Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Great Writing

Funambulism, by D. Harlan Wilson. I missed this story when it made it's debut at Thieves Jargon. I wish I had written it.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

The Saddest Unicyclist In The World



The reason that the title of this post is funny is that it is impossible to be sad while riding a unicycle. I don't know this from personal experience, but if it is in fact possible to cry tears of sorrow while riding a unicycle, there is no hope for mankind.

There is a woman at my college who rides a unicycle to and from classes. She is always smiling when I see her, because when I see her she is always riding a unicycle. There is nothing sexier than a woman who can ride a unicycle.

I take that back: Maybe a woman riding a unicycle while juggling would be sexier.

And this brings me to the point of this post: I take New Year's resolutions very seriously, and have decided to make my resolution this year to learn how to ride a unicycle.

Many people resolve to lose weight, be nicer, go to church more often, blah blah blah. These things are destined for failure because none of them are things people really want to do. I really want to learn how to ride a unicycle. I'm even excited about falling off it the first time.

So, if you want a new year's resolution that you can actually keep this year, and you want to be happy and sexy for the rest of your life, I think you should join me in learning how to ride a unicycle. The world will be a much sweeter place for it, I promise.



PS: Maybe next year we'll add juggling.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Lost & Found

The other day I was running around the house looking frantically for my cell phone. I patted my pockets, but didn’t feel it there. Then I looked around on counters, bookshelves, & down in couch cushions. It was nowhere to be found.

I asked my son if he’d seen my phone, and (smiling) he said, ‘Daddy, it’s in your hand.’ And so it was. While trying to accomplish a slew of different things at once, I had taken my phone out of my pocket and then not realized that I was holding it when I felt my pockets for it’s familiar form.

And here I am again about a week later finding something that I thought I had lost: My faith.

My faith is an unspecific thing. It is a kind of focus: In a world where there is enough information available to support any conceivable worldview available, my faith--when I listen to it--zones in on hope, personal discipline, mankind’s potential, and the possibility of God.

I know, I know. Very fuzzy. Very vague. Faith is hard to talk about because it’s not something you can describe in measurements. But it is something you can choose to pursue. It can be an elusive thing, but it is handy.

I rediscovered this faith yesterday night on the way home from my in-law’s house. It was such a small thing with such little fanfare. I had spent a night watching my children unwrap Christmas presents and play with their cousins. My wife and the kids spent the night at her parents’ house, but I drove home because I had to work the next day, and our house is closer to my place of employment.

I was feeling warm with food and hugs and kisses from my kids and my wife, and was listening to a mix CD that had some of my oldest son’s favorite songs on it. Pete Townsend’s Let My Love Open The Door came on, and my heart opened up. I have always felt that music is one of the best proofs of God’s existence, so it is appropriate that it was a song that did me in.

As Townsend coaxed me not to let tragedy bring me down , I saw a glimmer of those familiar little seeds. These seeds aren’t fixed to any part of my being, so they kind of slosh around. Sometimes they get lost in all the bustle, and other times they almost seem to swell & overwhelm the entire space. I eventually need to find a more secure place for my faith, but meanwhile, it’s nice to know it is still around.



"When people keep repeating
That you'll never fall in love
When everybody keeps retreating
But you can't seem to get enough
Let my love open the door
Let my love open the door
Let my love open the door
To your heart
When everything feels all over
When everybody seems unkind
I'll give you a four-leaf clover
Take all the worry out of your mind
Let my love open the door
Let my love open the door
Let my love open the door
To your heart I have the only key to your heart
I can stop you falling apart
Try today, you'll find this way
Come on and give me a chance to say
Let my love open the door
It's all I'm living for
Release yourself from misery
Only one thing's gonna set you free
That's my love
Let my love open the door
Let my love open the door
Let my love open the door
To your heart
When tragedy befalls you
Don't let them bring you down
Love can cure your problem
You're so lucky I'm around
Let my love open the door
Let my love open the door
Let my love open the door
To your heart"
- Pete Townsend, Let My Love Open The Door

Friday, December 26, 2008

A Species Of Users

“Drugs have taught an entire generation of American kids the metric system” -P.J. O’Rourke

When Winston Churchill suffered a really bad fall in his childhood, his nurse brought him heroin--then legal--to rub on his face. He smoked and drank his whole life, and still managed to be instrumental in the defeat of the Nazis. Sigmund Freud smoked opium and snorted cocaine: Thanks to Dr. Freud for the concepts of ego and id, and a differentiation between the conscious and subconscious mind. William James experimented with psychotropic drugs, and Ernest Hemmingway invented a cocktail out of Absinthe and Champagne which he called Suicide at Sunset. The canon of Catholic saints is chock-full of people who had hallucinations that were brought on either by drugs or mental illness. An iconic picture of FDR has him smoking a cigarette out of a holder, and how many business moguls do we regularly see chomping on cigars or drinking scotch? Don’t even get me started on the Beatles.

Oh, and Harvard: you can thank Adderall for all of those high test scores.

It’s not my intent to make some kind of political point about the war on drugs (which is silly, and a waste of resources): I’m just saying that throughout history, we as a species have been looking for--and finding--ways to alter our perception of reality, stay on task, and generally get our groove on. It’s hardwired into our brains at this point, and once you answer that call, it becomes harder to imagine a world without your drug of choice.

Which is why I was disturbed this morning to find our coffee maker not working. Daily operations at Troxell ranch are highly ritualized and fast paced. Waking up in a world without coffee is my bourgeois version of a Twilight Zone episode. In all honesty, I’d prefer the episode where I wake up to a world full of pig-faced people. At least then I’d have something to dip my blueberry scone in.

Some would say that oil is the engine of our Democracy, but I would disagree. It is caffeine. And I am all-American in my drug of choice. It’s caffeine that gives me the energy to pursue my particular American dream so relentlessly, and it is caffeine that is going to help fuel all of my activities in this promising new year. Unfortunately, it is also brewing coffee that I did not smell this morning as I got out of bed.

But America is a land of opportunity: There’s a Starbucks not ten minutes away from my house.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Seasonal Gorey

Christmastime is a good time to revisit the little books of Edward Gorey. I found this reading of The Epipleptic Bicycle on YouTube:



I was actually surprised by how much Gorey related stuff could be found on YouTube. Here are a couple parts of interviews he gave before he died (I would've posted excerpts of interviews he gave after he died, but death has made him kind of prickly. Better to preserve the image):





The Mystery! intro:



And I found this tribute to Gorey. The description of the video says it was created for a college animation class. Very nice.



I was going to embed Trent Reznor's Gorey-inspired music video for The Perfect Drug, but it was prohibited by YouTube. To watch it, go here.

I probably won't post anything new until after the holidays have wrapped up, so feel free to go through the various writings I've done for other online outlets (listed under Extra Sauce on the sidebar), or take a stroll through the archives. All of the blogs and websites I link to under Free Refills are also very good, and worth perusing.

Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Always Wear Clean Underwear. Why? You Never Know.

Sunday morning while I was at work, I began to feel a little bit of tightness in my chest. “I’ll schedule a physical on Monday.” I told myself. My heart has been misbehaving for a couple of weeks. Every now and then it kind of flutters, like it is taking a big gulp of air. I had been waiting for winter break to make an appointment, but the Sunday tightness emphasized the point.

I pulled into a gas station on the way home from work, and began to pump gas in my car. I was thinking about a world without me: What would happen to the kids? My wife? Me? External threats are different than internal ones. If, say, a rabid dog were chasing me, I would be prepared to defend myself. If I had a bloody wound somewhere on an arm, or a leg, or on my chest, I would wrap it up. If I had a splinter, I would pull it out.

There is something sobering about an internal threat. A piece of your essential hardware may be malfunctioning. Not out of malice; there’s no sense in arguing with it. It may just be irregular. Not six sigma.

It’s better when you can see the threat.

