Saturday, February 23, 2013

Bathroom Monologue: Why People Get Sick In Winter

"Now scientists from the Empire said that it wasn't cold climates that made you catch disease. Even winters didn't actually care sickness with them, but rather since everyone headed indoors to escape the chill, they all shared their air, and diseases danced out of their mouths and mingled in the closed space. This was not Randy's opinion. He believed winter, with its mean-spirited cold and ice falling from the sky, convinced your unconscious to finally give up and send out distress messages to any neighboring diseases to help mercy kill itself. He founded this suspicion from honest introspection; not once had he trudged through ankle-deep snow and not found some part of him desire to blow his own brains out. The sniffles were part of that desire."

Friday, February 22, 2013

Bathroom Monologue: What Now Was Inland

They were half a generation beyond the end of oceans. Half a generation since the elders had seen one, and half a generation since the young could only imagine them. It was half a generation, down to the very day of conception, when the tides of fermented blood rolled across ancient shores, turning parched deserts to dripping beaches.

Upon this gory tide rode a ship. It flashed no bearing and collided with a sandbar that, for half a generation, had been a popular hill. It rose, and it shuddered, and they fled, and they sang warnings inland. Its hull heaved for breath, and every groan of its sundry structures contributed to the songs of the natives, until warnings turned to invitations.

There was not a soul aboard, nor a husk through which a soul might have conducted seaworthy business. Yet there were many fine armors, which the middling and young shared and donned, not for war, so much as for fashion as only new varieties can afford. Beneath decks lay exquisite weapons, spears that made the air bleed, and swords with epic poems etched along their edges, verse honed to unparalleled sharpness. These, the natives beat into ploughshares, and rapidly set about tilling and sowing before the gory tide could dry up. Already it was fleeing into the horizon, as though happy to be rid of the vessel.

They stripped, too, the skin of the ship, and fashioned it into new bodies for their elders, so that Grandpars and Grandmars could join them in the fields. They stripped the bones of the ship’s mighty underhauls, which they fashioned into the outlines of new houses. When, at last, the ship was naught but an empty indentation in a sandbar, every individual, young and middling and elder, scooped up a handful to keep in memory. They pocketed their handful of the ship as they set to work.

For this culture didn’t trust the ship had been a miracle. If it were a miracle, then there would be two more, for miracles always come in threes. One miracle is happenstance; two miracles a coincidence; three, a confirmation. More, none alive had ever witnessed, and none dead had spun songs about.

The uncertainty of miracles meant labor, raking the scabs over the desert, tilling and churning, and planting the warts and rust from the former hull, along with the thumb bones of their ancestors, which had been set aside for just such an occasion. All this planting meant making music.

So they spun songs of who built the ship, who raised its marvelous hide, who operated its great oars and gills, and every song of every sailor was at the behest of a hero. They spun many songs about this hero’s journey, about the madness that had driven him to jump overboard, or feed himself to the ship so it might still live, or his pursuit of a love that had launched a thousand such ships. None was particularly good, and none was repeated, thus disqualifying them from truly being songs. If it’s only sung once, a song might as well be an errant miracle.

They sang to work, which is the duty of song, to render long labors brief, and render brevity pleasant. They erected fine homes of the ship’s vast bones, and they patched every elder’s new body, and they marched the rows of their uncanny crops in numbers only songs had ever referenced. It could well have been the music that caused their crops to sprout.

They smelled the wrong rain coming. First a few seedling squelched, and then rows belched brine. By noon their fields showered blood upward, so many geysers as to terrify the elders. Their entire culture was sprayed, and their entire world flooded by bounty. Sandbars disappeared beneath viscous waves. The middling sang the young and elders into their new homes, with solid ceilings, and the pores of their windows fastened shut, and their rich floors rose. The riding tide lifted every home from its roots, settling them to bob like corks in global liquor. Some elders fell into the maelstrom, nerves feeble beneath their shells, yet their shells were as buoyant as the hero’s ship had once been. It was the first opportunity in half a generation that anyone had to drown, and not a soul took it.

