Friday, January 30, 2004

Nagging Question

I just finished Margaret Atwood's The Blind Assassin last night. Initially when reading it, I had my misgivings because she put a novel-within-the-novel interspersed with the regular novel. Since she published it in 2000 before my groundbreaking novel RI written for Nanowrimo originated the technique, I must conclude that like Newton and Liebnitz with the founding of the calculus, great minds think alike.

In any case, one of the themes the novel explores is how experiences in an author's life are transformed into fiction. So since it appears that Atwood subscribes to this, I have to ask the question: Who the hell are the people in her real life that have given her the basis for such evil characters that she has depicted? I know about the fallacy of assuming novels are thinly disguised depictions of real events. I'm not talking about plopping things directly into fiction. I mean that she has created characters (Zenia in The Robber Bride, Winifred in The Blind Assassin, and other characters in The Blind Assassin not known to be evil until later...) who are so well-roundedly nasty I can't help but wonder if there is some real life model she had the misfortune to observe or experience. I wonder if we will have to wait until an autobiography or biography comes out to really know. Or maybe I can wait until she is interviewed on BookNotes...

Wednesday, January 28, 2004

The Thanks Department

When I was a certain age in my childhood, science fiction was my air and water. Mornings would find me biking down to the library to switch the books that I had just consumed for the ones that they led me to. Every sub-genre was fair game: Golden age, dystopian, utopian, hard science, soft science, space opera, and Omni magazine. My mother was concerned about this. Looking back on it now, she was probably connecting them with the lurid comic books that were censored in the 40's and 50's. However, she didn't press too hard - after 3 boys, she knew that from prohibition grew obsession. But I was already obsessed. I won't say that reading sci-fi was a direct influence on getting my degrees in physics and astronomy, rather that the same person who has an affinity for one, usually has an affinity for the other. Reading sci-fi did have another consequence, one that I did not recognize for some time.

Reading sci-fi put me into the habit of reading and to look to books for escape, knowledge and fun. Libraries and bookstores to this day are revered and sacred places to me. I can lose myself for hours in an University library. Look - bound issues of The Illustrated London News from 1910 - Over there - literary studies on James Joyce - Say, look at all these journals on psychology. Most of all, libraries are sacred to me because of their ecumenical nature. Churches are always suspect because of their evangelism and dogmas - their unreasoning acceptance of human authority (i.e. when they say it is God's will, it ain't, it's the will of the guy saying it is God's will) and silly rules that deny most of human nature. Libraries on the other hand are not trying to tell you what to do and every facet of human nature is going to be found in a book - displayed, examined and discussed - rather than condemned, hidden and banned. I had a boss once who I heard was against libraries. To me, that would be like saying you are against three dimensions, "No, I prefer two dimensions, thank you very much." Whatever Carnegie may have done in his robber baron days, in my book he is a saint for building and funding libraries throughout early 20th century America.

But it isn't libraries that got me to write this thanks. No, it was the memory of some books that I read in my sci-fi days. These were books of tales that showed me what lies beneath what we call reality and society. By tweaking ever so slightly some little natural law or accepted ritual, he shone in greater light our human nature. Unlike most of the authors I had been reading, it wasn't plot, science or horror that was his focus. His obsession was on what it was like to be human. Reading The Golden Apples of the Sun, R is for Rocket, and S is for Space I was immediately drawn in by the stories of otherworlds, space travel, and supernatural suspense. Those were just MacGuffins that lead the reader to the real subjects of his work. I believe that these books were my first introduction to art. Looking back on the cultural suburban wasteland of my childhood, I can see no other places where I would have exposed to any honest-to-goodness art of any kind. My parents did not read books or poetry, or listen to music, or go to museums. Instead there was this void filled in by TV and the church. Imagine Babette's Feast and the total lack of sensual activity and you would be pretty close.

So, I would like to thank Ray Bradbury for showing me another world. Not a world like Mars or Jupiter, but a rich, inner world of depictions of what it is like to be a person in the world we have now. I think he gave us a clue on what he is really on about in naming one of his collections I Sing the Body Electric. I will end with two excerpts from another work with that name:

There is something in staying close to men and women, and looking on them, and in the contact and odor of them, that pleases the soul well;
All things please the soul—but these please the soul well.