As I was thinking about these things and pumping my gas, a little blue Camero came roaring up next to me, radio blaring. It had a little pirate’s patch of plastic duct-taped to it’s window frame. It was that Papa Roach song that was playing. I don’t know the title, but the first line is ’Cut my life into pieces, this is my last resort…’ etc. The guy who stepped out of the car (flannel coat, dirty blond beard), was bobbing his head back and forth to the music as he left his car running and began pumping his gas.

It got better:

Not only was his car running while he was pumping gas, he lit up a cigarette. Not only did he light up a cigarette, but his cell phone rang, and he answered it. I swear it’s the truth. I laughed to myself. Here I am, thinking my heart is going to kill me in a very typical all-American way, when really I am going to explode and have my skin melted off my bones. Life is what happens while you’re out making other plans, I guess.

But I survived. I went home, ate dinner with my family, and helped get my kids to bed. I read them Goodnight Moon, although I think my oldest son wanted me to read him another chapter in King Solomon’s Mines. I opted out of the longer book because I was beginning to feel nauseous, and something was going wrong in my chest.

I kissed the kids goodnight and went to the computer to look up chest pains. Wham. A small (but significant) jab in my heart, followed by a few duller, pulsing jabs.

I asked my wife to drive me to the hospital. I was kind of embarrassed to ask this, because I felt fully functional. I’m not very good at measuring what degree of pain is supposed to alarm me. At the dentist’s office, when they’re drilling me, I just assume that the pain level I’m experiencing is what I’m supposed to experience. It was only the last time that I went for an appointment that a dentist said, ‘Spencer, you’re making faces at me. Are you feeling too much pain?’ and I said, ‘How much pain am I supposed to feel?’ He said ‘None.’, and gave me another Novocain shot.

So I felt a little weird about going to the hospital for something that hadn’t completely knocked me on my ass. But there is bad mojo around heart issues, so I took it seriously.

We dropped the kids off at my parents house, kissed them, and headed off. My son seemed a little worried, although we were all acting very calm. ‘See you soon buddy. Have fun with Mommaw and Poppaw.’ I said.

On the way to the hospital, I was feeling kind of woozy, and the light jabs in my chest were concerning. I don’t know why I was embarrassed when I leaned over the receptionist’s desk in the ER, but I whispered, “I’m having chest pains”, as if I were telling her instead that I was there because my syphilis was flaring up.

Anyway, the weird feelings resided throughout the night. The doctors did some tests on me, all which came back normal. Conversation with my wife while we sat in our little room together gradually came back down to normal content.

“You were scaring me in the car.“ She said. “You were like, ‘I want the kids to be hopeful people, okay? I want them to give people a chance, and have good hearts, and not be too hard on God. You were talking like you were going to die.‘

‘I wasn’t sure.‘ I said.

Then it went down a notch. We began talking about our parenting skills. Things we do right, things we can improve. And then it went down a little from there to us talking about becoming healthier, and then making jokes. Eventually we were looking at an ad in Time Magazine, talking about how much better Sean Connery looks in his old age.

I just set up an appointment with a Cardiologist for tomorrow morning. Hopefully, everything is cool. I definitely want to chill out with the caffeine, and work out a little more. Little surprises like the one I had last night can shake a person up.

Driving home, I told my wife that it’s kind of hard in the context of my Book of Revelations religious upbringing not to think that events like this are God’s way of sending a message.

“If it’s God,” she said, “Hopefully next time he’ll consider UPS instead.”

That would certainly be a lot less scary for me, although I do hate waiting around all day for a package to arrive.
.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Maybe The Dingo Ate Your Baby Jesus


Christmas was a big deal at our small Southern Baptist church when I was a little boy. It was, in fact, the event of the year. Understandable, when you consider that John 3:16 (for God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, so whosoever believeth in him shall not perish but have everlasting life.) was the bible verse that practically under girded our entire theology.

Christmas was a big deal: wreaths, gatherings, revivals, plays in full costume, activities, feasts (no dancing or drinking), cinnamon and merriment; all with only a slight whiff of brimstone. There was a huge Christmas tree that stood in front of the baptismal behind the preacher’s podium. Little girls wore emerald dresses with white stockings and red ribbons to services, and the preacher’s nose and cheeks were rosy and red like Santa’s, which seemed festive around Christmas time, but were (in actuality) that color all year round.

Our church’s biggest point of pride was our nativity scene. We were a suburban church, and thus were not immune to the arms race of Christmas yard decorations that only escalated year after year. The secular stuff was easy: Neon reindeer, giant blow-up snowmen. Strobe lit sleighs. The religious stuff took a little more tact.

Our nativity scene was the biggest & most detailed of all the churches in the area. A large, hand built manger. There was a thick bed of yellow, welcoming hay. All of the figures were made of realistic looking wax, and the whole scene was lit up from below by three well placed spotlights. A small fence had been built around the display, and on the weekends--when the church offered free hot chocolate to anyone who attended bible study, member or non-member--one of the parishioners brought in an alpaca from his farm to lend some realism to the scene. Subtle organ music piped in through two speakers at either corner of the set up, and the conservative, white lights that adorned the outline of the church created a perfect frame for our little attraction.

It was a sight to behold. Cars would stop to look at it. It was even featured in the community journal one year. Our whole congregation pitched in with maintenance. We were very proud of our nativity scene.

That’s why it was such a big deal when our baby Jesus went missing.

The pastor called a church meeting to see if anyone knew anything. He had arrived at church one morning earlier in the week, and it was just gone. No one could imagine who would’ve stole the baby Jesus.

Some of the teenagers in the church suggested that maybe it was a couple of Goth kids that lived down the street. No doubt if they took it, it was in the woods somewhere; probably hanging by it’s neck from a tree, graffitied with lewd words and Marilyn Manson makeup.

Unfortunately, the Goth kids down the street were the son and daughter of the local Unitarian minister, so it would do no good to confront them over any part they may have had in the disappearance of our infant savior. The Unitarian minister would say that his children were being unfairly singled out because of their chosen style of dress, and it would create unneeded tension in the community. So that option was out.

But let me digress.

My whole life, I have been a cat owner. I like that they mind their own business, and that you can forget they are there if you want to. Every now and then you will seek them out and pet them, and every now and then they will sit on your lap. Other than that, cats are virtually invisible roommates.
Recently I bought a dog for my kids, and it was a big adjustment for me: Dogs are very needy, and very active. They want your attention constantly. They bark, they need to be taken for walks, and taken outside early in the morning and late at night to relieve themselves. Also, if you don’t want your house to smell like them, you have to give them frequent baths (which is harder than it sounds).

But my kids love the dog, and I like the dog, so I adjusted. I also learned a few things:

1.) If I were single right now, having a dog would be the best way to meet women. Even more so than when you are walking around with a newborn, strangers will come up to you and talk to you about your dog. They will even bend down and pet your dog, and not mind if your dog licks their face. I’ve never seen anyone bend down and pet a baby, and I can only imagine what would happen if they did and the baby licked their face.
Many attractive women have come up to me while I was walking my dog in a park or on a trail and started warm, familiar conversations with me, simply because I had a dog. It’s true. If I were single, my dog would be bringing home the strange.

2.) Everyone’s dog is good with kids. When you’re at a park where there are dogs and kids, and the dog people are communing with one another, inevitably in the description an owner will give of their pet will include some variation on the following: ‘Oh, and Blue is great with kids.’ I hear this all the time. Sometimes people will ask if a person’s dog is good with kids, other times an owner will volunteer the information for no reason. There doesn’t have to be a kid around for miles. It can be two sterile couples who hate kids and have never seen a kid in their life standing around talking about a dog, and the owner will say, ‘Oh, Blue loves kids.’ and the person listening will nod approvingly.

I have never heard a person say,‘oh man, Blue is great, but she hates kids. Actually, I’m surprised she hasn’t killed your little toddler over there already. Great dog, but it sure loves to disfigure kids.’I haven’t heard that yet, but surely, somewhere out there is a dog that hates kids.

