Friday, December 30, 2005

Cat Friday

Taken with available light, Wednesday afternoon.

I've been off this week - University holiday. I've spent most of my time in low drive, trying to completely kick the cold that attacked for Christmas. DJ has appreciated this time, it seems, as it has given her more opportunities to attack the hand that feeds her.

We do spend our afternoons companionably, however. She sleeps in my lap from about 2 until 7 or 8. The rest of the day, she seems normally energetic and curious, so I'm interpretting this as regulation catnapping.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Knowledge Went North

When knowledge went north
lizards crawled from under
black fingernails.

When wisdom went west
giants no longer
walked the earth.

When empathy went east
gutters choked
with autumn leaves.

When speech when south
swallowed Earth.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Two Days After Christmas

  1. What is the best gift you received this year?
    A basket full of chocolate goodies. (I didn't receive a lot of material goodies)

  2. What is the best gift you gave this year?
    I gave two friends a copy of Real Live Preacher's Christmas Story CD. I'd also count the toys I donated for an unknown child at Watonga or Santa Maria.

  3. When did you do most of your shopping/creating?
    Within the past few weeks

  4. Did you go shopping the day after Thanksgiving (U.S.)? The day after Christmas?
    Just grocery shopping, on the 26th

  5. What stands out already about Christmas 2005?
    Locally, it's unseasonably warm.

Monday, December 26, 2005

More From the Solstice

The labyrinth

The solstice fire

Spirits in the Night

Druids Dancing

Belated Cat

The lovely lady is Amanda. The charming feline is Loki. Amanda was one of the guests at Dr. Omed's Solstice Celebration, and reportedly walked the labyrinth with good intention. Loki is a recent addition to the Omed house-hold, and is currently living up to the reputation of Mischief-maker.
To Amanda's right, you see a hand with what seems to be money. I regret I don't recall the lady's name, but she is actually holding play money purchased at the local Oriental Market. Part of the ritual I failed to mention (lack of recall) was tossing money into the fire while shouting "Prosperity!"

Sunday, December 25, 2005

New Tradition

I've figured out what my new tradition is. It's not by choice, mind you, which explains why it was necessary to "figure out" what the tradition was.

As I mentioned last week, when I was given the duty to decorate the tree when I became a pre-teen. I made paper chains, strung popcorn, carefully hung the heirloom ornaments and the lights. All while listening to Firestone Christmas Albums. Once, I stacked four or five lp's on the record changer.

After my crisis of faith, and all that, I chose a new tradition: I chose an acquaintance's child, and bought him or her a present. I actually continued that tradition this year by buying a present for an anonymous child, at one of our less well-off mission churches.

Pretty good traditions.

What I discerned Wednesday, as I was helping Dr. Omed complete his labyrinth, is my new tradition is getting sick over the holidays. I've been fighting a cold for a month, with some success. But being out in the chill (~40°) did me in. Lost my voice. Couldn't sing when the time came. Couldn't sing last night, for Christmas service. Praying I can speak later this morning (in about an hour), when I am called to do so.

This is a tradition I perhaps need to change.

I'll have a belated Friday Cat, and further report on my visit to Dr. Omed's See later. For now, must dash to church.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Idée d’jour

Zen is a reality even prior to heaven or earth.
— Daito Kokushi [Zen Calendar, ©2004 Workman Press]
In other news, I am soon out the door to travel to the mystical land of Tulsa, OK, where resides the Very Rt Rev Dr Omed. He is hosting his annual Solstice Celebration.

As is traditional, we will burn our "Will Be Gones" and "Will Be Dones" with appropriate words from the Grand Atheist Evangelist hisownself. A new wrinkle this year is the small lawn labyrinth the good doctor has constructed, incorporating selected fossils at appropriate points. I'm really looking forward to seeing the labyrinth.

You may add your "Gones" and "Dones" in the comments; they will be burned by proxy.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Idée d’jour

In all history there is no war which was not hatched by the governments,the governments alone, independent of the interests of the people, to whom war is always pernicious even when successful.
— Leo Tolstoy, author(1828-1910)

Monday, December 19, 2005

Meg's Four

Meg sprained her wrist a few days ago, and has been gamely typing blog entries with one hand. Unless you're a journalist in a 1930s newspaper movie, you probably don't hunt and peck with any great facility. Meg admits it's a major pain, and has asked her faithful readers to fill in by answering the following questions:
  1. Your best family Christmas tradition.
    At some point in my pre-teen years, I was put in charge of decorating the family tree - which was natural for many of those years. I would put several Firestone Christmas albums on the record changer, string popcorn, make paper chains, and wrap everything on the tree.
    I was also strongly in favor of Midnight Mass, and the tradition of opening one present following the Mass.

  2. What kind of coffee I should buy today? Suggest a drink.
    Starbucks' Peppermint Mocha looks interesting. Iced coffee might be good too, because nothing takes your mind off a sprained wrist quite like brain freeze.

  3. Your favourite carol or Christmas song.
    O Holy Night

  4. A good name for my New Year's goldfish.
    The one goldfish I've ever had did not live long. Therefore, I'm reluctant to advise on this extremely weighty matter. Given my nom de blog, however, I'm tempted to suggest "Levithan".

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Idée d’jour

No snowflake falls in an inappropriate place.
— Zen Saying [Zen Calendar, ©2004 Workman Press]

Friday, December 16, 2005

Friday Five

From RevGalBlogPals
  1. Have you ever gotten a really good kiss under the mistletoe?
    In a word, no. Even though natural mistletoe grew near the apartment house my former spouse and I lived in. Such a missed opportunity!

  2. Do you know anyone who makes real eggnog, not the stuff from the carton? And if so, do you actually like it?
    You mean the stuff I get at Braum's isn't real?

  3. What's your favorite Christmas party album/CD ever?
    I've been missing the Firestone albums my parents had when I was a teen. Right now, my favorite is Windham Hill's Celtic Christmas, Vol. 3.

  4. Does your office/workplace have a party? Do the people there ever behave the way people in movies behave at office parties, which is to say, badly?
    We had our Christmas party today - a lovely catered meal. I have never been to a party similar to the ones depicted in the movies.

  5. If you have to bring something to a party, what is it likely to be? Do people like it?
    I have two things I personally cook: chili (using the Wick Fowler's mix) and three bean soup (with Polish kilbasa). Both these tend to be pretty popular. I sometimes will bring a dip from a local caterer; any one of their dishes (including dips) are exceptionally good.

Cat Friday

Lady by Lamplight

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

"Happy Holidays"

The "holiday" controversy continues. This past Saturday, folk in Norman were upset because what had previously been called a "Christmas" parade was now being called a "holiday" parade. Focus on the Family has been threatening boycotts of stores, like Target, that advertise holiday sales rather than Christmas sales.

Have these people nothing better to get upset about? Are there no poor to feed? No prisoners to visit? No widows and orphans to comfort?

Somehow, this shift is supposed to represent an oppression of Christians. I must admit that I, for one, do not feel overly oppressed.

Last week when I was discussing the traditions surrounding St. Nicholas, I alluded to the pagan origins of those traditions. Brother Dave e-mailed an article from Christian Century which goes into greater detail about the pagan origins of the holiday in general.

Now, I imagine Focus on the Family (FoF) has problems with Halloween as a pagan holiday. But, so far as I know, this group does not have similar problems with Christmas or Easter, both of which are usurpations (as Dr. Omed would have it) of pagan holidays. Logical consistency would suggest they would welcome any disassociation of Christ from this pagan holiday.

But see, the modern conflict is not with the old religions. Christianity more or less won that battle a little over a thousand years ago. FoF would have us believe the modern conflict is with humanists and secularists.

Along with Bull Moose and New Donkey, I believe the real threat is commercialism. As I mentioned a week ago, this is a system which suggests we can measure our worth by the number or quality of the objects we possess. By implication, this system asserts that objects have more value than people.

I should think people of goodwill — regardless of religious affiliation or lack thereof — would agree this is a false teaching. Any living creature, from amoeba to human, has more value than a human-created product, however artfully made.

Christ is not put back into Christmas through advertising. Christ is put into Christmas when we incorporate his teachings into our lives.

Idée d’jour

The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much, it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.
— Franklin D. Roosevelt, 32nd US President (1882-1945)

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Farewell, Mrs. Ell

Elaine died early yesterday afternoon. I suspect her death was associated with the cancer she has been battling since I met her. I think I visited with her four or five times over the past four years, but she definitely made an impression on me.

The first thing that impressed me was her relationship with her husband. Dr. Ell (not their real name) grew up in the Seattle slums sometime around the Depression. When he came of age, he joined the navy. Ever heard the expression, "Curse like a sailor"? He proved it true. He was quite eloquent in his use of course language, too.

When he got angry or frustrated (often concurrently), he blew like Vesuvius. It took a great deal of getting used to, but I eventually did. Once he cooled down, he was your best pal.

Imagine forty-plus years with someone like that. Elaine must have had a very strong sense of self to withstand the gales.

When I met them, Dr. Ell was the director of the residency program where I work. He and Elaine had the tradition of inviting the regular staff and residents to their house for a Christmas celebration.

