Tuesday, January 31, 2006
I'll also creep a bit closer to my BA in French with Contemporary Literature WW2-present. I was registered for a French media class, but saw the books for this one (Perec, Camus, Beckett) and just had to do it. Dr. S. is showing Le Chagrin et La Pitie in its entirety--a nice trick that to start off the semester without having to lecture. I think I'm only 6 credits shy of that second BA--perhaps I'll finish it this summer or in the Fall, and start another. Spanish? Psychology? Why not something useful like Philosophy or Comparative Religion? Hell, it's free as long as I work at the Liberry.
I can still go to College Park in the Fall--I deferred my entrance into their graduate lit program because they only offer classes when I have to be at work. Perhaps they'll have Friday classes, or at least a morning class or two next time around. But a PhD in Literature becomes less appealing each time I contemplate it.
Aw, working tonight I'll miss the Big Bush Speech. My paraphrase: "Freedom, blah blah, Terrorists, blah blah, Culture of Life, blah blah, Taxes, blah blah, Strong Economy, blah blah, 9/11, blah blah, nukelear, blah."
Monday, January 30, 2006
Dude has a hot but tremendously skinny Parisian wife and a good job. He's got a toddling daughter and another baby on the way. He rides the Metro and checks out chicks, he looks at chicks on the sidewalk, he looks at chicks at restaurants.
But he's not your typical wolf--he's never betrayed Helene, and doesn't plan to--and his musings about the beautiful Parisiennes in microminis tend toward the philosophical more than the erotic: "What is she doing? How is her life different from mine? Had I met her three years ago, what would have happened?" Dude is restless, but he has some standards and tries to live up to them.
Then Chloe--girlfriend of a former friend who tried to kill himself when she left--shows up one day after a mysterious six-year absence. She's skinny like his wife, but is more dangerous, and knows how to tempt him. She announces she's out to seduce Dude and he's like "fuck off," but when she plays hard to get he's all like "fuck, man, maybe I should do it." They hang out together in the afternoons and talk, talk, talk. He comes to rely on her for the deep feminine companionship he's too cowardly to get from the Mrs. They snog a bit, and Chloe shows off her ass, and...
Will he or won't he? For a French film, the answer was surprising (sorry if that's a spoiler). I liked it ok. All the chicks of course get naked, even the Brit au pair.
Saturday we went to a birthday party for Damnyelli and Earthdragon--that in itself is not weird or strange, but a Mid-Atlantic birthday party in January where half the crowd hangs out in the backyard all day in shortsleeves? Playing Frisbee? WTF--it's been over 60 degrees for a third of January, and over 50 the rest of the month. I'm not complaining (even though I love winter) because we have an oil furnace, and last year we paid more than $500 a month--so far this year I've paid only $480, for Nov/Dec/Jan! And oil is more than twice as expensive this year.
Flea and J357 brought Eve by for a while. She's a hoot with her toddler cellphone shenanigans and her sudden bursts of the crawlies. I got to dawdle little Sion on my knee for a half hour--I bounced him through a couple creamy projectile spit-ups and into a sort of coma before Damnyelli took him away. He's adorable, and not too stinky. For some reason I was arguing about tennis with King Raj and The Sandstress--I haven't watched tennis since like 1995. I think the discussion of Graf vs. Seles put him to sleep more than the bouncing.
10 beers and half a bottle of pinot make me wanna argue about anything.
At the party there were lesbians switching teams and I got kissed on the mouth by an Iraq War vet just off the plane from Kuwait--literally just off the plane. "I don't know who you are," he said, holding my cheeks in hands that recently were pointing a 50 cal mounted atop an armored vehicle. "But I love you." Then Cha announced that she wanted to be bi, and Thundergod was complimented on his zesty bangers. It became time to go home. We had a message from Julio and Yo! Adrienne asking if karaoke was a possibility, but we didn't play it until Sunday am.
Sunday, January 29, 2006
When I mentioned the basic theme of McKenna's book to Silenus (that hallucinogenic plants were vitally important in the evolution of consciousness, and that we should all start tripping again to get back in balance with Nature), his response was: "That sounds like something you'd think while stoned; it sounds really logical and interesting until you revisit it sober the next day." An apt description on the surface, but McKenna is more serious, and his arguments more substantial, then say my friend Brett the Hermeneuticist of Snack Foods, who, while fingering Doritos with orange-coated digits under the influence of hashish, proclaimed his discovery that there was a Braille-like "bubble language" on the triangular chips encoding the 9,000,000 names of God. McKenna is more rational than our dear Champollion of Frito-Lay esotericism, and even if parts of his book contain suspect speculative leaps, his case is not insubstantial, and is, at the very least, enjoyable. The discussion of the loss of the Feminine in religious ceremony complements nicely similar arguments made by Carl Jung, and his presentation of cultures like the Tassili and Catal Huyuk and their potential dissemination of a mushroom cult down through the Middle East and to Crete is great fun. I particuarly enjoyed McKenna's plea for a saner drug policy in the West, with its anecdotes about booze and caffeine and the reasons these drugs gain acceptance over others.
Shelve with Joe Campbell, Robert Graves , John Zerzan, and dear old Huxley.
Meanwhile, I've continued my own experiments with ego-dissolving plants of disparate usefulness, like blue lotus, white lotus, and Kona-kava, all of which keep my pituitary chakra ramped with only mild euphoric and introspective effects and no intoxication. The mint still astonishes--I've backed down from the 15X and 20X extracts because there's too powerful an erasure. The 6X turned me into a whirling vortex of naught Friday, disintegrating the universe and re-inventing it as a blue serpent with red wings; I'm more interested in the introspection post-weird-out than the pyrotechnics at my age.
