From Emma Lou the porcupine

“Weohryant University” (XX)

blurtso5222

Do you think we’re early? said Morton.
I don’t want to appear anxious, said Emma Lou.
Neither do I, said Chelsea.
How long should we wait? said Morton.
Until it’s time, said Emma Lou.
How will we know? said Morton.
They’ll tell us, said Emma Lou.
What if they don’t? said Morton.
Then we’ll never know, said Chelsea.
They’ll tell us, said Emma Lou, if they want us to know.
And if they don’t? said Morton.
Then they won’t tell us, said Emma Lou.
That makes sense, said Chelsea.
Where are the others? said Morton.
They’re waiting for us to decide, said Chelsea.
They don’t want to appear anxious, said Emma Lou.
What’s wrong with appearing anxious? said Morton.
It makes you look greedy, said Emma Lou.
Even if you’re willing to share? said Morton.
Maybe they want us to wait, said Chelsea.
Why? said Morton.
Because anticipation increases desire, said Emma Lou.
Yes, said Chelsea, like in the Kama Sutra.
The Kama Sutra? said Morton.
The Kama Sutra, said Chelsea, is one of the books on our reading list.
The one the moose keeps hogging? said Morton.
Yes, said Chelsea, but I managed to sneak a peak.
What does it say? said Morton.
It says that withholding pleasure increases desire, and increasing desire increases pleasure.
What if you don’t get what you desire? said Morton.
Then you still get the pleasure of anticipating, said Chelsea.
The pleasure of anticipating? said Morton.
Yes, said Chelsea, like when you spend the winter anticipating the spring fashions, and when the fashions come out, you’re a little disappointed, but at least you had the pleasure of anticipating them.
That happens for me, said Emma Lou, every season of the year.
But sometimes when you get something, said Morton, it’s as good as what you had hoped for.
That’s true, said Chelsea, but getting it doesn’t diminish the pleasure you got from anticipating it.
It teaches you, said Emma Lou, to enjoy the journey and not focus on the destination.
The destination? said Morton.
The object of desire, said Emma Lou.
We’ve waited long enough, said Morton.
You may be right, said Emma Lou.
I wonder if the others are enjoying the wait? said Chelsea.
Birds can be very patient, said Emma Lou.
That’s true, said Morton, I watched Frank sit on a fence for five hours yesterday.
You watched him for five hours? said Chelsea.
Yes, said Morton.
And you didn’t get impatient? said Chelsea.
No, said Morton, I didn’t want to eat him.
So you’re only impatient, said Emma Lou, with things you want to consume?
Yes, said Morton.
What if you’re not hungry? said Emma Lou.
There are some things I want to consume, said Morton, whether I’m hungry or not.
That’s not very healthy, said Emma Lou.
I know, said Morton.
Do you smell that? said Chelsea.
Yes, said Emma Lou, I do.
It must be time, said Chelsea.
Yes, said Emma Lou, it must be time.
Really? said Morton, I was just starting to enjoy the anticipation.

