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Below are the 20 most recent journal entries recorded in lutherjett's LiveJournal:

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Sunday, February 5th, 2012
9:42 pm
Security
I lost my Social Security card — that red, white, and blue rectangle of cardboard with nine numerals on the front, which everyone receives at some point early in life, and which we're cautioned to always keep in a safe place. I'm not sure when I lost it, really. It's not as if we're often asked to present our Social Security cards for identification. That's what driver's licenses and passports are for. And of course, the number —those nine randomized digits— is recorded everywhere on everything, so who needs the card?

It turns out that there are occasions when one is asked for the actual card, or a copy of it. The number alone won't do. And recently, I experienced such an occasion. Of course, I thought I knew where my card was, because I thought I'd put it in a safe place, as required. But when I went to look for it, the card wasn't there.

This sent me on a search of half a dozen likely places — it's an uneasy sensation to discover that things are not where one supposed them to be. Is reality coming apart at the seams, then? Or has one simply gone forgetful-minded? Not only was the card not in the place I imagined it to be, my diligent ransack of various drawers and boxes didn't turn it up either. After a fruitless hour or so, I decided to pack it in and get some sleep.

It's less than a full century since the first Social Security number was issued, but those nine digits have become a necessity of American existence. Your Social Security number establishes and verifies your identity, to such a degree that nefarious minds devise elaborate ruses to trick people into divulging their numbers, and thereby steal their identities.

What if the very card on which your number was issued goes missing? It's the proof-text, after all, that card. If I don't have a Social Security card, do I have an identity at all? And if not, is my existence merely a cypher? Questions like these do not lead to a restful night.

In the morning, I renewed and expanded my search, climbing into the attic and rummaging through various boxes there. In the process, I opened a box of mementos and discovered within a smaller box. And inside the smaller box, wrapped in tissue was a tiny glass bird, given me by my parents when I was, myself, quite small. I'd thought it long lost, mislaid or perhaps shattered, and in any event irretrievable. Now here it lay, once again, in the palm of my hand, delicate but unscarred by time, a treasure from my childhood. And it made me very happy, just to hold that simple toy.

That bird represented for me the security of childhood, when every moment is spent looking forward, not back. But we do grow, and the time comes when childhood is no more, and we realize that not even every childhood is secure. Some children never know the kind of security I knew; looking back, I suspect we were not really as secure as we seemed. My parents probably struggled financially, but they never let on. Instead, they gave us trinkets and books, and never-forgotten trips cross-country.

They struggled in other ways, too. My father lost his brother in the war, and my mother's father died when she was still quite young. Only when I was much older did I come near to understanding how these losses shaped them. I say only that I came near — in truth, I still struggle to understand. Now my parents are gone, and so is my childhood, never to be reclaimed. Yet, a little glass bird can call up the memory.

Some things really are lost forever, but sometimes, we are given the grace to discover that what we thought was lost has been there all along.

Soon after the recovery of that childhood gift, in a box of old calling cards and theatre tickets, I found my missing Social Security card. It is now in a safe(r) place. The glass bird is nesting on my mantel-piece.
Monday, January 16th, 2012
9:52 pm
Print This!
My last blog entry —written several months ago, now— dealt with the public grief of the citizens of Norway. I have since then confronted a personal grief, for which words cannot suffice.

I recently attended a poetry reading and heard an as-yet unpublished poem read by Whitman Award winner, Anne Pierson Wiese, which was a paean to paper. There is nothing like paper for holding thoughts and memories. But in this age, we dream of a paperless society.

I think that dream somewhat a nightmare — Does it herald the birth of a society without thought or memory?

My mother died on October 1st of last year. In consequence, I have come into possession of old family papers, dating back to the early 19th century. Letters, journals, ledger-books — disjointed fragments of a vanishing world. I can't even tell who the author was of some of these documents. They are signed only with a given name. So ephemeral the brittle pages seem, and yet how tangible, how indelibly real, the paper between my fingers, the ink in some instances scarcely faded.

Among these traces of lives past, some stand out: A letter describing the agonizing death of a child from encephalitis; the journal of a young man who travelled to California in 1849, only to find that all the gold had already been claimed; a letter from that same man, become an aging father, writing to his two grown daughters about a near-death experience (this was in the 1890s); the 1840 diary of a young Maryland housewife who moved from Chevy Chase to what must have seemed the wilderness of Rockville in dead of winter, to an unfinished house which could scarcely be heated, where pigs ran in the doors. History brushes these pages only lightly, and yet, what each writer had in common was the over-arching desire to tell his or her story, to pass it on, that it not be lost.

Perhaps the most moving document, for me, is a letter written by my mother. To me. It was intended to be given to me on my 21st birthday, but for some reason, she didn't do so. In it she writes of feelings she never spoke aloud. Paper preserved those thoughts for me to read when my mother's lips had grown more silent than in life.

Who writes letters nowadays when we have e-mail, blogs, and texting? Electro-magnetic pulses, stored on spinning platters of treated metal. Will these traces of our being last in the way old documents have? We require elaborate machines to read these digital passages, but suppose our machines should falter or break down? What then will remain?

What becomes of our thoughts, our memories, our dreams? Without proper storage, they will vanish. Will we, too, vanish with them? As if never existing?

Paper deteriorates, it grows brittle to the touch. Water damages it, insects and vermin devour it, fire consumes it. And yet it seems more lasting to me than these screen-images, constructed of digital code. This blog ... the posting which linked you to it ... the whole, maddening flood of information, disinformation, and misinformation ... one random solar flare might erase it all.

And we, ourselves, are more ephemeral than either paper or pulsation. A moment, and we may be gone. What remains? Here I sit, surrounded by paper, entering thoughts and memories on a digital device. In the end, words are all I have, however those may be kept; words, even when no words will do. And I write on into the gathering night, trusting against all odds that those words are what will remain, that the words will somehow reach you whose name I may not even know.

My earlier blog entry ended with the scene of workers gathering the flowers of grief into dark sacks, flowers which had already faded, grown brittle, and would soon exist no more. They could not speak, those flowers, and yet, they spoke for the people who piled them in biers across the countryside. And the memory of those flowers is gathered into words, and words remain.
Wednesday, August 17th, 2011
1:16 pm
Flowers of Defiance
I landed in Oslo, Norway, a little over a week after the appalling bombing and mass killing which took place on the 22nd of July. I found a city of dead flowers — they were everywhere, heaped at the base of every statue and round every fountain. The steps to the Radhus, the Town Hall, were lined with wilting bouquets; likewise, the entrance to the Parliament Building. As I walked from the waterfront to the National Cathedral, I saw flowers at every turn — silent testimony, left by the good citizens of Oslo, to memorialize those who were suddenly taken from them on a rainy summer's afternoon.

