Monday, December 31, 2007

meat-eating, public nudity, and the value of an itchy sweater

I am eating peppered Beef Jerky right now, something that would’ve made me very uncomfortable to do just a little over a year ago, because I was a vegetarian.

I am not a vegetarian anymore however, though it is hard to pinpoint my moment of re-conversion. As a person who claims to know very little for certain, my beliefs and practices are always in a state of flux. New information is coming in all the time, from all inlets.

It doesn't seem likely that my current dietary trends are based on a desire to conform to my meat-and-potatoes Midwestern surroundings. Rather, I like when people come together as they are. The more disparate the matching the more it appeals to me. So I don’t think my current, lazy-vegetarianism* is attributal to that.

I became a vegetarian because our culture is so indulgent, and I wanted to deny myself something. I wanted to practice self-control against the buffet. This is what I would tell people when they asked, but I don’t think it was even mostly true.

In actuality, part of me was hoping I would lose weight, and part of me was trying to make myself more interesting. I have always liked to see apparent opposites come together. I like accidental iconoclasm. I often find myself modifying myself to be something different than what is suited to my surroundings. I think this is in the hope that people can like people as people, without too much trouble over ideology. I have always wanted ideology to be more like fashion, which I think it is: Voluntary apparel we use to dress up our nakedness.

That is why I became a vegetarian, and it was good for that. It let me into a particular deviant group that attracted me, and it made me like food in general more. I didn’t lose weight. I gained weight. Once I had struck meat from the menu, the creativity I was forced to use afterwards encouraged experimentation, and I did alot of experimenting. I eat all kinds of things now that I hadn’t before. The lentil is a very flexible thing.

I gradually abandoned vegetarianism because I gradually abandon or modify most of the ideas I acquire. This is a small raft that I’m on, and the water is rocky. If an idea cannot adapt to fit our current surroundings, it must be discarded. To be stripped down, to be as close to naked as possible, to have only the prohibitions and inhibitions that are necessary,seem to make a person easier to get close to, and along with. I have stopped claiming any kind of insight into the mind of God, and am trying to shave off some pretenses. It will never work of course, but it’s part of the strenuous life.

Roger Scruton wrote a good essay on moral meat eating for Harpers called A Carnivore's Credo.** It articulates well why it is not wrong to eat meat, and argues in fact, that it may even be virtuous. I had never claimed meat-eating to be wrong, just something I didn't want to do. I found Scruton's writings useful as I reconsidered my position.

So I am eating meat not to conform, but because I find my constant desire to serve as a thorn in the paw of humanity tiring, and patronizing. What business do I have trying to make other people uncomfortable? Inevitably it will happen. I am that kind of person, and I enjoy that kind of activity from time to time. It is one of my many vices. If there is anyone at all that I should be trying to make uncomfortable it is myself. If I bring some other people along with me as I work, and if discomfort suits them as well as it does me, all the better. The more the merrier.
*
* I still primarily eat only vegetarian. I don’t refuse meat when it is offered to me anymore, and I don’t request substitutes. I don’t scrutinize ingredients like I used to, and if I discover I have eaten meat, it’s no big deal.

** http://www.harpers.org/archive/2006/05/0081013

Thursday, December 20, 2007

an excerpt from my interview with a five year old

S: Marvin Hooks, you are five years old. What do you want to be when you grow up?

M: I’m five years old. I’m too young to answer a question like that. I just started riding my bike without training wheels. Ask me again in two years.

S: Marvin, it’s two years later. What would you like to be when you grow up?

M: Spencer, I’m glad you asked. I often go down to this little wooded area behind my house and watch the bats fly around the streetlights. There is at least one bat that does figure-eights, and another that swoops down very low.

S: Why are there streetlights in the wooded area behind your house?

M: Because there is another street behind my house, and by wooded area I mean that street’s mailboxes.

S: Do you believe in God Marvin?

M: No one can be certain Spencer, but I try to take it easy on the pork products.

S: In conclusion, is there anything you regret?

