Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Summer "Looking"

Last weekend I volunteered at an event at the Theosophical Society of America. I became a member there because the mix of philosophical and religious banter that goes on at their meetings, events, and study groups. But mostly because they have an ivy-covered, musty old library that I would camp in if they'd let me.

The First Theosophers


I am not sure yet what I think of "Theosophy." I am not sure if it's silly or not. So far it seems like a good balance of inner and outer living and thought. The philosophers are stuck in the library, slaves to the books, and the New Agers are too busy getting enlightened to ever pick up a book. Theosophy falls somewhere in between, and seems to have a sense of humor about itself.



The TSA pres. She looks well balanced!


I heard a woman at TSA say she "Can't read deep stuff outside." She is "too expanded" when she is in nature. As hokey as that sounds, I totally understood what she was saying. I don't agree that what her friend was reading was "deep" (it had the word Krishna in the title) because I think by "deep," she meant serious or difficult reading that requires full attention. But whatever type of reading you like to get intellectual about, summer is not a good time for it if you intend to enjoy the outdoors too.


Some reading requires a library setting, or at least a chair, indoors, with references and tea at easy reach.


So I am in a quandry. I've planned a hefty summer reading list for myself. Although I can get through Victorian word-proliferation while sitting on the lawn in the sun -- the words are pretty enough that they jibe with the setting -- I can't get through Plato. And I certainly can't get through Post-Structuralism.


I've been taking obscenely detailed notes on the French thinkers, because I know I'm not absorbing a thing I'm looking at. I say "looking at" because that's all I'm doing. Looking, and maybe translating into normal-speak. But not reading.


I am expanded, I must admit. It's nothing to be ashamed of. Perhaps, also, the reading is more difficult than I am used to. I normally skate by with night-before speed reading and in-class re-reading. And I never had a problem retaining it. Part of my current problem is that I can't admit that I may have come across something I actually have to read more than once. So I admit that too. I'm not as amazingly academic as I thought I was.


I've never had to study before. What does it look like? The word conjures up images of people laying on the floor over piles of books and knitting papers together. For some reason it always made me think of knitting. That's what they do, they put all the papers together into a fabric of knowledge or an "information scarf." You wear it like a badge so everyone can ask you, "Did you knit that yourself?" But scarves are for fall. I won't start my knitting until then.


"Tee hee! My boyfriend knitted it.
He's heavily into philosophy and stuff!"


I am going to Kauai tomorrow. I am bringing Phaedrus with me for long insomniatic nights in the tent. I am bringing Galapagos too, in case my expansion has made me impervious to philosophy. Maybe Galapagos will be more relevant. And Kurt Vonnegut is easy to digest when all you're living on is sun and poi.


I'll save my thoughts on female regurgitation of knowledge for another day.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

A Doughnut For Your Thoughts

Lately I have wondered if philosophers ever indulge in cheap thrills, and if doing so would be hypocritical. Of course that would depend on the philosophy of the philosopher in question. But I am thinking, generally, of the hardcore Socratic disciple: a true lover of wisdom with the temperance of a monk. Would Socrates ride a rollercoaster?


I know that even Socrates indulged, in moderation, in some pleasures of the world. Those who don't are inhuman in a way. Some philosophers went quite mad, perhaps from trying to refrain from doing anything fun and pointless. But did they avoid dancing? Circuses? Do the modern ones avoid bungee jumping? Streaking?


Harmless cheap thrills aside, I am sure they poo-pooed the harmful ones. My philosophy professor this spring insisted that his fellows are a dreadfully sober bunch. Despite the occasional spirits (in which even those temperate monks have been known to dabble), no hallucinogens or significantly mind-altering substances led to doubting the existence of matter or even the existence of existence. Those are completely sober conjectures. While poetry and art can be chemically enhanced, logical arguments cannot. So it goes.

I've been thinking about this only because of something my friend suggested. Something concerning doughnuts.

I am hoping to help get a philosophy club started at my school, but the prospects are bleak. I was running ideas by my young and wise friend Henry, and he suggested food. He is not someone who "mistakes the ends of life." He was merely suggesting the thing that was most likely to work, as an enticer to a first meeting or "open house." College kids eat lots of pizza and doughnuts, so whatever you're peddling, you can probably reel them in with a spot of grease.

I think it would be contradictory to the ends of the philosophy club to pretend to be something it's not (a buffet), and to reward the first attendees with worldy wafers of premature death.

But what incentive could we offer that wouldn't be contradictory? Advertising is all lies. We need to speak the truth if we profess to love it so much.

