Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Millay's Witch-Wife.

I like poetry. I really do. And from time to time I like to examine a poem and interact with it. Unravel it a bit. This is what I will be doing here in this blog this evening. I know that poetry may not interest every reader out there, and so I will warn you (like I am doing right now)... whenever I am going to “wax poetic” on ye!
Millay (1892-1950) is deservedly one of America’s best-loved poets. Thomas Hardy (another favorite poet of mine) once said that America had two great attractions: the skyscraper and the poetry of Edna St. Vincent Millay. Tonight I want to look at one of her poems, entitled Witch-Wife.
If you have any favorite poems you would like me to dissect, [and you are NOT a high-school student who wants me to do an English assignment for you], submit the name of the poem here on the blog and perhaps I will do a Cipriano-style extremely informal study of it. Then we can [as Linda Richmond would say] “tawk amongst awselves!”
For now, flip the channel you Poetry-Hater, while ye others, sit back and read my Study On The Importance of Inflection, Using Edna St. Vincent Millay’s Witch-Wife As A Case In Point.


She is neither pink nor pale,
And she never will be all mine;
She learned her hands in a fairy-tale,
And her mouth on a valentine.

She has more hair than she needs;
In the sun ‘tis a woe to me!
And her voice is a string of coloured beads,
Or steps leading into the sea.

She loves me all that she can,
And her ways to my ways resign;
But she was not made for any man,
And she never will be all mine.

The first thing I must say about this poem is that to me, it is both beautiful and eerie. One (among many) of the things that strikes me about it is that it is written by a woman. “She loves me all that she can”.... written by a woman. It is immediately fascinating.
Millay submitted Witch-Wife to Mitchell Kennerley and he published it, along with two of her others, in The Forum. According to biographer Nancy Milford, when Kennerley sent Edna the cheque for her work, he included a letter, stating that he hoped she would let him publish her first book of poems and he went on to suggest that the dust jacket should contain the (now famous) photograph of her standing among the magnolia blossoms.
Milford says that Witch-Wife is “clearly something of a self-portrait.” (p.135 of Savage Beauty: The Life of Edna St. Vincent Millay).
A self-portrait. This makes the poem even more interesting to me, as a reader.

Many, or perhaps ALL of the lines elude my interpretation. Rather, they are interpreted, but whether rightly or no, I cannot say. All of them leave an impression upon me, but none of them jump up and declare themselves plainly. This is perhaps the hallmark of great poetry.
When I first see the line She is neither pink nor pale, I hearken back to the title I have just read, the image of witchery having been placed there, and I read this line as saying she is neither alive nor dead. She neither is, nor hath been? Neither having the tinge of health, nor the pallor of a cadaver?
Whatever else we may say, it is a strange combination that we find in the title, witchery and matrimony. It is not Witch-Woman... but Witch-Wife.
Married to what, to whom? What is the significance of this specific designation?
What manner of realm is an entity IN, if they are neither alive nor dead? Whatever answer one gives, one is forced to admit to something mysterious... unfindable.
And the next line confirms it... she is elusive. She will never be posessed. And she never will be all mine. This being the one line in the poem that will be repeated later, and not only later, but in conclusion, we should pay attention to it as probably having an over-arching thematic value.
The next two lines are a mystery to me:
She learned her hands in a fairy-tale,
And her mouth on a valentine.
However, is it possible that she is saying that the Witch-Wife has learned all that she knows about the practical/concrete side of life (her hands) and the romantic/imaginary side of life (her mouth) through that which is not experiential? (The fairy-tale / the valentine).
Is the emphasis moreso upon what she does (hands) and says (mouth) and again, both of these things having been learned (experienced) in the realm of the imaginary and/or romantic?
She kisses a valentine instead of the mouth of the one who sent it to her?
She is a wife, but what she has learned of love comes not from her marital situation? Not from the one to whom she is married? Therefore she feels as though she is neither dead or alive? Mysterious, to say the least.
It begins to be apparent to me that even if the poem is a self-portrait, we need to forget all about the poet if we are to get what the poet is saying.
The meaning we ascribe to the poem, even in this first stanza changes dramatically if we believe that Millay is the Witch-Wife or that Millay is speaking about the Witch-Wife. In either case, the line that is most difficult to reconcile is the recurring one, And she never will be all mine.

The next lines are quite vague to me, interpretively speaking:
She has more hair than she needs;
In the sun ‘tis a woe to me!
So much so, in fact, that I must leave them be, for now. The next two are full of wonder:
And her voice is a string of coloured beads,
Or steps leading into the sea.
The words “her voice” revive this character.... make her alive. In everything else described thus far, yes, we could be talking of some non-existent being, something that once existed, and is no more. But the voice (in the present tense) is a string of coloured beads.
She lives. I suppose someone could also say “WERE she to speak.... her voice WOULD BE.....” But no, the more obvious sense is that she lives. There is such a thing as her.
It is as though we are brought up for a breath of air, or a glimpse... tangibility... but then the next line again plunges us into a mystery... for while “steps leading into the sea” can sound quite wonderful, they (the steps) can also lead one only into a state of dangerous submersion.
Who is it that wants to walk into the sea? You could drown.
If you listen to her, you will be over your head. Her beauty (or more specifically, her wisdom, because what is being metaphorically alluded to in the imagery of “steps” is her “voice” or her words) will so surround you that you will be consumed. Such is her magic.

She loves me all that she can,
And her ways to my ways resign;
This is the first reference to this character being dependent upon anyone else. Dependent is the wrong word perhaps... but the elusive nature is for a moment lifted, and the suggestion that the Witch-Wife can relegate herself to another is given, only to be quickly whisked away again in the next (and final) lines.
It is these last two lines that fascinate me more than any others in the poem, and which inspired me to take a closer look at the complete thing. The thing that fascinates me is the variation in meaning that inflection gives to these lines. It would be so instructive to hear the poet herself recite these lines. For therein lies so very much of the overall mystery of the poem. How would Edna St. Vincent Millay enunciate these lines?
But she was not made for any man,
And she never will be all mine.
How many ways can this be read? I will name only two.
The meaning changes, and radically so, with the inflection of certain words.
In the first line, let us read it as follows, the underlined word receiving the emphasis.... "But she was not made for any man."
In this reading the Witch-Wife and all that she entails (all that she is).... all of her womanly qualities (we might say, and I hope it is not a wrong way of saying it, her femininity, or her not-maleness) has very little to do with her relationship to any man.
It would be what it is, were there no man at all. It is significant, in my opinion, that here at the end, is the first (and only) reference to “man.”
Whether Millay is the Witch-Wife or whether she is speaking about the Witch-Wife, in either case, given this emphasis on the word “made” she is saying that the Witch-Wife is who she is without reference to man. She may willingly love, and even defer to man (as in the two preceding lines), but she is not made for man. And her realization of this is what makes her the Witch-Wife.

Now, let us read the line another way. "But she was not made for any man."
Now we are talking about the man. The man who is worthy of the Witch-Wife. Although this is a less likely reading of the line (in my opinion) still I think it is valid to consider its possibility.
Let’s face it. If the line is read in the first sense, (emphasis on made) then it is subtly saying that there is no man worthy of the Witch-Wife. It descends (or ascends?) very nearly into what might be considered thereafter as a Feminist poem. i.e., the subtext is that there is no man worthy of the Witch-Wife.

But this second type of reading could possibly emphasize the following corrolary idea:
The Witch-Wife is a special sort of woman.
There are men that are special in a similar sense.
The Witch-Wife was made for such a man.

In other words, it is not that the Witch-Wife cannot be with any man, but that she cannot be with any man! She herself is not any woman! She is the Witch-Wife.

I favor the first reading, the emphasis on the word “made” but conclude that the poem is not some sort of feminist statement. It is simply saying that the Witch-Wife does not find her identity (is not validated) by her comparison with or relationship to... any man!
And this is why the last line is what it is!
And she never will be all mine.
Why will she never be someone else’s possession?
Because she is her own possession, and she lives her life in an awareness of that fact.
This does not diminish her relationship with “a man” but in fact enhances it, if she chooses to be involved in such a relationship. But whether she does or not... she is still the Witch-Wife!
She realizes (and profoundly so) her relation TO the male of her species (fairy-tale / valentine) regardless of any such relationship actually existing, or having had existed in the past.
[I think of Emily Dickinson as being a Witch-Wife].
If it DOES exist (a relationship) she will love all that she can, and she will know (learn?) how to give as well as receive from the relationship, but all the while, she will never surrender selfhood or a certain aspect of autonomy. She will never become someone else. Never abdicate.

In conclusion, there are at least two ways to read the last line also.... with an emphasis on either the word “never” or “be” (these being the most likely readings). Again, more than just subtle nuance is affected, with inflection. Entire meanings change. In one... it is a time factor... “never,” in the other (“be”) the essence of the Witch-Wife is the variant.
The way I personally favor reading these lines is as follows:
"But she was not made for any man,
And she never will be all mine."

And to anyone that would say that the matter of inflection is irrelevant I would say this:
Try reading those two final lines in the poem with no inflection whatsoever. You will quickly find that it is virtually impossible. It is a prime example of the fact that we bring so much of who we are to everything we read, and never moreso than to poetry.

