Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Losing Innocence, With Martians

Hello Reader,
Got innocence in everyday life?


A wit once said America was the only nation that could keep losing its innocence, and then finding it again. Even after Vietnam, America still rebounded, but was never, I think, quite the same. George Orwell noted that his generation, which came of age at the end of World War I, was rebellious, but they never knew why. Only years later did Orwell realize it was due to the loss of innocence after the great war.

His generation must have been shocked to learn the “establishment” did not care about them: At least, did not care enough to become competent and develop common sense. During the terrible incompetence of the Second World War, working in London during the blitz, Orwell would keenly scrutinize the upper class. His essay begins, “As I write this, highly civilized men are flying overhead trying to kill me…” 

During the First World War, everyone thought the Prussian General staff was world class. At that time, common sense, to any civilian, would have meant that before you start an offensive to go deep into enemy territory you stockpile ammunition, rations, grain for the horses, and other supplies. At the same time, anyone who saw a fog bank would have known the wind is not uniform but blows into banks, swirls around empty patches, and even blows “backwards” too.

You will recall that both sides had built built a vast network of trenches, from the North Sea to the Mediterranean… Stalemate, as blocked as Brexit… Both sides still hoped for an offensive, taking pains to feed and care for vast stocks of cavalry horses… to use for a glorious breakout past the trenches! Such an innocent hope. 

According to my childhood How and Why Wonder Book of WWI, eventually both sides sought to break the deadlock by finding a secret weapon: The Germans found theirs first. One day, when the wind was fair, they opened valves and advanced behind poison gas… Allied soldiers fell back, gasping and stumbling. The German’s own gas, as they advanced, sometimes blew back in their faces. Which was a problem, as the Germans had no masks and had neglected to stockpile any. Later they would even have masks for their horses, (seen in photographs) but there would be no breakout offensive, not that day. Whither common sense?

Servicemen and learned experts know that war is not glorious, a lesson that each generation of regular civilians seems to need to re-discover. 

In the televised Sarah Connor Chronicles, as played by Lena Headey, in one of her voiceovers, Sarah muses on innocence lost:
In 1678 doctors diagnosed a mental affliction soldiers suffered from as 'nostalgia' - homesickness, a longing to return to the past. The cruel reality of war is that there is no return home. No return to innocence. What is lost, is lost forever. Like my father, war's wounds have bled me dry. No words of comfort; no words of forgiveness. No words at all.

From the episode Strange Things Happen at the One-Two Point. 
I like Sarah; I have her on my blog list of labels.


You may recall that just as wooden milking stools use three legs for maximum stability on an uneven dirt floor, so too did did the Martian fighting machines, great black “boilers on stilts,” use three legs.

Losing Innocence

Uncle Jack was the only one who never hurt me.

In the town of Panchester, one day, I was scared.
The Martians! The Martians!
Uncle Jack had gone to the butchers.

I was on my way to find him when I saw It:
A dark dome half obscured by the stone buildings,
moving, bobbing, sinister.

I crouched below the porch of the church, afraid to look,
my mouth wide open.
It was coming this way,

I had never in my life heard my Uncle Jack yell in terror,
but I knew his voice, 
when I heard his scream.

I glimpsed a man across the street.
In a split second a dark tentacle snatched him up,
as a massive pole-leg thumped down and rushed on.

At last,
I walked further down the block.
Jack had been picked up and dashed against a wall.

I went back.

I ran up the church steps and inside to the right,
up a narrow stair,
and trembled into a ten-by-ten wooden steeple.
Knees weak, I staggered to the window 
knelt small,
with my hands and chin on the ledge.

Where was It?
There. Going up the valley rim.

I pressed against the wall and cried.
Not the even rhythm of a child crying,
not the even sobbing of a woman,
but a cry irregular, 
rising, gasping, falling, gasping.
I would never be loved by Uncle Jack.

I stretched out,
flattened to the floor,
cheek resting on the sweet old wood.

Sean Crawford
H.G. Wells is a classic writer because he knew classic human nature, such as authority lacking common sense.

To document a certain lack of common sense in the present day, there has been a series of BBC exposes on the London Marathon, an exposure of unacceptable behaviour that has been going on for years. The BBC reports of this year have been about the slower, distressed marathoners being abused by staff. Here is one report about someone with, luckily for her,  a little more self-esteem than others might have because she is supposed to be slow, as a pace setter:

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Models, Nerds and Martians

Hello Reader,
Got a sense of loss?

