There doesn't seem to've been much to say this year, though I have found a lot to pass along from other speakers, most prominently John Durham Peters, whose 1999 book Speaking into the Air had a major impact on my thinking about communication, and Margaret Atwood, whose novels and poetry carried me through months of very enjoyable reading (and thinking about reading and writing).

NCC lot C
Telling the story of an event is an event itself; it is this [latter] event that we remember, rather than the event original. Is there a memory of an event w/o its story being told, if only to ourselves? Is that what memory is?

Sound advice from a speech given by an early childhood educator:

If it's wet, and it's not yours,
#9 Beth

Artifactual tale:

Last night I found a half-upright piano on the landing just past the inner door of the Lincoln Building where I live, keyboard to the wall. I tried to see its brand, but the keyboard cover was wedged tight, & the music rack covering the hammers had been removed.

To its back were taped the following messages:

  1. [gentle demotic handwriting, on the large side, half page of 6x9 spiral-bound notebook]
    Please be patient. This will be moved into my apartment no later than Monday. [I copied this Tuesday morning.] Thanks for understanding.
  2. [primitive cursive script on manila card the size of a furniture tag -- could be from the super, who on my one encounter w/ him seemed to be a grouch]
    sorry no instruments are allowed to be played at any time day or night in this building. NO EXCEPTIONS. [heavy underlining]
  3. [cramped cursive in black ballpoint on light blue 3x3 Post-It® rather overly taped to #2]
    TO COMPLAINANT. My lease contains no clause with specific mention of musical instruments. I find your assertion without legitimacy and your manner inhospitable.
    John S_____ Apt 17.
  4. [somewhat rounder cursive in felt-tip marker]
    That's right James! Let your music take you where your head wants to go. And don't listen to the Music Nazi ---> [points to #2]
  5. [same as #1, full 6x9 page]
    I will be more than willing to discuss this matter with Mr. & Mrs. K____ tomorrow morning [presumably Monday]. But in the meantime.... Smile. And remember that art is not your enemy. And music really can change the world if you let it.

Wednesday the piano was gone.

#9 Beth

I just noticed it this morning — on the refrigerator door, perched above the Frigidaire emblem, a tiny Magnetic Poetry tile:



#9 Lincoln Bldg.
Bethlehem PA
Every summer the apples
condense out of nothing
on their stems in the wet air
like sluggish dewdrops
or the tree bleeding.

Every fall they fall
and are eaten,
by us or something else,
wasps or snails, beetles,
the sandpaper mouths of the earth.

Every winter a few remain
on the branches, pulpy & brown,
wrinkled as kidneys or midget brains,
the only flesh in sight.

In the spring we say the word apple
but it means nothing;
we can't remember those flavors,
we are blunt & thankless

But the apples condense again
out of nothing on their stems
like the tree bleeding; something
has this compassion.

— Margaret Atwood, from "Daybooks II" in Two-Headed Poems, 91.


A meditation on one's naiveté, regarded from the standpoint of the mess that resulted, despite timely warning and the best advice:

How could I have missed it? Snowman thinks. What he was telling me. How could I have been so stupid?

No, not stupid. He can't describe himself, the way he'd been. Not unmarked — events had marked him, he'd had his own scars, his dark emotions. Ignorant, perhaps. Unformed, inchoate.

There had been something willed about it though, his ignorance. Or not willed, exactly: structured. He'd grown up in walled spaces, and then he had become one. He had shut things out.
— Margaret Atwood, Oryx and Crake, 184.

Even before his illness, Kafka wondered whether producing fragments might be the only way he could be true to his incomplete view of the world. He had sad fantasies of being sliced up like roast meat, or of being a log and having thin shavings drawn off him, while the last story he wrote was about a singing mouse, in which he finally asked the question that had haunted his career: "Is it her singing that charms us, or isn't it rather the solemn stillness that surrounds the feeble little voice?"
— Robert Douglas-Fairhurst, in "Melting Away" ©Telegraph Group Ltd 2004
To be a man, watched by women. It must be entirely strange. To have them watching him all the time. To have them wondering, what's he going to do next? To have them flinch when he moves, even if it's a harmless enough move, to reach for an ashtray, perhaps. To have them sizing him up. To have them thinking, He can't do it, he won't do, he'll have to do, this last as if he were a garment, out of style or shoddy, which must nevertheless be put on because there's nothing else available.

To have them putting him on, trying him on, trying him out, while he himself puts them on, like a sock over a foot, onto the stub of himself, his extra, sensitive thumb, his tentacle, his delicate, stalked slug's eye, which extrudes, expands, winces, and shrivels back into himself when touched wrongly, grows big again, bulging a little at the tip, traveling forward as if along a leaf, into them, avid for vision. To achieve vision in this way, this journey into a darkness that is composed of women, a woman, who can see in darkness while he himself strains blindly forward.
— Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid's Tale, 87-8.


