Monday, December 31, 2007

Splash du Jour: Monday

No, I was ignored. When anyone took any notice it was to point out what a twit I was, and laugh at me. This was the best possible preparation for the life of a novelist. If you have grown-ups fussing over you and encouraging you and taking an interest, you begin to think you're important, and furthermore that you need and deserve their attention. After a while you become incapable of working without someone else motivating you. You're much better off supplying your own energy, and writing in spite of the fact that no-one's interested, and even learning to put up with other people's contempt and ridicule. What do they know, anyway ?
-- Phillip Pullman, in response to the question: Were you encouraged to be creative?

Over the holiday season I have been reading Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials Trilogy, and I am thoroughly enjoying it. I am now halfway through the second book, entitled The Subtle Knife.
Tomorrow [New Year’s Day] I intend on seeing the movie version of the first book, The Golden Compass…. starring my girlfriend, Nicole Kidman.
But before that, I must put in an honest day’s work.
Yes, work.
No rest for the wicked.
No rest for the horribly wicked!
Check this out!

Have a great Monday!

Saturday, December 29, 2007


Well, here I am on the final leg of my holidays.
Still visiting. Still having fun. Still eating.
But come Monday, it is back to the coal mines for me. Tomorrow I will be boarding a plane and flying back home. Back to my meowing Jack, and the snowbanks I left behind in Ottawa.
At the end of each year I like to reflect upon the books I have read over the past 12 months. I reminisce about each one and see which come to the forefront as being especially memorable and worthwhile.
There are few things more disappointing to me than to come to the end of a book and think “What a waste of time.”
Because time is precious to me.
So, here is my list of books that were especially worthwhile.
These are the Top 5 [Fiction] Books that meant the most to me, in 2007.

1) A Prayer For Owen Meany by John Irving
2) On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan
3) The Pesthouse by Jim Crace
4) Death Of A Salesman by Arthur Miller
5) Immortality by Milan Kundera

I would love to comment about each of the above books here, but simply do not have the time to do so.
However, I would like to include a few more, deserving Honorable Mention.
Fall On Your Knees – Ann Marie MacDonald
The Last Temptation of Christ – Nikos Kazantzakis
Landing – Emma Donoghue
The Golden Compass – Philip Pullman
The Fountainhead – Ayn Rand

In the Non-Fiction department I have read many terrific books in 2007, and most notably, these:

1) God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything – Christopher Hitchens
2) The World Without Us – Alan Weisman
3) Clapton: The Autobiography – Eric Clapton
4) The God Delusion – Richard Dawkins
5) Status Anxiety – Alain deBotton

To all of my friends, the dear people and fellow-readers I’ve come to know through this medium of blogging, I wish you a wonderful 2008!
May it be a year filled with health, prosperity, love, good surprises, fun, and not least importantly, WORTHWHILE READING!
-- Cip


Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Wishing You All The Best

Just had to break free of the festivities here and wish you all a
wonderful Christmas holiday season!

So far I have gained three pounds.
And none of this from Drive-Thru hamburger joints.
No, this is real food. Real fun.
OK, gotta go. There's a turkey to eat.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Skewing My Salingers

This morning, I received a personal email from a very astute Salingerian aficianado regarding my allusion to Salingerism in yesterday’s blog entitled I Like Airports.
In there, [and thinking myself witty as hell at the time of composition] I had said → I replied, as Holden Caulfield might have done, by saying, “Who doesn’t?”
My dear reader informed me that it was not Holden Caulfield that spoke in this particular idiomatic way, but rather it was Seymour Glass, the man that appears in several Salinger stories, and finally ends up killing himself during a vacation with his wife in Florida in 1948 in A Perfect Day For Bananafish.
This story appears in Salinger’s collection entitled Nine Stories which remains as one of my all-time favorite collection of short stories.
So, thank you for setting me straight in this particular instance.
I would love to sit down with you and drink coffee and listen to you and talk books until way past closing time!
I love interacting with people that are this sharpened and honed when it comes to literature.
And hey!
Who doesn’t?


Saturday, December 22, 2007

I Like Airports

You know how I am always telling you stuff about myself that pretty much proves that I am basically weird?
Well, I am about to add yet another page to the story!

I know that does not make sense.
A normal person is supposed to abhor the hustle and confusion and racket and inconvenience of airports, but I actually LIKE all of that stuff.
My entire day yesterday was spent in either an airport or a plane. I made my way here to Saskatchewan, via a stopover in Toronto. And I really enjoyed the entire process.
Perhaps a part of it is due to the fact that it was the first time I flew in the Executive Class section. The first time I was on THIS side of the curtain!
When I stepped onboard, a gorgeous woman hung my coat up for me. No kidding. Then I sat down in my own private seat…. as in, no one next to me. And when we left the ground, the same woman asked me if I wanted some wine.
I replied, as Holden Caulfield might have done, by saying, “Who doesn’t?”
So she brought me some. And then some more. And then some food.
Other people, on the other side of the curtain, they didn’t get any of this sort of treatment. It was awesome.
But seriously, even before all this, I realized something.
I actually LIKE airports.
I like walking around in them. I like how big they are. Did you ever notice? They are like WAY oversized! The ceilings are always 40 feet away! I love that.
I like the souvenir shops. I like the bookstores.
I like the feeling you get when you pick a book off the shelf and it almost AUTOMATICALLY seems interesting. Just because you’re in an airport, like.
For instance, yesterday I picked this one off the shelf at a Watermark store. It was about the murder of film-maker Theo Van Gogh. I automatically wanted to read it.
But I already HAD a book to read! Buying the Van Gogh story would have been completely NUTTY! Then, when I walked away from the store, I realized that I was interested in the book because I have this feeling, come holday-season, that I all of a sudden possess this superhuman unlimited amount of time.
Hence, [since I am always flying somewhere for holidays], I tend to associate airports in general with this sense of freedom and relaxation.
I'm weird as hell.
I find that I actually LIKE when there are delays!
I don’t care that the moving sidewalk thing is out of order.
I like the fact that the shoe-shine guy asked me if I want my hiking boots polished!
I don’t mind at all when they have to de-ice the plane’s wings.
And I LOVE occasionally looking at my watch. Not because I am tense about the time!
Hell, no…. I look at my watch because I love thinking about the fact that I am supposed to be at work right now! But I’m NOT at work….. [too good to be true…] → I’M ON HOLIDAYS! AND I HAVE A BOOK TO READ!
What do I care if it takes me way longer to get where I am going, than originally planned?

