Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Second Coming

By W. B. Yeats

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the center cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of
Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

This poem appears to be popping up in a lot of things I’m reading nowadays. It’s quoted in a book that attempts to explain and cast post-modernism in a favorable light, but I can’t tell, from reading the poem, whether it works for or against the author’s arguments.

Straw man?

A point that Rick Rodicker makes in his tape series “The Self Under Siege” is that post-modernists (whatever that means) are often criticized / mocked / demonized for the position that all beliefs are relative; that is, no one belief is better than any other. He says that this position of pure relativism is not held by any post-modernist of repute, and never ever was. It is a straw man argument. Of course some beliefs are better than others; indeed, our society could not function in a pure morally and ethically relativistic environment.

But I think that that is a straw man position. I mean, do conservatives / traditionalists / whatever-the-groups-that-are-antithetical-to-postmodernism-are-called really say their opponents hold that all beliefs are equal? In extreme cases, perhaps, but I think that is the rare and unintelligent response to post-modernism. In nine out of ten cases, and ninety-nine and forty-four hundredths of intelligent criticism, the problem conservatives / traditionalists / whatever have is that some beliefs are no better than others.

For example, consider this personal observation. I come from a Catholic Christian background – raised and educated as a Catholic, and deeply interested in Catholic theology, morality, and philosophy. Before the twentieth century, it would be quite normal and expected to hold that there is no salvation outside the Catholic Church. Therefore, the beliefs enumerated by the Catholic faith were the only correct ones for mankind. In the twentieth century, and particularly after the decade of the 60s, this is no longer the case. It is offered that there can be salvation among any of numerous faiths. (In the strictest sense, the Church does believe a narrow form of this, but that’s not the subject of this post.) Why not renounce your Catholicism and become a Buddhist? A New-Ager? An Atheist?

That’s the problem with post-modernism, in my humble and under-informed opinion. I believe man is created to seek Truth, capital-T, and Truth is a singular noun. Post-modernism offers a smorgasbord of belief systems, with little guidance other than appeals to feeling, and that is ultimately dissatisfying.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Rick Roderick

Maybe I’m in a morbid mood today, or just a little sad. Anyway, I have to write about a man who I never knew existed ten days ago, and just found out died six years ago.

I’ve been reading some summaries and overviews of post-modern philosophy to try to better understand this seemingly incomprehensible world we live in. Also, to figure out its weaknesses and to combat it, if it can. I don’t know. Case in point seems to be that there is no single agreed-upon definition of the phrase “post-modern” as it applies to philosophy and schools of thought. But I digress; this is all the subject of a faraway post.

One of my local libraries carried the tape series “The Self Under Siege: Philosophy in the Twentieth Century” and I figured, what the heck, can’t hurt, right? I commute over seven hours a week, so I could probably finish the tapes in a week. And if the professor seemed too much of a screaming lefty I was under no obligation to listen to the whole thing. So, last week I started listening, and was pleasantly surprised.

The series of lectures were done in the early 90’s by a Duke University professor named Rick Roderick. The man hails from West Texas, and has the accent to prove it. That caught my attention within the first minute. Distracting, at first, it soon became, oddly, comforting. Like you weren’t listening to a college professor, but a crazy buddy in a bar. The voice on the tapes is funny, self-deprecating, and spell-binding as he tries to make as clear as possible such convoluted teachings as those of Heidegger, Habermas, Foucault and Derrida. It worked, as much as a 45 minute lecture can make clear the modern philosophies of such men.

I had to find more about this man, I realized. He’s quite the rarity: a teacher who made his subject come alive by sheer force of his personality. A teacher I never experienced personally in my eleven off-and-on years at three different colleges. Yes, there were the liberal jabs at stereotypical conservative values and opinions, but I didn’t mind it, because Roderick took up the Socratic role of “gadfly”, and meant such jabs to inspire me to defend my positions. Point well-taken.

The first place I turned to was the Internet. I googled his name, and the first entry was his Wikipedia entry. And then, I was shocked to learn that he had died in 2002, at the age of 53. How very, very sad. It was as if an acquaintance I just made, and wanted very much to make my friend, died suddenly.

Then, I found this tribute page to him, from his old students and other seekers searching for any information of what had happened to the man. It appears he died of a heart attack, and may have known it was coming. Regardless, he left a legacy of many whose lives he changed. He did two others series for the Teaching Company, which I’ll seek out. Apparently, he was denied tenure at Duke for rocking the boat. Why not charge him with “corrupting the youth”? Socrates would be proud. Reading through the testimonials one story stood out: He began every class by giving everyone A’s. Then, since the college wouldn’t allow him to give everyone in his class A’s, he’d hold a lottery to find the unlucky fellow who got the B+.

How I wish that I had met a teacher like Rick Roderick in my younger days! I pray the God you may or may not have believed in has welcomed you into His kingdom.

Paul Newman

Heard about the great actor’s death Sunday morning and was a bit saddened. I was not a big fan nor am I knowledgeable about his career or his roles, but a couple of things about the man struck me as uncommonly honorable. First, the amount – in money and physical effort – he contributed to charity. Second, the fact that he remained married to the same woman for over fifty years (yes, I know it was a second marriage, but still …) I admired that he was successful in branching out into other fields, and I’m thinking of his involvement in auto racing as well as his entrepreneurial efforts for his charities. And, of course, his three years of service in the Navy during World War II, anathema to just about all Hollywood stars today.

I only saw a handful of movies, and only the most popular ones. Cool Hand Luke and The Hustler did not impress me, nor did the couple of disaster flicks he did in the 70s. I did not see the couple of courtroom dramas he did in the early 80s which are highly regard; I’ll seek them out on TMC. But the best movie I did see him in was Nobody’s Fool, one of his last roles where he plays a quite endearing, warts and all, handyman-gadfly in a small upstate New York town. It was one of those movies where you wished it never ended, and you wanted to hang out with those characters in real life.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

James Quotes

Found two very interesting quotes finishing up William James’s Pluralistic Universe.

The first pretty much sums up my view of God, the universe, and human understanding:

We may be in the universe as dogs and cats are in our libraries, seeing the books and hearing the conversation, but having no inkling of the meaning of it all.

A common observation, but very well-put, I thought.

The second struck me particularly as more relevant in today’s modern era than the one in which James was writing (1908):

Lots of inferior books, lots of bad statues, lots of dull speeches, of tenth-rate men and women, as a condition of the few precious specimens in either kind being realized!

How very true. I immediately think of the Oprah-fication of our modern American society. Do we ever hear such a sentiment so scathingly stated nowadays? So matter-of-factly? I have no doubt that such critiques are meted out in this day and age, and I also have no doubt that they are bleated down by the sheer numbers of the inferior.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Good Martyr's Eve 3

[Part 1 of the story here, and Part 2 is here.]

Sharp metallic clangs, reverberating through stone corridors, gradually and painfully dragged Sir Vincent from his stupor. Slowly dim surroundings coalesced around him, though quickly the old fox’s eyes grew accustomed to the dark. He found himself imprisoned in a dungeon, Sir Caemryn’s no doubt. Shirtless, and chained to a cold, damp wall, both arms outward as would be in a crucifixion. The awkward position made his legs throb and his knees, already weakened from age, trembled. The blow to his head swelled into a hard lump, and this lump’s soles purpose for existence was to administer jabs of pain whenever he moved his head in the slightest.

Helm and Guillaume were not present.

A long time passed; perhaps an hour, maybe two. Vincent dozed.

The dragon returned this time in his dream. Its descent upon the maiden was brutal as ever, its razor sharp fangs neatly slicing her open, its lascivious tongue lapping up her innards. But then, for the first time, the beast spoke. Its baleful gaze found Sir Vincent, centered on him with nasty interest, and its bloody beak opened:

“Time’s a-wasting, Vincent,” it leered. “By festival’s eve she’s meat.”

Vincent started, awakened to find his cell occupied. Osprey was there, as were a half-dozen of his men. The Lord of the Castle was also there, seated, short sword at side, clad in dark green tunic over silver ringmail. Even in patient observation the man carried himself as regally as anyone Vincent ever served for or with.

“Lord Caemryn,” he began, dignified despite his painful position, “I must be released at once! Surely your man has informed you – ”

“My man has informed me you were camping out on my estate heavily armed,” Caemryn interrupted casually, almost bored.

“I am no threat to you!”

Caemryn smiled. “I should think not, given your present state.”

“I swear to you, Sir Caemryn, I bear you no ill will. You must let me leave, with my men. I swear on the True Cross that I’ve personally touched in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre – ”

“So you’re been to Palestine?”

Vincent paused to get his breath. The sands fell from the hour-glass, and the dragon was licking his maw in anticipation. “Yes! I served with Richard in the campaigns along the East Coast! Acre, Tyre, Sidon! I was there, my Lord!”

