1. Climate Denial 101: Why it’s the fault of the left-wing media that many believe this is happening now.
2. Survival of the Dumbest 101: The evidence against Darwinism.
3. Alchemy 101: You too can make your own gold coins!
4. God & Your Country 101: Why free speech (and even comic strips and certainly blasphemous artwork) concerning religious icons, divinities, and practices will soon be banned. Amen.
So this is a story I heard, more or less, with a few minor changes:
I’m just a middle-aged guy, a little on the heavy side, a nose like a beak, yeah okay, not your type, but I’m a nice guy, all the same, and I’m looking to meet someone. So I go to bars, and you know, say nice things to ladies. Nothing. No one’s into me. It’s bad. It’s like everyone’s saying you’re not my kind. So I put an ad in the Personals: 50 + man looking for sweet young thing. I don’t say exactly that, but I get my message across. But no one calls, so I start checking around on my own. And I see this chick . . . Well, there was more than one. But I see them in this window, and at first it’s just a glimpse. I know. I just know. This my chance So I go on in, and I try to get the girls to talk to me. The first is a total failure. You know how that goes. And the second? She doesn’t seem to mind. Too much. Not like she’s walking away, but she doesn’t answer. So I get my nerve up. I give her a pick on the cheek. Just a peck. No big deal, right? You’d have thought I killed her. What happened then . . . Yeah, okay, so someone made a little video of it. I guess he thought it was funny--watching the fat guy after the chicks. http://www.eecs.berkeley.edu/~jima/free.mov
I was cleaning up the kitchen, and I came across these brown paper bags I used ages ago for packing lunches. Every time I see brown paper bags, I think of first grade. The first day of first grade when Lisa D, who was sitting across from me, started eating her brown paper bag.
What are you doing? I asked.
I'm eating my bag, she said.
Why are you eating your bag?
Do you dare me to eat the whole bag?
Lisa ate her bag, piece by piece, wadding it up and showing me as she chewed until Mrs. Wallace took her half-eaten bag away.
On the way home Mom asked me how my day went.
Lisa ate her bag, I said.
She ate her bag?
Yep. Her brown paper bag.
Oh well. It's a good thing it was a BROWN paper bag. She probably got some good fiber in that bag. A brown bag, you know, is so much better than a white bag. More natural. Because they bleach the paper to make it white, just like they bleach flour to make it white. That's why I don't let you eat Wonder Bread.
Last week a poet-friend of mine said she didn’t understand the economic crisis. It was “like way too complicated.” But she justified her ignorance on the grounds that she was a poet. So what did it have to do with her? Maybe she’s right. But I want to tell this story about the judge of a poetry contest. A true story. It happened a while ago . . .
1. It began with a poetry press that was struggling a bit, and it really wanted to survive. It needed to make some money fast.
2. The press decided to run a contest. The editor-in-chief thought that the more people it could entice to enter its contest, the more profit it could make. One way to ensure many entries and lots of attention was to ask a famous poet to judge. He had his heart set on one famous poet.
But the famous poet didn’t want to be a judge. (Who can blame him? Really, reading manuscripts for contests sucks!)
Oh please! You will give this contest credibility, the editor said to the famous poet. And we will make a more money off of the contest because everyone will want to be the poet chosen by a famous poet.
3. So the famous poet made a secret a deal.
The deal was that he would “judge” the contest if he could be assured that his poet-friend would enter the contest, and that the poet-friend’s manuscript would be among the finalists.
4. The deal was made. Many folks entered the contest. The famous poet judged the contest. And his poet-friend was selected. And the press, the famous poet, and the famous poet’s friend were all very happy. And unapologetic.
5. The famous poet said that his friend was much smarter and more talented than anyone else. He said he knew his friend’s book was the winner without even reading the other entries. (Never mind that there are rules against selecting books by friends, relatives, former students, etc. )
What if the story went like this?
1. There was once an investment bank that wanted to make a ton money.
2. The bank decided that the fastest and easiest way to make money was to sell crap to buyers. The more people the bank could entice into buying real crap, the more money it could make
But the bank was unhappy because that there were regulations about selling real crap.
3. So the bank made a secret deal with the government that was supposed to regulate the selling of crap. Or better yet, the bank’s own top people became treasury secretary (for one administration after another)! And soon there were no regulations stopping the bank from selling crap! Ta-dah!
4. So the investment bank sold crap. Lots and lots of crap!
5. And the bank and all its own people made tons and tons of money. And the bank and the government keep saying nothing is wrong with this picture. It’s not their fault that the people keep buying crap. No one meant for the crap-buying to happen like that.
I have heard some on the media say how smart those Wall Street bankers are. (At least certain ones, the ones with the closest link to the politicians.) They’re so smart in fact, they deserve to make billions.
And we're dumb enough to buy that crap, right?
And to think, the dance between bankers and the government just keeps going on.
I am often asked the following questions, and I always forget my own answers. Of course the real answers would be ERF or BERAP, as defined in other blog posts, but in the absence of ERF and BERAP, I decided to compose a few answers that might prove useful at a later date.
Question 1: Can you tell me the difference btw fiction and poetry?
It’s sort of like the difference between potato fritters and crème brule. While potato fritters and crème brule are both food, both made of edible ingredients, both meant to nourish the body, one wouldn’t want to be served one when ordering the other.
