31 March 2011

On an issue in my 60s

On my recent visit to the Upper West Side in New York I was struck by the number of young people I observed walking in the street, dining at the plethora of restaurants and trendy eating establishments that have sprouted like crocus in Central Park in the early Spring. What counts as the newest rage in New York in culinary tastes predicts what will become popular in the hinterlands, and I like to know what is coming my way. When I left New York in 1990 Mexican restaurants were the latest rage and here it is twenty years later and my small town is overpopulated with Mexican restaurants! New York, not really part of America, nevertheless sets the style for it as far as I am concerned, and it makes me happy to know what is soon due here in the real world.  Alas, I wasn’t in New York long enough to get a good sense of the zeitgeist in eating predilections, and I didn’t really make it very far out of the Upper West Side to get a firmer sense of what might be coming down the highways next, but I ate out every night with the dearest of friends (fortunately all my age save one), and so enjoyed the company so well that I didn’t notice the particular restaurant at which we dined. Indeed, one restaurant at which I dined with Renee she chose specifically because the clientele tended to the older crowd and we didn’t feel out of place. Every one drank their beers out of glasses into which the beer had been poured rather than from bottles lifted awkwardly to their lips. 
But these young people sat in groups and restaurants in the bars in the after hours. They were, I suspect, all in their 30s, and they were all quite sophisticated and certainly beautiful. Whether they were, indeed, the former I never learned well, but that they were the latter I had no doubt. They wore comfortably the newest fashion styles that lay on their bodies as if the streets were runways at the most recent fashion show and they the hired models displaying only the most au courant styles. Indeed, as I gazed about me at all of this beauty I wondered where was everyone else in the world. I wondered where I might be found! Indeed, as I sat I felt quite invisible. No one turned to look at my entrance, and certainly not at my presence. I occupied a seat but I took up no space. 
When I lived in New York City I was in my thirties, and I loved to walk the streets of the City, to pop into and out of all manners of establishmentseating and drinking establishments, book stores, cinema houses, even a clothing store every now and then. I had presence, or so I liked very much to believe. I was vain as perhaps a thirty-something might be in New York City surrounded as we were by images of ourselves everywhere on the streets, in the stores and on the billboards and advertisements that covered New York City halls and walls. All about me were people of my own agethirty-somethings all engaged in similar meanderings and posturings. We felt not only present but ubiquitous, as well. We were the world, indeed. And then I didn’t see people in their fifties and sixties, the latter the age at which I have now reached. 
And I knew intuitively that in New York back then in my thirties, that to me those who had reached the age at which I was now were invisible to me even as I am invisible to those who are now at the age I was then. 
Is it that youth does not recognize age, or that age doesn’t feel recognized by youth? 
One night—it was a Wednesday, in factI attended a concert at Alice Tully Hall and there we all wereall of us over thirty-somethings out for an enlightened evening of CPE Bach, while across the street the Allman Brothers were playing their annual week of concerts at the Beacon Theater. I wanted to be noticed by those attending that other show, but felt very comfortable to be ensconced in my mezzanine seat listening to a wonderful performance of Bach’s Cello Concerto, surrounded by people who dressed a lot like me, who sat rapt and quiet with their wizened hands on their chins, their eyes sometimes closed (even sometimes nodding off), and knowing I’d be home and in bed by 10:30pm while they went off to celebrate the show until late into the evening and early morning hours.  
I don’t at all think that youth is wasted on the young, but there exists perhaps, a certain and necessary blindness particular to youth of which in my aging I have become conscious. Struggling to achieve their own identities and create some sense of groundwork on which to build their lives, to identify and work from a sense of purpose, and to develop a social network that is in person and not online, the youth have little inclination or even time to turn their attention to those who cannot join in their effort or that community.  
Tinged partially with regret and partially with relief, I moved invisible through the world of Columbus Avenue as I once walked unseeing on it. 