I would even be happy to hear about a dog that only humors kids. ‘Oh yeah, Blue is great with kids, but he/she doesn’t really like them. But don't worry. She's really polite about it.

Kurt Vonnegut (whose novels are a big blur to me now) wrote somewhere about a woman who left her kid alone with a starving Doberman pincher, and the dog ate the kid. Edward Gorey made a little book about a woman who dresses her newborn up in a realistic looking bunny outfit, and watches with terror as a pack of dogs tear the little thing to pieces. There are all kinds of horror stories, in both the news and in literature, about dogs. But you never encounter some place in between Dog Loves Kids<--->Dog Kills Kids. Where are the people with dogs in the middle of that spectrum?

I mention all of this dog stuff in the middle of my Christmas reflection, because thinking about this strange relationship between dogs and kids is what brought that Christmas crime scene of my past back into my conscious mind.

The church members shook their heads about the theft of the baby Jesus, but did nothing. We all just assumed it was the Unitarian Goth kids, and left it at that. The pastor put a jar in the foyer to raise money to order a new baby Jesus for the nativity next year, and perhaps some closed circuit cameras. We moved on with our lives.

But thinking about dogs just now got me thinking about another suspect.

The pastor had a German Shepherd named Sheltzie. While the pastor was upstairs in his office, Sheltzie was permitted to prowl through the church, and around the property. Sometimes some of us kids would go up to the church after school to play on the swingset, and to toss a ball to Sheltzie. Sheltzie was really good with kids.

But I remember one day, not long after the baby Jesus went missing, that one of my friends was throwing a ball at Sheltzie in the yard while I was laying in the sandbox staring up at the sky.
“Hey Spencer!” He called.
“Yeah?”
“Help me find the ball! It just rolled off into the woods!”
“Okay!” I said, and I got up and headed towards the woods. My friend was there at the outskirts of the little wooded area at the edge of the property, standing on his tippy-toes looking for his ball. I ran towards him to help out, but slipped on something and came crashing down to the ground. I stood up, brushed myself off, and looked at what I had slipped on. I picked it up.

I was going to yell, “Hey, I found your ball!” when my friend called out, “Never mind! I found it!”

I looked down at the thing that I held in my hand. It was roundish, colorful, and kind of waxy. There was a strange, earthy odor to it.

I looked at it, looked at Sheltzie; so innocently jumping up around and chasing after my friend, who was holding a tennis ball above his head and running in circles.

I shrugged, and dropped the weird little ball of wax, and ran to join my friend and Sheltzie in the field. I made no connections between the object and our disappeared lord. In fact, I soon forgot the incident.

That is, until now.

Stewart & Huckabee Politely Discuss Gay Marriage


"Religion is far more of a choice than homosexuality."-Jon Stewart

Monday, December 8, 2008

A Suburban Ghost Story



Around 2 o clock this morning, my dog began barking & growling in the kitchen. It woke me up.

"Is she growling?" I asked my wife.
"Yes. Will you go check it out?" She said.

'Checking out' mysterious noises in the middle of the night is part of my husbandly duties. Secretly, I enjoy it. I don't get to do it often, but when I do, I get a primitive thrill.

We are not so long out of the trees, you know.

So I grabbed the Louisville slugger that we keep just inside the closet door, & slid down the hallway like a stalking puma: I was ready to take down whatever invader it was my faithful companion had apprehended.

Let me add this detail: My dog is not a regular barker. She typically will only bark when someone is coming up the pathway to our house, or when someone is on our deck. When she hears the doorknob in the living room jiggling when either my wife or I are inserting our keys into it, she barks. This trait has reassured my wife & I, because we have kids.

My dog barks when there are strangers approaching our house, or near our house. I've never heard her growl before, in addition to the barking. At 2 in the morning when you are creeping around your house in a t-shirt and a pair of boxers with a Louisville Slugger hoisted at the ready, the mind can only settle on a few options: Someone is in the house.

I turned the corner to the kitchen to see what all the ruckus was about. We had left the oven light on to remind us there were biscuits in there for breakfast: It cast an eerie glow on the whole room, which was neat and orderly, no sign of anything inappropriate.

Except a few steps away from our little fold-in kitchen table, one of the chairs was turned around. It was in the middle of the kitchen, facing the doorway in which I was standing. The light from the oven was illuminating it, & and the dog was right in front of it, snarling and barking. I felt a small chill run down my back.

When the dog saw me she relented, & I scratched her behind the ear. I turned the chair around & pushed it back under the table. After I did this, our dog relaxed.

My wife came around the corner. "What was she barking at?" She said in a sleepy voice.

"It was this chair." I said. "It was in the middle of the room, facing the doorway." I made a grimace that I hoped might suggest something creepy about the rearranged furniture. I don't think it worked.

"hm." My wife said. "So our dog is into Feng Shui."

Thursday, December 4, 2008

The Medicine Cabinet Recommends

Speed Read, by Chris Major: Good concrete poetry. Also see here.

Mark Daniels goes deep on Album cover parodies, self deprectation, & the Beatles.

GODSPAM: A cool blog I will be keeping up with.

Roger Ebert finally gets around to reviewing Ben Stein: Expelled.

Conflict: It's A Good Thing, By Christine Carter: I'll take all the advice I can get.

Rachel Naomi Reven on loss & listening generously: Wonderful. Listen here.

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds perform Abbatoir Blues:



Have a great weekend!

Large Objects Moving Slowly

As your breasts
make their glacial excursion
towards your hips,

and my balls begin to droop
like a Halloween bag
full of too much candy:

I will pause
(from time to time)
and remember years before:

when our two taut bodies
were so easily entertained
by such equally firm surfaces.

We explored them ruthlessly:
Like conquistadors,
looking for golden cities.

I will smile,
and consider these current days:
Terrain complex. Unpredictable.

A safari nowadays of the many
curves and folds,
may take months of planning.

And only god knows
how many hired natives
will be lost along the way.


from MULE & HORSE

Monday, December 1, 2008

How About A Little Grace?

There is a lot of talk these days about whether the world would be better or worse without religion.

I reject the premise.

There are many fine & passionate people on both sides of this argument. Many people find a strictly empirical view suits their needs just fine. Others look towards the numinous & inexplicable to explain their lives. All is well, right?

Maybe not. The discussion has begun, but there seem to be alot of hurt feelings floating around. Surely not all atheists have come to their rejection of religion by strictly empirical means, and surely all believers do not believe because the truth was revealed to them from on high. There is insecurity about the state of religion in the world on all sides, and it will be expressed in different ways. Some people will sulk. Some will use humor, the arts, or biting sarcasm. Some will engage in healthy debate. All forms of expression are okay, as long as things don't get violent and people's rights don't get infringed upon. There is something else beneath our current attitudes towards religion, and it is coming out in a big & public way. The world is going into group therapy. We've got daddy issues.

I am an agnostic. For many years I was a nominal (yet studious) Christian, but then the bottom fell out of my religion. I had to leave it there on the beach, like a pretty rock that was appealing, but just a little too heavy to accompany me on the rest of my journey.

It’s true that sometimes I still long for that connection that I felt when I was a dogmatic believer, although I can’t tell if the longing is that of a scorned lover watching a happy couple in the park, or if it’s more akin to an alcoholic watching beer commercials on T.V. Either way the feeling is there, and I understand why those who have it might feel the compunction to defend it. Religion is comforting. It gives us a pre-packaged world view and boundaries within which to think about all that is around us. It clearly marks the safe zones and the danger zones, and promises rewards for the good, and punishment for the bad. It also grants us a creator that loves us, understands us, and will ultimately vindicate us, if only we stand by him. I get that.