My first Pasolini is a visually stunning and interesting Jesus film that suffers from poor DVD quality. The English dubbing is wretched (the actor reading Jesus' part is as skilled as the narrator of Plan Nine from Outer Space), and there's no way to turn it off and opt for subtitles.
I like the landscapes, the stark black and white, the interesting faces of the Apostles; I dislked the strident show-off Jesus who comes off arrogant and bratty, but that's as much a feature of St. Matthew's gospel as of the performance and direction of this film. Pasolini's soundtrack is curiously effective, moving from Mississippi blues to African chant to classical bits from Bach, but again the sound is uneven and jarring and those awful American voices so out-of-synch with the visuals ruined much of my enjoyment.
As a lefty atheist who likes Jesus movies, I must recommend this only to fans of Italian cinema--the rest of you should watch Gibson's passion or Scorsese's instead.
Thursday, January 26, 2006
Charges: Silently enabling and contributing to the irreversible destruction of your planet. Absolving yourself of your responsibility to do anything about it that your immediate neighbors don't. Assuming that it's normal behavior to spend several hours each day totally inert and staring into a cathode ray tube. Substituting antidepressants for physical motion. Caring more about the personal relationships of people you will never meet than your own. Shrugging your shoulders at the knowledge that your government is populated by criminal liars intent on fooling you into impoverished, helpless submission. Cheering this process on.
Exhibit A: You don't even know who your congressman is.
Sentence: Deathbed realization that your entire life was an unending series of stupid mistakes and wasted opportunities, a priceless gift of potential extravagantly squandered, for which you deserve nothing but scorn or, at best, indifference, and a cold, meaningless demise.
Link via Bookslut
Berman sets his scene briskly in recent history. "We were already in our twilight phase when Ronald Reagan, with all the insight of an ostrich, declared it to be 'morning in America'; twenty-odd years later, under the 'boy emperor' George W. Bush (as Chalmers Johnson refers to him), we have entered the Dark Ages in earnest, pursuing a short-sighted path that can only accelerate our decline. For what we are now seeing are the obvious characteristics of the West after the fall of Rome: the triumph of religion over reason; the atrophy of education and critical thinking; the integration of religion, the state, and the apparatus of torture--a troika that was for Voltaire the central horror of the pre-Enlightenment world; and the political and economic marginalization of our culture.... The British historian Charles Freeman published an extended discussion of the transition that took place during the late Roman empire, the title of which could serve as a capsule summary of our current president: "The Closing of the Western Mind." Mr. Bush, God knows, is no Augustine; but Freeman points to the latter as the epitome of a more general process that was underway in the fourth century: namely, 'the gradual subjection of reason to faith and authority.' This is what we are seeing today, and it is a process that no society can undergo and still remain free. Yet it is a process of which administration officials, along with much of the American population, are aggressively proud." In fact, close observers of this odd presidency note that Bush, like his evangelical base, believes he is on a mission from God and that faith trumps empirical evidence. Berman quotes a senior White House adviser who disdains what he calls the "reality-based" community, to which Berman sensibly responds: "If a nation is unable to perceive reality correctly, and persists in operating on the basis of faith-based delusions, its ability to hold its own in the world is pretty much foreclosed."[Nod to Steven Hart for the link]
For much of the first third of Author, Author! I was a disgruntled fan of Henry James, restless and displeased with what Mr. Lodge had perpetrated using one of my heroes as main character. How could this petty, narrow-minded fusspot-- concerned mostly with his finances even as his sister was dying--bear the tremendously fine consciousness behind The Ambassadors? How could this abysmally selfish and self-centered ass be responsible for The Portrait of a Lady? I found the initial chapter, focusing on James's deathbed delirium, to be touching and finely wrought, but the following chapters were more akin to a Twayne's Authors Series encyclopedia entry: Henry did this, Henry thought this, Henry worried that, Henry wrote a story based on what Constance Fenimore Cooper or George Du Maurier said that day...
Inevitably internal comparisons arose with Colm Toibin's more substantial, more subtle The Master, and these comparisons were not to David Lodge's benefit. I was drawn more to Toibin's interpretation of James, as it mirrored my own. Lodge's James seemed more standard, more in keeping with the view of those un-initiated into the greatness of the Late Phase masterworks.
But as I progressed through Author, Author! I came to appreciate its structure, and Lodge's James changed significantly through the work, the way an actual character in a rich novel should. Where Toibin focused on James's final years and his reminiscences going backwards after the achievement of his highest art, Lodge presents James struggling after initial great success to find his aesthetic; of course James's theatrical misadventure takes center stage (ugh), and Lodge's portrayal of that spectacular failure is crushing. While less gifted friends like Constance Fenimore Cooper and Du Maurier have enormous successes with novels, James has a string of commercial duds, and finds himself unable to sell stories to The Atlantic. Lodge presents Henry as tortured and puzzled by the enormous hit Trilby, and his internal conflict between happiness at his dear friend's success and condemnation of the public taste which appreciates it is handled deftly by Lodge. Only after Alice's death, and Constance's suicide, and the ugly reception of Guy Domville can James develop his later mastery, his exquisite sensitivity, his refinements of form and structure.
Yes, I still think the Toibin novel more significant and refined, but Lodge's is a worthy counterpart. I enjoyed them both. I've yet to read more of either author, and hope to rectify that.
