Saturday, December 29, 2007

breakfast by candlelight

It was many years ago.

I went to Germany on a whim, I'd say, if I didn't know [now] how important it really was. At the time, though, I didn't know why I was going, I just knew I had to. Ostensibly, it was to attend a 'by-invitation-only' conference I had invited myself to.

I spent 3 days in the Atlanta airport on a stand-by buddy pass ticket, trying to get a flight to Germany. I'm still in touch with at least one of the people I met during that time.

Ultimately, I flew via Dublin - a most creative routing - courtesy of the Delta manager who finally took pity on me and got me on the last plane out before they suspended all buddy pass tickets for the rest of the week, they were so backed up. A year later, I would be living in Dublin.

The conference came and went - apparently without incident except for a passing reference to 'conscience' which I would work on for the next five years - and I found myself in Frankfurt at the end of the whole affair with nothing to do and no set place to stay for the weekend. An American woman I'd tried to steer clear of at the conference found out I was at loose ends and said "You must come back with me and stay at the castle!"

I have a rule: never turn down an invitation to a castle.

So an hour later, I found myself in her banger of an old Volvo station wagon, heading to a small village outside of Heidelberg. The morning I was to leave, we were up before dawn. A light dusting of snow had fallen, and my hostess had prepared coffee and a light breakfast. We ate by candlelight. I've never had candles at breakfast before. It was lovely! The sun slowly rose and took over from the candles. Now, whenever I'm up before dawn - or when it's a horrible bleak drear of a morning - I light candles and think of her.

Like this morning.

The sun is well up now, but the candles are still burning in the darkened living room. My checkered mug has only half a slug of coffee left and it's time to get up and moving and start the day. I'll blow the candles out when I get off the sofa. It's been too long since I've seen my friend, though, and it's been nice to think of her this morning.

Friday, December 28, 2007

songbird. singing. . . .

It's been feeling like spring here, these last few days, of a morning.I finally figured out why.

Some blessed bird has been holding forth, where formerly silence reigned.

No, it isn't any warmer than usual. In fact, this morning there was frost on cars and grass. But for some reason, this lone creature has had it in his heart to be singing. (and no, unfortunately the above is not a picture of the most recent singer. It's a picture I took last time I was in Dublin. We made an excursion one very cold day to Glendalough. This fat, feathery guy kept us company in the graveyard.)

It's amazing how I can get used to the silence - as well as get used to the song. It's only around the transitional period that I might become aware - but not necessarily. The bird singing - after having become used to silence - makes me feel like it's spring. And a profound silence - after the chatter of bugs and birds all summer and fall - makes me feel like a blanket of snow must have fallen. So I guess it's the out-of-the-ordinary that draws attention. The isolated bird singing when all else is (and has been) silent; the sudden silence when - an hour before - raucousness reigned. Other than that, the gradual decline or start up of the noises of spring and summer go largely unnoticed.

I remember coming across an unlabeled cassette tape in the dead of winter a few years ago in my cottage in Dublin. I popped it in to hear what it was. I had taped an interview on the back porch of my parents' house during late summer. The voices were barely discernible over the din of the locusts and crickets. I was amazed! Since then, I've made a recording of the summer night noises, and bring it out in the dead of winter, just to help myself remember. . . .

Must do this also for early morning bird song one day, I see. I'm missing 'em.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

leave the ruby red slippers. . . .

. . . . bring the socks.My favorite gift from the king: these regal socks and the 'courtly check' coffee mug (and enormous tea pot - same pattern, very cool).

different drummer

I'm a little worried about my Amaryllis Elvas. They started out fine.
They've been growing. (you just saw this picture, below).
One guy is marching to the beat of a distant drummer - in the opposite direction from the others'. (but look how much they've grown!)
This is the blossom hoped for, but I don't know about our little rebel. He may wear a blossom of an entirely different colour!As might be expected, I'm drawn to the rebel - the guy heading in the opposite direction.