They lived in a nice part of Norman, the west side, in a two-story house. There was a pool table on the second floor. The dining room was as big as my living area and dining room combined. And when Elaine met you at the door, there was no question – you were sincerely welcomed into their house.

She had a relapse early the following year, and was too weak from the chemo to play hostess. They never hosted a Christmas party in their house again – at least, not of that scale.

She was not the least bit embarrassed by the hair loss that followed chemo. She wore a simple bandana or kerchief on her head, and that was enough. She would admit it was hard. She spoke without a trace of self-pity about her symptoms, the side-effects, and her chances of survival.

Once or twice, I would hear her fuss at Dr. Ell. It was the good-natured fussing couples do after years of marriage. Perhaps the annoyance was serious once upon a time in their marriage, but you could tell she had learned to accept this was one annoyance that wasn't going to change. I never heard her nag him, never heard him speak of being nagged.

They had built a life together, raised three up-right children. They visited the Amazon two years ago, and went on a cruise last year (following Dr. Ell's retirement). I suppose Elaine might have said they had a good run.

Last I heard, Dr. Ell has not been able to take it in. She has been part of his world for so long, he cannot recognize a reality without her.

My world is richer for having known her.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Five Random Facts

  1. I love foggy weather.
  2. I've read most of Tony Hillerman's books.
  3. I was born about a quarter-mile south-west from where I currently work.
  4. I'm a morning person, but I still require at least one cup of coffee.
  5. I'm currently wearing a "holiday" tie.
The assignment is to record five random facts, then tag five people. I made it a little harder by trying to think of things you might not know about me from reading my web-log. The remainder is to tag five additional folk. I nomainate:
Meg, Sam, Katey, Michael, and Jonathan.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Zen Koan d’jour

Bring me a pearl from the bottom of the sea without getting wet.
[from Workman Press' Zen Calendar, ©2004]

Friday, December 09, 2005

The Gay Issue

A few weeks ago, I was hanging out in the RLP chat room when I was joined by a fellow Episcopalian. She had checked my profile prior to beginning the conversation, and asked me what I meant by "liberal Episcopalian".

It is an ambiguous term. Am I politically liberal? Yes, but that's not what I meant.

With some denominations, you can assume what the average pew sitter believes with a degree of accuracy. Things are not so easy with Episcopalians – there are a few things one must believe, and many things one may believe. And the definitions of what one must believe are relatively open; for example, saying "the Bible contains everything necessary for salvation" is different than saying every word in the Bible is literally true.

One priest defined it as buoys: some want to keep those buoys are far apart as possible; others want them to be fairly narrow. I like the buoys to be spaced far apart, and thus qualify as a liberal.

I tried to think of the least offensive way to short-hand this. In the end, all I could think of what the latest hot-button issue (for Episcopals as well as many other mainstream denominations), gay ordination. Then I tried to find the least confrontational way to phrase it. What I finally typed was, "I was not offended by the ordination of Gene Robinson."

Gene Robinson is an openly gay man (with a partner) who was ordained bishop last year. That ordination brought the issue to the forefront for our denomination.

When I typed it, I was aware that it could begin an argument. The lady I was visiting with respectfully said she was opposed to the ordination, but was even more hurt by the schism it has caused in the church.

Later on, trying to respect her opinion, I compared the action of the Episcopal Church USA (ECUSA) to the US invasion of Iraq. In both instances, the United States acted aggressively without consideration of world opinion. I agree with one, and disagree with the other. In my lazier moments, I call one action "right" and the other "wrong".

I also described the church's action as being prophetic. She asked me what I meant, and we were interrupted before I could respond.

For our example, let's take another controversial action, whose heat has comparatively cooled off: women's ordination. Most denominations now admit women into the ministry. The Episcopal church was not the first to ordain women (I think the Methodists were first), but it was among the first. It's an accepted fact, and many who originally opposed women's ordination now recognize it as a blessing.

Those who opposed women's ordination cited scripture to support their case. It must be admitted that women's roles in scripture are primarily subservient in both testaments. There are exceptions (e.g., Deborah in the Old Testament), but they stand out by their scarcity. They cited Paul's admonition that a woman should remain silent in church. Their understanding of the Bible was literal.

Those in favor of women's ordination read these passages as a reflection of the culture in which they were written – considerably more male-dominated than today's. They cited the leadership roles played by women in the New Testament. For example, some of Paul's missionary trips were funded with a rich woman's money. Their understanding was dynamic; new meanings could be extrapolated based on historical and theological analysis.

As I say, today most people who now attend a church with a woman minister (regardless of denomination) recognize what a gift that ministry is. Most people recognize that the decision to ordain women was the right decision.

But at the time it was highly controversial. Many people left the church because of it. Many people in the world-wide Anglican communion opposed the action, as did the Archbishop of Canterbury. Some felt it was the right action, but at the wrong time.

How do you know the right time? Sometimes you take the action, and cross your fingers. The test of years proves whether you did the right thing at the right time. Right action is not a question of majority rule. Sometimes someone has to take the lead, however unpopular, and hope the crowd will catch up to them.

This kind of risky action can be prophetic. In this example, we learned that – in spite of Biblical and societal prejudices to the contrary – women can be leaders, can speak forthrightly in church, can be ministers.

I hope, in time, that we will look at these years of turmoil concerning the "gay issue" and realize that the Episcopal did the right thing at the right time in this instance as well.

Snow Day

RevGal Friday Five
  1. Snow: love it or hate it?
    Love it when fresh and new. Not so much when driving in it (Oklahoma drivers are especially poor when confronted with the smallest hint of the white stuff)
  2. First snow memory
    Building a very small snow man in the front yard. There were just a few inches on the ground, but I was bound and determined to make a snow man. I don't remember my exact age - but would guess younger than 5.
  3. Best Snow Day ever (actual or imagined)
    We'd had a nice wet snow in University Town, and someone created combination snow and ice sculptures. They were mammoth productions - eight to nine feet tall, on average. My recollection is they lasted two or three days.
  4. Best use of snow in a movie, song, book or poem
    Do I have to settle for only one? The first that comes to mind is the short story "Silent Snow, Secret Snow" by Conrad Aiken , which is far from a comforting tale. "Night Gallery" did a version of this, narrated by Orson Welles.
    A more charming use is in the movie Groundhog Day. Use of snow as metaphor for Bill Murray's character: discuss.
  5. What you are planning to do today, with or without snow?
    Work. Blog. Play as expedient. No snow predicted today - temperatures are expected to reach 40. The mercury may reach 50 over the weekend, which will facilitate my mad plan to do some Christmas shopping.

Friday's Cat

DJ and anchovy
Thanks to my new camera - which can shot 3 frames per second - I can now take more accurate action shots of the Lady. These four are selected from about ten I took last night as DJ was playing with her treat.

The treat in question was purchased at the health food store. It's a dried anchovy. She responded to it like a fish - in the first shot, you can see her batting it around.

The final shot tells the whole story - with that small pink tongue licking her delicate lips.
Remember I mentioned last Friday that I was worried about the Lady tearing up Christmas decorations? Ironically, I accidentally shut her in the closet where I store those decorations on Monday. She did not disturb them, near as I can tell.

My theory is she couldn't "see" them, because there was no light to make them glitter. Also, the space I found her was relatively small, and did not provide easy access to the tree. She did more damage to the carpet.

Idée d’jour

Every morning I awaken torn between the desire to save the world and the inclination to savor it.
— E.B. White [Zen Calendar, ©2004 Workman Press]

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Rank Materialism

Dr. Bob often joins me for lunch in one of the hospital cafeterias on campus. It's rarely planned, but he has an open invitation to join me. Dr. Bob has a unique ability to express his opinion as if absolute fact. I know, you're probably thinking "What's so unique about that? Demagogues from time out of mind have done no less."

Perhaps. But often, and most times, there is a facial expression or verbal inflection that reflects the fact the person is expressing an opinion. There may even be an element of defensiveness present.

Not Bob. Bob expresses opinions like he's reciting the encyclopedia. Sometimes it's annoying. Sometimes it's fun to gently challenge him.

For example, yesterday he asked me what I was reading. I'm reading the latest issue of Parabola, whose theme is Fundamentalism. As I explained to Dr. Bob, Parabola is a quarterly journal which essentially carries on the work of Joseph Campbell; each issue centers on a theme, with reference to as many world spiritual traditions as possible.

This naturally moved the conversation toward religion. Dr. Bob is a Unitarian. He expressed the opinion that conservative and liberal Christians are fighting the wrong battle. Rather than fight each other, they should jointly oppose consumerism.

It's fairly popular to oppose consumerism this time of year. Many deride it with their lips en route to the shopping mall. But Bob wasn't just talking about the Christmas consumerist juggernaut. He was speaking of the consumerism that plagues us year round, the "keep up with the Joneses" mentality that began in the 50s, and has continued unabated ever since.

Bob's theory is we use material goods to validate our status. How will the neighbors know we are successful without our fancy car, or unless we build an addition to our home?

