Thursday, September 29, 2005

It is true. He is gone.

Just last night, a friend e-mailed the news.
“M. Scott Peck has died.”
I stared at the screen for quite a while and a funny (not funny) feeling sort of descended upon me, I guess it was a sense of loss. Coupled with disbelief.
I quickly consulted the internet to try and alleviate this latter reaction, I needed a second opinion, some sort of proof, and there it was, instantly.

It is true. He is gone.
All of the news reports were saying the same thing. Last Sunday (Sept. 25th), at his home in Connecticut, Peck finally succumbed to the ravages of pancreatic and liver duct cancer.

Back in July of 1994, I first read Peck’s The Road Less Travelled. Since that time I have read and re-read almost everything he has published, including his three books of fiction. The precepts of The Road Less Travelled — that life is difficult and is best approached by discipline, delaying gratification and taking responsibility – these themes really spoke to me (and continue to do so) because I always felt that the author shared his thoughts in a way that was properly authoritative but not delivered in an ex cathedra sort of way. The reader was never judged, but was rather allowed to judge (themself) and given the appropriate tools to do so.

All Peck's books are pretty fierce, especially for therapeutic bestsellers. They are about relinquishing one's illusions, about "doing the work of depression." They are about giving up parts of ourselves: arrogance, unrealistic fantasies, habitual sarcasm. And no matter what topic Scott Peck turned his attentions upon, I found that an honest and sensitive reading of him always resulted in a clearer understanding of myself and those around me.

I always appreciated his knack for summary statements... for instance, mental health is "an ongoing process of dedication to reality at all costs." Contemplation is "a lifestyle dedicated to maximum awareness." Salvation is "an ongoing process of becoming increasingly conscious." Of money, he said that "enough of it is not enough, at least not when we are chasing after the illusion of total security." He said that "death is probably the most important fact of life," and that "a grateful heart is one of the prerequisites for being a genuine Christian." He suggested that "laziness" might be the essence of what we call original sin. (Laziness not as physical lethargy, but mental, emotional and spiritual inertia). Peck said that "courage is not the absence of fear but the capacity to go ahead in the very direction of which you are afraid."

Peck's definition of love, which is "the will to extend one's self for the purpose of nurturing one's own or another's spiritual growth" is still the best (most sensible to me) definition I have ever heard.
But it is exactly this.... his use of the word “spiritual” that I perhaps love the most about Peck. [And from here on out I shall speak in the present tense].
Spiritual” is a word we really trip over, it is a real pothole in the road. And it shouldn’t be, if for no other reason than that all of us, everyone reading this right now, is PROFOUNDLY a spiritual being! Whether you are religious or not is beside the point. You are a spiritual being, irregardless of religious involvement.
And I think this is one of the most significant things that Peck opened up to a world that was (and is, at times) mired in a purely psycho-physical understanding of human nature, and a purely mechanistic view of the universe and our place in it.
Some may read Peck’s definition of love (above) and think.... “What is he saying? If you love someone your biggest concern will be to sit together with them in church?”
He is saying that if you really love someone, your primary concern for them will be in regards to their spirit. You will not only care about their spiritual well-being, but you will be interested in how you can enliven and nurture it. Cause it to grow into greater levels of understanding.

Because of Peck’s popularity [this book alone, The Road Less Travelled made 258 appearances on the New York Times bestseller list, and in his final days, Peck was raking in $15,000.00 a lecture].... because of his popularity, many people saw Peck as a prophet.
[Hey, say that real fast.... it’s one of those tongue-twisters..... “people saw popular Peck as a prophet...”]

When asked in an interview this past May (2005), about whether he sees himself as a “prophet” or whether he has become more modest with age, Peck replied: “Probably less modest. Yes and no. I’m more modest in some ways. I’ve had it thrown at me so much, the designation of prophet, that I’ve come to accept it — as long as a prophet doesn’t have to be a saint.”
It is the kind of considered answer that I think is typical of Peck.
He was well aware of the fact that he was not a “saint”.
And yet, he considered himself to be a “stage-four evolved person”, the highest spiritual stage a mortal can attain.
See, this appeals to me, this understanding that Peck seemed to have, that living in spiritual awareness did not necessarily mean being a saint. And by “saint” I suppose I am alluding to some sort of notion of moral perfection.
His own marital years [minus one professed decade of monogamy] were fraught with constant bouts of infedility, of which he was the infidelitor! [is that a word, even?]

In his final stages of life, Lily, his wife of 43 years left him. He promptly re-married.
In an interview, Peck said: “A fellow who was thinking of doing my biography once asked me: ‘God man, have you ever denied yourself anything?’ And I said: ‘Well, I’ve never smoked or drunk as much as I would like to.’ That’s about as close as I could come.”
If you are noticing a sort of incongruity with much of what he wrote, as compared to much of what he lived.... you would (I think) be most justified in doing so. To many people, this incongruity would nullify all that a man had said while he preached his gospel to others. But I am the weird sort of chap that is not bothered one iota by such concerns (or seeming inconsistencies). When I nod my head in agreement with my fellow man, I am never doing it with the proviso that they go out and prove themselves to me. I am doing it because they have shown me in their honesty that they themselves are not expecting reciprocal perfection from me.

Peck considered himself a Christian, but a rather unconventional one.
I kind of feel the same way about myself. If I am a Christian at all, I am a very very [EXTREMELY] unconventional one.
Perhaps this is among the reasons I so love him, because I can relate to him on this level?
I am willing to suggest that this is a possibility.

I love so many things about him. I love his concept of a purgatorial heaven, (yet not a “Catholic” purgatory) in the novel In Heaven As On Earth. I love the wonder that he grants to every moment of his travelogue In Search of Stones. I love his courageous perspective on what “evil” is, as presented in People of the Lie. I love his concept of “vocation” in A World Waiting To Be Born. I love his ideas about “community” in The Different Drum. I love the child-like innocence of A Friendly Snowflake. I love his concept of the nobility of dying, as discussed in Denial of the Soul.
A large portion of my bookshelf is devoted to his work, and his books will forever be a place I return to.
I will miss him in the sense that I feel, with his passing, that there is one less person on the earth thoroughly involved in the process of growing in awareness. I will miss him occasionally letting us in on his findings....

Splash du Jour: Thursday

Off to work I go!
Here, to the left, is some accurate imagery of how I feel about this!

What work I have done I have done because it has been play. If it had been work I shouldn't have done it. Who was it who said, "Blessed is the man who has found his work"? Whoever it was he had the right idea in his mind. Mark you, he says his work--not somebody else's work. The work that is really a man's own work is play and not work at all. Cursed is the man who has found some other man's work and cannot lose it. When we talk about the great workers of the world we really mean the great players of the world. The fellows who groan and sweat under the weary load of toil that they bear never can hope to do anything great. How can they when their souls are in a ferment of revolt against the employment of their hands and brains? The product of slavery, intellectual or physical, can never be great.
-- Mark Twain –

Have a great Thursday!

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Splash du Jour: Wednesday

"We are not afraid to entrust the American people with unpleasant facts, foreign ideas, alien philosophies, and competitive values, for a nation that is afraid to let its people judge the truth and falsehood in an open market is a nation that is afraid of its people."
-- John F. Kennedy --

Have a great Wednesday!

