One of the many Mongolians who didn’t click on this site in 2015
Thanks to all of ya’ll who clicked on the blog this year, which received 20.022 hits by visitors from 110 countries. I’d like especially to thank those solo souls in Lithuania, Guadeloupe, Liechtenstein, Ethiopia, the Isle of Man, Libya, Congo-Kinshasa, not to mention whoever it was in Papua New Guinea looking for porn who got sidetracked in Hoodooland.
Of course, several countries were no-shows, including predictable sourpusses like North Korea, Mongolia, and Greenland, but come on, Botswana, Paraguay, and Fiji, where’s your sense of adventure?
Happily, except for a death-haunted January that featured a stem cell transplant, 2015 was a big improvement over 2014, so I thought I’d offer a reprise of some of the most popular posts.
Although “Endangered Lowcountry SC Locutions,” featuring my mother and written exactly a week before my her death, was by far January’s the most popular post, I prefer “Super Bowl XLIX Preview,” which I could easily update this year by merely dropping those clunky Roman Numerals designating forty-nine for the sleek – dare I call them Arabic – numerals 5 and 0.
One of the top news stories in February was an outbreak of measles at Disney World, which brought to light that luddites on both the far right and far left are not vaccinating their replicated DNA, so I produced this piece “Natural Selection at Work” that features not only a vintage photo of smiling polio victims but also a full color photo of an autistic dog.
February also brought us the Brian Williams scandal, which sent me into true confession mode. Dear Readers, believe it or not, I’m no stranger to “misremembering,” as the self-explanatory title “My Most Cherished Mismemory Debunked” testifies.
March came in like a lion with a very popular post, “Ten Literary Riddles.” If you don’t want to see the answers, don’t scroll down past number 10.”
In my book, Bob Dylan should win the Noble Prize for literature, and before you scholarly snobs start tsk-tsking that Dylan is a mere folk-singer-rock-star- minstrel, not a poet, let me share with you these gems from past Noble-winning poets.
In this world all the flow’rs wither,
The sweet songs of the birds are brief;
I dream of summers that will last
from “In This World” by Sully Prudhomme
Keep dreaming, Sully. You’ve been dead for 107 years. Here’s another:
The vase where this verbena is dying
was cracked by a blow from a fan.
It must have barely brushed it,
for it made no sound.
Evening sunshine never
Solace to my window bears,
Morning sunshine elsewhere fares;-
Here are shadows ever.
from “A Sigh” by Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson
No doubt it loses something in translation.
When I bring to you colored toys, my child,
I understand why there is such a play of colors on clouds, on water,
and why flowers are painted in tints
—when I give colored toys to you, my child.
from “Colored Toys” by Rabindranath Tagore
We can’t blame a bad translation on that one; it was originally written in English.
Ah but not the bottle, not the chicken,
Would I touch, however fine and tender;
Nothing but herself, but Fraulein Anna!
Her I’d set upon the pony, clasping
Both my arms around her, and would gallop
All along the street, along the village,
Up the hill, and stop at Friedli’s hostel –
Then we would be married in the autumn.”
from “Puberty” by Carl Spitteler
Compare the above with this:
Darkness at the break of noon
Shadows even the silver spoon
The handmade blade, the child’s balloon
Eclipses both the sun and moon
To understand you know too soon, there is no sense in trying
Then take me disappearin’ through the smoke rings of my mind
Down the foggy ruins of time, far past the frozen leaves
The haunted, frightened trees, out to the windy beach
Far from the twisted reach of crazy sorrow
Yes, to dance beneath the diamond sky with one hand waving free
Silhouetted by the sea, circled by the circus sands
With all memory and fate driven deep beneath the waves
Let me forget about today until tomorrow.
When Ruthie says come see her
In her honky-tonk lagoon
Where I can watch her waltz for free
’Neath her Panamanian moon
An’ I say, “Aw come on now
You must know about my debutante”
An’ she says, “Your debutante just knows what you need
But I know what you want”
It was Rock-a-day Johnny singin’, “Tell Your Ma, Tell Your Pa
I’ve decided to devote the scant few years left of my teaching career attempting to get readers to sound out the music of language.
I hate that multi-taskers register words as mere mute visual signs while some MP3 drowns out the onomatopoetic echoes that very well might make what they’re reading magical. Like, for example, the auditory drop you physically feel when you read Hardy’s lines, “Down their carved names/The rain drop plows.”
Say it outloud. Feel the drop drop from your palette into the empty air.
Or this from “The Waste Land”: “Drip drop drip drop drop drop drop.”
Say it outloud. Eliot’s mimicking the song of the wood thrush.
I hate the idea of a student sitting on a Green somewhere reading Ishmael’s killer opening riff of Moby Dick, his ears plugged with ear buds streaming Nick Drake into a brain that cognitive scientists claim hasn’t fully formed.
