“I can but no other answer make but thanks, and thanks, and ever thanks.”

Twelfth Night, Act III, Sc 3

While I hope I haven’t become one of those people who need to rely on the kindness of strangers…my six-month old Shakespeare’s Tao Twitter page just topped 2,000 followers and I’ll be damned if I know more than a handful of them. It’s a bit early for serious number-crunching, but this milestone, combined with the season, led me to a quick year-end analysis.

But first, as the year wraps up, I’m glad that I’ve found it fun to put the website together and then share it on FB and Twitter. It’s been fun – and a bit of work – going through my memory banks and researching to find Shakespearean quotes that match Lao Tsu in both spirit and text. It’s been a bit easier going through my old photos to match images to the quotes. This was a considerably longer process, since the photos brought back so many wonderful memories and generated some wonderful daydreams.  The result? A website with 131 Shakespearean quotes for people to use and abuse. When you get there you’ll see a Shakespearean sampler, with my own favourites, as well as a tab with the full collection. https://tao-not-dow.org/tao-not-dow/galleries/

OK, so much for me. What do other people like? Well, since both Shakespeare and Lao Tsu spent a lot of time on the use and abuse of power, a few images jumped to the top of the list, with “likes” and “shares” spiking whenever the Tweeter in Chief did something more outrageous than usual.

Number one on the hit parade: “It is excellent to have a giant’s strength” from Measure for Measure. [Over 10,000 hits and counting]

Next in line, running neck and neck with each other, are “The fool doth think he is wise” from As You Like It and “An empty vessel makes the loudest sound” from Henry V.

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Is it just me – or did your 2017 evaporate before it began?

Politicians usually bury an important story amidst assorted chaff in late-in-the-week press conferences. Well it’s now late-in-the-year for most of us, but I don’t have anything of particular importance to bury. So there aren’t any long stories or random philosophizing this week – just a few memories from the past year’s circuit around the sun. Hope the year you’re wrapping up gave you more good stories than bad.

Living across from a hospital, I’m used to seeing hospital entryways populated by patients with their flimsy open-backed gowns flapping in the breeze while they puff away with one hand on their cigarette butt and the other keeping their IV pole from rolling down the street. A third hand might be able to cover that other butt, but it’s not a priority to them. The other night I saw one better – I guy walked into a pub across from the hospital, still dressed in his flappy gown and fuzzy slippers. He ordered a pint, sat down and watched the soccer match. A few nights later I mentioned the incident to a nurse from a different hospital, who told me that being in a hospital is stressful enough without adding the stress of quitting tobacco to the mix. She changed the topic without addressing the man’s escape to the pub. Read More

When circuit boards replace synapses…

Please lend me your ears. That is, if you’re not using them – or what’s between them.

Many people don’t listen. To themselves. Or to anyone else, either. No, I’m not talking about ego, insecurity and willful ignorance of others. I’m talking about physical and mental awareness of ourselves and our place in things.

You’ve done it. I’ve done it. We think out loud. Read More

Lots of time to spare? Fly Norwegian Air!

I was lucky, others weren’t. When Norwegian Air cancelled three trans-Atlantic flights on the same Friday, following a series of similar cancellations all in the same week, they put us all on a Belfast flight, promising to bus the Cork, Shannon and Dublin passengers to their respective airports. I was returning from a business trip with a weekend to spare when I received their cancellation text on my way to the airport. Others had special events in their diaries, which they may or may not been able to attend, jet-lagged or not. Read More

A priest, a rabbi, and a minister walk into a park –

along with an imam, some nuns of various stripes and a few people dressed in Eastern robes. One of these days I should probably learn how to identify a Hindu and Buddhist cleric on sight, as opposed to cosmology. The grouping wasn’t particularly unusual, since I was in an area where marches, rallies and demonstrations for one cause or another are commonplace – in addition to the weekend walks, runs and rides for whatever disease is fashionable this week.

As is usual with these things, no matter what your cause or politics, it feels good because you’re surrounded by fellow travelers, singing, chanting and marching together. Adrenaline’s a fun drug to have running through your system. And there’s even more of it around when you and your friends are making sure the TV cameras are getting good footage. On days like this it’s good to know we’re not alone in our beliefs. Pressing the pavement and flesh is a lot more satisfying than pressing “like” on our keyboard.  I recall watching some nurses clad in local hospital T-shirts enjoying a sociable smoke break with each other after they’d walked for a cancer cure. Read More

Hello, I must be going.

Thank you, North Carolina. You’ve been good to me. I’m pretty sure I’ve returned the favor, but I’m glad to be gone. We’ve each changed over the past 40-odd years. You’ve given me lifelong friends and memories of truly wonderful experiences. But over the past few years your arrogant, selfish political meanness has shown a dark side of yourself I can no longer tolerate.

A few days ago I sold my last business in the state. I’ll soon be filing my final tax return with you. I’m glad my tax dollars will no longer be supporting a racist, power-grabbing, misogynistic legislature. I’m sad to be leaving so many friends and compatriots still in the trenches, trying to reclaim the decency and civility that made you such a wonderful place – a place I used to be proud to call home. My old home was sheltered in one of those urban blue dots you myopically see as a blemish on your gerrymandered crimson maps. One of those places that drive your economic engine. If you’d been a bit more tolerant you might still be getting my money. Read More

It’s summer. Who are all these people in ski parkas?