He sensed a subtle shift in the room: the manner in which Osprey’s men held themselves, as well as the Captain and Sir Caemryn. Their lazy manner firmed up in a combination of respect and uncertainty, and a good amount of wariness.

Caemryn held silence a long while, lost in thought. Then, “I, too, served with Richard Lion Heart.” He smiled distantly as if reliving lost memories. “Perhaps our paths have crossed before, Sir Vincent. Maybe, in the breach of battle, on those heat-drenched and blood-soaked desert plains, maybe I’ve saved your life without even realizing it.”

“Or me, yours.”

Abruptly the Lord of the Castle rose to his feet. Osprey was up and at his side instantly, awaiting orders. “Captain,” Caemryn announced loudly, “I’ve come to a decision. Release Sir Vincent at once! Any man who fought at my side in hell deserves better treatment in purgatory!”

Quickly the men-at-arms released the old knight, who nearly fell from the wall but for Osprey’s nimble arms. After a moment rubbing his chafed wrists and kneading his legs back to life, Vincent accepted a new shirt offered him by the Captain. A minute later he was dressed and back on his feet.

“My Lord, thank you. Forgive me my misdeed of carrying arms upon your estate – ”

“Consider it forgotten!”

“My men?”

“They are being released as we speak.” Sir Caemryn eyed with amusement the older man’s struggle with boots, then belt and the harness for his short sword. No offer of assistance was given; nor would it have been accepted. The Lord of the Castle watched in admiration as the knight moved with single-minded determination.

“May I ask of you a question, Sir Vincent?”

“Certainly, my Lord!”

“Is it true what you told my man, Captain Osprey?”

Vincent looked up, puzzled. “Everything I say is true, my Lord. I do not lie.”

“Then you are chasing a dragon?”

“Indeed I am. And I have precious little time to act.”

A troubled look clouded Lord Caemryn’s face. “Sir Vincent, I am still confused over this dragon matter.” When the old knight paused, he continued. “Have you seen this dragon?”

“Yes, I have, my Lord.” “Where?”

A sudden look of enlightenment fell upon Vincent. “In my dreams, sir. I have nightly visions of the beast.”

“You . . . dream . . . of the dragon?”

“I do,” he said, with much solemnity.

Sir Caemryn burst out in laughter, great huge choking guffaws, contagiously and a little nervously spreading to Osprey and his men. Vincent, still paused in his activities, looked about from face to face, uncertain, unsure of what the object of this man’s laughter was.

“Sir Vincent, you are quite a work of man!” After a few awkward moments, Caemryn’s laughter subsided. “Really, chasing dreams.”

“But, my Lord, these are – ” words failed him “ – quite vivid dreams!”

Another round of laughter ensued, though briefer this time. In a show of good faith, Caemryn actually helped strap on Vincent’s scabbard for him. “Oh dear, you are quite entertaining, Sir Vincent.”

Uncertainly, the old knight said, simply, “Thank you.”

“I fear that if I should chase my dreams I’d be searching for a dark-haired maiden to walk arm-in-arm down a winding lane in Kent.”

“Yes, sir.” Vincent chuckled good-naturedly, turning to leave, and saw Helm and Guillaume being led toward him from an adjacent corridor. He hastened his step, hoping to still catch some of the day’s light to keep the search ongoing.

Then he paused.

He paled.

A wave of nausea overcame him. Slowly, he turned back to Caemryn. “What did you just say?”

“I’m sorry?”

“A dark-haired maiden, m’Lord?”

“Yes,” Camemryn mused, “hair the color of the sea at midnight.”

“And this woman, in your dream . . . ”

“Sir Vincent, you are looking quite pale! Are you ill?”

“Does this woman, in your dream, does she – sing?”

The Lord of the Castle smiled. “Yes. A most delightful tune from my youth.”

“When the maidens would prepare for the Martyr’s Feast?”

“Indeed.” A look of true concern washed over Caemryn’s face. “Sir Vincent?”

Vincent could hardly speak. “A maiden . . . in Kent?”

Lord Caemryn was befuddled a moment, then grinned. “Yes. My dream, Sir Vincent. A maiden – more like a Lady – walking down a winding pathway from a castle in Kent. A cloud overhead, and then – ”

“Then the dragon!” Vincent was horrified.

“I never dream that long.”

“But does the dragon snatch her?” Breath came difficult to the old knight.

“I never dream that long, Sir Vincent!” Caemryn was alarmed, as Vincent seemed to be going into some strange form of apoplexy.

“Dear God, what have I been doing all these years!” Vincent cried. “My own pride has led me astray in the false pursuit of my dream!”

But of the chaos that followed – of the old knight’s new-found strength, of the daring if blunt escape from the Waerwinnicke castle, of the breathless, restless flight back to Kent, and the inevitable confrontation with the worm –

That is a tale best left told for another night.


I look out at the file cabinets in the center of my office, and see the landscape of junk food that the ladies bring in: pretzels, brownies, Oreos, a bowl of Hershey kisses, Kit-Kat bars, and other prepackaged individual sugar treats. There’s also a box of triscuits and a plastic resealable bag of those vanilla finger cookies.

There’s six of us in the office.

This is an everyday thing. They’re always resupplying the junk food center. Actually, today is surprising; normally Fridays involve some sort of donuts or those munchkin-thingies from Dunkin Donuts, along with that box of coffee. Probably the rain kept the designated driver from making her morning stop at the junk factory.

Bitter? Maybe, maybe not. Yeah, I love me my chocolate. But I’ve been so run-down lately, so fatigued and depressed and negative that my intuition’s telling me it’s time. Time to eat better, time to step up and walk the walk. I’m was going strong on the fifteen glasses of lemon-tinged water until the baby was born, then I had to supplement with one or two Diet Cokes a day for the caffeine. I’ve been gluttonously sampling the junk food center here, and the result is I’m headachy, dead-tired by 3 pm, and I feel gross and dirty. When I get home I wash it all away with a Foster’s or two. Too much backsliding, too much justifying.

So, it’s time for a change.

I’ve been reading this book, and it’s very good. Perhaps I’ll blog about it later. Right now, over the past two days, I’ve been eating fruit up until lunch. Fruit is easily digestible. It passes through the body without the accumulated waste of processed foods. It gives you energy. It helps your body to help itself become healthier. So, right now, I’m concentrating solely on fruit until lunch and back to those fifteen glasses of lemon water.

I’ll report back whether it’s actually helpful.

But for now, there’s one very profound observation I want to pass on to anyone reading this. I want you to think about this, think about it deeply.

Any “food” that’s man-made is not food.

That’s your assignment. That’s what’s been bouncing about my mind for the past couple of weeks. Look at those donuts and realize: “That’s not food.” Listen to someone tell you about the cake she had last night, and realize: “That is not food.” It’s not. It’s not grown out of the ground; it’s made in a lab. That “food” is a laboratory-concocted chemical cocktail.

Keep that in the back of your mind when you eat today.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Good Martyr's Eve 2

[Part 1 of the story will be found here.]

Urgency compelled Sir Vincent to meet the trail early in that afternoon, during the hottest part of day. Under normal circumstances this timing would not be of his preference, but time was not his ally. He desired to get as much ground behind him before camping down for the night. With the aid of Helm and Guillaume, he expected to cover thirty or so leagues before nightfall, or about a third the distance to . . . well, Waerwinnick, the land of his dreams.

Following a quick farewell to his beloved wife (who was a bit confused over the immediacy of the journey but, aware of its purpose, gave it her blessing) the trio and their five horses burst through the keep’s western gate and tore up the path through the English forests, settling dust and silence in their wake.

Their object lay in the direction of the setting sun, the vast Waerwinnicke countryside. Where exactly Sir Vincent knew not; the sense that he had no choice but wander onto the stage seen so many times in his nightmares was so overpowering he trusted it implicitly. He simply would know where to go once he got there.

There was little use in explaining this to his companions. Vincent neither recognized the need nor felt the desire to do so. They were only along to facilitate his journey. No questions were required of them; theirs was only to obey.

The moon set early that evening, leaving the three engulfed in complete blackness within the thick forest where they set camp. Helm and the boy kept the fire bright and raging through most of it; Vincent found a medium-sized rock to lay his head against and soon slumbered noisily before he even digested half of the Master Servant’s quickly cooked roasted pheasant.

“Is anything wrong with my Lord?” the boy, Guillaume, asked Helm quietly and uncertainly, as the two watched the old knight fight his imaginary opponent. Muffled curses and shouts of warning soon crescendoed to a scream – and then Vincent slept silently, if not peacefully.

“Is there anything right with him?” Helm wondered.

The horrible dream revisited Vincent several times that night – a sign he later took to mean the confrontation was nearing. With the sky a deep purple-black an hour or so before dawn the old man woke with a hitch, and could not get back to sleep. Nor did he want to. In the vision the beast had turned its dripping fangs upon him and clamped down.