A word which has become popular in the past few years is "rankism", and I think this is what Bob was getting at. There's often this urge of proving we are better than (or at least equal to) others. This is accomplished by asserting our "rank" – which might be as obvious as a uniform (military, clergy, etc) or as subtle as the latest gadget.

So – is consumerism the disease or a symptom?

Conspicuous consumption certainly look like a disease. There are times, with certain personalities, it resembles compulsive behavior. People (myself included) spend themselves deeply into dept.

At the same time, the Christian ideal is that all people are children of God, each deserving of love, respect, and consideration. God recognizes each of us as individuals, down to the individual hairs on our heads.

Jesus spent some time turning this need for "rank" on its head. The Master washing his students' feet. Saying one had to be as a child in order to perceive the Kingdom of Heaven. Saying the first would be last and the last first.

Another way to apply rank is with our favored labels. I'm liberal, he's conservative. She's fundamentalist, he's evangelical.

This application of rank helps simplify life. It's the old game of dividing our reality into "us" and "them", where "they" are the enemy, or less than us. Ultimately giving us the justification to treat "them" as less than human, in any number of ways, up to and including murder.

So, if I can assert my rank with my car or my house, so much the better. With these highly visible material possessions, I simultaneously justify my existence and prove my superiority to my neighbor.

What say you? Is materialistic consumerism the problem, or is it a symptom of "rankism"?

The Symbol

The symbol does not resemble itself.
It scintillates cymbalically.
The symbol may be sibilant,
but it is not serpentine
nor a phallus from cave ascending.
The symbol smiles seductively.
The symbol raises an eyebrow,
lowers the lids, drops the eyes.
It peers from behind a curtain.

The symbol does not share my face.
It dances because it wants to.
It leaps wildly in dusty snow.
The symbol wears motley.
The symbol wears a turtleneck.
The symbol comes naked.
It hangs on your arm like a shield.
It caresses your cheek.
It peers into your frozen eyes.

The symbol senses second thoughts.
The symbol loves the mirror's ghost.
It hastens blue sky warnings,
melts mindful clouds,
soars from earth's core to Pluto.
The symbol is small.
It questions its own heartbeat.
It blooms like winter pansies.
The symbol is infinite.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Idée d’jour

My religion is to live — and die — without regret.
— Milarepa [Zen Calendar, ©2004 Workman Press]

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

St. Nicholas Day

Tomorrow's entry in A Light Blazes in the Darkness (a collection of Advent meditations by the RevGalPals) compares and contrasts Santa Claus with John the Baptist.

They both wear unique garb - Santa's heavy red coat, John's robe of animal hair. They both have curious diets; milk & cookies for the former, and locusts and honey for the latter.   Finally, they are interested in problems of good and evil; Santa calls it naughty and nice, while John calls it righteousness versus hypocrisy.  

Now, this series of comparisons is based on the popular image of Santa.   The church remembers a man today (Dec. 6), Nicholas of Myra, who was the original of Santa Claus.   Nicholas was bishop of Myra, and reports suggest he was no more concerned about drawing up lists of who was naughty and nice than John the Baptizer.

You probably already know that the folk tradition shortened Nicholas' name to "Claus", and that "Saint Nicholas" became "Santa Claus" – a tradition brought to America by the Dutch.   This little bit of trivia is even brought up in the holiday classic Miracle on 34th Street.

As this article in Wikipedia relates, Nicholas lived through an exciting era in Christian history – from the persecutions prior to Constantine, to the Nicene Council.  

Nicholas left no writings.   We know he spoke strongly against Arianism at the Council of Nicaea , but we don't know his exact words.   All we know are folk tales, the best known being that he provided dowries for three impoverished maidens in his town.   This charity, and similar charitable acts attributed to him, have caused him to be associated with gift-giving.

Gifts are given on his feast day (December 6, formerly the feast of the goddess Artemis/Diana).   And this, in turn, has caused him to be associated with gift-giving at Christmas.  

Many traditions associated with Nicholas are also associated with older, so-called "pagan", gods.   One who rides over houses distributing gifts is called Wodan (or Odin) in Germanic countries.
Related to this is a recent controversy regarding Christmas trees. Some businesses and muncipalities are referring to these as "Holiday" trees, perhaps as a form of "political correctness" or in hopes of avoiding the sort of First Amendment law suits that have been popular in the past few years.

I fail to understand why this is such a controversy. This type of tree is not native to Israel, nor is there any mention of a Christmas tree in any of the Nativity narratives.

Again, the Wikipedia article makes clear the tradition was appropriated from pagan ritual (Greek, Roman, and Norse). I would think those who oppose the celebration of Halloween (as a pagan holiday) would support the effort to disassociate this "pagan" emblem from a Christian holiday.

So, why not call it a Holiday Tree? Why not allow this symbol to represent the yearnings for all devoted people of good will, regardless of their religious beliefs - or lack thereof? Who is harmed?

I heard the most amusing "Holiday Tree" on the way home last night. Elementary schools across the state have decorated trees, one of which will be prominently displayed in our state capital's rotunda.

Our state recently began a lottery (aka, "idiot tax") whose proceeds (once there are any) will go toward education. One school used lottery tickets to decorate a tree, to show their appreciation for this funding source.

A state legislator, who had opposed the lottery, found this to be offensive, and wrote a letter to the school's principal. The tree has been withdrawn from the competion and removed from the rotunda.

Monday, December 05, 2005

About "My Show of Hands"

Immediately below this entry is an image I've called "My Show of Hands". It's my little doffing of the hat to the Rt Rev Dr. Omed, who recently featured some hands at his blog. Below the image, I posed the question, "What do you see?"

It's a serious question, a sort of blogospheric reality check, if you will. I find myself curling my fingers in this form often - especially while watching the tube. I'm curious whether others will perceive the same form as I do.

For the moment, screen out the lovely mandala which serves as background. Screen out the fact that the hands are overexposed, or drenched by the flash. Focus on the negative space formed by the fingers.

What do you see?

Friday, December 02, 2005

My Show of Hands

Tell me what you see.

Rev Gal Friday Five

My life is now divided into pre-cat and post-cat. Pre-cat, I did some modest decorating. Post-cat, wreath on the porch is it. And a few decorations at work.
  1. Do you display a nativity scene, and if so, where?
    My nativity scene was small, and was displayed within a foot or so of my minature Christmas tree.

  2. Do you put a skirt under the Christmas tree? If so, what does it look like?
    Even though the minature Christmas tree was artificial, I still put a white skirt around it. I always thought it was faux snow.

  3. Do you hang lights on the house or put them in your windows?
    Neither. Padre hung lights on the house, but it seems like too much work to me. Then, there's the electric bill.... I suspect lights in the window would be as much a toy to the cat as a tree would, so that's not currently an option, either.

  4. White lights or colored lights on the tree? Big bulbs or the small, pretty ones?
    Since the tree was just a couple of feet tall, the small ones were the best option.

  5. Do you have a tree topper? What sort? Who puts it on top of the tree?
    There have been different ones, over the years. The last one was an angel made from local wool. She was about an inch and a half tall, and balanced perfectly on the top.

    One year, we hung a stuffed bear that was riding a star over the tree. That year, the tree was closer to "life size".
I'm not a Scrooge, nor suffering from depression. I choose to avoid feline destruction by keeping probable temptation in storage.

Friday's Cat

Smile for the camera, sweetie!

Show of Hands

Show of Hands
Photocopy by Dr. Omed, color by Jac.

Thought I'd post this in honor of the "hand" theme Dr. Omed has followed for his past few entries.

The image was scanned from my large journal. The closest poem (on the previous page) is dated 1982. This image is dated 11/7. I think the image pre-dates the poem. Seems like Dr. Omed was working at the Sex Palace Theater, and living in a walk-up hovel at the time.

If you look very, very closely, you might see "Show of Hands" typed just to the right of the hand. You've got better eyes than me if you can make it out. I can barely make out the words on the original photocopy.

The good doctor typed that line of letters his own self, on his manual typewriter. He passed the photocopy on to your correspondent, with directions to color it in an interesting way. I was trying out new ink brushes (the ink was stored in the barrel, and the "brush" was very fine plastic threads). So - I hope the result was interesting.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Idée d’jour

I think there is only one quality worse than hardness of heart, and that is softness of head.
— Theodore Roosevelt, 26th US President (1858-1919)

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Mark Twain & Abbie Hoffman

Barring the natural expression of villainy which we all have, the man looked honest enough. — Mark Twain
I really have enjoyed my copy of Cosmo Doogood's Urban Almanac (published by Utne Magazine) this past year. One of the features I have particularly enjoyed are the births (and other special events) listed on each day. It's interesting to see what different sorts of people were born on a particular day, and to imagine what connection there might be between them, aside from the coincidence of the day of their birth.

Today is a good example. Mark Twain (né Samuel Clemens) was born on this date in 1835. One hundred one years later, in 1936, Abbie Hoffman (aka Barry Freed) was also born on this date.

There are some striking similarities. Both men changed their names. Clemens more or less created this character, Mark Twain, who narrated the early success, Innocents Abroad. The name became a "brand", as we say, and it stuck. Abbie changed his name because he was on the lam from the law.