In the park that stretches from the Parliament to the Palace, flowers floated in a pond. A group of blonde schoolgirls, perhaps 13 years old, stood in a line by the edge of the pool, looking silently down at the swirl of broken petals. A mound of flowers and the burnt-out remains of candles covered a street corner near the Parliament where I turned my steps toward the Cathedral. I felt as if I were passing the stations of a pilgrimage, caught up as witness to a ritual which knows no time because it is about all time.

The enormity of the gesture — all these flowers blanketing the city, each one placed by a grieving hand — was staggering to contemplate, but did little to prepare me for what I would see at the Cathedral itself. Before the doors, a vast mound of flowers, candle-leavings, Norwegian flags, and other mementos, perhaps covering a quarter of an acre, and rising nearly to waist-height. Somewhere beneath it all, was a street; two traffic lights rose from the mound, still cycling red to green. In the side-yard, more of the same — the bouquets, the molten pools of candle-wax, flags, teddy bears, pictures drawn by school-children, a bicycle wreathed in flowers. The Memorial Service had been a week ago, but still people came to add to the mound, or to stand there, mute, gazing upon this outpouring of grief. I, among them.

What impressed me above all was the silence. No-one cried out or wept aloud; the flowers did this for them. But there was something more than simple sorrow at work here. There was an element of defiance — defiance against the callous disregard for life which impelled the murderer, against the sort of thinking which sees in others only a means to one's own ends. "You may take our lives, our loved ones," the flowers seemed to say, "But you cannot take our dignity. No, and you cannot take our silence, which thunders louder than any words."

There is a natural temptation, when horrendous events occur, to stake moral claims, to draw parallels and distinctions, to wrest some greater meaning from the raw, tangled facts. But in the moment, as I stood before the Domkirk, it was not the actions of a solitary madman which seized my attention, but the manner in which the people responded. There was no howling mob, shrieking for vengeance, nor was there an agony of ululation, nor imprecation, nor blame, nor self-recrimination. There were only flowers.

At the street where the bombing took place, a chain-link barricade had been erected. And woven amidst the chain-links — flowers. Already, much of the debris had been swept away, the windows which were shattered by the blast were boarded up or covered with plastic. Half a block down the street, I could see workers busy at repairing the physical damage.

I wandered down to the Aker Brygge, the waterfront which in the past decade has been revitalized. More flowers were strewn on the concrete parapets of the tram-stop. All the restaurants and cafes were full, the street itself was thronged, and music was playing. It was a warm summer night, and life went on, as much a gesture of defiance as all those dead flowers.

Two days later, I was in Kristiansand, a little resort town on the southern Norwegian coast. As I strolled by the park near the town hall, I saw that the bandstand was laden with flowers and candle leavings. An hour later, as I passed by again, a worker was clearing them all away.

Up-date: I've posted some pictures of the flowers of Oslo at my website. (October, 2011)
Sunday, May 1st, 2011
5:48 pm
For Reading Out Loud
A recent discussion on Facebook, sparked by this poem, centered on poets reading their poems aloud -- which is to say, before an audience. Why do poets feel the urge to read, and when they do, why do so many make such a bad job of it?

If you frequent poetry readings, either as a reader or as a listener, then you know the phenomenon of which I speak. The sins of reading aloud are many: singsong delivery; spending more time explaining the poem than it takes to actually read it; fumbling through sheafs of papers to find what one intended to read; exceeding one's allotted time, and on and on. It does little good to enumerate them all, these sins. They will be committed again and again, so long as there are poets and readings. Even the greatest poets, at times, were lousy readers. How is this so?

We read in public, I think, for the same reason that we publish. We crave an audience, for the most part; we want our words to live for others. Even Emily Dickinson wanted her poems to be read by someone; if she had not, she would not have gone to trouble to arrange and bind her manuscripts. She would simply have committed her poems to the fire once she was done writing them.

For centuries, poetry was not a written form -- the advent of poetry pre-dates the advance of literacy. Poetry was originally intended to be heard -- not seen. Neglect this fact at peril.

But as the act of scratching words on flat surfaces took precedence over the spoken word, poets became focussed on the craft of writing, as opposed to speaking. To read successfully before an audience, however, one must employ both sets of skills. It will not do to simply read aloud the words written on the page. Getting up in front of an audience means you are putting on a performance. You are not there simply for self-gratification -- you are there for audience gratification.

To engage and hold your audience, you must breathe life into the poem. Bob Dylan said that singing is simply an exercise in breath control; the same holds true for performing poetry. A fully realized poem --a living poem, if you will-- is like a human being, composed of both mind and body. If I speak only from the head, my voice will be thin and wispy, with no body to it. Should I speak from the heart, that alone will not suffice, because the heart's a fragile thing, and so is the voice which emanates from it. A full-bodied poem draws from the gut.

That is what successful singers do, by the way. They breathe from the diaphragm (the gut), so that the notes will fully resonate. And even so, one can be a technically perfect singer, and still fail to move one's audience if the singer does not also experience each note as an emotion, as an idea. So it must be for any performance, whether it is music, theatre, or poetry.

When I perform a poem, I present the poem as I hear it in my mind, not as I "see" it on the page. It began as an inner voice, after all; the page is simply a recording device. My job as performer is to bring that inner voice from the darkened chambre of the soul out into the light, or better still, to let it shine.

If I can accomplish that, there is a chance someone in my audience will catch at least a shimmer of that light, catch hold of it and carry it with them wherever they go next. Otherwise, what's a poem for? As much as one might desire and delight in an audience -- the measure and the mark is whether the audience desires and delights in us.
Monday, February 21st, 2011
9:26 pm
Got To Keep Moving
The year 2011 marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of one of 20th century America's greatest bards -- Robert Johnson . But wait -- Robert Johnson was a Delta Bluesman.

Maybe so, but he was no less a poet. In just a few brief years, Johnson created a body of work, driven by a tumultuous inner vision, to rival any master. He used the vernacular of his rural up-bringing as surely as did Robert Burns, to convey truths about the human condition that both illuminate and transcend his circumstances.

"I went down to the crossroads,
"Tryin' to flag a ride ...
"Ain' nobody seem to know me,
"Everybody pass me by ...."


["Crossroad Blues"]

On one level, that song is about a wandering musician, down on his luck. On another level, Johnson speaks to the condition of being a man in a dangerous situation -- woe to the black man caught out after sundown in rural Mississippi during the 1920s! And on yet another level, the lyrics capture an existential alienation beyond race or colour. Loneliness, despair, fear and trembling -- these conditions are common to all humanity.