Jack, my 3-year-old new neighbor, asked his mommy if it was getting dark. When she said yes, he burst into panicked sobbing — "Mommy! I don't want it to get dark!"

Same here, kid.

...If the world treats you well, Sir, you come to believe you are deserving of it.
— Grace Marks, in Margaret Atwood's Alias Grace, 171.
Those in pain have no time for the pain they cause.
— Margaret Atwood, The Robber Bride, 377.

Let me tell you: I bit her on purpose, but I scratched her by accident.
— overheard in Laub Lounge, College Center

Hamilton & Co.
Lambertville, NJ
Naturally the common people don't want war, but after all it is the leaders of a country who determine policy, and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in every country.
— Hermann Göring, 1939.
Duncan & Ada

Long time ago.

A different world.

You did the best you could with what you had & what you knew.

The longest journey begins with a single step.

Where the water runs, the channel deepens.

A Mystery, or How the Empty Notebook Lost Its Freedom

The empty notebook finds writing in its margins.
Where does the writing come from? What does it say?
The empty notebook calls a meeting with advisors;
hand-writing expert, private detective, secret agents —
all agree the message in the margin says beware.
A left-handed intruder of foreign extraction wrote in
blue ballpoint pen of recent design. But no one can tell
the empty notebook how the writer got in, when it
would strike again, what the empty notebook should
beware of. The empty notebook lines up all the ballpoint
pens and questions them for hours. It wraps itself in
layers of plastic, seals itself with rolls of duct tape.
Who can write in the empty notebook now?

— Susan Thomas, in Mississippi Review, Spring 2004, p. 279.

The problem of communication is not language's slipperiness, it is the unfixable difference between the self and the other. The challenge of communication is not to be true to our own identity but to have mercy on others for never seeing ourselves as we do.
— Peters, Speaking, 266-7.
Our faces, actions, voices, thoughts, and transactions have all migrated into media that can disseminate the indicia of our personhood without our permission. Communication has become disembodied.

More precisely, the rise of the concept of "communication" is a symptom of disembodiment of interaction. The intellectual history of this notion reveals a long struggle to reorient to a world in which the human is externalized into media forms. Modern media have altered forever the meaning of anthropomorphism. The large social significance of the media, so often debated throughout this century, lies less in such classic social worries as their effects on children, representation of women, transformation of politics, or diffusion of mass culture than their rearrangement of our bodily being, as individuals and as bodies politic. Communication places us in affinity with all kinds of monstrous others — and selves.
— Peters, Speaking, 228.

The Dead

The dead are always looking down on us, they say,
while we are putting on our shoes or making a sandwich,
they are looking down through the glass-bottom boats of heaven
as they row themselves slowly through eternity.

They watch the tops of our heads moving below on earth,
and when we lie down in a field or on a couch,
drugged perhaps by the hum of a warm afternoon,
they think we are looking back at them,

which makes them lift their oars and fall silent
and wait, like parents, for us to close our eyes.

— Billy Collins, from Questions About Angels

Every new medium is a machine for the production of ghosts. (Kafka knew this.) As Friedrich Kittler argues [in Grammophon, Film, Typewriter, 1986], "The spirit-world is as large as the storage and transmission possibilities of a civilization." The oldest available print of a printing press is a 1499 image showing skeletons cavorting about a press, pages in hand, doing a dance of the dead. Spiritualists, as we have seen, did the danse macabre of the telegraph, celebrating the spirits conjured by electricity, the first of many in the nineteenth century to recognize that the realm of the immortals had expanded from the remembered dead to the transmitted and recorded dead.
— Peters, Speaking, 139.

Kafka saw that the effort to restore the peace of souls by bringing people together by train, car, and air was always outflanked by media that were more nutritious for the ghosts — the telegraph, telephone, and wireless — that all had as modus operandi the creation of doubles that sometimes work against us.
— Peters, Speaking, 139.
To live is to leave traces. To speak to another is to produce signs that are independent of one's soul and are interpreted without one's control.
— Peters, Speaking, 118.
By showing the vulnerability of the Lockean citadel of the consenting self, hypnotism became a chief metaphor for describing the spell that dictators and admen cast on their audiences via radio, film, and television. Mesmerism's after-life helped shape the understanding of mass media in the twentieth century as agents of mass control and persuasion that somehow, via their repetition, ubiquity, or subliminally iniquitous techniques, bypassed the vigilant conscience of citizens and directly accessed the archaic phobias (or ignorance and sloth) of the beast within.
— Peters, Speaking into the Air, 93-4.
GStP Garret
Just as when we speak, in order that what we have in our minds may enter through the ear into the mind of the hearer, the word which we have in our hearts becomes an outward sound and is called speech; and yet our thought does not lose itself in the sound, but remains complete in itself, and takes the form of speech without being modified in its own nature by the change: so the Divine word, though suffering no change in nature, yet became flesh, that He might dwell among us.
— Augustine, On Christian Doctrine (De Doctrina Christiana), 1.13, cited in Peters, Speaking into the Air, 70.