An early start would be the only necessary course of action, he decided. The confrontation would be tonight. Good Martyr’s Eve. The feast festival of his dream. He woke the others, and as the first rays of the new sun spilled over the forest, they mounted their horses, sleep, breakfast and camp long behind them.

Vincent ran the horses till, white froth at their mouths, they approached collapse. Now noon, the sun blistered high above them, hammering down still with summer strength despite the obvious deathly signs of autumn all around them. He forced an hour’s rest, and spent it reconnoitering the valley where they’d stopped.

Vague feelings of recognition fluttered about him: the forest, with its trees bare and jagged; the soft whispers of the sea some miles off to the south; the soft grass beneath his feet; the chilling bite carried by the breeze; the brilliant azure sky unmarred by clouds. He almost expected the beautiful maiden to come forth from the brush humming her melody; almost expected the demonic reptile to swoop down upon him from the mountainous heights above.

But those gossamer thoughts did not solidify, did not clarify and surface for him. Was he all just being too imaginative? Perhaps letting himself be silly, like a little girl? Might this be a sign of old age – was he going daft, like his father and his father’s father before him? In the bright sunlight the nightmare seemed very, very far away, and indeed Sir Vincent was tempted to think this all folly.

Then: A scream! A shout! The clang of metal! These noises brought him out of his reverie, and the old knight dashed back towards camp.

Drawing his short sword, Vincent leapt across the brush bordering the path he’d wandered down, bellowing a great mad war cry as he exploded through the forest and into the clearing.

My destiny, my dream nemesis, he thought disjointedly. I come to slay thee now!

Vincent stopped, almost tripping and falling upon his own sword. He regained his balance and surveyed the situation before him.

Camp was surrounded by a dozen men, all with swords, all armored. Professionals. Men-at-arms, possibly garrisoned at a nearby Waerwinnicke town. All appeared mean and undeniably tough and willing and able to begin as well as end a fight. They had taken the camp, completely subdued Helm and Guillaume (both of whom avoided his gaze, completely and dreadfully miserable unarmed, bound, and seated on the hard ground), seized their overtired mounts. Sir Vincent, regaining his breath as well as the full attention of these men after a long moment, addressed who he believed to be their leader.

“I demand to know the meaning of all this!”

One of the men, a little older than the rest, a little bigger, a lot uglier and probably more nastier, stepped forward. “I am Captain Glyn Osprey, Commander of the Guard of the forest of Sir Caemryn Ysaille.”

“Sir Caemryn who?”

“Sir Caemryn Ysaille, of whom whose forest you and your men are now trespassing in.”

Vincent stared, dumbfounded. “I know not this man!”

“Indeed that is irrelevant to your situation.”

“Indeed it is not!”

“Aye, but it is.” Osprey took a step towards the old knight. Neither man had re-sheathed his sword. “Now good sir, I must insist you put away your weapon and accompany me.”

“Accompany you where?”

“To Sir Caemryn’s keep.”

“But I know not this man!”

“Yes, we’ve already established this fact. And to whom might I be addressing?”

As an act of good faith the old knight sheathed his sword. “I am Sir Vincent of Kent, and those bound men are my Master-at-Arms and my page.”

Osprey nodded to his men, who brought Helm and Guillaume to their feet, though they remained tied. “You and your party are a long way from Kent.”

“’Tis true as you say.”

The Captain surveyed the armaments and armor laying scattered about the camp. “You and your party also look as if you’re preparing for some serious business.”

“Indeed we are.”

When nothing further forthcame, Osprey asked, “Might I, as one who effectively has your party in custody and am negotiating your surrender, might I inquire as to the purpose of your heavily-armed visit to Sir Caemryn and his woods?”

“Master Osprey, neither Sir Caemryn, nor his woods, are our objective.”

“And what, I should wonder, is?”

Sir Vincent puffed out his chest and stood tall, and gazed out into the west. “I have come to slay a dragon.”

This statement apparently held overwhelming amusement to Osprey’s men, most of whom could do little to contain hearty bursts of laughter. The captain, still impatient but now very curious, approached the knight after silencing his men with a murderous glare. “Sir Vincent, where is this dragon to be found?”

“I believe it is near, though I know not where. Specifically where, that is.”

“It is in Sir Caemryn’s woods?”

“It may be, indeed.”

An devilish grin played lightly across the captain’s saturnine features. “I have not seen any dragons. Lately, that is, Sir Vincent.”

“Then I should think you quite fortunate, Master Osprey.”

The captain decided he’d had enough mirth for an afternoon. Glancing upwards and pointing towards the forest before them, he remarked, casually, “Say, is that the dragon you’re looking for?”

And Sir Vincent turned violently, drawing his sword with such blinding speed that the captain was utterly amazed. But this did not prevent Osprey from clocking the old knight in the back of his unhelmeted head with all the force the younger man could summon. Sir Vincent hit the ground hard and journeyed to a land where there would be no dreams, only darkness..

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Birthday Gifts

My birthday was a week ago; it kinda got lost in the shuffle with the Littlest One’s birth. Which is all right by me. I’m not really into celebrating birthdays anymore. It’s a bit of the discomfort at the aging process mixed with slight embarrassment at being the center of attention. So, for the rest of my life, my birthday will be gladly and willingly overshadowed by my second daughter’s.

I did get some presents which I’m excited about. I won’t say who got me what, but I thank them all – really, it wasn’t necessary. And those that helped out with some cash, well, that’s necessary! But not required, and I hope I thanked everyone that deserved it.

So, what goodies did I get? A few I want to comment on: two CDs and two DVDs. Actually, that’s all you need to give me to make me happy. I’ve been discouraging books because, well, I have a humiliating backlog of unread stuff. But CDs I can listen to in the car and DVDs I can watch when I’m too tired to do anything else, or I have the house to myself since my tastes are a little odd.

There’s been a tradition over the past few years of getting me an opera CD for my birthday and / or Christmas. I think I have about ten or twelve by now. This year, I got Le nozze di Figaro, by immortal Mozart. We’ve listened to it a couple of times as background music while eating dinner. I haven’t delved into it, yet, though. And by delving, I mean headphones, long periods of uninterruption, reading through the libretto line by line in Italian with the translated English next to it. Yes, I actually enjoy doing this.

The other CD was Joe Walsh’s There Goes the Neighborhood. A strange but nostalgic pick. I loved Joe Walsh’s music and guitar playing, solo and with the Eagles, particularly in the 80s when I myself wielded a guitar. A moderate influence on me, more so as a rhythm than a lead guitarist. Me and a girlfriend saw him play – I think at Great Adventure, of all places! – and absolutely 100 percent enjoyed it. I recall him playing an entire song or two completely on his back, splayed out on the stage. Hmmmmm. A little too much to drink, Mr. Walsh? But he’s great – I love the slightly zany humor he brings to the proceedings. My favorite song on the CD is “Rivers” and, of course, “Life of Illusion.”

One of the DVDs is a double-disk set The Race to the Moon by the History channel, which chronicles … well, not really the race to the moon but certain peripheral aspects of it. The corporate culture of early NASA that was such fertile ground for the space program. Other, less-widely known 1950s ideas for a space program. NASA’s second-greatest glory, the safe retrieval of Apollo 13. And, finally, the magnificent why? that’s the space shuttle. Should definitely be interesting viewing, and blogable.

Finally, a little more nostalgia with a heaping of camp: The Creature from the Black Lagoon. I vividly recall this critter from my youth, though I have absolutely no memory of the movie. I started watching it a few nights ago with the Littlest One cradled on my chest, but she soon had other ideas. Very vocal ones. So, I’ll rewatch the entire flick when I have some free time on my hands. Hey, did you catch that – “when I have some free time on my hands”! Well, regardless, I can’t wait to lose myself in the black-and-white melodramatic cheese.

Good Martyr's Eve 1

Thunderstorms pummeled the keep that Good Martyr’s Eve, and Sir Vincent dreamed of the dragon again.

Steam billowed from the beast’s tremendous nostrils, in this vision, steam cresting with curling flames. Resplendent, this massive creature, no doubt spawned in Hell, and certainly without mercy for its victims. Scimitar-sharp talons a man’s arm in length adorned each of its scaled digits; fangs of broadsword length dripped poisonous ichor with every noxious exhalation. In these dreams the dragon swooped down, monstrous veined wings flapping, blotting out the full moon, and left massacre in its wake.

This vision that plagued the knight never varied. Always, always: the worm, the innocent, the slaughter. Occasionally he would see the horrid spectacle from differing angles; in more than one dream the beast ended its feast with a gloating stare, mutating its lizard-like maw to a malicious grin, well aware it was being dreamed and of who was dreaming it. These nightmares especially jolted the old man awake, soaked in salty sweat, trembling, a scream caught at the inside of his lips, not wanting to scare his gentle wife awake.