Wednesday, January 25, 2006
A delicious rendering of Mozart's masterwork, with quirky Bergman jokes (the camera occasionally lingers on the audience or on the performers backstage--the actor portraying Sarastro reads Parsifal at Intermission while one of the spirits, a young child, reads Daffy Duck).
Terribly cute and infectious--the tunes invaded my dreams last night. Håkan Hagegård's Papageno is particularly on point! Nowhere near the typical dour arctic cinema to which I've grown accustomed.
Tuesday, January 24, 2006
If you live in B*more, Philly, NY, or one of the other towns these guys hit from time to time--check this shit out. They kick, the alto and tenor sax players are extreme, the trumpeters--fuck ya!--the drummer and bassist are right in there; and Lafayette is ridiculous. Cats in hats was saying "go, my man, go!" to the soloists that Saturday, and the soloists all went. My hair stayed up on my arms and neck for two hours.
Don't know about the albums, but they're available from Amazon:
- During World War II, Americans tried to train blog-sothoth to drop bombs.
- The state nickname of Iowa is 'The blog-sothoth state'.
- Only one child in twenty will be born on the day predicted by blog-sothoth!
- A female ferret will die if it goes into heat and cannot find blog-sothoth.
- Blog-sothoth is the only one of the original Seven Wonders of the World that still survives.
- Bees visit over three million flowers to make a single kilogram of blog-sothoth.
- All of the roles in Shakespeare's plays - including the female roles - were originally played by blog-sothoth.
- Scientists believe that blog-sothoth began billions of years ago as an enormous ball of dust and gas.
- An average beaver can cut down blog-sothoth every year.
- While performing her duties as queen, Cleopatra sometimes dressed up as blog-sothoth.
Typically I avoid these memes like the plague, but #5, #8, and particularly #9* were true, so I had to post it.
Stolen from Pity.
*Blog-Sothoth objects to the term "average beaver"; all beavers are extraordinary!
See it for the technical work alone--this is the most sumptuous film I've seen since In the Mood for Love, to which Tony Takitani certainly owes some debt. But director Jun Ichikawa isn't merely apeing Wong Kar Wai--he's innovating new narrative techniques based on those delicious Hong Kong riffs. Where Wong Kar Wai delighted in rich color, Jun Ichikawa prefers light and shadow and grey scale with texture. Tony Takitani unfurls like a scroll, or perhaps a manga, with near-continuous camera movement right and sometimes down, the way the eyes scan pages of text and images. The music, sound, and particularly the lighting--heavily influenced by Vermeer I'm sure--are remarkable and only rarely is the aesthetic tone out of whack with the action onscreen. A sparse and elegant film, about which I'll say no more; the story and themes are ethereal and any pre-impressions could ruin the overall effect.
And here is Ingmar Bergman's last film, well worth the wait. Many Bergman characters are skilled at verbally vivisecting those closest to them, but none are so dextrous at dissection as Johan (Erland Jossephson), whose acid tongue and terrible insight have not diminished with age. Now in his 80s and fabulously wealthy, Johan awaits the inevitable in a lonely rural villa when ex-wife Marianne (Liv Ullman) drops in for a visit. We saw their ideal situation decay in Scenes form a Marriage, and now we witness the consequences of their actions and choices in the lives of Johan's children and grandchildren. Marianne gets drawn into a family conflict between Johan's son Henrick (from a previous marriage), his daughter Karin, and Johnan himself--who will win? The cold and calculating grandfather with his vengeful maw and controlling schemes? The hapless son with artistic pretentions who lives vicariously through his daughter? The grand-daughter who must decide between wealth and success and abandoning her tormentor and teacher? And behind the action is Anna, Henrick's deceased wife, who haunts the film's characters, and perhaps slams an occasional door.
Will Marianne come to understand what brought her back to Johan's side after 32 years, after all his lies and betrayals?
Watch and find out. I practically idealize Ullman and Jossephson; seeing them in a film is always a pleasure. Seeing them reprise these great roles only amplified that pleasure.
Monday, January 23, 2006
I watched Paul Begala and James Carville on Meet the Press yesterday, dismayed to note how they agreed with Mary Matalin over and over, and how they failed to defend Howard Dean against her loony accusations that he's merely a "helium balloon" and "incompetent." So long as these DLC suits continue pushing marketing over substance, and triangulation over progressivism, the Democratic Party will remain fractured and non-functional. Dean's doing the legwork of rebuilding the Party state-by-state while Begala and Carville are boozing it up with lobbyists and think-tank drones.
I think of Al Gore's and John Kerry's coached 'sincerity' and cringe. You can't practice sincerity, and that's what Begala and Carville seem to think needs to happen for the Democrats to win. Either you're sincere, or you're not. Either the Democrats are in opposition to the Republicans, or they're not--these DLC clowns are basically Nixonian progressives, not Democrats, and I've said it a thousand times: why vote for a mildly conservative party when you can have the real thing? Gore Vidal was correct: "In American there is one conservative party with two wings." But there are signs of hope, mostly amongst the grass roots, where people grow tired of being gamed by the system.
