Monday, October 31, 2011

Power Outage

Hi. We live in the American northeast, specifically the tri-state region known as Northern New Jersey. Here we have four-month summers and five-month winters. Which leaves about six weeks each for spring and fall.

True to form, we had our first snowstorm on October 29, this past Saturday. Four weeks earlier I was taking out air conditioner units from the windows and stacking them in the garage. Trees still have 75 percent of their leaves. In front of my house is a pile of leaves blown there awaiting pick-up later in November. Only now it’s covered with six to eight inches of sloppy wet snow.

Also true to form, our public service services were overwhelmed and underperformed. Yeah, the weatherman said we’d only get an inch or two when we wound up getting about five times as much. There were no plowing or salting of streets. Driving home from errands Saturday afternoon, my car fishtailed all about the local road leading up to my street.

An hour after me and Patch got home, around 1:45 pm on Saturday, the power went out. As far as we can tell (we’ve now relocated to Pennsylvania) it’s still out. Calls to PSEG give us an automated message that our area won’t get power back until Wednesday. We’re now one of the x-hundred thousand without electricity in our home.

Saturday night was a bit of an adventure, I have to admit. Before it got dark we rummaged about the house for essentials: two flashlights, ten candles, matches, and a battery operated radio (most of which we bought in preparation for Hurricane Irene at the end of August, but didn’t have to use). Fortunately the stove top worked, so I was able to cook us some tortellinis. Later, the wife read one of her birthday books and Little One read one of her Daisy Meadows fairy books. I read about a hundred pages of a Civil War Q&A book. Patch, unable to read, was at a loss on how to entertain herself in the semi-darkness, and made a mess of her toy room.

We put the girls to bed at 8 in flannel footie pajamas and under several blankets. The temperature in the house was low-60s. Though I have a gas-heated steam boiler, the thermostat is triggered electrically. So, no heat. The wife retired around 10. I stayed up past midnight listening to CDs on an old walkman and thumbing through old story printouts.

Next morning the snow had stopped and we shoveled ourselves out. Temperatures had dropped indoors to the low-50s. My mother offered to house us until our power went back up, so we quickly packed everybody and left for her place in north-east Pennsylvania. We showered and changed into clean clothes once there and watched all the football games. The wife and I even managed to squeeze in the latest depressing and stressful episode of The Walking Dead last night.

To complicate matters, Little One’s school was open. So, an absence, possibly more, for her. The wife didn’t bring her laptop, so she’ll be back-up workwise. And I have a possible prospective employer playing phone tag with me while all this is happening.

Good news is that I did read about forty pages of Keegan’s The American Civil War. And we may drive in to town where I can hit the used book store I haven’t been in to in eleven months to score some cheap but good SF paperbacks. However, the bad news outweighs all this as this is Halloween, and the little ones won’t get to do any trick-or-treating or parading. Fortunately, Little One had a brownie Halloween party on Friday when it was still Fall and not a Winter Wonderland.

Don’t know when we’ll be returning home. I’m pushing for tomorrow but the wife doesn’t want to leave until we’re certain of power back at the house.

Never, ever a dull moment.

Winter Wonderland, in October

Friday, October 28, 2011

Person of Interest

Ten Things I Learned Watching Last Night’s Person of Interest:

1. Pharmaceutical companies are generally EEEEEEEvil.

2. Pharmaceutical companies usually have hired killers on the payroll.

3. Entrepreneurs like to encourage their children to be as EEEEEEEvil as they are, especially once they take over the company.

4. A paperclip can stealthily unlock handcuffs in less than thirty seconds.

5. Potassium chloride (what the government uses for lethal injection executions) works instantaneously, especially on 6-foot 220-pound men.

6. Most pharmaceutical company assassins and CEOs are EEEEEEEvil to the very end.

7. Pharmaceutical companies think it’s okay to risk 30,000 lives for a half-billion dollars.

8. You can fire a gun several times out the blown out rear window of your limousine and still drive down a New York city street without crashing or killing a pedestrian.

9. Social security and cell phone numbers can predict whether you will be killed, as long as it goes through a computer that can do some math.

10. Most EEEEEEEvil pharmaceutical companies have corrupt police commissioners in their pocket.

Okay. Despite the list, Person of Interest is okay. I like the surveillance gizmos, I like the quirky characterizations and somewhat understated acting. The premise is decent, if you suspend disbelief and don’t worry too much about Number 9 above. There’s just something about it that’s a little off, something that I predict will cause it not to be renewed for a second season. Or, if it is, only with some type of drastic overhaul.

What the list above indicates, though, is LAZY LIBERAL WRITING on behalf of the “creative” people behind the show. While watching it with the wife, I pondered, “Wouldn’t it be truly surprising if a bunch of CEOs were targeted by, say, a rogue killer from Greenpeace?” Think about it. Would never happen on primetime teeveee.

Unless the rogue killer from Greenpeace suddenly found Jesus or something.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Absolute Attention

I’ve had this idea for a while now. Probably first surfaced last winter when funds became dangerously low at Casa Hopper, then went dormant while I had my three-month work gig over the summer. Now it’s back. I’m not sure it makes sense, at least in practice, because I can’t seem to get it to work. But theoretically, it’s quite appealing.

One of my (few? numerous? hard to say at the moment) faults is that I tend to be a worrier. A stare-at-the-ceiling-at-two-in-the-morning type worrier. But really any time of the day. Anything can dump negative and doomsday thoughts into my mind at any moment, really. I’ve always been this way, but since my extended bout of unemployments and various health issues since 2006, it’s gotten pretty severe. I don’t get much sleep.

Which is why I’m such a voracious reader. If I’m sucked into a good book, I forget my woes. You do, too, right? Completely. Time stops. This complete absorption is, I think, quite therapeutic, especially for someone who has no dough to pay for therapy and does not want to become a drugged-out zombie. I read, on average, about 45 minutes a day, and more often than not it’s the best 45 minutes of my day because I just ain’t worried about a thing.

So naturally I want to develop this, expand on this. How to do so?

Why not attempt to read something really, really, really hard? Something that demands absolute, concentrated attention?

Sounds reasonable. And I don’t have to go out and spend any money, because, on the bookshelf right behind me, within easy reach, I can see:

Critique of Pure Reason by Immanuel Kant

Being and Time by Martin Heidegger

Summa Theologiae by St. Thomas Aquinas

The Death of a President by William Manchester

The Physics of Immortality by Frank Tipler

Godel, Escher, Bach by Douglas Hofstadter

The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky

Don Quixote by Miguel Cervantes

Stand on Zanzibar by John Brunner

Time Enough for Love by Robert Heinlein

Some philosophy, some theology, some history and science, some high lit and some sf I simply have never been able to crack. What do they all have in common? They all demand intense concentration.

Now, I don’t plan to read the whole day away. I have too much to do as a stay-at-home dad and a job seeker. But if I can swap out an extra hour of aimless web surfing or teevee watching for any of these books, I can’t see the downside.

