Thursday, April 21, 2016

I am bummed, too. All of us of a certain age own Prince: I mean, Controversy, 1999, Little Red Corvette, Purple Rain--wine coolers (yeah, so, I was 15!) and baking our little pre-cancerous hides in Hawaiian Tropic by somebody's pool. I get it. But I have to side with my mom on this a bit. For, what has it been, the past 10-12 DAYS that 1000s of people have been demonstrating and 100s have been arrested for protesting at the nation's Capitol? That protest has gotten about a cumulative 3 minutes total air time on the nightly news--at least here locally. Tonight, newscasters spent 15 minutes--FIFTEEN MINUTES--on Prince, including a ridiculous timeline of his last movements. What with ads, there was just enough time to squeeze in a little love for that cretin asshat Trump at the end. So, and okay give the man his due--Prince was an amazing songwriter and made a lot of money and was popular when we were of a certain age. But I've got to know, what does it mean exactly when the death of a pop culture icon gets more attention than the last jerks of a dying democracy? Go ahead, roll your eyes. I'm feeling a little frustrated and dramatic I guess. I'm just finding it hard to put a finger on what, other than his popularity, makes Prince so freaking mournable. If that's a word. Was he a great man? I mean, was he really? What did he do that was really, really Great? I mean, other than write some fine songs. Maybe he was a splendid human being, but that is not what everyone's weeping purple tears about. I don't know why everyone's all devastated. I don't get it.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Sandel on populism in The Guardian-2/27/16

The conclusions Sandel reaches at the end of this excellent piece are similar to the premise of my PhD dissertation (2004) on the myth of equality in writing during the the American Revolution and early Republic periods. My further point was that equality survived as a motivating and even a unifying rhetoric during that period because it was elastic and empty and easily shifted content between an equality that meant "everybody shares the community bounty" to an equality that meant "somebody wins big, lots of people lose big, but nature or merit or God fairly arbitrates that outcome." American writers in the late 18th, early 19th century wielded "equality" like a flag, using it to promote a sense of national definition and purpose--even though what equality meant was quite unstable--moving between those two very different referents. We see a similar polarization in definitions of equality now, even--as Sandel points out--among populists. The difference between now and then seems to be that, because polarization is sharper now and spelled out constantly in internet memes, the myth of equality no longer describes our collective identity but underscores our contentious multiplicity. The contentiousness and division are nothing new but only less well obscured these days by a murky but encompassing myth. 

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Leaving Right to the Mercy of Chance



The Thoreau quote below has always been one of my favorites. If I remember correctly he was writing in the context of an increasingly hot national struggle over slavery that would lead, in the year after his publication of his essay, to the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850, which required free states like Massachusetts to apprehend and send escaped slaves back to the South--despite their own state laws against slavery. The sentiment and logic (and Thoreau's prose) never fail to fill me with a kind of awe. Majority rule keeps us running and supposedly reflects a people's values and priorities (it is "expedien[t]"), but it never bears a necessary relationship with right. When the majority holds for something evil (i.e., slavery, internment camps), Thoreau argues that a conscientious person ("the wise man") must vote in some way other than by ballot. How exhilarating. One thinks of the Occupy Movement. The only problem is that this logic is as much that of Thoreau and someone like MLK as it is central to the thinking of the more virulent anti-choice groups or those wankers in Oregon. So--and this is no argument against Thoreau's point--when your government does things that you not only disagree with but on reflection find deeply and morally repugnant, even horrifying (i.e., Guantanamo Bay, denying health care to women with few resources in Texas, etc.), how do you register your vote for right? Resistance that is meaningful must undermine the order of law. That sounds fine if the cause is my cause, but if it's the cause of Operation Rescue, things start to seem more complicated. Order is never the same as justice, but it seems a more likely context for it than chaos.


"All voting is a sort of gaming, like checkers or back gammon, with a slight moral tinge to it, a playing with right and wrong, with moral questions; and betting naturally accompanies it. The character of the voters is not staked. I cast my vote, perchance, as I think right; but I am not vitally concerned that that right should prevail. I am willing to leave it to the majority. Its obli­gation, therefore, never exceeds that of expediency. Even voting for the right is doing nothing for it. It is only expressing to men feebly your desire that it should prevail. A wise man will not leave the right to the mercy of chance, nor wish it to prevail through the power of the majority." --Thoreau, Resistance to Civil Government, 1849

Thursday, January 7, 2016

I should be doing something else, something related to web site design and sexual health programming for women in jail, but instead I am eating string cheese and staring at the wall, thinking (probably not very originally) about how Moby-Dick, Leaves of Grass, and Walden resemble each other. They all attempt to "get at" some idea that is ungainly or ineffable through acts of artful, suggestive induction, acts of piling/listing/layering. Whitman does it serially, with lists of words--layering his sense of nation through a litany of concretes--roles, places, performances, tableaux. Walden maps the nineteenth-century sense of individualism onto his pond and cabin, again listing and layering his subject through the seasons and moods of his surroundings. Melville weaves around and around his whale--always not quite getting there--but building a mountain incrementally, a whale out of bits and pieces: metaphors, legends, histories, allusions, definitions, sightings. I'm wondering about how this may be reflective of a general sensibility, a way of accounting for things that is quite different--or not different at all (??)--from our own. I am in a week-long fit of procrastination.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Poemify What You Preach!