Years ago, as an undergrad (Christ, 19 years ago!), I read The Quiet American and found it supoib; there were no heroes, just moderately or excessively villainous people acting out of self-interest while pretending to work for Higher Purposes, while cynical self-interested people (like the opium-addled Brit narrator) judged them for acting at all. For some reason I rushed out and bought five or six other novels by Greene at that time and left them on the shelves unread. I read one of these--The Power and the Glory--on flights to and from Mexico and enjoyed it immensely. One state in Mexico has outlawed the Church and rounded up all the priests--either they renounce their faith and get married, or they get shot. One priest remains, a deeply flawed man who nonetheless stays put and performs the sacraments where and when he can, despite serious doubts about his motivation. We follow his movements as he flees an informer and a Marxist lieutenant out to arrest him. If you like morally ambiguous characters, Greene is your bag, baby.
Merida is a wonderful town; I could live there, in fact. There are tourists, but it's not too 'touristy.' There are free guitar and singing concerts and performances nightly, the streets have that indescribable energy I enjoy so much, and have found in few cities (Manila is one)--cities where cultures actually mix and produce new exciting art and food. One second you can haggle with an Indian over the purchase of a Zapatista doll, the next with a Mexican over silver rings. The local beers are excellent, the food is scrumptious and various (man, what seafood!), and Ed Bridges was correct in his assessment of Mexican Coke. There are several wonderful plazas with great outdoor cafes and singing birds and fountains. Our hotel, the Mision Merida, was nice. Guidebooks list it as 2.5 stars, but I'd give it 3. Our room was huge with a new bathroom and they have a nice pool and helpful staff.
Watch out, however, for the hustle and bustle, because the 'hustle' part is problematic in Merida--often locals pretending to be helpful are actually employed by stores and restaurants to scam you, and will employ any line to get you inside: "This is my favorite store, and they're closed the rest of the week, so if you like anything buy it today." If you don't shop around you can pay 2, 3, or 5 times the price for a shirt than what you'll pay up the block--remember that what seem to be good prices compared to home are not necessarily good prices locally.
Driving was a snap--and Merida is a great base from which to launch tours. We visited Chichen Itza , Dzitnup, Balankanche, and Ik-kil all on Tuesday, which was perhaps one of our greatest travel days evah. We hit Celestun for the flamingo tour on Wednesday (note--take the tour bayside, immediately across the bridge into town. We got fucked by taking a tour from the beach which costs ten times as much), then caught Oxkintok on the way back. It's a lovely Puuc city barely excavated and almost un-discovered (no tour bus can get there, trust me!). Thursday we did the Ruta Puuc, hitting Uxmal (my favorite city--lots of iguanas and I got to climb the pyramid, and even snuck inside when the guards weren't looking!), Kabah, and Sayil before closing the day in the magnificent caves at Loltun with paintings from 15,000 years ago and fun musical stalagmites. I nearly choked to death driving back to Merida from Loltun (perhaps I displeased Cha'ac Mol) somehow? Cha had some chicherones and I tried one, drank some water, and started coughing, then coughed violently and couldn't stop. A styrofoam-y chunk started to swell in my throat, and quickly I was in a crisis, and an awful sound came out of my throat as I tried to get air. I attempted to drink more water but it simply spilled out of my mouth, so I pulled over, found I couldn't breathe through my nose either, and thought "well, it's a good day to die." Calming myself, I climbed out of the driver seat and nearly was run down by a white pickup truck which honked at me (everything was moving very slowly at this point--I could see every flower and each butterfly and all the glinting bits of quartz in the gravel by the roadside). Cha was trying to hit me on the back and I kept trying to stop her; I knew intuitively that if I panicked I was done for, and that the bit of chip in my throat needed to dissolve before I could move it. Sure enough, after nearly a minute of no oxygen I was able to swallow and then I could get air through. It took ten minutes before I could speak normally and laugh about the entire situation. Friday we drove to Progresso, lounged on the beach for a few hours, had a great seafood lunch and coco frio, then visited Dzibilchaltun on the way back, swimming for an hour in that magnificent cenote
which its strange drop-off from 5 feet deep to 150, and its mysterious curious fish. Saturday we spent shopping for silver and clothing in Merida, and visited the Archeological Museum.
We've been visiting Europe and Asia and ignoring Mexico all this time--what a great place. We'll be back soon.
Sunday, January 22, 2006
At Chichen Itza--pyramid closed to climbers just this week because a Yank tourist fell off and died, dammit.
Again at Chichen Itza.
Until I can scramble together a travelogue, this'll have to do...
And in case you were wondering, being home sucks.
Saturday, January 21, 2006
Soon I´ll fill you in on all the juicy details about Ikkil cenote and Dzibilchulton and Chichen Itza and Uxmal and Kabbah and Sayil and Loltun and Balankanche caves and nearly choking to death on the Ruta Puuc.
Monday, January 16, 2006
Yesterday our flight out of BWI was delayed just long enough (2 hours) for us to miss our flight to Merida, and consequently a day of our vacation has disappeared down the toilet. And it was only a six-day trip to begin with. Continental--who were as helpful as possible after the delay--initially told us we'd have to wait in Houston until a 7:15 pm flight to Merida this evening, but I demanded they check routes through Mexico City and other carriers. So today we're on a flight out of Houston to Mexico City at 7:30, then a flight out of Mexico City to Merida at 12:30, and we should arrive at our hotel around 3pm today instead of 10pm last night.
If there are no more surprises along the way.
Things weren't all bad--out here on airport hotel row was a 24-hour breakfast joint, and on the table was a tabasco and a hot sauce that sent my tastebuds to the Jovian moon Io. Our tired waitress had teardrop and star tats under her eyes. After two disgusting fast food meals in the miserable BWI E terminal it was good to get something more substantial--an egg burrito.
