Visits

Friday, August 18, 2017

Icons

I never much cared for statues and monuments. Still don't. I can remember, as a kid, riding in my parents' car through downtown Portland and seeing the statues that stood at some of the street intersections. They were always covered with bird shit. It seemed a sad sort of way to treat dignitaries from the past (whoever they might have been). Better to have not stuck them up there in the first place, and let the shit fall more unobtrusively where it may.

I remember there being two or three statues on the grounds of the university I attended as well. Who knows what figures they were meant to honor? People ignored them. They were just there. Who cares? I suppose they could be useful if there had been room on the base of the monument to set a spell, or have a quick cigarette, or a sandwich, or a Twinkie, or kiss a girl--but then, those things would have had nothing to do with the statue anyway, and everything to do with anything else.

Somewhere in the mid 1990s, I visited Washington DC, and still suffer a mental exhaustion at the memory of being dragged from this famous monument to the next and the next, each a tourist trap, each just sitting there, or standing there, immensely drab in the humid Maryland July, each standing dumbly by, posing for the next obligatory photograph which would soon be eternally tucked away in a laptop folder, never, most likely, to be seen again. And in the meantime, miraculous things were occurring all around us. The cherry trees were in blossom. Pink petals fluttered down from the branches. The park blocks, which stretch from the capital area right up to the rows of ramshackle apartments in the hood, lay cozily in the shade of trees with a history their own, grand, tall, spreading trees that had stood watch through the decades, and given, as well--beauty, shade, shelter. Homeless people meandered beneath the leaves from chance to chance, hope to hope, hands out, wrinkled palms open. Stark red cardinals flashed from branch to branch. And there we were, our backs turned to the world, staring at grand chunks of stone.

I am willing to bet that if Charlottesville's statue of Robert E. Lee had been knocked over by a falling tree in a storm, no one would have thought much of it. If it had been shattered too badly, I doubt whether it would have been replaced anytime soon. There are more important things to think about, more important things to do. People have more pressing concerns to think about.

Or do they?

Some speak of honoring our history. I can't help but wonder what is honorable about the prosecution of a war that ended in more casualties than all the American wars put together. Should we not rather lament such a costly inability to seek and achieve peace in our own family?

Some have turned these dumb statues into living causes, forcing those who can no longer speak to stand now as icons for racism, bigotry, hatred, white supremacy. Do these people, so loudly waving the banner of Lee, know anything about the actual man. No. They don't.

If history itself is to be trivialized by ignorance, then yes, tear down the statues, every one of them. And in as far as no man among us now, or ever before, has ever been anything other than flawed and weak, full of hatreds and jealousies, greed, self-interest, tear down the memoriam of every member of the sad and fallen human race. And plant olive trees instead. And let no man blight that hallowed land.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

My Practical Paradise

So, I started up a new blog on Wordpress. I will continue, of course, to maintain Jim Dandy. The new blog will be devoted more to travel and life in Indonesia and the entries will tend to be longer and more detailed.

Wordpress is a challenge for me - a very powerful platform meets a very weak mind. But I've made a first entry and trying to learn the ropes of the site capabilities. 

So can see the blog here: mypracticalparadise.com

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk


Well, here’s a movie everyone ought to watch – especially our fearsome leaders, from President Lock-n-Load straight on down the line through all the warmongers and fake patriots and cozy, rich old men who think themselves courageous for sending young men to die.

Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, from the novel by Ben Fountain, is about war, bullshit, and how the two most often go together hand-in-hand. It’s the greatest show on earth, Monday Night Football for the chest beaters, the big talkers, the ravenous press, live TV stars, brass bands, cheerleaders, businessmen and weapons contractors, hotdog and ice cream sellers, fireworks, the ultimate halftime show for everyone who doesn’t actually have to slog through the real thing and see friends die and gaze upon the face of a foe as his life drains away, leaving, finally, only the pale, parting glimmer of a surprised and fearful soul – just another man, after all.

This film did not do well at the box office, largely because, as stated by a reviewer in The Guardian, it did not “resonate well” with American viewers. Ironic, that. It didn’t resonate well with the soldiers, either. The real war, that is, the real soldiers, not the Coke and Karmelkorn version presented by entertainment machine back home.

The End Again

Well, once again, the tinfoil hat Christians are sounding the alarm for the imminent end of the world, to be heralded by the coming total eclipse of the sun. As evidence that 'this is it', they cite the words of Jesus in Matthew 24:29:

"Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken."

But here's the problem, folks. A total eclipse is not a particularly rare event. It happens approximately every 18 months somewhere around the world. And always has. Which must mean, according to this standard of evidence, that the world has always ended every 18 months, give or take.

Moreover, if one will bother to read the remainder of the passage, he will find that it ends thusly:

"Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect."

Did ya'all get that one? At an hour you do not expect. The eclipse can by no means be considered unexpected.

No one, not even the Son, knows the time or the hour, Jesus said. So I guess the end-of-the-world enthusiasts are saying that they are privy to information not available to Christ.

