Thursday, January 26, 2017

Lantern Life

Seen on a T-shirt:
So many books, so little time

Hello Reader,
Got metaphor?

A lantern makes a fine metaphor. When I was growing up we had lanterns between joists in our basement, and one even had a cool sticker of a bat on it, but the dusty lanterns were never used. How symbolic: perfectly good stuff, not used.

An old lantern metaphor, which I found in some religious tract, was about proceeding through a dark life on faith: The radius of light from a lantern is so darn small. You can lift your arm so the lantern is as high as possible, and all that does is make the ground much dimmer. Your two choices: see the ground, or see in front. How frustrating for a small scared boy in the dark, heading across a pasture to the barn.

But how encouraging for me as an adult, looking at my dark life in the midst of my discouragement. In my new improved metaphor, I move through a night pasture looking down at the ground, seeing pages and knowledge, dry facts and awesome insights, clearly read by lantern light until… I walk onwards. As new books appear in the light, old ones are lost.

Last week, on a brief vacation, I found illumination. I realized I had forgotten how much I liked hanging around at Joe’s place on holiday, rather than constantly traveling. And I just know the lantern will move on, and I’ll forget Joe again. I’ll forget life lessons X and Y, right up until my lantern walk brings me, yet again, across that part of the pasture.  My metaphor is improved by saying the field is trackless, for wandering. No sunken path to shuttle back and forth on, down the years.

Besides being sad about forgetting, there is this: I don’t care if my knowledge is out of date—I just care that I retain so darn little! It’s a bitter-sweet consolation to reflect that I could, in theory, save my money all year, never buying any new books or DVDs, if only I would keep recycling through the stacks I have. Yes, but how dull.

I’m not the only one who’s frustrated. One of my favorite essayists, Paul Graham, would also swing his lantern by his books, forgetting and reading, forgetting and reading. Oh the forgetting! He tries to console himself that books are never wasted, that somehow bits of knowledge remain down in the subconscious… a small bit, that is. It would be nice to think so.

Ah, stuff. The lantern metaphor: Just walk on, you can’t retain it all, it’ll turn up again. This could be an exciting excuse to get rid of my stuff! Just now, the DVDs on top racks in my closets are touching the ceiling. And the books! At least none are in piles on chairs, nor on the floor—OK, except for one half-tidy stack in front of my bookcase. Years ago someone said I should look into renting a storage locker. So I did look, for a moment, then realized I want to have my stuff close at hand. Besides, a friend filled a storage locker, and it didn’t work for him. In fact, I helped him clear it out… and then I came home with more stuff he had thoughtfully given to me.

Of course, books are the hardest to discard. Now, books in the library might seem plastic and boring, maybe. Not like the delicious ones I find in the second hand stores. They all have spicy character, as if they were all signed by an author, all having time traveled from the good old days when the grass was greener and sky was bluer. Back when folks had more fun. What am I to do?

At the thought of so many books still unread at home, collected from my travels, from towns along the railways and byways… it drives me mad.

Maybe, for my books, I can use my lantern metaphor as an excuse to Stop The Madness: letting the perfectly good books go… content that one day, as I wander over our common pasture, I shall chance upon them again, at yet another treasure house, thrift store or bazar. At least, it would be sure nice to think so. Especially since at my latest home, I do have a storage locker close at hand. It’s the largest size I could buy, in the basement of my condominium block. Bounded by a chain link fence. Full? Right to the very top. And the fence is bulging!

I have to laugh.

Sean Crawford
In a cozy suite with big storage,
and the mortgage all paid off,

~I don’t do links, but I will say that if you search-engine for “stuff” plus “Paul Graham,” you’ll find his delightful essay.

~I’m not the only one who “don’t do links.” One of my top ten essays of all time, by hit count, is No Links is Good Links, archived July 2012.

~I feel a fondness towards folks who care and search for Paul’s essay. As for a chap who won’t bother looking without a link, handed on a silver platter? Him not so much.
~No, I haven’t just offended him, because if a man is too "busy" to type then he won’t read footnotes either.


  1. I'm visiting my mother who has antique oil lanterns stored in the basement. She keeps them there in case the power goes off. But then she also has a dozen flashlights. Yesterday the power went off for ten minutes during the day. Hardly enough time to drag the lanterns out of storage let alone prepare them for use. I often don't remember what I read but I do remember how I felt about what I read. The authors I like best are the ones that take me away from my worries about whether or not I have a lantern to light the way. A good book illuminates the path I wish to travel. P.S. I read your footnotes. P.P.S. Books are the best STUFF!

  2. Cindy, I relish your use of metaphor.

  3. It seems we, my hubby and I, are in the process of least that is what we say. We cannot, however, pass one of those little library boxes that are everywhere without bringing home some more delicious books to devour. We take some back: the ratio is approximately 1-5. for every one returned 5 brought home. sigh!

    1. One to five, eh? Yes, that was my ratio too. before I truly tried to stop bringing in more—now it's more like one to one. Sigh!
      I'll let you know how it goes.

  4. My goal is to read the fifty or more of the unread books I already possess. But, yes, it seems like the pile grows bigger everyday. I have at least a dozen books on writing I haven't finished. I am DETERMINED to finish them!