26 October 2001

"All men desire to be immortal."
   - Theodore Parker, A Sermon on the Immortal Life

We are lost in our dreams, gone to places only we know exist. I think I might have been in Lyons, or St. Malo, last night. There were tall, imposing battlements of dark, heavy stone looming around us. I wasn't alone. I had a brother who'd been recently released from a sanitarium; he was suspected of being given to violent and uncontrollable fits of temper. A murder was committed. My job was to protect my brother by getting rid of the evidence. We were up on the Quai, and I had to contrive some way to dispose of any evidence which might incriminate him, and at the same time, ensure I did not incriminate myself. He had a girlfriend -- an insipid, bourgeois little girl who was determined to marry him, no matter what. He was edgy while she was around, becoming more and more agitated by her endless stream of inanities, until finally, in a seething fury, he grabbed her, drew her close, and throttled her. He was purple with the effort, and all the while, he was muttering, "I love you. I'll show you. I love you. I'll show you."

I caught him just before it was too late, and he released his hold on her neck. She opened her eyes and mouth wide, and although she looked like she was screaming, no sound came from her. She ran away from us, heading into some dark alleyway, where she thought we couldn't see her. She was wrong. After my brother returned to normal, he went to fetch her. He found her lying huddled and shivering on a cotton pallet in the shadows. He sat with her, and even though she still seemed very frightened by him, she let him put his arms around her and draw her close to his chest. She quickly returned to mouthing her simpering stupidness at my brother, who seemed to enjoy it. I was finally so sickened by them, and by the girl's blandishments, I walked away.

The detectives we’d worried about soon arrived. I had to explain my whereabouts and my actions over the preceding day -- including the reasons for them. When they asked, "Why did you bring a wetsuit with you?" I faltered, but recovered myself sufficiently to answer, "I needed to retrieve my watch. I dropped it into the water earlier, and had to dive after it." As ridiculous as this explanation sounded, it seemed to satisfy the detectives, and they left.

Next, a man joined me on top of the parapet and asked me if I'd eaten. I noticed I had fresh blood on my leg and foot. I knew the blood was not my own, but I didn't understand his question. "How old are you?" he asked. I told him I was much older than perhaps he thought from just looking at me. He invited me to join him.

We walked along the Quai in the dark until we spotted a solitary person. My companion attacked the man, and after bringing him to the ground, invited me to partake in his meal. I hesitantly knelt, but was soon transported with pleasure by the richness and the biting tang of the victim's blood. My normal squeamishness about gore was gone, and I felt silly for having denied myself what was rightfully mine for so long.

After eating, we walked away contented -- no traces of the activity were in evidence. I felt wonderful, but also confused. I asked, "How can this be? How could I not have known this about myself before now?"

My companion just laughed, and said, "You've known me for many, many years. Do I look any different from the way I did the day you met me?" When I admitted that he didn't seem to have aged, he said, "That’s because years and generations don't mean the same thing to us as to the others. You'll have to get used to it. Governments rise and fall, men are born and die, but we continue, and nobody is the wiser for it."

I asked if there were others like us. He told me there were, but except for very rare occasions, we tended to be solitary in our pursuits and our hunting. This was partly due to the fact we didn't always remember others like us existed. My companion and I arrived at a fancy restaurant, where the maitre d'hotel, a tall, darkly elegant, smiling man, admitted us. My companion asked him, "How old are you?" The dark man answered, "I'm nearly eighty, sir."

I was astonished. The man appeared to be strong, vigorous, and certainly no older than in his mid-thirties. He said, "I’m not so old. My father is the sommelier, over there." At a nearby table, another attractive smiling man was offering a newly uncorked bottle to a seated couple. "He's at least twice my age.” The sommelier apeared even younger than his son. I realized that chronological age can be extremely deceptive -- and that unless you ask the question, you can't know the truth.

Much later, we were in the countryside, near an old chateau. A woman had just been given the deed to the place, and although she was excited about owning it, she was overwhelmed. The heiress, a large, shapely woman, was hugging herself tightly, humming a tuneless song. Her companion, a thin, dour-faced woman, was peering about furtively, calculating the cost of the furniture. The big woman was tired, and said, "I need to sleep." The thin woman asked her where she intended to stay. The big woman said, "Why, right here, of course."

