Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Summer 1980


Not much to say today; busy, busy, busy. Full report on tomorrow's post. I just found this book cover image on a floppy I had when I was an email support analyst at Marriott International. Lotsa downtime, especially when I worked the night shift, and I remember hunting for any info I could on this really awesome book I read nearly twenty years earlier. As soon as I saw this picture, I knew that was the book. My wife bought me a couple of these old, out-of-print, highly-influential-to-me books as a wedding gift eight years ago, so I've read The Spinner again, this time as an adult, and it still gives me goose bumps in its terrible simplicity. Which reminds me: I titled this post "Summer 1980" because of a two-week vacation my family took down the Jersey Shore. That is a post in itself ... perhaps later this week.
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Au revoir, June!

Monday, June 29, 2009

Capsules

[mild n minor spoilers...]

Here’re two old reviews I found on my laptop – well, more like mini-reviews or capsules. Eight or ten years ago I was reading so much that I realized unless I did a little paragraph summation of the novel’s merits, or lack thereof, after a year I’d simply forget I even read the book. Oh no! The Puritan in me buckles at the retroactive waste of time, even though I understand that the act of reading, whether lifeshattering prose or hack work, is pleasurable as long as it transports you to another place and time. Oh, and the degree of pleasure obviously hinges on such things as the author’s competence and creativity and how that jives with your receptors for such competence and creativity.

One of my favorite SF works is a short monster novel entitled The Spinner by Doris Piserchia. I read it during a tremendously fertile period in the development of my imagination – right around when I was reading Tolkien and my parents were divorcing. I briefly blogged on the book here. But six or seven years ago I found another one of Ms. Piserchia’s novels at a used book store and since her works are out of print, I paid the $3 (I would have paid four or five times as much gladly) and immediately read it.

Here’s what I wrote in 2003:

A Billion Days of Earth by Doris Piserchia A-/B+ . Pessimistic. Characters that get beaten and broken in a horrible world. Yet very entertaining, even if I did not fully understand what was meant in the ending (the Gods departing and Sheen’s words to them). One of the best alien menaces I’ve read: Sheen. Intelligent, witty, dialogue-driven. Sheen as a Metaphor for Sin in our world???

Not too much detail, I admit. To supplement, the story takes place on Earth long after man has become extinct. Rats have evolved to gain intelligence and somewhat hominid form. A blobulous creature which calls itself “Sheen” suddenly appears and begins absorbing all life forms into itself, one by one, over the span of some years. Two rat brothers have deep philosophical discussions over why the one brother should not willingly allow itself to become absorbed (that entire sentence sounds weird, eh?). Scenes with the Sheen were interesting; rat angst was not.

Sometimes I pick up trashy SF novel on the hope that it may just end up a decent, guilty read. Often, I admit, I fall for those misleading back cover blurbs and pseudo-summaries. The second old capsule review, read and written right after Piserchia’s work, falls into this rare category.

Sargasso by Edwin Corley D+ . Very interesting premise in the first 20 pages – Apollo 19 lands in the Bermuda Triangle, and no astronauts are found on board. Rest of the story sucked. 70’s cliches, read just like a Charlton Heston-Irwin Allen disaster flick c. 1975. Boring, uneventful, eventual let-down at the end: astronauts were never aboard Apollo 19 – they stayed behind on Russian platform to dismantle its Evil Nukes (!). Only suspenseful moment: 5 or so pages where submersible loses power and starts to sink into the abyss.

Ouch! Scathing! I guess I didn’t like the book.

However, according to the nerdalogue spreadsheet I’m looking at, it seems I read a string of excellent SF after those two novels (Lest Darkness Fall, The Demolished Man, Babel-17). As well as an excellent book entitled The Death of the Thresher by Normal Polmar (about the first of America’s only two nuclear sub losses). Wouldn’t mind rereading any or all of those works.

Oh to have more time to read and spend less time worrying about the base necessities of life! Forward!

To the Moon


...

I.

Art thou pale for weariness
Of climbing heaven and gazing on the earth,
Wandering companionless
Among the stars that have a different birth,
And ever changing, like a joyless eye
That finds no object worth its constancy?

II.

Thou chosen sister of the spirit,
That gazes on thee till in thee it pities …


- “To The Moon” (1820) by Percy Bysshe Shelley



I remember that second-story window, my chin on the sill, spying down upon the gently up-sloping fields, cresting up to the dark formless perimeter of pine trees. Scattered about were tangles of brush, long grasses green and gray in the night, illuminated only by the bright lamp of the Adirondack moon. Leafless saplings swayed in the soundless breeze, a hint of motion against the distant murky cloudline. A lonely tree – oak? dogwood? I never knew – raising its arms up towards the thin stratosphere; was it watching me watching it or was it oblivious, seeking out summation to its own dark and ill-formed strivings? Was it the only breaker the old house had against the wilderness, the wild at the edge of my vision, a cold row of fir-girded pines at the outer edge of our etched-away oasis of civilization?

And all under the all-seeing joyless eye of the spiraling moon …

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Destination: Void

I really hate to do this, but I have to.

Life really is too short.

This is the second time around I’m trying to make my way through Destination: Void. The first time, maybe two summers ago, I got about thirty, thirty-five pages in, then lost interest. This time around, I got up to page 95, or jes’ ’bout halfway through.

But I have to put it down.

I really, really, really wanted to get through it. I remember listening to an audio book about the history and social meaning etc etc etc about the genre of science fiction (I think it was this one), and the author spent a whole CD on Frank Herbert. You know, Dune. The first great “world-builder,” I believe he called Herbert, and I tend to agree. Dune was Herbert’s second novel, his break-out masterpiece, written in the early-60s. The author of this audio book spent half the CD on that novel, then focused his remaining time on a trilogy released just after Dune, of which Void is one of them. It sounded truly fascinating: the premises, the setups, the plots, the conflicts, the head-scratching, thought-provoking dilemmas. I even found Void’s sequel at a used book store (The Jesus Incident) and bought it, and the third novel of the trilogy is on my finder’s list.

But I’m so sorry; I just can’t get through it.

Why not?

A couple of things struck me the second attempt with this novel, early on. First, and this is really just a pet peeve, not a deal-breaker: the punctuation is atrocious. Misplaced commas and quotation marks, misspelled words, spaces where there shouldn’t be spaces and no spaces between punctuation marks that traditionally get the right to a space. Okay. I might be a little too picky (I always thought I’d make a great editor, or at least a great proof-reader). One or two typos I can forgive. But one or two on every single page starts getting distracting, taking you out of the story. You start hunting for the anticipated mistakes and not concentrating on the characters. Obviously printed and bound long before the days of computers, this copy had to have been proofed by a guy who was either seriously drunk on the job or didn’t understand English.

Which brings me to the second thing. The way the novel flows made me think that it was originally written in another language and translated into English. Do you know what I mean? Ever read something translated and get the feel that it’s somewhat disjointed, illogical, irrational? You know, technically the sentences are constructed properly, but something about the words chosen doesn’t add up? The dialogue didn’t sound like real people talking; even when a character’s thoughts were being presented to me, I was like, is this the way other people really think?

Stylistically, the novel has a kind of “roving omniscience”, which means we’re privy to the point of view of multiple characters. Well, there are only four characters, so we get the innermost thoughts and feelings of each in turn. Sometimes the POV changes one paragraph after another. It’s a legitimate literary technique, I suppose, though I can’t recall many books which have utilized it. Just another thing I felt distracting, adding to the overall confusion of the novel.

Finally, the novel relies on that old Star Trek: The Next Generation gimmick, a gimmick which only reveals either plain lazy writing or poor pre-planning. What happens when the Enterprise is trapped in, oh, I don’t know, let’s say an alien force field and is in danger of being immanently crushed? Picard yells at Geordie in Engineering to get them out of there, and our blind hero comes up with “Captain, we just need to adjust the quantum phase fluctuations on the Heisenberg laterators and hope to reach Q point before the Dirac vectors go critical!” Voila! Data hits a couple of buttons on the console and the Enterprise escapes unscathed.

But – Nothing really happened! It’s a cheat, and my ST:TNG BS detectors were going critical long before I was a couple of pages into the novel.

So, sadly, I am placing Frank Herbert’s Destination: Void into cardboard storage with my other used books. The only way it will stand out in the box is that it will be, along with its orphaned sister, The Jesus Incident, unread.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Fumigate



Due to the last post, this blog has a slightly bad odor about it. Blogging on politics has a tendency to do that; I usually avoid that trap. Perhaps it had something to do with my recent surgery. I'm not currently on any pain medication, but maybe I should call my doctor just in case.

Please stand by while The Recovering Hopper is fumigated. Close your browser and do not return for at least one hour, and make sure you've eaten at least thirty minutes before doing so. Then it should be safe to look around. May I recommend my series on the Eucharist earlier this month? How about learning about Heinrich Pesch and how economics should be? Or perhaps any of my movie or book reviews, like this, or this?

I won't let politics creep into my writing any more. Well, at least until the Obama tax increases coming soon force my family to make drastic cutbacks in what we do with our meager income.

