Friday, November 26, 2010

Keep the Faith

I have a cousin who is very religious. She came over the other night and we talked about this and that, until the chit chat grew serious and we set off down the path of what's-really-going-on, at first with some trepidation, but then running headlong, really digging in to race to the bottom of what-ails-ya. My poor cousin has been beset by problems - challenging kids, unemployment, an ugly divorce - and she is sad and feeling defeated and hopeless. I asked her if she had ever been happy. A fat tear dropped from her eye. I asked her if her faith helped her, if it comforted her or gave her strength. She said no, and that's not the way it worked, 'it' being faith, I guess, or maybe religion.
This baffled me.
If faith doesn't give a person comfort or hope, what's the point? How can faith not steer someone towards benefit, good or a raison d'etre? I guess some people have faith in disaster, doom, and the forces of evil, but really, who? I don't have faith in too much, so the concept is not something I think about often, and I didn't want to push it with my cousin. I didn't ask her, but I'll bet she'd say that faith had to do with accepting the word and instruction of God, because God said, and you, the human, exercised your free will to follow the word of God by pledging your obedience, in the faith of the righteousness of the Lord. In others words, yours is not to question why. Still, I question. Is that all there is? Because God says, "I said so?"
To me, faith is belief that is so strong that it defies logic. It is difficult for me to understand the concept, unless it is put into very humanistic terms. For example, despite the voluminous evidence to the contrary, I believe in the good of humanity, even -dare I admit my brazen naivete?- that human beings have a basic inclination towards good as opposed to evil. Really, I can think of so many weighty, monstrous examples that negate such fond, fruitless thought that the very idea that I propose, when looked at rationally, seems ridiculous and downright childish. But, still and all, I believe. I look logic in the eye and say, "Huh? Are you talkin' to me? I'm sorry, can ya speak up? I can't hear ya! Whad you say?" I become rationally challenged, and quickly hail the short bus to get a ride to my crafts class. That's faith.
But, I get something out of that faith. It's not just a moral high ground, though I do feel like the benefit of the doubt is just and right, and that I would rather die optimistically and deluded than live hopelessly and paranoid. I get comfort from my world view. Where there is faith in good, there is possibility and redemption. There is hope and joie de vivre, regardless of the dismal reality. Of course that very spirit often skips happily hand in hand with denial and delusion, and I do realize that; I guess I'm just not strong enough to face the alternative and embrace the over powering forces of evil, entropy and defeat. I know this about myself, and I can live with it. It may be a tad shallow, but I'm a happy pappy; that's where my natural outlook falls. Can't help it. I'm a believer.
How can you have faith without the expectation of personal satisfaction? It's a mystery to me. If faith means to obey now, and later to get your reward in the afterlife, even if that means you will accept misery in the present life, count me out. I'm greedy and impatient. Also, I'm disobedient. I'm a people pleaser, yes, but I hardly ever do what I'm told, and frankly, I resent being told. Lots of times, I will do dumbass things just to prove that I can't be told what to do. I am stubborn and foolish, but at least it was my idea to be that way. My freshman year of college my parents told me I had to maintain a "B" average at the third rate state school I got into. Rather than being told what to do, I dropped out. This pattern continues today; I recently took a creative writing class, because I wanted to learn new things and see what I could do, and I paid out the wazoo to do it, but refused to do any of the exercises as they were assigned, on account of I didn't like the teacher trying to make me do anything his way. Also, whenever he made suggestions for improvement, I thought, "You are a buttface. I don't like your name and your eyes are squinty and you're not the boss of me. Blah diddy blah, blah diddy bloo, you are dumb and your breath smells like poo." That is what I thought every time.
Second, I don't care about the afterlife. I don't believe in Hell, and if I did, I don't think I would go there, because I TRY to be good. If I'm just deaddeaddead, and weasels rip my flesh and worms eat me (Good luck with that, weasels and worms! I'm getting cremated, suckahs! How you like that mouth full of ash, foolz?), so be it. I'm dead, so what do I care? If I get reincarnated, that could suck, because maybe I'll come back as a pigeon, and then I will hate myself and may be eaten by a homeless person, who, instead of taking consolation in a meal, despises his lot in life even more because he had stoop to such a vile, unprecedented low. That would be bad, but pigeons have brains the size of black-eyed peas, so I probably wouldn't be thinking about that then. I dunno. It's a weird game. I guess I'll play it, but the only rules I'll play by are the ones I make up.

