Sunday, July 31, 2011

to be both in the world and of it

I haven't felt terribly well lately, thinking it was connected somehow to vague feelings of depression I've had about both the state of my employment and the state of society. (why does it seem as if when we are ourselves not doing well we apprehend that much of our neighbors are not doing well either?) it gathered force today like a snowball on a hill and hit me with the force of hot, uncomfortable nausea. my wife is feeling it too--she ascribes it to week-old cheesecake we ate for breakfast--and we have spent the day alternating between lying on the bed and on the couches.

in the throes of such a thing, the only thing really to do is read, and I've been doing that. just in the past 12 hours I've read from intellectual skywriting: literary politics and the nyrb by philip nobile, cosmopolitan crimes: foreign rivals of sherlock holmes collected by hugh greene, god is not 1: the 8 rival religions that run the world--and why their differences matter by stephen prothero, a lengthy review of economic books by anatole kaletsky, glenn hubbard and peter navarro, and robert reich by jeff madrick in the nyrb called "how can the economy recover?", and dozens of pages online (including a new facebook page just started called "your [sic] probably from hudson, ny if...").

but the reading that's got me writing now is from roger shattuck's forbidden knowledge: from prometheus to pornography.

"up through the middle ages, christian theology incorporated and imposed on the faithful a dark suspicion of secular nature. our proper devotion should be to the divine order of grace. st paul and st augustine warn us continually to distrust the original curiosity of adam and eve in a satan-haunted world...well into the 17th century, secular knowledge and natural philosophy represented 'a distraction or seducement' from true spiritual living. 'to study nature meant to repeat the sin of adam.' nevertheless, like a slow-moving glacier, christian theology trundled along within it some unassimilable boulders. in 1336, petrarch, celebrated for his love poetry in italian, climbed mount ventoux in provence just 'to see what so great an elevation had to offer.' he said he almost lost his soul at the summit 'admiring earthly things,' like the view. years later, he wrote an astonishing letter to record the pleasures of that excursion into nature. petrarch came to value the secular world as highly as dante valued the spiritual."

I remember learning in 1 of my earliest american lit courses the puritan appreciation for their being in the world but not of it, of being alive as humans but at the same time remembering that they were destined for a more transcendental existence. (there is a wide streak of this all through unitarianism from the transcendentalists and the utopians, a streak that modern uus have more or less tried to ignore but really should come up with an alternative to instead.) this struck me then as an interesting but failed policy to live by: one can prove one's present existence but can only take on faith any existence beyond that. to hold off enjoyment and appreciation of the now in favor of some potential good that we have no proof we can ever acheive doesn't seem like an efficient way to spend our time.

I remember too a lovely buddhist story someone told me about an early karmapa. this fellow was walking along a path and came across a tiger who gave chase. the karmapa ran until he reached a cliff and crawled out along the limb of a tree that gave way and dropped him flat against the cliff for a minute. below him, the karmapa could see a lion at the bottom of the cliff. as the tree limb gave way he noticed a wild strawberry plant growing in the cleft of the cliff just at the level he was at with a single perfect berry. he plucked it and put it in his mouth, exclaiming, "how delicious!" as the limb gave way and he dropped.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

e.m. forster was correct

I spent last friday afternoon at the library at uw-river falls, reading newspapers and doing crosswords--I love to think of someone reading the nytimes or the chronicle of higher education and coming across a puzzle I've penned out and marveling that someone takes the time in these days to do crosswords in public papers, and without benefit of google--and while there I flipped idly through a graphic novel I'd heard of called daytripper, an interesting take on possibilities in an individual's life. I came across a bit of dialogue something like this: 1 character is speaking to another via longdistance call, "well, I have the money and the great job and the girls but I feel like I'm not really having an effect on anyone, like I'm not really enhancing anyone's life." (my approximation) and I didn't have anything like an epiphany, cuz I've known this for quite some time, but it left me reflecting on how my life, especially the past couple decades, has led me to recognize that while I don't have any of the external things (although I did have the great job until recently--que sera sera) I have had tremendous impact on other people. students have not been shy about the impact I've made on their lives, and I was surprised recently when someone reappeared in my life after nearly 30 years and the 1st thing she relayed was how appreciative she'd always been for a kindness I'd genuinely forgotten about. e.m. forster, it seems, was correct: what we need do is "only connect."