Question 2. Can you tell me the difference btw prose poetry and just, you know, poetry?
It’s sort of like the difference btw night and day. I mean, you might think at first glance they are very different. But of course they are both just times of the day. The only real difference is the absence of sunlight, which is rather a relief from time to time. But you are the same person, whether it is night or day, and a poem can still be a poem whether it is in prose or in verse.
Question 3. But what’s the difference btw flash fiction and prose poetry then?
It’s sort of like the difference between life and death. Of course they are very different, life and death, but you are still a body, whether you are alive or dead, right? (Assuming one is only recently passed.) In this way, there can be elements of flash fiction in prose poetry and prose poetry in flash fiction, just as there are elements of life in death and death in life. And one can see life in death and perhaps life in death (or so the faithful say). So just as the apparent structure of you is still you, dead or alive, so it is with prose poetry and flash fiction.
Question 4. So which is more alive, prose poetry or flash fiction?
As noted above, the differences between the dead and the living might seem self-evident but are not necessarily. So it is really a matter of taste. What do like more? What faith or party do you belong to? Are you Christian or Buddhist? Democrat or Republican? Do you believe in the afterlife? Eternal damnation? Or heavenly bliss?
Again, these might seem to be polar opposites, but upon closer observation you might note that soon the collection plate will be passed . . . and you, my dear, must give your heart and soul. But at what price?
Question 5. Do you see any difference between truth and bullshit?
It's sort of like the difference between salt and pepper. While at first taste, they do seem quite different, and while one is deemed healthful and can be used in excess, and the other is not, they are both flavor-enhancing additions to any meal. And I would advise ample use of both.
But I think they should add some options below the posts. Something besides LIKE. Again I am thinking of ERF and BERAP. The erf being "I can stand this post, but only barely." The berap being something between a burp and a splat.
Here's how FACEBOOK usually works for writers. And why it's so great . . . for writers. (Are writers the only ones who do this?)
Wanna be my friend?
We're friends! You can even look at me now! WOW! Check it out!
Look at me, friend!
Here I am looking FABULOUS!!
Look at me, friend!
Here I am with all the literary magazines I was published in this year! Can you believe how big the stack is! What a year! I mean, that's me on the cover of The Paris Review!
Look at me, friend!
Here I am giving a reading in New York! And here I am in Seattle! And oh, here I am in LA! And here I am in Tulsa! And here I am in London!
Look at me, friend! Here I am with FAMOUS POETS. I love this photo of me and the FAMOUS POETS!
Look at me, Friend! I have just won a HUGE award! I AM SO GREAT! I mean, wow!!!! It's me! Me! Me!!!
Look at me, friend! Here I am celebrating my BIG AWARD! Yep, that's me, looking 20 years younger in that little black dress! I know, I know. Hard to believe how fabulous I look. (Good thing you can doctor photos before you post them, but hey!)
Look at me, friend! Here I am in my own new reality TV show! Living the life of a FAMOUS POET!!! See me write! See me give readings! See me with my new books! See me with my awards! See me! See me! See me! It's all about me!
I have been thinking more about the need for an erf or a berap. Especially for a writer. First I am still trying to define the terms. I am thinking . . .
An erf :
1. A polite, sometimes longwinded way of saying I have no good answer for that question.
2. An eloquent bit of bullshit, best spoken with a British accent, which often translates into I don't really have an answer for this question. Or: Hell no.
3. A verbal burp or splat ( contents vary depending on the extremity of the circumstances)
A berap: an extreme erf
Another Q and A moment where the erf might come in handy:
Question: Which of your books of poems has spiritual pieces that I could read aloud at the end of yoga class?
Question: Do you have any poems that are sweet? Like you know, greeting cards?
Do you think writers are more spiritual? Especially poets?
I know I probably shouldn't say this, but there are certain questions you always get in Q & A. And in interviews. Certain questions I never answer honestly. If I did, the answer would be either (a) no, or (b) I have no clue, or (c) . . .
I really think there should be another answer: (c) Something between a burp and a splat.
A kind of erf or berap.
So the interview might go:
Question 1: Do you have a certain routine or program you stick to? Do you always write in a certain way? At a certain time?
Berap! (Oh do excuse me) Berap!
Question 2: Why do you write prose poems?
Question 3: What do you think about the fact that no one reads poetry, much less prose poetry?
Berap! Berap! Berap!
When did you first know you would be a writer?
What did your parents think of your poetry?
Berap! Berap! Berap! Berap! (Oh, my insides really are a problem.)
Do you consider yourself a Midwestern poet?
Erf (though I have noticed how many writers are very careful to say that they are transplants to the Midwest. Unless they live in Chicago.)
How/why did you get published? Can you get me published too? Will you read my manuscript? My girlfriend's manuscript? My dead mother's manuscript?
Okay, so I know this has nothing to do with writing, though it does have to do with personal faith, the creation of meaning, logic, etc.. Maybe. But as a former religion and philo student,
I've often wondered, how does one mix capitalism with the teachings of the New Testament? (Are the meek somehow translated to mean the CEOs?) It sometimes seems that the more Christian the radio, the more capitalist the preachers and the talk . . . And yet, how does one reconcile so many of the passages? I'll paste a few below, but they sound more socialist to me . . . and yes, it just baffles me. Not that it's worth the time to baffle over, but hey.