“Weohryant University” (XIX) – Where 101

blurtso5220

Today’s question, said Harlan, is: “Where did it go?”
Where did what go? said Chelsea.
It was here just a minute ago, said Morton.
I didn’t take it, said Emma Lou.
Neither did I, said Frank.
Do you mean “ubi sunt”? said Glouster.
Ubi sunt? said Morton.
“Ubi sunt,” said Glouster, is Latin for “Where are they?” It comes from a Latin poem that begins, “Ubi sunt qui ante nos in mundo fuere?” which translates: “Where are they who, before us, existed in the world?” It was a common theme in medieval poetry, and was most famously expressed by the French poet, François Villon who asked, “Où sont les neiges d’antan?” or “Where are the snows of yesteryear?”
The snows of yesteryear? said Morton.
I don’t like snow, said Chelsea.
Neither do I, said Frank.
I don’t mind it, said Emma Lou, so long as I’m not far from my den.
Why would anyone worry about last year’s snow? said Morton.
It’s a metaphor, said Glouster, for all the things you’ve lost in your life.
Lost? said Chelsea.
Yes, said Glouster, the things you had in the past that you no longer have.
The things I’ve eaten? said Morton.
Yes, said Glouster, and the friends you’ve lost, and your lost youth.
My lost youth? said Chelsea.
Yes, said Glouster.
I’m not going to lose my youth, said Chelsea.
Of course you are, said Glouster.
Really? said Chelsea.
Yes, said Glouster.
In that case, said Chelsea, I don’t like “ubi sunt.”
Crows live forever, said Frank.
They do? said Morton.
Sure, said Frank, crows, or “ravens”, and nightingales, and even some other birds.
Are you sure? said Morton.
Yes, said Frank, just ask Edgar Allen Poe and John Keats.
Who are they? said Chelsea.
They are poets, said Frank, who wrote about birds who live forever, birds who travel from heaven to earth to hell and then back again.
Have you been to heaven and hell? said Chelsea.
No, said Frank, not yet.
I don’t want to go to hell, said Morton.
Heaven and hell, said Glouster, are metaphors for, “the realm of the dead.”
I don’t want to go there either, said Morton.
Maybe, said Chelsea, that’s where the “ubi sunts” are.
I know a song, said Frank, about “ubi sunt.”
What’s it called? said Chelsea.
It’s called “The Ashgrove,” said Frank, and it has a blackbird in it.
How does it go? said Chelsea.
I don’t remember all the words, said Frank, but it’s about a woman who loses her lover and looks for him in an ashgrove.
Does she find him? said Chelsea.
No, said Frank, he’s buried beneath the green turf.
Is that a metaphor for “the realm of the dead”? said Morton.
Yes, said Frank.
Why doesn’t the blackbird, said Chelsea, fly to the realm of the dead, talk to the dead lover, then return and talk to the woman so she can have a sense of closure?
That’s a good question, said Frank.
What’s closure? said Morton.
Closure, said Chelsea, is talking with your ex-lover until you have nothing more to say.
Why would you want to do that? said Morton.
Because, said Chelsea, if you say everything you have to say, you can stop thinking about him when he’s gone.
So he doesn’t become an “ubi sunt”? said Morton.
Yes, said Chelsea.
I would like to be an “ubi sunt”, said Emma Lou.
So would I, said Glouster.
Why? said Chelsea.
Because, said Glouster, I don’t want to be forgotten.
Being forgotten, said Emma Lou, would be like a second death.
Maybe it’s a good thing, said Morton, for people to go around asking “ubi sunt?”
Why? said Chelsea.
Because, said Morton, it keeps the dead from dying.

“Weohryant University” (XVIII) – What 101

blurtso4443

As you answer today’s question, said Blurtso, I would like you all to remain completely silent. The question is: “What is that sound?”

blurtso4449

blurtso4443

That’s all for today, said Blurtso.

