Say it ain’t so, Joe

homeless armani“We’re defined by a common creed that says to our children that if they work hard, if they struggle, if they are loyal, if they are courageous — they will have an opportunity to live a better life than the generation before them,” Biden said.

http://www.cnn.com/2016/06/24/politics/joe-biden-brexit-ireland-speech/

Put forward as a positive-sounding antidote to separation, or isolation, or, by extension, xenophobia, bigotry and so on, this is one of the almost forgettable comments that spells out quite clearly the horror of the times. Not by what Joe Biden seems to believe he intends—as a pretty stand-up seeming guy with a ten dollar haircut—but by the underlying ethos driving the menacing principles within his words I can only guess he must be unaware of.

Still, in 2016, the second-in-command is explicitly defining what he means by work as “struggle.” And the point of this struggle is not for now but for some unforeseeable tomorrow, some amorphously defined “better life.” Combining a penchant for his militaristic terminology of being “courageous” with his homespun, off-the-cuff ease, the vice president is suggesting a way of living and a way of life that is a throwback to times at least as grim, demeaning, and dehumanizing as those lived by the suffering and exploited masses at the burst of the Industrial Revolution, the wars of Napoleon, if not thousands of years prior to the nameless slave-hordes of Egypt.

Offered as a way of worldwide grace and virtuous living which all people deserve, the monocultural, American blight of drudgery, oppression, and pointlessness proposed is the real terror inside this silk-gloved hand whose magical grip is so tight around the neck of the world it cannot see itself for the released dove it—in its nearly immaculate self-deception—sees itself to be.

Nevertheless, people in the U.S. and elsewhere, are like dogs buying in to the notion of “hard work” and its close friend “getting ahead,” two of many sub-categories beneath the rubric heading of “progress.” And that if we all do our share, all do our pull at the oars, our turn at the wheel, if not for ourselves, then for others living in the future, life will be better. Certainly, disease, starvation, and sickness are not anything like they were in the not too distant historical past in many parts of today’s post-industrial cultures. Obviously, the material quality of life is better than at any other time in human history.

At the same time, no other point in human history has had to bear witness to the common proliferation of human violence in all parts of the world (by both individuals and nation-states alike), the ubiquity of human diseases (made only obvious by the masses seeking to put to sleep both their physical and psychological ill health through pharmaceutical means), and the boundless human destructiveness of our own environment as this present one.

Consider how far the United States as a nation has fallen short of creating a civilization of people who actually struggle less, work less hard and—in turn—have more time available to think, create, and just be—nothing more than that! Consider how far along the rest of the world has followed this progressive nightmare, this God-awful creed, almost blindly, gladly, willingly, religiously, nationalistically. It is as though it had all been for the asking to line up on the front line, to be shot upon, to fall, to die—all for the next in line, row after row, to line up and in their time in their own history, to die, to fall, to have lived and to have fallen really for nothing.

Or, if they have have fallen, if they have died, it will have been for the sake of the smallest of small elites in all countries in all nations whose sons and daughters do not fight and do not die, who dine on abalone and wear the pearls others in the deepest of cold waters have dived for holding their breaths. For the smallest of small who do not seem to suffer so much, who do not seem to struggle so hard but whose belief-system, not different than those others, is no more than the flip side of it. And so, their perishing, though not as harsh, is just as pointless.

Daimon Philips

One hour I had worked in the dirt. And one hour I had worked in the sun. One more in the rain. And the hour that I had liked most was filled with filth and mud. In that were stones, roots, and glass bottles tossed by careless men meandering down drunkenly the backside of the sinuous mountain road away from the police and human desires. And each of these bottles, smashed and whole, I tossed gently into a glass heap. For decades since, the rain had washed the dirt, and the bottles’ broken colors had shone. Now that I had become old, about to die, I had recalled my venal life, uncorrupted by most things most were corrupted by. For me, it was never women, and it was never gold. But the glint of glass, old roadside bottles broken to pieces, all these jewels, all this rubbish had become my Aqaba, my final shipwreck, my Pyrrhic victory against fortune and time.