28 March 2011

Corned Beef on Rye

Dear Mitchell,
I’d like to explain what happened to the corned beef on rye (no mustard, to prevent sogging) sandwich I purchased for you at the Second Street Deli in New York City. Of course, I fully intended to deliver said culinary delight to you upon my arrival in Minnesota, but a significant mishap  occurred to it at the airport during security screening. Alas, I arrived home without the sandwich. But I want you to know that it was a beautiful sandwich and appeared quite delicious: this is no small praise, for as you will certainly recall, I am a vegetarian!! I want you to be assured that a half-sour kosher pickle was included in the package! The counterman (a not-very-friendly but very typical New York counterman, dressed in a white uniform and apron and slightly paunchy) wrapped the sandwich carefully in that white, semi-waxed paper common to New York delicatessens, and placed the pickle in the fold outside of the sandwich itself to prevent any pickle juice from leaking onto the fresh rye bread. I timidly requested that the counterman double wrap the meal, and that for safety measure, he place a piece of scotch tape across the top to prevent it from accidentally opening during transportation. Actually, I don’t think the counterman liked me very much; to add just a bit of my history to the exchange I told him a Sven and Ole joke, but he did not laugh. 
Since we were traveling to New York City for a full week, I had purchased a piece of luggage that would accommodate sufficient sartorial possibilities to ensure that I would remain fresh in appearance and au courant in dress. Thus, rather than my usual travel habit of carrying my baggage on-board, I checked my luggage for an additional twenty-three dollars. (The emotional baggage I carried with me came aboard with no extra charge.) 
Now, getting to New York, of course, was not a problem; all that occupied my suitcase were an assortment of shirts and pants, some sweaters, socks, (a requisite number of unmentionables), several pairs of shoes, my running apparel, four or five books (who could predict what mood I might be in!), toiletries, vitamins, and my teddy bear. All passed through security with only a minimum of concern. The TSA attendant did ask me who I voted for in the past election and what I thought of the situation in the Middle East, but finally she let me through to my gate. She looked a bit askance at the teddy bear. 
It was on the return trip that I ran into some trouble. As I said, I purchased the said corned beef on rye sandwich (no mustard, to prevent sogging, because even I know you can’t eat a corned beef on rye without mustard!), and a half-sour pickle on the side on 18 March, Friday, the day before we left New York City to fly back to Minneapolis. I placed the sandwich in the center of my new suitcase nestled between my vitamins and my teddy bear to prevent it being in any way damaged.  I felt comfortable that the sandwich was secure and would not be disturbed during the flight or from rough handling by the airport luggage handlers.
But I did not figure on the Transportation Security Authority. I carried the bag over to the scanners—the ones that look like CT scanners or MRI machines and handed it over to the wary man operating the site. I wished him a good day, a move which I suspect raised his suspicions. On top of that, behind me stood a woman carrying a little Chihuahua dog with whom she was traveling who started barking vigorously at my bag as the attendant passed it through the scanner. That is, the dog started barking and the woman just giggled. I suppose the dog was imagining it was some guard dog or part of the police K-9 corps! Ha! But I think that the barking placed the guard on his guard.
As the bag passed through the scanner, some kind of detector began to sound and the attendant ran behind the machine and pulled my bag off of the line. He demanded I open my luggage for inspection, and when I did so the Chihuahua chewed its way out of the container in which it had been nervously pacing and jumped into my luggage and began pawing its way to the sandwich. The dog’s owner did manage to pull it out before it reached the semi-waxed paper, but by that time the attendant was sure I was a drug smuggler and that I had hidden a large stash of marijuana in my bag. Before I knew it I was surrounded by police officers all of whom had drawn their guns and pointed them directly at me. Of course, I raised my hands!
The police officers took the luggage and me into a side room and began pulling out my very neatly packed items. I was appalled at the mess they were causing, and voiced not a few objections. They bypassed my unmentionables, and they were kind to say nothing about the teddy bear even after they passed it through the x-rays. (I hope it doesn’t get cancer!)
Then, they found the sandwich! At first, wearing sterile gloves and face masks, they smelt it. Their faces showed displeasure and aversion. When they asked what it was, I told them it was a corned beef on rye sandwich (no mustard) and a half-sour kosher pickle. The lieutenant stood up quickly from the table and pulled out his revolver and, pointing it at me, asked if I thought them fools. “Who would order a corned beef on rye without mustard? You are a terrorist and this is a carefully disguised incendiary device.” I denied everything, and I told him you had specifically requested that I not add mustard so that the bread would not become soggy in transit, but he wouldn’t believe me. (By the way, the FBI might be making a visit to your house in the next few days. They have a few questions they’d like answered. I’d let Collette do most of the talking.) The officers talked amongst themselves sotto voce, and then they called in the bomb squad.
Needless to say, things went down hill from there. They put me in one of those full-body scanners, and I could hear someone snickering from the viewing booth. They brought me to an interrogation room where they questioned me for almost ten minutes, and then they said that though I had passed most of their tests, the contents of the package were still very suspect. And they took me to a window where I could look into another room, completely white, at the center of which lay the sandwich I had purchased for you at the Second Street Deli in New York City resting quietly on a small stool. Corned Beef on Rye, no mustard.
Then, as I watched in horror, the bomb squad, dressed in those big suits of inflammable white material and wearing complete protective head gear, entered the room and attached a series of wires to the sandwich still wrapped in the semi-waxed paper. They tip-toed back stealthily out of the room and shut the door. For about 30 seconds I experienced the most absolute silence I have ever known, and then there was a huge explosion, and when the smoke had cleared your sandwich was gone. They had blown it up!
After that things moved much more smoothly, and I made my flight home with just minutes to spare. Sorry about the sandwich. Look forward to seeing you soon.
Your friend,