“Weohryant University” (XVII) – Where 101

blurtso4440

Today’s question, said Harlan, is: “Where’s the door?”
The door? said Morton.
What door? said Frank.
There are lots of doors, said Chelsea.
You can’t swing a cat, said Frank, without hitting a door.
Maybe it’s a symbolic door, said Glouster.
An entrance door or an exit door? said Emma Lou.
Why do we want to find it? said Chelsea.
So we can get out, said Morton.
What if there’s no exit? said Frank.
Then we’ll have to stay here, said Morton, until we find it.
Or find an entrance, said Emma Lou.
An entrance? said Morton.
Yes, said Emma Lou, if we can’t get out, maybe we can get in.
Why do we want to go anywhere? said Morton.
That’s a good question, said Glouster.
To see what’s on the other side, said Chelsea.
The other side? said Morton.
Yes, said Chelsea, whenever I see a door, I wonder what’s on the other side.
Even when it says “do not enter”? said Morton.
Yes, said Chelsea, especially then.
Curiosity killed the cat, said Frank.
It did? said Morton.
If that’s true, said Chelsea, why arent’ there dead cats everywhere?
It’s an idiom, said Glouster.
An idiom? said Morton.
An idiom, said Glouster, is “a set expression of two or more words that means something other than the literal meaning of the individual words.”
Idioms, said Emma Lou, often have a basis in reality.
That’s true, said Frank, like the idiom, “There’s more than one way to skin a cat.”
Why would anyone want to skin a cat? said Morton.
It means, said Glouster, “There’s more than one way to do something.”
Or, “Who let the cat out of the bag,” said Frank.
Why would anyone put a cat in a bag? said Chelsea.
Lots of reasons, said Frank.
Like what? said Chelsea.
To stop cats, said Frank, from chasing birds.
Oh, said Chelsea.
I suppose birds aren’t fond of cats, said Morton.
No, said Frank.
What animals do donkeys dislike? said Emma Lou.
We like all animals, said Chelsea.
Except dogs, said Morton, when they’re nipping and yapping at your heels.
That’s true, said Chelsea, but some dogs are nice.
I don’t like crocodiles and alligators, said Glouster, they remind me of U-boats.
What’s a U-boat? said Chelsea.
A U-boat, said Glouster, is a submarine. The name comes from the anglicized version of the German word, “U-boot,” which comes from the word “Unterseeboot,” which means “under sea boat.” In World War II German U-boats plundered U.S. and Canadian merchant ships carrying supplies to allies in Western Europe.
I hate war, said Chelsea.
How does a submarine go under the sea, said Morton, without water leaking through the doors.
The doors, said Glouster, are air-tight. Nothing can get in or out.
There’s no exit? said Frank.
Not as long as the U-boat is underwater, said Glouster.
I don’t like to be trapped in closed spaces, said Frank.
Nor do I, said Glouster.
I don’t mind, said Emma Lou, as long as I can dig my way out.
“When one door closes,” said Glouster, “another one opens.”
Is that true? said Morton.
It’s an idiom, said Glouster, that means “When one opportunity is lost, another one presents itself.”
I’ve been in a barn, said Morton, that had two doors which were both closed.
What did you do? said Frank.
I stopped thinking about getting out, said Morton, and started thinking about something else.
You opened a door in your mind, said Emma Lou.
That’s right, said Morton.
Maybe that’s the door we should be looking for, said Frank.
The door in our mind? said Morton.
Yes, said Emma Lou, the door to imagination, to new perspectives, possibilities, and opinions.
I use that door all the time, said Chelsea.
It’s a very nice door, said Morton.
And it’s almost always open, said Emma Lou.
Almost? said Chelsea.
Yes, said Emma Lou, sometimes it’s closed by habits and prejudices we’ve adopted from those around us.
A Scottish journalist named Charles Mackay, said Glouster, wrote a book called, Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds.
What’s it about? said Chelsea.
It’s a book about crowd psychology, said Glouster, and how individual delusion can become mass delusion.
Mass delusion, said Emma Lou, is called “reality.”
How can you tell, said Morton, if what you believe is a delusion?
That’s a good question, said Chelsea.
What’s the answer? said Frank.
I don’t know, said Morton, maybe that’s the door we should be looking for.