Off and on across two-score years had Sir Vincent visions of this monster. Whether safe in his keep, or whether on the trail, or on the hunt, or in the Holy Lands during the Crusade, the dream assailed him repetitively like a rude guest. Many were the counsels he kept about them, and many were the schemes he attempted to overcome them. He guzzled a concoction of bat-wing and spider eggs at midnight at the request of a Carpathian witch; still the vision came. A Gaul with one eye and the quickest blade he’d ever seen suggested the slaughter of an albino goat before sleep; still the dream visited him. A company of Turkish sailors even went so far as to drink the night away silly with him; and still, besotted and heavy with mead, the dragon leered at him.

Nothing he attempted, not even a pilgrimage to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem nor the blessing of the English Pope rid him of this accursed plight. And so Sir Vincent, in his fifty-ninth year, his flesh-and-bone sepulchre slowly failing him as he feared his wits were, resigned himself to fate to watch over and over and over the slaughter of one certain and distinct fair maiden by this demonic and brutal beast.

Our story begins now, after a particularly vicious week-long duel with the dreams, culminating with these storms on Good Martyr’s Eve, as Sir Vincent sat at breakfast with his beloved wife Elsayne and took her counsel with dread seriousness for the first time in their lengthy matrimony.

It was not really to his surprise that, upon confessing his troubles, she had been well aware of them. What was extremely surprising, however, and more than a little bit disconcerting, was that her face and her eyes gave away the content of his nightmares. And to confirm, her words: “Dear husband, for innumerable nights I have awakened to your screams warning, too late I fear, the lady of the oncoming dragon, and the cries of your helplessness to prevent her slaughter.”

“It is true, all too true,” he cried. Then, taking her soft pale hands in his, veined and knotted, he asked simply: “What am I to do, Elsayne?”

Her response, immediate, heartfelt and loving, struck him in its power: “Save the lady, Sir Vincent!”

“But how?”

She shrugged as if he was asking how to saddle his horse or sharpen his shortsword. “You must save this lady,” she concluded, innocently.

“But I know her not!” he protested.

“Find her out,” she responded.

“But I never see her face in the dream!”

“It is no matter, my Lord. Seek her out. Save her. Slay the worm.”

Sir Vincent harrumphed and took immediate leave of the marital bedchamber, seeking respite in the servants’ quarters. He seized Helm, the Master Servant, and charged him with the following instructions, sworn in the strictest of confidences: “Watch over me as I sleep, and at the slightest discomfort in my drowsing form, awaken me at once!”

Helm changed the color of spoilt milk at this command, prompting the old knight to swear an oath to the Blessed Lady herself that no harm would come to he that followed his orders so explicitly.

So that very first night away from Lady Elsayne, for the what could easily have been the ten-hundredth time, the vision came down upon him.

Vincent woke roughly with strange arms about his chest, and nearly bloodied the faithful servant merely obeying his word by stirring him. The dream still lay hold upon him, as thick but unseen cobwebs one has walked through inadvertently.

Hazy memories clung about him, ephemeral, and he grasped at them, wrestling in the near-dark of the Master Servant’s quarters. The face of the maiden faded swiftly, but now, under Elsayne’s charge, he remembered details lost in the passion that normally followed his awakenings. A fine woven basket this maiden carried, overflowing with some fruit. The winding stone footpath she followed, leading in its unhurried way towards a river. The lady’s gentle singing voice. Trees still laden with dazzlingly colorful foliage, golds and greens and coppers and juicy reds. Autumn. His vision occurs in Autumn.

Two nights ago passed Good Martyr’s Eve. The ecclesiastical celebration the Friday before the autumnal equinox. If his dream was to be taken as prophetic, time indeed was short for the maiden.

He fought for more information, almost a physical combat, frightening Helm. Nothing further came forth. The Master Servant prematurely awakened him long before the dragon itself made its dreaded appearance.

The maiden’s song echoed through his memory. He swore he heard it still ringing through the stone hallways of the manor. Bits and pieces . . . a beautiful melody, though unfamiliar to him . . .

Or was it? He hummed the tune as best as his raspy vocal chords could give it voice.

“My Lord Sir Vincent,” Helm stammered hesitantly, “are we preparing for a trip to the Islands?”

The knight stopped mid-note, shale grey eyes fixed upon his valet.

“The song, My Lord,” the man explained. “Me Waerwinnicke nanny would sing it to me all day long as she went about her chores. During her chores for the Martyr’s Feast, I mean,” he added, mostly to crowd out the odd silence that hung in the air.

Waerwinnick! It had been over a dozen years since Vincent had trod those hills, as vassal to King Anric during his wars with the Celts. Waerwinnick could be the scene of his nightmares. The trees, the hills, the river . . . perhaps he crossed that maiden’s path in an earlier life.

“Suit up, Helm! We ride for Waerwinnick!”

“When, my Lord?”




“My Lord, Waerwinnick is a big country.”

Vincent leapt to his feet, and just as quickly into his tunics. “It is indeed, Master Helm.”

“If I may be permitted to ask a question, Lord – ”

“Permission – or lack thereof – doesn’t seem to hamper you, Helm. Where’s my sword?”

The Master Servant fetched Sir Vincent his shortsword. “If memory serves correctly, sir, Waerwinnick is a rather large country, with north and south mountain ranges, at least three separate distinct forests, a long coast, marshes . . . ”

“Get to the point, man!” The knight, fully clothed and partially armored, headed out the heavy oaken door of his bedchamber.

Helm summoned his courage: “Where in Waerwinnick are we headed, Lord?”

Vincent stopped under the archway to the corridor. Torches still smoldered in the half-light of dawn; the night still silent and drowsing outside the castle walls. “Point well-taken, Helm,” Vincent mused, pulling at his graying beard. Though doubt may have been part of his makeup, hesitation never was. He arrived at a decision, based partly on reasoning, partly on the fleeting dream-images clinging yet to his wakened mind. “Prepare me a horse, cool-weather gear, six day’s rations, full combat armor and weaponry. I’ll bring along you and that squire . . . ” he snapped his fingers in search of a name to the boy’s face . . .

“Guillaume, sir.”

“Yes! The boy will assist me when I do battle with – ” he abruptly cut himself short.

Helm hovered around Vincent, anticipating final orders. “There will be battle, my Lord?”

“You heard my orders, Helm.” Vincent departed the chambers in haste. “Be it done as I say!”

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Current Reads

See that thing to the left? The one that says, “Current Reads”? And beneath, two book titles? Notice it hasn’t changed in a long while? Something like two months?

Well, I am ashamed to admit, in the hustle and bustle and general crazy-hectic-nicity of the past month or so, I haven’t been reading them. Well, that’s not entirely true. Perhaps a better confession may be to state that I’ve read my Current Reads about once a week. At about ten minutes a pop.

A worst sin is that I’ve been adulterous. With other titles, that is. It’s a baseline trait of being a hopper. I’ve been visiting libraries, large anonymous local book retailers, and those fantabulous used book stores the aforementioned large anonymous local book retailers are trying to put out of business. Visiting them after dark. With the collar of my trench coat up, hat pulled down over my eyes.

Maybe I can rationalize here. Transformation … is about four hundred pages long. And Cryptonomicon – Egad! Is that 1,140 pages (as I flip through the three-inch-thick paperback to the ending)? It is! And my bookmark is firmly stuck on page 808. Oh dear.

What have I been reading instead? What is the lure of these libraries and bookstores? Hmmm. Let’s see … Oh, all right. Here it is: Post-modern philosophy, a 1920’s overview of poetry, UFO abductions, the Apollo Space Program, possible paradigms of life that might be found in this big ’ol universe, natural cures and the raw food diet, Bill James and his pluralistic universes, the JFK assassination, Jesus by Pope Benedict. And that’s only the past two weeks.

But, true to hopper form, I never read any of these cover-to-cover. (Well, the exception is Pluralistic Universe, which I am half-way through my fourth read, in order to blog about it from at least a minimally knowledgeable perspective.) Five minutes here, five minutes there. In bed before lights-out. While my daughter is taking a semi-supervised bath. In the car at lunch time. You get the idea.

Well, I’ve reformed. As of this past weekend. Yes, I’m sleep-deprived from the new baby. Yes, there’s still so much to be done on the house. Yes, our schedules are in upheaval. But I vowed to stick to and finish these books in the Current Reads thingie and put two new ones up. I cashed in 31 pages of Crypto yesterday, and about half as much of Transformation. I want to prove to myself that I did not bite off more than I can … digest.

A little over three hundred pages to go in the Stephenson book. Then, a review. It’s genuinely an entertaining read, albeit slightly too long and too focused on minutiae. The payoff better be damned near inflationary, and I’m referring to the explosive super-exponential growth of the early universe. And after the review, I have about two dozen high-quality (or at least “high-interest to me”) SF books to devour. And most under two hundred pages.

