In my daily work, the majority of my colleagues are older than me, some by decades. Some of them have been working here since I was in diapers.
Yet, of course I am expected to behave at the same level of maturity that they do. It is sometimes fascinating to me, and sometimes disturbing, when someone with silver hair who could be my grandmother, comes into my office to ask me a question with full confidence that I will know the answer.
It's not just a workplace thing. Now that I am legally a grown-up -- and have been for some time -- it's as if I have joined a club, all of whose members, whether they are 25, 55 or 85, expect certain standards of each other and even pretend to the fiction that we are at something of the same level of general competence or mental acuity.
But looking back over the months and years of my life, I cringe at things I did six months ago, as well as six years ago. There are times when my brain could not comprehend something, or I acted a certain way -- and yet, just a short time later, the light clicked on and I recognized that I have matured just a little bit more since then.
The process, I think, will proceed at its own pace, no matter how much I might wish to kick it into overdrive. I might flatter myself to think that I am quite mature for my age -- but check back with me in a few months and the me that is then will disagree mightily with the verdict of the me that is now.
Wednesday, May 30, 2007
In my daily work, the majority of my colleagues are older than me, some by decades. Some of them have been working here since I was in diapers.
A friend recently bought me a DVD of the late C.S. Lewis' "Chronicles of Narnia.'
It's not the type of movie I would have sought out on my own. But I watched it, mostly to humor them.
It's very much a Christian allegory -- which allegory, except for the final sacrifice of the Lion, probably passed right over the heads of most of the general public.
The movie did inspire me to pull "Surprised by Joy," off my bookshelf and blow the dust off it for a read. That's Lewis' autobiography.
You see, his life story intrigues me. Here is a very smart, very well-educated man, who passes from naive childhood belief, to complete atheism, then reasons his way back to faith.
More than ever now, with great doubts gnawing at me, I want to know HOW that happened. How did a man, a smart man, a logical, reasonable man, whose faith was shattered on the shoals of scholarship, as happens to so many, rebuild his vessel and sail on, which happens to very few.
Tuesday, May 29, 2007
Friday, May 25, 2007
So I was watching some useless, gratuitous, voyeuristic tv last night ...
... A show of the footage from a surveillance camera at some pizza place.
This creature comes in the place, not worthy to be called a woman, and cuts to the front of the line. Some dude in that unfortunate line is yakking on his cell phone and mentions the line-cutter to whoever was on the other end of his phone.
The creature goes berserk. He ignores it. That makes it madder so it spits at the cashier and goes outside and returns with The Boyfriend From Hell. TBFH is a 300 pound ex con, looks like two NFL linebackers glued together. TBFH then proceeds to pound the crap out of Cell Phone Guy, who put away his phone and paid attention a little too late. Everybody else in the pizza shop just stands and watches TBFH unload on him until the cops show up. Sickening, crunching sounds are heard meanwhile, as bones shatter and Cell Phone Guy is reshaped into a bloody mannequin.
TBFH gets four more years in the slammer. The creature gets probation.
Any lessons to be learned?
To Cell Phone Guy: Assume all creatures such as that, no matter how skanky and repulsive, probably have a boyfriend, a large, unpleasant boyfriend. Don't assume that your fellow humans will stand up for you. However, if you do find yourself being mauled by such a beast, try not to die, so that you can sue the bastard later.
To BFH: Don't date Creature or anyone like it, unless you really want to end up back in the slammer again. Big and buff as you are, you can probably afford to be a little more choosey.
To Pathetic Spectators: You'd better hope that if you ever end up in the shoes of Cell Phone Guy, you're not in the company of other people like you.
To Creature: Didn't your mother ever teach you ANYTHING at all about what it means to be a lady?
To Me: You just wasted a half hour of your life that you will never get back.
Thursday, May 24, 2007
A hundred years ago or so, you could laugh at anyone or anything -- a Jewish person, an African-American, a "dwarf," an epileptic, etc.
Yes, we know that wasn't good. Not good at all. Hurtful, hateful and wrong.
Today, however, we have gone so far overboard, we have become so hypersensitive, that I'm afraid some trendy locale will soon pass a law against laughing about anything at all.
I was having a discussion on a certain webgroup the other day about a certain religious holiday. I was asked whether I was relying upon a secular calendar or one provided by Religion XYZ.
