Posts Tagged ‘humor’

reminders on how to breathe during an airborne toxic event

April 6, 2020

Salomon saith, There is no new thing upon the earth. So that as Plato had an imagination, that all knowledge was but remembrance; so Salomon giveth his sentence, that all novelty is but oblivion.

Francis Bacon: Essays, LVIII quoted in Jorge Luis Borges’ “The Immortal”

 


 

“How was class?” Denise said.

“It’s going so well they want me to teach another course.”

“In what?”

“Jack won’t believe this.”

“In what?” I said.

“Eating and drinking.  It’s called Eating and Drinking: Basic Parameters.  Which, I admit, is a little more stupid than it absolutely has to be.”

“What could you teach?” Denise said.

“That’s just it.  It’s practically inexhaustible.  Eat light foods in warm weather.  Drink plenty of fluids.”

“But everybody knows that.”

“Knowledge changes every day.  People like to have their beliefs reinforced.  Don’t lie down after eating a heavy meal.  Don’t drink liquor on an empty stomach.  If you must swim, wait at least an hour after eating.  The world is more complicated for adults than it is for children.  We didn’t grow up with all these shifting facts and attitudes.  One day they just started appearing.  So people need to be reassured by someone in a position of authority that a certain way to do something is the right way or the wrong way, at least for the time being.  I’m the closest they could find, that’s all.”

Don Delillo, White Noise

 

Babette, Jack’s wife and Denise’s mother, teaches a community class to the elderly in posture.  It seems just another layer of ridiculousness, but I’ve begun noticing how so many of us during this moment are doing … exactly the same thing.  It rather reminds me, sweetly, of the way our primate relatives pat each other in touching simplicity, sending the message that we are all in this together, that who you are matters to me, that your cares are mine and while I may not be able to make them disappear, I can utter familiar things that allay your anxieties for now.

Or as we murmur to each other and ourselves the ubiquitous expression, “You’ve got this.”

The Airborne Toxic Event

March 25, 2020

If you handful of people who ever read this recognize what the title of this blog entry refers to, then you’re miles ahead of everyone else.  Delillo’s White Noise offers satisfaction during this time on many levels (another of the novel’s countless running jokes.)  Although my copy had been packed away in … 2013, and I’d had no intention of unpacking prior to my still-fervently-hoped-for upcoming move, bizarre times required bold moves.  If the marginal comments and marks are any indication, the 20 something grad student who wrote her final paper on death in White Noise for a cultural studies seminar in 1991 wasn’t far wrong in identifying some worthy gems.  Arguably there isn’t one element of the entire book that doesn’t offer relevant insights to today’s moment.

One thing that strikes me now is how Delillo imagines his refugees all holing up together, whether in a deserted Boy Scouts camp as the toxic cloud backlit by tracers and towed by helicopters hovers or in crowded grocery stores where waves and particles flow or on highway overpasses where townspeople crowd to watch the sunsets whose breathtaking beauty is equally heightened and undermined by the real possibility that the lingering traces of the airborne toxic event or the microorganism dropped to devour it are to blame.  It makes the solitude we’re being requested to endure that much more poignant;  amidst this profound uncertainty we are being asked, effectively, to experience it alone.

Frankly, that’s another refreshing element of the novel:  no internet.  Thirty-five years after the novel’s publication, our lives are so permeated by various technological devices that even our dreams incorporate text messages, twitter and instagram posts and video memes.  To have the confusions of human life be ratcheted down just a few levels to television commercials, car crashes, Hitler studies, modern pharmaceuticals and the fear of death makes the trashy culture of the 80s look like children’s games.

There’s so much of significance to take in and the space to do it in this novel; the generosity and the abiding love for humanity is apparent even at moments of deep cynicism.  When the hero has to stop his German lessons because a metaphor his colleague Murray has used to characterize the German instructor overwhelms his senses (“What had been elusive about Howard Dunlop was now pinned down.  What had been strange and half creepy was now diseased”), he still feels bad about it.  There’s no certainty that Murray’s claim is true; it’s only a metaphor after all.  # Cancel culture is still a couple of decades in the future, although Gladney does note as he tries to gauge the ethnic background of his teenage son’s friend Orest Mercator, “It was getting hard to know what you couldn’t say to people.”

I feel as if I’ve been in training for this moment in history for a long while with my nomadic lifestyle, my own free form version of social distancing, my insane frugality, my value system as portable and infrangible as a pinned on medal.  Or maybe it’s just deja vu.  Regardless, the hapless and helpless J.A.K. Gladney is as perfect a symbol for what any of us — prepared or not — may or may not be able to offer at moments of great significance.  While I can’t watch children sleeping at night to return a sense of peace to my fractured mind or snuggle close to a life partner, there’s a reverence modeled in this prescient novel one can’t fail to find sustaining.  Read, laugh, marvel, and love!

