Mar 27, 2006

The 10 o'clock clock

This clock is too big, he thought when he hung it on the wall. He let it settle and center on the nail and stepped back. It looked like a statement, which wasn't what he was going for. It looked like a statement about the over bearance of time or the tyranny of history, which wasn't what he wanted. It took up the whole wall about the couch and it was the only thing he could see from the doorway, like the whole room was redirected so it was pointing out the time.

It hadn't looked that big in the store, because the store was big and well lit and even the whole aisle of clocks looked small beneath the opening of the box store ceiling. The aisle was arranged by size, with the upright grandfathers on one end and down to the paste-up car clocks on the other. First he'd looked at the maritime clocks, the ship captain's clock and the pirate's clock with the thumb screwed faces and the petered hands pointing to numbers spread out in Xs, Vs, and Is. He would have bought one of those, with their wood frames worm scarred and burn marked, but he couldn't afford it. So he moved past the grandfathers and the maritimes and down to this one, a mid-aisle clock. He just hadn't seen it was this big.

This one had a slight silver frame and a circle of dots dotting minutes and it had the hours in Arabic numerals. The face was white and the hands were black tapered arrows. He thought he could return it but maybe he'd get used to it, maybe it'd blend into the room with time.

He hadn't remembered to buy batteries, hadn't thought about batteries not being included. There weren't any batteries in the closet with the orange extension cord, or in the kitchen drawer with the garbage bags and twist ties, or on the desk with the stamps and the paper clips and staples. Finally he found some to steal in the remote controlling the DVD player, copper colored double As, and when he slipped them in the black box on the back, pulling back those springs and putting the plus to plus and the minus to minus, the clock began to tick.

He could only hear it when it was quiet, when the radio was off and the train wasn't whistling and the coffee wasn't gurgling. When it was quiet the clock went ticking. Tick, said the clock, tick tick tick. It ticked when he woke up at night and when he came home in the evenings and it wasn't threatening. That surprised him, because he'd always thought the noise that time made was threatening. It didn't sound though like something running out or marking off. It was calm and peaceful and slow, and he began to forgive the clock its size and to settle for the its dotted noises.

It went on like that for a week and then another and then four. And then one morning or maybe afternoon the hands stopped turning. Both of them were hanging down, limp like. The minute hand was trying. It would tick and lift from 30 to 31 and then it would fall down again. It was like that for an hour, the minute hand grunting in failed sit-ups and the hour hand just like it was dead. The battery was dead, he figured, or half dead, leaked down until it couldn't lift for another round. He reset it. He probably should have stopped right there and gone down to the gas station or something and bought new batteries, but he didn't. He just reset it on the right time.

The hands set off again, moving around. They were moving slow but moving. It took two days to go around again. At the bottom of the turn they paused to rest and took a break for half a day. Then they got up again and went up the other side when they stopped for good. The hour was 10 and the minute was 53, or that's what the hands said.

It was a long weekend, when they stopped, the first long weekend he'd had in a long time, and when he came in that's the time he thought it was: 10:53. H slept without the alarm that night and woke up to a Saturday-lawn mower and that's the time he thought it was then too: 10:53. It was 10:53 for a few days when he noticed. He made himself a mental note to buy new batteries, the third note he'd made and he forgot this one too. He forgot for a week and then another and then he started to call his house the 10 o'clock house with the 10 o'clock clock.

That was how he'd felt about it anyway. When he got to his place, with the lights half on and the radio playing unresolving jazz, it was like time had stopped worrying about itself, stopped taking itself so seriously. It got so he'd smile at the clock every 10 o'clock morning and relax every 10 o'clock night. He could leave the door open to the dusk letting in moths and dragonflies and sit on the steps and be comfortable there. And even though it wasn't true it felt like it was the first time he'd ever been comfortable.

