Workin’ in the coal mine

12 11 2013

Ha ha ha, right: teaching and freelancing offer a plenitude of opportunities to bitch, but the most I have to worry about is a sore throat, maybe a sore back, not black lung and cave-ins.

Anyway, I’m jammed up with work, which, on the one (lazy) hand is bad, but on the other (money-grubbin’) hand is good. Mostly it’s good.

I should be able to catch up by this weekend, but in the meantime, this is my excuse for no/scrawny posts.

At least, that’s my story, and all that.





I won’t recall the names and places of each sad occasion

9 07 2013

Twenty five years, a quarter century, almost half of my life—so far away, in so many ways.

I’ve mentioned before that I no longer recognize the desperately self-destructive person I once was, that on those rare occasions I read journal entries from later in my career as a failed suicide I think Jesus, I wrote this? Who writes this?

For twenty years, a fifth of a century, almost half of my life, I berated myself for my life, and in the midst of that fifth I tried, again, and failed, again, to end it. It would be over a decade before I would, finally, leave it all behind.

It’s been over a decade since I left it all behind.

These swaths of time, overlapping and flapping against one another, floating back into and obscuring past versions of myself.

This is the story of everyone’s life, I have to remind myself. Does anyone recognize who they were, then? Who sustains the same line all the way through?

Still, some lines are sustained, if even fictionally. There are pieces of memory I pick up and thread on to the knotted string I call my life, but I can barely remember who I tried to erase and what remains are these odd hard bits that nonetheless are unsettlingly warm in my hand.

Over a decade since I left it all behind, I cannot hold these strange remains for long without fear I will string them all together and back to that long dissolve. And so before I am too warmed I shake my hand and scatter those remains.

And so there are some ways I cannot know today of who I was before.

This is not a tragedy; this may not even be a loss. I wish I could know, nonetheless.





A year has passed since I wrote my note

3 01 2013

You know that second novel? The one that needed just one, final, editorial swipe before I sent it out to. . . whom/wherever, never to be heard from again?

It’s been over a year since I began that one, final, editorial swipe.

Yeah.

I hauled it out of cold storage a coupla’ nights ago, and had to click around to make sure that I was working on the latest file because, y’know, it couldn’t have been since October 2011 that I last opened Home Away Home. Yeesh.

And it’s stupid, because while I’ve caught a few typos and made a few minor revisions here and there, there are only 2-4 spots where major revisions are required, and each of those 2-4 spots is maybe 1000, 1500 words long.

Now, those spots are crucial dialogues—the plausibility of the plot can be said to hang on believability that first dialogue, and the reader’s sense of the characters requires that the other dialogues sound like they’re coming from the characters and not from, well, me—but MAN, holding up a 152,000-word manuscript because I can’t shake loose 5000 good words?

Damn.

So that’s what I’ve been doing—not, y’know, panning for those 5000 words, but checking over the other 147,000 words to make sure that those, at least, are settled. Then I’ll hunker down with those last bits and sift and swirl and go round and round until I find the pieces that fit, until everything fits.

I’ll be damned if that takes me another year.





It’s gone, gone, gone, and it’s never coming back

15 11 2012

File this under “oh for fuck’s sake!”

All City University of New York campuses were closed that Monday-Thursday of the storm, and although weekend classes were held beginning that Friday, most of us didn’t return to work until the following week.

Fine.

The different campuses/CUNY had to decide what to do with that missing week, whether to adjust schedules, extend the semester, write off the time off, etc.

Again, fine. A missed week of instruction is a serious matter, so considering how to deal with it is reasonable.

However.

Not everything can be fixed. There have been suggestions about assigning students extra work, making up classes at another time, scheduling activities outside of the class, which again, while not unreasonable, lead me to that exasperated ohforfuck’ssake.

I put a lot of work into my syllabus, and losing that week matters to me, but it is precisely because I put a lot of thought into the semester’s schedule that I find the suggestions that I shoehorn something extra in just. . . y’know, to pretend that the lost week was not, in fact, lost, really crisps my nippers.

