Haunting Our Days

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  We curse thee Carolina and sing our dismay,

   Heartbreaking loses haunting our days . . .

                            Wesley Moore, “A Parody of the USC’s Alma Mater”                   

 

Question 1 :  Why did WM become a Gamecock? 

A. he couldn’t break 1200 on the SAT

B. he had mediocre grades

C.  his father was unemployed

D. USC had a journalism school

E. all of the above

F. none of the above

Question 2 : Why has WM squandered so many gorgeous autumn afternoons in darkened dens or benighted sports bars screaming imprecations at cathode tubes or hi-def screens?  

A. because football is a ritualization of innate masculine territorial aggressiveness

B. because the South lost the Civil War

C. because he enjoys feeling sorry for himself as he whimpers in fetal position on floors littered with carelessly dropped popcorn

D. because the his school team, the Mighty Gamecocks, have enjoyed unparalleled success

E. A & B

F. B & C

Answers: 1. E  2. E

Actually, as a child, WM was a rabid Clemson fan, listened to the games on AM radios.  No doubt, if he had been interested in engineering or horticulture, he would have matriculated to Clemson and continued to pull for the Tigers.  Thus, the irrationality and absurdity of his banal haphazard tribal association with the University of South Carolina is not lost on him.

On the rare occasions that he has attended in person a Carolina football game, it has occurred to WM how little he has in common with the rest of the members of his frenzied atavistic tribe, a garnet and black sea of philistines:  Trump supporters, used car dealers, evangelicals – in other words, typical South Carolinians. (Picture Jean-Paul Sartre at a Tupperware party).

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Alienated at these events, he spends most of the games cringing at poor tackling and the viciousness of the invectives that pour from sub literate fans who have turned on the young men they had erst while cheered.

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Gamecock fans celebrate a rare victory over Clemson

Many scholars have underscored the obvious: for Southerners of a certain age, male and female, college football is a compensation for the ignominy of the Civil War and its humiliating aftermath, Reconstruction.*  Although it seems like ancient history to most folks now, I can remember two of my great-grandfathers and my maternal grandfather’s hateful reproaches regarding the cruelty of carpetbaggers.

The thinking (using the term loosely) goes like this: Because of under-industrialization, we lost the Wa-ah; otherwise, we would have whupped those pasty-faced, vowel clipping Yankees, the way we do every year in BCS bowl games.**

In fact, Konrad Lorenz went so far to say that team sports like football are a necessary evil, a way for testosterone-blinded cretins to channel their innate territorial aggressiveness.  Otherwise, we might have Neighborhood Watch associations taking to the streets battling one another, blinding their enemies with flashlights, pummeling each other with pitching wedges.

Unfortunately (for WM, that is) rather than offering an antidote to the ignominy of hailing from a land of losers, pulling for the Gamecocks has doubled his legacy of losing. Add over a half-century of pulling for the Atlanta Braves, and you got losing to the third power, a river-of-tears breaching the levees of endurance.


*Of course, rationally speaking, in my relatively well-educated adulthood, I’m glad the Confederacy was vanquished, but when I picked up the college football habit in the early 60s, this was not the case.

** Thanks largely to that fact that  more descendants of slaves dwell in these parts, but never mind that.

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Cry Me a River

Why devote all this time and energy inside samsara’s swirling pit of baneful desire and disillusion?

Habit?

Masochism?

Answer:  search me.

How Not to Generate a Dating Profile

wes and yorick

I’m sure we have a lot in common

 

People tell me I haven’t missed anything at all by never really dating someone I hadn’t known rather well. The fact is that I’ve never dated a stranger, except for a blind date that was sprung on me without my knowledge when I visited an out-of-town cousin. It was a double date at that, and I was exclusively seeing someone else, which I mentioned to my blind date right away.

I did go on one other date in college with a girl from my hometown I didn’t know well, but we had had a couple of long conversations, and I could tell she was interested.  Plus, we had a host of mutual friends, so it wasn’t as if we needed to strain to find something to talk about.