Splash du Jour: Tuesday

A man was on his way to the gallows when he met another, who asked him: Where are you going, my friend? And the condemned man replied: I’m not going anywhere. They’re taking me by force.
-- Padre Manuel Velho –

Have a great Tuesday!

Monday, May 30, 2005

Pigeon Central.

I am harboring pigeons on my balcony.
I use the term “harboring” because if any of my neighbors had their way, my pigeon families would have their little necks wrung and their eggs thrown into the street.
I use the term “families” because there is more than one pigeon family. Pigeons from far and wide seem to be (well, there is no other word for it really) flocking to my 14th floor balcony. In 2005, it has become prime Pigeon Real Estate. I am here at the mega-bookstore, and half-tempted to go to the magazine rack and see if my place is listed as such in some sort of...... Pigeon Journal.
Nesters Monthly. Something like that... I bet it’s there.
“Nice, peaceful balcony nesting ground. Several abandoned planters and flower pots already in place. All that is missing is you! Wonderful view of the city. Quiet hermit lives inside. RARELY comes out. Lots of shade. Plenty of deck space for all kinds of dancing and general all-day strutting. Close to malls and parks and statues. No barbeques allowed.”
[Notice though how the ad does not say anything about the slavering cat walking back and forth in the window all day long? The realtors never tell you this part.]

OK, so how did this happen?
How did my place become Pigeon Central?

Well, it’s like the ad says. There is all of this great stuff out there that is somewhat abandoned. Each thing might as well have one of those flashing arrow signs on it saying “Why keep looking? Make your damn nest right here!”
It’s perfect. Seriously, just walking out there now and then makes me wish I was a pigeon!

I used to have huge tree-like plants inside my apartment. Then, after the slow and painful death of all those trees, the big clay pots, still full of earth and each weighing at least fifty pounds, all ended up out on my balcony. Along with patio chairs and a table and a railing-planter full of dead flowers that I had set down in a shady corner, I had no idea I was creating a maternity ward for birds.
Thinking no more of it, I went quietly on with my hermetically sealed lifestyle.
Until one evening last year, I went out on the balcony at night, and heard a sort of rustling about that seemed to be coming from that one rectangular railing planter. I bent down for a better look and well, there I observed my first pigeon family.
“Hey, don’t have a heart attack... relax!” I tried to reassure the pigeon. “I know all about not wanting to be disturbed. Settle down. I’m your friend.”
In the light of day, I went out for a closer look. The bird was not there. But there were two little white eggs. I have rarely looked upon anything so heart-wrenchingly vulnerable, as those eggs.
I would sooner jump off the balcony myself than throw them over.
With a mad flutter of wings, mom or dad (you know it is quite hard to tell pigeon-gender) came in for a landing and commenced a frantic strutting of the balcony rail while screeching at me like I was Adolf Hitler.
“Hey hey hey whoa! Do not freak out dude. I just pay the rent here, that’s all!”
And I ran back into my place and pulled the blinds.

The early summertime ran its course. Those two pigeons hatched (no offense, but ugly as hell they were).... and I watched the whole process of their growth into full-fledged pigeon-hood, until one day, they flew the coop. Or balcony, as it were. I wished I could have seen that first tenuous flight, but I was probably doing something extremely stupid that day, like working.
When a pigeon family moves out, let me tell you, they leave something behind.
That’s right, it rhymes with bird.
How an animal of this meagre size can crap that much, is beyond me.
But it was time for the broom and chisel. There was enough guano on my balcony to form a tropical island.
After the cleanup, I kept saying to myself “Man, I don’t want this to happen again next year. I’ve gotta get this stuff off the balcony.”
Did I do it?
Can birds remember addresses?
Hell yeah!
And they had such a good go of it last year that they told all their friends about it.
This year, I’ve got TWO pigeon families out there. One in the modest townhouse-style rectangular planter again with one egg, and (just met them yesterday) another family have moved in to one of the big huge fifty-pounder condo units. Two eggs for these folks.
I’m settling in for another year of chirping and feathers and cement-like bird crap.

My neighbors. Like, the human ones.... to the left of me?
Not impressed. They are not impressed.
Just the other day I am leaving for work and my neighbor and I happen to exit our places at the same time. I’ve got to ride all the way down with the guy from next door.
In the elevator, he turns to me, and in as serious a voice as one might muster, he says...
“You have pigeons on your balcony?”
[I can tell... it’s not really a question...]
I sort of cough nervously, sip my coffee.... “Haven’t really noticed any this ye.....”
“You know there is this thing you can buy, it’s like a pinwheel and you put it on your balcony rail. They cost about like one cent at Wal-Mart.”
[Man this elevator is really slow today...]
“Really, and do they work at all? Do they keep the birds from landi.....”
“Yeah. Have you noticed at all? We’ve got about sixteen of these pinwheels on our balcony rail. Cost us 16 cents.”
Finally, he is getting out at the ground level and I go on to the underground garage.
He gets out and turns around, with a glare in his eyes. And as the doors close in on me, I hear him saying....
“Wal-Mart. GET SOME!”

Splash du Jour: Monday

Everyone probably thinks that I’m a raving nyphomaniac, that I have an insatiable sexual appetite, when the truth is I’d rather read a book.
-- Madonna --
Have a great Monday!

Sunday, May 29, 2005


“Time keeps on ticking, ticking, ticking.... into the future...”
-- Steve Miller, Fly Like An Eagle --

I think that I am not quite finished looking at this theme of “time” and “the heart”.
A couple days ago I wrote the blog entitled 44 Seconds where I talked about how many days are experienced in the average lifetime. Then someone left a comment about how truly wondrous (and sobering) it is to ponder these things, and really, it is. Doing so (re-pondering) made me recall a poem I had written shortly after my own fortieth birthday, about a year and a half ago. [Or 547 days, but who’s counting, right?] It just seems so full of “coincidence”... that I want to post it here. I mean, it even mentions Niagara Falls.
Go figure!
I guess you could say that I have been thinking about time, for quite a while now....


Chances are, I have already lived
half my life.
That is a sobering thought. So, to compensate
I conjure up childhood memories.

These seem either cloudy with the mist of Niagara Falls,
or snappy and crisp, like blue-tinged Ontario icicles.
Dad stopping the car so mom can pick them
for me to eat as we drive on towards Stoney Creek.
Meeting Mickey Mouse.
Breathlessly peering over the edge of Hoover Dam.
Crying over a lost balloon at Circus! Circus!
How the smell of green peppers would make me sneeze.
Navigating my first bicycle into a spool of barbwire.
Bees buzzing inside a pop bottle high above Peyto Lake.
Shirtless summers, taking lunch out to dad in the field;
how warm was the mason jar of coffee
when passed to him.
Skating on the Thom Oval with my sister until
both our brains froze themselves solid upon the thought
that we owned the world.

All this time, in a pool of darkness
lies my heart.
Never seeing the light of day, pupils fully dilated;
frantic about some mystery it keeps to itself.
Spasming over a secret
even while I sleep.

Utterly unconcerned with my awareness, it remains
intent upon squishing itself to death,
as though the end of the world is nigh.
Wha-whumpa. Wha-whumpa. Wha-whumpa!
Forcing deep-blue life along thousands of miles
of seamless pipeline, as quiet as snowfall.
Life returning from the extremities
without question or complaint,
to this amazing half-pound of meat
that has a mind of its own.
This involuntary muscle.

This is how things have been
half my life.

But today I saw my heart looking up at me. I saw
the inverted V’s of its mad scientist bushy eyebrows;
valves flapping wildly, gesticulating
that it has only half done what it was designed to do.
It is astounding that something so silent
about everything else it does
can be so candid when moving a message
a foot and a half uphill.

Today, when I get still, and listen
I sense the thrice-beaten refrain…

Love someone. Love someone. Love someone!

Saturday, May 28, 2005


I absolutely hate all types of shopping, but one.
Perhaps especially, I hate shopping for clothes. When attempting to add to my illustrious wardrobe, I am immediately confronted with two opposing facts:
Clothes are too expensive.
And I am too poor.
Shopping for a car? I need professional counseling, before and after.
Home furnishings of any sort? I sprout gray hairs!
RETAIL and I are NOT involved in a win-win relationship right now.
I hate buying stuff. For instance, I am in the mega-bookstore right now, drinking coffee, and I have zero intention of buying anything. Especially when I can sort of take it off the shelf and read it for quite a while without having to buy it.
So.... I have just been having a look at this book called Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping. It’s by Paco Underhill, really a wonderful book. Seriously, you should go buy it.
But I’ve just been sitting here reading chapter Eight, for free. The chapter is called Shop Like A Man.... and wow! In so many ways, it’s got me pegged.
He says “The conventional wisdom on male shoppers is that they don’t especially like to do it, which is why they don’t do much of it.”
He goes on to describe how the shopping experience is, from package design to advertising to merchandising to store design and fixturing “geared toward the female shopper.”
Says Underhill, “When a man takes clothing into a dressing room, the only thing that stops him from buying it is if it doesn’t fit. Women, on the other hand, try things on as only part of the consideration process, and garments that fit just fine may still be rejected on other grounds.”
Further, “Eighty-six percent of women look at price tags when they shop. Only 72 percent of men do.”
[I am definitly one of that 72 percentile group!]
I don’t like shopping. Really for anything. Except..... except.... well hold that thought for a bit.
Underhill goes on to explain that computer stores have replaced the stereo-shop and car lots of yesteryear, as the place where men are most likely to not mind browsing for a considerable amount of time. In fact, he says that if he were to open a computer store, he would try to locate it next to a women’s clothing shop, so that while the women are trying on sixty-seven outfits, their bored-out-of-their-mind male counterparts would gravitate towards his store.
I agree with him. A computer store is one place I could find myself lost in. [Does that even make sense?]
OK... now to the heart of the matter.... what is the one area of shopping that actually appeals to me? I can answer that, without the slightest hesitation.

