Marie’s New Year’s Offering

I’ve talked about my mother, Marie, any number of times in these pages. She’s a remarkable person, a remarkable woman. This is what she said to me in IMs this morning:

Happy New Year to you, too. Hope it’s a good one for all, but in case it isn’t, we can all pool together and deal with it. Together we can do anything.

It was aimed at me and at our immediate family, but I can hear the echoes of it all around me in what’s going on in the world today.

What a great sentiment to start a new year off with, huh?

WWPRS?

Pat Robertson has the Ear of God. ‘This is notable!’ one might say. But plenty of people on the sunset-side of the American political day seem lay claim to God being on their side of the cosmic dodge ball team.

And God speaks back, apparently. But shhhhhh! It’s a secret! Like the US getting messages to Iran through Jordan, or relying on the Swiss or the Canadians to pass notes around in class the world, apparently God won’t just ring someone up on the phone to tell him. She, apparently, is a big fan of Pictionary, or even good old fashioned charades.

This is all well and good. Perhaps God’s Direct Voice isn’t bearable to human ears, like in Dogma when Alanis Morisette unhinges her jaw and the most torturesome sound comes out. [Word has it that that was Alanis’ own unadulterated voice—Eds.] Maybe on the off1,000,000,000,000 chance that there is a god who takes precious time away from her cosmic badminton games to talk to her zoo creatures, maybe being so circumspect and introducing so many degrees of freedom in interpreting her words is her way of testing the good-faith of her followers.

So where is Pat Robertson when it comes to Phucket Island and the 25,000+ dead? Did god punish them for being non-christian? Or maybe the name of their island, like condoms, just encourages young people to fornicate?

And where is he on Reggie White’s death? Punishment for saying awful, categorical things about his fellow human beings?

Say what you will about the capital-A Atheists (who, in my opinion, are just as crazy-dogmatic as their theist counterparts), but you won’t find them doing any teleological finger-pointing.

Give the Ear back, Pat.

Our Multicultural Xmas

Sam and I spent Xmas eve and Xmas day doing pretty much nothing. We watched a lot of TV, a lot of movies.

And we ate. Pizza last night. And sandwiches today. I made a pot of Jamaica Blue Mountain coffee (at $60/lb). And then we made Mexican food tonight. ¡Feliz Navidad! indeed!

And one of the movies we watched was ‘Ying xiong’, or Hero. And we started to watch THX 1138. But we stopped that one less than an hour into it, because it was nothing but stark backgrounds, a lot of social restrictions and etiolated faces. Sam was bored, and I’ve had enough of the moral-values red-states crap to last a decade, so we stopped it. Maybe we’ll pick it back up, but in 2004 (almost 2005!), its message is a bit belabored. Though only when it’s not true. Which isn’t often. [He said, morosely.]

No Santa in sight. No Jesus in sight. Only A Christmas Story, which isn’t about Christmas so much as a wry judgement on the American Monoculture. So, apt.

I have wished family and friends, some of them, a Merry Christmas. To others, “Happy Holidays”. Be warned out there, chil’ren. The christians have their gatchies in a twist about this “happy holidays” business. It’s “Merry Christmas” or nothing, dammit! Oy vey. What a tragic mess.

Any bets on when Theocratical Correctness moves from irony to reality?

Missing My Family

Today I am missing my family back East. Christmas Eve was always the bigger night—well, after we became adults. Or after the notion of Santa Claus was exposed as a clever ruse. That’s when we started opening presents on the Eve instead of the Morning, because sleeping-in was a better present after all, I suppose.

JeffsamxmasBeing from a mostly Polish family (technically, we’re just a bunyak family, eastern-European mutts whose true nationalities are lost to border dynamics during the 1800s and 1900s), we naturally and unconsciously capitalized on the wiggle-room in all Catholic traditions by borrowing from the more orthodox (and Orthodox) elements of the old cultures by abstaining (from meat) from the morning of Christmas Eve until after we’d gone to a Christmas Mass (which, borrowing from American Expediency Culture and Vatican II, could come as early as 4:30pm Mass on Christmas Eve). This resulted in a tradition among us Polacks (bunyaks) of a meatless dinner for Christmas Eve. A dinner far separated from the bigger Christmas events, the bigger Christmas idiom. It was for family. Family is what permits it to exist and to continue. And it’s solely about the core family, that part of the tree that starts at Jack and Marie, my parents, and includes progeny, their spouses, and further progeny.