The wandering mind is like a school of fish.

To live among others is necessarily to incur obligation; to be mortal is to be incapable of paying them all back.
— John Durham Peters, Speaking Into the Air, 56.

Justice that is not loving is not just; love that is not just is not loving.
— Ibid., 57.
In the shower after clearing brush, it occurred to me that the difference between us and These People, the enmity between our seed and their seed, may be evolutionary, maybe even DNA related. Like Cro-Magnon and Neanderthal. We're competing for the same niche, in the cultural environment at least; they're clearly willing to do anything to survive, and withal full of passionate intensity, which has yet to manifest among our ranks. Dilemma: stay & fight or flee & regroup elsewhere?
Pickering's Law: Summer is like the weekend: June is Friday, July is Saturday, August is Sunday.
— Jack Pickering, colleague of Rabbo's at Germantown Academy.

The ultimate futility of our attempts to "communicate" is not lamentable; it is a handsome condition.
— John Durham Peters, Speaking into the Air, 31.

As [Emmanuel Levinas] wrote in ["The Other Proust" in] 1947 of modernist isolation, "The theme of solitude and the breakdown of communication are viewed by modern literature and thought as the fundamental obstacle to human brotherhood. The pathos of socialism breaks against the Bastille in which each person remains his own prisoner, locked up with himself when the party is over, the crowd gone, and the torches extinguished. The despair felt at the impossibility of communication... marks the limits of all pity, generosity, and love.... But if communication bears the mark of failure or inauthenticity in this way, it is because it is sought as a fusion." The failure of communication, he argues, allows precisely for the bursting open of pity, generosity, and love. Such failure invites us to find ways to discover others besides knowing. Communication breakdown is thus a salutary check on the hubris of the ego. Communication, if taken as the reduplication of the self (or its thoughts) in the other, deserves to crash, for such an understanding is in essence a pogrom against the distinctness of human beings.
— John Durham Peters, Speaking into the Air, 21.
Written kisses don't reach their destination, rather they are drunk on the way by the ghosts. It is on this ample nourishment that they multiply so enormously. Humanity senses this and fights against it and in order to eliminate as far as possible the ghostly element between people and to create natural communication, the peace of souls, it has invented the railway, the motor car, the aeroplane. But it's no longer any help, these are evidently inventions being made at the moment of crashing. The opposing side is so much calmer and stronger; after the postal service it has invented the telegraph, the telephone, the wireless. The spirits won't starve, but we will perish.
— Franz Kafka to Milena Jesenká, epigraph to John Durham Peters's Speaking into the Air.

Curiously, "communication" once meant what we now call intercourse, while "intercourse" once meant what we now call communication (the varieties of human dealings). The ambiguous term "relations" underlies both.
— John Durham Peters, Speaking into the Air, 8.

The steel ball of arrogance will bear no grass of knowledge.
— Tibetan proverb.

You know how it is: you have too many things to do, you don't know where to start, so you start something else.
— Conversation with my sister last night.

The Dharma refuge has two aspects: first the true Dharma refuge, which is the noble path and insights and the actual freedom from all negativities. These qualities abide in the minds of all the buddhas. The second aspect is the relative Dharma refuge, which are the written scriptural texts and the written teachings of the Buddhas. It is very helpful if we treat the relative Dharma refuge, the texts, as the true Dharma refuge. We should have great respect for our Dharma books. We should not misuse them, by leaving them on the bare ground, or use them as a cushion to sit on. If we do any of those things, it shows great disrespect toward the teachings and becomes a heavy negativity.
— Geshe Tsultin Gyeltsen, Compassion: The Key to the Great Awakening, 16.

