Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Mead Mystery

Speaking of history . . .

Back when the Internet was something really new to us, my wife, Karen, and I discovered eBay. This meant, also, that we discovered the giddy joy of bidding on items we absolutely did not need. We won a few things, too, among them a leather-wrapped telescope (which, later, met its demise as a pirate prop for two little boys); a signed copy of Peter S. Beagle's The Folk of the Air; a first edition of Ray Bradbury's only mystery novel (which, though I love Bradbury's work, I couldn't finish reading); a few baubles to decorate the tops of shelves; a reproduction of a Roman sword (which looked swell in the picture but, in person, is just silly); a real, live copy of Harper's Weekly from the post Civil War era and (drum roll, please) my favorite find, ever: a 1764 copy of The London Magazine.

The oldest thing I own:
The London Magazine from May of 1764

But the story of this aquisition is a complex one, after all. I was prompted to bid on it not only because I love historical objects, but because the table of contents boasts a recipe for mead. And, as a lover of the idea of shaking hands with the past, I could think of no better way of doing so than by drinking a drink cherished by my predecessors.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Christmas Time Capsule

I imagine it might seem odd for me to say, since I have often proclaimed my distaste for marking occasions, that I happen to be a lover of history -- world history, American history and even personal/family history. I'm fascinated by the real benchmarks of time: a newspaper from 1938; a picture of my parents as teenagers; my hand to the wall of the tower of London; an old film that captures life on a regular day in 1906 . . .

But sometimes -- maybe most of the time -- the little things can be most profound. For instance, every year at this time, I get to shake hands with myself from the year before.

Always, around the end of November, I open up our outdoor Christmas decorations. And when I do, I get to do a kind of personal archaeology: I get to deduce what mood I was in when I packed up; where my head was at that freezing, rather gloomy time. (Were things tossed into the boxes and bags, or was everything neatly wrapped up and placed into careful categories?) What I get to see is how much "Chris 2010" was thinking about "Chris 2011."

Friday, November 25, 2011

Confessions of an American Turkey Eater

As I lie, nearly senseless, in a tryptophan dream . . .

 . . . it occurs to me that a stomach full of turkey and dressing and cranberry sauce and pie piece after pie piece after pie piece is a metaphor for the culmination of a life . . . and, a veil lifts from my sleepy vision:

See: the great, shadowy form of the Towering Turkey of Truth looming over the bed of the last sleep of my future. See it laugh a booming laugh and flap its feather-naked wings and say:

" . . . yet time and again you glutted on my flesh and you fell in and out of the drowsy, sickened oblivion of a thousand times before, until now . . . until NOW!"

And I am crushed by a sinuous, sharp-toed  turkey foot . . . to learn . . . perhaps . . . that the undiscovered country is, in fact, a vegetable patch in a high-piled cloud.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Shakespeare the Scribe

Parents and teachers and doctors . . . please consider this. A quotation from a blog referred to me by my brother-in-law, illustrator, Matt Stewart. Some words about Leonardo DaVinci's mind and its inner workings as suggested by his personal notebooks :
The notebooks bring to light Leonardo's insatiable curiosity, as well as an immense lack of focus. Some experts, such as Jonah Lehrer, think that this lack of focus may actually have contributed to DaVinci's creativity. In his upcoming book Imagine, How Creativity WorksJonah states: "We live in an age that worships attention. When we need to work, we force ourselves to concentrate. This approach can also inhibit the imagination. Sometimes, it helps to consider irrelevant information, to eavesdrop on all the stray associations unfolding in the far reaches of the brain."
Einstein once said that "everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

Monday, November 21, 2011

A Bouquet of Sardines

H Armstrong Roberts:
"Men Shaking Hands"
I once had a guy look at me with a cheese-eating grin and a superior attitude, and say: "Life is simple, really." I didn't punch him. I really should have, but I refrained, especially since he was my boss at the time. (See? Complicated.)

My point is, that even the seemingly simple is complicated. Handshakes, for instance.

As long as I live, I will never understand how a man makes it through life with a flabby handshake.

The other night, I was playing a job with my band and I saw a fellow I hadn't seen in a long time. I reached out to shake his hand. [Long Pause. Me, looking skywayrd to find a way to describe the indescribable.] It was like squeezing a cluster of warm sardines. This, as many of us know, is one of the most unpleasant social interactions possible.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Good Times, Bad Times

For a long time, I have had a distaste for the marking of occasions: weddings, graduations, anniversaries, etc. I've mentioned this here on H&R a few times. I feel a little weird about it, from time to time, to be honest with you. Most people love these occasions.

Then, just when I start to feel a little mystified by my own logical salmon swim, something always hits me, and I realize there's a derned good reason for my weirdness; that my weirdness, on this particular issue might just be a form of transcendence.

Today, for instance, a friend on Facebook summed up her life of late. She mentioned how happy she is. So . . . cool. I'm glad. There is no problem with that statement, in and of itself.

Frequently, though, friends will go the other way on Facebook. They say things like. "Goodbye, 2010. You were horrible." Or they might put up "Worst day ever." Things like that.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Penn State Scandal (Part 2): Sandusky's Surreal Comments

Okay -- so, I'm digging into current events like never before . . . but, if this particular one doesn't speak to the shriveling heart of the humanity, I don't know what does.