Xmasevetable-1 I have had this dinner on my mind for some time now, knowing I would not be there. I suppose I had wished to keep it as abstract as possible in my head, as a way of not belaboring any anguish over my absence.

My Mother, setting aside the gifted thinker that she is in favor of the even more gifted Mother that she is, just posted pictures of the table setting. She set out pictures of Sam and me, of my brother Anthony and his fiancée, Jess, and a picture of the grandchildren, all of whom have become the most piteous of creatures, it seems, because of the most pitiful mothering I’ve ever seen.

It’s a solemnity my mother is creating, a sense of occasion neither happy nor entirely sad, but serious. Important. Dignified. A profound gravitas. It’s a rich life we’ve each and all led in my family. My younger brother Sam, myself, my older brother Anthony. We all had the most splendid environment to grow up in.

My nephews had mostly the same, up until their lives went pear-shaped a couple of years ago. It could have been mostly restored, but that wasn’t allowed to happen and they’re the ones to suffer the most.

Though I do not celebrate Christmas for its own sake, I do appreciate it for my own sake.

I’m privileged and honored that Sam is here with me each and every day for the rest of our lives, but I miss the rest of my family…parents, brothers (and sisters), nephews. I love them all so much.

The Doomsday Scenario

Sany0126Not that I really buy the possibility of Microsoft Windows being finally ubiquitous, but as I sat here at home doing some work, connected remotely to my Windows XP machine as a full-screen session, I had to take a picture. Look closely (click on the thumbnail). A 17“ PowerBook G4 running Windows XP. Completely ass-backwards, if you ask me….Now…PCs running Mac OS X…that’d be something.

Little Altar Boy

When I was a child and through my teens, there was one voice that was always there. Well, not always there, but always available when the thousand things I’m always thinking about would get thought out, when the hundreds of adjustments to be made were completed, when the tens of friends would be off friending with other people, when a handful of moments were there solemn and for the taking. The voice belonged to Karen Carpenter.

Her death made her a constant in the universe, never getting older, never doing anything newer. Never being anything that what she was at the moment I learned of her death. Always the same, always utterly knowable.

Even at Christmastime, Karen was there, whether singing cloying and cursed carols or more contemporary and nuanced personal statements about the supposedly most wonderful time of the year.

Over the years, I have outgrown the unnuanced hypocrisy of the holiday season in America, just as I have outgrown the need for the self- and soul-flagellation that attends Christianity. Jingle the Bells, Hark the Heralds, Fa the La-La-La’s if you must—and plenty of us must—but please don’t be offended by my utter neutrality towards the festivities that seem to just borrow against the next year’s good will.

Nuanced moments, times, people, events are those that stay with me; complexities and subtleties abound to be savored, studied, analyzed, observed, enjoyed, revisited, reconsidered, re-dismissed. I learn so much about my own thoughts, about my own feelings, about my own age, about my own time, by playing myself against static pieces or by letting a song play me with a fine hand.

One of the songs that appeared on the Carpenters’ Christmas album, that I still cannot forget, is called “Little Altar Boy”:

Little altar boy, I wonder could you pray for me?
Little altar boy, for I have gone astray
What must I do to be holy like you?
Little altar boy, oh, let me hear you pray

Little altar boy, I wonder could you ask your Lord
Ask him, altar boy, to take my sins away
What must I do to be holy like you?
Little altar boy, oh, let me hear you pray

Lift up your voice and send a prayer above
Help me rejoice and fill that prayer with love
Now I know my life has been all wrong
Lift my your voice and help a sinner be strong

Little altar boy, I wonder could you pray for me?
Could you tell our Lord I’m gonna change my ways today?
What must I do to be holy like you?
Little altar boy, oh, let me hear you pray
Little altar boy please let me hear you pray!

How can a man who has no need for a god-concept, no wont of cosmic cash-in at the end of life, no visceral attachment to the machinations of religious bureaucracies find anything of value in a song like this? I often ask myself that very same question. The question is yet another thing that I savor, study, analyze, observe…you get the picture. The revisitation serves to measure me. Serves to measure time. Tick! asks the question. Tock! waits for the arrival of an answer, or preferably, better questions.

This year, as my partner comes at me from the godless-left (as the Sacred States of America come at me from the moral-values-right), I ask myself again: what is it about the song—most specifically, Karen Carpenter’s rendition of the song—that refuses to stop speaking to me?

The singer of the song is regretful, wishing to make a change, wishing to become better. And asking for help. Help is being asked of an innocent, who the singer believes has a better chance of being heard, and thus the singer has a better chance at getting what she needs.

