Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Days Are Passing

Reading yesterday the book, View from 80 by the late poet Malcolm Cowley, he mentioned the common perception that years fly by more quickly the older you get, and that from age 79 to 80 passes like a week for a child. There would seem to be a combination of double perceptions at work here, since time for a child (at least for me when I was a child) often seemed elongated and possibly endless. "How long is five hours?" I remember asking my mom.

We were visiting my great-grandparents who were very old (at the time they were in their late 70s). Their house smelled of powder and yellowing paper, and old wood furniture that has been overused. I recall distinctly pondering the blue veins that were prominent in their hands, the dark splotches covering their knuckles. They both lived into their nineties pretty much self-sufficiently. I was bored. They talked, motivated by my dad's questions, about how they met near the turn of the previous century, how he worked on the train, how they lost control of a Model T. Their voices were brittle. My heart felt pressed. I wanted out, to go and watch television, to be in the fresh sun, to eat junk food and drink Coca Cola.

"How long are we going to be here?" I asked my mom.

"A while," she said.

"How long is that?"

She likely guessed, but I took it as prophecy, "five hours."

The hours stretched, and seemed long, like hours you might experience at work. I found a dead bird in the front yard, and somehow associated this with impatient waiting. "Don't touch it," I was told, "you might get sick." And so for years I imagined that the bodies of birds somehow carried some sort of toxic poison that could infect you by touching them. I wasn't a particularly bright child. So intermingled in my subconscious is the short flight of a dead bird, the toxicity of passing time, the boredom of age and of impatience.

So now I wait as well. On the horizon I have a meeting that I am waiting for that tends to trump other things. In November, Shannon will be here. I anticipate this the way I used to wait for Christmas, but have greater hope than I ever had for the things I might unwrap.

The days also sometimes seem to shuffle sideways when you are trying to make ends meet, as the common parlance has it. I am trying to write more, force myself to write even amid all that I lack and all that I have (such as numerous vain worries).

I work, I come home, rest. Write. Go to church, pray. Play with my kids. It is all moving along forward towards some indistinct culmination, something maybe tinged with hope, other than certain age or death, an expectation. Maybe this is the impulse behind authentic ambition.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Blog Overview

The idea of this blog is that it is an accretion of various modes of thinking expressed in writing "from the margins" to gradually build a larger island of work. I've wittled things down to four basic modes: opinion, reflection, discovery, life. I came to these after blogging on Live Journal for five or six years, looking over what I had done there.

Opinion might encompass, according to some people, the entire blog, but I am going to limit it for the sake of categorization to really peripheral subjects, like politics (yes, that's peripheral) and comment on news items, etc. -- basically, essays.

Reflection is meant to embody more thoughtful and philosophical or "theological" pieces, as well as more prosaic writing rooted in a subjective rendering of my own experience, narrative work, and creative nonfiction.

Discovery will contain reportage and maybe critique (insofar as I am able or willing) of various media to which I have subjected myself, such as books, music, magazine articles, lectures, square dances and the like.

Life will be the mode of writing which I seem to do a lot of, and a habit I would like to amend and repair; it's simply the diarylike reporting of my own situation and activities.

Each category will be indexed with the closest label any given piece of writing will most resemble, and given my penchance for self-sabotage, I'll likely cross my own genres repeatedly and make my own blogging life difficult. Well, whatever, the whole thing is mostly for me, and I can't imagine any reader will particularly care what mode I'm writing in or how it's labeled or not, so we'll see how things go.

I have two other new blogs as well. Pieces in Progress (http://cheaplit.blogspot.com/) will contain the rough drafts of fiction I am working on, and Word Lumber (http://wordlumber.blogspot.com/) is my attempt, borrowed from Robert Bly, to write at least one poem a day for a year.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Dividing Lines

I live in a beautiful, quiet neighborhood that is convenient because it is only three blocks from the twelve-story building where I work. My neighbors are polite, civil; they are families, or single working people or students. There are a lot of dogs and kids. The grass is green right now; the street is lined with trees that populate the sidewalks and yards with brown, gold and deep red leaves through autumn.

Only a couple of blocks away from me is a main road that has heavier traffic, a few drug dealers, an occasional prostitute. Not too many blocks further from there are more notorious streets, rampant with drugs and gangs, and neighborhoods whose residents have to deal daily with poverty, theft, violence and murder.

The line dividing one from the other, though not strict or final but hazy and gray, is easily discerned by merely walking for five or ten minutes from my front porch. I am far from wealthy, so my situation isn't as stark as it might be for someone who lives in the suburbs, who might see the difference by taking a five or ten minute drive from his two-car garage, but the line, though sometimes indistinct and overlapping, is nevertheless there.