Thanks for your patience.
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Hall of Shame



Mark Sanford, Republican

“Disappeared” to Argentina for several days to continue his extramarital affair with a woman he met eight years ago.



John Edwards, Democrat

Had a child out of wedlock with an ex-campaign worker while his wife was undergoing treatment for breast cancer.




Eliot Spitzer, Democrat

Paid $15,000 for at least seven liaisons with high-priced prostitutes as New York Governor and possibly five times as much as Attorney General. He’s been married for twenty years and has three children.



Mark Foley, Republican

Resigned after explicit sexual email messages to underage male interns surfaced. This is part of a history of similar abuses over the previous ten years, partially explained away as a “drinking problem.” Now lives openly gay.




Bill Clinton, Democrat

Paula Jones, Juanita Broaddrick, Kathleen Willey, Gennifer Flowers, Elizabeth Ward Gracen, Sally Perdue, Monica Lewinsky … nothing more need be said.



What’s the deal with these moral imbeciles? Are they so deluded that they actually think they won’t get caught? Is the thrill of the sex act so all-consuming that they will risk – and ruin – their lives, their reputations, their futures, and, most importantly, those of their wives and children? I don’t get it.

But I do come to a couple of conclusions. First, it’s a non-partisan issue. There’s something in the brain chemistry of a male politician that makes him susceptible these idiotic, immoral activities. Just as many democrats fall as republicans. It affects the evil party as well as the stupid party indiscriminately. There’s often a feeding frenzy when a republican gets caught with his pants down, because of two things: the press is overwhelmingly liberal, and often republicans campaign on family values. But it’s no less disgusting and repulsive when a democrat does it.

Someone who steals my wallet who says it’s okay to steal under certain conditions is no less guilty of theft as someone who steals my wallet after proclaiming from the rooftops that stealing is wrong.

Second, the only adequate response that has any degree of honor, however infinitesimal, is immediate resignation. Disappear from public service, please, as soon as possible. Mark Sanford, you need to go, now if not sooner, and stay out of the limelight. Forever. We need to forget about you. Forgiveness is your wife’s to give, and you better get on your hands and knees and beg for it. You can’t repair the marriage you so callously destroyed and run a state government at the same time. Go. Goodbye.

We will not allow these moral dimwits to remain in power. They do not deserve the respect and honor of the positions they seek.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Surgery Successful

Well, what happened? I know you’re anxious, so here’s the results of my surgery, in a nutshell: successful. Prognosis? Positive, cautiously, though, as usual. Let’s wait and see, but we’re very, very pleased with how the procedure went.

I’ll take it.

Want some more detail? Okay, since I’m in a mood to write. Here it is:

Wednesday morning I woke up at 5, after six hours of sleep, tossed and turned for a bit, then went down to the kitchen for a small bowl of cereal (the hospital said I could have a light breakfast as long as it was before 6 am). I made the baby’s bottle, and my wife fed her. I dropped little Patch off at the sitters and drove back home in silence. I said a Divine Mercy on my Rosary, and studied myself at that moment. I was calmer than I had been the past few days. Relaxed for the most part, and in a good mood. Probably because the waiting game would soon be over, and that sword hanging over me by a thread would be taken down and put back over the mantel.

Once home, I showered and dressed, aware of the ticking clock. My wife was ready, and we left around 9:30 to drop off our other car at a relative’s house in case it would be needed to pick up Patch at the sitter’s later in the day. We took the George Washington Bridge into New York and got in surprisingly quickly, in something like twenty minutes or so. Columbia Presbyterian is only a few minutes from the bridge; we found parking and I gathered up my bag and walked to the hospital entrance a block away. It was up a fairly steep hill for NYC and with the humidity I found myself really winded by the time we reached the reception area.

Check-in and Pre-registration was cordial though the waiting room was packed. An Asian gentleman got into a verbal altercation with one of the three Hispanic receptionists while those of us waiting in the chairs exchanged nervous smiles and rolled our eyes. The View was on the television set above me, though it might have been a video feed from a barn filled with mooing cows for all I cared. A half-hour went by (we were early), and I wandered off to find a bathroom. When I got back a small, extremely friendly man greeted me by name and told me to follow him.

They took me to the prep room, gave me instructions, and pulled the curtain closed. I was by myself, and suddenly seemed so alone. For a moment I kept thinking, “Not again … not again …” I undressed and put on the hospital gown and tied it around. It was freezing in that room – maybe as cold as sixty degrees? Colder? A physician’s assistant came in to take down the labyrinth of my history. A nurse followed and took my vitals and an EKG. Another started an IV. Finally, my wife was allowed in. I was in good spirits, and made several side-splitting jokes, which would be in very poor taste repeated here. My wife shook her head in disbelief, how I could be moody and grumpy days earlier and so light-hearted minutes before surgery. Gallows humor, I said.

My surgeon came in and chatted with us for about ten minutes. He was highly optimistic, the sort of guy who wears his heart on his sleeve. However, he also started speaking quickly of alternative options should this procedure not work out – things such as open-heart surgery. I wish he didn’t go there, at least not until we had to. I think he sensed this from me, because he suddenly waved his hand and said, “Oh, this is just me thinking three steps ahead.” He left upbeat and cheerful.

They wheeled me away about 1:45 in the afternoon, into the room where the procedure would happen. Two men started prepping me, both of them very funny and downright goofy. It was infectious; I told them that at this point I was so used to doing these catheter procedures that I thought about shaving myself when I showered earlier but decided against it. “As long as you don’t have a problem with another grown man shaving your groin,” he said, laughing.

The anesthesiologist, an Asian woman, came in and set up her station. There seemed to be some concern about finding certain things, but, once she saw me watching her, she explained that this wasn’t their usual room. A fourth person came over and my shaving friend introduced him as Osama-so-and-so. “He’s going to assist your doctor with the catheter insertion.” Seeing my expression, he continued: “I know you don’t know whether to believe anything I say, but his name really is Osama.”

Osama grinned and swabbed some ice-cold blue antiseptic over my groin, abdomen, and thighs. Then he covered me with some adhesive padding. I think. I’m lying on my back, staring straight up and can only see these things peripherally. One thing I like to do in these situations (this is my ninth surgical procedure in three years, the sixth in the past five months) is observe the tile patterns in the ceilings. Often I can find the shape of the cross which best fits the proportions I would imagine the true Cross to be, and I try to remain fixated on it.

After fifteen minutes of being prepped, the anesthesiologist put a mask over my face and gave me some oxygen. A few minutes later she said, “Here’s that cocktail I promised you.” Maybe thirty seconds after that a relaxed wooziness fell over me. “How are you doing?” she asked. “I feel like I’ve had one drink too many.” “That’s how we want you to feel.”

I knew I was going under very soon so I kept mentally repeating, “Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner,” over and over and over, and then, disconnect –

My doctor was talking to me out of a fog. “It went very well! We got it open, on the first try!” He said other things, but I don’t remember exactly what. Others were cleaning me up, covering me with warm blankets. I was placed back on the gurney. “Did I talk in my sleep?” I asked the anesthesiologist. “No,” she said, a voice with no body, “were you dreaming?” I thought a moment, trying to capture distant, fading images. “I dreamed I was talking to people in the desert.” Actually, it was a desolate landscape, like the moon, but with obviously breathable air, but I could only vocalize the word “desert.”

They wheeled me out to the recovery room, where my wife was waiting for me. The procedure took about three-and-a-half or four hours, so it was now close to six o’clock. Relatively quickly I was lucid. She told me that the doctor brought her in to the “control room” where she could see the before and after pictures of my pulmonary vein. The before pictures showed a spindly vein about the apparent size of a telephone cord; the after showed a wide-open vein the comparable thickness of a tree trunk. She was very pleased, very happy, and told me that the doctor felt the surgery went almost better than expected.

She left to get my father-in-law, who generously drove two hours up from the Jersey shore to fight NYC traffic to be here. While I was under they went out and got coffee, and he also joined my wife in that control room. He remarked that as I was coming up I went into convulsions, but a nurse pulled the blinds down over the window to the OR before my wife could see it. Of course I felt nothing.

The problem I was having has to do with the two pulmonary veins connecting my heart to my left lung. Due to complications from my heart ablation done in March of 2008, scar tissue forming around the ends of the veins are causing them to close up. I would get very tired very early in the day; going up a flight of stairs presented quite a challenge, and I’m still a fairly young guy. The real danger is that blood cannot drain from the lung; ultimately, if both veins close, the lung will have to be removed. The smaller vein had already closed up. The larger vein had shrunk to one millimeter thickness, down from about ten. In February, doctors at another hospital had ballooned the vein from one millimeter up to six. But at the end of May I learned that the vein had again collapsed back down to one millimeter.

The options I faced were to either balloon it open again, or put a stent in. Ballooning it open again faced two risks: first, the vein could rupture, and second, there was no guarantee I wouldn’t be facing the same situation again in another three months. My other doctors were kinda scratching their heads over the whole thing, so after a consultation with my cousin’s heart surgeon at Columbia Presbyterian, we decided to go with the stent procedure. A stent would have the best chance to keep this vein open and the blood flowing through it.