Elsa Alyse Roquefort

baker dancer

My other occupations had been less salubrious. I had meant to say ‘salutary,’ but memory device had already been in play, so that was what what had become recorded. There. Then. It had been once a taxidermist’s workplace time ago, as the phrase is wrought. Like cast iron. Sheet metal. Silversmith. Filigree of horses mated with each other over great green meadows tromping about until the penned in moment with such stallion blind to his own mandated purpose. Anyway, (effective enough segue into the next non-related segment due to similarity of sounds but not perhaps necessarily meaning or meanings) I had not been aware, or made, or made to be aware, that my little log cabin office’s pedigree had been in the recent or in the distant even faraway past ever been used to disembowel and stitch up hunted animals, hunted for their to-be on plaque mounted heads, or whole body’s glass-eyed standing in some mock in situ pose. Fair place to offer my own journeying services of soul, of psyche, of etymological butterfly dreams of the nonce. Like starlight I suppose stuffed inside Cassiopeia, a real-life constellation of another’s myth, and myth-making, co-opted to be our own. Like Heidegger’s Third Reich, if he had ever had one…even yet encore autrefois, etc., I had slightly suspected his little Bavarian shack on the hillside had not been dreamed of like that, when pondering van Gogh’s boots. And a day’s bricklayer. And even a supermarket cashier. Once. And only once. “Ein Mal jedes, nur ein Mal.” And so forth, beaded and threaded. Here. Now. And of all I had preferred ditch-diggers at the foothills of these sedimentary precipitously slung mountains for planting small trees, butternuts, doomed ashes, hemlock which had once, alongside the great Eastern Pines, populated the Earth. Where, spaciously, I had best been, O Best Beloved: woodcutter, steadfast and sure, trim and full of the day’s finely drawn muscle, hewn, with the fine sinew of slack-limbed Prince Achilles.

Playing Tag, Or: Duking It Out On The Playground

good men mining

Many schools tried to improve standardized test scores by cutting recess time several years ago, but elementary school principals realized that play time had actually helped test performance . . .

http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/Society/2015/0926/Ban-on-Tag-Are-school-children-getting-the-right-playtime

The best thing to be and the worst thing to be is It. When you’re It you get to run around and chase everybody else who isn’t. You want to make them what you are. The moment you are successful, you aren’t It anymore. Somebody else is. Then the moment that happens somebody else begins chasing you. And you are chased as if you never were It yourself. There is no history. This is pretty much true unless the same kid gets getting tagged over and over. Given the randomness of Tag, and the built-in privilege of being that paradoxically wanted and unwanted thing, I’d never seen it happen. Who’d be so lucky? Who’d be so damned? Who’d get all that privilege to be the scourge of the playground again and again? But only a sad and pathetic ethos could ever link the viability of Tag to achieving higher test scores. If there is a directly proportional relationship to time to play Tag during recess, keep it. If not, delete it from the curriculum.

To further this inanity, Tag is also referred to as “free-range” game. Besides the inherent reference there to wandering chickens and their straw-nested eggs hatched and laid in some equivalent of rustic comfort (and perhaps herds of buffalo in Montana), it brings up the unspoken “other”: games that are not free-range. These are games that are carefully controlled, and which take place in small cubby-like spaces, or cubicles, the little blank available corners of civilization’s meager enough existence. After years during which one has learned to sit in row after row, room after room, and being tested over a variety of abilities to be able to endure sitting in rows and rows, room after room, year after year, one becomes, at last, well-conditioned to sit in a chair with blinders on both sides of it on a floor in a building (any building anywhere) and do some kind of business with a computer and computer programs on computer screens among strangers doing more or less the same thing and feel really nothing particular toward or against any of them, as they neither feel anything particularly particular toward or against you, and make a living—even if, you might otherwise, under altogether different circumstances, have felt a sort of murderous rage or even dislike toward some of your now colleagues; or, on the other hand, had an elective affinity such that you wanted to hold and embrace and love some of them.