Pigeons: Unbelievably stupid, or diabolically clever? You be the judge!

BONUS: People who are smarter than I have thought about faith. Here are some of their opinions.
"Faith means not wanting to know what is true." Freidrich Nieztsche
"Skepticism is the beginning of faith." Oscar Wilde
"You want it all, but you can't have it." Faith No More
"Be faithful in small things, because it is in them that your strength lies. " Mother Teresa
"To follow by faith alone is to follow blindly. " Benjamin Franklin
"Faith isn't faith until it's all you're holding on to." Anonymous smart person
"Fear can keep us up all night long, but faith makes one smart pillow." Anonymous poetic smart person
"I sit and watch, as tears go by." Marianne Faithfull

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Baby Snakes (and adults, too)

The other day I was walking, and I tripped over nothing, which is not unusual. What is unusual is that when my foot came down hard, it landed right on a baby snake. Normally, this would send me into paroxysms of terror, but for some reason - perhaps because the little bugger was skinny as a worm and about three inches long - I had a different reaction. I felt sorry for it. This feeling was immediately enhanced when it contorted itself into a tiny reptile pretzel and flipped onto it's back. Then it had a snakey seizure. Then, nothing. I killed it. With my Converse-clad needle foot. Dead. That helpless little guy -or gal- didn't stand a chance, didn't even see me coming, and then: lights out, Lefty. The fat lady sang. And then stepped on your head.

I tried to cheer myself up by remembering that I hate snakes and also any kind of nature that gets close to me, and I tried to tell myself that baby snakes grow into big snakes, with hideous, dripping fangs and an unquenchable drive to squeeze the life out of you, crushing your ribs like toothpicks before they eat you by swallowing you whole. I tried to envision the townspeople rushing out of their homes to hoist me above their shoulders and prepare a celebratory feast for me, the brave heroine who saved the village from the enormous, hypnotic serpent, who chased the innocent, like a mindless, rippling, merciless muscle, terrorizing them with it's relentless appetite and remarkable force. (Who among us hasn't had that dream, Sigmund?!) It didn't work. I felt so sad at the injustice and randomness of it all. Poor baby snake.

I felt badly for another snake once, but the feeling passed pretty quickly. One time, I was driving with McAdams - or, well, since McAdams was there, of course she was driving me- and I looked up at the sky, which was easy to do since McAdams has a way-cool convertible, and it was a thousand degrees, so the top was down, and guess what I saw? Clouds, you say? A bug? An overpass? All reasonable guesses, but WRONG! I saw a hawk, struggling ever higher, but laboring, because in his (or her) talons was a writhing Copperhead about the size and girth of a tree limb, which I realize is not the best visual, because tree limbs come in lots of sizes. Also, I'm not sure if it was a Copperhead, because I don't know what a Copperhead looks like and it was far away, but I am positive it was very poisonous. Mayhaps it was an Anaconda. Doesn't matter. It was curling in on itself and undulating in the air, trying to get a piece of it's feathered nemesis. Anyway, I was just amazed, because even though you hear about stuff like that happening, when have you actually seen it? I just happened to look up at that moment - I had been watching in the rear view mirror the way my hair blew prettily around my face - and got to see the primordial life and death struggle that played out up in the sky and heading towards the sun, above a flat, endless highway on a blazing Texas day.
Damn! That's pretty awesome, right!
I felt sorry for the snake for a minute, but that's how nature does, and besides, it suddenly dawned on me that if the snake proved too strong for the hawk, it could fall, heavy like a stone, and land right in the car, on my head. Afraid and enraged, it would no doubt stab me in the eyeball with it's poison fang and then eat my face off, as those Black Mambas are wont to do. And even if it didn't happen right then and there, now I knew that it could happen at virtually any time, for I had seen it with my own eyes, and so I screamed for McAdams to raise the roof, but literally and not in a 'woot-woot" kind of way, and she did, but that is why, now, because I know what could happen, I look up a lot when I'm walking, which is what I was doing when I tripped and crushed the poor little baby snake the other day.