Luke.4.18 The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
Matt.19.21 Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”
Luke.14.13 But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind,
And thou shall be blessed for they cannot recompense thee;
Mark.14.7 For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you want, you can do good for them. But you will not always have me.
Tomorrow Night I read at Hamilton College with Jo Pitkin, another Hamilton graduate. Or maybe I should say Kirkland College graduate. Hamilton swallowed the women's college, Kirkland, and Jo was a few years ahead of me . . . In any case, Jo is amazing, and I am looking forward to hearing her read.
I was interested to read in Newsweek that Hamilton is now rated as one of the top 20 suburban schools. But I wonder how they define suburban. After all, it's in Clinton, New York, which has about 1000 residents, if that. But maybe it has changed. Maybe I will find out today that Clinton is now an expanding town, filled with new shops, hotels, businesses . . .
I was talking with a friend yesterday who told me a story about his mother . . .
His mother, always a frugal, hard-working woman, is getting older, and at some point (he doesn’t know when it started), she started to lose touch with reality. The first symptom?
She started writing checks out to strangers. In a matter of months she went through $60,000. She would write checks for hundreds of dollars and mail them off to scam artists, and then wait for her million dollar check to arrive in the mail.
How long would she wait? I asked.
Oh, he said, she’s still waiting. Sometimes they even call her and tell her the check is the mail. Once when he was visiting, someone phoned to say they were in the neighborhood. They would arrive at her doorstep in a matter of minutes.
And she always believes them?
Yes! Sometimes a check does arrive. She takes it to the bank and tries to cash it. Of course it isn’t a real check.
Now my friend is her guardian. His mother is livid. It’s my money, she insists. I worked hard for it, and I can do with it as I please.
She also says those men who call her to tell her the check is coming are so nice. You have no idea how nice they are.
Another friend, Mary, is an aspiring author of creative nonfiction. She’s always asking me how much of her essays can be creative, and how much nonfiction. What is the balance?
Ever since James Frey’s fiasco with Oprah, writers have been worried about the line between fact and fiction.
I suggested she call it fiction, and say whatever she wants, but she says she doesn’t know how to create a story, make up a plot. Life, she says, lacks plot.
But isn’t that where the creativity comes in? I ask. You have to shape whatever life you’ve experienced into a little boat people want to sail around in for a while.
Maybe, she says. Maybe that’s why I can’t publish my work. I can’t make up a story that sells.
Do you think truth is dull? she asks.
3. The Media
Why is it that writers of memoir and fiction worry more about the truth these days when the media and the advertisers seem to care less and less?
4. Climate Change
I read this morning on grist.org that now all the GOP senators deny global warming.
It’s not a story that wins elections.
Yes, the last GOP senator to admit the simple truth, that climate change is real,was beaten by Christine O’ Donnell.
O’Donnell who speaks out not only against climate change legislation but also against masturbation.
Masturbation, she seems to be saying, is against God’s will.
I can’t help picturing it. With all the problems in the world, God is not worried one bit about the consequences of climate change. Floods, famine, war, hurricanes, etc..
Instead God is peeping into your windows at night . . .
The other day I was in the health food store in Ellsworth, Maine and I heard this salesman explaining to a woman why she should spend $14 bucks on a small container of deodorant.
This deodorant, he explained, changes the climate of your underarms. And with the change of climate comes a change of bacterial count. And with the change in bacterial count comes a change in the type of bacteria your armpit produces, so pretty soon you won't have any odor-causing sweat. Amazing product. Because what happens next is that after a while you don't need deodorant at all. Me, for example. I never need deodorant anymore, even when it's 95 degrees outside. I only needed a few months of this expensive deodorant but it really paid off.
But the secret is, he added, you can't use ANY other kind of deodorant because that will mess up the climate and the bacterial balance. And then you will smell worse than ever.
The woman nodded and put the deodorant in her cart.
He was so convincing, how could she resist?
I wondered after how many products I have bought over the years, buying into some absurd logic. What is the dumbest thing I've ever spent money on?
I think of those dumb homeopathic vials that make you relax. Right. Relaxing drops. Jeepers. And those pillows to reduce neck pain. And . . .
What about those books that teach you how to write a great poem? I own a few but never read them. Maybe that's what I need to do, come to think about it.
Ask me if I wrote a poem today, and I will answer, Theoretically. Ask me if I love poetry, and I will answer, Theoretically. Ask me if I can do X or Y, and I will answer . . .
What I mean is something like, Maybe. Maybe not. Or, It depends on how you define poem. Or love.
I sometimes think it's words like theory and theoretically that separate the poets, the journalists, the politicians, from the scientists.
The first time I noticed this difference was a few years ago when a friend who is a doctor asked for a sip of my water. I said I had a cold, but she was welcome to take a chance. Ah, she answered, I am not a big believer in germ theory. Not when I'm this thirsty.
Germ theory? I asked. That's not a theory. Germs are a reality. She smiled and took a swig of my water.
A week later, my friend was very sick, coughing and spewing. She had a cold, not in theory but in reality.
As a joke she offered me some of her water. Would you like a theoretical cold?
Reading the Laux poem on Writer's Almanac today, I was reminded me of the sex panel she was on at AWP. It was an amazing panel really. I could not even begin to do it justice here. Before I went to it, I thought, this will be a waste of my time. Do I really need to endure another AWP panel on eroticism? Am I really going to believe the claim that writers of the erotic in this day and age are censored?
