Never Forget that the World is Beautiful

You, and I, should read more poetry.

Your thoughts don’t have words every day
They come a single time
Like signal esoteric sips
Of the communion Wine
Which while you taste so native seems
So easy so to be
You cannot comprehend its price
Nor its infrequency

Emily Dickinson, 1452

Never forget that the world is beautiful, nor that there is more to this world than the world.

If they but knew!  They’re steeped in luck, country people,
being far removed from grinds of war, where earth that’s just
showers them with all that they could ever ask for.
So what if he hasn’t a mansion with gates designed to impress
and callers traipsing in and out all morning long.
So what if there’s not rabble gawking at the entrance with its gaudy tortoiseshell veneer,
and tapestries with gold filigree, and bronzes plundered on a march to Corinth.
So what if their wool’s merely bleached and not stained with Assyrian dyes,
and the olive oil they use hasn’t been diluted with that tint of cinnamon —
no, what they have is the quiet life — carefree and no deceit —
and wealth untold — their ease among cornucopia,
with grottoes, pools of running water and valleys cool even in warm weather,
the sounds of cattle and sweet snoozes in the shade.
There are glades and greenwoods, lairs of game,
young men wed to meagre fare but born and built for work.
Here, too, is reverence for God and holy fathers, and it was here
that Justice left her final footprints as she was taking leave of earth.
And as for me, my most ardent wish is that sweet Poetry,
whose devotee I am, smitten as I’ve been with such commitment,
would open up to me the courses of the stars in heaven,
the myriad eclipses of the sun and phases of the moon,
whence come earthquakes, which are the reason deep seas surge
to burst their bounds before receding peacefully,
and are why winter suns dash to dip themselves into the ocean
and are what causes long nights to last and linger.

Virgil, Georgics, II.458-83

Pulls are Important

Cued by a comment on a recent episode of Deep Look, I began to think about the importance of pulls; whether it was worth it to spend real effort cultivating pullers this year.  The more I thought, the more I became convinced that it wasn’t just a good idea, but something quite important and that I should be working at it more in my own game.

The Football Outsiders place the importance of special teams in football at about 13% of total performance, or roughly one-quarter that of O and one-third of D, not an insignificant percentage.  Moreover, they’ve always emphasized the importance of kickoffs, particularly before the recent kicking rule changes, as an underrated aspect of evaluating a kicker and special teams unit’s performance.  Essentially, a kicker who goes 20/25 on field goals but consistently pins the other team deep could be significantly more valuable than one who goes 24/25 but is lousy at kickoffs.  The connection to pulling is obvious.

But is it worth working on something that, while important, is far less important than O or D, particularly on a developmental squad which has such stark deficiencies everywhere?  The answer is yes, and it’s precisely because of those deficiencies.  B-Team offenses are really bad.  An extra 10, 15 yards or trapping the disc on the sideline might increase the chances of a turnover by 50%, if not more.  Moreover, pulling is an inefficiency.  There simply aren’t that many good pullers.  Part, the main part, of my job is to make my players better and more valuable to higher-level teams, and players who are good at things that no one else is good at are valuable.  Finally, pulling isn’t particularly conceptual or difficult to practice.  It’s one of the easiest things to practice alone, and I imagine getting a few players to hang back and work on pulls after practice won’t be too tough.

Thus, Team Goal: develop at least 2-3 designated pullers by the time Regionals roles around.  Individual Goal: Consistent (8/10? is that realistic? too conservative) inbounds/in-the-endzone pulls by Summer League.

Stars and Dust

This is a continuation of the line of thought found in an earlier post.

In On the Human Condition, St. Basil writes:

If you like, after your contemplation of the soul be attentive also to the structure of the body and marvel at how appropriate a dwelling for the rational soul the sovereign Fashioner has created.  He has made the human being alone of the animals upright, that from your very form you may see that your life is akin to that on high; for all the quadrupeds are bent down toward their stomachs, while the human being is prepared to look up toward heaven, so as not to be devoted to the stomach or to the passions below the stomach but to direct his whole desire toward the journey on high.  (104)