In light of my Civil War tour of late (Killing Lincoln, Manhunt, The Red Badge of Courage, and some background web research), I borrowed military historian extraordinaire John Keegan’s book on the War between the States. It’s 432 in-depth pages and demands absolute, concentrated attention.

I think after the ladies all go to bed tonight (which isn’t too late; the house is mine after 10 pm), I’ll tiptoe over to the reading nook with this and give it a whirl.

Which will win – useless worry, or absolute attention?


Wednesday, October 26, 2011


My grandpa's doorbell rang. It was my little brother. "Clancy and Seamus want you to come out and play Munch with us."

Hmmm. A game of Munch. Intriguing. I looked at the television set before me. Should I finish watching The Addams Family? Get Smart would be on in ten minutes. Then The Munsters, followed by the game shows: Match Game, Card Sharks, Family Feud. There were some old musty SF paperbacks to seek out in my grandparent's old musty basement, as well as some old musty games like Broadside. Plus, grandma was a card fanatic, and I enjoyed making up card games. A typical summer day for me.

The monkey wrench were the McMadden brothers, Clancy and Seamus, who lived diagonally across the street from my grandparents. Also, my little brother. He was more outdoorsy than me, and more into sports. He and the McMaddens would get together around 10 am every morning as long as the weather was nice (and even if it wasn't, most times), and a game of handball would break out. Or street football. Or running bases. Or ... Munch.

There were other neighborhood kids, too. There was a chubby boy whose name I forgot; call him Frankie. And there was a stringy, wormy kid; his name was something like Phil or Philip. A fat girl kinda hung out around the perimeter of this impromptu neighborhood sporting club. She would pull up a chair and criticize us for this and that. When the McMadden boys weren't beating the crap out of each other, they'd verbally spar with her, and ultimately come out on the losing side, though they never realized it and never gave up.

Whenever a game among them got serious, there would be the inevitable doorbell ring. I'd answer it and my little brother would be there, and the message would always be the same: Clancy and Seamus want you to come out and play [insert name of game] with us. Another body needed, and that body's You.

Now: Munch. Munch is a simple game. Brutally simple. The object and the rules could be summed up in this one simple sentence: Use any means to tackle the guy with the ball. That's it. Someone threw a ball - usually a football - vertically up in the air and for some reason we'd all scramble to get it first. The unlucky guy who did immediately raced away with it while the remaining five or more boys chased after him. The ball carrier could go anywhere, climb on anything, run on the streets or in someone's backyard. I remember once being blindsided off a picnic table. There were no in bounds and no outta bounds. We'd all swarm on the hapless chap with the ball to administer as big a pile-on tackle as possible. In the clutches of the mob the ball carrier would throw the ball straight up in the air - if he could - and the process would repeat itself. Again and again, until we grew bored of Munch or someone got hurt (Munch's way of growing bored with us). Usually, someone got hurt, and it usually was Seamus. At the hands of Clancy.

I glanced back as the teevee sang The Addams Family theme. At this point in my life, Get Smart was the most important thing on the planet to me. But ... sensing someone unwanted and unwarranted tug, both push and pull, to the indecipherable responsibilities of adulthood, I knew I had to go out. Go out into the streets, the cold, hard, unforgiving streets, once more into the breech and play ...


Munch: It's a metaphor for life, and it's as malleable in its interpretation as you want to make it.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

1982 Tolkien Calendar

In the winter of 1982 and 1983, as a low man on the totem pole at high school, these images were seared into my brain. My bedroom was in an uninsulated attic; my sole window overlooked snowy roofs and backyards of my neighborhood. I had just read The Lord of the Rings and constantly riffed through the two Tolkien encyclopedias by Tyler and Foster. My buddies played D&D and I ate up everything sword and sorcery, from Stephen R. Donaldson to T. H. White.

And the 1982 Tolkien Calendar, featuring the artwork of Darrell K. Sweet, a Christmas gift, hung from the rafters. The following year, I cut out the pictures and tacked them into the two-by-fours. To me, this is Tolkien, not the images most of the public knows from Peter Jackson.

Like everything under the sun, you can find these images and more online. Let me tell you, these long-forgotten paintings brought back a lot of memories for me, powerfully so.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Apples of the Moon and Sun

Though I am old with wandering
Through hollow lands and hilly lands,
I will find out where she has gone
And kiss her lips and take her hands;
And walk among long dappled grass,
And pluck till time and times are done
The silver apples of the moon,
The golden apples of the sun.

– W. B. Yeats, The Wind Among the Reeds

I need to pick up an anthology of Yeats’ poetry. Borrowed one once from the library, but didn’t give it the justice it deserved.

. . .

There. Just added it to the Acquisitions List.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Walking Dead

Okay, I’m realize I’m really late to this party.

I have a friend who is gung-ho into The Walking Dead, the AMC zombie series and has been after me for a year now to check it out. Last week I finally did, renting the first season disk from a Redbox. Surprisingly, my wife wanted to watch it with me, too. My friend apparently also wore down her resistance.

Well, we watched the first four episodes in one sitting last Monday night. Then, Tuesday at lunch time, we watched the final two episodes. That’s about five hours of zombie apocalypse in an eighteen hour period. Despite some minor beefs with the storyline, we were hooked.

Last Sunday was the premiere of season two. We DVR’d it. Tonight is the second episode (of a planned thirteen). We’re inviting my pal over to watch both with us after his children and ours are put down. Looks to be a creepy and somewhat stressful night.

I think I’ll post some extended thoughts about the series and the whole zombies in our cultural entertainment phenomenon tomorrow when I have a little more time.

’Til then, don’t sleep outside in tents, circle the cars around the camp, keep at least four sentries on duty at all times (not just some old dude on top an RV), have enough shot guns for everyone, and wear at least three jackets at all times!

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Kenny and the Bastardos

Kenny waited until the watch guard changed; then he leapt from his hiding place among the sealed metallic drums of liquid oxygen. Sprinting with his now-famous capabilities, he dashed across the launching fields under spotlights of stars beyond the dome some two kilometers above him. As he raced, he glanced quickly from side to side, scanning the manned towers for signs they saw him. Although if they did, his plan wasn’t that far thought out to include a contingency.

He didn’t even know what the word “contingency” meant, anyway. Kenny was only ten years old.

Ramjets and ionic cruisers idled about him, but his eyes held only his ultimate goal. Occasionally (two or three times a minute) a big cruiser boomed above him, either landing or launching, though mostly landing as the armada was coming back from the historic negotiated truce held outside Arvopad III. In a handful of minutes he huddled at a parts depot, one of the several dozen scattered about the mech-tech repair facilities, towards the starward side of the launching dome.

“Bastardos!” a voice cried, scaring Kenny motionless. Had he been spotted? The boy cringed and finally flailed about, seeking a hiding place among the scattered disassembled husks of fighter craft.

Two uniformed men turned the corner, having exited the mech-tech bay. Kenny flipped over a particularly degenerate fighter (scorched from what looked like a losing dog fight) and concealed himself within the snug confines of a hollowed-out ion engine.

