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.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

If You Haven't Already

Be sure to visit my temporary space at TypePad, Practicing Patience. As I mentioned a few days ago, that blog is devoted solely to my photographic and artistic endeavors. The past few days have featured photos of downtown OKC, which I took this past weekend.

Vital Stats, Part Two

Suggested by Dick
  1. I drive…
    A white '98 Ford Escort
  2. If I have time to myself…
    I'm watching the tube, reading a book, or doing computer stuff. "Computer stuff" includes, but is not limited to: e-mail, blogs, shopping
  3. You wouldn't know it but I'm very good at…
    Seems like I've bragged about most of my major talents already. Pretty good singer, serviceable guitarist, writer/poet. You might not be aware of my dry wit, or my ability to mimic. I also have a wickedly good memory.
  4. I'm no good at...
    Directions. I have a special talent for getting lost. Also, poor in mental calculations aside from addition and subtraction.
  5. Book(s) that changed me…
    • On the Road by Jack Kerouac
    • Tropic of Cancer, Henry Miller
    • Dylan, Anthony Scadato
    • Bound for Glory, Woody Guthrie
    • Works of William Blake
    • This Is It, Alan Watts (also Tao: the Watercourse Way)
    • The list goes on....
  6. Movie heaven…
    • Casablanca
    • To Have and Have Not
    • Amelie
    • Young Frankenstein
    • Citizen Kane, Touch of Evil, Lady From Shanghai
  7. Comfort eating…
    Asked and answered.
  8. When I was a child, I wanted to be…
    A doctor.
  9. All my (spare) money goes on…
    Books, DVDs, CDs
  10. At night I dream of…
    See my entry from Monday morning.
  11. My favourite building…
    Locally, the First National Bank. Also fond of the Chrysler Building in NYC. Big fan of art deco, as well.
  12. My biggest regret…
    Not completing college. This may be resolved in the near future.
  13. If I wasn't me I'd like to be…
    Somebody else? Me, only better?
  14. My favorite artists
    Picasso, Chagal, some Dali, Ansel Adams, Georgia O'Keefe...
  15. The soundtrack to my life…
    • Tangled Up in Blue, Dylan
    • Bach's Coffee Cantata
    • The Guests, Leonard Cohen
    • When I'm Gone, Phil Ochs
    • Goreki's 3rd Symphony (per yesterday's list)
    • This list could go on for a ways, too...
  16. The best invention ever…
    Computers, the Internet, the blogosphere..!
That makes 50 (counting yesterday's list)! Get it? Fifty facts for my fiftieth birthday? Only 14 more shopping days (counting today)!

Idée d’jour

Not always so.
— Shunryu Suzuki, summing up the Buddha's teaching (Zen Calendar, © 2005, Workman Press)