I love eating.

I turn back to the Underhill book, where he says: “The great traditional arena for male shopping behavior has always been the supermarket. It’s here, with thousands of products all within easy reach, that you can witness the carefree abandon and restless lack of discipline for which the gender is known. In one supermarket study, we counted how many shoppers came armed with lists. Almost all of the women had them. Less than a quarter of the men did. Any wife who’s watching the family budget knows better than to send her husband to the supermarket unchaperoned. Giving him a vehicle to commandeer, even if it’s just a shopping cart, only emphasizes the potential for guyness in the experience.”

I so very much agree with everything he is saying here. The wonderful lack of discipline. With the swish of those self-opening doors I feel like I am walking through the main portal of the Starship Enterprise. And I swear, from that grand entrance onward, I am a zombie... arms outstretched, just knocking stuff off the shelves and into the cart. I don’t know if it’s just me or what, but I even hear music while in this trance, it’s like being in a food-lined elevator!
I love the whole experience of it, and I’m not kidding. When I am feeling a bit low, I go to the supermarket. The Gap and J. Crew be damned! My pants can have holes in them... but I want fresh bread! I want that leaky kind of honey, and Omega-3 eggs! I want pre-severed chicken parts... and coffee creamer with an expiry date well into next month!
At the supermarket, I want it all. And even though I know I am being swindled here just like anywhere, I honestly do not mind checkout time. I never begrudge that bill that has my credit card cringing in disgust.
And I usually enjoy the cashier-to-client banter that goes on, while the swindling is in gear.
Just the other evening, however, while the customer ahead of me was paying the piper, I was placing all of my carefully selected zombie-items on the black rubber conveyor belt.....
A clear bag containing two baking potatoes, the smaller size tub of margarine, three apples, three frozen TV-dinners, one bar of soap, one can of spaghetti sauce, can-opener, package of four chicken thighs, small tube of toothpaste, a half-dozen eggs, fourteen boxes of macaroni & cheese, monster-size bag of Bar-B-Q potato chips, Betty Crocker Tuna-Helper mix, and a can of tuna.
As the cashier now turns to me and begins to ring this through, she says “So. You’re a bachelor then?”
I said to her, “That is really remarkable. You can tell that by my purchases here?”
“No, not really” she replied. “I can tell that because you’re so ugly.”

I have to admit. This was not one of the better experiences I have had at the supermarket, but still.... it was more fun than having to go buy clothes!

Friday, May 27, 2005

Splash du Jour: Friday

How wrong Emily Dickinson was! Hope is not “the thing with feathers.” The thing with feathers has turned out to be my nephew. I must take him to a specialist in Zurich.
-- Woody Allen, on Emily Dickinson

Have a great Friday!

Thursday, May 26, 2005

The Divine Afflatus.

A dear friend sent me a copy of A Handbook To Literature by William Flint Thrall and Addison Hibbard. The thing is a gem! Originally published in 1936, this one that I was given is a nicely worn and pre-loved 1960 edition. Still tons of mileage left in it yet. I believe the book is widely known as The Thrall & Hibbard. [Is all of this as profoundly exciting to you as it is to me?]
In all seriousness, I love this book. It is filled with wondrous literature factoids, and is a compendium, from A to Z [from abstract poetry to zeugma] of all things literary. Many are the evenings I have just thumbed through it and landed upon articles that have enTHRALLED me to no end.... [“You know, there are pills you can take for this Cipriano.”]
“Oh, up your dithyramb!”
OK, so having said all of this, one evening I got caught up with an article on what is known as The Divine Afflatus. No, this is not the moment a deity passes wind! But close. Close.
The Divine Afflatus [and henceforth I quote Thrall & Hibbard. Listen up now kids, I assure you that this stuff is going to be on the exam!] is “a phrase used to mean poetic inspiration, particularly the exalted state immediately preceding creative composition, when the poet is felt to be receiving his inspiration directly from a divine source. The doctrine of divine inspiration for poets was advocated by Plato. Although the phrase and doctrine have been used in a serious and sincere sense by such a poet as Shelley, the term is perhaps more often used now in a somewhat contemptuous sense, to imply a sort of pretensious over-valuation in a would-be poet or a bombastic spirit in an oratator, whose fervid style or manner is felt not to be justified by the actual substance of the poem or oration.”
I must say to you, immediately upon reading this definition, my own bombastic orifice was inflated, as it were!
I reached for a piece of paper, and with one thought in mind, namely, that “I can literally flatulate as good as the next guy” I began to scribble and jot as though released from shackles. The following stanzas fell out of me in such a mighty warm torrent my friends, that I had to undo my belt buckle and trouser-snap, lean back in my chair, and conclude that I myself, Cipriano, had just experienced:

The Divine Afflatus

Ye lads, I hereby declare that it was very like a swoon
and as unlike common reverie as would a spaniel
‘gainst a hen both be judged poultry. Furthermore,
were it not that I pricked my thumb unto blood
in the reaching for the quill in its pot, surely
I would have fainted dead before a word.

But such as ye read went down, black upon white,
forewarning, cognizance, and derivation to the four winds.
Yea, as it were, effusions, entirely absent of plan
and so far ahead of pen that I ran to keep pace,
fell out just as ye see here, crumpled before ye.
Thus, stumbling headlong I managed a mere scribbling
as Calliope (for she threw her name behind her)
advanced, and in fact, vanished, as it were.

And so, let us raise our tankards my fellows,
in a toast to those who understand my verse.
And ye others, complain not to me, but thirst,
and blame ye the gods.

Splash du Jour: Thursday

I do not want the peace which passeth understanding, I want the understanding which bringeth peace.
-- Helen Keller –

Have a great Thursday!

Wednesday, May 25, 2005


Setting aside Tender Is The Night for a moment, I just went for a little stroll through the mega-bookstore and there is a guy over there signing books, like an author. As I walked past, I noticed his book is one of those larger-than-life coffee-table photography books, and his is called _________. [deliberately deleted title]. The front cover is gorgeous.... I kept walking, then I froze with a question I have wondered for YEARS.... maybe a decade.... and so I turned around and went back to him.
I said... “Excuse me, but is it true that South America is something like nine times larger, land-mass-wise, than Greenland? Like I mean.... on flat maps of the world, Greenland is so huge-normous, it is actually spatially presented as being considerably bigger than South America.... yet it is NOT. It is much smaller. Is this true?”
And.... for the life of me..... he does not really know.
And I said “But, I assume you have lived there? In Greenland like?”
“Yes, I lived there for eight years, and have been back there about eighteen times since, mostly to photograph the images for this book. But I am not sure about what you are saying, perhaps flat maps are not drawn to scale?”
I was sort of boggled, I must say.
I mean, yes, flat maps are not drawn to scale, I know that.... but sheesh.... I mean, this fact about the presentation of Greenland on flat maps is not sort of miniscule. I mean.... it is presented as if it is half the dang size of the whole Northern hemisphere! And this guy has LIVED THERE and he does not know this? I don’t understand. It is the kind of “factoid” that if I were ever Greenlandian.... even for one day.... I would know this. I would.

Splash du Jour: Wednesday

A writer is somebody for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.
-- Thomas Mann –

Have a great Wednesday!

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

"Look! Focus!"