Monday, July 25, 2011

alternatives to church

as part of my seminary training, I interned at 2 uu congregations in the south metro area from september to june, and so spent every weekend at church. since that ended I've been at only a couple services at different denominations, mostly to experience different forms of worship, but this was the 1st sunday I'd intended to go to church but opted not to at the 11th hour.
the occasion was a visit from a friend of ours who lives now in atlanta and who we see only rarely. he had come north with his partner to attend a cousin's wedding and to visit my wife's father, who is in hospice care at home and who is dying. yes, we are all dying, but he is doing it a little faster than most.
it was a good day. people trooped in and out of my father-in-law's room and he even managed to get outside to visit the female couple next door who'd just come home. another friend we rarely see anylonger but who recently returned to the area also came over and it was a lovely opportunity for my wife and the others to relive, in some small fashion, their teen years when all three spent most days together. now with adulthood pressing in, with jobs and bills and mortgages--not oddly, none of them has had children--and death of course looming large, there was a different sense to it than I suspect there was 30 years ago.
there was a wistfulness to the conversations, a sense that there were so many things to talk about but so many things not to bring up simply because to do so was to start a conversation that couldn't be finished in the few hours they had. when we stood outside and said goodbye, each of them said, "I wish we could live together," in 1 way or another. I've heard other people say that too, usually friends who're in the process of finding new places and new ways to live.
watching them was a good way to spend a sabbath. their time together was holy.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

the shrinking wateringhole

I know it isn't original to her, but I was reminded today of something I heard a teacher I know say at a union meeting last year: "as the waterhole gets smaller, the animals get meaner." this comes through more and more clearly as the political landscape, never a place for those with faint hearts or weak stomachs, becomes more a spot where the nastier aspects of our human nature get acted on. when did we return to a culture in which cost benefits overrode basic human benefits? there was an important shift during the great depression when it seemed to dawn on people, ironically at the prodding of a member of the moneyed class who never went for want himself, that it was time to act out the good things we had said for a century and a half that we believed about ourselves: that we were interested in the health and welfare of the other guy and were willing to take less for ourselves or even do without so he and his could get some too. this wasn't some pieinthesky phony altruism, it was a recognition that what was good for the community, and by extension good for america, was good for us. I suspect a lot of us still feel that way but we're afraid to say it out loud and even more afraid of acting on it because we'll look weak and may be the next to fail. the thing we hide from ourselves is that we will fail, it's nearly inevitable that each of us will at some point be in need and it is in our best interests and those of the people dearest to us that we stop imagining that we can't afford government social benefits. the response to "we can't afford it" must be "yes, we can." those are, in fact, the things we can't afford to be without.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

teach naked

"When I started graduate school in 1989, we were told that the disastrous job market of the previous two decades would be coming to an end because the large cohort of people who had started their careers in the 1960s, when the postwar boom and the baby boom combined to more than double college enrollments, was going to start retiring. Well, it did, but things kept getting worse. Instead of replacing retirees with new tenure-eligible hires, departments gradually shifted the teaching load to part-timers: adjuncts, postdocs, graduate students. From 1991 to 2003, the number of full-time faculty members increased by 18 percent. The number of part-timers increased by 87 percent—to almost half the entire faculty.

"But...the move to part-time labor is already an old story. Less visible but equally important has been the advent and rapid expansion of full-time positions that are not tenure-eligible. No one talks about this transformation—the creation of yet another academic underclass—and yet as far back as 1993, such positions already constituted the majority of new appointees. As of 2003, more than a third of full-time faculty were working off the tenure track. By the same year, tenure-track professors—the 'normal' kind of academic appointment—represented no more than 35 percent of the American faculty.

"The reasons for these trends can be expressed in a single word, or buzzword: efficiency. Contingent academic labor, as non-tenure-track faculty, part-time and full-time, are formally known, is cheaper to hire and easier to fire. It saves departments money and gives them greater flexibility in staffing courses. Over the past twenty years, in other words—or really, over the past forty—what has happened in academia is what has happened throughout the American economy. Good, secure, well-paid positions—tenured appointments in the academy, union jobs on the factory floor—are being replaced by temporary, low-wage employment...

