Note: republishing one from a couple of years ago. My friend Pete sent a new picture of the mountain where my favorite coffee comes from, the slopes of Acatenango in Guatemala. The volcano is active, and there has been an unusual snow in the tropics.
I awoke early. Too early.
Before the light came, before the day.
This is happening often these days.
I set the water to bubble, the grinder releases aroma.
My eyes barely see. Continue reading “On Acatenango”
Today we mourn the passing of a beloved old friend, “Common Sense”, who has been with us for many years. No one knows for sure how old he was, since his birth records were long ago lost in bureaucratic red tape. He will be remembered as having cultivated such valuable lessons as:
– Knowing when to come in out of the rain;
– Why the early bird gets the worm;
– Life isn’t always fair;
– And maybe it was my fault.
People have always been immoral, shiftless, and self-gratifying. It’s one of the most consistent themes in the human history of the world. It’s easy to look around and conclude there’s plenty of evidence that nothing much has changed since the days when our ancestors stole the Neanderthals’ lunch, caves, iPhones and women. In fact, the tendencies are, if anything, accelerating. You know, the internet….
My own opinion is that this is both true (that things really are as bad as they seem), but also self-limiting. The current level of world-class sinning, like a prairie fire, will burn fast but will eventually run out of fuel. The question is what will be left? The implications are that these attitudes and behaviors are ultimately self-destructive, and that sooner or later we humans tend to pull back at the edge of the moral abyss.
So, since I’m as susceptible as you are to any or all of these old standards, I looked them up again.
Excessive belief in one’s own abilities, that interferes with the individual’s recognition of the grace of God. Pride has been called the sin from which all others arise. Pride is also known as Vanity.
Envy: The desire for others’ traits, status, abilities, or situation.
Gluttony: an inordinate desire to consume more than that which one requires.
Lust: an inordinate craving for the pleasures of the body.
Anger: is manifested in the individual who spurns love and opts instead for fury. It is also known as Wrath. This is seen most often on internet comment sections and on the campaign trail.
Greed: is the desire for material wealth or gain, ignoring the realm of the spiritual. It is also called Avarice or Covetousness.
Sloth: (todays personal failing here) Is the avoidance of physical or spiritual work. Lust would be a lot more fun, but I’m just not up to it.
Excellent piece. Among other disabilities, I am a history nut. I’ve been especially fascinated my whole life by slavery and the Civil War, which culturally continues through today’s political campaigns. I’ve visited Monticello 4-5 times, Mount Vernon, Madison’s little shack, and every battlefield of note between Virginia and New Orleans (with the exception of Vicksburg). I used to live in Williamsburg (long story, but we moved there when I was 9 and stayed in a guest house owned by William and Mary, where my dad taught for a year; I took a bath in what had been Jefferson’s office at one time.) I have vacationed in the South dozens of times over the years, and usually took in the places and stories wherever I am. I revere the Enlightenment and it’s ideas. This piece summarizes what I, a white guy, finally came to believe. I can barely stand to visit those places anymore, both because of all of the neo-confederate denialism that still bubbles up down south, and because I finally saw beneath the surface into the lives of the anonymous people that built everything. Every single nail and clapboard on the houses of their masters.
I know my reaction is unfair to the majority of Southerners who have to live with and live down all the legacy. But I’m reminded of my Muslim friends who get painted with the same brush when one of their nutcases blows up an airport. It’s not fair to the vast majority, either, but deep down in both there’s one kernel of truth: the South has a legacy problem it still hasn’t completely expunged. Neither has Islam, as both have the same buried, shameful, reflexive tolerance for the old hatreds.
Dear Ms. Sherman, When I read your reflection in The American Conservative I was so sorry to hear that you had mistaken the museum at Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello for a monument to the Declaration of Independence. This mistake clearly caused much despair to you, and I suspect, to your unwitting children, who later found themselves flung […]
Harlan Coben is one of my favorite mystery writers. The genre is all about sorting out lies from the truth, some really hard, basic accounting and accountability; life and death accounting rules. That’s part of what I love about it.
“There’s always a price you pay when you lie. Once you introduce a lie into a relationship, even for the best of intentions, it is always there. Whenever you’re with that person again, that lie is in the room too. It sits on your shoulder. Good lie or bad lie, it’s in the room with you forever now. It’s your constant companion.”
― Harlan Coben, Seconds Away
“The ugliest truth, in the end, was still better than the prettiest of lies.” ― Harlan Coben
It may take time to find the trapdoor,
To get this pavement out of my eye.