My late wife Judy Birdsong and I had worked together for months in a bar before we started seeing each other, so we were very comfortable together.  It wasn’t like meeting a stranger for coffee to see how you got along.

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Judy and I a decade or so ago

Similarly, my wife Caroline and I had been friends and members of the same book club for five years before we started our romance, so ditto.

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Caroline and I

So the long and short of it is that I’ve never created a dating profile for eHarmony or any of the other dating platforms, which no doubt is a good thing because I’ve never really known anyone who has successfully cultivated a lasting relationship through electronic dating (or whatever you call it).

I guess, you need to market yourself, to choose a flattering image, and then to present your personality in a way that would make a congenial spirit willing to devote a few hours in your company.

As a thought experiment, I thought I’d create a theoretical dating profile, just to see what it would be like.

So I filled out this dating profile generator I found on-line.[1]  It asks you questions, you supply answers, and it creates an introductory essay.

Here’s what it came up with.

Good day ladies!

I’m a learned sort of gentleman, who likes nothing more than drinking with the right woman.

The first thing people usually notice about me is my ironic personality, closly (sic) followed by my smashing legs. I am not one of those fake people who pretends not to notice their (sic) own qualities. My legs and ears are top notch. These gems of honesty are just part of the learned person I am.

I work as a retired teacher[2], helping students. This allows me to exercise my skills: eloquence and humor. I would like to tell you about the time I met Dizzy Gillespie, which is true, but it’s important to me that you know I’m honest, so I’ll save the wilder parts of my life for another time.

My life goals include:

  • Meet Eric Idle
  • Become the best retired teacher I can be
  • Help all the students in the world[3]

If you’re the right woman for me, you’ll be intelligent and kind. You won’t be afraid to skinny dip and will have a healthy respect for integrity.

My ideal date would involve writing in Folly Beach with a tall woman by my side. While we’re there, I compliment your proportional face.

Honesty and openness are the most important qualities in a relationship. I will be honest with you, if you will be honest with me. I will never hit on your best friend whilst (sic) you’re visiting a sick relative, never text my ex behind your back while you’re asleep, never post naked photos of you on Facebook. That’s just the kind of gentleman I am.

A nod’s as good as a wink to a blind bat, eh?

I urge you, get in touch,

Kingbeat

 

As the youngsters say, OMG! Believe it or not, I chose “earnest” as the type of profile I wanted.


[1] From its diction, I’m pretty sure this thing originated in the UK.

[2] Work by not making lesson plans, not grading papers, not teaching classes, not attending faulty meetings.

[3] By remaining retired.

Free Lesson Plan: Teaching Point-of-View

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In fiction, especially short fiction, determining the point-of-view of the narration is often key in analyzing the piece.  From whose perspective do we experience the action?  From godlike omniscience; a particular character; or an objective, camera-like recorder?

Take Hemingway’s often anthologized story “Hills Like White Elephants.”   Hemingway presents the action from the objective point-of-view, showing an unmarried couple at a railroad station in Spain arguing about whether they should maintain or abort a pregnancy.  The subject is never explicitly mentioned, nor do we enter either character’s mind.  Essentially, the male is browbeating his lover into having the abortion, though she is hesitant.  Because the presentation is objective, the reader doesn’t necessarily take sides, the way he or she would if the narration had been first person or limited objective from the man or woman’s point-of-view.

Take a peek at the painting above, Pieter Breughel’s Landscape with the Fall of Icarus. Imagine it’s fiction, not a painting.  What if the story were told from plower’s point-of-view or the shepherd’s?  They may have heard the splash but would not have seen Icarus  plummeting into the ocean, or to quote Auden,  “the white legs disappearing into the green water.”  I suggest to students that the omniscient point-of-view is the best mode to depict the action of the painting.

So what follows is an overview of the various points-of-view with an original narrative depicting the same scene from various perspectives.