"Well, but so what? A bunch of spoiled kids are having trouble finding jobs—so is everybody else. Here’s so what. First of all, they’re not spoiled. They’re doing exactly what we always complain our brightest students don’t do: eschewing the easy bucks of Wall Street, consulting or corporate law to pursue their ideals and be of service to society. Academia may once have been a cushy gig, but now we’re talking about highly talented young people who are willing to spend their 20s living on subsistence wages when they could be getting rich (and their friends are getting rich), simply because they believe in knowledge, ideas, inquiry; in teaching, in following their passion. To leave more than half of them holding the bag at the end of it all, over 30 and having to scrounge for a new career, is a human tragedy.

"Sure, lots of people have it worse. But here’s another reason to care: it’s also a social tragedy, and not just because it represents a colossal waste of human capital. If we don’t make things better for the people entering academia, no one’s going to want to do it anymore. And then it won’t just be the students who are suffering. Scholarship will suffer, which means the whole country will. Knowledge, as we’re constantly told, is a nation’s most important resource, and the great majority of knowledge is created in the academy—now more than ever, in fact, since industry is increasingly outsourcing research to universities where, precisely because graduate students cost less than someone who gets a real salary, it can be conducted on the cheap...

"It isn’t just the sciences that matter; it is also the social sciences and the humanities. And it isn’t just the latter that are suffering. Basic physics in this country is all but dead. From 1971 to 2001, the number of bachelor’s degrees awarded in English declined by 20 percent, but the number awarded in math and statistics declined by 55 percent....On the work that is done in the academy depends the strength of our economy, our public policy and our culture. We need our best young minds going into atmospheric research and international affairs and religious studies, chemistry and ethnography and art history. By pursuing their individual interests, narrowly understood, departments are betraying both the values they are pledged to uphold—the pursuit of knowledge, the spirit of critical inquiry, the extension of the humanistic tradition—and the nation they exist to serve.

"We’ve been here before. Pay was so low in the nineteenth century, when academia was still a gentleman’s profession, that in 1902 Andrew Carnegie created the pension plan that would evolve into TIAA-CREF, the massive retirement fund. After World War II, when higher education was seen as an urgent national priority, a consensus emerged that salaries were too small to attract good people. Compensation soared through the 1950s and ’60s, then hit the skids around 1970 and didn’t recover for almost thirty years. It’s no surprise that the percentage of college freshmen expressing an interest in academia was more than three times higher in 1966 than it was in 2004.

"But the answer now is not to raise professors’ salaries. Professors already make enough. The answer is to hire more professors: real ones, not academic lettuce-pickers."

--from "faulty towers" by william deresiewicz in the may 23, 2011, issue of the nation (my emphasis added)

an excellent article that I could have written, since all the information, sans the supporting evidence, was known to me by personal experience (and that he entered graduate school the same year I did, and heard exactly the same spiel I heard, both excites me because it proves I am not crazy and my experience is like almost everyone else's, and depresses me because I am not crazy and my experience is like almost everyone else's). I suspect almost anyone who's looked hard the past decades for a college teaching position without the magical phd (or abd, which according to deresiewicz is preferable as they are "people who have [already] entered the long limbo of low-wage research and teaching that chews up four, five, six years of a young scholar's life" and will accept less pay with the lure, which is increasingly disappearing, of a steady lifetime gig, one that often never materializes) could have written much of this. it's a depressing sight, postsecondary education in the 21st century, and less and less alluring. in the course of the article he covers a dozen books, some of which I'm going to have to read.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

unions make us strong

"Workers can't pay rent, pay the mortgage, get a credit card, find a job, buy clothes or schoolbooks for their kids or retire. They face increased divorce rates as family tensions rise, and they have lost their sense of dignity. They don't care about labor law reform, and they don't care about unions (at least in their current form). They are in despair, and unanswered despair quickly becomes either fertilizer for the fearmongers or the reason to not bother showing up at the polls.,,

"Rather than posting links to the websites of housing groups, how about starting direct worker-to-worker conversations about occupying mortgage company headquarters across the country until the banks stop foreclosing on their members' homes? Rather than suddenly calling for members to picket banks or take seemingly random militant actions, how about sitting down with union members and talking about what actions everyone can take to force solutions to the housing crisis—solutions such as making banks revalue mortgages to the actual value of homes and creating lines of credit so workers can move to places where they might find a job?