“Weohryant University” (XVI) – When 101

blurtso4452

Today’s question, said Pablo, is: “When is it too late?”
Too late for what? said Morton.
I didn’t do it, said Emma Lou.
Too late for planting? said Frank.
“Lateness,” said Glouster, is “arriving or remaining after the due, usual, or proper time.”
The proper time? said Chelsea. Who decides what is the proper time?
Your boss does, said Frank.
Or your teacher, said Glouster.
Or whoever makes the rules, said Morton.
Whoever has the power, said Emma Lou.
Michel Foucault, said Glouster, said: “The strategic adversary is fascism… the fascism in us all, in our heads and in our everyday behavior, the fascism that causes us to love power, to desire the very thing that dominates us.
Am I a fascist? said Chelsea.
I don’t think you’re a fascist, said Morton.
What’s a fascist? said Frank.
“Fascism,” said Glouster, is “a political philosophy, movement, or regime that exalts nation and often race above the individual and stands for a central autocratic government headed by a dictatorial leader, severe economic and social regimentation, and forcible suppression of opposition.”
That doesn’t sound like me, said Chelsea.
It can also mean, said Glouster, “a tendency toward or actual exercise of strong autocratic or dictatorial control.”
Dictatorial control? said Morton.
A dictator, said Glouster, is “someone granted absolute power, often ruling oppressively.”
Do I have absolute power? said Chelsea.
Foucault goes on to say, said Glouster, “It is my hypothesis that the individual is not a pre-given entity which is seized upon by the exercise of power. The individual, with his identity and characteristics, is the product of a relation of power exercised over bodies, multiplicities, movements, desires, forces.”
Seized on by the exercise of power? said Frank.
Does that mean, said Chelsea, that I’m a victim.
Both a victim, said Emma Lou, and a dictator.
Foucault adds, said Glouster, that “there is no power relation without the correlative constitution of a field of knowledge, nor any knowledge that does not presuppose and constitute at the same time power relations.”
Isn’t that a vicious circle? said Chelsea.
Yes, said Glouster.
How did we get caught, said Frank, in this vicious circle?
We were talking, said Emma Lou, about who decides what is too late and what is not too late.
Sometimes, said Frank, nature decides what is too late.
Yes, said Morton, like when it’s too late to plant pumpkins in order to have a good harvest in the fall.
Does that mean, said Chelsea, that nature is a fascist?
A fascist, said Emma Lou, that desires to be exploited by itself.
But I am a part of nature, said Morton. Does that mean I’m constantly exploiting myself?
Yes, said Emma Lou.
So if I grow a pumpkin, said Morton, then make a pumpkin pie, then eat it, I’m exploiting myself?
Yes, said Emma Lou.
In that case, said Morton, I should try to exploit myself more often.
When is it too late, said Chelsea, to plant pumpkins for a good harvest?
I don’t know, said Morton, I’ve never planted a pumpkin.
You haven’t? said Chelsea.
No, said Morton, I’ve always exploited the pumpkin someone else planted.
That’s shameful, said Chelsea.
Is it? said Morton.
What if, said Emma Lou, the person who planted the pumpkin derived pleasure from Morton’s exploitation of the pumpkin?
You mean, said Frank, the pleasure one gets from sharing with someone else?
Exactly, said Emma Lou.
That’s a good question, said Chelsea.
What would Foucault say? said Frank.
I’m not sure, said Glouster, I suppose he would say that the act of sharing is an act of exploitation, a disguised power-play designed to manipulate the recipient into a position of gratitude and subservience.
I think, said Chelsea, the world would be a better place if more of us went around exploiting each other by sharing.