This is happening as I write it. At the mega-bookstore. They both walked in here moments ago. Unlucky for them, my notebook was already open.
People never cease to amaze me. A small boy and his mother. I’m assuming she’s his mother, and in a few minutes it becomes more apparent that she is.
He flings down a little backpack, and she barks “O.K. get your stuff out and get on it.” She tramps off somewhere, the little guy (he’s cute) spreads out some books and scribbly papers… one he sets aside and I can see that it is a cover page on which he’s carefully drawn a warrior’s shield with a bright red cross on it. Above that are the words My Baptism.
I look over at his little implements; a pencil, an eraser, a pen, blank sheets. In a side-pocket of his backpack I can see the top half of the video Shrek. He’s wearing orange pants. Orange pants! Only a kid can get away with orange pants.
Here she comes, and plops down across form him like a big old she-bear. And the word “big” is an appropriate and kind adjective. Looking as angry and dishevelled as anything that had just backed itself down a tree after finding no honey up there.
Mommie The Pooh!
She snatches up a sheet of paper and I can hear her breathing as she searches for something negative to say. “Well it says right here that the front page is to be on unruled paper containing title and name only, with no pictures or logos! So you’ve messed that up already.”
“What?” says Tigger. “But I…”
“Well never mind, you’ve gotta change that, you can’t have a picture.”
She’s scouring for more ammo. Reloading. “It says you have to mention who officiated. You didn’t do that!”
“The priest. Who was the priest? What was his name?”
“Well mom, I don’t know. Do you know?”
“Ah, just put anybody’s name in there” she growls, followed by (and I swear, the following is verbatim)… “I’m sure you could write about the turd you had this morning and that would be good.” Dumbfounded, I scribbled this down on a napkin immediately, for posterity… word for word!
She’s now in full edit-mode, scratching stuff out of his essay as he looks on…
“God your pen sucks,” she throws it down, across to him.
“I know, it’s not that g…”
“Look! Focus! I’m going to go and get a coffee because I can see where this is going again. We’ll be here all afternoon. Try to put as much effort into this as I’m doing and maybe you’ll pass this damn thing.” Again, word for word. My napkin runneth over.
And off she stamps to the coffee counter.
Tigger is sort of deflated, and just sitting there. Unfocussed! Well no kidding. So am I! The poor kid, he’s David Copperfield… in the early chapters! Unzips his pencil case and digs around in there but takes nothing out.
I wonder what goes on in a little kid’s head when adults act like kids, or worse.
Granted, I don’t have children to raise and can only imagine how difficult parenting can be at times, but still, when Mama Bear returns with her coffee I feel like I would like to shake HER up and say “Look! Focus!”
I DID get to say a couple words to her, but they weren’t these. She continued reading Tigger’s essay. He must have alluded to the account of Jesus’ own baptism by John the Baptist because she said “You’ll have to change this, because Jesus went fully under the water, he was not just sprinkled.”
“Really?” squeaked Tigger.
“And it wasn’t the Nile good Lord! It was the uh… oh what was the name of that river? Geez, I know I know it…”
And she looks at me as I’m furiously writing about her… “Excuse me, excuse me, but do you know the name of that river where Jesus was baptized?”
“The Jordan,” I say. My degree in theology being of some practical use for the first time in a long time.
“Yes yes, the Jordan. Thank you. Thank you.”
How polite adults are to anonymous other adults. How easy it is to show kindness and gentleness to those who matter the least.
She pencils “Jordan” into his essay and reads on. A few minutes later she looks at Tigger and says “Maybe we should finish this at home huh?”

I turn to a new clean page in my notebook.
Tigger gathers up his kidstuff, his Shrek hanging out. They are putting on their jackets to leave.
I carefully tear out the previous double-sided page of my notebook, and fold it up like a letter.
“Excuse me,” I weakly say as she turns to leave, “But, could you please take this and read it a little later on today?” And I hand her everything you have just read, right up to the word “huh”…minus the title, which only occurred to me later.
“Sure O.K.,” and she gives me that LOOK. The one with the word “Anthrax” on scrolling marquee flitting past the monitor screen of her mind. As though I myself, clad only in loincloth, were waistdeep in the Jordan asking if she would prefer total immersion to sprinkling!
But she took it. She stuffed it into her purse.
No big deal. I can rewrite it later. After all… I was there! I have the napkin notes!
But as I take a sip of my (yuck!) cold coffee I wonder… what if her interpretation of “a little later on today” is more like “right now?” What if right now she is (nostrils flaring) getting to the part about the bear “backing itself down a tree?”
Good Lord! I gather up my stuff and race out of the mega-bookstore, dissolving into the crowded street… headed anywhere downwind.

Splash du Jour: Tuesday

"Everyone thinks writers must know more about the inside of the human head, but that is wrong. They know less, that's why they write. Trying to find out what everyone else takes for granted."
-- Margaret Atwood –

Have a great Tuesday!

Monday, May 23, 2005

Can They Read?

In my travels, I have tripped over the following quote, and it has been nagging at me. I wonder if it is mere exaggeration. Hyperbole or hype? Or both. Or what? Is it merely a Vidalism with no basis of factuality... or is it true in all of its horrid ramifications? Here it is:

“Today’s public figures can no longer write their own speeches or books, and there is some evidence that they can’t read them either.”
-- Gore Vidal –

That is just scary. The first part is almost a given. But the second part... YIKES. Is it true?
Does Tony Blair read stuff? Can Bush do it? Where has all the erudition gone, if it’s gone?
Wasn’t the term “statesman” at one time synonymous with “brilliant” or “well-read” or “erudite?” Lincoln. Churchill. Stuff like that.
In Canadian politics, the last Prime Minister that could even be considered an intellectual would be Pierre Elliot Trudeau. Do any public figures nowadays even have time to recreationally read? Do they have the desire to do so? And, more importantly, did they ever?
I have found that it is very difficult to find any sort of answers to these questions.
I have researched the Web incessantly. I can’t really find any good information on this question. For instance.... “What are people in the White House reading?” Stuff like that.
Favorite authors of the Premiers and the Senators.
Can’t find it.
I have prowled the mega-bookstore shelves (just did it minutes ago).... and of course, it is easy to stumble across the tons of “Bushism” books that are so popular. My personal favorite Bushism, is this one:
"I want to appreciate those of you who wear our nation's uniform for your sacrifice." —George W. Bush, Jacksonville, Fla., Jan. 14, 2005.
Whatever else those words may mean, they are not good evidence that the speaker is currently working his way through Dostoyevsky’s Brothers Karamazov on his off-hours!
Speaking of Russian authors though (stay with me folks) the only promising note I found today, was some stuff about the current Secretary of State, Condoleeza Rice.
Rice, who was a tenure-track Stanford Professor at age twenty-eight, stands out as a thinker. Apparently, she is often seen toting historical works around Washington, and her family has spoken of her childhood requirement to read a book a day. Before the September 11th attacks, she reportedly designated an hour or two each day to purely read. (See, this is the kind of stuff I want to hear). And as a classicly trained pianist, she appreciates [as opposed to her boss, who apparently only wants to appreciate stuff, as noted above] the music of fine literature. “I actually read War and Peace in the Russian,” she told an interviewer. “It’s really quite beautiful.”
I got all misty-eyed.
I got all optimistic.
Until I read on, and found that when The President heard of this interview, he responded with “Uh-huh. Like I always said, that Warren Peace is one heck of a writer.”

Now hold on! HOLD ON!
Before two fighter jets come and shoot me down as I walk home from here, I want to say that the last part there... I made that up!
But the Condoleeza stuff.... that’s true. And it’s encouraging.
In a world where some of our statesmen and stateswomen have to phonetically sound out the signs along the road as their limousine whisks them to their next speaking engagement.... it is encouraging.

“...conspicuous intelligence seemed actively unwelcome in the Bush White House.” -- former presidential speechwriter, David Frum --

Splash du Jour: Monday

"The most essential gift for a good writer is a built-in shock-proof shit-detector."
-- Ernest Hemingway --
Have a great Monday!

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Rick and Mary.

I’m sipping coffee, and reading at the mega-bookstore. This guy walks in and plops down just over there, in the corner. He looks stressed. His hair looks stressed. First, he takes the extra chairs at his table, puts one at mine, distributes two others elsewhere… leaves one across from himself. He sets up for what’s about to take place. A meeting with the ex!
Minutes later, she strolls in… rain droplets all over her hair and jacket, and as she sits down she explains to him how she had to take a few buses to get here, mentions the rain and yadda yadda. He tells her how far away he parked and how much time is on his meter. Small talk that’s about to turn big. “Ding” goes an unheard bell.
I can’t help but overhear them but continue to attempt to read my book. They get right into talking about “the kid”… the daughter who visits the father periodically. Dad makes a few comments, while Mom takes out an actual wirebound notebook and begins to describe the way things are going to be! Things he is allowed to say (to their child). Things he’s not.
At first everything is extremely civil. They’re talking like two business people discussing the best way to approach a new venture, with special emphasis on what’s best for the client.
“I agree.”
“Yes, that’s fair.”
“Oh certainly!”
Then the mud rolls in. Much to the astonishment of my peripheral gaze, the guy begins to shift about and… get loud. The conversation takes several nasty turns. I’m embarassed for them right now. Many of us sitting nearby can’t help but hear. He begins to get specific. Apparently, in recent visits by Little Child, his privacy has been violated, and, case in point, his paycheck was observed. He thinks it was purposely done. She denies this. It all gets louder. No one notices (including myself) that I’ve been reading my book upside down for the last five minutes. He’s squirming really bad now, fuming, like a great storm that’s so close in upon you that there is very little delay between lightning and thunder. She knows he’s about to leave, and she pleads with him… “Rick, I’ve travelled across town to be here today, please we need to talk about these things.” But he’s already up, wrestling his coat on. I felt my heart go out to her in this moment.
He tells the whole room “Look Mary, I agreed to a conversation, and we’ve just had it!” She’s pleading even as he’s saying it… but he’s already gone, muttering and slapping the air behind himself, trying to find the left armhole. Gone. Jacket half-on, half-off.
Mary does not run after him. She sits with her head in her hands, looking down at the table. She turns to the girl in the next table (behind mine) and says “I’m sorry. We have to meet in a public place or else the meeting would not even last this long.”
This particular meeting was perhaps ten minutes.
The girl smiles at her and says “I’m all for you” and Mary says “I’m not even embarassed that you heard all of this, because I think of you as… a witness.”
She looks over at me and I give her my best Witness #2 smile.
She just walked away not even fifteen minutes ago, the time it has taken me to write this. Back on the bus. Soon, somewhere across town a babysitter will get to go home earlier than anticipated.
I feel sad for these people, Rick and Mary. And moreso for all three of them, the child being the third. And I wonder, how (or maybe “why” is a better question) do people get to this kind of a place in their lives? In my own life I seem to be so sheltered from having to deal with these type of issues. I turn my book rightside up and keep reading, the biggest problem presently on my plate being whether or nor I should go get a refill.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

A Real Pageturner.