I was surprised to find that this panel was excellent, and I think it did go past the comfort zones of many in the audience (it seemed so in my part of the room). The authors were all extremely prepared, explicit, surprising, and varied.
The real surprise to me was Laux who stood up and said, among other things, I'm waiting for the poets who will write about sex after 65, sex after the vaginal walls have thinned, sex after the penis no longer rises and rises. (I am not quoting her here, though I am trying my best to reconstruct her words. A few variations of her commentary were run by me at the bar later that night, and I have them mixed in with what she already said. You can see the opportunity for humor here, no doubt.) Laux commented on how she and her husband are quite content now to have sexless nights. (Did she call them sexless nights? Probably not. Yes, I think that was part of the bar talk, too . . . Let me talk about my sexless nights on this panel . . . ) It's just part of what we all have to look forward to, she said. I think she said . . .
I did hear a few people say that Laux was the most disappointing speaker there.
She reminded me of a yoga teacher who told me once that in my twenties and thirties, I was in the age of the body. I should do more postures. Perfect the art of the body. In my forties and fifties, I would be in the age of the mind. I should contemplate more. Be a philosopher. Sharpen and focus my mind. In my last years, I should meditate. I should enter the age of the soul. Learn to be still, find peace. Not keep asking for more. Always more.
Yes, to have no greed. That was the goal of the aging yogi.
Somehow the message of peaceful evenings felt at odds with the energy of AWP.
I was at this bar once with a bunch of English professors when one professor suddenly suggested we all confess our literary sins. We should admit what great books we dislike.
He started by admitting that he had never read Moby Dick, nor did he ever want to. He had, in fact, taught it once.
Another said he despised Henry James so much, he had suggested the students to read Cliff Notes instead. This was at a college where Cliff Notes were not allowed.
A third one said he didn't care for contemporary American poetry. It's too sloppy, too undefined, too anything goes.
Have you read much of it? the others asked.
No, he admitted. I don't read what I don't like.
How can you do that and be an English professor? I asked. Everyone laughed.
I noticed suddenly that no one wanted to confess anymore. I didn't want to join in with my dislike of Sylvia Plath. I know, as a woman poet of my generation, I am supposed to love her, but I am allergic to her voice.
There was a heavy weight in the air just then, like the ghosts of the unmentioned dead were waiting behind our chairs, listening for their names to be called. I could almost see Sylvia watching me, twirling her long blonde hair.
I heard on the Daily Buzz the other night that fracking is coming to Youngstown. Everyone is thrilled about this because it means there will be jobs! No one is talking about the actual process of fracking. They are just thrilled we have natural gas reserves here.
If you don't know what fracking is, it's the practice of fracturing the shale to get to the natural gas. I can't say I understand it yet, but I know it's not pretty. Here's an excerpt from an article on the subject from www.inthesetimes.com:
Fracking or "tapping the shale raises plenty of environmental and human impact concerns of its own, including the potentially devastating effects of hydraulic fracturing, or “hydro-fracking." Toxic chemicals derived from diesel and including benzene, toluene and xylene are injected into methane gas or coal beds to extract gas during fracking. Fracking is known to contaminate the water supply—a precious resource for low-income well users in Appalachia—and result in other serious environmental effects.
Citizens' groups have called for a moratorium on the practice in New York state, and a monitoring plan for liquid waste—sometimes radioactive—created by the operations. In April, the EPA said it would take a closer look at fracking."
And if that's not bad news enough, I will add this tidbit:
The American Petroleum Institute is spending a ton of money on a new ad campaign to prevent Congress from passing new taxes or setting any new restrictions on their drilling. What will happen to us if we don't do exactly what the oil industry wants us to do??
API threatens. . . 'As the nation struggles to recover from recession, further taxes on an industry that supports 9.2 million jobs and 7.5 percent of our GDP could have a devastating effect on our jobs, economic recovery and our energy security, according to the leading oil and natural gas trade association.'"
Oh, the threat by these friendly, caring corporations! Just think how it would hurt them to pay their share of taxes!
Last night I was reading a book by one of my favorite prose poets, Morton Marcus. It's hard to imagine that he's gone now. He died of cancer last March. His work is so vibrant, so alive, and I can still see his face in the audience when I had the honor of reading in Santa Cruz two years ago. Although I'd read this collection several times, I'd never noticed that he had corrected it, adding a few commas in black ink, trying to make them look like the print.
I had to laugh. I thought I was the only one who did that, though usually I can't stand to look at my books. Once they are in print, I want to change everything about them. I can imagine myself as a ghost, trying to come back and correct any pages where my poems appear.
Okay, so this is a review from Amazon for a deet-free bug repellent . . .
I started wearing this to keep the cockroaches from crawling on my face at night. It worked great! That is until my wife left me. It turns out she was actually a bug this whole time. Don't buy this if you can't handle losing your loved ones.
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A dragon swoops out the sky and takes me to another land where the wee people live.
My husband is one of the green dragons, and I am safe because he keeps the evil ones at bay.
Tiny green men are rushing to my side, healing my wounds, the ones no one else can see.
Each of these lines are from stories and essays I have read while teaching creative writing to middle-aged writers at various conferences. In all three cases the writers insisted that this really happened. They weren’t writing sci-fi. Hadn’t I, too, seen dragons?