Sometime after that, after he knew he wasn't going to buy batteries at all, his friends were over. He was sitting on the couch and someone was sitting on the other end and someone was sitting on the side table and another couple were sitting on the floor, and they were talking. They were laughing and talking about doing something, maybe seeing a movie, and someone saw the clock, noticed how the whole room was pointing out the time, and asked Is it really that early? So he had to explain, how he hadn't fixed it because it made the place feel, he felt, he said, under a special dispensation of time. They said was a good time, that time, never too early and never too late and they laughed about it about how good a clock it was, his big dead clock.

Mar 25, 2006

'Every day do something that won't compute'
and other excursions into neo-Ludditism

Nietzsche's typewriter, the first owned by a philosopher.

Thomas Pynchon's "Is it O.K. to be a Luddite?"
Jacques Ellul's "Man in the Technological System."
Mark Twain's typewriter.
Review of J.C. Hertz's "Hacker in the Rye."
Review of Friedrich Kittler's "Gramophone, Film, Typewriter."
Donna Haraway's cyborg-feminism.
Andrew Kimbrell's "Techno-topia."
Peter Kreeft on the non-political aesthetic.
Inventor of the first encyclopedic effort to index the internet dies.
An interview with a self-proclaimed Luddite.
Wendell Berry's "Mad Farmer Liberation Front."
"This is what's wrong with the world. Everything is explained now. We live in an age when you say casually to somebody 'What's the story on that?' and they can run to the computer and tell you within five seconds. That's fine, but sometimes I'd just as soon continue wondering. We have a deficit of wonder right now."
- Tom Waits

"Our writing tools are also working on our thoughts."
Friedrich Nietzsche
"We have made it our overriding ambition to escape work, and as a consequence have debased work until it is only fit to escape from. We have debased the products of work and have been, in turn, debased by them. Out of this contempt of work arose the idea of a nigger: at first some person, and later some thing, to be used to relieve us of the burden of work. If we began by making niggers of people, we have ended by making a nigger of the world."
- Wendell Berry
Neo-Luddite: One who raises the technology question, who wants to consider the effects of a technology before adopting it, who does not think that technology is necessarily amoral. One who wants to stay put and live in relationship to a place, who values work, "un-useful" beauty, economically unprofitable activities, and simplicity. One who worries about being explotative, structural violence, materialism, dehumanization, and social decay. Neo-Luddites are often critizied for being anti-technology, anti-progressive, nostalgic, idealisitic, and anti-future. Neo-Luddites are on neither the right nor the left of the polical spectrum.

Mar 22, 2006

Unless I see

I don't know why, but I didn't believe them. It wasn't that I thought they were lying or that there was some sort of conspiracy. It just seemed so fantastic. So mysterious and unfathomable.

I'd said Do raisins grow on trees or bushes? and they'd laughed and told me raisins came from grapes. I don't remember who it was that told me, if it was Dad or Mom or the neighbor kids down the hill. I checked with all of them though and everyone confirmed it and seemed amused, amused that I needed to know and that I didn't believe it. It just seemed so strange, that somehow those green- and red-skinned grapes could shrivel in the sun into this, into raisins. It didn't makes sense to me that the words on the raisin package saying sun kissed didn't mean kiss the way the sun kissed my face in the morning, didn't mean the evening sun falling through the pine trees, didn't mean sun as warmth or light or as a place to play, but meant something leaching and wrinkling and blackening.

I'd seen kittens and calves and lambs, being born. I'd seen tomatoes and pumpkins and squash and corn, ripening and changing colors. I'd seen the blowing seeds of trees and grasses. I'd seen fire eat and vultures eat and I understood how rain fell and evaporated and fell again. But none of that was like this. I understood cornbread and tomato sauce and grape juice, but I didn't see how a raisin could be a grape.

The next time I ate grapes I bit them in half. I bit them splitting them the short way and the long way. I peeled the skin off with my teeth. I looked at the split grapes and the skinned grapes and looked but couldn't see it. I smashed one, pushing down with my thumb until the skin popped and the flesh exploded into a grape mush spatter. Every grape I ate, I'd look at it first. As if with this one I'd see something I'm missed every time before, but there wasn't any way to see it. There wasn't any sign. The grape kept a secret and everyone knew it, and even though I now knew the secret too, I couldn't see it.

