Sunday, August 30, 2015

"The Story Stick"

I've decided to dub it "The Story Stick" -- a six-foot tall maple sapling that I stripped of bark, sanded, burned a little design into and had a small, tinkling bell affixed by an ironsmith to the top.

I met the sapling forty years ago in a third- or fourth-growth stand of unremarkable trees upcountry from here. It stood in the woods forty years ago and for some reason I wanted it for a walking stick, though I didn't use one. It wasn't significantly different from the saplings around it. I cut it down, trimmed it a bit, and saved it until 2011 when at last I got around to 'finishing' it. Kept it for 40 years: That's quite a stretch.

What was its magnetism? I really don't want to make a magical mystery tour out of some 'mystical' connection between us, but there is something a bit odd about keeping this stick for forty years without doing anything until I did, in fact, do and have done something.

Nowadays, when I go for my ritualized old-fart walk around the block, the stick comes with me, tinkling now and then. There is no real melody. The stick just does what it does ... and keeps me company.

Now and then, I will stop to chat with people who may be tending their yards or passing by and sometimes they will comment on my stick. "You look like a shepherd," the plump lady down the street said. "Where are your sheep?"  Others have suggested, "You look like a wizard" or asked, "What is it for?"

And more than one person, like the man yesterday, has asked, "Did you make it?" The question leaves me strangely flummoxed within. I would like to be honest, but honesty somehow escapes me. Naturally, I didn't make the maple. Naturally, I did 'make,' in some sense, the design and finish. Who made this thing? As I say, I don't want to make a federal case out of it -- some mystical la-la talk, but I wonder for myself as well: What is this stick that walks and talks with me? It's just a stick, for heaven's sake ... but it's a stick with a statement. The bell tinkles. Is it a warning or an invitation? Is it just another ego trip?

How shall I sum it up.

And today it came to me that calling it "The Story Stick" was pretty good. The story stick is a thing that allows others to create their own stories without interfering. It is magical because there is no magic.

Or, put another way, there is only magic.

How nice in this day and age when everything seems to be teeming with too much information to process and make use of to find something so simple. It doesn't plug in. It doesn't demand anything. It has no angle and there is no 'benefit' in it. It is no threat: It's just a stick... sort of.

It's just a story stick, calling out the art and artistry that anyone might apply. Easy-peasy.

It's just a story stick like you or me.

Or, perhaps, it's just this story I have tried to tell.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Donald Trump's campaign

Passed along in email....

This might be funnier if the other 16 Republican candidates were saying anything more consequential:

be wise ... live long enough

I wonder if there is a corollary to Andy Warhol's "in the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes."

Maybe it's not exactly a corollary but rather another way of saying the same thing.

Anyway, what popped into my head was that anyone who lives long enough is likely to find his or her ideas embraced as being both right and wise.

The trick is to live long enough.

son's new job

Like a kaleidoscope held ever so delicately, a slight, slight shift ... a small "chink" as, perhaps, a single stone realigns itself ... and, voila, it's a whole new picture -- the same, but different. The what-was becomes what-is and some mild sigh wonders what ever happened to the lovely what-was that no longer is and yet is not missing either.

Yesterday, my older son announced to me that he had gotten (it seems to be about 98% sure) a track-coaching job a Plymouth State University in New Hampshire. In tandem with janitorial duties during the second shift, it may be enough to support him. The job represents a shift away from his 70-hour work week coaching track and being a teacher's aide here in Northampton. He will move away. They're paying peanuts, but the college venue is a star on his resume. It is the institution's first time to hire a track coach, my son said.

I am happy for him and simultaneously I don't want him changing my kaleidoscope, which has included his presence here at home.

If I were a Zen student, I would see through and see beyond and be content with the chink-chink-chink of the kaleidoscope. But I'm not: I figure I am providing those who imagine they are Zen students with fodder for their expectation/attachment wisdoms.

What a good guy I am.

I will miss my son.

Friday, August 28, 2015

protected from necrophilia

I can imagine, but don't know, that politicians might feel a bit beleaguered by an electorate that is skeptical of their capacity to think and act.

Yes, there is plenty of criticism to go around and there is a broad brush to be employed, but somehow that brush should not be applied to individual lawmakers whose bathroom mirrors reflect something more compatible with their well-scrubbed versions of themselves.

But sometimes there is a stupidity that crosses a line. What line it's hard to say, but the mind brings down the judgmental gavel ... how fucking stupid can you get?!

Take the case of a bill that would make necrophilia illegal in Massachusetts -- my home state. Surely screwing dead bodies is weird, to say the least, and offensive to those willing to impose a sanctity on dead bodies. But does the dead body mind and does this weirdness warrant a 20-year jail term?

