Wednesday, December 31, 2014

lost and found and lost

"The only people who get anyplace interesting are the people who get lost." -- Henry David Thoreau

Tell me about it.

Still searching, after all these years.


Have you ever spent a day willfully not speaking words?

I have not.

I think I could.**

I think I may, some day.

The point? To clear, to see and hear more clearly. To BE more clearly, like still water that was muddied.

Or I'd just nap more on such a putative wordless day.

**(Many who know talkative me would howl with laughter at this claim.)

the unknowable

"Penetrating so many secrets, we cease to believe in the unknowable. But there it sits nevertheless, calmly licking its chops."

Who is the author? 

Some evangelist?

A philosopher?

A cynic?

H. L. Mencken 

Monday, December 29, 2014

the sparrows

I descend the stairs. I am halted by the sight of a sparrow in the tree just outside the window in the hallway. Often, there are many sparrows. Do sparrows have families? We eye each other, the sparrow and I. Faint hints of yellow in his feathers. Or hers. I don't know. The sparrow knows I am there, on the other side of want and coldness. And I know the sparrow is out there, enduring the wind and cold and snowflakes, protected slightly by shrubbery branches and the paltry warmth of fellow or sister sparrows. Does he care? My impulse to take in the sparrows, offering them shelter and warmth, borders on the insane, I quickly realize. Plus, to do so -- despite its do-gooder-ness, would prove fatal to the sparrows, I am sure. 

Saturday, December 27, 2014


You know what annoys me? I get consumerism, commercialism, mercantile madness. All that. I understand these -isms have a manic magnetism, even if I keep a safe distance from them myself, mostly. But the thing is this: the stores and radio stations and TV networks can't wait to get on the Christmas bandwagon. They start, what, in October? The trouble is, many of them jump off it after Christmas Day! The Christmastide season is just beginning. It starts Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, depending on your tradtion, and goes 12 days, to January 5 or January 6, depending on how you celebrate it. You know, as in TWELVE DAYS OF CHRISTMAS or that play by William Shakespeare, "TWELFTH NIGHT." They all jump on Christmas, then drop it like a radioactive ornament. Even for crass commercial reasons, one can keep it going. Maybe that is better and no need to be annoyed. It allows us to celebrate the feast unencumbered by our acquired baggage.


Ever notice that in the popular parlance "absolutely" means sure, emphatically yes, truly, verily, amen, very much so, I ain't lying, for real, totally. Not exactly absolutely. It's okay. Absolutely.

Friday, December 26, 2014


I saw a sign.

I saw a sign in front of St. Ann Church, just outside the City of Syracuse -- "in the world but not of it," you might say, if you are not suburban-minded (as I am not).

The sign read:


I liked it. I like it.

Did the pastor give a Christmas homily on that?

It's a facile declaration.


But what would it mean?

Fewer physical gifts and more staring into eyes, more hugs and holding hands?

I talk a good game.

This would be harder than I first thought.

give or take

In this season of voluminous gift giving, it might be wise to explore why the holidays cause such stress. The transactional burdens of giving or receiving gifts must be one factor. How many people give a gift with no strings (or ribbons) attached? Likely, few. To be that pure is a level of detachment difficult to attain. Thus, you give a gift and you expect something in return. Deny it if you want, but you at least want a "thank you." You may say or think or believe that you want or need nothing in return. A laudable goal, perhaps. But hard to do. And you may not do a calculation weighing values of gifts given or received, but many do. Maybe we all do to a degree, influenced by a consumerist culture. To broaden the discussion beyond the holidays, how many of us can give a gift (let's widen the conversation to mean "gift" can be words, compliments, gestures, etc.) while expecting nothing whatsoever in return, including an acknowledgment? I know I am not such a person. You might even argue whether "pure giving" is a worthy goal. These are talking points. Or listening bullets. We say "it is better to give than to receive," but I am not so sure of that. Receiving has its own demands and challenges. Perhaps that's a topic for another time.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

just for today

Sunday, December 21, 2014

means to an end

"What we call the beginning is often the end. And to make an end is to make a beginning. The end is where we start from." 

T.S. Eliot

Every ending has its seeds in its beginning.

What to make of that?

Do we see those seeds? Do we recognize them at the outset? Likely not.

Why would we? Why would we want to?

Knowing these things does not make anything automatically easier. (I don't even know what that means. What ending is "automatic"? Or "easy"?)

Or less painful.

Aptly, today, Day 355, has these words from Thich Nhat Hanh in a compendium of his wisdom:

"Go back and take care of yourself. Your body needs you, your feelings need you, your perceptions need you. Your suffering needs you to acknowledge it. Go home and be there for all these things."