The grape to me became an artifact of mystery. I dedicated some section of my mind to thinking about grapes, and how it was they became raisins. I worked around it and around it and around trying to figure out what it meant, what it was, how it worked. Of all the mysteries of life, this was the one that seized my 4-year-old mind, that seemed to me like a key, like it was important to figure out.

I finally took one, in a test, and left it outside in the sun. I set it on the edge of my pebble box in the morning on a Saturday. It was a sunny day in the summer and I thought I'd watch it - catch it in the change, witness the alteration, the transfiguring metamorphosis of grape becoming raisin.

I was still there when Dad called me. Danny, he yelled from the porch before he saw me by the tree by the box. I could have been out back in the woods, or down the hill at the neighbors, or over by the pasture looking at slobber-nosed sheep through the fence. But I was by the pebble box, sitting there on the ground Indian style looking at a grape. He said to come in and get my shoes because we were going to town. I couldn't go, I said. He didn't laugh, but raised his eyebrows. When my dad raises his eyebrows it scares people. Why? he said and the look on his face was that he asked just to know what strange idea was so important to me that I'd thought to say no, I couldn't go. I didn't want to tell him about the test. I wanted to wait and show him the raisin that had happened while I watched and tell him about watching it. He looked at me. I looked at his feet. Well, I said, I want to see a grape turn into a raisin.

We didn't get back until it was dark and I didn't go out to see what had happened until the next morning. At first it wasn't there. I thought maybe a bird had taken it, or someone had walked by and decided to eat it, or that it had blackened and shriveled to nothing. Then I found it, rolled off the box and laying in the dirt at the roots of the grass. It was still a grape, green and gone soft with brown bruise spots. I looked at it, held it up and looked at it and couldn't see it. There was nothing, no change, no turn, no transformation. I knew it could be a raisin, I just didn't know how or how to look. I didn't know if I wasn't old enough or smart enough or wasn't looking in some secret way. I just knew I was blind to it, that I didn't have the power to see what was there to see.

So I ate it. It was a little sour and my face puckered, but I ate it. Then I forgot about it, accepted it and let all the worry go, and I went back inside to get ready for church.

Mar 21, 2006

Carried faith


Jesus in Time Magazine.
The picture of megachurch, 1, 2,
Megachurch design.
Anglican Diaconate ordination.
Holy Ghost people.
American Muslim Iman.
Evolution of credulity.

Mar 20, 2006

The utopians and the road to the tree

They had heard of it, the tree. People had told them. They would tell people they were going up into the mountains. They'd tell people that they were going to start a utopian community, to start the beginnings of a new world up in the mountains where this tract of land was laid out in a triangle between three rivers. They'd tell people about the book that they'd read, and the idea that they'd heard, and how now they were going.

The people would pause, with nothing to say, and then they'd say about the tree, a big tree.

They'd heard about the tree as a rumor left behind, an inconsequential fact, a point of trivia. When the people mentioned the tree they'd think the people didn't get it, didn't see the vision, didn't hear the voice calling them up into the wilderness. The people would say big tree and it would remind them again of the way they felt displaced from this world, how everything was so wrong but that here was the hope of something better. They would shake their heads about the tree, and about how people always brought it up, and they would long to be already gone up to the mountain, to have already begun.

They built a few homes, first, and a common place to eat and a post office, and then they set to work on the road. The road led farther up the mountain and they worked up the mountain cutting trees and hauling them back down again to be sawn into logs. They worked long days, together cutting and hauling and sweating for the idea of utopia. The cleared brush and talked about someday having a railway and everyday they pushed farther. The wrote promotional literature and read that book again and talked about what they were doing. They talked about what they were doing and why they were there and how they were different and always they'd talk about the future. The world was full of hope, those days, those early days. By the time the road was finished there were 300 of them. Three hundred socialist utopians who'd put in a little money and put in days and days of work and put their hope up there on the mountain. They talked with joy about what they'd left behind and about escaping all that was below and every morning the woke up and went again to the road.

