I am a self-contradiction, an optimistic curmudgeon. Try as I will to nurture the bitter herb of misanthropy, I always manage to find some dandelions of goodwill infesting the fields of my thought. As I say to the coffee jerks at the local palais de caffeine, as they make my signature drug (four shots of espresso over ice), I like my coffee to match my soul ... cold, black and bitter. But those dandelions. (Roasted dandelion root used to be used as a coffee substitute. See, my metaphors aren't drifting as far as you thought are they?!) I must lack the true bitterness that would let me despise globally and unstintingly. Instead, I have an eye for the ridiculous, a sense of the commonality and humor of man. What a state to be in ... whoever heard of a laughing curmudgeon? a cheerful misanthrope, a giggling grump. Ah well, I disdain categories anyway, so I guess I'll revel in my own uniquity.
Friday, July 28, 2006
I mention in my bio that my wife is an artist. Some of her design work is available from a company called Droll Designs. Her latest effort is in their current catalog which has only been out a few days, but her work is proving to be the highlight. She designed a nice Seder plate with individual dishes to hold the symbolic foods. I'm so proud of her. As the old saying goes, "they tried to kill us, we survived, let's eat!"
Tuesday, July 18, 2006
Some of us are addicted to conversation. It just occurred to me that: Phosphoresence my old friend I've come to talk to you again. While JPGs are slowly loading The urge to chat is just exploding And the bitmap, implanted in my brain Just can't explain Conversing in the sounds of silence. One restless night I typed alone. I didn't use the telephone. The angle brackets would make sure that, What I wrote retained its format. When my ego's pierced by someone else's mordant wit, I felt like shit, Tapping keys in the sounds of silence. And in the flat screen's light I saw Ten million people, maybe more People talking without speaking People hearing without listening People writing songs that voices never shared And no one cared To break the sound of silence. "Fools" I thought, "You do not know The Web just like a cancer grows. Read my email that I might teach you, VOIP that I might reach you." But my words like spam was filtered out, IN CAPS I SHOUT A discard in the null of silence. And on Table Talk we try To believe that time won't fly. What does an hour really matter Compared to witty useless chatter And to writers whose desire to satirize Still clouds their eyes. Leaving novels on the shelves of silence.
Awe, according to the great rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, is a sense of the ineffable, a feeling that what one is feeling can not be adequately encompassed by words. Like him, some people associate the word with God, although I suspect that they use the word without understanding its depths and heights as he does. For some, awe is a catch-all for things they don't want to bother describing. Some people associate awe with the stunning effects of height, depth, massiveness or vastness. For me, awe is the sensation of seeing a dandelion in full bloom in the middle of an asphalt parking lot.
Monday, July 17, 2006
I have been reading one of my favorite authors, Henry Petroski, and one of his essays in 'The Evolution of Useful Things' seems to speak to my vision of modern life. Petroski talks about tableware and specifically about forks. He refers to the fact that in 1898 one company produced a single silverware pattern that consisted of 131 discrete specialized pieces for serving or eating. There were separate forks for oysters, berries, terrapin, lettuce, salad, lobster, mango, pastry, fish, pie, and that didn't even include the dinner fork. Additionally some of the utensils were developed specifically for right handed use only. With so much attention needed to match the silverware to the appropriate use, who would have time to enjoy the meal. We've reduced this complexity over time but it persists in places. For me, when I reach in to the silverware drawer to pull out a fork, it doesn't matter to me if it is a salad fork or a dinner fork. The complexity has moved from the dinner table to the kitchen. At one point I remember having found more than 20 different devices for peeling, crushing, and mincing garlic. In the time it takes someone to find their garlic preparer in the doohickey drawer, I will have done the entire operation with the same Chinese cleaver that I use for the meat the vegetables and the herbs. It's tempting to ask why we are so in love with complexity and simultaneously so fearful of it that we build walls and borders to protect ourselves from it. But that's misinterpreting the situation. The complexity that so many love is the complexity of order. It is the farmer brain rampant; memorizing uses and abuses, developing specialized tools for specialized jobs, creating categories and rules. We hunters squat by the woods on the outskirts of town and gaze in wonder at all the bright shiny things. We squat there and trim branches for arrows with our knives, we cut feathers for fletching with our knives, we cut our food with our knives, we stick it in our mouths with our knives. Then we go out into the chaos that is forest and watch for interesting disturbances. As a hunter I worry that the complete imposition of order, no matter how complex, will eventually destroy us. Our objective should not be the subjugation of chaos or the destruction of order it should be to achieve 'life in balance'. To have hunters and farmers not just co-existing but valuing and understanding others' capabilities and needs to the point of mutual respect.