I think humor is the only way to lure in good prospects without leading them on. If they get it they get it. And they'll be the ones who are more likely to stick around when the doughnuts run out. Plus, with humor we can tell lies and truth at the same time. Hyperbole, sarcasm, irony, satire -- litotes. Funny pictures help too.

So doughnuts aren't really thrilling I suppose. But the question still remains. I wonder to what lengths philosophers go to avoid worldly pleasures, or how much the most famous ones have indulged in while still laying claim to some kind of enlightened, balanced existence.

In Woody Allen's short story "Mr. Big" the philosophers are all over the place. Jazz musicians, adulterers and what not. Somehow that seems to fit. But that was the 70s.



As the late great singer/songwriter/(philosopher?) Burl Ives once sang, "Watch the doughnut, not the hole." Ahh, that's advice for livin'.

I am not an academic today.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Talk Victorian to Me




Yesterday I read two novels. I was home with a cough like an old man's, and though I yearned to go outdoors the cough kept me planted in my chair. I sat in the sunroom with a window cracked to let in the breeze, nursed a cup of jasmine tea, and got lost in the 19th century.

Tess of the D'urbervilles and Wuthering Heights were my yesterday's source of my amusement and sorrow. Both were volumes I had recently purchased at a used book emporium, and I had snatched up the "Norton Authoritative Text" edition of each. The identical format made it easy to skip from Tess's ignominy to Heathcliff's abuse. What made it even easier was that I chose, by chance, two novels with the same "period" English.




There are tomes of criticism written on each of these fine stories, so I won't get into that here. In fact I haven't read any of it yet -- I wanted an unspoiled look at the text the first time through.

What struck me about the novels is the similarities in the language; how in some respects this makes the novels similar, but in others the shared vocabulary has no unifying effect on two novels of the same, often stereotyped, period. The authors' voices and styles shine through the web of multi-syllabic, multi-comma sentences as proof that the "Victorian" novel might not be such an easy thing to define. And that people who say they love Victorian literature shouldn't lump together fifty years worth of novels because they use the same big words.

I am no scholar of the Victorian, but I appreciate it. I think it's amazing that some of the most passionate and passionately loved works in the English language were penned in such a time of convention, social constraints, and sexual repression.

Anyhow, I am off topic. I meant to write about those big old words.

Some of the language gets in the way -- Hardy's descriptions of Tess's emotions are often long-winded and full of abstractions. No clever metaphors help us better understand her pain. Only a thesaurus and dictionary combined can define feminine anguish the way Hardy thinks it pans out. But Hardy and Bronte both dropped some gorgeous yet altogether abandoned words into my lap. Words I'd seen before in my journey through early American literature I now saw popping up across the pond and used as liberally as ever.

I wish to revive them, resurrect them from the vaults of words that have been laid to rest. These words are not archaic. Not in the dictionary sense anyway. You'll find them right there next to "blog" and "ADHD" without any note indicating they were quietly tucked away into libraries and bookshelves at the turn of the century. No disclaimers about using them in public. "People won't understand you. They might laugh at you. Besides, no one really knows how they're pronounced. No one living has ever heard them pronounced." Well, except maybe in a high school English class.

Here are my favorites:

Supernumary

Singular

Frock

Phlegmatic

Kine

Appellation

Concatenation

Victuals

Vociferate

Supernumary is an important word. I think people should use it because they often use words like superfluous, when really supernumary would do much better. The meanings are not the same.

Singular is my absolute favorite. All my most read writers use this one liberally. I am beginning to think everyone used it liberally until 1900. Then it was locked away with the rest, until a cell phone company discovered it, misspelled it, and appropriated it. Most students probably think it's a made up word; they probably think the same of Nike. In my opinion, singular is a much better word than unique, weird, distinct, or any of the other near-synonyms we would use today. It is singularly descriptive in its ability to single out.

No one wears frocks anymore. I want to trade in all my clothes and apparel for frocks.

Kine are livestock, particularly cows. This one took me awhile. I never look up the words untill I have gleaned sufficient meaning from the contexts in which I find them to have a good understanding. Then, someday, I'll look them up. I've loved these words for some time. I looked them up last night.

Phlegmatic. Sounds gross. But you pronounce the "G." That is, unless we're just talking about how much phlegm someone has. Then its hard to know if we're talking about mucus or apathy. Actually a "Phlegmatic" sounds like a machine that removes your boogers for you. The word sounds too harsh to mean apathetic. I like its deceptively interested sound.

So I'm going to attempt to dust off some of these forgotten linguistic heirlooms and polish the scratches and dents out of the misused or appropriated ones.