Let us continue last week’s topic of nerds, as an excuse for two more War of the Worlds poems. 

It seems to me you might hear a pretty lady say, on a TV commercial, “Please don’t hate me because I’m beautiful” but you won’t hear the same plea “… me because I’m smart,” partly because too many of us were too criticized at school, and so being around smart people hurts too much to mention. For my part, being an avid reader, or “smart,” I keep in mind how I might hurt others who “don’t read too good.” 

Have you ever noticed how those glossy page entertainment stories often include lines about a glamorous woman once being too skinny or too shy or something? It’s for (figuratively) setting you at ease around her. I once, as we two drank in the bar, reassured an international advertising model by saying, “There are categories of people that intimidate me, but models and show business are not one of them.” At the next party we attended together, I observed another model, just in from a shoot in Germany, setting the other people at ease for my friend by saying “she used to have hips up to here!” A good friend, doing for the model just like I would read in a glossy article.

If I had said in the bar whom I would be at ease with, then I could have included celebrity media-types, journalists and famous best-selling writers—stemming from my days as a volunteer student newspaper reporter. (As for show biz actors, I took theatre career classes in college—I knew them well) 

I have lost count of the times I have been on the TV news—but, being a journalist myself,  I have never once bothered to watch myself, even when, as often happened, I was near a TV set at the time. Once, when I was on CBC, I snacked with someone in a student food court rather than suggest we go downstairs to the student restaurant, directly below us, having an idiot box up in the corner. 

Note: The students don’t have a “real restaurant with cutlery” anymore, this was back during the capitalist reaction-swing of the pendulum: the Thatcher, Reagan and Mulroney years. (Update: the fancy graduate student lounge, just under the posh faculty lounge in the student building, has been opened to undergraduates)

And of course, having earned a degree, I’m not intimidated by scientists. Speaking of knowing smart people, my buddy Blair was so smart he attended medical school without taking any Greek or Latin: He had already picked up those ancient vocabularies on his own. I essayed about him among regular guys in Blair, Being Smart archived September 2011. 


I once complimented a fellow worker, Tracy, in the presence of our peers, for having enough self esteem that I never have to worry or hold back. She held up two hands to show that I bring her up towards my level. 
Here’s a poem of how nerds have to know their own strength, from the years after the Martians are gone.

A Regular Human

In the Museum of Natural History,
    —Don’t say, Museum of Flora and Fauna
a Martian is pickled in brine.
    —Don’t say, is preserved in a solution of formaldehyde

A motionless handling-machine,
once so graceful,
stands in the British Museum.
    —Don’t speak of polarized discs and quantum mechanics

As for that long spar,
while motioning with your hands,
it goes at right angles, straight out like this—
    Don’t simply say, perpendicular.

It’s what you don’t say that matters,
if you wish to pass among regular humans,

As a nerd amongst regular society, it took awhile to believe in “just being myself.” How relieved I was to read computer startup millionaire Paul Graham. He pointed out that startup nerds don’t prefer the same cities as normal people and rich investors, instead preferring Boulder and San Francisco to Miami and Vegas, preferring quiet conversations and used bookstores to thundering discos and fashion malls. I read Graham and thought, with all due respect to the regular majority, “Hey, me too!”

From my poetic War of the Worlds poetry manuscript, from the part where the war’s aftermath includes a sense of loss, comes this metaphoric look at second hand bookstores (in Edmonton) now being hard hit by the digital age.

Gone the Bookstores

With top of lungs anticipation
I have enjoyed strolling past pretty meadows,
pockets of golden canola, dandelions, daisies
and five or six second-hand bookstores.
Not now.

With it’s yellow door atop a long flight of stairs,
the Untitled Bookstore is gone.
Strathcona Books is no longer a meadow but a drab crater,
dull, vacant.

Athabasca Books has long bare birch wood shelves,
in a bare room.

Alhambra Books was smacked by a dragon,
swayed on its foundations;
No one allowed inside, now;
an accident, they say.

With all the pretty meadows gone
I walk on sidewalks of broken slate.

Sean Crawford

~As an enthusiastic writer, and nerd, as advised by Rita Mae Brown, one of the best things I ever did was take a vocabulary class in ancient Greek and Latin: taught by the classics department for science majors. See my essay Loving Greek and Latin archived March 2012.

~While the culture shock was immense if I went from “there” to the physical education students lounge, nevertheless, one of my joys in life at university was “being there,” huddled in a corner of the theatre students lounge, eating my lunch, watching all those shy people be as flamboyant as God intended, without fear.