Friday, June 29, 2012

Flies at the Wheel

Pieter van den Bosch:
"Old Woman Reading a Book "
If I am lucky, I have eighty-or-so years to live, in total. I choose not to live those that remain in either a state of delusion or as a slave to a popular, paradoxical notion that the freedoms I am afforded by the state make me a slave to the state. So, I am not going to sacrifice time during which I can really live in order to become either a servant of or a fighter against the state.

My life belongs to me and I am fully aware of the illusion that is created in a democracy (more specifically, a republic): that I, the common man, can live a common life and still have an impact or a "say" in the direction of governmental affairs.The position I am in (and that most of you are in) is this: If I want to make an impact on the mechanics of American government, I can give up my freedom to live life as I want in order to serve the state. Being common voters makes us into nothing more than the fly and the rat in these excerpts from Neil Peart's lyrics in "The Stars Look Down":

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

"Don't You (Forget About Me)"

Sheedy in The Breakfast Club
Every year, I give a placement test to incoming freshmen at my school. One of the essay prompt choices is to address something a character says in the John Hughes film The Breakfast Club. The "head-case" character (played by Ally Sheedy) says that when you get old, "your heart dies." I ask the students what they think of this -- do they agree?

Some of the kids identify themselves, immediately, as the lower-level sort by beginning a discussion of the contributions of good eating and exercise to a long, healthy life and heart-health. (No, I am not kidding.) But others get it -- they struggle with the idea of losing one's enthusiasm for living and they say some cool things.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Pull Up Your Pants! or Why I Chose Not to Become a Proctologist

Nobody wants to become a curmudgeon: "Mah! Kids today...with their clothes and their hair..." We are, however, here in America, in a place that makes it difficult.

I don't know how it is in other countries, but, here, there is a trend related to the wearing of pants. Young men (and, sometimes, young women, I'm told) wear their pants around the hips or lower, exposing some or all of their underwear. It used to be only a select group of the younger set, but, lately, it seems more common to see a young man with his pants slung either lowishly or even below his buttocks, his underwear completely exposed.

Where'd this come from?

When I was a kid, there were a lot of musical, playground sing-songy teasings of: "Hee, hee -- I can see your underwear." One lived in fear if one sat in rows in front of others. One pulled down the back of one's shirt compulsively. I don't know. Maybe, one day, someone said: "I'm not gonna take any more," and yanked those babies down in the lunchroom to do a defiant table-top dance among the plastic trays. If so, kudos to the brave fourth grader -- the Thomas Paine of pants.

Nah -- alas, it ain't so. It did begin in prisons --  not, according to Snopes, as an invitation for casual sex with other inmates, but as a result of ill-fitting prison garb and the lack of belts therein. (The lack of belts, of course, is a result of the ban on interior decorating in cells. Wardens hate when prisoners hang things from the ceilings and bars, especially themselves. I can see why. It's really quite gauche.)

Friday, June 22, 2012

Truth in Texas? (When Shalt Thou Kill?)

Heston, as Moses in The Ten Commandments.
People’s reactions to some events just scream for a little analysis, especially the reactions we find within ourselves. You can believe what you want, but whether you believe it comes from random Nature or from God, we are certainly programmed to be engaged in a daily battle between instinct and civilization’s definitions of good behavior.
Recently, in Texas, a man attempted to rape a five-year-old girl. Unfortunately for him, the girl’s father showed up right before the act. The father beat the attacker to death.  (By the way, the father was not indicted for killing the attacker. In Texas, legally, deadly force is an acceptable way to stop sexual assault.)

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Replicating Paradise

The other day, I was thinking of the idea of the “transporter” from Star Trek. It occurred to me how drastically technology like that would change the world. At first, you just think of how cool it would be to “beam” yourself from Philly to Istanbul, or something. The technology of a transporter, however, would change everything. That change is a great example, too, of how what should be done (when possible) is held hostage by the fake world we have created out of politics, ecomomics and tradition.

So, first, if you are not a Star Trek nerd, let me give you a transporter definition from Wikipedia:

A transporter is a fictional teleportation machine used in the Star Trek universe. Transporters convert a person or object into an energy pattern (a process called dematerialization), then "beam" it to a target, where it is reconverted into matter (rematerialization).

Original Star Trek transporter.