Friday, December 19, 2014


Expectation, the act of expecting, pregnant with meaning. Expectation, connoting hope or desire (or wish fulfillment, consistency, constancy, as in "I expect the sun will rise tomorrow," or obedience to mathematical laws, as in "I expect two plus two will equal four tomorrow"). Expectation: a Latinate thorough looking at. But also a burden. You expect that X, Y, or Z will happen. Or you expect Z, or Y, or X to happen. At least one of them. You are sure of it. It is ordained. Preordained. You anticipate the outcome. You can see it. You can see clearly now. Except for one tiny problem: "it" is not yet now, and when the cosmic clock strikes "now" (where is "now" on the clock's face?) what you saw so clearly turns out to be different. Entirely different. Or nano-different. It is not a matter of better or worse. It is different. It is not what you expected. This new now turns out to be different from your expectation. If you were honest, you would be forced to admit that the outcome, the outcomes plural, of your expectation, your expectations plural, are always different from what you envisioned, what you saw so clearly. Be honest. Isn't that always the case, at least to an infinitesimal degree? To an infinite degree? When did something, anything, ever turn out to be exactly as you expected it to be, fully, in all dimensions, in duration, in intensity, hue, proportion, sound, and sense? So expectation is a setup, if not for disappointment, at least for surprise; if not for surprise, at least for a shift (closer, farther, dimmer, brighter, fuller, emptier) in what you thought you saw, before it even happened, even though you really weren't "seeing" anything yet because there was nothing to see. Except expectation.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

nada zilch zed

Sometimes you just ain't got nothing to say, cleverly or prosaically. Not that such a condition ever brought talk radio or TV to silence.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

I'm only sleeping...

less often
even less often remembering
not one of the 100
chosen by Marina Abramovic
in The Dream Book
to retreat
into solitude
and then
relate my dream(s)

Saturday, December 13, 2014

sounds like . . .

Yesterday, an ad on the radio for "Lights on the Lake" declared something like "many new displays."



Upon quick reflection while driving, those sound-alikes came to me, who likes to noodle with words.

A friend later pointed out he has a similar misfire when he hears an ad for a local restaurant (a very good one) named Laci's Tapas Bar.


In the Eighties, when I worked on audiovisual programs, a producer told me of working on a script for a kids' program about Paul Bunyan. The script said something like, "He dragged his axe around the country," but during recording they realized "ax" sounded like a posterior part of Bunyan's anatomy.

Is there a name for this phenomenon?

Friday, December 12, 2014

the healing touch

You got there late, as is your habit, character flaw, or constant misjudgment of time constraints. St. Paul's Cathedral. Downtown Syracuse. The Hadley Chapel, a dusty taste of Olde England or late 1800s America. Four men, including yourself, scattered in straightback, wicker (?) chairs, a priest at the altar. She invites all to join her around the table. Communion. Co-union. Eucharist. Thanks. The men look sad, you think, but upon reflection find that a misperception. Sadness, yes, but a calm, subtle smiles, serenity, a hunger. You wonder, does the priest feel threatend by these four men in this cramped space? No sign of it. Besides, the sense of spiritual surrender perfumes the air like incense. After the Eucharist, the priest asks you, "Do you want the healing? You were late, and . . ." "Sure, I'm always up for some healing," you interrupt (another habit or flaw or branding characteristic). She walks up to the front. You kneel at the communion railing with its cushions. The priest, who happens to be the rector of the Cathedral parish, tells you how even if you were not present earlier, the fruits of the healing service were yours to taste. She has a small container in her hands, the holy chrism. She asks if there is any need or person you want to mention, on whose behalf you want healing extended. You are caught by surprise. You can't speak. You can name (or not name) dozens of people, endless needs, candidates for unction, salve, and balm. The emotion embarrasses you and you check it, contain it, at least outwardly. "Josephine," you say. "My mom, 98," you get out. The priest anoints your forehead with oil. Her hands touch your forehead. She lays her hands on your head, firmly, not superficially. She holds her hands on your hair, on your head, saying prayers of healing, invoking Christ to heal, repair, comfort. It's not so much the words. You may even have misheard the words. It was the human touch. You wanted to empty yourself by sobbing. Of course, you did not. (How indecorous would it be?) But this hearty touch. And when her hands lifted, you were lighter. Residual moisture rimmed the corners of your eyes. Did she know? You wondered, what if this were the moment your mother died? Does it matter? All would be well. All things would be well.


. . . and ever notice how intellectuals ooze with bland excitement over the word "text"? Oh, they love the word "text." Heaven (or God or Goddess) forbid they say passage or paragraph or poem or piece or article or essay or sentence or gospel or speech or novel or novella or epic or sermon or excerpt or rendition or reading or account or version or edition or narrative or lyric or hymn or paean or prose.


They insist on T  E  X  T.

sort of

Ever notice how academics and so-called articulate people use "sort of" in a manner, and just as habitually, that is similar to the use of "you know" by their more plebeian counterparts?