While on medical leave from gall bladder surgery, I have been trying to write daily.  By my nature, every practice I take up requires that I first or simultaneously buy and read 6 to 59 books about it. Sometimes I even take a class. When especially motivated by some new enthusiasm, I rush around and get another college degree in its honor, thereby periodically turning my life upside down and trapping myself in a demeaning life of abject studenthood.  Enough. Usually I just bury myself in a bunch of books. So, Saturday I bought a used book of short meditations to spark writing--basically a CW textbook of writing assignments by someone named Fred White. The book provides one prompt for each day of the year, and I am now on Jan. 4. (I skipped the 3rd, which was even more confusing than one would think--being January in July, after all--since it had something to do with making a New Year's resolution [on the 3rd?] to write every day, from this day forth, and didn’t seem to be a writing prompt at all--except in the very broadest and I guess truest sense.)  Anyway, today I was assigned the writing of a poem or letter to my “fellow citizens.” The goal is to describe in as much detail as possible a change I wish to see those fellows undertake.  This was a lot of fun to write.  It’s not great art but I thought the 2 or 3 people who look at my blog might enjoy.


Letter to some fellow citizens

I beg you, my fellow, my sister:
Pray for less.
Pray for possession of smaller, simpler homes.
Share one car with four neighbors. 
Walk to the neighbors’ and sit and talk and eat pie or blueberries on their front porch.
Share your porch and grill and lawnmower and iced tea with your neighbor.
Give them your time.
Own fewer things.
Destroy your stereo and locate your old harmonica.
Banish the Amazon.
Take your books out of boxes.  Breathe on them.
Reread all the books you already have, that you claim to love but don’t remember.
Or put your books in a tiny, colorfully painted house in the front yard.
Erect a sign:  “Free books.” 
Start using “free” as a verb.  Be imperative.
Share your neighbor’s videos and CDs.
Host a video night.  Make it a pot-luck. 
Start with a discussion.  End with a prayer.
Pray for fewer things.
Strive to reduce your intake.
Strive to reduce your output.
Work less.  Earn less.  Watch your time grow.
Endeavor to paint with one brush and six half pans.
Paint the same canvas over and over.
Share the canvas with your neighbors.
Play with someone else’s children. 
Let them fly your trick kite.
Mend your kite when it torpedoes into the earth.
Make a new kite with pages from your old books.
Travel less. 
Write long, illustrated letters to your friends. 
They have your heart and your time. Give more.
Fire your lawyer and accountant and hair stylist.
Replace your dentist with floss. 
Re-use your floss.
Remove no more hair. Stop washing it. Grow your eyebrows.
Nudge your financial planner out the door.
Or, bake a boule of bread and walk it over to her porch.
Break bread with your financial advisor.
Learn that she plays the ukelele. 
Form a ukelele-harmonica duo and perform free concerts on her porch.
Try on new philosophies.
Combine argument with giggling.
Try on silence.
Smile more, talk less.  Laugh as much as possible in your belly.
Make your eyes laugh constantly.
Remove the horn from the car you share with your neighbors.
Pray for less texting worldwide.
Run over your cell phone with the lawnmower you share with your neighbors.
Put your alarm clock in the dishwasher.  Disable the dishwasher.
Have fewer surgeries.  Take fewer medicines.  
Pray to live more livingly, to die more dyingly.
Strive to swim in fresh water and salt water.
Strive to climb mountains. And gape at trees.  And at run at prairies, arms akimbo.
Sit in the sun.  Sit in the sun.  Sit in the sun.
Sniff a lot when rain hits hot pavement and fresh cut grass.
Plant some dill.  Gather it by the handful.  Breathe dill all day. 
Feed the ground squirrels.
Cry less.  Sleep more. 
Run in every park in town.
Feel the air on your legs.  Feel the air ripple through the hair on your legs.
Stop buying new running shoes.  Wear your old shoes.
Stop wearing shoes.
Eat whatever you like.  Share it with your neighbors.
Waste less, save more. 
Eschew plastic bags.  Eschew bags. 
Acquire one thing at a time.
Pray less, play more.
Strive to live more livingly.
Strive to strive less strivingly.
Laugh constantly with your eyes.

Postscript.
Stop interrupting the writing of poems to apply for RapidRewards credit cards.
Practice what you preach.