23 March 2011

Of An Early Spring Snow

In Walden, Thoreau writes, “Next year I shall not plant beans. I have other seeds to sow.” I have a sense of his desire here. Last night an early Spring snow fell (Spring began just this past Sunday!), after a day of very mixed and unpleasant wintry weather, and in the early morning hour I trudged out to the cabin in the weighty boots I require to maintain my balance in such conditions. I stepped heavily and high, pulling my legs up and out in very uncoordinated and awkward rhythms. Early Spring snows are wet and heavy, and stepping through the accumulations is challenging. The coffee filling my mug sloshed about and slipped carelessly over the rim staining the newly dropped white snow. I didn’t care. 
In December or January I would have immediately begun shoveling a clear pathway from the cabin back to the house, but this month I did not shovel snow. I had other paths to clear. I entered the cabin with a half-full mug of coffee and sat down at the desk to read Montaigne. But I could not concentrate. 
However easy it might have been to dismiss the arduous chore of clearing the path to the cabin, it is not so simple to unblock the anxious paths that comprise my psyche and arrive at some contentment. I can with relatively little effort remove the snow from my path easing my way to and from the cabin, but I cannot so readily remove the obstructions that block the pathways to a greater serenity in the day. Wherever I go, there I am. 
I know Montaigne would argue that it is an illusion that I can ever leave myself behind, but I do think that his essays suggest a palliative to this oppression. If it is true that “we shall never heap enough insults on the unruliness of our mind,” then it must also be true that the wise individual would seek at least to understand that unruliness. Such is the function of the essays. At least twice in Book One Montaigne offers a motive for the writing that I can understand. In “Of Idleness,” which is really a brief essay about what to do with that indolence, Montaigne writes that idle hours “give birth to so many chimeras and fantastic monsters, one after another, without order or purpose, that in order to contemplate their ineptitude and strangeness at my pleasure, I have begun to put them in writing, hoping in time to make my mind ashamed of itself.” That is, the essays become analysand and analyst and Montaigne in the essay may write himself to happiness. In writing he attains a pleasure not available outside of that activity. He writes (I think with joy) not to eliminate the monstersthat is impossiblebut rather, to struggle by writing to understand them and thus render them less frightening and without threat. 
In “Of prompt or slow speech” (which is not really about that either, I think), Montaigne argues that since so much of his life occurs in casual and contingent circumstances, then it often happens that “I do not find myself in the place where I look . . . [but} I find myself more by chance encounter than by searching my judgment.” Thus it is that he often speaks with promptness, throwing off a chance remark (which he avers is clever to himself but not to his listener!), but soon loses the point so thoroughly “that I do not know what I meant; and sometimes a stranger has discovered it before I do.” Again, the relationship is between analysand and analyst, but the interaction is predicated on the occurrence of prompt speech! And again, in his writing (and even in his speech) Montaigne can enact the role of both analysand and analyst. Thus this book: the essays on subjects wide and random permit him to discover himself as if by chance, and in the process of writing (and discovery) to experience great amusement. “This book was written in good faith, reader. It warns you from the outset that in it I have set myself no goal but a domestic and private one.” And in the writing, better than by reasoned judgment, Montaigne would discover himself in having something novel always to accompany him wherever he might be. 
Probably, this early Spring snow will be gone in a week’s time, melted by the rising temperatures and the sharper rays of the Spring sun. I will begin thinking of Passover and clearing out the chametz from the house. I will try to simplify, simplify, and deal with the detritus that muddies the pathways out to the cabin and to my gladness. I will come out here to write.