Trying to lighten the situation, I noted that my calendar was a secular production and that it featured a nice picture of a tropical frog. Frogs, I stated, are not kosher but they are also non-denominational.
Obviously, it was a joke. An attempt at breaking tension. At least, I thought the joke was obvious. But I was promptly taken to task on the specifics of kosher, etc., etc., by someone so obviously humor-impaired as to probably have cobwebs wrapped around his/her smile.
People like that win no friends for their viewpoints. And they certainly can't be any fun to be around.
Wednesday, May 23, 2007
"Show not a Phoenician the desert, nor a Bedouin the sea, for their ways are different."
So goes an ancient proverb, contrasting a people who thrived in the perils of the sea with a people who thrived in the perils of the desert.
My lunchtime commute was graced with an old song by Little River Band, kind of a boring melody but the words are poignant. The singer longs to be alone again, sailing on "the bright, clear water."
Me, sailing alone on the bright, clear water -- I'd be freaked out, wondering what beasts lurked beneath me in the blue waiting for my craft to capsize.
To some men (and women), happiness is clinging to the side of some lofty mountain, with only a petard to prevent their grisly death. Others thrive in the throng of a busy city, weaving their way through homicidal traffic.
One man's pleasure is another man's terror.
Every job is like a bottle of wine.
Some are bad from the start. Some have merit when you first pop the cork.
But all of them -- no matter the label, the price or the savor of the first taste -- turn to vinegar eventually.
Everyone who is not independently wealthy or born with a silver spoon, will eventually find himself gagging on acetic acid, whether his or her daily bread be earned in a factory, a florist shop or the helm of a cruise ship.
Tuesday, May 22, 2007
How do you read?
Is a book to you the paper-and-ink equivalent of a glass of wine -- drunk down, enjoyed briefly and then forgotten?
Over the last few years, I've established a routine for myself that probably betrays a lack of sanity on my part. I keep a notebook at hand and as I read this book or that, I scribble down details, pithy quotes, etc.
But just as there's something sad about the professional biologist who counts petals, sepals and stamens, who assidiously notes pubescence, leaf structure and growth habit -- and finds himself unable to simply enjoy the flower the way any innocent child would ...
... So I recognize now the problem in my reading plan.
It's great to have notes at hand, to be able to remind myself of plot lines and witticisms, to have actual evidence of having read a certain book. No more do I shut a book at the end of a long read and realize that I remember only the vaguest details of my journey through it.
But great literature is also meant to be savored. Great writers have a flow to their sentences, a rhythm to their chapters. And each time that I stop to scribble a note, it's as if I'm putting the orchestra on hold in the middle of a performance in order to note that b-sharp predominated in this movement, followed by an aria.
Last night, I read Book Two of Ovid's "Art of Love." I resisted interrupting myself and coasted along on the sheer poetry. I therefore have no notes on these passages and can tell the world and myself only that I enjoyed them.
Monday, May 21, 2007
I am one of those people who struggle mightily in this area.
Religion has been too important, to too many people, for too long, to simply cast aside without evaluation.
But I confront the same questions as people have for centuries: If God, why this, why that?
I simply do not believe in any way in some subterranean fire-pit where souls who never got the chance to recite some credo or get dunked in a pond somewhere, are roasting for eternity. If there is a God, and a beyond, then He judges by character, not denomination. Sure, if there is a God, then chaos and confusion and contradiction, must end and there must be one divine truth -- basic logic supports that -- but this God would be big enough, in such an afterlife, to correct our errors in perception, not damn us for them.
I can't let go the feeling that there is something behind it all, something to this Divine Creator thing.
I am fascinated by science and all that it has taught us, and the mysteries that it has yet to resolve. But science cannot give life meaning.
If there is no God somewhere, no Divine Plan, no life beyond the grave, then life itself is absolutely meaningless. Bach is gone forever, and Einstein, Jenny Lind, Plato, Mother Theresa and Lucretius -- everything beautiful and wonderful that has ever existed in the past.
And eventually, unless we escape to some other globe in another galaxy, our Earth will be sucked into the sun and every living thing upon it will vaporize. Into absolute oblivion will go the chambered nautilus, the Taj Mahal, the redwoods of California and the poetry of Emily Dickenson.
And that, to me, is a horror beyond calculation.