Too bad we arrived in Houston late on a Sunday night and far from anything to do. I've been in this airport three times but have never seen the city.
Sunday, January 15, 2006
At the viewing I spoke to a third cousin whose daughter is doing genealogical research. We're distantly related to Thomas Jefferson, and although I'd heard we were descended from Bitish knights I'd not heard about the French blue-blood connections. An English monarch in our line was named Bluetooth, he told me, but I found out today by Googling that Bluetooth was in fact a Danish king, and his son briefly ruled England but was never crowned. And I was hoping for an inheritance.
We retired after the graveside ceremony to the Fairfield Volunteer Fire Co and had a luncheon for the family. Sis's in-laws (who are also friends of the family going way back) were extremely helpful, and the day was a huge success.
Saturday night Lady T and Stewie and Yahtzee came over for the Risk rematch, and Lady T and I had one thing in mind: Kill Yahtzee. It took a while, but things worked out as planned. Lady T took the title with no trouble at all. That's all right, I win her money on poker nights.
Friday, January 13, 2006
Sunday we leave for 7 days in the Yucatan, and it's unlikely I'll post regularly, but I've managed to 'blog from places like Rouen, Manila, Boracay, and Tegucigalpa in the past, so who knows?
See ya soon!
[a long, rambling, shabbily thought-out post. Feel free to skip. Read The Onion instead]
Freud somewhere wrote that clinical experience had convinced him his excessively shy patients were, at heart, supremely arrogant individuals masking monstrous superiority complexes. One of the most pleasurable pay-offs of reading Sigmund are those insights that at first seem counter-intuitive, but after consideration make a lot of sense.
I've been thinking about grief recently, and trying to do so objectively, and have come to the conclusion that (at least in my case) grief is an entirely selfish response to the death of a loved one, based mostly in shame and guilt and fear. I'm sure this isn't a new idea--someone far smarter and more eloquent at some point in history has had every thought which crosses most of our craniums these days--so I'll be brief.
Of course there is a component of pity--a Schopenaueresque compassionate involvement with the plight of the deceased--involved in grief, but my recent examination of the emotion leads me to think pity plays a relatively small part.
Components of Grief
Guilt: Much of my grief is based in regret--regret that I didn't do enough for, or say certain things to, or make enough time for the deceased. All of these reasons for sadness are purely selfish; the sadness doesn't spring from a genuine emotion about the deceased, but instead from a moral judgment of the Self as inadequate.
Nostalgia: My grandfather had more catch-phrases than the cast of The Simpsons. "I'll be a cow kicked by a mule." "You baboon hunter!" "I'm too old to drink coffee." "People get killed for less than that." "For pity sake." "You ain't-a kiddin'." I could go on. He also had a dozen easily recyclable stories that at one time became tedious, but now their memory brings a tinge of melancholy. Sadness based in nostalgia for the past and for another chance to hear or see someone from the past is purely selfish.
Mortality: In confronting the death of a loved one, we confront our own mortality--that shit sucks, and results in the most selfish grief of all. "I know Grampa couldn't live forever, but goddamit I wish I could!"
Idealization: It's easy when remembering deceased loved ones to gloss over their defects and to recall only the purest idealized traits. Much of what I am is in direct contradiction to my grandfather; as a young teen I vigorously rejected his faith, his simplicity, his tastes, his anti-intellectualism, his political and historical ignorance, and his Biblical favoritism of male over female. Of course I loved him all the same, but now it's easy to forget all the negatives and remember only the tussling in the yard, the Indian-burns, the whiskerings, the Dutch Rubs, the tickling, the bear hugs, and the honest working man. In idealizing the deceased, we do a dis-service to their humanity and their dignity. We make the world easier for ourselves out of pure selfishness, and the conflict in our souls between the idealized and actual deceased becomes fuel for grief and regret. There's a great D.H. Lawrence story dealing at least in part with this idea, called "The Horse-Dealer's Daughter." [Although I must admit I have matured a lot since my teenage years, and I view my grandfather's simplicity as an admirable trait now. He went to church three times a week not because he thought it would get him to Heaven, but because he loved going. He didn't volunteer to clean the church bathrooms and lead the singing because he wanted attention or thought he'd look more upstanding to his peers, but because he genuinely enjoyed doing so. When he offered to help someone or did charitable deeds, it wasn't out of a sense of duty (Jesus says I should help others, so I guess I better), or out of an economic morality (if I do X for Y, Y will owe me in the future), but because he actually and sincerely liked helping people. So what if he thought Walker, Texas Ranger was the best TV show ever? So what if he'd sneer at a Picasso and say "I could do that with some crayons!"? So what if he told me that Satan hid dinosaur bones to fool me into believing Carl Sagan and Stephen J. Gould? So what if my atheism was a constant worry to him? He never judged me for my non-belief, he simply couldn't understand it, and worried about my welfare. He kept his worries to himself, unlike my grandmother, who would evangelize the drive-thru lady at McDonald's and the gas man and clerks at banks. Part of my grief springs from the fact that for so much of my life I judged him negatively, even if I never said so; I also regret that dishonesty!]
The death of a loved one should be a time of celebration, not of grief. We get it backwards I think. Perhaps we're too wrapped up in ourselves. *Aha! I've switched to the first-person-plural, indicating that I'm generalizing my experience of grief. I apologize.* Perhaps it's because I'm so wrapped up in myself.