What guarantees the objectivity of the world in which we live is that this world is common to us with other thinking beings. Through the communications we have with other men we receive from them ready-made harmonious reasonings. We know that these reasonings do not come from us and at the same time we recognize in them, because of their harmony, the work of reasonable beings like ourselves. And as these reasonings appear to fit the world of our sensations, we think we may infer that these reasonable beings have seen the same thing as we; thus it is that we know we haven't been dreaming. It is this harmony, this quality if you will, that is the sole basis for the only reality we will ever know.
— Pirsig, ZAMM, 262.
Yesterday, in the woods fringing the lake side of Strawberry Fields, I saw develop what I thought was going to be a fight between a robin and another bird I couldn't identify. The robin closed in, the other bird retreated under a bush. The robin hopped up & pecked it, but the other bird didn't flee or even seem to be upset, just kept chirping in a way that sounded vaguely demanding, like "More! More!" The timbre was different, but the cadence was rather robin-like, and I began to think something else was going on. I heard another robin's "bird, bird, bird" coming from nearby, & this one had something in its beak, a shapeless hunk of food. The strange bird had hopped up onto a low branch of the azalea bush, & now called to this other robin (the first had flown off), who, sure enough, scuttled in under the bush & poked its bit of food into the other bird's mouth. A fledgling. Same height as an adult, but rounder & colored sort of like a starling. But the head was pure robin.
You are never dedicated to something you have complete confidence in. No one is fanatically shouting that the sun is going to rise tomorrow. They know it's going to rise tomorrow. When people are fanatically dedicated to political or religious faiths or any other kinds of dogmas or goals, it's always because these dogmas or goals are in doubt.
— Pirsig, ZAMM, 146.
The real purpose of scientific method is to make sure Nature hasn't misled you into thinking you know something you don't actually know.
— Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, 100-1.
...every mechanic is familiar with the problem of the part you can't buy because you can't find it because the manufacturer considers it a part of something else.
— Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, 71.
Her talent is worth saving, to inspire less gifted mortals.
— M.F.K. Fisher, A Cordiall Water, 100.
[Cat in the mud]

Later I thought of the animals we had lauded so grandly for being wiser than most men, and I remembered things I had heard and read about their self-cures, and about our attempts to help them. As a matter of course, I thought of Blackberry...

He was without doubt the rarest of many wonderful cats who have lived with me. I remember too many things about him, so that it is hard to talk of only one now: the way he healed himself after a mighty battle, really three times, for he waged four of them in as many years before he died after the last one.

This was when he was old for his race, because he was peculiar in that until he was almost nine he would have none of love and its warfare.

Females wooed him at least twice a year, and fought each other noisily to excite some interest in him, but he paid no attention except to yawn. I wondered about this, and with some regret, for he would have made a good father. He was beautiful, with fine but strong bones, small ears, a daintiness that was not effeminate, and great skill in hunting.

In the spring he loved to dance on the lawn with butterflies, who seemed to know that he did not intend to catch them and so would fly low and then up and past his deliberate frolickings.

Then when he was almost nine, and I was convinced that he had been born a feline eunuch, he went into such a passion for a little female kitten as I had never seen before. She was too young for him. I had to separate them, or he would have torn her to pieces a hundred times a day, blindly. It was sad and terrible. He was literally burning to death, and turned from a silky long-haired tranquil beauty to a wild-eyed snarler. He would not eat, and could not sleep.

Finally I gave away the bewildered and innocent kitten, thinking to calm him. Instead he ran away, no doubt to look for her, and I who had grown used to his tabbiness was forlorn for him.

In a week he came back, a shadow but quiet, and that year almost every kitten born in the Valley was Blackberry's, for when the moon was right he would leave again. Now and then one of his neglected wives would seek him out, and he would lead her away discreetly, being very gentlemanly in spite of his lost daintiness of manner.

Finally, though, after about a year of this sustained libertinism, he returned to us in a most dreadful fashion.

I heard a small cheeping sound now and then, so like a bird's that I did not heed it at first. It came from the canyon, a narrow rocky place with a few straggly, ancient eucalyptus trees shading the muddy bottom, and for the knowing there were paintings on hidden and protected stones, done in the mysterious and ineradicable reddish stuff of ancient times, by Indians who came there to pray and be healed.

It was still said in the Valley that the water that trickled and in winter rushed down our canyon could be bottled and sold, for it would cure fevers and sores, and soothe pain, and in general was good for what ails one. Nobody, not even the modern Indians, did more than talk. But down in that muddy slit in the hills lay the cat Blackberry, and his faint cheeping mews led me finally to him, after more than a day of searching through the rocks and reeds.
He lay so flat into the mud that I almost stepped on him, and he was stretched out so long and far that he looked more like the shape of a dead reptile than a living animal. The mud was so coated on his fur that it was cracked in the dry air. I could not tell which end was the head of the horrid dead-alive thing, until he made another faint cry and I saw the feeble opening of his caked lips.

I bent over him, really sick with shock. Such beauty once, now dying surely in this abject state... It was a shame, a shame, and I could hardly bear it.

I started to touch him, and then I felt what was like a bell ringing, or a flash blinding me, a warning as clear as any shout: I was not to put my hand on him.

I crouched above him for some time, and realized with a kind of awe that he was ripped from head to tail, and that in with the caked mud his flesh was mixed as it hung in strings from his skeleton. His mouth stayed open, with his tongue loosely hanging from it, and an occasional breath lifted his ribs almost invisibly. His eyes stayed closed. I withdrew, with farewell in my heart, for surely he was dying, and I seemed to have been told to let him do so alone.