When I arrived here and was greeted by members of my family, I found that only half of my luggage had arrived. So I went up to a little complaint kiosk to report the missing stuff. They had already known of it, showing me a slip of paper with my name already on it. The guy told me the missing piece would be delivered to me next morning.
And it was.
It was couriered here before I had even gotten out of bed today!
Which makes me want to ask the airline if they can misplace BOTH pieces next time… so I don’t even have to carry either portion of it from the airport!

All this to say that Day One of my holidays is turning out to be fabulous!
I am [leisurely] reading Philip Pullman’s The Golden Compass, and finding it to be a very engrossing read, indeed.


Friday, December 21, 2007

Splash du Jour: Friday

…I am atheist in a very religious mould. I'm always asking myself the big questions. Where did we come from? Is there a meaning to all of this? I read the King James Bible, as all English writers should. And when I find myself in church, I edit the hymns as I sing them, like President Clinton giving evidence to Kenneth Starr about his relationship with Monica Lewinsky, just to make sure I'm not technically lying - 'All things bright and beautiful, the hmmm hmmm made them all.' Religion provides believers with two contradictory things. It gives them answers. And it celebrates mystery. It reminds them that they are a vanishingly small part of a vast cosmos. And it shows them how they are intimately connected to every part of it. Science and literature do this for me. They give me answers. And they ask me questions I will never be able to answer. This is the nearest I come to what other people might call a religious experience. First, when I'm trying to get my head round string theory or the evolution of the human eye. Second, when I open a book and find myself sliding effortlessly into the mind of someone who lived on the far side of the world and died long before I was born.
-- Mark Haddon –

Have a great Friday!
My holidays begin today. Hence, the extremely late Splash du jour posting.
I am on the first day of my Radical Sleeping-In© stint!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Splash du Jour: Wednesday

Snow in the Suburbs

by Thomas Hardy

Every branch big with it,
Bent every twig with it;
Every fork like a white web-foot;
Every street and pavement mute:
Some flakes have lost their way, and grope back upward when
Meeting those meandering down they turn and descend again.
The palings are glued together like a wall,
And there is no waft of wind with the fleecy fall.
A sparrow enters the tree,
Whereon immediately
A snow-lump thrice his own slight size
Descends on him and showers his head and eye
And overturns him,
And near inurns him,
And lights on a nether twig, when its brush
Starts off a volley of other lodging lumps with a rush.
The steps are a blanched slope,
Up which, with feeble hope,
A black cat comes, wide-eyed and thin;
And we take him in.

Have a great [snowy] Wednesday!


Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Splash du Jour: Tuesday

At 20, 25, 30, we begin to realize that the possibilities of escape are getting fewer. We begin to picture a time when there will no longer be somewhere else and far away. We have jobs, children, partners, debts, responsibilities.
And if many of these things enrich our lives immeasurably, those shrinking limits are something we all have to come to terms with.
This, I think, is the part of us to which literary fiction speaks.
Genre fiction says: 'Forget the gas bill. Forget the office politics. Pretend you're a spy. Pretend you're a courtesan. Pretend you're the owner of a crumbling gothic mansion on this worryingly foggy promontory.'

Literary fiction says: 'Bad luck. You're stuck with who you are, just as these people are stuck with who they are. But use your imagination and you'll see that even the most narrow, humdrum lives are infinite in scope if you examine them with enough care.'

-- Mark Haddon, in interview --

Have a great Tuesday!

Monday, December 17, 2007

Me, at DollaRAMa

Umm… that was an easy fix!
My computer was not as ruined as I had thought it was.
I admit. I panicked.
And who can blame me?
There is nothing funny about a black screen!
But what I have to say about the recovery of my computer may be of profound importance to other Mac-users out there. So, listen up!

But first… just a little story that once again proves I am “mentally challenged.”
When I first panicked over the breakdown, I called my friend, the computer expert. He lives over a hundred miles away, so he tried to offer some long-distance trouble-shooting advice. However, I did not have the proper little jeweller-size screwdriver to get the middle panel off, on the underbelly of the Mac PowerBook.
So, today after work I went to Dollarama©.
They had two blister-wrapped versions of the tools I needed. One was a 12-piece kit, and the other was a 6-piece. Neither one had a price-tag on them.
Hmmmm…. do you see where I am going with this?

