Oh to be a little match-seller!

Christmas is here. I don't like Christmas, I don't think I really ever have, though there have been times when liking the accoutrements has outweighed disliking the holiday. And I do like some of the accoutrements. My dislike of Christmas is not due to people obliging you to buy presents, or anything like that (though I do hate feeling bombarded with advertising, but that's all year, and the price of living in the modern world, a small price to pay). I love Christmas music - this year I memorized all the words to 'Need a Little Christmas', which is, by the way, kind of a weirdly poignant song, in it's way. I even have a strange desire to someday make a fruitcake. In fact, I might even say that I DO enjoy the month of December, just as long as I can manage to keep away from remembering that it ends with Christmas. But the reminder always comes back. There's something terrifically lonely about Christmas. I don't pretend that's a universal sentiment - one of the things I LOVE about Christmas is that it seems to make other people so happy (sometimes, anyway... and we'll leave it at that ;) ). But there is something, I even remember when I was about 10, the feeling of finishing opening the last gift, and feeling a sinking sense of hollow isolation - the feeling itself isn't odd, but the unique pang of this particular hollowness is special and particular to Christmas, completely irrational, I don't why it feels this way. Christmas is a sort of day of existential loneliness. Even from a logical point of view, it always disturbed me. When I was a child when I struggled to believe in Jesus Christ in the way that all the people I loved seemed to believe, I remember thinking it was a sad sort of holiday, to sing praises of joy that our brother had descended from the bliss of the heavens, to be born in squalor, live in misery, teach in rejection, and die in agony. Hurrah! Jesus has come to die, because I can't manage to never screw up! I don't mean that sacreligiously, I just never felt like it was a happy idea - I mean, sure it's a feeling of relief, but not 'Joy to the World.' 'I Wonder as I Wander,' which my lost friend Sarah Kortemeier first sang to me, in High School - that's what Christmas felt like, a sort of guilty, lonely penance of a day. A part of the final judgement I always imagined would be that God would place before us all the joys we wanted in life, show us all the good we kept from others for the sake of our own pleasure, and then tell us to eat up, while we watch the sorrow we avoided. That's how Christmas feels to me. Anyway, enough of that. I woke up yesterday, with a lead heart, and a swollen self-pitying blah-blah-blah in the back of my throat, and then had to go to work. By the time 1:00 rolled around, I knew that it was time to pull out my secret weapon - the Little Match-Seller, by Hans Christian Anderson. I love this story. I don't know where I first heard it, except that I was young. I expect it was from my mother, who I seem to borrow from a lot in terms of my personal taste (thank goodness), because whenever I read it, it's easy to imagine my mother crying (if any of my siblings read that sentence, they'll probably chuckle at the idea of mom crying at a Christmas story being peculiiar. If my mom reads the same sentence, she'll stick her tongue out at them. Dad, on the other hand, will probably wisely just feign smiling ignorance). But I remember liking it, that's all I remembered for years, until sometime in High School, when, between less-than-Christmasy internet browsings, I remembered this story, and went and looked it up, and cried my eyes out. It was wonderful, and made me feel much better about Christmas (I think that's the same Christmas where I peeked under the tape on all the presents and figured out all the gifts to me before Christmas came, and then bragged about it too loudly and probably hurt a lot of feelings. Sorry, Jeremy in particular, and while I was way too cool to say so, the Chia Pet-type present would have totally rocked...). I never really knew why, though. It's not the 'happiest' story in the world. This year, though, I've figured out the trick - in all of Mr. Andersen's best stories there's a trick. And the Little Match Girl? It has a great trick. When an adult reads a fairy tale, they (generally) seem to read one of about three things into it: either it's an extrapolation on an adult issue, that's too big for kids to understand (think people writing about Sleeping Beauty as a metaphor for sex), or it's a way to affirm values that we adults already (should) have (take, say, Little Red Riding Hood), or else it's a way to escape from being a grownup, and just be a kid. And, the thing is, you can do any of these in this story if you want. That's part of the trick though, because the story is none of these things, at least not the part that gives me a little peace at Christmas time. The beauty of this story is, much like the book Peter Pan, that it is a story that acknowledges a real, instead of an imagined, power, available to a child, an adult, or any other soul, and it's the sort of power that we, especially we grownups, do not like to acknowledge. As adults, when a child dies in a story, we want it to be heart-breakingly beautiful. There are good reasons for this - after all, if a child dies, it's a miserable thing. But the truth of the matter is, that having a child be perfect when they die is, sort of, easier for us. It lets us out of thinking about it. It lets us think the child is, sort of, symbolic, angelic. Beyond human control. The child is the consummating, terrible sacrifice, that lets us feel our internal catharsis, without having to face anything new. This is the easiest way to interact with tragedy and childhood, two ideas we do not like to mix. But, the problem with that is, we don't ever stop and realize why we don't like to mix them - there is a reason. I won't presume to tell perfect truth, but for me, at least, there's two. The first is the kind of reason that doesn't matter - it's not much fun to think of dead kids, and it's even less fun to think of dead kids dying miserable. Dead kids should at least be offered the dignity of being angelic. There is limited usefulness to making people uncomfortable for the sake of discomfort. I do not like ugliness for it's own sake, and dead children are inarguably an ugly thing out of context. The other reason... well, it's trickier, and it's very related, somehow to Christmas. Dickens fumbles at it in a Christmas Carol, when the Ghost of Christmas Present opens his robe to show the two children, Want and Ignorance, and he points out how ugly they are - not how dirty and miserable, though these are there too, but how inutterably ugly. Scrooge isn't wracked with tormented pity, he's repulsed. The children look like monsters, with claw-like hands and ugly, hateful faces. This is why, when you see a movie with a poor orphan child in it, it's always a poor, waif-like little pale white girl, easy to love. You want to be able to love an orphan. Stories about terrible orphans, miserable, dirty orphans, ugly orphans different than we are, these stories aren't fun, because we don't want to have to feel bad about not loving them. And, as a side note, I imagine it makes it very difficult to be an orphan. And that's the funny thing about this story. First, the child is classic glurge - she's beaten, she's poor, she's tormented, she's pale and unhappy and lonely in a big world, and we, the readers, we can see what a dear sweet thing she is. Now, before the child dies, Andersen does his first trick, and makes the girl real. He makes her have real, individual little fantasies. We kind of conveniently remember her as just seeing, for instance, a big piping hot dinner (and this is my favorite humanizing touch), but in fact, she sees the goose stand up, all cooked, and walk toward her with the carving tools coming out of his breast. The sheer specificity of this feels human - it's something someone imagines, not something someone imagines that someone would imagine. Suddenly, we can't have all that distance, we're pulled in close, and forced to actually engage with this girl, and not just be the invisible soul on the corner, noting how sad it is. We are involved, we cease to sympathize for this girl, and begin to empathize with this girl. But, that's not the whole trick, because even then, it's just a particularly well-done piece about how we should realize that we treat other people poorly, in sheer ignorance. A beautiful story, but not as powerful as this story actually is... The last trick is, if you let yourself fall completely into this child, you realize that these things are real to her. It's not a delusion, it's not some cracked, miserable fantasy. The child is not powerless, waiting for us to save her. The child, deserted by humanity, proceeds to save itself, to create a world that is better than the one she lives in, and then, through sheer moxie, to will that world into being. The girl is not stupid - we see that despite being drudged into a life of misery and shame, she's still very creative, for instance. She knows what's going on, and she knows what, in our little limited world, sitting on that frozen stoop means. She knows the matches won't last, she knows she's settling in to die. But, when the star falls, she does not say it's hers. It's not ignorance, it's not delusional dullness. It's a refusal to be the character in the script that is laid out for her - she is not going to die, even if she does. She's not going to be a powerless, lonely orphan, even if she is one. When her grandmother appears, she could just let her go - she doesn't, she clutches on to her, and refuses to let the world pass. She has created what she wants, she has made it in her own mind, and refuses to return from it to the idiotic world that we grownups left her. And in the end, all of us foolish grownups, we're left to just tut-tut over a poor dead child, and cry and think it's so terribly sad - never realizing that we don't have the right to cry over this girl, we need to cry over ourselves. We're the ones who can't find our way to something better. Of course, that doesn't mean we should all commit suicide, or anything - the girl didn't kills herself, she just accepted that death was coming. There is more than one way to refuse to live in the world we're given. The operative word is change, and change can come many ways. One could be a Ghandi, for instance, but one need not be. Emily Dickinson created a world to her liking in a different way. So did some of the Mormon forebears I have in my genealogy. So did the Haitian revolutionaries. So do kids who make up imaginary friends. All we can do at Christmas is to fiercely defend our right to live another year - because it is the fierceness that creates the right. All we can do in this world is refuse it, but what power there is in refusal!

Read More......