Various political ideologies provide contrary solutions in regard to lines that divide the haves from the have-nots, but none probably are able to offer an holistic view.

There are some who claim that poverty and its attendant grist, the statistical crimes that plague certain localities more than others, is fully the result of a sort of economic determinism. People are victims of their circumstances, and sometimes it is incumbent upon the state to change the structure of the economy in order to help them. Freedom encompasses the idea of breaking the socio-economic shackles that underpin the circumstances of whole segments of the population. The weight of obligation is laid upon everyone, and we are all responsible for each other.

This idea, however, does not seem to take into full account the totality of the human person, the interior struggle between right and wrong, the capacity for free-will and self-determination. Others, usually from a more religious base, latch onto the notion of human potential, and claim that in a free and democratic society, there are opportunities for those who are of sound mind and willing to work hard to lift themselves out of hardship. Usually, the latter view proposes the notion of a very limited government, private charity to help those who are willing to help themselves, and the assumption that as individual agents, freedom encompasses the idea that we have a right to own all that we earn, and each person is really only ultimately responsible for himself.

Like the lines that divide the haves from the have-nots, the simple geographies between those who are physically in a home or a car or a restaurant, and those who are homeless or car-less or starving, there are gradations of overlap and gray and variations of ideology between the two foregoing, generalized views. My personal opinion is that both views contain some truth, but both if adhered to stringently, if allowed to take the central operating status of the heart, informing all of one's politics or outlook or attitude towards wealth and poverty, are errors, sins, and insane. They are both forms of insatiable insobriety as well. Down in the viral domain of that kind of metaphor, I think I might rightly think of a Dennis Kucinich as a lush, and a Ron Paul as a raging drunk.

One could argue for the merits or demerits of both general outlooks endlessly, but as a Christian I think it is better to seek to establish another central reality in the heart than abstract ideology, and to live in the tension between being corrupt and incorrupt, of being in the world and not of it, rich in Christ and poor in spirit, rather than try to balance or syncretize views, or create a new, better or improved ideological program.

What should my attitude be towards the poor? or the criminal? Jesus said that when I address the poor, I am face to face with himself. When I visit the prisoner, who is there no doubt because of his crimes (and not merely his monetary debt as some heretics have maintained), it is Jesus I am visiting. What this means in detail or substance is cause for further exploration, but at this moment, in day to day life, I can take it at face value.

Men and women, whether rich or poor, are created in the image of God, and we are all called -- even amid our crimes, our drugs, our addictions, the various ways we prostitute and degrade ourselves in our pleasures or for money -- to share in His likeness, (whether we discursively believe in God or not). There is no dividing line here, we are all created in his image, we are all stained and defiled by our own self-centeredness (and our attendant lusts and addictions), and we are all called to share in his pure and undefiled, incorrupt likeness. So St. James writes, "pure and undefiled religion is this: to visit the widow and the orphan in their distress, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world."

Thursday, September 25, 2008


To vote or not to vote, for whom to vote, all sort of begs the question in a government by the people and for the people. This is especially true when it comes to moral issues and the tendency to politicize life for the purpose of purchasing political capital.

On the one side it isn't too far a reach to suggest we have a campaigner who thirsts for war and whose interests lay largely with corporate entities, not with the majority working class or the marginalized.

On the other side, we have a campaigner who is stridently opposed to the pro-life movement, and has strongly suggested that women are "punished" if prevented from aborting their offspring.

What choice does one have who is opposed both to the oppression of the poor, as well as to the marginalization and murder of the unborn?

One may cast a vote over a single issue, such as abortion or war or the economy or gay marriage, or cast a vote for an ethic such as egalitarianism or a consistent ethic of life, or for an ideology like that which is promulgated via the neo-conservative movement. What is missing is the substance that lay behind the vote, especially if one fosters the attitude that personal responsibility ends there -- an idea the power-brokers and cultural elite would happily have the public embrace.

Voting should not be a mere nod towards those with whom we agree and would like to have in power, as if we think the power they possess has the efficacy to truly engender permanent and progressive change (for the better). Casting a vote is reduced to casting a hook and line into a dark and troubled lake; one tends to catch whatever fate brings. A true democratic vote should not be viewed as the instigation of change, enacted once every two or four years as the penultimate motion of personal duty, nor should it foster connotatively within its own action the sum and purpose of citizenship. Rather, voting should be the denouement, the fulfillment, the acknowledgement of an entire lifestyle that is responsible, that is socially aware, and that in day to day experience effects real and lasting change.

When one votes morally, on the issues, and ideologically with the substance of his life and actions, it is far easier to see the distinctions between life as it is, and the bifurcating polarities that reduce existence to the left and to the right when it is falsely politicized.