Archive for January, 2014

new blog name

January 22, 2014

“Irksome” popped up in my mind the other day, maybe because I’d been looking at my post on Kelly Thomas that I’d titled “more stuff you’d rather not know but should.”  Surprise!  It got precisely 0 hits.  A self-fulfilling prophecy.  A day or two later, I’d e-mailed a writer, informing him one of his cherished notions about his birth date was factually incorrect.  More stuff you’d rather not know but should.  Apparently, I can’t help myself.

I think I’m okay with being irksome.  My old dictionary suggests the etymology extends to the old Norse word for “work.”  Could that be so bad?  I’ve been thinking of Flannery O’Connor recently.  Now there was an irksome woman who worked hard at it.  How difficult it must have been to strip away the filters of humanity and a reader’s expectations to reveal Mary Grace, the angry girl in the doctor’s office in “Revelation,” and Mrs. Turpin, the poor woman she reviles:  “Go back to hell where you came from, you old wart hog.”  I don’t suppose God’s grace is any greater for being extended to those least deserving, but Flannery’s courage in fixing upon these moments seems in my mind to be.

We all prefer not to be irritated, but I suspect there’s danger if we flee too quickly in the opposite direction.  We all get to work our theories, and I suppose I’ve adopted this one.  If you have a favorite irksome woman, let me know.  I’m looking for fellow toilers in this otherwise much maligned endeavor.

On-line dating and Montaigne: Beyond multiple choice

January 17, 2014

In general, one doesn’t meet a lot of new people in one’s living room, especially if one is a self-proclaimed shut-in.  My 90 year old landlady has more visitors than I.  I suppose there are lots of folks streaming in and out of a crack addict’s living room, but at my place there’s no livelier social scene than 2 cats underfoot at dinnertime.

Here’s a picture of my tribe.


Now that I telecommute and live in the country, seeing anyone on a weekly basis is a challenge.  Last November, riding a surge of optimism as brief as the Indian summer day, I created an account on an on-line dating site in an effort to forestall such a possiblity.  After exerting a minimal amount of effort – posting the one recent photo I had, answering a few questions, and composing a brief profile – I threw in the towel.

Two week later steeling myself to give it another go, I tried dispassionately to consider the site’s possibilities.  I’d answered a few of the multiple choice questions, but apparently no where near enough.  I eventually realized there are metrics tied to each question.  Each answer determines one’s dating personality which in turn computes the degree of compatibility, or “matches,” between respondents.  Duh!  On my first go-round, I’d answered so few questions that this metric summed up my dating personality as “I’m willing if you’re buying,” a description I found hilarious but, as it proved, untrue.

Revelations lay ahead of me, as I opened myself up to the reality of on-line dating.  I won’t go into all of them here.  The most dispiriting, although unsurprising, were the truths about myself, the contradictions that remain unresolved.  I could have given the endeavor a bit more elbow-grease, I know, but I just couldn’t take that bigger leap – actually “rating” a guy’s profile, for instance, or, toward the end, visiting any.  Most of my adult life I haven’t had to wait so long to find another after the loved one’s departure, nor were those months of solitude so unbearable that I would do any activities as un-recluse-like as joining a group, or going to a bar, or, horrors! saying hello to a guy who’d just smiled at me.  That is, whatever efforts people make when they want to increase their chances of getting a date is beyond me.  It’s dumb luck that I’ve had such success in finding loving companions so far, since deep down, I’m ridiculously fastidious at moments loaded with romantic potential.

Perhaps it could have gone differently, I’ve wondered idly since, but the multiple choice questions irritated me.  Some were so outlandishly sick (“Honestly, wouldn’t nuclear war be kind of exciting?”) while others were too personal (the only person who needs to know my sexual behavior is the person I’m having sex with).  The stupid-cute answer choices set my teeth on edge (“This question upsets me,” the answer I would have chosen if it had been offered for the hypothetical nuclear war question but not one on racist jokes).

I skipped a lot of questions, but one or two I puzzled over.  One asked “How would you feel if you did nothing all day?”

To me this is an interesting question.  Often I would be hard-pressed to say I’d done much of anything.  A string of days, in fact, might pass before I could justly claim to have exerted energy enough to break past the stasis of “nothing.”  It is something I’ve been working on for a while now, and probably have a life satisfaction rating equivalent to the majority of people who work at putting more into their lives.

From the answer choices (this from memory) – “I’d be happy.  It’s good to take a break!”  “I wouldn’t mind it, as long as it doesn’t happen often.”  “It would bother me.”  “That never happens.” – I gathered that the depth or significance of my personal struggle regarding this question was not what they were measuring.