A nurse’s aide who apparently had just recently jumped from a plane wheeled me up to my room. Every person he passed he promised and / or threatened to take up with him on the next parachute jump. I had a male nurse, Kevin, who helped me into my room. My wife was with me and remained to make sure I got comfortable and got some food: a turkey sandwich and some orange juice, which burned my throat, sore from the breathing tube that was down it. She left after twenty minutes or so, to get our youngest, Patch, from my aunt and uncle’s, who picked the littlest one up from the sitter earlier in the day.

My first instinct was to sleep, but Columbia Presbyterian would not allow it. My blood pressure was taken, first every fifteen minutes, then every half-hour, then every hour. Blood work was done around 10, then a chest X-ray was taken an hour later. The hospital has these flat-screen TVs on adjustable arms that come out from the wall behind the beds; I channel surfed during all this but I don’t remember what shows I watched. I do recall The Outlaw Josey Wales was one, which was remarkable because I watched it the last night I was in the hospital back in February. What’re the odds? Anyway, I had a nagging pain just behind my eyes, so they gave me Tylenol. Other than that, I was drug free.

Unfortunately, I shared a room with an older Spanish gentilhombre who spoke no English. I took a couple years of Spanish in high school and worked with Spanish-speaking people for years, so I could understand enough to know he was not a happy camper. Apparently his blood pressure was through the roof and nothing the hospital could do or give him could alleviate his splitting headache. It just came on him suddenly after they changed his IV drip, but the nurses and doctors insisted that that had nothing to do with his high blood pressure. Anyway, it made for an almost-sleepless night for me. I would nap for a half-hour here, forty-five minutes there. Once I cried out, very loud. Another time, I had a dream I was vomiting up copious amounts of thick gravy-like stuff. It wouldn’t stop. I woke myself up, disoriented, aware I was in a hospital but not sure why, wondering if the vomiting was why I was in there. But that faded quickly, and I turned back to the TV.

My doctor visited me promptly at 8 am, joyous and perky as always, asking me how I felt. He said I could get out as early as noon, after another X-ray (the one they took last night looked great) and a lung scan. I asked questions, made sure I understood what had happened the day before, and asked him what the next steps were: a follow-up in a couple of weeks, then we’ll see what’s next. He left, and I called my wife. After that, I got up on my feet for the first time and relieved myself of a quite full bladder in the bathroom.

A second X-ray, then the waiting game. I read forty pages of my Medieval Philosophy book, finally able to concentrate now that my headache was gone and my roommate was asleep. I watched some TV, saw that Farrah Fawcett succumbed to her cancer. Walked out in the hallway, admired the view of the Hudson River and the George Washington Bridge from a couch by a window. A physician’s assistant gave me a prescription for Plavix, an anticoagulant to prevent clots from forming around the stent. Oh yay. Washed my face and brushed my teeth.

Around 1 o’clock I was taken down in a wheelchair to Nuclear Medicine. This was for the lung scan. It was my third go with this delightful test (the other two at two other hospitals in February). A lung or VQ scan is a mildly unpleasant test to see the profusion of blood in your lungs. An airtight mask is put over your face and you breath in radioactive Xenon gas for eight minutes. It’s uncomfortably warm and you feel a mild sense of suffocation. Then, they leave you on your back for fifteen minutes, long enough for the radioactivity to seemingly saturate every cell in your body. A nurse comes in and injects that metallic-tasting contrast dye into your IV, and you’re slid into a rotating MRI-like device. What results is an image showing where exactly the blood is flowing in your lungs. The whole thing took a little over an hour, then I was wheeled back up to my room.

My roommate was packed, apparently healed of his superhypertension. “Buena suerte,” I said to him, and he winked on the way out. The physician’s aide came in and said I could dress and go home. I did, then called my wife, who, luckily, was working a store in Yonkers. I signed the release paperwork and after waiting unsuccessfully for a wheelchair, decided to walk myself to the elevators, down the admitting area. My wife drove up earlier than expected, and in about ten minutes we were over the bridge and heading for home.

We got our little apache warrior from the sitter and then got burritos to celebrate – vegetarian, of course. My wife dropped off my Plavix prescription at the drug store, then we got home and had dinner to the shocking sudden news of the death of Michael Jackson. My wife fed and put down the littlest one. I was also out of it, really feeling the need to sleep, but managed to take in two episodes of the funniest show on TV, The Office. Then, I passed out in bed, a little after 9, and didn’t wake up until a little after 7.

Quite an adventure, and hopefully the last for a very, very long time.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Yet Another Medical Update


Hello Legions of Fans!

All six of you!

Tomorrow I will be incommunicado as I am going in for another medical procedure. It seems my superior pulmonary vein stenosis has kicked back in with a vengeance, and I am down to a one millimeter opening into my left lung. The lower vein is completely occluded, so this puts me at something like five percent blood flow into el pulmón izquierdo. Which makes me very, very tired, very, very quickly. Not to mention the fact that if left untreated I will have a redux of my February 2009 Northern New Jersey Hospital Tour.

So after much discussion, I’m going to have a stent put in. My original doctors wanted to re-balloon the vein open again, but after some second-opinion advice we realized this would be relatively futile as the darn thing will probably close up again, buying me only a couple of months.

Why is it closing up in the first place? Simple. It’s scar tissue formed too close to the pulmonary veins during my ablation procedure to cure my atrial fibrillation. Can it be stopped? No. It’s the body simply trying to heal itself, not realizing that it is actually hurting itself. There’s nothing you can do to stop it. If you got a cut on your arm, could you will the scar tissue not to form? Could you change your diet or exercise or think positive affirmations so the scar tissue won’t form? See what I mean?

I’m going to one of the top hospitals on the east coast that deals with problems like these, with a new set of doctors. We met with them last week and came away confident and upbeat. Personally, I’m a little nervous about the procedure tomorrow. Twenty days in three different hospitals will do that to ya. I don’t relish the fact of resuming my old role as the Human Pin Cushion, but I had some bloodwork done this morning that was painless. And I also hate the fact that I’ll be out completely for the procedure. You know, those fears about not waking up …

But my faith is strong and I believe this will have a positive outcome. I’m looking forward to the future with relish. Been doing a lot of soul searching – time in deep thought in front of the computer, distraction-free (as much as a hopper can be distraction-free), coming up with a whole series of goals and action plans and this and that to get motivated and out of this Limbo I seemed to have fallen into sometime in February.

Anyway, the procedure is set for tomorrow though the hospital hasn’t called yet with a scheduled time. I’m thinking it’ll probably be around 11 am or so. I’ll be out for a couple of hours in this minimally invasive procedure, so I would expect to be conscious again around 5 pm. They want me to stay overnight for observation, but barring any unforeseen complications, I should be home by Thursday afternoon.

Wish me luck, and keep me in your prayers!


Your struggling Catholic, ex-musician music lover, science fiction buff, aimless yet impassioned writer, amateur armchair philosopher and aficionado of the weird,

LE

Monday, June 22, 2009

Double Standard


President Obama and Vice President Biden celebrated Father’s Day by playing 18 holes of golf at the Fort Belvoir Golf Club.

I am not being critical of them for playing golf. I believe rest and recovery is very important, regardless of what one does for a living. Even more so for those with great responsibilities.

What I do wonder about, though, is summed up in this little thought experiment.

What would the mainstream media’s reaction be if this story was reported as George Bush and Dick Cheney golfing during the potential democratic uprising of the Iranian populace? Do you think their outing would be reported a little more widely than their successors have? Do you think there might be a tiny little bit of disapproval in the tone of the reports?

Any guesses?

Gran Torino

My wife and I watched Clint Eastwood’s latest – and possibly last – movie, Gran Torino, Saturday night. I went in with high expectations based on what I’ve read review-wise online, and to a certain extent wasn’t disappointed. While it’s not the greatest movie ever made, it just might well be the best movie made this year. But I don’t see that many new movies, since most turn out to be pure junk and a waste of time, so take this recommendation with that salt grain in mind.

Clint plays a grizzled, mean old man, tough as nails as a way of coping with the horrors he has seen, and has done, over fifty years prior in the Korean War. He’s also bigoted and racist, the greatest deadly sin in our day and age. The movie shows his turn of heart as he comes quite close to a young Asian immigrant boy through a series of unlikely events. There’s a couple of squeamish bits of bloodshed, gang-related violence, plenty of “real-world” vulgarity, most of it unrepentant. You’ll think you can predict the ending, but you won’t be able to; this is actually a Hollywood movie where some degree of thought went into the screenplay.

[Minor spoilers to follow …]







What struck me most during the movie was how I reacted to it. In our culture we have been conditioned to fight back, no, indoctrinated might be a better word, and to cheer on the man who fights back. When a fist is thrown our way, we expect to throw a fist back. One thrown harder, heavier, badder, to teach the transgressor a lesson to never mess with us again. We’ve been wired to desire this more than anything else. This desire probably goes back millions of years and is hardwired in our brains. But even as recently as the television show you watched last night (or even the news program they glued you to), you saw how right and just and even noble it is to fight back and hit back harder.