“Calm down, Joe,” one of the men said, lighting a cigarette and offering a match to his obviously upset pal. “You know it’s always up and down.”

“More up, lately,” Joe spat, then paused to light his pipe.

“Well, with the fighting just ending, we can look forward to some vacation time, eh, my friend?”

The two casually strolled towards Kenny’s hiding place, their voices getting louder. The boy craned his neck to see over the edge of the cylindrical wirecoil he found refuge in, hoping the approaching men would not notice anything amiss. They didn’t, or so he thought, but they were uncomfortably close, barely a few meters away, and nearering. Kenny ducked back down.

“I ’spose.” The voices quieted a moment. More fighters landed, and a big boomer took off a couple fields away, the metal turf below faintly but noticeably vibrating. “Say, Nick, any word from on up about the sabotague-ing?”

“Nah. But when they catch those bastardos – ”

- written by a sleep-deprived Hopper, October 2004, 4 am, with a two-week old infant sleeping in his lap.

He actually continued the tale for another 19,000 words. Kenny escapes detection, his people are actually fighting six-foot slugs, and – oh yeah – Kenny is actually a robot boy.

Friday, October 21, 2011

What I Learned This Week

1. I am more comfortable interviewing. Alas, this revelation does not necessarily translate into job offers.

2. It may be fun to revisit books you read years ago in high school.

3. War and Peace may be in my future, if I can score a copy for under five bucks.

4. Sugar is my enemy. Or, the corollary: it is incredible how much energy you'll have if you abstain from sugar for a day.

5. One less dictator walking the earth is always a good thing. On deck: Castro and Chavez.

6. Uganda deserves its own cliche. "Hell on earth" doesn't nearly come close.

7. If you want something, ask.

8. The Civil War is - without any doubt - the most complex, intense, heartbreaking, and even bizarre four-year period in our nation's history.

9. Apple pickin' with your daughters is better than watching football on Sundays.

10. Healing Masses are Good Things.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Red Badge of Courage

Reading Killing Lincoln by Bill O'Reilly and Martin Dugard inspired me to go to the bookshelf and break this classic out. The Red Badge of Courage, by Stephen Crane, is truly a classic, and it took a second reading to bring that truth home to me.

We all read it in high school. For me, that's too far back for me to feel comfortable with. I remember exactly three things about the novel. First, the protagonist, though named, is generally called "the youth" by the author throughout the work. Second, I recall the youth walking down a country lane with wounded soldiers all about, encountering this one and that, and feeling guilty for he had no wound ("red badge"). And third, I remember getting an A on the essay I had to write for it, and essay that was really me writing what the teacher wanted to hear, me not having really digested and internalized the story and the themes.

May I suggest to you to throw off those high school blinders, and try the book as an adult? It's a slim little thing, a novella really, and you can read it over the course of two nights. I did, and I'm not a speed reader. I like to get pulled in and savor the scenery, get to know the characters and feel like I'm a part of the action. Crane allowed me to do this, and for a brief moment in my life, I felt like I actually experienced to terrible thrill of war.

The story focuses on Henry Fleming, a very young new enlistee in the Union army sometime during the middle of the Civil War. Henry - "the youth" - is extremely introspective and right at that place in life where one questions his character and destiny. We follow the youth over the course of a few days and a few battles. First, a long stretch of waiting, marching, waiting, marching, waiting, camping, waiting, and marching. Rumors flow freely among the soldiers about action any day now ... any day now ... any day now - and before our protagonist realizes it, rebels are crawling up the forest toward his position and bullets begin flying.

Initially the youth performs well during the his first dreamlike and timeless taste of warfare. But as rebel forces regroup and press forward again, believing the rest of the line has retreated, he turns and runs ... and runs. The bulk of the book is how he faces up with this stain of cowardice, especially during those scenes I mentioned earlier, where he comes face to face with maimed and dying men, some of whom he knew, some he meets and realizes he doesn't want to know. And all through it, he wrestles with what courage is, what it means to have it and lose it, and if it is possible to ever regain. The youth does, to a certain extent, and his redemption is found in giving himself up to something greater than his own self. That seems to be the key Crane is proffering; that seems to be the key in all that I have ever read on the subject.

The other dominant theme in the work is the contrast between the boyish desire for glory in war and the terrible disillusionment often found in those lucky enough to survive it. The reader can see this clearly as we are carried along in Henry's head over the course of a few days, and I found it a strangely natural development, as if I myself were thinking these thoughts and not having a writer with an agenda - and I use that word without negative shading - pull me along by the hand. It was a refreshing experience for me, since so much of today's entertainment, whether printed or televised, is so heavy-handed in its messaging.

Stephen Crane himself is someone worthwhile to learn about. Working as a sometime reporter and freelance writer and poet, he completed two novels, one of which is Red Badge, by the age of 22. The most striking thing for me, after reading this book, is that Crane had absolutely no combat experience. Later on he did travel to Cuba to cover the Spanish-American War, and later to Greece and England to write about conflict overseas. He died of tuberculosis, yet another brilliant mind taken way too early by that scourge.

Go ahead. Re-read it. Be drawn into the surreal nightmare of battle. Question what you would or would not do in the situations the youth finds himself in. Finish it and wonder about the courage of those way-too-young men who fought and died anonymously and forgotten in comparatively primitive circumstances, and think about whatever type of debt you may owe them and whether you are, in fact, living up to it.

Grade: A plus.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011


This was … unusually weird. I took Little One with me to our church last night. They were holding a special “Healing Mass” and I figured, well, since I’m still not quite a hundred percent after my surgeries way-way back, it couldn’t hurt. We got there fifteen minutes early and sat up close to the altar as the church gradually filled to about fifty percent capacity.

While Little One read her book I kneeled forward and did my prayers, and then glanced up at the crucifix. Like most Catholic churches, we have a six or eight-foot cross with a very realistic Christ nailed to it. It hangs about ten feet off the concrete wall twenty feet behind the altar. We were about ten pews back, so the crucifix hung about fifty feet or so in front of me.

My eyes narrowed a bit as I studied the figure of Jesus upon the cross. I swear … it started to breathe! Just a slow motion, barely detectable, His chest and shoulder raising about an inch and then lowering, repeating itself rhythmically. I would stare away, or make myself say something to my daughter, and then look back up. After a moment, it appeared to move again!

I stared some more, perhaps for two or three minutes straight. Ever observe something so long, so closely, so focused, that your peripheral vision kinda fades, at least from your conscious awareness? That’s the way I was staring. And every three or four breaths He seemed to adjust Himself ever so slightly, maybe moving a shoulder up an inch or so and twisting His torso ever so slightly, maybe to relieve some of the agonizing pressure from the nails in His feet.