The road was 18 miles long and they thought about that road as the symbol of everything that they were. They saw themselves as changing the face of the world, starting with this hand hewn road rising 4,000 feet closer to the sky. For four years they worked on that road and then at the end of the road they found the tree. They hadn't know they were looking for it until then.

When the came to that tree they stopped. They stopped working and the forest fell silent and they stared. It was the biggest tree in that forest full of the biggest trees in the world and they stopped at the top of their road and looked at that tree. It seemed to them, and later it proved to be true, that that tree was the biggest tree in the world. The next day they all went to see it again, walking their way up the road just to look. They all stood there, 300 utopian dreamers on the side of a mountain with their necks craned back staring up at the age of that thing towering into the sky, staring until their eyes went blind in the sun and longer and until the sun went by and began to set down over the valley.

The day after that they began to talk about it. They said to themselves how big it was and how it wasn't just a rumor and what were they going to name it. After talking all that day all the way up the mountain and down again, and talking over the evening meal and through the night and over their meal the next morning, they came up with a name. It seemed so important, the name they would name it. It seemed historic and like this would name what they were doing up here, like this would be the password separating the past from the future, like this would be the name of the thing calling from utopia, from the wilderness. They talked about it and then as suddenly as they had begun they knew. It was right, as if it had always been as they called it now and they called it by the name of that book that they'd read that had started all this. It was, they said, The Karl Marx tree.

The next year the government came. The government claimed that land, took the land and the road and the tree. Preservation, the government said, and they made the mountain into an official forest and into a park and they gave the tree another name. The saw the tree and claimed the tree and named it, taking it away from the utopian people and naming it after a general from one of the wars. The utopians fought for a while and yelled for a while. For a couple of years they pleaded and argued and made their case and then they despaired. Without the tree they didn't see the point anymore. They went away. The forest grew back and the buildings fell down and the place went silent. The triangle of land between three rivers that was supposed to be the beginning of a new world was wilderness again.

If you go there today the only thing left of those utopians is the post office. And if you want to see the tree, where once 300 dreamers stared into the sky above a mountain, you'll have to go up another way.

Mar 13, 2006

Bus #2487

On the good bus, it takes three days. This is the other one. This is the bus you take when you miss the good bus in Chicago and you spend eight hours in the Chicago station watching middle-of-the-night TV with an Amish kid and a Puerto Rican mother until when the sun comes up you take it even though you know it's not the bus you're supposed to take. This is the bus you take because you've just got to move, just got to.

This is the bus that spends a whole day in Iowa going in circles. Iowa's a little state on the map. it's a little tiny state but this driver gives you the grand tour, the scenic route. Through every little damn town and around every lake and stopping at every single gas station. This is the bus where half of you are going to Portland-Seattle, the long way, and half to Reno-Vegas, so it's half full of people going home for Christmas and half full of gamblers that are either cheap or broke.

So this is the bus I'm on, and we stop in the middle of the dark in the middle of Nebraska with the flashers lighting up the cornfields. Somebody says, The bathroom door's broke. And somebody's stuck inside. The driver pulls over and turns on the inside lights and comes walking back down the aisle. Everyone that was sleeping or trying to sleep wakes up and sits up and we all of us are watching him walking down the aisle and back to the back. He bangs on the bathroom door and says, Hey. All of us are turned around to look and the guy inside the bathroom say something and up and down the bus people go he said it was broke and he's stuck. The driver tries to argue with him, like to convince him he was imagining it. The guy inside gets offended. Starts yelling at the driver that it isn't his fault that the bus has trapped him in there and he's is just going off. He's berserk. The driver starts to call him sir and tries to calm him down but the guy keeps yelling. Then he offends the bus driver and the driver starts to yell back.

The driver says, sir, if you get belligerent with me I will throw you off this bus, and the guy inside goes go ahead. We all laugh. People up the bus repeat that. Go ahead, they say, throw his ass off.

The driver decides what he is gonna do is break down the door. He's a big guy, over six feet and like he once played football. He tries to ram the door down with his shoulder but it doesn't move. He even backs up down the aisle and runs into it as hard as he can. You can hear the lock and the hinges rattle and people in the back are saying they can see the door bend, but nothing. It doesn't come down. People are saying, that has got to be the best defended bathroom ever.