I also can understand the intent behind the onslaught of the neo-atheists. There can be some debilitating effects of religion, to be sure (this includes secular religions). Neurosis about natural sexual impulses. The willingness to commit violence against ‘infidels’ . Opening the mind up to softened, uncritical thinking, and making a person vulnerable to the scams & advances of hucksters. Religion can also put irrational fears into the minds of children by creating a bogeyman out of Satan, and plaguing them with the threat of damnation if they deviate on even an intellectual level: If you stop believing in Santa, he just won’t bring you presents anymore. If you stop believing in God, he’ll send your ass to hell.

But truly there is a middle ground, and I think that middle ground is called grace.

I know this is a religious term, but I can’t think of anything more applicable. Typically it means 'the favor of God', but here I am going to employ it as a mix of graciousness and humility when talking about God, with just a smidge of that 'attractiveness in presentation' aspect. We can handle the humor, but leave your misanthropy at the door.

To the religious:

We cannot know anything about God. We can suspect things, we can posit things, we can hope for things, but we cannot know them. Our religious texts are unreliable. As Sam Harris is fond of pointing out, there is nothing written in any one of them that could not have been written by a person of that era. He’s right, and the only acceptable response to the truth of this assertion is to acknowledge it, and to have the humility to not claim the statements in our religious books as absolute truths. This does not mean that they can’t be hoped to be true, or treated as if their underlying messages were true. It just means that we would have to switch the way in which we derive our values from them. We would be more free to throw out things that are no longer applicable, and to reinterpret certain other codes and rules and parables for more modern times.

To acknowledge that the source of our dogmas is not infallible is to acknowledge that any view of God that we arrive at is either a mirror or a blank slate: Something that we can either look into to exalt ourselves, or to draw our most fanciful dreams and hopes on. Upon neither of these versions of God is it practical to build a religion, but it is possible to create a colorful patchwork to derive personal meaning from.

To The Atheist:

Point taken. You have successfully begun a healthy discussion that we all can benefit from. But be careful not to condescend to those who find comfort or meaning in religion. Richard Dawkins’s suggestion that atheists refer to themselves as ‘brights’ is not going to open any minds. A belief in God doesn’t make a person stupid. We are pattern finding machines. We have evolved to cooperate (and it is possible that we’ve been designed to do so), and to empathize and help out one another, even occasionally in a way that is to the detriment of our own well-being. Let’s honor that adaptable trait and have some understanding for those who do not think exactly as we do. Being open to outside answers and challenges is the bedrock of the scientific method. Don’t rush ahead of yourself to declare that there is no God. As with everything, morality has evolved, and religion has been (and will continue to be for the unforeseeable future) an important step in that process. It may not be the last step, but it is a part of the stairwell that we are still on. It’s never benefited man to think of themselves as the pinnacle of evolutionary accomplishment. The age of humans is but a speck on the heap of time. That we’ve come as far as we’ve come is incredible. Consider: mankind has had to try to create a better world without any confirmable instruction from above. It's akin dropping a crate of paper, a pair of scissors, and some tape in front of a three year old and saying, ‘construct a perfect model of a bacterial flagellum’ The kid has to be like, 'what the hell is a bacterial flagellum?'

So, even with a few bronze age conceptual holdovers, we’re doing a pretty good job. The discussion can (and should) continue, but respect has to be given to the process by which we’ve gotten to where we are.

In psychology, we employ a term called the Group Attribution Error. The definition of this term--basically-- is that we attribute agency, intellect, and diversity to members of our tribe, and employ a uniform (usually negative) definition of behavior to those who are not of our tribe, characterizing their apparent defects as the results of some kind of internal factor, while attributing our own to outside sources, if we attribute our own at all. This is what I see in a lot of cultural conflicts. ‘We are the good guys, they are the bad guys.’ This is illustrated especially well by the current lack of goodwill floating back and forth between certain hardcore proponents of the theists v. nontheists war in our culture.

Personally--although I myself cannot always accomplish this--I find it a better route to take the people that I meet in the course of my life as individuals, and see through their affiliations and groupthink. It does not mean that we don’t have substantive conversations about important issues, it just means that we don’t harden our minds and hearts to individuals who happen to subscribe to certain ways of thinking different than our own. We can try to persuade each other out of our backwards ways all day long, but underneath, we have to see the humanity of the person we are dealing with, and be willing to accept that they too are searching for answers in earnest. I think this would be best in this new environment we are entering too, where every conversational topic is fair game, no matter how sacred. I also think it would be beneficial to admit to each other--and to ourselves--what we do not know, and to be okay with not knowing.

Because it is okay to not know. It’s okay to not get it right all of the time. Being a human is a hard job, and it’s all on-the-job training. We've got to be graceful in our inter-dealings.

Why People Believe Weird Things

A lighthearted (and enlightening) little talk Michael Shermer gave at the TED conference this year:



good stuff.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving.

This Thanksgiving, I am appreciative of my wife & kids. Who could guess my fate if my wife hadn't had a little faith in me back in 1999, and said yes when I asked her to marry me. We had only been dating for a couple of weeks, and were only eighteen!

It's hard to be a young couple, and it's hard to be a young parent. You are forced to grow, and forced to get over yourself. You're forced to surrender to something bigger, and it is terrifying and wonderful.

My wife is beautiful, smart, and encouraging. When Barack Obama thanked Michelle during his acceptance speech, referring to her as 'the rock of our family', I welled up, because that is what my wife is to our family.

And my kids are amazing little people. They're creative, compassionate, and inquisitive. There is no greater blessing than being here to watch them grow up, and to grow into themselves. I am honored by my responsibility to them. They have filled my life with a meaning I know I would never have found elsewhere.

I don't know anything about God, or the ultimate meaning of it all. I am bad at math, am overweight, and have a short attention span. These are only a few of my many shortcomings.

But I am one lucky son of a bitch, and am profoundly thankful for the people I have in my life.

Find something in your life to be thankful for!

(If Bill Frisell can't get into you, you're locked up tight.)

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

3 am Reflection On Suffering

I think that I am either becoming a writer or a farmer, because I cannot help getting up at three o clock in the morning. The keyboard starts calling me in my sleep, and when I wake up, I find that the voice is still there. The keyboard has always called me to get out of my bed with good ideas, but I’ve always said, yes, that is a good idea, and I’ll type it in the morning. And then I would go back to sleep. But not now. Now I say, yes that is a good idea, and I get up and type it. I don’t think that money making is the difference between a hobbyist and a professional. I think it is a willingness to sacrifice something for x that makes someone a professional. If you’re willing to sweat for it (or bleed for it), then you are a pro. Congratulations heroin users and sex addicts! You are the real deal!

The ideas don’t fight me as much when I get up early in the morning for them. You should see me typing now! I am really going. I’m hunched over my computer screen, drinking occasionally from a big glass of 2 percent milk, wearing only a pair of boxer briefs and wrapped up in a big brown blanket with stylized penguins on it. I’m flying. The words are pouring out of my fingers. The muse is rewarding my self deprivation. I’ll be tired in the morning, but it will be a good tired. I’ll be more productive. I’ll go to the gym, do some homework, do the dishes, and take a nap. I’ll feel good about it.

So I am either becoming a writer or a farmer, or maybe I am just getting older and shouldn’t drink so much grapefruit juice before bedtime.

Here is the idea that lulled me from my cozy bed:

I am training to become a grief counselor. It’s important to think about grief, suffering, and happiness when you would like to do this for a living. Since thinking about those things is important, I’ve been doing a lot of reading on the subject, and the most recent book I have been reading is Harold Kushner’s When Bad Things Happen To Good People. It’s a sympathetic book whose thesis is basically this: God is not all powerful, otherwise bad things would not happen to good people. To maintain our faith, we must choose between an all -powerful God who is not totally good, or a totally good God who is not all-powerful. That’s it in a nutshell, and it is the theology Kushner crafted for himself to save his faith after his son died tragically young from a condition he did not deserve. Kushner looks around at all of the others who suffer, and this is the worldview that comforts him in the face of the random cruelty of nature.