Probably, the only thing I hate more than scary, creepy things like snakes, bears, nutria and pigeons are scary, creepy things that adapt or evolve. So you can imagine my horror when I saw this article from the Scientific American. It has a lot of technical things in it, like the phrases "six meters per second to four meters per second", and the word "ophidian", if that is even a real word. The article talks about this Asian snake that "jumps" or "leaps" out of these really tall trees and then "takes its whole body and makes it into a wing" so that it can fly up to 800 feet. It doesn't just fall or glide; it oscillates it's body specifically to create a "vortex-induced lift." Bastards! I don't even know what that means and they have figured out how to do it! Watch the video! Those assholes totally know what they are doing! 800 feet, people! I don't really know how far that is, but I know that's is too long for a damned snake to be airborne!

Horrifying, right?
The world is too small for me and snakes. Except for little ones that are kind of cute. When they are alive, that is. Not so cute, dead. Rest In Peace, Lefty. Sorry.
Photograph by !Shot By Scott!
BONUS: Look at these pictures by Guido Mocafico. They are frightening, but fantastic!

Sarahs, Get Out of My Head!

Sometimes I wake up with that Sarah Silverman song about Matt Damon song in my head and then that's pretty much it for the rest of the day. You can't go anywhere because you're bound to burst into the chorus - it's just so joyfully exuberant! - in the produce aisle or at a playground full of children. I like Matt Damon, because he hates Sarah Palin and can talk like Matthew McConaughey, two of my "Must Haves" in a man. Or a woman, really.

Don't you think it's weird that in that last paragraph, I spoke about four people, but between them they only had two names? Coincidence? Perhaps...

Speaking of Her Shrillness, Palin has a new book out. Don't buy it. Instead, go buy Steve Martin's new book, Object of Beauty. It was released yesterday, which was my friend Jono's birthday - Holla, Jono! - and here is an article about it from the NYT, which was published on my mom's birthday. Oh, the coinkeedinks! Crazy, right?

Watch this. It's still funny. Just be careful... once it's in yo head, it'll be comin' out yo mouf.

Are you still here? Great! Then you deserve a BONUS! I love this song, and I especially like this video, because Hall (or is that Oates?) looks like Freddie Mercury, and Oates (maybe that's Hall) looks kind of like a cross between Patrick Swayze and how I imagine Pony Boy from The Outsiders.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Hip Hip Hooray for Thanksgiving Vacay!

Yesterday, when I started my usual downward trending spiral into malaise for Monday, I remembered something rare and magnificent - I'm on vacation!