Our physical form makes manifest our natural end, to contemplate the heavens and thus come to seek their Creator.  Ideally, all of creation could serve this end, but the stars are particularly useful for at least two reasons.  The first is that the regular passage of the stars, their permanence, indicates that they approximate the eternal better than other aspects of creation we encounter in the day to day.  In other words, because trees and rabbits are ever-changing, but the stars are a constant.  The second and more important reason is because the stars are impossibly beautiful.  Basil speaks about this earlier in the same book, emphasizing the glory of creation against which any material, human riches pale:

Therefore, why do you call happy one who has a fat purse but needs the feet of others to move around?  You do not lie on a bed of ivory, but you have the earth which is more valuable than great amounts of ivory, and your rest upon it is sweet, sleep comes quickly and is free from anxiety.  You do not lie beneath a gilded roof, but you have the sky glittering all around with the inexpressible beauty of the stars.  (101-2)

And, of course, you have Dante ending every book of The Divine Comedy with the stars.

(An aside, what do you think is the effect of this on your soul? Is it worth it? have you ever truly seen the stars?)

Basil’s ideas were common in Antiquity and beyond, and knowing this gives addition resonance to Lady Philosophy’s description of Boethius’s condition in The Consolation of Philosophy:

This was the man who once was free
To climb the sky with zeal devout
To contemplate the crimson sun,
The frozen fairness of the moon-
Astronomer once used in joy
To comprehend and to commune
With planets on their wandering ways.
This man, this man sought out the source
Of storms that roar and rouse the seas;
The spirit that rotates the world,
The cause that translocates the sun
From shining East to watery West;
He sought the reason why spring hours
Are mild with flowers manifest,
And who enriched with swelling grapes
Ripe autumn at the full of year.
Now see that mind that searched and made
All Nature’s hidden secrets clear
Lie prostrate prisoner of night.
His neck bends low in shackles thrust,
And he is forced beneath the weight
To contemplate – the lowly dust. (5-6)

Imprisoned on charges of treason, awaiting execution, Boethius can no longer contemplate the stars and has thus lost sight of the source of storms, the Spirit That Rotates the World.  Instead, he stares at the lowest element, the earth, last of the elements and lying at the greatest remove from the divine.  But it’s from here, the lowest point, that Lady Philosophy emerges to lead Boethius back to who he really is.

Excited to Read Dante Again

I saw a sun above a thousand lamps;
it kindled all of them as does our sun
kindle the sights above us here on earth;

and through its living light the glowing Substance
appeared to me with such intensity-
my vision lacked the power to sustain it.

O Beatrice, sweet guide and dear! She said
to me: “What overwhelms you is a Power
against which nothing can defend itself.

This is the Wisdom and the Potency
that opened roads between the earth and Heaven,
the paths for which desire had long since waited.”

Even as lightning breaking from a cloud,
expanding so that it cannot be pent,
against its nature, down to earth, descends,

so did my mind, confronted by that feast,
expand; and it was carried past itself-
what it became, it cannot recollect.

Paradiso, Canto XXIII (Mandelbaum)

Bots 2017 – Season Planning

This is taken from an e-mail I sent to the captains, my basic plan for the season:

In general, I think that in a short season you can really teach at most 2-3 things. Based on the level we’re at, I think those things should be dump sets, marks, and basic defensive principles (i.e. staying with your man).  I’d like to work on those, along with catching, in some fashion every single practice.  If we can execute our dumps 80% of the time and limit around breaks ourselves, I’ll consider the season a great success and think we’ll be a real contender at Regionals.
Behind this are some general principles that are going to influence how we operate in general (so not something that’s explicitly being taught, but the way we teach and run scrimmages).  The basic philosophy of our offense is to quickly move the disc in order to rapidly and decisively exploit holes in the defense.  More practically, dump swing so we can fast break it down the break side.  I want to play fast and aggressive this year, I think we’ve got some athletes with low levels of experience and an aggressive downfield attack with tough D seems like a winning strategy that will also give people useful skills to play A-side (i.e. defense, hucks, and running quick strike O).
On D, I have a dream of running force middle, hence us working on changing the mark last night, but really my main goal is to lead with our defense.  I want us to defend actively, to force them to take throws they don’t want to.  In practice, that means doing things like really pushing people under/deep, hassling dumps, and (if we can manage it, I doubt it) trying some “contain” type defenses, which are really effective against B-teams that can’t complete a lot of underneath throws consistently.
This year, I’d also really like to stress team values.  Surveying the team, virtually everyone gave some variation of “fun” and “team” as the values they’d like to see us aspire to this year.  In my eyes, the true success of our season depends on the degree to which we actualize these values.  What precisely that requires, I do not know, but that won’t stop me from trying and I’d like to document this attempt over the course of the season.