I’m being churlish, I know, and the suggestions offered are not necessarily bad ones, but honest to pete, do administrators really think that either instructors or students can somehow add hours to the week? Do they not understand that students (and their laaaaarrge contingent workforce) have other commitments that might just conflict with the make-up time? Do they in fact think that time is fungible, such that the hours not used during that lost week can somehow be plucked out and glued on to the weeks following?

*grumble mumble piss moan sniff*

The week is gone gone gone daddy gone, and unless my campus is willing to extend the semester a week, we should just say sayonara and be done with it. Anything else is mere Potemkin pedagogy.





All things weird and wonderful, 20

12 03 2012

Afar depression hot spring; photo by George Steinmetz/Nat Geo Photo of the Day

Fifteen or so years ago L. and her friend S. motored over from Wisconsin to pick up me and my friend J. on the way to Wyoming and the Tetons.

Our first day’s drive we made it to Devils Tower (bad name, cool feature) and celebrated by breaking out a six-pack on our way to the campsite. We toured the base the following morning, crabby on instant coffee, then broke camp and hied on over to Yellowstone.

Yellowstone is a massive park full of curious and foolish people. (An example: You are given brochures at the entrance to the park warning you to stay away from the bison. They are as large as a small Honda and can go as fast, one of them said. And probably something about them not being pets. So what do curious and foolish people do? Instead of using their telephoto lens, they crawl under or over the fence to approach the bison.)

(Another example: we decided to pass a  slow-moving RV on one of the few stretches of straight road. There were cars from the other direction heading for us. Our car was a small and old Honda without much pick-up. Nonetheless, we floored it, with all of us leaning forward screaming GoGoGoGoGoGoGoGoGoGoGoGoGooooooooooo! in an effort to give the little sedan a little oomph and scoot in front of the RV before we smashed into the oncoming cars.)

(No curiosity; just foolishness.)

Anyway, there’s a lot that’s cliched about Yellowstone and yeah, Old Faithful is cool and all but, y’know, the effect can be replicated by a machine.

What would be far harder to replicate, however, would be the sulfur pits (or, more accurately, the Artist Paint Pots). It looked like something out of a sci-fi flick or a recreation of what the earth might have looked like a million years ago. There was a crack in the planet and its history poured forth into the present.

Standing there, amidst the stench and steam and mud bubbles popping, I knew how small I was, how small this life was, and what a gift it was to witness the vastness of time stretched across the universe, catching us all up within it.

These hot springs, emerging out of the Afar depression gashed across east Africa, took me back to that moment, caught me back up in the yawn of time.

Make sure to read the story, by Virginia Morell, and click through the rest of Steinmetz’s photos.

Astonishing.





All things weird and wonderful, 6

13 10 2011

Of the contemplative sort:

Annie Dillard, For the Time Being





Tell me why I don’t like Mondays

26 07 2010

Perhaps it has something to do with starting the workday early to try to fix a problem which was uncovered late on Friday and then not knowing if that fix is really enough of a fix and trying to find another way to deal with the problem and having a supervisor (who is genuinely a good guy) not understanding that the combination of the fix and the another-way was probably the best we could do given the time constraints and having to take the time to explain why this was so and then having him suggest that maybe in addition to making sure the patch (to offer up a metaphor) works we could also make the patch pretty until another supervisor (the head honcha and a good one too) said perhaps we can save the pretty for later and the first supervisor saying Uh, yeah, okay that makes sense and by the end of the day running out of time actually to implement the fix/another deal/patch and instead of leaving early because I started early leaving late because I had to explain why the patch should work to the supervisors who did in the end agree that this should work and we really don’t have much choice anyway.

So okay then.





It’s getting better all the time

4 04 2010

I blame Rod Dreher.

No, he didn’t start it—well, maybe he did—but he certainly propelled my thinking back a thousand years or so.