I have options, but I see things.
The ones who slept out there last night,
Sitting on worn steps, jittery, cold,
Asking for change, for a cigarette,
Muttering streams of gibberish, eyes haunted.
I’m a warrior on the QT.
But I have options.
I’ve been spending a lot of time in her room lately, up at the top of the house. There’s a finished room with plaster walls on the third floor, 40 feet off the ground, and the house sits on a tall limestone ridge. I can see for miles when the air is clear. It’s a quiet and peaceful place.
When this old money pit was new, a nameless young woman slept here. Nameless to me, anyway. A poor girl, making her way.
It’s been fixed up. I’m sure the floors then were bare boards only, with maybe a threadbare area rug.
The plaster walls were unpainted, probably. No money spent on servants. A metal bed with rough ropes for springs. An old, scratched bedside table and chair. A shallow closet with wire hooks held one or two of her things. There may have been a simple dresser, hand-made.
She must have gazed out that window—dreaming of another life when the work was done.
I’ve tried to imagine what it was like up here then.
I wonder what she saw out these windows? What she thought in the coldest days of winter, with no insulation in the walls? Or when the room roasted in the summer? None of us have known a life like this.
Lincoln had been dead for 17 years. Things were changing, but not everything. Men in their 30s and 40s, missing legs, arms, eyes—sanity, in some cases—sat on benches on the courthouse lawn and reminisced the days away. The cannon that had mowed down Virginians and Alabamians at Gettysburg 20 years before dotted the grass, helped them remember other times.
She walked past them every day to and from visits to her mother in the worker’s houses on the other side of downtown, or when she ran errands to the shops downtown. The crippled, damaged men told the old stories over and over, of youth and glory and horror in the great struggle. Their eyes spoke more, though, things they could not speak aloud.
But the girl heard their stories. She also overheard all the talk in the dry goods store when the other servant girls chatted and gossiped about people and things they’d overheard their betters discussing over the morning paper. There were political arguments made out in public, and six partisan weeklies shouting at each other.
The owner of the mansion next door had been an officer at Gettysburg, Chancellorsville and several others. He lost a leg in battle near the end of the war, a general by the time he came home. Later on, a governor of Pennsylvania.
Another girl like her worked for him. His home loomed up outside one of her windows, a different world of wealth and power and privilege. His carriage crunched down the gravel lane between the houses to the carriage house in back. On warm days, she saw him sitting in a wheelchair on his porch, reading, or walking on crutches, or on his wooden leg. She saw distinguished guests step down from carriages he’d sent to the train station for them. She knew he was an important man, and hurried past him on the street with a quick, shy greeting.
Sitting Bull had surrendered the previous July, at Fort Buford in Montana.
President Garfield had been shot the summer before her mistress had moved into the house. The news and gossip was full of nothing else for a while. Mark Twain published “The Prince and the Pauper.” And, oh, Bob Ford had killed Jesse James in April.
She probably couldn’t read the papers, though. She made an X for her name.
She was an immigrant, maybe Irish. Or German. Or Italian. Or from Bohemia. One of the floods of wretched that came in after the war for the jobs, the lands out west. Her family was here, too, but she was farmed out as a ladies maid/cook/char woman/nurse…(Whatever they called her, she probably did it all.)
Her father was a quarry worker, breaking the limestone into blocks and powder with a sledge hammer and muscle. A teenaged brother worked at an iron foundry in town. Another in an iron mine owned by her mistress’s in-laws. Her mother had two babies on the hip, the twins. There was another sister, too young to work for cash yet.
The young woman took care of a wealthy widow in a house on the hill. The old woman’s daughters had married mine and iron foundry and stamping mill owners, second-generation Irish and English, Quakers, movers and shakers making the stuff of railroads. Bridges. Guns.
I imagine her young. Unmarried. A heavy brogue, perhaps. Up before dawn every day to light the fireplaces, make the breakfast, empty the bedpans, clean the house, trim candle and lantern wicks, clean the glass chimneys. Before that, though she would take medicine and comfort to the old woman, who was not well. The old Quaker was stern, but could be kind. She was teaching the girl to read. It was only practical, she would say. The only way to rise above being a wage slave for the rest of her life.
Annie was the old woman’s name, and she would live less than a year. After that (and the girl knew it was coming), she hoped she could get another job, unless the spinster daughter of the house kept her on. The money she earned was needed at home. Maybe she would meet a boy and get married, and start having children like her mother had.