With Kushner’s theology in my mind, I set about my business this morning. I checked my grades for an important class online, and discovered that I had failed a test. I walked into the kitchen and saw a pile of dishes waiting to be done. I knew that I had to read all of King Lear for a class that night, and had not even begun it. A pile of laundry waited for me in the basement.

Times are tight for my family right now, so instead of going to our regular grocery store, I went to The Family Dollar to get some dish soap for the dishes. Let me tell you, it did nothing to elevate my mood.

The people in the store looked like zombies, and they made me sad. I was beating myself up over my failed test. The weight of all of the debt I’ve accrued to get the degree I am working on was coming down hard on me. Not only am I responsible for myself, but I’m responsible for my children’s happiness and development too. When I failed that test, I also failed them.

I was totally projecting at this point. I looked at a middle aged man stocking the shelves in the back of the store. He was pale, and moved lethargically. I became that man. Flash forward to the future: I didn’t get into grad school--I didn’t even get my bachelor’s degree--and I was forced to become a manager at The Family Dollar. Not only was I just a manager at Family Dollar, I was an assistant manager. Not even the top spot.

I felt ill. I drove back home, filled up the sink with soapy water, and called a friend who is also a psychology major. I told him about my existential frustrations, and he quietly listened. I asked him how he managed to be so happy, and he said that he thought his happiness was based on the fact that he didn’t allow himself to worry about the silly things that most other people worry about. He used Eastern philosophy to gird his loins (to quote Joe Biden). He quoted something from a manga book he liked that he thought might be helpful to me: “You’ve got a good pair of legs beneath you. Use them.” He told me he thought God was not helping or hurting us, and that life on the whole was mostly good. He employed metaphors and analogies to illustrate his uplifting view, and I responded with a darker vision.

‘Life is a challenge.’ he said. ‘You won’t always be moving up. Sometimes you’ll plateau. As long as you keep working, eventually you’ll get to the top of the mountain.’ I said that this presupposes some kind of ultimate justice in the world. ‘Tell a kid who is born with his lungs outside of his body that life is mostly good. Tell that to his parents.’ I said. ‘Your effort is not guaranteed to ever move you forward. Look at Job. People get worn down. Instead of climbing a mountain, maybe life is like war. You’re behind enemy lines, advancing with your men towards the bad guys' fox hole. You keep advancing towards your target, but the more you move, the more tired you become. Maybe you get injured. You’re efforts are wearing you down. When you finally make it to the fox hole, you turn around. All of your men have been killed. You find yourself surrounded by the enemy. They take you below and execute you. All of your work has been for nothing.’

‘That’s a cynical view.’ my friend said.

‘I was only demonstrating the way this kind of thinking works.’ I said. ‘You’re tossing around these platitudes and mantras that are not based on anything, trying to tell me that everything will be alright if I adopt your worldview, but that is not guaranteed.’ I was becoming irritated with my friend. Who did he think he was? He hasn't had my experiences. He doesn't have my responsibility. Who was he to say I was misled in my sense of hopelessness? Essentially my thought boiled down to this: my pain is bigger than your pain. There can be a very masturbatory element to despair.

My friend didn't deserve my misplaced hostility, so I tried to back down and smooth things over. I re-interpreted what he told me into the same little pep-talk I give myself whenever I feel like I'm hitting the wall: Even if nothing is guaranteed, I have to keep working towards something, and I have to be hopeful. Life isn’t like war, or a mountain climb. Life is like life. The only alternative to feeling miserable and giving up is to keep moving. Watch the clouds pass in the sky. Like a twelve-stepper, you only have to get through today. Make today count. It's true that to climb out of a hole is to risk falling back in, but what is the alternative? I'm not staying in this hole.

A bunch of stuff like that.

It was good of my friend to listen to me, but I realize it wasn’t his philosophy I was looking for, but his empathy. The feeling that he was reinforcing his own views as he spoke to me tainted how I received his counsel: That’s a cynical way to look at things. and I don’t get worried by the silly things that worry other people. and You’ve got a good pair of legs beneath you, use them. This kind of ‘counseling’ is the same kind of counseling that Kushner derides in his book. To protect God, or the counselor’s faith, the counselors lay the blame at the foot of the person who is suffering. They create meaningless cosmic scenarios that justifies your suffering to themselves, and reinforce their own worldview. It's like saying to someone, 'It's God's will', or 'Pull yourself up by your bootstraps'.

Maybe God had nothing to do with my pain. Maybe I don't have bootstraps.

It’s true that in the end, all that Kushner offers is a rationalization to maintain his own faith. It’s one we could use too, if it appealed to us. But a bigger message in his work is offered to those who would comfort than to those who grieve: You are not in the life of the grieving to philosophize. Their problems are not silly to them. They’re outlook--if it seems cynical--is validly cynical at that time. They need to be heard. They need to be allowed to construct a language specific to themselves and their specific scenario. Everyone grieves differently. The grieving don’t need a Wayne Dyer style lecture from their counselor, they just need attentive empathy and compassion.

Harold Kushner found a language for his suffering, and so has my friend. Both of these philosophies may be useful to someone at some time, but suffering is not a one size fits all endeavor. We can observe the tools that a person is constructing for themselves to create healing, and encourage their use. What we cannot do is assume that our personal tools will be useful to everyone, and must resist the impulse to use time that we are supposed listening to other people’s grief to work out our own issues, or to bolster our own beliefs.

Monday, November 17, 2008

I Know What I Know

“Give a man beans,
And he will fart for a day.
Teach a man to bean,
And he will fart for a lifetime.”


-Ancient wisdom from a formerly oppressed (but now exalted) minority group.

I’ve always been impressed by the male midlife crisis. This comes to me right now as Red Green is on in the living room at two-o-clock in the morning, and I am sitting on the toilet flipping through a copy of Robert Bly’s Iron John.

I don’t know where my fascination with this tumultuous period in the life of over-privileged (usually white) American males began. I’ve always been drawn to the writing of middle and late John Updike, middle and late John Cheever, and middle and late Saul Bellows. Garrison Keillor’s Wobegon Boy was a formative book in my early reading life. The Mia Farrow era films of Woody Allen are very effective to me, and everything Paul Simon has done from Graceland up ‘til now I have found nothing but engrossing. Denny Crane is the shadow id that Bly suggests most people drag around in a bag behind them most of their life, let loose.


Maybe it’s because I came of age during a period in history where our American president was famously going through a rather awkward and public mid-life crisis. Or maybe it’s because my own father was never self-indulgent enough to go through one. Consistent with our social class, he just seemed to plow on through the ripe crisis years. Maybe it’s because in high school I always seemed to be lucky enough to get jobs that were perfect for midlife men transitioning from their career into retirement, or possibly switching jobs so they could go back to school.


These men can seem wily. They seem to even surprise themselves with their impulsive ideology from time to time, and can be very convincing in the spirituality they discover as they re-evaluate their personal inventories, and try (sometimes desperately) to impart some newfound-- yet ‘ancient’--wisdom on the young men around them. Men in this period of their life often have a certain wild vibe about them. True, at no other point are they as likely to buy a Porsche or to date Scarlett Johansson. But it also seems to be at this age that a man may take a second deep breath in their life, the exhalation from which can be both life-saving from their perspective and inspirational from a third party perspective. I have learned a lot from such men.


If both the young earthers and the Mormons are right, the earth is only about 6,000 years old and our God is a relatively young one: maybe just now getting a touch of gray around the temples? What better time for a midlife crisis.


It would certainly explain the book of Job.








Thursday, November 13, 2008

Sir!

I have two poems at the new online magazine Sir!, which is helmed by the lovely and talented Brian James Foley. It's good. Go see.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Carousing



I've had Farewell To Sorrow for years now, but this particular song has never hit me quite the way it did today. I was driving my son & dog back from a little rainy day hike, listening to a mix cd I made awhile back and forgot about. This song came on (the studio version), and it just saturated me, heightening all of the little pleasures I was experiencing.