O I say, these are not the parts and poems of the Body only, but of the Soul,
O I say now these are the Soul!

Thursday, January 22, 2004

New Diet

Never let it be said that I am not "down" with the latest thing. Right now I am in the middle of the Akins Diet that I've heard so much about. Like all diets, it is hard to keep up with, this one in particular has its challenges in that you only get to eat donuts that fall out of piled up police cars...

Can't We Just Get Along?

In which I report on another of KIRO-TV's wonderful headlines on its website (I won't link because it will change in a few hours anyway, the article does not have the same headline as the front page leader, the website is

The headline in question: "Mars Rover Stops Communicating From Mars".

Well, didn't NASA read the book Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus? And now they're wondering why it isn't communicating? All I'm saying, is that once they send up some beer and a satellite link to ESPN, you'll be getting some communicating going on.

Do you wonder why we don't send much to Venus? Because the Russians once set a lander to the surface of Venus and apparently all they got was "Do you think it's too humid down here? Well, I do, I wonder who I should talk to about this. And these curtains on the lander? I just don't think they fit in with the clouds here, I'll take them back. I can't seem to get Oprah down here, Hello?!? Do these retro-rockets make me look fat? We never really talk anymore, it's always telemetry this and data that, tell me, what are you feeling?"

The Russians pulled the plug after a few days of this. Last reports from the lander confirm that it is periwinkle blue with a touch of magenta trim. And the window treatments are to die for.

Confucious Says

I cried because I had no shoes - and then I met a man who had no feet...

So I stop crying and say, "You want your shoes?, cuz it don't look like you need 'em"

P.S. On retrospect, I'm sure I'm not the first one to think of this...but I was running dry...

Monday, January 19, 2004

The Thanks Department

In the course of human events, all too rarely you come across something that is really simpatico with you. It could be a movie or a book or a painting or a song that seems like it was made by you - but done so much better that all you can do is sit back and revel in the reflection of yourself that you are witnessing. Friends, I just had that moment. In this installment of the The Thanks Department I would like to heap encomiums on The Bookslut Blog. I am her biggest fan, not that I would break her legs or kidnap her or anything. I read her blog everyday and she never fails to amuse. But today I really saw that "she gets it, she really, really gets it".

The entry in question perfectly summed up a mystery that was not in any way important to me, but yet was still unresolved like a sustained 4th chord always waiting to come home but knows it never will. The mystery was "How can a show called Book TV get it so wrong?" When I am at a TV wired place and I am playing pong with the schedule channel, sometimes I come across a show called "BookNotes". Like a mirage it shimmers in the desert of Baywatch reruns and 47 football games. My mind salivates at the prospect of a well reasoned discussion on books. Without thinking I flip my pong paddle and hit the BookNote blip. And then, even though I've been Pavlov'ed enough to know better, I am disappointed. Every single goddamn time it is some goddamn nonfiction book (always always always political except when it is even worse - like Civil War history or the life and times of some boring guy.) I am always presented with the ugly sweater from your grandmother Christmas present rather than the awesome chemistry set with real, smoking potions or the Authentic Willie Mays baseball glove or the Red Ryder BB Gun. I don't know exactly what sugar plums are dancing in my head when I go to BookNotes, but they ain't a discussion of presidential eloquence.

But this isn't the Department of Rants, but the Department of Thanks. I wish to thank Bookslut for the succintly simple blog entry showing that someone, somewhere thinks like I do.

Sunday, January 18, 2004

For A Long Time

I've just finished reading a review of a new translation of Proust's Swann's Way. This reading reinforced the reason why I read so much. Also, as far as one must allow Christopher Hitchen's (the reviewer) predilections concerning life and war as it is today, one cannot argue that he cannot write - the review is a small masterpiece in mixing his personal views with learned commentary of the subject at hand.