In the Tibetan Book of the Dead there's an acknowledgement of the selfishness of survivors: one of its most important lessons is that we must give dying loved ones permission to die. Our selfishness results in the need to hold them here with us, and this causes torment to everyone involved. Saying "It's ok to go now, I love you, I forgive you," and all those sorts of things can ease the passage. I also think our predilection for hiding the dying away in homes and hospitals is problematic--talk about taking away someone's comfort and dignity!
Of course, understanding or trying to understand the underpinnings of grief doesn't necessarily make it easier to deal with...
One (amongst many) good things about the Earthdragon household--they've always got good beer and good cheer in spades. Ok, those are two things, but you know what I mean.
Thursday, January 12, 2006
Looks like Alito is a shoe-in for O'Connor's seat, and reproductive policies deeply unpopular with 65% of the electorate will likely become the law of the land.
Not to mention the fact that everything Nixon and Reagan got into trouble for, and the stuff Bush should be getting in trouble for, will soon be perfectly legal as well. After all, don't we need an Executive completely free to do whatever the fuck he feels like in order to save us from terror? "The only thing to fear is fear itself"? That shit's for pussies! The President can tell us what to fear, and can save us from it without worrying about bullshit technicalities like laws.
Welcome to John Yoo's America, folks! In our new and improved democracy we have eliminated nasty inconveniences like The Bill of Rights. Everyone knows it only benefits Commies, Queers, and Osama anyhow. And soon the wretched two-party system will end when the Donkey and the Elephant complete their merger. Mergers make things much more efficient! What better way to get money out of the election cycle than to elminate the election cycle? Imagine the time saved when you no longer have to agonize over which rich honkey to vote for? The American Revolution has run its course, and we're back to a limited monarchy. Love it or leave it! And if you're one of those nerds who actually likes voting--don't worry, there's always American Idol.
We get the government we deserve.
[Of course there's always the chance that Alito and Roberts are turn-coat Libs in wolf's clothing--it's happened before]
Wednesday, January 11, 2006
I recently re-discovered a cache of mass-markets squirreled away for a rainy day; lots of stuff I've not read, mostly by famed, well-regarded literati like Graham Greene and John Gardner and Chaim Potok. I saw The Magus there, had just read a blurb about the recently deceased Fowles, and thought "Why the hell not?"
Indeed! The Magus is great fun despite its wholly despicable central character--most of the relish with which I consumed this novel came from watching Nicholas get sorely abused by a bevvy of creepy co-conspiracists out to humiliate him. In its forward Fowles pooh-poohs the novel and claims a bit of embarrassment over its success. I can see why he finds it adolescent (a lot of the contrivences don't work so well, and at least one major clue was far too obvious far too soon), but I can also see why it made such a smashing success nonetheless.
Fowles is up to a merry game, the same one Henry James devised in The Turn of the Screw. James, of course, was all about subtlety of effect, and his Governess is given Henry's own paranoid authorial consciousness with disastrous results for her young charges. Fowles decides to toss subtlety out the window, and puts characters into the novel who use Nicholas in a sort of real-life play designed to entertain themselves and teach his sorry self-centered ass some life lessons. If you've seen that silly Michael Douglas movie with the creepy clown doll, this trope might sound familiar. What interested me most is Fowles' hostility to his central character. Why is Nicholas so obtuse, so hateful, and so untrainable? Is this a sly reference to Fowles' view of his readers? Apparently the first edition of The Magus was more sympathetic to its narrator. Why the change more than a decade later?
I must admit to getting bogged down for a couple hundred pages--James would've called this a "loose, baggy monster" of a book. But it's interesting, and full of Classical references, Jungian ideas, and Tarot/Alchemical symbols galore--in other words, right up my particularly dorky alley! Worth a look.
As you can imagine, I was badly in need of cheering this morning, and the good folks at Amazon obliged with this bundle of joy. It's the last season of The Simpsons worth owning, I believe--there are good episodes after #7, but the consistency drops. I don't think any of the Treehouses of Horror have been particularly inspired since that year's classic ("Mmmmmm, erotic cakes.").
All I needed was a little "Way to breathe, no breath," and "The goggles, they do nothing!" to boost my mood substantially before work today.
Thanks to everyone who sent along their condolences--I appreciate it a great deal.
Tuesday, January 10, 2006
Daniel O. Myers was born in South Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), the son of missionairies. Until a week ago he would occasionally shout out "kunya kunya madoda!" and then say "That there's African talk." His father lost a hand in a milling machine and used to wear a wooden one which he banged on the pulpit to accent brimstone utterances about the End Times. I think that hand emblematic of the hard lives of my forebears. Grampa didn't see the U.S. until he was seven years old, and came in through the port of New York. Strange that someone with such an exotic birth would choose to live his entire life in Adams County, PA, but Grampa was a man of simple tastes throughout his 84 years. When he was 8 he was hit on the head by a speeding Model A Ford cruising at 50 MPH, and stayed in a coma for more than two weeks. It's a miracle he survived, and a good thing for my Mom and her kids he did. He'd initially been placed a grade ahead of his peers when he entered school in the US, but the head injury bumped him back a grade. He and his three barrel-chested brothers had a gospel singing group into their 20s, and Gramps was a tenor soloist during several performances of The Messiah.