Friday, December 21, 2007

they're getting bigger!

Remember these guys?

They're my Hippeastrum Amaryllis Elvas that I wrote about in dirt/happiness)

Look at 'em now! Wow. I'm so proud of the little guys. . . .

my new word

It's: excursive.

It's splendid! Here's the definition, courtesy of Wordsmith's A.Word.A.Day:
excursive (ik-SKUR-siv) adjective:
Tending to wander off; rambling.
My thoughts are excursive. Elsewhere, other definitional sources emphasized the excursional aspects of "excursive" - the going on a trip, making an excursion. And that's what I find intriguing not only in thoughts, but also in writing.

Other people - I am told - can find it merely annoying; not to the point. (Those are the same people who manage to draw up an outline before the fact, and then write to fill out the outline. I'm always surprised at where I end up. I do outlines at the end, to figure out how I got there. . . . )

By the way, you can subscribe to get a new word every day by email - NY Times called Word.A.Day "The most welcomed, most enduring piece of daily mass e-mail in cyberspace." I've been getting it for years. It's also a major source of the quotations I collect. . . .<

And the painting above, by another way, is by William Bradford, an American painter, 1823-92, who was related to the wife of a rather wealthy man I know, who apparently has several original Bradfords in his home. . . . This is not one of them, but it's one of my favorites of the ones I could find online. Their Bradford - the one I saw, anyway - was more cloud-ey; very somber and ominous. Right up my alley, in other words. I liked it well enough that I managed to remember the name long enough to do some internet research.

And there you have it! Excursive thought and writing. VoilĂ .

truth, error, and popular opinion

An error does not become truth by reason of multiplied propagation, nor does the truth become error because nobody will see it.
Mohandas K. Gandhi (1869-1948)

In other words, truth is not subject to democratic vote. Or 'spin'. Interesting.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

not reading PostSecret - part two

A few days ago I wrote about why I'd stopped reading PostSecret, concluding that it's grown past its initial positive impact, and is in danger of moving into scandalous voyeurism, if not also normalizing shameful behavior.

PostSecret Frank ("Yes, that Frank." as he assured me) weighed in on the matter in comments:
Thanks for your thoughtful comments.
Funny, but I really didn't expect to hear from him. It never occurred to me that he'd be interested in reading why I don't read PostSecret anymore. The jaded bit of me thinks:
All publicity is good publicity.
Of course he'd be interested, if only as a blueprint to attract more readers! Knowing what not to do is almost as good as knowing what to do. . . .
But no. I think Frank really is interested, because I think he started this project with a good heart, and for a good purpose. It's taken on a life of its own, though. I wonder if he'd noticed? Perhaps he was beginning to feel a bit uncomfortable with where things were heading?

I can't help but wonder if it'll make a difference. But no, I still won't be reading it anymore. I don't think there's a way to retrieve this, once the feeding frenzy of public guilt assuagement has commenced.

Lee Anne makes the insightful point that, "by sharing [public confession], you're dispersing the burden of responsibility/guilt."

WARNING: explicit theological content follows. Proceed at your own risk.

It seems to me that we might get some insight into this phenomenon by looking at the role of confession in Christianity. The Catholics, of course, involve another human being in the process: the priest. But the contents of the confessional are held in strictest confidence. (we've all seen examples of that, if no where else, in Law & Order and CSI, where the priest knows whodunit, but can't say because of the priest/penitent rules of confidentiality. . . .)

Alternatively, there's the "group confession" that takes place in the formal order of service, where everybody recites their individual and collective guilt of grievous offenses - but note: no details are given.

So, from the Christian side, confession is dealt with corporately (no details disclosed) and/or privately (where details are given, but then never referred to again). The cleansing agent is Divine forgiveness: the "do-over" and fresh start.