"Unions need to start connecting with workers face-to-face through house parties and worksite and home visits to ask what's keeping them up at night. Then unions should plan direct actions with workers that respond to the issues facing them. How about taking over the offices of big credit-rating agencies and occupying them 24/7 by the thousands until they agree to erase all the bad credit heaped on anyone who has made a late mortgage payment because they lost their job or their hours were cut back? The housing crisis ties directly to the wage crisis, which ties directly to the jobs crisis. People in this country are screaming for a fight, but the only people offering one have been from the right wing. All these issues have been staring labor in the face for several years. Why hasn't any union turned the crisis facing workers into a crisis for capital and the political elite?"

--from "making unions matter again" by jane mcalevey in the december 20, 2010 issue of the nation

why not? excellent question and I think I have a part of the answer. I've asked students, who you would think would be most interested in making tomorrow better and making a revolution in the workplace that could do nothing but benefit them, variations on this question for years. and the answer has come back every time: things are too good. things at work might be bad, they may be making less money than their parents--indeed, they may be the 1st generation since wwii to do poorer than previous generations--but so long as their life outside work remains relatively attainable (television, games, alcohol, gas, entertainment) to the majority of them, they will do nothing to upset the applecart. in fact, many of them have an outright disdain of unions, especially government unions, for being able to wring concessions in the past that they themselves are unable to get. (as I explain to them, for not having joined a union; their response to that is usually that they don't want to pay dues or be beholden to some shop rep, thereby ensuring things will never improve at their worksite.) most haven't a clue about the employment laws already guarenteed them--10 minute breaks and separate lunch spaces and automatic overtime and not needing to find their own sickday replacements--and their employers certainly aren't about to make them aware of them.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

in what family are members sold off like cattle?

I recognize the lateness in commenting on this, given that bob vander plaats has reportedly removed the offensive passage from his family leader "marriage vow." the offender was the following:

'Slavery had a disastrous impact on African-American families, yet sadly a child born into slavery in 1860 was more likely to be raised by his mother and father in a two-parent household than was an African-American baby born after the election of the USA's first African-American president...'

however, since all the brouhaha caused by michelle bachmann and rick santorum signing the pledge in its original form, I've come across this passage in a review of mightier than the sword: "uncle tom's cabin" and the battle for america by david reynolds that answers it nicely:

"[harriet beecher] stowe took pains not to demonize all southerners, or beatify all northerners. in her view, no one was corrupt by nature; the system of slavery spoiled everything and everyone it touched. but her story was effective because it directly assaulted southern pretensions. pro-slavery southerners had been propagating a narrative of their own: slavery was a benevolent institution in which mentally inferior slaves were watched over by owners who treated them as part of their family...stowe's novel exploded this myth of the south as a land of paternalistic slaveholders. her description of tom's sale down the river to the deep south was an expression of slavery's core reality. the historian steven deyle has estimated that more than a million slaves were shipped from the upper south or the lower south between 1790 and 1860...without this domestic trade, the institution of slavery would have collapsed. more slaves were sold south than arrived on the north american continent via the infamous middle passage. they did not suffer the horrors of a transatlantic ocean voyage packed tight in a ship. but they did suffer the anguish of lost mothers, fathers, children, siblings, husbands, and wives. in what 'family,' stowe's book asked, were members treated this way, sold off like cattle by their supposed 'kin'?"

--from "the persuader: what harriet beecher stowe wrought" by annette gordon-reed in the june 13 & 20 issue of the new yorker

it does not take an advanced degree in semiotics to recognize that family leader's wording in its vow owes a considerable amount to the continued existence of a pro-slavery narrative.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

we must make our garden grow

it's primary day here on the rim. it was scheduled earlier this spring as a recall election for 6 republican senators who voted with governor scott walker and his brouhaha against unions and workers this winter, but the republicans, recognizing the bad taste they've left in people's mouths would likely result in landslide democratic victories, placed trojan candidates--officially they're called "protest candidates"--in each of the races, forcing the races into primaries rather than elections, thereby giving them a 5 month opportunity to help people forget what they've been upset about. it's obvious that it's not something they're really behind--here on the rim I haven't seen a single sign mentioning isaac weix (I even had to look up his name) but many with the name sheila harsdorf, the republican senator up for recall--and if I were 1 of their sacrificial lambs I'd be plenty angry about that.

but it's legal and while it may not be right, politics isn't about "right." short term results show all the protest candidates going down in flames (although as I write this polls have only been closed for an hour so results may vary), but their careers weren't really the point anyway. I drove over to town hall to vote for shelly moore, the "real" democratic candidate as she's been touted, and came home to drink beer and appreciate my backyard.

