Her Timing Was Impeccable

It's freezing outside. The heating system here at work can barely keep up with the cold (it's only giving us 62-64 degrees and it's set on 68). Our public works people were astoundingly remiss at snow removal yesterday; of the 146 reservations made for Valentine's Day, only six souls showed up. Meanwhile, the bar was full of four-wheel-drive owners who were all male, and either a) private snow plowers; b) guys pretending to be private snow plowers* or c) guys without plows trying out their new toys. All were doing the "shot and beer" thing; something we generally frown upon, especially when there's hazardous driving to be done. Their uniforms were nearly the same; Carhartt coat over hoodie; bluejeans and the requisite L.L. Bean boots.

*I know for a fact that a Fisher Speedcast® eight-foot snow plow costs upward of $10,000, installed. I will admit that I'm green with envy at the guys who can afford to keep one around to strap onto their brand-new pickup truck for the sole purpose of plowing their own tree-lined drives (and perhaps those of close friends).

What was funniest about the entire affair is that I expected some sort of sporting network to be on the bar televisions. Nope. One was the evening news (with a tidbit about Anna Nicole Smith) and the other was one of those tabloid-entertainment-news kinda shows, really, really working the Anna Nicole Smith case hard.

What on earth were all these seemingly macho, all-American dudes doing watching the sad, pathetic last gasp of Ms. Smith's fame (the peculiar kind of fame which constitutes being famous merely for being famous, or infamous, as some would accuse Ms. Smith of having been)? Surely the real "sports bars" around our area were playing basketball, hockey, lacrosse, soccer or, lacking a real game, re-plays of the Super Bowl? Or could it be that even in death, a buxom blonde beats guys running into each other on some sort of playing field?

Now stay with me whilst I go on a tangent here, by way of explaining my point. Saturday evening I produced a party at the restaurant in honor of Chinese New Year for a local news anchor for an affiliate of one of the "big three" networks. His wife enjoys having this party each year because she has her Masters in Chinese studies and teaches Chinese for the local school system. The party ended late, and everyone had quite a bit to drink. Now, this couple's been doing this with us for five years. It is customary for the host to take the day after the party, Sunday, off from his news-anchoring duties. No, not this year. His wife explained to me that a mere four hours after the end of their shindig, her husband would be at his desk, and would anchor the 7:00 and 9:00 Sunday news broadcasts.

Why was this? If anything, he'd been given a major promotion in the preceding year and one would think he could take off any day he wanted. Nope. He explained to me (bleary-eyed) that it's sweeps week. Sweeps week is when the networks work particularly hard on their ratings (the number of households watching at any given time), because if they get high ratings during sweeps week, it's like a license to charge a fortune for their advertising time (until the next sweeps week measurement). I don't know if sweeps week takes place quarterly or twice a year. All I know is one can tell it's sweeps week because there are celebrity cameos on every sitcom; the made-for-TV-movies rear their ugly heads and all have cost millions of dollars to produce, and the news programs pull polished, well-filmed stories seemingly out of thin air.

Which brings us back to the sad case of Ms. Smith. Even in death, she was in the right place at the right time. Her passing no doubt caused the producers of such dreck as "Entertainment Tonight" to salivate and wring their hands with glee. This sweeps week they wouldn't have to send helicopters filled with telephoto lenses over Brad Pitt's house to watch him go swimming. They wouldn't have to drudge-up and re-hash recent celebrity drunk driving crimes and juxtapose the accused with footage of celebrities whose lives have "changed completely since joining A.A." (The last "A" stands, by the way, for anonymous, you idiots!). No, this year, sweeps week would be a tawdry biography of the recently passed Ms. Anna Nicole Smith, from her first manicure to that all-famous "last interview," during which they teased a few errant blonde hairs from her creamy, porcelain-doll face. That footage is now broadcast in portions so frequently that perhaps the only thing broadcast more frequently are GEICO automobile insurance commercials.

Now, we must all feel very, very sorry for her baby. The poor thing is doomed to grow up without a mother, with a father who beat the rest of the pack to the DNA test (and the highest-paid lawyer to get a judge to have said test so ordered), and very, very rich. What price having no mommy? None, in my humble opinion.

We must all feel bad for the hordes of cousins thrice-removed, housekeepers, makeup artists, doggie walkers and others who perhaps feel slighted because in life Anna had promised them that she'd "remember them" but whom are then disappointed at the reading of her will. I don't even know if she left a will. But she left behind a modern-day Marilyn Monroe-meets-Judy Garland-meets-Ivana Trump story that I assure you will become a major motion picture.