 

What is essential is invisible to the eye

November 26, 2017

https://lechatnoirboutique.com/prodimages/Coffee%20Mug%20-%20Far%20Side%20Damned%20if%20You%20Do%20Dont.jpg

Not long ago I owned a coffee mug with this wonderful image.  Since I rarely purchase anything new, I must have come across it serendipitously.  Giving it up wasn’t easy, but the loss was softened when I imagined how the happiness I would feel each time my mind walked across the memory would echo what I’d felt encountering it the first time.

“It is the the time you spent on your rose that makes your rose so important,” says the fox.

This morning as I considered my journey toward healing, an image arose of the landscape from Albuquerque to Santa Fe, a drive I took weekly last winter to see my therapist.  What a wonderful terrain to capture this journey with its long vistas that both held and hid so much in the foreground.

I thought of all the incredible views I’ve been privileged to during the past few years and how I have almost no reproducible images of them.  How different from the standard approach most people take toward experience.

Then, as a rebuttal to this charge of no photographic evidence, a response was formed, one that looped me back to my dear Larson mug, reminding me in more ways than can be measured how I’ve been there and back:

Flash photography isn’t allowed in Hell.

Reggae donkeys

August 7, 2017

Here’s a story you might appreciate.

Two donkeys browse the field next door.  Here’s a picture of Pancho & Sarah.

They are in the midst of enjoying their morning snack of crabapples.  A tree grows on my side of the fence, but they can’t reach it.  So I fill a bucket and toss them out on their side of the fence.  My initial intention of feeding them apple-by-apple in a picturesque manner was revised the moment I saw the mosquitoes covering the poor asses’ hides.  I managed to toss the apples and make a break for it, barely escaping the swarm.

I’d been feeding them at my leisure, a schedule that didn’t suit them.  Their aggrieved complaints became apparent to me the other day when a series of seesawing “hee haws” drew me to my kitchen window.  The two had come up to the fence line and were letting me know it was high time to be fed more crabapples.

Now that they keep a close eye on my comings and goings, it’s not just the mosquitoes keeping me inside but Pancho & Sarah who keen when they see me water the garden or hang laundry.  It’s not that I don’t enjoy feeding them but that the supply of crabapples is dwindling.  I still have a week or so left and I don’t want to have to buy some bags of apples at the store to satisfy them (although as I write this, I can see myself doing just that).

Lately I’ve been playing Bob Marley in the morning.  I start my music with “Wait in Vain” and the next song is “Redemption Song.”  Bob sings the refrain plaintively,

Won’t you help to sing these songs of freedom?

‘Cause all I’ve ever had

Redemption songs.

The other morning, walking down the red dirt driveway to satisfy my friends’ demands, I shifted the lyrics, singing out to the morning sky,

Won’t you help to sing these songs of donkeys?

‘Cause I’ve ever had.

Donkey songs.

Finishing it, of course, with a loud “hee haw.”

This morning, watching those persistent two move from the lower pasture where they’d tried and failed to capture my attention, I knew they’d be up at my window very soon.  As I grabbed my bucket and headed out to the crabapple tree, I thought of how they were singing their own version of another great Bob Marley song.

Get up, stand up!  Stand up for your rights!

Get up, stand up! Don’t give up the fight!

I’m going to miss my New Mexico mornings and my reggae donkeys.

 

The history of unemployment

January 20, 2016

 

small town gifts

November 18, 2015

greatvalu

I live half-way between Charlottesville, a small city, and Crozet, a big town. Charlottesville’s traffic is a nightmare, so if there are errands I can accomplish in Crozet, I head west.

One of Crozet’s delights is an IGA.  A long-time resident, my friend pronounces the final part of its name, “the Great Valu,” as one pronounces the bear’s name in Kipling’s The Jungle Book, “Ba-loo.”  It is one of those small town groceries where the owner, the workers, and the towns people have combined forces in their determination not to lose it, and when I go there, I know high school and college sports statistics will be in the air and all manner of people will be chatting amiably with the clerks and each other.

When I left the store yesterday, I wore my usual smile after wishing the owner, who was working the cash register, a good day.  Passing the door’s threshold out into the parking lot, I heard a soft noise that had a rhythm and a tone unlike conversation.  Curious, I turned around to see a man standing between the store’s doors and the bundles of firewood, wearing a shy smile on his face and singing “Yellow Submarine.”

My smile widened, and I lingered to watch other customers’ smiles light up as they came within hearing distance of what is one of the dumbest but admittedly catchiest tunes in the Beatles repertoire.  The man wasn’t busking, didn’t appear in need of medication, and no one felt obliged to join in.  The song was simply a blessing shared with whomever happened to pass by.

Before I returned home, I was lucky to catch my friend at her cake shop.  While I was there, a neighbor stopped by to leave quiche and salad, and my friend and I caught up over tea and a light lunch.  As I was leaving, I wished her a peaceful Thanksgiving, which isn’t always in the cards for her since she is forced to spend it with her zombie mother-in-law.  Her frustration over not having control over her holidays prompted her to exclaim, “I just wish there was some thing I could do, once a year, to give back.”

“Well, you know, it’s very simple,” I replied. “All you have to do is stand outside the Great Valu and sing.”