I've just returned from about a month's vacation and spent the morning and afternoon working on the gardens and lawn. I weeded 2 of the gardens yesterday and the largest 1 this morning, then mowed about a third of the lawns. it was an allday project. the above photo shows the largest garden after weeding (with another garden just visible in the rear). we used to have 6 gardens, including vegetables, but I am naturally lazy and the others dropped away 1 by 1 until only these 3 flower and shrub gardens are left.

I did a pretty diligent job of weeding before leaving and it still took me from 9:30 until 12:30 to make this 3rd garden presentable. it's true of course that weeds are just plants we don't want in our gardens, but it's also true that, as candide puts it, we must cultivate our garden. (this is not, as it was taught to me in the 80s, a panegyric to solipsism, to focusing on the self to the exclusion of others, but a stress on improving things, on bettering life. this is how I taught that lovely little final line in candide for several years until I realized, to my bitterness, that no matter what I did no one was reading candide and I let it go the way of all things.)

now, imagine what it would have looked like if someone during my time away had been actively destroying my garden while I was away under pretense that he was improving it--sowing grass and nettles and boxelder saplings. it would take, naturally, much longer than the 3 hours I toiled at it. yet, to expand this metaphor into politics, this is what barack obama has to deal with: 8 years of willful destruction of the economy and government services by the bush administration. I am not sympathetic to critics lambasting him for not having turned the economy around yet or returning employment and wages to their upright positions of the late clinton years. it will take more than the 2 years he has had, and may frankly take longer than 2 terms, particularly with a republican opposition whose every position is reducible to a single phrase.
it is too grandiose to imagine obama as the contemporary political equivalent of candide but I think I could be forgiven for presenting him as the weeder-in-chief, and it is this activity we have to give support and patience.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

johnny thunder died for your sins!

I wonder sometimes if the true descriptor for humanity might be homo nostalgia, "nostalgic man." all it seems to take, at least for me, is a substantial downpour to lead me to the window to stare outside and think about the way things were. well, that and some ian hunter. it's not a bad thing and I don't think the nostalgia is necessarily a wish for things to return to the way they were. it's more as if we look out on the world as it is and the rain wipes it away, giving us a chance for the moment to reimagine it configured the way it once was, for both good and bad. there's a sense too of accomplishment, of pride in having lived so long and so interestingly that there is room for reflection. our nostalgia has a sharp edge to it, becomes a scalpel with which to slice open the past and extract--something. lessons? regrets? appreciation? yes. this is why we continue to celebrate bloomsday and why ulysses remains in print and on our shelves. yes.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

words surrounded by rumbling diesels

I've been a lot of places and seen a lot of things in my times and travels, but 1 thing I can say I've never seen before: a bookstore located at a truck stop. and I mean a book store. not a news shop. not a portion of a store given over to books. I mean a store devoted entirely to books, and set in a small truck plaza between the travel centers of america and its affiliated motel (along with a barber shop).
well, okay, maybe it offers a little more than books ("now offering baked goods!" reads the signjust offcamera, and the line across the photo is the tail of a balloon that reads "open!"). but the focus is on books, hundreds of thousands of paperback (and a few dozen hardcover) books, neatly arranged into romance, science fiction, adventure, horror, western, mystery, war, children and miscellaneous. the romance section is obviously the top selling brand as the 1st several rows of floortoceiling shelves are nothing but romance, divided into authors like janet daily and danielle steel and others. but the western section was nothing to sneeze at either; at an average 125 books per shelf and maybe 30 shelves devoted to them, that's a lot of horseshit.
it's not a place for people looking for rare finds or for a maven of the odd like me. there was nothing weird or unusual. it was a place that caters directly to its clientele: bored and lonely truckers and travelers and their companions who want something to read. I'd guess nearly every book has been read at least 1ce, if not finished, and there were a number of volumes with bookmarks from places like lansing and atlanta and san diego and thunder bay, some with phone numbers and notes scribbled on them. they are exclusively novels, with a few selfhelp and history volumes thrown in.
I picked up 3 books I didn't really need but didn't have and want to read--neuromancer by william gibson, parable of the sower by octavia butler, and dangerous angels by francesca lia bloch (this last a collection I'd already owned and read in the originals but given away years ago to a friend, saying "you need to relax, this will help"). they put me back $12, more than I'm usually willing to pay for used books, but I wanted to help this place in a practical way. I was astonished when I asked the owner how long she'd been around: she'd only bought it a year ago but the store itself had been there for 30 years. who knew there was such a niche market? if kerouac and cassidy had been around then, flying facefirst through the long american night, I could picture them cocking an eye there and be comforted by what it means, the existence of these mounds of paper and ink among the burping trucks.