Friday, May 18, 2007
Across this big blue globe of ours, more than 200 countries exist, from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe. Within many of these countries are also found smaller, but important subgroups, from the Pamunkey Indians of Virginia to the Kurds of Iraq.
Each of these countries, and the subgroups within, have a unique culture -- their own cuisine, music, language, and often, religion or world outlook.
Every intelligent human being should find this deeply fascinating and should long to experience as much of it as is practicably possible in his or her life.
I have been blessed to live in Hungary and England for a few years, as well as a handful of US states, and to visit briefly Canada and Panama. I hope to see more of the world before I die.
Many years ago, I started collecting articles and news clippings about each of the aforementioned countries of the world, with a dream of studying each one, alphabetically, a month at a time. My plan was to learn a few words in the predominate language, make a traditional dinner, learn the basic facts and make a native friend. I have not kept up with this project, have started and faltered each time.
Perhaps this blog can be a way of injecting new life into this scheme.
So I declare May 2007 my new starting point. I will study Afghanistan, the first country in the world at least according to the English alphabet. I will share what I learn with you and I hope that you will chime in and assist me.
I've begun by browsing waheed's blog, http://afghanwarrior.blogspot.com/. This is not some Westerner's viewpoint on Afghanistan. He's a native, sharing his own thoughts about life in that country.
More to come later ...
First you teach your child that the world is bound together by rules.
"Don't punch your brother. Don't gouge the eyeballs out of the cat. Say "thank you" when Grandma gives you a sweater knitted with yarn of such a vile hue as to make you sick to your stomach. And don't wipe your nasal mucus on the walls. "
Then the well-meaning parent/authority figure throws a curve ball that no child-brain can hope to catch. When others break the rules, don't come running to tell me. Don't tattle. Except for certain ocassions that you'll just have to figure out on your own.
I don't envy children. I picture them seething with righteous indignation as Suzie cheats on a test, weighing whether they will get in more trouble by "ratting" on her to the teacher or by pretending not to notice the crime, which is of course also a punishable offence if their complicity is determined.
I was not a stupid child. A smart-aleck, sure, but even as a seven-year-old, I learned there were ways to get around the above dillema. So, for example, my cousins and I had been drafted to pick stones out of their parent's newly cleared lawn, which was next to some tempting blackberry bushes. My cousins soon tired of rock-picking and sneaked off to sample berries. My brilliant plan, and I think it worked, was to calmly walk up to the house and inform Aunt C. that I had picked up my quota of rocks and could I have a drink or something. Aunt C. would be able to see my errant cousins behind me in the act of not picking rocks, without my saying a word.
Cousins were seen swiftly sprinting back to their neglected duties as the door opened.
I think the keys that every child should know are these: Never gloat or whine in making your report. Make it matter-of-fact or even sad, as if you are reluctantly discharging your duty as a citizen of Earth. Be judicious in your reporting, basing your decision on whether expensive items are about to be broken or life is at stake. Make no reports of your brother sticking out his tongue at you, because nobody besides you cares about that.
Remember that most noteworthy offenses committed by small people such as yourself, will be discovered by your parents eventually, along with the perpetrator, without your having to say a word. And then you can gloat, all to yourself of course, as the boom of punishment is lowered upon the errant sibling, and sail on, scot-free, in the good graces of all.
Last month, some well-meaning soul sent me an email urging me not to buy gas on May 15 to punish the oil companies.
Sadly, their effort apparently bore no fruit, as I heard of no bankruptcy proceedings for any major oil companies the next day.
Now, the latest missive is to boycott Exxon indefinitely. Nice try, once again. Won't work. America (the U.S.) is too diverse a nation these days for that, which is good in many ways, bad in others. In other words, there is no godlike figure who can stand up anymore and command the devoted loyalty of virtually the entire nation. No Martin Luther King Jr., no Cesar Chavez, no John F. Kennedy, etc. If the Messiah Himself appeared in Central Park tomorrow and told the nation to stay home next Thursday, millions of people would still be found out playing golf on that day, oblivious, clueless or obstinate.
Here are a few things to consider if you are currently seething with hatred for oil companies:
How big is your car? If you are driving an SUV or some massive pickup that carries around nothing heavier than your butt and a few leaves that drifted into the back of it, then please go away, go far, far away, because your complaining only makes you look stupider.