So the bus driver goes back to his seat and just sits there. Semi trucks are going by and the bus is shaking and the whole night's dark, this place is totally lightless except this bus lighting up the middle of nowhere. After 20 minutes or something the driver gets on the speaker system and says, don't worry they're sending a mechanic from Cheyenne.

And what? we say, we're just going to wait?

The driver just sits there like he's refusing to be heckled. The bus, as a whole group startes arguing and complaining and yelling. The whole bus is pissed off and going belligerent. People are trying to argue with him and they're calling him names, and I mean we're ready to ritually murder somebody. We'll do anything to get out of here.

Then a phone rings. Guy goes, yeah, and everybody stops silent so he can talk. He goes, You will never believe where I am. I am in a bus, in Nebraska, on the side of the road, because a guy is locked in the bathroom. No I'm not making this up. And when he said that we all realized how funny it was.

This is the most ridiculous situation you can imagine and the whole bus starts laughing. Guy on the phone goes, well too bad for us. Guy in the bathroom's gonna be fine. He's gotta go to the bathroom he's, he's already in there. What about us? And we're not just giggling, but howling and shaking, which makes the whole thing even funnier because people are driving by and here's this lit up and apparently broken down bus full of people laughing so hard they're starting to cry.

Finally the driver says, does anyone happen to have any tools? and there's this guy that has a whole tool-box worth of tools. I don't know where he had them but it was like they were all inside his trench coat, like a pickpocket's pocket watches. I don't know, but he had them and he and the driver talked about it and then the driver goes back to driving.

It was crazy. Driver doesn't say anything, just says like next stop Cheyenne and we're driving along road like it's normal but there's a load of manically laughing people, and in the back there's this guy who carries wrenches in his coat and he's on his knees unbolting the side of the bathroom.

Mar 12, 2006

John Profumo, who's affair with a showgirl created a scandal of sex and espionage in conservative Cold War Britian that was called the Scandal of the Century, who's humiliation brought down the conservative government and ended his promising political career, who spent nearly 40 years working for the poor on the East End of London, and who was called a model of British dignity and honor, died March 7 from a stroke at the age of 91.

May he rest in peace.

Mar 10, 2006

Things I'd like to know more about

Tabboo deformations, esp. divine.
Architecture, esp. religious.
Latin American history, esp. Cortes.
Physics, esp. quantum.

Mar 9, 2006

The meaning in the moon

The moon, he said, is made out of green cheese.


The moon is made out of green cheese.

He said it like it was a piece of a nursery rhyme, in the built-in lilt of a grown up recitation of childishness. I asked him if somehow the cheese-moon was connected with the man-in-the-moon, but he looked at me like I was crazy.

What? he said, which confused me.

When I see the moon and I say that sentence in that lilt, I always feel like I'm missing the next line or have forgotten the rhyming word. Surely that wasn't a complete thought. If it rhymed with something like please or sneeze or tweeze then I could see where the idea came from. Or if the man in the moon was made out of cheese, an idea which seems more reasonable to me than the giant floating benevolent rock face, that would make some sense too. But as it stands, the whole idea of the moon seems to be missing something.

A couple of years after I read Aesop and Grimm and Mother Goose, none of whom mention green cheese moons, I read a science book that said that Darwin's kid had had the idea that the moon came from the Pacific Ocean. He thought that gravity had for some reason reached down and grabbed this hunk of earth pulling and pulling and stretching until it rose up like a mountain and then until Earth was shaped like a dumbbell. They had a drawing: the sun was round and the planets going around were round except Earth, which had this ocean-sized moon-growth growing out of its side. Darwin's kid thought gravity had stretched this chunk out so far that it broke off into the moon and left a giant hole that later was filled up with the ocean. I'd never thought to ask where the moon came from but I'd seen that ocean. I liked the idea of Earth in a weeble wobbling orbit with the moon trying to break out of the side, but the book politly implied that Darwin's kid was crazy and had just made it up to impress his dad. The book said Darwin's kid had it wrong. But that was really the only idea of the moon that ever excited me.

