As I Was Saying…

Chatter, memories and rants. Please, don't stop me if you've heard this one before.

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Archive for June, 2008

Thanks or Whatever for Your Input

June 12, 2008

Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light…
— Matthew Arnold, Dover Beach

So there stood Matthew Arnold and this girl
With the cliffs of England crumbling away behind them,
And he said to her, “Try to be true to me,
And I’ll do the same for you, for things are bad
All over, etc., etc.”
— Anthony Hecht, The Dover Bitch

Poor Matthew Arnold. He never had my sympathy for this unprovoked roasting until 2001.

At one point during that summer my task was to write a big chunk of my life story and present it to a group of people with whom I was working. I took the matter seriously and spent a lot of time on the writing. When the time came for me to present what I had written to the group, I quickly realized that I cared about words and the way things are expressed much, much more than the rest of the group. I also used words that the rest of the group didn’t know.

They indulged me for about three minutes before they began squirming in their seats and otherwise signaling their displeasure and lack of comprehension. The group leader cut me off and asked me to summarize the rest of what I had written, doing to me what Anthony Hecht had done to Matthew Arnold. The prose I had crafted with such care dwindled to “etc., etc.”

At the time I was hurt; then I was angry. I’m more or less philosophical about the whole thing now, but a few points stay with me:

  • People don’t always really want what they ask for
  • The fact that I’m ready to talk doesn’t mean others are ready to listen
  • People with limited vocabularies hate to be reminded of it

I’ll draw out that life story another time when I have the right audience. The story of that first audience will make a nice introduction for it.

Posted in Memories | No Comments »

A Lesson from the War…

June 10, 2008

…I will show you something different from either
Your shadow at morning striding behind you
Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you;
I will show you fear in a handful of dust.

—T.S. Eliot

I learned about what was happening on September 11 when I got a telephone call from my brother-in-law who was stuck in a hotel room in New Orleans. He knew that my daughter Elizabeth had spent the summer in Washington and was concerned that she might still be there. I didn’t understand what he was talking about.

“There are planes crashing into buildings–the Pentagon, the World Trade Center!” he said, “Every airport in the country is closed and every plane is grounded! For God’s sake, don’t you ever turn on the TV?”

Well, no. As a matter of fact, I hardly ever turn on the TV. I’ve just never thought of TV as a serious source of news. The events of 9/11, however, turned out to be an exception. I watched until I couldn’t bear to see the towers fall even once more.

In the days that followed I learned that an acquaintance of mine had been on Flight 175 when it crashed into the south tower. He wasn’t my dearest or oldest friend, but I knew him and I liked him. He was on his way to California to open what would have been a national law practice specializing in so-called toxic torts—”sick building” cases and such. We had even talked about my joining in the endeavor to build and run a database website that would have organized court documents, medical and insurance records and science and engineering reports. Had those talks gone any further than they did, I might well have been on the plane with him. I don’t like to think about that.

His death personalized the terrorist attacks for me and made me acutely aware that everyone who died in those attacks had hopes and dreams and plans for a wonderful “someday” that never came.

“Someday” is probably like that too often. That’s why the following spring Marge and I took the Caribbean cruise we had always talked about. “Someday” for us, we decided, had to become today right now, and we were right. A few bills from the trip lingered longer than they might have, but there are always bills.

Since that time, I have tried hard to remember not to enthrone caution and prudence above all else. Life is too sweet, too fragile, too brief.

Posted in Memories | No Comments »

AdSense Nonsense

June 9, 2008

I signed up for Google AdSense and inserted it in the left column of this blog mostly just to see what it would do. For the most part, it has been surprisingly astute at picking up keywords in my posts and supplying related ads, and in a year or two I may receive my first $10 check.

Over the last couple of weeks, however, I have been seeing ads for a presidential candidate whom I do not support-the candidate of a major political party to which I do not belong. I am a Democrat. My candidate is now Obama. Yet my candidate and party do not appear in the ads.

Dark suspicions insinuate their way into my mind. Is the other party bidding high on Democratic keywords, so that if I write Democrat I get R********n? Is Google’s revenue algorithm trumping its relevancy algorithm?

Or maybe it’s just that the keyword is politics, and the Dems aren’t buying ads that fit the space on this blog. If that’s the case, please wake up, o glorious party of my choice. You can’t use the Internet just for raising money. You have to spend money here, too.