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

34 Vital Statistics

From Meg, by way of Dick.
  1. I was born Nov. 22, 1955.
  2. President Kennedy was shot on my 8th birthday.
  3. My comfort food is fried chicken
  4. My first car was a VW bug, bought from Brother Dave. I tried to change the oil myself, with predictable consequences.
  5. I have only played team sports as part of a physical education class. Well, I did play in a sandlot game. Once.
  6. I don't recall failing any courses in my academic career; however, I have incompletes in two (both English, ironically).
  7. I am the youngest of two.
  8. So far as I know, the only option for my birth name is its current incarnation. My first name was my paternal grandfather's middle name. I don't know the source of my own middle name.
  9. Among my favourite poets are D.H. Lawrence, Emily Dickinson, W.B. Yeats, Diane Wakoski, Walt Whitman, T.S. Eliot, Woody Guthrie, and Dylan Thomas. Favourite authors include Henry Miller, Jack Kerouac, Dorothy Sayers, C.S. Lewis, Philip K. Dick, and....(both these lists could go on for a while)
  10. Bob Dylan is far and away the person I quote the most.
  11. I don't follow any sports. I always think I will follow the Cubs, out of sheer perversity, but I never make it past the first couple of games.
  12. I would love to visit Ireland.
  13. My favourite piece of music is Goreki's Third Symphony. For today. Might be different next week.
  14. I don't remember my first coffee. I became a serious coffee drinker when I worked the graveyard shift for a convenience store
  15. My primary goal in life is to share love.
  16. My secondary goal in life is to find more appropriate employment.
  17. I have no sheepskin. Completed about three years of college.
  18. I have been on local tv news segments several times. The potential audience, I'm told, was in the millions. I was a radio DJ for 7-8 years, with an audience in the hundreds.
  19. I told Michael Feldman he looked like a Jewish fireman when he put on the toy fireman's helmet.
  20. My life motto: Take it easy, but take it.
  21. I don't fear death. I avoid pain like I avoid unprotected left turns.
  22. Shoes... dress shoes, casual shoes (2 pr), faux Birkenstocks, hiking boots, flip-flops, faux mocassins
  23. If I had to choose between marrying a woman who wrote well, a woman who sang well, and a woman of incredible fitness, I would choose the singer. Women of independent means are also welcome, if they love music.
  24. I am 5'11.5".
  25. No clue what my ring size is.
  26. If I could buy one thing tomorrow, it would be a Canon SLR Digital Rebel.
  27. I have a scar that divides my mustache and part of my upper lip.
  28. My tonsils came out when I was 5 or 6. I think my father told me he and my mother were getting a divorce while I was in the hospital.
  29. I've had my share of scrapes, but I don't recall seriously wounding anyone.
  30. My favourite word is "bliss".
  31. If I had an epitaph, I'd like it to say "He was a nice guy, and we kind of miss him"
  32. My most prized possession is my grandfather's Epiphone guitar.
  33. Given the chance, I would definitely be a decent poet.
  34. Only fourteen more shopping days to my half century!

Monday, November 07, 2005

Sunday Morning's Dream

You have to understand that I don't normally remember my dreams. So, when I do, it seems worthy of note. Doesn't necessarily the dream is important — or that the forgotten ones are unimportant. When I do remember a dream though, I do try to honor it by turning it over and examining it and so on.

The house I entered was generic. That is, it was not a house I immediately recognized from my past. I habitually turned on the tv, then went to the kitchen and put a tv dinner in the microwave.

Went back to the living area to watch tv while the meal heated. The buzzer went off, so I returned to the kitchen to manually rotate the dinner. This means the dream microwave was older than my current real-life microwave (which has its own turntable).

The microwave was broken in some fashion - not clear how. Seems like the window on the front was broken or had a whole in it. I thought it would still work for part two of the zapping.

Then I noticed the phone on the kitchen wall. The place and style of the phone (Princess Slimline) meant I was back in the house I knew as home from 5th grade until I went to college.

A voice was coming from the phone, even though the receiver was still on the hook. Somehow, I knew this was some sort of voice mail. It was my ex-wife, Mary, saying she was stranded.

The exact location was garbled or indistinct, so I went to the bedroom to check the answering machine. As was typical of Mary (in real life), she left a lot of messages. I was quickly skimming them to get to the information I needed to pick her up.

As I was checking the messages, Padre came home. I immediately went to him so I could show him what happened to the microwave. Only now, instead of just a broken window in the front of the machine, the damage is much worse. A tree has crashed through the wall and microwave both.

I asked Padre to deal with that issue while I went to retrieve Mary. That's the point when I woke up.

I was very disoriented when I did wake up; I briefly thought it was Monday (rather than Sunday), that I had over-slept, and would be late to work. It took a few moments to shake that off, and fully enter my Sunday routine.

I did not see myself in the dream. I felt like my current-day self, rather than teenager or husband. But I don't think I was divorced in the dream, either. I certainly felt some responsibility to help Mary.

The house, as often happens in dreams, was an amalgram of my teenage home and the house Mary and I rented during our marriage.

I could generate some superficial, facile interpretations of the dream. For the moment though, I want to let it percolate. Perhaps you, who know me primarily through these pages, might have some insight?