Thursday, December 11, 2014

fearful symmetry

I experienced a "fearful symmetry," a phrase from William Blake, upon watching the movie "The Railway Man" a day or so after the Senate released a report five years in the making (which I have not read) on "enhanced interrogation techniques," which is a euphemism for torture.

Yes, war (though the "war on terror" was a misnomer from the start, but that's another topic for another day) involves unspeakable, unbearable, obscene acts of treachery and degradation under the guise of honor, cause, duty, or patriotism. And it also elicits acts of heroism, bravery, selflessness, valor, sacrifice, under the same banners.

But don't people (don't I, don't you) have both a right and an obligation to ask:

What are we? What do we espouse? What do we stand for? What defines us?

I do not pretend these are simple questions evoking simple answers. Nor do I pretend to speak with authority, as I type this in a comfortable chair in a public cafe in a free society. (Allow a digression: are you "free" if you are cajoled, motivated, nudged, coerced every day by forces you do not recognize or acknowledge? I'm not talking conspiracy or paranoiac whisperings. I am referring to the relentless onslaught of consumerist stimulation that tickles our fancies and enslaves our wallets.)

At any rate, I propose the asking (and the potential answering) of these and like-minded difficult but profound questions as part of our civic discourse  -- beyond pieties, cliches, jingoism, chauvinism, and bromides.

As G.K. Chesteron said, " 'My country, right or wrong' is a thing that no patriot would think of saying except in a desperate case. It is like saying, 'My mother, drunk or sober.' "

Monday, December 08, 2014

comma sense

Who says punctuation doesn't matter?

Don't get me wrong. Although I posture as a purist, I recognize, mostly through texting, that we humans who speak English tend to figure things out, despite missing apostrophes, periods, commas, whatnot. And I thought I heard in my linguistics course decades ago that simplification in language is actually a mark of sophistication. (I would have to research that now; comments invited to affirm, explain, or invalidate that assertion.)

On the black-pepper grinder and shaker, the instructions declare:


followed by directions for counterclockwise hand turnings for coarser or finer results.

Imagine adding a comma:


as in:

to adjust to your quotidian challenges, grind through them, yielding either coarser or finer results, peppery or not, seasoning your day, discovering its flavor and zest despite any blandness or bitterness.

Friday, December 05, 2014

MVPs, continued

. . .

morally vacuous pretension

macro vitamin potency

micro virginal paucity


Heard and saw author Martin Amis read from his Zone of Interest yesterday, at Colgate University. Always a tad intriguing how a person turns out somewhat different from what you imagine or suspect from merely reading words on paper. He was more slight than I pictured, and softer voiced. He fielded my question, the last taken, about Lionel Asbo: State of England. I asked how, using his "novelistic" imagination (a word he just used regarding Hitler and Hitler's sexuality) he might "transfer" the novel's location and character's race and class if the book were to have taken place in the United States. He replied how he had lived in the U.S., in Princeton (is that America?) when he was nine and ten, and that America was so vast and wide and varied and encompassing -- that it would be too hard, impossible. Somewhat surprisingly (to me, at least), he referred to England as a little "pressure cooker." He started off his response to my question quoting Henry James: America is the world, or words to that effect.

Thursday, December 04, 2014


Techies use "MVP," or "M.V.P." if you prefer, for "minimum viable product." Wikipedia says:

"In product development, the minimum viable product (MVP) is the product with the highest return on investment versus risk, what is known in the investment community as the Sharpe Ratio. The term was coined and defined by Frank Robinson, and popularized by Steve Blank, and Eric Ries (for web applications)."

Along those lines, ponder, if you will:
  • minimum viable person
  • maximum valued peer
  • minimum viable poetry
  • maximum viable person
  • minimum valuable potential
  • maximum vaunted potency
  • marauding vagrant penis
  • maverick vaginal polarity
  • minuscule vaunted paradise
  • multifarious victorious parades
  • marooned vacant pandering
  • most vallecular player
  • my viscous paradigm
  • minotaured vicious personifications
  • moated visible pangs
. . . and so on.

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

the light in their eyes

You hear the stories. You read them in the paper. You read them online. The gray blanket of negativity. The curtain of fear. The dead end of despair. Smudged icons from a dusty, dark church closed long ago. But look again. Stop. See the light in their eyes. Whose eyes? The eyes of children, boys and girls, first and second graders. They are trying to read. They sit with grown-ups, side by side, in a school library. The children sound out, scan, struggle, surmise, and smile with surprise and discovery and delight. The light in their eyes flickers like a votive candle. It is alive. It is a fire called Future. It will melt your heart if you let it.

Monday, December 01, 2014

counting crows

As I walked along the Creekwalk, I disturbed the countless crows. They hawed and screeched; they flustered and fluttered. One man, a rude intruder of the tree-limbed confab. What harm posed I? What threat? I kept walking, toying with the crowy sentinels, sneaking a smile but wondering who'd get the last laugh.