Also, I think I'll read some of that criticism tonight. I need to stop fawning over the words so I can see the novels.


From this day foreword, I shall conduct all my
correspondence through holes in trees.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Kill Your Bluetooth



As I was researching in-flight entertainment for an article I'm about to write, I came across so many press releases and articles full of hope and excitement about WiFi in the air. It has made me physically ill.

I am glad that laptops and cell phones are useless at high altitude. I never use them much anyway, and people who do should welcome the break from work, and from close-range radiation. As one spirited commenter on an article about in-flight WiFi said, "There is enough cosmic radiation at those altitudes. I don't think it is worth the health risks." While I'm not so sure about the cosmic rays, I agree that WiFi in the sky is unhealthy.


"Boring ass clouds. Stop lookin' at me."

Do we not have enough technology creating walls between us and the real live humans aroudn us? Not to mention, walls between us and our natural surroundings.

Joggers refuse to move an inch without their iPods. Sometimes when I bike on the river trail I would like to say good morning, but the white strands of technology dangling from the ears of oncoming cyclists and runners keep me quiet. I get to enjoy the sounds of the woods and the river, and keep those sounds all to myself.

Bastards of all socioeconomic status sport their Bluetooth ear gear everywhere from the ball game to the piss trough to the Chucky Cheese. Sometimes their kids sprout ear devices too, as if it's a genetic disease.

"He'll grow into it."


Bluetooth would be a good accessory for the schizophrenic who would like to appear as if he is not talking to himself or to God, but to someone who is actualy inciting his anger. But on your standard issue human, an earbud is a big "Don't talk to me I am important" sign.

I see people who probably can't afford to make their car payment wearing them. But mostly it's middle class douchebags. A douchebag is a man who thinks he is very special, but he is really just a jerk. He looks like this:



Stab your fork in his ear baby. Right in his ear.


The corporate honchos who can afford their cars and who wear every piece of gear they can come by (laptop bag over shoulder, Bluetooth in ear, Blackberry holster on hip) irk me just as much as the poseurs. Especially in airports. Especially when you can tell they are going on vacation and not on business.

Shouldn't a powerful man also be free? Powerful people today enslave themselves to technology, willingly shackling themselves into the shiny manacles of telecommunication, and for what? They can't really care about the office when they're boarding a plane to Disneyworld. Maybe it's a look they're going for, or a front for something. They don't really need WiFi on the goddamned plane. I think they say they need it because everyone expects that.

Observing these men at airports, writing in my little journal, I feel that I am the one who is truly free. Mostly powerless in a big world, but free, at the very least. And I will probably outlive the lot of them. Leatherbound journals are not known to give off high levels of radiation. Here is how I feel when I write in my journal:


Sometimes people call airplanes birds. A recent survey showed that people overwhelmingly prefer to spend their time in birds looking out the window. Of those surveyed, 86% occupied most of their time just staring at the planet from their peculiar point of perspective. Shining lakes that change color, mist-shrouded mountains with no beginning or end, discs of stormy clouds spewing lightening from both ends, and the repetition of long desert roads leading to curious flag lots spotted with scrubby dots are enough to capture their imagination for hours on end. Even on flights over open ocean, the window still won out.

But the airline futurists still predict success for sky-fly-wi-fi: "The public unquestionably wants Internet connectivity, even if that means removing one of the last places where one can escape from work." I think the public thinks they are supposed to want it. So they do. Consumer culture is seeping into every crack it can find. Now that it's filled the planet, it's finally bleeding out into space.

I am going on my first trip to an island next week, on a group backpacking trip. It will also be my first flight over water, not counting a short trip over Lake Superior. (I woke up and thought the plane had flown off the end of the Earth. It's a big friggin' lake.) I plan on looking out the window, reading (no more Vonnegut...for now), and talking to people. I hope I see a cruise ship in the water. That would look really strange from the sky. I bet we can see reefs when we land. I hope they look like this:




I can't wait to remove myself from this culture, from technology, and particularly from the internet. My technology manacles aren't very heavy. They could be easily smashed with a small coconut. As for the Bluetooth men on their way to Kauai, I hope they stay in Lihue, out of my sight and away from my coconut.









Friday, June 13, 2008

The SEO-cret is out


I'm supposed to be writing about the history of nurse hats today. I'm not feeling it.


Listen: Articles on such topics are used by internet marketing companies to drive traffic to their sites. They don't do this by getting traffic through the links, but by simply building up the amount of links that point to the site, which makes Google like the site better. This is called "organic" search engine optimization, or organic SEO, and is often represented with incredibly clever graphics like this:



That's the big internet secret folks. And that is what I do all day. I magnify my keyboard.