The Appeal of the Sea

On this topic, seamen always repeat the same thing.  Thus, in one of his last essays, Conrad confessed: “The monotony of the sea is easier to bear than the boredom of the shore.”  And earlier on, in a short story (which, paradoxically, is a masterpiece of disturbing and suspenseful ambiguity), he described the feeling of peace and relief experienced by a sea captain who, after a long stay ashore, finds himself again with a good ship under his feet: “And suddenly I rejoiced in the great security of the sea, as compared with the unrest of the land, in my choice of that untempted life presenting no disquieting problems, invested with an elementary moral beauty by the absolute straightforwardness of its appeal and the singleness of its purpose.”

Leys, The Hall of Uselessness, 439

Patrick O’Brian on the same:

“Never mind the disappointment.  Salt water will wash it away. You will be amazed how unimportant it will seem in a week’s time — how everything will fall into place.”

It was the true word: once the Surprise had turned south about Ceylon to head for the Java Sea, the daily order seized upon them all.  The grind of holystones, the sound of swabs and water on the decks at first light; hammocks piped up, breakfast and its pleasant smells; the unvarying succession of the watches; noon and the altitude of the sun, dinner, grog; Roast Beef of Old England on the drum for the officers; moderate feast; quarters, the beating of the retreat, the evening roar of guns, topsails reefed, the setting of the watch; and then the long warm starlight, moonlit evenings, often spent on the quarterdeck, with Jack leading his two bright midshipmen through the intricate delights of astral navigation.  This life, with its rigid pattern punctuated by the sharp imperative sound of bells, seemed to take on something of the nature of eternity as they slanted down towards the line, crossing it in ninety-one degrees of latitude east of Greenwich.  The higher ceremonies of divisions, of mustering by the open list, church, the Articles of War, marked the due order of time rather than its passage; and before they had been repeated twice most of the frigate’s people felt both past and future blur, dwindling almost into insignificance: an impression all the stronger since the Surprise was once more in a lonely sea, two thousand miles of dark blue water with never an island to break its perfect round: not the fainest smell of land even on the strongest breeze — the ship was a world self-contained, swimming between two perpetually-renewed horizons.

O’Brian, H.M.S. Surprise, 260

Despite having never truly been to sea, aside from a few (too few) days spent on the schooner Bowdoin during a high school summer, I feel this pull.  It’s the same that calls me into the woods and should be given more heed.

I’ve been working on some more substantive posts.  Unfortunately, my ambition often outstrips my time and my talent, and thus these tend to languish incomplete in various notebooks scattered around my office. Often the cause is an insidious perfectionism that causes me to reject ideas when they’ve been half-expressed, neglecting the fact that it is the precisely the willingness to say things haltingly and poorly that will allow me to one day say them well.

True Philistines

At that moment the realization hit me-and has never left me since: true Philistines are not people who are incapable of recognizing beauty; they recognise it all too well; they detect its presence any where, immediately, and with a flair as infallible as that of the most sensitive aesthete-but for them, it is in order to be able better to pounce upon it at once and to destroy it before it can gain a foothold in their universal empire of ugliness.  Ignorance is not simply the absence of knowledge, obscurantism does not result from a dearth of light, base taste is not merely a lack of good taste, stupidity is not a simple want of intelligence: all these are fiercely active forces, that angrily assert themselves on every occasion; they tolerate no challenge to their omnipresent rule.  In every department of human endeavour, inspired talent is an intolerable insult to mediocrity.  If this is true in the realm of aesthetics, it is even more true in the world of ethics.  More than artistic beauty, moral beauty seems to exasperate our sorry species.  The need to bring down to our own wretched level, to deface, to deride and debunk any splendour that is towering above us, is probably the saddest urge of human nature.

Simon Leys, The Hall of Uselessness, 42

This is a wonderful book, with an even more wonderful title.