Posted in Rants | No Comments »

A Patch of New Grass

June 6, 2008

It’s a simple thing, but I’m enjoying it a whole lot more than I expected. We reseeded part of our front lawn about a month ago, and the grass has actually come up. For experienced gardeners, this isn’t much. We, however, are people who can’t keep a house plant alive. This is no joke and no lie. We have managed to kill philodendrons.

new grassBut so far the grass is a success. My home office window overlooks the front lawn, and as spring inches closer to summer I am thrilled to watch the yard become greener and greener.

It is, however, a private pleasure because to so many people I know it seems either like not much of an accomplishment or like the wrong accomplishment. On one hand, our across-the-street neighbor has redone his entire lawn in a weekend-long process that involved a small bulldozer. By comparison, our little project is modest indeed. On the other hand are people who suddenly seem to think every square inch of arable land should be turned into a 2008-style Victory Garden.

This is owing to the skyrocketing cost of oil and gasoline. The dystopian view from which such gloom and hysteria proceed is that by next winter the first clear signs of the cold, dark and famine that the future holds will be apparent and unalterable, as utilities wink offline, grocery store shelves stand empty, and travel (read “escape”) becomes impossible (see “cost of oil” above).

I’ll admit to the possibility that I’m playing grasshopper in a real life-or-death unfolding of the story of The Ant and the Grasshopper. But I think that possibility is, as we say, vanishingly remote. I’ve been through this before. I am, after all, old enough to remember the Arab Oil Embargo.

Anyway, I loathe gardening. The old man made me help with his vegetable garden when I was a kid. He grew a lot of stuff I didn’t like (radishes, beets, something called Jerusalem artichokes) and working in the garden was always an invitation to get a sunburn while being eaten alive by insects. The bugs somehow mostly left the old man alone, but they always loved me.

The peas, green beans and sweet corn from that garden were delicious—but no better than stuff from the local farmers’ market, and really no less expensive if time and labor are held to have any value at all.

So, the long and short of it is that I won’t start gardening any time soon, but I really do like to look at that grass. And I’m not yet done patting myself on the back for getting it to grow.

Posted in Rants | No Comments »

Milton vs. Malt

June 5, 2008

…What in me is dark
Illumine, what is low raise and support;
That to the highth of this great Argument
I may assert th’ Eternal Providence,
And justifie the wayes of God to men.
—John Milton, Paradise Lost

…And malt does more than Milton can
To justify God’s ways to man.
Ale, man, ale’s the stuff to drink
For fellows whom it hurts to think…
—A.E. Housman

john miltonImagine poor Milton. It’s the 17th century. He is alone, blind and sleepless in the dead of night, composing the perfect blank verse that in the morning he will dictate from memory to his amanuensis. He is at war within himself. On one side are his unforgiving Puritanism and his learning in literature, history, philosophy, theology and the Classics. On the other side are the actual facts of his life: the deaths of children and wives, his blindness, and the terrible price he has paid for his anti-royalist politics.

It’s an unfair match-up. No wonder Satan gets all the best lines in Paradise Lost (“Better to reign in Hell, than serve in Heav’n.”). Lining up “I ought to be joyful” against “I’m miserable” is always tough, at least for me.

Nearer to our own time, Housman takes a different approach to essentially the same problem. Feeling blue? Hoist a few pints and cheer up, he says. Repeat as necessary.

Right. The opportunities for a personal train wreck there are pretty obvious. Better, I think, to find the people who love you and let them help you through “the embittered hour.” No bargaining with God required. No hangover either.

Posted in Chatter | No Comments »

A Bagel with Tears

June 4, 2008

I’ll admit it. Leonard Pitts had the tears running down my face this morning as I read the paper and ate my breakfast. The column was about his daughter’s high school graduation. My own daughter’s high school graduation was 10 years ago, and at that time I followed precisely the emotional trajectory that Pitts describes so well. Reading the column brought it all back. The tears were about the sweetness of it all.

Nothing else in our corner of the world is like high school graduation—the only ceremony in which children march in and a short while later almost-adults march out. Parents burst with pride, even as something catches in the back of the throat. Pitts calls that something “the beginning of goodbye.”

Ten years ago, the goodbye that began on graduation day loomed larger through the following summer and struck with full force on the day Elizabeth left for college. It’s hard to explain how I felt because I never wanted to hold her back. Instead, I wanted something impossible. I wanted time to pass more slowly for me. My own childhood lasted forever, but Elizabeth’s flew by in an afternoon. I wanted it to last longer.

As an adult, Elizabeth likes to spend time with me and seems to value what I have to say. I enjoy her company, and she has become one of the best friends I have ever had. She is grateful and appreciative of the support and assistance I can offer, but, to the extent that I have done a decent job as a parent, she doesn’t need me for anything. Sometimes I miss that.

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