One man told me I would understand if I had a third eye. If I had any spiritual intuition. He was a shaman himself. He could heal people like me. Blind people like me. I asked him if he took mushrooms or acid, and he said no. Not all the time.
A few weeks ago I was reading a book about spiritual leaders who took acid. I was so disappointed to read that Huston Smith’s deep revelation of communion with God occurred on an acid trip. I told this to my friend who insisted that he might have had this experience even if he weren’t on acid. But he didn’t, I answered.
Steroids continue to be a topic for the sports news. Most recently the steroid sport in the news was biking. Does Lance take them? everyone asks. These days I assume all the great athletes are just one step ahead of the drug police. I wonder what new drug will produce what new world record? I sometimes wonder what it would be like to run as fast as Marion Jones or Carl Lewis, or to race the Tour de France with the power of someone like Lance Armstrong.
Maybe we could all run and bike like the wind and live like superheroes. So what if all our men had tiny penises and our women grew chest hairs and beards?
I remember learning in history class that we have two political parties in the U.S.. One is bought by the corporations and the rich and is designed to help the rich become richer. The other is half-bought by the corporations and the rich and tries to live with half a conscience.
But why, I would ask, why can’t we have a few politicians who aren’t bought?
They wouldn’t have the money to win, now would they? the teacher replied.
Okay, maybe we so need some green dragons to save the planet . . .
If only they came in a drug-free form . . . and cleaned up oil spills and yeah, okay. I think it's time to sign off . . .
This whole BP event is so upsetting. I sometimes find it hard to write. I feel so helpless.
Of course this won't be the first or last horrible event in which an oil company destroys our environment as we sit back and watch.
Several summers ago, in 2004 I think, I visited Suzanne in Quito, Ecuador. She had been working with an NGO there that helps keep street boys off the streets. In the airport, we met a lawyer working on the case of Ecuador against Chevron.
It was the first I’d heard of the case in which Chevron is accused by the indigenous people of Ecuador of dumping 20 million gallons of toxic waste into their rainforest, polluting the rivers and land.
The indigenous have no running water, the lawyer explained, and they use the river for drinking and bathing still. As a result a lot of the people have cancer and other diseases.
She talked for a while about the details of the case. Could they actually win this case? I asked.
Chevron, she said, will probably keep this case in the courts for a long time, bleeding us of money as they continue to pollute other parts of the world. We won’t give up, she added with a smile. Of course, no one in the US will know or care. It’s not happening to their water.
But, she added, with the US in the hands of the oil companies, the US judges will probably rule in favor of Chevron.
But even that is not cause to give up.
I just looked up the case, and the lawyer was right. It's still not settled.
Suzanne's post below, I think, is a nice companion piece to this entry:
I read this letter in Jim's APS News in which one is being advised not to use the word "seminal," and the article really pricked my interest. I particularly like the cockiness of the author, his dictatorial manner and voice as he goes about informing all of us why we might not want to use the word, "seminal," again. I thought maybe this could be the opening for a seminal piece on the word, seminal.
"A listserv for college educators that I belong to recently had a post recommending a "seminal article." A response gently suggest that we try to avoid the sexist and sexual words such as "seminal" and use alternatives such as groundbreaking, cutting edge, leading edge, and foundational.
This aroused much controversy in this usually decorous forum, with levels of passion usually reached among academics only for the topic of grade inflation. One side argued that the word seminal was innocuous, the issue trivial, and the reaction a symptom of political correctness run amok. The other side said that since many did find the word distasteful and alternatives were available, why not retire it except for use in its narrow, technical sense?
Soon after that episode, I received my March 2010 issue of APS News with its list of prize and award winners and found the following words used to describe the achievement: seminal(6), pioneering (4), leadership (4), contribution (3), groundbreaking (2), elucidation (2), original (1), brilliant (1), revolutionary (1), insightful (1).
While seminal was the winner, it seems we have good alternatives. At the risk of provoking a fresh round of protests in this venue, perhaps we could suggest to prize committees that they use these alternatives whenever possible."
Okay, so who among us has the cajones to go around policing the use of the word, seminal? If it's you, if you are just dickish enough, well . . . It looks like there might be a job for you in academia after all.
The other day I was sipping coffee, listening to parents brag about their wonderful children.
My Joe is going to OSU on a scholarship, one mom said. Football, yep. How's Francine? She's going to Duke? Well, I guess her father went there. Not that that's how she got in, but, well . . .
I was reminded of a time when I was listening to my father at a cocktail party many years ago, when all his friends were bragging about their brilliant kids, each one trying to one-up the others. My father jumped in . . .
My son's marijuana crop was excellent this year. His plants must be six feet tall. Would anyone like to see them--- They're up in the corner pasture . . .
The room went silent. Only the sound of ice in cocktail glasses.
Well, I hope he doesn't end up behind bars, Mrs. Thomas commented finally.
No worry. I have heard that the sheriff enjoys a toke now and then, my father laughed.
(Not that my father was telling the truth about the sheriff . . . )
Another time, he was at the barn with some of his friends when the conversation turned to bragging. My father let out a fart as loud as thunder.
Again it went silent. Then Tiny, the blacksmith, started giggling.
Just like the horses, my father sighed And everyone joined in with the laughing.