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Idée d’jour

If you never want to see the face of hell, when you come home from work every night, dance with your kitchen towel, and if you're worried about waking up your family, take off your shoes.
— Rabbi Nahman of Bratslav

Friday, November 04, 2005

Cat Friday

Stopping By Woods

The man in the buggy sat at the edge of the woods. It had just begun snowing. The reins lay draped across the horse's back.

These were Peterson's woods. Everyone knew Peterson lived in the village. No one knew why he kept these woods. He rarely came to inspect them, or get firewood.

The man watched the snow fall. It was a good snow, wet and full. Some snow fell in the horse's mane, and it shook its head.

The sky was snow-heavy and dark. It had been dark all day. The snow reflected light up into the trees.

There was a light breeze. The woods were quiet. On the other side of the woods, the lake was frozen.

The man was studying the woods. He listened to the snow crackle through the tree branches as it fell to the ground. He listened to his measured breath, slowly going in and out.

He was not thinking of her. He was watching the snow.

The horse shook its mane again. "All right, Nick," said the man, "We'll get going. It's a long way home, and we've got to get a good sleep tonight."
Several months ago, Jonathon Mayhew, who writes Bemsha Swing, made an off-hand comment about how hard it would be to translate a poem into a work of prose.

A few weeks after that, my friend George Wallace sent me a poem which featured Hemingway. I wrote a response, in the voice of D.H. Lawrence.

Somehow, these two ideas collided in my mental labyrinth, and I was inspired to re-write a poem in the voice of Hemingway.

Incidentally, Hemingway did try his hand at poetry. City Light Books published a selection as a chapbook. I remember flipping through it sometime in 1978. I was unimpressed.

On impulse, I chose a fairly well-known poem, Robert Frost's Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening. I've been reading The Nick Adams Stories this past week, and now realize how accurate that impulse was.

I don't know whether I successfully captured Hemingway's voice. It's not too hard to write bad parodies of the Hemingway style. But I wanted to honor his style at the same time I honored the tone of Frost's poem.

What do you think?

Thursday, November 03, 2005

A Tour of Me

As I have mentioned before, I am a fan of Natalie d'Arbeloff's series "Augustine Interviews God." We're now up to part 15 of this impressive series, and it is as thought-provoking as each preceding part.

At the end of part 14, God asks Augustine to take him for a walk. In a teaser for the series while it was in production, Augustine promises to take God someplace he has not been before.

Now, there's a logic problem if there ever was one.

There's a lot of theology we've inherited from the Greeks; terms like omniscient, omnipresent, and so on, come from Greek thought. If those concepts are true, there is no place God has not been, and nothing unknown to God.

It turns out that Augustine has chosen to take God on a tour of her inner world. But, while we might want to pretend otherwise, God is already well acquainted with our inner world. Thomas Cramner's prayer sums it up: "God unto whom all hearts are open and from whom no secrets are hid."

But God is polite. God acts as if Augustine's inner world is new to him. He's even playful: they begin their journey by entering Augustine's eye, and he says, "Entering the 'I' through the eye. That's good."

Augustine's image of her inner world looks pretty familiar to me, and I bet it resembles yours as well. The control center is in the head, which Augustine perceives to be a chaotic dump. "If you think this is chaos, you should see the real thing," says God.

The next room is filled with Augustine's future plans. "This is what I'll have," she says, "when I've done all that's necessary." The room is filled with grand schemes for world peace and the meaning of life. I'm very familiar with these ego dreams. God makes a very telling comment: "So this is what they call a virtual reality."

This is the second hint, after the I/eye pun, that there's something else going on with this journey.

The next room displays the objects that control Augustine's life. It looks very threatening, and God expresses gratitude that he's immune. As we saw yesterday, it doesn't take much for our possessions to posses us. And that's what we see in this dark picture.

The next room is the self that Augustine shares with her world, as represented by her blog page. That room is followed by her basement, "things remembered, forgotten, thrown away, hoarded, unfinished," she says, "I'll never get to the bottom of it."