Robert Johnson's voice is relentless, sustained, and unwavering. I thought that if I examined his lyrics closely, I might detect some note of triumph over adversity, but the work proves not that simple. Nor is it so simplistic. Nevertheless, Johnson made no attempt to reconcile; he was never resigned to his fate:

"I got to keep movin',
"I got to keep movin'
"Blues fallin' down like hail..."


["Hellhound On My Trail"]

Last week, I attended a tribute to Robert Johnson at the Strathmore. When Johnson died, under cloudy circumstances at the age of 27, he was barely known outside the small circle of Delta blues artists. He'd made recordings of just under 30 songs, only one of which (Terraplane Blues) achieved hit status. The profound influence of that small ouvre is testament to Johnson's undying genius.

Among the performers at the tribute was 97-year-old bluesman, Honeyboy Edwards , a contemporary of Johnson's, who was with him during his final weeks. Ancient of days, Mr. Edwards needed a cane to walk across the stage. But once he sat down to play, he needed no assistance; his voice and fingers were as strong as a man one fifth his age.

After Mr. Edwards had played a few numbers, another aged blue legend came on-stage -- Mr. Hubert Sumlin, one-time protege of the great Howlin' Wolf. I have to confess that I winced inwardly as Mr. Sumlin appeared, for he was dragging an oxygen tank behind him, tubes and all. But when Mr. Sumlin began to play, he wailed, searing riffs flowed from his fingers and took my breath away.

Here are two men who refuse to "go gentle into that good night". Despite adversity, despite illness and frailty, they keep doing the thing they love. Because, to the last, what other choice is there? Each of us finds stones in the passway, each of us has a hellhound on the his/her trail. Don't give in to it. You got to keep moving.
Sunday, February 13th, 2011
9:19 pm
The Best Headache I Ever Had: Report on the AWP Conference
Last week, I attended the annual conference of the Association of Writers & Writing Programs (AWP). When I learnt it would be in Washington, D.C. this year, I knew I would have to go. I'd never been to an AWP conference, but to pass up attending when it was going to be right in my own backyard — well, that was out of the question. I registered and booked a hotel room, and began counting the days.

What quirk of fate led to my coming down with a nasty head-cold the very week of the conference, I cannot speculate. I did my best to dose it away, but the morning the conference began, my respiratory system resembled a Beltway rush-hour during a snowstorm. Nasal gridlock, punctuated by sudden flurries of sneezing. A genuine wintry mix. No way I was going to let that stop me.

It's a good thing I didn't drive downtown, as had been my original plan. Friends of mine reconnoitered the site the evening before and advised against this, as parking might prove difficult at best. So, we rode in on the Metro, reaching the Marriott Wardman Park & Omni Shoreham Hotels at a little past nine, and to my surprise, my room was ready. Also, the lot at the Shoreham was already full. I'd avoided hours of circling the neighborhood in a vain search for a legal parking space. I dropped my luggage in my room, grabbed a handful of tissues, and headed over to the Marriot to pick up my conference badge and program.

Check-in for the conference was next to the book fair, and I started to browse what I took at first to be a modest assemblage of booths. Then I noticed another room leading off the first, also full of booths. Beyond that was a vast hall filled with tables, and beyond that yet another hall .... It was like visiting the Imperial Palace in Beijing. My head began to spin, and I couldn't tell whether it was from my cold or from the effect of seeing scores of literary exhibitors in one place. So many books, so little time.

Over the ensuing three days, I alternated between sessions on the craft of writing and the book fair, sessions on finding an agent and the book fair, poetry readings and ... the book fair. I filled my official canvas AWP tote bag several times over, the only factor limiting my acquisitions being the thought of ultimately having to schlep everything home on the Metro.

The great Argentine author, Jorge Luis Borges, wrote of an infinite Library, comprising every book that ever was or ever will be written. The AWP conference is not nearly so vast, but it is a close parallel. Consider a vast smorgasbord table, laden with every imaginable delicacy. I could only sample the feast; there was not enough time to taste everything.

Highlights for me included: a panel on civilian writing during war-time, which seemed apt to me, as I am a civilian, writing in a time of apparently endless war; a combination lecture and reading on the intricacies of translating Paul Celan, a writer whose works in their original tongue often seem to have been translated from an unknowable language; and a group of Japanese women who read poetry in both Japanese and English — at times the Japanese and the English translations overlapped, creating an aural landscape of windblown tree-blossoms wafting amid mysterious crags overlooking fog-bound seas.

Toward the middle of the first day, a certain pressure built up behind my eyes, and by evening, as I sat through the keynote, throbbing pain punctuated each syllable of the speech. It didn't matter. I was in a vast hall with several thousand other human beings who, like me, held words to be the sweetest fruit of human endeavour. After the speech, I shambled back to my hotel room, dosed myself royally, and hoped that by morning my headache would dissipate.

Indeed, when day dawned, I was able to convince myself that I was improving. I am sometimes a master of self-delusion. I started the day with a wonderful panel session on the Persona Poem, which included some fine poets and a reading by Cornelius Eady of a new poem in which he adopts the persona of an inanimate object — the casket of Emmett Till. The poems were so wonderful it was almost possible to ignore the sporadic coughing in the audience.

The coughing and wheezing around me grew even more pronounced during the next session I attended. It's always nice to know one is not alone. For my own symptoms had come shrieking back, and by the time I got to the afternoon session on Paul Celan, miniature lumberjacks with chainsaws had taken up residence in my sinus cavities, where they appeared to be practicing flamenco dancing while wearing stilletto heels. It didn't matter. I was listening to the words of Paul Celan, words torn from the mouth of another planet.

Later, I met up with some friends and adjourned to a bar across Connecticut Avenue from the Wardman, where Tupelo Press was sponsoring a reading by multiple poets. We were ushered up a narrow stair into a small room which very quickly became filled with people. I snarfed a free beer from the bar, which in hindsight might not have been a wise move on my part. As the Tu-poets read, something inside my skull began oscillating wildly, as though the lumberjacks were now engaged in an extreme yodeling contest. It didn't matter, the pain in my head, the heat of bodies pressed together, standing room only, none of this mattered. The reading went on and it was good.

Afterwards I walked back up the hill to the Wardman. The bar was crowded, everywhere was crowded, including my own head. I ended up getting dinner at the Shoreham, which in contrast was nearly deserted. By morning my headache had passed, the way a Washington blizzard does, leaving slush in its wake. I listened happily to Japanese poetry, and then tried to sit through a presentation on experimental writing but checked out. Figuratively, first, and then literally, leaving my bags with the bellhop. I met a friend for lunch, and then went up to the Wardman for more sessions and a final round of the book fair tables.