As far as non-fiction goes? Not sure what’s on deck. I think I need a break from philosophy and religion. Perhaps something scientific: physics or math. Possibly something historical. Maybe something far-out, weirder than UFO abductions and more paranoid than JFK assassination theories.

But one thing that it most definitely will be: blogable.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Writing Office 2.0

Yay! My writing office is finally done (although I don’t have internet access yet, but that’s coming). What a difference! I wish I had taken a digital pic before the renovation. Visualize gray cinderblock walls, exposed dusty rafters with cobwebs, and wall-to-wall stacks of books, papers, clothing rolling racks, weightlifting equipment, a beat-up old refrigerator, and boxes and boxes of miscellaneous junk. Barely room to maneuver.

And now, this:

Here’s another view. (Boy, am I proud!)

And this is my Bookcase of Unread Books. Over eighty of ’em. And I might even have two or three in my bedroom, too. So, listen up LE: No more trips to that unnamed retail bookseller or those various superb used bookstores that the aforementioned unnamed retail bookseller is trying to put out of business! No more purchases until you’ve cleaned out this bookshelf, you raging bookaholic!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Shut Not Your Doors

By Whitman

SHUT not your doors to me, proud libraries,
For that which was lacking on all your well-fill'd shelves, yet needed most, I bring;
Forth from the army, the war emerging--a book I have made,
The words of my book nothing--the drift of it everything;
A book separate, not link'd with the rest, nor felt by the intellect,
But you, ye untold latencies, will thrill to every page;
Through Space and Time fused in a chant, and the flowing, eternal Identity,
To Nature, encompassing these, encompassing God--to the joyous, electric All,
To the sense of Death--and accepting, exulting in Death, in its turn, the same as life,
The entrance of Man I sing.

An excellent poem. The only contention I have is with its conclusion. ‘Man,’ even viewed at its noblest Whitmanian conception, is finite.

I am interested most in the Infinite.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

The Toothless Meatman

[To be read with a voice reminiscent of Kelsey Grammer’s …]

Years ago – decades, really – as a young man I would drive to the north country to an old cottage owned by my parents to spend my vacations there, alone with my thoughts. The days were fair, sunny and warm, on the edge of these untamed woods, and the nights dark and chilled, ever more so as summer waned and the days grew shorter. I would spend my first day in town, mingling with the locals, purchasing supplies for the week and gaining any news I could of any strange occurrences, which were not at all infrequent in such small towns and villages far from the civilized suburbs I was familiar with.

Far was it for me to know that I myself should become part of the local lore which I eagerly sought out.

The second day in to my solitary stay brought the crisp air and bright skies of an aging August considering the change of season. I spent the morning in a leisurely drawn hot bath, reading some books on history, if memory serves correctly. As the sun marched methodically up the walls of the sky I dried off, dressed, and gave lunch more than its due as I contemplated the rest of the day.

Then, a hard rapping at the door.

A hard rapping at the door? Who knew I was here? True, there was a highway, or a “rural route” as I believed they are called this far out, not a hundred yards from the cottage door, but never in my time here alone had a guest graced me with his presence. I delighted in the possibility of company, but, I have to admit, a shiver revealed itself in the voluminous bumps ranging up and down my arms. That hard rapping indeed seemed too hard to be considered the innocent calling of a graceful guest.

I approached the front door through a spider-web-encrusted walkway, all too aware of the metaphorical implications as I brushed the silken strands from my hair. Also, all too aware of a sense of insecurity, as I realized as I fondly eyed the fireplace poker poking out to me two rooms away.

A shadow moved behind the curtained door. I reached a tremulous hand out and grasped the brass door knob. I turned the handle and I opened the door.

And I was face-to-face with the Toothless Meatman.

Was he an ex-con? The tattooed pictograms covering every cubic inch of arm, faded to a blurry blue, could give one that impression. Swirling snakes and skulls and rose-like flowers, as well as the occasional anchor and even the Christian cross, drew my eyes to his arms and neck. The clothes were rough and workmanlike: the dirty and faded blue jeans of a laborer, the sleeveless black shirt of some motorcycle enthusiast. My eyes roamed upwards – and did I see some shark-tooth or similarly-sharp-toothed teeth on a cord wrapped around his neck? And then, the man’s head, bordered by a goatee and a mullet, and then he smiled, and I realized the man had lost his two front upper teeth.

He lifted a hand and pointed over his shoulder with his thumb. A beat-up pickup truck sat loudly idling in the driveway. “Would you like some meat?” he asked, aspirating heavily and missing that final “t” sound.

Was it me or was he daring me to mock him?

I shook my head, but only, I think, to buy some time. For some reason, my mind had decided to entirely sit this one out. Was this man offering me “meat”? As in flank steak, or chop meat, from a butcher or a grocery store, or some Purdue chicken tenders? There were no commercial markings on the man’s vehicle. I could not see its front, its bumper especially, and I wondered if there was blood splattered across it. “Road-kill,” I believed the locals referred to that type of free meat.

“I’m sorry,” I stuttered. “Did you say ‘meat’?”

“Yeah. Meat.” As if repeating the simple single-syllabic word would clear up all misconceptions. When he continued observing my confused visage, he resumed what I come to think of as his sales pitch: “I get meat for free. My friend gets it for me. I can give it to you real cheap.” And he waited as if he was offering me the sale of the century.

Hmmmm, cheap meat. What man would not consider such a proposition? Just about every sane one! Now – how to get rid of this meat salesman … without becoming tomorrow’s cheap meat …

He must have spotted the myriad objections in my face before I even gave them voice, because he began what must have been his second sales pitch, a car salesman’s “let-me-talk-to-my-manager” kind of pitch. I held a hand up and decided to firmly put an end to this.

Unfortunately, not only had my mind decided to entirely sit this one out, it decided to put on headphones and listen to Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 in C minor, “The Resurrection,” and simultaneously do the Sunday Times’ crossword puzzle.

“Well, thanks anyway,” I blathered, “but I’m not interested.”

“Do you know anyone who would be?”

“Nah,” I continued blathering. “I’m up here all alone. Just me. No one else. I’m here all by myself. All alone. Yep. Just me, no one else. I’m up here all alone.” And, for emphasis, I added, “I’ll be up here by myself for the rest of the week, than I’m leaving.”

He turned, sullen, and headed back to his white pickup truck – or meat wagon, if what he said was to be believed – and drove off without a further word, me waving like an idiot at the front door.

I shut the door, sighed, and briskly rubbed my hands. “Well,” I said to the empty room, “at least that’s over with.”

Then, that shiver returned. Was it really “over with”?

You fool! Oh cursed wretched runaway mouth of mine! Why oh why can’t I just shut you up! Fool of fools! I ran through the house, just because my feet needed to do something. The clock on the wall in the shape of a copper kettle mocked me: “It’s twelve-thirty – night falls in seven hours! … And the Toothless Meatman will be back!”


There was a bench made from a log I dragged across the floor of the dining room and slid securely across the front door. There. That ought to keep the Meatman out. Then, I glanced at the windows looking out into the yard. All twelve of them. Oh dear.

I spent the next hour lamenting that the cottage had no natural defenses. Plenty of glass windows. Plenty of flimsy doors. Some of the doors had locks, I think. The one that did I locked. True, I could get into my car and drive the two hundred miles back to civilized suburbia, but that would be silly.

Wouldn’t it?

The fire poker! I grabbed it, and brought it upstairs, to my bedroom, and rested it securely against the bed frame. No! If the Meatman came in to my room while I was sleeping he could do me in with my only weapon of self-defense! I hid the poker under my bed. Were there other weapons I could use? I thought about the wood shed. I spent another hour thinking about it. Then, I scraped the courage to fight the spider webs and entered the wood shed. And I saw the axe.

After careful deliberation, I placed the axe next to the fire poker, both under my bed.

Long shadows crept over the back yard from the line of trees surrounding the cottage. Soon after I had to turn on the lights inside the cottage. Soon after that I had to draw the shades, on those too-few windows that had shades. The Meatman could be within that line of trees, looking in, planning his next acquisition of meat.

Night fell, and I survived. Axe in hand, I survived a sleepless, and ultimately uneventful night.

I proved I had what it took to overcome the Toothless Meatman.

So proven, I cut my vacation short, and headed back home to New Jersey.

And the Meatman? Some say he’s myth, a legend, the nightmares of a great people and a great land. But I know better. I know he’s real, and out there still, scouring nameless villages and townships in search of isolated packets of tourists … searching for those souls of the damned to sell … meat gotten on the cheap.

[Fade to black for a long moment, then Mr. Grammer steps forward for his curtain call.]