At this, the thin woman launched off on a tirade, ending her screed by asking if the other had ever been unfaithful to her. The heiress replied she hadn't, whereupon the thin woman exclaimed, "Well I have, and you never will!"

I thought this was cruel of her, but the large woman took it in her stride, saying, "Maybe, but this is my house, my room, and I'm the one writing the books, so get out, and wake me in a few hours."

I laughed as my ageless companion and I exited the room, leaving the women to their petty battles. I later learned the heiress’ book was finished. It was a treacly, overdone, overwrought potboiler, filled with gothic images, the prose too sweet by half. When I heard this, I knew they were vampires, too.

And the next thing I knew, I was kissed into consciousness, my beloved’s warm lips on my sleeping brow. As I opened my eyes, all I could see were lips and teeth.

Excuse me. I'm off to find myself some warm tomato juice.


15 October 2001

"There is no sin except stupidity."
   - Oscar Fingal O'Flahertie Wills Wilde, The Critic as Artist

Oscar Wilde declared the above more than one hundred years ago, and we apparently still agree wholeheartedly with him. I offer you evidence. As of last week in the online catalog for our Public Library Network, which serves 62 area communities, there are 1,018 occurrences of "for Dummies" in the titles of books, sound recordings, and videotapes. There were also 937 occurrences of "for Beginners." I looked up "for Idiots," and found another 378 items.

Frankly, after looking through the output of my search, I came away feeling, well, insulted -- the implication in every title being that the reader needs hand-holding in some way or another, being a dummy, idiot, or beginner. There was a time, not so very long ago, when we apprenticed ourselves out to experts, in the hopes we would benefit from their coaching and mentoring as we learned from them. There was a gentleness to the relationship, with the expected outcome being a passing on of whatever little torch of knowledge there was to offer. No longer. The personal touch has been replaced by a book, and the gentleness has been replaced with a bold insult. If you read the book, then you are by your own definition a "dummy," a "beginner," or an "idiot."

I was also more than a little unnerved, thinking about all the experts at their work, happily cranking out tomes dedicated to casting aspersions on their readers' basic intelligence. The range of these books, every one of them a step-by-step guide for accomplishing something, is just astonishing. I can literally go from cradle to grave, every contingency of my life covered by one of the topics.

Granted, the bulk of the titles are about operating systems, computer applications, and networking programs. Interactive Data Group (IDG) jumped on the bandwagon in a big way several years ago, when it realized there was a lucrative and expanding aftermarket for instruction and user manuals that went beyond the system provider's often meager and inadequate efforts. Titles have been published for every conceivable program, application, configuration, and technique ever dreamed by anyone. 

You need to know how to assemble a personal computer? Simple, with "Building a PC for dummies," which is so popular, it's now in its second edition. If you're an Apple aficionado, you might want to have a look at "MAC OS X for dummies," new this year. The titles drill down to extraordinary levels of precision, too, detailing not only the system and the program or concept, but the version to which it applies. Witness "Framemaker 5.5.6 for dummies," "QuarkXPress 3.3 for dummies," and "HomeSite 4.5 for dummies." I admit, a few of the titles are frankly funny with unintended humor built in them -- "Ebay for dummies," "America Online for dummies" (in its 7th edition), and "Researching online for dummies." I read the last one, wondering why anybody would be interested in tracking down dummies online, when it's probably possible to walk down one's own street and have trouble not tripping over one. Draw your own conclusions.

Having spent most of my adult life trying to explain software operation to the world, I can accept that people who are intimidated by computer technology might have such low self-esteem they think routinely think of themselves as "dummies," when it comes to the computer. However, are they so conditioned to this mindset they must now think of themselves negatively in other areas of their lives, too?

Would you like to think the job applicant sitting opposite you was readied for the interview through studying "Resumes for dummies," and "Job Interviews for dummies?" Or that you've left your $30,000 automobile in the hands of somebody who's just finished reading "Auto Repair for dummies?" There were books about gardening, home improvement, health and fitness, sports, history, philosophy, science, education, pets, self-improvement, sex and love, travel, religion, and psychology. Pick a subject, any subject, and there's a guidebook waiting on the shelves to instruct you.

I expanded my search for ever more pejorative terms, such as dopes, dolts, dullards, nincompoops, ninnies, and nitwits. Mercifully, no records were retrieved. Yet.

I do miss the old days, but there's not much I can do to bring them back.