That begat their song of the hero’s journey, not of his lust or violence, but of what they had done with the flesh and bones of his ship. They thanked him for moisture, and for the clothes, and for the homes, in choruses that echoed across the ocean that climbed until their heads stuck in the clouds. Then they sang about the clouds, and in them.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Bathroom Monologue: “Those who can’t do, teach.” -Anonymous

“I’ve never understood that phrase. William Shakespeare. Niels Bohr. Bruce Lee. James D. Watson. Michael Faraday. Stephen King. Bill Clinton. All of them teachers who were famous for work in their respective fields.

“But beyond that: isn’t the music teacher who picks up a cello and shows her pupil who to tune the strings doing? Doesn’t the very act of her playing the music as example, and being able to bring others into competence with the technical proficiency, demonstrate her ability to ‘do?’

“But beyond them: Jesus Christ was a teacher. He was, so I’ve read, also God. If teachers can’t ‘do,’ and God is omnipotent, and ‘omnipotence’ is the ability to do anything to the utmost– isn’t there a grievous flaw in someone’s claim?

“Since adolescence, ‘Those who can’t do, teach’ has struck me as the refrain of the student who can’t do. Usually, it’s of the student who can’t ‘do’ up to a teacher’s standards. You hate this authority figure, and so they must fail at what they’re passionate about, not based on evidence, but based on your disdain. Invention of someone else’s flaws to make ourselves feel better is something we can all do.”

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

My Foot Stopped Working: What Chronic Pain Is Like

It strikes me that in some of my earlier neuropathy posts that I’ve neglected to inform people about my basic health. You know that I’m losing feel in my feet and legs, and sporadically lose the ability to move parts of them. Perhaps you don’t know why the numbness was so immediately apparent.

Since age 13, after some catastrophic medical malpractice, I’ve been in constant pain in every part of my body. It’s been so long that I don’t know how not hurting feels, except for this new alternative: not feeling anything at all. The first time that my toes irrevocably went off the grid, I was terribly frustrated. I’m used to navigating with them, and feeling the twinges of pain in their second-from-last joints as the curl, the bellwethers of how putting my foot down in each step will feel, and how sharp the pain will be in my arch and ankle.

Perhaps the best analogy is to remember the last time you had a really bad flu. That deep ache that settled on your flesh and in all your tissues, that made every movement a deliberate labor and reminded you of all those organs you take for granted. Sometimes one part, like my spinal column, hamstrings or kidneys will ache worse, and the chief pain can even be a means of focusing through the disorienting general pain. The worst is when the fog of pain is so great that I can no longer speak or compose full sentences. That general pain is so distracting, because the reports come from so many parts of the body, that my biggest daily problem can be thinking straight. This has been the last two decades of my life.

It's a little tragic that I miss the pain in my feet. I'm too used to it. The human mind is a remarkably adaptive thing, and at present I'm wondering if I could eventually adapt to not feeling anything at all, perhaps over a course of decades.

I learned to deal with chronic pain, since the alternatives were dying or getting hooked on morphine. I know I’m good at dealing with it because most people are surprised to learn there’s much wrong with me. Argue ableism and disableism all you want, but from my teens on, the ability to blend in with relatively healthy has been a source of pride. Often, also a source of protection. The kid who limps and props himself up against walls is a great target for beatings.

Finally seeing the neurologist on Friday. It's been a long month of no leads or answers. Feeling a bit hopeful today.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Bathroom Monologue: 5 Failed Dating Tips from a Super-Rich Friend

  1. Approach him with your eyes affixed to someone or something else nearby, then fake tripping and spill your Merlot on him. Offer to buy him a new wardrobe. That will work as a starter date.

  2. Ask his position on prostitution and how it’s really just a contract between consenting adults. Ask if he realizes marriage is a contract between consenting adults. Finally, ask how much it should cost to marry him for a while.

  3. Buy every seat on the train, plane, theatre, or whatever else it is that you’re at, I didn’t catch it at first. Anyway, when the two of you are alone in the building, sidle up to him and act like this solitude must be kismet.

  4. Jesus, I don’t know. Talk to him and see if you have chemistry.

  5. Hire some ex-military officers, preferably something professional, to attack him, and to take a dive when you run in to fend off their fascists. Keep their card for a second attack whenever your date loses steam.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Bathroom Monologue: Toothpick Man

Guy comes into town chewing a toothpick. It’s Sunday, so everyone is at services, and he goes in, sits on the last pew. He doesn’t join in the songs or prayers. He just stares forward and rolls the toothpick across his molars.