“Weohryant University” (XV) – What 101

blurtso4426

Today’s question, said Blurtso, is: “What is that blur of movement?”
I don’t see anything, said Morton.
Neither do I, said Chelsea.
Maybe it’s moving too fast to be seen, said Frank.
I suppose it could be anything, said Morton.
Anything, said Chelsea, that’s moving too fast to be seen.
If it’s moving too fast to be seen, said Emma Lou, how do we know it’s really here?
I suppose we don’t, said Frank.
Maybe we should make a list, said Glouster, of the things that move fast.
I can move fast, said Frank, when I’m hunting or being hunted.
So fast, said Chelsea, that you can’t be seen?
I don’t know, said Frank, I don’t have a mirror.
The next time you’re being hunted, said Chelsea, tell me so I can see if you can be seen.
Humming birds move fast, said Morton.
So fast, said Chelsea, that they can’t be seen?
Yes, said Morton, if you’re not paying attention.
Is it really possible, said Chelsea, for something to move too fast to be seen?
At the subatomic level, said Emma Lou.
That’s because it’s small, said Glouster, not because it’s fast.
It’s both, said Emma Lou.
First we can’t trust our sense of smell, said Morton, and now we can’t trust our sense of sight?
If things can move too fast to be seen, said Chelsea, how do we know we’re not surrounded by things moving too fast to be seen?
I think everything moves too fast, said Morton. Why can’t we all slow down?
That’s a good question, said Emma Lou.
Humans move fast, said Frank.
Yes, said Emma Lou, they’re always in a hurry to get somewhere.
Where do you think they’re going? said Chelsea.
They hurry to work, said Glouster, then hurry to finish, then hurry home, then hurry to go out, then hurry to return.
If something, said Morton, is moving too fast to be seen, is it moving too fast to see?
That’s another good question, said Emma Lou.
People in a hurry can’t see me, said Chelsea.
And the joggers along the Charles, said Glouster, don’t see me.
My cousin, said Frank, was hit by a person who didn’t see him.
I’m sorry, said Chelsea.
What’s the fastest thing in the world? said Morton.
Light is the fastest, said Glouster.
How fast? said Morton.
186,000 miles per second, said Glouster.
That’s fast! said Morton.
So fast, said Glouster, that time stands still.
What? said Morton.
When an object, said Glouster, moves at the speed of light, time stands still for that object.
Who says? said Morton.
Einstein says, said Glouster
The bagel maker? said Morton.
No, said Glouster, the physicist.
So if I moved at the speed of light, said Morton, I’d have all the time in the world?
You’d be immortal, said Emma Lou.
That would be great! said Morton.
Jorge Luis Borges, said Glouster, wrote a story called, “The Immortals.”
What’s it about? said Chelsea.
It’s about a man, said Glouster, who finds the fountain of immortality, takes a drink, and becomes immortal.
Does he move at the speed of light? said Morton.
No, said Glouster, he just lives forever.
Ravens are immortal, said Frank.
They are? said Chelsea.
Yes, said Frank, we can travel from the world of the living to the world of the dead, and back again.
Are you immortal? asked Chelsea.
I will be, said Frank, in the future.
If you could travel at the speed of light, said Morton, you wouldn’t have any future.
What happens to the man in “The Immortals”? said Emma Lou.
He lives for thousands and thousands of years, said Glouster, and learns every language, and reads every book, and does everything again and again and again, until he finally decides to look for the fountain of death.
Of death? said Morton.
Yes, said Glouster, because immortality is unbearable.
That’s very interesting, said Emma Lou.
It makes you feel sorry for the gods, said Chelsea.
It makes heaven sound less attractive, said Emma Lou.
Maybe moving at the speed of light, said Morton, isn’t so good—you wouldn’t have a future and you wouldn’t have a past, you couldn’t be seen and you couldn’t see.
So death is a good thing? said Chelsea.
Yes, said Emma Lou, it is.
But I don’t want to die, said Chelsea.
Even after you’ve done everything again and again? said Emma Lou.
I haven’t done everything again and again, said Chelsea.
It would be like a “deep and dreamless sleep,” said Morton.
A what? said Chelsea
That’s what the Upanishads say, said Morton.
Are you reading the Upanishads now? said Chelsea. I’m still in the Mahabharata. There’s a war and everyone is fighting for life and death.
I suppose the possibility of death, said Emma Lou, makes life more exciting.
I’m never more alive, said Frank, than when I’m hunting or being hunted.
I still don’t know how, said Morton, moving fast makes time stand still.
I think people move fast, said Chelsea, so that they will have more time.
Time to do what? said Emma Lou.
Time to move faster, said Chelsea, until time stops and they become immortal.
Which is the same as being dead? said Morton.
We’re back to where we started, said Glouster.
I suppose we’ve been moving so fast, said Morton, that we haven’t gone anywhere at all.