Mr. Dreher, you see, is an American old-school conservative: He’s skeptical of modernity even as he admittedly eats of its fruits; skeptical of government (that’s the American part) even as he decries a culture which, in his view, corrodes human dignity; and a believer in community and roots even as he’s repeatedly moved his family around the country.

I say this not to damn him, not least because he is honest about his contradictions, but to locate, if not the then at least a, source of my current trajectory.

You see, I became interested in one of his contradictions, and took off from there.

Dreher has written (not terribly thoughtfully, for the most part) on Islam and the violence currently associated with it. He then contrasts this to contemporary Christianity, and to the relative lack of similar violence. There are all kinds of commentary one could offer on his views and contrasts, but what squiggled into my brain was his unquestioning acceptance of a main tenet of modernity—why would this professed anti-modern base his critique on a pillar of modern thought?

Time: The notion that there is a forward and a back-ward, and that forward is better than back.

This notion of the forward movement of time, the accretion of knowledge, the betterment of the status of the world, has explicitly informed progressive thought within modernity, but it runs underneath almost all of modern Anglo-American and European thought.

(Disclaimer: I’m not talking about the whole world in my discussion of modernity, or of all forms of modernity—there are forms of modern art and architecture, for example, which are distinct from that of  political theory—but of the set of ideas which emerged out of Europe and which greatly informed European philosophy and political institutions. These ideas have of course also found a home across the globe (not least in the United States), but in attempting to trace the ideas back to there source, I’m confining myself to the United Kingdom and the continent. Finally, I make no claim that these ideas in and of themselves are unique to Europe, but that there particular shape and constellation is historically specific. That is all.)

Okay. So, what got to me about Dreher’s contentions regarding Islam was that Christianity today was ‘better’ in some objective (or at least, intersubjective) way than Islam, that is, that even those who are not Christian would see that Christianity is better for the world than Islam.

I’m neither Christian nor Muslim, so theoretically I could simply dismiss such claims about the relative merits of these religions as a kind of fan jockeying of a sport I don’t follow—except that, contrary to Franklin Foer, religion has been a far greater force in the world than soccer.

In any case, even if it is the case that currently there is less violence associated with Christianity than with Islam, it wasn’t always so: The history of Christian Europe was until very recently a history of warring Europe.

I’ll leave that for another day. What is key is the general formula:  that at time t x was strongly associated with y, and that if at time t+1 x is no longer strongly associated with y it is not to say that x will never again associate with y.

To put it more colloquially, just because it ain’t now doesn’t mean it won’t ever be. That Christianity is no longer warring doesn’t mean it won’t ever war.

To believe otherwise is to believe that the past, being the past, has been overcome, never to return; the future is all—a thoroughly modern notion.

Again, as I’m not a fan of either team, I’m not about to engage in Christian-Muslim chest-bumping. More to the point, shit’s too complex for that.

Besides, that’s not what I’m interested in. In thinking about time, I got to thinking about what else characterizes modernity, and thus what might be post-modern, and oh, are we really post-modern? no I don’t think so even though I once took it for granted (which goes to show the risks of taking things for granted) and maybe where we are is at the edges of modernity and who knows if there’s more modernity beyond this or whether these are the fraying edges and hm how would one know maybe it would make sense to look at that last transition into modernity and what came before that?  the Renaissance but was that the beginning of modernity or the end of what came before that? hmm oh yeah the medieval period and Aquinas and . . .  uh. . .  shit: I don’t know anything about the medieval period.

So that’s why I’m mucking about the past, trying to make sense of those currents within the old regime which led, eventually (although certainly not ineluctably) to the new.

It’s a tricky business, not least because I’m looking at the old through the lens of the new; even talking about ‘looking back’ is a modern sensibility.

So be it: Here is where I stand; I can do no other.

Well, okay, I can crouch, and turn around, and try not to take my stance for granted or to think that my peering into the past will in fact bring me into the past.