So far I have written articles on exciting topics such as the history of the chef hat (there seems to be a hat theme), women's importance to cuisine, the saftey of molecular distillation of fish oil, the history of the dog collar, how to get envelopes printed, why you should recycle your used business machines, and how in-flight cellular phone service works. And so on.

Needless to say, I have become an expert on speed-research. I know nothing and care nothing about many of these topics, but they are becoming my online legacy.

Jeremy Bentham. Learned about him from research on animal rights, not from philosophy class!


Some article sites allow users to attribute articles to pen names. Some do not. The former must be aware of how an aspriring writer may not want to associate him or herself with SEO article writing. The latter either hadn't thought of that issue, or they are trying to make SEO writing seem more reputable. They require authors with verified email addresses and real human names. One actually had me submit writing samples. If you've ever read any articles from online databases, you know the writing is painful to look at. Of course I try to rise above, but I also have a job to do. If you ever Google me, be prepared for the worst.

I am happy, at least, that I get to write as part of my job. Although there are days when I want to chop off my fingers for the offenses they've committed against me on the keyboard, and there are days when I want to gouge out my eyes after agonizing over the perfect Google image of Atlantic cod or a Baroque dog collar, I should be grateful. I'm not slinging hash and I'm not selling crap (not directly anyway), and I get to make myself write daily.


A "Cartesian" collar. If your dog is whining he must have a broken cog.


I just hope this kind of writing doesn't lodge itself in my brain like a disease and eat away at my creative and academically inclined neurons. I am actually taking a course in the fall to help me write even better articles (Corporate and Professional Communication). I just have to do my best to keep business and pleasure separate.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Rock My Logic

A man I used to know always made fun of the way people take rock musicians seriously. Especially when it came to politics, society, and the environment. My argument was this: Who else are grungy, surly kids going to listen to? And aren't all these messages important, no matter who is delivering them? His argument was this: Rock musicians are idiots. He was an artist, so I guess that made him a genius.

Today I won't talk about rock musicians' positions on the environment or hostile takeover of nations. But I would like to talk about their philosophies.

I don't take rock music seriously, for the most part, but I think it is a very down to earth kind of poetry that can be understood by most anyone who is willing to listen closely. Most songs don't say much -- they are about sensory experiences, love, revenge. But anyone can appreciate poetry on these topics. I find it funny and intriguing, however, when philisophical ideas creep into the catalogs of artists like Pink Floyd, Rush, and even Supertramp!

At the end of my last semester I was feverishly trying to compose my final paper for my "Problems of Philosophy" class in my head -- I was so very busy that my working on papers consisted of thinking aloud in the car and falling asleep reading before bed. For a solid week it seems I would burst out laughing at least once a day because of the songs that came on the radio. My mind was so full of philisophical nomenclature that words barely held their common meaning anymore. It was probably a little bit of that and a little bit of my obsession with rock lyrics that led to me adopting a few seemingly unrelated songs as my "Philosophy Mix Tape."


I think his hair has some Free Will of its own.


Rush "Free Will" -- Rush argues against those who belive that we exist in "the worst of all possible worlds." The world is governed by chance and by our own free will. We do not "dance on the strings of powers we cannot perceive" but we can choose our path, choose our guide, or choose not to do anything about life. But, as the band astuteley observes, "if you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice." Rush establishes their philosophy on free will and a preordained future, and at the same time points out a paradox presented by free will.




Michael McDonald -- Can't understand a

word the man says, but he sure can sing.



Doobie Brothers "What a Fool Believes" -- This one really cracks me up. Michael McDonald croons about how fools get walked all over in love. But he says more than that. The Doobie Brothers present their skeptical philosophy that reason cannot help a person who is in pain or blinded by emotion. No matter what a wise person may tell a fool, he will still believe "what seems to be." The Doobies have a point there. Philosophy does wonders for solving problems of phenomenology and perception in many cases, but not where love is involved. "What a fool believes he sees...No wise man has the power to reason away." The girl also gives an "apology."

Billy Joel "Only the Good Die Young" -- This statement would be hard to prove, but we won't put the burden of a proof on Billy Joel. He has enough problems. I think the song is really about how Catholicism, and by extension all religion, stifles life. Joel thinks we should live for worldly pleasures, that moderation and abstinence from everything that's fun only leads to an unhappy existence. And if we die young, what have we experienced and what have we left behind? The essense of life is in the experience, not in the contemplation of it. Hence, his drug problems. He believes in fate, however, so I guess he and coke were meant to be. There are some clever lines in the lyrics, like "That stained glass curtain you're hiding behind never lets in the sun ."