At the fair, it seemed everything was either on discount or free for the taking; less baggage for the publishers to carry home, I suspect. You would think that by late afternoon of the last day of a conference the exhibit hall would be sadly deserted, empty booths and bare tables, only a few stragglers remaining. But the book fair was thronged, as busy and as dizzy as on the opening day. Even at 5:30, when it was time to catch the Metro toward home, the lobby of the Wardman was crowded, and the bar, and up and down the hill moved hordes of conferees in search of one last poem, one last word, as night fell.

I went to my first AWP conference and survived a headache that lasted over 36 hours. It was the best headache I ever had.



A sad post-script: Shortly after returning from the conference, I learned that a friend and fellow poet, Julie B, whose comments have occasionally graced this blog, had lost her husband quite suddenly and tragically. After a week of words, for this, no words. Only the deepest condolences to Julie and her young son.

Lj
Monday, January 17th, 2011
11:07 am
Word Choice
"A Man may make a Remark," wrote Emily Dickinson, over a century and a half ago, "...That may furnish the Fuse unto a Spark...." How is one to interpret those words?

I think it possible to read Dickinson's poem with two minds. On one hand, she is clearly issuing a warning — Incautious words may yield unwanted consequences. "Let us discourse," she says, "—with care—".

And yet, Dickinson speaks often of dormancy and metamorphosis, and no less in this poem. Chosen carefully or not, small words may lead to great things. "Powder exists in Charcoal — Before it exists in Fire." The reference appears to be to gunpowder. But charcoal can also be used as tinder to the fire which warms the hearth. And just so, words may inspire the heart and mind to creative fires. A "still, small voice" may speak out to calm the whirlwind.

All the more reason to choose our words with care.

For some of us, words come easily, while others struggle to be understood. The miracle of language is that we understand one another at all — that by unspoken agreement, we give common names to things. Tree. Bird. Fire. And these terms evoke roughly the same concrete images to thousands, millions, of listeners. True, I may envision an evergreen pine, clinging to the rocks above a stormy sea, while you may recall a sheltering oak; I might imagine a rain-drenched sparrow huddling in the eaves, where you conceive of an eagle soaring above a timeless river. But even these disparate images, put to proper words, can be mutually understood.

Moreover, we have a shared abstract vocabulary — for the image of a bird, however we may imagine it, connotes a sense of freedom, of hope, of joy. Without this shared vocabulary of abstraction, poetry could not exist. Every Greek understood Homer's wine-dark sea, and even we, thousands of years after those words were formulated, read them in an entirely different language and still comprehend their deeper meaning.

And even so, even as language unites us, language can break down. The hearer may mis-hear, and words can be bent into unrecognizable shapes. The same Bible was used, in Dickinson's day, to justify slavery as to vilify it. The Arabic word "jihad" means spiritual struggle to many — but to others it means the struggle of arms. There are words which have been so abused that their meanings have been reversed, or have been used so often in anger or disdain that they no longer have any useful meaning at all.

All the more reason to speak with clarity, then.

However, if all that were wanted were clarity, how impoverished language would be. It is, paradoxically, the very ambiguity and malleability of words which lends them beauty and power. "A Man may make a Remark" ... but nothing after that is at all so simple. Did Dickinson really intend her poem as a cautionary essay on public discourse? Certainly, the 1850s had its share of incendiary rhetoric — not unlike our current climate. Or was she speaking of the power of words to transform? Perhaps. But there is yet another way to understand the poem. Perhaps Miss Dickinson was writing for an erstwhile, or imagined, lover — pleading with him to weigh his remarks more carefully, lest they "furnish the Fuse unto a Spark".

We are not given to know the consequences of the words we choose.

You are reading my words, and if I am fortunate, you will understand their gist and will not misconstrue the thoughts behind them. But I shall be even more fortunate if my words open for you, the reader, not merely a window into my own inner life, but a door which beckons you to approach new possibilities, ideas and thoughts I cannot predict because they are not my own, but yours.


The full text of Emily Dickinson's poem may be found (among many places) here:

http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/20161
Sunday, October 31st, 2010
2:16 pm
Heroes and Bullies
I've been thinking about my recent post concerning bullies, and suspect I might have painted the topic in strokes too broad, too black and white. Sometimes, the chiaroscuro effect is appropriate. I do believe that there are absolutes with which we must reckon.

However, most human beings are more complicated creatures; blacks and whites don't do them justice. Or, as Katie Emmett, the protagonist in my novel, says at one point:


"How I want there to be a black and a white in all this ... Innit how it was, then? Why, certs, there's black to one end and white to the other -- but in between are all these shades of grey, til we can scarce tell anymore where the black leaves off and the white begins. Twill neither sort nor parse, and even so. Innit the truth that even shades of grey are formed of black and white in their measure?"


There are sheer bullies in this world, of course, and always have been Certainly, there are pure heroes who grace our presence now and then. But most of us are in-between; we muddle through life and hope to get it right. And in this larger category, I must include some of my own personal heroes, who were, after all, human beings.

I greatly admire Winston Churchill, for example. Not only did he stand up to one of the biggest bullies of all time, but he never gave in, even after suffering defeat after defeat in the course of his long career. And in the end, when time was ripe, he was the right man for the times. Despite his heroism, it must be said that he could also be an irascible old curmudgeon, even a bit of a bully when things were not done his way. For all that, he was a decent man.

What about Thomas Jefferson, though? The man who wrote that he had "sworn upon the altar of G-d, eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man" was a practitioner of tyranny himself, was he not? For did he not hold slaves? And while he agonized over the institution of slavery, even advocated its abolition, he did not free his own while he lived. It's very difficult to reconcile this aspect of Jefferson, and yet, I chafe at the notion that it diminishes his reputation or his contributions to the betterment of the world. Shall I judge Mr. Jefferson by our modern standards? I, who cannot say with certainty how I might have behaved in the same time and circumstance as Jefferson's?

Sometimes, good people do bad things. We act on the information we have available, and in this imperfect world, we can't know everything. We can't know with certainty the consequences of our actions every time; we can only hope to make a good choice. Good people, sometimes, make bad decisions and do bad things. Sometimes, they may do bad things for all the right reasons.