How heavy are the taxes on gas in your area? And did you vote for the politicians who support/imposed them, who are now crying crocodile tears about high gas prices? Again, go away, you bother me.
Are you aware that stats show that despite our whining, Americans are buying more gas than they were two years ago?
Are you aware that millions of people in China who used to ride bicycles in the post-Mao days, now drive cars? And that their cars run on gasoline, just as ours do? And that they have just as much a right to drive cars as we do? And that until we finally, as a planet, overcome our gas addiction, the laws of supply and demand dictate that all those new gas tanks will keep the price of the stuff ever higher? And that no internet campaign, no angry boycott, will change any of that?
Thursday, May 17, 2007
After reading a delightful article recently about the author's perceived lack of personal gluteal protuberance (translated, she thinks she has no butt), I am thinking about all the synonyms associated with said rear region and how verbally unsatisfying they seem to be.
I must confess, I don't much care how one refers to the male human backside. Being a hetero human male, my hard-wired, evolved-ape interests naturally include the female human backside, which deserves its own proper and attractive terminology.
Specifically, there is no sweet, soft, gentle word for this important secondary sexual characteristic. Topside, she has breasts -- a lovely, romantic word, IMHO, a lot better than the stupid and infantile slang of "boobies" or the grotesque t-word, which is suitable for dairy cows, not Ladies. May my tongue be ripped out of my head and fried on a hot rock if ever I lower myself to such verbal ugliness.
But under and yon, what options are there? Butt is short for buttocks, which just sounds ugly and clinical. Ass is just crude and no synonym for a stubborn, hairy beast of burden belongs on a woman's body. Only fitness freaks talk about buns anymore. Derriere is as close to a lovely lilt as we seem to have available, but it still sounds like some foreign car or an old-fashioned dueling weapon to me. Hips are for grandmothers. Fanny, behind, rear end, hiney, backside -- all these fail to satisfy. And "Where the Good Lord split you" should never have escaped the Tennessee hills.
Tsukas or whatever they say in Yiddish, sounds like a disease. Nalgas may work in Spanish but to my English ear, it sounds like a relative of nopalitos, which are canned cactus slices.
As a lover of words and of Womankind, too, I find this deficit disturbing. Whatever shall we do?
Perhaps I don't know what I'm talking about.
Perhaps I have destroyed my taste buds with years of seeking out the hottest hot sauces I can put on my food.
But I cannot taste a difference between the H2O that cometh forth from my kitchen faucet and the stuff for which people pay a buck and a half (dollar and a half) or so in a plastic bottle.
I have snickered at this modern phenom for years. Granted, there are parts of the world where you'd better sip your water from a bottle unless you fancy cholera. But not my part of the world. Here it's just a successful scheme to snare trend-slaves and suckers.
Then again, every bottle of water someone imbibes is that much less Coke or other syrupy slop they're ingesting, so maybe the craze isn't so bad after all.
Now cometh the newest trend in bottled water: flavored water. P.T. Barnum is surely laughing in his grave. Isn't any drink, from wine to cow's milk, just flavored water?
Wednesday, May 16, 2007
The US East Coast -- though one of the most ecologically plundered, overpaved and congested pieces of the planet -- is home to a number of creatures which have adapted to mankind and even thrived, in some cases.
Individually, their state appears sad -- the squirrel crushed on a quiet neighborhood street by some idiot who one would hope pays more attention when children are in the roadway; the bird killed by an overfed house cat wandering outside at the behest of an ignorant owner; the deer crumpled by the side of the highway.
But collectively, such species are doing well, even if others such as martins/fishers and porcupines have long since fled from the noise and filth of man and face an uncertain future.
A very large groundhog/woodchuck has made its home beneath my shed and created a conundrum. If I only grew grass in my yard, like some unimaginative or yard-phobic souls, I would welcome him, along with the squirrels, toads, various birds, bees, moles, rabbits and chipmunks who come and go through the seasons.
But you see, I grow a garden. And it is one of the great ironies of the universe that the peaceful, tie-dyed, post-hippie gardener carrying home baskets of bounty for his/her family is a myth. Every shovelful of dirt you turn slaughters a dozen earthworms. Hornworms, asparagus beetles, potato bugs and other insects will find their preferred plant if you try to grow it, and if you ignore them like a nice little nature lover, you will harvest very little if anything at all. You can spray poison, which is stupid; or you can hunt down them and squish or stomp them, but you have to do something. Over and over again until your karma goose is surely cooked.