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Freaks me out, man!

Insects freak me out.
And by “freak me out” I am not meaning that they scare me or that I do not like them [even though I do think that most of them are rather creepy and I have a serious life-long phobia about grasshoppers jumping onto me]. No, when I say “freak me out” I mean moreso that certain things about them are horribly interesting to me.
For instance, spiders.
Today at work [I work in a huge, dark, warehouse] I was walking along a dark, neglected aisle way at the back of the place when I dropped my pen. I bent down to pick it up and then noticed this spider web structure-deal way down in the corner, like attached to the floor and the wall. I was going to sort of sweep it away with my boot when I noticed that there was a tenant on that web. A spider.
Species: arachnis warehouseis. [Very rare].
“Certainly this thing cannot be alive” I thought, and so I tapped it with my pen. It scrambled away and basically invisible-ized itself into some crevice and I turned and walked away.
But seriously, for a long time afterward, a question plagued my brain.
“What does this thing expect to catch down there?”
What does it eat? How long has it been waiting?
I mean really, I cannot imagine that this dark corner of the warehouse is situated along any sort of migratory flightpath of anything that would be small enough to get trapped in this ambitious little enterprise! I have worked in that warehouse for years. In all that time, I do not think I have seen one fly in there. Or mosquito. Or whatever else a spider may want to eat.
Good Lord! If I am a half hour late for lunch.... I am just about ready to start eating my own arm! And now here is this spider that’s been sitting on this web, for perhaps five or six years, hoping that some sort of.... thing will fly by and get accidentally stuck on this contraption. Or [what?] some other sort of bug walk by and decide to climb up there and surrender itself? These are really the only two possibilities, right?
I am going to visit its little area again tomorrow, and I am actually hoping to see some sort of visible signs of carnage. Like perhaps the inedible parts of a fly down on the floor, little fly-boots or aviator goggles, you know? Stuff even a spider wouldn’t eat!
OK, secondly.... [still on the topic of spiders here], I live on the fourteenth floor of a building. It’s a fair ways up. When I look out the kitchen window, invariably, there is a spider, or two or three spiders, busy either building their huge webs, or perhaps just sitting there being spider-like.
Species: arachnis highriseis.
I often watch them, and I wonder. Do they have absolutely no fear of heights? No comprehension of how high they are? They are running around on those little strings, upside down and sideways, it’s enough to make me woozy just thinking of it now, here in the safety of the coffeeshop, with my feet firmly on the floor.
And also, how did they GET up to the fourteenth floor?

Did they climb the entire face of the outside of the building, pausing each ten feet and saying “Nope, not this one Mildred, keep climbing.”
I mean..... “Why?”
I’ve always thought that "Nature" was this smoothly run logical and efficient machine!
Wouldn’t it be more sensible to have six or seven thousand webs scattered all around the first floor area? Isn’t that where more other bugs are anyways? Isn’t that the whole idea? To trap other bugs in your web?
If the spiders would just get together on this, pool their resources, they could just make one real big web at the front entrance and catch entire humans as they leave for work in the morning.
Obviously, the only reason they do not take over the world is because of lack of communication!
They freak me out, spiders do.

Never mind spiders, how about ants?
Have you ever been sitting at a picnic table, eating a sandwich or whatnot, and an ant starts running past your field of vision, all sixty-four of its legs hellbent-for-leather, and you’re all of a sudden worried it’s going to somehow climb into your can of Diet-Pepsi so, with thumb and forefinger you flick it off the table?
Have you ever watched where it goes after that?
Well it lands on the ground, right? But does it stop and sort of say “Whoa, whoa, WHOA?”
Does it get out its little Ant-Map and scan the terrain?
Hell no.
It is running just as fast down on the ground there as it was when it was on the table!
Yet you have just launched it into what would be the human equivalent of a different zipcode!
So I ask myself, “Where does this thing think it was going, in the first place?”
One thing is certain. It ain’t going to the same place anymore! How can it keep running just as frantically when I have just severely altered whatever destination it originally had in mind?
I mean, even if the thing had just been out for a purely aimless recreational jog, wouldn’t such a mid-course re-direction be at least a bit.... startling?
All I am saying is that this sort of thing really freaks me out.

And bees.
Bees buzz around and suck flowers.
As a kid, I remember once thinking that a certain flower looked so good, that it must have tasted good too.

Big mistake.
And you know that milky stuff in dandelions? Yep. I ate that one time. A “friend” dared me.
For the rest of the day I walked around with my lips so contorted I looked like a donkey trying to suck the oats out of a half-inch drainpipe.
Anyhow, bees, they do this stuff all day. They suck flowers.
Then [this whole process is admittedly a bit of a gray area for me] but I sort of understand that they gather later on in this frantically crowded bee-hostel and they make a real racket around the only girl in the whole place, and they try to impress her by showing how much flower-juice they have sucked that day.
“Heybzzzzzz...look at mebzzzzzz.... look howbzzzzzz much I gotbzzzzzzz.”
And [please correct me if I’m wrong here] but the only way they can really show her what they've collected is to sort of crap the stuff out into previously assigned little cylinders, no?
And she’s watching.
And she says to them ALL [typical woman]..... “No, nobzzzz. It isbzzzzzz not enoughbzzzzzzz. Go bzzzzzzget more!”
And so out they go, like squadrons of F15’s.
Like I said, I am not sure about the exact scientific data here, but if I am not right on the money I think I am pretty dang close enough OK? And here is the thing that freaks me out.
See, I don’t care if the stuff comes out of their butt, or if they spit it out somehow, or if it maybe comes out through their feet or nose.... all of that is really irrelevant.... the part that freaks me out so much is how incredibly good it tastes when you spread it all over your toast in the morning!
However these little critters do it honey..... they’re starting off with bitter flower-juice!
Insects freak me out, that’s all there is to it.


Splash du Jour: Tuesday

"I need solitude for my writing; not 'like a hermit' - that wouldn't be enough - but like a dead man."
-- Franz Kafka –

Have a great Tuesday!

Monday, September 26, 2005

Splash du Jour: Monday

Poetry is not a turning loose of emotion, but an escape from emotion; it is not the expression of personality, but an escape from personality. But, of course, only those who have personality and emotions know what it means to want to escape from these things.
-- T.S. Eliot –
On this day in 1888, T.S. (Thomas Stearns) Eliot, winner of the 1948 Nobel Prize for Literature, was born in St. Louis, Mo.
Have a great Monday!

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Tennis Anyone?