There is a small industry in authors writing love affair tell-alls about Proust. Notable examples are How Proust Can Change Your Life and The Year of Reading Proust: A Memoir in Real Time. No other author gets quite this same reception. Charles Dickens, Joseph Conrad, James Joyce, etc. are respected, but no author really tries to identify with them and reflect on how reading them has affected them and their writing. The closest that I can think of who does have a somewhat similar situation is Virginia Woolf. Now why do I bring this author's affinity up? Because in reiterates why in particular Proust has a singular effect on readers. When one reads Proust, they are always reading two texts. They are reading the novel and they are reading the book of their life through the lens of the novel. They are looking back at previous loves and lost loves (among many things, but primarily these) and seeing the same things that Proust is writing about. They are reliving the jealousies and passions involved in those loves. How Proust has this effect on the reader is magical I think, and I believe that is why so many authors latch on to him.

And in a way, that is what happened when I read the review. Like the madeleine and tea at Marcel's aunt's that provoke the whole novel, reading passages of the novel brings back echoes of when I was reading the novel. A commonplace notion is that one shouldn't read In Search of Lost Time until one has had enough time to have lost. If I would have read it in my twenties I would have wondered what the hell the big deal was. But in my late thirties, I glimpsed what time does. Time burnishes and dims. Time can soften or harden. But whatever it does, it leaves a memory that you cannot get rid of - it is in your mind like a tattoo. Reading the novel makes you confront those tattoos - and this can be both a comforting and harrowing experience, and like the original events you've remembered, it is one you cannot forget.

In the review, Hitchens puts the traditional translation (Enright-Kilmartin-Moncrieff) against a new translation by Lydia Davis. In some ways, I was always disappointed by the new translation - the vernacular was too close to how we speak now. And this just seemed wrong. I wanted the prose to be reminiscent of the turn of the century - even if it is in fin de siecle English. Hitchens did point out passages that were improved - but that seemed to be because the traditional translation just really messed it up due to prudishness or a momentary lapse. In any event, in my opinion it would be hard to read any other translation than the one I read first. It would be like Marcel searching his memories of Combray and finding that Swann's Way and The Guermantes Way were not as he thought and he would have to scrap the novel. And where would we be then?

Wednesday, January 14, 2004

Department of Dilemmas

My company is having a company meeting and a holiday party this week. The company meeting looks like it is going to be a social affair with food, drinks and music. As will the holiday party - which has the added bonus of "cocktail attire" - which I take to mean "Come as your favorite apertif". I hope someone comes as "Sex on the Beach" or "Screaming Orgasm" (in cause you were wondering, the buried pun *is* intentional). Though, looking at some of the engineers, maybe not...

But that is neither here nor there, Sam I Am. My dilemma is that these things are tremendously nerve wracking for the introvert. I mistakenly RSVP'ed for the company party and I find out that a lot of people in my department aren't going. I.e. the only people I would know there. I can *only* have any semblance of a good time at these things if I am on extremely good footing with a lot of people. I.e., they already have come to terms with the fact that I am several sigmas shy of normal and yet still tolerate my presence. I would rather have sharp, burning, pus laden skewers in my eyes than have to "mingle" and small talk my way through a crowd of people I don't know. I mean, I don't watch TV, sports or practice conspicuous consumption so there ain't a lot of common ground.

There was one holiday party at my previous company that was at a Museum. The theme was "Casino night". Since both my wife and I find no point in gambling we put our tokens on one spin of the roulette wheel and then spent the rest of the night going through the exhibits - it was wonderful. Didn't have to worry about saying something stupid or be insufficiently impressed by the latest inanities of some idiot in Marketing. Therefore I think I will skip the holiday party. If anybody calls me on the fact that I RSVP'ed, I can always say that I was there - that I am such a wallflower that they never noticed!

Besides, with an introvert, one should realize that their saying "Yes" to these things is always a provisional answer. Yes only means yes if the stars have aligned sufficiently to assuage the anxiety gods. And the anxiety gods are restless this week. And it's not like anybody is going to note my absence (sans Sassy of course). I think I will go to the company meeting however and bail out with the reason that I biked in today and I don't want to let it get too dark...

Thursday, January 08, 2004

The Thanks Department

This will be a recurring feature of this blog where I give thanks to things that may not have known they needed thanks.