This is the conflict with which my protagonist, Katie, struggles. She sees bad people doing bad things, yes, but she also sees bad things done by people who are kind and decent. No matter how she tries, it won't sort out into neatly labeled boxes — the bad here, the good, all there. Because we are complicated creatures, there's ambiguity in living, and that's what makes it interesting. Without those shades of grey, no words could ever be written. Nor none could ever love.
Sunday, October 17th, 2010
9:26 pm
Little Bullies
The other night, my friend Claire and I were talking about bullies. Bullying has gotten a good deal of press lately, because of some ugly incidents in which individuals were targeted because they were gay, and the bullying ultimately led those individuals to commit suicide. Nasty and tragic.

The sort of bullying which singles out people because they are perceived as outsiders gets our attention. Whether the victims are gay, latino, members of racial or ethnic minorities, adhere to a different religion from that of the bulliers, or are just plain awkward and shy -- it's wrong, and we know it's wrong. We're saddened and outraged -- and just as the lives of the victims are perceived by their tormentors as somehow less valuable, our own lives are diminished by the pain and loss such bullying perpetrates.

But there is a much more pervasive culture of bullying which often goes unremarked, and this is the culture of power. It goes unremarked because we often take it for granted. There are insiders and outsiders, but how these groups are delineated is often more subtle than the rank bigotry which grabs headlines. Too often we mistake the lust for power for gentler characteristics -- ambition, drive, self-confidence. We speak of people who have strong agendas, or those who are "purpose-driven". And it is true that many admirable people are driven by strong belief and purpose, or what would there be to admire? How to know the difference, then, between a leader and a bully?

Look not to their ends. No, look to the means which drive their ends. Consider the career of Napoleon Bonaparte. His contemporaries either loved or feared him. He accomplished many remarkable things. He established a Code of Law across much of Europe which liberated common men and women. He shook loose the bonds of post-feudal aristocracy which fettered the continent. In Venice, he tore down the gates to the Jewish Ghetto, emancipating an entire people. Noble ends, indeed. But Napoleon pillaged much of Europe in the process of "liberating" it, and was the cause of great suffering among the same common folk he professed to raise up. He instilled his Laws, not through persuasion, but by force of arms and rank intimidation. He was a bully, for all the good which might have come of him.

Julius Caesar was a bully, as were Hadrian. Titus, and all the other Caesars who followed in his wake. William the Conqueror was a bully. So was Henry VIII. Peter the Great. Also, his grandson's wife, Catherine. Alexander. Lucrezia Borgia. Salah al-Din and Richard the Lionheart. Genghis Khan. Andrew Jackson. Feel free to add to this list -- it will be long, as human history is long.

Even so, these are all uncommon bullies. Uncommon, because their names are written large. None of them could have been what he became, however, without a plethora of little bullies to support him. Bully breeds bully. That is the culture of power.

It is not so much the great bullies as it is the little bullies which concern me. The tiny tyrants of the office-place, the kapos of the classroom, the magistrates of red-tape, the warlords of the blogosphere. Those who wield sanctimony like a sword, who use intimidation as their shield, who preach consensus and mean submission, who bind the human soul like Gulliver and subject it to ten thousand pin-pricks of petty regulations and recriminations.

My novel, And This I Know Is True, is about such a bully culture and the little bullies that make it run. It doesn't matter if their goals once were noble (though one might argue that world domination is never noble, that is a discussion for another day), what matters is the means they use to seek their end -- in this case, brute force and numbing fear. The outsiders, in this case, are any who won't go along with the bullying -- indeed, they are anyone the bullies choose. In such a world, the choices may seem stark--to bully or be bullied-- but reality is much more complicated than that. Standing up to bullidom entails risks, and not the least of these is that of becoming the very thing against which one would stand.

We are confronted every day with such choices, even in the best of societies. True, most of us don't have to worry about being beheaded in the public square, or having our workplaces firebombed (as happens in my book). But whether we encounter only the pointless one-upmanship of the meeting-room, the enervating mendacity of some local bureaucrat, or stand in witness to open brutality -- a choice is placed before us. Do we look the other way, relieved not to be the target? Do we join in the sport? Or do we summon the will to resist?
Sunday, September 5th, 2010
2:10 pm
Summer’s almost gone & how I spent it
With Labour Day weekend upon us, it's time to admit the sorry truth. Summer is pretty much over and done. School's back in session. The nights are cooler and come on earlier. Last night I wandered up and down Connecticut Avenue with the usual group of suspects after our poetry workshop. The bars were crowded, but we had the coffeeshop in the basement of Politics & Prose almost to ourselves. We closed the place down and spent several more hours on the stoop of an apartment house discussing Steven Hawking and Kabbalah. The earth spun on its axis — it was revolutionary.

During July, I completed the second draft (or is it the third?) of my novel. It's time to send out queries, although I did not really meet my objective, which was to trim the work to less than a thousand pages. Perhaps I've written a trilogy. But who publishes trilogies by relatively unknown authors? Perhaps the same people who would publish a thousand-page novel by an unknown author. It is a quandary I can only answer by moving forward.

The planet moves forward as well, which is how we measure the passage of time. Is that an arbitrary construct? The changing of the leaves does not seem arbitrary, nor the slow shifting of stars in their tracks. What governs all of this? Stephen Hawking says the laws of physics are sufficient to explain this passage. His argument troubles me. It seems to embody a circularity. But then, the orbit of the earth around its parent star is also circular. Is it necessary to define a Mover? And if there is a Mover, who or what moves the Mover? Perhaps Theology, too, is a circular argument.

My novel tells of a journey through time, and it is not a circular journey. The protagonist starts in one place and ends up in quite another. As I try to bring the novel in at under a thousand pages, I risk disrupting that journey. I seem to be caught in a circularity — tell the story as it must be told, and few might read it. Diminish the story by too much, and who will want to read it? Nevertheless the earth moves, and I with it; time moves on and will not stop for me.

Several weeks ago, I went to the County Fair and got on one of those carnival rides where you strap yourself into a swing which is then lifted into the air and spun, round and round. If I looked straight ahead, I was overcome by a falling sensation, but if I looked sideways, out over the fairground lights, it was as if I were standing on solid rock, and then it was the world which spun round, not I. How can one anchor oneself in this whirligig universe of circles upon circles? How can one achieve one's goals without looking straight ahead, without giving in to the sensation that one is not soaring, but falling?

Summer's almost gone and whoops! There it goes! And even so, aren't the spinning lights a pretty show?
Sunday, June 27th, 2010
10:07 pm
Guest Blogging at the JWorld Cafe
This week, I’m the featured guest blogger at Poetica’s JWorld Café:

I’m writing about the most daunting, and most significant, task a writer confronts -- composing a query letter. You can read all about it here:

http://www.poeticamagazine.com/apps/blog/


Enjoy!