The next day I went down to get his body. Of course it was not there, but a few feet further down the stream bed, and still living. When Blackberry heard me he mewed again, and again I bent over him, to see that he had dragged himself that far and that he lay with his other side in the black mud. Still I did not touch him, but I hurried back up the canyon for a pinch of ground meat and a flat saucer of water for him. Hours later they were still untouched, but his mew of recognition seemed stronger to me, and he had turned himself over again.

In the next week I watched a miraculous healing take place. When the caked mud fell off him and he rolled into wetter places I could see with horror that his flesh did indeed hang in strings, and many of his bones and tendons were laid bare. How he continued to exist I could not understand, for he ate nothing and never touched water for about eight days. Then he ate three or four times a day a bit of lean chopped meat which I left beside him, and his eyes opened and looked at me with what seemed thoughtfulness and amusement.

In about three more days he arose, licked himself stiffly, and walked up the canyon in easy stages to the house. He was a pitiful sight, but dignified.

A month of rest and genteel spoiling had him fine and sleek again... until the next year and the next, and finally the fourth such bout, which at first seemed to me the result of his tackling a wildcat or a lynx. Then I saw that three common Toms from the Valley must have attacked him together, to avenge his general seduction of all their females... for sensing him to be old, they dared follow him this time up to the muddy bottom of the canyon, where he had dragged himself after God knows how long a battle down in the Valley. There they finished him off.

I have told a few people about this and they have not quite believed me, but I know it because I saw the end of it happen. I beat them away (it was their howls that drew me, for Blackberry made not a sound), but this time he was dead.

It was as well. Even the black mud of the Indian's healing stream could not have hung his legs back on his frame, his head on his neck. It did, though, keep him alive for the last wildly productive years of his long life, and now almost every cat for miles around has some of his strain in it.

One thing that has always interested me is that during the first three times Blackberry lay in the mud and let the hair and flesh grow back, no enemies ever came to bother him. But when he was old, and plainly not a match any more for them, they got him... and I think that not only the Toms, but probably almost any of the animals he had long hunted, would have come then, the fourth time he was downed, to get even with him.
— M.F.K. Fisher, A Cordiall Water, III, 15-22.

The space between words — e.g., NON ≈ EST — = a node where the flow of thought might/can change direction.
There's an old story about two men on a train. One of them, seeing some naked-looking sheep in a field, said, "Those sheep have just been sheared." The other looked a moment longer, and then said, "They seem to be — on this side." It is in such a cautious spirit that we should say whatever we have to say about the workings of the mind.
— John Holt, How Children Learn, cited in Langer's Mindfulness, 115.
We do not all allow ourselves to become mindless. Some concert pianists memorize their music away from the keyboard so as to avoid the predicament in which their fingers "know" the music but they do not. In essence, these experts are keeping themselves mindful for their recitals. In the absence of the keyboard they cannot take their performance for granted.
— Ellen J. Langer, Mindfulness, 4-5.

I was wondering how Greg [Funfgeld] keeps the [Bach B-Minor] Mass fresh after all those perfs...

As long as people cling to a narrow belief in limited resources, those who are fortunate enough to win by the arbitrary (but rigid) rules that are set up, such as SAT scores, have a stake in maintaining the status quo. Those who are not getting what they want, however, might pause to consider that they may be part of someone else's costly construction of reality.
Ibid., 28.

If we examine what is behind our desires, we can usually get what we want without compromising: love caring, confidence, respectability, excitement. Compromising is necessary only if what we want is in short supply. If the valuable things in life were not perceived to be limited, we might not cling so steadfastly to our rigid categories, and we would be more likely to loosen these categorical distinctions once we realize that they have been of our own making, mindlessly entrapping us.
Ibid., 29.

If you become a Buddha, don't forget me.
— Khyung-la Rinpoche, in a phone conversation with Billy Kammann.

Strawberry Fields
Well, since we can't hear each other any more, I'll say goodbye.
— Guy on cell phone, jerking his dog away from a blackened banana peel on the sidewalk.
House, marriage, life: trashed.
All over — porch, steps, walk —
this spring's cherry blossoms.
Once on a later visit he had joined a crowd of other tourists and climbed up inside the Statue of Liberty. He remembered it was all greenish copper and old looking, supported with riveted girders like an old Victorian bridge. The iron staircase going up got thinner and smaller and thinner and smaller and the line of people going up kept getting slower and slower and suddenly he'd gotten a huge wave of claustrophobia. There was no way he could get out of this procession! In front of him was a very fat lady who acted like the climb was too much for her. She looked like she might collapse any minute. He could envision the whole procession collapsing beneath her like a row of dominoes, with himself in it, with no hope but to crash with the rest of them. He'd wondered if he'd have the strength to hold her there if she collapsed.

...Trapped and going crazy with claustrophobia underneath a fat lady inside the Statue of Liberty. What a great allegorical theme, he'd thought later, for a story about America.
— Pirsig, Lila, 348-9.