The priest comes by to welcome him. The new guy ignores him and chews his pick.

A couple of the socialites stop by to ask whose family he is with. The new guy ignores them and chews his pick.

The town belligerent comes up and asks why he’s so quiet. The new guy chews on that pick, and the town belligerent pokes him in the chest, and the new guy chews some more. So the town belligerent grabs him by the collar and thrusts him out of the church, out into the yard. He slaps the pick out of his mouth and asks what he’s got to say about that.

Well the new guy reaches into his coat, produces a new toothpick. He stares at the town belligerent, puts the pick in his mouth and bites down with his canines.

The town belligerent jumps on his chest and starts beating at the new guy’s nose, trying to pulp it. Some mildly superior Christians eventually seize him by the elbows and haul him out of the yard.

Only a kid from the choir approaches the new guy. He brings him a cup of water to dab the remains of his nose in if he wants. The new guy doesn’t use the water, though. Instead he reaches inside his coat and fetches two toothpicks. He chews upon one himself, and gives the other to the kid.

The kid holds the toothpick in front of his eyes, rolls it between his fingers, studies it. It’s grainy wood, nothing special to his eyes.

So he asks, “What is this?”

So the new guy answers, “It’s an example of how to give your characters distinction.”

“Oh,” the kid says. He doesn’t get it, because he has no distinction. Not until he puts it in his mouth. The next day his wisdom teeth start growing in.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

#NaNoReMo Update #3 – Almost Done

I’m nearly finished with Middlemarch, and it feels like I’ve been cheating in my 900-page climb. You see, my grandmother had a serious health issue and I had to travel to Maryland to help her. That meant taking four trains, two light rails, a cab, and spending an additional six hours in lobbies. That also meant ample time to digest chatty 1800s satire.

She's doing much better, thank you.

It’s funny reading satire when you’re being altruistic. 20th century satire, and thus far, most of 21st century satire hinges on a cynicism that all but denies the feelings that made me travel last week. Even Evans/Eliot’s American contemporary, Mark Twain, would never have written a fictional protagonist thinking or acting as I did, unless it was to mock whatever petty foibles I exhibited along the way to good intentions. It reminds that the scalpel is not the only instrument.

Middlemarch is highly unusual satire, especially set against the modern strains. It’s not invented to condemn an ideology, religion or social institution, but rather to rigorously examine why its many characters screw up and hurt each other. Mr. Bulstrode’s Protestantism is a moral barrier he’s constantly trying to rationalize around in order to be selfish; Rosamond’s naivety corrodes her life; Mr. Lydgate’s inability to politic constantly puts his public works in jeopardy; both the couples of Mary and Fred, and of Dorothea and Will, almost invent ways to not live happily ever after together because they overthink and misread too often. She's beaten me to much of wanted to do in Literature by over a hundred years.

Because it’s gentler and not so obsessed with a singular evil, it’s easier for me to take seriously than 1984 or The Daily Show. And I enjoy The Daily Show, but Christ, everything Republicans do is the worst thing in human history. I’m still coming to terms with the phenomenon of comedy performed for applause instead of laughter. It feels like intellectual cancer.
Me and the world's largest copy of Middlemarch.
Too much of modern satire is essential fictional polemic, identifier an “other guy,” and painting them as dumb and/or evil, with only the most minimal examinations of why. It shuts down your empathy towards this “other” in favor of the pleasant outrages of having an enemy. As much as I admired Catch-22 in my teens, this ought to be the ground floor of satire, not the heavens.

Middlemarch brazenly scorns hypocrisy, misogyny, ignorance and dogma, but frequently does so with colossal inner working. It makes me wonder if I wouldn’t have preferred 1984 as a book from the perspective of an actual Big Brother on the rise and why he made his awful decisions.

It certainly makes me think about where satire could have developed if Middlemarch had won. It’s not as gratifying without the obvious audience pandering of modern satire, with victim-heroes and strawman-villains. I can see why it lost. But I wonder if this wouldn’t better serve the psyche, to constantly be reminded that every potential for exterior failure exists within, as a means of progress towards remedy.
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