PS: You can now access this guest blog post at:

http://www.poeticamagazine.com/apps/blog/show/4133754-the-muse-of-query-letters#comments

[Updated: November 2nd, 2010]
Tuesday, June 15th, 2010
9:27 pm
The Fire in the Back Seat
NOTE: Watch for my guest appearance, blogging on J-World Café , coming June 27th!

The other night, I dreamed about my book, And This I Know Is True. I didn’t realize it during the dream, only afterward.

I was standing outside a public building, possibly a school. The building isn’t important. In the parking lot, I spotted a couple driving a small sport utility vehicle. As they drew near, I noticed a paper grocery bag on the back seat. The bag was on fire.

I rushed over and flagged them down. The couple seemed oblivious to the fire blazing in their rear seat. “Get out of the car!” I shouted, jerking open the passenger door. The woman in the passenger seat gawped at me. “Get out,” I repeated. “The back seat is on fire!” To mkae my point, I took hold of a large knapsack resting on the floor beside her and dragged it out of the car.

Rather reluctantly, the woman climbed down from her perch. The man behind the wheel was frowning. “Leave us alone,” he snapped.

“Your car is on fire,” I pleaded. “It’s going to explode.” The man snorted and drove off. The grocery bag was still spitting flames. I went inside the building. A while later, the couple entered, and the man accosted me.

“It was very rude, what you did,” he fumed. “You had no right.”

“But the car was on fire!”

“What business is that of yours?”

Needless to say, this dream was troubling to me. As I lay in that state between drowsiness and awakening, I tried to understand the couple’s motive. Were they content to allow the flames to consume them? Then I remembered that the couple were only characters in my dream. Their motives were not the point. It was the action of the dream that mattered. That is when I understood that the dream was really about my book.

You see, I wrote my book for the same reason that I flagged down the hapless motorists in my dream -- to warn the erstwhile reader of imminent danger. But I haven’t been as diligent as I would like to be in putting the book forward.

The dream offers an explanation for this. Someone once told me that a dream is a wish; I think at times, a dream is a fear. I wish my book to be well-received. I wish that people would heed its message. But beyond these wishes yawns a gnawing fear, that the opposite will occur.

My book is not designed for comfort. I am calling for people to climb down from their seats, after all, because there is a fire raging in the seat behind them And suppose they do not appreciate being told this?

Perhaps wishes and fears are not so very different.
Sunday, June 6th, 2010
6:26 pm
ONE SATURDAY NIGHT IN EARLY JUNE
"Do you ever think of death?" my friend, Herb, asks.

We're sitting in a booth at the Tasty Diner, shortly after midnight, having migrated there after the Barnes & Noble closed down. "One cannot avoid thinking of death," I answer. "But we can't know what it's like, after all. So it does no good to speculate about it." I try to explain by referring to the paradox of Schroedinger's cat. Schroedinger postulated that if you put a cat in a box into which you cannot see, you cannot know with certainty whether the cat is alive or dead. Just so, one cannot know if there is anything after death, or if one will even be conscious of being dead. We don't have sufficient data. Death is a closed box.

"I think you would not know that you had died," Herb says. "You would simply cease to have consciousness. Suppose you were at the epicentre of a nuclear explosion? The blast would immediately disintegrate your temporal lobes. You wouldn't even know it had happened."

"Is consciousness a physical construct?" I ask. The waiter brings our order. I am conscious of the taste of my cheese omelet, and of the din from the table next to us. This would not be possible if I were dead. Would it? Suppose reality is but a three-dimensional projection of a two-dimensional singularity? Then my omelet would taste rather flat.

After we finish our late-night meal, we stroll to the little park across the street. There's a large crowd milling outside the sports bar on the other side of the park as we pull chairs round a cast-iron table by a fountain. Under a street light sits a large toad. A gang of cockroaches can also be seen, scuttling over the paving stones. We wonder, will the toad eat the cockroaches? The cockroaches do not appear to be conscious of the toad. Does a cockroach even have consciousness? Herb thinks they do.

"A cockroach doesn't even have a brain-stem," I assert.

"It has something," Herb responds. He's likely right -- were a cockroach to sense a threat, it would volitionally run for cover. But doesn't this suggest that "consciousness" is more than merely a physical construct? I don't know. That cat's inside a closed box. And Schroedinger died some years ago; we know this, but does Schroedinger?

There are five of us, sitting round the little table in the park, watching the toad and the cockroaches, hearing the music spilling from the bar across the way. It's a warm night. "I wonder," Steve says, "Whether one ever reaches a point in life when one is content."

"I should not want to be contented," I reply. "I haven't accomplished all I want to accomplish."

Herb nods. "That's why I published my book," he says. "I want to leave something other than memory behind." Our talk turns to sex, as the talk of men will often do, especially late on a summer night.

"Perhaps sex is an attempt at cheating death," I suggest. The street is jammed with taxi-cabs now. The bars are closing, and girls in short dresses are starting to make their way home, tipsy in their high-heeled pumps. The crowd outside the bar begins to dwindle. Everyone is talking loudly. The toad hops across the pavement. A crescent sliver of moon rises over the city. There is so much yet to be done.

***

NOTE: Later this month, I'll be a guest-blogger on J-World Café , writing about query letters. Stay tuned!
Monday, May 3rd, 2010
9:11 pm
Self-Amuse(ment)
A group of us have been having a conversation about amusement parks -- not the kind with whirling dervish rides, necessarily, but theme parks. Specifically, we’ve been reminiscing about the fairy-tale based theme parks of our childhood, places like “Storybook Land” or “The Enchanted Forest”. The American countryside used to be dotted with these parks -- privately developed and maintained, a little seedy and forlorn, perhaps, though that is not how we remember them. We recall magical places, where nursery rhymes were brought to life. The Crooked Man, the Cat & the Fiddle, Hansel & Gretel, the Pumpkin Eater, and Mother Hubbard.

Those Mom & Pop operations are abandoned now, ghostly relics decaying amid the kudzu vines beside lost highways. What stirs us to recall them now? Is it only because we yearn for our lost childhood, our faded innocence? No, I think it is more complicated. A theme park, no matter how tawdry, was a created world, seeming more real and complete than the suburbs from which we came in the back of our parents’ station wagons. It was a world where magic became flesh -- or at least plastilene. And we could enter the immutable logic of it, much in the way one suspends disbelief in order to enter a stage play or a good novel. But the difference here, is that we became actors in the alternate reality of the theme park, if only for a few hours. Like Alice, we could quiz Humpty Dumpty as he teetered on his wall.