"Tell me about it." says God. Another hint - for isn't she telling God about it already?

The tour ended, Augustine seeks God's approval. Rather than addressing the particulars of what he's been shown, God speaks to the process: "A very interesting fantasy. And you worked very hard on it."

The next sequence (9) is very interesting. The last two panels are silhouettes of their two heads. The comic strip norm in this situation would be for dialogue associated with one character to appear over that character's silhouette. Yet, in this sequence, the words appear over the hearer's silhouette. I think this is another clue.

In the final frame of that sequence God asks where their interviews take place. "I give up. Where?" "Elsewhere!" Not inner, not outer, not upstairs, not downstairs. In other words, exactly that place the Greeks tried to define with all their "omnis". That place which is beyond placeness, whereness, or time.

In seeking to show God her inner self, Augustine has indulged in a classic western dichotomy, that there is a distinction between the inner and outer self. The whole series, in a sense, assumes there is a distinction between us and God. But God does not make that distinction.

If "the possibilities are endless", as the last panel says, then Augustine participates in God's infinite possibilities. We are created in God's image, as the ancient myth has it, and participate in God's creativity. We already have the tools to do "what's necessary" to achieve our dreams of self-actualization and harmonious living.
[Up-dated, 6:55 am, Friday, Nov. 4]
In her comment below, Natalie points out I failed to note the panel on page 9 (linked above), in which God asks which room he lives in. Augustine reluctantly admits that God doesn't live in any of them.

Natalie suggests this means that Augustine hasn't made a space for God in her life. I agree, yet I think another reading is possible.

I think Augustine has been moving toward making a space for God from the first interview. Although God knows us intimately, even the secret fantasies we have about ourselves, he does not force himself into our lives. He waits to be invited.

From day one, when Augustine's primary motive was to generate hits for her blog-site, she has invited God into her life. And God has been the perfect guest. God meets Augustine right where she is. He tries, primarily in gentle ways, to help Augustine see existence as he does.

In the third interview, God says he's looking for collaboration to help actualize love in the world. "What would that involve," asks Augustine. "What have you got to offer," asks God.

Of course, God already knows what Augustine has to offer. But the offer is meaningless unless made freely, without coercion. In sharing these interviews, Augustine shares a rare and special gift, and begins her collaboration with God.

I love the comments for the series. One person said it seemed like God had bedroom eyes. Indeed, a case could be made that this whole series is God seducing Augustine. As she becomes more comfortable with him, she shares a little more of herself.

And this latest installment is the most intimate to date: sharing of her inner self (as she perceives it). God doesn't come out and say she needs to make room for him - he lets her realize it on her own. This is the only way she can begin to clear out the clutter.

Given time, she might clear a space in that command center ("You know me," says God, "I always want to be in charge"). This is where the most effective collaboration can begin.

Auxillery Blog

I have started a blog in TypePad, mostly as an experiment. TypePad is offering a free 30-day trial, so I thought "What the heck".

I started the blog primarily to try out their software. This was in order to provide some tech support to Alexandria. All this is explained, in somewhat more detail, in the Welcome message I posted on Tuesday.

I sincerely doubt that I will have the energy to maintain two blogs for any period of time. And I have no intention of paying for a service I currently enjoy without charge from Blogger. So "Practicing Patience" will only exist for the 30-day trial period.

And, on the theory that focus will make a difference, that blog will be solely devoted to my artistic efforts (there are three images posted there now). "Love During Wartime" will be focused on my remaining interests, primarily politics, poetry, and religion - though not necessarily in that order.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Speaking of Jonah....

My church recently completed its Stewardship Campaign. This is the time of year when people tell the church how much money they plan to give the church during the following year. Each year, the church’s finance committee tries something new. This year, the committee sent a little booklet with a story loosely based on the Jonah story. It was written and illustrated by Meredith, who is married to the Associate:
God said to Jonah, "Go this way"

But Jonah went that way, with all his stuff.