Music is amazing: it's the most persuasive argument for the existence of God that I can imagine.

"Carousing all the evening and the drinking of the wine,
The dancing and the winching and the ladies in line.
But we'll be lying idle in the morning of the day,
Carousing, carousing, carousing away!

And I love to see you angry, then I know you are alive.
And you're already rowdy when the flash girls arrive.
But we'll be lying idle in the morning of the day
Carousing, carousing, carousing away!

I feel the sickener run in my veins,
Holy pulse-quickener, easer of pains,
Knower of knowledge and namer of names,
Worker and shirker and player of games.
Oh holy pulse-quickener, how can this be
That that which unveileith doth also deceive?
Open the bottle and let the wine breathe,
Open the bottle and let the wine breathe."


-Carousing, by Alasdair Roberts

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Not Everything Went Well Last Night

California Appears Likely To Ban Gay Marriage

It's sad to me that married couples in California were forced to go door to door to ask their neighbors to allow them to remain married, and it's even sadder that their neighbors' resounding answer seems to have been 'Not on your life'.

I fail to see how two willing individuals entering into a marital contract has any negative impact on the economy, foreign relations, or democracy as a whole.

In fact, I would be willing to argue that allowing homosexuals to marry would actually have a positive impact on our society: It is good when families are formed, and families have a vested interest in the success of the society to which they belong. It would also be good for democracy, and would add credence to that often bandied about idea regarding 'Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.'

Religious fundamentalism is the bottom line here. It shackles us, and makes us fearful and hateful of those who believe differently than we do. It encourages an arrogance that parades as humility while simultaneously looking for the blackness in the souls of those around us.

Until we stop making our decisions based upon the teachings of thousands-of-years-old fairy tales, there will always patches of darkness obscuring our potential.

Andrew Sullivan offers consolation for those hurt by this undemocratic vote.

The American Dream



This morning I was able to tell my seven year old son (the biggest Obama supporter out there) that his guy won. A big smile broke out on his face, and we hugged.

It was a great election contest, between two decent men. Watching the reactions of voters who felt newly enfranchised last night on T.V., I couldn't help but cry tears of joy for them, and for us all. I am hopeful for the country that my children will inherit.

Here's to that future.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Be Careful What You Wish For

I liked this little anecdote that Norm at One Good Move posted recently:

"I just had to share this with you. I was talking to a family member about the election tomorrow, and said that it looked like his candidate, John McCain, would probably lose. He agreed it didn't look good and then said, "be careful what you wish for, if Barack is elected the country will suffer." I said, "I can't see how it could be worse than the last eight years." "Oh yes," he said, "It could get much worse." I asked how, and he replied that we could end up like Sweden.

I laughed, I couldn't help myself. "Like Sweden," I said, "I'll take it."

Monday, November 3, 2008

Reading The Greats

I want to build something sturdy and wooden
like the desk you write on.
You built it on some weekend long ago,

and it is still so solid.

I could confidently jump up and down on its top
without fear of injury to me,
or fear of damage to it.

I want to build something like that.

And I will work on my car the way you work on yours,
and I will ignite glorious revolutions every day!
All while posing gallantly as the sun rises behind me.

And I will wear a careful beard.

And my eyes will squint, that old craftsman's wink:
born of a need to keep sawdust out of your eye,
but suggestive of so much more.

A man of grit will do what he has to do.

And hats! I want to wear hats unselfconsciously,
like they fit, like I belong in them. Same as you.
I will walk around town with my hat at an angle,

so everyone know's I'm game.

To watch you chop wood in the early morning is to behold
A rare art:

Your long, even strokes. The way you grunt as you dislodge
The blade from the stump...Masterful. It goes without saying
That you take your coffee black.

You belong to a better time, so I'm sending you back:

No hurry, but I've packed your bags. Feel free to write.
There’s some jerky in your coat pocket for the journey,
prepared by my wife.

It's not too far back to the bookshelf.

You should be able to make it by nightfall if you leave now.
At the very least, you'll make it to the bed stand:
It's been a long day. I wish you could've stayed longer,

but you were making me feel like a chump.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Monday, October 27, 2008

The Medicine Cabinet Recommends...

I haven’t been creating much lately, but I have been consuming. Here are some of the things that I've liked the best:

I Like Pixar:Lodo Grdzak shares some funny moments from a recent blind date, and gives props to the oft-overlooked director, Pixar.

McCain’s Hero: More Socialist than Obama !, by Timothy Noah: “Our aim is to recognize what Lincoln pointed out: The fact that there are some respects in which men are obviously not equal; but also to insist that there should be an equality of self-respect and of mutual respect, an equality of rights before the law, and at least an approximate equality in the conditions under which each man obtains the chance to show the stuff that is in him when compared to his fellows.” Barack Obama or Teddy Roosevelt? The title of the piece gives it away, but it’s an interesting point.

At The Mountains Of Madness, by H.P. Lovecraft: It's taken me a long time to get around to reading Lovecraft. Neil Gaiman's A Study In Emerald pushed me over the edge. I love this book. It's the kind of book that is fun to read when you're stuck in bed sick. I bought the Modern Library Classics version so I could read China Mieville's introduction.

Rauan Klassnik: I learned about this guy via Brian Foley's blog. Klassnik writes poetry and has posted a surreal series of dreams about one Ron Silliman, whom I thought was a made up person at first. Klassnik's posts would be interesting enough on their own terms, but the illustrations really bring it home.

The Right Stuff: An interview with Christopher Buckley. He admits to committing voter fraud at the age of 8, and describes himself as post-catholic. My favorite conservative.

The Keith Jarrett Trio performing My Funny Valentine:



I love Keith Jarrett. I think it's all the grunting.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Birds

Regardless of some of the terrible things many of us do to one another (and some of the terrible things we believe), most humans seem to be united in an appreciation for birds: The graceful and apparently miraculous structure of their wings, the stunning variety of song, and the ability to seemingly rise above it all, surrendering themselves to the conflicting drafts in the higher atmosphere. The bird has sunk into our collective unconscious as a symbol of freedom. A symbol of what could be attained, if only.

Consequentially, I find it informative that birds seem to enjoy pooping on statues.





Thursday, October 16, 2008

John Cleese on Sarah Palin



The American public not long after November fifth (provided McCain/Palin win the election): :I wish to complain about this parrot what I purchased not half an hour ago from this very boutique..."

Thursday, October 9, 2008

The Chinese

I think about all of the things
I will not be able to explain to my children,
and I shake my head.

at least they’ll be able to change their oil.

the crash course that they are on:
my car is only a little bit farther ahead.
So no cause for self-mutilation.

We can’t all be the Chinese: that wise race
We are always being told about
on vitamin bottles in our grocery stores.

what American could’ve intuited a healing factor
In the grain of the deer turd, or the stolen memories
that rest in the pistil of a rare purple flower?

what Canadian or Englishman would’ve thought
to see the increased sexual potential to be found
in a bowl of shark fin soup?

of course I am joking at the Chinese. I know
that they are as stupid as we, and that there is no
real we or they.

it’s just easier to look elsewhere for help
when the wisest person you have ever known
is terrible at parallel parking.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

We're Never Alone.

The first time I realized how outnumbered we are as a species was when I was seven years old. We were playing soldiers in the backyard, and I lay down in the high grass in hopes I could ambush some of the kids on the enemy team.

It was then that I noticed a small white spider crawling up a blade of grass. It was so little that the light seemed to go right through it. I followed the blade of grass down to the dirt below, and saw a pill bug sauntering along. There were two other kinds of bugs--little oval shaped things--smaller than the pill bug, with long antennae and sandy colored shells with black stripes across them. A red ant crawled across my arm. I was surrounded.