Now, the caveat: last night I only got four-and-a-half hours sleep. I had to drink a can of Diet Coke for the caffeine to stay awake through lunchtime. The night before I got just four hours. I haven’t been sleeping well for at least two weeks. So I am horribly, terribly sleep-deprived. I’m yawning as I write this, and it’s only ten in the morning. Plus the stress of paying bills and an uncertain future is quickly reaching critical mass. So the most likely explanation of this is that it was a minor hallucination induced by sleep deprivation and an intense desire to see something … unusually weird.

Either that, or it was an acid flashback. (I kid, I kid.) (Or do I?)

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Killing Lincoln

© 2011 by Bill O'Reilly and Martin Dugard

First, let’s acknowledge the elephant in the room. I can review this book without commenting on O’Reilly and his Fox News show, and I intend to do so.

I’m not sure what I was expecting when I began reading Killing Lincoln. As an armchair historian, I pick and chose what I’m interested in (often, something beyond me chooses this interest). While I spent a great deal of time and read a good many books about the Kennedy assassination, of Lincoln’s murder I realized I was shockingly uninformed. I knew John Wilkes Booth killed Lincoln in Ford’s Theater and was himself killed in a barn some days later somewhere else. That’s it. I was aware of Seward as a member of Lincoln’s cabinet (“Seward’s folly” being the purchase of Alaska) but I could not name another, save for Vice President Johnson. I didn’t know Seward was also attacked the night Lincoln was assassinated. True, I did read Lincoln by Gore Vidal about six or seven years ago, but, not particularly liking that ugly book, I forgot most of it.

My gut is trying to form a conclusion something like this: (ahem!) Killing Lincoln is a surprisingly great read if it’s what you’re looking for; if it’s not, it’s a somewhat embarrassing disappointment.


Perhaps the best way I can focus this wishy-washy statement (I mean, c’mon – wouldn’t that conclusion apply to every single book you’ve ever read?) is to take it apart.

Killing Lincoln is purposefully written as a fast-paced novel, like a police procedural thrown into a time machine, the historical thriller’s historical thriller. Most of the verbiage is in the present tense to create tension and a “caught-up-in-the-moment” vibe. If you’ve ever watched O’Reilly on teevee, the book reads a lot like Bill bloviates. Or at least that’s the voice I heard in my head as the pages turned. If you can make peace with this style of writing, Killing Lincoln is, hands-down, a great, well-written and well-executed work.

If you’re looking for a seven-hundred scholarly analysis of the societal and political factors that ripped asunder Washington DC in April of 1865 and drove a vain, self-centered and arguably looney actor to assassinate a wildly divisive president, you’ll be disappointed. And embarrassingly so, because Killing Lincoln takes an A Current Affair approach comparatively speaking. Especially since a typical sentence as “Lincoln left for the theater at 8:30 in the evening” becomes “the man with eleven hours left to live leaves for the theater at 8:30 this night.”

While I do like the scholarly approach, my book has to be readable. What surprised me is how much of the latter style O’Reilly and Dugard mix into the former. With every turn of the page, I learned something new, something interesting. Killing Lincoln begins with the final week of the Civil War. Personalities such as Lee and Grant become fully fleshed out. How much of Grant that I thought I knew turned out to be pure caricature! The violence of the conflict really hits home, as does the toll it takes on Lincoln. The second third details the, er, details of the assassination, almost minute-by-minute. But instead of becoming kinda dull and clinical (as I’ve encountered with such JFK timelines), the authors keep it suspenseful and close to home.

The final third of the Killing Lincoln was by far my favorite. John Wilkes Booth truly was a repulsive man beneath an oily and shallow outer persona, and being so has much in common with the worse of the anti-American American celebrities mouthing off out there. So I was interested in his fate, as well as those of his conspirators. (The Lincoln assassination was a conspiracy. Though how far in extent remains debated to this day.) Suffice it to say that Booth suffered, physically and mentally, during his final dozen days on earth. Particularly so since instead of being hailed the conquering hero, he realized, via newspapers brought to him while hiding out in the swamps, that he’d become the most vilified man in America, a hated, hunted and friendless man. It felt that there was some sort of justice in the cosmic scales meted out on this physical plane of existence.

I recommend it. In fact, my stepfather is currently reading it, and when he’s done, I’m give it to the wife. It’s a quick and riveting read. My grade: solid A.

Monday, October 17, 2011

The Name of the Rose

With the exception of The Lord of the Rings, no other book has a greater association for me with the place that I’ve read it than Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose. Vividly do I recall those brisk fall nights I’d trek over to the college library, secure an isolated seat among the islands of privacy-walled desks, and hunker down for a two-hour reading session. Then, under cloudless moonlit nights, the crisp air swirling brown leaves about the labyrinth walkways leading back to my dorm, I’d hurry back, the 500-page hardcover nestled securely under arm. Already thinking about tomorrow night’s reading ... once I got tomorrow’s classes and cafeteria runs and homework and tests, studying and socializing out of the way.

I think it took about two weeks to finish Rose back then. Amidst rows and rows of furiously working students, I had only one objective: find out the murderer in the monastery. Oh, and I was in love with a girl in my hometown, so I counted the hours until Friday classes were done with and I could drive my battered 1969 Dodge Dart home. Of classes and knowledge ingested that November twenty-five years ago I have no recollection (I think I took an astronomy class). But the abbey and its mysterious library – the Aedificium – I have never forgotten.

The setting is an anonymous medieval monastery sometime in the early decades of the fourteenth century. Christianity – as practiced by human sinners, imperfect – is the axel about which all of society revolves. Indeed, civilization is continually thrust forward from the centers of learning populated invariably with Dominicans and Franciscans – the intelligentsia of the couple-century period between the “Dark Ages” and the “Enlightenment.”

Ostensibly, the book is a murder mystery. Who is slaying the monks of this abbey, at a rate of a killing a day, monks whose main task seem to be the copying of ancient and medieval texts (this being some 150 years before the invention of the printing press)? William of Baskerville is summoned to solve these crimes before the Inquisitor arrives under the pretext of settling some high-level political disputes between the Emperor, the Pope, and some orders which may or may not have fallen into heresy. The tale is narrated to us from William’s young but intelligent novice, Adso.

Soon it’s discovered that some cryptic book lies at the heart of the slayings. But the library, the “Aedificium,” is forbidden to all, William included, save the sole librarian of the abbey. The proto-detective and Adso soon sneak into the maze of the library, not once or twice but three times, in their search for the evil book which causes men to kill. The Aedificium is almost a full-fleshed character in the novel, so important is it to the plot, complete with its power to disorient and cause horrible visions and nearly frighten men to death. I was so taken with the Aedificium twenty-five years ago that I sketched out its layout, as done by William and Adso, intrigued at that ingenuous navigation scheme the builders designed within it.

