Thursday, January 26, 2017

Lantern Life

Seen on a T-shirt:
So many books, so little time

Hello Reader,
Got metaphor?

A lantern makes a fine metaphor. When I was growing up we had lanterns between joists in our basement, and one even had a cool sticker of a bat on it, but the dusty lanterns were never used. How symbolic: perfectly good stuff, not used.

An old lantern metaphor, which I found in some religious tract, was about proceeding through a dark life on faith: The radius of light from a lantern is so darn small. You can lift your arm so the lantern is as high as possible, and all that does is make the ground much dimmer. Your two choices: see the ground, or see in front. How frustrating for a small scared boy in the dark, heading across a pasture to the barn.

But how encouraging for me as an adult, looking at my dark life in the midst of my discouragement. In my new improved metaphor, I move through a night pasture looking down at the ground, seeing pages and knowledge, dry facts and awesome insights, clearly read by lantern light until… I walk onwards. As new books appear in the light, old ones are lost.

Last week, on a brief vacation, I found illumination. I realized I had forgotten how much I liked hanging around at Joe’s place on holiday, rather than constantly traveling. And I just know the lantern will move on, and I’ll forget Joe again. I’ll forget life lessons X and Y, right up until my lantern walk brings me, yet again, across that part of the pasture.  My metaphor is improved by saying the field is trackless, for wandering. No sunken path to shuttle back and forth on, down the years.

Besides being sad about forgetting, there is this: I don’t care if my knowledge is out of date—I just care that I retain so darn little! It’s a bitter-sweet consolation to reflect that I could, in theory, save my money all year, never buying any new books or DVDs, if only I would keep recycling through the stacks I have. Yes, but how dull.

I’m not the only one who’s frustrated. One of my favorite essayists, Paul Graham, would also swing his lantern by his books, forgetting and reading, forgetting and reading. Oh the forgetting! He tries to console himself that books are never wasted, that somehow bits of knowledge remain down in the subconscious… a small bit, that is. It would be nice to think so.

Ah, stuff. The lantern metaphor: Just walk on, you can’t retain it all, it’ll turn up again. This could be an exciting excuse to get rid of my stuff! Just now, the DVDs on top racks in my closets are touching the ceiling. And the books! At least none are in piles on chairs, nor on the floor—OK, except for one half-tidy stack in front of my bookcase. Years ago someone said I should look into renting a storage locker. So I did look, for a moment, then realized I want to have my stuff close at hand. Besides, a friend filled a storage locker, and it didn’t work for him. In fact, I helped him clear it out… and then I came home with more stuff he had thoughtfully given to me.

Of course, books are the hardest to discard. Now, books in the library might seem plastic and boring, maybe. Not like the delicious ones I find in the second hand stores. They all have spicy character, as if they were all signed by an author, all having time traveled from the good old days when the grass was greener and sky was bluer. Back when folks had more fun. What am I to do?

At the thought of so many books still unread at home, collected from my travels, from towns along the railways and byways… it drives me mad.

Maybe, for my books, I can use my lantern metaphor as an excuse to Stop The Madness: letting the perfectly good books go… content that one day, as I wander over our common pasture, I shall chance upon them again, at yet another treasure house, thrift store or bazar. At least, it would be sure nice to think so. Especially since at my latest home, I do have a storage locker close at hand. It’s the largest size I could buy, in the basement of my condominium block. Bounded by a chain link fence. Full? Right to the very top. And the fence is bulging!

I have to laugh.

Sean Crawford
In a cozy suite with big storage,
and the mortgage all paid off,

~I don’t do links, but I will say that if you search-engine for “stuff” plus “Paul Graham,” you’ll find his delightful essay.

~I’m not the only one who “don’t do links.” One of my top ten essays of all time, by hit count, is No Links is Good Links, archived July 2012.

~I feel a fondness towards folks who care and search for Paul’s essay. As for a chap who won’t bother looking without a link, handed on a silver platter? Him not so much.
~No, I haven’t just offended him, because if a man is too "busy" to type then he won’t read footnotes either.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Every Inaugural is Important

Although skin color cannot travel the airwaves, last week I had a distinct impression that I was hearing an officially important black lady, on the phone long distance, talking to a reporter for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. She was saying she would not go to the inaugural ceremony of President-Elect Donald Trump. She’s not alone. As she noted, it’s in the news that a number of elected democrats are planning to “not attend.” To her the inaugural was a celebration, and since she didn’t see Trumps’ election as something to celebrate, she wouldn’t attend.

A celebration? A happiness thing? Wrong. While it’s true that everybody will be wearing their “Sunday go to meeting” clothes, the event is not solely like the happiness of shouting the gospel, but also, in small part, like the quieter formal sacrament of the bread and wine. Every society needs ceremonies. Old ladies just know in their bones that certain traditions are necessary, while old philosophers know why: The alternative is grim.