We see a different dynamic in the thought of Nietzsche, of course, as well as Sigmund Freud. There, ultimately it is the feeling of guilt itself that is attacked, rather than the erasure of guilt by the transcendent Creator. Where there is no guilt, there is no need of forgiveness. That requires, however, that we undo what we have held to be wrong, or bad. One way of doing that is to rehearse the disclosure of "bad" actions without attaching a corresponding condemnation for the act. Instead, we applaud the disclosure itself as "brave". Eventually, it appears the hope is that the underlying "bad" act will cease in our minds to be "bad."

There are a lot of variations on this theme, but this is enough for my present purposes.

For myself, I think I'd rather work on forgiveness of my bad acts, rather than working on dismantling my ethical convictions so that I won't notice my bad acts - or ultimately find in them an opportunity for pursuing cyber-celebrity by disclosing them in the most entertaining or artistic fashion, hopeful of being selected for publication in PostSecret. . . .

And now note this important DISCLAIMER: this is no way implies that all people submitting "secrets" to PostSecret are "bad" people, or that they're attempting to dismantle their ethical systems, or that they should rather go to a Catholic church and take advantage of the confessionals there (or an Anglican one, and confess "corporately"), or that Freud is a fraud, or that I don't like Frank ("yes, that Frank.").

It is an analysis of what seems to me to be the changing face of PostSecret, and thoughts on questions of guilt and how to be rid of it.

I'm glad you found my comments "thoughtful", Frank. I found them rather disturbing, myself.

best wishes,

stairway to heaven. . . .

Yes, that stairway to heaven, courtesy of the "Beatles". (actually, the "Beatnix”, a Beatles tribute group from Australia.

It takes a minute, but yes that is rather close to the actual melody! Arrangement is everything. . . .

I must say, I do miss the beginning guitar bit with the recorder flute.

This is amazing, though! Makes me laugh.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

strange music. . . .

There's a TV ad for some kind of car that features beautiful haunting music. . . .

There's a girl sitting in the backseat, looking up through a clear roof at the Manhattan skyline. And this music plays.

After some sleuthing, I found that the song in question is by Band of Horses, and that the song is called Funeral. (if you haven't already, click to play above, while you read the rest. . . .)

I haven't made out the lyrics yet, but the official music video by the band includes footage of a very depressed-looking man drinking, driving, more drinking-in-a-bar shots, and heading in the end towards a scary-looking accident with a truck. Driving a vintage car.


Rather a strange song to select to advertise a new car, wouldn't you say?

Then again, they don't play the lyrics in the ad. Just the beautiful, floaty bits. . . . (and I liked it well enough to take the time to track it down. That says something) And maybe this is about the death of driving old cars? whatever. . . .

I just like the song.

Monday, December 17, 2007

why I don't read PostSecret anymore. . . .

Not a flash in the pan, I think PostSecret is picking up readership.

In case you're one of the few who hasn't actually seen it, PostSecret is a blog that posts pictures of postcards that contain secrets. Seems thousands of people make up these clever ways of disclosing way too much information on a postcard and send them to one "Frank" at a pre-disclosed address somewhere on Copper Ridge Road in Germantown, Maryland.

More recently, PostSecret has entered the book business. More recently still, there are art exhibits, chat secrets, video secrets, PostSecrets lectures, conferences, and book tours and, now, secret follow-up stories. . . .

The original premise of briefly sharing in the limited format of a postcard a secret you had never told anyone else:
"Each secret can be a hope, regret, funny experience, unseen kindness, fantasy, belief, fear, betrayal, erotic desire, confession, or childhood humiliation."
The emerging 'norm' seems to be a growing "openness" about "sharing" things better left not only unsaid, but unthought!

Can we perhaps consider that there is a reason we keep certain things secret?

So. Why don't I read it anymore? Because (1) it's gotten too big properly to deal with secrets anymore, (2) secrets, dealt with on a large scale, are no longer secrets, they move towards scandal, (3) the mass consumption of secrets-leaning-towards-scandal begins to look a lot like scandalous voyeurism, and (4) I don't enjoy the attempt to make "normal" what really should remain shameful.

The message is that we all have secrets. True.