I stood up, suddenly uncomfortable in such a sparse & subversive environment of tiny little creatures. There were other ones flying around, just over the grass. You had to squint a little to see them in the sun, but they were all over the place.

Then I heard the rapid clicking of toy guns accompanied by a triumphant crow:
“Bang, Bang, Bang, you‘re dead Spencer!”

I was so caught up my my reverie that I had let my guard down. the opposing team stole the flag from our fort and paraded it around my backyard, but I was mostly nonplussed. I had noticed an ant trail running up the side of my house.

That moment awoke me to the idea that there were systems…that life carried on around me without my knowing. In school I would learn that generations of species of insects would cycle by in my lifetime without my awareness. The ground was swelling with all of the little things. They could infest your house or your hair, lay eggs in your furniture, or crawl away with your food at a picnic. Like in a Yogi the Bear cartoon.

We're never alone.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Who Won the VP Debate?


As expected, Sarah Palin came out of the gates strong with a convincing win in the swimsuit competition, but Joe Biden came back fast with a startling upset in the sausage eating contest. It was a dead heat going into the spelling bee, which Biden won by default when Palin missed an ‘s’ while spelling Mississippi backwards. It’s harder than it sounds. When asked what fruit side dish best accompanies Haitian style fugu fish, both candidates stared blankly, but Palin picked up partial credit by feebly offering, ‘…apples?’ No Sarah, it’s toasted mango, but nice try.

Neither candidate passed the field sobriety test, and both candidates cited Marilyn Monroe as their favorite playmate, which means they don’t actually read the magazine.

Things were getting hot moving into the long jump, which Biden won handily (conservatives are crying foul this morning due to the fact that Palin was wearing a skirt and heels: how could she be expected to compete? Fair point.)

But just as things were getting really contentious, the two candidates burst into a moving duet of Islands in the Stream, which had the audience in tears, and on their feet.

Overall I would say the American people were the winners of this V.P. debate, because they got to see what their ticket’s candidates looked like under pressure. The other winner (of course!) was bipartisan giving. All of the proceeds from the post-duet drinking competition went to charity.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Fall Is A Good Time For Living

One of the best things about being alive is the ability to slide beneath freshly washed and scented bed sheets after a long day of doing things you probably wouldn't have done if you didn't have to.

Another one of the best things about being alive (and being able to hear and smell) is the ability to hear the sound two orange chambers make as they rip apart, and to smell resulting spray of citrus.

Also good: back massages, and the gentle whir of fan blades.

Fall is the perfect time of year to experience good things. I would recommend walking around in a local park, and listening to the sounds acorns make as they drop on the fallen leaves.

My sons and I play a game every Fall. We go to a local tree park, and try to catch the leaves as they come down, before they hit the ground. It's more fun later on in the season, when you are wearing jackets and the wind is more unpredictable.

Are there jazz musicians that play on the street corners in your city? Go listen to them, and drop alot of dollars into their instrument case. If you are a regular church goer, put your weekly donation in the instrument case of a local street musician instead of giving it to your church. It's a better investment, trust me.

Picnics are great in the fall too. Some cheese, some bread, some grapes. A couple of sodas. We live near a small airport/bike trail, and there's a perfect hillside for picnics. Eat, and watch the planes take off. What could be better?

Also good in fall: Walking through graveyards. I will walk through several graveyards this fall. The older the better. There's a graveyard across the street from the aformentioned airport bike trail that is home to the first citizens to set up camp in our area. Many of the stones are feeble, many mark the resting places of young people that never made it past the age of five. The words are fading, and the ones you can read bare many touching rememberances. One gravestone simply says this after the person's name: BORN IN FRANCE. Died. What else could you need to know?

Friday, September 26, 2008

the man is on food stamps...

Here's a little Jurassic Five for the democrats and republicans in Washington, who are trying to figure out a bipartisan way to shift wallstreet's failures onto those of us with actual jobs...you can work it out guys!


P.S. On a brighter note, it just occurred to me that I've neither seen John McCain nor Barack Obama posed in full camo (dead forest creature held triumphantly over their smiling faces) in hopes of courting the hunting demographic this election season...I don't think I've even seen either of them holding a gun. This is change I can believe in.

Monday, September 22, 2008

hard wood floors

There is a place in a person’s life
(god willing)
that they must contemplate tearing up the old carpet,
and putting in hard wood floors.

This dilemma is easier to achieve in the west
(outside of the ghettos and trailer parks),
where things come a lot easier; often with an appetizer.

The prospect of switching flooring--if it ever appears in your life--
is a sign that there is nothing dangerous about you.

It is a sign that the revolution has succeeded,
and the government of your country
is probably as threatening to you as a meter maid.

You are putting in flooring.
Maybe some day you’ll buy a boat.
You will probably gain weight,
and wonder [upon dying] if you could’ve spent your time better.

You could’ve.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Lodo, Meet Maggie


This is my new dog Maggie, by request.

I am not a 'dog' person, but I do admire some things about dogs. Maybe I'm envious because I always wanted to be the flamboyant, artistic type, but am--deep in my soul--bourgoise to the bone. Do I have bones deep in my soul? Apparently I do.

Think about this. Dogs can lick themselves in public, and feel no guilt over drinking straight out of the toilet. Only great artists of the Salvador Dali caliber could get away with this kind of stuff. For a human, this is radical behavior. For a dog? Very vanilla. It is very Republican in the dog world to drink out of the toilet and publicly lick yourself.

So maybe dogs and people aren't all that different after all.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Blackwater Shot Our Dog


(reposted in honor of the troop reduction in Iraq.)

"The K-9 handler made several unsuccessful attempts to get the dog to retreat, including placing himself between the dogs. When those efforts failed, the K-9 handler unfortunately was forced to use a pistol to protect the company's K-9 and himself,"-from a New York Times Story

In Iraq, the mall cops are shooting people’s dogs.
In Iraq, the mall cops have bullet-proof vests.
And laser guns, and tattoos that read Death From Above.

Dogs in Iraq have strong feelings about the occupation.
Eight dogs out of ten have joined the insurgency.
In Iraq, dogs think differently about the war than they do in the states.

In Iraq, dogs are looking into uses the Soviets found for dolphins.
In Iraq, the dogs have considered allowing themselves to be outfitted with rocket launchers.
An American secret weapon for dealing with these dogs is peanut butter.

Peanut butter works on dogs in Iraq just like it does everywhere else.
The reason Blackwater was forced to shoot that dog was they were out of Peanut-butter.
In Iraq, Beatle Bailey had eaten the last spoonful with a cracker. Now his mouth is dry.

originally appeared at Zygote In My Coffee .

Monday, September 8, 2008

Divine Providence?

I was sitting at my son's bus stop waiting for him to get dropped off from school. I was reading Thomas Merton's No Man Is An Island, wishing I had something to underline a passage with.

I looked at a broken pencil on the ground before me that some high-schoolers had thrown from the back window of their bus the last time I waited for my son's school bus.

The pencil wasn't sharpened. Why couldn't they have thrown a sharpened pencil?

Just as I was thinking about this, the high school bus pulled up again. Teenagers unloaded, and I said hello to my neighbor's son, and went back to reading.

As the bus pulled away again, an object came flying out of the back window and bounced off my knee. It was an ink pen, and it worked.

I stood up and shot a big smile at the perplexed looking teens in the back of the bus. The looked thwarted and confused. "Thanks!" I shouted, waving the pen over my head.

Here's the passage I underlined:

"The best way to love ourselves is to love others, yet we cannot love others unless we love ourselves since it is written, 'Thou shalt love they neighbor as thyself.' But if we love ourselves in the wrong way, we become incapable of loving anybody else. And indeed when we love ourselves wrongly we hate ourselves; if we hate ourselves we cannot help hating others."

Saturday, September 6, 2008

The bathroom is the best place to sort things out.

Many say people should read more, but I don’t know. What is it that we should read? Road signs? The ten commandments?