And isn’t that a large part of the writing impulse, as well? To enter a created world, not as a spectator, but as a full participant. To be the creator of it? To fall down a rabbit hole of one’s own making? And if we make a good enough job of it --this created world, with its own logic-- it becomes a playland for others to wander through as well.

This weekend, I watched “Casablanca” for about the humpteenth time. Like a great novel, I can never grow weary of it. It is a thing complete. When I was around eleven or twelve, I read Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird for the first time, and I wanted to grow up to be Atticus Finch. I still want to grow up to be Atticus Finch, actually. And when I was a little older, and first saw “Casablanca”, I wanted to grow up to become Rick Blaine, as played by Bogart. Rick Blaine, Atticus Finch -- Two guys who did the right thing, even when it hurt.

This is what great literature does (and “Casablanca” qualifies as literature). It draws you in, down the rabbit-hole, and you, in turn, draw it into your self. You are not simply a spectator, you are a participant. From the days when our ancestors sat round their campfires chanting stories of great hunters, the aim was to do more than simply replicate the hunt -- the aim was to become transformed, to become the fabled hunter, to draw into one’s self the essence of that hero.

By playing inside that cheesy, concrete and lattice-work reproduction of the Gingerbread House as children, we became little Hansels and Gretels and outsmarted the witch who wanted only to devour us. We slew the dragons and the giants and afterward went for tea with the March Hare. Later, we learned to argue for lost causes because that was as much the right thing to do as to slay dragons. We learned when to give away those letters of transit, and to whom, because that, too, was the right thing, and because, after all, “We’ll always have Paris.”

So, play it, Sam. Play it for old time’s sake.
Thursday, April 1st, 2010
3:58 pm
Making first words last
In the beginning, in the end -- it’s the first word counts most. And after the first word, the first line, and after that, the first page, and all that follows after. But when there’s no getting past that first word, that first line, that first page -- nothing can follow.

Perhaps that truth seems self-evident. Nevertheless, whole forests have been ground to wood-pulp for lack of applying it. On the last weekend in March, eleven poets gathered at the Round House in Colrain, Massachusetts, to learn how better to apply that truth. I was among them.

The Colrain Poetry Conference, established by Joan Houlihan, has been in existence for a number of years. It’s designed for poets who have a completed, or near-completed, manuscript in want of publication. Our group spent two and a half days critiquing and being critiqued, by one another, by instructors Joan Houlihan and Ellen Dore Watson, and by two small-press editors.

The poets comprised a talented group, with a wide-range of styles, and moreover, they were all genuinely nice people to be around. And one could hardly ask for a more conducive location, perched high on a steep slope in central Massachusetts, overlooking a valley of evergreen and birch.

The Round House of Colrain is exactly that -- it looks rather like a yurt, if a yurt were half-timbered, rather than felted yak-wool, and if the yurt rose four stories out of a rock-bound hillside. The place was designed as a conference centre, with rooms ringed around an open atrium. On the ground floor, there’s a sunroom littered with musical instruments, and a library lined with books and warmed by a wood-burning Russian stove. All the meals are home-cooked by owner and proprietor, Rebecca, who lives there amid Tibetan tantras and Appalachian quilts, along with a pack of astonishingly well-behaved dogs.

It is cold in New England so early in the spring, and the trees were barely beginning to bud. Scruffs of snow lingered below rough stone walls. I’d left behind blooming cherry trees and daffodils. We were so far from city or town that at night the air was entirely still -- neither traffic nor train to be heard. Only the pitch of heaven.

We arrived Friday evening and made introductions over dinner. One of the poets in attendance had a familiar-sounding last name; I discovered she was the daughter of a woman who’d published some of my poems in an anthology some years back. Among the other attendees were: a business consultant from California, born in Karachi, carrying a torch-brand of poems for his native country; a young college professor who works primarily with prose poems; a teacher from Richmond whose poems evoke the rhythms of the rural south; an older woman composing a family history in verse, and another writing about the coal-miners of West Virginia. Most of us had not had a full-length book published before.

We’d been given exercises to do prior to coming to Colrain, and these helped to structure the next day, when we broke into two groups in order to read and critique selections from each other’s books. In the evening, the two editors arrived, and we heard them give an overview of their business. These small presses receive thousands of manuscripts each year, and there are hundreds of small presses. So, there are tens of thousand of poets and erstwhile poets out there shilling their books -- so much competition in a field for which there is hardly any commercial potential!

That is why the first words are so important. Not even, and not only, the first words of the manuscript, but the cover letter. How the manuscript is packaged. When the manuscript is sent. Some books go on the slush-pile without even being read, based on first appearances. And then, there is the opening poem -- which can as easily lead to a closing. A closing of the manuscript, that is, and onto the pile it goes. Most editors will read past that first poem, certainly, but not much farther past unless the poet’s words have seized their attention and compelled them.

If it sounds daunting, it is meant to be. Poetry is not for the faint. It is too important -- Language is too important. Indeed, if I learned anything at the Colrain Conference, it is this -- Poetry is too important to remain with the poet. It must be got out and given to the reader if it is to justify itself. And in this process, the editor is but a proxy for the reader; if the editor can’t get past your first words, how can one expect the reader to do so?
Sunday, March 14th, 2010
7:14 pm
A Night at the Mill
It was dark when we turned down the lane that leads to the mill. After a day of rain, the creeks were high and the road was muddy. I pulled the car onto the grass at the side of the road and shut off the engine. From the old mill-run, the peepers croaked, so loudly I thought ast first they were geese.

We’d driven up to Hyattstown for what I believe to be the 10th annual St. Patrick’s Day Poetry Evening & Potluck, sponsored by the Hyattstown Mill Arts Project and organized by Lee Robison. There’s always a good turnout for this event, but tonight there was a larger crowd than usual — the ground floor of the Mill was already packed, the traditional ham reduced to a pile of scraps. It’s just as well that I don’t eat pork.

The open mike is the real highlight of the evening — it’s not just poetry, but prose and music, even a bit of stand-up comedy. The Mill is used as an art gallery, so there is always artwork of some sort lining the bare-beamed walls. On this particular night, I brought along three members of the Little Falls Writing Group (though only “Claire” chose to read, in addition to me). The list of readers/performers was long, close to twenty by my count, but the Mill is one venue where no time-limit is imposed on the readers. And you know what? It works — No-one ever hogs the microphone and everyone who wants to get a turn. Spontaneous order. And you would need to travel pretty far to find an audience as appreciative. Thought the Mill is unheated, it is always warm.