I brought both packages up to the girl at the checkout.
Set them down and said, “I want whichever one is cheaper than the other one, please.”
She looked over at this other cashier, then looked at me, and said nothing.
So I flipped both items over and said, “Look, there is no price tag on either one.”
She is still staring at me. And there are other people in line, behind me.
She says, “Sir, you’re at Dollarama© .”
And just as I was almost getting the message all on my own, she said, “Like, everything here is a dollar!”
And no one was laughing.
So I did.
Then I looked to the left of me, where EVERY AISLE has a big sign saying “One Dollar” and a big old red arrow pointing down every aisle.
I announced to everyone within range of my voice, “Wow! I’ve never been here before, I swear to God. Whoa! Wow! That is WILD! Everything’s a dollar.”
She was waiting for my decision.
“I guess I’ll take the 12-piece one there, then. Hell…. that’s six extra pieces for the SAME DOLLAR,” I said, winking at everyone else in the lineup.

When I got home I called my friend again and he told me what to do with my new screwdriver. After removing the RAM chip, and spraying the area with compressed air [which I stole from work today] I simply snapped the chip back into place and Bob’s your uncle!
The Mac fired up like it just left the store today!

So there you go!
If your Mac ever shuts down on you and then offers three plaintive beeps when you try start up again… let it be known that this is a problem with how your RAM chip is seated in its little home there. Do not pull your hair out [like I did] or get up on the balcony rails [like I did]!
My entire repair bill was..... ONE DOLLAR!

The only downside to this story?
A guy from the lineup at Dollarama© chased me out to my car. I had to jump in and lock the doors.
I think, misinterpreting my wink, he thought I was interested in a little more than screwDRIVERS!

I’m back in business folks.
This is what I am trying to say!

Sunday, December 16, 2007


Well, friends!
That which I hath most greatly feared has happened, as I guess it must inevitably happen, now and then.
My computer, my wonderful Mac PowerBook has... committed suicide or something.
Happened just a few minutes ago while I was sitting at Starbucks happily clicking away.
Screen just went gray and then black and all hopes at re-starting are not working. I am only hearing plaintive beeps when I try.
So, I trod on over here to this Internet Cafe, where I currently sit, surrounded by gamers and their six-shooters and space ships and stuff. Lots of noise. Plus it does not smell good!
Through the banks of snow I hath trod, to wish you all a
Merry Christmas and Happy Whatever Else you may be celebrating over the Holiday season!
I may be out of commission for a long while. I have far too busy of a week to be buying new computers, and then I myself go away for holidays. So... simply put, I am very, very sad.
A black-screened, plaintively-beeping computer is never good news.
But I feel especially sad about it right now.

Friday, December 14, 2007

On Being Ferried

Is there even one more straightforward thing you can do in this life?
You drive your stupid vehicle on board and you are instantly free of a whole lot of responsibility, pretty much.
You can’t help this thing float a minute or move an inch, so you might as well relax.
Who stays in the car ever? Nobody.
You get out.
You stretch yourself, pull your shorts out of your crack, [well, at least I do], yawn like a Bengal tiger, and find the stairway to one of the upper levels so you can look at people.
Look at that guy over there. He’s an obvious walk-on! You can tell by his dreads and by the way he’s leaning against that backpack the size of Rhode Island.
There’s a family yonder, jabbering foreignly, infants rolling all over the floor like a litter of dachshunds yipping and yapping.
Just next to them, on a bench seat, Kate and Leonardo are necking like this is the doomed voyage. Maybe these two should have stayed in the car, a la that one scene in Titanic.
You step into the souvenir shop where, among other things you don’t want, they are selling all the books that should never be bought. And people are buying them! There’s a smell of old breakfast from the snack lounge.
And whether you want to or not, you step out onto the outside deck where the wind, day or night, is fierce enough to rip your wig off and toss you naked as your birthday into the broiling sea.
You stare at the wake and the churning bubbles make you dreamy.
Then you hope to see a dolphin, and never do.
But all in all there is no peace quite like the ferry ride. I love it when the whole deal bumps itself safely on the other side. Here you are briskly vomited or shat, and it matters not which.
All that matters is that you, clanking your way off, and perhaps waving at the bored attendant in the florescent “Don’t hit me” vest, are wonderfully dry, and a bit closer now to where you need to be.


Splash du Jour: Friday

When I really worry about something, I don't just fool around. I even have to go to the bathroom when I worry about something. Only, I don't go. I'm too worried to go. I don't want to interrupt my worrying to go.
-- J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye, Chapter 6
Perhaps Holden needed to read Carnegie!

Have a great Friday!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Haddon Hits A Homer

Just a few words about the book I am currently reading.
Granted, I am not even half-through Mark Haddon’s newest novel, A Spot of Bother [lately, I only have about an hour a day to read…. so busy am I] but the thing is fantastic.
One wants not to set it down!
Short pithy chapters. Hilarious stuff. No… serious stuff.
No, the perfect mixture of funny and not-funny.
Just like real life!
Great book. People in a struggle to understand how much they want to invest in their maintenance of long-term relationships!
Mark Haddon hit his first one over the fence, and this one is sailing high.
I have a feeling the ball is going to land outside the park! It will probably smash my own damn windshield!
-- Cip

Splash du Jour: Wednesday

The First Time

What would you say to my
I love you?
For the first time.
We once wondered.

Tell me to take it back?
Rewind the tape? Or
Say it again? Louder?
As I recall, there was indeed
An echo, but never louder.
Not once did you hear it
Louder, than the first time.

When the rock goes in
The splash comes.
After that, the ripples, silently
Move outward, trying.
Failing, as they thin and flatten,
To make sense of the intrusion.
They never do.
And ever, the rock sinks.
The commotion settles.

With indrawn curtains as witness
We know that something
Something that never said
A word, spoke three.
That best time.
The first time, when, flung
From me, they came to rest.
Drowned, on your bed.

© Ciprianowords Inc. 2007

Have a great Wednesday!