I don't write as eloquently or remember things as clearly as my wife, but if I didn't post SOMETHING, I'd feel like I was being unfair to my beautiful companion, that she wouldn't know how glad I am that she hasn't found anything better after so many years. Anniversaries are a time for arrogance, for feeling your love is so important that someone else can't do without it. The other day, I was putting together Amanda's anniversary present for this year - in classic Jason style, I then blushingly left it on her desk for her and went off to scrub the kitchen counter or something, never telling her why I gave it to her for her anniversary. This year, I found a card box, some Hallmark device in which you're supposed to store all of your treasured old Hallmark cards (presumably, if you try to slip in an American Greetings card, teh box looks at you in disgust...), down at Big Lots. It's not the nicest box, I in fact, had to use a bit of masking tape on it, but Amanda has, presumably since long before she met me had a little square box in her closet, an old battered cardboard recycled box. Inside, she had all her old letters from her best friend Natalie Tiftickjian, nee Salazar. To m e this box always had a sort of mystical quality to it, like, if I touched it, I'd mix something up and forever damage my wife's carefully orchestrated organization (in my defense, I've done this before, in other places, with that result, I think...). But I always felt sorry for those letters, all stuck in a box for something that looked like an Amway product, forever anonymous amongst the other knick-knacks in her chest. I've met Natalie a few times, and usually feel uncoomfortable during the meeting. There are a lot of very excellent reasons for this, historical issues that should cast absolutely no aspersion on Madame Oddstockings as I dubbed her in my brain a long time ago (I don't remember why, now). None of the excellent reasons were really the reason, though. When Amanda and I met, there was a peculiar fire to her, a powerful force that drew me to her, and in those halcyon early days, I basked in it, a funny, tired little thing, and for some reason, she let me bask, even liked me to bask there, to warm myself in her. I fell in love with that secret sun first - the rest of her I've fallen in love with since, in teh slow, quiet way that one falls in love with a beautiful, subtly discovered soul. Shortly into our marriage I, again in classic Jason style, mucked up this lovely light more than once. It's still there, I see it flash once in a while. I don't think I'm, in fact, sufficiently grand to douse a genius like hers. But, I think she has learned a reflexive care with it, now. Natalie is a sort of moon to that sun, something distant, and impassive towards me, but that when it passes through the sky (always, Amanda will attest, with an infrequency that fate seems to have, until recently ordained for their friendship..), it shines a soft reflection of that same halcyon beauty. I've always appeciated Natalie in Amanda's life, because it's a sort of reminder to me that Amanda is eternally precisely what she is, a sort of redemptive ignominy over any mistakes I might make toward my wife. It's hard to explain, and I'm probably botching it up wildly, but it struck me with a clarity the other day, because it was Susan Dickinson's birthday. Emily Dickinson is my one constant over the years. Since early high school, through all the myriad stupid, flighty attempts at various ways of living I've made, through the many transmutations of my identity, Emily Dickinson has been the only thing I've always loved (Amanda would be the one exception, and a stronger one at that, but I happened to meet Emily Dickinson before Amanda... ;) ). She's always been a sort of ideal to me. When she was alive, her best friend, her most frequent correspondent, and her oftimes poetic editor was her Sister-in-law and neighbor, Susan. The letters that she wrote Susan (almost none of the return correspondence survives) are some of the most beautiful examples of Dickinson's writing, and their relationship had a depth that spoke to the intensity of both souls. I've never been a crusader for the theory that the two were lovers (more or less, it's always struck as irrelevant and distracting from what really matters abotu the relationship), but the intensity of their friendship is such that I don't think you can really fully understand Emily Dickinson if you don't look at her relationship with her neighbor. It's the sort of relationship I've seen so seldom that it's difficult for me to really desribe it or comprehend it. Anyway, as I was thinking about this, I realized that, in my mind, Natalie is Amanda's Susan Dickinson. So, I really didn't mean this to be a long diatribe on Amanda's relationship with her best friend - honestly, I've not read there letters, or been privvy to most of there real conversations, and most of my thoughts here are probably pretty clumsy approximations anyway. What I really mean is that, this surprised me for a moment, because I realized,that I think of Amanda in the same way that I think of Emily Dickinson, someone who is beyond mere humanity, mere momentary affections, someone to large for the love of any one soul, but someone at the same time so intimate, honest, deep and soft that she can be preciously, intimately mine, someone whose dashed off words hardly considered for content, can speak volumes to me deeper than the thought out speeches of most souls, someone with the sort of beautiful humanity that at once fulfills one's understanding of the nature of divinity in man, and gently chides you for thinking you understood it at all. So I made this box, because I cannot imagine that someday, someone won't find her, and have the deep need to know who she was. I'm no historian, but I can at least have a little clasped box for her, to put these letters in, so that someday, some little soul who loves what she leaves the world behind can know her well enough to love who she was when she was here. Anyway, thumpedy-thump, blah blah blah. Here's hoping that doesn't sound too crazy. I love you, Amanda.

Read More......


And one last birthday...

Can't BELIEVE I forgot this one... Tuesday was the 40th Birthday of the Computer Mouse! Thanks <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apple_Lisa">Apple Lisa</a>!

Read More......

International Monkey Day

It's International Monkey Day, today! Go hug a monkey - but only if it's specifically allowed by your zoo of choice, since that sort of thing could be possibly dangerous. Otherwise, here's some of my favorite monkey links.

(Hat tip to Remember the Milk)

Read More......


Two birthdays, this week

Just for your datebook, this past wednesday was the birthday of Emily Dickinson. I posted on this, today, at Gignacery, but for such a birthday, what harm is two posts! I'm afraid the day was pretty marred for me - I drove downtown to take a final at UIW, ran out of gas just as I squeaked into a parking spot, found my final had never been delivered, walked 1/2 mile down the street to the nearest gas station on the coldest day of the year so far in texas, in only a suitcoat (well, not ONLY a suitcoat, that WOULD have been quite a morning), and paid $10 for the smallest gas can I've ever seen in my life. Oh well. I'm increasingly sure that I 'count Success sweeter' than most, these days...

Also, of note, this past Tuesday was the 600th birthday of John Milton. I'm thinking I'll celebrate by going blind and browbeating my children in transcribing poetry for me. Or maybe I'll just finally start reading Paradise Lost...

Read More......


The most beautiful, horrible, disgusting, pristine, perfect photograph

Note, before you go clicking any links in this post, this is not a PG-13 post. Some of the images are disturbing enough to, possibly, cause nightmares. Only recently have I started following, actively, the blog of Andrew Sullivan at the Atlantic, who today posted a very stirring image from Iraq. Leaving aside the content of the image, for a moment, this picture was a moment of artistic genius, akin to the migrant mother photograph from the Great Depression, or the famous photograph of Settela Steinbach enroute to the concentration camp. The monstrous yellow of the body bag billows like the river fro Ophelia, the bloody bandages radiate from the tiny face like an halo, and even the death shroud across the child's nakedness look like the billows of a wedding gown. The face is tipped just backwards, like the averted face of an enraptured saint. The man, the living, grieving man, feels almost like an afterthought, almost irrelevant, a trick makes us suddenly, painfully aware of his relevance. The scene has a Poe-like quality, violence contrasted with peace, purity and corruption, happy death and miserable life. Only, that's just it - you can't leave aside the subject matter. Remember for a moment, this is a little girl (I think), someone's daughter. There is an immediate feeling that it could be your own daughter, or son. When you next feel inclined to say 'they've been killing each other over there for thousands of years, we may as well just leave', you must remember this photograph, that this is what your statement means. This isn't a nation of mindless sub-human barbarians, intent on suicide bombing each other just long enough to pack a plane full of terrorists to hit tall buildings. This a nation of human beings, mothers, fathers, children, beautiful sacred human beings, that you have just declared as unsalvageable. Somewhere in there, there is a tiny seed lodged into me, that whispers out, that no man is unsalvageable, no people is without hope, that the very vigor and pallor of this photograph is a grim, aching reminder of that hope. I support the troops: when I hear about a soldier dying in Iraq, it hurts in a real, personal way. My father is a retired military medical warrant officer, it's not difficult for me to imagine his deft fingers fishing around the meatloaf flesh of a soldier blasted by an IUD, trying to cincture the death out of his body, to wrangle his blood back and forth from his heart, it's not difficult even for me to imagine it was him there on the pavement of some dusty street. This isn't a statement of patriotism, or an excuse to flag-wave down someone else with a differing opinion, it's simply a strong desire to see America's children come home. It's why it pains me, I think, to see the Iraq War become so semantic. At some level, then, photography, with it's brutal clarity, is an element of much needed truth in an argument that's come to surround buzzwords and partisan politicking. It's about human being, found dead, tortured, or forever broken on a battlefield that doesn't even have the name battlefield anymore. It's both cold and pointless, and eminently important. And what is America to do? It was stupid to go in the way we did, I think that's a pretty popular opinion, now, but it's also an irrelevant one - it's not a good reason to leave. Saddam Hussein was a terrible man, but that's irrelevant as well - after all, we're doing such a great job of bringing security and democracy that the Iraqi government that we have stood up in the name of democracy is asking us politely to tell us when we'll get out of the way. And that's just it, that's the dilemna. On the one hand, to leave now would probably result in thousands and thousands of photographs like this one. On the other, staying is an artificial solution, one that cannot exist forever, and one that forever acts as a goad to other, unknown and unpredictable death. As human beings who love other human beings, we have a duty to these children of the invasion, as human beings who love other human beings, we also have a duty to these suffering American kids forced to dissolve their identities into either physical death, or PTSD induced self-destruction, when we hardly have the resources to take care of the veterans we already have. What are we to want? Our troops home, to watch the dissolution of the people they've grown to protect and love? Ourselves home, as we are now, watching the slow dissolution of our troops? There are so many easy answers: America doesn't cut and run. We don't have any obligation to teach Iraqis to like each other. We broke it, now we have to fix it. We're just making things worse. The greatest honor to our soldiers is to let them do their jobs. The greatest honor to our soldiers is not to leave them in a war with no mission, or a mission with no end. The Iraqis have billions of dollars, and should be able to take care of this themselves. The Iraqis just need more training. None of these answers is the truth. The truth is much colder, much simpler, without the comfort of surety or the balm of hopelessness, it's the photograph of a dead child, sinking slowly into the murky waves of a bodybag, her eyes turned to a God we Americans only argue about, a man kneeling beside her, and silently, eternally, crying out the cry of the damned. The problem is, we expect the truth to point to an answer. There is none.