20 March 2011

Of all I survey

 In the Conclusion to Walden, Thoreau implores his reader: “Nay, be a Columbus to whole new continents and worlds within you, opening new channels, not of trade, but of thought. Every man is the lord of a realm beside which the earthly empire of the Czar is but a petty state, a hummock left by the ice.” I have aspired to this ideal for my entire life, and have been content to move forward in the realization though never to fully achieve it. I rule a kingdom of thought, and lord over dozens of books still to read and unfinished papers awaiting attention; I maintain fields of thought demanding cultivation and harvest. I possess vistas out of my windows that cannot be possessed in language.  
 But Thoreau continues: “Yet some can be patriotic who have no self- respect, and sacrifice the greater to the less. They love the soil which makes their graves, but have no sympathy with the spirit which may still animate their clay. Patriotism is a maggot in their heads.” I think Thoreau has been reading the newspapers. 
Thoreau argues with intense feeling that the great work of the individual in this world should be self-study—to journey inward to discover, if not the source of our being, then at least to learn that being’s use, and for this voyage to load our cargo holds with tins of preserved meats, if necessary, for what else, he demands, are meats preserved!! Thoreau means for us to live not on the surface of life, but to sound the depths of our bottomless Waldens to know our life purposes.  But he cautions that to concern our selves with the petty details of the world to the exclusion of study leading to self-awareness is to forfeit the greater exploration to the lesser one. Such a choice would keep us always on the very lowest road. Certainly the crude politics and power mongering of the contemporary United States are exemplars of this greatest lesser. 
For Thoreau, our responsibility in this life is to know our selves, and I believe that that knowledge includes a keen and critical awareness of our place in the world. As did Marx from the other side of the world, Thoreau argued that most importantly we must own ourselves, and that this accomplishment derives from a self-knowledge that might prevent a life of servitude and quiet desperation. Men may make their own history, but not in the circumstances of their choosing: we must learn our circumstances to understand our freedom. Even if our lives be mean, knowledge of that meanness might provide us with some enlightenment and element of control. When Thoreau brings his torn clothes to the tailor for repair, the workman tells him, “Oh, they do not wear that style anymore,” Thoreau responds, “’They might not wear such clothes, but I certainly do.” Beware, Thoreau cautions, the enterprise that demands new clothes and not a new man to wear those clothes.” I think Thoreau would be appalled to walk down Columbus Avenue in New York City and pass all of the shoe shops and boutiques and nail salons demanding we be just like them. Thoreau’s demand is I think an early transcendental example of what will later come to mean for me “Historicize, historicize, historicize.” Everything else seems to me dew on the meadow’s grass—burned off in the early heat of the sun. 
And before fascism, Thoreau may have defined fascism.  Those patriots from Tripoli to Madison to Columbus whose bleatings speak to their concern for some public weal, sacrifice their own self-respect and worship only the soils that will be their graves. They know nothing but of what is dead. Their patriotism eats away at their conscience and renders it decayed.  And these are amazingly who we refer to as our leaders, but I think that they represent the true no-nothing party.
I must learn to keep my distance to avoid contagion.

