Monday, September 18, 2017

Five poems written this summer


Once you are grown and have left school
  you start to think
That some once-feared activities now are safe
Don’t be a fool

Sunday, September 10, 2017

The Fever

On my way back from D.C. this week, where we were part of a vigil-turned-protest to defend DACA, I must have picked up something nasty on the plane ride home because I have spent this weekend with one of the worst fevers I can remember since college – when I was still living amidst the constantly recirculated air of dorm life (and full of the dubious microbes of dorm-mates). This is the sort of agony that can easily be diminished, of course, by a well-timed dash of ibuprofen. I have a private folk medical theory, however, – which checks out well enough, according to my sister and what she was able to find in a pinch on the internet – that the Advil works its magic in part by suppressing one’s immune response (of which fever is one manifestation), and this in turn allows the virus to survive longer. And so if one can spare the time to be incapacitated by fever, it is better to let it run its raging course unimpeded. The sickness will be more uncomfortable, but will be over more quickly.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Shusaku Endo's "Silence"

I was in the shower, and I knew I wanted to read Shusaku Endo's Silence. Just like that. Suddenly, after all this time. I've learned by now not to disobey these mysterious promptings, when they come, so I went out to purchase a copy shortly thereafter, but I was confronted as I left the house with two psychological obstacles to doing so. First was that I'd never wanted to read this novel before, despite having been vaguely aware of its existence and content since teenager-hood. The reason, I suppose, was that -- like all true sectarians -- my adolescent self shied away from reading any other sect's martyrology. I was only too happy to read about the socialist martyrs. The communist martyrs. The Unitarians and the heretics and the infidels burned at the stake, and so on. But Christian martyrs filled me with unease. I was far more comfortable seeing the Church as the persecutors rather than the victims.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Friedrich Reck's "Diary of a Man in Despair"

Sometimes the spirits in their wisdom direct one toward a book even though one has never opened it before, and knows it only from the back cover or the description of some online seller, yet they nonetheless assure one categorically that this is precisely the book one needs to read at this particular time and place -- that in those indefinable qualities of mood and sensibility, this is the next book for you. In this case, I knew from the moment that Donald J. Trump was sworn into office, from the instant I realized that future generations of children would see his waxen animatronic visage in Disney's "Hall of Presidents," that I was eventually going to have to read the "Diary of a Man in Despair" of Friedrich Reck-Malleczewen. This week I have done so, and it turns out once more that the spirits -- the gut god -- were not wrong. Are they ever?

Before going on, however, let me dispose of the obvious caveats. I don't mean by all of this to suggest a direct parallel between our time and Reck's, or between our would-be dictator and his real one. One of the more obvious differences between our two epochs, I suppose, would be that I am able to write all of this openly and publish it instantaneously for any obscure googling wanderer or NSA agent to find, with no legal repercussions, whereas Reck had to stow his mental torpedoes under the earth, as he tells us, in some unidentifiable patch of the woods of his estate, like the corpse of the Marquis de Sade. But I return again to what I said above as to mood and sensibility. I'd challenge anyone of humane leanings to pick up Reck in the summer of 2017 and not feel in some definite way that he is speaking to our time, and our plight.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Another Summer

Another Summer! -- the opening line of Public Enemy's "Fight the Power" has been stuck in my head all day, along with the images from the title sequence of Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing over which I first heard it. The awful heat, the outrage, the week of headlines of appalling violence from the most diverse sources and places -- all of them having nothing to do with each other in planning and motivation but sharing some quality unmistakably in common -- it is indeed another summer. And alongside the ghastly incidents that we almost expect now to come in bunches -- from the summer of St. Paul, Nice, Dallas and Orlando to our present one of Charlottesville, Barcelona, and whatever else may still be lying in wait for the innocent, before the season is out-- comes something else that also induces a feeling of powerlessness and despair. It is the stale aroma of hypocrisy. Not only the hypocrisy that Rev. William Barber II roaringly pointed out in a Trump administration that kinda-sorta condemned the rallies in Charlottesville when it should really be condemning itself (why do you inspect the mote in your neighbor's eye and neglect the beam in your own? quoted Barber). It is there on my own side too. It is also the by-now predictable yet still dispiriting betrayal of civil liberties principles on the part of those who -- the rest of the year -- portray themselves as their honor guard.

Sunday, August 13, 2017


Or, "How to Actually Do Anything, Part Two."

So in our last post we saw how "mid-way upon my life's journey" -- or quarter-way, I suppose -- I found myself completely lacking in anything remotely resembling a technical skill, or any useful art. Until, that is, I realized that I was capable of acquiring some elementary Spanish through evening study. This, as I said earlier, seemed to open up boundless new fields of possibility, but it also filled me with a secret guilt. If it was, after all, so easy, why had I not done this before with countless other fields of human endeavor? What excuse did I have for having spent so much time in perfecting the art of the useless -- that thing I earlier defined: expert generalism, or literary knowledge -- the medium of the "public intellectual" -- which seems always to take over wherever other arts and sciences -- even philosophy -- abandon their last and most remote claims to practicality?

Saturday, August 12, 2017

How to Actually Do Anything: Part One

It's a funny thing, but every eight years or so, thus far in my improbably letter-perfect Eriksonian life journey, I have fallen victim to a mania for self-reinvention. And the weirdest part of all is that these episodes, when they come about, are usually not sparked by failure, but by success. My 8th grade belief that I was suddenly, against all the odds, going to become "cool"... my sudden conviction in my third year of college -- really just a very slightly matured version of the first -- that I was going to become after all a "normal adult" (I didn't realize yet that that's not a thing), with a high-salary job and a house and family in the burbs ("I... choose... a mortal life," I would generally repeat to myself in the ethereal voice of Liv Tyler's Arwen when I was spinning out this fantasy -- signifying in the very act, I suppose, its inherent implausibility). Each of these, I say, was preceded by an epoch of relative achievement.

I notice something else too: that these periodic attempts on my part to kick the goad of innate dorkiness have grown progressively more feeble; and that this last, most recent attempt --the one I wish to describe in this series of posts -- has proven perhaps the most short-lived and outwardly indiscernible of all. But the point I want to make here is, again, that these efforts to shed my boring old familiar self, like a snake sloughing off skin, are never made because I have despaired of achieving that self, or of reaching the perfected state of whatever it is, but because of its very fulfillment and consummation.