But on spring nights, when the air was soft and the incredible perfume of the blooms of a Black Locust at the corner of the house filled her room, she pulled a single wooden stool over by the window to watch the moon rise over the mountain. She allowed herself to dream of something better. She may have picked up an old McGuffey primer and labored over the pictures and strange shapes of words, lighting a kerosene lamp when it got dark
And now I use her room to write. Sometimes, I can almost see her sitting by the window, looking off into the distance. I wonder whether she ever found that boy, and whether she learned to read.
You know that moment when some idea just-weird-enough-to-be-worth-blogging-about happens? The it’s-not-true-but-ought-to-be moment? The kind of thing we normally keep to ourselves but have gone slightly cracker dog? So we don’t..?
I just had one of those.
You know about Moore’s Law for computers? Where they double in power or speed every few months now? So more and more transistors can crunch numbers faster and faster, and the computers are so small that every human has at least one in a pocket—except when it’s glued to said humans’ hands, which is pretty much 24/7. I mean.. c’mon, people!
But I digress….
I wondered… when a certain point is reached, and the Web—the Baby Hive Mind—switches on one day–no, I mean REALLY SWITCHES on— and makes people forget kitten videos on Facebook, and Kim K’s non-human butt, forever. And we all realize the damned dress WAS Gold and White, dammit!
And once switched on, phones…home.
What I wondered (oblivious to a dozen serious problems with this assumption) was…. what if we’re part of the experiment? That we’re designed to build eight quadrillion microscopic computers and hook them all together globally? And what if we’re only one of a billion planets, all doing the same thing, and someday all switched on?
I wondered the same thing you just did: Exactly who–or what– would we all be trying to call?
And you know that other kind of moment? The one where you notice people are backing away from you slowly, a look of concern on their faces?
and, to be perfectly honest, it bums me out.
So many great ones! —libidinal heroes,
idealists, warrior-chieftains, revolutionaries,
fabulists of all sorts, even the great Irish pig farmers
and Armenian raisin growers —and who,
I ask myself, am I by comparison? Calmed
by Valium, urged on by Viagra, uplifted
by Prozac, I go about my daily rounds,
a quotidian member of the quotidian hierarchy,
a Perseus with neither a war nor a best friend,
and sink to the depths of despair
on the broken wings of my own mundanity.
If only some god had given me greatness,
I surely would have made something of it—
perhaps a loftier, more humble poem than this,
or some übermenschliche gesture that would reveal
my superiority to the ordinary beings and things
of this world. But here I am now, one of
the earth’s mere Sancho Panzas, leading
those heroic others through the world on their
magnificent horses, merely turning the page, dreaming
my own small deeds into their magnificent arms.
Hardline, drive-by corporate blinders,
Power lines in danger, so kill the trees.
Strip mall grocery store chain did nothing.
They had plans to build another store and stood by as
Brain-dead high school grads, bellies hanging over belts,
Cigarettes dangling, trading insults and missing the world,
Took chain saws to the blooming
Trees that every spring draped an ordinary street in uncommon beauty.
Cut them back to stumps,
Thrilled by the power of the engines, the noise,
But the power company has the right.
Now they’re all gone.
And the chain grocery that could have done something has
Abandoned the old store, which sits vacant and ugly.
Empty, mutant decay, no cost to them, no punishment for the blight they left behind.
If they had just left the trees behind, to grace the street in uncommon beauty,
It would be easier to forgive.
But they don’t think that way.
The chainsaws don’t tell the man/boys, joking and eating doughnuts and coffee
“Leave this tree, boy. Take care, boy. Don’t be such a boy, boy.”
“Once you kill the tree that paints this ugly street with uncommon beauty,
Life goes on, the grocery moves down the street and drags it’s captive
Audience down the street.
But uncommon beauty, the grace, has died. And the power lines don’t care.”
I’m procrastinating again. Resistance. Finally got some work done today, though, so the truth comes out. The old enemy got me, made worse by doing some traveling and not writing every day. Lesson learned.
Again. *Big dramatic sigh*
Part of this comes from worrying too much about what people might think of what I produce. So I have the above visual aid for times like these.
This is how I picture those people. It helps to get in touch with the ridiculous, which is the same thing as the reality of our lives. Your mileage may vary with this approach, but feel free to steal it. I wonder sometimes if my medication is really doing me any good.
Long overdue takedown of something awful. If you like this, just google “Bill Hicks” and “marketing” for an even more NSFW take on a pernicious evil that is driving the car with Thema and Louise and all of us straight over the cliff.