The follow-up to that, however, seems to be that if we just publish our secret, we won't be rejected and our secrets won't have a hold on us anymore. That may - or may not - be true. It depends on the "secret".

I know this may be an unpopular sentiment, but there are some things that are just wrong and proclaiming them in a "secret" forum doesn't make them right; doesn't make them palatable; doesn't make the proponent an acceptable member of society.

Frank: I think you started out well, helping people who had been crippled by a deadly secret. From giving people a hole to bury their secret in - with a witness to the burial - we've now invited those deadly secrets to join us for lunch.

I, for one, am not having any.

DISCLAIMER: Not all PostSecret "secrets" are scandalous. . . . Some "secrets" are sweet. . . funny. . . . enlightening. . . . thought-provoking. It's just that more and more deal with sex, death, hatred, humiliation, perversion and etc. . . .

Friday, December 14, 2007

the rise of the mediocre

I've been enjoying a bit of a back and forth with Lee Anne over at Adorable Device of Destruction (where does she come up with this stuff?! grin) about what happens to a military that no longer admires the society it is sworn to protect.

She refers to an excellent article by Robert D. Kaplan, On Forgetting the Obvious" in The American Interest, and says:
Kaplan explores the divisions between a small, elite warrior class and the American public. He views this separation as symptomatic of the diminishing importance of faith and nationalism in American society as well as an unwillingness to admit that war is a fact of life.
What came to my mind was C.S. Lewis' The Abolition of Man in which he explores the consequences of "debunking" the kinds of values that have traditionally undergirded our society - and, I would add, especially our "warrior caste". (who else, these days, do you hear talking about love, duty, honour, country? AND paying the price for those values, I mean. . . .)

The biggest reservation I have, though, about any kind of an "elite" group is the tendency for the 'rest of us' to slide/skate into mediocrity. Have you noticed that, with increased specialization, there is an increase in the big mass of us that has no clue what is going on?

With more and more specialists, we get more and more ignorance of those not specialists.

As tempting as it is to leave such weighty matters to the "specialists", I begin to think that we can't afford not to think about these things ourselves. We already have personal trainers to handle our flabby bodies, lawyers to take care of our disputes, police officers to "safeguard" our property at home, doctors to manage our health, accountants our wealth, dieticians, personal life trainers, shoppers, child care providers, lawn care "specialists", housekeepers, pooperscoopers, dogwalkers, color analysts, feng shui-ists, spiritualists, tutors, astrologers - need I go on?!

I came across Thoreau's Walden recently - in connection with building one's own house - and was struck by what he said about "divisions of labor" and thinking:
But alas! we do like cowbirds and cuckoos, which lay their eggs in nests which other birds have built, and cheer no traveller with their chattering and unmusical notes. Shall we forever resign the pleasure of construction to the carpenter? What does architecture amount to in the experience of the mass of men?

I never in all my walks came across a man engaged in so simple and natural an occupation as building his house. We belong to the community. It is not the tailor alone who is the ninth part of a man; it is as much the preacher, and the merchant, and the farmer. Where is this division of labor to end? and what object does it finally serve?

No doubt another may also think for me; but it is not therefore desirable that he should do so to the exclusion of my thinking for myself.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

and, finally. . . .

Further to the dirt & happiness correspondence I wrote about a little while ago, I wanted to introduce you to the latest inhabitants in our home. They look a lot like some sort of prehistoric dragon fledgling, don't you think?

They are the Hippeastrum amaryllis - the Elvas variety.

Wait'll you get a load of the blossoms! Now that'll cure what ails ya. . . .

music therapy. . . .

You knew it. . . .

time for some music for my soul.

Here's a little Sarah. . . . covering a great Joni Mitchell song that Non-Essential Equipment reminded me of. Nee likes the version by Robert Downey Jr. [?!] - I never even knew he sang! RD Jr.'s is a pretty good version. But Sarah McLaughlin is my go-to for melancholy.

malaise, uninterrupted

Now is the time of year when I find that money questions seriously compete with a joy to the world state of mind.

