The Letter I Never Read (But Should Have)

Have you ever made a big decision in your personal life, career, or business — only to realize soon after how dramatically different your decision, and consequently your circumstances, would have been had you received in time some critical information you knew was coming your way?

That’s happened to me on several occasions (which says a lot about my decision-making prowess!) and it happened again quite recently. Now, I don’t know enough about the present to claim the ability to tell the exact sequence of events into a future that never was. But I’m 100% convinced had I received and read and acted upon the letter below on time, I’d be having a whole lot more fun today.

The LEtter I Never Read

My dear Mr. Kappus,

Much time has passed since I received your last letter. Please don’t hold that against me; first it was work, then a number of interruptions, and finally poor health that again and again kept me from answering, because I wanted my answer to come to you out of peaceful and happy days. Now I feel somewhat better again (the beginning of spring with its moody, bad-tempered transitions was hard to bear here too) and once again, dear Mr. Kappus, I can greet you and talk to you (which I do with real pleasure) about this and that in response to your letter, as well as I can.

You see: I have copied out your sonnet, because I found that it is lovely and simple and born in the shape that it moves in with such quiet decorum. It is the best poem of yours that you have let me read. And now I am giving you this copy because I know that it is important and full of new experience to rediscover a work of one’s own in someone else’s handwriting. Read the poem as if you had never seen it before, and you will feel in your innermost being how very much it is your own.

It was a pleasure for me to read this sonnet and your letter, often; I thank you for both.

And you should not let yourself be confused in your solitude by the fact that there is something in you that wants to move out of it. This very wish, if you use it calmly and prudently and like a tool, will help you spread out your solitude over a great distance. Most people have (with the help of conventions) turned their solutions toward what is easy and toward the easiest side of the easy; but it is clear that we must trust in what is difficult; everything alive trusts in it, everything, in Nature grows and defends itself any way it can and is spontaneously itself, tries to be itself at all costs and against all opposition. We know little, but that we must trust in what is difficult is a certainty that will never abandon us; it is good to be solitary, for solitude is difficult; that something is difficult must be one more reason for us to do it.

It is also good to love: because love is difficult. For one human being to love another human being: that is perhaps the most difficult task that has been entrusted to us, the ultimate task, the final test and proof, the work for which all other work is merely preparation. That is why young people, who are beginners in everything, are not yet capable of love: it is something they must learn. With their whole being, with all their forces, gathered around their solitary, anxious, upward-beating heart, they must learn to love. But learning-time is always a long, secluded time, and therefore loving, for a long time ahead and far on into life, is: solitude, a heightened and deepened kind of aloneness for the person who loves. Loving does not at first mean merging, surrendering, and uniting with another person (for what would a union be of two people who are unclarified, unfinished, and still incoherent?), it is a high inducement for the individual to ripen, to become something in himself, to become world, to become world in himself for the sake of another person; it is a great, demanding claim on him, something that chooses him and calls him to vast distances. Only in this sense, as the task of working on themselves (“to hearken and to hammer day and night”), many young people use the love that is given to them. Merging and surrendering and every kind of communion is not for them (who must still, for a long, long time, save and gather themselves); it is the ultimate, is perhaps that for which human lives are as yet barely large enough.

But this is what young people are so often and so disastrously wrong in doing: they (who by their very nature are impatient) fling themselves at each other when love takes hold of them, they scatter themselves, just as they are, in all their messiness, disorder, bewilderment. And what can happen then? What can life do with this heap of half-broken things that they call their communion and that they would like to call their happiness, if that were possible, and their future? And so each of them loses himself for the sake of the other person, and loses the other, and many others who still wanted to come. And loses the vast distances and possibilities, gives up the approaching and fleeing of gentle, prescient Things in exchange for an unfruitful confusion, out of which nothing more can come; nothing but a bit of disgust, disappointment, and poverty, and the escape into one of the many conventions that have been put up in great numbers like public shelters on this most dangerous road. No area of human experience is so extensively provided with conventions as this one is: there are life-preservers of the most varied invention, boats and water wings; society has been able to create refuges of every sort, for since it preferred to take love life as an amusement, it also had to give it an easy form, cheap, safe, and sure, as public amusements are.

It is true that many young people who love falsely, i.e., simply surrendering themselves and giving up their solitude (the average person will of course always go on doing that), feel oppressed by their failure and want to make the situation they have landed in livable and fruitful in their own, personal way. For their nature tells them that the questions of love, even more than everything else that is important, cannot be resolved publicly and according to this or that agreement; that they are questions, intimate questions from one human being to another, which in any case require a new, special, wholly personal answer. But how can they, who have already flung themselves together and can no longer tell whose outlines are whose, who thus no longer possess anything of their own, how can they find a way out of themselves, out of the depths of their already buried solitude?

They act out of mutual helplessness, and then if, with the best of intentions, they try to escape the convention that is approaching them (marriage, for example), they fall into the clutches of some less obvious but just as deadly conventional solution. For then everything around them is convention. Wherever people act out of a prematurely fused, muddy communion, every action is conventional: every relation that such confusion leads to has its own convention, how ever unusual (i.e., in the ordinary sense immoral) it may be; even separating would be a conventional step, an impersonal, accidental decision without strength and without fruit.