Well, that being said. I have to admit am one proud mother right now. Proud of my daughter, Suzanne, who is working for Catholic Relief Services this summer in El Salvador, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Honduras . . . Proud of my son, Jimmy, who passed his quals . . .
Okay, now I hear my father farting his applause in heaven . . .
If you kill off the prairie dogs there will be no one to cry for rain.
- Navajo warning
Amused scientists, knowing that there was no conceivable relationship between prairie dogs and rain, recommended the extermination of all burrowing animals in some desert areas planted to rangelands in the 1950s "in order to protect the sparse desert grasses. Today the area (not far from Chilchinbito, Arizona) has become a virtual wasteland."
- Bill Mollison, PERMACULTURE
Water under the ground has much to do with rain clouds. If you take the water from under the ground, the land will dry up.
- Hopi elder
Burrowing creatures, such as prairie dogs, open millions upon millions of tubes in the soil of Earth. As Mollison notes, these "burrows of spiders, gophers, and worms are to the soil what the alveoli of our lungs are to our body." As the moon passes overhead the underground aquifers rise and fall and Earth breathes out moisture-laden air. This exhalation of negative-ion-charged air through the many fissures and tubes opened by the burrowing creatures helps create rain.
How could indigenous peoples have known this? By all our standards of scientific knowledge they could not. We have neglected to realize that indigenous peoples have always had access to the finest probe ever conceived, one that makes scientific instruments coarse in comparison, one that all human beings in all places and times have had access to: the focused power of human consciousness.
A friend of mine once explained everything she did (or everything that she did that was peculiar) as--It's cultural. She was just from the south.
I was thinking about cultural differences the other day, how one word or habit doesn't translate exactly into another.
How, for example, in this country, if a person bows his head and fiddles with his lap, you might assume he is texting. In France, I am told, it's very rude to look down and do something with your hands like that. One makes a very different assumption.
Once I asked a French guest what he found most peculiar about Americans. We were driving on the freeway at the time. He said, Americans pass on the right. And then he grinned. And they are SO extra-extra large. You guys need to stay on the ground. I don't want to fly in an airplane with too many Americans.
A Spanish friend once commented on the Americans love of violence, esp. on TV. Our comfort with violence, she said, is really weird. She said that in Spain folks don't relax by watching Arnold. At the same time, they aren't alarmed by nudity. A woman's bare breasts, for example, are seen in an ad that everyone watches on TV.
So Americans, she concluded, are more comfy letting their kids see folks bloodied and blown to bits than letting them see bare breasts. Is that so?
Then she asked . . .
Why is it okay for one president in the U.S. to invade Iraq and cause so much death and destruction, and why is it not okay for another to have an affair with a girl called Monica. Why is the first considered a good Christian, no matter how many lives he wastes. The other is considered morally corrupt?
I attended a lecture once where a Tibetan monk laughed about how Americans don't think they will ever die. They think reincarnation means they can live forever. That Buddhism is like a Disney movie. My lovely young Americans, he said, please understand. We are all mortals here. Yes, even the Dalai Lama. If you learn nothing else from me, please learn this one lesson. You will die.
I am tired! I had my last reading away from home for a while at Wooster College this week. Amazing. Wooster College. It was my second visit there. What a sweet place. Driving there, I kept worrying that I'd missed it. I mean, the drive takes you through Amish country and farmland and one tiny town . . . and somehow seems forever. But then suddenly, out of nowhere, this little college appears. What a college! All immaculate and impressive with its new and old buildings, its green lawns and sports facilities and . . . But what is most impressive are the students. So young, so beautiful (okay, so I'm getting old), so smart, and so engaged. One telling me about Aristotle and Locke, another referring to his paper on Beowulf, another talking about her love of the German language, another about his acceptance to Columbia for graduate work.
And to think, I didn't even know this college existed before I moved to Ohio.
AWP was the great this year! The panels, the city, the organization, the book fair, the hotel . . . From the shuttle ride in to the shuttle ride out, I was totally entertained. The company of writers can be the best medicine, esp. in times like this.
Last night I read with January Gill O'Neil in Brookliine. Her first book, Underlife, was also published by CavanKerry Press. She is such an amazing writer--and a fellow Virginian. It was so much fun reading with her. I hope everyone runs out and buys her book!
All of us collect fortunes when we are children--a fortune of colors, of lights and darkness, of movements, of tensions. Some of us have the fantastic chance to go back to this fortune when grown up.
Ingmar Bergman quoted in Time December, 1980
Sometimes, at the end of a long day of writing, I feel so tired and so achy, and yet so lucky. Lucky to have had a long day of writing with few interruptions. Lucky, lucky, lucky to be able to say, I was there in the middle of so much of what Bergman calls my fortunes that I have collected and recollected so many times.
I've become addicted to short stories lately. This morning I was blown away by two stories, "The Thing Around Your Neck," by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. And "How to Date a Brown Girl, Black Girl, White Girl, or Halfie" by Junot Diaz.
It's been snowing nonstop. Just outside our porch two deer have made a nest in the snow. I can just see their heads over the two plus feet of snow. When the dogs go out, they turn and stare at us sleepily, as if to say, Please don't bother us. We're comfortable here.
This morning I was listening to a New Yorker podcast of Shirley Jackson's famous story, "The Lottery." What I didn't know was that this story angered many subscribers to the magazine. Many readers cancelled their subscriptions and wrote angry letters.