The reading opened, as it always does, to the sound of a Celtic hand-drum. And after some good-natured ribbing from the audience, Lee began to call the role. All the members of the Miller’s House Poetry workshop read — these are the folks who toasted my novel with whisky and wine two months ago. I recognized most of the works my colleagues read, having critiqued them in earlier incarnations. I didn’t recognize the three pieces “Claire” read, but they were of her usual high standard. I read three selections from Flying to America, including one short poem I don’t think I have ever read anywhere before. Into the night, the poets read, competing ith the peepers in the creek below. It was after 10:00 when Lee closed out the reading with some selections of his own poems. Afterward, we lingered, chatting until the realization that we stood to lose an hour to Daylight Savings Time sent us on our way. Outside, the frogs were still chanting their murky lovesongs under sapulent trees.
Tuesday, March 2nd, 2010
8:56 pm
Blogger's Block
It has been nearly three weeks since I lasted posted an entry here. In cyber-time, I suspect that’s akin to a three-year hiatus. Truth is, I haven’t felt I had much to say, which sounds absurd coming from someone who has recently written a novel of 312, 945 words, give or take a neologism or two.

This is not to say I’ve been idle. I’ve been researching agents, a daunting enough task, as there seem to be thousands of them. And this coming Saturday, I have my first formal critique, at the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators Spring conference. We’ll see how that goes. And on a different note, at the end of the month I’ll be traveling to a poetry conference in New England, where I’ll enjoy an in-depth critique of my poetry manuscript, Flying to America, and hope to learn a bit about the literary marketplace.

Between all this and my day job, of course, there’ve been wild nights with other writers, a little more whisky on the floor. The snows of February linger by my kitchen door. Spring will come, despite the evening’s chill. On the other side of the world, tectonic plates collide and buildings crumble. Battles are fought in a high, wild land. Life goes and goes. The world does not wait up for me.

If the worst I can complight is Blogger’s Block, I am doing rather well. Of course, there’s also the matter of drafting a query letter to send those agents I’ve been researching. That’s a more difficult task than writing the actual novel, though I hope it won’t take me as long. The unfinished draft sits on my desktop, glaring reproachfully as I type this entry. It is like a neglected puppy, this query letter of mine. Late at night, even after I have shut down my computer, I hear it whining, scratching at the doorjamb of my office.

I do need to take it for a walk.
Tuesday, February 9th, 2010
2:09 pm
This is not a post on writing
There’s only one subject being discussed in the mid-Atlantic region this week. Snow. Lots of it, lying deep on suburban yards, piled high at the street-corners, a surreal vision called forth from another century.

It is especially lovely at night -- I step out my kitchen door to an immaculate silence. No hum of distant traffic, nor the ululation of passing trains to break the stillness. Nothing is moving. Where have the deer gone, which usually forage by starlight under the trees? And the little foxes? All have gone to the ground.

Yesterday afternoon, I was surprised by the sight of a small plane passing by to the west. Apparently the runways at the nearby airpark were plowed out. As another foot or two of snow is predicted to fall in the next 24 hours, those runways may soon be blanketed again.

During the height of last weekend’s blizzard, I went out about every three hours to clear the path from my door to the street. Better to take the task in small pieces than to confront an enormity of shoveling once the storm had passed. But to be candid, my real reason for stepping out, shovel in hand, was to feel the force of nature, the icy pellets against my cheek, and revel in the spectral grace of falling, blowing snow.

It looks like I shall have another chance for revelry this evening. At present (shortly after noon on Tuesday, 2/9), the sun strives fitfully to pierce the grey overhang of cloud. Small birds flit from branch to barren branch, piping their watchful clarions. Soon, soon, they seem to say, take cover, take cover. And the sky draws in its breath and holds.
Wednesday, February 3rd, 2010
3:47 pm
Resistance is Futile!
This past weekend, I became assimilated. No, not exactly by the Borg. I joined Facebook.

For quite some time, I eschewed the Facebook phenomenon, imagining it as nothing more than background noise -- a tale of sound and fury, and all that. The fact that certain politicians employed it in the last election only served to reinforce my opinion. What did I know?

I began to change my mind about Facebook last summer, when I put on a one-man show during the Capitol Fringe Festival. I publicized it through traditional channels -- press releases (which probably went unread), e-mail, postcards I distributed myself on several warm summer days, hiking all over downtown D.C. And although the show got a favourable review from DC Theatre Scene , it was rather sparsely attended, which I must attribute in part to poorly planned publicity.

Had I been on Facebook, I could have plastered my Wall with publicity, at a minimum. A broader array of attention-getting devices would have been at my disposal. A few months later, I attended a three-hour workshop on marketing through the Internet, presented by Angela Render. Again, Facebook reared its seductive head.

I began to sense that I was missing something.

Joining Facebook is chillingly simple. And once one is aboard, it is rather like showing up at a large and noisy party. Faces appear in a crowd of names, faces of people you know. And unlike some parties in real life, it’s not that difficult or awkward to fit into the scene. Facebook friendship requires only a few clicks of the mouse.

Within 24 hours of joining, I already had forty “friends”. Well, they were my friends before I joined Facebook -- in some cases, long before anyone even dreamed of something like Facebook. Nevertheless, this process can be taken to extremes. I am aware of individuals with over 1,000 “friends”. Imagine having them all over for coffee, though!
Sunday, January 31st, 2010
5:26 pm
Running With Linux
It took me slightly longer than anticipated to get my new website -- I mean, my platform -- up and running.

(Can a platform “run”? This makes me think of Frank Baum’s “The Land of Oz” -- in it, the protagonist is given a magical powder that can endow inanimate objects with life. At one point in the story, he sprinkles the powder on a contraption made by lashing together two old davenports, some lamps and other odds and ends, and a stuffed elk’s head. Sure enough, the conglomeration comes alive and become a great flying ... something or other. It talks, too, thanks to the elk-head.)

I didn’t need any magical powder to bring my platform to life, but I did discover that I needed proper software to up-load it. My web-host is Linux-based and me, I am a Mac-user. I could access my directory, but that is all -- I spent a long time staring at the directory list in my browser, dragging files onto the browser window, and scratching my head. Nada. Zip, zilch, and zed.

My dreams that night were all of computer screens and cables, of mysterious, glowing command-lines of text, of flying machines in pieces on the ground. And I swear that one of those computer screens had an elk’s head mounted atop it.

Morning light brought me no closer to a solution. I finally turned to another Mac-boy, my friend, El Pointello del Norte, who is a wizard with no need to hide behind a curtain. He recommended a freeware program which executes the file transfer protocol seamlessly. It took me only a few minutes, and now the website is posted for all to see:

http://www.lutherjett.com

As for the elk’s head, it is now mounted on my wall. Occasionally, it still speaks. I gave the davenports to Goodwill.
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