A thought-scenario might help explain things: So I invite you to depart with me,

To another space and time.
There I am, a simple peasant hoeing my simple plot of land in the shadow of the castle. Do I care if the flag on the castle changes? Or if the duke is killed and replaced by his rival? In truth? Not unless my taxes go up. I don’t care for the elite, I don’t like them, and I even—whisper it—despise them. That’s why every Sunday the priest says, “Bless the squire and his relations, and keep us in our proper stations.” My station? Peasant. One day my blood boils over because the elite are being extra stupid, my family is getting extra skinny, and maybe the queen is saying, “Ah, let them eat cake.” So we take up arms and leave the farm for a while, then we return home—and we all convert to democracy.

So far, so good. For the first time ever we have folks without royal blood, without the anointment of God, in charge of the country. Heaven on earth? Or history repeating?

If the new leaders are not quite legitimate, then next thing you know, some really short guy decides on a “stroke of state,” something the French call a “coup d’etat.” Me? This time around my blood only gets lukewarm, and I stay put. I don’t know much about democracy, but I know that my little plot needs hoeing.

When I was a boy growing up in the mid twentieth century, when all those former colonies were becoming new countries, and joining the United Nations, every once in a while a young country would experience a coup de’tat. As Turkey did just last year. If they can, the rebels quickly put a symbolic tank in the public square. Not to fight other tanks, —what tanks? But to be a symbol: Don’t resist, you can’t fight the new city hall.

If the stroke was sharp and swift, then peace would be restored within 48 hours, after someone had literally lost his head. Maybe a king, maybe a rebel. If the stroke was not swift, half bungled, then there would be a long civil war: Now people would leave their farms to fight.

Of course, if only you would all rush to join the fighting right away, then you would avoid a lot of future bloodshed and a long war. Yes, but what if you see that ominous tank? History shows us that on rare occasions an army unit will rush in during the critical 48 hours, that sometimes a short captain will show initiative with his small body of troops, rushing up the stairs of the capital building. But not the bureaucrats, no, they will stay in their cubicles, like peasants on a plot. And not those “bureaucrats in uniform,” the city’s finest, also known as the police.

An expert on coup de’tats, Professor Edward Luttwak, could not find any case of a police captain taking action. To me this makes good sense: The cops in those new countries don’t know much about democracy, but they know they don’t want to take risks for a…  not-so-legitimate government. They won’t care to die for an elite who won’t “give a care” about them.

Meanwhile, back in America,
The issue is the word “legitimacy.” Be it the stars and stripes or the stiff formal robes of a judge or the heavy chain worn by “the” mayor, people will rally around a legitimate symbol. In a courtroom, as the judge enters, I will “rally” by jabbing the uninformed longhaired boy next to me in the ribs, advising him we must all rise when the judge enters. My own freedom to sit is not as important as all of us having a society where the forces a judge wields are legitimate.

There’s another word, “force.” Local farmers will little note, and little care, when down at the local widget factory a new chief executive officer takes over the big corner office. No ceremony is needed. But at the rural army base, then even if none of the farmers are going to come attend a really boring parade, there will always be a “change of command” ceremony. Always. Force must be legitimate.

The outgoing U.S. president managed something President Clinton tried and failed to do: To drag the U.S.A. kicking and screaming into the modern world of affordable health care. The U.S. system is not as good as over in New Zealand, Australia or Japan, not as good as up here in Canada or over in Western Europe, but at least it’s a start.

And if you were opposed? You probably called it “Obama-care,” you probably routinely referred to that man’s surname without using the honorific of “president,” and you may have even maintained he was not born in the U.S.A. (The “birthers”) All this friction could only have been worse if Barack Obama was without the legitimacy of a presidential inauguration. The symbolism matters.

In England, of course, they elect a prime minister. The King only leaves office by dying. Back in the day, though, the English avoided civil war by saying, all in one breath, “The king is dead, long live the king!” It sounds silly to us here and now, but for them? The alternative was too grim.

As for me, I guess even if I lived right in the city of Washington I might stay at home or go to the library on the day of the presidential inauguration. Fine. And if I was a female black elected official?

Attending the inaugural is important, because America is important.

Sean Crawford
up in Canada,
hazy on modern specifics,
clear on old principles,
January 2016

~For folks overseas, coup de’tats are not boring history. In fact, Edward Luttwak’s book, Coup d’Etat: A Practical Handbook, has been translated into over 100 languages. Here's a New York book review.

~Of course I’m not a minority of one. I'm sure others know history too. By the time you read this, older and wiser heads may well have talked the elected democrats into attending.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Me and Missing Out 

Headnote: It’s queer: In terms of “nerdy over-indulgence,” I haven’t indulged beyond viewing the Internet “too much.” For Milennials though, they say their problem comes from viewing social media “too much.”
And then comparing their “insides” to other people’s social “outsides.”

Hello reader,

Fear Of Missing Out. FOMO. That’s why I enjoyed a few seasons of going to comic book stores and collecting comics. Suddenly, instead of following the American tradition of standing as a poor boy by the drugstore racks and reading-real-fast, feeling sad at missing out… I was rich enough to take some comics home, just like other people! …I no longer collect.