And then, there are the bigger freeloaders. Like my groundhog/woodchuck. I could tolerate his nibbling if mere nibbling was all he did. But the guy shuffles into my garden and grabs plants with both paws and chows down like a linebacker at an all-you-can-eat buffet.
I'm not going to poison, trap or shoot.
I may buy some of that fox-pee crystal stuff they advertise, which supposedly scares the pooh pellets out of Chuckie the way that unemployment or death by razor slashes scares me.
Ah, Chuckie, your innocent greed makes a lie of my ecological pretensions.
Tuesday, May 15, 2007
She was tall, lithe and beautiful, with dark hair cascading down her back. She wore a long skirt and glossy pumps – the epitome of elegance, so rare in today’s sweatpants and sneakers world.
She stepped out into the warm, humid East Coast night, walking lightly, gracefully.
I had been heading back inside, knowing that I would pay the price for lingering out here with pollen rampant in the air. But the sight of her stopped me immediately. Allergies be damned!
She was a dance teacher – I recognized her from the first half of the program, a nightmarishly long children’s dance recital which I had consented to attend for the sake of a young participant in my family.
She lit a long white cigarette and exhaled into the breeze. Just three intense drags, then she stepped off the sidewalk and dropped the partially smoked cigarette into the dust and stepped on it. Firmly. Decisively. No ember would survive the determined press of her dancer’s sole. Again, a gesture from days of yore – today, smokers are almost 100 percent “flickers” in an everlasting hurry. Perhaps to escape the health freaks who are omnipresent and condemnatory anytime a telltale wisp of smoke is seen anywhere.
I wondered if she did thus simply because the recital was being held at a high school, where the sight of burning butts upon the sidewalk might have brought opprobrium upon the dance group. I hope not.
She danced beautifully, when her turn came on stage, in between the cute but awkward performances of the children.
I saw no antismoke bigots that night, the kind of people that have cropped up like crabgrass in this new century, who like to go around giving smokers dirty looks or even telling them – perfect strangers -- to quit. I saw no one deprecating this dancer for her indulgence.
And I’m glad. Truth be told, a woman who keeps her body in the state of fitness required to be a dancer, and who loves the genre enough to teach it to children, and a woman who takes pleasure in the simple art of dressing up now and then, will surely live longer and better than the majority of the unpleasant, boorish busybodies who point fingers at her smoking but haven’t gotten a moment of exercise since they sat on a swing in second grade, and who couldn’t tell a dress from a dirigible.
This is just bizzare:
Is there an actual term for buzzard-a-phobia? Or for the fear of being buried in order to assist forensic scientists, rather than merely nourishing the daisies above? Does my consent to being an organ donor (and yes, I have given such consent -- I'm not some fear-wracked, conspiracy theory idiot) translate to consent for my placement at such a site?
Ever since I moved into my little house on the edge of a dry hickory-oak-beech forest, in the Eastern U.S. , I have had a strange craving.
To atone for the damage to the planet that some developer caused long ago when the place was built, I have gradually added plants and trees that can help to sustain the local wildlife.
But I recognize that food and shelter are just two of the components of animal happiness. They also need water. And until I provide water, critters will just pass on through.
I have dreamed up various schemes to provide water, including running a siphon hose from the creek far down the slope. Lack of funding has generally prevented any such plan from completion.
But about a hundred feet into the woods, on a steep slope, a very shallow spring runs, dribbling forth from a bank of earth and draining down into the creek below. Obviously, the water that feeds the spring has to come from somewhere higher up.
I wonder if it would be possible to dig around the seep spot, gradually working my way back and maybe even find the source running somewhere under my backyard, which is not far away to the north. I have my suspicions, after all, that the aforementioned developer of my neighborhood simply filled in, covered over, a few natural springs and gullies, when he made his money raping Mother Nature. In those days, some 40 years ago, there were no rules against doing that sort of thing. (There are rules now, but of course, with enough money and a good lawyer, you can still do anything you want.)
It just seems unnatural that all our back yards on this street are smooth as the top of a cake, but immediately as you leave them and walk into the woods, springs burst forth and gullies run deep.
