Saturday, December 31, 2011

Out of the Dark

After a million years of shining
The sun doesn’t say to the earth –
‘You owe me.’
Imagine a love like this.
-- Hafiz

A day outside like spring, mild in the low 70s and sunny. Because I’m leaving for 10 days, I watered because we haven’t heard the sound of rain in a while. While rain would be a sound for sore ears right now, I expect my wish will be granted in Portland OR. So, I went outside to say hello to the sun as it begins it journey back north, lengthening my days by merely perceptible moments. But something inside me feels the change and knows we’re heading back into the sun.

My petite lemons in the shade nevertheless seem to glow in the reflected light, and to sparkle with the dewy secret of their ripeness. The sprinkler drops have yet to dry on their fragrant skin; their fragrance is a presence in the air nearby, smelling like sunshine.

I see the sun everywhere in the yard this afternoon. This is a good time and a good place to thank my love for this year and bid it gone and, and to imagine more love for everyone in the new year about to begin.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Goodbye 2011, and Good Riddance

“As is the generation of leaves, so is that of humanity. The wind scatters the leaves on the ground, but the live timber burgeons with leaves again in the season of spring returning. So one generation of men will grow while another dies.”

~Homer, Iliad

I’ve been caught up in a plague of stupid. It's too soon to tell if it's fatal.

My recent visit to the Cardiac Nurse Practitioner to recount my increasingly troublesome symptoms and drug side effects was another exercise in futility that always ceases to amaze me. My concerns were met with a blank uncaring shrug and the advice to increase my medications. I've experienced better bedside manner from hospital nurse call buttons. I've experienced more compassion from Chase Bank.

Trying to explain the details of how Chase Bank has once again screwed me would make my eyes bleed, and reading them would make your heart break. That is, unless you already suspected what the greedy, rapacious, inept thieves at Chase Bank do for a living. I've experienced more competence from the California Department of Human Services.

Meanwhile, my friends at California DHS have embarked on yet another round of vague demands for further documentation before ruling on an application for a family member to receive MediCal. In case you’re playing along at home, this is the fourth time they have demanded, and I have submitted, documents to validate the qualifications of the applicant. I have to wonder how many potential applicants simply give up, pack their belongings into a grocery cart, and move into the nearest alley to await death.

If 2011 was a patient on life support, I would tattoo "DNR" on it's forehead. The winter winds can't scatter the misfortunes of 2011 like dead leaves on the ground soon enough for me.

Friday, December 16, 2011

RIP Christopher Hitchens

‘From quiet homes and first beginnings, out to the undiscovered ends, there’s nothing worth the wear of winning but laughter and the love of friends’
Hilaire Belloc’s ’Dedicatory Ode’

Christopher Hitchens died the other day.

To me, Hitchens was an inspired writer. His writing was articulate, amazing, cogent and sparkling throughout with literary gems and original thoughts. He was a master who could craft the perfectly expressed thought and clearly present the most inspired original idea. He could nail the most devastating argument; or voice the most scornfully appropriate criticism; or coin the most delightful term. And because we were both the same age, and shared a similar taste for dark humor, I persuaded myself that I had at least something in common with this complex man whose writing has given me such pleasure over the years – even when I disagreed with him.

You can probably find dozens of tributes by his famous admirers, and samples of his writing on line (here’s one of my favorites) but I particularly was struck by the impromptu eulogy in his brother Richard’s blog today, and from which I take Belloc’s poem quoted above. The post thanks people for their kind wishes and then takes Christopher’s courage as its topic:

“Much of civilisation rests on the proper response to death, simple unalloyed kindness, the desire to show sympathy for irrecoverable less, the understanding that a unique and irreplaceable something has been lost to us. If we ceased to care, we wouldn’t be properly human…

“Here’s a thing I will say now without hesitation, unqualified and important. The one word that comes to mind when I think of my brother is ‘courage’. By this I don’t mean the lack of fear which some people have, which enables them to do very dangerous or frightening things because they have no idea what it is to be afraid. I mean a courage which overcomes real fear, while actually experiencing it…

“He would always rather fight than give way, not for its own sake but because it came naturally to him…

“Courage is deliberately taking a known risk, sometimes physical, sometimes to your livelihood, because you think it is too important not to… I’ve mentioned here before C.S.Lewis’s statement that courage is the supreme virtue, making all the others possible. It should be praised and celebrated, and is the thing I‘d most wish to remember…”

Peter Hitchens on the death of his brother Christopher Hitchens on 12/15/11

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Margins of Error

The bells jostle in the tower
The lonely night amid.
And on my tongue the taste is sour
Of all I ever did.
- A.E. Houseman

The days are getting shorter, but soon they will begin to grow marginally longer. There is something about December that makes one think of endings more than beginnings. I always take a deep breath of relief when I make it to the winter solstice. It feels to me like I have rounded the racetrack once more and crossed the finish line to begin another lap. Right now though, tonight is the last full moon of 2011, and I'm not quite at the line, and sorrow dogs my steps.