Want comic theory? If you’ve seen The Simpsons or Big Bang Theory, then you know that comics now have their own dedicated stores. Before those stores, the monthly comic books sold in the local grocery stores were just like weekly television shows: boring enough to continue, month after month, without any earth shattering changes to the character’s lives. Nobody ever learned a Life Changing Lesson. Or got married. Or got divorced. It’s called being loyal to the franchise.

A store manager told me things changed when independent writer-artists gained control of their indie creations, to be sold in specialty stores. They now owned their copyright, removed from the clutches of big corporations. In theory, now they could have a limited series arc leading to a resolution of the most important event in the character’s life. And this is indeed what the artists of "sequential pictures" chose to do. Just like for a novel, or the “moving pictures” at the cinema. Like the movie version of the limited comic book series Watchmen.

You could still lure a good artist to work on an ailing franchise series, but only for a limited time. The sort of artist-writer who would have his name put on the cover, to lure readers to the franchise, would get bored soon enough, and leave. That’s ok: The fans expect it, just like how it was OK for Stephen Spielburg to direct only one TV episode of Dark Angel …Meanwhile, as an added bonus, the usual comic franchises have all had to raise their game, like when broadcast TV was challenged by cable.

Recently I read in the newspaper Hollywood is making a live action version of the series Preacher. Wonderful—I was so thrilled collecting all the issues of that story! This limited story—and some other comic series with an ending— once gave my life enjoyment, meaning, and a belief that I was just like other artsy-nerd-geeks. For a time: no FOMO.

Other times I missed out. I did do disco, I’m pleased to say, but then I didn’t do roller disco, and I didn’t do rollerblades either. Remember when rackets for squash and racket-ball were sticking out of daypacks and briefcases, everywhere, being as common as yoga mats today? Not now.

I missed out, back then, on the racquet life, but I might console myself: If a fad is not good enough to last then I don’t see why I should feel I missed out on anything. At least, back during the aerobics and neon-clothing era, I did manage to take a few classes, and acquire a little neon. I still have that gaudy waist wallet hiding somewhere. In Pink, lime and baby blue. Good for my company yearly mid-winter “beach costume” parties.

As for beaches, a few years back, one sunny afternoon, I was alone in a dim quiet tavern where a movie was playing from the eighties, one of the Jaws sequels. The scene was a bar near the beach. Up on the tavern screen I saw how the waitress was fully decked out, I mean fully: from her stylish headband down to her rumpled neon socks and cool runners. And I realized: She wasn’t exactly dressed typical of her era, a time when, as I recall, most of us, on any given day, managed to wear only a few fashion items. (Unless we were in the middle of an aerobics class) Instead, she was fully costumed… because she was dressed to appear in a Jaws movie. Or maybe she was dressed as a bar employee, expected to fit the fashion dreams of the patrons. …In other words, “in costume.”

Nostalgia? No, I didn’t feel any nostalgia from seeing her up on the screen. Not when I had lived through the eighties myself… I thoughtfully sipped my beer, and I realized… a lot of us in the eighties were walking around dressed in our neon, just from FOMO.

Suddenly I am reminded of a nonfiction book published during the late 1960’s. Some longhaired idealists, while walking in the park, come across a very pretty girl in a buckskin dress. She’s wearing all the accessories of a swinging sixties girl, standing by some park bleachers. She tells them she doesn’t normally dress this hip: She’s waiting for the (capitalist) photo crew to show up. For a magazine article on typical sixties youth. …No doubt for sixties readers with FOMO.

These days, middle aged, I still try to blend in, wearing the fashion classics: Yes, “blue jeans with a T-shirt” works for me. Never mind what I “should” wear, or “should” go play at. One of my “fellow middle-aged bros” is the character played by George Clooney in that Hawaiian movie The Descendants. (Good movie, by the way, it’s based on the book) Clooney says with tired exasperation, in effect: "Yes I live in Hawaii, but no, I haven’t been surfing or sail boating in many years. No monstrous beach parties…" Clooney lives a normal life, and parties in normal people’s houses. I can relate.

Today I’m living in “Cowtown.” Yes, but if tomorrow a fashion comes surging in under the batwing doors, a fashion where other people are riding mechanical bulls in all the bars, well, I won’t wade over to ride the bull unless I truly wish it. Forget FOMO. …Life is good.

Sean Crawford

I have no FOMO for art anymore: In fact, this morning (Wednesday) I drove Lera Buxton—because she said she wanted to see beauty—on “an adventure” to show her the Blue Rock gallery (terra cotta dudes) in Black Diamond. Link to yelp photos

Small world: The owner came in, Karen G., whom I have never met there before,  and Lera knew her.

Small world two: In my parka pocket was a hand-loomed scarf of alpaca, from a farmer’s market in Edmonton’s old Strathcona district, that was made by a man, Ilya Oratovsky, who had some blankets displayed at Blue Rock. We all went “ooh” over the scarf.

Small world three: Later, this evening, I clicked on a name from the blog roll of (link) a word goddess from Airdrie,  (I’m on her blog roll too) and it was a blog site of Veronica Funk who has a nice wall section of her stuff at Blue Rock. 
Since I still remembered her name from the morning, I commented. The blog has colorful pictures, here’s her link.