“Weohryant University” (XIII) – Where 101

blurtso4432

Welcome, said Harlan, to “Where-101.” Today’s question is: “Where is Borneo?”
What is Borneo? said Morton.
No, said Harlan, “Where is Borneo?”
In Asia, said Glouster.
What’s he doing in Asia? said Morton.
Borneo isn’t a he, said Glouster, it’s an it.
An it? said Morton.
Yes, said Glouster, an island north of Java.
I like a cup of Java in the morning, said Frank, sometimes two.
Java is an island, said Glouster.
How do you know so much? said Chelsea.
North Borneo, said Glouster, was a protectorate of the British Empire from 1881 to 1941, and a Crown Colony from 1946 to 1963.
Do they speak English in Borneo? said Emma Lou.
The official language is Bahasa Melayu, said Glouster, but English is common, as well as the indigenous languages, Oma Lung and Uma Kulit.
Is Asia far from Boston? said Chelsea.
It’s on the other side of the world, said Glouster.
How far is that? said Chelsea.
Nine thousand two hundred and fifty-two miles, said Glouster.
Wow, said Chelsea, that would take forever!
How fast can you walk? Morton.
Four miles per hour, said Chelsea.
Really? said Morton. I only walk three.
I can fly thirty miles per hour, said Frank.
I wish I could fly, said Chelsea.
I can only walk one mile per hour, said Emma Lou.
I can fly more than forty miles per hour, said Glouster, and swim almost twice as fast.
Wow, said Chelsea, like the speed of light!
Not that fast, said Emma Lou.
Why would anyone live in Borneo, said Morton, if it’s so far from Boston?
Why would anyone live in Boston, said Emma Lou, if it’s so far from Borneo?
What does it feel like to fly? said Chelsea.
It’s like swimming, said Glouster, but in the air.
What does it feel like to swim? said Chelsea.
It’s like flying, said Glouster, but in water.
I don’t swim very fast, said Emma Lou, but I float.
Really? said Chelsea. Without sinking?
Yes, said Emma Lou.
Wow, said Chelsea.
Are there donkeys in Borneo? said Morton.
A few, said Glouster, but there are more elephants.
How many more? said Morton.
Fewer than there were, said Glouster, before their habitat was destroyed.
Is that why you left Borneo? said Emma Lou.
Yes, said Harlan.
That’s very sad, said Chelsea.
Does your family still live there? said Emma Lou.
My brothers, said Harlan, were killed for their tusks.
What?! said Chelsea.
And I don’t know, said Harlan, where my parents are.
I think, said Chelsea, that I’m going to cry.
I’m glad I don’t live in Borneo, said Morton.
It’s a very beautiful place, said Harlan, despite the problems.
Where are your tusks? asked Emma Lou.
I had them removed, said Harlan, so no one would kill me.
Is Asia near India? said Chelsea.
India is in Asia, said Harlan.
Really? said Chelsea. Have you read the Mahabharata?
Yes, said Harlan.
Are you a Hindu? said Emma Lou.
Yes, said Harlan.
Do you believe in reincarnation? said Emma Lou.
Yes, said Harlan.
In the Mahabharata, said Chelsea, the god Krishna tells Arjuna all about reincarnation and selfless service.
That part of the novel, said Harlan, is called the “Bhagavad Gita.”
I think there’s an inherent contradiction in the concept of reincarnation and the concept of Atman, said Emma Lou.
A contradiction? said Harlan.
Yes, said Emma Lou. As I understand it, Atman is the universal Brahman as manifested in the individual. Atman is beyond duality—beyond time and space, beyond good and evil, and beyond ego. And being beyond ego it is beyond individuality; it is the undifferentiated “one” that underlies all things. The concept of karma and reincarnation, on the other hand, says that when a person dies the soul returns to become Atman (the undifferentiated “one”), yet this soul somehow retains the karma (unresolved issues) of the individual when that person was living. This soul, with its unresolved issues, must then be reincarnated in the world in order to work through those issues. My question is this: How can the soul, after the death of the individual, become ego-less Atman and yet hang on to the issues of the ego-individual? If the soul becomes “ego-less” after death, it cannot hang on to the unresolved issues of a former ego. Atman and Brahman, by definition, are beyond maya and unresolved issues.
That’s a good question, said Harlan.
What’s the answer? said Emma Lou.
The doctrine of reincarnation, said Harlan, belongs to the apara vidya—or “lower knowledge”—that operates in the world of “maya” or illusion. The Para Vidya—or “Higher Knowledge”—removes the illusion of the manifold world and, with it, the illusion of the individual soul and its birth, death and hereafter. The function of organized religion is twofold. On one hand it teaches the secrets of wonder and mystery, and on the other it is a rule book for a functioning society. For those with Para Vidya, those who can truly understand the “oneness” of all things, there is no need for the concept of reincarnation, because there are no unresolved issues in “oneness.” For those who cannot embrace or “experience” the mystical union that is beyond individual objects, karma and reincarnation play a civilizing role. They inspire members of society to perform “good” rather than “evil” deeds. They function the same way as heaven and hell in the Biblical tradition—the “carrot and stick” that encourage individuals to behave in a civilized manner without acting like barbarians and killing each other.
Do you, said Emma Lou, have “Higher Knowledge” and embrace the mystical union beyond individual objects?
Yes, said Harlan, I believe I do.
Then why do you believe in reincarnation?
I believe in reincarnation, said Harlan, as a civilizing force for those who remain tied to the illusion of individual objects. I don’t not believe in reincarnation for myself.