Both men were politically active. We don't often think of Twain as political, but Huck Finn is a novel which focuses on the inhumanity of slavery. One of Twain's better known short writings, The War Prayer, was a response to the Spanish-American War, which he vehemently opposed. Hoffman is best known as one of the Chicago Eight (later 7), arrested in connection with the riots at the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago. The demonstration in Chicago was a response to the VietNam War.

Both men were humorists. Twain was a type of Western humorists in the style of Brett Harte or Artemis Ward - men whose names most have forgotten, except students of the period. Hoffman was a sort of topical humorist, and was very much in the lineage of Lenny Bruce. We remember Twain's humor, because so much transcended his time. Hoffman's humor was, sadly, closely connected to his time, and does not translate so well almost 40 years later.

It's amusing to imagine what either man would have done with current events. Hoffman would have enjoyed poking holes in the B*sh administration. Twain's War Prayer, unfortunately, is as fitting for our current era as it was in his - today, "Christian" preachers blantantly call for the assasination of foreign leaders, and the attack on Iraq is defined as a new crusade or as God's will.

It has been said that there are only two responses when one honestly considers the human condition: either you laugh, or you cry. Both Mark Twain and Abbie Hoffman had high ideals for the human animal, and knew that people of good will shared those ideals. But humans are not ideal; they make mistakes. The human animal is king of unintended consequences. Humans are capable of self-deceipt, self-obsession, and rank double-dealing. When these two men seriously considered the ideal words coming from the politicians' mouths, and the tragic results of politicians' decisions, their choice was humor. They stood up and bravely said the king lacked the ideal cloak he claimed to be wearing. They helped the rest of us wake up, through laughter.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Idée d’jour

Talk does not cook rice.
— Chinese Proverb (Zen Calendar ©2004 Workman Press)

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Idée d’jour

You are never too old to be what you might have been.
— George Eliot [Zen Calendar, ©2004 Workman Press]
Somehow, I find this statement both reassuring and frightening. I know it's true, like I have faith that the sky is still blue, and that I exist (existence precedes essence, etc). I mean, it's a statement that floated off the morning's calendar page, stood up in front of me, and said, "What are you gonna do about it, buddy boy?"

What might I have been? What am I now? In what ways am I missing my potential?

What am I going to do?

Today, I'm taking my Moleskine Journal and Notebook (two different Moleskine products, IOW) to the library. I'm copying addresses from old phonebooks - the house my parents lived in when I was born, and at least two others they lived in up to the time of their divorce. Find where the hospital I was born in used to be. Find out where Mommom & Poppop lived before they moved to the house I'd always known.

Still looking backward to look forward. Feeling nostalgic. Taking my camera and recording it all.

The journal is to record addresses and image numbers. The notebook is to write thoughts and reflections. Who knows which will come first?

Today is what I have. Today, I will take these steps, and breathe the air, and reflect on my secret sacred heart.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Cat Friday

Not a Warholian gag ... four fast shots of our favorite lady turning to watch kitty tv.

Idée d’jour

Fairy tales do not tell children that the dragons exist. They already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children that the dragons can be defeated.
— G.K. Chesterton

Thursday, November 24, 2005


Sunday evening, as my friends and I were celebrating my semi-centennial, I kept repeating two phrases:
  1. "I DID NOT write the directions.
    You see, the street address was somewhat off (should have said south instead of north), and it should have said three miles instead of two. Plus, it should have said Guthrie instead of Edmond.
  2. I'm just glad to have made it this far
Dr. Omed made it, and gifted me with the whale now pictured above (and larger, with Jonah inside, with part four). We agreed that folk who knew me when I was 20-something would have bet against my making it this far.

So, number one, I'm thankful to be alive.

Dr Omed gifted me with a wealth of other stuff, too, which he describes in detail here. Pictured on the left is an altar space incorporting two of his gifts. The large framed goddess is titled "Mom & Apple Pie", and is one of Dr Omed's collages. In front of the altar is a fossilized fern - see Omed's note for the details. I made the altar in church camp, in '67 (or thereabouts). The crucifix comes from around the same time. The Sacred Heart prayer card was bought a few years ago - after I decided this image represents a wedding of anima & animus (i.e., feminine & masculine). The little silver statue is St. Francis, and was bought when I was a teen. The paper to the right of Francis is from Padre's funeral.

The altar is on top of a book shelf filled with philosophical and religious books.

Nice sacred space, don't you think?

What I mean to say is I'm thankful for Dr. Omed. He's stuck with me through thick and thin. We've lost touch, now & again, but always reconnect where we left off. To have someone in my life who has known me this long is a true gift.

I'm thankful for Brother Dave & Linda. I'm thankful Bro Dave & I have taken the risk to re-invigorate our relationship. His unconditional affection and support emanate through e-mail, all the way from southwest Texas.

I'm thankful for the friends who made it Sunday night, and for the folk they represented who couldn't make it. Most people were from my church, several were from the folk music club, and one was from both. A couple of co-workers were there in spirit. A splendid time, etc.

I'm thankful to Hugh, who reminded me - first blog this morning - how important music is. He thanks "Betty" (I gather this is his name for the divine) for different folk he's seen in concert. I have a fairly healthy list, too. The one artist he & I share is Joni Mitchell, who opened some poetic and emotional doors for me.

I'm thankful to Meg and Sam, who have indulged my flirtations. They are very different women, but the voices I hear when I read their blogs are very attactive. Meg is a ringer for Janene Garafalo, who I heart. Sam bears a remarkable resemblence to my cousin Robin.

Thankful to Spidey, and the crew in the RLP chat room. I've found a new community there. It doesn't supplant the community I have with folk I can see and touch; it complements it.

There's several others in the blogosphere I would mention, but I want to finish this entry before I go to Thanksgiving Day service. I do not mean to slight you; I'm in a hurry, and lazy.

I'm thankful for my voice, singing and writing. These are gifts I strive to honor and share to the best of my ability.

I look out my study window. The sky is clear blue, the temp is probably in the high 60s. The trees having their fall fireworks dance.

Thankful. Thankful.

Unless someone at church "adopts" me, I don't have a place to go for the traditional meal. I'm a little sad about that. But the day is not so much about meals as it is about being mindful of our giftedness, and some consideration for the source of those gifts.

Finally, I'm also thankful for you, "gentle reader". You keep coming back inspite of my self-indulgences, and occasional lack of discipline, and persistent lack of focus. Your comments (though rare), and presence in my stats, reassure me I'm not just muttering to myself.

Thank you. Thank you.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Idée d’jour

The moment between before and after is called Truth.
— Katagiri Roshi [Zen Calendar © 2004, Workman Press]

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

My Half Century: Part Five

1955 – 1965

These years are remembered by little flashes, small moments here and there – not all of them connected with a particular year.   A pair of recent poems, "Year of the Flood" and "Grandmother's House", capture many of those flashes fairly well.

This first decade of my life was marked by three negative events.

The first was my birth.   Now, I'm not saying I'm sorry I was born – happily, I am no longer so melodramatic.   But I was born with a birth defect.

Do you know what a harelip is?   It's not a word commonly used anymore. You may have seen it in Erskine Caldwell's God's Little Acre.   The medical term is "cleft lip" or "cleft palate", and the Wide Smiles web-site has excellent information on the defect.   As the web site makes clear, reconstructive surgery is required, and the child's lip will never look exactly "normal".

The herd mentality of   early childhood attacks these sorts of abnormalities with a keen ferocity.   And once the pack learns that the object is vulnerable, they attack with all the more vigor.   I was very vulnerable and sensitive about my abnormality.   I longed more than anything to look exactly like everybody else.

This is why I identified with Frankenstein, and those other outsiders from Universal's glory days.   In as much as I did not fit "normal", I was a monster, just like them.

The second negative event was my parents' divorce.   My memory is that Padre told me when I was in the hospital to have my tonsils out, but I may have conflated events.   This was 1961 or 62, and my mother automatically got custody – as was typical for the time.

Padre sued for custody, and received it – which was highly unusual.   Mother sued for custody some years later – after Padre had remarried – and Padre drafted a document he would present at trial if she pursued her suit.   I last saw the document over ten years ago (I've lost it since), but it included descriptions of physical and emotional abuse.   There was also a description of my being left alone in a hotel while my mother rendezvoused with a boyfriend.

I have no memories of the period during which mother had custody.   I always thought it was a few months. Brother Dave thinks it was almost a year.

The third negative thing that happened in this decade was just a tragic coincidence: the president was shot on my eighth birthday (November 22, 1963).   Being the sensitive little cuss that I was, I felt uneasy celebrating my birthday for several years following.

There are pleasant memories in these decades:

Long trips to Ardmore to visit my father's kin.   Cousin Billy was the closest to my age, and we were grand playmates.  

Both my grandmothers were models of unconditional love.

Grandfather Sam, my mother's father, died when I was very young, but I still remember walking with him to the ice cream shop, and playing Chinese Checkers with him.   He also taught me how little boys use the toilet.

When Grandfather Sam passed away.   I remember feeling sad.   I remember saying, "My eyes are leaking," and my older brother shushing me.