Excuse me. I have to get back to my reading. It's a thin volume, titled "Coaching and Mentoring for Dummies." Who knows, maybe I'll learn something.


11 October 2001

"Go right on and listen as thou goest."
   - Dante Alighieri, The Divine Comedy, Purgatorio, canto III, V, l.45

Hearing and religiosity seem to be shaping themselves up as a theme today. My beloved came to me earlier to announce that Rush Limbaugh, that pompous, arrogant windbag who has for many years been espousing his conservative and usually intolerant views on the public airwaves, has "gone deaf."
Limbaugh is famous, or should I say infamous, for his roaring diatribes against all sorts of things -- the man has always had the habit of shouting down and ridiculing those who dare attempt to voice opinions or ideas counter to his own. Limbaugh has had plenty to roar at us over the years about everything from the daily operations of the federal government, to what rights, if any, a woman may have to the functioning of her own body.

I'll probably be struck down for saying it, but I find it deliciously ironic that the most overbearing talker who refused to ever listen, now cannot hear a thing anyone says, no matter how much he desires it. The ability to hear has been lost, and doctors aren't exactly sure why. I have to tell you, it feels to me as if just this once, divine justice has intervened directly in the world, and justice has been dispensed. I do love it when the proud are fallen.

The whole thing reminds me of something I'd read right out of the Old Testament. Think about it.

And the Lord sayeth, "Rush, wilt thou cease thy roaring words for a time, to hear the will of thy Maker?" Whereupon Rush did refuse to submit to the Lord's will. He raised his arm and shook his fist to the very heavens and sayeth unto the Lord, "Nay, Lord. I have no need to stem the flow of words from my mouth, for they are sweet unto the ears of men, and Thou knowest full well my words are to them the same as Thy words. Thou hast bid me to make Thy words known unto the farthest reaches, therefore in no wise shall I obey Thee!"

And upon hearing this defiance, the Lord waxed wroth, and did say again to Rush, "Man, thou art too proud for thine own good! Hast thou forgotten that I have also given My words to all men, that they may speak with one another, and not only unto thee? As long as thou makest such a mighty din, thou drowndest out the words of all other men, and take not what they say unto you into your heart. This pleaseth me not, and if thou wilt not desist, I shall rebuke thee mightily for thy disobedience."

Rush said to the Lord, "I care not that Thou should withhold Thy blessing, Lord. What is such a blessing to me? Am I not powerful among men, and is not my voice the voice all men now hear and obey? Do not all men harken to my words and reply in kind? Nay, Lord, I will speak, and men shall praise my words, raising the cry of "Ditto!" to the heavens, and I shall be exalted among men!"

The Lord's wrath was great, and was visited upon Rush. The Lord said, "This shall be the last thing I say to thee, after which I shall stop thy ears. A man who is too proud to listen deserveth not to hear -- thou shalt from this day forth be deaf to all voices, including thy own. Even unto the end of thy days, thou shalt have the remembrance of what I say to thee now as thy ears become as stones."

Then did Rush understand too late the Lord's power over him, for he could no longer hear the bird in the tree, nor the music in the air, nor even the questions in men's voices. For the remainder of his days, Rush walked the earth in silence, the echo of the Lord's final words to him heavy upon his heart. "Rush Limbaugh, thou art a big, fat idiot."

So sayeth the Lord, and so it is.

Excuse me. I have to go hide from lightning bolts.


06 October 2001

All writers are vain, selfish and lazy, and at
the very bottom of their motives lies a mystery.
Writing a book is a long, exhausting struggle, like
a long bout of some painful illness. One would never
undertake such a thing if one were not driven by some
demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.
   - G. Orwell

I was recently reading a book about writing, a collection of essays by famous US writers, aimed at readers who are--or want to be--writers themselves. The essays revealed the truths and frailties of the men and women who tell stories and explore the human condition through their words for a living. Each writer contributed to the patchwork of the collection one aspect of what being a writer is all about.

When I finished the book, I sat thinking about what I’d read. Why do I write? I think it’s time I answered that question.