17 March 2011

Of Gods and Men

In this world of instant everything, of unending torrents of knowledge, of insatiable acquisition and (of late) political crises and nuclear meltdowns, of obvious graspings for power and unconsciousnable violence, the film Of Gods and Men provided me great relief. In this beautiful film eight monks choose not to leave their mission in Algeria and expose thus, them selves to inevitable danger from rebel forces. Indeed, the final scene of the film, shot in a snowstorm, portrays the monks single-file walking up a hill to their deaths led and followed by armed rebels who will behead them. The camera has followed the faces of these monks for almost two hours: the viewer knows them intimately even without the complexity and insight dialogue might have provided. I see them yet, days after I saw the film. I think I know deeply something about each of them and I feel affection for their devotion. 
Inscribed in the faces is the depth of spirituality in which each resides, their joy in their faith and in their God, their care for the peasants they serve, and the love that they hold for each other and that is so great it cannot ever be contained in words. It sounds in the film in their songs which are always communal. The camera has rested delicately on each of their faces as they wrestled with their faith and their fears, only to arrive finally together in a decision not to leave. To stay regardless of the danger. To live and to die in and for their faith. 
I do not know if I have the peacefulness of my faith to live or to die as do these eight monks. No, that is wrong: I know that I do not have within me the strength to realize that peacefulness, nor the faith to confront the injustices I struggle to overcome. The monks’ life of poverty and simplicity throws into sharp relief the ephemeral richness and superficial complexites of my life. But these men have given up all material things to live a life wholly organized by the spiritual—a spirituality that extends even into the ministering of the health and care of the peasants in whose midst they live. Their entire strength derives from the depths of their spirituality, and the entire focus of their lives emanates from their spirituality. It is a love I barely comprehend, cannot realize, and yet deeply admire.

15 March 2011

Hamlet's Father's Ghost

I remember clearly one especial Passover Seder. Of course, the phrase ‘Passover Seder” seems to me somewhat of a redundancy; to my knowledge there is only one other time during the year when a Seder is celebrated and that is Tu b’Shevat, and I think only Jews would have any awareness concerning the means or meaning of this revel. Indeed, I suspect that only a small number of Jews have any familiarity with the Tu b’Shevat Seder. 
Anyway, there was this one Passover Seder celebrated in Rego Park where my parents had lived for several years almost in hiding from the suburban world they had had to flee for having insufficient funds to maintain the house and life style requisite to acceptable residence there.  It was a small gathering this first night of Passover: my parents, myself and two siblings, and my mother’s parents, Grandpa Murray and Nana Rose. They spent many weekends at our house, and all of the Jewish holidays were celebrated in their presence. I was about twenty or so, and probably home from college; my brother would have been sixteen years old and my sister twelve. Or may be we all were older though none the wiser. Of tonight’s ritual celebration we knew the order but we did not know the script, and I don’t think we really cared very much about it one way or the other. But it was ritual to be there. 
Usually the first Seder was held at the home of an aunt and uncle on my mother’s side of the family, but for some reason—death or animosity, I can’t recall—and was led by my mother’s father. That custom had ceased, and so we gathered as a nuclear family this Passover evening, and for the first time in my memory, my father led the Seder. Even when the second Seder had been held at his family’s table in the Bronx, his older brothers were the designated leaders. My father always played his assigned role as the younger brother. 
My father had studied at yeshiva until his father had died, and he had not a little knowledge of the Seder service and Jewish practice. Though my father’s eldest brother had been ordained as a Rabbi and admitted to the bar as a lawyer,  my father had felt it necessary to drop out of school when his father died and go to work with his other brothers in the family firm. He might have preferred to become a Rabbi. Next he was drafted into the Army at the beginning of World War II, and when he returned from overseas he married my mother and took to making a living. He struggled always to effect some independence from family, and at various times he was relatively effective in this endeavor, which is to say that though he (too) often started his own businesses, and though we never missed a meal, he suffered more failure than success and scrambled inevitably to earn the dollar he had already spent. His family often came to some rescue. 
Anyway, this night the Seder moved along laboriously, as usual, with my father moving through the order rapidly and almost without comment. He read through the Hebrew without pause though few of us knew a word he spoke. Several years earlier I had introduced to our Seder the words of Eldridge Cleaver I had discovered in the Freedom Haggadah, but this addition was intolerable to my father. I never attempted to offer any emendation to the traditional liturgy, all in incomprehensible Hebrew that it was.  
Then, and I don’t recall exactly what happened or the precise order of events, but in the midst of the service my grandfather corrected something my father had done or said. Abel, my grandfather’s brother, had been ordained a Rabbi in 1908, and I think my grandfather assumed his scholarship upon his death in 1935. My father, I recall, responded politely at first, but my grandfather reiterated his critique, and added coincidentally, that my father was wrong. 
I had never seen my father lose his temper. But this night unlike on all other nights, he exploded, and he threw down his napkin, looked across the table at my grandfather and cried out, “In my house at my Seder you will not correct me.” And then my father stood up from the table and left the room. I sat for a minute a bit stunned, and then I got up from my chair and followed behind him. I found him pacing the floor smoking a cigarette in my bedroom. He turned to me as I entered the room, and he threw up his arms in frustration, in exasperation, and I think, in defeat. He didn’t say anything. I approached him, and perhaps for the first time in my life, maybe even for the last time, I hugged him. 
I think that there are few emotional wounds more painful than those inflicted by being disappeared. This was not what I was conscious of then, but it rests now forefront in my mind.