Read More......


America's Better History

I've watched elections since I was a kid, so while I don't have a long track record, I've paid attention as long as I've been able in my small life. Never have I felt as excited about a president getting elected.

And never have I felt as vulnerable.

Americans have never really recovered from the wounds of the 60's and 70's, especially of Watergate, from the feeling of betrayal and irrelevance towards our highest leaders. The bleeding is past, perhaps, but we never really cleaned the wound, and it's a festered scab, now, occaisionally oozing out the infections of the past. America has become a cautious wife, and caution has, over and over, shown up lies, discrepancies, uncleanness, and continued unfaithfulness, in both parties, with almost every president since Nixon. Suspicion and caution have largely transformed into cynicism and sublimated frustration. What's the point, we say? The old couple will stay together until one or the other dies, but the love is gone.

That's why this election is so important to me, on a personal level. Maybe it's the passing of the baby boomer mantle, maybe it's just the healing power of time, who knows - the power of this election has been that people can look to the new president and feel investment, kinship, hope. America has, in some small way, reached a timid, hopeful hand out to try to repair the old, broken marriage between public and government.

I like Barack Obama. I voted against him in the primaries, but I am glad he won. I feel a small tendril in the wave of hope that America hasn't felt in a long time. I know there are those who think this is simply a hope that government will give us things, that government will bend over to the interests of this or that specific issue. I don't agree - the people who spent countless hours, countless scanty dollars, and internal heartache and investment into this race cannot simply be working on a quid pro quo basis. This is not a Jacksonian presidency. These people love and hope and dream, mostly, guilelessly.

America has kvetched and mocked for years about segments of society - youth particularly - that just didn't turn up at the polls in the same numbers as the reliable groups: union members, older people, rich white people, evangelicals, etc. I remember hearing the requests, and the civics lessons when I was younger, the condescending talk of how your vote matters, told like some sterile storybook that the reader couldn't really even buy into. And then, in the real world, the prevailing wind in politics was that you were picking between the lesser of two evils, that both parties were the same anyway, that you could depend on whoever gets elected to break all their campaign promises, cheat, lie, and act like a dog. The only person who'd want to run as president must be crazy or power-hungry. Culturally, we lost a general faith in humanity.

People don't like to live like this, why would they be interested in getting engaged in a complex process that leaves you emotionally hurt if you lose, and even more emotionally hurt if you win and your candidate deserts their ideals?

Barack Obama's victory is not a Democratic victory. After all, what if, say John Edwards had been the winner? We'd be starting his term finding out that he was diddling one of the campaign staff while his wife stayed home trying to fight her breast cancer, and subsequently lied to the American public about it. Yay Democrats! It's not a victory for liberal ideas - frankly, I wish he was a bit more liberal than he is, though I'm sure that's not a universal sentiment. If it was ultra-liberal politics that America wanted, we'd of elected Ralph Nader or Dennis Kucinish or something - not-so-stellar choices, in my opinion. It was not even Barack Obama's victory - the man is just a man, and aside from the Obama girl video, most of the excitement I've heard has been around the empowerment of all the little people working for him. It wasn't even the normal populist victory, of people who are mad as hell and don't want to take it anymore. It was none of these things. The victory of Barack Obama is the quiet voice of a people who desperately want to trust again. Americans don't just want to stop being ashamed of where their government is going, they want to start being proud of it - they want to start being PART of it.

During the Cold War, America had a compelling (if somewhat deceptive) story - it was the vanguard of democracy, facing an evil empire of communism. I remember when the wall came down, pundits made a lot of noise that America does not know how to not have an enemy. I understood that at the time, and it came true, has continued to come true - we have tried our hand against a number of different enemies. But here's the great irony - we finally found one, the perfect enemy, because it's one that will never, ever completely go away, in the attacks on 9/11. We, as a people, could, if we wished, delude ourself into a story where, forever and ever and ever, we stand on the right side of a battle against terrorism, extremism, or Islam, depending on the teller. This could cease to be one of our struggles, and start to be our identity.

It worked, for a while, but at some point, America started to lose it's stomach for it. The voice of cynicism tells me it's because the conflict was headed by complete dunderheads, and because America no longer has the stomach to be at war. But I think this is a lie, the sort of comforting cynicism that we make up to keep ourselves from destiny. America is just past the point where it can accept the idea of black-and-white battle as a defining national characteristic. So the war drifted, Bush fell apart, and America came into an election season desperately seeking for it's own soul.

The election, to me was simple. The gaffes, nonsense, vagueness, news stories, and everything else, were never important in and of themselves - it was simply that one side felt like a dream, and the other felt like an assurance that nothing would have to change. I wanted to dream, again, like I ever had, but again, nonetheless, like in the poem by Langston Hughes:

O, yes,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath--
America will be!

And that's just it, that's why I feel so vulnerable, and why I think a lot of Americans, particularly younger Americans (other groups, I don't know, I can only speak for the ones I know) are feeling the same way. I didn't just let Obama have my vote - I gave it to him. And he promised me, in a more directly personal way than any politician has managed to in a long time, to use it to create a dream that he is not possibly capable of creating, but that he needs to create nonetheless. It's not just 4 years at stake. This isn't a trial run. America in her ancient wisdom knew it was time to be a dreamer again, and dreamers do not make backup plans or hedge their bets, they succeed or fail, gloriously.

I read this post, by a programmer I keep a stray eye on, who talked about America needing to be like a good engineer - optimistic in the way that makes you fight to do things that seem impossibly complex at the beginning. Read the article, he says it much better. Of course, we're not the first nation to try this, to try to become what we dream. France, for instance, tried it out in 1789, and ended up murdering huge swaths of it's own population. No great power has ever lived through this stage of it's development, because it either refused to throw itself into the void, and slowly dwindled away into irrelevance, or it threw itself into the void and fell and fell, not strong enough to fly. This is easy to explain, easy to understand - no  nation is really a narrative, it's a collection of people, full of warts, fears and imperfections, unified only in a desire to not have to worry about things, led by men who desperately want to make sure they don't get replaced. Men fly, on occaision, genius happens on the individual level, but a nation? A nation is too big, too cumbersome. It's an endeavour in which it is impossible for any nation to succeed.

It's time for us to succeed anyway.

Read More......


Baron Samedi for Obama - Happy Ghede Day

Yesterday, for those who were not aware, is both the birthday of Toussaint Louverture, the 'George Washington of Haiti', and 'Ghede Day', an important religious day for Vodou pracitcioners in Haiti, when Haitians go to cemeteries, to give rum, candles, ribbons, and other offerings tatop the graves of the dead, in respect for Baron Samedi, the guardian of the dead (sort of. Haitian Loa do not fit so easily into the Greek God boxes that we all learned in mythology). The Baron and his confederate spirits or not glum, Plutonic things, at all, but have a reputation, actually, for being heavy drinkers (when a praciticioner is ridden by one, they will drink clairin, a white rum steeped with chili peppers, that most people cannot even swallow, normally), infamous practical jokers, and fond of bawdy humor. So, yesterday was a raucous day in Haiti. Anyway, I thought it was interesting, in this article, that the people of Haiti, in a year when 'even the Baron is hungry, because everything is so expensive," prayed not only for more food, and political peace, but for the election of Barack Obama in the States. It brings to mind this article, where tit's pointed out that, really, there is no 'US Election' anymore - every American election is a world election. No news on plans for the Baron and Samedi to appear together in campaign stops, anytime soon.

Read More......

Emily Dickinson Update - Killing Hemlocks for the Poet

An interesting story the other day from The Boston Globe, about some people in Amherst trying to cut down about 200 trees, because they believe it's what Emily Dickinson would want.

Yeah, read that sentence again.

Some of these folks are a lot more well-versed in Dickinson lore than I am, don't get me wrong, so I will not begin to argue about whether Emily Dickinson would be unhappy to have a row of 'rather forbidding' trees out of her window. I don't know. The point that was interesting to me was this one:

"Dickinson is the one American writer who is so keenly identified with
one place, and it is that place," said Martha Ackmann, an English
professor at Mount Holyoke College and vice president of the Emily
Dickinson International Society. "My students want to know what she
saw. I want to see what she saw."