For those of you who find my discussion of Ms. Smith's affairs tasteless so soon after her passing, I assure you I have written this absent any ill will or malice for Ms. Smith. Beside, we've all heard worse. By way of example, I leave you the words of Bette Davis upon learning of the death of her nemesis, Joan Crawford. Ms. Davis said, "My mother told me only to speak good of the dead. She's dead. That's good."


Siddhartha

Siddhartha is a novel about a young Indian man living during the days when the Buddha was alive and preaching. It was written in 1951 by Hermann Hesse, the Nobel-prizewinning Swiss novelist.

Siddhartha starts on a journey of self-discovery, a member of the Brahmin caste and a Samana, peripatetic ascetic beggars who give up their lives renouncing worldly goods in the search for truth. He and his friend Govinda have many conversations about the Vedic teachings they grew up studying as they are traveling. Govinda loves Siddhartha with a hero-worship intensity not uncommon among young men. Their paths cross the ant-procession of monks who follow the Illustrious One, Gotana, the Buddha, and Govinda makes the difficult decision to leave Siddhartha and follow the Buddha and learn about the Eightfold Path, and in the process come out from under Siddhartha's shadow.

Siddhartha continues on his wanderings, continually self-reflecting on truth versus illusion. He longs to find a coherent, self-consistent set of principles to live by. One day, a woman rubs against him, wanting him in a physical way. He turns her down, but wonders about the importance of his physical self. He'd been taught to avoid the pleasures of the flesh, but he knows the stirrings in himself contain some aspect of truth.

He encounters Kamala, a beautiful courtesan, and asks her to be his teacher in matters of love. She looks at the beggar and tells him she will teach him, but he must become rich and wear nice clothes to be presentable for her. She has him work for the rich man in town. He does so, and becomes successful for the paradoxical reason that he is not tied to a love for wealth, and that his detachment makes him a better businessman. His status as an important merchant please Kamala, and she teaches him the ways of love. But immersion in the world, Samsara, takes its toll on Siddhartha, and years later he feels his soul sullied by addiction to money, status, and physical love. One day he quits it all and wanders back into the forest, in despair that he had wandered so far from his former life as a Samana.

He comes upon a river where he nearly commits suicide. His friend Govinda, in an accidental meeting, happens along and rescues Siddhartha from this fate. Govinda, by now deeply immersed in the ways of the Buddha, spends time with his old friend, whom he barely recognizes in his fine merchant's clothes. They discuss their lives up to this point, and Govinda continues on. Siddhartha stays by the river and meets a ferryman named Vasudeva, an untaught peasant, in whom a spirit of kindness and enlightment resides. Vasudeva and Siddhartha begin to live together. Siddhartha regains his equilibrium, as Vasudeva tells him about the river and its teachings. Vasudeva, who is not good with words, lives comfortably with the gifted Siddhartha. Soon legends spread about the two wise ferrymen who live by the river.

They grow old. In their later years, a procession of monks stream by. The Buddha, the Perfect One, is dying, and monks from all countries cross the river on their way to Gotana to honor his last days. Kamala, who has taken up the Buddha's ways, is in this procession. She has lost her famed beauty, but Siddhartha still recognizes her. She is bitten by a poisonous snake and dies with a peaceful Siddhartha looking on. She leaves him her son, who is also Siddhartha's son, fathered just before he left Kamala's town.

The son is difficult, and Siddhartha begins feeling the guilt of not being able to change the son's meanspirited ways. Eventually the teenaged son leaves him and returns to the city where he has servants who will allow him to continue his grandiose lifestyle. Siddhartha is griefstricken that the son does not follow an ascetic lifestyle as Siddhartha himself has. Yet he recognizes the same temptations of wealth that had entrapped him earlier.

Vasudeva dies, and as Siddhartha grows old, Govinda comes into Siddhartha's life one final time. A series of dialogs between the men bring out the teachings that Siddhartha has learned by his travels. In many ways they are akin to the Buddha's, but instead of having been taught by an authority like the Buddha, Siddhartha's wisdom was self taught, and Govinda realizes that in many ways Siddhartha is a parallel Buddha. His childhood hero had become an enlightened man just because of the unusual journey of life he'd taken.

Why It's an Important Novel

For many college students in the post World War II era, Siddhartha was the first entree into Eastern literature, philosophy, and religion, and thus it seemed exotic and novel. It was a short novel, easily readable in a day, a Hindu and Buddhism for Dummies book. Some of these college students became teachers and professors and presented Siddhartha to high school and college students. It was easily digested, and it contrasted Eastern religions with the post-war Bishop Sheen type of Christianity that the fathers who fought in Anzio and Normandy believed in. Being young and impressionable, the children of the Gray Flannel Suit corporate climbers took this quasi religious book as Holy Script and made it the basis for their ill defined quasi religions. Some got serious about Buddhism and became truly religious. Most did not, and went the way of Robert Pirzig and his Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. God was everywhere. God was all. God was... well, God was everything Christianity was not.