moonPeople see all sorts of things when they see the moon. They see a man, and green cheese, and a rabbit, and a giant step. They see some godesses and their lovers faces, sometimes, and sometimes they see Nevada. When I hear of all the things they say they see I wonder if I've ever seen the moon. Maybe I missed it. When I think of the moon in metaphors I don't refer to love or mothers or madness or monsters. If pressed I might say apocalypse. When I think about the moon I think about a couple of golf balls lost in pock mark craters. It like I've never seen the moon at night. As if I've only seen it against a daylit sky looking like an erased spot.

Mar 7, 2006

The disease of pilgrims

They came because they were afraid or unafraid, because they were happy or unhappy, because they felt like Pilgrims or did not feel like Pilgrims. There was a reason for each man. They were leaving bad wives or bad jobs or bad towns; they were coming to find something or leave something or get something, to dig up something or bury something or leave something alone. But a government finger pointed from four-color posters in many towns: THERE'S WORK FOR YOU IN THE SKY: SEE MARS! and the men shuffled forward, only a few at first, a double-score, for most men felt the great illness in them even before the rocket fired into space. And this disease was called The Lonliness.
              - Ray Bradbury, The Martian Chronicles.

Mar 3, 2006

Words and space 1 and 2

He pushed the pushpin in. Through the paper, then the paint, and then the sheetrock, poking a pin hole holding the sheet to the wall. He looked at it and the words were there: on the paper on the wall, three paragraphs of indented words singly spaced. He put three pages up, at first, next to each other at eye level. Then he wrote another page and pinned it up too.

He wanted to look at them, he thought. Wanted to give them space and see them there when he walked by and he would stop and read them, editing commas in and out. He had a packet of pins, white heads, and the white went on white on white, all of it blending into white and words. He had 15 pages on the wall, up in three rows of five, when he took down the painting and photographs and the map. At the end of every page he'd stop and scan and print it and post it until the room was papered with pages covered with words. He pushed the furniture in off the wall and the pages went up sideways and up and down until he covered the wall and moved to the next wall and covered the room.

Words, he thought, are the only thing I've ever really been good at.

It'd all started to crowd. This crowd, this scene, this praise turned to a party lasting through the year. He didn't want to blame them though, because he knew it was his fault, that this is what he'd said he wanted. This crowd was why he'd come.

He'd started writing in the country, at home in what he called a garret but was basically just an upstairs bedroom. Come out, they'd said, they'd called him. But he couldn't really blame them because he'd been thinking all along that that's what he wanted to do. But now with the readings and the meetings and the lunches and the parties, all the words had been crowded out by noise. When he closed his eyes he could hear the television, he could hear the radio and the laugh track and applause and traffic, but he couldn't hear his story. So he left.

He left on a Tuesday. He left with a bag and the computer, without saying he was going or making arrangements for the paper delivery or the mail or the cat. He drove all day until he was tired and then he pulled into a Motel 6 and slept. When he woke up he wrote Do not disturb on the door and he sat and wrote. He ordered in pizza and chinese and he wrote for three days, until the delivery guys said hello again and then he settled his bill and left. Driving all day again until he was tired and then he stopped in Motel 6 like the last one and did it again. He made it through four states that way, and part way through the fifth. He made it through 100 pages and part way through the next hundred. And then it felt okay.

Original scenes from some poem I don't remember, Ira Glass' interview with David Sedaris in Paris, and Wouk's Youngblood Hawk.
Right wing fights and fractures links

Fukuyama (1,2.) vs. Hitchens on the success and the point of neoconservatism.

Dreher vs. Goldberg on the possibility of a non politically-centric conservatism and the reemergence of a Kirkianism against neoconservatism.

My best definition of neoconservatism: A nationalistic hard Wilsonianism combined with big government captialism.
Note: Going, I think, to South Bend this weekend to a) celebrate Jon Metzger's brithday, b) see Adam Prizio and c) get out of town.