Monthly Archives: January 2004

The Great American Novel

Ah, how many times I have seen those words in print … so and so wished to write the “Great American Novel”…Mr. X has effectively given us the “Great American Novel”. And yet, how many times have I wondered exactly what that meant. Perhaps the GAN represents capturing the essence of American life, providing a Petri dish full of Americanisms (whatever those may truly be) or placing under the microscope some fragment of nostalgia on the one hand, or a slice of dystopia on the other. It seems to me that the GAN often is used to refer to something that captures the essence of what America has been, or is now. But just like so many modern rock bands, that notion while eloquently describing what is wrong and bewailing the negative, fractioning aspects of “American” society does so very little to suggest any kind of solution. America, they say, is a dream. America is fucked up. The American dream? What does that mean? Ask a Choctaw-Kiowa-Apache, or a practitioner of Vodoun. They will not have the same answer as the descendent of a Puritan — at least, not likely.

America, it seems to me, is a victim of its own conceit — much like so many of the monotheistic religions of the world. Both would do their damnedest to deny the theory of evolution. But a species, a culture, a nation MUST evolve in order to survive. And evolution implies CHANGE. Radical change. So by extension it appears to me that a truly American novel must address what America SHOULD be, what it COULD be. And of course, that’s not just a novel. It’s a revolution. As George Bernard Shaw once said, democracy is the only form of government where revolution is against the law — simply because the constituents of a democracy are in theory the government itself, making revolution a kind of self-abasement or self-immolation. But it is very easy to point out, particularly considering the rapidly decaying civil liberties of this country, the increasingly important role played by big money in the control and destiny of politicians, the absence of any kind of radical left, the dumbing down of educative systems so as to eliminate the role of intelligent dissent, the jingoistic emphasis on “our way or the highway”, the Hitleresque masquerade of national security threat prevention and monstrous incorporation of the philosophy of Christian Fascism into the micro-management of personal lives in service to the greater Church-State, that any nation whose president is determined by the Supreme Court in opposition to the popular vote is NOT strictly speaking a democracy. In that case, or to paraphrase slightly, when in that course of human events, it becomes necessary to stage at least some kind of revolt. Revolution, in that instance, becomes not only a right, a necessity, but also a kind of “sacred” duty.

And of course, the solution is not, as many neo-pagan organizations might lead you to believe, to establish a church of your own in every city in America. Nor is it to find some kind of “perfect” candidate who can somehow single-handedly reverse the tide of bullshit that fills the streets of Washington DC, the foxholes in Afghanistan or the trenches in Iraq. The answer, I’m ashamed to admit, can succintly be found in the Hollywood adaptation of the Gospel. That one line where Jesus screams out (and perhaps you like Ted Neeley in Norman Jewison’s film adaption, but nothing compares to Ian Gillan when it comes to screaming out) — “Heal yourselves!”

That, however, is unlikely to sell ANY copies whatsoever as a NY Times Bestseller. Because Americans are not, and probably truly have never been, that kind of people as a whole. The masses, to coin a phrase, are asses. And America never has really been about individual freedom. It’s been about conformity. Sure, the Pilgrims shuffled off to Massachusetts Bay to ensure that they could practice religion as they saw fit, without the deterrents of thumbscrews, stake burnings and other establishment cures. But they turned around and did the same to those who disagreed with them. And so on and so forth. The problem with America is that whether you call it a melting pot, or a salad bowl, people like their own fondue, their particular style of Waldorf, and think that anyone else is wrong. Which is not so bad, except that they want to picket any restaurant that serves non-standard meals, despite the fact that EVERY culture that has come to this country has been persecuted to some degree once they arrived. And then turned around and picked on someone who arrived a day later. The sad part is that this culture is about five minutes ago and the history thereof. So learning from history is fortunately an easy A.

What’s that boil down to in the long run? Who knows? But the human beings that think they run this show ought to stop and think about this: IF evolution is more than a theory, if it is the way it is, then where are we going, as a people, species, planet, etc.? IF evolution is FALSE, and the self-determination of the planet simply STOPPED when homo erectus erectus appeared on the scene, then why did we learn to swim? To play tennis? To sell junk bonds? To deal smack?

Bah. Enough ranting.

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The disembodied politic

Sometimes I wish it wasn’t so that I’m a Democrat
Perhaps if things were different it wouldn’t come to that
But as it is I often wish the slate could be swept clean
And then I wouldn’t have to choose from Kerry, Clark or Dean

Sure there are other candidates and other parties, too
But in the end they rarely count or stir up much to do
So while I wait for something more substantial on the scene
I’ll have to take my chances backing Kerry, Clark or Dean

If only they would stand together there against the idle rich
Or put their shoulders next to one another in the ditch
Instead, it seems that all they want to do is stand and bitch
It makes me think that Florida was not a pointless glitch

Oh, Democrats, where are your backbones vigilant at night
Why can’t you talk cohesively about putting things right
And don’t you get that half the country won’t know what you mean
As long as the best things we’ve got are Kerry, Clark and Dean?

I’ve nothing ‘gainst these gentlemen, they seem honest enough
Between the three I’m guaranteed they know some of their stuff
But none have really fired my spirit, or inspired my dreams
They each seem rather boring, these boys Kerry, Clark and Dean

Now don’t react with vitriol to these few humble lines
I only wish that I could read the Democrat’s designs
So that come late October when the leaves have turned from green
I’ll know which one might unseat Bush of Kerry, Clark or Dean

Because the country, nay the world, is riding on this race
And as we know, there must be no doubt who’s in second place
The win must be substantial, by a margin quite extreme
So who can do it most decisive? Kerry, Clark or Dean?