In the time it takes for me to type out the sentence that describes to you what she does, she’s already done it again. She’s flipped the page. And then again. And again.
I call her The Speed-Reading Chick, and she’s in high gear today, sitting just over yonder, here at the mega-bookstore. She is the only person I know of who frequents this place as much as I do, especially on weekends. She is a fixture, as am I.
And there she is, curled up on one of the comfy chairs, while I am here at this desk sort of table-affair. An attractive girl, I’m guessing she is in her latter twenties. She looks very Sheryl Crow-like, and to me, Sheryl Crow (whom I have met in real life) is very attractive. I’ve never spoken to The Speed-Reading Chick, but have observed her ominous powers here for perhaps a year or so now, while I myself have plodded through the books that I read.
Today, it is Margaret Atwood’s Alias Grace I am peering over from time to time, to catch a glimpse of Attractive-Speed-Reading-In-Progress!

The Speed-Reading Chick never has less than three or four books in front of her. [From now on I am going to call her Sheryl]. Always novels, and always those kind of novels that could be described as.... hmmm... I want to be in no way negative sounding here, because I do not mean it that way at all... but, the kind of Books That Women Are Supposed To Read. For an even greater reason [to not sound negative] I will not name any authors that fall into this category. (Incidentally, someone could say the same about what I am reading today. Let’s be serious. How many men really read Atwood?)
Anyhoo, I think you know what I mean. Sheryl’s books always have alluring pastel pink and/or blue covers and are written by authors who seem to be giving birth to at least two of these items a month. And no, not Harlequin romances. Good fair-size, relatively substantial books.
But she EATS them, I swear it.
I have watched her read several books in a sitting. Time and time again. For a long time now.
She is not just flipping through the thing either, not scanning or skimming. I can see her move down the page, but at such a steady unrelenting pace that it is quite mesmerizing, if not unnerving. And then (this astounds me)... when she finishes one, without so much as blinking or re-arranging her pretty self in the chair, she reaches for the next book, flips it open, and is off.
To new worlds, new faces, new predicaments.

Far be it from me to be critical of Sheryl. But let’s talk about comprehension.
If she can actually comprehend what she is reading at light speed there, then I say this is quite a gift, it really is. And it is a better gift than its far-too-common opposite, the gift of nodding off to sleep if you read two sentences in succession! At the same time, I do not think the gift of speed-reading is a gift I would wish upon myself, plodder that I am. I like to savor what I read.... mmm.... “mull over it” yes, that is the thing I like to do. Turn it over in the mind. Re-read paragraphs, marvel over the construction. Glory in the authorial uniqueness.
But this reading of three or four books in a sitting BING BANG BOOM....
I don’t care how carnivorous a person is, isn’t there a point when eating six sirloin steaks in a row becomes unappetizing?
Having said this though, I am reminded of the story of the reputed Fastest Reader In The World, Mr. Howard Stephen Berg.
When Berg appeared on Live With Regis and Kathie Lee years ago, the hosts gave him twenty minutes to read a 240-page book. They then brought out a surprise guest: the author, who quizzed Berg on what he’d just read.
Berg scored 100. Answered every single question correctly.
He is Guinness-certified (as am I, however, my Guinness-certification has to do with beer consumption).... Guinness-certified in 1989 as the world’s fastest reader (the category has since dropped from the book). Berg can read eighty pages per minute. He doesn’t read constantly, and he doesn’t always speed read. “But when I want to learn about something,” he says, “I learn it really quickly and really well.”
So, granted, this guy’s obviously got a good connection going.... snappy synapses.
Still, I read of Harriet Klausner of Morrow, Georgia (amazon.com’s #1 book reviewer) who claims that she reads twenty books a week. Or even prolific author Nicholas Sparks, who, while writing six bestselling novels in six years, claims to also READ about 125 books every year.
Among other things, it is simply remarkable.
Beyond the issue of comprehension, such rampant reading seems to me a bit indiscriminate. Or at least it contains an element of the danger of possibly becoming an indiscriminate reader. To me, opening a new book fouteeen seconds after finishing the last one is like boarding an endless succession of buses with no regard for where any of them are going. In the throes of their voraciousness, how do these people arrive anywhere distinct? How do they assimilate what they read?
Well, how much do you read Cipriano?
So far this year I have read sixteen books. A few I have not finished (which is always the case, every year), but sixteen I have meticulously devoured. Last year (2004) I read fourty-four books. In 2003, I read forty. And in 2002, forty. I have kept full bibliographic records of my reading since about 1990.
Steadily, I am averaging about forty books a year.

Well, by golly, Sheryl has left the building. I know that she will be back later.
But as she passed by my table, (which is really an empty space at a bank of computer terminals) she set down the three books which she has just read in their entirety. By the way, this is what a lot of people, including myself, do here... we read an entire book (or three) without buying them. Instead of re-shelving them, she left these three here, so I leaned over and picked them up after she had gone. All of them have very enticing covers to them! They are The Demon’s Daughter by Emma Holly (322 pages), Whirlwind Affair by Jacquie D’Alessandro (339 pages), and Little White Lies by Gemma Townley (320 pages).
That’s 981 pages.
She’s a real pageturner.

I think it was two weekends ago. I left this same bookstore and set out onto the street, realizing just then that my paper coffee cup was empty. There were three of those plasic recycle bins right up against the store, ready for collection. So I opened the lid of one, to throw my cup in there. To my initial delight, the bin was filled to the top... with books! NEW books, with the covers torn off of them, the store having purged their shelves of overstocked items or non-sellers or whatnot else. With no regard for my appearance as a homeless street-person, I now went from bin to bin. They were all full of books! Sweet Lord, what a bounty!
However, as I picked each of them up, I found none of them to be books that I myself would have read. Not a one!
Yet, they were very much the type of book that Sheryl is into. Bins... full of her very genre! And she was IN the store at the time! I had seen her there, up in her comfy chair, just earlier on. I felt like going back into the store and sharing my discovery with her....
“Hey Sheryl, come out here. In these three bins is enough good reading for like.... an entire... DAY!”
But instead, I just walked away. After all, how would she be able to tell if the books were any good when their covers have so obviously been removed?

Friday, May 20, 2005

The Need To Communicate.

It lives in all of us, this need to communicate, but I am convinced that in some people, the need is so overwhelming as to dominate their every moment of existence.
A poet once said “expression is the need of my soul” but that is not even really the aspect of communication that I am talking about here, today. The poet is most likely describing the need to formulate experience (whether imaginary or actual... or both) and transmit that experience outward in the form of his/her art. To express it. If we were to examine the roots of this word we would find that it is denoting movement above all things. Movement from the inward to the outward. It is this need for expression that is then combined with the ability to do something about it and a measure of inspiration and willingness to do so that makes a poet a poet.
But no, what I am talking about here is much more mundane.
I am not talking about poetry.
I am thinking today of the need to tell someone else of your current whereabouts, to laugh with someone about last night, to inform someone that you will be ten minutes later than expected. The need to remind yourself that someone knows you.
I am talking about connection, really.
I am thinking about the advent of the cell phone.
I believe that this form of personal communcation, and the immediacy of it, has perhaps robbed us of something, were we to only know it. Robbed us of a certain sort of sanctuary, a certain sort of inablity of interruption, if you will.
In other words, I wonder if the current plethora of cell phones in every pocket and purse does not indicate that we have become a people that desires interruption. We welcome a disruption to our reverie. If this is the case, I think this is sad.
It is altogether possible that what was once sanctuary, has now become, with the advent of the cell phone, if not altogether stolen time, at best, borrowed time. At any moment, whether you’ve got yourself set on ring or vibrate, you can be summoned to give someone else that time you are enjoying.
That word enjoying is the key though.
We have stopped enjoying that time.
My premise is that the cell phone has subtly changed our perspective on enjoying our own space and the freedom of solitude it brings, or once brought.
The cell phone industry thrives upon the fact that we do not want to be alone. We do not want to feel disconnected. We want everyone we know to have access to us, at all times. This is why the commercials are based upon the illusion that this is the desirable way to live.
The reason I am writing the above is very simple. I am sitting at a coffee place. A young woman just walked in minutes ago. She is attractive, dressed very nicely... and she just sat down at the next table to the left of me, and upon doing so, she set her little black leather purse in front of her, and began to tap her dainty fingers on the table.
Instantly, instantly, I said to myself.... “I give her ten seconds. Within ten seconds, she will pull a cell phone out of that little purse...... 10....9....8....7.....6......”
And there it was. You will think I am exaggerating, but I assure you dear reader, I am not.
She did not retrieve the phone because it was ringing.... oh no, she was retrieving her cell phone because (God forbid)... what if someone had called and she had not heard the ring? What if someone called while that bus drove by five minutes ago, and I did not hear my phone?
“I will surely DIE!”
And seeing that no-one had called her, what did she do? She called someone.
This is when I opened my laptop and began writing.
Now, it may sound that I am being overly critical of this dear person to my left, and maybe I am. The truth is, we ALL have the need to communicate. It is the very reason why I myself am writing this vignette, rather than simply thinking it.
But all I am saying is this: The next time you wonder why there is not much good poetry being written nowadays, just take a look around you, to the left and the right. And if you yourself are not on a cell phone at the time, just marvel at how many other people are!