Friday, July 8, 2011

walking in cuyahoga

on the drive between austin and elkhart, indiana, where we set down for the night, we made a stop at cuyahoga valley national park. it was a sweet little spot off interstate 77 between akron and cleveland. there were sikhs meeting there yesterday and apparently their denomination has a gathering place further into the park. we got out and meandered a trail leading off down the road from the 1st parking lot , called riding run on the map), we came to. it was a gentle wander with a single ascent and descent on the so-called overlook trail (so-called because we could see nothing from its apex--perhaps, I ventured, it was an overlook only in the winter). then we followed a couple other routes to ponds that were primarily mosquito feeding grounds this time of year. but we wandered for 45 enjoyable minutes and it was a good reason to get out of the car and a good use of our legs for something besides pumping the gas pedal. we agreed we would stop there again someday when we had more time to explore.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

14th summer of reading

the summer I was 14 my parents had a 24-ft long camper that sat in the backyard and which I moved into for a few months. officially, it was to force me to get over my fear of the dark (which was true), but for me it was a greater opportunity to have some alone time. it may seem having only a set of parents and a younger sister in a 13-room house and surrounded by several empty acres would have given one some sense of isolation, but that is to reckon without my mother whose image is the illustration to the term "helicopter parent." sparking into my teens I needed some alonetime.

what I remember best is the amount of reading I did that summer laying on the cushions in the rear of the machine. I don't think I have ever read as voluminously as I did that summer, or at least as variously. at 14 I'd graduated from action, comics-inflected novels to more adult ones, and I had a gymbag stuffed with paperbacks, most of which I'd gotten at flea markets at a nickel or a dime apiece. I pulled a book from it nearly every day, such was my rate. I don't remember all the books from that summer, but I do remember reading these:

of all these I don't have a single copy any longer, having given them all away.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

tuesday afternoon reading

"what can I tell you about nathan myrhvold's modernist cuisine, the forty-pound encyclopedic survey of the pseudo-art form of which ferran adria is the presiding 'genius,' with its 1.1 million words spread across 2,438 pages, its 3,216 photographs and 1,522 recipes? well, I could tell you that I found some of the images--such as a series that shows a row of eggs at the instant a bullet passes through them--to be the most high-octane examples of the food pornography required to titillate the jaded palates of the developed world. I could inform you that being instructed to understand the revolution of modernist cuisine by analogy with impressionism, and talked through a sophomoric analysis of that development in painting, was a destabilizing experience. one expects in life to be talked down to from time to time, but to be patronized by a cookbook? and I could aver that for sheer self-indulgent daffiness, myrhvold's own account of being pulled a 'god shot'--the ultimate and sprititually transfiguing shot of espresso--by daniel humphries of victrola coffee at a seattle trade fair, takes the proverbial biscotti.

"still, I wonder if there's any point, because modernist cuisine, despite its $625 price tag is riding high in the amazon charts, and nothing I say will dissuade the gadarene swine from charging over this cliff-size tome. nothing perhaps except for this: one human constant you read little about in these books concerned with cookery is hunger. gabrielle hamilton is an honorable exception, admitting [in blood, bones & butter] to a fluctuating blood-sugar level that can precipitate her into dreadful tantrums. but even hamilton's hunger is foodie hunger: 'I do not get vague or generic appetite, which will be satisfied, more or less, with just anything that is handy. I will skip a meal rather than eat the corner joint's interpretation of eggs benedict...I don't eat that kind of shit.' this is alien to me--and I imagine to the bulk of humanity as well. surely the tastiness of the food is in direct correlation with the extremity of the hunger: when you're starving you will, indeed, eat any old shit."