Here are the basic points-of view:

omniscient

limited omniscient

objective

first person

second person

stream-of-consciousness

Omniscient Point of View

The omniscient point of view provides the author with the most freedom because he is, as the word omniscient suggests, all-knowing.  The narrator can see all,  go anywhere, knows all, can read multiple minds.  This point-of-view is excellent for wide ranging narratives like WW2 sagas and offers excellent economy but is somewhat distancing and demands the action to be rendered in rather straightforward prose.

Here’s the central narrative of this lesson told from the omniscient point of view.

Abby Huffington, an attractive young brunette in her early twenties, sat at her desk before a blank sheet of paper preparing to write a dear john letter to her boyfriend, Ashton Gray.   In the distance a lawnmower sputtered its dull ceaseless hacking growl as an irritating accompaniment to the hangover that clouded her thoughts.  Abby had met Ashton not long after her breakup with Bennington.  She realized now that shouldn’t have jumped into a relationship so soon.  She swung her head to the side, slinging her brown bangs out of her eyes and placed her pen into the corner of her mouth. Just at that moment a bluejay chased a wren from the bird feeder just outside her window.   Taking the pen out of her mouth, she wrote “Dear  Ashton,” thought better of it, then scratched through “Dear.”

Meanwhile, across town in his second story apartment, Ashton Gray with trembling fingers looped his madras tie in front of the mirror over his dresser.  It had been a rough night last night.  Something was bothering Abby.  At Taco Boy she was slinging down Singapore Slings like a sailor.  Now, at the last minute, she had decided that she wasn’t going to accompany him to church.  He walked over to his bedside table and picked up her photograph. Putting it down gently, he turned to retrieve his blazer from his closet and caught sight of his roommate’s calico cat on the hood of his car.  Opening the window, he shouted, “Hey, Jo-Jo, get off of there.”

Note that booth characters and their thoughts are presented in two different settings. This is impossible from the limited omniscient and first person points-of-view.

Limited Omniscient

In limited omniscience, all of the action is experienced through one character’s perceptions but is expressed in the third person.  The narrator intimately knows the character, can step outside of her for description’s sake, can read her thoughts but is tied to her perceptions; therefore, the character must appear in all scenes.

Abby Huffington, a young woman in her early twenties, sat at her desk before a blank sheet of paper preparing to write a dear john letter to her boyfriend, Ashton Gray.   In the distance a lawnmower sputtered its dull ceaseless hacking growl.  It wasn’t that Ashton was a bad guy; it was just that he was no Bennington. At the thought of Bennington’s name, she sighed. Why had she rushed into this relationship with Ashton?  It’s not as if she hadn’t been warned.  Her mother had warned her, Jaclyn had warned her, even her hairdresser had warned her.  She jerked her head to the side, slinging her brown bangs out of her eyes, and placed her pen into the corner of her mouth just as a blue jay chased a wren from the bird feeder that hung just outside her window. Taking the pen out of her mouth, she wrote “Dear  Ashton,” thought better of it, then scratched through “Dear.”

From this point-of-view we’re likely to take sides with Abby because she’s in the center of the action; we read her thoughts, not Ashton’s.  It’s more intimate than the omniscient rendering.

Also, I point out to students the name symbolism, Huffy Abby, dull, gray ASH-ton, and how the bluejay chasing the wren off parallels her chasing Ashton off.  I ask my students if they think the author consciously intended the symbolism, and if they say no, I remind them that I wrote it.

Objective

On the objective point-of-view, the narration is limited to camera-like observations in plain prose.  It’s akin to a stage play or movie and has the advantage of immediacy and verisimilitude. Its major drawback is a lack of economy.

A slender young man in his mid-twenties loops the bottom of his madras tie into position with trembling fingers as he peers into a dresser mirror.  Leaning into the mirror, he bares his teeth to inspect them, then turns and walks over to his bedside table and picks up a photograph of a smiling, fresh-faced brunette. He shakes his head as he gently places the picture back.  Turning, he glances out of the window, suddenly rushes over to it, flings it open, and shouts, “Hey, Jo-Jo, get off of there.”  A calico cat has left eight paw prints on a Dodge Neon sedan parked in front of the building.