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Splash du Jour: Tuesday

"Mere life" is not enough to satisfy an artist. It must be shaped, molded, into something that - in its very shapeliness, its ordering - is GIVEN meaning. This is the vision, the end, of art. Yes. I believe that is what art transports us for a while. Frost calls it a "momentary" stay against confusion. No one thinks of it as "reality." Whatever that is, good God, we have more than enough of it in our lives.
-- Anonymous

Have a great Tuesday!

Monday, December 10, 2007

Splash du Jour: Monday

Though justice be thy plea, consider this,
That, in the course of justice, none of us
Should see salvation…

-- Portia in The Merchant of Venice, Act 4, Scene 1 –

Have a great Monday!

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Two White Horses

I hope that everyone is enjoying a wonderful weekend.
As for me, I’m taking it easy, sipping a home-made Starbucks French Roast coffee, and talking with Jack.
Listening to the brand new double-disc Eagles CD. Thing’s got 22 songs on it! It’s called Long Road Out of Eden, and it is EXCELLENT.
Trust me on that. [Did you know that today is the 31st Anniversary of the release of Hotel California?]
The other day I wrote a poem.
I was shuffling through Vienna, via Merisi’s great virtual-tour photoblog. By the way, if you ever want to go to Vienna [and who doesn’t?] but you a) don’t have enough gas in the tank, b) are afraid you will eat too much once you get there, or, c) cannot afford the plane fare in the first place, [ my excuse] well, clicking on Merisi’s Vienna For Beginners is the next best thing to being there. The combination of eclectically chosen subject matter and crisp, clean resolution make for a photo-journey that one either wants to jump into, or downright EAT. I think I have gained at least 15 pounds just from “devouring” the decadent restaurant photos.
But enough about her.
When I saw Merisi’s photograph of the two bridled horses, I instantly clicked on the comment section of her blog and wrote out verbatim what the one horse [the nearest one] was saying as they both strode away, hauling a new tourist-load over the cobblestones.
Only later did I realize, “Hmmm, that might be a poem.”
If I were to teach a course on poem-writing [Poemetry 101] I would say to my class [of students that all look like Nicole Kidman for some reason]… I would say, “Girls… write what you are thinking. Worry about whether it is a poem or not, LATER. You will throw away more than you keep, but just keep doing that until you begin to answer yourself favorably. Be honest. Seek the opinion of others, but do not rely on it. Meanwhile, read the great poets, and hone thyself, thereby.”
And then, if they seemed perplexed, [perhaps they don’t quite know what “hone” means…] I would encourage them with something like, “I know you can do it.”
Then, I might flick on the overhead projector [or cue the Powerpoint] and show them the following poem, saying, “Think about it, girls. A HORSE wrote this one!”

Two White Horses

You think we are the same.

Perhaps [clippety clop] from where you sit

We are. But I assure you...

This one? Yeah, Buddy here?

Doesn't like oats!


Allergic to sugar.

Me? I like all three. Can't get

Enough sugar. [Clippety-clop, swish...]

Me? I hate only one thing.


Buddy? Loves 'em.

Can't get enough reins.

The only thing about us the same?



The least definitive thing, if you

[clippety-clop] wanna know...

Yet, what does everyone say?


Look at the two white horses."

© Ciprianowords Inc. 2007

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Twenty Love Poems

I received a beautiful book for my birthday.
Twenty Love Poems and A Song of Despair.
The poetry of Pablo Neruda.
I started going through these poems today and I am finding them to be just amazing.
Gorgeous things. Of course, they were originally written in Spanish and so this is a translation. Especially in the realm of poetry, anything translated, suffers. Yet even in English, there is a resonance and beauty in these verses.
The first paragraph of the Foreword, written by Stephen Dobyns, moved me to a place just this side of tears. Dobyns writes:

A friend of mine, a Catalan poet, has told me that he once heard Pablo Neruda read his poetry in Venezuela in the 1960’s to an audience of well over six hundred people. When Neruda finished, there were requests from the audience. The first was for Poem 20 from Veinte poemas de amor y una cancion desesperada. The poem begins in W.S. Merwin’s translation, “Tonight I can write the saddest lines” (Puedo escribir los versos mas tristes esta noche). Neruda apologized. He had not brought that particular poem with him. “At which point,” my friend said, “four hundred people stood up and recited the poem to him.”

See… If such a scene were mine, which is to say, if my own poetry were ever to elicit such an en masse response by my readers, I feel I would then be able to die with an equanimity and peace which I currently do not possess.
Then again, (and herein lies a conundrum), simultaneously, I would want to live, and to go on living, all the more.


Splash du Jour: Thursday

Poems are hypothetical sites of speculation, not position papers. They do not exist on the same plane as actual life; they are not votes, they are not uttered from a podium or a pulpit, they are not essays. They are products of reverie.
-- Helen Vendler –

Have a great Thursday!

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Sharing My Day

A dear reader, and dearer friend, informed me that I share my birthday [December 4th] with a legendary literary figure.
Rainer Maria Rilke, one of the German language’s greatest 20th Century poets. Born in Prague, Bohemia.
Yesterday, I turned 44.
Rilke turned 132.
And I thought I was an old fogey! This guy is ancient!
His poetry is magnificent. I once wrote a piece on an excellent poem of his. If you are interested at all in seeing my amateur explication, feel free to visit the Black Cat. [ The eyes even blink! Now that’s something to see!]
Wishing you all a great evening!


Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Somewhere Between 43 and 45.