“Weohryant University” (XI) – What 101

blurtso4447

Welcome, said Blurtso, to “What 101.” The question for today’s class is: “What’s that smell?”
What’s that smell? said Glouster.
I didn’t do it, said Emma Lou.
I don’t smell anything, said Frank.
I do, said Morton.
So do I, said Chelsea, it smells like jasmine.
It also smells like pumpernickel, said Morton, or a field of wheat before it rains.
Yes, said Chelsea, or a riverbed of Alabama clay.
I don’t smell anything, said Frank.
You can’t trust your senses, said Glouster, everyone has a different sense of smell.
That’s what the Upanishads say, said Emma Lou.
The Upanishads? said Morton.
Yes, said Emma Lou, the Upanishads say that the world perceived by the senses is maya.
Maya? said Chelsea.
Yes, said Emma Lou, separate smells and sights and things only exist as the condition of perception. They are an illusion. At the subatomic level they dissolve into a flux of energy.
Does an odor exist, said Frank, if you can’t smell it?
Does an odor exist, said Emma Lou, if you can smell it?
Maybe, said Glouster, we should consult Avery Gilbert’s book, The Science of Scent in Everyday Life. Or Patrick Suskind’s novel, Perfume.
Perfume? said Morton.
Yes, said Glouster, a novel about the emotional meanings that scents carry. The protagonist is a perfume-maker in 18th century France.
I love perfume, said Chelsea.
I can’t smell perfume, said Frank.
There’s another novel about smell, said Glouster, in which a man takes a bite of a cookie that makes him remember his childhood and the life he’s lived.
What’s it called? said Emma Lou.
Á la recherche du temps perdu, said Glouster, by Marcel Proust.
What kind of cookie does he eat? said Morton.
A Madeleine, said Glouster.
What’s a Madeleine? said Morton.
A Madeleine, said Glouster, is a buttery sponge cake.
I love sponge cake! said Chelsea. Why can’t we read a book about sponge cake instead of the Bible and the Quran and the Upanishads?
There’s a donkey in the Bible, said Morton.
There is? said Chelsea.
Yes, said Morton, Jesus entered Jerusalem on a donkey.
There are donkeys in the Quran too, said Glouster.
There are? said Chelsea.
I still don’t smell anything, said Frank.
I do, said Chelsea, it smells like something sweet.
Maybe Bonny is baking a pie! said Morton.
No, said Glouster, that’s only on Thursdays.
If we can’t trust our senses, said Chelsea, what can we trust?
“To smell,” said Glouster, is “to perceive the scent of something by means of the olfactory nerves.”
Isn’t that circular, said Emma Lou, to say, “to smell is to perceive scent”? It doesn’t explain anything.
If you smell something before you eat it, said Morton, it gives you an idea of what it’s going to taste like.
Sponge cake smells sweet, said Chelsea.
So do chocolate chip cookies, said Morton.
I’ve never had a chocolate chip cookie, said Frank. What do they taste like?
It’s hard to describe, said Morton, to someone who has never tried one.
“To taste,” said Glouster, is “to ascertain the flavor of something by taking a little into the mouth.”
That doesn’t tell me what it tastes like, said Frank. Does it taste like a worm?
A worm? said Morton. I don’t know, I’ve never tasted a worm.
Does everything, said Chelsea, taste different to everyone?
That’s a good question, said Frank.
Did anyone bring cookies? said Morton.
“The senses,” said Glouster, are “the physiological capacities of organisms that provide data for perception.”
Data for perception? said Frank. Does that mean we don’t actually perceive things themselves, we only perceive data?