Mother worked, and Grandmother H- (her mother) watched me. I still remember the Christmas we went to John A. Brown in downtown Oklahoma City and there was a life-sized stuffed tiger that actually roared when you pushed a button.

I was very impressed by that tiger.

The boy next door to my grandmother had a somewhat peculiar caregiver who would never let him leave the fenced in backyard, nor would she allow other children into the fence.   So, we played through the fence.

It seemed like we'd play for hours.   The only way Mommom (as we called her) could get me to come in was to say the Three Stooges were on.

I remember the name of the girl at church who was my first crush: Janine.   I once even fought another boy for her affections.

Mommom and Aunt Jo were part of a quilting bee.   I was taught how to sew, and given small scraps of material to practice on.  

After my parents divorced, I was sent to a counselor.   Or a speech therapist.   Main thing I remember is the lime sherbet Mommom would buy me at Kaiser's after each session.

I still remember the layout of Mommom's house, and of at least one of the houses we lived in prior to the divorce.

I could draw it for you, but I lack the words.

I remember balancing on the curb as I walked to school.   And occasionally staying with the neighbors after school.

I remember my father was the tallest man in the world.

Monday, November 21, 2005

My Half Century: Part Four

Jonah in Whale
Whale carving courtesy of the esteemed Rt Rev Dr Omed.

1965 – 1975

I bet you’re wondering whether I have any happy memories. Tell you the truth, I kind of wonder as well. If anyone else was relating this sob story, I might worry about their emotional stability.

I suppose it’s a nature/nurture type question: am I predisposed to see only the sad bits, or has my life been somewhat sad from the beginning. Do I primarily perceive sadness because life has more or less programmed me to expect it?

I leave this question to more adept philosophers than myself. In any case, I will highlight the significant events as I did yesterday, then focus on at least one happy memory.

As I move into this decade, I begin to date things according to what school I was attending, which does not exactly correspond to the years within the decade. If my calculations and memory are correct, I went from elementary school to high school in this decade.

Let’s see: James Madison Elementary for 1st and 2nd grades. I attended kindergarten elsewhere; don’t remember where. I also repeated first grade. As I recall it was because I was "immature", but it may have because of when my birthday fell. Or, it’s possible I had some behavior problems as a result of the divorce. We’ll come back to these years tomorrow.

The conditional phrases "I think" or "I can’t remember for sure" should be assumed from this point forward.

Windsor Hills Elementary for 3rd and 4th grades. This is the school I attended after Padre married WL. They married the summer of '66 or '67.

The main thing I remember about Windsor Hills is my fascination with Winnie-the-Pooh. My mother had taken me to the movie, and I read the books around the same time. I can’t remember which came first. I remember some flying dreams during this period, and at least one time that I dreamt I was a girl (or had gone to school dressed as a girl). I suspect this latter dream had more to do with sexual curiosity than with sexual identity.

I attended a parochial school for fifth and sixth grades. I had a crush on the headmaster’s daughter, and Rosalie had a crush on me. At the same time, Rob and I were inseparable friends and were often caught holding hands. This latter offended the teacher’s notion of same-gender relations: she made comments to the effect that we were like little girls, no doubt intending to shame us out of this activity. It didn’t.

I’ll note that I was not attracted to Rob, and I feel comfortable as a heterosexual.

I went to Putnam City Central Junior High for 7th and 8th grades. Those were the years I discovered the 60s, even though they were practically over. Brother Dave, or someone else, had led us to the head shop near downtown, and I discovered Rolling Stone magazine – which lead me in all kinds of interesting directions (this was when Rolling Stone was still counter-culture, rather than one more advertising slick).

It was in Junior High that I rediscovered my love of performing. I took Speech, because I was very self-conscious about my speaking. Although Padre told me Speech Class was not related to Speech Therapy (which is what I actually sought), I enrolled anyway.

Primarily the class consisted of giving speeches on various topics, and learning some debate skills, but there was a section where we put on a play. I was the father in a "fractured fairytale" version of Hansel and Gretel. I was smitten.

This led me to become one of the drama geeks when I went to PC West.

My introduction to West was through Driver’s Ed, which I took in Summer School, 1971.

That was the also summer WL attempted suicide, as described here.

The remainder of my high school experience was colored by that. One of my responses to the event – which would get me shipped to the counselor’s office these days – was to cut myself. I was imitating what WL had done. Clearly I wanted attention, and should have been sent to a therapist. In retrospect, I wish I had asked for it or that Padre had insisted on it.

As mature as I was, I may not have had the skills to deal with the aftershock of a suicide attempt.

Being a drama geek put me with a crowd that was fairly tolerant of my strangeness. Like, for example, going to school in my pajama top. I think that was freshman year.

I had a crush on the drama teacher, who we called Mrs. Lady. She made us keep journals. One day, I wrote (or copied) one of my poems in the journal. She complemented it, and that began two years of writing poems for her.

I still have most of those poems. Rereading them is not comfortable. They suffer the excesses common to teenage poetry. Either she had low standards, or she believed in encouraging students. Many of the poems were directed to her, which I guess was flattering. But, aside from the poetry, the relationship was entirely appropriate.

In spite of the cloud of the suicide, and my inappropriate method of responding to it, I mostly remember high school as a good time. I had a fairly large group of friends. I was active with my music, song writing, poetry, and acting. I was the most engaged with society that I had been up to that point.

I started dating Susan in Junior year. We had poetry in common, as well as shared taste in music. We were sexually active only up to heavy petting. I learned about ten years ago (from Susan) that she deflowered every boy in high school who asked. I never asked. I guess I thought it would happen when it was supposed to.

I started smoking pot just before going to high school. I joined the older kids out by the football field and got high my first day of classes!

WL and I had been on very good terms up to my high school years. She was much more the traditional motherly type than my biological mother. In spite of a demanding full-time job at the Okla. Tax Commission, she still cooked our dinners practically every night. And they were good home cooking.

WL had the misfortune, I think, of being the focus of my teen-age rebellion. Considering how kind and loving she was towards me, it really wasn’t fair. I think I also experienced some cognitive dissonance because my mother’s family gave me the distinct impression I was being unfaithful to my mom if I loved WL.

Well, I wanted to be a good son. I wanted to be good to both women. I wanted to please my maternal grandmother, who had been the mothering figure prior to Padre’s remarriage.

Yeah, people pleaser. Still haunts me.

Oh yeah. The happy memory.

We were living in the house on 34th street when Padre started dating WL. She’d often come to the house, and sometimes play with me.

I was a fan of monster movies. I felt a strong identification with Frankenstein’s creature (more on this tomorrow). Though the movies and magazines sometimes gave me nightmares, I sort of enjoyed being scared. Plus, since I identified so much with the monsters, their "existence" helped me feel less alone and unique.

So, WL and I were wrestling on my bunk bed. WL got wrapped up in my white bed spread. She reminded me of a certain movie character, so I said "Mummy!"

Of course, she thought I meant something else and was totally charmed. She asked if I wanted to call her that, and I said sure.

The name stuck until around high school, when the bad teenage boy hormones kicked in.

WL lived up to what she thought I meant. It may be a bitter sweet memory, but the emphasis is on the sweet.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

My Half Century: Part Three

1975 – 1985
When I had the idea for this project, I didn't realize how much could happen in just ten years. So, for today's entry, I'm going to do something different. A brief overview of the highlights, then a letter I wrote about one of the signal events of the period.

I graduated high school in '75. Knocked around the house through the summer. Padre had been laid off from Western Electric, and had begun his descent into serious depression. My stepmother, WL, couldn't stand to watch him try to will himself to death, and moved out that fall. I decided to go to college not long after.

WL died of a heart attack in November. Rumor has it, they were working on a reconciliation shortly before. Padre didn't recover from that loss, and continued on his plan of death by ennui (he died in '92).

College is marked by roomies and self medication. I've said many times that I majored in Mind-Altering Substances. Primarily alcohol and pot, but also (as we'll see) I became an acid head for too long a period. I was also a speed freak for a summer during this decade, and snorted coke once.

No needles, for what that's worth. I'd had one too many operations to enjoy having things stuck in me.

I lived in the dorms for two years. Lived with Ron for a little over a year. After another season in the dorms, Dana (the future Dr O) and I lived together. Then the apartment on Santa Fe & Symnes, by which point I was working full time at the Infernal Bookstore. Then Dale, in the Green House. Then the old house broken into apartments, the one I mentioned in yesterday's entry.

Whew! Ten years in four paragraphs. And just the high points. Sort of.

At the typewriter, circa 1979
This letter is dated 17.Oct.1981. It was written during the period I lived with the future Dr. O.

How to tell you about the Darkness? Now it seems unbelievable, improbable. But it was real; it was no flight of fancy.

It began in August of 1978, when I returned from my summer flight in Princeton. I was experiencing a form of culture shock common to local travelers who go anyplace more exotic or culturally sophisticated than Oklahoma. In brief, I could not believe I'd gone to a place so wonderful only to return here, to the hubcap of the universe.

I was also suffering from guilt for an emotionally tragic love affair I had while in Princeton. 'Twas a foolish fling, with a high school senior three years my junior. Ah, well. Now she's in Scotland, I hear, and doing well.