Monday, May 14, 2007
I encountered a plant yesterday that did blow my mind, in a small sort of way.
Perhaps I have a small mind, therefore one easily blown.
I have wandered the few surviving woodlands of this state for years, and I have seen many things. But I have never, until yesterday, met in person the strange little plant called Jack-in-the-pulpit. And, ironically, it was growing in a fragment of woods in the middle of a subdivision.
Jack is in the arum family, a group of plant kin that feature a spathe and spadix , basically a fleshy flower spike and a flimsy little cover for it. You probably have an arum in your office, one of those peace lily things. He gets his name because some creative soul thought that the spathe and spadix combo looked like a tiny preacher a-preachin' in his pulpit.
Arums, like so many plants, are also planty chemical factories. Their specialty is oxalic acid, or rather calcium oxalate. They make tiny, needle-sharp crystals out of it that are peppery and poisonous to eat. Cooking destroys the needles, which is why Hawaiians can enjoy their "poi" paste, made from taro, an arum. And why the Native Americans in my region used to eat Jack, which is therefore also called Indian turnip.
Being the information freak that I am, I looked up the chemical composition of oxalic acid, from whence comes the oxalate. It's three elements: carbon, oxygen and hydrogen. I suppose, and I may be wrong, since I'm no chemical expert, that the combination of the metal calcium with the oxalic acid, technically creates a salt.
Which once again fascinates the hell out of me. I mean, here you have four of the basic building blocks of life. In one form, they contribute to the structure of a bologna sandwich or Kate Moss. In another form, reassembled, they are downright poisonous.
It's as if a child could use the same building blocks to create a pink unicorn or a hand grenade.
Monday, May 7, 2007
1. What exactly is it about the combination of a tongue and larynx, that enables the wonder of human speech?
A bird, without benefit of larynx, can mimic basic human vocalizations.
But neither a bird nor a man can do it without the aid of that soppy thing we call a tongue -- a simplistic-looking strip of flesh that obviously is anything but simplistic. How does the bending and twisting and curling of a tongue alter air patterns to form a, b, c, etc.?
2. What is it within a substance that causes the different reflective waves that we register as varying colors? Why is it that coal reflects a different wave length than a cup of milk?
3. Is it possible to set forth a better pattern for society -- one not motivated by materialism and the plundering of our planet -- yet one that also respects liberty and doesn't crush the human spirit? Or are we doomed to a combined human hell of more pavement, more pollution and more Orwellian tyrannies anchored more firmly by technology?
4. What exactly happens in the brain of someone who commits a heinous crime? Could it be scientifically analyzed, pinpointed, even predicted? What then?
Wednesday, May 2, 2007
Suppose I answered a knock on my door one day.
Upon opening it, I beheld: A) A kindly-looking bearded gentleman, a sort of grampa with a glow. B) A terrifying creature with multiple heads, dripping blood from its mouths and roaring like the bonfires of hell. Or C) Absolutely nothing at all.
I now heard a voice: "Worship me!"
And I answered, "Why?"
And the voice said either: A) Because the [insert Holy Book here] tells you to, B) I will blast your crops and bring the world to a horrific end, or C) You figure it out.
I waited, puzzled. "I am all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving," the voice said. "I created you."
"My neighbors have talked about you," I answer. "Some see little evidence of your power, your knowledge or your love. And my parents created me, or so they say, yet they don't demand worship. And what of this eternal punishment scheme? What kind of parent does that to a child?"
The grandfather figure says that people should have more faith. The monster god flies into a rage, proclaiming his power and sending other people to slay me. (How ironic). The invisible prime mover says nothing.
Rose up Ovid,
on their wedding night.
No poison vial
or steel-tipped spear:
Lovely Latin lyrics
into her ear.
Every so often, I hear that lovely oldie by Stevie Nicks, "Leather and Lace."
Great piece of music and poignant lyrics.
She says: "I have my own life and I am stronger than you know."
Every time I hear that, I silently thank her for that reminder. I need to be reminded.
How often, in our natural selfishness and even in the throes of love, a man forgets that very important truth about a woman. She's not just shapely meat or even just his loving companion. She has her own life. She had a life before she met him. She's entitled to a life of her own -- independent thoughts, independent dreams -- even as she walks beside him in love.