Wouldst thou be perfect, do not yelp about God.
— Master (Johannes) Eckhart, cited in Lila, 376.

Central Park
≈9.20 am
NE corner of Strawberry Fields, sitting on a rock overlooking the lake; overcast, coolish; Walk for Women coming through, headed north — African runner led by cop car & paramedic van, loudspeaker blaring warnings to casual peds & bikers; "over 20,000 runners & walkers will be passing thru the Park shortly"; as the pack approaches, at first it's very quiet, mostly the pat of shoes & the occasional murmur of short exchanges, then the talk grows thicker & more varied in tone & dynamic, shouts, hoots, & laughter increase along w/ music of extended conversations; pace slows as walkers overtake runners in numbers, the odd "backflow" visual effect on foreground bushes, same as on ferry. 2 Canada geese cruise in for a landing on the lake, honking mightily; above, a helicopter patrols the scene; the clot thickens, almost all walkers now, the runners no longer threading thru but taking to the sidewalks, the babble rising to f w/spikes of ff; casual peds fighting upstream having serious trouble progressing, biker in full gear has to walk it now, looking disgusted; red signs, hats, tee-shirts, brown spaniel w/ racing tag tied on tries to wriggle out by squirming on his back in the dirt; many notice me writing on my perch, look nervous — perhaps I'm a security risk? Clots of lime green, yellow tees, latter w/ mouse ears; some are waving to me now — I decline to respond, not sure why; powder blue clots, dove gray, day-glo chartreuse; and then, abruptly at 10.20 am, the pack is past, a quartet of 4 generations — baby in young mom's arms, matron grandma, great-grandma (pushing stroller) bringing up the rear, followed by stragglers widely spaced, and, at last, 2 St Vincent's ambulances, flashing as they crawl...
Where the physical climate changes suddenly from high temperature to low temperature, or from high atmospheric pressure to low atmospheric pressure the result is usually a storm. When the social climate changes from preposterous social restraint of all intellect to a relative abandonment of all social patterns, the result is a hurricane of social forces. That hurricane is a history of the twentieth century.
— Robert M. Pirsig, Lila, 270.
Wegmans, Allentown
[W]eirdness isn't the test of truth. As Einstein said, common sense — non-weirdness — is just a bundle of prejudices acquired before the age of eighteen.
— Robert M. Pirsig, Lila, 98-9.
Bethlehem NJ

Bethlehem Baptist Church, abandoned 1906On what serves as the south-side service road to I-78 here in western New Jersey, there's a falling-down church whose roof is gone, the unprotected sanctuary's lost its floor, and crumbling window frames gape at the empty sky. The plaque reads:

Bethlehem Baptist Church. Congregation was formed in 1837. Church built same year on the Brunswick-Easton Turnpike (now Rt. 78). Abandoned in 1906.

Front of Bethlehem Baptist church, with graveyardNot abandoned, apparently: the lawn and graveyard surrounding the ruin are neatly tended, the grass cut, the weeds pulled, and all the plaques look polished. Protected decrepitation — now there's a concept for the New Millennium.

Shakespeare's putative birthday
with the night falling we are saying thank you
we are stopping on the bridge to bow from the railings
we are running out of the glass rooms
with our mouths full of food to look at the sky
and say thank you
we are standing by the water looking out in different directions

back from a series of hospitals back from a mugging
after funerals we are saying thank you
after the news of the dead
whether or not we knew them we are saying thank you
in a culture up to its chin in shame
living in the stench it has chosen we are saying thank you

over telephones we are saying thank you
in the doorways and in the backs of cars and in elevators
remembering wars and the police at the back door
and the beatings on stairs we are saying thank you
in the banks that use us we are saying thank you
with the crooks in office with the rich and fashionable
unchanged we go on saying thank you thank you

with the animals dying around us
our lost feelings we are saying thank you
with the forests falling faster than the minutes
of our lives we are saying thank you
with the words going out like cells of a brain
with the cities growing over us like the earth
we are saying thank you faster and faster

with nobody listening we are saying thank you
we are saying thank you and waving
dark though it is
—W.S. Merwin, epigraph to Anne Lamott's Traveling Mercies

The Dog's-Balls theory of Foreign (or any) Policy = actions taken for the same reason that a dog licks his balls: because he can.