Thank you O first years of the new millenium! These are best of times because they are the worst of times. It is so simple to be a good man in these days of ours. I do not have to die for an ideal like Carton in A Tale of Two Cities to stand head and shoulders (well, in Carton's case sans head) above my fellows. No, all I have to do is stop at stop signs and red lights and let pedestrians just walk on by! This alone places me in the upper 10%. But wait, there's more! I will not rest on such laurel-strewed crosswalks, nay, I shall strive for all that is good and just. After allowing my good-hearted fellow citizens to carry on their business without fear of my grill indenting their coats - I (I hesitate to brag, but my heart bursts out and my fingers can but only follow) proudly flick on my turn signal! Yes, I am signalling my intentions to other motorists both seen and unseen. I rejoice in casting out confusion and misdirection from their traffic calculations. The powers that be scowl at such displays of personal virtue, but I shall not be dissuaded! I cannot tell a lie and say that I am not humbled by my actions. I weep at the grandeur.

In other times and places, men and women of good hearts have had to make harrowing choices to be in the upper moral echelon. They were martyrs or dissidents, giving up their lives or livelihoods for their choices. I regret that I have but one (or two) cloth bags to give to my country's supermarket bagger to re-use instead of paper or plastic! In the days of Ward Cleaver and Jim Anderson it must have been so difficult in the business world to aspire to their wisdom and morality. But now I find that I can attain similar heights by doing frighteningly simple things that nonetheless escape my contemporaries! I am soaring in the clouds of Mount Olympus when I inform my esteemed co-workers of details that may affect them A WEEK (OR MORE) AHEAD OF TIME! By the very act of following procedures and not cutting people out of the process I am like Gandhi - the mind reels at such audaciousness in the workplace today. In fact, like Gandhi and Thoreau I am willing to be the apostle of a new movement that I hope will sweep the land and make it more difficult to be seen as a good man. I shall call this daring and Quixotic enterprise Civil Obedience.

If you can stop at stoplights
And signal for your turning.
If you can walk away from petty fights
And let everyone know concerning
The decisions that you will make,
And the things that you have done
Yours is the world for you to take
And - which is more - You'll be a man my son!

Wednesday, January 07, 2004

Current Favorite Chord

My current favorite chord is Fmaj7. Balanced across middle-C, Fmaj7 (with the right pedal depressed) sounds like apple pie with vanilla bean ice cream. The hot and the cold melding into a harmonious whole. The apple pie of the F and A of F major and the ice cream of the C and E of C major. The ear not knowing whether to resolve to either side and finding it is fine just where it is. I play the chord and the vibrations take away all that I do not need to hold on to. I will live my life within this sound.

Monday, January 05, 2004

Happy New Year

No "poetry" in this post. I am reverting back to blogging as it is normally done. Why the poetry? I had to do an 180 degree turn from my previous bouts of blogging. This bout coincided with the time that I was at my previous job and in which I had subtle evidence that my boss had read my blog. Since he was/is of a different political persuasion I wasn't entirely sure that the views expressed in my blog had a not infinitesimal part for my being made redundant. (Parse that sentence!)

Additionally, since the "being made redundant" part also coincided with my efforts to "being made unredundant", having any blog presence out there with my name on it was not in my best interests. Yes, you have the right to free speech - but potential employers couldn't care less about it and are better off knowing only what is on your resume.

So, having learned my lessons - this new blog will not contain any political or social commentary. Those things are better done elsewhere, and in my opinion, all commentary is preaching to the choir. We read them to either say "Damn right, It's about time someone said that!" or to revel in our righteousness with "What a load of crap, this columnist is evil!" We don't change our minds when reading them. Well, I don't have or want a dog in that fight anymore.

So the poetry was a way to get past that and let some light back into my life. So on a final note in this blog entry, I'd like to leave you with a Zen koan of my own devising.

On a holiday cruise party at the last company I worked for, one of the venture capitalists who had grown enormously rich (by the standards of someone with $500 in the bank) was playing the piano and singing. One of the songs that he got into the most was Woody Guthrie's "This Land is My Land, This Land is Your Land". Put that into your Zen pipe and smoke it!