The very fact that childhood games such as Tag were ever played, games which have inherently no point at all except the most potent and glorious one, to have fun outside together, was an unthought of blessing at school once upon a time. That physical contact, the obligatory hashing out of “Yes, you were” or “No, I wasn’t” touched or “hit”—kids running around helter-skelter will of course sometimes get pushed, and sometimes there might even be a trace of menace in it, but mostly not—that these have, like so many things been raised to the level of question and censure, presents a queer little paradigm for kids to be learning to lead a productive life and to become contributing members of society from the moment they are vying for their parents’ attention onwards. Having, however, rid all such chaos and disorder and random fervor from the playgrounds of yesteryear certainly presented the world we now live in an effectively solid strategy paved with asphalt intentions to be tread upon, I am rather certain, by our having installed in the stead of such idle games as Tag obedient troops of drones, drone-like human beings, and automatons among whom constant good conscience and measurably historical upward progress will ineluctably be achieved in a straight and steadfast line until old age or technical obsolescence hits them and they expire.

Man With Underground Tools

tools

He had crawled on his belly in the dirty gravel below the joists with an air filter mask strapped to his head all morning long. He had a spray bottle of poison, a little flashlight, a long-handled hammer, and a steel chisel. These were to chip out spots where ants had eaten into the wood, and to poison any he saw. Down there below the house in the crawl space, he closed the vents by hand and stuffed the closed vent openings in the foundation with leftover pink fiberglass wads of wool that were lying on the ground since he’d pulled the wool out last spring. The whole job was dirty and hard and he had done it ever since he was a very young man for nearly thirty years. He hit his head against the same pipes he always hit his head against. It hurt the same way it always felt stupid to get hurt. He sprayed the poison along the cinderblock joints the same way he always did, lots of squirts to be sure, twice a year, spring and fall. For extra, he’d brought along a staple gun this time and stapled up some of the falling paper he’d noticed had fallen that he’d tacked years back below the rolls of insulation stuffed between the joists. It was a dirty job. It was a dirty and gritty job.

When he closed the vents underneath the house, it grew darker and darker. The only light was his little flashlight. Its batteries were pretty bad to begin with and the glow from it just grew worse and yellow. He turned off, while he was down there, the underground water line with a twist to the handle inside that fed the line to the outside garden faucet. It was a dirty job. But if he didn’t do it, the outside pipe would freeze, and he’d have to replace the outside pipe, the outside faucet, and the outside fittings. He’d have to remember when he got out of the crawl space to open the outside faucet now that it was turned off from underneath. Otherwise, the water already in the pipe would freeze during winter, and when it did that, trapped at both ends of the line, it would expand and bust open the whole brass apparatus, and he’d have to replace everything just the same as if he had never turned it off from underneath to begin with. That had happened once or twice, and that was an all around mess and a waste of time.

Once he got outside off his belly, he unclipped, and then ripped off the dirty mask that had covered his nose and mouth and through which he been breathing in and out with labored filtered breaths air the whole time. Once he had smelled the fresh smell of autumn again, he realized that he had left his good, long-handled hammer next to the three joists where he was hacking away the pulpy wood to stop the carpenter ants’ damage in the dark. That hammer, even though it was his good solid one, could stay where it was. What did it matter? He had his short, light, cheap hammer if he really needed it. His good hammer could stay in the gravel until spring.

Pot Maker’s Grace

henna hand 2

Every day I make a pot. I put the pot on the shelf. The next day I make another pot. And I put another pot on the shelf. I make pots every day. I do not stop making pots. I don’t see anybody who takes a pot, not one of mine. Maybe another’s. It is no matter, at least not a great one. I make pots for everybody. Some see them, some do not. I am certain that if somebody saw a pot and bought my pot, perhaps somebody would like it. But I cannot be sure of who, even the one who bought it might not. I just keep making them day after day. At night, when I am exhausted, I do not even think that tomorrow I will make another pot. I do not know beforehand if I can. I just do. I may even doubt it, doubt that I have the hands in me to make another pot the next day, tomorrow. Somehow, by the grace of God, I can, I do. I can hope only in this way, that tomorrow, inshallah, may I make another. And that when my hands are through altogether, though I cannot say how many there will be, that my shelves will be full and empty of all the pots I will have made.

