In the online world, bad behavior can be the best behavior. How is this possible?
In “real life,” when someone approaches and asks you out, you’re obliged by social custom to reply. You may not be interested, but you can’t just pretend that the person isn’t standing there talking to you. That would be unspeakably rude. So we have developed all manner of ways of saying no thanks, in what is hopefully the kindest way possible. None of us likes to be rejected, and if we have any empathy about us at all we’re uncomfortable inflicting pain and/or embarrassment on someone – especially since that person’s only crime is thinking we’re kinda neat.
patriarchal principle: Men are entitled to take up space
“Manspreading” refers to men sitting in public spaces with their legs spread wide apart. Anyone – and especially a woman – who has sat in a movie theater, airplane, or any sort of public transportation is all too familiar with the phenomenon. All too many men seem willing to rudely spread out beyond their little designated spaces in places like those I’ve mentioned. I’d really like to have a dollar for every time I’ve been squeezed out of my space in a movie theater by a man manspreading next to me – I could buy most of the books on my wish list at Amazon. Some speculate that this behavior is an act of dominance or is about male privilege. Personally, I have always thought the message is, “Hey,everybody look at me – my balls are so big that I can not even close my legs!” The problem is widespread – if you will – enough that now, the New York City subway authority is mounting a campaign against the practice, using the slogan “Dude, stop the spread please. It’s a space issue.” Continue reading →
For New Year’s, confessions of a hypocrite journalist…
I am a pretty liberal guy, but not exactly a vigorous social activist. I maintain for myself, a struggling photojournalist, the comfortable hypocrisy that periodically photographing and reporting on local (and, even more infrequently, Japanese) social issues is my contribution to stimulating compassion and action in others. This hypocrisy gets particularly assertive during the end-of-year Christmas and New Year’s holidays.
So I have a couple of stories here to briefly tell, which I offer as reminders to my fellow Americans that many folks in our country are hurting, and downtrodden, and further away from what’s left of The American Dream than you or me…
A couple of weeks ago I bought a pair of hunting boots so I could walk in the woods again. The woods stand right across the street, a narrow strip bordering the south side of a farm field of some 60 acres. The north and west sides of the field end at the bottoms of tree-filled hills I used to scramble up and down with my dog, King, but King died many years ago, and I couldn’t bring myself to visit the woods without him.
I’ve been going back, though, since buying the boots, and I was happy to see the terrain is all but unrecognizable. Countless beech trees have been felled by winds, crashing across paths King and I used to walk on. There are new ways up the hillside now, though: the worn paths of deer. The deer population is much larger than before. Their paths crisscross the hillsides.
The holiday season is most often described as “joyful,” “merry,” “bright” – candles instead of cursing the the darkness – but both the Appalachian storytellers of “A Firefox Christmas” and Charles Dickens in “The Chimes” remind us that the holidays can be a time of loneliness and disillusionment…
A Foxfire Christmas, ed. Eliot Wigginton (image courtesy Goodreads)
I complete the 2014 reading list as I did the 2013 reading list – with some holiday appropriate stories. For this year’s list I returned to the acknowledged godfather of Christmas tales, a Mr. C. Dickens, for his haunting look at what we really should mean by “starting the New Year right,” The Chimes. I followed that with the Christmas entry in the Foxfire series of folk lore compendiums, A Foxfire Christmas.
What is striking about both these works is the powerful current of pathos that runs through them. One expects this of Dickens, of course. No one does pathos like the creator of Little Nell, Oliver Twist, and Jo the crossing sweeper. The Firefox books, on the other hand, are compilations of stories and folk wisdom from long time residents of Appalachia. Their experiences, related as nearly as possible in their own words, range widely and move from the humorous to the heartbreaking – sometimes abruptly. The overall aim isn’t (as it often is with Dickens, that master manipulator of our emotions) to foster sympathy and motivate social action; Foxfire books primarily seek to preserve cultural history – the pathos one sometimes encounters there is firmly embedded in the history being shared. Continue reading →
The sewing machine doesn’t hum. It barrels down the seam, rattling the table and everything on it. It’s Christmas Eve and I’m working on the Christmas jammies. Fifth Christmas without her and the sewing of my children’s jammies is a bit of therapy. She always finished her sewing at the last minute, too. I was sure I’d have to go to prom with pins in the hem of my dress. I didn’t, though. Likewise, these pants will be done by the time the kids go to bed. Continue reading →
For the first time in a while I decided to just play around with graphics. Initially I was looking to see what filters I could use to prep a photographic image for screen printing. I tinkered with a tractor and hands playing a piano with varying degrees of success, then wondered about portraiture. One thing led to another and this is what happened.
Having scratched my head and stared at my navel publicly elsewhere, I thought I should share what I found whilst scratching here as well. I would like to take a moment to share some observations about what is apparently a sensitive topic. The topic is so sensitive, however, that I feel I must preamble the [censored] [censored] out [censored] lest superior persons and others of highly refined sensibilities take this in the wrong spirit.