What about this thorn in our sides: But I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil. When someone strikes you on your right cheek, turn the other one to him as well. If anyone wants to go to law with you over your tunic, hand him your cloak as well. Should anyone press you into service for one mile, go with him for two miles. (Matthew 5:39-41)

Hmmm? What say you?

This is arguably the most difficult teaching in all of Christianity. How difficult it is to put this into practice! How difficult even mentally, in our thoughts, as opposed to actually physically manifesting such an attitude in our daily lives. Christ was the only One who did put it into practice, in complete fulfillment, as far as I’m aware of. Perhaps some of the saints, too. However, I know that I fall short, terribly and despicably short. Watching Gran Torino I felt my pulse quicken and noticed my expectant glee awaiting to see the bad guys get their just comeuppance. Hopefully bloody and violent, based on what they did to the good guys. But what Clint Eastwood’s character finally does is so completely shocking, I think, so unexpected, that it is just this discord in our thinking – the discord between our higher, spiritual selves and our lower, baser selves – that the writers and most likely Clint himself wants us to meditate on.

The point that I have the most trouble with is that to a certain extent the Angry Retaliatory Fist is needed in our world. Think about the response to 9/11 – specifically, the invasion of Afghanistan and the overthrow of the Taliban. Was this response not warranted, not just? Does it not fit in accord with Church teaching of Just War (which goes back to St. Augustine in the 4th century)? And what of the famous line (C.S. Lewis, maybe?) of the author who realizes he and his family are only able to sleep peaceful and safe at night because some very dangerous men guard our perimeters, ready and willing to do great harm to those who would want to kill us?

It’s tough; I don’t claim to have any answers to this. We may never have this side of eternity, either. But I think it’s worth it to think upon every now and then, and that’s why Gran Torino is a film worth seeing.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

The Vampire in the Basement

For some reason or another I was thinking about the times as a kid I was really, really scared. There weren’t many times. I don’t want to give the impression that I was always walking around in mortal danger. Most of the times I was truly frightened could probably be chalked up to an overactive imagination. After all, every week I was checking out library books on UFOs, bigfeet, sea monsters, traditional bogeymen like werewolves and vampires. I also clocked in countless hours in front of the tube, filling my susceptible mind with such fare as Hammer films, Japanese big monster movies, those bug-eyed aliens from those black-and-white 50s SF invasion flicks, Chariots of the Gods, the Twilight Zone, and, of course, In Search Of, with Leonard Nimoy’s creepy and hypnotic narration.

Recently I did a post on how spooky it was to stay in my parent’s weekend house in the partially secluded woods of upstate New York. But driving around earlier, my mind wandered to the scary parts of my youth, wondering what incident would take the prize. Almost immediately, the vampire in the basement episode came to mind.

Sometime in the fall of 1979 the miniseries Salem’s Lot, based on Stephen King’s second novel of a few years earlier, aired on regular TV. I don’t remember all the circumstances around it, but for some reason it seemed to be an event at my house. It probably aired over a couple of days, and I remember my father watching it, as well as my mother and possible an uncle or aunt. It wasn’t like me and my younger brother were allowed to watch it; more likely attention wasn’t focused on us, so we were able to sneak in big chunks of the show. Or maybe they just didn’t think it was too scary for us. I don’t recall.

What has stayed with me all these years is: That movie was scary as hell.

And, unfortunately, it coincided with our project – my brother and me, that is – to spend the night sleeping alone in the basement.

Mistake. Big mistake.

Our house wasn’t big; it wasn’t small, either, but as active boys we needed space to roam, especially in the fall and winter when the days shortened and it darkened earlier. So we spent a lot of time in our basement. It was unfinished more or less. Concrete floor because it flooded now and then, cinder block walls. Pipes along the walls. A couple of windows that tilted in and up to let in fresh air during the summer. Rafters in the ceiling. There was a section under the stairs where my parents had a sink and a couple of old cabinets and the cat’s litter box. Facing the stairs was my father’s domain: one full quarter of the basement cordoned off with what I think was a rug or something hanging from the rafters and wrapped around the metal columns that kept the house from collapsing downward. In this dark area was the furnace and water heater, my father’s workbench and cabinets where he kept fishing supplies. A pile of wood which attracted lots of spiders bordered this area. The other half of the basement was ours, and we filled it with toys, a red table for arts and crafts, and a round toy chest.

We got it in our heads to spend the night down there sleeping. Sort of a rite-of-passage, a bar mitzvah in courage for us Catholic boys. We couldn’t just sleep out in the open, though, and not just because of the bugs. Because of the dark, you see. So we overturned a reclining chair, threw a blanket over it, fortified it with some boxes and stuff, and created a secure club house. Now, the task of surviving the night down there seemed manageable. My mother gave us permission after inspecting this contraption.

Problem was, CBS decided to air Salem’s Lot.

Do you remember the vampire in that movie? For years and years and years we’ve been indoctrinated to think of vampires as suave, debonair, refined. Lady killers, no pun intended. To be honest, I think Bela Lugosi’s Dracula was the least-scary of all the monster movies I watched as a kid. But Salem’s Lot? It is one of the few books of King’s that I did not read, so I don’t know if it was his idea or the producers or directors of the miniseries. But the evil vampire, Barlow, was downright frightening. Do you know who Nosferatu was? That was a more authentic vision of the vampire. Scrawny, balding, yet intensely demonic, fanged, with intense eyes, and long sharp nails at the ends of long thin fingers.

Scary as hell for an impressionable kid.

But we could not go back on our plan. Manhood, approaching from just around the corner, it seemed, demanded we go forward. Let me tell you, going down those basement steps after having watched the end of Salem’s Lot, my younger brother behind me, took the strongest act of will I have ever had to summon up to that point. The light switch, you see, was at the top of the stairs. So we had to go down those steps in the dark to get to our fortress. Yikes.



By putting one foot in front of the other, I made it down to the bottom of the stairs. I recall light from somewhere, probably the kitchen upstairs, filtering down illuminating our way. However, I was prepared to keep us safe throughout the long hours until dawn. I stashed two pieces of wood, nailed in the rough shape of a cross, in our club house earlier in the day. Now, there remained only one last thing to do.

I don’t know if my brother understood what I was doing (nor did I, most likely), but I remember taking that makeshift cross and blessing it in the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. I made the sign of the cross. Now I knew we were safe, and would be safe. Still, though, it was one heck of a scary night. Those staccato noises that issue from a house only at night – every snap and creak was a vampire, sniffing its way up to that overturned recliners, smelling the food inside but sensing that it was guarded by a Power greater than its evil, nasty self. We survived.

Where did an eleven-year-old boy get the idea to sanctify two crude pieces of wood in the shape of a cross? From the vast catalogue of anti-vampire tactics stored in my noggin, from those hours and hours of research in front of the television set!

In any event, we survived. And we never did anything as reckless and stupid again as spending the night with the vampire in the basement.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Most Sacred Heart of Jesus II



Looking at the Heart of Jesus say:

O Heart of Jesus, drowned in sorrows for my vain joys. Heart of Jesus, loaded with heaviness for my sinful pastimes. Heart of Jesus, seized with fears for the rashness of my desires. Heart of Jesus, covered with confusion for the shame of my sins. Heart of Jesus, wounded with infinite dolors for the enormity of my crimes. O Heart of Jesus, pierced a thousand times by the number of my disorders!

O Heart of Jesus, sweet, tender, peaceful, compassionate, sincere, charitable, and faithful; O furnace of Love! O treasure of all Graces! O amiable and endless source of all the sorrows of love that ever did, do, or will enter the hearts of men, infuse into my miserable heart all that sorrow, grief, affliction, and sighing, which you fostered in the hearts of so many holy penitents.

As my heart has sinned as much as theirs, why should it not be filled with as much sorrow? May a holy contrition emanate from the heart of Jesus into mine, with dispositions to receive it. May tears, O Jesus, flow in abundance, accompanied with sorrow, shame, hatred, and love. A Savior so lovely and so loving, but so little loved, and so much offended.

Then say to your own heart:

Oh, miserable heart of mine, all defiled with sin, filled with malice, swollen with pride, poisoned with self-love! Oh, heart filled with vices, and wholly devoid of virtues! Oh, heart all open to sentiments of nature, and wholly closed against motions of grace! So covetous and at the same time so prodigal; so sparing toward the Creator, and so lavish to the creature! Oh, heart so beloved of Jesus and loving Jesus so little!

Oh, my poor heart, foul, libertine, impious, ungrateful, envious, covetous, sensual, choleric, revengeful, slothful, negligent, miserable, earthly heart, so sensible to everything that relates to the world, and so insensible to your own disorders; so yielding to your own passions, and so hardened to all divine inspirations. Oh, wicked, treacherous heart; heart of stone, nay, harder than the very rocks, for they afford the richest fountains of water, and you, with so much difficulty, afford a few drops of tears, even at the very season when you see your Savior covered with streams of blood, shed in His agony and bloody sweat in the garden, in His unmerciful scourging, and in His crucifixion for your sake.