It's meaningful to teenagers who rebel against answers presented them in neat packages in church. LaylaLeigh's writeup, Siddhartha, is a perfect example of a high schooler who latches onto this book as received wisdom. In the 1960s, this book was very big among hippies. Hippies who did drugs usually progressed on to Carlos Castaneda and his mystical hallucinatory bullshit.

Hesse's style is reminiscent of Plato's. The dialogs are contrived, as between Plato and Socrates in The Republic. One character is used as nothing more than a sounding board for the main character's pontifications. In this case, Siddhartha's friend Govinda is a confused friend with no spine, who asks eternal questions of the noble Siddhartha, who comes across as a tiresome pontificating ass. (Forgive me. This may be middle age speaking. I've long ago lost patience with people who know all the answers.)

Why I'm Writing About This

When I was done with this book, it represented the end of a thread that began over thirty years ago. It gave me closure. My brother Werner handed me this book and urged me strenuously to read it when we were both in high school.

Siddhartha gave him a vantage point outside of his existing one (and mine). Lutheran church teachings, Jesus as son of God, sin, evil, goodness, these were our foundational thoughts. He was struggling with his internalized realization of his gayness, or at least his bisexuality. When all around us were families of nice hetero married couples, who were blindly following a path that their parents followed, who in turn were following a path set by their parents... Werner picked up Siddhartha and began reading. He was wild about the book.

I was a big skeptical. At the time Siddhartha was thought to be a racy book. Kamala was a woman who embraced the life of the flesh. She was a courtesan, a prostitute, and the novel did not condemn her lifestyle. It was what it was. I thought this was contrary to God's word, and thought the whole Eastern religion was not just bullshit, but anti Christian. I was closed to the whole novel and all of its ideas in it.

I rejected it, and in so doing rejected Werner's quest for truth outside of our framework, the framework of religion and ways of living in which we were immersed. He was angry with me for my unquestioning attitude. He was right to do so.

I've been wrong about a lot of things. The older I get, the more I question whether I have really learned anything that is true. Morals, philosophies, theologies, all seem contextually dependent. None seem to be culturally independent. I don't know much any more. I believe in the power of love, and 1 Corinthians 13. Beyond that, not much else is true. Love your neighbor as yourself. Be kind to others. If a person slaps you on one cheek, offer the other. No God. No heaven. Just what's here and now.

I wish I had my brother back. I wish Kaj would get well. I wish my marriage had worked out. I wish I'd been less dogmatic.

It's funny. Some of you younger readers here on E2 think we oldsters have a line on received wisdom. You actually ask me for advice on things. If I hem and haw, and ask you questions about what you think is true and what you think is important, it's not because I'm being socratic and helping you find the truth. It is more an admission of the inadequacy of my own understand of truth, life, and its meaning.

Writing my Personal Statement

Surely I am too old for this? I thought that when I got into university I would never have to attempt to pen a 'personal statement' ever again. A supporting statement or letter of application, yes, but a personal statement? That was the stuff of nightmares.

This was mostly due to the fact that my rather eclectic choice of university courses ensured that writing an all encompassing essay to 'sell' myself to the mish-mash of institutions was never going to be possible. One of the benefits of hindsight, but at the time, all that I thought about was the possibility of acceptance onto courses at institutions that I liked, or my friend was studying at, or someone off the telly had gone there. It's curious what motivates a 17 year old.

At the time of my UCAS personal statement I was taken in hand by a history teacher who had been assigned to help me, and he re-wrote my hapless prose. It certainly sounded better when he'd finished, but I was still uncertain about whether it would work. Still, I followed it through like the mediocre student that I was, received three offers and three rejections, participating along the way in possibly the most rambling and directionless spiel about the true king in Hamlet (I still cringe when I think of that hour), ballsed up my A levels and landed squarely in clearing with nothing more than a telephone, two scraped A level passes and my wits. They just about held out, and I did make it to university.

The current personal statement is in support of my application for a PGCE course. This will enable me to become a teacher, and sculpt minds for the future. Or dodge spitballs of the future. (Do children still do that?) I'm happy with my decision to do that. I just hate this damnable personal statement. Why is it that it's so hard to write about oneself in a good light? I could write several thousand slightly ironic words about myself, but trying to write 500 positive and sincere-sounding ones - it's been driving me to distraction for days.