Everyone just relax, okay? Jerry Sandusky was just horsing around with those kids! He told Bob Costas (all quotes from this source):

"I have horsed around with kids. I -- I have showered after workouts. I have hugged them and I have touched their leg. Without intent of sexual contact," Sandusky said.
So we can all breathe a little easier. Thank God -- I mean, what is this world coming to when a grown man can't just jump into the showers with a ten-year old boy who barely knows him? What's wrong with you people? Doesn't anyone trust anyone else anymore? Sandusky is innocent, by nature. What's wrong with showering with boys? Man, you people are sick. Next thing you know, you'll be telling me that you think Michael Jackson wasn't perfectly justified sleeping with little kids in his bed.

Monday, November 14, 2011

"Man, what are you doin' here?"

You know the parable about the talents -- the one Jesus tells in the New Testament? A master gives one servant ten talents; another five and a third, one; each according to his perceived worth. The first cat wheels and deals and doubles the ten; the second doubles the five and, the third, worried about dropping it down a sewer grate or something, buries the one coin he was given. They each come back to the master and he is pleased with the first two, especially because he is now in the black about twenty-five talents, but he calls the third "wicked" tosses him out of the house into the dark where he can do some gnashing of the old choppers and think the whole deal over whilst he shivereth.

I am, of course, paraphrasing.

Friday, November 11, 2011

The Penn State Scandal: Something No One Seems to Notice

Is Hell really other people? I'm starting to deeply believe it.

I'm so incredibly sick of all of the hive-mentality in society. I'm so tired of systems and groups and infrastructures and committees and teams. I'm so tired of everyone confusing morality with laws and only separating the two when it becomes convenient and good for publicity and face-saving.

As just about everyone in the USA knows (and, probably, people all over the world know this, too, by now), the long-time coach of Penn State football has been fired. Joe Paterno is a man who is beloved of anyone who ever attended Penn State (myself included, in the interest of full disclosure). But Paterno was not just a coach. He is an academic who never allowed his players to "slide" on grades and studies. He is also largely responsible for the growth of Penn State from a small college to a big, world-renowned university. In every respect, he was an educator and a gentleman.

What he is in trouble for is that an incident of child molestation was reported to him: A grad-student/coaching assistant named Mike McQueary told Paterno that the he witnessed the defensive coordinator of the team sexually abusing a ten-year-old boy in the showers. Paterno reported this to the school's athletic director and to the university's vice-president, as he was supposed to.

So, the big accusation is that Paterno -- although he fulfilled his legal obligation -- didn't fulfil his moral obligation and follow up on it later. This is why he was fired.

You might think I'm about to defend Paterno. No so. Even Paterno admits "in hindsight" that he should have done more. I agree. But what blows my mind is that no one is focusing any blame on that grad student, Mike McQueary, who witnessed the violation of a ten-year-old. One account of his reaction:

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Losing Touch

We're losing something. We're losing reality in its most concrete sense.

Scott Warnock, a friend and colleague of mine at When Falls the Coliseum recently wrote an article about the ways in which technology drives us crazy, "byte by byte." Much of what he referenced came down to things going wonky beyond our control: computers pooping out for no reason or bills that mysteriously gain charges because of automated glitches.That sort of thing. But as I read his article, I got to thinking about the physical side of what he addressed in terms of remote interactions.

I've written before about books versus e-readers. I've made it clear that, although I am a techno-savvy person -- someone who loves what technology can do for us -- I draw the line at books. I will never own a Kindle or anything like it. There are many reasons for this, but one of the most important one is that I like to hold books in my hands. I like to turn pages.

"Room in New York," by Edward Hopper
Touch and texture are fading farther away from daily interaction and the change in the delivery of literature is a good example of this.

Monday, November 7, 2011

The Fork of Yesterday

There's a fork in the footpath of every lazy Sunday, isn't there?

Either it can resolve itself in the sweet, sunny crispness of a smiling day where everything was carefree; where everything was a glorious absence of responsibility; where everything was nothing but parasols and cups of fruity tea; or . . .

. . . it can dwindle into a bone-achey, chafe-skinned feeling discomfort that comes only from lying around on couches, somewhere on the verge of a turn into a sickness that waits to pounce, three days away. It can end with the feeling of a thousand tasks that should have been done out under the chilly sky -- a feeling of halfness; that half of everything touched for the day still hangs over the edge of a deep nothing . . .

That said, sleep can either come with a smiling sigh, one flat hand on the door to yesterday, holding for a tremulous moment, or it can come after the door is slammed and locked and it can feel like a getaway toward anything but that grey, cold fog of a Sunday again . . .

That said, good night, indeed.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Slow to Trust

I probably don't trust you completely.

Don't be offended. The fact is, whether I know you well or whether we haven't met, I'm really stingy with trust.

No, this isn't a whiny lament about the cruelties of the cold, hard world -- about how I have been let down (though I have). It's just a fact: trust is something I don't dole out lightly. Trust, next to love, is the highest praise you can give another person.

Strangely, the few I do trust, completely (there are degrees of trust, of course), might not be the closest ones to me. For instance, there is someone I know -- someone I worked with for only a few years -- whom I trust implicitly. We rarely speak anymore, but she has my complete trust. She always will.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The Sword or the Microscope?

Here, in America, we seem to have great respect for "whistle-blowers." That can be good, of course. If someone steps up to point out corruption or unfair practices, it can be quite the heroic act. Whistle-blowers sometimes put themselves at risk of losing their jobs or even more, in some cases.

But I'm afraid of one thing: that some young people seem to be equating the finding of fault with being intellectual, courageous and perceptive. In other words, intellectuality (which, in recent years, has continued to dress itself from the wardrobe of cynicism) is now seen by many young folks as a sword instead of as a microscope -- as a weapon to hone for attack instead of an instrument for seeking truth.