Re-reading this book, as is true with rereading most books, was paradoxically both a disappointment as well as a font of new revelation. On the negative side, I already knew the killer’s identity and his reasonings and rationalizations. On the plus side, I was able to pick up on Eco’s foreshadowing and telescoping techniques that sailed over my head the first time. Some of the more emotionally explosive scenes – and there were at least a half-dozen or so – lacked the sheer punch of twenty-five years ago. Part of my heart hardening with age, I suppose, and part of my self-identification with Adso as we both dealt with our first loves (though in radically different forms)

However, the second reading really flushed out the background for me. For one, I am magnitudes more knowledgeable concerning Christianity, its background, practices, the more famous writings produced by the heroes of the faith, and the structure of the Church. All this I was ignorant of way back in college, and most of it flew over my head. Now, I actually know the relationship of Aristotle to Aquinas, and I know the characteristics of Dominicans versus Franciscans, and I know how the role of the Papacy has evolved, devolved, and re-evolved over the centuries. The second time around, I was a much more attentive and involved reader.

Particularly so since so much of The Name of the Rose focuses on books. Or scrolls to be more precise, the ancient and esoteric texts in Greek and Arabic and Latin that filled the monasteries of the middle ages, tracts not only on religion and theology but on politics, science, emotions, sociology, psychology, alchemy, travelogues to semi-mythical lands, and, of course, pagan philosophy. All tread a fine line between heresy and orthodoxy with the Church, and most at least toed the sands of heretical thought. As a mad crazy bibliophile, always on the prowl for The Book That Will Change Everything (at least in my life and how I perceive it), this substantial part of the Rose fascinated me to no end.

The best analogy to compare the two readings of Eco’s book is the same one I used to describe my re-readings of Tolkien. The first time, I could not see the forest for the trees. The second time, I could not see the trees for the forest. Whether this is a good thing or a bad thing, I don’t know. I just know that it’s a different thing. If I’m still on walking on this earthly sphere in another twenty-five years, I’ll reread both again, and see if the third time is a charm.

All that aside, The Name of the Rose is a great intellectual read, but not without its shocking share of grit and goth to keep you firmly grounded. I wholeheartedly recommend it, and give it a solid A.


Second time around I picked up on a couple things, as well as read some revelations by Eco himself and from some online postings from his fans. For one, William of Baskerville is an homage to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and his detective, Sherlock Holmes. The Hound of the Baskervilles, anyone?

I’ve also become a huge fan of Jorge Luis Borges over the past few years. The blind Argentinean writer and poet is known for his cryptic, esoteric, and philosophical fiction that never fails to raise goose bumps over my arms whenever I return to his short stories. How unfortunate that I cannot read him in the original Spanish but must rely on translations! A major character in The Name of the Rose is an ancient, blind monk named ... Jorge of Burgos. Another homage.

Speaking of Borges, Eco himself has said that, analogously, The Name of the Rose is to Borges’s The Library of Babel as Eco’s next novel, Foucault’s Pendulum is to Borges’s sublimely weird Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius. Now, if you’ve never read Borges or Eco, these titles will be meaningless to you. But if you have (or once you do, as I fervently encourage you booklovers to do), a wonderful a-ha! will click in your mind, prompting you to re-read them all again with a better understanding.

It’s been said elsewhere that everyone’s born either a Platonist or an Aristotelian. I myself fluctuate, but on any given day I’m perhaps 75% Plato, 25% Aristotle. That being said, I found it a bit difficult to agree with the villain that Aristotle will sow the seeds of destruction for the human race. Or at least the somewhat lighthearted treatise of Aristotle’s the bad guy has in mind. But, I was able to suspend some disbelief and allow a character from a different time period and different culture to have his own set of beliefs and prejudices.

By the way, the movie absolutely stunk! Admittedly, I have not seen it since the late 80s, but it was so bad compared to Eco's source novel, that I won't see it again. However, and it's a big however, the casting of Sean Connery light years away from his James Bond persona as William of Baskerville was enlightened. All throughout my second reading of the novel I envisioned William as Connery. But casting Christian Slater as Adso was just a travesty.

The title has absolutely nothing to do with the novel. I learned that Eco originally wanted to title the book Adso of Melk, but the publisher balked. According to wikipedia, he then came up with ten alternate titles and had friends select their favorite. The Name of the Rose was chosen. FWIW.

Bottom line: Good book, good read. Scheduled for a third reading sometime around 2035 or 2036.

Sunday, October 16, 2011


“Our society finds truth too strong a medicine to digest undiluted. In its purest form, truth is not a polite tap on the shoulder. It is a howling reproach.

“In place of truth, we have discovered facts. For moral aboslutes, we have substituted moral ambiguity.

“We now communicate with everyone and say absolutely nothing. We have reconstructed the Tower of Babel and it is a television antenna.”

- Ted Koppel, commencement address, Catholic University, Washington DC

I’ve always heard it second- or third-hand that Koppel is an ultra bleeding-heart liberal. But by reading through his commencement speech, I don’t think one can become more centered in traditional, conservative, orthodox thought and morality. There are a couple versions of the speech out there given at a couple of different universities over the years; you can google them (include a visit to snopes to be convinced of their veracity). But they all say the same thing, and it’s a thing that resonates well within my own thinking.

Saturday, October 15, 2011


Posit: Life evolves on Titan three trillion tomorrows hence, heated from the swollen Sun, having only a twentieth of this time to grow to leave the satellite before its burnt cinderstyle. (Note: that’s 500 million earth-years from single-cell to rocket jockey.)

A whole society of unique aliens evolves. Due to some instinct, perhaps some genetic characteristic, perhaps divine intervention, the race has always looked toward the stars. Their religion, their mythology, even down to the words and word-images they speak to describe their reality. The whole overview of their Book, the “super outline”, will be of their race to evolve mentally, physically, socially, scientifically, spiritually, and leave Titan en masse before their home is engulfed by the ever-expanding, ever-reddening, senile Sun. They must overcome physical obstacles as well as themselves (or the less-enlightened “villains”) to reach this goal.


What would the Titans be like physically? Not just dimensionally, but in terms of lifespan, reproduction, etc.

What would their religion be like? Their mythologies? Their philosophies?

What other semi-intelligent species would share the warming world? Larger predators of the Titans, perhaps?

What would the Titans call the Sun? Their home world? Each other?


Damn. Now I’ll never get to sleep tonight …

Friday, October 14, 2011


Don’t buy this game for your friend’s child if your friend happens to have a lifetime membership to Greenpeace ….

Seriously – what an utterly bizarre concept for a board game, even for 1955, when it was originally released. I’m not sure whether to laugh or to feel repulsed, and the last time I even thought about a whale was reading Moby Dick sometime in the late 90s.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

State of the Hopper

Have an interview tomorrow morning. That's the tenth one this year. Four separate meetings with recruiters, four interviews with employers (the fifth was a second interview for the job I had over the summer). I'm getting to be a pro at this, and none the richer for it.

Anyway, don't know much about the job. Got cold called after sending out unsolicited Hopper care packages consisting of a "Hi-ya!" intro letter, my resume, and a letter of recommendation. We'll see in twenty hours or so whether or not my financial situation is going to change. (Change means "swings positive".)