He never made much money as a laborer, but laboring was all he could do with no high school degree (he quit school because they had to take dancing lessons, and dancing was a sin). Gramps was one of the few people who actually believed in Thou shalt not kill, and judge not, etc. Consequently during the war he was a conscientious objector and built roads in the Southwest for the government. I don't think he lived in a house with indoor plumbing until my mother was 12. I know when she was a child he used to sit in the outhouse with a shotgun on Halloween because farmboys would roam around tipping them on a lark. Upon his return home after the war he worked at the pipe and nipple factory, the shoe factory, the book factory--and never complained once about long hours or low wages. He'd come home and work in his garden, work on building something, work on the car, or go to church where he and my grandmother were the volunteer cleaners. Gramps led the singing and she played the organ. They raised up three kids including my Mom and all of them went on to get college degrees. One kid wasn't even theirs, but was the abandoned son of a reprobate brother of my grandmother's whom they took in and raised. They also housed exchange students from Africa, and for two years after my parents' divorce, my Mom, my sister, and I lived in their humble home. All of that and they still tithed ten percent to the church. My grandmother died 15 years ago, and Daniel remarried to Hazel, who is widowed now for the third time at age 92, bless her soul.
Until just a few weeks ago Daniel was a vigorous man who took care of his own chores and did his own driving. He was strong as an ox and could give a bear hug like a real bear; often he'd wrestle me to the ground when I was a teenager, and give me a merciless whiskerin'. He fell and hurt himself badly in December and began an almost instant decline. Less than two weeks ago we thought he was finished--he rallied to give everyone a chance to fly in and say goodbye, but couldn't abide the old folks' home. Yesterday he swore for the first time in his long life, saying to the nurses "Get me the hell out of here!" Today he gave up. I got the call that he was on his way to ICU at 11am this morning--and he died at noon shortly after my Mom arrived and about 30 minutes before I made it.
I remember when Cha met him for the first time, she said "I never knew my grandfathers. They died in the Philippines before I was even born here in the States." He gave her a big hug and said "I'll be your Grandfather." She was as torn up today as I. Mom told us this afternoon that at the nursing home yesterday he was bragging about Cha to the nurses. "She's a pinapplepia!" he said, and Mom corrected him: "Don't you mean Filipina?" "Oh, yeah, that's what I meant. She's the dearest thing in the world, and is married to my great grand-son." (Of course I'm not his great grand-son, but only his grand-son--I like to think he was qualifying with that adjective!) On the way home tonight I was leading Cha down some back roads between Westminster and Hampstead when a deer darted out in front of me. I swerved and managed not to hit it, but it jumped right up and into my passenger door, flipping back and up onto the shoulder. Two weeks ago Cha'd asked Grampa if I ever went hunting with him, and he said "No, he was too chickenhearted," that teasing twinkle in his eye. Strangely I didn't loose it today until I was petting that damn doe as it lay by the side of the road dying, breathing steam through its bloodied snout. "I'm sorry," I told it, and remembering that day in the hospital I turned to mush.
New Year's Eve 2006--the last time I saw him alive. He thought the oxygen tube was his glasses and kept trying to pull it out and move it up to his eyes. The nurse asked if he wanted some coffee and he gave her his famous line: "I'm not old enough to drink coffee." Then he told me that it had been the greatest day of his life because a big crowd came to see him.
Monday, January 09, 2006
This guy should be stopped. I don't care if the ABA thinks he's smart. Lots of villains are smart. Alito always sides with the government or the corporation, and will likely rubber-stamp the Bush junta's nefarious power grabs. The donkeys need to fillibuster his ass, and should say they intend to do so this week--they've got a bit of 'political capital' saved up thanks to GOP self-destruction. I think a few blue-state reds can be counted on to avoid the "nuclear option" if the Dems stand together for once (Specter, Collins, Snowe, Chafee, Jeffords....uh-oh, that's only 49 if all Dems stand together, and we know at least Lieberman will vote yes to any right-wing yahoo--D'oh!).
Well, unless Alito fucks up on civil liberties or executive privilege real bad to the point where Voinovich and Hagel and maybe Graham jump ship, I think we're fucked. And I mean really fucked, because I look at pix of Alito, and he looks like one of those TLC serial killer documentary subjects I watch when I have insomnia. "He was a nice guy," the killer's neighbors always say. "A bit weird, though. Kinda awkward." There are fifteen barrels of formaldahyde in the basement, a freezer full of suspicious vittles, a shoebox with bloody drivers' licenses stored over the garage, etc. That's what I think when I look at Alito. Oh, shit.
Much as I love Bawlmer, I'm just not buying it. I ran 3.5 miles Sunday and 2.5 on Saturday, but I also drank 2 litres of wine, three scotches, and ate a half a pizza pie from Pasta Mista in one sitting over the weekend, not to mention puffing some good greenery over Yahtzee's place.
I think I'm pretty 'fit' for Bawlmer--and I ain't healthy. Shit, the second-hand smoke at the New Haven Lounge on Saturday alone was enough to ruin me.
I dunno...seeing Ingrid Bergman and Liv Ullman go toe-to-toe in an Ingmar Bergman film sounds like a formula for greatness, but Autumn Sonata is merely ok considering its pedigree. Imagine you could sit down with Mommy and tell her all the petty shit she did to fuck up your life, and how much fun that would be. Then imagine how guilty you'd feel after, and how much of an emotional monster it would make you. That's this film in a nutshell--except that Mommy remains aloof and unfeeling and the daughter comes off more than a bit fiendish, though her attacks might be justifiable. Yeah, the acting is great, and there are some great "gotcha" moments of ouchy dialogue, but for the most part this is a bit tired and formulaic, especially considering Bergman's other work. Worth seeing as a curious entry in the Bergman canon.