Actual recent photo!
Today is [was] my birthday!
Yayyyyy! Happy Birthday To Me!
What did I do on my birthday?
Ummm….. WORKED!
I saw not one moment of this day outside the parameters of my torture chamber, until it was already quite dark outside.
Then I came here to Chapters, where I am right now, in the Starbucks area. Sipping on some terrific coffee and listening to some terrible Christmas music. I know this cannot be a popular thing I am about to say [because both of these boys’ album sales are through the roof] but seriously, is there any music worse than a) Michael Buble and b) Josh Groban?
What’s that you say?
Melissa Etheridge?
Yes, you’ve got a good point there, she is definitely c) on such a listing.
Thing is, everywhere [including here at Chapters] seems to be piping the new Josh Groban Christmas CD through the roofbeams and it is making me crazy!
You know who I wish would put out a Christmas CD?
→ Tool.
OK, that’s my rant.
It’s my birthday. I won’t tell you my age, but I will say that based on a 365-day year, I am living my 16,060th day, today!

I’m wondering. Do you have any real favorite type of Christmas music?
For me, there is no question, I love the old old songs, as sung by either Bing Crosby or Frank Sinatra.
Mmmm, I have several CD compilations, I think I will lend one to the manager of Chapters!
What is your own personal favorite?
NOTE: If you say “Josh Groban” I am afraid I will have to promptly delete your smart-alecky comment!


Splash du Jour: Tuesday

In John Irving’s novel, The World According to Garp, Garp visits Vienna and calls it a museum. He says, "A more real city might not have suited me as well. Vienna was in its death phase; it lay still and let me look at it, and think about it, and look again. In a living city, I could never have noticed so much. Living cities don't hold STILL."
If you want to see the best photography ever, of Vienna… of Vienna being “STILL”… visit Merisi’s excellent photoblog

Have a great Tuesday!

Monday, December 03, 2007

Splash du Jour: Monday

Sex is something I really don't understand too hot. You never know where the hell you are. I keep making up these sex rules for myself, and then I break them right away. Last year I made a rule that I was going to quit horsing around with girls that, deep down, gave me a pain in the ass. I broke it, though, the same week I made it - the same night, as a matter of fact.
-- Holden Caulfield, Ch.9 of J.D. Salinger’s Catcher In The Rye

Have a great Monday!

Sunday, December 02, 2007

My Weekend

Wow! I’ve had the most relaxing weekend
Ever. While winter has been frosting the
Windows and filling the driveway, my
Friend and I have been lazing about
In the hot-tub talking, reminiscing
About so many things. Listening
To a lot of terrific music. Also
Just generally catching up
With each other. Eating
And laughing 2 much.
At one point, I even
Wrote a poem, &
You can see it
for yourself
by clicking
on the

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Are You Keeping Happy?

This morning, my friend and I were having coffee and talking.
As we jabbered about all manner of things, we got onto the topic of “happiness.”
It is a recurring theme in our discussions, mainly because my friend has committed himself to being thoroughly happy in as many areas of life as possible. In his relationships, work environment, pursuit of hobbies, stress intake allowance, possessions, and recreational moments → HAPPINESS IS JOB 1.
Happiness is a priority.
Is he happy? Yes!
Is whatever he is doing working for him? Yes!

I have observed his life for several decades now, and I can honestly say that he is the most consistently upbeat, realistically optimistic, and fun-to-be-around person I know. He is what one might call un-stressed-out!
Admittedly, he has a temperament and life-philosophy that naturally lends itself to progress, success and achievement. Not all people have this. I myself do not.
In blogging terms, he's set up with a good working template!
But aside from this natural propensity of his, he actually maintains his perspective on a daily basis. In other words, he works at it.
He religiously monitors his happiness levels, and has often described his philosophy by using the analogy of a syringe. It [The Syringe Theory©] amounts to a system of living that takes that old adage about the glass being "half full" and raises it to new levels.
For my friend, the glass being half full is not good enough.
It should be overflowing. [Like his new hot-tub!]

The Syringe Theory© says that each and every day of our lives should be approached as though one were jabbing a syringe into a Mountain of Goodness. Then, with all that is within you, haul back on that plunger, and extract every shred of goodness out of every single day.
Fill the syringe. Inject yourself with what you’ve collected there.
My friend is a Happiness Addict.
Hooked on happiness.
People that live this way are often perceived as being extremely selfish.
My friend would be the first to acknowledge that, yes, there is an element of selfishness inherent in The Syringe Theory© .
This is because, as all good addicts know, you can’t share a syringe.
To the accusation of selfishness, I think my friend would respond, “I can live with that. The important thing is that I am living a happier life than my accuser.”

So, back to this morning’s discussion…
He told me of the new way he is greeting the people he meets.
Instead of the usual “How’s it going?” or “How are ya?” to which most people will respond with a nearly brain-dead “Not bad” even though they may have been contemplating suicide three minutes before you saw them on the street… my friend now asks, → “Are you keeping happy?”
I find that incredible.
“Are you keeping happy?”

He recently walked into a music store, and greeted the man behind the counter in that very way.
“Are you keeping happy?”
The guy froze, knocked off kilter a bit. You’ve gotta admit, it is quite different than the usual orthodox generic greetings we have mindlessly accepted, in our uncaring society.
My friend waited.
The guy behind the counter just sort of thought about it for a while.
Then he said, “No. I would have to say that ‘No’, I am not all that happy. No, not keeping happy, really.”
They then talked for an hour or so about the many struggles and problems that this guy was going through at the time. Troubles involving family, finances, and such things. And my friend listened, and was able to encourage the fellow human being.
So, that is the flip-side of the selfishness aspect.
Sincerely asking the question, “Are you keeping happy?” can lend itself to some truly unselfish moments where the bullshit of our lives can be swept aside, and some real issues may be able to come to the surface.
The real desire behind the question itself is not an attempt to necessarily heal someone else’s life, but rather, it acts as a catalyst that will make them think about WHY they are not happy, if they aren’t.
The only person we can really help, is ourself.
Living a happy life is, and will always be, an intrinsically selfish goal.
But, I am convinced, it is a worthy, healthy goal.