Cool. So, if we had these, we would eliminate the need for cars, trains and planes. There would be an instant and unbelievably dramatic decrease in pollution. Tangentially, this means the end of the shipping industry. The US Postal Service would no longer be needed. No more UPS or FedEx. Companies would “ship” products by “beaming” them to customers, the world over.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Frozen in Flying Time

I keep a picture of myself on my desk.  Now, before you say something like “That’s a big surprise,” let me explain.
It is a black and white 3X5’’ shot of me at the chubby age of ten months. I’m sitting on the dining room table at my grandmother and grandfather’s house, where I lived with my parents for the first few years. I’m looking off to the side, eyes locked on something really interesting -- probably my dad acting like kook to get me to laugh. I’m not laughing -- just focused, in a very round sort of way.
Norman Rockwell: "Trumpet Practice"
I’m wearing a checkered jumpsuit (whatever you call those things -- like overalls for a baby). Two white socks hang off of my feet like they have had a really long day. I’m holding my father’s trumpet -- which astounds me, considering that it was our little family’s prime source of income at the time. Still, I’m being a good boy, holding onto the bell with one hand and pushing the valves with the other. I have those reverse-knuckles seen only in the young and plump.
There is a ball with bunny-ears next to me, but I’m more interested in the trumpet. (Another big surprise.)
Why do I keep this picture on my desk? Well, I sort of check-in with it every morning. I give it a look before the day begins, because, I owe that little kid. I look at him and I consider whether or not I have let him down. He was happy and sincere. He never sinned or transgressed. He laughed and cried when he needed to. He was better than I am.
Every moment from that one with the trumpet until now has been a test; every experience a chance to live up to what that little fellow deserves. So, I look at him and I consider what potential he had and I ask myself if I have done all I could have with it. The answer is always no. But, still, he's there on my desk each morning, frozen in flying time and as close to perfect as I'll ever be.

Friday, June 15, 2012

The Cancer Joke

I might get some flack for this, but, I have to be honest: I really hate the current campaign for breast cancer awareness. (Across the globe, readers label me as an insensitive ass and click off of my page.) The trend, at least here in America, is in two phrases: “I Love Boobies” and “Save the Ta-Tas.” You see these slogans on bumper stickers and T-shirts and rubber bracelets. Bad ideas, if you ask me.
The first problem is that there is nothing funny about cancer.
Now, let me put up a hand here to stop those who would say: “People need to laugh -- especially people who have cancer. What’s wrong with a sense of humor when it comes to a horrible disease?”  
Well, there’s nothing wrong with laughing when you have cancer. In fact, let me be up-front about this: I am a cancer survivor. Laughing was great medicine when I was fighting my fight, but there is no joke in cancer, itself -- trust me. If I wanted to laugh, it would have been at Bugs Bunny cartoons, not at cancer. It’s hard to see the humor in an insidious intruder who’s trying to rot your body from the inside.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Battle-Planning After Defeat

I'm not feeling deep today. At most, I'd love to just fall into the hole and watch things on the way down, but there's no energy to step on the shovel.

There's rain, lots of it, falling on the really old building that I work in; rain falling around the big trees and the red bricks and into the water-heavy, green grass. There are little waterfalls rumbling off of the roof like a rude crowd.

There's a space of two hours during which I will be here alone, until a meeting -- a meeting that keeps me that much longer from hugs from my sons and wife.

There's a day behind me during which, if you watched it in fast-rewind, you'd see me, head-down, typing and mouse-clicking, non-stop, piecing together next year's academic schedule. You'd see me, still, for the most part, but flinging my head back now and again to relieve my neck pain -- stopping here and there to skip a song I wasn't in the mood for on my iPhone.

You wouldn't see a lunch-break.

There's something sort of sickening hovering over me that I really can't place -- a feeling of too much of my time being stolen today; the feeling that this theft has taken away the desire to do even those things I enjoy. The day has been spaced just perfectly so that there is no time for the meaningful things in-between the meaningless, insistent responsibilities. Today, there will be work and there will be sleep. Today's face will wind up on the back of a milk-carton.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Little Man, Big World

Ray Bradbury's passing is still working on me. If you read my last post -- a little piece saying farewell to a the man whose work meant so much to me -- you will know that I included a video interview with Ray in which he speaks about doing what you love. Do what you love, is his message, love what you do. Don't let anyone talk you out of it.

So, I walked away, inspired. "Yeah! That's it. I'm quitting my job to write novels. The world needs to see my fiction. I'm taking my shot at carving my name on the totem of the greats, right up there with Steinbeck and Dickens and Pynchon -- somewhere just below Raymond Carver would be nice. I'd settle for that. But I'm doing it. I'm forty-four. Now's the time. I'll talk to my wife. She'll back me up. I need to do this."

But here are three issues. First, it was easy for dear old Ray to die a happy man, at least where writing was concerned. He made it to the lofty heights. You don't hear a lot of failed writers chirping about following dreams, do you?