--from "gastronomania: the beatification of our daily bread [a review of modernist cuisine: the art and science of cooking, by nathan myrhvold, chris young, and maxime biler; blood, bones & butter: the inadvertent education of a reluctant chef, by gabrielle hamilton; and ferran: the inside story of el bulli and the man who reinvented food, by colman andrews]" by will self in the july 2011 edition of harper's magazine

this strikes me as the second most singularly wise thing written about food. this is the first.

Monday, July 4, 2011

paperback writer

a couple brothers rent the house across the road from my dad, and while no one seems to know much about them--they're computer wizards, they work for a local lumber company, their mom pays their rent for them as well as financing their cars, none of which information is mutually exclusive--it is known that 1 of them spends most of his days and at least some nights in an upstairs room writing a novel. in an internet age when anyone worth his salt has published at least 1 autobiographical or semiautobiographical piece somewhere on the interwebs, this is still cause for comment here in the thick, with everyone mentioning it at least 1ce in conversation, in the manner of, "don't that beat all, he just writes."

I've never heard any guess as to what it is he is writing about, but I like to think it's a science fiction/fantasy hybrid in the mold of john norman's misogynistic gor novels. I've got no basis for this--I've only swapped "hi"s with either of them--but the writing brother, who has not cut his hair or beard for years while his brother trims his, is a pictureperfect stringy uncomfortable with women type who I suspect is less likely than his brother to have spoken with anyone female other than his mother and maybe a cousin and an aunt.

the story runs, and I know this part is true, that a window popped out of an upstairs window and sat on the porch roof for 4 years before it blew down onto the lawn, where it sat another year until 1 brother, I suspect the 1 who trims his hair and beard, got up the gumption to step outside and pick it up where he leaned it against the house on the porch. it remains there. but the uncertain aspect of the story is that the only reason the screen was eventually picked up was that their mother insisted on it, or she was going to ask my female cousin, who rents to them, to come by and tell them it needed to be moved. presumably, the prospect of a woman besides their mother at the house was enough to prod them to action.

Sunday, July 3, 2011


"does driving these winding roads make you feel as comfortable as they make me feel anxious?" my wife asked as we zipped along us 15 that zooped the crests of ridges and around the edges of mountains. "yes," I answered, because the truth is that I am left feeling--in control, I suppose, even as my eyes grew heavy and started to droop.

the day before, driving to elmira to meet her plane, I annoyed her by texting as I whipped along the upsanddowns and edging of narrow places that have no shoulders or whose shoulders dip 20 feet before ending in scree and rock. when I visited the eastern end of the state, driving the shawangunks and along rte 9, I was reminded how much I miss these narrow passes with treeline and shrubs humped up on each side so that one can legitimately call them "shoulders," and of how envious I've always felt by people who lived in houses abutting such places. back home on the rim the roads are wide and getting wider by the day, the fields are pressing back but losing the fight as asphalt takes the place of hay. it is like riding in a windup car on a kids' racetrack; in contrast, driving some roads in the east can be like hugging the bottom of a huge canyon with very definite boundaries. such a thing leaves my edges sharper; in all my decades, through all my drinking and driving, nodding off and driving, being drugged and driving, I have never collided with bumpers to the right or vehicles to the left.

my favorite of these roads is 44-55 leading from new paltz to kerhonkson and specifically the above photoed curve, infamous as the spot where bob dylan had his lifeanddeath crash in the mid 60s. I've always been curious why there is no marker there, but I suppose dylan is appreciative that there isn't--who among us would want such a moment commemorated for tourists?

Friday, July 1, 2011

I've stayed in worse

we stayed in this motel last night in painted post, ny, since my wife flew in at the elmira-corning airport. it reminded me of the dives I occasionally checked into for a shower and tv time, but back then it cost $20 a night. that's 1/4 what the place charges now, and I don't see much has changed. except there were more workers drinking and grilling in the back parking lot than there used to be.