Then say to the Heart of Jesus, and to your own heart:

What a difference between hearts! Between Your Heart, O Jesus, and mine! O my Jesus, grant that my heart might become like yours by grace. Let our hearts be no longer two, but one – one faithful, devout, gracious, charitable, and holy heart; this O my Savior, shall henceforth be my whole study and endeavor – to entertain nothing in my heart but what finds place in yours, namely humility, purity, patience, fortitude, charity, and love. Nothing but Jesus and His Love; my heart is no longer mine: it entirely belongs to Jesus.

Most Sacred Heart of Jesus

The Litany of the Sacred Heart of Jesus



Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

Christ, graciously hear us.
God, the Father of Heaven, have mercy on us.
God, the Son, Redeemer of the World, have mercy on us.
God, the Holy Ghost, have mercy on us.
Holy Trinity, one God, have mercy on us.

Heart of Jesus, Son of the Eternal Father, have mercy on us.
Heart of Jesus, formed in the womb of the Virgin Mother by the Holy Ghost, have mercy on us.
Heart of Jesus, united substantially with the word of God, have mercy on us.
Heart of Jesus, of infinite majesty, have mercy on us.
Heart of Jesus, holy temple of God, have mercy on us.
Heart of Jesus, tabernacle of the Most High, have mercy on us.
Heart of Jesus, house of God and gate of heaven, have mercy on us.
Heart of Jesus, glowing furnace of charity, have mercy on us.
Heart of Jesus, vessel of justice and love, have mercy on us.
Heart of Jesus, full of goodness and love, have mercy on us.
Heart of Jesus, abyss of all virtues, have mercy on us.
Heart of Jesus, most worthy of all praise, have mercy on us.
Heart of Jesus, king and center of all hearts, have mercy on us.
Heart of Jesus, in whom are all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge, have mercy on us.
Heart of Jesus, in whom dwelleth all the fullness of the Divinity, have mercy on us.
Heart of Jesus, in whom the Father is well pleased, have mercy on us.
Heart of Jesus, of whose fullness we have all received, have mercy on us.
Heart of Jesus, desire of the everlasting hills, have mercy on us.
Heart of Jesus, patient and rich in mercy, have mercy on us.
Heart of Jesus, rich to all who invoke Thee, have mercy on us.
Heart of Jesus, fount of life and holiness, have mercy on us.
Heart of Jesus, propitiation for our sins, have mercy on us.
Heart of Jesus, saturated with revilings, have mercy on us.
Heart of Jesus, crushed for our iniquities, have mercy on us.
Heart of Jesus, made obedient unto death, have mercy on us.
Heart of Jesus, pierced with a lance, have mercy on us.
Heart of Jesus, source of all consolation, have mercy on us.
Heart of Jesus, our life and resurrection, have mercy on us.
Heart of Jesus, our peace and reconciliation, have mercy on us.
Heart of Jesus, victim for our sins, have mercy on us.
Heart of Jesus, salvation of those who hope in Thee, have mercy on us.
Heart of Jesus, hope of those who die in Thee, have mercy on us.
Heart of Jesus, delight of all saints, have mercy on us.

Lamb of God, who takest away the sins of the world, spare us, O Lord.
Lamb of God, who takest away the sins of the world, graciously hear us, O Lord.
Lamb of God who takest away the sins of the world, have mercy on us.

V. Jesus, meek and humble of Heart.
R. Make our hearts like unto Thine.
Let us pray

Almighty and everlasting God, look upon the Heart of Thy well-beloved Son and upon the acts of praise and satisfaction which He renders unto Thee in the name of sinners; and do Thou, in Thy great goodness, grant pardon to them who seek Thy mercy, in the name of the same Thy Son, Jesus Christ, who liveth and reigneth with Thee, world without end.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Triple Threat

I don’t write much about my family, but I feel I need to give props to the Little One. She just graduated from pre-school last Friday, so now I’ll be watching her on a weekly basis until I find work, which will hopefully be soon once I’m fully repaired. She is quite a character, though I’m sure all parents think each and every one of their children is “quite a character.” But I gotta brag here for a moment. My daughter is a triple threat, and I just caught it on video.

This morning we dropped off Patch at the sitter’s and ran some errands together. One stop involved a trip to the local library, where we borrowed the newest Thumbelina DVD (for watching this afternoon after the nap) and a picture book on flowers (we’ve mastered birds so now we’re moving on to the horticultural sciences). Then we went to an anonymous large chain book store where I bought, at her request, the CD to “The King and I.” * Oh, and I forgot to mention that during the whole errand run we’ve been listening to “The Sound of Music.” Well, the Little One was; I was listening to her sing along with Maria, Georg, and the children.

Then, at home, while I’m cooking us up some lunch, she grabs a toy microphone (she has three of them) and spontaneously bursts into song and dance, trotting up and down our narrow kitchen like she’s working an arena-sized crowd. Punctuating her moves with a shouted “Rock on, Seattle!” I dropped everything and hunted out the camcorder and videod ninety seconds of this, thinking, hmmm, one day this’ll be shown globally on American Idol 2021.



See, she’s a triple threat. She can sing, dance, and we think she can act. She certainly knows how to act sick when we feed her vegetables. As far as the singing and dancing goes, well, the talent is there. There’s definitely workable raw material there. Of course, she’d need some training, but I think my wife and I are game. There’s definitely dance lessons at some point in her future, if only because it seems that every girl in this state takes them. But she’s still only four, and has plenty of time in front of her. At this stage, we just laugh and enjoy it, record it for posterity, and encourage it as much as possible.

As far as the acting goes, I got a plan. Lately, every now and then, especially when driving and I can watch her in the rear-view mirror, I ask her to do, oh, say, an “Excited Face.” She’ll comply. Then, I ask for a Mean Face. Then, a Scared Face. We go through the whole emotional range. Some of her expressions are hilarious. She does have a gift for comedy (some of the things she says make us shake our heads in disbelief, thinking, My God, this child didn’t even exist five years ago!). I crack up. She cracks up. It’s fun. It’s a small foray into acting, good enough for now. Though I do have a dog-eared copy of Hamlet floating about (I had to do a speech from Shakespeare during a Public Speaking class I took ten years ago). But we’re not about to tackle that.

Yet.


* Also scored three small paperbacks for ninety-seven cents: the hippie bible Journey to Ixtlan by Carlos Casteneda, a nifty little mystery The Singing Sands by Josephine Tey (a writer I vowed to seek out after reading her masterful The Daughter of Time), and an interesting little book on the philosophy of symbols.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Outsider



Let us summarize our conclusions briefly:

The Outsider wants to cease to be an Outsider.

He wants to be “balanced.”

He would like to achieve a vividness of sense-perception (Lawrence, Van Gogh, Hemingway).

He would also like to understand the human soul and its workings (Barbusse and Mitya Karamazov).

He would like to escape triviality forever, and be “possessed” by a Will to power, to more life.

Above all, he would like to know how to express himself, because that is the means by which he can get to know himself and his unknown possibilities.

Every Outsider tragedy we have studied so far has been a tragedy of self-expression.

We have, to guide us, two discoveries about the Outsider’s “way”:

(1) That his salvation “lies in extremes.”

(2) That the idea of a way out often comes in “visions,” moments of intensity, etc. It is this latter possibility that we must investigate further in the next two chapters …


– from “The Great Synthesis,” chapter 7, of The Outsider (1956), by Colin Wilson

The Wings


A wondrous holiness hath touched me
And I have felt the whirring of its wings
Above me, Lifting me above all terrene things
As her fingers fluttered into mine
Its wings whirring above me as it passed
I know no thing therelike, lest it be
A lapping wind among the pines
Half shadowed of a hidden moon and kisseth not
But whirreth, soft as light
Of twilit streams in hidden ways
This is base hereto and unhallowed …
Her fingers layed on mine in fluttered benediction
And above the whirring of all-holy wings.




Nice.

I know not whether it is reverent or blasphemous, nor do I know the state of Pound’s fragile sanity at the time of its composition.

But nice, regardless.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

He Has a Name!

The first martyr of Science was not, as is most often commonly assumed, Galileo Galilei.

It turns out it was a Greek Pythagorean philosopher who lived around 500 BC named Hippasus of Metapontum.

See this post for my brief and entirely fictionalized but hopefully reverent account of this incisive thinker.


[Thanks to Howard Anton and his quite readable Calculus textbook - wow, the words "readable" and "Calculus textbook" in the same sentence, and, even more shocking, side-by-side!]

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Oversized Books

Just got back from the library with 25 pounds of books. That’s right; I’m now measuring my library borrowings in poundage. I got me five oversized books to wade through.