I'm thinking of writing an epic trilogy to be set in the period of the Old Testament. It's the story of an ordinary woman trying to make the best of life in extraordinary times. Vol. 1 (Her youthful adventures and joys before marriage) 'Not A Lot!' Vol. 2 (Her challenging married years. Her life torn between her husband's virtue and her friends' decadent lifestyle.) 'Don't Look Back' Vol. 3 (Her stoic, silent acceptance of her irresolution, verging on catatonia, frozen in the wasteland between family and friends) 'Salt Of The Earth'
Two of my heroes were sharp observers and commentators on the human condition/comedy, Robert Burton who wrote the Anatomy of Melancholy, and G.K. Chesterton. Some quotes from GKC should explain my infatuation:
'The free man owns himself. He can damage himself with either eating or drinking; he can ruin himself with gambling. If he does he is certainly a damn fool, and he might possibly be a damned soul; but if he may not, he is not a free man any more than a dog.' 'Moderate strength is shown in violence, supreme strength is shown in levity.' 'Bigotry is an incapacity to conceive seriously the alternative to a proposition.' 'Reason is always a kind of brute force; those who appeal to the head rather than the heart, however pallid and polite, are necessarily men of violence. We speak of 'touching' a man's heart, but we can do nothing to his head but hit it.'What Chesterton is talking about in this last quote is that true violence occurs in the fanatic adherence to rationalizing everything, that reason itself is a blunt instrument, that the force of imposing ideas is more violent than mere physical subjugation. In the full quote, which follows, he explains that the more significant violence of the Puritanical movement in England was not physical.
... it is seldom remembered that the Puritans were in their day emphatically intellectual bullies, that they relied swaggeringly on the logical necessity of Calvinism, that they bound omnipotence itself in the chains of syllogism. The Puritans fell, through the damning fact that they had a complete theory of life, through the eternal paradox that a satisfactory explanation can never satisfy. Like Brutus and the logical Romans, like the logical French Jacobins, like the logical English utilitarians, they taught the lesson that men's wants have always been right and their arguments always wrong. Reason is always a kind of brute force; those who appeal to the head rather than the heart, however pallid and polite, are necessarily men of violence. We speak of 'touching' a man's heart, but we can do nothing to his head but hit it. The tyranny of the Puritans over the bodies of men was comparatively a trifle; pikes, bullets, and conflagrations are comparatively a trifle. Their real tyranny was the tyranny of aggressive reason over the cowed and demoralised human spirit. Their brooding and raving can be forgiven, can in truth be loved and reverenced, for it is humanity on fire; hatred can be genial, madness can be homely. The Puritans fell, not because they were fanatics, but because they were rationalists.I read that paragraph and I think about the articles of faith that we have today. Standardized testing, types of learning, categorization, naming every quirk so that it can be diminished or eradicated. Rationalism today is the most insidious and vile form of tyranny. How easy it is to medicate people into a bland porridge of humanity. We have pills to lift us up if we're low, pills to bring us down when we're high, pills to make us act just like everyone else. It reminds me of one of the most horrifying visions in the text of Handel's Messiah. It was drawn from Isaiah 40:4
Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low. The uneven shall be made level, and the rough places a plain.Imagine a world that really looked like that. Flat, level, featureless, a world that only a corporate farmer could love. Yet that's what I see as the goal of those people who aggressively medicate or discipline or shame our kids out of developing their uniqueness. ... and that is what Chesterton is describing. It is a tyranny of mind that is epidemic. We can see it in the fires of Islamic and in the fury of Christian fundamentalism. We see it in politicians and governments. Worst of all we see it in our schools. "It is not rational that what is a challenge for the rest of the kids is easy for this one," they say, followed by:
- "He's not bored, he's innattentive."
- "I can't understand what he's doing so it is wrong."
- "It is not rational to enjoy being ADD, take this Ritalin."
- "Don't be different."