I didn't look up a picture of Billy Joel, because I don't think he's cute. Not even in the 70s.


Supertramp -- My favorite Transcendentalists.

The one in the middle has a Jesus look going on.

God, I love the 70s.


Supertramp "Logical Song" -- Also hilarious, and one of my favorite songs. The whole thing is a gem. It's really about the messed up education system and what "they" think we should learn about life. Supertramp remembers the days when they were young and life was magical, because everything was new and they did not have any explanation for anything. Children are sent away from this "magical" world where birds sing "joyfully," and taught to be "logical, responisble, practical." By high school they are "cynical." By college and adulthood, hopefully they've become "acceptable, presentable, a vegetable." Looks like Supertramp would prefer to live the unexamined life, because too much examining leads to turning everything into a fact that needs to be learned -- at least in the western system of education.

Supertramp cautions near the end of the song to "Watch what you say, they'll be calling you a radical, fanatical, liberal, criminal." I think they are right with their idea that school teaches us to think about things in one way, rather than ask questions we'd like to know the answers to, or to look inside ourselves for answers. And this kind of education doesn't do anything for the soul. At the end of the song they demand, "Please tell me who I am." As if that information is just another fact the teacher has written down in her book of answers.




Pink Floyd - Empiricists? Nah.


Finally, there are too many Pink Floyd songs offering up theories of everything (money, time, school...) but my favorite stab at education, to continue with Supertramp's beef, comes in the form of "Brick in the Wall Part 2." According to Mr. Floyd, teachers train children to be bricks in the wall of society, and ridicule them when they don't behave logically and clinically. Also, they are not allowed pudding unless they eat their meat.


I just read Woody Allen's short story "Mr. Big," so I'll have more on serious philosphy business tomorrow.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Stranded at the Mall


If you take a bus in DuPage County, Illinois, you'd better have a plan. Do your research, count your coins, and time your walk to the bus stop to the minute. These cautions are only helpful if the bus goes anywhere you need to go, or comes anywhere near your house.


"Wow! It holds two whole bikes!"
If they got rid of the TVs on board, maybe they could afford a second bike rack?

Living in Tucson, Arizona for eleven years off and on, I learned the bus system. I knew the route numbers, where they went, how often they stopped, and whether I should get a transfer. I had a long time to learn all this, but I am grateful that there was a bus system worth learning and worth using every day. As screwed up as the city of Tucson is (it's a terrible place to live if you're poor), at least the Sun Tran worked. When my car died I had it fixed, but left it in the yard for over a year. I did not register or insure it again until my son was born, nor did I need to. I hated Sun Tran when I lived there, but now I know better.


The intrepid Sun Tran. You can see the sign for the trolley here too. They are extending the trolley service and have plans for a light rail, despite resistance from foothills yuppies.


In suburban Chicagoland we have a bus system called Pace. Near my house in Kane County it is fairly useful. It goes in a straight line to the train stations, stops at schools and shopping centers, and goes through neighborhoods of every social status. In DuPage County however, my home for a brief period, the bus does not go in a straight line. It only approaches the train station from one direction. It does not have routes assigned to many of the major streets or state highways. Even when I lived in a subdivision that had a feeder bus, I couldn't take the bus.

The Pace service map, with its overlapped routes that go into shopping malls and ignored commuter thoroughfares that could get everyone to work if they had a bus to ride, are probably similar to many bus systems throughout the United States. In predominantly wealthy areas that exhibit drastic urban sprawl, there is no cohesion in a system from town to town, and there is no one who cares enough or has the power to do anything about it. The majority rides around in Lincoln Navigators and BMWs, nearly side-swiping the few busses that block the right lane for a few seconds. An increase in routes would probably cause an uproar from the upper class. The exurban lower classes, who had to move to the suburbs for a job, are finding themselves stranded at shopping malls and community colleges, and the few other places that the transit authorities deem worthy of bus service.

In Tucson every bus went all the way down one road, with a few exceptions that filled in the gaps. If you got on a bus on Broadway, you didn't even have to know the system. You would just ride all the way down Broadway. If you see the street you need to turn on to get to work, tranfer to the bus on that street and it takes you all the way down, with maybe a stop or two at a school or subdivision, but in nearly a straight line. If for some reason the bus didn't go all the way to your job or house, the gridded streets with plentiful crosswalks and sidewalks helped you get home safely.