Point the first: I would like to express my appreciation for the people who conceived of, put into operation, and continue to maintain both with effort and money, this [well, that] website. Continue reading →
I found myself walking along a thoroughfare in another Rust Belt city Friday while my truck was in the shop.
There’s nothing like walking with no particular place to go to get a feel for someplace. On the uncommon occasions when I visit large cities—Philadelphia, Charlotte, Portland—I check into my hotel, put my running shoes on, and walk for hours. At times I’ve found myself out past where the last buses run; other times, I’ve found myself looked at suspiciously by creatures clad in the trappings of haute couture.
Friday, I was not in a large city but rather in a small city whose better days are a memory and for whom better days are a dream. Continue reading →
Fanciful middle-aged musings in a garden of the dead
It was just another Tuesday…
Wyatt Earp is dead and gone but I have sometimes talked to him in the years since I became a Heart Disease Missionary. When I come to the cold shores of Colma, I come to stave off cancer by snacking on his western bones.
…and I was out running an errand. And running that errand put me in a location in South San Francisco from where it would be easy to run other errands. You know how that goes. One twenty-minute task turned into five, and without prior planning I ended up in a Carl’s Jr. eating a chorizo breakfast burrito, wondering what it would do to my cholesterol levels and feeling bad about fast-food slumming.
I figured after I’d eaten I wasn’t yet ready to deal with the shuffling toddler-mom shopping carts or oblivious merchandise stock-monkeys at Target or Best Buy. Then I realized Josephine and Wyatt Earp were within my automobile errand sphere, so I decided to go see them.
I’ve been posting the poems from my latest book to Ello lately – one per day – and this morning’s entry was “Old Ethan’s Quantum Diary.” It’s an especially difficult and painful piece of a larger work that is, in many ways, the most tortured effort of my 35-year creative writing journey.
As I explained in the preface to the post, there was a time a few years ago when I thought I had very little time left. Since I do not believe in any kind of afterlife, I found myself thinking a lot about what science has to say on the subject. It tormented me that it would all just be over. Fade to black. The void, and not even an awareness of the void. As hard, as painful, as frustrating and unfulfilling as the low spots have been, I love life and the thought of losing it terrified me. Continue reading →
While some authors have chosen to follow a literary path called transrealism, Knausgaard has chosen a path one might call hyperrealism. The question always rises rises again, however: is there nothing new under the sun…?
Karl Ove Knausgaard (image courtesy Wikimedia)
A little more than a week ago I examined yet another attempt to claim that a new literary movement has arisen. That new movement, called transrealism, has its promoters, but it also has its doubters (including this guy). In this essay we take a look at what may/may not be a new 21st century literary movement – one I’m denominating hyperrealism. The best way to look at such a movement is, of course, by examining the work of the author who is probably its leading proponent, Norwegian literary star Karl Ove Knausgaard.
Knausgaard’s massive six volume documentation of his own life in excruciating detail is called, in English My Struggle. In Norwegian that title reads Min Kamp – and yep, you’re right that his title echoes a book that gives most sensible people the creeps. Knausgaard’s book has pretty much nothing to do with Der Fuhrer’s opus magnum but a lot to do with some other, weightier, literary figures. Whether he chose the title simply to spark some controversy – well, why would any author want to do that in a culture that is so distracted it can’t pay attention to any damned thing for longer than the time it takes to scroll down a Facebook feed? Hmm? Continue reading →
Wait, gentlemen, please don’t run away! Yes, I am about to start throwing around words like uterus, ovaries, vagina, clitoris, nipples, orgasm, and hysterectomy. Here under the shameful for-profit health care system we have, an astonishing one-third of American women are hysterectomized, leading to physical side-effects, emotional side-effects, loss of sex drive and sexual response, and total loss of overall vitality. Surely you have a wife, girlfriend, daughter, sister, mother, or aunt vulnerable to this outrage, so please do read on. I have read of so many men being devastated by the changes in women they love following hysterectomy – it is your issue too.
An interesting olio of tales, vignettes, and short stories with poetry used as a gloss…Kelley’s collection offers nods to Faulkner, Capote, O’Connor, and other Southern legends….
The Day the Mirror Cried by Saundra Kelley (image courtesy Goodreads)
Saundra Kelley’s new book The Day the Mirror Cried reflects a couple of facets of her professional life. Kelley is a professional storyteller, a member of the Storytellers’ Guild, based in one of the capitals of that oral art form, Jonesborough, Tennessee. But Kelley also has a student of literature, and this work, a rambling collection of what she calls “reflections,” “odd memories,” and “ruminations,” shows that while she has a deep understanding of the folkloric character of storytelling, she also has a deep appreciation of great writing. The Day the Mirror Cried is laced with allusions to the work of great Southern writers even as it offers its own fascinating insights into the culture of native Floridians.