[Northern? Magnolia?]
Horn Across the Harbor

7.20 boat blast from a mile away
answered a full second later by
its echo off the Bay Ridge
Aprille's smale fowle makyn melodye
in each tree, where the riotous
flowering is in full swale(?)
wide-open sex organs multiplied
as in a bee's eyes on each shrub's
fan against its horizon
plentiful as tubs of Tide at a Target
the ordinary riot of mid-spring
reshaping the closer sky
like a slow tornado

73d & CPW
Having a companion fixes you in time and that the present, but when the quality of aloneness settles down, past, present, and future all flow together. A memory, a present event, a forecast all equally present.
— John Steinbeck, Travels with Charlie, 137
Be favorable to bold beginnings.
— Virgil, epigraph to Ch 1 in M.F.K. Fisher's A Cordiall Water
Hannah St Br
We perceive
what we
Just because you don't acknowledge your mistakes, it doesn't mean you don't pay for them.

In his Maundy Thursday sermon last night, Pastor Hauser told us how the Monday night Lent class went out into 71st Street and looked east toward Central Park to see the rising of the first full moon of Spring, the Passover Moon, but were prevented from seeing it by Daylight Savings Time....

the 3 Ladies of the Garret (l to r: Faith, Hope, Charity)

Kutsher's CC
I'm a vegetarian. I eat fish.
— Leor Himelstein, conductor of the Kutsher's Symphonic Choir, after evening service
The Ramble
Central Park
There's a colony of bleach-bottle bird houses suspended from tree limbs — squirrels are kept out by canopies made of frisbees...
Keep walking, though there's no place to get to.
Don't try to see through the distances. That's not for human beings.
Move within, but don't move the way fear makes you move.
Today, like every other day, we wake up empty and frightened.
Don't open the door to the study
and begin reading. Take down a musical instrument.

Let the beauty we love be what we do.
There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.
— Rumi, in Traveling Mercies by Anne Lamott

George W. Bush is the Corporate Jester who's passing himself off as the King. — Nemo

Bill Gates Wealth Index: how big would a bill dropped on the ground have to be before it was worth the four seconds it would take for Bill to stop and pick it up? In 1986 (the year M[icro]S[oft] went public), $5. By 1998, a $10,000 bill wasn't worth the trouble.
— Brad Templeton, cited in Richard Florida's The Rise of the Creative Class, 152.

Deux mots de ourDeb:

Love gets gooey sometimes, isn't that right, Snookykins?


Mr. Potatohead is 93 today.
(re Ronald Reagan)


2 pearls of military wisdom, from Nemo:

Napoleon say: Never interrupt your enemy when he's making a mistake.


In a ham and egg breakfast, the chicken is implicated, but the pig is committed.

We cannot know the deeper effects of our care.
— Sogyal Rinpoche

A dip into the old anthologies can fetch rare delights:

The Bearer of Evil Tidings
by Robert Frost

The bearer of evil tidings,
When he was halfway there,
Remembered that evil tidings
Were a dangerous thing to bear.

So when he came to the parting
Where one road led to the throne
And one went off to the mountains
And into the wild unknown,

He took the one to the mountains.
He ran through the vale of Cashmere
He ran through the rhododendrons
Till he came to the land of Pamir.

And there in a precipice valley
A girl of his age he met
Took him home to her bower,
Or he might be running yet.

She taught him her tribe's religion:
How, ages and ages since,
A princess on route from China
To marry a Persian prince

Had been found with child; and her army
Had come to a troubled halt.
And though a god was the father
And nobody else at fault,

It had seemed discreet to remain there
And neither go on nor back
So they stayed and declared a village
There in the land of the Yak.

And the child that came of the princess
Established a royal line,
And his mandates were given heed to
Because he was born divine.

And that was why there were people
On one Himalayan shelf;
And the bearer of evil tidings
Decided to stay there himself.

At least he had this in common
With the race he chose to adopt:
They had both of them had their reasons
For stopping where they had stopped.

As for his evil tidings,
Belshazzar's overthrow,
Why hurry to tell Belshazzar
What soon enough he would know?
— in Six American Poets, Joel Conarroy, ed., 218-19.


Lovely poem by Mary Carr in the New Yorker this week (02feb2004 issue):

A Blessing from My Sixteen Years' Son

I have this son who assembled inside me
during Hurricane Gloria. In a flash he appeared,
in a heartbeat. Outside, pines toppled.

Phone lines snapped and hissed like cobras.
Inside, he was a raw pearl: microscopic, luminous.
Look at the muscled obelisk of him now

pawing through the icebox for more grapes.
Sixteen years and not a bone broken,
not a single stitch. By his age

I was marked more ways, and small.
He's a slouching six foot three,
with implausible blue eyes, which settle

on the page of Emerson's "Self-Reliance"
with profound intelligence.
A girl with a navel ring

could make his cell phone go brr,
or an Afro'd boy leaning on a mop at Taco Bell —
creatures as strange as dragons or eels.