I was also looking a life crisis in the face. I'm sure you know the name of that tune: "Where have we been? Where are we now? Where are we going?"

All this was of a piece, as we say. And it was manifested in the form of many nights of really serious drinking. Also two LSD weekends....

This brings us to the spring of 1979, through which the above symptoms persisted. Susan [my girlfriend] was attending OU, and we were dating again. Briefly.

For lo, it was to be that the night we wished to spend lovingly entwined — my roommate was fast asleep. Very frustrating, as I'm sure you understand.

And yea verily, Susan did take an interest in my best friend, Chuck. And it came to pass that she spent more time with him than with me. And I was jealous. And Susan broke up with me.

None of this, we may be sure, was any of Chuck's doing. Susan had the hots for him, but she turned him off, physically. "She's too fat," he said. [ed: Chuck was also gay]

Meanwhile, Susan was not the only girl who felt unrequited love for Chuck. There was another, named Louise K.

Now Louise may seem at this point a peripheral character in our little drama, but she is actually quite important. Indeed, it is she who brings the action to a climax.

Therefore, it is fitting that we should know the following things about her:
  • She already knew me through Ron, a former roomie of mine for whom she also felt unrequited love.
  • Her father was a heavy drinker. So she did not approve of drinking — especially Chuck's and mine.
  • At this time, she had an uterine infection which Goddard [the campus clinic] had misdiagnosed.... The infection cause some pain, I believe, and she had at least two or three prescriptions which were intended to overcome the infection and/or pain.
And it came to pass, one May Sunday night, that she would receive an obscene phone call. Or that she sincerely believed she received an obscene phone call, and that it was from your correspondent.

The content of this call, as it was later related to me, was extremely unpleasant. It involved Louise's rape (by me) and Chuck's murder (ditto). And in her mind's eye, Louise saw a Hyde-like man beast with long talons and distorted features. "Succubus," she was to later call it.

Now, I saw her the following morning and greeted her as a friend; she gave me the cold shoulder — treated me like a Nazi war criminal. But no mention of the call was made.

You see, Louise was unsure what to do. She sincerely believed I had gone crazy, that I was a potential menace to myself or others. She though my soul had been eaten away by alcohol and drugs, and had been replaced by some malicious entity — a succubus.

So she went to Susan. As I understand it, Susan said something like: "I think it's possible Jac has gone crazy. He's been tottering on the brink for some time now; he must have gone over the edge." I base this on a list of "evidence" for my insanity which I found in Chuck's room. It was in Susan's handwriting.

Then Louise went to Chuck saying, "Jac has gone crazy. What shall we do?" His response - "Oh dear! I don't know —!"

And during this time, no one thought to tell me what was going on. All I knew was that my closest friends were behaving very strangely around me.

By now it was Wednesday, and Louise decided it was time for a summit meeting. Gathered together were Susan, Chuck, Mary Kay (a friend of Chuck's) and Dana. The topic of conversation: "Jac has gone crazy. What can we do to help him?" Thus was born what I call the Conspiracy of Love.

Dana asked, "Hasn't anyone asked James about this?" The answer: "Oh, no! It must be at the right time, in the right way."

"Well," said Dana, "this stinks. And I'll have nothing to do with it!" Exit Dana and Mary Kay.

These two went to Mary Kay's house and invited me over. Then Dana told me what was going on. I was incensed. What hurt most was that Susan, who had known and loved me for so many years, had believed this trash.

The next evening, I met with Louise and she related the details of the phone call. She was very sincere, and totally convinced that the call had taken place. I had to admit to myself that I had been drinking a lot recently, and that a blackout was possible.

So, I asked my roommate whether I had disturbed him the night in question. We shared a ten-foot square room, so I made such a call from the room, it would have wakened him. Even if I left the room to make that infamous call, it would have likely startled him. He said I had not startled him on that night. He barely knew me from Adam, but he didn't seem afraid of me. He had little reason to dissemble.

I still wondered, so I went to see a councilor.

Now, this is amusing: "My friends say I've gone crazy and made a violent obscene phone call."

"Well, what do you think?"

"I don't think it's true."

"OK. What else is going on?"

After hearing an abridged autobiography, he told me I needed to learn to be more assertive. Probably true, but it did not seem appropriate to the problem at hand.

All in all, Dana and Chuck proved to be greater sources of support and strength than this guy. In fact, it was partly due to his role in this little passion play that Dana and I became roommates, in the summer of '79.

This was the bleakest trough of the valley of the darkness. While things did not get any better, they at least got no worse. It took me almost six months to forgive Louise, for I saw her part in it as due to the aforementioned pain killers. It was not until fairly recently that I found room in my heart to forgive Susan.

So summer came, and Dana and I were roomies. It was not until June or July that I got a job, at the infamous [Infernal] bookstore. Most of that summer is now seen through an alcoholic haze. I'd come home from work and not quit drinking until I went to sleep. Labor Day was literally a lost weekend: I started Friday afternoon and didn't quit until sometime Monday evening. I was merely playing at being an alchy before; now I was going after it full force. Dana watched from the sidelines, sometimes bemused, sometimes concerned for my health.

And I hated Susan. Hated everything she stood for in my life, especially the "Conspiracy of Love." Oh, how I hated her! I would have been happy to bury the hatchet — right in her cranium.

Yes, I was not a pleasant sight. A bitter 23 yearned hugging his depression like a harlot....

Then came the fall, and the beginning of the school year. With it, my drinking slacked considerably. Now we reach the denouement of our little tale. And it is an amusing end to the blackness.

One day I wanted to play my guitar. I brought it downstairs to the living room and opened the case. And lo! the bottom nut had snapped off. I couldn't play my guitar. So I took my guitar back upstairs to my bedroom in a funk. I decided there was only one way to break this particular funk, and that was to do something silly, childlike. So I hopped down the stairs. I hopped down the carpeted stairs in my stocking feet. Well, as fate (or whatever) would have it, I slipped, fell, and broke my right thumb. Dana put a makeshift splint on it, and o! the blinding pain. It was in a cast for the next three months. I washed, chipped, and tore it off in December, 1979.

During those three months, I thought a lot about my life. I realized I couldn't replay "The Conspiracy of Love" for the rest of my life. I knew I couldn't play the part of the genie at the bottom of a bourbon bottle and live to tell about it. In brief, breaking my thumb helped me regain my sanity.

That was the Valley of Darkness. These days I don't drink as much — one a week, at most. And I feel pretty darn good about myself.

Now I am the supervisor of the warehouse at the bookstore. I doubt it will lead to anything bigger and better, but I'm content....
Final note: In the fall of 1983, I admitted I was an alcoholic. I have not had a drink since, nor any other mind-altering substance (unless caffeine counts).

Saturday, November 19, 2005

My Half Century: Part Two

1985 - 1995
It occurs to me that I've set myself an impossible task. Why did I ever think I could write about ten years a day? Without any notes, for heaven's sake! What arrogance.

I've got half a bookshelf full of Henry Miller's books, and those only cover a few years in his life.

The best I can hope for is to hit the high points as they come to me.

We got married in April 1985. Mary went to Korea in 1995. We divorced in 2000.

Since I have said that the Murrah Building bombing signals the de facto end of our marriage - as I look back through my 20/20 glasses - it's fair to say this decade corresponds with the length of my marriage.

We had met in 1983, or so. I was in charge of the music for our mission church, and I hired Mary to be our church organist. Before long, we were doing social things together, and not long after that our social outings became dates.

Within a year and a half, we were engaged. I insisted on a year long engagement.

In hindsight - with those 20/20 glasses - I don't know what difference I thought that year would make. We were already sexually active, and fairly well enmeshed. For example, when Mary's electricity was cut off, I ran extension cords out my window to her apartment (immediately below me) so she could keep her fans going.

I should mention that Mary is ten years older than I am - she's slightly over 60 as I write this. She had been previously married, and had two teenage boys, who were just a couple of years apart in age. As a single mom, it was sometimes challenging to make ends meet - thus the electricity cut off.

Economically, I was doing slightly better than she. I was the Receiving Room Supervisor at the Infernal Bookstore. When Mary heard "supervisor", she thought I must be doing fairly well. I was free enough with my money when we went out to give her that impression. But the truth was that I had a subsistence life, with most of my money going toward entertainment.

I was living in a three-story house that had been converted into apartments. The most interesting characters lived there - folk on the fringe, like me. The interracial couple across the hall. The guitarist downstairs. The lost hippy on the top floor. And me, also lost in my own way.

When I moved in, Diane's mother lived on the ground floor. She was an alcoholic, drinking peppermint schnapps every night to get her little buzz on. She was there about a year and a half after I moved in, then she moved to a house closer to Diane. Mary moved in not longer after, to be closer to me.

As I say, we were engaged within a year and a half after that.

The first few years of marriage were fine. Many people, when they heard we'd been married one or two years, would say, "Oh, you're still on your honeymoon." It's only in retrospect I understand what they meant. We worked together to manage the boys. That common task helped keep us together.