Really?  I think the combination of this statement with one a few paragraphs down is particularly striking:

Officials at the Dickinson museum and Amherst College, which owns the
homestead, have determined what the poet would have seen from her
window: a low-lying hemlock hedge. She also saw a hayfield and the Holyoke mountain range from her window perch, but that view has been
obliterated by a large apartment complex built across the street from
her house.

The old saw about Emily Dickinson being a morbid poet, is tiresome, but it does have some root: Emily Dickinson more than most poets had a strong concern wtih the idea of permanence and immortality. Emily Dickinson was a distinctly American poet, in part, because of her affinity towards the simple, regular person in these stories. Whitman was the teller of grand tales, sort of the wild troubadour of American poetry, the man who wrote 'O Captain, My Captain.' Emily Dickinson was more of a murmurer, speaking about robins instead of eagles, about the everyday and commonplace, about the impudence of pride. Isn't it strange that we would build this quasi-Lenin's-Tomb shrine around her? I am not sorry that Emily Dickinson's home is still there, but it does make one wonder - trying to pretend that Miss Dickinson hasn't been dead for more than a century, that her room is still sitting there waiting for her return, with the view she wants, like we are parents who had a child die young and keep the bedroom just as the child left it. Well, the bedroom is not a closed system, especially for a soul as expansive as Emily's, and you just can't keep the world from changing. Let the trees grow, they're better than apartments, anyway. That's not Emily's opinion, it's mine.

What is Emily Dickinson's opinion on a row of Hemlock trees? I imagine that her opinion is that she's dead, and glad to leave these kinds of meddling concerns to the living.

Read More......


Deprived of other Banquet

Daily Dash 1789 is a blog I've started keeping my eye on frequently. The premise is simple (the best blogs seem to be...): every day, the author posts one of Emily Dickinson's 1789 poems, and offers her, sometimes very peronal, insights into what the poem is saying. I almost never see the poems the same way, and that's part of what makes the blog so wonderful. More than most bloggers on poetry, I feel like Ms Kackley is sincere about what she's saying, and she writes with a polite courage, that makes me look forward to her daily thoughts. And it helps that it's all Emmy Dickinson, of course ;P. I could probably comment every day, but I imagine I'd probably start seeming creepy. But let me just say that the line I am like an architect that can't find a builder", was probably the funniest, poignantly sad, and completely self-describing line I've read in a blog, ever.

Anyway, Ms Kackley, the other day (don't I sound like I'm telling my mom about something my English Teacher said?), did her analysis on the poem 'Deprived of other Banquet,' a poem I don't think I ever really thought about before - it's difficult to be theme-ish thinker, like me, because you start to overlook things that fit a theme you've already seen elsewhere, and stop looking for the particularities in poems. I thought it was interesting, that her description, of the same poem, could range from Macroeconomics to private sorrow, and I don't say that with any snickering irony. There's something very humbling, for me, very painful but important, about juxtaposing public tragedy with private tragedy. In the grand scheme of things, for me, something like the current financial crisis does not yet mean anything to me, except on a theoretical level. I just haven't 'gotten it' yet, even if I can kind of fumble at the outlines of what's just happened to us all. But, really, my little blue brain clutches at the thought - what can something so banal as an investment portfolio mean, compared to the death of a daughter, or sexual abuse?

That didn't come out the way I meant it. It sounds so cold and theoretical. It was a very empathic experience reading this poem with this review, because I can imagine (though I can't vouch for the accuracy of my brain) this very feeling, I've felt it, of reading a poem, that feeling of simultaneously needing say what you feel about it, and having little idea how to say it, and being terror at the feeling itself (to say nothing of the people who might read the feeling). Emily Dickinson isn't a comfortable poet, and the feelings in her poem are not comfortable. There's a subversive air to what she writes, where poems that seem to be cheerful (like, say this one, or Hope is the thing with feathers, for example), in the end always remind you of the price of happiness. Emily Dickinson is the best sort of friend, the kind that never lies to you, even if she knows you'll leave her.

The poem, for me, has a pretty straightforward 'story' - the speaker finds herself abandoned by those who used to provide her with what she needs (food is a metaphor for, really, just about anything. insert whatever you feel neglected in, in your life. It's a mirror of Erised kind of moment). At first, she has atrophied, from depending so long, but eventually, the experience of starvation drives her to grow into her challenge, eventually producing enough to supply a 'Robin's Feast' (the Robin always, for me, having a certain connection to the secret companion of Emily Dickinson, the debate over whether this companion be physical or spiritual, male or female, romantic or otherwise, left to the biographers, since it's pretty irrelevant). And then, in the great turn of irony, providing enough that she has the berry reserved for charity.

It's the questions that this raises that are uncomfortable. There are several (one interesting one centers around whether charity enslaves the benefactor, and what that means for the giver), but the one that means most to me, is the implication that our moments of great sorrow are not, really, license to simply accept our failure. The starvation, the brink of death, this is what we need, as humans, it's what makes us live. It's the smiling beloved that whispers back to us in our times of pain and strife, a reminder of our own prayers - 'Thou, child, thou asked, if thou might raise your children to be wise - how canst thou, lacking wisdom? I come to fill thy prayers and give thee wisdom', 'Thou, child, thou asked, if thou mightest learn better discipline, how canst thou shriek when thou findest a whip at thy back? I gavest thou the covenant of reward, and thou turned it down, I only come at they request, this is the whip thou requesteth.' God's strange relationship with Emily Dickinson is manifestly clear, here - why is Emily great at the end of the poem? Is it that god has benevolently cursed her? Or is it that she refused blessing out of a perverse courage, and became heroic in spite of God's disapproval?

I'm always struck by the audacity of a woman who can stare quietly through a lonesome bedroom window, and refuse to beg release from God, when, perhaps, God would give it. It's the sort of hopeless hope that is the root of all the sacred souls I've loved (that means you too, my beautiful wife ;) ). Maybe Emily Dickinson stood up just so, and thank you either way. Maybe Ms Kackley stood up just so, and thank you either way.

Read More......


Proposition 8

I don't know, there's not much more I can say about this issue. My wife wrote a passionate posting earlier on this issue. I don't speak as she does, I don't understand things in the same way, usually, but I do agree. There's not much I could offer really additionally, as far as convincing people to change their minds, one way or the other. The whole thing feels just like bigotry against, say, Muslims, or, dare I say, Mormons. I don't understand it, even when I was in the church, and believing as hard as I could, I still didn't. We live in a world with so much pain, and hurt - right or wrong, is this the most important issue, the one we need to galvanize around? It's important that we not let people who live together and love each other get married, if that's what they belive is right? Homosexuality isn't an issue - it's a reality. Why do good-hearted people have to be seperated over all of this? And the worst of it, is these commercials, about teaching gay marriage in schools. It's an arguable point, I guess, although all the educational groups have pretty much come out and said that they will not be required to teach gay marriage under this law. I guess you could argue that someone particularly militant on the other side of the fence might use this as an excuse. But that's just it - this 'other side of the fence' politics is what's killing us, now, and these commercials, funded partly from tithing, money that is set aside to do the work of God in the Church's teachings, is going to fund commercials that pander to the worst sort of reactionary fear in people. They don't appeal to men's better selves, they scare people into agreeing, and that's not the sort of politics Christ would ever have practiced. I can understand disagreement, I can understand fundamental disagreement, I can't understand Christ-sanctioned, divinely appointed mudslinging. Not too long ago I stopped going to Church. AT the time, it was a painful, personal decision, one that troubled me, because the Church teaches a lot of beautiful things. MY experience in the Nauvoo and San Antonio temples is one of the most beautiful things I have experienced. But, I cannot, in good conscience, even consider the possibility that I might one day return to this, it's gone for me now. I don't know, I've never known what is and isn't true, in all but the most fumbling of ways. But, I cannot talk myself into this one - if God wants me to serve a cause best served by deceit, fear, and hatred, then God wants someone else, I suppose - I cannot reconcile my little timid soul to it, I guess, and if that's what it takes, I'll consign myself to whatever lesser gifts God sets aside for those who are only willing to do what their hearts say is good. I feel, I suppose, like I can finally understand the quote by Brigham Young, where he says he felt sick and confused when he first heard the revelation on plural marriage. If this was a spiritual test for me, I am content with failing it. It's a difficult feeling, knowing either that you must question any feeling of revelation you ever had, assume God doesn't exist, or believe that he's not particularly nice. Anyway, much love to everyone on both sides of this issue, I hope nobody feels attacked or hurt, but sometimes things must be said, I guess. Please, on the one side nobody post any 'you're a satan-spawned demon' comments, and on the other, nobody post 'yeah, religion sucks, and all theists are total numbskulls.' Neither does your feelings credit. Honest thoughts and feelings are, as always, more than welcome, but I'm no dispenser of wisdom, so no guarantees I can offer anything useful back. With what little voice I can offer, and with little potency, since I don't think I know anyone in California, I encourage you to vote against Proposition 8. Just let people be. I hope the tone of this came out write, it's sad, not grouchy.