One thing this geek enjoys is thumbing through a book while I lounge at the foot of my living room couch, stretched out along the floor, while the wife watches the tube and the kids amuse themselves with their Fischer Price miniworld. It’s relaxing. I’m happy, so the rest of the fambly’s happy. I can explore different worlds and still be on hand to answer those questions and requests that begin with a plaintive “Daddy? …” or “Honey? …”

Since I’m trying to focus on reading only two books at a time (see the sidebar to the left), I try to borrow books that I don’t necessarily have to read through cover to cover. All non-fiction, they’re mostly weird or esoteric stuff that I think will either help my writing or take my mind of the stresses of life. Recently, I’ve thumbed through numerous books on UFOs, JFK assassination theories (pro and con), astronomy, Fortean miscellany, Biblical representations in painting, philosophy encyclopedias, self-help inanities, food and nutrition guides, web-site building manuals, writing career and inspiration paperbacks, nuclear disasters, military histories, etc, etc, etc.

The county that I live in has this cooperative thingie in which all the local libraries participate. Therefore, my local town card is good at all 75 or so municipalities in the county. So once I exhaust all the possibilities in one library, I hit another. This usually takes anywhere from three to six months. I’ve been doing this for five years now, every Saturday, and sometimes during the week, too. I’m on my tenth or twelfth library by now.

Then, today – I discover something totally awesome at my current library – the Oversize Books Section. Hence, me leaving the library today in the cool drizzle, 25 pounds of books cradled unsteadily in my still debilitated arms, herding a four-year-old through traffic-riddled streets and parking lots.

The Oversize Section overawed me. These are the perfect books. Heaven’s library would be stocked with nothing but these tomes. Bigger-than-life, super-sized, chock full of all the useful and useless information and trivia you could ever want about your subject of choice, they are the perfect companion for me during family time. Some know them as coffee table books; but since I do not drink coffee, I call them by the sturdy, workman designation I’ve seen etched above those green metal utility shelving that hold them in the most awesomest library in the world: Oversized Books.

You’re dying to know what those five books were, aren’t you? Okay … here they are:

Two books on Greek mythology: The Complete World of Greek Mythology by Richard Buxton and Gods and Goddesses of Ancient Greece by Edward E. Barthell Jr. Don’t know why exactly as they just kinda popped out at me as I was scanning the shelves. The first has lotsa color pictures and maps; the second is more encyclopedic and laden with genealogies and charts. As a kid I absolutely loved Edith Hamilton’s Greek Mythology as well as such movies as Jason and the Argonauts, so a lot of this is a refresher course for me. There’s also an idea floating in the old cerebellum about an update of mythology, a la what Roger Zelazny did in Lord of Light, but its really just a tiny mustard seed at this point.

Next is The Macmillan Bible Atlas. Lots and lots of maps (262 COLOR MAPS the cover exclaims) from all periods of the Old and New Testaments. The ancient world, Israel, cities and towns, military campaigns, missionary journeys … very comprehensive from an overhead view. I like this. When I do read my Bible I sometimes get disoriented, especially since there’s probably over a thousand physical locations mentioned in the two-thousand-plus years the Bible covers. Plus, many of the cities you read about in Genesis are renamed by the time you get to the gospels. This atlas is something I wouldn’t mind buying, to keep on my reference bookshelf. I’ll probably renew it as much as I can (up to sixteen weeks) and keep it on hand.

My heaviest book, clocking in a 700 pages of the thick paper stock, hardcover and devoid of pictures, photos, or illustrations, is The Guide of the Perplexed by the 12th century Jewish philosopher Moses Maimonides. Though it’s a traditional cover-to-cover book, there’s no way I’ll be able to read through it. Just don’t have the time, energy, focus and strength (Evelyn Wood – where are you?). But I’ve read about the philosopher, though not much of his philosophy. I’ll skim through it here and there, read whatever catches my interest, perhaps post about it later or not. I am drawn to this kind of stuff, probably from my Old Testament reading. It should be interesting, and I’m looking forward to traversing it, though at what depth remains to be seen …

Finally, this will really clue you in on the closet nerd that I am. The last book is … my college Calculus text! Calculus, 4th Edition, by Howard Anton. I had this book for three semesters (actually four, see here). I kept it for a couple of years and thumbed through it on more than one occasion. Every so often the math bug hits me; in a parallel universe I am a math teacher at a local college (interestingly, my father was a high school math teacher, though he never tutored me or anything). The last time it hit me was the fall of 2006, where for a couple of months I read a whole batch of books on number theory, and during my family’s vacation in Puerto Rico I read John Derbyshire’s book on the Riemann Hypothesis. This is the best calculus text book I’ve worked with. It’s interspersed with short biographies of prominent mathematicians and their contributions to the field, and I find it to really explain the big picture behind the formulae that not a lot of textbooks can accomplish – sort of the art behind the science. I lost track of the book (probably threw it out in frustration), so I am quite excited to have found it again.

That should keep me busy … until next Saturday’s trip.

Friday, June 12, 2009

At the Mountains of Madness


H. P. Lovecraft is an odd writer. Probably because he was an odd man – learned and well-read, but socially awkward. Often ill, often impoverished. Married to an older woman in a possibly loveless relationship, he never had children. Apart from a few years in New York City he never lived outside the town he grew up in, living mostly with two elder aunts. But his work has understandably secured his fame in the annals of early fantasy and horror writing.

He belongs to that strange, obscure, underpopulated and unappreciated terrain in fantasy literature that straddles the expanse between the brash optimism of the late Victorian era (with its Vernes and Wellses) and the Golden Age of science fiction (with its Clarkes, Asimovs, and Heinleins). Thus the antagonists of his horror are usually some strange and obscure combination of the gothic demonic and the Atomic Age alien invader.

His prose tends to give the reader a rigorous workout; big chunks of big-worded exposition, page-length paragraphs the basic building bricks of the edifices of even the shortest of his tales. He’s impassioned with adjectives; he’s never met, oh, say for example, a triangle that could not be described as “that most nightmarish and terrifying triangle, odious and invidious, a three-sided entity that should never have been, bringing forth shudders and driving all to the edge of madness! Oh that stygian and opprobrious triangle, unhallowed and mephitic, that will forever haunt and plague my overwrought dreams!” I’ve read that the man simply can’t write dialogue, and I agree with that assessment. The evidence is the fact that even in his longer works, such as At the Mountains of Madness, you’d be challenged to find even more than a few words enclosed with quotation marks. So even though H. P. doesn’t have an ear for the way normal human beings talk, what he does well is to establish an authentic, eerie atmosphere of foreboding in each and every one of his stories.

I went through a phase back in 2000 where I blazed through a whole bunch of his short stories, perhaps a dozen or more, in two or three months. They’re usually of the “thing that shouldn’t be but is” genus, with that “thing” being hideous and horrible with dire consequences, either for the narrator, his local New England village, or the entire human race. It’s always one of those three. They’re always first-person narratives (or a tale retold by the ever-present “I”), so you know our hero doesn’t die. But he never really resolves the situation, either. Oftentimes he goes mad. Or the original teller of the terrible tale told to him goes made. Regardless, someone always goes mad in an H. P. Lovecraft story, mad in that late-19th century locked-up-in-an-asylum way.

Lovecraft has his fame due primarily to what is known as the Cthulhu Mythos. This is a created mythology which links up all the baddies in his oeuvre – monsters, god-like beings, aliens-from-the-deepest-evilest-recesses-of-outer-space – into a loose interrelated chronology or history of their ... diabolic interests in Earth. It’s named after a particularly evil monstrosity, but by no means the most powerful or the most meanest, buried and slumbering deep below the depths of the Pacific, but preparing to waken. The Mythos was partially consciously-developed and partially self-evolved by H. P., though he also had enthusiastic assistance from at least two of his friends, horror-slash-fantasy writers Robert E. Howard and Clark Ashton Smith, and to a lesser extent, August Derleth. Each contributed to the Mythos as well as wrote stories pulling from it. I am not an expert in it to the extent of those who devote years of time and study to it; but I do appreciate it when I read a Lovecraftian work, no matter how many years intervene.

At the Mountains of Madness is his longest work; rare in that it is novel length. Lovecraft’s primary outlets for literary exposure were the pulp magazines of the early decades of the 20th century; Mountains was actually serialized in three installments over the course of three months in 1936, five years after it was written, after spending four years and ten months in a desk drawer.

The novel is in the form of a warning; a warning from one of the few survivors of one of the earliest Antarctic explorations to the world and, more specifically, to another expedition in the process of gearing up. Our unnamed hero, a member of the faculty of Miskatonic University and a geologist, describes in minute details the expedition to the ice-bound continent and the horrors they find and then find them. Not only are the eponymous mountains, higher than the Himalayas, teeth-like fortresses hiding a most ancient city, they also hide something else – in Lovecraftian language, something hideous, noxious, loathsome and vigilant.