Whoever looks seriously will find that neither for death, which is difficult, nor for difficult love has any clarification, any solution, any hint of a path been perceived; and for both these tasks, which we carry wrapped up and hand, on without opening, there is no general, agreed-upon rule that can be discovered. But in the same measure in which we begin to test life as individuals, these great Things will come to meet us, the individuals, with greater intimacy. The claims that the difficult work of love makes upon our development are greater than life, and we, as beginners, are not equal to them. But if we nevertheless endure and take this love upon us as burden and apprenticeship, instead of losing ourselves in the whole easy and frivolous game behind which people have hidden from the most solemn solemnity of their being, then a small advance and a lightening will perhaps be perceptible to those who come long after us. That would be much.

We are only just now beginning to consider the relation of one individual to a second individual objectively and without prejudice, and our attempts to live such relationships have no model before them. And yet in the changes that time has brought about there are already many things that can help our timid novitiate.

The girl and the woman, in their new, individual unfolding, will only in passing be imitators of male behavior and misbehavior and repeaters of male professions. After the uncertainty of such transitions, it will become obvious that women were going through the abundance and variation of those (often ridiculous) disguises just so that they could purify their own essential nature and wash out the deforming influences of the other sex. Women, in whom life lingers and dwells more immediately , more fruitfully, and more confidently, must surely have become riper and more human in their depths than light, easygoing man, who is not pulled down beneath the surface of life by the weight of any bodily fruit and who, arrogant and hasty, undervalues what he thinks he loves. This humanity of woman, carried in her womb through all her suffering and humiliation, will come to light when she has stripped off the conventions of mere femaleness in the transformations of her outward status, and those men who do not yet feel it approaching will be astonished by it. Someday (and even now, especially in the countries of northern Europe, trustworthy signs are already speaking and shining), someday there will be girls and women whose name will no longer mean the mere opposite of the male, but something in itself, something that makes one think not of any complement and limit, but only of life and reality: the female human being.

This advance (at first very much against the will of the outdistanced men) will transform the love experience, which is now filled with error, will change it from the ground up, and reshape it into a relationship that is meant to be between one human being and another, no longer one that flows from man to woman. And this more human love (which will fulfill itself with infinite consideration and gentleness, and kindness and clarity in binding and releasing) will resemble what we are now preparing painfully and with great struggle: the love that consists in this: that two solitudes protect and border and greet each other.

And one more thing: Don’t think that the great love which was once granted to you, when you were a boy, has been lost; how can you know whether vast and generous wishes didn’t ripen in you at that time, and purposes by which you are still living today? I believe that that love remains so strong and intense in your memory because it was your first deep aloneness and the first inner work that you did on your life. – All good wishes to you, dear Mr. Kappus!

Yours,

Rainer Maria Rilke

For the less read amongst you, this is the 7th letter in Letters to a Young Poet – a collection of ten letters written by Bohemian-Austrian poet Rainer Maria Rilke to Franz Xaver Kappus, a 19-year old officer cadet at the Theresian Military Academy in Wiener Neustadt, Austria.

Gearing Up For A Fun Ride

Ever since I purchased my namesake domain name a decade ago (whew, how quickly time flies!) I’ve always wanted to produce instructional content of exceptional quality, free of charge, for all. But I haven’t done much through these ten years: I’ve merely sat down and talked and dreamt and planned and whined and watched various online technologies, media and media formats come and go.

That is, until now. With a deteriorating health, old age creeping in through the backdoor (hello gray hair!), and having stupidly acquiesced to making someone’s daughter’s burden my own; the quest to create has changed from a mere hobby with altruistic intentions, to a necessary fork I must take in my career path at this very moment. And with little Elvis crawling at my heels, it’s now or never.

That’s why I’m, quite literally, gearing up.

Logitech HD Pro Webcam C920

I wanted a simple and low-cost 1080p-capable webcam that would work out of the box under Linux, Mac and Windows. I looked at several webcams under $100 and settled on the Logitech C920. This camera had over 2,000 5-star rave reviews on Amazon — and most of the few problems reported by 1-star reviewers seemed to be operator related.

Logitech HD Pro Webcam C920

Though I’ve only used this baby very sparingly, I’ve been very impressed with its performance. The Logitech C920 records FULL HD (1080p) video as advertized in .MP4 format, using H.264 compression. It does a pretty good job at the compression too: 1080p video takes about 49MB per 1 minute of recording on the highest settings, while a minute of 720p recording takes about 31MB. My only beef with the C920 is its rather clunky monitor mount which can only be tilted up and down — no side-to-side turn. But that’s not a deal breaker, as the C920 has a threaded 1/4in tripod mount and I’ve already got a Manfrotto in the house.

Manfrotto Compact Light MKCOMPACTLT-RD

The Compact Light is professional photography gear maker Manfrotto’s lightest tripod, midway between between a mini and full size tripod. This is my first real tripod (minis and monopods don’t count), and I wanted something compact and lightweight that I could easily carry around. The Manfrotto Compact Light fits the bill excellently. It weighs less than a kilogram, and measures just about 40cm long when closed. It is designed to fit all Compact System Cameras with a universal ¼” camera attachment and weighing up to 1.5Kg.