Asking for forgiveness, while most often a selfish-demand to be relieved of a past burden, can sometimes be nothing more—and nothing less—than the natural outburst proceeding from a moment of clarity, a moment of realization, a moment of self-understanding. When you can hold your own past, your own present, your own self in the palm of your own hand for even an instant, you’re floating free of everything that holds you back.

The song is a prayer, a supplication to the innocent to help them remember the realization and help them do something with the burst of insight after the moment has passed. And like any prayer, it’s a request of someone else to keep despair at bay until the singer can do it for herself.

Most of the people I know are not christian. None of my friends here in San Francisco attend church services. None vote Republican. None attempts social engineering before first attempting to engineer themselves into better people. None of them want someone else to do all the work.

All take pride in their own accomplishments while also acknowledging where they got help. All appreciate love and care and decency. All are self-described progressives or liberals. All are happy to help when they can.

Even the godless used to admit to sin. Now sin has become Sin, and is defined by Holy Proscription by the christians. Even the godless used to ask the heavens, “why me?”. Even the godless would show gratitude in moments of fatalistic benevolence. Even the godless could be able to say they were “blessed”.

So this year, at least, for me the song is about humility. The humility to admit that you don’t know something; the humility to own up to self-limiting behavior. It’s about asking for help and doing your best whether you get the help or not.

And in becoming a better person, a more decent human being, a more respecting and respectable individual, a more nuanced and fully realized soul in our ever-more-caricaturish society, share what you gained with others. Let them stand on your shoulders, because no matter what you’ve accomplished, you’ve been helped along the way as well.

Not Worth the Ink

You’ll see all the Bushies out there screaming at us progressives when it comes to the military. You’ll hear them tell you that us Liberals don’t give a damn about American soldiers lives, but that’s just a silly obstructionist tack.

It’s like in that Stephen King movie, The Dead Zone, where Martin Sheen is up at a podium, stumping for his candidacy. He lifts a baby to kiss it (photo ops, y’know), when gunfire breaks out. Rather than protecting the baby or caring at all about anyone but himself, Sheen’s character uses the infant as a shield to block any bullets fired his way.

The conservatives do this kind of thing all the time in politics. “For the children”, they say, when they can’t defend their extremism. Nothing they do is for the children. They do it for themselves. They denounced Hillary Rodham Clinton’s “It takes a village to raise a child” and turn around and attempt to force personal moralities into law just so they can be sure that the state educational system—and by extension, the state itself—instills their children with the proper values.

But I digress. For all their blathering about supporting the troops, for all the dogmatic bleating about valuing the sacrifices the young men and women of the armed forces have made, our own esteemed Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, a man who has time to hunt and fish and read poetry, can’t be bothered to put pen to paper to sign his own goddamned name to letters of condolence sent out to families of soldiers who have died in the service of their country.

Watch the crazy no-one-but-Republicans! crowd scramble to cover Rummy’s ass on this one. Watch them go find a a handful of soldiers to give “informed” opinions on service being its own reward and then offer this up as proof-positive that Rummy’s not so bad and the troops are so goddamned selfless.

Watch, as Bush’s so-called political capital gets nickel-and-dimed to death by the administration’s own selfishness and hubris.

Watch the baby get sprayed by bullets in order to save the President.

Just watch.

Sam Got In!

Today Sam found out he was accepted at the university for the Fall of 2005. You just had to see the smile on his face when he found out, and that smile is still across his handsome face.

I’m so happy for him I can’t even describe it.

I love the shit out of that little man.

Move Over, Ann Coulter

Why do so many people who think so little of themselves go running and screaming for the nearest pulpit?Trying to make the outside match the inside, I suppose.

Anyhow, back in the day, Phyllis Schlafly was the Queen Bitch Extraordinaire, championing “family values” at the expense of her own family.

More recently, there’s the horrible, horrible trash known as Ann Coulter, or, chupacabra, if you will.

I’m here to tell you, there’s a new (and not so new) shrill black-souled idiot on the move: Michelle Malkin. Her latest book is entitled “In Defense of Internment: The Case for ‘Racial Profiling’ in World War II and the War on Terror”.

Yes, an Asian-American woman who argues in favor of rounding people up, seizing everything they own and locking them away in camps with horrible conditions, simply because they physically resemble the enemy of the state.

So I guess the Dirty Jews had it coming from the Fatherland, huh?