Each weekday morning when Judy’s getting her 96-straight hours of EPOCH at Roper, I pull into the Doughty Street Parking Lot around 7, just when the hospital staff switches from day to night shift. As I cross Doughty on foot, Judy’s morning paper in hand, I work against the oncoming pedestrian traffic of off-duty nurses, technicians, engineers, many in their uniforms. Nurses in their navy blue combinations and high-priced athletic shoes seem especially happy. I see them walking in groups of three, smiling, chatting, heading to their cars. They work 3 day-12 hour shifts in a fulfilling profession; nevertheless they’re delighted at the moment to be free.
(Now, what do they do? Devour a delicious breakfast and slurp down a bloody mary before drifting off in front of the Today Show?)
Going with my flow, the on-coming staff marches in, but, even though they seem relatively eager to start work, their affect isn’t nearly as upbeat as their departing colleagues. Then again, we aint talking all doctors and nurses here. Some of these people’s jobs don’t seem fulfilling at all, like those men awkwardly manipulating box-stacked carts into narrow elevators, like those cafeteria workers breathing for hours the odor of hospital food, like the crew out front dealing with valet parking.
Their minutes probably crawl by.
MC Escher: Convex and Concave
Of course, I’m on the way to work myself to shift through dozens of emails before advisory, and if I’m brave enough, to peek at the day’s school calendar, an absurd, way-too-busy color-coded chart of lines and rectangles that look as if they could be the work of MC Escher. We ride a rotating schedule – either Week A or Week B — and when I arrive at work on a Friday morning, people often greet me with the salutation “Happy Friday” or comment sunnily “it’s Friday.” Some time during the day I’ll receive an email inviting me to a “happy hour” in some conveniently located spirit-stocked decompression chamber.
Mythically speaking, labor is one of Adam’s curses, punishment for his uxoriousness, his casting his lot with Eve instead of Yahweh, which brought death into the world and all our woe, e.g. work — in Adam’s case tilling “cursed ground” that produces “thorns and thistles” — in my case dealing with an educational agenda that might be likened to a jewel box of tangled necklaces — academics, sports, service, chapels, assemblies, advisories, peer reviews, study halls. Or think of circus clowns, not leaving a car one after another after another, but entering a car one after another after another.
Actually, I interpret the Eden myth as a story about the shift from hunting/gathering to agriculture, the shift from running around half naked to the natural pulse of the earth’s heartbeat to our settling down to the soul-crushing repetitiveness of the punch clock. Thus, the knowledge of good and evil becomes the knowledge of how to cultivate plants from seeds, which many scholars believe was a discovery made by women, the gatherers of edible plants. And, of course, settled communities brought us the establishment of property and its evil twin poverty. I maintain that Amazonian tribespeople untouched by Western civilization live more meaningful lives than the average American who watches five hours of TV a day.
There’s a cool Philip Larkin poem about what a bitch work is called “Toads.” It goes like this:
Why should I let the toad work
Squat on my life?
Can’t I use my wit as a pitchfork
and drive the brute off?
Six days of the week it soils
With its sickening poison-
Just for paying a few bills!
That’s out of proportion.
Lots of folk live on their wits:
Losels, loblolly-men, louts-
They don’t end as paupers;
Lots of folk live up lanes
With fires in a bucket,
Eat windfalls and tinned sardines-
They seem to like it.
Their nippers have got bare feet,
Their unspeakable wives
Are skinny as whippets-and yet
No one actually starves.
Ah, were I courageous enough
To shout Stuff your pension!
But I know, all too well, that’s the stuff
That dreams are made on:
For something sufficiently toad-like
Squats in me, too;
Its hunkers are heavy as hard luck,
And cold as snow,
And will never allow me to blarney
My way to getting
The fame and the girl and the money
All at one sitting.
I don’t say, one bodies the other
One’s spiritual truth;
But I do say it’s hard to lose either,
When you have both.
I’m with you, Philip. After listening to my litany yesterday about how frustrating teaching has become in the age of technology, a colleague asked me why didn’t I retire. A reasonable question given the frustrations I had just catalogued – parents having access to the grades I post on the website, shooting me emails that proliferate like mushrooms while I’m bouncing from meetings to covering detentions or contacting the help desk because the projection wire in one of the rooms where I teach doesn’t work.
Why don’t I retire? Because I don’t want to. I eventually get bored in the summers if I’m not traveling or working on a project. I like interacting with students, instructing them about the bane of unnecessary linking verbs and the sloppiness of the “naked this” — not to mention the fun introducing them to the Wife of Bath or riding with them up the Congo with Marlow as we steam towards Mistah Kurtz.
It’s like what Camus says in “The Myth of Sisyphus.” –
I leave Sisyphus at the foot of the mountain! One always finds one’s burden again. But Sisyphus teaches the higher fidelity that negates the gods and raises rocks. He too concludes that all is well. This universe henceforth without a master seems to him neither sterile nor futile. Each atom of that stone, each mineral flake of that night filled mountain, in itself forms a world. The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.