Read More......


Response to MomGrind's take on Photoshop

Women Who Say No To Photoshopping |
What these women did is important, because in a culture that puts a lot of pressure on women to be physically “perfect”, it’s important to see women who are BEAUTIFUL, strong and successful - in a real, non-airbrushed kind of way.
Link through to this article, let me preface - this was an excellent, well written piece (not sure how much my taste matters, but I liked it - oh, and just a warning, yes, there is a breastfeeding picture, if that bothers you). That being said, I don't completely agree. Now, don't get me wrong, at some level, I agree. I agree with the value of images of women (or men, mind you, who don't actually look much like, say, Brad Pitt as a general rule) as a check on the bloated reality of the modern world. I think that there are many siutations, in fact, where you should NEVER have an airbrushed photo. Journalism for example. In a situation where one is showing factual truth, one shouldn't be altering a photo, as a general rule. However, that being said, I'd just like to point out a few subtleties to the argument. Now, of course, there is a place for Photoshop, so let me be clear what I'm talking about. When I worked for a newspaper, not to break anyone's heart, but every single picture that appeared in the paper was 'Photoshopped' - they ran it through filters to make the picture's colors appear brighter, more striking, they would sharpen fuzzy images, etc, etc, etc. There's nothing wrong with this. What I'm talking about is alterations of the basic facts of someone's face - clearing away scars or wrinkles, or a rough complexion, shrinking a nose, accentuating a hip, etc, etc, etc. The first case for when, perhaps, Photoshopping is appropriate is referred to in the blog MomGrind links to at the bottom. This is the area of personal choice. If you're posting an image of yourself on your blog, or if you are sending a picture of your family out on a Christmas card - to some extent even if you're, say, sending your picture to someone you met and are thinking of dating, or something - I see this kind of like makeup. It's your choice. There are those who are completely comfortable with having their face be just what it is. And then there are those who are not. If you have a disfigurement, or something that pains you about your looks, then, I don't presume to judge your choices. This is one of the beautiful things about technology, after all, that we can live fantasies in a limited sphere. Whether it's healthy or not, that's an argument I'm not going to even embark on, but let it be what it is. It's not my place to intrude. I would argue, however, that if you think of photography as an art, even, sometimes, the airbrushing of a model might be appropriate. I know, that's an uncomfortable thing to have said to you. It's uncomfortable to say, as well. But, for a moment, step outside of the immediacies of the situation. Imagine, for instance, Michelangelo, sculpting David. He had a young man, standing in his studio, naked, on a pedestal, and he was looking at him, to sculpt David. David was, for all intents and purposes, a reproduction of this young man's form. But, Michelangelo was not just making a carbon copy of an individual, he was using the frame of this, probably beautiful, boy to extrapolate something different, an ideal - an inhuman one. One that, if I'm supposed to hold myself up to it's standard of beauty, well... let's just say I'm one ugly man, in comparison. But that's what art IS, sometimes, the hyperbolization of life. Now, is the cover of Maxim art? As a general rule, let's go with no. But, unfortunately, if you're goign to foster art, you have to allow garbage. I firmly believe that. And in 50 years, luckily, people won't remember the garbage (or at least, they won't worship it as art. I hope.), but they will (hopefully) remember the art. The real issue, I think, gets missed with all this talk of airbrushing. The real issue is, when a graphic designer touches up a girl to appeal to me, the male consumer, why is it that my market sector demands someone who looks like they would snap if the wind blew too hard? OR someone who looks like they traded in their brain to purchase a larger libido? Why is it that America wants women who define beauty as sickliness? IS it because we see all these images of beautifully airbrushed sickly women? In part, yes, and I would like that to change. But, it changs when we show healthy women, not when we censor unhealthy ones. A parable. There was a time in our history when we realized that alchohol, as a general rule, is unhealthy, for individuals and society. Women, particularly, were victimized by it. IT was the root of a lot of poverty, a lot of abuse, and a lot of the patriarchal society that ruled America at the time (and still, I suppose, in many ways). So, we banned it. Yeah, that didn't work out so well. People did not stop drinking, because illegalizing a market does not destroy a market. What destroys a market is marketing. It's education. We learned this, to an extent, many years later, when we FINALLY got around to deciding that smoking was unhealthy. Did we illegalize smoking? No. We demanded labelling on cigarettes. We taxed cigarettes. We educated children and adults, we shocked people into realizing what a lie they'd been pulled into for so long. And, slowly, smoking is being reduced across the country. And, perhaps, eventually it will dissapear, more or less. But, it will never dissappear through prohibition, it will disappear because you assume that the public is smart enough to not want what's bad for them, and you search for a solution from there. So, why do we want Barbie-women as our role models? Why can't we see how beautiful a Ruben painting is, or an old woman, or a woman with a scar, or with short hair, or with freckles, or whatever? Until we understand the answer to that, Photoshopping will remain a way to deceive, instead of a way to create.

Read More......


Moby Dick, by Herman Melville

Test Test TEst

Herman Melville : Redburn, White-Jacket, Moby-Dick (Library of America)
By: Herman MelvilleGeorge Thomas Tanselle
Amazon Price: $40.00

Read More......

Emily Dickinson's Burglar Update

Good news, I suppose... To Find the Principles: Dickinson Break-in Update: Finally, the Facts
A University of Massachusetts student faces criminal charges for allegedly causing $600 in damage at the Emily Dickinson Museum after attempting to force his way into the building in the early morning hours of Sept. 5. Police say he was very drunk at the time. [ . . . . ] The man first smashed a window and door at the museum in an unsuccessful attempt to get inside, and in the process lacerated his right hand and bled extensively. A bookcase inside the museum was tipped over when he reached inside to unlock the door. Police said the cost of cleaning up the broken glass and the blood was $600.

Read More......


The largest table in the world

An interesting post from Bilgrimage, yesterday. The line that most struck me was this:

"Because race has always mattered and always will matter—as long as we choose to let it matter—Mary McLeod Bethune envisioned the school she founded as a place of reconciliation between the races (and the genders). A place in which everyone could gather around a table large enough to include all whose voices needed a hearing, all shoved from the table of participatory democracy in the culture at large."

The table, she talks about has some very dangerous implications. This is not to say anything against Ms Bethune (or Mr. Lindsey, the author of the post linked to), who I am led to understand was a saint. But, we as the inheritors of this legacy of activism, sometimes I think we misunderstand this legacy, or take 'the easy way out'.

After all, the statement that Mr Lindsey makes equates "all whose voices needed a hearing" with "all shoved from the table of participatory democracy." This, however, makes a dangerous assumption - the assumption that those who do not fit in this group do not need their voices heard. It assumes, or implies to some degree, that there is a party that ought to have the power - the currently dispossessed - and another party that does not need the power anymore - the non-dispossessed. This sets up, subtly, a dangerous dichotomy, a dichotomy of the suffering, and the wicked who cause the suffering.

In real life, of course, it isn't that simple. Those who are dispossessed are not always right - dispossession breeds crisis, and crisis makes us reactionary. This isn't to say that the 'oppressor class' is right either (they certainly aren't), but it is to say that the answer lies in conversation - not just conversation between all the people who are suffering, but conversation with those who, sometimes ignorantly, cause it. Without that dialogue, you have the blind oppression of the weak (a good example is found, for instance, in the majority of Americans who might buy goods that exploit labor in ways they would find unacceptable if they really understood), or the blind supplanting of the strong with a new oppressor group (the Russian Revolution, sadly, became a good example of this).

I recently read Aurora Leigh (review here. Beware the poor iambs...), and the metaphorical struggle there between the Poet and the Philanthropist sheds some light on this. To someone who has never been taught to read, someone whose daily survival consumes their entire energies, someone who has been driven into squalor so long that society has unmanned them, a poem is completely worthless, only the philanthropist has meaning - he might, at least, give you dinner. When you are treated like an animal, you often start to think like one. The starving animal wants to live, and they want the power to control their surroundings. And there is nothing wrong with that.

On the other hand, if you are wealthy, if you have no real reason to need to work, no need to struggle, the work of the philanthropist has no particular, immediate value for you. The work of the poet, on the other hand, has a great value, because it awakens your humanity. You do not care for material things if you've never had to care for them. The lack of struggle atrophies the spiritual in us, it deadens the passion in us. The starving human soul wants beauty, passion, life. And there is nothing wrong with that.

The problem is that one of these, without the other, creates only half of a man. A man in poverty must struggle to be alive in one way, a man in squalid wealth must struggle to be alive in another, and neither one can truly understand the struggle of the other. To the man who does not understand material want, someone who will not pull themselves up by their bootstraps and make their own way seems lazy and selfish. To the man who does not understand spiritual starvation, someone who is miserable in the midst of plenty seems effete and selfish. In neither case is selfishness really the cause (or so my naive belief in humanity's underlying goodness tells me), it's simply blindness.

