Saturday, October 15, 2022

"The cuticle of his left index finger"


So I'm reading this book. Not that I've suddenly caught up on all my reading—my last volume vanquished was published in 2006—but this book actually made its debut a mere year ago. And yes, it was only on the second page of the preface that "the cuticle of his left index finger" arrested me.

Imagine that concept in context for a minute. The actual setting gives more of the feel of the moment:

...the only person at a poker table who has identified the tell of the dominant player. While other players are calculating the mathematical odds of having the winning hand, he's staring into faces. He's watching his rival to see how many times he blinks and whether he picks the cuticle of his left index finger.

I want to be that person. Only, instead of reading poker players, I want to read my ancestors. Their faces. Their eyeballs. Yes, even what they're doing with their hands. Ferreting out those "tells," I want to get into the stories of my people.

The book, by entrepreneur Luke Burgis, is Wanting. I don't supposed you'd have been interested in it if I had begun with an excerpt like this: "Mimetic theory sheds light on what motivates economic and political and personal tensions...." But that is what the book is all about.

While I have already learned that "mimetic" refers to "imitative" and that people learn "to want the same things other people want, just as they learn how to speak the same language and play by the same cultural rules," I will see how that mimetic wanting locks people into "cycles of desire and rivalry that are difficult, practically impossible, to escape."

Hopefully, I'll see even more than that. I'll start peering into the few artifacts I can find from my ancestors' lives, looking for signs of those pried-loose left-finger cuticles and other expressions, not so much of that ancestor's life, but how he or she experienced that life.

Ideas can become regenerative. Reading a book is not simply a matter of reading a book. Opening a book is opening a volume of thoughts—thoughts captured and repackaged by someone else but from which my own can glance off, ricochet through my mind, gather connections, and emerge a re-invented creature. I'm sure I'll learn something from Luke Burgis' book. I may even experience something valuable. Far more important, though, is what I do after my mind passes through the author's prose. Reading books, after all, is for inspiration.



  1. Reading blog posts can be inspirational, too. What you explained, even though briefly, about mimetic wanting and how people absorb the thoughts and desires of those closest around them . . . touches on what I have been trying to understand about how my ancestors lived. It also touches on how my current friends and family (and myself) have developed our deepest held beliefs.

    1. It's a fascinating concept, Lisa. You've certainly explored that with your study of your ancestors' lives during and after the Civil War. It seems we nearly immerse ourselves in understanding their times, simply to get a glimpse of just who they really were. As you mentioned, though, this can dig even deeper when we explore the possible bases for our most cherished beliefs. Gives us pause to consider...


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