OK, even though we’ve got palm trees, Ireland hasn’t been near the equator in 300 million years or so. Thanks to continental drift we’re far enough north these days for a lot of 17-hour summer days – and my only T-shirt accessory is a rain slicker. But all these people walking around town dressed for Gstaad in January? I wondered about these wanderers til I realized they were boat people – their ocean liners keep them on the breezy waters at 50+ degree latitudes and when they disembark to invade us in the morning it’s still a bit chilly. Mystery sort of solved.

While ocean liner travel isn’t my cup of tea or coffee, I understand its appeal to others. I’m glad to see these overdressed explorers wandering around town, as opposed to those who are herded onto buses for the Jamieson or Blarney tours before being shepherded back to their boat by sign-waving, clipboard-toting, whistle-blowing tour guides. I just hope things are as good for the truly local economy as the business cheerleaders make it out to be. Too many people appear to disembark, board the big bus, see the big site, then shop in designated spaces before being bussed back to a big meal on board. Read More

I wanted to spend money, but there was nothing worth buying

The Violence of the Dawn, from the Hunt Museum’s exhibition

It took me nearly two hours to go to another city. Add another two-plus hours exploring displays and listening to lectures. Then came the moment, one I’d anticipated with some joy. I wanted to buy another book. Not just any book, but a massive book that could collapse a coffee table. And it would be a book I’d actually pick up to read on a recurring basis. . .And it wasn’t there when I went to buy it. Read More

My Shakespearean Problem

I’ve got a problem. [Duh, don’t we all? And just one? Cue the violins.] Anyway, to use today’s jargon, it’s not really a problem. It’s a challenge, an opportunity, a chance to learn. And compared to all that’s happening in the world, it ranks somewhere less than zero and only slightly greater than nil on the planet’s crises charts.

As you may already know, I’ve been working on a project call Tao-not-Dow, applying ancient Chinese observations to today’s world. If you haven’t seen it, you can check it out at https://tao-not-dow.org/. It’s unlike anything you’ll see in the “inspirational” Taoist posts that clutter our web pages. Along the way I stumbled onto some Taoist teachings that resembled some of Shakespeare’s lessons. So I began another project, called Shakespeare’s Tao. For the most part it’s fun. I know enough about each subject to be dangerous and enjoy the research that goes into creating the images you’ll see on Facebook, Twitter and the website.

But now to my problem. Excuse me, my challenge –

You may recall that Bill the playwright was also somewhat of a propagandist for the Tudors. It was important that he show the correct uses and misuses of royal power on the way to his heroes’ and villains’ just desserts. Lao Tzu, on the other hand, was more of a flower child. Legend has it that he created the book as a gift to a border guard on his way to a self-imposed exile from a corrupt Chinese empire. The Tao’s references to the use of power are thinly veiled cynicism and satire. Come to think of it, so are many of Shakespeare’s references. In each case, “you had to be there” to understand the full import of a speech or verse.

So what’s the big deal? Should I match an out-of-context Shakespearean quote with an out-of-context Taoist quote, just because the ostensible thoughts match? After all, it works in politics. In each case the unlettered, such as ourselves, would be oblivious to the intended meanings of ironic statements. Chinese and English cognoscenti would smirk or groan at my presumed ignorance.

It might take me a little longer, but I’ll do my best to retain the spirit and meaning of Shakespeare and Lao Tzu wherever I pair them. I’ll trust you to differentiate between metaphor and fact. As you’ll see in the My Tao piece on the website, my epigrams are responses to the Tao, not translations.

And if I err? I’ll be in good company, along with those who misquote the Bible, Quran and US Constitution in partisan efforts to arouse the like-minded and antagonize everyone else. Just remember where I’m publishing. As Abe Lincoln told us, you can’t trust everything you read on the internet.

And now for the nitty-gritty –

Shakespeare’s Tao is easy to find as a gallery tab on the tao-not-dow page. I’ll be posting images there on an irregular basis, following my discovery patterns. There will always be more images here than you’ll find in other media.  https://tao-not-dow.org/project-tag/shakespeare-quotes/

The Facebook and Twitter pages will usually see a single post each week, so if you decide to follow me on either site your own page won’t be inundated with Shakespearean profundities.

I you hope enjoy the new project – and will be looking forward to your thoughts.

I was caught in the spin cycle of a bot machine

I’m old enough to remember watching dirt being invented. But that doesn’t mean that every now and then I don’t get surprised – like when I got caught in the spin cycle of the political bot machine.

Over the years I’ve gotten a pretty good handle on the response rate my posts will get on social media. So I was pleasantly surprised when one of my Twitter posts hit its expected two day total in a couple of hours. When I checked back on my page later in the day, my traffic count was over six figures and climbing like kudzu and knotweed. No way was I going to scan the retweets and likes for people I might want to follow. Read More