To broaden the scope a bit, then, I would submit that earth is a planet of suffering - every human being here suffers. Each and every one. Perhaps some suffer more than others, and we could argue all day long about who causes the suffering. And sometimes, perhaps, people are not willing to acknowledge the suffering of others, and sometimes people twist themselves so hard that they are no longer capable of understanding the ssuffering of others. But, at some, basic level, if we are to have a table where everyone who could gather whose 'voices needed a hearing', that table would have 5 billion some-odd seats, one for each human being (and I just don't know if the dolphins and chimpanzees and such need seats, that's someone else's crusade to fight).

Now, understandably, in some sense this is impossible. I accept that. In some sense, though, the wonder of the present is that this table is more and more beginning to exist. One hundred years ago, it would be difficult, even if one wanted to, to understand someone from another culture. We mock this now, we think how stupid our forefathers were, we're filled with righteous indignation at blind acts - how could the British Empire have believed that tripe about the White Man's Burden? How could the Conquistadors have just wantonly slaughtered entire nations that they barely understood to exist? But, turn upon thyself, oh questioner, and ask - why am I different? Are we all just better people today? Of course not. There are better, there are worse, but overall, I think most of humanity really does mean well. The problem is that, to a British reader in 1890, India, for example, was a vague idea, it was something you heard about from other White people who might have been there in the military, visiting a country of brown people while surrounded by and making your daily company with other white people, also visiting. How could you possibly understand what it meant to be Indian? And how judgemental would we be to look at such a person and say - they are bad? Some were, to be sure, but some always are. The reason you know better is, largely, one of education, exposure, and technology (and to be honest, we're still not that great).

To return to the present then, whenever I see a group of people that holds an opinion that horrifies me - sure, I allow myself to be horrified. We SHOULD be horrified. The fact that we don't feel like it's okay for someone with more melanin in their skin to be president is absurd, and in one hundred years, it will look as foolish as some of the examples I mentioned. But, be horrified at the sentiment, and then realize the people holding it are human. How can they feel that way? What is it that prevents them from being as wise as they could be? And, most challenging of all, ask yourself this: what blindness do I have, that they don't have? What is it that they can teach me? Remember : unless you're Jesus, you'll never be able to teach someone unless you open expect to be taught in return. Teaching the world something they're too stupid to understand makes for long diatribes that get screeching assent from those who already agreed with, and alienated distaste from those who don't. You know. Like Sarah Palin
(shoutout to my alienated, distasted wife!).

After all, that's been the genius and wisdom of Barack Obama, so far, I believe - he can be black, without telling you that's why you have to vote for him.

Read More......



Gonaives, Haiti is the city where the Haitian people declared independence. Imagine, then, for a moment, if the city of Philadelphia, days after a storm, had water that ran knee-deep through the biggest streets in the city, if 500 people were gathered together in the Cathedral there, to escape the floodwaters, crammed into the choir gallery. Imagine if Galveston had been hit by Ike, three times in the space of a few weeks, and that there was nowhere to evacuate the people to, and that the poverty rate was so high that people were already dying before the storm even came. The three seminal revolutions in the turn of the 18th century were the American, the French, and the Haitian. America now considers itself the beacon of democracy in the world, France, the birthplace of Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite. Haiti is the great grandmother of decolonization, the lady who frees men from kings and despots, but also from empires and slavery. These other mothers of modern liberty are wealthy, now, and comfortable. Haiti is a collection of human beings, forced to drink the infected waters that flood their own cities, forced to eat the muddy earth that is the birthright of years of neglect and isolation. Anyway, it hurts to see human beings living the way the souls of Haiti are forced to live, now. If you care to donate, I know the organization Yele Haiti has a good reputation, and is right now distributing food and supplies there.

Read More......


This season's attack ads, simplified

Hey, if we're going to treat each other like dogs, we may as well be frank about it...

Read More......


Ghost Ships

The American Scholar - A Dark Page in Our History - By Marcus Rediker

The slave ship is a ghost ship, sailing around the edges of our consciousness. We pretend it is not there, but it haunts us. It also challenges us: a telling test of any society that considers itself to be a democracy is its ability to face the dark pages of its history. Do we dare in this post-9/11 age to look back on the terror that was instrumental to the making of America?
I found this reference in 3quarksdaily. The quote comes from a speech given by the author of a new book documenting the American slave trade (this is the 200th anniversary of it's being abolished, here, apparently), but the idea of a ghost ship was so evocative, and the more I consider it the more perfect. The quintessential ghost ship tale in English literature is probably the Rime of the Ancient Mariner, and it speaks to the point that Mr. Rediker does with a certain poignancy. The Mariner and his crew are accidentally driven into the waters of Antarctica, where they suffer until they are led out by a great albatross, a sort of tutelary spirit there - only as they enter warmer seas, the Mariner kills the albatross with a crossbow. Later, he is forced to wear the body of the bird about his neck, as a representation of the weight of his sin. Leaving aside the finer points of literary narrative, this struck me as such a powerful literary narrative, that we, as a nation were carried from the squalor of the early colonies largely on the wings of the unwilling slaves - not only in the south, where they had plantations, but in the North where Massachussets, for instance, was founded on the infamous Triangle trade, producing molasses to be made into rum, from the sugar plantations of the Caribbean. We expanded westward by trampling on the Native Americans, and more or less enslaving wave after wave of 'albatrosses' - the Chinese immigrants that built the transcontinental railroad, the immigrants that we stuffed into the squalor of cities and used to enrich the pockets of factory owners, and establish our industrial might, the Irishmen in the civil war, taken straight from the dock of the immigration ship to the dock of the military ship, then shipped back a few months later on the same ships in coffins. This is what our nation was built on, this is, more or less, the only reason our nation survived and prospered, and we wear these sins about our necks, always travelling onward, but never resting. Like the mariner, I do not think we can recreate the things we have destroyed. I don't believe in restitution for the ancestors of slaves, not because I don't think they are owed something, but because any payment you could give would be an insult to what we took by force, so long ago. Redemption is a process of love, mercy, forgiveness. It's not something that can be 'made right', anymore. In one of the most famous ships, the Mariner's ship happens upon the ship where Death and Life-in-Death play at dice, to claim the souls of the men on the ship. Death wins the lives of the crew, Life-in-Death wins the soul of the mariner, the guilty one. And the Mariner is cursed, forever, to wander the earth and tell his tale to instruct the world's people with his history. America, if it cannot man it's ghost ships, it's ships of pain and injustice and sorrow, is doomed to the same fate - to live on as a mockery of life, as a mockery of what it is meant to be, to serve as a warning instead of a beacon.

Read More......


Attempted Break-in of Dickinson's Home

habent sua fata libelli: Breaking News: attempted break-in at Dickinson Museum
There was an attempted break-in Friday morning at the Emily Dickinson Museum in Amherst, specifically, the 1813 Dickinson Homestead in which the poet spent most of her life.

Thieves, floods, forces of nature, leave a poor dead woman be! I'm a bit puzzled, honestly, as to what they'd steal - the only thing actually belonging to Dickinson there, supposedly, is one of her dresses, or so I'm told. The rest is just a suggestion of how someone thought things might have looked at the time. Not, I suppose, that none of that is valuable. It just seems more profitable to break into, say, an antique that will be invariably less protected. I imagine it had more to do with the thrill of the thing than any sensible motive.

Read More......


Prime Minister Pierre-Louis in Haiti - Finally Approved!

Haiti OK's new prime minister, government - 09/05/2008 - MiamiHerald.com

(Photo from HaitianDiaspora.com)

Good for Haiti! At last, it's done, they've managed to assemble a government against all luck, I like the new Prime Minister. She's a capable-sounding woman, with a lifelong interest in the things that matter in Haiti, right now. I thought a quote from the article was terrifically indicative, both of the hopelessness, and ever-blooming hope in the Second Oldest Western Republic.

Still, the U.S.-educated economist and educator and her cabinet faces a daunting task. The storms have left many parents unable to afford school fees, and lawmakers are now asking that the beginning of the school year be delayed until October. They are also seeking relief for Gonaives and other areas hard-hit by this hurricane season's storms. Also, the five months of impasse has cost Haiti hundreds of millions of dollars in badly needed dollars to address rising food and oil prices and meet the impoverished nation's basic needs. ''The condition this country is in at the moment, everything is a priority,'' Clérié said. ``But I am very optimistic about her.''

Read More......


Tea party in a freight van

I love that this fellow is working on his dissertation, and that somehow he made time to both consider the possibilities of, and go to the trouble of filming a video of, a tea party in the back of a transit van... of course they're weenies, crumpets ought to be served with real cream, and I saw nary a cup of hot tea in this party...

Read More......