In no time flat, a "token" gift can add 50 bucks to my cash outlay. [so you do the math for, say, ten token gifts!] Not to mention the question of the NON-tokens, for which I struggle to overcome a current cultural equation indicating a direct correlation between degree of affection/love and amount of cash outlay.

In other words: if I don't spend a bundle, I must not care very much.

Add to this a general drowning in things - stacks of articles, books I can't put away, resurrected crafts I'm starting to dig out again, Christmas cards waiting for addresses and personalized notes [damn - I don't think I have time to write up one of those 'what-we've-been-up-to-all-year' one-pagers, can I really just write Wishing you the best for the upcoming year! and be done with it? And hey! They haven't contacted me, either, so why is it always my fault for not having been in touch, I'd like to know?! Simmer down there now. . . . sigh]

You get the picture.

On top of that, I finally got the kitchen guy to give me an actual number for the kitchen design he's been working on, off and on for a year, for the house being built. Can you say "way over budget"? Well, I can. It's way over budget. And when I pointed that out, he got - well - a bit snitty with me. No more Mr. Nice Guy - now I get 'business-like' emails and the proposal is in contract form rather than proposal form. Sort of a 'sign or else' format. . . .

Oh - and the countertop is suddenly - mysteriously - no longer included.


Emancipated son #1 continues his financial drama and has asked that I review a contract for his new employment elsewhere. As expected, it was draconian and incomplete and succeeded in pissing me off. I hate bad contracts. It's almost easier just to start from scratch. Anyway, the final indignity was to be told (having asked a bunch of questions) that I was overthinking the matter, and that this is just a simple arrangement, all that was needed was to make sure the legal 'mumbo-jumbo' was in order.


Funny how people view the law. It's 'mumbo-jumbo' at the start, when good will and best intentions still prevail. But when the will and the intentions have gone south - to hell in a handbasket - then suddenly the 'mumbo-jumbo' becomes important. The lawyers are still blamed - don't get me wrong - but it's because the parties didn't want to deal with what the 'mumbo-jumbo formality' was actually saying, to the extent that it does not mirror the "simple arrangement" the parties like to think they actually had. . . . . What's really going on, is that the parties have not thought through the details of their "simple arrangement", and decided what will happen if things do go wrong. . . . [which inevitably, they do. Sooner, or later].

Pessimism is an occupational hazard to practicing law.

Anyway - and a partridge in a pear tree to you, too!

Monday, December 10, 2007

it's sunny in Dublin

Don't blink!

Here's proof:

I keep a webcam widget on my Google desktop so that I can track the weather changes. I find it particularly unfair when it's sunny there, but overcast here. As it is today.

But I'll tell you what, there's nothing that will make you appreciate the sun more than living in Ireland! You don't take it for granted. I could go check the webcam in another 5 or 10 minutes and find it gray and pouring rain. Here, when the sun is out, you can usually count on it staying out for a good several hours. Not so, in Ireland!

This accounts for much of their approach to life, I think, which can be summed up twofold: (1) Expect rain, but (2) enjoy the sun now, while you can! It also accounts for the incredible diversity - and interesting - conversation about the weather, a favorite topic over there. You just can't help it.

thought: Membership? or Thought?

A sect or party is an elegant incognito devised to save a man from the vexation of thinking.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, writer and philosopher

Sunday, December 9, 2007


Thursday was a concert over an hour's drive away.

Friday, the king's cold started catching up with me. I spent the day holed up on on the bed with books and my computer. Back to dissertation reading. The good news: I already have one of the 'new' books that Magda has recommended that I read.

Fun get-together Saturday with some of the people who were with us in Florida for the wedding - for which I paid today. . . .

Early to bed tonight, I think, and a fresh start tomorrow!

Friday, December 7, 2007

dirt + bacteria = happiness

I kid thee not.