Oh, vacation! How you thrill me! Vacation makes me adorable and sexy, like a kitten-cougar! Me-ROAR! Here are some of the many fabulous things I will do:
1. Perfect my shower tap dance routine
2. Make soup and apple sauce - It's getting to be Fall out there, peeps! Time for warm yum in a bowl!
3. Take lots of pictures of things like leaves, my shadow, birds on wires, soup, and how the light glows in the windows of strangers on my way home from the lake. Invasion of what?
4. Ride my bike while wearing a poncho that has red and white fringe - WHEEEE!!!!!
5. Go for long walks and wave at the ducks
6. Get a mani/pedi: Shiny au natural with little white tips on my fingers, classy like Audrey Hepburn, and trash-glam, skank-black on my toes like Courtney Love
7. Read my new book. It's called Olive Kitteridge, by Elizabeth Stroud, and so far I give it double thumbs up!
8. Take naps
9. Laugh
10. Go to the movies - there's nothing I really want to see, but what the hell! I like a good communal experience in the dark with strangers! How bad can it be, right?
11. Shop! I love this season! I can shop like I'm insane and say I'm doing it for others. Man, I love that! Spirit of giving and such, what what?! So far I have picked out all of my brother-in-laws-stuff, bought McAdams a trinket, and got myself a necklace with a tiny, delicate sparrow on it that hangs right in the hollow space where my clavicles begin. So cute! I keep running to the mirror to look at it again. Really, it's better to give and to receive! Thank you, me! It's just what I wanted!
12. Read the Sunday NYT! I love the NYT, but so many words, so little time! Now I have all week to become even more supercilious and condescending about all of the things about which I know better than you! I'm so clevah!!!!
13. Sleep. I've had wicked insomnia lately. I think that's all about to change...
14. Spend time with people I love.
And then, as if all that weren't enough, it's Thanksgiving, my favorite holiday! Yay, Gratitude! Hip, hip, hooray for taking stock of all the things that make life so damned sweet! What a great week this is! What a great season! Woohooo! Happy Happy, Peeps!

Saturday, November 13, 2010


OK, Losers! How come ONLY ONE of you has even tried to submit something from the last Writer's Challenge! Get on the stick!
Here are the topics and instructions again:
Shall we have Tell it In Ten Again? OK! We will! Writer's Challenge #5 is to sum up thoughts about the following three topics or themes:

The First Time

Nervous Habit


Another Thing

If you know me, email your submissions. If you don't know me, post in the comment box and then I'll delete them and publish them officially at a later date. Whoever you are, be sure to let me know how you would like to be credited.

Maybe this will inspire you:

Re:WORDS from Everynone on Vimeo. It's made up completely from clips found on YouTube.

The Everynone site has a lot of things I like on it.

And now, here is a bonus video, which is OUTSTANDING, and stolen from a very cool new website called You should check it out. Oddly, I have a friend who has a band called pervadelic. Pervadelic, meet Geekadelic.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Before I Get Up...

Good Morning! It's 11:00 a.m. on a magnificent November day. The sky is an almost unbearably piercing blue, the grass is getting crunchy under my feet, and there is a crisp sense of clarity and possibility riding on the wind. I'm still in bed under a cloud of covers, drinking my coffee, enjoying the promise of a big, wide-open day. I love this feeling!
Some of my students forced me into having a book club, and the first one I made them read was one that McAdams turned me onto about five years ago. It was classified as a young adult book at the time, but evidently someone read it and decided that even though it deals with all of things that make young adulthood such a surreal, confusing time, those types of themes are too mature for that age group, so bookstores have moved it to the adult literature section. This is all fine with me, as I am well past adolescence, and would prefer to read only big girl books at this point, so I need Border's to remind me what is appropriate for me. Anyway, I remember really liking the book, but I forgot why, on account of I dismissed it because I am an adult and it was for kids, so now that it is an adult book and I, too, am adult, I am re-reading it and can proudly tell you why I like it so much.
The book is called the perks of being a wallflower, and it's by Stephen Chbosky, who doesn't believe in capitalizing titles. (You grammar goons got all excited, thinking you had caught me! Ha ha! Foiled again, suckahs!) It's a classic, and it's going to be a movie with Emma Watson and Logan Lerman, next year, I think.
By the by, I hear Colum Mcann's Let the Great World Spin is going to be made into a film, with J.J. Abrams of Lost fame producing. You heard it here first! Finger on the pulse, right?

Anyhow, so this wallflower book is really good, and my students love it, and it just adds to their growing realization that I am the coolest teacher ever. I am enjoying the re-read, and I am finding elements of great beauty and resonance that I probably missed the first time. For example, today I read page 33. Here is a portion of it, reprinted without permission. If Mr. Chbosky asks me to, I'll remove it, but if you don't tell him, I won't either. By the way, for those who are purists, the ellipses are mine.