Well, let’s see, I am going to go from writing a blog about Tolstoy, the author of Anna K[arenina] to.... hmmm... the tennis world, and another interesting Anna K.
Anna Kournikova.
This evening (Saturday) I went to the 2005 Legendary Nights Tennis Classic. It was very entertaining. (I am writing this blog quite late, early Sunday morning which is really still Saturday night, since I have not slept yet). I love tennis, and so I knew I would enjoy this show, but really, it was much better than I even thought it would be.
The four stars of the evening were John McEnroe, Jim Courier, Jana Novotna, and (meooooow).... Anna Kournikova.
The night began (at 7 p.m.) with Jana and Anna playing a set. It was very close, but in the end Jana won this duel of the females. It was a no-nonsense contest fought by four of the best legs I have ever seen assembled in one building.
Then the big guns came out. It was so awesome to see John and Jim go for broke. In one absolutely crazy rally both of them made those absolutely impossible between-the-legs-and-backwards-Hail-Mary shots! My voice was hoarse by the end of this match. Which McEnroe.... yes, the old-timer, won.
He is such a nut. His expressions are just priceless. There is an intimidating presence about him and a finesse to his style of play that is just mind-boggling.

Courier’s serve dazzled me. If I was on the receiving end of any one of them, I would have merely stood there in the traditional half-crouch, peeing myself as the ball whizzed past my left or right ear.
During this match, McEnroe (in fine fashion) slapped at the net with his racket rather violently, breaking it, and drawing a fictional and disregarded infraction warning from the net judge. McEnroe went over and got a new racket.
At the end of the match, in what seemed an entirely impromptu gesture, McEnroe took control of the microphone while being interviewed, and strutted around the court, soliciting the crowd in auctioneer fashion for bids on his busted racket. He would auction it off, sell it to the highest bidder, and he declared that he would match any final bid, and that the combined proceeds would then go to the victims of this newest hurricane that is raging through Texas.
Well, the bidding began at one hundred dollars and quickly, within minutes, soared to the surprising height of $2,400.00.
“SOLD” to this guy in the front row, courtside.
So there you go.... “$4,800.00. Before you could say “Bob’s your uncle.”
Then the girls returned to the court. I got the binoculars back out of the case.
A doubles match, John and Anna vs. Jim and Jana.
Each had microphones now, and the audience could hear all the on-court comments from the players. It was hilarious (especially McEnroe, although Courier is also extremely witty and nutty).
Then a really neat thing happened, and I think this was sort of the highlight of the evening, The announcer introduced two up-and-coming Canadian Juniors champions, (one male, one female) and I regret that I do not recall either of their names. The guy was about 16 years old, and the girl....13! I will find out their names and revise this blog later, because really, they deserve recognition. They were AWESOME. They substituted on the doubles teams, and by the end of the set they had played pretty much alongside and against all four of these stars. They really held their own, against these great players. And of course, the microphone banter became ever more hilarious as the night went on. At one point, Jim Courier quipped “Oh this will be a good story for John’s six kids later. He’ll have to tell them he was beaten tonight by a thirteen-year old girl!”
All in all, this was a superb 4 hour-long show. I highly recommend that you go and see it if it comes your way.

Anna once said "You don't think people would go on about my looks if I was No. 500 in the world instead of No.12, do you? Anyway, as I keep telling everyone, you can't blame me for looking like this on purpose."
Admittedly, that is quite an old quote. But Anna K., let the bookpuddle record show that I, for one, shall never blame you for looking as you do.
Anna K.
The reason binoculars were invented!


Friday, September 23, 2005

Happy 143rd Anniversary!

Been thinking today about my favorite author of all time.
On this day in 1862, Count Leo Tolstoy married Sonya (a.k.a. Sophie) Andreyevna Behrs.

He was 34. She was 18. Maybe this rather significant age difference had something to do with their so-soon-to-be-realized mutual incongruity! Well... that and the fact that, for a wedding gift, the well-travelled husband presented the virginal wife with a verse-by-verse chronological history of his extreme profligacy. [Hmmm.... Note to self: DON’T DO THIS!]
Along with producing children at a rate that would make a daschund envious [13 children in 17 years] they would persevere somehow (to 1910) to take the term “till death do us part” to a new level of seriousness.
I have read many biographies of Tolstoy (the best being that of Henri Troyat) and his life is nothing short of extremely fascinating, from start to finish.
But to concentrate specifically on the marriage of these two lovebirds, you can do no better than getting a hold of William L. Shirer’s book [yes, the guy that wrote the monumental Rise and Fall of the Third Reich]... Love and Hatred: The Stormy Marriage of Leo and Sonya Tolstoy. What an amazing book. Fiction could not be made to be this compelling. To call this marriage “stormy” is like calling Hurricane Katrina “a bit of a downpour.”
Perhaps the best way to describe the reciprocal feelings of Leo and Sonya Tolstoy is to quote from their own diary entries.
He said: "Nobody will ever understand me."
She said: "He has never taken the trouble to understand me, and does not know me in the least."
It was a marriage that reached to the highest heights, and sank to the lowest depths... over and over again in each direction. And by seesawing between the extensive diaries of these two "lovers" Shirer takes the reader right into the eye of the storm. One of the most amazing things about this tumultuous marriage is the extensive and meticulous documentation of the participants. And Shirer’s expert collation, skillful narrative sense and detailed endnote pages show that he was well acquainted with the extenuating circumstances of these two lives trying to live as one. The latter half of the book is to be commended for its appropriate emphasis on the disastrous influence of Chertkov, the disciple who became the usurper of Tolstoy's most profound devotion. In my opinion, this busybody named Chertkov gradually became the uncrossable chasm that irreparably separated Leo and Sonya. During this time, Tolstoy's alliance with his daughter Sasha further alienated husband and wife, and Shirer covers this development with great insight. It's all here... from the peace, courtship, and high hopes of Yasnaya Polyana to the final conflict, rejection and despair of Astapovo.
Shirer knew this was to be his last book, and it was. After such a prolific and successful career (14 books and 52 years), to devote his last energies to such a work must imply that he took a special interest in the subject matter. It shows. All of the other books of his I've read have been excellent, and this one is no exception.


Splash du Jour: Friday

"Everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt. "
-- Sylvia Plath –

Have a great Friday!

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Why is the sky blue? Part 2

I am still thinking of why the sky is blue.
If you are anything at all like me when it comes to colors in general, you appreciate the blue of the sky. Isn’t it..... nice? Friendly looking?
The pictures that our Shuttle astronauts send back to us earthlings, aren’t they stunning? In recent years, the phrase has emerged “Pale blue dot” in reference to our planet.
Think of colors aglow. Some of them seem to denote things that I would rather not think of, in reference to one’s base planet! Like.... a glowing green. Seems sort of... eerie. Spooky. Murky.
How about glowing red. Danger? Evil?
Yellow? Seems sort of..... diseased or something, to me. Or urine-y.
Pink? I think of those Cadillacs they give to really successful Mary Kay salespersons.
But blue. That iridescent blue. It seems so inviting, and fresh, and alive. It seems to me to be, the very thing. Just right!

Well, yesterday’s musings upon the actual physical reasons of the sky’s blueness reminded me of a poem I had written about six hundred years ago. It’s called The Firmament, which is simply the 1611 King James Version of the word “expanse” or “vault”.
The space between earth and heaven. The sky.
While yesterday we looked at some of the “how” of atmospheric blueness, the following poem may be thought of as one man’s whimsical and extremely unscientifically verifiable explanation of the “why” of atmospheric blueness.

The Firmament

Gold was too brassy; green was too grassy,
and yellow, it seemed a bit bright.
Brown was too muddy; red was too bloody,
and black was reserved for the night.