And it gets weirder than that when the onlooker factors in the discovery that there has not, apparently, been a single case of such necrophilia documented in the state. Do the good citizens need a law that has never been broken in the first place? Don't politicians have more substantive matters to address?

Does this stupidity outshine 'ordinary' stupidities and cross over into blatant idiocy. As I say, the line is hard to winkle out, but it sure feels like excess to me.

The backstory:
State Representative Aaron Vega has been pushing for an explicit ban on necrophilia in Massachusetts, saying law enforcement’s hands were tied in a recent case. But that may not be true.
Under the bill, anyone found to have had sexual intercourse with a dead person would face up to 20 years in prison. Vega said a Holyoke police captain, Denise Duguay, came to him with what he calls a “loophole in the law,” in which a murderer would escape punishment for raping a victim — if the sex act occurred after the murder.
“There was a body found in the last couple years, [with] this exact scenario,” Vega told us Wednesday.
It turns out that Vega had been presented with a hypothetical rather than an actual scenario. The high-minded (or should that read "idiotic") Vega was undeterred:
Vega says the lack of a specific case doesn’t take away from the necessity of his bill.
The whole thing feels like a micro-version of the "terrorism" push -- as if, somehow, breaking the law were not enough and a new layer of virtue and manipulation had to be added on top. It is already illegal to mess with dead bodies and that, presumably, includes sexual contact... much as it is illegal to kill others and hence "terrorism" is not so much a means of protecting the public as it is a matter of consolidating political power.

Do I actually need to keep paying the salary of those like Aaron Vega whose efforts might better be spent on schools or infrastructure or even just shoveling a snowy sidewalk? Yes, a certain amount of waste is inevitable in any project, but isn't there a point at which that waste deserves to be called out?

Thursday, August 27, 2015

think RED

On the American comedy show "Saturday Night Live," actor Dan Ackroyd once did a stand-up schtick as an ersatz salesman hawking "hotel and motel art."

This was art that had been "seen by millions" and therefore deserved to be purchased for placement above the living-room sofa. If so many people had seen it without complaint, it must in some sense be good and therefore worthy of purchase.

"Hotel and motel art" -- what a hoot. Hotel and motel art is the generally bad reproductions of great art hung in the tidy room a traveler might rent ... something to bring class or color or individuality or just a break in the monotony of a particular environment.

All sorts of 'good-taste' snarkiness can be applied (as Ackroyd did) to "hotel and motel" art, but the principle behind such wall hangings is probably well-met: It feels a bit human-er, if that's a word ... a little dash of color and evocation, even if you hate it.

The other day, I went to the doctor for one routine check-up or another. At first, I was ushered down a hallway that sported various bits of art. Got weighed and was led to an examining room where the tech assessed blood pressure and then told me the doctor "will be right in." It wasn't true, of course. It never is. The doctor is never "right in" from the patient's point of view. So I waited because that's what patients do and as I waited, I looked around the room that was perhaps 12x12 feet.

There weren't even any year-old magazines which doctors sometimes provide. There were various implements relevant to examination (a table, a basin, a computer, etc.) but no diagrams (specialists are sometimes big on discipline-specific diagrams) on the walls, which were painted in what I think of as the Early Flatline style ... mauve, a beige that was a bit browner than usual, and a soft, not-quite khaki green. It felt subdued and serious.

I could have used a little hotel and motel art. If color can transmit mood -- and I purely hate to hear "color specialists" go on about it -- then the mood imparted was geared towards calm and serious reflection ... almost solemnity. This was no-fooling around territory. No one expected to laugh. What the hell, it's life and death and patients take their own lives pretty seriously. Me too.

But then it grated and cloyed. Is there some reason that a dash or splash of RED could not be added? Look around your doctor's office. Look for RED. Red is the color of blood (and implied mortality, perhaps), but it also the color of life and living and dying is part of life, so let's be lively and perhaps laugh in the meantime. Easier said than done, you say? Yes, perhaps so ... but do the solemn, 'adult' colors have to be so insistent. Anyone, at any moment, can choke on a peach pit, but at least there was the sweet, lively nectar before the end.

RED ... hotel and motel art ... laughter.

The net effect -- to the extent that color can have a net effect -- is to impose and agree with and enhance the womb-gloom-tomb solemnity. Doctors are on hand to make things better or easier and yet the mausoleum effect speaks of nothing so much as ... read-'em-and-weep-you're-fucked.

Early Flatline ... the color combinations purely bubble with an unwillingness to speak of life.