Funny, I can't imagine a story causing so much excitement today.
Out of the blue, this book came in the mail from Amazon. High on Arrival by Mackenzie Phillips. I didn’t order it, and I don’t want it. I'm not high on its arrival. I contacted Amazon and was told me the book’s arrival in my box was a mistake, but they don’t want it back.
So now I own this book. I heard it reviewed on NPR but only remember that Mackenzie had sex with her father. Which reminded me of that book The Kiss by Katheryn Harrison, a memoir of incest. The Kiss was both revolting and engrossing. Katheryn Harrison was like a voyeur, standing outside her own doorway, luxuriating in her own demise. The memoir was beautifully written, but I don’t ever want to read about incest again.
I wondered, after reading the book, if incest is more common than I think. I remembered how when I was a girl, there was this one girl in my class, Resa (not her real name), who was beyond mean. She was one of those beautiful little girls who would torture the uglies in the class, or rather, she would inspire others to torture the uglies.
Funny, how I never noticed the boys picking on each other in that way. Instead they held magnifying glasses over flies and watched their wings burn. Maybe that’s what the mean girls did in their own ways.
I was never friends with Resa, but one year, she did invite me to her birthday party. We were in fifth grade. All I remember about the party was that her father gave her tons of boxes of skimpy lingerie and sexy nighties. All of the nighties were lime green. She slipped into one and flitted around the living room, looking like a lunar moth as she waved her skinny arms in the air.
A few years ago, I read this book by John Perkins that said that our country was turning into a corporatocracy. His book, though a great read, read like a piece of conspiracy theory. But it was an easy and fun read, and the logic of the book stuck with me. In short, he said the US is run by corporate greed, and its corporations abuse 3rd world countries in unspeakable ways. Not a new theory, but the book was interesting and extreme. Of course, of course, I know others have said this in other ways, but Perkins' book made this theory into a thrilling novel (yep, an economic thriller).
Ever since then, I have seen evidence of all that he said and more.
But one thing I didn't realize until reading the article below (I'll excerpt it and give a link) is that our new Supreme Court ruling has invited a kind of global corporate influence into our elections. In other words we could feel the impact of Chinese corporations or Saudi or . . .
"The Court's decision is far, far more dangerous to U.S. democracy. Think: Manchurian candidates.
I'm losing sleep over the millions — or billions — of dollars that could flood into our elections from ARAMCO, the Saudi Oil corporation's U.S. unit; or from the maker of "New Order" fashions, the Chinese People's Liberation Army. Or from Bin Laden Construction corporation. Or Bin Laden Destruction Corporation.
Right now, corporations can give loads of loot through PACs. While this money stinks (Barack Obama took none of it), anyone can go through a PAC's federal disclosure filing and see the name of every individual who put money into it. And every contributor must be a citizen of the USA.
But under today's Supreme Court ruling that corporations can support candidates without limit, there is nothing that stops, say, a Delaware-incorporated handmaiden of the Burmese junta from picking a Congressman or two with a cache of loot masked by a corporate alias.
Candidate Barack Obama was one sharp speaker, but he would not have been heard, and certainly would not have won, without the astonishing outpouring of donations from two million Americans. It was an unprecedented uprising-by-PayPal, overwhelming the old fat-cat sources of funding.
Well, kiss that small-donor revolution goodbye. Under the Court's new rules, progressive list serves won't stand a chance against the resources of new "citizens" such as CNOOC, the China National Offshore Oil Corporation. Maybe UBS (United Bank of Switzerland), which faces U.S. criminal prosecution and a billion-dollar fine for fraud, might be tempted to invest in a few Senate seats. As would XYZ Corporation, whose owners remain hidden by "street names."
The Supreme Court has ruled that corporations may spend freely to support or oppose candidates for president and Congress, easing decades-old limits on their participation in federal campaigns.
The court on Thursday overturned a 20-year-old ruling that said corporations can be prohibited from using money from their general treasuries to pay for campaign ads. The decision almost certainly will also allow labor unions to participate more freely in campaigns and threatens similar limits imposed by 24 states.
The justices also struck down part of the landmark McCain-Feingold campaign finance bill that barred union- and corporate-paid issue ads in the closing days of election campaigns.
I had a dream that Oprah decided to start a news channel That would go up against Fox. I woke up wishing it were so. I woke up thinking Only Oprah can save us now. Jim said I should write her. I've been thinking about it. Dear Oprah, I had a dream. You were the queen of TV. You owned your own newsroom. And all of the good people were regulars on your show. Nelson Mandela, Wangari Maathai, Paul Farmer . . .
And at the opening of each episode, Someone would say To the beef companies: I will not ever Eat that shit. (Okay, so they'd say it eloquently.) And everyone would stop eating it. Just like that.
A few days ago I was listening to the news as I flipped channels, and I heard one reporter ask if our US policies (in the past) were somewhat responsible for the poverty in Haiti. What policy would that be? The phone rang, and I turned off the news. Below --a really good article that answers that question.
What a sad proverb . . . When you are poor, everything can be blamed on you.
I've been reworking my entry from ages ago about the dangerous kiss. I think I'm getting closer to it now. Maybe.
I will enter it again. See how it works, and if. I already published it in Gargoyle, but I'm still not quite happy with it. Not sure about the ending, I guess.