Purple too bruised, and pink overused,
and orange gave a shout much too loud;
Silver too wild, yet grey was too mild,
and white had a fight with a cloud.

Such was the view at this contest of hue
on the day that the sky should appear;
In the Artist’s opinion, these had no dominion
nor claim to the earth’s atmosphere.

While colors unloving were pushing and shoving
the fairest of all seemed to hide.
With heaven undone, there was only this one
timid shade that had yet to be tried.

When at the last second, by name he was beckoned
toward him the Arm was extended…
And with blue on the brush, even red seemed to blush
and admit that the contest had ended.

For unlike the others, this gentlest of colors
worked softly, without a commotion.
All chaos had fled, as the canopy spread
like a sheet that had mirrored the ocean…

And down on the ground all creation was bound
to direct its attention above…
Where was seen to unroll, clear as words on a scroll
a message, the essence of Love.

As each azure sweep shed its light on the deep
it brought dolphins to surface beholding;
And hillsides were rife with a newness of life
and meadows with crocus’ unfolding.

Now was heaven absorbed, and the earth fully orbed
with a glow only night would diminish;
The masterpiece framed, the Artist proclaimed
“There can be no applause till I finish…”

For now to the sand, He would put forth His Hand
to create that which would give Him praise;
He said, “Adam, it’s blue… and I give it to you
to remember Me all of your days.”

And man, it is said, fell down as though dead
of God so profoundly aware;
The first night he slept, and in loneliness wept
and waking, he found woman there.

In their gardening they, did not always obey
but believing His promises true;
When in need of His love, they would look up above
and read what He’d written in blue.

Ciprianowords Inc. 2005

Splash du Jour: Thursday

“Christopher Columbus, as everyone knows, is honored by posterity because he was the last to discover America.”
-- James Joyce
On this day in 1926 (exactly 30 days before my own father was born), James Joyce and Thomas Wolfe were on the same tour bus visiting the battlefield at Waterloo. They did not meet. They did not know.
Have a great Thursday!

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Splash du Jour: Wednesday

"I've turned into America's version of the Great Pumpkin. It used to be Alfred Hitchcock, but he's dead. On Halloween Night, six thousand kids show up at my house in their little Freddie Krueger and Jason outfits."
-- Stephen King –
Have a great Wednesday!

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Splash du Jour: Tuesday

When I write, I aim in my mind not toward New York but toward a vague spot a little east of Kansas. I think of the books on library shelves, without their jackets, years old, and a countryish teen-aged boy finding them, and having them speak to him. The reviews, the stacks in Brentano’s, are just hurdles to get over, to place the books on that shelf.
-- John Updike –

Have a great Tuesday!

Monday, September 19, 2005

The Chef's Special.

Last week I ate a lot of pizza.
Two nights in a row, in fact. That may not seem like a big deal to you, but when I say I ate “a lot of pizza” what I mean is that on each of those two occasions I exceeded whatever the legal limit is set at, when it comes to pizza ingestion.
I was in no shape to drive a vehicle afterwards!
I got high on pizza.
It’s just that I discovered this place that really knows how to do it right. It’s called Lorenzo’s, and the particular one to order is the #10 on their list, called The Chef’s Special. It consists of diced sirloin steak, mushrooms, green peppers & onions.
While this may not seem like anything all that “special” or even “chef-like”.... let me assure you, it’s just one of those things that you have to experience in order to get the full effect. The crust is to die for. And it’s the sauce that really seals the deal.

In fact, I am convinced that there is something addictive in the sauce.
On Tuesday night a friend and I were watching a movie and then we realized that the ominous grumbling sounds were not coming from the TV.

A glance was enough. I picked up the phone and made the call.
Soon, in minutes really, we had an extra-large one of these beauties in front of us, and we tore into it like escaped rhinoceroses. My cat ran and hid. Halfway through the carnage I realized that I have one artery that is not yet clogged, so I ran and got the parmesan cheese from the fridge, and we shook it like dandruff onto every glorious slab. Till there was none left.
It was simply beautiful leaning back into the couch afterwards, unable to move, or even talk.

The next night again, the same friend and I were driving around when we both arrived at the same conclusion.... we were starving.
“Pizza, should we get another one of those.......”
And I was already stabbing awayat the cellphone. I ordered the same sort of pizza, only this time, we would pick it up on our way back to the apartment.
I stopped in front of Lorenzo’s and ran in. The Chef’s Special was all ready and waiting, and I was (to my shame) visibly salivating.

Just as the girl was taking my credit card and about to run it through, I said to the guy behind the little open ledge where the pizza was sitting, “I think I am addicted to your pizza. We just had one of these last night, when it was delivered to us, and here I am tonight, picking up another one.”
As the girl was just about to swipe my card, the guy says “Half price” and smiles at me.
I thought I didn’t hear him correctly, and so did she. The girl hesitated, so the the guy looked at her and repeated the words “Half price,” stepping through the little swinging door between us, wiping his hands on his apron and still grinning.
This time I did not say “You can’t do that” as I did in my last encounter with spontaneous magnanimousness [see Blog entitled “You can’t do that!” September 08, '05 ]
No, I think I just said “What? Are you serious?” Or something like that.
And The Pizzaman said “We want you to be addicted. We want you to come back. So half price today.”
And he took my card from the girl and readjusted the bill and then rang it through himself.
And while he did all this I said “I am going to tell every single person I know that they should eat pizza from Lorenzo’s.”
So..... Chef’s Special, #10 on the menu. Best pizza in the world. I’m getting the word out there. And I am writing this from the coffeeshop, after work. And my next move is to call the place, and order one of these and pick it up on the way home.
....if only I had replenished my parmesan shaker! It is stone cold empty.

Splash du Jour: Monday

When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.
-- Mark Twain --
Have a great Monday!

Sunday, September 18, 2005

ars moriendi

Shakespeare has Julius Caesar say the following:

Of all the wonders that I have yet heard,
It seems to me most strange that men should fear;
Seeing that death, a necessary end,
Will come when it will come.

Ahh, but we do fear. I think we all fear its impending foosteps, the inevitable approach.
But only when we are really cornered with the reality of dying. For the most part, if we are currently healthy, death does not play a big role in the daily imaginative vocabulary of the mind... it seems to be the thing we refuse to believe in. Our own death.
If we receive the scare of a dismal medical diagnosis, doom descends rapidly, obliterating or at least displacing all other contemplations. However, when we learn that the test results are inconclusive or downright non-threatening, or the dangerous polyp is proven benign, we quickly forget the medical scare, and return happily to the comforting distractions of life.
No matter the type of life we live (one which is very introspective and thoughtful concerning our own impending death, or one in which we think we will never die at all) the great majority of people do not die in a way that they would choose to die. In previous centuries, people believed in the concept of ars moriendi, the art of dying. This meant dying the best way possible, and usually included a sense of being at peace with God. But those were times when all one could do about death was sort of let it happen (or let the doctors of the time hasten its progress with their scientific immaturity and surgical imprecision). We live today in the era not of the art of dying, but of the art of saving life. The art of prolonging the inevitable.
We read in the literature of our day about dying “the good death” or “dying well.” Tied to this vague concept is the idea of “dying with dignity”, and all of these have become popular phrases in our time.
But what does it all mean?
How can one possibly die “artfully”..... die a “good death?”
Which of us wants to die, “good” or otherwise? Even many of those who commit suicide do not want to die, they simply do not want to live, and there is a big difference (I think).
If it must take place (and assuredly, one day it must) most people want to do this thing of dying in the proper way, or in as proper a way as possible. A modern version of ars moriendi. The beauty of final moments, and all that is encompassed in that phrase.
But ars moriendi is nowadays made difficult by the very fact of our attempts at concealing and sanitizing, (and especially postponing) death, which result in the kinds of deathbed scenes that occur in such specialized hiding places as intensive care units, oncology facilities and emergency rooms. The good death has increasingly become a myth. Actually, it has always been for the most part a myth, but never nearly as much as today, because, in the pursuit of “death with dignity” and “buying time” we end up drinking death to its final dregs.
And yet, I too, would be the first to say “Don’t let me go too soon!”
“Barring extreme pain and agony, please, let us talk for a while, even if it is down to one word a day.”