Tucson usually ignores its own problems, but they had to step up on the bus issue, or the economy would collapse. In a town full of DUI convicts, illegal aliens, low-income housing residents, and a strapped school district (no school busses for many) they had to get people moving. In DuPage they ignore many issues including this one. Most of the money spent here comes from the outside, and there are always pampered college kids to take the low paying jobs when their parents finally tell them to go out and get a "work ethic."

Here, if you can't ride all the way, you can't just get off and walk. Wide streets like Randall road and high-speed arteries like Butterfield do not have crosswalks, and even at street intersections there is often not a light for pedestrians. Cross at your own risk. If you can walk on the street at all. "Where the sidewalk ends" is not a dreamy aphorism here. It is what happens when the road comes to an overpass or a field, and the pedestrian's accoutrements abrubtly cease to exist.

I live in Kane County and work in DuPage. I cannot take a bus here. Granted it is a different county, but Pace covers all of Chicagoland. I can take the train to the town where I work, but I can't get from the train station to my job. It's 4.38 miles. Rideable, but not walkable. But I can't bring my bike on the train at rush hour.

"The alternative'bus route'" From Sandy's Blog about bikes.


My bank account continues to empty as the summer wears on, and I continue to research ways of getting around that don't involve oil. I ride my bike everywhere around my town now - for groceries, to playgrounds, to the library. But the lifestyle that is nearly inescapable in the subrurbs requires work which requires driving. I could quit working I suppose, or blow $1000 on a laptop to work from home. But for most of the stranded back in DuPage that's not an option.

In 1973 Kurt Vonnegut predicted automobiles would kill the planet. In 1984 the Pretenders predicted the world would turn into parking lots and shopping malls. These predictions are plentiful and they go back much further than the beginning of Environmentalism. Why we have refused to do anything about it, and now ony pretend to do things about it, is heartbreaking and mind-boggling.

8/8/08 UPDATE: I only had to blow $615 on a scratch-n-dent laptop, and here I am working at the coffee shop just down the street from my house. My commute is now prefixed by "tele-."

Take that G-Dub.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Poetic Lies

As I read a poem of mine aloud to my class yesterday, I had to look at the page. Not only could I not remember the words, but it took effort to place emphasis on them. I didn't know which words were most important.

Some of this is my mediocre public speaking abilities, which I am working on. This reading was an assignment for a class I'm taking this summer called "Oral Interpretation." It's a doosy. However, I realized that I was having so much difficulty with the peom not because of my own nervousness or poor enunciation, but because the words and even the meaning of the poem had been changed drastically from the first draft.

A very short poem makes the reader think, "This must have been scrawled into a notebook at lightning speed!" As if an observation of something beautiful made an instant impression on the author and that impression turned itself, mid-reception, into alliterated and near-rhymed phrases that regurgitated onto the page. These short poems seem to let the reader in on this very intimate, transparent look at the poet's mind and methods. But it is not so.

The impressionistic qualities of a short peom are absolutely reminiscent of what inspires us to write them. Mine have been born from watching flies on a garbage can, biting into a cauliflower, and smelling tar by a railroad, to name a few triggers. And just as the reader may suspect, these thoughts are usually transcribed with great haste on any available substrate, as not to let the impression slip away.

But alliteration and near-rhymes don't often present themselves to an emotion riddled writer. Breathing in gulps of air to savor the smell of the poem's subject or watching it through the haze of stinging lids precludes checking the verses for mouthfeel and tense changes. Sometimes they come out fine just naturally. But not often.

"I could write a poem about this place,

but it would only be a fib."


There is always revision. Add some consonance here. Change the rhythm there. Make the metaphors unmixed and pure. Look at the shape of it. Try some mimesis -- parentheses? staggered lines? The finished product is not an impression, but a fabrication.

So I couldn't remember the words. I kept wanting to say "spindley spiders" where I'd revised with "silvery spiders." The workshoppers had thought the former to be too alliterative. I had changed the adjectives and verbs about the trees a hundred times, to keep the tenses straight, to make the trees alive, or to turn them back into objects. So I had no idea where to place the emphasis.

My professor is not a poet. When I realized that I was spouting poetic lies I excused myself. I was embarrassed for something only I could know. The professor didn't understand how I could have written something and not know how to say it.

I am too honest.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Seasonal Affective Music

I have Seasonal Affective Music Disorder. That is, depending on the season I find myself drawn to certain types of music, as if the very functions of my physiology were dependent on hearing the right tunes at the right time. As selections that were recently warmed by hours in the CD player suddenly become anachronistic, old favorites from deep in the catalog find their way into the sun or snow to be reborn for another four months of play, and I heave a sigh of relief.