Monday, December 31, 2012

The Maintenance of Knives and Friendship



I have twice, recently, found myself struggling over knives with friends.  Neither involved my wallet or car keys, and neither resulted in even minor flesh wounds.  My struggles lay in knives but not of them.  Or of them but not with them.  The first occurred after I moved in for a few weeks with S.  S is convinced that his knives, which he keeps in special assigned slots in a wooden block next to the stove, must not for any amount of time, however short, remain sitting with food on them.  No more slicing and enjoying of cheese or apple and then returning after to clean up.  The knife must be scrubbed immediately, even while the cheese turns rubbery and apple browns.  The knife is to be cleaned with a softish sponge, once, twice, and again, and then extra lovingly dried and polished with a clean, soft cloth.  The knife must be swiped in one direction along its special sharpener a few times to renew the edge and then maybe again caressed with the clean, soft cloth, and finally reinserted—take care not to rub the cutting edge against the wood!—into its slot.  S did not at first insist that I clean the knives with such fastidious care.  Rather, he would sneak around behind me picking them up as I set them aside. I perceived a disapproving cast to his mouth, which prodded me to confront him.  Our exchange included such jewels as “If you don’t take care of nice things, you can’t expect them to stay nice.” To which I responded reasonably I thought with “If you can’t let a knife sit with food on it for an hour after using it, it doesn’t seem like a very ‘nice’ thing; it seems like an inconvenient and useless thing.”  And then, in a huff: “I will just buy my own knife, one that doesn’t disintegrate when it comes into contact with food.”  Then, we said some other stuff, and I said I should just move out and thereby avoid destroying S’s overnice things.  Then, we made up, and S said I could use the knives in whatever slovenly fashion I want.  Now, I clean the knives right after I use them.  So it goes.  

The second knife-significant incident took place during a recent trip to Brooklyn to visit my also very dear, long-time friend, J.  On my final, full day in New York, J and I went to the Tenement Museum, walked along the High Line, and had tea and scones at a place in the West Village. Walking back from the subway in rain and dark, I failed to notice dog crap on the sidewalk.  Stepping in dog poo is always a hassle, but when you’re visiting in Brooklyn and leaving by plane the next day, it’s especially terrible. Even worse, imagine that you’re wearing Keen shoes which include an ingenious rubber sole that features narrow and apparently bottomless cuts, placed there presumably for grip, although I’ve always felt the shoes to be especially and surprisingly prone to slippage.  What could I do?  I borrowed a butter knife from the kitchen and went to the front stoop to remove the poo.  I rubbed the shoe vigorously in the wet grass in the yard.  I pounded the shoe raucously on the bricks that line the driveway.  I took the shoe to the attic bathroom and worked on the poo over the sink.  I pried and sawed, scooped and gouged.  The more I worked, the more poo came to light.  The shoes seemed to have deep diverticuli into which the poo had instantly and perhaps permanently worked its way.  Finally, after much sniffing and the application of fragrant hand soap to the bottom of the shoe, I was satisfied that it was safe to mummify the shoe in 3 plastic bags and stow it away in a side pocket of my to-be checked bag.  I went downstairs and washed the knife carefully hot water and dish soap.  I repeated the process several times.  Soon, a small voice from the couch: “I should have given you a plastic knife.”  In subsequent, semi-terse conversation it came to light that J was not convinced that dog poo could be adequately removed from a stainless steel kitchen utensil.  Given the tenacity with which the poo adhered to the bottom of my shoe, I should have been more sensitive to this possibility.  But I was done with the poo and indifferent about the knife.  I said with a kind of restrained, and again, I thought reasonable irritation, “Why would dog poo be any more likely to remain on a scrubbed butter knife than, say, mayonnaise or raw hamburger?”  J responded that she wasn’t sure, but that it creeped her out.  I could sympathize with that.  I left the knife in the sink, to whatever fate J would assign it, and sat down to contemplate how nineteenth-century tenement dwellers would have handled the situation differently.  So end two pointy, though also arguably pointless tales of friendship.

Monday, December 10, 2012

I try to get ahold of myself

Here is the kind of thing that I should probably keep quiet about because a) it makes me sound dim, and b) it reminds me of blurbs in old Reader's Digests--the kind of thing you read at 10 years of age while teetering on the edge of car sickness during a long ride in the back of a musty Plymouth Fury or Mercury Cougar on the way to a holiday weekend in the Ozarks or wherever.  Anyway.  I was recently staying with my friend S, who was at work.  I myself had worked all night the previous night.  I came in about 8 a.m. and slept until 1:30 p.m.  On waking, I find that I cannot locate my cell phone.  So, I call myself using S's land line.  I hear my phone buzz, search around, and eventually find it in my purse.  By the time I finally extract and open the phone (not in any way a "smart" phone), it has stopped ringing.  I see, however, that S has just called me.  I hit "reply." I think, S has called from work to propose that we meet for a late lunch!  Suddenly, the house phone in my other hand starts to ring.  S is calling me, and I am calling him!  I answer with boisterous good cheer, "Hey, I was just calling YOU!"  But, of course, it is only ME calling from the cell phone in my other hand--in reply to a call that I also made to myself. 

[Insert annoying sketch of befuddled looking, middle-aged bald man holding two cell phones.]