen Journal' entry. It's been an amazing four months, which will be hard to top in Australia, but we'll try. A Spotify mix of the music I've listened to most while living in Denmark can be linked to HERE. The only glaring absences, which didn't fit in with the rest of the mix, are songs from Dr. Dre's Compton and Earl Sweatshirt's Some Rap Songs.

On the summit of Tiede, Canary Islands, the highpoint of Spain.
Jen put this together this 'highlights of 2019' for me to post on Facebook.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Copenhagen Jouranl #17: Berlin

Ellie with sections of the Berlin Wall
It's been great to have our loved ones visit us in Copenhagen, to witness our lives here. We currently have Jen's mom Karen and Ellie, and our big trip together was to Berlin, last weekend. It was a great trip: we rented a nice flat and visited some one-of-a-kind sights. The first was the Berlin Wall. I distinctly remember when it came down in my youth, specifically the images of students climbing the graffiti laden wall and hitting it with sledgehammers. More text below.

From the Berlin wall, we went to the Brandenburg Gate and on to the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. The latter was deeply affecting. One of the exhibits contained details of many Jewish families and what happened to each member by the end of World War 2. There were some large families in which almost everyone died. Much time has past since those days, but I suspect that it feels the same to be in a family now as it did then. So, using that as a starting point, I can try to imagine what it would be like to have my family ripped apart in such a barbaric way. More text below.
On the second day, we walked from our flat, through the city streets of Berlin, to the Pergamon Museum, which was amazing. The most impressive things was a reconstructed gate to the palace of Nebuchadnezzar II, shown in the following video. We then wandered back home through Christmas markets. More text below.
On the last day, after dropping our bags at the train station, we happened upon Hamburger Banhof Museum which houses a massive collection of contemporary art. The exhibit was huge and awesome.  See the pictures below and final text at the very end.

We returned to Copenhagen Sunday night, just in time for Christmas Eve the next day. With such short flights to near European capitals, it's possible to make a three day, two night trip, spend a little extra for a nice Airbnb, and really see the city in a long weekend. It was a great trip, and Berlin is definitely near the top of my list of favorite cities.

Our time in Denmark will be ending soon. We still have some travel to do January 1-8, and Ellie has requested Finland, so we'll be going back there yet again.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Copenhagen Journal #16: Last Things

On my mom's last day in Copenhagen, I went to Helsinki again for a conference called Inverse Days. My research has always focused in a mathematical area called 'inverse problems', and the Finns easily have the biggest and best group of researchers in inverse problems in the world. Every December for 24 years they've hosted the conference Inverse Days in different cities throughout Finland.

I went to Inverse Days back in 2006, when we were living in Finland, and had a memorable experience: on the night before my talk, I mixed too much sauna and beer, and then spent half of the next day in bed, before heading to the conference midday to give my talk. Thankfully, I was able to pull it off, though I was feeling queasy throughout.      

This Inverse Days, Jen joined me. I went to the conference, but Jen and I also got to do some sightseeing and eating. It was nice to spend a few days together before our next round of visitors, Ellie and Jen's mom Karen, who are here now. Ellie had a hellacious trip with two flight delays, leading to two 8 hour layovers -- one in Minneapolis and one in Amsterdam -- and twelve hours without food.

The end of our time here in Copenhagen is coming soon, so I've been trying to soak it all in, taking walks near our home on Nyhavn. My favorite walk goes around the opera house and then through the 'residential area' of Christiana. I've posted two videos from the walk at the end of the blog.