Jonah's stuff soon sunk his boat.
Jonah's soul sank. His life was stufficating.

Jonah found himself surrounded by Sell Fish.
They consumed his stuff faster
than he could pay it off.

Feeding on Jonah's stuff,
the Sell Fish grew so big
that one swallowed Jonah.

But God saved Jonah
and brought him to [our church].

And Jonah sailed God's way
with the Spirit.

God's Gifts Are Immense!
(they can't fit into this world)
[Long list of God's gifts, some particular to our community]

How glad I am not be stuck
inside my own little bowl
among the Sell Fish.

I can't give God little pinches
of leftover stuff.

God said to Jonah
"Give this way."
[Chart showing percentiles of salary, from 10K - 200K, and from 2% - 14%, emphasizing the Biblical tithe of 10%]

Be a Stewardship PRO
and give in PROportion
to your blessings
in a real world
with a real GOD
on a real Steward Ship.
Now, since I use Jonah as my nom de blog, this naturally caught my eye. Additionally, it got me to thinking of my understanding of the original story.

I started calling myself Jonah because I often feel like I'm living in the "belly of the beast". The beast, in this instance, is American consumer culture. Which makes my usage very similar to Meredith's re-telling.

But the Biblical Jonah's time in the "great fish" is something different. I've told the story before, but I'm happy to re-tell it yet again.

The Book of Jonah is included with the minor prophets, but it begins much as the Book of Job does: "Now, there was a man..." Both books might as well begin "Once upon a time."

The Lord tells Jonah to prophesy to Nineveh, whose wickness is well known. Jonah agrees that the Ninevites are pretty bad folk, but he knows that if they repent, the Lord will spare them. The Lord is just kind-hearted that way.

And he doesn't want the Lord to spare Nineveh. He'd rather see it fry. So, he catches the first boat going the opposite direction.

The Lord isn't going to let him off that easy, and sends a mighty storm to delay the boats. Before long, the captain and crew make the connection between the dour prophet and the storm, and throw the prophet overboard.

In the normal course of things, Jonah would have drowned. But the Lord sends a "great fish", which swallows Jonah. Jonah sucks it up and prays to the Lord, and ultimately agrees to go prophesy to Nineveh.

He gives them the full fire and brimstone treatment, like Billy Graham in his glory days. And sure enough, we're told the ruler of the kingdom rends his robe, and puts on sack cloth and ashes. In those days, if the ruler did it, the remainder of the kingdom followed.

And sure enough, the Lord spares Ninevah - just as Jonah expected. Jonah pretty pissed, because he was really looking forward to witnessing some hard-core smiting. So, he goes off and sulks under a tamarask tree.

Initially, it's comfortable under that tree. It's nice and shady. But then the sun comes out and dries up the fruit that has been providing the shade. So now Jonah hot and sulking.

The Lord asks Jonah why he mourns for the tree. "After all, you didn't have anything to do with creating it. Yet, you chide me for sparing Nineveh, which I did create."

The great fish in the original story plays, at worst, a neutral role. It is far from negative, for if the fish had not swallowed Jonah, the prophet would have drowned. One could argue the fish plays a very positive role, in fact.

Maybe there's more to Stewardship, just like there was more to that fish. Maybe Stewardship is more than money.

Now, I understand some emphasis must be given to money. The gas and electric companies aren't going to donate their services to the church. Roofers won't fix the roof for free. Additionally, like many Episcopal Churches, our church currently has a deficit. So - as long as we live in an economy which uses money as a vehicle of trade, the church will need money.

But people have much more to give the church than just their money. They have time and talent, as well as treasure, to share. Most people in the church offer their time and talent without any hope of recognition. Yet, the church needs to know its potential volunteer base as much as it needs to know how much money will be available.

By asking people to make commitment of time and talent, as well as treasure, the church honors those gifts equally. The current system implies that the church honors our money alone.

Idée d'jour

Zen does not teach, it points.
— D.T. Suzuki (Zen Calendar, Workman Press, ©2005)