There is a feeling that I had Friday night after the homecoming game that I don't know if I will ever be able to describe except to say that it is warm. Sam and Patrick drove me to the party that night, and I sat in the middle of Sam's pickup truck ... the feeling I had happened when Sam told Patrick to find a station on the radio. And he kept getting commercials... and a really bad song about love that had the word "baby" in it... and finally he found this really amazing song about this boy, and we all got quiet.
Sam tapped her hand on the steering wheel. Patrick held his hand outside the car and made air waves. And I just sat between them. After the song finished, I said something.
"I feel infinite."
And Sam and Patrick looked at me like I said the greatest thing they ever heard. Because the song was that great and because we all really paid attention to it. Five minutes of a lifetime were truly spent, and we felt young in a good way. I have since bought the record, and I would tell you what it was, but truthfully, it's not the same unless your driving to your first real party, and your sitting in the middle of a pickup truck between two nice people when it starts to rain.

And that's just part of page 33. Pretty deep for a young adult. Do you think they get it?

One time, when I was in high school, a group of us broke out of our teenage apathy and went to this apartment complex called "The Bluffs", so named because it was built next to this big, rocky, cliff-like formation. We live in one of those cities where there's not all that much real nature, so we were drawn to the fake nature, and it seemed good enough to us. We stood in a circle at the foot of the bluffs reading the sign that forbid us from entering, and got high. Then, like a bunch of ants, we climbed over the fence and swarmed the bluffs. I remember a blur of high tops and denim, and hands reaching down to me, and me pushing someone up from behind, and the long, straight, blond hair and Pepsodent smile of the head cheerleader, as she clapped when the fat, pimply-faced, funny kid looked over the rim of his glasses and said, incredulously, "I made it!" I was a freshman and they were all seniors and I couldn't believe how lucky I was. We sat at the top of the chalk hill on a cool night and looked at the cars on the highway and the lights of the city. I was cold, and the boy who was my first true love held my skinny hand in his big, warm one. We all sat there, boys and girls with different stories, suspended for a moment between the present and the future, before my friends graduated and went off to real life, and I flunked out of that school and was transferred to a new one, and The Bluffs were torn down to make the parking lot bigger for the shitty apartments that would soon be torn down, also.
We climbed down, slowly this time, and sat in the car with the heat on, and silently passed around another joint, and listened to Pink Floyd's "Time" from Dark Side of the Moon for the billionth time, and were so simultaneously alone and together in our thoughts that we all jumped when the bells go off at the end of the song, truly surprised, yet again. We laughed and poked each other in the ribs and decided to go get something to eat.
And then, I felt infinite, because I had shared time and been young and grown up and scared and cold and proud and warm, and had seen that maybe there was and would be sadness around, but also, great joy. There was the fierce pain and indescribable beauty of "fleeting", and also, I knew even as the moment sparked, burned, and fizzled out, that it would be with me forever. I knew that things were going to change, and that they always would, and that glimpses of perfection were flukes, impossible to produce or replicate, but that there is great security in the knowledge that perfection is out there, and every once in awhile, it will find you. It was too much to fully take in, and I'm glad I saw it then through a bit of a cloud, but now, it's sharp, and focused, because memory has diluted it to the purest essence.

Time in a lifetime truly spent. Who doesn't get it?

Today I have a big, wide day ahead of me. The sky is blueblueblue and life is bigbigbig and I am sososo happy to be living mine.
BONUS: Let the Great World Spin combines stories that converge, if only momentarily, when Philip Petit walked across the Twin Towers on a tight rope in 1974. This picture is a still from the documentary Man On A Wire by James Marsh. Isn't it amazing?P.S. To B.A. - I will never be able to thank you enough for all that you have done for me, and I don't think I will ever be able to put into words all that you mean to me. I hardly ever see you and we don't talk much, but I think about you.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Bar Exam

Congratulations to Alisa for passing a bar! You had your doubts, but I always knew you could do it!