But I can still look.

~~~

My starter reading list, on either side and in the midst of.

  • A Splendid Exchange, William J. Bernstein
  • God’s Crucible, David Levering Lewis
  • Eunuchs for the Kingdom of Heaven, Uta Ranke-Heinemann
  • Aristotle’s Children, Richard E. Rubenstein,
  • A World Lit Only By Fire, William Manchester
  • Sea of Faith, Stephen O’Shea
  • The Science of Liberty, Timothy Ferris
  • Betraying Spinoza, Rebecca Newberger Goldstein
  • The Scientific Revolution, Stephen Shapin
  • Leviathan and the Air-Pump, Stephen Shapin and Simon Schaffer
  • Coming of Age in the Milky Way, Timothy Ferris

Suggestions welcome.





Friday poem (Sunday): Our Ground Time Here Will Be Brief

7 03 2010

I’m having problems with time.

It stretches too much here then snaps back and contracts there. It never ends and I don’t know where it’s gone.

Nothing new about this, nothing unique to my life. Who is able, truly, to get hold of time and tuck it in her pocket and happily carry it with her, knowing it will bend and curve  and carry her through her days?

I’m being bowled over by time, undermined at and by that same time; I need to latch myself into it, surf it, live in and with it.

What other option is there?

Still, I haven’t been able to dig my fingers in, still, it slips through me, still, it leaves its marks and I am running and falling back at the same time.

Clearly, I need someone with a better sense than me. No time for exploration this week; I need someone durable and clear.

I need Maxine Kumin.

Our Ground Time Here Will Be Brief

Blue landing lights make
nail holes in the dark.
A fine snow falls. We sit
on the tarmac taking on
the mail, quick freight,
trays of laboratory mice,
coffee and Danish for
the passengers.

Wherever we’re going
is Monday morning.
Wherever we’re coming from
is Mother’s lap.
On the cloud-packed above, strewn
as loosely as parsnip
or celery seeds, lie
the souls of the unborn:

my children’s children’s
children and their father.
We gather speed for the last run
and lift off into the weather.





Friday poem (Sunday): Detached Verses

21 02 2010

It’s pretty clear that I’ve been a bit off with the blogging in general and the Friday poem in particular.

Damn that full time job!

(How long can I damn or curse the bank-account-sustaining office job? Can I turn it into a ‘card’ to be pulled out whenever I get lazy or sullen?)

*Sigh*

Okay, so I know I have to readjust how I think about my free time and how I want to make use or live in it. I work M-F 9-5 and teach Thursday and Friday nights. That’s how it is.

There is time. Maybe not enough, maybe not in the shape or line I’d like, but there is time.

So, in casting about for a Friday/Sunday poem (and yes, I’ll continue to call it ‘Friday poem’ regardless of the day on which it is posted), the theme presented itself.

I thought I’d look for something funny or wry, something witty or sly.

I thought  it might take some time(!) to find the right poem, but I found the right poem in no time at all.

It’s not funny, but there is a taste of wry in the following poem by Abba Kovner (translated from the Hebrew by Eddie Levenston).

And the final admonishment is witty and sly and altogether human.

Detached Verses

1
Soon
Soon you will pass from the darkened room
to another world. Freed from debts
and contacts.

2
One more
One more look
at the neighbor’s garden
and his dog asleep
on the still warm tiles.

3
A headline
A headline still blaring
by the base of an overflowing garbage can.

4
A little
A little longer in the setting light of
the sun.

5
The stub of a moment of parting
from things we ignored when we could still
live erect on our feet.

6
Things we believed would never
fade have already been abandoned
by your memory.

7
If only you had been one of the philosophers!
Giving a flavor of meaning
to ruined buildings, to acts

of heroism, to our fate.

8
Was that leap
into the depths
any easier?

9
Soon
Soon we shall know
if we have learnt to accept that the stars
do not go out when we die.








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