How good it would be if we could just live those four things, in the image, above.
1) Have fun.
2) Do not hurt people.
3) Do not accept defeat.
4) Strive to be happy.

Over coffee, my friend asked me this morning, “Are you keeping happy?” and I’m afraid I had to answer him, “No. I am not. For several reasons.”
So we talked about it. Those reasons.
Then I asked him the same question, and his answer was an unequivocal “Yes”.
He is happy.
Tell you what.
You can call his immediate response SELFISH if you want to.
But I shall call it ENVIABLE.

“Are you keeping happy?”

Friday, November 30, 2007

From One Puddle to Another...

One thing I despise, is boredom.
I hate boredom.
I am seldom bored.
But I am very prone to being bored, when driving.
And I hate radio.
So, last night, when I was faced with the prospect of 3 hours on the highway, I made a last minute decision.
I pulled into a record store. Having no clue what I should buy, I aimlessly wandered. I just knew that a good CD or two would get me through the highway drive. The first one that caught my interest was the latest Rush CD, Snakes and Arrows, so I nabbed that.
Then, I happened across this new one called Famous, by Puddle of Mudd.
Picked it up, it looked intriguing. My Reading Partner has spoken highly of them, for years. Hmmm… what really got me, was when I flipped it over and saw that certain tracks were produced by Jack Joseph Puig. I remembered the amazing work he did about a hundred years ago with a now defunct “Christian” outfit called Sweet Comfort Band.
So I bought the thing.
It is fabulous.
When I discover good music like this, I always get excited about it. Now I want to collect other CD’s by this band.
The first track [Famous] is a killer good song. What’s it like? Well…. really punchy guitar, terrifically raspy, screamy vocals, and an overall sound that somehow reminds me of Three Doors Down.
The next song, well, no…. I’m not going to go through the whole songlist, they are ALL good.
The penultimate song, called Radiate, reminded me of Oasis. The CD alternates between wonderfully raunchy rock sounds, sometimes laced with expertly placed profanity, and nice melodic lovesongs [sans profanity].
I urge all Bookpuddle readers to venture into this…. this other Puddle.
Puddle of Mudd.
One thing this CD ain’t….. is boring!


Splash du Jour: Friday


I’ve got my own moral compass to steer by
A guiding star beats a spirit in the sky
And all the preaching voices –
Empty vessels ring so loud
As they move among the crowd
Fools and thieves are well disguised
In the temple and the marketplace

Like a stone in the river
Against the floods of spring
I will quietly resist

Like the willows in the wind
Or the cliffs along the ocean
I will quietly resist

I don’t have faith in faith
I don’t believe in belief
You can call me faithless
But I still cling to hope
And I believe in love
And that’s faith enough for me

I’ve got my own spirit level for balance
To tell if my choice is leading up or down
And all the shouting voices
Try to throw me off my course
Some by sermons, some by force
Fools and thieves are dangerous
In the temple and marketplace

Like a forest bows to winter
Beneath the deep white silence
I will quietly resist

Like a flower in the desert
That only blooms at night
I will quietly resist.
--- RUSH – Neil Peart, lyrics to Faithless

Have a great Friday!

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Splash du Jour: Thursday

“If a girl looks swell when she meets you, who gives a damn if she's late? Nobody.”
-- Holden, in ch.17 of Catcher In The Rye

Here’s a little quick morning exercise for you.
How many of the Top 10 Banned Books of the 20th Century have you read, you naughty thing, you?
I’ve read five of them. Click HERE.

LOOK SWELL, and have a great Thursday!

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Splash du Jour: Wednesday

In discussing what is meant by being born again (or better, in view of the Greek, "born from above"), in chapter 3 [of the Gospel of John] John makes it abundantly clear that what is being talked about is the fact that all humans are to have two births -- the natural birth from "water," as a human baby, and a second birth, which is spiritual. The "born again" experience is that of recognizing one's true nature as a spark of the Divine -- the light that gives light to everyone coming into the world. It has nothing whatever to do with what evangelicals describe as recognizing one's status as a sinner and "accepting Christ as Saviour." There is nowhere in the Gospels where this condition for "becoming a Christian" is ever laid out in the manner, for example, in which the famous Evangelist Billy Graham presents it. The traditional church teaching that we all, by our very nature as part of the human family, are contaminated by "original sin," that is, by the sin of our mythical forefather Adam -- Paul says that "in Adam all died" (because of his sin) -- and that we add to this by our own sinful acts, has been the basis for clerical control all down the ages.
-- Tom Harpur, in Water Into Wine

Have a great Wednesday!

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Splash du Jour: Tuesday

Do you think God gets stoned?
I think so . . . look at the platypus.
-- Robin Williams –

Have a great Tuesday!

Monday, November 26, 2007

44 Seconds

“Out, out brief candle! Life’s but a walking shadow.”
-- Bill Shakespeare –

Yesterday and today, I have succeeded in asking all of my colleages at work a very simple, yet off-putting question. [You can try this yourself right here, it will be fun, I promise you].
One by one, and only when alone, I have presented the following preamble and question:
“I am only allowing you two to three seconds to answer this question OK? I want your first impression, not a mathematically worked out equation. It’s very simple, and it is not a trick question. Remember. TWO or THREE seconds, I want a quick answer. If you take longer than that, I don’t wanna hear it. Ready?”
[They nod, because they know I am weird, and they love me for it....]
“OK, here goes. Here is the question.....”