M: There have been a few times when I forgot to unzip my pants while urinating.

S: Sounds like dark times.

M: Times to grow Spencer. Times to grow.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

from the mouths of babes

I was pleased with a little story Mark Daniels used to start a blog he had written about Jesus that is apparently a convention in religious circles, although I had never heard it before. It goes like this:

“You may have heard the story of the little boy who was finding it hard to sleep at night. He called out from his room for his dad. When his father got there, the little guy said, “The longer I’m here, the darker and scarier it gets. Couldn’t you stay in here until I fall asleep?” “Son,” his dad explained, “nothing bad can happen to you here. Your Mom and I are right down the hall.” “I know, Daddy. But I’m scared.” “You don’t have any reason to be afraid,” the father explained, “God is right here in this room with you.” “I know, Daddy,” the little boy said, “but I want someone with skin on them.”

I wrote in the comment section that:

“I've never heard the 'skin' thing before. It's neat because it sounds like the kind of weird, oddly illuminating kind of thing young kids seem prone to say. Thanks for sharing that.”

And that is just the kind of thing a kid would say, even if it’s not true.

I had an English teacher who told us that some of the best story writers he has ever had in his classes were foreign kids who had just picked up the language. He said they were prone to coming up with unusual and beautiful analogies, metaphors, and spiced-up turns of phrase that the natives, on account of their familiarity with the language, could not. Kids don’t know any of the cliches either, and the novelty of the language and the unusualness of some of our linguistic blindsides attracts them.

My sons have filled my life with all kinds of linguistic mismatches that have been enriching. My wife and I now refer to any kind of construction type vehicle as ‘digs’ on account of my oldest son. One time we were walking across the Roebling Bridge here in Cincinnati, and he said about the humming sound the traffic makes on the steel grating that, “The bridge is singing to cars as they cross it.” He has also created a convention for himself by injecting ‘a bit’ into a lot of his sentences, ie, “Let’s take a break, I’m a bit tired”, or, “I had a bit of a lot of that sandwich.” There are many more instances.

It is as a child that we realize that bulldozers look like dinosaurs. It is also as children that we see the strange, sometimes scary faces in the grain on old faux-wood wall panels, and in rocks, and on wallpaper. It is this property that allows us to realize that clouds have secret characters, best discerned by laying on our backs in soft grass on a cool spring day and looking up.

I’m glad to have little people in my life for many reasons, one of which is that they keep things fresh. Their minds are still full of wonder, they are not yet jaded by the harshness of the way things can be, and they are capable of injecting some of this wonder and freshness back into our lives by their mere presence: It is by tapping into this secret reservoir of awe that we ever are able to make anything beautiful.

Three cheers for the kids.

Marcel Proust's Myspace Page

Marcel has 1 friend:


Tom

“Same as it ever was”--David Byrne.

“blah, blah, blah, you know what I mean.”--Ecclesiastes.

I’ve decided to read In Search Of Lost Time. I think I have the constitution for it. I read Don Quixote in three months, The Anatomy of Melancholy in six, and trudged through The Bible (should I put the bible in italics?) over the period of a year. I have heard a lot of forbidding things about the density and peculiarity of the prose of In Search Of Lost Time, so I thought I’d start of with a primer. I chose Roger Shattuck’s Proust’s Way as a guide, and, while I’m beginning to question the timing of my decision to read through this behemoth (winter quarter starts in a couple of weeks), I was interested to find a similar tendency in the bored, Parisian leisure class of Proust’s time (of which he was definitely a card-carrying member), and the leisure class of our own time, ie, all of America. Apparently it was popular to fill out questionnaires that remind me--although not as obviously trite--of the kind of self-surveys popular on myspace.

An example of one of Proust‘s forays into this kind of diversion, from chapter one of Proust’s Way. His answer follows the question:

“…In what Place would you like to live? In the land of the ideal, or rather of my ideal…

…For what faults do you have the greatest indulgence? For the private life of geniuses…

…Your present state of mind? Annoyance [ennui] over having thought about myself to answer all of these questions…”


Not exactly “Have you ever cheated on your boyfriend, and if so, where?” or “Do you ever go commando?” but definitely an evolutionary precursor.