12 March 2011

The Ides of March Approacheth

The Ides of March approacheth. Caesar, go not to the Capital. 
Me, I go to New York City for Spring Break. It is warmer in New York than here in Wisconsin where the temperature may get to 30 degrees and where the snow still remains on the ground. 
Jack Hardy, the folksinger, has died. And The New York Times doesn’t yet have a notice about his death. Thirty years ago I saw Jack Hardy at the Bottom Line in a show organized by Fast Folk, a magazine for the folk song community. I was at home there. As I write this morning, I’m listening to WUMB trying not to leave home. 
I have spent much of the last twenty years writing about home leavings. It is a complex subject fraught with contradictions and difficulties. I advocate the necessity for leaving, but I find it difficult to leave behind me everything I have amassed in my life. What books can I not do without? What music must I have? How much clothes should I pack? These are, I know, absurd questions, but they define not what I truly wonder but what I fear. They are what offers me comfort when I leave home. 
Whenever I travel far from home I enter into an unknown, and regardless of my familiarity at this time with New York, the move frightens me. Here at home I have almost total control over my self and environment, but there, there is little familiar about me, and every act requires more than a little effort. Traveling is searching, and I am never quite sure that I will have the energy to keep on keeping on when I am not certain for what I look. But I teach that the aim of education is finding lost objects, and I say that we only know an object has been lost when it is found. 
Bloom enters tentatively the whore house in the Circe chapter. He is looking for Stephen, but I suspect he finds a great deal more. I am following his journey home.

09 March 2011

Second time as Farce

The air was unnaturally cold for early March, and the particularly severe winter had worn down the strength and the patience of many Wisconsin’s citizens. Spring seemed as far away now as it had actually been back in November when the snows fell and the elections had occurred. No one now expected much relief in the near future, and the fear of a prolonged season weighed too heavily on my soul. 
I sat hunched in the darkness on a chair in the relatively warm cabin I maintained behind the house as an office. A thermos of hot coffee sat on the floor beside me, and a bottle of whiskey rested on the desk. The blue lights of a computer airport glowed on a desk, but there was no other illumination anywhere; through the windows I could see blackness, as if someone had pulled dark shades down outside of the windows. I sat listening an expected break in the silence. I thought of the warm bed inside the house; I thought of my children awash in their dreams, and I thought of the people moving stealthily now through the woods towards my cabin. I pulled my arms tighter around by chest and hunched over just a bit more; I wasn’t really as cold as I was frightened. 
The assault on basic human rights begun by the present government endangered not only myself and my colleagues, but threatened the future world into which my children would grow. I feared they would not flourish. By fiat he and his hired help were attempting to again rob from the poor to pay the rich. Without missing a meal they were trying to ensure that the tables of the majority of Wisconsin citizens be less full. They were insisting that the quality of health, education and welfare suffer enormous declines in quality all the time claiming that they were saving the future by destroying the present. They dissembled. And to effect their purposes they had threatened the use of military force and dictatorial prerogative to force their opponents into submission. I hated them. 
Then I heard the noise I had come out here in the dark and cold to hear. Footsteps crunched on the newly-fallen snow in the darkness of the moonless light. It was not a steady sound, but a studied irregular stepping that disturbed the silence. The walkers were moving stealthily and cautiously, trying not to disturb too much the silence of the night. The noise had come from the south and so I knew that it was my expected visitors. 
I lit a candle in the most eastern window and another at the western door and I waited. Shortly two men dressed in dark overcoats and faces covered by scarves and dark stocking caps appeared suddenly before me and I opened the door to the cold and the fugitives.  They entered from the dark and were as two shadows. They nodded their head in greeting, and I helped the first remove his coat. The second had already taken off his outerwear and dropped them on the floor by the door. Wordlessly, I ushered the two to chairs and poured coffee into mugs and handed them to the men. They held the hot liquid in both of their hands and sipped eagerly. When they had finished, I held up the bottle of whiskey, but both shook their heads and refused. They still had miles to go. 
They lay down and for an hour they slept on the floor of the cabin while I watched the dark out of my windows. I awoke them on schedule. They drank another cup of coffee, put on their coats, scarves and hats, and went back silently out into the night. We had spoken very few words, but we had communicated well. I was a middle stop on the underground railroad, and this Wisconsin Democrat Assembly person was being conducted to freedom in Michigan.