Splash du Jour: Friday

Other evils there are that may come; for Sauron is himself but a servant or emissary. Yet it is not our part to master all the tides of the world, but to do what is in us for the succour of those years wherein we are set, uprooting the evil in the fields that we know, so that those who live after may have clean earth to till. What weather they shall have is not ours to rule. -- Gandalf, in Volume 3 of Tolkien’s Lord Of The Rings. --
Have a great Friday!

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Splash du Jour: Thursday

One writes of scars healed, a loose parallel to the pathology of the skin, but there is no such thing in the life of an individual. There are open wounds, shrunk sometimes to the size of a pin-prick but wounds still. The marks of suffering are more comparable to the loss of a finger, or the sight of an eye. We may not miss them, either, for one minute in a year, but if we should there is nothing to be done about it.
- from Tender Is The Night by F.Scott Fitzgerald.

Have a great Thursday!

Wednesday, May 18, 2005


Here is an original poem, from yours truly, Cipriano.


I cannot imagine a world without them.
A world where I cannot rob them of their unborn young
and gnaw their adult legs to the bone.

Where sunny side up, over easy, Breakfast Special,
are all meaningless terms.
Where the sun hesitates below the horizon waiting
for a rooster on a fence that is not there.

Think of the jeerless playgrounds, bullies groping
for just the right word to hurl at timid boys.
What will these kids hunt for at Easter time
or throw at houses on Hallowe’en?

People will tell legends involving a soup
that could cure a cold, as the riddle industry stumbles.
Which came first, the… ah, forget it.
Why did the something-or-other cross the road?

No. A world without poultry just leads to
a lot of blank stares in the kitchen.
Honey, don’t forget to pick up a dozen ____?
She’s lost for words, and all he knows
is that he hasn’t eaten a moist cake in years.

We ought to be thankful.
It is good that they are here.
It is good that they cannot fly too fast, or too high.
This makes it easier to knock them out of the air
or just trip them,
lop off their heads,
and stuff them into a pot or an oven.

No, a world without them would not do.
And as far as that goes,
heaven will not be heaven,
if there are no chickens there.

© Ciprianowords Inc. 2005

Splash du Jour: Wednesday

The physicist Leo Szilard once announced to his friend Hans Bethe that he was thinking of keeping a diary: “I don’t intend to publish. I am merely going to record the facts for the information of God.”
“Don’t you think God knows the facts?” Bethe asked.
“Yes,” said Szilard. “He knows the facts, but He does not know this version of the facts.”
- Hans Christian von Baeyer, in Taming The Atom

Have a great Wednesday!

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Vacuums & Vertigo!

Recently my vacuum cleaner OD’d on cat hair.
I was almost done the area rug when the thing seized right up, puffing out a thin wisp of smoke as it quickly choked and then screamed itself to death. I shut it off and flipped the burning part of it over for a look-see. The little rotisserie-thing was just clogged with purebreed Ragdoll-hair.
After an aborted attempt at repair, during which time I repeatedly cursed this black rubber band that would not go back on to the rolling-pin dealie it obviously came off of, I just hauled the whole smoldering mess down to the big red garbage bin downstairs and heaved it in there!
I am currently vacuum-less.
Then last night, at about 1:15 a.m., I suddenly awoke from a vivid dream I was having.

Both of these things just described (a vacuum cleaner killing itself, and me waking from a dream) are both very rare and unusual events, and so I began to wonder if there was any sort of cause-and-effect relationship between them. I admit, I nearly blew a gasket thinking about it, but my efforts paid off. At work today, I think I deciphered the subliminal connection.
See, the vaccum-suicide involved the brand name Hoover. This particular upright model I had owned was definitely the lower-end of anything Hoover produces.... I forget the model name but it was probably like Junior Rug-Sucker 100... something like that.
And.... my dream. Ready for this?
My dream was about Hoover Dam.

The dream was so real I was experiencing vertigo in it! And that is probably why I woke up, because heights really scare me. I nearly fell off the bed. Thing is, when I was a kid, our family visited Hoover Dam on our way to Disneyland. And for years afterward, as a kid, Hoover still occupied a greater portion of my mind than Splash Mountain and Mickey Mouse combined.
Part of this is because when we were at the Dam, my Dad sort of dangled me over the edge of it.
There was (and probably still is) a walkway where you can observe the Dam’s 726 feet of vertical concrete massiveness, but the wall and railing is (understandably) fairly formidable for a curious-as-hell 6-year-old. And I wanted to see what all the grown-ups were seeing. So Dad lifted me up and set me sideways on the ledge so that I could look over. I know that he was holding my ankles tightly, but I can still recall the distinct feeling that welled up in me. If he would have suddenly let go, I may have well become famous as That Kid That Slid Down Hoover in 1970.
It was an awesome thing. Awesome to me.

Now I know that my Dad did not intend to kill me and/or cause lifelong psychological trauma, but regardless, he did indeed accomplish the latter thing.
Ever since that vacation, I assure you, I have had a profound fear of falling down dams.
And yes, along with this, a general acrophobia of sorts.... Fear of Death by Falling Way Too Far.
But I am not bitter about it whatsoever. Rather, I think that overall it is sort of a healthy fear, like the Fear of Uncontrolled Flames or... Fear of Loaded Guns Pointed At You. These are good fears, if you think of the possibilities inherent in their non-existence.

My own personal Fear of Death by Falling Way Too Far was brought home to me rather clearly, about 13 years ago, when everyone I worked with, without exception, decided to go skydiving together. Parachuting. Basically take the course, strap some folded-up plastic bag to yourself, and then purposely jump out of an airplane.
At first, I was right in there... “For sure! Count me in!”
We all signed up. We were a road construction crew.... macho as all hell. Some other words come to mind.... we had moxy! We were youthful. Insane! Drunk lots! [And whatever the word is for “having breathed too many asphalt fumes!”] We were all these things.
But as the day approached... well, apprehensive is a bit too light of a word to describe how I was feeling. I was 7 again, and seriously dangling over the edge of Hoover Dam! And macho be damned.... I backed out!
When I told them all, they surrounded me...... “Why? Why are you backing out, you wimp?”
So I explained by saying, “See guys, I’ve been noticing that every time we talk about it, I urinate a bit, and I’m a little afraid of what else might happen if there is ever any actual sort of jump-out-of-airplane descent taking place!”
They all went and they all survived, and they all laughed at me afterwards. But I don’t care. Parachuting is insane. The fact that you wear a helmut proves that it is insane. Because, as Jerry Seinfeld says, as soon as that parachute fails to open, that helmut is wearing YOU for protection! Later on, in some bar with all the other helmuts, yours will be boasting “It’s a good thing I had a human being strapped underneath me, or I would have hit the ground directly!”
See what I mean?

So my vacuum cleaner OD’s. And then I have this dream last night.
I don’t need Sigmund Freud or Carl Gustav Jung to tell me what’s going on here. I figured it all out at work today.
It’s clear to me that I need a Hoover-Healing Weekend. Not to get rid of my fears. But to re-affirm them. To dedicate myself afresh to the lifelong pursuit of Not Falling From Things.
So, Friday, I am getting in Big Blue (my car) and I am going to drive to Las Vegas. Anyone who wants to join me you are more than welcome. We should all meet somewhere first, and then drive the 30 miles southeast together, in a convoy. Since I pretty much live in mega-bookstores (I am in one right now even) I say we meet at the Barnes & Noble Bookstore located at 3860 Maryland Parkway in the City of Lights. Say..... noonish, Saturday, the 21st.
How will you recognize me?
I’ll be wearing a black shirt that says on it, in big white letters: I Drove All The Way To Hoover, And All I Got Was This “Dam” T-Shirt.

Splash du Jour: Tuesday

Everywhere I go, I’m asked if I think the universities stifle writers. My opinion is that they don’t stifle enough of them. There’s many a best-seller that could have been prevented by a good teacher.
-- Flannery O’ Connor –

Have a great Tuesday!

Monday, May 16, 2005

The Science of Highlighting.