The set-up was masterful; it is said that H. P. was extremely interested in the early polar explorations as a lad and followed their newspaper reports quite closely. He is the closest thing to being an Antarctic explorer despite never heading south of the Big Apple. Very soon biological entities – or their remnants, whether fossilized or not is undetermined – are discovered and dissected, and I think you can almost smell the formaldehyde, if not that whiff of visceral fear in those lonely tents as we all know something bad will happen. Which it does, resolving itself to where the narrator and a hapless graduate student (the unfortunate fellow designated to go “mad” as is explained early on) must mount a rescue mission and come upon the original Native Antarcticans. Though this part was perhaps a tad bit too long (remember those page-long paragraphical blocks of novel DNA), the ending, vague with just the barest amount of suggested sufficient detail, is, it seems to me, a justified payoff.

As I’ve mentioned before, every October, about the week before and after Halloween, I like to read something spooky, atmospheric, and dark, to get me and keep me in the late-fall mood. In the past I’ve read Poe (and it’s been posited that Mountains is a sequel-of-sorts to Poe’s tale The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket, which itself details a terrible and eventful expedition into the southernmost earthly regions); this year I’ll read some more Lovecraft. The anthology I have still has a couple of longer, unread stories that I will attempt to assail, one Lovecraftian adjective at a time.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

L'Hopper



“It leads to a realization that man is not a constant, unchanging being: he is one person one day, another person the next. He forgets easily, lives in the moment, seldom exerts will-power, and even when he does, gives up and turns to something else. No wonder that poets feel such despair when they seem to catch a glimpse of some intenser state of consciousness, and know with absolute certainty that nothing they can do can hold it fast.”


- Found at the end of chapter 2 of The Outsider (1956), by Colin Wilson

...

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

2008 Top-Selling Car in the US



Made by the Little Tykes Co. out of Ohio, this classic toy, called the Cozy Coupe, sold 457,000 units in 2008. It outsold both the Toyota Camry and the Honda Accord. More than 10 million have been sold in the 30 years it has been produced.

My wife's godson has one; so does our goddaughter out in Pittsburgh. If you go for a ride through the streets of your town, you're more than likely to spot a couple, especially if you drive past a day care center. As for our Little Ones, they don't own any yet, probably because at this stage of the game we can't afford the car payments.


Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Taken


Watched a couple of good movies recently. Last Friday, after putting the little ones to bed, we watched Taken, starring Liam Neeson.

Suffice it to say that now my daughters will never experience Paris – or anywhere outside, say, a twenty-mile radius of wherever I happen to be – by themselves.

Liam’s a down-on-his-luck divorcee who quits his job and takes a crappy apartment to be near his seventeen-year-old daughter, who now lives in a mansion with mom and her wealthy stepfather. He wants to make up for lost time and finally be a good dad. His ex kinda coerces and guilts him into allowing the daughter to take a trip un-chaperoned to Paris. Then, the S hits that fan. The daughter is abducted, and is actually on the phone with her father while this is happening. Fortunately, though, Liam is ex-CIA; think of a 50-year-old retired Jason Bourne. Before long, bodies pile up as he makes his way through the seedy underworld of Europe. Hell hath no fury like a special forces father getting his daughter back from kidnappers.

There’s a somewhat famous scene where Liam gets on the cell phone with the abductor just after the daughter is taken:

I don't know who you are. I don't know what you want. If you are looking for ransom, I can tell you I don't have money. But what I do have are a very particular set of skills; skills I have acquired over a very long career. Skills that make me a nightmare for people like you. If you let my daughter go now, that'll be the end of it. I will not look for you, I will not pursue you. But if you don't, I will look for you, I will find you, and I will kill you.

There’s a long pause as Liam awaits a response, any response.

Then, in an evil whisper, the kidnapper replies:

Good luck.

Thus begins our heart-warming tale of kicking ass.

The movie’s great; if this is your bag, see it, see it, see it. I’ll probably buy it once the video stores start selling off their copies. But there’s a joke in here somewhere. All fathers feel this same way towards their daughters. We’ll kill for them, if necessary. However, obviously, not all fathers are ex-CIA enforcers. If I got on the phone with my daughter’s abductor, what would I say? What skills do I have to make them sorry for what they did? “I’ll write very nasty things about you on my blog!” “I’ll hit you over the head with my ten-pound Encyclopedia of Science Fiction while you sleep!” What would really be clever would be a story in which a everyday, ordinary father has to stretch himself to outwit his foes rather than just beat the heck out of them, one by one, and save his little one.

Bellies

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Can it be true (I just can't believe it!) that on earth there are no men - only bellies?

(from The Way by Josemarie Escriva)

...

This made me pause and halt in my reading. I know exactly what the future saint is saying. Yesterday I gorged myself on pizza, pasta, dairy and sweets, and willfully allowed countless opportunities, some which will never to come this way again, to slip through my fingertips. But the thing is, my fingers, in their incessant hunt to satisfy my silly and fruitless earthly desires, never even knew the opportunities were there ...

Monday, June 8, 2009

The Eucharist: Catechism


Met with my priest last night as well as with a group of other Eucharistic Ministers – a couple of long-standing ministers, plus a couple brand new ones, just like me – for an hour and a half going over the theology of the Blessed Sacrament. Some handouts, a short lecture, some Bible readings, some personal disclosures. All in all informative and welcoming, and I left feeling very pleased that I had made a good decision.

I asked Father where the definitive teaching on the Eucharist was. Was there a papal encyclical, or some early writing of the Church Fathers, something that would have it all spelled out, theory and practice, for the concerned seeker? He said that there was, and it turns out it is in a place I had neglected to review for my little series on the Eucharist. The Catechism of the Catholic Church.

For my thoughts on the CCC, see here.

I am remiss in not consulting the Catechism. As a matter of fact, I just slapped my palm to my forehead, like I do when I realize I could have had a V8. Anyway, opening up the CCC and looking briefly at the table of contents, I see 130 pages are devoted to explaining the teaching and reasoning behind the Church’s seven sacraments. 28 pages on the Eucharist. That seems comprehensive enough.

If you happen to be really, really interested, the relevant part can be found online here.

The parts that speak most strongly to me are the following:


1373 “Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised from the dead, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us,” is present in many ways to his Church: in his word, in his Church’s prayer, “where two or three are gathered in my name,” in the poor, the sick, and the imprisoned, in the sacraments of which he is the author, in the sacrifice of the Mass, and in the person of the minister. But “he is present … most especially in the Eucharistic species.”

1376 The Council of Trent summarizes the Catholic faith by declaring: “Because Christ our Redeemer said that it was truly his body that he was offering under the species of bread, it has always been the conviction of the Church of God, and this holy Council now declares again, that by the consecration of the bread and wine there takes place a change of the whole substance of the bread into the substance of the body of Christ our Lord and of the whole substance of the wine into the substance of his blood. This change the holy Catholic Church has fittingly and properly called transubstantiation.”


Next Sunday we all meet again to go over the mechanics and logistics of what is involved. I am nervous, excited, and am very much looking forward to it. I am finally convinced that it is an honor to be called to such a duty, and even though I am not worthy of it, none of us is, not even my priest, nor my bishop, not even the Pope. There is only One who is worthy, but we are all called to serve Him in whatever ways he makes known to us.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

The Eucharist: Transubstantiation


What happens when we receive the sacrament of the Eucharist? Are we just eating a piece of unleavened bread, maybe taking a sip of wine, in a symbolic remembrance of Jesus’ sacrifice, a re-enacting of the Last Supper? Is that all it is, or is it something more?

Imagine you hold the unconsecrated host in your hands. Take a good look at it. It has a certain texture, shape, size, color, weight, taste. Smooth, round, about one inch in diameter, off-white, less than an ounce, with the taste of somewhat bland bread. These are qualities of the bread. The same exercise can, of course, be done for the wine. These qualities are called by theologians “accidents.” But lets stick with the word “quality.” What is it, exactly, that has the qualities of smooth, round, one-inch diameter, off-white, half-an-ounce, and a somewhat bland taste? In the above case, it is the unconsecrated host. That is what is called by theologians “substance.” A substance has qualities. Pretty simple concept, right?

Normally, qualities are known through our senses; our mind is able to know the substance. And in just about everything we come into contact with in our daily lives, we assume that the substance we are regarding always has the sets or types of qualities we habitually experience. Bread always has a certain texture, shape, weight, taste, etc.

However, Christ has revealed to us, through the words spoken to us in John 6 and at the Last Supper, that there is at least one exception to this normal, everyday rule.

The bread and the wine, through the sacrament of Holy Communion, undergo a change in substance, not in quality. Outwardly, to our senses, they appear to still be an ordinary host and ordinary wine. But to our enlightened minds, they are now the Body and Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Once the priest, acting in the role of Christ, pronounces the words of consecration, the host and wine become the Body and Blood.

Because He says so.

Transubstantiation is just the fancy name for this change in substance.

This is what the Catholic Church teaches, and has always taught, and this is what Catholics believe.

In my research I have found that there are literally thousands of pages written on this complex subject. I am fully aware that it is completely ludicrous to believe that I could possibly give a tidy explanation of the subject in a couple hundred words. But it fascinates me in some strange way that encourages me to keep reading on.