The average human lifetime consists of HOW MANY DAYS?

One Mississippi... two Mississippi.... three Mississippi.
Any longer than this and the person disqualifies themself from my experiment, because what I am looking for is not how well someone does cranial algebra... I am looking for IMPRESSION..... for IDEA!
For.... pre-conceptions!
And Holy Hypotenuse! Did I ever hear some doozies for answers!
The most bizarre (I am not kidding)... was one guy who blurted out “Eight million!”
No actually the worst was one fellow who said “400”..... so I rephrased the question and then he said some astronomical amount. Most people though, when asked, said around 90,000 to 100,000.... stuff like that.
Amazingly, only one person even came close to what a reasonable estimate would be. He said 30,000.
All in all, this two days of research makes me glad that I am not working at a place that is trying to eliminate cancer from the earth, or build better nuclear reactors!
No, we’s just simple folk..... and with all due respect for those I spend nine hours a day with, the question isn’t all that easy if you have not given it any thought before.
The truth of the matter is this.
Average lifespan around the world is around double what it was 200 years ago. It is now around 65 for men, and 70 for women. Remember, this is WORLDWIDE. When we begin to look at specific countries, Japan wins the longevity contest, with men usually cashing in the chips at 77.6 years, and women saying “sayonara” at 84 to 85 years.
British men are saying “cheerio” at 75, while the dames are dropping the teacup on the floor a few months shy of 80.
French dudes are kickin’ it at 74.9 while the femmes are saying “fermez la porte” at 82.4.
In the U.S. of A., men are living to 72 and women to 79.

I am giving all these stats to show how I arbitrarily arrive at my own personal benchmark of 74 years.
I am going to be somewhat generous and say that most of us are probably going to say goodbye to it all at around 74.
So.... having said this.... how many days are there in 74 years?
Answer: 26,645.

74 years = 888 months = 3,848 weeks = 26,645 days = 648,240 hours = less than 40,000,000 seconds.
None of us will live for a million hours.
Not since the earlier pages of Genesis have people routinely lived for millions of hours.
To live just one million hours, you would have to be 114 years old.

Can I tell you now what fascinates me the most about the length of time that we do live, whether it be 70 years or 80 years or 95 years? Or even TEN years?
What fascinates me the most is how hard our hearts work during that time!
Just think for a moment of the earliest memory that you can recall. Perhaps a family vacation when you were a child. Or a pet dog you got for your fourth or fifth birthday, something like that.
Now consider, from that time to this moment..... your heart has been pumping like mad!
Never stopping. Never taking a day, or even a moment off. Never missing a cue.
Recently I read a book by Dr. Sherwin B. Nuland (a surgeon), and of the heart, he said:
“Pushing out about 70 milliliters of blood (2 1/3rd ounces) with each contraction, this vigorous pump drives some 7 million milliliters (more than 14,000 pints) each day, in 100,000 rhythmic and powerful beats.”
OK, so I got the calculator fired up again....

Nuland’s observation means that if you are 40 years old, your heart has already re-directed 25,550,000 (25 ½ million) GALLONS of blood through your body in an endless series of 1,460,000,000 flawlessly orchestrated convulsions! Almost a billion and a half times! It has never taken a weekend off, and even while you slept, it carried on.
If that is not fascinating, I don’t know what is. A half pound of meat, does all this work.

OK, so I want to put into perspective now..... try to visualize what is being talked about here.
I think of Niagara Falls.

I LOVE Niagara Falls and I have been there perhaps ten times in my lifetime.
At peak periods, 150,000 gallons of water a SECOND pour over the American side of the Falls, and over on the Canadian side (shown in the image, above), it is 580,000 gallons. A second.
This translates to almost 35 million gallons per minute over Horseshoe Falls.

Over a period of just forty years, your heart has already pumped 25.5 million gallons of blood.
This is the equivalent of the amount of water cascading over the American Niagara for 170 seconds, or nearly three minutes. And at Horseshoe Falls.... it is the equivalent of 44 seconds of the thunderous cataract.
44 seconds.
Believe me, I have stood at those Falls many a time, the spray on my face.
That’s a lot of water.
That’s a lot of blood.
2 1/3rd ounces at a time.
No man-made machine in the history of the world is as efficient as your heart is.

Put your hand over your heart.
If you are somewhere around 40 years old, you have had nearly a minute’s worth of Niagara Falls go on under that ribcage.
And you, like me, have been largely oblivious of the sheer mechanical frenzy of who you are.
One minute gone.
One minute left.

Splash du Jour: Monday

It's a shame that the only thing a man can do for eight hours a day is work. He can't eat for eight hours; he can't drink for eight hours; he can't make love for eight hours. The only thing a man can do for eight hours is work.
-- William Faulkner –

And out the door I go…
Have a great Monday, y’all.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Conceit: The Review

Conceit, by Mary Novik.
Forget your high-school textbook anthologies!
Mary Novik’s Conceit is nothing like that!
Hers is a brilliant and complex work featuring a sparkling cast of characters who step off the page as breathing – yea, sometimes panting.
A flawed, and sometimes tormented panoply of human beings.

Donne, whose literary fame rests on both his theological meditations and poetry and his earlier sensuous Cavalier lyrics both to Ann More and to his reputed mistresses (pre-Ann) forms the cog of the wheel of this narrative.
This poet’s extremes, as any student of 17th century English literary study knows, is the core of the Donne dichotomy.

For to say you like John Donne is to be met with the question: Which Donne? The Cavalier – who loved all he touched, or the enigmatic, untouchable Priest, whose writing reflected a man grappling with Puritan concepts of the evils of the flesh and a preoccupation with the subject of death?