This is probably the hundredth time I have observed the phenomenon, so I figure it is about time I documented my findings… especially since it is, once again, taking place directly across from me here at the mega-bookstore coffeeshop right now.
There she is, obviously a student of something-or-other… in her early twenties, a photocopied brick of paper balanced on her knee. She leans back against the wall, she is sideways in her chair, with her two feet propped into another chair, to get the right… highlighting angle!
As her eyes skim across the page… so does that highlighter of hers… today it is a fluorescent pink color being used. Yellow is very popular too.
But it intrigues me to no end, as I glance up at her from the pages of my own book, in hopes that she does not see me doing so… this highlighting thing intrigues me, and here is the issue…
I can see how emphasizing one or two points on a page could be helpful… a phrase here… a phrase there... a way of noting what is important to re-read later, when one is back in the dorm-room, the lamplight focused on those danged pages which are now augmented with pizza-grease …. and you realize it is late, late, late, and you have to know this stuff for tomorrow’s exam etc.
I mean, ultimately, when all is said and done… highlighting should simply mean… “more important than the other stuff” right? Later on, you may only have time (and energy) to re-digest those previously highlighted points.
But, for the life of me, I cannot see what the benefit is… of highlighting EVERYTHING ON THE PAGE….. page after page of indiscriminate highlighting! Is this some Hansel-and-Gretelish equivalent of dropping crumbs… something left behind so that later you can say to yourself… “Oh, I must have read that, because look. It’s all highlighted?”
I just don’t get it!
This girl is highlighting every single word on the page…. Page after stapled-together page of it. I want her to stop, I really want her to stop.
And this is, like I’ve said, not unique to today’s coffee-time… this is truly about the hundredth time I’ve observed such behavior.

Now granted, when I was in college, I was known as a bigtime highlighter. Oh yes… I had a SYSTEM. When taking notes in class, I would use a certain color for main headings, another for sub-headings… still another for sub-points within the sub-heading. People used to borrow my notes when they missed a class, and they’d return them saying stuff like… “Dude, you should write a book on highlighting because your notes are like, so easy to follow.”
And once, this one babe’s gorgeous mane of hair fell across my desk, and I even took a few moments to grab little wisps of it and color them pink… yellow… blue.
All of this kind of SERIOUS highlighting I can totally understand.

In my day, we had highlighting down to a science.
But what the kids are doing nowadays. No, I’m sorry… it’s just not right.

Splash du Jour: Monday

I believe it was Robertson Davies’ alter-ego Samuel Marchbanks, who once said:
Next week, I see, will be observed as National Cat Week. It is a good thing to do honour to this noble, dignified and beautiful animal, but I don’t imagine for a moment that the cats will cooperate. Cats don’t mind being worshipped, but they refuse to be organized. They have always insisted that their lives are their own, to be lived as they see fit, and their attitude toward everything which is symbolized by the American passion for “weeks” of one sort and another is contemptuous, contumacious, and insulting. Can anyone imagine cats walking in a parade? Does anyone seriously think that cats are interested in civic betterment? When have cats ever shown a united front on any subject whatever? The great charm of cats is their rampant egotism, their devil-may-care attitude toward responsibility, their disinclination to earn an honest dollar. In a continent which screams neurotically about co-operation and the Golden Rule, cats are disdainful of everything but their own immediate interests and they contrive to be so suave and delightful about it that they even received the apotheosis of a National Week. Smart work, cats!
Mine pukes in my shoes all the time.

Have a great Monday!

Sunday, May 15, 2005

The Spew-Shoe.

I love cats.
But are they really worth it all?
Mine pukes in my shoes all the time.
It’s not funny. At any given time I will have about three or four pairs of shoes at the front door. Jack [my purebreed Ragdoll], he’s filled most of them at one time or the other with nice waaaaaaaaarm cat-vom! Sometimes in them, but always on them. His aim and consistency is what is most remarkable. Feline accuracy. He rarely misses.
Whatever it is that comes out of him looks like a wad of Kleenex soaked in oatmeal. These projectiles I don’t mind so much, they are easier to clean up. But it’s the other stuff, the half-digested soupy collage of watery spewage... well, I’ve thrown away many a shoe, let me tell you. I purposely only throw away the one shoe... leaving the other one there, so that he can hack into it all he wants.
But he’s not into this!
He wants a fresh pair.
Invariably, he blows chunks into the shoe next to the designated Spew-Shoe!
I just don’t get it. And what amazes me is the rationale that is obviously going into this.... from the cat’s perspective I mean. Here is an apartment with all kinds of square footage. Couches. Big bed with loads of under-bed vomit potential. Walk-in closet with an open doorway. Perfect puking conditions, pretty much wall-to-wall. Half the time, the guy who pays the rent isn’t even here. Jack is pretty much free to vomit anywhere he wants, and who’s the wiser? It’s Hairball Heaven!
He looks this scenario over. Walks over to my shoes and says to himself “The next time I feel the old pipes backing up again... oh yeah!... I am going to so totally throw up right into this thing here with the laces and the...” and I can already hear it. The convulsions. Jack’s in the zone. He’s gonna hurl. And it’s usually a morning thing. I’m brushing my teeth and I hear this apocalyptic gagging... so I run, Colgate froth flying. All I can see is the top of Jack’s head, because the rest of his face is rammed into my shoe. All I want to do is pretty much point him anywhere else, the poor guy. I twirl him around. Six demons are scraping his insides out with a muddy fencepost. He is levitating, I swear. And whatever the hell is actually happening to him, you would not be surprised to see his intestines come shooting out of his ears. With a horrendous shplorking sound and a final horrified shudder he is delivered of his burden. It’s out. The mess is out.
Oh dear God it’s out, and I caught him in time. This is ruining the parquet flooring here in this spot.
Both of us are exhausted.
Toothpaste ooze mingles with the exorcised carnage.
I pat him on the head. “Zhatzagudboy” I say with the toothbrush still lodged in my face, and Jack eeks out a plaintive meow. I’ll clean the mess in a minute.
I go back to the sink and as I am rinsing I hear a final sort of.... junior-shplork.... an after-shplork, or as the French would say.... l’apres-shplork.
I peer around the corner of the wall.
And Jack is looking up at me with those blue eyes of his and he is somehow saying with them [in the cutest way possible given the circumstances]... “Ummm, there was a little bit more left and so I thought maybe I’d just throw it up into this thing here with the laces and... is that OK, Dad?”
He’s doing everything but pointing with his paw!
Cat-vom slithers down the tongue of my good shoe. What’s a Dad to do?

Saturday, May 14, 2005

The Scale of Doubt Quiz.

A dear friend of mine sent me a wonderful book called Doubt: A History. The sub-title is The Great Doubters and Their Legacy of Innovation from Socrates and Jesus to Thomas Jefferson and Emily Dickinson. The author is Jennifer Michael Hecht. Although I have only perused the peripheries of the thing, I have every intention of reading this book. I doubt that I shall be able to neglect it much longer!
Early on in the Introduction, there is such an interesting Quiz laid out that I thought I would reproduce it here for you to take yourself. The author offers it as a “taking of one’s own pulse” on a handful of questions related to doubt. These 13 questions can be answered Yes, No, or Not Sure.
Do it. Even before reading one word further, I encourage you to take a pen and paper and record your answers as you go through the Quiz. At the end there is an assessment done as to the results. It can be quite illuminating. I suggest that you write out the numbers 1 to 13 vertically, and then write your answer beside each number.

1. Do you believe that a particular religious tradition holds accurate knowledge of the ultimate nature of reality and the purpose of human life?
2. Do you believe that some thinking being consciously made the universe?
3. Is there an identifiable force coursing through the universe, holding it together, or uniting all life-forms?
4. Could prayer be in any way effective, that is, do you believe that such a being or force (as posited above) could ever be responsive to your thoughts or words?
5. Do you believe this being or force can think or speak?
6. Do you believe this being has a memory or can make plans?
7. Does this force sometimes take a human form?
8. Do you believe that the thinking part or animating force of a human being continues to exist after the body has died?
9. Do you believe that any part of a human being survives death, elsewhere or here on earth?
10. Do you believe that feelings about things should be admitted as evidence in establishing reality?
11. Do you believe that love and inner feelings of morality suggest that there is a world beyond that of biology, social patterns, and accident – i.e., a realm of higher meaning?
12. Do you believe that the world is not completely knowable by science?
13. If someone were to say, “The universe is nothing but an accidental pile of stuff, jostling around with no rhyme nor reason, and all life on earth is but a tiny, utterly inconsequential speck of nothing, in a corner of space, existing in the blink of an eye never to be judged, noticed, or remembered,” would you say, “Now that’s going a bit far, that’s a bit wrongheaded?”

And so, I hope you have answered these questions for yourself, otherwise, reading on will be fairly useless to you. The author explains:
“If you answered No to all these questions, you’re a hard-core atheist and of a certain variety: a rational materialist. If you said No to the first seven, but then had a few Yes answers, you’re still an atheist, but you may have what I call a pious relationship to the universe. If your answers to the first seven questions contained at least two Not Sure answers, you’re an agnostic. If you answered Yes to some of the questions, you still might be an atheist or agnostic, though not of the materialist variety. If you answered Yes to nine or more, you are a believer. But more than providing titles for various states of mind, the questions above may serve to demonstrate common clusters of opinion."
- Jennifer Michael Hecht, Doubt: A History. HarperSanFrancisco, 2003. –

I think that the last statement is important. The Quiz is not meant to label or definitively brand anyone. For one thing, there may be discrepancies in how the questions themselves are understood by various readers. However, generally speaking, it can serve to identify “common clusters of opinion.” Perhaps you would like to anonymously submit in the Comments section what you “are” according to Hecht’s criteria.
If you do, I will.
Although my thoughts on these issues have undergone change in the interim, I am a bit surprised to find that I still land up in the same category as I did when I first took the Quiz about a year ago. Wow! Is this how long I have had this book without reading the rest of it? I better get on it.

Friday, May 13, 2005

Splash du Jour: Friday

“Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience."
--C.S. Lewis –

Have a great Friday!