Here we’re hardly aware of the central conflict, unlike the the omniscient version where we see both sides in very few words.

First Person

Obviously, in first person a character narrates using the pronoun I and speaks in his or her own voice.  The limitations are the same as limited omniscient, and it’s important to realize that narrator might be unreliable, though readers tend to side with a first person narrator even if he’s a murderer.

I don’t know why I decided to dump Ashton that Sunday.  My splitting headache might have had something to do with it.  I guess I could have delivered the news when he called to see if I wanted to do breakfast before church, but I chickened out, told more or less the truth, that I felt like hell.  His reaction was typical – quiet whining, I’d call it.  Even though he didn’t say anything, even though I couldn’t see him – it’s hard to explain – it’s like I could feel him whining through my cell.  I mean Ashton’s a nice guy and all, but he just didn’t do it for me.  Let’s face it.  I wasn’t over Bennington.  Anyway,  I was hungover, a lawnmower was roaring outside, birds squawking outside my window, so I got out a piece of stationary and had at it.

Note the prose can be as informal and as ungrammatical as you like.

Second Person

In second person, an imaginary you narrates in second person, so essentially it’s just like first person.  Ask students why an author might choose second person instead of first.

It’s Sunday morning, and you’re getting ready for church, trying to whip a half-Windsor into shape.  The problem is you have an awful feeling. Your fiancée has been acting weird lately, really weird.  Last night at Taco Boy she was so drunk she actually started smoking cigarettes.  You ended up practically having to carry her into her apartment, rooting through her purse to get the keys.  You really hope no one saw you, but you bet someone did.  Of course, she’s backed out of going to church. Unlike you, the model of moderation, she’s party, party, party.  You can even see it in her face in that photo you pick up from the end table.   That little sly smile.     You glance outside the window.  Not that cat again.  There he is tracking dirt on the hood of your car.

Stream of Consciousness

Here the narration consists of a person’s stream of disjointed thoughts.  It’s poetic, can reveal deep psychological insight, but too challenging for most readers.

Round and round we go, where we stop is a half-windsor, a half-windsor, son, a half windsor is the most distinguished knot.  Round here, we always stand up straight. Taco Boy, Salem Lites for petes’ sake..  Round here, something ain’t right.  Look at her, look at her.  What you smiling about, girl?    Round here, we stay up very very very late.  What the?  “Hey, Jo-Jo, get off of there.”

So that’s it.  Use the above with my blessing however you see fit.  I have narrative essay assignments for each (except stream-of-consciousness).  If you’d like to use them, let me know how to contact you in the comments.

Wesley Moore

Before the Fall

ozyman

 

 

Before the Fall

            wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command

I met a man at Mar-a-Lago

Who said, “Two cloud- scraping  towers

Stand in Istanbul, I want you to know,

Built by me, a man of tremendous power

With hair the color of gilded gold.

No man can match my menacing glower

When you don’t do what you’ve been told,

Like Lindsey over there, watch him cower.

 

“I am the fucking president,”  he bellowed.

“Lindsey, go fetch me a Diet Coke.”

To me: “I am the most stablest genius e-vah,

And ne-vah, ev-ah have been known to choke.

Here’s my mighty and matchless prediction.

I’ll carry all 50 states in the next election – ha!

Why Most High School Students Don’t Like Poetry

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Like the majority of North Americans, high school students don’t like poetry.  When I teach my first lesson on poetry,  I confront students with this fact, encourage them to be honest, to raise their hands if they don’t like poetry, and all but one or two hands tentatively rise.

I ask them why, and they reply “it’s hard” or “too abstract” or that “teachers read too much into it and that’s off putting.”

I say, “But you used to like it.  You liked Dr. Seuss.  See if you like this poem.  Then I read them “Hand, Hand Fingers Thumb,” my older son Harrison’s favorite book when he was a preschooler.

Because the illustrations constitute an important facet to the poem’s overall effect, I’m going to provide a video and then read it myself to produce a very different vibe, the one I create in the classroom.