Littlest One Update

Well, it’s day four and the Littlest One is adapting nicely. My memory might be more than a bit malleable, but she appears more mellow than her sister was at this stage. Meaning she’s letting us sleep at night. The first night home from the hospital we all got four hours together, baby sleeping on my chest, and the second night we’ve been sleeping in shifts. I usually lay awake with the baby late at night while my wife sleeps, and we switch as morning comes. The baby herself hardly ever cries – it’s truly amazing. Changing a diaper and post-feeding gas bubbles are the only things, so far, that upset her.

My mother-in-law flew up here to stay with us for the next few days, cooking and caring for the Little One. Actually, Nana is renting a room at the Marriott the next town over, and my oldest daughter is excited about the sleepovers. The Little One has been nothing but fabulous dealing with her young sister, extremely loving and caring and curious. Jealousy has not reared its ugly head. If anything, my oldest wants to do too much for the newest addition, and is disappointed when we try to reel her in.

I still don’t have internet connectivity at home. Probably will have to have someone come out and pay to get everything up and running in the new basement writing office. I’d like to post some pictures of it as soon as I get all my boxes unpacked and everything’s in its designated space. I also have at least fifty used books to dispose of, so I’ll post the titles here in the hopes that someone, anyone, would be interested in buying some or any. You never know. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.

Lotsa work still needs to be done around the house. In addition to unpacking our basement I have lawns to mow, banisters to reinstall, furnances to fire up, parties to plan, clothes to clean, a toddler’s room to renovate, and more than a few ideas to brainstorm for other projects. Busy busy busy. I go back to my stimulating and meaningful job on Tuesday, so I have much to accomplish in the next eighty-six hours or so, sleep deprivation be damned! And I have a sliver of guilt gnawing at my edges for missing a couple of blog posts, understandably, this week. So I’ll be double-posting over the next few days until my average of a post-a-day is regained.

Again, thanks to everyone who’s been helping out, visited, called, sent flowers or gifts for the Littlest One, and has had us in their thoughts and prayers. All truly appreciated. All is well with the world.

Here’s the Little One holding the Littlest One, two days ago in the hospital:

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The Littlest One

Yesterday, Tuesday, September 16, at 3:20 pm, EST, the Littlest One entered this world, screaming, shivering, and hungry. The delivery went as close to perfect as could be, without any incident or trouble, three hours shorter than our first child’s birth.

The Littlest One requests anonymity, for now, but I am allowed to tell you that she’s a girl, 7 pounds 15 ounces, 20 and ½ inches long, an almost carbon copy of her big sister as a newborn, albeit slightly smaller. Her hair is also more blond and more thinned out, but it’s still those short dark curls that the Little One had and lost completely, turning into a bald eagle, around seven months.

Both mom and baby are doing fine. Mom’s a bit stiff, sore, and swollen, but I don’t think it’s as bad as four years ago. And the Littlest One has shown herself to be a smart egg, too. Fifteen minutes after she was born, hungry, she began feasting on her fingers. We asked if we could try breast-feeding, and the nurse said “Sure! Why not?” The Littlest One somehow knew exactly what she was supposed to do, and fastened on for a full meal.

I will be spending most of today at the hospital. The wife and newest edition of the family comes home Thursday afternoon. I probably won’t blog anything else today or tomorrow, but I expect to be back by Friday, double-posting some hopefully interesting items both personal as well as literary, religious, philosophic, and all the other esoteric nonsense that floats my boat. A heartfelt “Thanks!” to everyone who’s called and made the journey to the hospital, and who plans on visiting us in the upcoming days and weeks.

Here she is:

And here she is with mom:

Monday, September 15, 2008

Of Restaurants and Cleanliness

Been reading a lot lately (articles, websites, parts of miscellaneous books here and there) about body purification. Raw diet, fasting, cleansing, things like that. As I mentioned a few days ago, drinking 15 glasses of water tinged with lemon a day has made a noticeable difference. But I came across a useful tidbit in this book.

How can you tell a if restaurant’s kitchen is clean?

Well, odds are they won’t let you back there to inspect, so you can’t. But here’s what you can do.

Go into the restaurant, and check out three things:

The restrooms.

The menus.

Any glass around the entrance.

Check ’em out. Are they at all dirty? If so, turn on your heels and get out of there immediately. The reasoning? If the owner can’t be bothered enough to clean those things that his customers will easily see every visit, you can be certain he can’t be bothered to clean those things they can’t, like his kitchen.

Weekend Update

No, my wife did not have our baby over the weekend. But I have literally been busy every minute of the past three days. Insanely busy. Self-pitying busy. Robotically busy. But I see the end coming.

I was able to accomplish perhaps 75% of what I wanted to from Friday’s post. We did a tremendous amount of work on the house; kudos to my father-in-law for helping out and lending us the use of his car so we could pick up my daughter’s new bed. He also cleaned all the basement windows and well as the laundry room sink, and I mean to the point where it looks like they’re all new items.

Still have no internet connectivity for me; my wife is hooked up for her business. In fact, my PC isn’t even assembled in the new home office. I expect to get that done tonight; possibly by the next day or so I hope to be able to access the web. But, of course, this is all really due to when the baby decides to make things happen.

My guess is an inducement tomorrow, Tuesday, September 16. My wife is going for her fourth ultrasound in two weeks and will consult with her OB-GYN. The doctor is a very aggressive and competent guy, and my gut tells me he’ll go with that gameplan. I’m excited, my wife’s a bit nervous, and we’re all so physically and emotionally drained. We haven’t even settled on names, for either gender. Hopefully, we’ll look at that wrinkled puffy face and magically the child’s correct name will become apparent. I hope.

I will try to blog every day, as usual, excepting this past weekend. The blog was set up to get me back in the habit of daily writing, which it has, over the past six months. But, and I’m sure you’ll agree, these are quite exceptional circumstances. Maybe I’ll post shorter thoughts instead of longer essays. I don’t know how I’ll be in a sleep-deprived state (not that I’m getting much rejuvenating sleep these days anyway), at least for the first week of the littlest one’s life, but I’ll do my best.

The show must go on, and all.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Tick Tick Tick

My wife almost went in to the hospital today to be induced. Her fluid levels in the placenta were low, low enough to warrant a consultation with her OB-GYN. She drove from the ultrasound lab to his office, and it was decided a weekend of rest would be best. They’d test her again on Monday. The doctor is reserving Tuesday for her in case she needs to be induced, and our second child will be born.

His or her due date is September 16th, anyway.

But that gives me a sigh of relief. We have sooooooo much to do. I’ve been working on a weekend to-do list all day today, and almost had to throw it out. But no, it looks like I’ll still have one final weekend to get as much done before our littlest one is born.

Tick, tick, tick

Just to get it off my chest, here’s what I have yet to do. Our basement has just recently been refinished. Well, a ceiling’s been put up, the laundry room’s been framed out and sheet-rocked, a couple of outlets and new light fixtures installed, and everything’s been painted. I spent the past week moving desks from our offices down there, as well as about twenty boxes of books, CDs, paperwork, and miscellanea that needs to be gone through, box by box, and thrown out or put up on shelves.

We’re having the cable folks come over today (almost had to cancel, see paragraph 1) to wire up the basement with internet, phone, and fax lines. My wife spends a day or two a week working from home, so this is all business expense. So, I had to take down a quarter of the ceiling panels (oooops! try not to break them!) so the installers can run cable though the rafters. In the process, I got incredibly dirty and incredibly itchy.

I still have to completely empty out my wife’s old office. It will now be the new room for my daughter, the original Little One. My father-in-law is coming up tomorrow, and one of the many errands we’ll run will be to Lowe’s (got a 10% coupon) to buy pink paint and other painting supplies. I’m aiming to paint her new room on Sunday.

Tick, tick, tick

We also have about a dozen old paint cans to be disposed of from when we first moved in to the house four years ago. There’s a one-time hazardous waste removal fair (?) at the local community college. That’s another errand on Saturday.

Oh, and I need to get my driver’s license renewed. So, a stimulating trip to local motor vehicle office is in the works first thing Saturday morning. After I do Quicken and pay all our bills that need to be paid.

Laundry for the three of us. Grocery shopping on Sunday, where I take the Little One with me. I also have an insurance physical scheduled for Sunday at 7 am (the nurse is coming to our house to draw my blood, weigh me, take my blood pressure, etc.) Timing!

Still have about two dozen books I’m salivating to read, daily blog entries to write, an epilogue to a novel I need to redo, and baby supplies, such as the car seat, crib, bottles, bottle warmers, infant clothes, etc, etc, etc, to get down from the attic or find in the mass mess that is our garage. Would like to toss a trip to church somewhere in there, too.

It’ll be exciting, it’ll be frantic, it’ll be a horse-race photo finish …

Tick, tick, tick

Thursday, September 11, 2008

September 11

I have no stories of personal tragedy on September 11, 2001, thank God.