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Plutonian Factoids.

I have been splashing about today in a very interesting book, Bill Bryson’s international bestseller, A Short History of Nearly Everything. Bryson knows how to take non-fiction and turn it into something fun and hilarious. I split a gut reading his book about Australia, In A Sunburned Country. The guy is truly a nutbar.
In A Short History of Nearly Everything he is doing a similar thing with the world of science. He relates scientific facts about astronomy, biology, mathematics, and well... nearly everything, in a way that is sure to crack you up while at the same time you absorb the compendium of data.
He begins with a section on our solar system, and some of the stuff he was saying about Pluto (not the Disney character) was just so amazing that I wanted to bloggify it here.
So what follows is a direct quote, albeit truncated, from pages 22 to 24:

“It is certainly true that Pluto doesn’t act much like the other planets. Not only is it runty and obscure, but it is so variable in its motions that no one can tell you exactly where Pluto will be a century hence. Whereas the other planets orbit on more or less the same plane, Pluto’s orbital path is tipped (as it were) out of alignment at an angle of seventeen degrees, like the brim of a hat tilted rakishly on someone’s head. Its orbit is so irregular that for substantial periods on each of its lonely circles around the sun it is closer to us than Neptune is. For most of the 1980’s and 1990’s, Neptune was in fact the solar system’s most far-flung planet. Only on February 11, 1999, did Pluto return to the outside lane, there to remain for the next 228 years.
So if Pluto really is a planet, it is certainly an odd one. It is very tiny: just one quarter of 1 percent as massive as Earth. If you set it down on top of the United States, it would cover not quite half the lower forty-eight states. This alone makes it extremely anomalous; it means that our planetary system consists of four rocky inner planets, four gassy outer giants, and a tiny, solitary iceball.

Even at the speed of light, it would take seven hours to get to Pluto. [from Earth].

Such are the distances, in fact, that it isn’t even possible, in any practical terms, to draw the solar system to scale. Even if you added lots of fold-out pages to your textbooks or used a really long sheet of poster paper, you wouldn’t come close. On a diagram of the solar system drawn to scale, with Earth reduced to about the diameter of a pea, Jupiter would be over a thousand feet away and Pluto would be a mile and a half distant (and about the size of a bacterium, so you wouldn’t be able to see it anyway). On the same scale, Proxima Centauri, our nearest star, would be almost ten thousand miles away. Even if you shrank down everything so that Jupiter was as small as the period at the end of this sentence, and Pluto was no bigger than a molecule, Pluto would still be over thirty-five feet away.
So the solar system is really quite enormous. By the time we reach Pluto, we have come so far that the Sun – our dear, warm, skin-tanning, life-giving Sun – has shrunk to the size of a pinhead. It is little more than a bright star.”

Just fascinating stuff.
Outer space is so....... spacious!
Bryson goes on to quote the words of Carl Sagan,“If we were randomly inserted into the universe, the chances that you would be on or near a planet would be less than one in a billion trillion trillion.” Remember Sagan? He just loved those words ending in “illion.”

Splash du Jour: Thursday

"A gentleman is someone who never hurts another person's feelings unintentionally."
-- Oliver Hereford – Unintentionally. Very poignant little twist there.

Have a great Thursday!

Wednesday, May 11, 2005


Quite a while ago now, a friend gave me the book The Purpose-Driven Life by Rick Warren, and it has been sitting in the back seat of my car ever since. I have not yet read even one chapter of it, and today I am sitting here drinking coffee and sort of asking myself “Why?”
Why have I not yet felt like reading this book, even though I have read tons of other books since this one was given to me as a gift?
There are probably only very few of you readers who have not at least heard of this book. The sub-title is “What On Earth Am I Here For?” Since its release in 2002 it has gone on to sell well over 20 million copies and is still going strong. [And everyone over at Zondervan Publishing said a hearty “Amen!”] It has the distinction of being (get this now) the #1 best-selling hardback non-fiction book of all time. In the history of.... books! I find that incredibly fascinating. It has been named one of the 100 Christian Books That Changed The 20th Century.
And I still haven’t read it?

This may sound lame, but I think that part of the reason is because of that word in the title: Driven.
I am not so sure that I want to be driven. Even if it’s Purpose-Driven. I can’t help but link the term driven-ness with the image of hard-working oxen or horses. Beasts that have had a yoke or burden placed upon them which they would rather not have to pull or carry, had they been given a choice in the matter. Someone could argue “Yes, but soon they come to accept it as their daily duty, their lot in life.” And I might reply, “How much the worse, to become so accustomed to being driven that you begin to imagine it as the desirable state of affairs.”
But this is semantics, really. The deeper reason I believe the book has remained in the back seat of my car is because I am afraid that to really apply its contents to my life would require a deep down “sold out” commitment and devotion to Christianity which I no longer seem to possess. I once did, I once knew this “sold-outness.” But I find that now, (the me of the year 2005) as I flip through the book at random, I am landing time and again at pages that do not resonate within me... do not make me say “Yes... tell me more!” In fact, very often, I downright disagree. A case in point... I have just randomly flipped (honestly now, I had not even pre-chosen this page, I just randomly flipped around and blammo, a perfect example emerged in three seconds)... on page 284, Warren says “One problem long-term Christians have is that they forget how hopeless it felt to be without Christ. We must remember that no matter how contented or successful people appear to be, without Christ they are hopelessly lost and headed for eternal separation from God.”
See, I disagree with both of those statements. Firstly, I have known, and continue to know, Christians who are actually quite dismal. Negative. Hard to even be around. “Hopefulness” is not something that they readily exude out of their very pores, as is being suggested here. In fact, one could ask “If being Christian is such a hope-inducing endeavor, why is it that the ‘long-term’ ones seem to forget it?” Granted, most Christians are great people... hopeful, full of joy, and all. The point is that there are also many people that would not know the first thing about what it means to be “in Christ” and they also are the most hopeful and lovely people you could ever meet! Warren is making it sound as though any one who is not a Christian is morose and semi-suicidal.
Secondly, the next statement he makes is much worse than the first. But it is typical of a very narrow-mindedness that pervades ALL religions (not just Christianity) the closer their adherants move toward a fundamentalist attitude!

Our Path is straight... and yours is all crooked.
I am not even going to talk about this. [For now].

But, moving on, I’ve read a bit about Rick Warren, and Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California. I have not the slightest desire to criticise him, in fact, I think that everything I have ever heard about him (except several aspects of his theology) is simply outstanding and admirable. Immediately upon graduating from seminary, Rick Warren was offered a pastorate in Texas at a church whose congregation numbered 5,000.
In his mind, this was too small for him... too restrictive, so he did not accept the position, but went to start his own work, from the ground up. And from very humble pre-cathedral-Robert Schuller-like beginnings, he started a sort of house-church (actually, a condo-church), and today, (long-story short) he is senior pastor of a congregation of over 20,000. They have 175 paid pastors on staff.
That is impressive. In fact, I find it utterly amazing... Isaiah-like... or Apostle-Paul-like. He is the Sam Walton or the Ray Croc (if you will) of church-building and church-planting.
[By the way... just an aside here, really digressing now, but even the phrase “Purpose-Driven” is copyrighted. It is a trademark. There is a little wee “R” in a circle beside the words wherever they appear in print when in context of anything Warren-ish. I find this a wee bit overcooked... a bit ridiculous... maybe even a bit, what is the word? Like Donald Trump copyrighting the phrase “You’re fired!” What is the word for that? It is the same with the Christian series of poorly-written apocolyptic novels by Lahaye and Jenkins... the Left Behind series. Same thing. The little “R”. And while we’re at it, Bruce Wilkinson’s smash Christian hit The Prayer of Jabez and all of its related Jabezian things... again, totally copyrighted. This means that if you get your Grandma a set of Prayer of Jabez potholders for Christmas, there will be that little “R” beside the phrase Prayer of Jabez. Something to me just seems out of whack with such vigorous, vehement, Lawyer-Driven commercialism in the Christian marketplace.]

But let’s return to that word “driven” now. There is no way that any of this happened (Saddleback Church) without an incredibly focused and DRIVEN (yes, Purpose-Driven) personality at the helm. A similar thing could be said of the plethora of Wal-Marts and MacDonalds that dot our landscape. These businesses exist because of driven personalities. I am typing on this laptop computer because of a driven personality who made it possible for me to do so.
But this “driven-ness” is not in me! I am just not that ambitious.
If I were the graduate in the story... I would have went to that church in Texas and felt really fulfilled about that. I would have relaxed on my Fridays or Mondays off, not dreamt about how I could plant ten more churches.
I don’t want to be driven. Even to greatness.

Having said all of this, I acknowledge that I may be completely out to lunch about this book.
About the purpose of this Purpose-book.
Perhaps it isn’t about striving..... about learning to welcome the fact that after you’ve plowed that field like an ox, you are to joyfully trot on to the next field and continue plowing!
Never good enough never good enough never good enough, never finished!
That is the attitude that I guess I want to avoid in ALL my reading of anything that has religious / spiritual content.

Please educate me on this book. I know you’ve read the thing.
Comment here and let me know your opinion as to whether I should dig the thing out of the back seat! Tell me what Purpose-Driven [little “R”] living has done for you.