I guess all of this is on my mind today because for the past four days I have been driving a friend of mine back and forth from the hospital where a dear family member is succumbing to the final stages of terminal cancer. In fact, for all I know, (and no matter how optimistic any of us may want to be), even as I write this, the fight may be over. There can be no doubt who will be the winner of the battle.
For most of us, the final disease that nature inflicts on us will determine the atmosphere in which we take our leave of life, but our own choices should be allowed, insofar as possible, to be the decisive factor in the manner of our going. In all of our involvement with the dying, we need to give foremost attention to their wishes, while ours remain secondary. In my opinion, there can only be one way to “die with dignity” and that is to shake hands with death itself when you know it has finally succeeded in defeating you.
I think of a tennis match, where, after a pitched battle between opponents, only one emerges victorious. Winner and loser then walk towards the net, and shake hands. That is a moment of dignity.

The opposite scenario would be one in which the loser approaches the net only to crack the winner over the head with his racket!
I have always felt that there was something heroic about dying. My own father became a hero in my eyes, because of the way in which he died.
Death belongs to the dying and to those who love them.

The poet, Rainer Maria Rilke wrote:

Oh Lord, give each of us his own death,
The dying, that issues forth out of the life
In which he had love, meaning and despair.

Peace be with you Ray.


Friday, September 16, 2005

Splash du Jour: Friday

"My most important problem was destroying the lines of demarcation that separate what seems real from what seems fantastic."
-- Gabriel Garcia Marquez

While driving in 1965, Garcia Marquez was inspired to begin the writing of One Hundred Years of Solitude by a lightning flash. He immediately turned the car around and disappeared into his study for 18 months. His wife pawned the furniture to keep him supplied with paper and cigarettes. Of the latter, he required no less than six packs a day.
I have read this book. It is, truly, in itself, a sort of lightning flash.

Have a great Friday!

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Splash du Jour: Thursday

I have been reading a most fascinating book (shown here). It is Eric Hoffer's magnum opus, the 1951 classic work entitled The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements. It is a profound, (and I repeat) PROFOUND look into the mind of the fanatic. A penetrating study of how and why an individual becomes fanatical, ie., sold out to a cause or belief system. It is a look at the dynamics of mass movements at their most primal level. It is the first and most famous of his books and became a bestseller when President Eisenhower cited it during a press conference.
Hoffer is unique in many ways, not the least of which is his sort of self-taught eruditon and seemingly innate philosophical knowledge. He was born in New York City on July 25, 1902, to German immigrants. By age five, he was reading in both English and German. Struck by unexplained blindness at age seven, Eric regained his sight at 15. The experience of reading deprivation turned him into a nonstop, inveterate reader. He started working as a migrant in California (field-worker and gold prospector) at age 18 and spent most of his life as a dockworker, (stevedore) in San Fransisco, writing in his spare time--which won him the nickname of "the longshoreman philosopher."
This short, concise book is a gem, and naturally lends itself to the wielding up of witty, pithy, maxim-like quotations. Truly, I guess what I am doing here is highly recommending it to anyone interested in understanding the state of our present world. This book has no expiry date! Everything in The True Believer is, if not MORE relevant today than when it was first published, not one iota LESS.
"A man is likely to mind his own business when it is worth minding. When it is not, he takes his mind off his own meaningless affairs by minding other people’s business.
This minding of other people’s business expresses itself in gossip, snooping and meddling, and also in feverish interest in communal, national and racial affairs. In running away from ourselves we either fall on our neighbor’s shoulder or fly at his throat. "

-- Eric Hoffer, in The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements. 1951 --
Have a great Thursday!

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Splash du Jour: Wednesday

Some original lines:


Do not like ruled paper.
Give me the blank white page.
Do not want lines.
Much moreso do open spaces
Appeal to the thinker in me.
Would sooner write through them
Than on. The lines I mean.
Whiteness. So if I veer, I veer.
Untracked snow for highway.
It is cold to explore. To write
Is to make my own lines.

© Ciprianowords Inc. 2005

Have a great Wednesday!

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Splash du Jour: Tuesday

"I do not like broccoli.
And I haven't liked it since I was a little kid and my mother made me eat it.
And I'm President of the United States and I'm not going to eat any more broccoli."
-- George W. Bush –
Have a great Tuesday!

Monday, September 12, 2005

Splash du Jour: Monday

It's a discovery of a story when I write a book, a case of inching ahead on each page and discovering what's beyond in the darkness, beyond where you're writing.
-- Michael Ondaatje –
On this day in 1943, Michael Ondaatje was born in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). He is of Dutch-Indian ancestry, was raised in London, and has lived in Toronto since the age of nineteen. He is perhaps best known for his 1992 Booker Prize winning novel The English Patient, which was made into an Academy Award winning (Best Picture) movie, and for his 2000 Giller Prize winning novel, Anil’s Ghost.

Have a great Monday!

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Andrean sweetness...

For quite a while now I have been in love with Andrea Corr, and I could not be more serious.
Last night, after watching the concert DVD of The Corrs – Live in London, well, I had a dream that Andrea and I sort of lived on this remote island. No other human beings ever inhabited this place, and this did not seem to bother me one bit. Our days consisted of pretty much a whole bunch of swimming and reading books and looking at each other. We lived on coconuts and Corona. Well, I drank lots of Corona and she just sipped some sort of girl drink, the kind with the little umbrellas in them.
Occasionally, a helicopter would hover past, real low, and drop down more supplies.
Well, in my dream, just after one of these fly-pasts, I crack open a fresh crate of booze and booze-related items, and I’m going to mix up a little drinkskie-poo for her, but just as I turn towards her, I set down my copy of Catullus I had been reading aloud to her, set it down on the little table between us, and dang it all if I don’t knock over our last little bucket of ice.... right into the sand. I am ready to kill myself, sort of like.
This ice was essential.
But (I swear I am not making this up at all) she runs her hands through her hair (just like she is doing here in the picture) and she assures me... she says, in her sweetest of all voices in the world... “Aww. It’s OK. Just that I am with you is all that matters to me.”
Then.... just when I was tearing my pillow to shreds, and my one eyebrow was raised in Andrean sweetness.... I woke up because my cat Jack was throwing up into my one shoe over there by the door and he was doing it real loud, like.