Friday, January 06, 2006
I wanted to like this film, but to keep my attention for three hours I need more than standard melodrama. Yi Yi is cute and sad by turn, it's well-acted, and yet there's nothing there. This is fluff, pure and simple, like a weeks' worth of 1970's The Young and the Restless. Why the accolades? Zhang Yimou* (pre-Hero/House of Flying Daggers, that is) could pack more punch into a single scene than Yi Yi generates at epic length.
Skip this one--there's plenty of much shorter pap available, like that show about Flava Flav on MTV. To make matters worse, the DVD transfer is wretched.
*Speaking of Yimou, a long-awaited widescreen DVD transfer of one of his masterworks is finally coming:
Let's hope The Story of QiuJiu is soon to follow!
Thursday, January 05, 2006
I saw 8 1/2 for the first time last January and liked it so much I put it on my Xmas list, got it, and watched it again last night. One of my all-time favorites! Fellini manages to make a film about making a film about his own life as a filmmaker, and the narrative keeps switching back and forth between the film being made, the film actually finished, Fellini's life, his memories, and his fantasies. The transitions are seamless, and the symbols underpinning his fantastic structure are haunting and apt.
The portrait of Fellini as an artist is exquisitely honest--he pulls no punches lampooning his egotism, his childishness, his dishonesty--not to mention his reprehensible use of others as pawns in his Art. And yet 8 1/2 is not a somber film, but is purely delightful. I love the way Mastroianni (as the director Guido) uses a bullhorn and whip to get all his castmembers and friends and family members in line during the final space ship circus scene before dropping the pretense and joining the circle himself. Here Fellini acknowledges his true place as just another person in the chain of Being--too many artists separate themselves from Humanity to observe and critique it, never regaining their place in the fold.
I'll watch this many times--the Criterion transfer is supoib.
Wednesday, January 04, 2006
--Ohio State University scientist Lonnie Thompson,
Scientists are by training and nature conservative and...have
probably underestimated our impact. Fifty years from now--
I hope I'm wrong--I think you may be living in a world where you don't go outside between one and four in the afternoon.
quoted in The Coming Meltdown, Bill McKibbon, NYRB Jan. 12, 2006
And yet the museums and the Earth's crust are full of long-extinct species, and we've muddled on somehow. I guess the only difference is that most of us know we're living in an unsustainable manner, but are unwilling to stop the bad behaviors. Folks are digging coal a mile down in WVa so I can burn electric lights on my Xmas tree, goddam it.
Here's hoping that little fir tree gets to be eight foot high too.
Tuesday, January 03, 2006
I'm not sure why Piers Paul Read called his book The Templars; it is more a compact history of The Crusades and the variety of European intrigues and personalities behind them. The Templars play a role of course, but do not feature any more prominently here than Bernard of Clairvaux, the Knights Hospitallers, Richard Lionheart, or Frederick Hohenstaufen. The best segment of the book is Read's magnificent refresher course in the rise of Christianity and Islam from the 1st to the 7th century AD, which takes up the first 70 pages. I've not read a better summary elsewhere, even in H.G. Wells' Outline of History.
But though the subject matter barely matches the book title, I enjoyed it for the most part, though there are typos galore scattered throughout. At times Read also tacks on extended quotes from better books without comment, which I fault in freshman essays, so it should be unforgiveable here. The first couple of chapters are excellent, the middle third is just ok, and the concluding bits about the torture of James de Molay and friends makes for fun Xmas reading:
Occasionally the torturers miscalculated: the feet of Bernard of Vado, a Templar priest from Albi, were so badly burned that his bones fell out.
Here's what I should do today:
Shuffle around some DVD orders for the Dance department. I'm not going to order them, but if I leaf trough and perhaps write notes on them, I'll feel better.
Do Inter-library loan lending searches. Since we had 5 requests today that took all of, hm, three minutes?
Catalog four books. Not gonna do it. Can't really remember how after all those martinis and the two bottles of red Saturday night/Sunday morning.
Oh, I get to work the Service Desk from 3:30 until 10pm. I won't see a patron the entire time either.
Just keep thinking: In two weeks I'm in Mexico.
Monday, January 02, 2006
Ghost Dog lives in a rooftop shack with an adjoining pigeon coop. He reads the Hagakure and is devoted to its precepts; unfortunately as retainer to a mob boss who saved his life, Ghost Dog must kill for money. As a professional hit man and urban samurai, he's good at what he does, and maintains his untraceability by only communicating via carrier pigeon. When one hit has an unintended witness, Ghost Dog becomes the hunted, and must resolve a conflict between duties to his Master and to higher moral purposes.
Jim Jarmusch crafts an elegant urban fable using a series of enigmatic juxtapositions: wheezing Italian mob bosses rap Flava Flave riffs, young ghetto girls read Rashomon, a Haitian ice cream vendor and Ghost Dog are best friends who don't speak the same language. All of Ghost Dog's victims watch pertinent cartoons before they get wacked--while prepping to shoot a mob boss from his forested perch, he notes a woodpecker and takes a moment to observe its behavior with aethestic relish. At the same time the mob boss is riding in his limo, watching Woody Woodpecker confront Death on a small TV. My favorite scene shows Italian mob stereotypes, upon hearing Ghost Dog's name, commenting on the strangeness of Native American and hip-hop artists' nicknames. Then the boss says "Get Sammy the Snake and Handsome Frankie." A surprisingly tender and often hilarious film, featuring one of my very favorite actors in a lead role. Check it out--even The RZA soundtrack is great.