Every time I perceive the data called smoke, said Morton, it reminds me of when I was tethered in a barn and the barn caught fire and someone rushed in to save me before I was burned alive.
That must have been terrifying! said Emma Lou.
Every time I perceive the data called smoke, said Chelsea, it reminds me of roasted chestnuts on the Mass. Ave Bridge.
“Harvard Bridge?” said Morton.
Yes, said Chelsea, in December.
From a man in a green overcoat? said Morton.
Yes, said Chelsea, and on Saturdays he brings his daughter.
Those are excellent chestnuts, said Morton.
But you can’t eat them at once, said Chelsea, because they’re too hot, so you have to wait, but you can’t wait, so you eat them and they burn your tongue.
The data burns your tongue, said Morton.
When I perceive the data called smoke, said Frank, I fly in the opposite direction.
I dive underwater, said Glouster.
Really? said Chelsea. I wish I could swim.
You can’t swim? said Glouster.
No, said Chelsea, I don’t think so.
It’s easy, said Glouster, you just paddle around, and then dive down when you see something to eat.
Like what? said Chelsea.
Like a fish, said Glouster.
I couldn’t catch a fish, said Morton.
Neither could I, said Chelsea.
Some animals are not fishers, said Frank.
The Apostles of Jesus, said Glouster, were fishers of men.
Fishers of men? said Emma Lou.
Yes, said Glouster, they used the holy word of God to entice people to open their hearts and love their neighbors.
Just like in the Upanishads, said Emma Lou.
Is that in the Bible? said Chelsea. I’ve been reading the Mahabharata. It starts with a story about a girl who is turned into a fish. And then she has children that smell like fish.
Even I can smell a fish, said Frank.
Then a wise man called a “rishi”, said Chelsea, becomes obsessed with the girl’s smell and makes love to her.
I don’t like the smell of fish, said Morton.
What smells bad for one person, said Emma Lou, smells good for another.
Fish must like the smell of fish, said Chelsea.
They sure do taste good, said Glouster.
Yes, said Frank, especially when they’ve been baking in the sun for a while, on the side of the road, or in a ditch near a field.
I’m sorry to interrupt, said Blurtso, but we’re out of time. I hope you enjoyed the first day of class. Thank you for your interesting comments and questions.
Thank you, said Emma Lou, you’re an excellent teacher.

“Weohryant University” (VIII)

blurtso4417                

Welcome, said Harlan, to the “Class of 2020” first-year orientation at Weohryant University. It is my pleasure to introduce the Weohryant faculty who will be facilitating your education for the next four years. To my left is the co-founder of our college, Dr. Blurtso Lundif. Mr. Lundif will be teaching What-101 every Monday in his barn from noon until dusk. To my right is Ms. Bonny Bray. Bonny will be your guide through the “Masterpieces of World Literature” reading list. She will be available on Thursdays during the day, and will serve home-made pumpkin pie that same evening here in the main house. To Bonny’s right is Pablo the Gardener. Mr. Gardener will be teaching When-101 on Tuesdays from sunrise until noon at the Clippety Clop Animal Refuge and Co-Op. And I, said Harlan, am Dr. Harlan de Borneo. I will be guiding your journey through Where-101 every Wednesday on the Boston Common from sometime after breakfast until sometime before lunch. Finally, my colleagues and I would like to wish you all a hearty welcome to the maiden voyage of Weohryant University, and congratulate you for being selected as the inaugural class of this revered institution.