Leaves, Games & Other Treasure

fall leaves

As a kid, she had played a board game called Careers. It was a fun game to play. Arrows were spun, dice were tossed, paths were taken. Players became things. They became lawyers, or doctors, or engineers. They became businessmen. It was an old-fashioned game. And it was great fun to go down the different colored pathways and to turn up cards or hit spaces on the board that set you back. The whole thing was meaningless, and even the name of the game itself had no meaning at all. She grew up with a sense none of the things she had played when she was little had ever mattered at all. It was just fun. That’s all.

When she was older and leaving college all the kids leaving school were shouting at each other as they were leaving the bright grassy green campus for good, “Get a job!” That was funny. For who’d want to learn for four years and then just forget all that and go to get a job? She had heard her classmates joking that way and it was pretty funny for sure. Even the President of the United States of America, he said that people believed around the country today that if you worked hard you should get ahead. And he believed that this was a common creed across the land. What Alice had by this time discovered is that her particular world was ever slow and ever slowing. In this way when a leaf fell, she saw it. In this way when a bus pulled out, she had smelled the diesel fumes. In this way, when the equinox came in September, she felt the chilling cool inside her body’s bones. In this way, when she opened her mind she could hear own thinking. And this had happened more and more in life since her joyful days when she had had fun playing games on the floor that didn’t matter.

For so many others it had appeared to her, too, that from top to bottom, what she was experiencing as her own life might not be exactly happening to them. Instead, it was as if everything in their lives had been already mapped out, as if they had been appearing as performers in a theatrical performance of a scene of themselves. It was a game that everybody knew. A game where the dice were loaded. The war was over. The good guys lost. And that wasn’t a very fun game for anybody to play. Even for the rich winners it wasn’t very fun. That was no more fun than reaching blindly into a treasure chest and every time you put in your hand you pulled out pearls and gold. No, she knew that the whole point of a real treasure chest is that you don’t pull out pearls and gold every time you reach in your hand. That’s just the same thing every time. A known certainty that after a while isn’t very fun to do anymore. No, it was the doubt, and uncertainty, and the misgivings, too, which of course had to come along with uncomfortable doubt and uncertainty from time to time, that had made her life so far very fun and very playful.

Forever Falling Short

workers-2

Not long after he was conceived, who became his son’s mid-wife said: may he fulfill his genetic potential. This scientific salutation to the world, might—who became his father, the latter thought over for some months, almost three decades later—just as well be, or have been, a curse. There are electronic devices, machines, for instance whose function is exactly to play music. And there are others, such as computers, whose function is exactly to record data, nothing more, in addition to processing of course this data. There are others as well, such as an elongated butane lighter whose exact function and purpose is to ignite charcoal briquettes that have been pre-soaked in lighter fuel to make possible a joyful outdoor gathering of folk together over a holiday barbecue. In all of these, the final measure of a thing, some thing of some human invention, is the degree to which the mapping of its purpose to its function fits perfectly. Things, such as a sword, or a well-weighted spoon used for eating cereal even, which have reached a point or a pitch of perfection so perfect such that further betterment cannot be imagined, these have reached their fullest potential. As for human beings, the father had been thinking, while his sleeping now grown son was visiting him, these are best defined by never reaching their potential at all; they are always falling short; they are always full of shortcomings. Unlike the things which humans make, socks that get holes in the heel, pull-cords on lawnmowers that break, rocket ships that blow up—what makes humans are not their perfections at all. While they themselves may make things that are, in fact, absolutely perfect, their blessing is that they may be curious, full of wonder, and playful, which the things they make may in their creation and in their being created resemble, seem to be, and even be a substitute for, but, inshallah, will never become.