Okay, before I start I need to make a disclaimer. I have nothing against Samsung as opposed to other wireless phone manufacturers. It's just that their name fits so neatly. Samsung phone Everybody needs one Samsung phone Marketing's the seed son Me and you are subject to the advertisers' push So when you take your money out to buy You make yourself a tush Don't beat around the bush. Samsung phone Got it in your pocket For that phone If you had a soul you'd hock it. Funny thing, but every ring tone costs you lotsa bucks Your bank account is empty, mortgage overdue And your credit sucks Samsung phone Everybody needs one Samsung phone Now we know that greed's won
Thursday, June 01, 2006
My neighbor's backyard is hidden from others by a tall weathered palisade fence. The slats are tight together. They let no hint of what is behind them escape. But, from my window I can see over the fence. Just above the top I can see a mound against the opposite fence, a mound of incandescent orange poppies. From here they are a mass of outrageous color, an insane brilliant boundary splashed between and against the grey weathered fence and the green turf. My poppies have not bloomed yet. When they do they will explode in luscious pinks and purples and deep rich reds. The petals unfolding to reveal the fat black stamen waving their pistil legs at the sky like overturned spiders. But for now, I must be content to peek over the fence At the glorious color in my neighbor's yard.
This morning I sat on the back porch with a cup of coffee and a dog. I listened to a religious discussion between two mockingbirds. "Chikchikwarblewarblechirppwarble," said the one on top of the pine. "Chikwarblechikwarbledhirpchirpchirp," said the other from deep in the spruce. They repeated their arguments often, to uderscore the importance and veracity of their positions. "Oooo," said a mourning dove. "You tell 'em," said a flicker. But it was unclear which side they supported, A flash of red cut across the grass and dandelions, to land on the fence. "You're both full of ... " And with a flick of his tail the cardinal was gone. From a nearby rooftop, a small mob of crows laughed derisively, and went back to aerobatics practice. "How very dogmatic," I muttered, then apologized to my companion for any perceived slur. She looked at me with pity and acceptance of my failures. In the distance the hum of cars and trains urged me to hurry, "It's time to move, time to merge, time to ... quick, quick." I ignored it preferring the buddhist "ommmmm" of the bumblebees. My coffee gone, I rose from my seat. The dog rose beside me. I got more coffee, she got more water. "The bird in the pine," I said to her, "Was aggressive and too vehement. Which tends to make me doubt his position." She gave a short yip of affirmation, predictably preferring agreement to discussion. The cat, curled under the lilacs, abstained.
Wednesday, January 11, 2006
By Dave McEnery A ship out on the ocean, just a speck against the sky, Amelia Earhart flying that sad day; With her partner, Captain Noonan, on the second of July Her plane fell in the ocean, far away. Chorus: There's a beautiful, beautiful field Far away in a land that is fair. Happy landings to you, Amelia Earhart Farewell, first lady of the air. She radioed position and she said that all was well, Although the fuel within the tanks was low. But they'd land on Howland Island to refuel her monoplane, Then on their trip around the world they'd go. Well, a half an hour later an SOS was heard, The signal weak, but still her voice was brave. Oh, in shark-infested waters her plane went down that night In the blue Pacific to a watery grave. Well, now you have heard my story of that awful tragedy, We pray that she might fly home safe again. Oh, in years to come though others blaze a trail across the sea, We'll ne'er forget Amelia and her plane. Chorus: There's a beautiful, beautiful field Far away in a land that is fair. Happy landings to you, Amelia Earhart Farewell, first lady of the air.
Today is Amelia Earhart Day. A brave and adventurous woman, she said: "Better do a good deed near at home than go far away to burn incense." "The most difficult thing is the decision to act, the rest is merely tenacity. The fears are paper tigers. You can do anything you decide to do. You can act to change and control your life; and the procedure, the process is its own reward." “Anticipation, I suppose, sometimes exceeds realization.” "Courage is the price that Life exacts for granting peace, The soul that knows it not, knows no release from little things." "The more one does and sees and feels, the more one is able to do, and the more genuine may be one's appreciation of fundamental things like home, and love, and understanding companionship." “The soul’s dominion? Each time we make a choice, we pay with courage to behold restless day and count it fair.” "Never interrupt someone doing something you said couldn't be done." "No kind action ever stops with itself. One kind action leads to another. Good example is followed. A single act of kindness throws out roots in all directions, and the roots spring up and make new trees. The greatest work that kindness does to others is that it makes them kind themselves." "Adventure is worthwhile in itself." "Never do things others can do and will do, if there are things others cannot do or will not do." "The most effective way to do it, is to do it." All of which are words that I hope my new grand-daughter Amelia will grow to understand and live by.