That day was the perfect fall day. There was that crisp bite in the air, a nice breeze, no humidity, low-70s temperatures, and not a cloud in the sky. I had been unemployed at that point for just under a month, having moved back up from Maryland due to a relocation for my wife’s career. I was going to the town library early in the morning, and must have got there right after 9 o’clock after it just opened.

Very strange. The few people in there were huddled together, talking, weird expressions on their face. I quickly found the book that I wanted and checked out. The librarian seemed in pain and examined my face for an uncomfortably long time. I had no clue what was going on. Then she did something extremely bizarre. She reached out and seized my hand. “Do you know what’s happening?” she asked me. When I shook my head, she said, simply, “We’re being attacked. They’re attacking us with planes.”

Now, my first reaction, after retrieving my hand, was to think that this lady was completely nuts, except for the fact that there was this weird pallor over everyone there. I high-tailed it out the doors and to my car. I don’t think there was anything playing on the radio. That scared me. Driving the mile or so back to my apartment, I scanned the skies, expecting to see military aircraft soaring overhead and possibly foreign troops parachuting down.

I got home and switched on the TV. Some stations were snowed out. That ratcheted up the fear more. If you’re invading a country, I reasoned, one of the first things you do is knock out the enemy’s means of communication. But it was only a couple of the low channels that were out. Most were working –

Then I saw the image of one of the towers burning. And then, a minute or two later, a second plane few straight into the other tower, igniting in a fireball.

I sat down, horrified, numb, uncomprehending. The station kept replaying the crashes, over and over and over.

My wife was in New York City that morning for a meeting. I called her cell, and got nothing. Dead.

I called my mother at her work; they were watching TV there, too. Nobody really knew what was going on. But within an hour or two it was established that it apparently was an isolated incident. Well, there was the crash/attack on the Pentagon and reports of a downed airliner in Pennsylvania. All commercial flights were grounded, and that appeared to be the extent of it.

An anxious afternoon passed until my wife was finally able to communicate with me via her cell. She had been in Penn Station during the attacks, about two or three miles north of the World Trade Center. Still too close. And she’d be unable to get back to New Jersey. She and her colleague were somehow able to get out to Long Island and they were going to stay at another worker’s home overnight. It was not until the following evening that I saw her again.

A year later I was working in New York City on the first anniversary of the terrorist attacks. It was very tense. I got into the city early, around 7 am, and it was a ghost-town compared to the normal pedestrian traffic I encountered. There was a rumor of radiation being detected on a ship in the harbor, but it turned out to be either completely false or blown out of proportion, I don’t remember which. I do remember being very glad to get back home that night.

I’ve read some of the profiles on those victims of the savages. Some have brought me nearly to tears: a young couple on one of the planes, on vacation, bringing their three-year-old daughter to her first visit to Disneyland. A man’s recorded phone call to 911, rising in panic as he describes that he’s trapped on one of the upper floors of one of the tower, his frightened “Oh God –” and then pure silence as the call is cut short. Sheer heartbreaking.

I pray that we are able to overcome and eradicate such pure evil. I pray for the brave and intelligent men and women who keep such evil from occurring again. I pray for the 3,000-plus victims of such barbarity. I pray for the innocent victims and the heroic ones. I pray that their sins may be forgiven, that they all may be given a free pass, and that they may all be brought into the arms of our Father in Heaven.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

2009 Writing Goals

Better to be ambitious than not, right?

I’ve been posting daily to this blog for six months now, and I feel confident that it served its purpose: to get me back in that habit. I hadn’t written consistently (read: 1,000 words written a day or 1 hour editing a day) since the previous November when I finished re-writing my 1999 novel Kirana. But daily blog posting is all I have been doing, and I’m itching to produce some more works for possible public consumption.

Kirana’s complete as far as I’m concerned. A 2009 goal would be get to that out on the market.

The Whale of Cortary is my second novel; I finished the second draft in July 2007 and a few people have read it with generally positive reviews. However, I’m slightly disappointed with the 40-page “Endgame,” or final part / long ending chapter of the book. It needs to be tightened up, made more suspenseful, made more clear. Probably I need to trim it in half, down to 20 pages maximum. So that’s another 2009 goal. Then, send it out.

I’m thinking of possibly expanding my short story “The Treatment” into a novel. It’s got an inherent ragged lunacy that would make it fun to write. I need to spend a few days working on a potential outline and see if the story has legs.

I have two other novels inside that have been nagging to come out. First is a short, mystery-slash-SF story dealing with immortality. I’m having structural difficulties, though, as to whether to make it a first-person narrative or focus on an alien Hercules Poirot. Also, I’m admittedly not a fan or a reader of mysteries. The plot as I have it so far appeals to me; however, I am at a loss at how to wrap it up at the end.

The other novel I’ve been pondering is a longer work, an epic, kind of a cross between fantasy and SF (has that ever been done before? - Just kidding). The idea of building a cohesive world appeals to me. I’ve taken all my notes and plotlines from my nerd D&D years in the early 80s (yes, I’ve saved them in a box in the attic) and have perhaps the barest of skeletons of a world. And I have an idea that might make it unique among the thousands of books in the fantasy-slash-SF market.

I have about fifteen or so short stories gathering dust in a desk drawer. Maybe three or four are good enough to get published. Another 2009 goal would be to send ’em out. Get experience in the fine art of rejection acceptance. Aaaaaah!

For years I’ve been toying with a “par” for writing. I think a short story a month is doable, and by short story I mean about 5,000-7,500 words. Which is what I do now in week’s worth of posting. So it shouldn’t be too difficult; just need three things: time management, energy management, and idea creation. And I have a backlog of around twenty short story ideas.

The blog thing has turned out to be incredibly fun and rewarding. With absolutely no promotion whatsoever I actually get visitors from all over the country, and some from other parts of the world. Not a lot by any stretch of the imagination, but more than I thought I would have (which was originally about 1 – my wife). So, naturally, I wonder what the next step should be.

In 2009 I think I will maintain this blog as an archive or a “writer’s business card,” adding to it two or three times a week. But more exciting, to me, is that I want to branch out and start two other specific-interest blogs, and vigorously try to market them. I have four expansive ideas right now, which is too many to be manageable, so I need to either combine some or else whittle them down. That’s what I’m thinking about right now. When I come to definite decisions, I’ll post them here, of course.

Right now my new writing office is half finished. I have a new baby on the way any day now and I have my daughter’s new bedroom to paint yet. Lot of busyness on the horizon, which is why my writing goals are targeted for 2009. Hopefully the littlest one will be sleeping through the night by then …

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Water & Lemon

For about two weeks now I’ve been doing a simple technique that has noticeably improved my physical well-being. I learned about it in a short little book I read during those often-wasted moments: waiting in grocery store lines, waiting at traffic lights, waiting for my work and home PCs to boot up. It’s a quick read and I will review it completely later.

One of the techniques the author advocates is hydration. You all heard the standard line: drink 8 glasses of water a day. That’s 64 ounces. This author’s contention is that we are all massively and majorly dehydrated, which is one cause that leads to disease, and what our bodies crave most to achieve better health is a massive and major influx of water. He recommends drinking 50 to 75 percent of your weight, in ounces. I’m tipping the scales at about 195 (an easy 15 pounds over my ideal weight), so that figure for me would be about 98 to 146 ounces of water a day, or 12 to 18 glasses of water.

I settled on 15 glasses of water, almost double what it commonly recommended. The author is vehemently against water straight from the tap, so I’m drinking only bottled spring water store-bought by the case (about 25 cents per 16 ounces), or drinking PUR-filtered water at home.

(Oh, and I cut back on my soda and sugar drinks considerably; I think I’ve had about seven or eight, or one every other day, where I used to average probably two, even three a day.)

But what makes it all palatable is to add lemon to your water. There are many reasons why lemon juice is healthy for you. The Romans used it as an antidote to poisoning. It’s alleged to help with heartburn, hiccups, nausea, and constipation. Many believe it stimulates the liver in its production of bile and helps to dissolve gallstones. High in vitamin C, it is a good preventative against infections. It’s also a diuretic, so it helps the body flush out accumulated toxins.

Even if all these reasons were just old wives’ tales, it at least makes water tastier. How much lemon to add to your water? Squeeze the juice from a quarter of a lemon, preferably organic, into a large 16-ounce glass of water.

So after two weeks of doing this I’ve noticed I’m sleeping better, I feel better, and I’m naturally eating better. And you’d think I’m going to the bathroom every five minutes, but I’m not going any more than I used to in the past.

Try it, and see.

Monday, September 8, 2008


Something bad happens. Let’s call it X. And let’s also assume that X is a random event that happens to a great number of people.