Or maybe, just maybe, she’s just on the rag with her ching-chong-ching-chong blatherings.

Isn’t Racial Profiling a HOOT?

Most horribly, however, Malkin has spawned. Maybe we should start a therapy fund for that poor child now?

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*For the irony-impaired: the Nazis and Michelle Malkin are Wrong.

Gravitas and Existentialism

Of course Nero didn’t fiddle while Rome burned: it was A.D. 64 and the violin didn’t show up until about 1500 years later.

No, it’s said he sang. Or played the lyre. No matter how he celebrated, he had his jubilee as he looked on at the destruction. I’m sure he had his reasons; maybe it was a nihil obstat preparing the way for his construction plans. Maybe he needed a ‘fund raiser’ for his campaign against the Christians. Or in a more philosophical mindset, he pondered that perhaps Rome was so far-gone that it needed a reboot.

For my part, in times like these, I think that if humans are involved, things always end in fire. And that they don’t end.

One of the strengths of the human soul (I’m using the term as a generic collective term, you rascally theists out there) is its ability to abide and otherwise countenance internal inconsistency and even paradox. If humanity lived on logic and reason alone, they’d have foundered on the rocks of realism a long time ago and never bothered to reach for anything at all. As I said, this is a strength—up to a point.

Before it reaches said point, the human soul can ponder existence, ponder death, ponder beginnings without endings, and endings without beginnings. It can ponder that which lies beyond reach, beyond touch, beyond reason and still make its way back to a quotidian world where there must be bread on the table, a roof over one’s head and money in one’s account.

But that’s a difficult thing to live with for some of us. For most of us, I might even say. How to reconcile an expansive, ultimately ununderstandable universe with hand-to-mouth biological need? For many, it seems they choose to forget—ahh, another of those strange paradoxes—the other while they’re living inside the current one. A mental setting-aside of the infinite, or a physical setting-aside of the mundane in order to soar amongst finespun thoughts, depending.

Depending. Interesting term for a fundamental orthogonality. Yet another paradox. We do rack them up rather quickly, don’t we?

Anyhow, it’s all quite difficult when that threshold of irreconcilability is crossed—in either direction. Quite often we have—at least I do—a nasty crash into a bad spell of Existentialism. Why bother with the two? And if I am capable of holding both in my head, why bother with anything at all? Why bother?

That which had a beginning must suffer an inevitable end, right?

These plummets into existentialism (capitalize the ‘e’ if you choose) can bring abject disconsolateness that one may never return from—resulting from fear.

Ironically, it’s a fear of never recovering that keeps most people from recovering from such a fall.

The natural response to fear is avoidance. The old fight or flight instinct. And after you’ve decided you can’t win, flight is the only option. Like I said: avoidance.

Avoid the context switch from the ethereal (spirit) to the concrete (letter) or vice versa because that’s where you get into trouble. Stay in one and never consider both. That’s the safe course.

If you’ve chosen the spirit world, like the moralists in this country have, you avoid the context switch by remaking the concrete world in the image of your own god; if you’re a letter-of-the-law kind of person, you wave Thor’s hammer at heaven in an attempt to dissipate the godly fog.

If you choose the dominance of neither spirit nor letter, you must cope with the mind-body, wave-particle duality as a full-time gig. And as if life inside a brain so active isn’t bad enough, the spiritists and the letterists, properly suspicious of you, add to the difficulty of your choice.

Moralists in aphorist clothing want to kick your legs out from under you and them blame you for not growing an angel’s wings. Spoilers and other naysayers will clip your wings and claim you never had them in the first place.

Interestingly, however, there is a shortcut for a stalwart dualist, if you’re willing to be clever about it. The key is labels.

Labels. Or rather, avoiding labels. The spiritists will want to pigeonhole you—the theists among them shove a square god into a round world with abandon all the time, and if they’re willing to pigeonhole the infinite, why not do it to you, too? The letterists believe in nothing new under the sun, so how could you have a new point of view?

Fingers point, tendrils tangle, they line up on either side of you with weapons until they form a circle. Oh, they’ll miss the mark, because you’re simultaneously there and not there. You refuse to accept the bullets of realism and the raygun blasts of Jesus. The doggerel and obsequiousness set the world ablaze and there’s nothing to stop it.

Weapons are discharged and the circle of fools will fall in fire. But if you realize that the fire is just part of the cycle of human affairs and not a punctuated ending, you can stand back and smile at the naturalness of it all.

And why the hell not pick up a fiddle to pass the time until the fire burns itself out?