America, Haiti, and the IDB

A disturbing article in today's Guardian, here, about how the Inter-American Development Bank, an organization chartered to help countries social and economic infrastructure needs be fulfilled, is being used as a political tool to bully Haiti into having the government America wants:
Internal emails reveal that a US legal counsellor inside the IDB proposed to the US Treasury that, though the loans faced no legitimate technical obstacles, the US could effectively block them by "slowing" the process. Indeed, by requesting further review of the loans, Haiti would have to make scheduled payments before the funds were even disbursed. "While this is not a 'bullet-proof' way to stop IDB disbursements," the counsellor wrote, "it certainly will put a few more large rocks in the road."
The reason?
In 2001, US officials threatened to use their influence to stop previously-approved IDB funding unless Haiti's majority political party submitted to political demands to accept a particular apportionment of seats in a Haitian electoral oversight body. Soon after, at the behest of the US, instead of disbursing the loans as planned, the IDB and its members took the unprecedented step of implicitly adding conditions to require political action by Haiti before the funds would be released. These actions violated the IDB's own charter, which strictly prohibits the bank and its members from interfering in the internal political affairs of member states.
Why can't we just keep the promises we make? If we don't want to keep them, why do we make them in the first place?

Read More......


The Sylvia Beach Hotel

Sylvia Beach Hotel - a set on Flickr
Hotel for booklovers, located in Newport Oregon; each room is dedicated to the style of a particular author. These photos were taken of the rooms I was able to view in mid August, 2008.
What an... interesting experiment. I'm not sure if some of these rooms are spot on or horrifying. Some are both. I love the implication that Dr. Seuss naturally developed into ugly 80's bedspread patterns, and I have decidedly mixed feelings about the Woolf room. The Poe room is probably not accurate either, but... eeh. I don't know if I could sleep in a room that accurately reflected the spirit of EA Poe. The EB White room is pretty, and charmingly... chaste, I suppose. My favorite is the library in the attic. But, that doesn't count. Of the Author rooms, I like the Fitzgerald room. Just needs a discarded liquor bottle.

Read More......


Prime Minister Pierre-Louis

An interesting article on the new Prime Minister of Haiti. She sounds like a good woman, who means well - given Haiti's past, I can only hope she stays that way, and that nobody pulls a coup on her.

Pierre-Louis' task in Haiti: to revive a wounded nation - 08/18/2008 - MiamiHerald.com
Supporters point out that Pierre-Louis, who is fluent in four languages -- French, Creole, English and Spanish -- and holds master's and doctoral degrees from U.S. universities, can work anywhere. Instead, she has chosen to remain in Haiti.

In a public address recently to outline her general policies, Pierre-Louis said Haiti has no shortage of deeply rooted social and economic problems -- so many that during the difficult ratification process, she questioned her decision to accept the nomination by Haitian President René Préval.

''My decision was not triggered by the desire to hold a position,'' she told reporters. ``My decision is rooted deep inside my commitment to my country.''

Haiti watchers say that while Pierre-Louis has proved herself to be an effective leader and formidable contender, how well she does -- if given the chance to govern -- will depend on her ability to manage conflicts with Parliament, to which she is responsible.

Read More......


Why Kafka (and Dickinson) Become Slaves to Biographers

Earlier today, I read an interesting article. I highly recommend it. The author says about Kafka part of what I tried to say about Dickinson, here. Only, it makes sense when he says it.

From 3quarksdaily
The process of reading a text, line by line, is hard work. Not quite as hard work as writing it, perhaps, but almost. Biographical interpretations are an excuse for lazy reading. Using an author’s life to crack the code of his texts is just too easy. There are no shortcuts to interpretation. That was why I spent three hours reading ten pages of Kafka with my students.

I would only add two things:
1) I think the realization has as much to do with spiritual safety as it does with analytical laziness. It feels good to read Emily Dickinson and tsk-tsk over the poor neurotic woman who wrote such pretty poems. There is something satisfying about reading Kafka as an explanation as some other guy's life transformed into a clever metaphor. But the power of these works is that they can latch onto and reflect us, the readers. If you want to read a poem that admits the things you won't admit to yourself, read Dickinson. If you want to read literature that talks about how fascinating the author is, try Nabokov (j/k).
2) I do not think this eliminates the value of a biography of someone like Dickinson. I think biography, like psychotherapy, is an art form, something very pretty, that can be beautiful in certain circumstances, useful in certain others, neither in many circumstances, both in a select few.

Read More......


The murmur of the outer Infinite...

It's been a difficult few days generally, and everything feels generally topsy-turvy, unfortunately a chronically intermittent condition when I am in a house, I think. But irrelevant to the subject. The point is, that I am now getting old enough to actually feel all the htings that when I was young and romantic I wanted to feel. Now that I am old, these things no longer feel like grand gestures,t ehy feel sort of stunted and uncomfortably out of place. I finished a book earlier today, and had to go pick up some dinner, (mucked up the timing on having the planned dinner ready, of course), and wanted a new book to read if I ended up waiting at the store. I'd checked out a book of poetry by Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz, from the library, but I am not up to doing something that takes brains and creativity to understand, tonight, so I fumbled the shelves trying to find a spine that felt friendly. It would have been a good day for Kilmeny of the Orchard, but alas, I only listened to that online, and I feel, illogically enough, like I ought to read something at least that I have not read this year, as I feel obligated to finish up the 5-squared blog, thingie, goal, stuff. So, at the last minute, knowing that I was probably delaying too long already and everyone's dinner would be cold, on top of being yet another night of fast food, I just plunged in my hand and grabbed something. Aurora Leigh, Elizabeth Barret Browning.

Oh, Jason, you poor little fool, of all the books.

Aurora Leigh is an old acquaintance, and EBB is an older one, one of those poets I didn't really read so much as stare at her picture, and dream up lives for, so the book had a warm, comforting heft to it in my hand (although, sadly, it's kind of a very cheap printing of the book). Amanda knows her as the poet I read out loud in a voice her mother and her described as being like a Catholic priest at litany, to put Laurence to sleep as a baby. Oh, memory! Oh life, oh me! (see, Whitman could say that as a declaration, for me, it's like I'm berating myself). The first stanza, friends, read in the driveway, hwile turning on the car:

Of writing many books there is no end;
And I who have written much in prose and verse
For others' uses, will write now for mine,--
As when you paint your portrait for a friend,
Who keeps it in a drawer and looks at it
Long after he has ceased to love you, just
To hold together what he was and is.

I could go on, but I won't, but it was, I will just say, very difficult to be polite and conversational with the very nice gentleman at the restaurant, who asked what I was reading. It's strange to me, I'd always pictured my reading life as being broad, that I'd try to read mroe and mroe. I wanted to be the brave, conquistadorial reader like Amanda, who can plausibly dream of, say, reading the entire list of books that have won a Pulitzer, ever. That was what I always thought would be what I would try for, the well-read man. I think I've given up on that. There just doesn't seem to be any reason for it, and I suppose I'm honestly just not that kind fo person, I'm not well read, just like I don't have a wide circle of friends, and I feel a pang of guilt when I leave a house or a car behind to some new owner. When I fele particularly sensitive, when my mind is most open to the emotional import of somethign new, it contracts, reflexively, it cloutches on to old, kind friends, and murmurs back and forth with them. Anyway, it was kind of Ms Browning to lend me a shoulder today, I guess I'm more writing a sort of thank you than anything, not that you can tell from this ramble I suppose.

Read More......


Last week in Haiti

Last week was the Festival of Our Lady of Carmel, in Haiti, a religious festival extremely important to both the Catholic and Vodou believers of the nation. It stems from a 19th century event where there was supposedly a visitation by the Holy Virgin (or Erzulie, depending on your persuasion, or both, for it seems like a lot of people) at the waterfall in Saut d'Eau (yes, French majors, I know it means 'waterfall'. I didn't name it). Every year now during the festival, people from all over Haiti, and even Haitian expats in places like Miami, make a pilgrimage to the falls, to bathe in the waterfalls. The Guardian has a beautiful multimedia presentation of some shots from this year. It was heart-breaking to me, to read about people, in this year where people are eating dirt cakes, and fighting all the ancient problems of Haiti, spend a weeks worth of wages to make a trip to a waterfall in the middle of nowhere and plead with God for mercy. Heart-breaking, depressing, inspiring, reverence-inducing, hopeful, all at once.

Blogged from: Spiritual cleansing in Haiti | World news | guardian.co.uk

PS - I also, went and transcribed information into the Stub article for Saut d'Eau on Wikipedia. My first ever Wikipedia edit, I feel so growed-up, now!

Read More......


Eli, Eli

(beautiful image from here. Strange that a musing on Christ, Faith and Emily Dickinson can be illustrated by a blog on Beat poets.)

Reading about Emily Dickinson brings back all the moments of reading, everywhere, that you have a moment of magic, not in the Disney sense, but in the old ambivalent sense of magic, where something strikes you deep, like an incantation or a word with power seperate from meaning. And, since it's Emily Dickinson, it brings back particularly the bible. There was one line in the New Testament that always had a great personal feeling for me, its in two places, but I won't e'en give verses because anyone who wants to look it up will have no trouble finding it: when Christ is hanging on the cross, and cries out 'Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?'

I still remember the phrase from my childhood, I don't know why it had so much magic to me then. Maybe it was the ironic power of the moment in the entire crucifixion story, or the feeling of humanity in poor Jesus for a moment, maybe it was because it was in a strange language and sounded eerie when you read it in an anguished voice, I don't know. I remember it, though, like I remember few biblical verses, and it's particularly odd, because it's not one I was ever taught, particularly. I remember reading, it and murmuring it to myself.