I picked my Halloween reading. As you may know, I like to read something spooky this time of year. In recent Octobers past I've read Poe and Lovecraft. Staring at my back on the bookshelf is a Lin Carter bio of Lovecraft and an omnibus of August Derleth Cthulhu Mythos stories. After hemming and hawwing, I decided against both. They'll have to wait for another Hunter's Moon. What I selected is -

The Amityville Horror, by Jay Anson.

The book scared the daylights out of me as a kid of a dozen years, and I remember reading it mostly on my porch during summer afternoons! So I wanna give it another read, first one in three decades or so, to see if there is any lingering power.

By the way, a memory just came back to me: reading Whitley Streiber's Transformation about twenty years ago. It's about alien abduction, his follow-up to Communion, and I remember (I think) a scene where he's sitting alone in his cabin (I was alone in my apartment reading this).  Streiber hears a loud smack against the side of the house from the outside. Then again. Again. Non-rhythmical, almost as if something was trying to get his attention and daring him to exit.

Scared the _ _ _ _ outta me!

Finished reading a bunch of stuff that I want to review, or at least note, in the upcoming days. The Name of the Rose, Umberto Eco's medieval tale of murder and mystical mysteries. Killing Lincoln, Bill O'Reilly's fast-paced and highly moving introductory to the slaying of our 16th president. Red Badge of Courage, that Stephen Crane Civil War coming-of-age tale you had to read in high school. So much to write, so little time.

I have to clean the house now, then feed the little ones, and then get the big Little One over to soccer practice. Then get them home, washed, put to bed. Then an hour refreshing my interview skills. Then a little Big Bang Theory and maybe Parks and Rec. Then bed, hopefully. Busy and important day tomorrow.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

My Barber the Sphinx

Looking in the mirror earlier today, I finally realized just how shaggy I'm getting. I mean, I could fit right in with those great unwashed currently occupying Wall Street. I need to get a haircut.

Here's the problem.

My town has only one barber, and, wouldn't you know it, he cuts the hair of every man who doesn't cut his own hair. I'm at the point of pulling my own hair out, because, as every single person in my town has to ask, "Does the barber shave himself?" Sphinxlike, no one gets a haircut unless he answers the question and defends the reasoning behind it.

Guess I'll just drive the two miles over to Shelbyville to get shorn.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

It! The Terror from Beyond Space

Now it's official. It may have taken nearly forty years, but now I've seen every SF movie made in the 1950s.

Those of you in the know will recognize It! The Terror from Beyond Space as the Alien inspiration. Monster gets on board spaceship, spaceship takes off, havoc and mayhem ensue, humans get offed one by one, last ditch stand to kill the monster. But though the flick only preceded Ridley Scott's masterpiece by 21 years (remember, Alien is now 32 years old itself), there's a parsec of AUs difference between the two. (Please pardon my slip into nerdese.)

But these "differences" are what I love - absolutely love! - about 1950s science fiction movies. All the men look and act like they've stepped out of a WWII flick. There's even a character named Gino who can't wait to "see the girls" when he gets back to Oith. They all smoke like chimneys aboard a rocket ship about the size of a water slide. The women - in between administering blood transfusions and performing autopsies - serve the men their coffee and bacon at the ship's sandwich table.

The best part, always noted in any article on the film, is the WWII mindset of the astronauts. Now, I have to note two things. First, the WWII mindset won us a big war and saved about a quarter of the globe from totalitarianism and genocide. I'm not mocking that. Second, the film is supposed to take place in the far-off future of 1973. So we're ostensibly 28 years removed from that conflict, and our astronaut corps has not evolved from the GI Joes who smashed Hitler and Hirohito while dreaming of dames and the Brooklyn Dodgers.

The best part is how our heroes go about trying to kill the invading creature: hand grenades and bazookas! Inside a rocket about the size of a cell phone tower! In outer space!

As for Alien foreshadowings, they're easy and fun to spot. The monster uses the ventilation shafts to hide, travel about, and stash his victims. There's a scene where a (somewhat corpulent) astronaut has to go in to the cylindrical shafts a la Captain Dallas. A crewman fights off the monster with a welding torch, which reminded me of the weapons Parker concocted. One effort to kill the critter involved gassing him, and seeing it flail about in the mists recalled Ripley trying to disgorge the alien in the escape ship with steam. And at the end of It! our heroes let out all the oxygen from the ship via an open airlock to kill the monster. I actually expected It to be sucked out the airlock as Ridley Scott's alien would be two decades later.

Classic, and I sincerely love every single scene.

(Still haven't figured out, though, what the "Beyond Space" in the title means.)

Monday, October 10, 2011

The Great Thauton

There was a visiting priest at mass yesterday who said a few interesting things during his sermon. For starters, he began by chatting physics. Along the lines of how the universe doesn't measure up, when you add all the observable mass and energy. He said that twenty-five percent of the descrepancy is thought to be in the form of Dark Matter, and five percent in Dark Energy.

This got me thinking. One noted Catholic writer and apologist in the blogosphere, very influential to my own development, equates Dark Matter to God's grace. I like that, and it seems quite possible to me that he's got something there. But this is not what immediately came to mind while I sat in the pews.

Thinking ... thoughts ... mind ...

Dark Matter and Dark Energy is Thought.

I mean, one of the greatest philosophic riddle is: just what the heck is a thought? An electrical impulse in the brain? Surely it must be more. If not, we'd have had AI for years now. I'm leaning toward the view that thoughts are a form of energy, just not any form we're accustomed to. Perhaps even calling it "energy" is misleading. A new word should be coined to acknowledge this thought-energy-not-energy.

I propose the word "thauton."

(T-wave is too bland; thoton could be confused with photon. So, for the sake of this stream-of-consciousness blog post, let's keep the phonetic connection and call thought-energy-not-energy thautons. A thauton is the simplest unit of a thought. Whether that unit is a particle or a wave, similar to the perennial quantum mechanical question, is a subject for some deeper meditation.)

So after Father segued back to the parables of Jesus, I was still thinking these thautonic thoughts. The problem, I believe, is equating the aggregate output of thautons from mankind to the amount of Dark Matter and Energy in the universe. Of course, I know the amounts (actual, expected, or theoretical) of neither. But intuitively I think on the great big scales of the universe, mankind's thauton output is microscopic compared to all that Darkness out there.

As the gifts were being brought up to the altar, my thautons flowed along this path: how 'bout if you tallied all the thoughts of all the human beings that have ever existed, going back to the dawn of man, hundreds of thousands if not millions of years ago? How does that balance the scales?

Not much better. Because, if you think about it, thautons might travel at the speed of light. (Why not?). The thauton of that man-ape a million years ago pondering how to use that antelope bone as a club is now a million light years out in the Great Beyond. There's a million-light-year shell of thought around the earth. The universe, though, is something like 93 billion light years in diameter. That's a lot of Dark Matter / Energy out there. Our shell is like one-ninety-three-thousandth the size of the universe.