Friday, September 09, 2005

Demonality 101.

Hmmmm... just when I think I’ve seen it all, I look over (I am at the bookstore drinking coffee) and there is a bright yellow book on the shelf called C.S. Lewis & Narnia for Dummies.
You know the big yellow books?
A DUMMIES book.... about Narnia?
But this is not what I want to talk about.

I want to talk about a movie I have not seen yet.
I have just read two movie reviews that had the effect of making me want to go and see the movie they describe. One review was by the legendary Roger Ebert, and the other was by this guy Daniel Tencer, in Dose magazine. The movie is entitled The Exorcism of Emily Rose.
Ebert gives the movie four stars of a possible five, and that is what drew my interest, because Ebert does not casually fling four stars out unless he really likes something.
Of course, the movie is about demonism and exorcism. It’s based on a true story, that being the life of Anneliese Michel, a German university student the Catholic church exorcised to death. In other words, she died during an especially intense attempt to exorcise (or “drive out”) the evil spirit[s] believed to be possessing her.
The movie revolves around the courtroom drama that ensues as the priest who performed the exorcism is put on trial for murder. If the priest is correct in his assumptions (the girl was possessed by demons) he should be presumed innocent. However, as the prosecution will argue, if she died as a result of psychotic epileptic trauma and the priest complicated that trauma, leading to her death, he is guilty of murder.

Already, the plot is interesting to me. I can see myself just shovelling popcorn in. Ebert says “What is fascinating about The Exorcism of Emily Rose is that it asks a secular institution, the court, to decide a question that hinges on matters the court cannot have an opinion on.”
Ultimately the jury will be deciding according to their personal beliefs, regarding demon possession. An interesting twist is that Father Moore’s lawyer (the lawyer for the defense, played by the wonderful Laura Linney).... she does not believe in demons, but she believes in her client’s integrity. The prosecutor (played by Campbell Scott) arguing on the side of “science” is a churchgoing believer.
Emily Rose is played by Jennifer Carpenter. Father Moore, by Tom Wilkinson.
Ebert says that the film “keeps an open mind” and does not provide a “slam-dunk conclusion.”
“In the end,” says Ebert, “Emily Rose’s story gets told, although no one can agree about what it means.”
And Daniel Tencer has similar conclusions about the non-conclusion. He says “Where this movie shines is the intellectual and abstract level. The courtroom drama pits science (the prosecution) against religion (the defense) and poses some fascinating questions. If you’re looking for an intellectually challenging and meaningful look at faith and science see this movie.”

I am ALWAYS looking for an intellectually meaningful presentation of these two ideas.... faith and science. So I do plan to see this movie.

For the greater portion of my adult life, I have held to a belief in demons, as in, believing that a demonic force exists, and can take control of certain people at certain times. (All of my own demons have long since died of boredom...)
I’m pretty much an armchair expert on the subject, especially since I’ve read all of Frank Peretti’s novels!
Seriously though, in the past couple of years, my thoughts concerning demonality have undergone change, as have my thoughts on several other aspects of what might be called “spirit life” or even “the spiritual world.”
I am in flux. Definitely in flux.
I love the writings of M. Scott Peck and have wanted to pick up (and read) his latest book entitled Glimpses of The Devil: A Psychiatrist’s Personal Account of Possession, Exorcism, and Redemption. I would love to hear his perspective on the issue, because I highly respect his general viewpoint on things.
Something Roger Ebert said here, I must admit that I found it very intriguing.... very wisely stated. Quite relevant. Very food-for-thought-ish. It is the very beginning words of his review:

“Demons exist whether you believe in them or not,” says the priest at the centre of The Exorcism of Emily Rose.
Yes, and you could also say that demons do not exist whether you believe in them or not, because belief by definition stands outside of proof. If you can prove it, you don’t need to believe it.

Perhaps, in anticipation of this movie, our bookstores would do well to stock up on Demonology for Dummies!

Splash du Jour: Friday

All happy families resemble one another, each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.
So begins my favorite novel of all time. Anna Karenina.
It was written by my favorite author of all time. Leo Tolstoy.
Today is Tolstoy’s birthday. He was born in the province of Tula, Russia, on this day in 1828. In my opinion, no one has written anything better than The Lion did, before or since.
Truth, like gold, is to be obtained not by its growth, but by washing away from it all that is not gold.
-- Leo Tolstoy –
Have a great Friday!

Thursday, September 08, 2005

"You can't do that!"

Just thought I would write a few words about something really neat (bizarre? nice? uncommon?) that happened on the way home from the bookstore/coffeeshop tonight.
See, I have known for quite a while that one of my brake-lights was out in my car. But, in keeping with my role of World’s Greatest Procrastinator, I keep avoiding the inevitable.

In other words, my brake-light has been dead for quite a while!
People keep telling me that it is dead. Plus, the brake light in the rear spoiler, or fin, or whatever that thing is called.... that is dead too. My car is exactly like the picture shown here, an Oldsmobile Alero. I have driven an Oldsmobile of one kind or another for the past 22 years, exclusively. I know... I am SOOOO rowdy! I scare me!
[In true grandpa-like fashion, my unreasonable commitment to Olds has outlived this entire division of General Motors. Like 8-tracks and affordable gas prices, Oldsmobile doesn’t even exist anymore!]
But I digress...
Today I said to myself, “I’m fixing the dead light.”
Opened the trunk and saw that there were many screws to deal with, in the installation of a new bulb. One has to take the whole lens apparatus off, basically.

This is far too much work for me. I am an intellectual.
Just as I was thinking that I don’t even own a screwdriver, I happened to be driving past one of these oil-change places. I said to myself.... “They probably have screwdrivers in there, plus, they probably know how to use them.”
So,without even slowing down all that much, I steered Big Blue right through the big open doors of the place.
A whole team of commandos sort of materialized out of thin air, beside and below my car, and they nearly had the oil draining out of the thing before I stopped them, saying “No, no, no.... stop. I just want the brake light fixed.”
So the one guy emerged from the troops and told me to drive outside again, I guess because I was hogging the space reserved for real money-slinging oil-changy customers.
With Big Blue wheeled off the battlefield, I popped the trunk, and this guy was in there, already unscrewing stuff like a pro before I could get out of the driver’s seat and say “Yeah, how much will it cost me to get that light fixed?”
He says “Well, the bulb is about 8 or 9 bucks.”
He’s already got the lens deal hanging off the side of the car, and he goes back into the store with the dead one to get the proper new one. While snapping in the new bulb he says, “Can you step on the brake sir?”
And I do.
He says.... “Hey, did you know that two of the bulbs in the middle brake light are out.... this one up here?” tapping on the fin-spoiler apparatus.
I said, “Yeah. It’s been like that for about 41 years.”
He says “We’ll fix that up too.”
He hollers to this guy back in the garage area..... “Bring me the _______” [I forget what he said but it was some kind of thing that you use to get this other thing separated from the thing wherein a casing for three bulbs is hidden away.]
Pretty soon this thing is repaired too. Good as new. Two new bulbs.
Everything is back together.... I am applying the brakes and he is saying “Excellent. All is well.”
Then he sort of folds his arms this guy, and says, “Well now, you have a good day sir.”
And I say “Well, what do I owe you then?” and I have my hand on the door to go back in to the place and square things up.
But he says, “No, no, consider it a freebee. No problem at all.”
“You’ve got to be kidding. You can’t do that!” I inform him.
“I’m the manager of this place. I know that I can do it,” he says, and adds, “No problems. No cost.”
I am sort of..... amazed I guess. Looking for hidden cameras or someone to say they are kidding or whatever. What is happening here is sort of not normal.
I didn’t know what to say, so I said “If you are serious, I am going to tell every car-driving person I know, to get their oil changed here.”
And then he laughed and said “Just don’t tell them that we give away free bulbs.”
And then he went into the place, and I got in my car and drove away.
I’m still thinking “You can’t do that”.... but he did it.