The future of the human race may rest upon this year
So I’m not looking for the man who’s had the best career
Nor spouts the greatest rhetoric, nor looks most neat and clean
So in November who shall it be, Kerry, Clark or Dean?

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An Anchor of Alexandrine

The moments of each day are quickly past,
and are not found again once spent and gone.
Still, life is spent in search of things that last:
a founding stone to build one’s world upon.

Each soul creates this anchorage alone,
from metals mined in dark and feral dreams;
and casts it on the forge of flesh and bone
to withstand stormy seas as well as streams
and while we sleep, to give ourselves a home.

25 JAN 2004

alexandrine couplets

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Something new to ponder

From How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci: Seven Steps to Genius Every Day, by Michael J. Gelb (Dell Publishing, New York, NY, 1998: ISBN # 0-440-50827-4):

The Seven Da Vincian Principles (or things to incorporate to enable and nurture the genius in yourself):

Curiosit√† — An insatiably curious approach to life and an unrelenting quest for continuous learning.

Dimostrazione — A commitment to test knowledge through experience, persistence, and a willingness to learn from mistakes.

Sensazione — The continual refinement of the senses, especially sight, as the means to enliven experience.

Sfumato (literally “Going Up in Smoke”) — A willingness to embrace ambiguity, paradox, and uncertainty.

Arte/Scienza — The development of the balance between science and art, logic and imagination. “Whole-brain” thinking.

Corporalita — The cultivation of grace, ambidexterity, fitness, and poise.

Connessione — A recognition of and appreciation for the interconnectness of all things and phenomena. Systems thinking.

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Random Thoughts on Nothing of Great Importance

I’m writing these things down so that I’ll remember them; they’re not really much of a message or anything cohesive, so be warned, I guess.

Everything that IS is unique.

Each raindrop, snowflake, each moment, each breath.

No two are alike.

Each person, each word spoken.

Each scar left on the back of a troubled child by an overzealous and frustrated father by a worn leather belt.

Each curse shouted in anger, each hurtful thing said that can’t be taken back.

Each smile offered to a frazzled Walgreen’s clerk at 7:00 a.m. on a Monday morning.

Each peal of laughter or shrieking, squealing scream from a child running from a confused bumblebee.

None are duplicated or mirrored in any other thing.

Everything is of itself complete, unalloyed and distinct.

So often we heard it said at the end of a life that “they didn’t really do much of anything”, or “he didn’t accomplish much” or “she doesn’t leave anything behind.” How unperceptive of us. Considering the above, how is that possible?

Each unfinished opera, half-completed novella, unheard song, unread poem, unshared kiss.

Perhaps it is a Zen notion, but perhaps “sitting, doing nothing” is really doing Nothing. A Nothing of Great Importance. A very important collection of nothings that together comprise the sum total of an existence in which the achievement is merely to exist, to the fullest extent possible, leaving nothing tangible or inheritable (or taxable) that the world hordes and counts as wealth.

There is a difference between self sacrifice and the sacrifice of self.

In a society where the self is sacrificed, where the goal is to become a faceless automaton, working behind a desk or machine wearing the uniform of one’s profession, discussing the books that everyone is assumed to have read, talking about the people that everyone is supposed to be interested in, having the hobbies that are acceptable for well-adjusted, normal people, does self-sacrifice have any real meaning? What does it mean to give of oneself, to put someone else before one’s self, if the self has been sacrificed to the safety of the mass and no longer has an individual entity or existence?

Upon my tombstone, I’d like to have written: This marker commemorates a man who did nothing of great importance. And a lot of it. And to those who loved him, who knew him, that nothing was very important indeed.

May the breath each of us enjoy in this next moment be as unique as the one before it, and as strange and unlike the one following it as the moment after twilight is to the last moment of the sunlit day.

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The weather again

It’s raining and the air is cold, the skies are dark and gray
There’s not a speck of sunshine on this January day
And not a smile or cheerful word is spoken or displayed
Sometimes the world is like that, or at least it seems that way

It’s raining, and the gutters rattle with a heavy load
They shake each time the lightning flashes and thunder explodes
And water fills the dirty holes there hidden in the road
Sometimes the times are like that, and you never seem to know

It’s raining on the battlegrounds and in the fields and streams
In oil-slicked puddles the green world is turning submarine
And only on a lonely hill can you survey the scene
Sometimes the future’s like that, or at least that’s how it seems

It’s raining and the sewer drains are filled up to the brim
There’s not much sense in traveling out simply on a whim
And those who venture out are bound to be soaked to the skin
Sometimes the one who doesn’t take the field is he who wins

It’s raining and some things the rain won’t quickly wash away
There’s bones and shells of ancient conflicts buried in this clay
And in the sandy bosom of the earth the dead will stay
Sometimes the cost is higher than the price you’d like to pay

It’s raining and the clouds above are filled up with the stuff
There’s stormy days still coming, and it’s likely to get rough
And those who wish it wasn’t so may find the going tough
Sometimes the weather doesn’t care when you have had enough.

09 JAN 2004

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Eroica

Allegro con brio

And so another year has come and gone.
In that span, has any touch of greatness
found me, or have I just been marking time,
waiting for a something that hasn’t yet?

Marcia funebre (Adagio assai)

So many little deaths, so much anger,
endless rounds of pointless meandering,
squandering life, making some kind of war
against hazy perceptions of cruel fate.

Scherzo (Allegro vivace)

But a new year arrives, and with it hope
That some of the seeds sown will root and grow
And in this desolate plain, may flower
Despite the past winter’s hibernation.

Finale (Allegro molto – Poco andante – Presto)

My spirit quickens, finding a new song
and a bold voice to speak its tune aloud;
May the gods hear my name in this great sound,
and give my hands work worth remembering.

02 JAN 2004

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