Monday, November 28, 2011

Muddy Water = Sleepless Nights

“Do the things external which fall upon thee distract thee? Give thyself time to learn something new and good, and cease to be whirled around. But then thou must also avoid being carried about the other way. For those too are triflers who have wearied themselves in life by their activity, and yet have no object to which to direct every movement, and, in a word, all their thoughts. “ - Marcus Aurelius. The Meditations

Sound advice, right? Wrong. Although he doesn’t say so, Marcus surely knows there is often a fine line between trying to learn something new and good, and wearying oneself by such activity. It comes down to finding a way to govern one’s thoughts.

We have all had nights when our body is tired and wants to rest, while our thoughts are flitting around from past to future, from regrets to hopes, and from thought to unrelated thought like a 9-year-old on a Kool-Aid jag.

On such nights, I find Marcus Aurelius to be a bit of a pedantic jerk, full of what purports to be wisdom but empty of a single practical idea for living a peaceful life. I’m unable to sleep anyway, so I might as well fault this preachy pedantic philosopher as admit that while I toss and turn I’m merely stirring up the mud from the bottom of the pool of thought inside my head.

Even that kid with ADD running around on a playground knows that if you stop stirring a muddy pool of water with a stick, it will gradually become clear.

“Who can make the muddy water clear? Let it be still, and it will gradually become clear. Who can secure the condition of rest? Let movement go on, and the condition of rest will gradually arise.” - Lao-tzu, The Tao-te Ching

Thursday, November 24, 2011

The More You Know...

“If you don’t eat your meat, you can’t have any pudding. How can you have any pudding if you don’t eat your meat?”

Pink Floyd

Happy thanksgiving everybody.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

A Storm for Every Calm

“Oh, grassy glades! oh, ever vernal endless landscapes in the soul; in ye, — though long parched by the dead drought of the earthy life, — in ye, men yet may roll, like young horses in new morning clover; and for some few fleeting moments, feel the cool dew of the life immortal on them. Would to God these blessed calms would last. But the mingled, mingling threads of life are woven by warp and woof: calms crossed by storms, a storm for every calm. There is no steady unretracing progress in this life; we do not advance through fixed gradations, and at the last one pause: — through infancy’s unconscious spell, boyhood’s thoughtless faith, adolescence’ doubt (the common doom), then scepticism, then disbelief, resting at last in manhood’s pondering repose of If. But once gone through, we trace the round again; and are infants, boys, and men, and Ifs eternally. Where lies the final harbor, whence we unmoor no more? In what rapt ether sails the world, of which the weariest will never weary? Where is the foundling’s father hidden? Our souls are like those orphans whose unwedded mothers die in bearing them: the secret of our paternity lies in their grave, and we must there to learn it.” - Herman Melville

I am not generally one for drinking away my sorrows, but I was driven to try last week - and not just because it was raining outdoors and gloomy in. November 13 was a sad anniversary for me; one toasted with B&B and a PG Netflix movie. Of late, my “pondering repose of If” more closely resembles a heavy mental lumber through the deck of memories – more ponderous than pondering. The focus of my attention devoted to pondering of “If” has narrowed its beam light a dying flashlight down the damp basement steps to replace a fuse. Last week, I was so sad I would have traded my tickets to the moon for a couple of metaphorical C batteries and a pair of shoes with insulated soles.

So, to cheer myself up (this was before the B&B) I tried to think of a funny joke. Hmmm….

One of the funniest jokes in the world, to me, has always been: Why do elephants drink? Why? To forget. Now, to appreciate why the answer to this riddle was so hilarious when I was 10, you need to know the precursor cliché about elephants never forgetting. So, the joke has built-in nod-and-wink to those of us clever enough (like I was at 10) to know the secret handshake to decode this shibboleth of a joke. It’s even funnier as I age and begin to consider how hard it must be for an elephant to actually drink enough to get drunk, given its body weight.

Melville totally captures a bleak time when the earth has been long parched by the dead drought of earthy life. And I totally relate to his comparison of this soul-deep inborn longing to return to the cool dew in the Garden of Eden as it was before snakes invaded. The halting and stumbling progress of our lives toward some imagined “If” is, Melville seems to say, is a journey with an end shrouded in riddles like a dilemma, inside an enigma, wrapped in bacon. Like a hilarious riddle but with the punch line we don’t quite get until we die.

If I had a dollar for every time I wandered from “…
doubt (the common doom), then scepticism, then disbelief, resting at last in manhood’s pondering repose of "If". If only I had a dollar. If only. Fifty cents. I'd be richer than Oprah.
If. But. But it’s sunny today. Today at least, I get a brief remission in the symptoms of my seasonal affective disorder. If only it would stay this way.

Friday, November 11, 2011

La Plus Ca Change

The Women of Darius Invoking the Clemency of Alexander

"A widow is like a frigate of which the first captain has been shipwrecked."
- Jean Baptiste Alphonse Karr

I'm wondering if anybody else has noticed this. There are two parallel news stories that are almost more instructive in the coverage they are receiving than in their content. One is the boy child rape at Penn State. The other is the sexual harassment/assault of grown women by Herman Cain. Both of these stories are about sordid things that happened years ago and are just now coming to light. And yet…

Our national news the media is shocked, SHOCKED, that little boys were sodomized all those years ago and they’re just now hearing about it. The outrage and righteous indignation at the victimization of young boys is breathtaking. Nobody seems to be questioning at all whether these incidents really took place.