It’s good to know that for all of our progress as a species, we still take care to keep intact some of our baser pursuits.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Lost Magazine

this is a cool online magazine.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Sledding

The hill in our back yard has a great incline, and a very sudden stop. The boys and I have been sledding the past couple days, after a surprise snowfall.

We’ve got privacy bushes against the fence at the bottom of the hill, dotted with little blue berries, and conservative-sized, naked afro trees at both corners---four paces from the bottom fence, five or six from the left and right--for symmetry’s sake. These trees and bushes make perfect obstacles for sledding, especially when you consider the abrupt finish.

I sit down on our plastic, bright orange sled first (clumsily), and then one of the boys sits on my lap. I grab the sturdy yellow steering rope, and, digging my heels into dirt, begin us on our descent. It’s slow at first, like a roller coaster I imagine--adding the ch-ch-ch gear sound to create the proper amount of tension--and then we’re off.

There’s a three second window for us to get our feet inside the sled, and to lean back, acquiring maximum speed, dodging an array of low hanging, symmetrical tree limbs and ending up ultimately smashed against a fence, laughing, tangled up in the berried privacy bushes, little blue impact spots splattered on our pants and coats, covered in snow.

I’ve never been able to go down a hill on a sled without shouting, Wa-hoo, Yee-Haw, Wooo!, or some similar thing, and this trait seems to be hereditary.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

as good a motto as you're likely to find.

Reading Lisa Rogak's A Boy Named Shel--a new book about Shel Silverstein--I was reminded of this neat little video version of his poem Put Something In, which I believe is as good a motto as you're likely to find.

Boats

The seaweed says hang on slow down.
The apple sky spits seeds they ripple.

Aluminum cans fade this is where they end up.
The person tossing them off the overpass could never have known.

In his mind this might just be a roadside convenience.
In his mind maybe it's the end of the earth.

My oars say hang on not so fast.
My blinking eyes say it's getting late.

Some day when this is all highway I'll need wheels on the bottom
And maybe a hook at the end of my paddle

So my people might find me if they wanted to
Follow my scraping scratching footprint with pitchforks into the city.

Originally appeared at Thieves Jargon.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

political philosophy and mental health

I just read this gallup poll on the drudge report. It states that republicans are more likely to report their mental health as 'excellent' than democrats (but you'll notice if you look at the poll that democrats are more likely than republicans to list their mental health as 'good').

While I was considering this information, I remembered another study I read about a year or two ago that said that liberal parents are more likely to raise self-assured adults. Does this mean liberals are more likely to raise...Republicans?

no, of course not. Of course there is a difference between being self-assured and being willing to report your mental health as 'excellent', and of course democrat is not synonymous with liberal and republican is not synomymous with conservative.

Although the researchers rightly remind us that correlation doesn't equal causation (a mantra for psych. majors),these longitudinal studies on mental health and personal philosophy are interesting.

are republicans more likely to state 'excellent' mental health because they are more likely to be capitalists, and thus more geared towards priming themselves for survival in our marketplace society? Are democrats more likely to say 'good' rather than 'excellent' because the nature of the questions (party affiliation tied so closely with mental health) likely to bring up feelings of dissatisfaction with recent political failures, and animosity towards President Bush and the war? Or maybe a person would be inclined to say democrats view the world more realistically, and think in a wider, more encompassing way than republicans, or, to the contrary, maybe someone would say the more liberal a person is, the more likely they are to be an unhappy do-gooder, immersed in their own self-indulgent nihilism, and unable to hack it in this competitive society.

Maybe it's because I've been reading Freud lately, but I wonder about the nature of the participant's relationship with their parents. Are these findings more related to authoritarian versus authoritative styles of parenting than pro-life judges versus universal healthcare?

Whatever the relationship between these studies, they are at least good for mindless speculation and pontification.