Right now, as I approach the end of the final lap of the lunar year, the doubts and regrets I carry are heavy, and I keep my thoughts from freezing only by blowing on the last coal of slowly smoldering anger deep inside. If I can hold on another ten days, we can chuckle at the tired family joke – always told on 22 December – about how the days seem to be getting longer.

I came across an old poem I’d saved many years ago on a similar dim December day, and I imagine its speaker must have been writing it on a similar day. It’s a sort of science fiction imagining of a post-apocalyptic future, and it has seeped into my restless dreams, accompanied by the mysterious thumps and squeaks the dark house makes in the night.

I know I should lighten up, just like Houseman should have. It's going to be close this year, but I estimate I have just enough energy left to make it to the solstice. I can only hope my estimate is within the margin of error. After that, things will begin to look up. Which is more than you can say for the people who left this epistle behind.

Blogger removes the lovely spacing of this poem and makes it into solid blocks below. You should really appreciate the poem as the author wrote it by clicking on the link at the end of the poem.

...It is colder now
there are many stars
we are drifting
North by the Great Bear
the leaves are falling
The water is stone in the scooped rock
to southward
Red sun grey air
the crows are
Slow on their crooked wings
the jays have left us
Long since we passed the flares of Orion
Each man believes in his heart he will die
Many have written last thoughts and last letters
None know if our deaths are now or forever
None know if this wandering earth will be found

We lie down and the snow covers our garments
I pray you
you (if any open this writing)
Make in your mouths the words that were our names
I will tell you all we have learned
I will tell you everything
The earth is round
there are springs under the orchards
The loam cuts with a blunt knife
beware of
Elms in thunder
the lights in the sky are stars
We think they do not see
we think also
The trees do not know nor the leaves of the grasses hear us
The birds too are ignorant
do not listen
Do not stand at dark in the open windows
We before you have heard this
they are voices
They are not words at all but the wind rising
Also noone among us has seen God
(... We have thought often
the flaws of sun in the late and driving weather
pointed to one tree but it was not so.)
As for the nights I warn you the nights are dangerous
The wind changes at night and the dreams come

It is very cold
there are strange stars near Arcturus
Voices are crying an unknown name in the sky

Archibald MacLeish, Epistle To Be Left In The Earth

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

My Tax Dollars At Work, Not to Mention My Public Education System

I have been dancing with California Department of Health and Human Services since September to apply for benefits for a family member. Because they routinely lose papers sent via mail, I have braved the online application system. This system is fraught with its own perils, mostly associated with attaching documents to verify various and sundry things about the applicant's status. In response to my latest attempt to reply to an earlier request for additional verifications, I received this message this morning.

I have altered the following document only to remove the case number at the beginning and the lengthly privacy notice at the end. I have also, mercifully, deleted the name of the person who sent the following:

Good Morning,

Case number XXXXXXX

Thank you for emailing us at ACCESS Center. We apologized, we do not
processed paperworks here at ACCESS. I will just send your
verifications to the imaging to be imaged and so the worker who will
processed your case and see these verification provided.

Thank you.

“Please feel free to contact ACCESS again if you have any additional
questions. Thank you….”

Friday, December 02, 2011

Await Anticipation

“I Like You. I’ll Kill You Last.”

- My favorite Hallmark birthday card ever

Douglas Adams once wrote two sentences that sum up my day so far. I’ve been trying to tilt my virtual lance at the metaphorical windmill of Internet banking. Got knocked off my faithful steed within the first nanosecond I tried to access my account so I could balance my checkbook prior to paying bills. Now, balancing my checkbook is fraught with peril at the best of times, but today has been more perilous than most in recent memory. (Good thing recent memory goes no farther than 48 hours.) I had to offer up the name of my first pet to even get through the door of the credit union online banking site. A dark foreboding filled my veins like ice water filling your boot as you step onto the thin ice.

But I was talking about Douglas Adams. Here’s his existential brainteaser: "He hoped and prayed that there wasn't an afterlife. Then he realized there was a contradiction involved here and merely hoped that there wasn't an afterlife."

In the event that there is an afterlife, consider this post my sincere, desperate, hope and prayer that incompetent bureaucrats get their guts eaten out for all eternity while they’re chained to rocks like that mythological character What’s His Name.

In a completely unrelated but equally baffling message from beyond, there was a marquee on the church down the hill from me that said “Expect Hope”. This infuriates me, and not just the gratuitous capitalization. Next week will they have something else repetitious and redundant and not to mention content-free like “Believe Faith”? I hope not, but I expect so.

For someone constantly on the lookout for meaning, I can only take these recent events as a clear message that the end of civilization is near.

Once I was a bureaucrat myself. I know firsthand how depressing the quotidian existence of one who is paid too little to sort forms at a metal desk where one’s predecessor died of a massive stroke while sorting an earlier version of the same forms. So, there is a special place in my heart for the bureaucrats who have been pecking at my own guts while I try to comply with The State, the Internet, and the “would you like to complete a survey about our service?” pop-up windows.

Unfortunately for us all, that special place in my heart has been clogged with atherosclerotic plaque and slowly shriveled into a blackened scab through which blood flow is only a distant memory. So I merely hope.