Of course, these things are, and have always been, silly. The only pertinent eclipse in this matter is the all too common total eclipse of the brain when ignorance is brought to bear on scripture.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Tongues

Sometimes, the mind is filled with a deafening silence, roaring with words that cannot be formed, groanings which cannot be uttered. These are the tongues of the heart, of which we would make words, yet have no language. The bridge is out. The chasm is bottomless. One speaks, therefore, of not speaking. One speaks of the deafening, grievous silence, aware that all that is more than that, and all that is so very sorely needed, is unreachable by any means. We cannot say what we must, for it is hidden from our lips, a stranger to even the smallest of words. This is the dire, unutterable anguish. This is the obliteration of narrative, which only the passage of time can restore.

Monday, August 7, 2017

The Magic Bird

A couple years ago, I was suffering from a daily headache. It was present when I awoke each morning, present when I went to bed at night, and present every hour in-between. It was a relentless headache, unremittingly severe. I went to the doctor, who said, ultimately, that he did not know why I was having a headache. (It is not unusual in Indonesia for doctors not to know much of anything. It's part of the job description). 

As the headache persisted, I concluded that it was yet another unwelcome symptom of MS - sudden, persistent, inexplicable, and without other cause or specific treatment. (Aspirin, by the way, had no effect. Handfuls of aspirin had no effect, either). 

So, one day I was sitting at Starbucks in Sanur, unable to read, as I would usually be doing. Unable to think. Unable to do much of anything other than hang my head and close my eyes. 

And then, suddenly, something happened. Something splashed onto my head from above. I put my hand to my skin and found that it was bird shit. 

Great, I thought. As if things are not bad enough, now a bird has crapped on my head. 

But wait ... 

In the next instant, I realized that the headache was gone. It had completely disappeared. 

And I have never again experienced anything like it. 

Well, my friend, and former neighbor, Vyt Karazija, tells me that he just happened to be passing by Starbucks at the critical moment, and snapped this picture: 



Thanks, Vyt. We now have proof. 

Dreaming Reality

The other night, just in that space where one is both awake and asleep, aware but drifting away, I suddenly found myself walking through tall grass on the shore of a lake, growing from the soil below, sprouting through the face of the water, swaying in the gentle breeze, and on the other side of that outstretched arm of grass, I saw my mother and my son, sitting together on a bench-like log, a green bay behind them, speckled with lilypads. This wasn't an imagination. It was a memory, somehow stuck fast in the gears of time. I was re-living a moment perfectly preserved, just as I had lived it decades ago. There was nothing critical about the moment, nothing special, nothing ... well, memorable. The grass, the lake, my mother, my son. I was about to join them. My fishing bag was wet against my hip. Small bubbles rose from the roots of the grass. I was about to raise my arm and shout. I was about to join them on the bench-like log.

The Tree

This is such a wonderful old tree at Starbucks Sanur. Of course, it occasionally drops large chunks of bark, or various bugs, but that's part of experiencing the tree. It is also the tree, I think, in which the miracle bird lives.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Someone

Someone was there in the night. In the cold of winter. Someone was there in a heartbeat, in a single breath. When the rain drummed on the window and did not care. When the lights were down and the walls were silent. When deaf veins cried out and had no voice and the unthinking ceiling watched dumbly over all, someone was there. A friend. A man of Cyrene, to carry your cross. How blessed is a friend in the night in the cold in the rain in the dark amid the silence. How very sad it is to have no Simon. How sad when there is no-one to be compelled.

Young and Old

God made two especially beautiful beautiful things in this world. One is the child. The other is the elderly person. If you have ever seen -- really seen -- the eyes of a child, you have seen the eyes of the elderly adult as well You have seen the soul -- new at the one end, new again at the other. Between times, the soul has been out, or on hold, or hidden, or afraid, or unwanted, or inconvenient. Its life is lived not between the beginning and the end, but in the beginning, and in the end. Its life is short, ineffably precious, a billion times over irreproducible. The child is the product of a man and a woman. The elderly person is the product of the child. And the light in the eyes, the young and the old, is the lamp of all that can be remembered, yet never told.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Shipwreck

“I know not what to call this, nor will I urge that it is a secret, overruling decree, that hurries us on to be the instruments of our own destruction, even though it be before us, and that we rush upon it with our eyes open.”
--Daniel Defoe, Robinson Crusoe

So here he was, shipwrecked upon a foreign shore. The storm itself, which had driven him upon this tropical land, had blown and tossed the tiny ship for ten years.

Yes, ten years.

It did not rain the entire time. Sometimes the sun shone. Sometimes it seemed even to stand still in the heaven. Then again at other times the clouds grew heavy and day could barely be distinguished from night and there was no moon and no sun and it was very hard to separate this from death itself.

There were beginnings, there were endings, beginnings, endings, and it was all rather more monotonous than dramatic, for drama, when relentless, merely numbs.
In short, shipwreck, the end of rocking and tossing, of nearly drowning, of nearly perishing from thirst, of clinging to the oar, of sleeping drenched in the ruined sail, of tumbling like the plaything of an angry feline god – shipwreck became salvation.