Splash du Jour: Thursday

That's the difference between me and the rest of the world!
Happiness isn't good enough for me! I demand euphoria!
-- Calvin and/or Hobbes --
Have a great Thursday!

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

"Yours ever, C.S. Lewis."

Today at lunch time I went to COSTCO and browsed around in there. Actually, I was after the latest Collective Soul CD, [Youth].... however, they did not have it. So, soon I was gravitating toward the book section, as I am wont to do.....
I noticed a new collection of C.S. Lewis’s Narnia Chronicles, all seven volumes in gorgeous little paperbacks, a boxed set. HarperCollins is gearing up for the release of The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, which will be in theaters in the Holiday season of this year.

Soon, soon, soon, and I cannot wait. I love Narnia and all things Narnian.
At any rate, one of the boxed sets was opened (I swear, I was not the one who tore the cellophane apart), and I flipped through the books. There were those lovely illustrations by Pauline Baynes.
Mr. Tumnus, Aslan, Reepicheep, the Pevensies (of course), Puddleglum, Prince Caspian, Shasta, Bree.....
The books make one feel that there is magic, that this world is indeed a doorway into an enchanted land. I have read nearly everything that Lewis has written, and quite a bit of what others have written about him. He was a fascinating man. For those of you who do not know, Lewis died the same day that President Kennedy was assassinated, November 22nd, 1963. [Another literary genius, Aldous Huxley, also passed away on this day.]
In news NOT quite as memorable to the world of literary trivia.... twelve days later, I was born.

Future blogger/poet extraordinaire!
But to get back to Lewis.... seeing the Narnias made me recall a wonderful book I once read, called Letters To Children, edited by Lyle W. Dorsett, a scholar in Illinois I have had the pleasure of personally corresponding with.
It is said that as regularly as the mail arrived, professor Lewis sat down at his desk and personally responded... even if the correspondents were little children who had come to know of him through his Narnia books. In fact, he felt it was his God-given duty to do so! This book is a collection of these heartfelt responses, spanning nearly 20 years (1944-1963).
Lewis's own direct contact with children was limited. He once said, "I theoretically hold that one ought to like children, but am shy with them in practice." (Letter to Arthur Greeves, Dec.'35).

And in his extended essay "The Abolition of Man" he says (chap.1, para.11) "I myself do not enjoy the society of small children... I recognize this as a defect in myself."
What he may have lacked in direct contact with children he certainly seems to have displaced with these personal letters, in which we see a lofty Oxford academic who is able to freely converse with youngsters about such diverse topics as (of all things) Zoroastrianism, cats, the Gauls, Virgilian hexameter, the Renaissance, and his opinion that human faces are much easier to draw than animal faces.
Never does he talk DOWN to his younger "friends". He usually signs off with an affectionate "yours ever"! And often he sprinkles a question or two of his own in a letter, which, rather than dismissing the sender, invites a response, showing he values these children. For example, an American girl (Joan) received 28 letters from Lewis over a 20 year period!

It is, I think, remarkable that an academician/author of the caliber of C.S. Lewis found the time to write such beautiful simple letters to inquisitive kids all over the world. There's something very refreshing (for Lewis fans like me at least) about picking this book up and just turning at random to any letter.
One ends with "It is still cold here but the snowdrops, crocuses, primroses and daffodils are up and the thrushes are building nests."
Or another "Well, I can't say I have had a happy Easter, for I have lately got married and my wife is very, very ill."
Those who have seen the 1993 Richard Attenborough film "Shadowlands" starring Anthony Hopkins and Debra Winger, [or better yet, have read Lyle Dorsett's book entitled "A Love Observed"] will know what Lewis is referring to here. Such disclosure is an example of the respect Lewis felt children worthy of.

One word of caution though: Does a proper appreciation of this book require a familiarity with Lewis's works? Quite frankly: Yes! The Narnia books!
Because so many of the letters are alluding to Narnia, readers unfamiliar with that cycle of books may find most of this book quite boring.

Lewis never tired of corresponding with his child fans. His final letter, to a boy named Philip was written on November 21, 1963. The following day Lewis passed away peacefully at his Oxford home. Earlier, he had written the following to a group of fifth graders:

"I'm tall, fat, rather bald, red-faced, double-chinned, black-haired, have a deep voice, and wear glasses for reading.
The only way for us to get to Aslan's country is through death, as far as I know: perhaps some very good people get just a tiny glimpse before then.
Best love to you all. When you say your prayers sometimes ask God to bless me,
Yours ever, C.S. Lewis"


Splash du Jour: Wednesday

I had sooner play cards against a man who was quite skeptical about ethics, but bred to believe that “a gentleman does not cheat,” than against an irreproachable moral philosopher who had been brought up among sharpers.
-- C.S. Lewis, in The Abolition of Man --

Have a great Wednesday!

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Happy Birthday, Mr. Waters!

Tonight’s blog will be extremely simple, and to the point.
Today, Sept.6th is Roger Waters' birthday.
In my opinion, Roger Waters is one of the modern world’s greatest musicians, the modern world’s BEST lyricist, and when it comes to artistic creativity, excellence, musical perfection.... precision.... when I think of these words as regards music, I think of Waters.
On Sept.6th, 1943, in Great Bookham, England, Roger Waters took his first look at the world, and he has not stopped looking since. He, along with guitarist David Gilmour, formed the base of the band Pink Floyd.
The best concert DVD I have ever seen in my lifetime is the (2000) Roger Waters DVD entitled “In The Flesh – Live.” I could hear this concert a million times and want to hear it, and see it, the million and FIRST time.
I can only hope that he continues to perform and write, and that one day I might be able to be at a Roger Waters concert.
Speaking of perhaps his most famous and well-known song, “Another Brick In The Wall” Waters said, "'s not meant to be a blanket condemnation of teachers everywhere, but the bad ones can really do people in -- and there were some at my school who were just incredibly bad and treated the children so badly, just putting them down, putting them down all the time. Never encouraging them to do things, not really trying to interest them in anything, just trying to keep them quiet and still, and crush them into the right shape, so that they would go to the university and do well."
Mr. Waters. Happy Birthday.

“Each small candle.... lights a corner..... of the dark.”