Every spring and fall I feel this the most intensely. The transitional seasons are my favorites. I think my personality of extremes, call me a Libra if you will, causes me to admire these seasons for their mildness and temperance. I long to be like them but I cannot, except in my being ephemeral. So I listen to Jethro Tull.


There is nothing like a Song from the Wood to caress my ears as leaves start to twist and twirl toward the earth in time to disjointed but perfectly mathematical flute solos. No matter the season, Tull's incredibly complex time signatures and song structures (and brilliant lyrics) are cause for joy. They have songs that are in 7/12 time. Ian Andersen mentioned another even more flabbergasting time signature at a show I saw on my birthday, last October. I can't even remember the two numbers, they seemed so unlikely (I think there was a 15 involved!). Gleeful music math aside, there is something in these songs that makes me wonder if the music is describing the first fleck of snow that spins toward my windowsill or if the music is what made it happen.





Jack-In-The-Green Commands Summer: "Begin!"



Springtime Tull is more uplifting than the pensive autumn selections. Cup of Wonder makes May Day seem like the best holiday in the year. On the first warm day I've found myself sitting in the car, not going in the house or the store, but just sitting with the windows down and the doors open clapping along with the expertly timed claps (and usually missing a few) and wondering how anything could ever feel more springlike. Soon the happy flutes and Solstice Bells ring in the summer, and Tull goes back into the CD visor until October comes again.

In summer, John Fogerty is my boyfriend. The heat brings out my summer extremes - earthy, passionate, sometimes depressed, always on. And I always look back to my roots in summer. As a proud southerner and an active liberal, the two sides of my passion are brought together seamlessly in Creedence Clearwater Revival's protest songs. Fortunate Son is a great windows-down blarer - and I don't care who thinks I'm playing country. Some songs are just great for washing the car (or nowadays, scrubbing down the bike).



Take me home, boys.


Some nights I want to bawl from heartache at the childhood summer scenes brought to mind by Fogerty's drawling and wailing on songs like Green River and Up Around the Bend. I am made whole by the possibilities of good old folk who care about peace and social causes, and simultaneously destroyed by the unwelcome realization that even if I did go home, nothing would ever be the same. Summer is a difficult season.

Winter is my least favorite season now that I live in a cold place. What I do welcome about it is time for introspection and time to work on my art and myself. I get into very "heady" music I'd call it in the wintertime. Progressive rock is usually at the top of the playslist -- anything with multiple movements, curious mixes of synthesizers, guitars, and orchestral elements. And organs. I must have my organ solos. Yes and Moody Blues are my number one winter bands.





"It's winter and we're bloody Moody!"


Although I like winter and all its trappings (I have an immense scarf collection) I start to collapse in on myself when it's so cold I can't go outside. The music distracts and helps me through.


Sometimes a change of weather within a season is enough to dig out a neglected track. It's raining heavily today. When I leave work I'll check the wind and sniff the air to see if Fogerty will keep his coveted spot in the CD player. ELO, Sandy Denny, and even J.S. Bach have all been quietly waiting their turn.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Is Philosophy Only For Philosophers?

No one in my philosophy class last semester enjoyed the class as much as I did. There were a few interested students, but for the most part the class was appalled by ideas, and confounded by theories. This was in introductory course, so the material was not difficult and the students were all very intelligent and capable of processing what they learned. But for some reason, thinking about things is too much for some students, or perhaps just not up their alley.

What bothered me most about the students' distaste with the course was that the most outspokenly disgruntled students were the education majors. I have nothing against our future teachers, but I could not help but wonder how it is that the people who wish to impart knowledge to very young children could not care to know anything about

A) How we acquire knowledge

B) How we process and organize knowledge

C) Whether what we "know" has anything to do with the way the world really is

Granted, these students are probably bombarded with many physiological and psychological theories about knowledge and language acquisition, developmental milestones, etc. But aren't the above questions important to ask from a philosophical perspective as well as a scientific one?

Knowing how many words a child's head can hold at five years or how high he should be able to count, and filling him with these facts accordingly, is not the same as teaching a child to ask questions. I am not saying children should be instructed in the Socratic method in pre-school, but their teachers might be able to approach them with more insight and impart more than just mere facts by keeping the major aims of philosophy in mind.