The Dangerous Kiss
Strange things have been happening lately. How can I explain? I don't know if I want to admit this, but I am beginning to fear my Gmail. Gmail has this sidebar, and whatever information I type into a letter, Gmail replicates in the form of ads. Or that's what it used to do. Lately it has taken up replicating what I haven't typed. It has been replicating the contents of my innermost psyche. I am beginning to think it is reading my mind.
Today, for example, it says: Dangerous Kissing Tip-make him wish for more. I haven't been writing about kissing at all. Have I been thinking of it? I don't know, but I am now. Such kisses, too! How can I not want to know the dangerous kissing tip? Can Gmail give me the tip?
As soon as I click on the link to the dangerous kissing tip, I read the lines: Is he losing interest? Learn the secret psychology of getting a man hooked for good. Is he losing interest? Now I am worried. But then I read that I can learn how to understand men at last. And how to beat them at their own games!
I feel better, even if I don't know how to win. Victory is assured. I envision men kneeling before me. But I still want to know about that dangerous kissing tip. What happened to it? I hate to admit this, but I have a kissing fetish. I want to learn all about the dangerous kisses that wander freely in the world.
I do a search for the dangerous tip, but it doesn't surface. I find a site that displays all the types of kisses one can master, from the never-forget-me kiss to the tell-all kiss to the kiss-that-can-kill. I'm not a fan of vampires. But a never-forget-me kiss sounds nice. I click on it and the site asks for my SSN, my birth date, and the secret ingredients of my life. No, I tell myself. No. I can't tell the computer any more than it already knows, no matter how much I want to learn of the various kisses.
Already the computer knows me better than I know myself. It knows what is missing in my life. And how much I need it, with or without a kiss. But then I pause and think, I would really like a few kissing tips. I bet there is a dangerous kissing tip somewhere on this site. Maybe if I searched just a little longer. This is a secure site, after all. I can see by the icon at the bottom. No one will know what I decide. Or only he will know.
I have an obsession with the health news. I know that others have obsessions with the sports page, the headlines, the entertainment. I think I'm the only one I know who reads the health news with any regularity. It's always changing. One day eggs are good for you, and the next they will kill you. One day salt is bad, and the next it is good for a select few. And on and on.
But there are ongoing issues. And I do find them interesting.
Big on the news lately (or the news that I read anyhow) is the role of GM foods. How safe are they? Will they save the world? Or just make Monsanto own every seed in the world? I get asked this by friends who know I read up on this stuff. And the answer is always, the GM foods aren't tested. Why not? Well . . .
I guess I first became aware of Monsanto when the U.S. started allowing the company to sell bovine hormones in this country. Of course, Canada and Europe didn't buy the Monsanto line that the bovine hormones were not only fine for you, but beneficial. My mother didn't buy it either, so I heard a lot about it. So, is our conventional milk bad for us? And if you buy organic milk, what about the rest of the dairy you eat?
Then there's the yucky Monsanto product, aspartame. (At least aspartame was a Monsanto product. I'm not sure if it still is.) Whenever I see someone drinking a diet soda, I want to say, STOP! So odd to think that Donald Rumsfeld was a part of the party of men who helped get apartame approved. But the stuff has really bad news attached to it. Plus a lot of studies say it makes you fat ( or rather, increases your appetite), so if you drink it to stay thin, well . . .
Of course Monsanto likes to claim that their GM foods will save the world by producing drought or pest-resistant crops. Miracle crops. But I'm not sure the evidence is in their favor. There are a lot of studies that suggest conventional ag. techniques are, in the end, the best for everyone. And there are some sad cases. The cotton farmers in India, for example
But then, you can always think you don't eat GM food. But are you sure? Even your vitamins contain GM food, as do so many other items you might not think of . . . And remember, they aren't labeled as such because the corporations don't want to alert you to what you might be buying, I guess. You have to scroll down on the entry below to get to a list. Or you can lookat the pdf for a more complete shopping guide.
Motherhood. I guess that's what you call it. A kind of constant alert in my system, a low-grade alarm waiting to go off.
My daughter is in the Dominican Republic doing research for the week. So yesterday I'm driving around doing my errands, and I hear on NPR that there's been a huge earthquake in Haiti, that the quake was felt in the DR and beyond. And there's a tsunami watch in effect for the Dominican Republic and . . .
Maybe you'd think I'd start praying or doing what my friend, Ann, calls--sending good thoughts. Instead my mind goes into one long list of swear words and doesn't stop for the next few hours. Not when I'm standing in line at the Giant Eagle, waiting for a script to be filled, not when I'm smiling and talking to the librarian, not when I'm picking up the dry cleaning. I have this awful feeling that I need to puke . . . the feeling I get when fear sits right at the bottom of the gut and rises.
I think about those CDs I listened to once by Pema Chodron who said--when you are afraid-- to think of all the people who are in the same place you are. So I think of all those mothers out there fearing and worrying for their daughters or sons. Pema said: think how they feel just as you do.
I think of them. I think of them feeling like they want to puke.
And I remember how my sister and I once "translated" that Emily D. poem about I'm nobody. We had a version that went something like. I think I wanna puke. Do you?/ Then there's two of us/ But we don't want to bother you nice folks here./ We don't want to disturb you lunch./ Don't mind us. We'll just go out back and throw up.
Oh yeah. Kid humor, I guess you call it. A little too true sometimes.