Splash du Jour: Tuesday

No book is really worth reading at the age of ten which is not equally (and often far more) worth reading at the age of fifty and beyond.
-- C.S. Lewis –
Have a great Tuesday!

Monday, September 05, 2005

Splash du Jour: Monday

"To my mind, the only possible pet is a cow.
Cows love you. . . . They will
listen to your problems and never ask a thing in return. They will be your friends forever.
And when you get tired of them, you can kill and eat them. Perfect."
-- Bill Bryson –
Have a great Monday!

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Bryson's Australia.

I am currently reading an amazing novel. The 1988 Booker Prize-winning Oscar and Lucinda by Peter Carey. It is fabulous, [I can’t wait to write of it] and takes place in Australia. While reading, I am often reminded of the book In A Sunburned Country by Bill Bryson. Anyone who reads Bryson knows that it is always MORE than a travelogue you have your hands on. It is comedy between covers. Here is something I wrote about Bryson’s book, back then...
Two words come to mind after I've closed the covers of this book. Hilarious and Informative. And Bryson wastes no time at getting to the hilarious stuff. A few pages into the first chapter he describes how he went into a jet-lag induced coma during a sightseeing tour of Sydney. I was reading this in a public place and laughed for about five minutes without breathing... seriously, tears and all! It was very therapeutic for me. Every few pages he again says something undeniably witty, and this makes the book a joy to read. I loved every minute of it.
On the informative side, I felt that the book covered as much of "habitable" Australia as possible. It seems very thorough, I followed along with an actual travel guide, cross-referencing and reading further about every site that Bryson mentioned here. I was not aware of the incredible vastness of this country, it's almost unbelievable. 23,000 miles of coastline! Having driven the length and breadth of Canada many times (always with an eye to the odometer), I tried to gauge what is comparably going on here in the Sunburned Country... wow, Australia is crazy man! Keep a gas can and canteen handy if you're driving through...
And secondly, I was not aware of the political history of this land and the diversity of living creatures (including trees) that call Australia home. Now I know. Bryson's book is not only a personal travelogue, but it's also a regurgitation (maybe that word is a bit too vomit-like, but you know what I mean) of a lot of obvious research and study on his part.
Bryson is the intrepid wanderer. He is always more curious, and walking a bit further into things than anyone else. And at times, he's so well-researched that he helps out the tour-guides! He demonstrates a respect for the country and for the living things there (including the people). Towards the end of the journey, he is on one of his rambling jaunts, this time in King's Park in Perth. There in front of him, an echidna ambles across the path, and just as quietly disappears into the undergrowth. Bryson says, "I couldn't have been more thrilled." This is the spirit with which he travels, and writes. He is ever ready for amazement, and I know his interest in the natural beauty of things is infectious, because I caught it! About the echidna incident, he says "In a country filled with exotic and striking life-forms my high point was finding a harmless, animated pincushion in a city park." This attitude is consistent with what he considers one of Australia's "most amazing wonders of all"... the living prehistoric stromatolite beds at Shark Bay on the Western Australian coast. These aquatic growths are virtually unchanged from how they existed 3.5 billion years ago. Bryson again... "Now, if that is not an exciting thought, I don't know what is."
Me neither.

This book is an unqualified gem, and should be read by everyone who has already been, or has not yet been, to Australia!

Saturday, September 03, 2005

"I rather wish I could have a go at it."

My cat Jack and I just finished reading a great book together. I am still not sure which one of us enjoyed the thing more.... probably he did. There was a lot of meowing about it, this much I know. He can be a bit pedantic.
At any rate, it was Simon Winchester’s The Meaning of Everything: The Story of The Oxford English Dictionary. Those who read this blogpage a bit will recall that I have a nagging hankering for the OED. And just a couple of weeks ago I attended a bit of a speech thingamajig at the bookstore, in which a real guy from Oxford University Press was regaling a roomful of Dictionary-geeks with OED-lore. [see blog of Aug.20th, “From The Ox’s Mouth”].
Thing is, I love words, and I make no excuse for it. It’s part of my DNA.

One of my favorite lines in the book is this one:
"I rather wish I could have a go at it."
[For the life of me, it looks as though this is what Jack is thinking, in the above photo... although he is probably referring to my letting him out on the balcony to get at the pigeons!]
However, as it appears in the Winchester book, no one could have ever estimated the dogged determination behind those simple words, “I rather wish I could have a go at it.”
They were uttered by the 38-year old bank clerk, James Augustus Henry Murray in response to a suggestion that he consider becoming the editor of the then floundering OED project. Indeed, at the time (March, 1876) all indications were that the unprecedented work, intended to supercede the previous philological undertakings of Samuel Johnson, Charles Richardson, and Noah Webster, would fail.... that it would in fact never reach completion.
But it was completed, and Winchester has given us a fascinating glimpse into the arduous journey of the OED.
I enjoyed every moment of reading it.

When I told friends what I was reading, several of them looked at me like I was crazy. "You're reading a book about a dictionary?"
But the author is passionate about his topic, and really, his reader finds out that there is a lot more to the compilation of "the meaning of everything" than you could ever imagine. Incredible feats of organization and participation were required. Incredible setbacks were overcome, time after time. Hundreds and hundreds of people, the great majority being volunteers, were enlisted in a project lasting over seven decades. The result, in 1928, was a mind-numbing 178 miles of typeface within twenty volumes of morocco leather!

And in its revisions, the OED remains to this day, indisputably, the world's greatest dictionary of the English language. It's all in there, in greater detail, accuracy and completeness than any other publication, before or since. From "aal" [the Bengali or Hindi word for a plant similar to madder, from which a dye could be extracted for coloring clothes], to "zyxt" [an obsolete Kentish dialect word for the past participle of the verb to see].
Can you imagine playing a game of Balderdash with this Murray guy?
Who would stand a chance of stumping this dude with a homemade definition?

James Murray would not live to see the finished product.
This honor would fall to the then Editor-in-Chief, Sir William Craigie. However, it was as certain to all of those working through the final stages at that time, as it is to us reading of it today, that were it not for the heroic determination of Murray, the OED as we know it, would most likely never have survived the initial complications of its existence.
It would not exist today.
Winchester has told a grand, wonderful story about a process that, in the hands of a lesser writer, could be as boring as cabbage growing.
He brings it to life. It is one of the best things I've read all year.
Jack says so too!


Friday, September 02, 2005

Splash du Jour: Friday

Watching the news last night, I must admit, I had to think of the lyrics to an old Tragically Hip song, called New Orleans Is Sinking.
Especially the last verse, and refrain.

I had My hand in the river
My feet back up on the banks
Looked up to the lord above and said hey man thanks
Some time I feel so good I gotta scream
She says Gordie baby I know exactly what you mean
She said, she said I swear to god she said

My memory is muddy what's this river that I'm in
New Orleans is sinking, man, and I don't want to swim.
-- Lyrics by Gordon Downie --

Have a great Friday! The weekend is almost here!

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Splash du Jour: Thursday

Everything goes by the board: honor, pride, decency.... to get the book written. If a writer has to rob his mother, he will not hesitate; the Ode on a Grecian Urn is worth any number of old ladies.
-- William Faulkner --

Have a great Thursday!