As the visiting priest is consecrating the bread and wine, I now realize that the thought of God, the Great Thauton, must factor into this equation. It's a single Thauton, capitalized, because Aquinas has proved to me that God is One, Single, Simple, and Pure Act. The Pure Act is the creation element of the Thauton. The Thauton, then, is another word for the Word, which is another word for Christ.

Blasphemy, according to the tenants of my religion? I don't know. Maybe. But this is all just musin'.

However, intuitively I now realize that introducing the Great Thauton, I've immediately flipped the scales of the universe way over in the other direction. In fact, the Great Thauton crushes the scale more efficiently than that giant black hole that lies in the center of each galaxy.

Hmmmm. Much more thautons need to be generated to solve this conundrum. Possibly more than my own broken-down and ramshackle thauton factory can produce ...

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Sunday Commercials

What I Learned Watching Sunday Afternoon Commercials During Football Games

- No fat people drink beer.

- Every group of football fans watching football on teevee will be a perfect ethnic mixture, will consist only of wild n crazy, fun-loving twenty-somethings and will include a hot babe.

- Chicks who watch football are always hot babes.

- Guys who watch football are always pudgy goofy doofi. (Unless they are in a commercial requiring wild n crazy fun loving twenty-somethings in perfect ethnic mixtures.)

- Announcers for truck commercials always sound like the Marlboro Man.

- Trucks in truck commercials never get dirty.

- Insurance companies should spend less money on their advertising expenses. Or hire better marketing agencies.

- That Prius commercial featuring the giant “man” made up of twenty real bendy people is very, very creepy. Burger King King creepy.

- Regular married joes in commercials typically live in houses five times the size of mine.

- I'm probably gonna see that Thing reboot with my buddy in the theaters and I can guarantee it won’t live up to John Carpenter's benchmark.

- That guy from Terra Nova is so, so proud of his $300 beard. Or at least the show’s producers are.

- The commercial with the giant cowboy hats is unfunnily stupid.

- Everyone in teeveeland are carefree happy consumers, and if there’s a wrinkle or a frown in anyone’s life, it’s quickly resolved by the helpful and wondrous product being advertised.

But, of course, I’m just pointing out the obvious ...

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Halloween Creepiness

Listen to this …

This afternoon, the wife and I took our two daughters to a farm about an hour away to pick up some pumpkins, navigate a corn maze, take a hay ride. The traffic was horrendous, the girls constantly acted up, I had a day-long headache, but, overall, we all had fun.

On the way back we stopped for some groceries and for some cheap Chinese food since the hour was getting late. A lot of stuff packed into the car trunk. We pulled in to our driveway at 7 and the wife ushered the little ones inside. I unloaded the food, which included a pumpkin pie bought at the farm, hauling it all inside a handful at a time, and then I opened the trunk to get at our three pumpkins and set them up on the stoop.

The creepiness hit me as I lifted up the largest pumpkin, a ten-pounder about a foot in diameter. As I lifted it out of the trunk – something moved inside it!

Shocked, I almost dropped it. The thought of something alive inside the pumpkin – the first thought in my mind – freaked me out a bit. Then I paused as the rational part of my brain kicked in. Was the pumpkin rotted? Did a part of it fall out? No, and no. I turned it over in my hands, even gave it a small shake – nothing. I shrugged and brought it over to the cement stairs of our front porch, and laid in gently against the house.

I backed up a few steps and examined the thing in the twilight, my eye focusing on movement, like a tyrannosaurus rex, to exclusion of everything else.

It sat there, silent and motionless, but I was not satisfied. It was if the damned thing was mocking me.

All during our steamed chicken and broccoli dinner I thought about that movement. Then an image occurred to me, one I nearly forgot. After our hayride, we disembarked on a wooden platform into a pumpkin patch. This was the first time this suburban lad was ever in one. Up till them my only experience with pumpkin patches was Charlie Brown Halloween. As the girls all ran among the vines, I stood back and surveyed the landscape. By golly, but it did remind me of the Alien and Aliens scenes of the egg rooms. Big, fat, orange pumpkins immediately called to my mind the disgusting alien eggs from those two classic SF flicks.

So is it any wonder I imagined something moving inside the big, fat, orange pumpkin we bought and brought back to our home?

(At least, I hope it was just my imagination … )

Friday, October 7, 2011

Scripture Dream

“A dream is a scripture, and many scriptures are nothing but dreams.”

- William of Baskerville, The Name of the Rose, Sixth Day, After Terce

Something religiously philosophical and philosophically religious out of my distant past has caught my attention again. I plan on doing some deep reading in it (yeah, right, try to find the time!) and I am unsure if I’ll blog on it or not. Hint: it’s about … oooOOOooo … mind control, in a religiously and philosophically somewhat skewy way.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Steve Jobs

I don’t own an iPhone. Nor do I own an iPad or an iPod. I’ve never worked on or with an Apple computer. My wife put iTunes on my PC and delegated the management of her music to me. Which I hate.

So I’m not partial to Steve Jobs and Apple, and can honestly say I am not influenced in any major way by him or his company.

That being said, I was immensely saddened yesterday when I learned of his death.


After a day’s deliberation, I think it’s because I recognized (or it was explicitly pointed out to me via media eulogizing) that he was a phenomenally successful genius who influenced a large portion of the world, and for the better.

Genius always has given me chills. Part of the Hopper’s library consists of biographies of John D. Rockefeller, Albert Einstein, Paul Erdos, and Srinivasa Ramanujan, among others. The simple fact of allowing oneself to become completely overwhelmingly absorbed in a simple, singular subject, to one’s pure and utter delight, strikes me as close to the Beatific Vision as one can have on this sphere. Only perhaps a half-dozen times in my life have I come a fraction as close, close to that Elysian Field where the best and brightest humanity has had to offer up have spent hours and days, months and years.

But there’s genius, and then there’s the genius of knowing how to apply, develop, and promote one’s genius. That’s what Jobs had. That’s what kept him from a lifetime of tinkering in his parents basement or garage (or to be more accurate, he’s what kept Wozniak from spending a lifetime in his parent’s basement or garage). That’s what kept him always thinking, always innovating, always getting better. Not merely outsmarting his competitors, but reshaping the very wants and needs of the culture. That’s the genius of Steve Jobs’ genius.

Rest in peace.

A few notes, for what they’re worth –

Scary how young he died … just a dozen years older than me … and about 8 billion dollars richer.

Funny the juxtaposition of his surname with the Obama (cough, cough) “jobs” bill. Someone wittier than me needs to come up with a pithy, chuckle-worthy sentence playing on this coincidence.

The wife loved – absolutely loved – Steve Jobs. But then again, she’s much more into the whole “business” thing than I am. In fact, she begged me for a hundred bucks back in 2006 to invest in Apple stock six months before they released the iPhone. I’d’ve given it to her, had we had the dough to spare.

Somewhere I read that Jobs was adopted. God, how I wish that one day we’ll have the financial opportunity to raise an unwanted or abandoned little one. Perhaps it’s the noblest thing a human being can ever do, aside from raise his children well.