I discover or invent or otherwise create something that keeps X from occurring. Call that Y. Y prevents X from occurring. I start a business to mass-produce Y. But my livelihood depends, really, not on the production of Y, but on the existence of X.

Now, a question. Why on earth would I ever want X, that something bad, to ever go away?

If it did, if Y was successful to the degree that X completely went out of existence, how then would I make my livelihood?

Let’s take this scenario a step further. If Y eradicates X, and my income depends on X, wouldn’t it be better if I spent my R&D to develop or discover or otherwise create something else that doesn’t quite eliminate X, but rather, alleviates it’s effects or temporarily makes it go away? The result is that it makes X less bad, but keeps X in existence, so my livelihood remains in existence. Call this second discovery or invention or creation Z.

X is something bad that happens to a lot of people. Y causes X to disappear. But Z causes X to be not as bad as it is in its original form.

Wouldn’t it make economic and financial sense to shift from mass-producing Y to mass-producing Z?

Is this ethical? More concretely, is this right or wrong?

Emphasis on Z at the expense of Y to deal with X. This seems to be the standard operating model for 20th and 21st century America. Well, let’s not bash this great country of ours (and I mean that sincerely) too much. It’s the working model for the majority of our global capitalistic society as a whole. I can see how hundreds of books can be written on the previous paragraph alone and I suppose more than a few have. But it really bothers me.

X, Y, and Z can be lots of things. A small example: just recently my kitchen was overrun with teeny little ants. You’d never see more than ten or twenty at a time, but they were always there, on the countertops, near the sink, on the walls. My wife would open a cabinet and see the ants scurry, noting that it was like the watching the running of the bulls at Pamplona. Nothing we tried got rid of them. So we called an exterminator.

Here, our ant infestation is X.

What did the exterminators do? Put us on a program where they’d come out quarterly to spray around the foundation of the house to keep the little guys away and we’d pay them quarterly to do this. Now I’m no expert on insects or insecticides, but to me this sounds like a perfect Z. If a one-time spray eliminated the ants (Y), how would the exterminator make any money?

What about other X’s? What about the X of disease? Cancer, heart disease, you name it. What are the Y’s and Z’s for disease? I have a lot to say on this topic in a future post.

How about the X of, oh, let’s say auto repair? Or our oil- and gasoline-based economy? Or computer technology? Or crime, or poverty, or Iraq, or … well, you get the picture. How much of our bloated government bureaucracy is a result of this Z thinking? It can get downright depressing. And that brings to mind the X of psychotherapy. Oh dear.

I suppose the best strategy would be to take matters into our own hands as much as possible, and switch to individual-based Y thinking.

More later …

Sunday, September 7, 2008

The Funniest

… book I’ve ever read – The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Hands down. Douglas Adams is the funniest writer period. Every page has a guaranteed chuckle. Occasionally, you’ll be forced to put the book down from laughing so hard. I have a smile on my face right now as I read this, recalling some of the jokes, characters, and setups. The trilogy has five books, and I burned through them all the summer of 1989, and occasionally re-read them from time to time. Adams’ Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency is a close runner-up.

… music CD – Tenacious D. Yeah, it’s got side-splitting comedy bits interspersed among the songs, but some of the Jack Black-Kyle Gass compositions are hilarious. My favorites are "Dio", "Kyle Quit the Band", "Friendship", and a song whose title I can’t print here. It was the CD for me during the summer of ’07 and I almost wore it out.

… movie experience I ever had – Borat. I say ‘experience’ because, well, let’s face it, I could name at least twelve or fifteen genuinely funny films, but in order to choose a definitive one, I had to go with experience. I saw Borat almost two years ago with my friend and his father, in a packed movie theater, and everyone was on the same page. We were all one under the barrage of jokes and incredibly goofy scenarios, and we all had an awesome time. What a great way to bond with two or three hundred people.

… show on TV – The Office. No contest, here. There’s not a funnier show, or, I might add, one more uncomfortably enjoyable, to watch on the tube nowadays. Created from a hugely successful British show to be a vehicle for Steve Carrell, The Office is filled with hilarious and human characters. I have never cried harder, hoarse with laughter, unable to breathe, watching anything else.

… person I’ve ever known – Bob. Also known as Tank, Boogie Dog, and the Master of Unreality. Purveyor of the Slow Treatment. Replacer of the star with a streetlamp. Bob, you with the palindrome name, you know who you are. I’ve known him since 1984, though we’ve fallen out of touch over the past decade or so. We found ourselves in similar straits at the tail end of the ’90s, and those weekly hard-drinking sessions were some of the funniest times of my life, ever. If you’re out there and come across this, drop me a line.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Huntin’ Satellites

"What the heck was that?" my uncle cried.

We were all reclining around the campfire in the semi-nirvanic state that roaring outodoor fires seem to put people in. Some of us had beers, some didn’t, some were chatting, others were silently making their way through the myriad of stars shining down from the crisp and clear night.

Uncle was one of those others.

What did he see?

A faint yellowish object, similar to a star, except that it moved. Not a quick flashy jump like a meteor. No, this was a deliberate, straight trek across 25 or 50 degrees of sky. Then, it simply vanished.

No one believed him at first. Then he spotted another.

That piqued everyone’s interest. Soon, several more were spotted. My brother became quite adept at predicting where one would pop up. The shiny objects all appeared in the same general area of the sky but in difference places, all doing that slow orbit for a couple of fists-at-arm’s-length across the celestial backdrop, then fading out.

It was determined, after some debate, that we were sighting satellites.

After half-a-century in the business of heaving junk past escape velocity, mankind has succeeded in placing about 10,000 satellites in orbit. Some are planned and purposeful, such as communications, weather, and spy satellites, some less so, such as discarded rocket stages and the occasional lost wrench. Apparently, now, hundreds of these satellites are visible to the naked eye.

Since they’re visible only because they reflect sunlight, satellites are only spotted, say, between 45 and 90 minutes before sunrise or after sunset. After that, the earth’s shadow prevents sunlight from reaching them. They range in altitude from about 100 miles upwards to 25,000 miles. Though the size of individual satellites vary greatly, most of the ones you can spot are about the size of a small bus or a large SUV.

There’s three broad types of orbits these satellites can assume. First, there’s the geostationary orbit, which plants the satellite above the same spot of Earth because it’s period of revolution is the same as our planet’s. These are generally too far to see without the aid of a telescope. The other two types of orbits are polar, ’cause they orbit north-south and go over both poles, and equatorial, which are perpendicular to polar orbits. The lower the orbit, the faster it’s revolution. Satellites in Low Earth Orbit, about 185 miles up or so, take about 90 minutes to orbit, so you might catch ’em twice in one viewing. And if you see what appears to be a blinking satellite, it’s likely to be that discarded rocket stage tumbling along in orbit.

There’s a whole group of communication satellites called Iridium that are parked in orbit 492 miles up that offer excellent viewing. Silver-coated Teflon antenna arrays mimic mirrors, brightly reflecting sunlight down to the darkened Earth below.

The space shuttle and the International Space Station are the brightest man-made objects you’ll see up in the skies. I don’t think we ever spotted them, though. I kinda think we’d know it, you know?

If you’re curious enough to try to spot a few, the website www.satobs.org is a good place to start before you head outdoors. And www.heavens-above.com offers a when-and-where guide to help you find the best, biggest, and brightest satellites.

My uncle may have started it, spotting our first satellite oh-so-many years ago – now it’s your turn to finish it!

Friday, September 5, 2008

War 2,488 Years Ago

Then sounded the voice of the trumpet, with syllabled fire,
Troubling their line. Commands were shouted. The measured
Sweep of oars smote the ocean. Their ships each one
Clearly took shape before us. The right wing loomed
Foremost, well-ordered; after it galley on galley
Swept proudly, and as they approached us a thundering shout
Stormed at our ears: "O sons of the Greeks, advance!
Free now your native land, set free your children,
Your wives, and the temples of your fathers' gods,
The tombs of your ancestors - now you fight for them all!"
Swift from our decks there arose a responsive clamour -
A babel of Persian speech. There was no time now.
Bronze-beaked and swift, fiercely dashed ship on ship;
First with its stroke was a ship of Hellas that sheared
From a Phoenician galley her figurehead;
Locked then was foe with his foe in the fury of fight!
At first the torrent of Persian vessels sustained
The shock, but when the multitude of our galleys
Jammed in the rocky narrows, and none could help
His fellow, but each with bronze beak tore the other -
Shivered then were their oars, and the cunning Greeks
Hemmed them about and smote them on every side.
The hulls of our ships rolled over, the sea was hidden
With wreckage and slaughtered men; the shores and the reefs
Were choked with our dead. With wild oars went in flight
Each ship unfoundered of our Barbarian fleet.

From The Persians, a tragedy by the Greek poet Aeschylus. Told from the perspective of a Persian messenger reporting to his queen Atossa ...