Okay, hit the arrow to get my rendition.

 

Usually, I receive a rousing round of applause, but then I ruin it for them.  I say, “See, you enjoyed that, but you didn’t get its deeper meaning.  Let me explain.

“The poem is actually an apocalyptic history of life on the planet that incorporates both  Hebraic and Hellenic myths denoting the fall of man that culminates in a population explosion that eventually kills all primates on the planet.”

“What?”  they say.

“Listen. At first the monkeys are happy in their prelapsarian state, enjoying music and each other’s company until

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“Here the apple represents the Eden myth’s rendition of the Fall, and the plum represents the Greek concept of the worship of Dionysius, the Greek god of wine.  Perkins is using what is called poetic license, substituting one purple fruit for another for the sake of rhyme.

“It’s no accident that in the very next stanza after the chorus, disease enters the rapidly fading paradise of the monkeys’ world.

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“As civilization advances, instrumentation becomes more sophisticated; banjos and fiddles augment the simple jungle drums at the beginning.  An unabated and unsustainable population explosion ensues, choking the planet.

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“Hence the diminuendo at the end

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“This is an obvious allusion to TS Eliot’s “The Hollow Men,”  its last lines stating that the world will end “not with a bang but a whimper.”

Some kids look generally puzzled, others sport wry smiles.  I take my tongue out of my cheek and confess that what I just spewed was bullshit, that the poem exists to delight you with sound, rhythms and rhymes, and that a very important rule is that it’s much better to miss a symbol than to misinterpret one.  That, in fact, most poems are the opposite of abstract, they’re concrete.

Ars Poetica

Archibald MacLeish

A poem should be palpable and mute
As a globed fruit,
Dumb
As old medallions to the thumb,
Silent as the sleeve-worn stone
Of casement ledges where the moss has grown—
A poem should be wordless
As the flight of birds.
                         *
A poem should be motionless in time
As the moon climbs,
Leaving, as the moon releases
Twig by twig the night-entangled trees,
Leaving, as the moon behind the winter leaves,
Memory by memory the mind—
A poem should be motionless in time
As the moon climbs.
                         *
A poem should be equal to:
Not true.
For all the history of grief
An empty doorway and a maple leaf.
For love
The leaning grasses and two lights above the sea—
A poem should not mean
But be.

Kitsch Sells

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I first became aware of photoshopping at an academic conference at Florida State a decade or so ago where a presenter shared the home page of her website, which featured a photoshopped image of a Van Gogh painting in which she had placed herself at a café table.

So I decided I’d learn Photoshop, which has become very handy when I’m illustrating posts for this blog.

On the side, I started creating what I call “fake art.”  One night on vacation somewhere, maybe Saluda, North Carolina, I noticed large canvases in a restaurant that didn’t seem quite right.  I asked the server if they were actually paintings, and she said, no, they were photographs that had “been filtered” to look like paintings.

Ta da, a new hobby was born.  I shipped a couple of my pieces to on-line companies that transferred my kitschy collages to canvases.  Most of my early works were Folly Beach bars that I funked up by pasting images from pulp novel covers into the scenes.

I took one to my favorite hangout, Chico Feo, and traded it for a $50 bar tab.  It now hangs in the bathroom of a suite that they rent out over the bar.  Some patrons approached the owner a couple of months back and asked if they could purchase it, and he put them in touch with me.  They bought five.

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My first sale

Then last week at a house concert my wife Caroline and I hosted, a woman wanted to buy another one, and then the day before yesterday, another fellow wanted to buy a completely different one that also hangs at Chico Feo.

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The second piece sold

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The most recent sale

So here I am selling these jokey collages without even trying to, so it has occurred to me now that I’m on a fixed income, I should try to actually supplement my cash flow by marketing this shit, maybe even print postcards or something.  The last thing I am is a businessman, so I don’t know where to start, but I thought, I’d go ahead and post a few of them here for the hell of it.

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Jack of Cups

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Chico Feo Bachelor’s Party