Think RED.

dear God, please don't take my fictions!

In the post-facto telling, there appears to be a credible coherence -- a way to weave what happened into a the tapestry of understanding. Today the news wires reconstruct -- or is it "construct?"-- the fatal shootings of two TV workers by a disgruntled former employee in Virginia. The stories, like this one perhaps, seem to sooth and smooth the comprehension. It is news, it excites the attention, it is another shocking example of ________ (fill in the blank), but whatever it is, the stories ABOUT it bring a sort of mental solace that rests largely on the carefully-coiffed distance from the actual event.

The actual event, by contrast, is strangely mundane, pedestrian, inexplicable and ineluctable. Its plain-Jane factual nature is an utter gob-stopper and this mind refuses to be gob-stopped: I need an explanation, a pigeon hole, a salving framework in which any imagined world outlook can be reaffirmed. Kindness, killing-is-bad, social dissections, self-aggrandizement ... I mean ... I have feelings and principles and cornerstones and ... the facts simply don't give a shit.

It is like a deep prayer: God fill me with fictions and distances because the facts are ... are ... are just the facts, plain as salt.

The facts brush aside the stories, careless as a child stepping on an ant. The mundane 1-2-3 of it overwhelms all comers. Even the it-is-what-it-is bullshitters are swept aside: Go fuck yourself: Facts are facts and, JEEE-SUS!, I don't know what to do in the face of the almost-boring plainness of fact. I want to feel something rousing, cheering, brought-low, decimating ... but the facts do not accede.

This is a lesson that is hard to stomach ... or perhaps I am willing to surrender and say "impossible to stomach" but I hate the defeat. I am so used to the fictions that I am flummoxed by the facts those fictions claim to address. "Cut the crap!" the facts say. But I am not a crap-cutter. I am a maven of fiction, within and without.

The killing of the Virginia television employees is extreme and was carefully taken down from the Internet. And yet I wonder if it was taken down entirely because it was too "shocking" or "in bad taste." Or was it because, as well, facts are always this way and the reminder is unbearable. Plain, straightforward, neither filled with emotion nor lacking it ... ineffable in its effability.

I'm begging here -- pleasepleaseplease don't take my fictions ... you know, the ones that are already gone!

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

trying to bury the journalists

During the Vietnam war, the flag-draped caskets of the dead or the rows of body bags awaiting transshipment were photographed for the benefit of an increasingly-restive public that was footing the bill for the war. In 1991, the bad-PR prop wash from such pictures and realities was well-remembered and the Bush administration said media coverage would no longer be allowed because it infringed on the privacy of the families affected.

This bullshit "caring" remained in place until 2009 when it was revealed that more than two-thirds of the families affected, when asked, said media coverage was OK with them. The "privacy of the family" was off the table in Dover, Delaware, where the latest crop of caskets is generally delivered, and elsewhere.

If there are no bodies, there is no war, right?

Now the Defense Department has taken another step in de-fanging an intrusive media that might unduly dull the rosy picture a military effort might prefer:
WASHINGTON (AP) — New Defense Department guidelines allow commanders to punish journalists and treat them as "unprivileged belligerents" if they believe journalists are sympathizing or cooperating with the enemy.
The Law of War manual, updated to apply for the first time to all branches of the military, contains a vaguely worded provision that military commanders could interpret broadly, experts in military law and journalism say. Commanders could ask journalists to leave military bases or detain journalists for any number of perceived offenses.
Now, it appears, a journalist who catches a military commander being a fuck-up or a fool can be dealt with summarily: Clap him/her in irons!

True, there is a tension between journalism and military needs. It has always existed. To my knowledge, no responsible journalist released information that would give "aid and comfort to the enemy." But covering and camouflaging bad or ignorant behavior? I don't know about you, but I prefer the most detailed facts possible when it comes to using my money to kill Americans ... or anyone else for that matter. Journalism is already corrupt enough without sending it further still into the brambles of agitation and propaganda.

a BIG fish ... really

Some fish stories are true...

A Canadian boy has caught a 486lb (220kg) tuna in Naufrage Harbour, off the coast of Prince Edward Island.
Koen Norton, 10, is hoping to secure the International Gamefish Association record for largest tuna caught by a child 10 years old or younger.

175 tons of tomatoes

BUNOL, Spain (AP) — More than 20,000 people have pelted each other in the street with tomatoes in this year's "Tomatina" as the Spanish event celebrates its 70th birthday.
At the annual fiesta in the eastern town of Bunol on Wednesday, 175 tons of ripe tomatoes were offloaded from seven trucks into the crowd packing streets for an hour-long battle.