I gather that those who want people to read more think society would be better if it were filled with frequent readers. Specifically, I think that they think society would be better if people read what they read.

I don’t think this is so.

What’s the point in reading if you’re just going to believe the things you read? If you don’t ask questions to yourself about the things you read, you might as well be watching C.S.I. In fact, I would say a C.S.I. Watching non-reader who asks questions of themselves frequently might actually be better off than a person who reads and reads but never questions anything that they read.

I think we’d all be better off if we stopped thinking about what other people should do so much.

Friday, September 5, 2008

String Theory & The Potential Inter-Atmospheric Repurcussions of the Carbon Emissions From the Russian Invasion of Georgia

Just kidding.

I will be posting fewer blogs for awhile. My sons are both in school now, and college is about to start up for me again in a couple of weeks. Between all of the homework and housework, I don't imagine I'll be taking a whole lot of time to weigh in on the weighty issues of our day. Their weight will have to be sufficiently weighty without the addition of my own personal weight. If my personal weight is somehow needed by the issue, the issue will have to wait, unless the issue is in regard to wheat, which is a topic close to my heart. If the issue is wheat, I will wade through the weeds and consider weighing in.

So, barring issues regarding wheat (or possibly Tom Waits, who is a great musician), The weighty issues will have to wait until I can get around to them. It's possible the weighty issues will be disappointed when I finally do weigh in, because I'll be spending more time at the gym this winter, and will hopefully drop a few pounds.

The Virtue Of Asking

In our culture, and perhaps all cultures, we are encouraged to give. Give time, give money, give answers (when you have them). Something that is less encouraged--but just as valuable--is to ask for help when it is needed. Meister Eckhart said the following in a sermon*:

“God’s divinity comes of my humility, and this may be demonstrated as follows. It is God’s peculiar property to give; but he cannot give unless something is prepared to receive his gifts. If, then, I prepare my humility to receive what he gives, by my humility I make God a giver. Since it is his nature to give, I am merely giving God what is already his own. It is like a rich man who wants to be a giver but must first find a taker, since without a taker he cannot be a giver. Similarly, if God is to be a giver, he must first find a taker, but no one may be a taker of God’s gifts except by his humility. Therefore, if God is to exercise his divine property by his gifts, he well may need my humility; for apart from humility he can give me nothing--without it I am not prepared to receive his gift. That is why it is true that by humility I give divinity to God.”

Whether or not you believe in God is besides the point. The point is, there could be no giver without a receiver. A person who receives help should never be viewed as a 'less than' in anyone's eyes.

We always hear about the great philanthropists, as we should. Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, Oprah Winfrey, Bono: all admirable people. It doesn’t matter how much of it they do for ego. They do it. If only there were someone advocating a morality flat-tax that would require every person to do an amount of good in the world equal to that of the aforementioned--within the context of their own time and resources--we’d see a lot of good change, no doubt. So we hear about the great philanthropists, but we rarely hear of the bravery of those who would ask for--or be willing to receive--the aid offered by those admirable givers.

In America, there are many people who advocate the ‘pull yourself up by your boot straps’ philosophy. There are also a lot of people who feel entitled to some kind of aid from some larger power. We’re all probably in one of these camps or the other at various times.

Unfortunately, both of these camps are wrong.No one owes anyone anything, and not everyone has boot straps to pull themselves up by. It is an extremely gallant and noble act to donate your own time and resources to those who are struggling. People who do this deserve our admiration. It’s also a profound act of bravery and humility to ask from the root of your own poverty for assistance. I admire a person who can seek to change their own situation--be it emotional, economic, psychological, etc.--by reaching out for help.

Of course, no outreached hand can save you if you aren’t willing to do a little work yourself. But to admit that there is a problem that you either don’t have an answer for, or don’t have the resources to answer, is a step that deserves recognition. There is no giver without a receiver, and those who give should be grateful that they were able to be of help.



* Taken from Raymond B. Blakney‘s ‘Meister Eckhart: A Modern Translation, Harper and Row, 1941

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Being A Productive Citizen Is Often Overrated.

The above image is still one of the funniest things I've seen in my life. When my brother showed it to me for the first time, I almost died from laughing. Laughing tried to murder me, yet I am still here.

My sons and I spent the whole day playing with legos and listening to Weezer. I've never been happier. We were building this huge Mars Mission set, and it took all day. It's got a couple of small space cruisers, and a few land vehicles, and one gigantic, like...I would compare it to the G.I. Joe General vehicle (do you remember that?). It had tons of pieces, and was very fun.
^
My oldest son (7) is memorizing the U.S. presidents. The ones he can recognize on the spot are George Washington, John Adams, Tom Jefferson, Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, JFK, Bill Clinton, U.S. Grant, Polk, Jackson, and Teddy Roosevelt. He remembers Polk because I made a big deal about him expanding the U.S. border. After we learned about Andrew Jackson, my son told me he should've stayed in school so he could've gotten a better job: He was an asshole as a president.

I can't disagree with my son too much on that. Andrew Jackson would've been a great night manager at McDonalds.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

The Parachutist In Love

For E.G.

The Parachutist’s ripcord is malfunctioning. He is aware of this piece of information, and finds it duly disturbing.
You see, were the Parachutist on ground, in his plane, lying in his bed, sitting on the toilet, eating eggplant parmesan at his favorite Italian restaurant, bedding a young vixen, bedding a few young vixens (one slightly older than the other), practicing the clarinet, making a shopping list, or even playing volleyball (again with young vixens) at the beach, becoming aware of such a piece of information would be easily resolvable. Being however that he is currently falling from a very great height, the information about the ripcord is pertinent.

His instinct is to curse, but not being the swearing type, he decides to pray instead: Praying turns out to be harder to do mid-free fall than one might expect, so he curses.
Being a person who has read a book or two by Deepak Chopra, he attempts meditation: He is going to die. This is evident. He attempts to clear his mind by focusing on the snowy mountain tops that cap the quickly disappearing horizon. Also difficult: Consider G-forces.

What about the man in the colored jumpsuit with goggles and helmet?

The Parachutist’s favorite joke is one that usually only garners polite laughs when he tells it:
Q: How many surrealists does it take to change a light bulb?
A: Two: one to hold the giraffe by the neck, the other to fill the bathtub up with clocks.

He has a picture of his nephew riding a horse on his coffee table at home. The picture was taken by his brother, on the boy’s twelfth birthday. The boy’s name is Cody. The Parachutist has tried to teach the boy how to play chess several times and has failed. Once, when Cody was about six, a little marble pawn showed up in his stool. The Parachutist has quit trying to teach the boy chess.

The Parachutist closes his eyes, takes a breath, and then opens them back up again. The earth is very beautiful, and very small from where he is. It is getting larger quickly, which is vaguely alarming. The Parachutist decides it would be better to misinterpret this alarm as exhilaration. ‘Whoop!’ he says.

He’s over a piney region of Alaska. The tree line spreads far and wide, and there are mountains in the distance. The Parachutist tries to imagine himself crashing down through the evergreens. Every snapping twig that he foresees, were he to write a blog about this episode, he may call it ‘Returning to the Earth in a very real way’, and the post would be very spiritual. The Parachutist is a very spiritual person in his own way. He has read books by Deepak Chopra, and always plays Prince music when he beds young vixens.

The Parachutist is pleased with how easily he turned the whole tragic affair into a philosophical one.
He imagines the earth wrapping around him, his body becoming thin and embedded, and he begins to relax his muscles as it all becomes very near, the whistling becoming increased, and the mountain view becoming out of sight. He thinks about the terrain, and tries to picture it without trees. A parking lot. A desert. An ocean. A pile of feathers.

To the ordinary wild porcupine, the grass is gentle and high, and the soil is agreeably moist. It easily absorbs the creature’s small footprints as it pads and sniffs it’s way through the sweet smelling forest, looking for whatever it is that porcupines look for.

Some kind of small bug, I would imagine.