Friday, June 5, 2009

The Eucharist: St. Thomas Aquinas


I have always had a tremendous respect for St. Thomas Aquinas, and have felt the pull for a couple of years now to really understand his writings. The few attempts I made usually last no more than a week as I became numbed by the clarity of his thought. My muddy post-modern mind is not used to such rational rigor. But one day I will read through Thomas’ work; not once, not twice, but three times to fully understand the great themes he writes about, nothing less than the philosophical and theological underpinnings of the Catholic Church. After all, I hope to meet him one day, if you know what I mean.

Thomas wrote a Sermon on the Eucharist, but I was unable to find it anywhere online after a cursory search. However, he addresses the Blessed Sacrament in his most famous work, the Summa Theologica, of which I have a copy. Since I am not a full-time seminarian, I could not find the time (though I wish I could) to go through the 1,911 pages of his magnum opus, especially as the unabridged copy I have does not contain an index (!). So I surfed a couple of websites and came up with this barely adequate post on just two of the saint’s thoughts on the Eucharist.

For Thomas the Eucharist is the summit of our spiritual life, the greatest of all the sacraments. Why? While all the other sacraments (baptism, confirmation, ordination, marriage, reconciliation, anointing of the sick) have the energy – “vir” or “virtus” in the Latin – of Christ within them, the Blessed Sacrament contains Christ’s own body. Thomas believes that Christ’s sacrifice is truly and effectively active in the sacrament.

An interesting observation Thomas writes that I, in my admittedly limited reading, have not come across elsewhere concerns the timelessness or eternality of the Eucharist. All sacraments serve as signs that are simultaneously reminders of the past (the Passion of Christ), an indicator of grace effected in us, and a foretelling of the future glory. Especially more so regarding the Blessed Sacrament. As a commemoration of our Lord’s Passion it brings to mind the terrible suffering of the true sacrifice He did for our sake. As an indicator of the grace we receive, due to the communal nature of the holy meal, it brings to mind the unity of believers. As a foretelling of future glory it is the sacrament bar none that promises us eternal life with our Lord in heaven.

In Aquinas is found the most enlightening and complete synthesis of the Catholic faith concerning the mystery of the Eucharist. It is a definite goal of mine to get through at least some Aquinas in the near future, perhaps when things slow down and get back on track for me, God willing. It’s a goal that could possibly yield the most beneficial blessings upon me in more ways than the obvious ones.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

The Eucharist: Church Fathers


The Church Fathers are the earliest group of theologians who have left writings that the Church regards as authentic. Most lived within the first five centuries after the birth of Christ. You may have heard their names in passing: Clement, Ignatius of Antioch, Polycarp, Irenaeus, clement, Origin, Athanasius, Cyril, John Chrysostom, Tertullian, Cyprian, Ambrose, Jerome, Augustine, Gregory the Great; these are just some of the most noteworthy of this saintly group.

What do they have to say about the Eucharist?

St. Ignatius of Antioch: “I want the bread of God, which is the flesh of Jesus Christ, who is the seed of David; and for drink I want his Blood which is incorruptible love.” (Seven surviving letters)

St. Justin Martyr: “For we do not receive these as common bread and common drink; but just as Jesus Christ our Savior, having been made flesh by the word of God, had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so also we have learned that the food over which thanks has been given by the prayer of the word which comes from him, and by which are blood and flesh are nourished through a change, is the Flesh and Blood of the same incarnate Jesus.” (Apologies)

St. Ambrose: “…will not the word of Christ have the power to change the nature of the elements. You have read about the creation of the whole world … therefore, can not the word of Christ, which was able to create out of nothing that which did not exist, change those things that do exist into that which they were not?” (De Mysteriis)

Ambrose is talking about transubstantiation, the change of the substance of the bread and wine, not the appearance of bread and wine, to the Body and Blood of Christ.

St. Augustine is most direct: “You should understand what you have received, what you will receive, indeed, what you should receive daily. The bread you see on the altar and that has been sanctified by the word of God is the Body of Christ.” (Commentary on John)

St. Irenaeus: “When, therefore, the mixed cup [wine and water] and the baked bread receives the Word of God and becomes the Eucharist, the body of Christ, and from these the substance of our flesh is increased and supported, how can they say that the flesh is not capable of receiving the gift of God, which is eternal life–flesh which is nourished by the body and blood of the Lord, and is in fact a member of him?” (Against Heresy)

Tertullian: “For as the bread, which is produced from the earth, when it receives the invocation of God, is no longer common bread, but the Eucharist, consisting of two realities, earthly and heavenly; so also our bodies, when they receive the Eucharist, are no longer corruptible, having the hope of the resurrection to eternity.” (Resurrection of the Dead)

Hippolytus: “Everyone should be on guard lest a non-believer taste of the Eucharist, to say nothing of a mouse or some other animal, or lest some part of It fall and be lost For this is the Body of Christ, which is to be eaten by believers; It must not be despised.” (Apostolic Tradition)



I could go on with more quotations, and you can to, simply by Googling Church Fathers and Eucharist together. Also, the New Advent website is an excellent source for their early writings. But it seems to me that these men, taking Our Lord’s words as recorded in the gospels and in the epistles of St. Paul, have laid the groundwork for the Eucharist that was, perhaps, used as the scaffolding where the medieval theologians, culminating in the work of St. Thomas Aquinas, erected our understanding of the Blessed Sacrament.

Tomorrow I would like to investigate what St. Thomas, and perhaps his contemporaries, have written on the subject.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The Eucharist: Didache


Going outward from the Biblical canon, the next “scriptural” references we have to the Eucharist would be found in the Didache (pronounced DIH-duh-kee, it’s a Greek thing).

An anonymous work written at the end of the first century or the beginning of the second, its sometimes considered the first catechism. At the very least it sets down the rituals and practices, as well as nascent Church organization. Some early Church Fathers considered it part of the New Testament. But even though it’s not part of our Bible, it is recognized and accepted by the Catholic Church as authentic.

The Didache is a relatively short document divided into sixteen brief chapters. The Eucharist is mentioned specifically in chapter 9 and in passing in chapters 10 and 14. If you wish to spend a half-hour to truly get the gist of first-century Christianity, you can find the entire document here.

Here is the text of Chapter 9 “The Thanksgiving” (which is what Eucharist means translated from the Greek).

1 Now concerning the Thanksgiving (Eucharist), thus give thanks.
2 First, concerning the cup: We thank you, our Father, for the
holy vine of David Your servant, which You made known to us through Jesus Your Servant; to You be the glory for ever.
3 And concerning the broken bread: We thank You, our Father, for the life and
knowledge which You made known to us through Jesus Your Servant; to You be the glory for ever.
4 Even as this broken bread was scattered over the hills, and was gathered together and became one, so let Your Church be gathered together from the ends of the earth into Your kingdom; for Yours is the
glory and the power through Jesus Christ for ever.
5 But let no one eat or drink of your Thanksgiving (Eucharist), but they who have been
baptized into the name of the Lord; for concerning this also the Lord has said, Give not that which is holy to the dogs. (Matthew 7:6)

Ouch. That last verse isn’t very PC, is it? This chapter details the mechanics of the sacrament, but not the theology behind it. The next chapter, “Prayer After Communion,” goes a little more in depth:

1 But after you are filled, thus give thanks:
2 We thank You,
holy Father, for Your holy name which You caused to tabernacle in our hearts, and for the knowledge and faith and immortality, which You made known to us through Jesus Your Servant; to You be the glory for ever.
3 You, Master almighty, created all things for Your name's sake; You gave food and drink to men for enjoyment, that they might give thanks to You; but to us You freely gave spiritual food and drink and life
eternal through Your Servant.
4 Before all things we thank You that You are mighty; to You be the
glory for ever.
5 Remember, Lord, Your Church, to deliver it from all
evil and to make it perfect in Your love, and gather it from the four winds, sanctified for Your kingdom which You have prepared for it; for Yours is the power and the glory for ever.
6 Let
grace come, and let this world pass away. Hosanna to the God (Son) of David! If any one is holy, let him come; if any one is not so, let him repent. Maran atha. Amen.
7 But permit the
prophets to make Thanksgiving as much as they desire.

Here, in the third verse, the early Church recognizes that we are fed spiritual food and drink, and through it gain life eternal, through Christ.

The Eucharist is again mentioned, in passing, in the fourteenth chapter, “Christian Assembly on the Lord’s Day”:

1 But every Lord's day do ye gather yourselves together, and break bread, and give thanksgiving after having confessed your transgressions, that your sacrifice may be pure.
2 But let no one that is at variance with his fellow come together with you, until they be reconciled, that your
sacrifice may not be profaned.
3 For this is that which was spoken by the Lord: In every place and time offer to me a pure
sacrifice; for I am a great King, says the Lord, and my name is wonderful among the nations.

This seems to establish the Church teaching that one must be pure, i.e., unaware of conscious mortal sin, before receiving the Eucharist. If not, one must partake of the sacrament of reconciliation. It also appears to establish the practice of taking the Eucharist at weekly mass.

But what I’m looking for is more theory, more doctrine. Perhaps the early Church Fathers have something to say on the subject …