Friday, June 8, 2012

A Farewell to Ray Bradbury, One of My Best Friends

Ray Bradbury: 1920-2012
Ray Bradbury is dead. I'll miss him like an old friend, even though I never met the man.
I would say that "a part of me died" when I heard, but that (besides being an anemic cliché) would not be true. I may be sad over losing a one of my most beloved heroes, but Ray is no farther away from me now than he was before. He is truly a part of the man I have become, regardless of whether that means something good or something bad to those around me.
Ray Bradbury has lived in my wondering eyes from the first time I picked up his work as a younger man who was astonished by the spectacle of boundless poetic mysteries spinning through his prose like children behind a rain-wet, sunlit window -- their dance a celebration that was half High Mass, half Midnight Carnival.
Ray's writing made me want to write, and write and write. The more I drank, the thirstier I got.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

From Muzzle to Mitt

Exhaustion has set in. The end of the school year is like that last winded push for the goal line when you have nothing left.
(I know a million other professionals out there are saying: "Yeah, teachers. They get off in the summer... " 1) I don’t, for the record. 2) If teachers are good, they work all summer on their own. 3) Imagine if your job were to “perform” five to eight shows a day and then spend your nights and weekends preparing lessons and grading papers. Trust me, hardworking non-teachers: It is, contrary to popular belief, a “real job.” You even get a daily evaluation from your kids, who can make you life heaven or hell with a slight shift in attitude. Can you control 30 teenagers in a room and keep them interested in what you have to say for seventy minutes? I didn’t THINK so. Now what? What? That’s what I thought. Hmmpf.)
Anyway, I thought I would give you a quick run down of my day, today, in all of its surrealistic insanity:
6:00 AM: Awakened to a soft white fuzzy muzzle against my cheek. Smiled at cute dog. Scratched cute dog’s warm snoot. Pushed dog lovingly away. Vigorously rubbed my own face, pushing up with neck. Felt neck go p-toing! Neck has been loath to turn from side to side since then. Went into shower and washed head like an agitated monkey with really short arms, cursing the pain.
7:05 AM: Ran out front door, late. Stopped at fast food place for an eggish sandwich. Opened eggish sandwich. Sandwich was more greasy film than sandwich. It looked like a herring made of English muffin. Ate it anyway, because…what are you gonna do?

Monday, June 4, 2012

"...the sum of such hours..."

I'm not much of a standard book-reviewer (to do it well takes a talent I'm not sure I have), but I do like to share things that sort of "hit" me from books that I am reading.

Right now, I'm finishing an outstanding (Hugo Award-winning) sci-fi novel, by Dan Simmons, called Hyperion. The novel is the work of a master craftsman -- a guy who can walk through "voices" the way we walk from room to room; who can go from the third person narrative about a professor of philosophy and into a "hard-boiled-detective-fiction" voice and make it not silly. The book is also a veritable roller coaster ride for English major-types. I won't give things away; but, if you like both sci-fi and "serious" literature from the Chaucer through the British Romantic period (hence, the title) as much as I do, you must read this book.

Anyway, this passage from Hyperion really struck me the other day. Once again, here's an example of succinct writing that does more in a short passage than I have done in about four-thousand short essays on the subject... Here the perspective of a mother who is losing her daughter to a backward-aging disease. It applies more powerfully under those circumstances, of course, but it fits in perfectly with my take on life when it comes to "special occasions" versus the everyday:

Sarai had treasured every day of Rachel's childhood, enjoying the day-to-day normalcy of things; a normalcy which she quietly accepted as the best of life. She had always felt that the essence of human experience lay not primarily in the peak experiences, the wedding days and triumphs which stood out in the memory like dates circled in red on old calendars, but, rather, in the unself-conscious flow of little things -- the weekend afternoon with each member of the family engaged in his or her own pursuit, their crossings and connections casual, dialogues imminently forgettable, but the sum of such hours creating a synergy which was important and eternal.

Heck, yeah.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Loneliness in Numbers

Give me one mumbling, meandering, daydreaming, stick-wielding kid for ten droop-necked texters in a pack.
Give me one knee-hugging, sunset beach-sitting thinker for a hundred iPod strand-joggers.
I’ll take one game-loving loser for a thousand equipment-throwing "athletes"  --
One video-gaming, movie-quote-repeating teenaged “nerd” for a million pouting, mirror-photographed Facebook movie stars.
I’ll bask in the connection to dead people who live like waterfall mist on pages and in timeless sound and I’ll leave the tight-packed rooms full of living excitement for those who think crowds equal company.
I’ll trade the wide world for the endless expanses of my Tardis imagination.
You can have the Grammys; I’ll be jamming with my little boys.
You can have the cheering crowds; I’ll take kind words from good friends.
Let the rest lust over the chilly marble beauty sculpted by the beauty magazine engineers.
I’ll have my original perfect love with the smiling eyes.
They can have loneliness in numbers; I’ll hang with the best of humankind --
The ones from the First Explosion up to my deathbedside.