Manfrotto Compact Light tripod

Lest I’m deemed an ingrate, let me say here that both the Manfrotto Compact Light tripod and Logitech C920 webcam were presents from my good friend Stephen Kofi Annor. I’d asked Steve, while on his annual nuptial flight to Europe, to buy these for me as I couldn’t find them locally. He bought them all right, but offered them as gifts for Elvis and refused to take the money. Thank you Steve.

Sony DSC-W800

I’m not a huge fan of the Sony brand (for reasons that have nothing to do with the quality of their products or the lack thereof), but here was this very basic Sony DSC-W800 lying around from a failed project, and I just couldn’t toss it into the bin. This little camera has become the workhorse at home now, documenting little Elvis’ life and following him wherever he goes.

Sony DSC-W800

Glass Camera (Ordered)

A while back Google made waves with its Glass project, a wearable technology with an optical head-mounted display — essentially a James Bond style ubiquitous computer in the form of an eyeglass. Google has since stopped production of the The $1,500 Google Glass prototype, though the company says it remains committed to the development of the product.

While the release date and final pricing of Google Glass remains unknown, the project has stirred the development of many el-cheapo “spy” glasses, notably from China. But unlike Google Glass which is a complete computer with a display and a web service behind it, these Chinese “spy” glasses only have embedded cameras and nothing more. And even though these devices are marketed as spy glasses, there are numerous FPV (First Person View) use-cases that have nothing to do with spying at all. So don’t worry, I’m not going to spy on you (or on anyone else).

Glass Camera

A Quadcopter / Drone (Ordering Soon)

These days my interests revolve around teaching, photography and videography, electronics and flying. That’s my I’m getting a drone. I’ve fixed my eyes on the awesome 3DRobotics SOLO (see video below), but before I go crashing thousands of dollars into the ground, I’d rather use something cheaper — way cheaper — to learn some sense and master some flying skills.

So I’m going for a sub-$100 drone, and price includes including camera and spare batteries. I’ll probably settle for the very popular Syma X5C-1, as both the newer Syma X5SC and its upgrade Syma X5SC-1 seem to have problem navigating in windy conditions. The MJX X400, the WLToys V686, the JJRC H9D and the Cheerson CX-30W are all solid entry level quadcopters under $100. I’m still looking for a way to sneak this into June’s family budget — so who knows what I might end up buying!

Syma X5C-1 Quadcopter

Fancy Tablet & Phone Mount (Ordering Soon)

Little Elvis LOVES to play with his plastic toys my iPad. Only problem: his 5-month old hands cannot hold the iPad yet, so I have to hold it for him all the time. This nifty robotic arm fixes that.

Tablet and Phone Mount

So what next? Rightnow most of my important toys are either in place or will be in place soon. The only major roadblock ahead is the current extended rolling backout situation here in Ghana, but I’m working on a solution to that as well. If all goes well, I hope to get into full gear in the second half of the year. Stay tuned.

Back to Blogging and Blabbering

So I’m BACK. Back to blogging, blabbering and incessantly sharing the triumphs and travails of my little life with the three people who visit this website occassionally — Richard, Google Bot, and Yours Truly — as I used to way back when.

But first things first: there are some two new folks in the yard that you may want to meet: Linda, Mother’s daughter in law, and Elvis, Mother’s grandson. Here’s the long version of the rather short story.

A little over a year ago I wrote here that I was looking for a few crazy young people for a new initiative. Well, let’s say… I pivoted (a term everyone and their dogs seem to be using these days!) from that original idea into quite a bizarre new business, one in which I needed no such crazy people to help out.

George Appiah, Linda Boanya and families

Having been chronically irresponsible and a full-time blame-caster all my life, I’m not going to pretend to have changed all of a sudden and accept that the decision to get hooked was mine and mine only. That’s like accepting there’s water in the desert and sand out in the sea, or the earth is up above us and stars are down below, or there are daisies in the desert and roses in the snow: quite impossible!

So I put the blame, the decision pressure to get hooked, squarely on my father. But that’s just the path of least resistance, as my father is no more here to defend himself. How smart heh? Yes, my father passed away just a day or so to my wedding — and more importantly, while on a mission to procure the necessary documents demanded by the Catholic Church for the aforementioned wedding. More about that in future posts. But rest assured I got married, with the full involvement and support of my father, long before the said wedding.

Confused yet? Welcome to the stupidity and intricacies of ‘modern’ Ghanaian marriages!

A Whole New World Called Family Life

So my father passed away. And all of a sudden, I’m forced to be (or at least forced to act being) RESPONSIBLE for another being, Linda. Enough troubles for my little life, right? No. There was one more to come. A baby. A baby boy. Elvis.

Elvis Appiah

Will Poor George survive this brave new world? Your guess is as good as mine. But whether I survive or not, I’m going to die trying. And while I still have some strength left, I’m going to share the journey with you, right here on this space.