I think I’m going to require – in as friendly and playfully a way as possible – one idea from Little One (and Patch once she’s older) every night at the dinner table. Should be fun. She amazed me with her takeaway when I gave her a brief overview of Jobs’ life and accomplishments: “So, you don’t need to go to college to be successful.” Wow. I mean, wow!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Poor, Poor Man

Just read a factoid (well, a plausible one, possibly) about the JFK assassination that, while not quite curdling my blood, did give me a shiver of melancholy-and-the-infinite-sadness.

You’ve all seen the Zapruder film, the shaky 8-mm video of the motorcade as it proceeds past the Texas School Book Depository and the president is killed. In a book entitled Murder in Dealey Plaza, in a chapter on the chronology of November 22, 1963 (compiled by Ira David Wood III), I read that

SS agent Roy Kellerman … testifies that he hears JFK call out: “My God! I’m hit!” JFK, who is wearing a rigid back brace, does not slump, but is held erect by the device.

How awful! While Governor Connolly, in the seat directly in front of the president and hit, too, is able to slide to the center of the car and partially shield himself from further gunfire, Kennedy is trapped and held up like a duck on one of those shooting gallery treadmills, a suited bullseye for Oswald or whoever to fire those brutal 6.5 mm shells at until the mission is accomplished.

What a poor man! May God have mercy on his soul.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011


All I know is a door into the dark.
Outside, old axles and iron hoops rusting;
Inside, the hammered anvil's short-pitched ring,
The unpredictable fantail of sparks
Or hiss when a new shoe toughens in water.
The anvil must be somewhere in the centre,
Horned as a unicorn, at one end square,
Set there immovable: an altar
Where he expends himself in shape and music.
Sometimes, leather-aproned, hairs in his nose,
He leans out on a jamb, recalls a clatter
Of hoofs where traffic is flashing in rows;
Then grunts and goes in, with a slam and flick
To beat real iron out, to work the bellows.

- "The Forge," by Seamus Heaney

Nice. Real nice.

(I'm sorry, but after the imagery in that poem I'm too intimidated to throw around any adjective more weighty than "nice". Gulp.)

Monday, October 3, 2011

Centuries-Old Murmuring

Until then I had thought each book spoke of the things, human or divine, that lie outside books. Now I realized that not infrequently books speak of books: it is as if they spoke among themselves. In the light of this reflection, the library seemed all the more disturbing to me. It was then the place of a long, centuries-old murmuring, an imperceptible dialogue between one parchment and another, a living thing, a receptacle of powers not to be ruled by a human mind, a treasure of secrets emanated by many minds, surviving the death of those who had produced them or had been their conveyors.

- The Name of the Rose, Terce, Fourth Day, by Umberto Eco.


Often it takes the writings of another to pull concrete images from the nebulous half-formed thoughts swirling about my cerebral timepoint. Or perhaps not-so-concrete images; images possibly in the wet cement of the latest work of the latest Gallic artiste.

Books talking to books … “centuries-old murmuring” in the library, long after the lights go out and the last human being leaves the building … does not this “murmuring” occur at a frequency inaccessible to human ears, not unlike a canine whistle, though more likely occurring, to my intuition, at much lower frequencies, ULFs, too slow and ponderous for us overbusy gnats to perceive?

And following these thoughts, does a book “scream” when it’s burned? A terrifying thought …

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Mercy Buckets

Busy weekend (is there any other kind when you have children?), too busy to even read let alone write.

The wife was working Saturday, which she does a half-dozen times a year, leaving me in charge of the little ones. There were bills to pay, checkbooks to balance, soccer games to go to, though they got rained out. Then there was errands: post office, bank to deposit my final paycheck, library, and pizza. Got back home, put Patch down, and me and Little One napped for two-and-a-half hours. Ah, bliss!

Cleaned the house in anticipation for Sunday's birthday party for the Little One. Did four loads of laundry, took out the air conditioner units, moved my portable library down to the basement. Fed the little ones and the wife when she got home. Watched some DVR'd stuff after the girls went down, but we all were tired and went to bed early.

Got the girls showered Sunday morning then off to Sunday School. I took Patch with me to mass, then picked up Little One's birthday cake, then got Little One. Then, in two hours, I picked up the catering, balloons, ice, mowed the front and back yards, swept the deck, moved the furniture outside for the wife to decorate, and showered and cleaned myself up. Had guests over for four hours, watched the football and baseball games, met some of my daughter's school friends and their moms, had relatives and friends come over who we haven't seen in a while. My parents took Patch back to PA with them for a couple of days, and the wife and I watched Little One open her presents. The three of us played a game together, then put our birthday girl down a little after 8.

I am exhausted.

Thanks so much to so many people. First, to my wife, who averted what could have been a disaster of a party and turned it into something Little One will remember for a long time. Thanks to my parents for taking Patch off my hands for three days so I can search for work. Thanks to my father-in-law for being so generous and helping to pay for the cake, balloons, and much more. Thanks to all the guests who went above and beyond in their gifts, and thanks to my buddy who brought his kids bouncy castle over. Steve, if you ever need a good book to read, I'm your man!

And Happy Birthday, Little One! You and your sister are the best gifts ever given to me.

Well, time to watch a little Sunday night football, have a little leftover cake, read a little bit after the wife nods off. Some interesting stuff outta left field later in the week.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

O Thous't Blouddy Moratorium!

I'm going to put my Shakespeare reading quest on hold. How long this hold shall be, I am uncertain. At least until my life gets to a more stable, secure foundation. Read: until I get a job. A dignified, meaningful, and sane one, if such a one exists nowadays.

Don't get me wrong. I enjoyed it immensely. I started off with a bang in May and got bogged down a bit once I started work the end of June. But it was during this period I read my favorite works, the Henry IV stuff, so though I had a bunch of other ephemera on my mind, I was still progressing from play to play, every fortnight or so.

Then I got to Lear right around the time I lost my job. And I discovered I just couldn't give it the attention it well deserves. Combination of monkey mind meets perpetual, habitual worry. How could I enjoy this old king losing his sanity when I felt that my own was on quite shaky ground?

So, the Shakespeare-in-a-Year is put aside for now. I read eleven plays (plus half of Lear) of Will's 37 or 39, or just under a third, in four months. I'm happy, 'cuz I was on track to get 'em all done in a twelvemonth. But there are other things that, regrettably, demand my attention at this moment.

Additionally, I read four books on the Bard and two on his plays. I feel that I can now discuss intelligently (or at least without embarrassing myself) on a wide variety of Shakespeareana, at least in comparison to six months ago. And I still remain fascinated by his words, his rhymes, his rhythm, his characters, his plots, his dramatization, and the overall subject of Elizabethan England.

Who'd'a thought?

I intend to do a great deal more spiritual reading (and squeeze in an SF quickie every now and then). With a little luck I can hopefully return to these wonderful plays in the springtime. I know I'll miss them and the experience I have come to love approaching a Shakespeare play for the first time.