04 March 2011

For shame!

So much already has been written and said about the crisis now playing out in Wisconsin sparked by
Scott Walker’s Budget Repair Bill and his Budget Proposal that I can add little to the conversation. I try to stay calm but I am daily confronted with the human ramifications of this heinous initiative. And I know that there are other states now acting on Walker's lead. They are all Republican States. Headed by Republican governors. And supported by Republican legislatures. And they need to be terribly ashamed of themselves, for I consider they operate without conscience. 
Montaigne writes of conscience in one of his essays. He says, that conscience “ . . . makes us betray, accuse, and fight ourselves, and, in the absence of an outside witness, it bring us forward against ourselves.” A bad conscience turns us against ourselves. A bad conscience affords us no rest because wherever we go, there we are, and we always know what we have done. In this way I think I can say that the Republican government in Wisconsin has no conscience; they are monsters. Or, as the medical profession would describe them, they are sociopaths. What their actions are doing to my colleague down the hall, be he a secretary or professor, is criminal behavior: stealing from the have-nots to enrich those who have more than they could ever spend is inhuman. And with a smile they return to their tables well-supplied. 
As a result of their actions, Governor Walker and his gang will miss not a meal, but my colleagues all over the state will discover their lives changed dramatically and their tables, both real and metaphorical, much less full. The education of their children will suffer because there will be fewer teachers working (yes, working!) with less resources in classrooms  stuffed  like the stateroom assigned to Rufus T. Firefly in A Night at the Opera.  And this scene will be not at all humorous: here the bodies will be strewn all over the stage as at the end of Hamlet: “So shall you hear/Of carnal, bloody and unnatural acts.” 
Of course, Montaigne acknowledges that conscience might also offer us peace and security. “As conscience fills us with fear, so also it fills us with assurance and confidence. And I can say that in many perils I have walked with a much firmed step by virtue of the secret knowledge I had of my own will and the innocence of my intentions.” It is that last phrase that seems to me significant here: the innocence of my intentions. To cause serious harm to so many people and to offer benefits to so few seems hardly an innocent enterprise, and returns me to my thesis that the Governor and his political cronies have no conscience. 
The initiatives of the Republican government here are not about substantive issues; there are many feasible alternatives to the actions they have begun. Rather, what I am observing is a naked and unashamed grasp for power perpetrated by people without conscience. It is sickening to watch.
Down there in Madison the only ones with a conscience are those living in Illinois.

01 March 2011

I Read the News Today, Oh Boy!

Every time I see a photo of Scott Walker I think of Mad Magazine, and the image of Alfred E. Neuman: “What, Me Worry?” He reminds me of Neuman!! And then I think of the section, Spy vs. Spy. Heh, heh, heh!

The news is all bad. Why do I bother? Anna Wulf pins to her wall all of the news stories, trying desperately to maintain some sense of sanity, hoping that somehow if she can place the world on her wall in clear view she will gain control over the world. My response lately has been just the opposite: I click open the newspapers on the web but close them up again after looking at the headlines and the lead paragraphs. (And I always check the obits). And though the angst remains, the evidence disappears. And I am free to go on to other matters.
Reading Ulysses still. It is a maddening book—my dear friend terms it an act of aggression. I would not go so far. Reading Cyclops last evening it struck me that the whole universe is contained in this one text, and that one could study only it and never cease to learn about life and worlds. For example, Joyce allows literary style to comment on the actions of his characters, and reading the novel one either knows the styles or has the opportunity to learn them. And then those different styles comment in a highly original and insightful manner on the diurnal life of Dublin, but also the daily life of so many of us. Joyce got so much right about us: our lives and our world.

And there is so much pleasure in the reading. Such an intellectual challenge and so much reward from making sense of it.

Once many years ago I celebrated Bloom’s Day at an all day (yes, all 24 hours of it) reading of Ulysses at Symphony Space in New York City. It was a wonderful time. I must search for a way to appropriately celebrate 16 June this year.