By major aims, I don't simply mean those questions outlined above, about epistemology and ontology (two useful words given to us by philosophers who love their jargon). I mean that teachers should think about why they teach children in one way or another, whether it is the best method, what children should be taught or learn from other sources... I am not a future schoolteacher so I can't go into all the ways that philosophy -- specifically questioning or "living the examined life" -- can apply to teaching. But I am sure there are many applications. I think being able to question methods is more important in teaching, and the consequences of not doing so are more far-reaching, than in a widget factory for instance.

I have to be a bit understanding about this as someone who would be totally bored in, say, a business class that would enthrall a more ambitious career-charter. But I feel like it's a shame that these future educators have no interest in an art that seeks the meaning of knowledge and expounds its virtues (except in the case of the skeptics).

My plans are for working in education in the post-secondary system. My lofty goal, as a first generation college student (I'm breakin' the trailer park cycle!), is to do my Ph.D. and eventually teach English at a small liberal arts college. I have made Philosophy my minor, because I believe it is inextricably bound up with language, all kinds of writing, literature, and of course, rhetoric. More importantly, it has given me a framework on which I can build my own ontology, or theory of the way things are. I can now see what is really important to me, make wiser decisions, and sort of plug in all my own theories, knowledge, and beliefs into this framework to make better sense of the world around me.

Future educators should keep in mind the historic effects that schools of thought have had on schooling, and employ philosophical methods and ideas when teaching our children how to think.



Plato: "It's up there!"

Aristotle: "I tell you it's down here!"

Ah, the arguments they must have had.

Monday, June 2, 2008

A Tour of Corporate-Speak

I should clarify my earlier defense of authors who refuse to be clear. Lack of clarity coupled with lack of substance is not okay. In fact, it is a horrid sin against language, and an insult to your readers. Most corporate-speak, even on the internet (maybe even moreso on the internet), commits this sin.

I should also clarify my comments about the Flesch-Kincaid scale and other readability tools. It is to be expected that academic papers, scholarly writing, and even great novels will score high on any of these scales. Scoring high is neither good nor bad. It means the language is complex, that the person reding the document would need many years schooling to fully understand it. In some cases, this cannot be avoided -- the article that I could not get to drop below tenth grade dealt with distillation of oils. There were some words and concepts that simply could not be made simpler.

However, a high score, while it is not necessarily a bad thing, should never be taken as a good thing! Especially if you are writing about something that everyone who's been in a classroom should be able to understand. A score that indicates your writing is at post-graduate level, does not mean that your writing would get an "A" in a graduate level course. It means you use a lot of big words, and long sentences, and nothing more. Do not flatter yourself because of a high F-K score. A better indicator of your writing ability, would be to rework that text that scored a 25 and get it down to a 10 or 12, depending on your audience.

As I was doing some marketing work today, this text from a healthcare website caught my eye:

"HealthQuist is a unique, multi-faceted company providing a variety of services to the healthcare industry. HealthQuist assists healthcare providers, hospitals and individual medical offices alike, in achieving maximum proficiency across multiple facets of the business model.

"HealthQuist is an innovative and trusted partner who transitions, transforms and delivers world-class processes thus enabling healthcare organizations to provide the best in care to its patients."

This is just a big ugly load of crap. And it scored a 32 on the Gunning-Fog index, which according to JuicyStudio.com (a great place to look this stuff up) is evidence that they are "covering something up."

These scoring tools and systems are not the end-all method for telling if your writing is readable. The tools don't understand the words -- they just look at patterns, syllables, etc. The best way to measure your writing proficiency is to have other people read your work! Something that scores high may be beautifully written, and something that scores low may do so because it was actually written by a person with only a tenth grade education. But the converse can be true in both cases.

Now, back to the above text from Healthquist.com:

I like that they are both "multi-faceted" and work "across multiple facets."

I like that they have deemed themselves worthy of someone else's trust (a "trusted partner").

I like that they "transition, transform, and deliver world-class processes." Whatever the hell that means. Sounds like a lot of work I guess. And WTF is this "world-class" I'm always hearing about anyway?

This kind of writing says, in so many words, almost nothing about the business. And certainly nothing unique (although they beg to differ in the first sentence). The reader is left not knowing what the company really does, and is either mystified by the corporate-speak, or sees right through it and feels like they are getting hazed by a fast talker (or fast-writer in this case).

The tagline on the site says "Acquire resources to drive results..." Is that what they do? Is it a command? And, as always, what does it mean?

I will be going through many similar websites today at work. I am in for a treat of a tour of corporate-speak. I am sure I will have more horror stories to share from my travels. Maybe I will try to draft some paragraphs like the ones on Healthquist.com. It's always good to practice writing by working in someone else's style. I am not sure if I can make myself do it.