I came across it today, in the biography I'm reading, and felt such a pang of sympathy I couldn't help but remember it now. I guess that's why it rubs me strangely now. It's an uncomfortable moment with God, when you think of it, or at least for me. I know many people read the New Testament and feel a special sort of kinship with Jesus Christ, like it's a very humanizing scripture. I never really go that - I always felt, in fact, like the disciples writing the books usually didn't wnat me to get that, but to feel his godliness, since I suppose the assumption was that his humanity was implied by the fact that he lived and died. The New Testament makes me feel as if I am at great distance, it makes me feel as if I could play-act Christ, the way one feels how edifying and terrifying it would be to be a Jew in World War II, or Galadriel in the Lord of the Rings. It's a short hand for courage in suffering, as it were, one that is so used now as to almost feel mythic (or I suppose for many people to actually BE mythic. Except for the Jews in World War II, who certainly weren't a myth). It's an experienced tempered by a feeling that - that isn't me. If I am Galadriel, I will delude myself into keeping the ring, and if I am a Jew, I will not be Elie Weisel, I would beg and plead for my life each moment, double-cross and betray every soul I've ever met. I do not have the courage to raise my chin up and be brave. It's not that I think this courage is foolish, on the contrary, I love these things (as anyone who knows me closer than they'd like will probably attest), it's just that I cannot imagine I would avail myself well in those situations.

And so, since the assumption when I read is that implicitly I am the human one, and the normal one, the feeling is that Christ is neither normal nor human. Which, I suppose is, like I mentioned, more or less true in the narrative, I think. But there's a parallel truth, that others, more sensitive than me, seem to read in the New Testament, one that makes them feel akin. Maybe they are more human or more brave than I, and so they are not to distant from godliness to feel a kinship with it. I don't begrudge them that.

I, I can only feel a kinship with Christ when I feel his psychic, personal, internal pain, and recognize it, and that's only in two places, and this is one (the other is when the fig tree is withered, but that's a whole different story). I can feel being there, and doing something, something so terribly well, and I grew up believing that even Christ worked in faith, not knowledge, I can feel hanging there on that cross, and the sudden confusion, of not being able to believe that all that God has told you is wrong, but of being unable to comprehend how this could positively be right. The conflation of impossible wrongs, that is human to me, but it's not the sort of human that saves your soul, I suppose, I just want to scream at God for being so unkind, for designing a world where this is how things work, and to go take Jesus down and hold him and let him cry. Which, of course, would have probably been kind of awkward at the crucifixion.

Aside from the meaning even, however, it is, like a said, just a powerful set of words. I know (or I think, anyway), Eli just means 'God' in a different language, but *I* only speak English, and I only see the word once, so, to me, it has this unique power, it's a different name. The word God is so muddy so charged, even if you only limit it to, say, how it's used in the bible. I can say God like I'm terrified, like I'm in love, like I'm humble or celebrating my victory, or bold or cowardly, or sad or happy, or hoping the corn grows straight this year. I can say Eli in only one way, and it's such a private, secret way, it's like you're whispering it, it's like when you've grown too old for it, but something hurts so much, that you call out for your mother and call her 'Mommy', and its ridiculously conspicuous and painfully sincere at the same time, and then, afterwards you never say it again, because you're not a child anymore. And it's just such a lyrical cry, rhyme and even a metrical foot, it steps up and down like a cry should. I've tried to write a poem twice and failed from it, but I believe someday, someone will and it will be beautiful, because it practically already is one:

Eli! Eli!
Lama Sabachthani!
Oh, God, Why,
Hast thou forsaken me!

Read More......

How to determine if an email ought to be forwarded

Posted as a public service.
Authorship unknown, but I found it here.

Read More......


Needing to be Seen.

Sometimes, you will see someonel do a thing, not because it needs to be done, but because they need someone to see them do it, you know? I know I've done that before. I used to think that was sort of... laughable. Pitiful. Probably because its easy to think it is when you are doing it, and because its easy to laugh at somenoe's needs outside you when you can't or won't do anything about it anyway.

Anyway, I don't think I feel that way, anymore. Anyway, not in all cases.

Read More......


Hurrah for $4 a gallon gas! No, really...

Time Magazine published an article, here, that I found really interesting today - in the grand tradition of people finding things interesting, it's because it's what I thought anyway: $4 gas is not necessarily a bad thing.
Yeah, sure, I know, my budget is hurting too. I'm with you on that one. It's not a FUN change. But, it's a good change, a change that, in the long run, is very healthy for our country, I believe, despite the politics saying otherwise. I won't go on to just repeat what was in the article I cited - it's a fun little read, even if it's a bit light on actual data. I suppose what touches me on a more philosophical level is just that... well, America is much prettier when it struggles. I was thinking of this earlier today, because I've been thinking about Emma Goldman, an old favorite idea of a person for me. When Emma was alive, I don't know that I AGREED with her, at all, but I really feel like I believe SHE agreed with herself, anyway. Anarchists, Socialists, Unionists, all of the movements for social change really, today, feel very shallow, very raise-the-fist-and-look-cool-in-college. Very Bourgeois ;). In Emma's days, this was not so, because there was a NEED for change, there was a hunger in the American people for a change of the class system then.
Well, I don't believe that oil prices will bring about the rise of the proles, or anything (although the idea is interesting...), but I do believe that for America to be heroic, now, in the struggles we fight (returning to a basic respect for the earth, for instance, or facing up to the responsibilities that come with power) it must feel some pain, it must have some gentle prod. And really, I know, it's hard, it is, but $4 gas is a pretty gentle prod. Put it in perspective, we are all still eating, movie theaters and beer companies are not going out of business, it's not like we're eating dirt cakes. We're just having some visibile evidence that this gas thing ain't gonna hold out forever, you know? And it's that whisper in our ear that can make us heroic, that can spur us to do great things, like the generation of World War II, or the Apollo project, or even the Revolutionary War. After all - folks didn't just sign the Declaration because they liked the idea of it - they were economically inclined to do it.

Read More......

Wading Grief

'Power is only Pain --
Stranded, thro' Discipline,'
Emily Dickinson, #252

I'm in the middle of Cynthia Wolff's biography of Emily Dickinson, and it's amazing what a bit of Dickinson will do for you. The older I get, (and I'm only 28, after all) the more I realize how much I don't know, will never understand, all the thing Emily Dickinson can tell you.

Now, mind you, that's not neccesarily to say that I believe Ms. Wolff does either - her interpretation of Emily Dickinson has a definite late 20th century Academic filter applied, and while I've never met her, I can't imagine even Ms Wolff would deny that. Reading this book has mostly shown me all the htings that Emily CAN say, if you NEED her to say it.

I was struck particularly by 'I can wade Grief--', poem #252 in the standard numbering of Dickinson poems. I don't even know if I thoguht too hard about this poem when I was younger, but if I did, I know exactly what I read from it, and I just didn't completely understand. The one comment I can applaud Ms Wolff for on this was her pointing out that the meter staggers, like one beneath great weight, or in great pain - read it out loud, you will hear the stuttering steps, the pauses for breath, the triumphant gritting of teeth. It made me understand in a way that I can't quite express (being as I'm not Emily Dickinson!), how tied together 'power' and 'pain' are. When Emily Dickinson takes on pain that she can avoid, it's not just some sort of masochistic self-punishment, it's a sort of divine vision, that responsibility needs power to fulfill, that we should never be content with leaving pain aside. It is not a matter of keeping pain at a minimum, but it's, instead, an art of living all that must be lived to live the life you want, and sometimes, that means pain, and sometimes that means pleasure, but all of it means beauty - the life of a poet is too much to contain in the box of happy feelings, it has to be bigger than that, that's why golden ages always need to melt into silver, that's why spirits consent to be born to the world. It's not masochism, it's an absence of even the slightest trace of hedonism.

Anyway, babble-babble-babble. It's pretty irrelevant, really, as I have no courage of conviction, so the whole story is about someone else. But if you cannot be beautiful, its comforting to see beautiful things.

Read More......


Viral Memory Game

That sounds technical doesn't it? I was pulled in through my unbelievably stunning wife. Here's the rules:

1. As a comment on my blog, leave one memory that you and I had together or with my family. It doesn't matter if you knew me a little or a lot, anything you remember!

2. Next, re-post these instructions on your blog and see how many people leave a memory about you. If you don't want to play on your blog, or if you don't have a blog, I'll leave my memory of you in my comments.

Read More......


Not too crotchety...

So it turns out I'm not old. In the midst of trying to wash dishes, today, there was a knock on our door. I dutifully went to answer it, and there was a salesperson. His first comment:

"Hi, are either of your parents home?"

Read More......


To add to everyone's Christmas list

I've had several people suggest that since my laptop is permanently attached to my left arm at work, tha tI ought to get some kind of harness. That day has come. Now, this doesn't go along with the BEST idea, which was the suggestion that the harness somehow be integrated with my suspenders. But, one step at a time, I suppose...

(via GeekDad)

Read More......