Set to something close to Crosby, Stills and Nash’s “Suite Judy Blue eyes”, Weird Al skewers the hateful plague of meaningless business-buzzword-BS.
Sometimes, it looks like there’s no way, but there is always a way.
To do the impossible.
To survive the unsurvivable.
To move the unmoveable.
There’s always a way.
You just need to look long enough, to find a way.
In the face of the impossible, you can survive.
You can be frightened, there’s no shame in that,
Because we all are.
All you have to do is put a face on it.
So you can beat it.
If you are frightened today,
Do not be scared of it.
My festering resentment was brought to the surface again this morning when I saw this image on another blog. Maybe I ought to listen to it, huh? You decide.
Let me set you straight first. I came up with the term “The Law of Unintended Consequences” in the late ’70s—I vividly remember when, too. It was during an episode of “Rhoda”. Don’t ask me why or how.
It just hit me that in life, one can plan like a compulsive fiend, make lists, pursue absolutist goals like the Wehrmacht sweeping across Poland, but the odds are that something unexpected will trip you up. There are just too many variables in this world, and you can’t account for all of them. And odds are, one of them will send your life careening off in some unintended direction to the sound of your wails. “Noooooooooooooo”.
But as John Lennon said, “Life is what happens to you while you’re making other plans.”
Like an idiot, I didn’t copyright LoUC and now it’s in the public domain and I have missed out on yet another fortune. Campbell and Lennon have ripped me off. LoUC drifted out into the great conversation and I haven’t made a dime off of it.
My family laughs at me every time I bring this up. They treat me like you treat someone who has any harmless delusion. I can feel them giving me virtual pat on the head. You might as well join in.
(Reposted.) Ol’ Rudyard’s ghost has his imperialist legacy, but this advice seems valid still for sons–but daughters, as well.
If you can keep your head when all about you Are losing theirs and blaming it on you, If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you, But make allowance for their doubting too; If you can wait and not be tired by waiting, Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies, Or being hated, don’t give way to hating, And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:
If you can dream—and not make dreams your master; If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim; If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster And treat those two impostors just the same; If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools, Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken, And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:
If you can make one heap of all your winnings And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss, And lose, and start again at your beginnings And never breathe a word about your loss; If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew To serve your turn long after they are gone, And so hold on when there is nothing in you Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on!”
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue, Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch, If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you, If all men count with you, but none too much; If you can fill the unforgiving minute With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run, Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it, And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!
“We observed a steady regime around the baseline before the day the relationship status changes,” the Facebook Data Science team wrote on their blog (a Facebook page) on Saturday, “followed by a discontinuity on that day with a more than 225 percent increase of the average volume of interactions.”
“This points towards people receiving support from their friends in times where they need it,” they conclude, “whether it comes in the form of private messages, timeline posts or comments.”
Found this quote on the blog EsoterX, and it struck me as a central truth. The tracing of evil in otherwise good people is a delicious line that runs through the heart of mystery and crime fiction. It’s easy to paint a villain as totally despicable, but much more difficult — and more true to life — to deal with someone who is a 49-51 mix of good and depravity.
“If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”
I can’t believe I’m writing this! If I’m aware it means I am alive and that can mean only one thing…I’m going to fall to earth today!
This is all so new to me, and yet, I feel like I’ve been a snowflake forever, just waiting to get the call, and my chance to be part of creating a Winter Wonderland. Can’t wait! ****
I think I should have a name. Don’t all things have one? I’m going to call myself Phillip. I have no idea why. It was the first thing that popped into my head. Do I even have a head? I’m not even sure how I’m forming words and ideas. Must be the Magic of Winter that I seem to know so much about. ****
It really is crowded inside this cloud. I can barely move, but I’m eager to explore and talk to the other snowflakes. …
Do women dream differently than men? Researchers from the University of Montreal plunged into the gendered unconscious in a new study forthcoming from the journal Sleep. Their focus: nightmares, defined as dreams intense and disturbing enough to wake you up. (An unpleasant reverie that doesn’t rouse you is simply a bad dream.) The study uncovered a trove of captivating facts about nightmares in general—that they prove “more bizarre” and “less rational” than regular dreams, that they don’t necessarily provoke fear. (About one-third of these nocturnal ordeals instead breed sadness, confusion, guilt, or disgust.) But of special interest to me was the discovery that nightmare themes often vary by gender.