Balanced on a kitchen stool, each gives counsel
arcane as any oracle's. Bruce claims school
is harshing my mellow. Case longs to date

a tattooed girl, because he wants a woman
willing to do stuff she'll regret.
They've come to lead my son

into his broadening spiral.
Someday soon, the tether
will snap. I birthed my own mother

into oblivion. The night my son smashed
the car fender, then rode home
in the rain-streaked cop car, he asked, Did you

and Dad screw up so much?
He'd let me tuck him in,
my grandmother's wedding quilt

from 1912 drawn to his goateed chin. Don't
blame us,
I said. You're your own
idiot now.
At which he grinned.

The cop said the girl in the crimped Chevy
took it hard. He'd found my son
awkwardly holding her in the canted headlights,

where he'd draped his own coat
over her shaking shoulders. My fault,
he'd confessed right off.

Nice kid, said the cop.


Yeah, that's right — I'm a writer doing a story on the life of a dishwasher. Whaddya, STOOPIT?! Yeah, you heard me, that's exactly what I said. Ga head, whatever, prooove what I'm sayin'. Either way.

My sister used to [pull that] on me — devil me till she got my goat & I'd slug her, then Mom'd have to punish me cuz there was no hitting in the house. Now I got what I deserved, no argument. But she got not only what she deserved but got me to get what I didn't deserve.

Tells ya a lot about my sister, right? Tells ya a lot about me.

...Our society promotes cleverness instead of wisdom, and celebrates the most superficial, harsh, and least useful aspects of our intelligence. We have become so falsely "sophisticated" and neurotic that we take doubt itself for truth, and the doubt that is nothing more than ego's desperate attempt to defend itself from wisdom is deified as the goal and fruit of true knowledge. This form of mean-spirited doubt is the shabby emperor of samsara, served by a flock of "experts" who teach us not the open-souled and generous doubt that Buddha assured us was necessary for testing and proving the worth of the teachings, but a destructive form of doubt that leaves nothing to believe in, nothing to hope for, and nothing to live by.

Our contemporary education, then, indoctrinates us in the glorification of doubt, has created in fact what could almost be called a religion or theology of doubt, in which to be seen to be intelligent, we have to be seen to doubt everything, to always point to what's wrong and rarely to ask what's right or good, cynically to denigrate all inherited spiritual ideals and philosophies, or anything that is done in simple good will or with an innocent heart.
—Sogyal Rinpoche, The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, 123-4.

Ya, but dubito ergo sum. Still...

Ladies and Gentlemen, if I could just say a few words, I'd be a better public speaker.
— Homer Simpson

In the inner stairway of the ancestral home in McMurray PA, instead of a railing, a beautiful maple-panelled structure rose from the ground-floor foyer to form the outer wall of the steps, a waist-high bannister in the living room above, and a rather heavy bookcase against the wall just overlooking the front door. At the fourth step going up, the stairway makes a right turn, and just there, at about eye level, the convex angle of the paneling is deeply scratched, as if someone had taken a pair of sharp scissors and intentionally gouged the wood by closing them across the corner — which is exactly what happened, over and over, 8 or 9 times. I remember doing it when I was a child, but not why, or even if I had a reason. I also remember my younger sister at the top of the steps, watching me do it.

Recently, when my sister and I were reminiscing about the crazy things we did as kids, she said she remembered the same thing — only I was the one at the top of the steps, watching her while she opened the scissors and then dragged their points across the wooden corner, over and over.

Wagner Cove
Homo lectens?
Mall, Central Park Each branch is a line of text — or overlays of text, which thicken. My next hypertext. How to read the writing that is the tree?
Boorstin thought that the image had taken over [from reality] not because of anything to do with capitalism (a word that, amazingly, does not appear in his book [The Image, 1961]) but because Americans couldn't face ordinary life, in which the excellent and the extraordinary are rare, and most things are difficult, imperfect, disappointing, or boring. Americans needed their experience to be constantly sweetened, like chewing gum, and a whole industry had grown up to provide this artificially enhanced reality. Boorstin thought that this pseudo-world had become, Matrix-like, so nearly complete that it controlled even its controllers.
—Louis Menand, "Masters of the Matrix: Kennedy, Nixon, and the Culture of Image" in The New Yorker 5jan2004, 84.
Hannah St Br

I knew we were in trouble when the first response of our elected leaders to the September 11th attacks was to stand on the Capitol steps and sing show tunes.
— from the liner notes of LF's forthcoming "God Bless America (Dammit!)".


Once the boat starts rockin', everybody gets knocked.

This could explain Shrubya's 65% job-approval rating...

...and therefore love is said to be as strong as death, for it kills just as death kills.
— Michael de Molinos, The Spiritual Guide which disentangles the soul, ¶50, at the end of Ch VI, the Third Book, 158.


The most subtle Arrow that is shot at us from Nature, is the hardening us to that which is unlawful, on the pretence that it may be necessary and useful.
Ibid., ¶51.


Never disquiet thyself for any accident: for disquiet is the door by which the Enemy enters the soul to rob her of her peace.

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