I write because I want room to make up my mind before I speak out on subjects. I write because I am afraid of being forgotten by future generations. I write because I can touch concepts with written words in a way I can’t approximate with spoken words. I write to express and explore my emotions. I write to listen with my heart to what people in the world are saying. I write to keep track of my victories. I write to expunge my losses. I write to purge my shame. I write to explore my boundaries. I write to expand my imagination. I write to remember, and I write to forget. I write to change history, and to influence the future. I write to discharge negative energy and feelings. I write because I hate being under anyone’s control. I write because it makes me feel honest. I write to share laughter. I write when I am overcome by sorrow. I write when I refuse to to quarrel. I write from a place deep inside myself that nobody but me knows about. I write when I feel reality rock and dissolve around me. I write to capture people on the page. I write to capture ideas before they vanish. I write to inspire emotions in my readers. I write to offer images and dreams to the world. I write to concretize fantasies. I write to validate my dreams. I write to relive past glories. I write because playing with words amuses me. I write to extend my reach beyond my grasp. I write to teach myself afresh all the lessons I tend to forget. I write when nobody seems willing to listen to what I have to say. I write as a way of keeping track of myself. I write by accident, when words find me. I write to celebrate my life. I write when I have a story to tell. I write when the world fills me with love, and I write when it fills me with rage. I write because I feel I must or I shall go mad. I write when I am humbled. I write when I am filled with pride. I write when I am filled with sin. I write when blessings reach me. I write in spite of the threat of exposure and ridicule. I write because my heart is open and pouring onto the page. I write because there is nothing else in the world I would rather do.

And if that’s not reason enough, I write in order to be a better writer.

Excuse me. I have to get back to my writing.


01 October 2001

All the world loves a clown.
   - Cole Porter

I am not a clown. 
See the clowns? They run Nortel. 
I am a mirror. 
   - Pseudo-haiku about Nate, now unemployed

I was out browsing the other day, and found a news item on a well-known dot-com "dead pool" site that actually made me laugh out loud, no mean feat these days. I don't think the situation is particularly funny, or the people in the situation, but the combination is made for what I felt was irresistible humor. I needed the laugh.

The item reported on yet another technology company falling apart at the seams, finding itself financially overextended and in the terrible position of having to confront several employees with loss of employment. The numbers were reviewed, the decisions were made, the date was set, and the paperwork prepared. Everything was going to be orderly, bloodless, and swift, when the Human Resources drone delivered the axe blow to the hapless victim of a faltering economy and questionable management practices.

That was the plan. The reality turned into something quite different. One young man, well connected into the company grapevine, knew he was going to receive a summons to the Human Resources processing center, and decided to turn the event into a three-ring circus.


He showed up on the final morning wearing a full clown suit, hat, and shoes, and greasepaint makeup. He was indeed summoned to the Human Resources offices, where he sat in front of the clerk assigned the task of processing him through the layoff, a risible reminder of the absurdity of the situation. Somebody was able to get a digital photograph of him during the exit interview. He's sitting opposite the HR representative, hunched forward in his chair, a bright blue plastic water pistol on the table next to the little pile of forms he had to sign, the frown on his face belied by the rubber nose and the bright colored, smeary red smile painted on his face. There is another photograph available of the clown and his friends out at the local watering hole after the termination. The clown nose is gone, but the frown remains. He grimly stares out at the lens, one hand holding a martini, the other uplifted in a one-finger salute to the world. He is surrounded by other victims of the layoff, who don't seem to be taking much notice of him.

Everyone in the photograph except the clown is smiling.

On the web site where I encountered these photos, there is a forum where people may post opinions about the stories they read. The feeling toward the clown and his actions was overwhelmingly positive, with responses varying from "this guy ROCKS," to "I should have done this when I got laid off!" There were even a few job offers posted. People were drawn to the clown, even not knowing his work ethic, the position he'd held, or his qualifications. What they knew was they wanted to be in his proximity.

That's not surprising. Clowns are anarchists, subversives, crazies. They poke fun at our misery, and they squirt us in the eye even as we weep. They make us laugh, in spite of our circumstances. I saw the photograph, and didn't feel the least bit sorry for the person in the Human Resources office who had the singular honor of processing the clown. I was thinking, Gee, I wish I could have been there for that one. What a great story to be able to tell my friends and family -- I got to lay off Bozo! I wasn't even too sorry for the clown. He showed imagination and nerve in the face of some pretty real adversity, and he followed through on his feelings with a glorious display of perspective. He brought gaiety into a sad time, and I envied him. I hope he finds work with a better company soon. I know I'd enjoy working with him.

Excuse me. It's time I stop clowning around, and get some work done.