Unlike the typical story collection which often progresses towards a key centerpiece work that gives the collection its name, Kelley begins with the piece that gives her work its title. “The Day the Mirror Cried” will remind readers of one of Faulkner’s most widely known stories, “A Rose for Emily,” and Kelley does a fine job of nodding to the great Mississippian while keeping true to her own tale. This story, which opens the first section of The Day the Mirror Cried, sets up some of the other nods to Southern Gothic tale telling that appear with it such as “The Ship’s Lantern” and “Laugh at the Moon No More.” One other story, “Emerald Forest,” is affecting in the same way as a Truman Capote tale: what begins as curiosity ends up in a sinister situation, changed in Kelley’s story by the intercession of a protective relative (and here the story echoes the fairy tale of Little Red Riding Hood with the main character’s brother acting the role of the woodsman). Continue reading →
It took me a while and a measure of forgetfulness, but the deed is done
Since my last post on the subject of Facebook (see Goodbye, Facebook below), I’ve paid next to no attention to it at all, reminded of its existence only by the slow feed of occasional email notifications, an onslaught that slowed to a trickle once I stopped feeding the best. Once in a while I’d click a guilty click to see a picture, perhaps of a friend’s newborn. Other times I was curious to see if the powers that be at Facebook ever bothered to get back to me on my request to cancel my Ars Skeptica page.
A quick bit about that, as an aside:
For whatever reason, of the handful of silly pages I created, Facebook’s magical data gremlins must have realized that Ars Skeptica was different. The others it let me delete without an issue. The Ars Skeptica page deletion provided a prompt that they would get back to me in two weeks time (many weeks ago now) to confirm that I do indeed mean to delete said page. Continue reading →
Reach out and touch me now Aphrodite said You aren’t the only one with armies in your head
I guess I take the Adrian Peterson story personally, for reasons I wrote about back in 2011. To this day I remember the pain that was inflicted on me by those I loved, and who loved me. Pain inflicted because they loved me, so much that they would have laid down their lives for me without question. But in their minds, if they spared the rod they were hurting me.
It warps you, in a way. It makes you associate pain with love and justice. And at 53, I have accepted that I will never quite be okay because of it.
Cultural evolution is a slow and sometimes painful thing. What is obvious to you and me today will be obvious to everyone eventually, but eventually might mean 20 years. Continue reading →
One morning last May, I stumbled into the kitchen, past the back door, stopped, backed up, and gazed through the glass. In the backyard staring at me, was a visitor. Then my son Joey, walking with his eyes closed, strolled into my back.
“What are you looking at?” He asked.
“We have a friend in the backyard,” I said.
Our visitor was a rabbit. He sat there staring at us, nibbling on grass, as patient as the dew.
“Hey Bunny,” said Joey. “Can I have pancakes for breakfast?”
Now, I know that the world can be dull and commonplace, so I have taken it upon myself to add some wonder and high adventure wherever possible, so that my son does not take for granted the thousand little miracles we see every day. I decided to provide our lupine guest with a more personal history.
“You know who that is?” I asked. “That may just be a rabbit, or it might be Swamp Bunny.”
Recent events in Ferguson prompt me to write this now
Through most of elementary school, my best friend was Leslie. I loved her. We were a couple of nerds who didn’t really fit in with anyone but each other. She was very quiet and shy – that is, with everyone but me. We endlessly played jacks. We were the rulers of the game at our school – we mostly just played against each other because no one else could really challenge either one of us. Leslie was black.
John McPhee’s greatness lies in his ability to make the real world and its inhabitants as interesting as if they were fictional…
The Survival of the Bark Canoe by John McPhee (image courtesy Goodreads)
Here’s one from the 2014 reading list that I’ve been looking forward to reading. I have been a John McPhee fan since I was an undergraduate. My composition class “reader” had an excerpt from Oranges about fighting a frost in Florida with smudge pots that hooked me on his approach to nonfiction. (Some of the more hoary of you working through this piece may remember those books called readers. They were books of essays by great nonfiction writers assigned in 1st year composition classes to provide “writing models” to callow 18 years olds in the quaintly delusional hope that some of the greatness of an E.B. White, Lewis Thomas or John McPhee would enter our heads and come out through our pens back in those halcyon days when we rode dinosaurs to classes.) The use of these has been widely discontinued – an act, I suspect, owing as much to the despair writing teachers feel of ever encountering a writer who could, to borrow a metaphor from Rogers Hornsby, at least “carry the bat” of a White or Thomas – or McPhee – as to changes in the pedagogical approach to teaching writing.
The Survival of the Bark Canoe is a brief book, only 114 pages. That is often the case with McPhee; he does not write long pieces because he actually writes pieces suitable for inclusion in magazines. The magazine he is most closely associated with is the same one that E. B. White and his contemporary James Thurber helped make famous: The New Yorker. Given that magazine’s history for stellar writing – and occasionally writing that manages to be pompous and precious at once – one can easily jump to the conclusion that McPhee has that ironic, wittily condescending style many associate with the nation’s premier “high brow” mass market magazine (though these folks might disagree with that assessment). Nothing could be further from the truth – and therein lies McPhee’s greatness. His ability to immerse himself in the stories he explores and bring to life their characters draws readers along as if they were reading fiction. Continue reading →