Tuesday, December 20

Call and Response

Sometimes I wish I had a comment section so that all readers could share the letters I receive in connection with Pundita essays. (Then I recall that often people put more thought into letters than a comment section.) Here I share a brief exchange with Peter Lavelle, and my replies to two letters that I hope all readers will find interesting. Many thanks to all the readers who have taken the time to write since learning that Pundita blog is ending.

December 16
"Hi Pundita!
Sorry to be so tardy in my reply -- I have had a terrible flu...I am honored to accept your wonderful weblog award!
Peter Lavelle in Moscow"

Hullo, Peter!
Sorry to hear you were under the weather and hope this letter finds you better...I am tickled that you appreciated the Pundita award. Thank you again for the time you took on December 3 to educate me about matters Russian.

I don't need to tell you how strongly I feel that Americans need to get educated about Russia, which is virtually impossible to do without resorting to the Internet. I think of your Untimely Thoughts blog as a vital "public service."

Well, Peter, now that I am leaving the blogosphere (at least for the foreseeable future) and will be spending FAR less time in the coming year tracking world events, I will miss you and hope we can keep up our infrequent email exchanges on occasion, if only to say "Hello!"

All the best to you and your writing endeavors.

"December 18
Pundita, I have thoroughly enjoyed both your writing and my resulting education since I came across your blog sometime in the summer. I am a professional cellist by trade (and aspiring to become a well-paid one!), but also a student of political junkies and human nature in general, and your writings have given me a glimpse of the structures that underlie the surface movements of geopolitics and government. I wish you success in your endeavors, and hope for you to visit the blogosphere as often as your time permits. Thank you for writing.
Matt in New England"

Dear Matt:
Thank you for the letter of appreciation and for your good wishes. In turn I wish you great happiness in your career of music. Although I make occasional forays to break up the routine, giving readers that glimpse you wrote about is Pundita's mission statement. For several months I had the statement posted on the sidebar as a link to the essay titled "In search of where we are now." So, thanks such as yours are particularly treasured.

I did not start out to teach -- I have neither the training nor temperament for teaching -- and I did not think I was trying to teach at the first. Within a few months I realized that I had taken on too big a task and acquired the responsibility of teaching. It was a cartoonish moment: maybe like Roadrunner suddenly looking down while zipping across thin air. I decided to shut down the blog.

Then I received a letter that said simply, "You opened doors for me" and which recounted the reader's deepened view of world affairs that had come from reading the blog.

After chewing it over, I realized that I was not applying my highly improvisational style to the situation of the blog. In a sense not being able to do something is quite liberating, for whatever one does from that moment on toward the situation, one has nothing to lose by trying in any which way.

In other words, if you're dead in the water anyway, might as well keep thrashing around. In earlier days that attitude got me through (and helped me get others through) some very dangerous situations in far-flung regions of the world.

With that, I decided that I should not "try" to teach and just write from the heart in my own way. So here I am today, answering a letter of thanks from a reader who discovered Pundita's blog in the summer, which might not have happened if I'd shut down the blog in the spring.

December 20
"Pundita! I was so sad when I realized I was right and you are leaving then today I started laughing when I read Another Kind of Beer. I could just see the situation for that woman because it was really my situation when I found your blog. I got completely freaked out by 9/11 then when I tried to understand it I got overwhelmed because it was all so foreign. So then I retreated into listening to Coast to Coast and trying to shut out the world. I mean, it was easier to worry about aliens and ghosts than to try to understand Palestine and the Shia and the Sunnis and all.

Then somebody called and said to read your blog. You were talking with wild animals about world issues. I thought, "That's better than aliens." That's why I thought up food presents for your team and when you published my letter I saw you played along. You made everything into an adventure, even research. Of course it isn't just an adventure but it's the attitude. You helped me get the right attitude to take in world news, in the same way you got that woman to see she was not lost in a strange land.

With love and best wishes for whatever you do in future,
No longer Sleepless but still in St. Louis

Dear No Longer Sleepless:
The rest of the team joins me in wishing you all best and we thank you for your many contributions to this blog. And many thanks from the rest of the Team for all the food goodies.

In trying to create a sense of adventure I took my inspiration from my Dad, who was a scientist, and also from George Gurdjieff's time of leading a small band of artists and intellectual out the Russian Revolution to safety in France.

My Dad taught me to look at science as a diagloue between humans and the larger natural world. It comes down to call and response; if you frame questions in a way that Nature can 'answer' by Yes or No, then you can string together the replies into sentences of a sort that the human brain can understand.

He taught me that scientists often get bogged down because they can't think of the right way to frame questions and so the idea is to keep improvising even when working blindfolded. Eventually, if you stick at it, you'll find a way to ask a question that brings illuminating results.

Mr Gurdjieff taught the same lesson to the Russians he rescued. His charges were clueless when they started out. They assumed the revolution would quiet down shortly and the world they knew would remain intact. I think I have mentioned before that the women set off on the journey in high heels, as if they were going to a picnic in the park.

That's the group he had to lead through chaos, warfare and human slaughter; one day the Red Army would be in control of the countryside and another day the White Army.

Gurdjieff knew that the safe, highly civilized world the intellectuals and artists inhabited was gone; meanwhile he had to turn the group into tough survivors while not breaking their spirit. He turned it into a grand adventure for them; he taught them to improvise when they had no idea of how to proceed. And he taught them patience.

Sometimes, as in the situation of the woman in the Beer story, all one can do is wait. But how you wait is important. It is your time, your life, so don't see the wait as a delay. You are never late for the events of your life. Everything that happens in your time is yours, your experience.

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