Who was this man, so passionate in his love for Ann More that he risked everything to make her his wife only to later occupy high moral ground of the Anglican pulpit where - in sanctimonious tones - he decried his own sinful passion and her “voluptuous spirit”?
Was this pious priest the same lover who, thrown into jail for his union with her, wrote despairingly (and characteristically wittily) to her from prison the now famous phrase “John Donne. Ann Donne. Undone.”

The question not only of Love’s secret but also the poet’s identity is at the center of this page turner of a novel; and if that were Novik’s only focus, it would be question enough, indeed, to explore.
But – in something of a conceit itself, alongside Donne’s life story, deepening and complicating the answer to the riddle, is Novik’s largely fanciful story of Donne’s youngest daughter, Pegge and her own quest for love. A quest that would seem to drive her toward madness of the kind found in the pages of gothic fiction.

Novik leans Pegge’s longing and incisive memory narrative against the narrative voices of Donne (who wanders through the past and looks to the future as he waits to die and rise to a purified state), and Ann, whose haunting voice escapes from the grave to harry both John and Pegge to tell her story – the real story of the “undone” lovers. It is a request that Pegge seems to hear and to take on as her challenge.

Though there is ample bawdy here as Novik takes us in rich description to the beds of the book’s lovers, Conceit is no mere Harlequin romance telling in titillating tones the story of the famous and erotically charged lovelife of Ann More and John Donne. A rich display of creative nonfiction, the book rambles leisurely into Novik’s impressions (meticulously researched) of an historical London and its tapestries of plague, medicine (maggots, poultices of dead pigeons, etc.), fashion, politics, and personalities.

Novik, who said that she got the idea for the novel while wondering what Donne’s children would think of the steamy letters and poems that he had written to his wife, notes that Donne “wrote love poems like a priest and holy poems like a lover.” Not exactly the kind of stuff you’d leave as legacy to your offspring.

But legacy it becomes for Pegge, whose intelligent, independent voice relays much of the story, mingling her unflagging desire to find a love commensurate with her parents’ all consuming passion with her own apparent failure to find a mate suitable to her desires. Pegge’s early obsession with Izaak Walton, her father’s biographer, forms an intriguing subnarrative enhancing the book’s primary motifs.

Wanting to be remembered as a holy [and wholly] passionless man, after Ann dies in childbirth (their 12th), Donne denies the reality of the love they had shared…a love that had once compelled him to write of being buried with his love, entwined in an eternal embrace, as well as such heart-searing and ardent verse as “Valediction: Forbidding Mourning.”

Donne has not completely succumbed to the sacrosanct, however: we overhear the dying Donne privately recollect his youth and admit in straightforward interior monologues to Ann that he would “rather be owner of you one hour than all else ever.” It is a desire that the pious Donne would like to destroy, but one that bespeaks the kind of absolute passion that daughter Pegge wants to find for her own life.

As Pegge follows her quest to discover "What is love?" – a question put to her ill and dying father in a most remarkable scene - Pegge, craving the kind of passion for which she knows (by reading Donne’s poems to her mother) that her father and mother shared, ultimately becomes something of her mother’s defender, a role that she sees as necessary largely because of Izaak Walton, whose Life of Donne seems to be an attempt to “sanctify” her father, erasing all his fleshly yearnings.

It is her insistence on seeing to it that both her father’s lust and his longing for spiritual purity are represented in Walton’s book that takes the book to its ending – and neatly (but not too neatly) wraps up Pegge’s search.

Novik, though she draws her major characters completely, does not weaken on the minor roles either: emerging in full-fledged array are Izaak Walton – whose Compleat Angler forms a backdrop for passages on fish and fishing unlike any I have ever read– and the irrepressible Samuel Pepys, from whose Diary Novik draws to portray yet another (moving) look at how a marriage contends with the effects of unbridled passion – this time for someone other than one’s spouse – a theme that, when closely examined, intensifies the book’s central theme of passion vs. a less flesh-dependent love.
Opening the book with a vivid portrait of the Great Fire of London, a scene that is probably drawn from Pepys’ account, Novik frames the narrative here: opening and closing with Pegge’s rescue of her father’s effigy from the inner sanctum of St. Paul’s Cathedral. (Having more than a little fun with her historical perspective, Novik has even seen to have Christopher Wren make a timely cameo appearance.)

As close to being creative memoir with historical grounding as a novel can be, Novik’s narrative in itself forms a kind of conceit as it offers both implied and overt comparisons between Donne’s love in his youth and age and those of his daughter Pegge.
The conceit – an elaborate and ingenious analogy - was the literary device for which Donne is known. Donne’s brilliant use of this literary device runs smoothly through the book as Novik pulls in a radiant array of lines from his work. Novik’s novel is scattered with lines from Donne’s work, sometimes surreptitiously placed, sometimes quoted in full. They only add more richness to a book already rich in descriptive, sensuous prose describing domestic activities, city life in London in the seventeenth century and natural settings.

As with any complex work of literature, it is impossible to fit Conceit into any kind of neat slot. It is fiction, it is biography, it is history.
But mostly it is a story of the conflicts found within us all – the longing for ….the higher and yet the yoked to physical and earthly pleasures.
No pretty little romantic story, Conceit can be a disquieting read on many levels, not the least being that – not to give too much away - Novik hints in several instances of what most would view as an unnatural, unhealthy love.
But it is the language and the questions it asks that ultimately may leave the reader with his [or her] own obsession – to read more of the poetry of Donne.

Read an excerpt!
Purchase the book!