I think I did fairly well by the boys. I asked them, as well as Mary's parents, for her hand. I told them early on that I wasn't their substitute dad, big brother, or pal. I was there to support their mom, and to enforce her rules.

Problem was, they hadn't had any rules enforcer before.

They pretty much did their thing, and we did our best to keep them centered, going to school and all that. They were both bad about curfew. We finally sat the oldest, J, down and told him if he couldn't even call his mom so she wouldn't worry, he would need to move out. He moved out.

B, the younger son, was having serious drug problems. I saw a bit of my prior behavior (which you will hear about in a couple of days) in him. I had compassion. But I also recognized how powerless we were over the self-destructive pattern.

I forget how or why, but he soon moved out as well.

We now longer had a steady common project.

It took a while for things to start unthreading, but there were warning signs.

Mary had trouble holding a job. There were two things I noticed happening: she always thought she knew better than management, or was too good for the job, and the resentment would come through. The other thing was how she would decide someone in the office was out to get her, and try to form alliances against that person. Problem was, she was trying to form alliances against someone these people knew better than her.

Eventually, she would create her own reality: most people in the office would not trust her, perceiving her as a manipulator or back-stabber. Sooner or later, most in the office would indeed think she needed to be somewhere else.

I had a steady job, at the Infernal Bookstore, but it was a dead end. It became even worse when it was bought by a national chain (one parodied in You've Got Mail). The boss was pretty hard on me. And I'd come home complaining every night. Instead of taking my side, Mary would tell me I just needed to play the game.

Christ! I was trying to play the game. For a full year, it seemed like nothing I did was right. And besides, shouldn't the wife say a few supportive things rather than take the opposing side?

She sure as hell wasn't playing the game at her jobs! If she had, she would have kept the jobs.

Things fell more and more apart.
Then there's the terrible year. November '91, Mary's mother died. February '92, Padre died. March or April '92, Mary's brother Rob died. We were buffeted by those tragedies. Lost our footing. All that may have signaled the beginning of the end.

Somehow I survived the change in management at the Infernal Bookstore. I simply put my head down and decided I would prove that manager wrong. Not sure I really did; I simply outlasted him. I was never bad enough to get fired. And he was relocated to torture another employees at another acquisition of the Minor Demiurge.

You're Invited

To my Half-Century Celebration tomorrow, Sunday, November 20, at 5:00 pm. My Semi-Centenial, if you prefer. If you are within reasonable driving distance of Edmond, Oklahoma, I hope you'll come join the festivities.

Main entertainment will be provided by The Basement Saints, featuring your correspondent on many lead vocals. If the Doc's faithful stead, Mina, is up to it, he will be there. Pretty good odds that Pam will be there, many folk from my church, coupla friends from work, and folk from my Traditional Music club. In other words, a fairly diverse crowd.

Write me for the address, if you think you can come.

In the words of my official paper-based invitation:
  • Bring your favorite comfort food to share.
  • Bring your musical instruments (tapping toes count).
  • Bring your well wishes, simles, and spirit of fun.
  • Your presence is the present.
A splendid time is guaranteed for all.

Saturday Morning Humor

This comes by way of comments at Meg's Blog Cabin:

How many mice does it take to screw in a light bulb?

Two. The trick is getting them in the light bulb.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Cat Friday

DJ inspects
This looks distorted because of the perspective. I haven't played with it (except compression for web presence) in any way. Honest!
I realized early this morning that I would complete my Semi-Centenial Celebration a day early. My plan was to post the final entry, 1955-65, on the day of my birth, Nov. 22.

So - what to do with that extra day?

Idée d’jour

The love of the heart is the candle flame that carries us through the road of darkness.
— St. John of the Cross

Thursday, November 17, 2005

My Half Century, Pt. I

1995 – 2005
I received my first birthday card last night, from two very dear friends. It reads:
In dog years, you'd be 350,
but in giant redwood years
you'd only be about 3 ½ [open]
See? Turning 50 is all in how you look at it!
Yesterday, Pam asked, in effect: if the lines of my face were like tree rings, what story would they tell? Well, you'd have to look awfullyclose to see my wrinkles. I don't even have much in the way of "laugh lines"; no doubt, as Sam would say, because I don't smile enough. All the character seems to be in my beard and in my receding hairline.

For the next five days, I plan to review what has given my beard such character, one decade at a time.

Ten years ago this month, I was still married. My wife had gone to Seoul, South Korea to teach English as a second language in September. Like most Oklahomans, and many Americans, we were both still recovering from the bombing of the Murrah Building on April 19 of that year.

I didn't know it at the time, but 1995 was the de facto end of my marriage. We saw each other only three more times over the next four years. By 1997, I was in a deep depression. I didn't recognize it at the time, but that's an accurate assessment.

I was working, in effect, seven days a week. I was working forty hours a week at the Infernal Bookstore, and I was working part-time on the weekends at the local NPR station. Although our marriage was already showing some strain before Mary left, I missed her terribly. My life seemed to be going nowhere.

There have been a lot of changes in the past ten years. I've changed jobs three times. In 1996, I quit the Infernal Bookstore, and started a job at a local Independent Bookstore. In late '99, I started work in the Dean's Office on this campus. In 2001, I started my current job, in the Dept. of Pathology. Ironically, I was interviewed on 9/11.

I got divorced in 2000. I mortgaged myself to a house, with Brother Dave's help. I started writing poetry again.

I've had three romantic relationships in the past decade, not counting my marriage. There was Shannon, who I started seeing shortly before the divorce. There was Sarah, of whom I have written much. And there was Elsie, who was a poetic muse for some time. It's striking, to me, that I've had as many romances in the past ten years as all the other years of my life combined.

I changed church communities in this time as well. At first, I thought I would get lost in the Cathedral's larger congregation, but I've managed to find my circle, and make my mark.

I don't have a "significant other" at the moment, and I'm sometimes anxious about that. I do my best to remain open to possibilities, and to use this fallow period to recharge some batteries. I'm also aware that this sort of anxiety can often lead to feelings of desperation, which can be mighty unattractive. So, I keep telling myself I'll meet the right person in the near future, so long as I remain receptive and keep my eyes open.

Another part of this, of course, is being in situations where I'm likely to meet available single folk of the appropriate age. This is an area that still needs some work.

I almost forgot - my mother died in early 1995, prior to the bombing. Like many people, my relationship with my mother was complicated. I've written quite a bit about this recently, so I'll let it stand for the moment. As we go into my first two decades, more may be revealed.
Tomorrow - 1985–1995.

Idée d'jour

Turning my back on the Buddha,
how cool
the moonlight.
— Shiki [Zen Calendar, © 2004 Workman Press]

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

More Bits & Pieces

Whenever I'm stuck for a topic, or having a poetic dry spell, I can always count on a meme to help carry me through. This one comes from Dick, by way of Meg.
  1. What is your greatest fear?
    Physical pain.
  2. What is your greatest extravagance?
    Currently, DVDs. CDs and books a close second. Then there's that digital SLR that's been singing a siren song....
  3. What makes you depressed?
    Life, the universe, and everything. Of course, this stuff can fill me with joy as well. Maddeningly unpredictable.
  4. Who would play you in a movie of your life?
    Michael Gross. Or Bogie, if they ever perfect that technology.
  5. What is your most unappealing habit?
    Self-deprecation. Poor self confidence.
  6. What is your favourite smell?
    Baking bread. The Rainbow Bread Bakery is just a quarter mile north of where I work. I've smelled that rich earthy aroma the past two mornings. I normally pass the bakery on the way home, and often smell the bread then as well.
    I also like the aroma of loamy soil.
  7. Radiator or Air Conditioning?
    The politically correct answer, I suppose, is "neither". I maintain thermostat settings from the Carter era: 78° for summer, 68° for winter. I supplement with fans in the former, and blankets in the latter.
  8. Is it better to give or receive?
    To quote St. Francis, it is in giving that we receive.
  9. What do you owe your parents?
    Father: intellectual curiosity, moral integrity, liberal ethics. Since he was my primary caregiver from the time I was 6, I also owe him the roof over my head, food, and those other essentials. On the downside, I suspect I inherited his tendency for melancholy.
    Mother: I can't think of anything positive, at the moment. I'm aware things I don't like about her are also things I don't like in myself - poor self-image, self obsession, neediness, insecurity....
  10. Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
    "Oh my stars and garters"
    "On the one hand; on the other" (in various permutations)
  11. What has been your biggest disappointment?
    That whole college thing; personal entropy.
  12. When did you last cry and why?
    I'm a guy. I'm supposed to remember? Actually, I think it was "Peggy Sue Got Married", where Peggy is on the phone with her grandmother.
  13. Have you ever had a same-sex experience?
    I've always been my current gender.
  14. What single thing would improve the quality of your life?
    In today's society, money.
  15. What keeps you awake at night?
    The busy monkey in my head.
  16. What song would you like played at your funeral?
    I'm limited to one?
    Barber's "Adagio for Strings"
    Phil Ochs, "When I'm Gone"
    "How Can I Keep From Singing"
    Hymns - "I sing a song of the saints of God" and "All Things Bright & Beautiful"
  17. What is the most important lesson life has taught you?
    To paraphrase a certain Broadway musical, there's always tomorrow. There's always hope for change. One of humanity's greatest assets is our ability to adapt.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Church & State

The IRS is challenging the tax-exempt status of an Episcopal Church in Pasadena, California, in response to a sermon delivered there the Sunday prior to the 2004 election.   The preacher was frank in his criticism of the B*sh administration, and of the Iraq invasion in particular.   However, he emphasized that each congregant should search his or her own conscience when they reached the voting booth. At no time did he explicitly encourage them to vote for, or against, a particular candidate.