Friday, January 06, 2006
There's a certain ethereal quality to the subject lines of spam. Sometimes I just browse the Thunderbird Junk folder to enjoy the random juxtapositions of words. Perhaps there is a secret hidden there, a kabbalistic meaning that exists on a deeper level. Be that as it may, here is the latest crop in chronological order. Is it just me or does it seem as if the universe is quivering at the door whimpering to be let in? you should read this josh sniff That reply in hautbois Contact the Agent Urgently!!! You have won Or talk so groat Important Account Notice! Be cancel he sly To sign no refer wan My make as dawdle robin
Thursday, January 05, 2006
Tuesday, January 03, 2006
Here's one of my favorite passages from Tom Holt
In the beginning was the Word. Nobody knows what it actually was, although it would be nice to think it was 'Sorry.' After a while the Word began to feel bored. It checked its spelling, but that was all right. It tried rhyming with itself, but it had an idea that that made you go blind. It put itself into italics, but they hurt. There was nothing for it but to create some other words and see what happened. To begin with, the Words just bounced about, like a lot of random particles; and when they bumped into each other, small bits and corners were chipped off, fell through space, acquired momentum and became Matter. Then most of the original Words decided to form a gang, dress up in white sheets and beat the pulp out of the adjectives, who they felt were getting above themselves, and so engrossed did they become in this that they failed to notice that a rival group of sentient beings had materialised out of nowhere. By the time they realised they were not alone, the Words had been scooped up, parsed senseless and imprisoned in the first ever word processor.
Yes, I know that I promised to keep writing, but the black humours overcame me and I sank into the depths again. Having given up drinking, oblivion was denied me. Having given up smoking, the solace of slow suicide was also unreachable. Which leaves me no recourse except to accept the slow progress of life. I have struggled to the surface in time for the snow. It occurs to me that snow is much like an antidepressant medication. It covers the the world in a blanket of fresh crispness like a bed made with freshly ironed sheets (a metaphor I will promptly discard). Winter's appearance of brilliant purity may be nature's way of making up for the dark cold depths of the longer nights. Would that it could. For the chronic melancholic it is merely a facade. Beneath the pristeen surface, the detritus lies in frozen suspension. Only temporarily hidden are the results of emptied dog dishes, the rubble of the wrappers of fast food and fast sex resisting decomposition and waiting to rise from their fastness in Spring. Should I write a book to be called "A la recherche du temps rapide"? The chemicals keep winter always. I feel like Oscar Wilde's selfish giant without even the mirage of faith. My winter is psychopharmaco with out the logic. The balance is maintained. No thaw can be permitted to allow growth for it would also let the garbage bubble muddily to the surface. I am wrapped in winter as a mummy is wrapped in bandages, as a monk is rapt in meditation immobile in opposition to the lust of the enraptured raptor dipping its hooked beak in the steam of its prey. I am snowbound. Where's that goat-footed balloon man?
Gratuitous Haiku Thoughts grind to powder in my skull Like seeds in a cracked suribachi.There is a square glass jar in the cupboard to the right of the stove. It used to contain a store-bought black olive tapenade. Its new label is worn and stained with oil. It reads "Green Cardamom. I open it and tip two of the pods into my old, cracked and chipped suribachi and lay the surikogi next to it. I twist open the vesuviana espresso pot. and dump the grounds from the metal filter into the trash. I rinse the filter and dump the dribble of water left in the bottom of the pot. Fresh spring water goes in. Then the filter. I grind the cardamom seeds to powder with the tip of the surikogi, leaving the husks in. Then pour the contents into the filter. Three heaping tablespoons of Italian roast, ground to the powder that makes the best espresso, is placed lovingly on top of the spice. Then I screw the top of the pot on. (Why do I always miss lining up the threads the first time?) Onto the burner it goes. As I rinse my mug and wonder, not for the first time today, Why I have so much trouble writing. The thoughts grind around inside my head like ... like cardamom in my cracked suribachi. It used to ring when tapped with the surikogi, Ring like a bell, but now it's just a dull thud. Unlike the cardamom, my thoughts and dreams pour from the cracked suribachi of my skull devoid of scent, devoid of flavor, meaningless.
Ah ... The steam is spitting from the pot. The coffee's ready. I pour a mugfull of the brew, bitter and black as my mood, and go back to my work to try again.