The Herman Cain story: not quite so much shock and outrage. Victims of Cain’s sexual abuse are being called – predictably – sluts out for money preying on a virtuous powerful man. The few stories that attempt to be fair and/or balanced to the accusers still pepper their concerns with weak conditional language: alleged, unproven, “he said/she said” and shit. Cain thinks it's all a conspiracy at worst or a joke at best. He called Speaker Pelosi “Princess Nancy” at the recent debate, and was overheard (by Fox news) making a joke about Anita Hill. That guy kills. Is this our image of a Man's Man? Sad.

While I am perfectly aware that there are many places in this world where women treated very much worse by clueless men who are little more than spoiled old children, watching these cases unfold in public simply confirms that discrimination against women happens pretty much all over the world. But here and now, in the virtual community telling us the story of these two cases of sex abuse of a weaker person by a stronger person. And by weaker person, I mean women, and by a stronger person, I mean men.

No matter how enlightened we (and our media) like to think we are about all y'all connivin' bitches, the different approaches to these two different stories, strangely, both reflect the same double standard: Guilt by Gender. Like dirty linen drying on the rope above a sooty alley, our gender-biased judgments are all the more shameful because they are almost subconscious.

Women who are sexually abused and speak out are subjected to something cruel that looks to me a lot like a presumption of guilt. But let a different class of powerless people (who just happen to have penises) be sexually mistreated, and suddenly we will have to fire the entire chain of authority and pay millions to make it right. Otherwise, those poor victims might be further victimized. When the poor Penn State victims do come forward, should we consider whether they might just have been asking for it?

One might argue that the difference that makes it so much sadder is that the mistreatment of boys was witnessed and that of the women was not. Not true. "Allegedly", other people saw Cain being a dick to women and actually told him to cool it. How nice of them, and how nice for the ladies. They also told the man raping boys to cut it out. End of story. But in Cain’s case, there were settlement agreements for Crissake. That is an acknowledgement that - notwithstanding that something inappropriate and possibly illegal happened - we all agree to exchange some money to keep it quiet. In the Penn State cases, it's (as of now) unproven "he said/they said."

The only difference with the boys is that they’ll receive their (probably costlier) settlement much longer after the fact; and of course, that we’ll all feel really sorry for them, poor kids. Meanwhile, let’s drag those “ugly,” “bleach blond” tramps through the mud for daring to challenge a respected (!) man. And should the abused boys accept a settlement? When they do, should they have to sign a non-disclosure agreement in consideration for their hush money?

Ironic isn't it, the guy who is most famous for his epigram in the title of this post considered women no more than vessels who needed men to steer them. It's sad isn't it, that Al Karr would probably identify with the level of respect given to women today. Douche.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Winterize Your Robots!

"The world is full of fickle people/
you old friend aren’t one/
inspired you write like a god/
drunk you’re crazier still/
enjoying white hair and idle days/
blue clouds now rise before you/
how many times will you still sleep/
with a jug of wine by your bed."
-- Kao Shih, To Chang Hsu after Drinking, Quoted in Poems of the Masters, China’s Classic Anthology of T’and and Sung Dynasty Verse, Red Pine, trans.

Winter is here. Hibernation has begun. I’ve lived so long here that the first rain announces winter’s arrival somewhere inside me. Despite the relative mildness of our Zone 9 winters, I have acclimated. All that is left of my roots - those east coast Mid-Atlantic snow days of yesteryear - is the fond memories.

The first big rain sooths my soul and that’s what winter feels like today after a long hot summer and a mild and warm Indian Summer. It is time to put away my tools and leave the garden behind. It’s almost time to make Dad’s eggnog, aka Bot Nog, with Southern Comfort. Almost time to turn to my indoor self; cook comfort food with last summer’s canned tomato sauce; and make your pasta from scratch.

And it is time to sew. I’ve got a date with the Pfaff-Whisperer. He’s booked for six weeks. But I scored an appointment for him to service Pfaff Creative, aka F Sewing Machine, right after Thanksgiving. I take the FSM to rehab at the end of November. I’m thinking I need a new name for FSM if I’ve got a prayer of learning how to use it by emphasizing the fucking positive and burying the burning regret and failure in the Springfield Tire Fire inside my head, where its smoldering ashes will give off toxic smoke that will cast a pall on the my attempts to approach this year’s learning curve with anything shorter than a fully-extended fire truck ladder. Seasonal affective Disorder, or psychotic break? You decide.

This gives me from now til the end of the month to get the F Quilt off the Dustbin of History shelf and tear out last year’s stubborn mistakes. My simple plan is to complete the FQ and get on to the next quilt that will surely be a thing of beauty, and a joy forever. Last spring, I met my latest quilting waterloo, folded it resentfully and put it in the I Hate You Closet, and then went outside to play.

Do I hear you say it's time for me to face the FQ with courage and valor, not with smoldering hate. You might counsel me to approach this coming indoor season’s cabin fever with a better attitude. To which I say, screw you. So, as I turn the clocks back that I should have turned back yesterday, I have to ask myself: how many times have I slept with a jug of wine by my bed?

But who’s counting? Not me, anyway. Thanks to an alcohol-induced rapidly deteriorating short term memory best described as intermittent with chance of hallucinations. And you don't even have to sleep at a Comfort Inn Express to know that's wack.

So, winterize now, gardeners. Time for comfort food and drink and living large off summer’s bounty. To the Quilting Cave!