Hear the story from NPR.

This article from the Christian Post also offers details about the sermon.   The article goes on to say that the IRS received a number of complaints about (primarily evangelical) churches in which the minister explicitly endorsed President B*sh.   So far as I know, no action has been taken in response to those complaints. There were a number of evangelical churches which gave their mailing lists to the re-election campaign, which would seem a blatant overstep.

If indeed no action has been taken, then there is an obvious and frightening double-standard here. Legal action by the IRS can have a definite "chilling effect."

Last night, NPR aired letters in response to the past week's stories.   One letter in response to this particular story caught my attention: it was from a woman who argued that the IRS action was appropriate, that politics had no place whatsoever in the pulpit.  

Part of her argument was that, just as government should stay out of religion, religion should stay out of government.   I agree with a narrow interpretation of that statement. In other words, the government should not legislate religion, and religious organizations must be cautious regarding enmeshment with government programs or policies.

The listener also said that church is where she went to develop her private relationship with God, and so far as she was concerned, the minister's function was to facilitate that relationship.   At no point should the "outside world" impinge on this private relationship.

This "Me and You, God" point of view of religion is common.   In fact, there was a time I felt the same way.   Indeed, there are some Sundays I still feel this way. But I think this view misses an important point.

This sort of faith is the equivalent of instant coffee or a frozen dinner. It lacks substance.   It's easy to feel all holy in the relative security of your comfortable pew, and then go into the world and argue with your neighbor, or shun the homeless. This is an unchallenged faith, which seems to me watered-down and bloodless.

For me, church serves at least two purposes: it empowers me to live my faith the rest of the week; and it provides a safe environment in which to interact with a wide variety of people, similar to the wide variety I will meet in my daily life.  

And sometimes that means political issues will be engaged.   Caring for the destitute will often seem like a political act in a society that wants to pretend no one is destitute.   Or that people become destitute by choice, or through laziness.   Speaking out to protect God's creation will also seem like a political act.

And, remember this: the crucifixion was a political act.   Jesus was perceived to be a threat to the religious authorities, who were collaborating with their Roman rulers.   Although he avoided explicit political statements, many of his statements were perceived as a political threat.   For example, saying the Law was made for man rather than the reverse, was a direct challenge to the Pharisees, for this implied they should be out of work – for their main "job" was interpreting and enforcing Torah law.

Cat Friday

Her royal catness has granted permission to post an image of a cat other than herself. This is Gracie, looking very much like a seal-point Siamese, though her heritage is unknown. Gracie lives with one of my co-workers, and is reportedly as much of a nudnik as DJ.

Meanwhile, I've written a song for DJ. It's almost too cute for public consumption, but I thought you guys might appreciate a break given the weightier entries I've made the past couple of days.
Who's the kitty?
Who's the kitty?
Who's the pretty girl?
Who's the little lady
dark & grey & playing?
Who's the cutest fur ball in the world?

With each mouse infraction,
She will spring to action;
She's the mighty huntress of our world!

Here she comes, there she goes, here she comes again
There she comes, where she goes, here she comes again!
The tune starts off by climbing the scale for the first two lines, and then veers off to "Rawhide". Go figure.

Armistice Day - War Is Over

St. Martin of Tours
Martin was a soldier. When met by a poor man seeking alms in the name of Christ, Martin took his sword, cut his own military cloak in half, and gave it to the man. As legend has it, the next night Jesus appeared to him in half a cloak and said, "Martin, a simple catechumen, covered me with his garment." He was baptized and subsequently ordained priest and bishop. He is the patron saint of military chaplains, for in the midst of much strife and violence he sought to bring Christ to all, especially the poor and the oppressed.
Forward Day By Day, © 2004 Forward Movement
The armistice was signed at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. Those who signed the document, and those who had survived the conflict, sincerely believed they had fought "the war to end all wars." The mustard gas literally burned the flesh off the soldiers. Planes and bombs had been invented, and used, to a degree, by the last years of the war. The Great War even had its own precursor to the Holocaust, with the near extinction of the Armenians by the Turks.

Surely, after such death and destruction, no nation would be so foolhardy or bloodthirsty to risk another war!

Less than a generation later, Hitler proved them wrong.

Every generation since has had its war - Korea, VietNam, the Cold War, the two Gulf Wars.

If there is an argument against evolution, it must be war. For some reason, the human animal still has a drive to destroy perceived threats. The only way war has evolved is we have become more efficient, and have created means to kill others without having to face them. We can now fight war as if it were some impersonal video game.

What I mean to suggest is that if humanity were truly evolved, we would no longer resolve conflicts and differences by means of physical violence. Even the average bloodthirsty hawk will say that war is a "necessary evil."

In the early 70s, the poet Allen Ginsberg suggested that papers should publish the headline, "War Is Over," asserting that if a mass of people believed it, it would become a reality. John Lennon and Phil Ochs both wrote songs inspired by this idea.

I suggest a new slogan: "War Is Over, Beginning With Me." Strive for nonviolence in your personal life. Seek ways to resolve conflict, or to disagree, that include respecting the opinion of others. Seek ways that avoid name-calling, or pigeonholing. Maybe one day you can get cut off in traffic without flipping the bird or calling the other driver a jerk.

Write your representatives, encouraging them to support our troops at the same time we seek ways to withdraw from Iraq. Express your support for Peace Candidates, and a Department of Peace.

As the 60s song said, "Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me."

Is my suggestion as idealistic as Ginsberg's? Of course it is. But that is an essential quality of human evolution: we have the capacity to change, and to strive toward our ideals.

May it be so. May war be over, beginning with me.

Idée d’jour

It often happens that I awake at night and begin to think about a serious problem and decide I must tell the pope about it. Then I wake up completely and remember that I am the pope.
— Pope John XXIII (Zen Calendar, ©2005, Workman Press)

I'm sad I have no memory of John's papacy. I have the impression that he was an amazing human being, and more worthy of veneration (IMHO) than John Paul II or his most recent successor.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Darwin Was Right

The citizens of Dover, Pennsylvania elected a new Board of Education on Tuesday. Dover, PA has been in the news lately because the former school board has made the teaching of "Intelligent Design" mandatory in high school science classes. Several parents brought suit against that school board, and the suit is currently being tried in court.

In the meantime, a bi-partisan group of eight people ran for the Board of Education solely on their opposition to the teaching of "Intelligent Design". Although the election was close, all eight people were elected to the board.

Clearly, the people of Dover have no desire to be the site of the 21st century's version of the "Scopes Trial". Most residents refused to answer reporters' questions following the election. But the vote makes clear that the majority of that town are too intelligent to allow creationism to be passed off as an alternate theory to evolution.

The proponents of "Intelligent Design" have claimed it should be taught as an alternate theory to evolution. After all, evolution is "only" a theory.

One of the things science class is supposed to teach a high school student is the scientific method. This method begins with observation; the scientist observes a phenomenon, an apple falling, for example. The scientist develops a theory that explains the phenomenon, then tests that theory. If the theory seems to explain the phenomenon, the scientist presents his or her work to a group of peers. These peers repeat his or her tests, and possibly develop alternate experiments to test the theory. If the theory, or hypothesis, survives these tests, it is considered "proven', to an extent.

Science is less concerned with what is "real" than with finding the best explanations using the best tools at human's disposal. Because our understanding and our tools are always progressing, it is possible that a theory which once found favor is overturned, or a superior theory is developed.

"Reality" and "truth" are concepts for philosopy class, or your favored religious institution.

The theory of evolution has itself evolved. What began with Darwin's Origin of Species has grown more complex and exacting with advances in archeology, DNA research, and so on. Few scientists would claim "evolution" as an absolute; many would agree there are questions that remain to be answered. But evolution remains the best scientific explanation available.

"Intelligent Design" posits two primary responses to the theory of evolution: 1) there are gaps in the theory; and 2) the design is so complex, there must have been a designer. In other words, they would throw out the whole of evolution because it does not address 100% of creation. They would throw out the whole theory, for example, because of inconsistencies in the fossil record.

Now, in order to be a scientific theory, "Intelligent Design" would need to be testable. How does one test for a designer? To say the design "proves" a designer is a circular argument that would not survive a high school debate contest. Since it is not testable, it is not a theory, and cannot be legitimately proposed as an "alternate theory" to evolution.

Intelligent Design may be a fit topic for a philosophy or logic class. But it is not science. The people of Dover, PA understood that, and voted accordingly.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for Kansas, nor for an Oklahoma legislator who plans to propose "Intelligent Design" legislation early next year.

We can only hope that the majority of voters will select to oppose those who support these measures.