A week comes to a close, one that has been fraught with doubt, consistently challenging and in an awkwardly detached and alien way, somewhat interesting. And I don’t mean the arrestingly engrossing interest one shows towards that sliver of flesh unwittingly revealed by an attractive member of the opposite sex. I refer to the preoccupation that one devotes to flashes of the arcane that present seventy-seven questions, each leading to an old wooden door that opens up a labyrinthine path into a dark forest of unquantifiable allusions.

I’m walking across a featureless desert, with a deeply uninteresting horizon and dry, dry sand under my feet that glows faintly with the colour of ancient memory, rippling with every step in an unsettlingly organic way. There is nothing here. No breeze, no smell, no perceptible temperature variation.

I’m staring at the thin, wet parchment, that stretched across a wooden frame awaits my first pen stroke. I look around my desk, select an oblique nib from a disorganised assortment, dip it into an inkwell that recalls my grandfather’s term papers, and hold my breath. If I press too hard the parchment will snap. If my stroke is too light it will be irreparably insignificant. If I hesitate the ink will spread, a brutal and unforgiving reminder of a moment of weakness.

I’m looking out of the passenger-side window of my car. The door is as described and she is inside. I stare at it, expecting it to offer a solution to my quandary. The letterbox opens and shuts, silently mouthing “Leave while you can.” I’m rooted to the seat, appreciating the comfort of being cosseted within a familiar cockpit. And yet the promise of untold pleasure and forbidden bliss snakes out of the gaping mouth of the surprised letterbox with the assuage that only years of experience can yield, filling my cocoon with tiny, tempting voices.

The sand parts. A shapeless mass emerges and pours into an invisible mould, taking the shape of my thoughts.

The pen breaks through the parchment, revealing another year gone by.

I’m still in the car.



I just hate it when that happens

As usual I am too late. Procrastination has once more gotten the better of me, landing me in a position where I know that, although I may have a good thing going, I am much too late to be in the game. Or quest, since that is what I am late for this time.

I have all kinds of very good reasons for being late. Server wonkiness is one, but that seems to have been worn thin already, and not even by me. A busy life is another (I do have a life, even if my level of devotion to this site seems to prove the opposite).

I have been searching for the hate and the anger I know must lurk down there somewhere at the bottom of my slightly grubby soul. But every time I seem to have found some it turns out to be mere irritation, annoyance, or resentment. No real hate.

The closest I have ever been to hate someone is the one time a (former) friend on mine sued me to get out of a deal I had already promised her I'd get her out of. But I don't really hate her, I think. The feeling I experience is a cold determination to never, ever be in the same room as she is. Ever. But I don't think it's hate.

The feeling - the emotion - that we call "hate" must be frightening to experience. Consuming and destructive. Burning hot behind the eyes. I have felt the red hot sensation of sheer mad anger, but I don't think it was hate. Maybe hate feels a bit like that. I don't know. If people hurt me deeply enough or often enough I stop forgiving them. I stop wanting to see them and be around them. Analyzing the emotion, though, it's not hate. Not as I see it.

I can see where this is going: as so often before when I begin thinking about stuff, it ends up being about definitions. Before I can determine whether or not I hate, I need to define the term. And, though I am interested in how other people define "hate", what it really boils down to is how I define it. And the way I define it... well, I don't really have it in me. So this writeup is pointless as well as late.

I just hate it when that happens.

So, this is my fourth writeup, and my first day log. This is not a special day, not an even a normal day in an interesting life, and I will not even be talking about anything that's happening in the so called "Real World". Instead, I will be talking about day logging my first day log.

Sound boring? Well, it probably will be. But not to me. I have no idea what makes a good day log. Some day logs are pages long, some are only a sentence or two. Some are about important life events, some are just random bits of mind-fluff. Some are like journals, some are like this - ramblings and meandering thoughts.

So far I think I'm doing okay with my noding. I've only done three (four, if you count the poem that died two minutes after it was posted), but I suspect that daylogs have a much higher Doom rate. I'm assuming that the actual death rate is lower, but a surprising number of users' lowest ranked writeups (i.e. Doomed writeups) are daylogs. Of course, it could just be that many daylogs tend to sit at 0 (+0/-0) forever. I'm kind of assuming that this will be my lowest ranked writeup, at least until my next daylog.

So, this is going to be a baseline. I have my narcissistic, experimental daylog. Next time I have my heart broken or am in a multi-car pileup or whatever, I'll do another daylog, and compare them.

I'm going to go fish the neighbor's ferret out of the birdbath again. I'll check back soon.

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