Freebasing Thaumazein

by rsbakker

Aphorism of the Day I: When arguing, I always try to meet people in the middle, knowing that there, at least, I will be left alone.

Aphorism of the Day II: Chase wonder through the mill of reason, and you find philosophy. Chase wonder through the mill of desire, and you find fantasy. Since desire always has its reasons, and since reason is never free of desire, there’s no having the one without somehow committing the other.


It was summer. One of those days when a nimbus of white frames all the windows and the breeze hisses through the screens. We lived in this little frame farmhouse not so far from the shore of Lake Erie, and far enough from any town or village that you could pass a day without hearing a car. I was sitting in the dining room – on a bean bag chair, I think. I was reading The Fellowship of the Ring. I was ten years old.

So that would make it about 1977.

I look up from the page.

The house is empty. The compressor on the fridge hums. Outside, the wind brushes the hair of the world–the maples out front and the giant willows out back and cornfields that square all creation.

I see the battered old couch in the livingroom. Branches waving no-no in the top corner of the adjacent window. Light smeared like wax across the paneling. Crumbs on the carpet.

And I feel something between static and vertigo climb into the interval that separates what I see from the fact of my seeing.

There’s no words for it really, except, maybe…

What is this?

Seeing? Breathing? Being?

How could this be?

Then I hear my mother calling out to my brother… I can’t remember what, only that it was out back, beneath the willows. And the horror threatening Middle-earth pulls my eyes back down to the narcotic lines on the page–drags me back in.

But I never forgot the moment: How could I when it would be the first of so very many? Even still, as a middle-aged man, though it often seems the glass has been scuffed to a fog. Sometimes daily.

What – (inhale) – the-fuck – (exhale) – is-going-on?

Plato called it thaumazein, wonder, and for him it was the origin of all philosophy. But sometimes I can’t help but think that philosophy begins precisely when we forget to wonder, or even worse, confuse it with the will to answer. Sometimes, when I consider all the things I think I know, that old feeling climbs into the interval yet again, and it seems so clear that I know nothing at all. The strange and the weird and the mad all become possible… Beautiful.

And the urge to write fantasy rules me once again. It’s pursuing this urge that I feel I write my best stuff, when the story drips from the tips of my fingers. And it’s the urge that makes me smile and nod when I recognize it in writing that belongs to others.