Another part of the site had various hiply named quizzes.  I took an animal totem one, but I can’t recall offhand what the Myer-Briggs Type Indicator was called.  Let’s say it was Friday afternoon when I noodled around the internet for over an hour (“nothing all day – not me!”), refreshing my memory on these categories.  After getting my own scoring, now what I noticed as slightly bizarre about one man’s profile took on a darker meaning.  “I’m a INTP, dammit!” he’d offered as explanation, more than once.  At the time, it had been so off-putting that, despite other elements in his description (an artist who loved cats and gardened), I’d moved on.  His border-line obsession with this reflection of himself now made me sad since I could see how he’d probably arrived at it courtesy of this or other dating sites’ categorizations (at least one other on-line dating site pops when you google your MBTI).  The astrological signs  people posted with cute caveats like “Libra, and it’s fun to think about” appeared benign in comparison.  I hope the guy doesn’t believe this shit is any more scientific.

Recently I watched a Youtube video (you guessed it: a Friday afternoon, work all caught up) of an interview with an 81-year old Gore Vidal.  He talked about visiting American schoolrooms and saying to parents and teachers:  “I’ve yet to meet a six year old that is dull or a sixteen year old who’s interesting.  What do you do to them?”  He blamed multiple choice questions.  “That’s no way to learn.”

So in the spirit of Gore Vidal, whose respect for Michel de Montaigne has been so delightfully contagious, I offer up an excerpt from his Essays as answer to that perplexing multiple choice question:

We are great fools.  “He has spent his life in idleness,” we say; “I have done nothing today.”  What, have you not lived?  That is not only the fundamental but the most illustrious of your occupations.  “If I had been placed in a position to manage great affairs, I would have shown what I could do.”  Have you been able to think out and manage your own life?  You have done the greatest task of all.  To show and exploit her resources Nature has no need of fortune; she shows herself equally on all levels and behind a curtain as well as without one.  To compose our character is our duty, not to compose books, and to win, not battles and provinces, but order and tranquility in our conduct.  Our great and glorious masterpiece is to live appropriately.  All other things, ruling, hoarding, building, are only little appendages and props, at most.

Multiple choice: it’s no way to date.

more stuff you’d rather not know but should

January 15, 2014

I’m spotty at best on staying up with the latest news.  I have a lot of guilt-assuaging rationalizations for not paying attention, but my most frequently used is that I don’t believe anything the media says.

In the interest of accuracy, I’m revising that explanation to “they have nothing to say.”

Thanks to the Christian Science Monitor’s website for help me sort this out.  Admittedly, without their link to a piece on the Kelly Thomas trial (far down past the piece on France’s cheating president and Chris Christie’s political rebirthing), I wouldn’t have known about the fatal beating of a homeless man by 3 California cops.  Today, the awful verdict delivered, the portal that my hotmail account spits me out into couldn’t be bothered to use precious space posting the story among the few that didn’t cover Hollywood, professional sports, or adorable pet videos.  Thanks to my half-assed ambivalence, I almost missed completely this horrendous story, just as egregious if not more so than the murder of Trayvon and Zimmerman’s trial.

My eyes flew over the words on the screen as I worked to get the facts.  As I did, it was easy to imagine Thomas, 37, mentally ill, bewildered or unaware of the hell that was unfolding.   Who hasn’t seen men walk down our towns’ streets, mumbling to themselves.  Urban bus riders are accustomed to having some ragged guy, reeking of urine, sit a little too close.  And I know families who’ve lost their children to the heart-breaking realities of manic depression, drug addiction, alcoholism, or simply a “failure to thrive’ we’re seeing more of every day.  What I could not imagine was the violence of 3 men, public employees, deliberately beating a helpless man to a fatal unconsciousness over a span of 9 minutes.

Perhaps I could watch the surveillance tape used to finger the cops.  Certainly, without that surveillance tape, no one would have been the wiser, no trial would have occurred.  But even if I could stomach it, the recording wouldn’t begin to plumb the depths of why these men thought they could get away with the beating, the rage(?) that kept them bludgeoning Thomas for 9 minutes, and the calculated acquiescence of our police state that formed the basis for their acquittal.

Looking to CS Montior’s staff Elizabeth Blair’s piece, titled “The Kelly Thomas Case:  Why police were acquitted in killing of homeless man” for answers would be a mistake.  I shouldn’t pick on the poor girl, but really, has the sphere of journalism been reserved for those who learned to compose a thesis statement by the end of their introductory college composition course?  Even if she were an intern (her list of publishing credits suggest otherwise), isn’t there an editor to insist that she do better than merely summing up the defense’s statements?  One gets the sense from the other website stories, however, that remaining innocuous is exactly the trait the CS Monitor is looking for.  If nothing else, someone should rewrite her title since no “why” was forthcoming.

Here’s Alexander Cockburn’s take on the 2008 not guilty verdict for the NYPD’s 2006 murder of bridegroom Sean Bell:

As usual the cops walk and sometime later the victim’s family may get a settlement from the city.  The important thing is that justice is seen not to have been done.  Power needs the periodic buttress of irrational, uniformed violence.

Cockburn goes on to do a neat trick, tying then-candidate Obama’s proposed program of wide-scale international violence to these small civil dramas.  Here’s some choice “whys” for you:  war is the US’s biggest export.  Why shouldn’t it come home, if it wasn’t already here to begin with?  Maybe it’s time for a bumper sticker with some version of “land of the free because of the brave” for those brutal men in blue, just “doing their job.”