He had lain on that foreign sand for some years before waking, before clearing his eyes, before seeing that the broken silhouette on the beach, half sunken in the surf, was not a rock, but his boat.

Where had he come from? He could hardly remember, the way one barely remembers a broken bone. But he was here, and his two hands clutched full fists of white sand and the sand sifted through his fingers and there was always more.

And the shipwrecked man began to laugh, and he laughed, and he laughed, full to overflowing with joy.


I am here, he said. It is finished.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki, and His Years of Pilgrimage

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki, and His Years of Pilgrimage, by Haruki Murakami.

Amazing.

There you have it. A one word review. What else can one say?

It is the novel that every novelist wishes he himself had written.

Oh, one more thing. When a writer knows his own characters so well that he can describe the dreams they have at night and cause the reader to believe that these were in fact the dreams dreamed by that character - well, then, you know you have seen a work of uncommon talent.

Hear and See

The clear eye encounters no secrets. All things are in plain sight. It is the heart that is clever at obscuration, for it would save its host from pain. But the ear that is tuned to perfect pitch will not tolerate the instrument that is off key. It knows middle C and cannot abide the flat.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

A Rumination on a Rumination

"...the pain he was feeling now was different. All he felt was sorrow, as if he'd been abandoned at the bottom of a deep, dark pit. That's all it was -- sorrow."

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki is such a perfectly relentless, melancholy rumination over self-doubt, the fragility of identity, the seeming durability of moments which nonetheless teeter on the edge of extinction, that the reader finds himself swallowed up in an irrepresible, dusky sea, doing well to keep his lips above water level in order to suck in the uncertain air. One feels the thinness of life in his bones, strives automatically for the next breath, acknowledges the chance that he may breath in saltwater. He persists, he endures, he hopes and regrets. And he visits, revisits, the changing landscape of his own life memories, looking at each once again, tilting it sideways, holding it to a new, another light. Did we truly love as I seem to remember; and, if so, what became of what had seemed unassailable? How had all this happened, at what point were mutual moments, words, hopes and dreams parted, and by what blade? Was it I, really I, who had wielded the blade that pierced my own heart? And now where had she gone, where had he gone, whose hand had lain so naturally, yet so very impermanently in mine? What happened to us, the depot through which the train of the world had once passed on its predictable, unwavering way? Memory kneels before the court of time and faces an objective, implacable judge whose gavel eternally knocks at the door of time.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Phil

While reading a chapter today from Haruki Murakami's novel, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki, which described the protangonist's college days relationship with a fellow student, I was reminded by an old relationship from my own past. I was just out of college at PSU, and Phil, my friend, was, rather more impressively, just out of Reed, and we were both working as copy clerks at the Oregon Journal (which, I guess, goes to show you that a prestigious college doesn't always mean a lot). 

In any case, we became friends at work, and eventually got into the habit of meeting at his apartment on Friday or Saturday night. It was always at his apartment in downtown Portland, a dingy, draby, echoing, gray building where each floor had one community bathroom; never at my house, because I had a wife, and a kid, and Phil could bear the company of neither wives nor children. 

We had both graduated as literature majors and were in the process of graduating to careers of alcoholism and marijuana addiction. Without these substances, we may well have not been able to bear one another's company either. 

So we would meet in his apartment, I with my pint of rum, he with his weed, and have long discussions about literature, arguing about Hemingway, whom he despised, or admiring Faulkner, whom we both worshipped. 

Phil was very bright, one might say 'weirdly' bright, but had no discernible heart. I usually needed half a pint, more or less, to dull my own heart and therefore debate on an equal standing. 

It was a strange relationship, when I think back on it now, but it was all we had. My marriage, by that time was unhappy. And Phil was naturally unhappy. 

Eventually, I quit the Journal and went back to college, for no particular reason, while Phil moved up to writing obituaries and little bits on community events. And we stopped meeting. 

I did run into him at a Fred Meyers store years later. He had married, surprisingly, and now had a child, surprisingly. And also, I note, a heart. We exchanged phone numbers, said we would meet, kick around old times. 

But we never did. Those times were gone, and, honestly, left not much to miss. 

Perplexing

A rat has once again been visiting our silverware drawer and making a little night time home and outhouse there. So last night, I put a rat trap, the sticky glue kind, at the base of the cupboard with a bit of sausage in the middle. Upon checking the trap this morning, I found the sausage gone, but no rat. And no footprints! How can it be? Did the rat lower himself, Tom Cruise/Mission Impossible style on a rope attached to the top of the cupboard? Did he jump, snatch the sausage in mid air, and land free on the opposite side? Neither seems likely. So how? It is a mystery, the answer to which I will likely never know.

The Leap

Wherever I am planted, I grow roots, deep into the earth, tenacious, devoted, caring not so much for the appearance of the flower as for its sustenance and increase. My world is dark and hidden, hates the spade, loves the good harvest, embraces the stone.