Garden Rant has posted a story about how the Mycobacterium vaccae bacteria which is found in gardening soil (i.e. "dirt") has been scientifically linked to the report of a greater feeling of happiness by means of an increase in the "quality of life."

The scientific explanation appears to involve seratonin, neurons, and the brain's "mood center."

The actual subjects interviewed were mice and cancer patients.

There you have it! My excuse for potting and puttering on the dining room table, now that there's snow on the ground. For today, the transplant of 3 individually pre-potted Hippeastrum amaryllis (on sale at the Giant, twofer something. . . .) into a big glass centrepiece-type bowl, hopefully in time to bloom by Christmas, but knowing my luck, to bloom sometime after the new year, when I am out of town.

But who cares? It's the dirt that counts.


But here's what I'll probably miss, and that would do a lot for my mental state, as well.

I don't care what they say. I like the flowers best.

Still - nice to know there a benefit to the mess!

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

another word of advice. . .

My mother was on a cruise not too long ago while I was in the throes of final dissertation madness. [No, I didn't resent it. . . . not much. Ok, maybe a little. . . .]

Anyway, on that cruise, she happened to meet an Oxford don - as she insisted on calling him - a lovely, dapper man from Oxford, who sent me this advice about finishing my dissertation:
It's not as hard as you think.
I can't tell you the comfort I derived from those words.

I don't know this man, but I salute him. And I give fair warning: If I ever meet you, I will kiss you!

"just remember"

Somebody sent me an email with some words of advice and encouragement and I thought I'd post them here, in case they might also help out someone else going through the same rough stretch. . . . [thank you, Mr. RB, whoever you are!]

Just remember ... nobody knows *your* research more than you, not even your supervisor. Your external examiner(s) are experts in the subject, but not in your specifics.

Where there is stuff you don't know that's fine - you've followed a scientific method, you've observed then considered the results and if, justify, where there are blanks, [because] there are decisions that were made to get the work done within the time (after all, three years is too short!), so there's always future work!

It's all about small steps. Each of us takes one small step so that we don't over-stretch the corpus of existing knowledge, so each new piece of work becomes a brick in the wall and can be used in the future.

Worrying is a good thing, it just shows that you give a damn. Not worrying at all would be foolish! Your viva is a once in a lifetime thing :-) Enjoy it; you've done the hard work already.

My very best regards . . .
Sounds to me like he knows what he's talking about. Spot on advice!

Now all I have to do is remember it. . . .

OK then! Write it down. That'll help.

Monday, December 3, 2007

"America's Most Smartest Model"

Who thinks of this stuff?!

"Most Smartest", eh?


viva voce

okey dokey then. Here's the first real mention of the viva voce. Latin, for "live voice." It is the oral defense of my thesis.

Notably, there's not much written about this process that I can find. There's a very helpful presentation here by Dr. David Twigg, and a postgraduate discussion huddle and support group here that takes on the topic on occasion. I did find this posting which takes on the difference between American versus European vivas, and this one, which gives greater insight into the British exemplar, which is of particular interest to me.

I heard from Magda today. Finally. The examiners have accepted and should get the manuscript tomorrow. So that puts me into February for the viva.

Rear in gear time! Back to some serious reading. It might be time also to read the dissertation again. Again? Actually for the first time, all at one sitting, that is. . . . I fear the typo. Oh Geordie-Geordie do I fear the typo! I'm sure there's tons of them. . . .

Then there's travel plans to make and accommodations to secure. And people to alert that I'll be in town - for after the viva, anyway. Although I'll have to be there a few days in advance. The time change heading East affects me pretty heavily for the first few days. As in: I can't think or speak! Fine. I can drink pints.

But to sum up, I think I need to do some more reading in my main guy, just to keep everything fresh and accessible. I will also read the dissertation several times - ditto: fresh & accessible - and start compiling an errata. It might also be a good idea to start thinking about what I think the weak points are, as well as the strengths, and to be prepared to discuss those.

Still in the spirit of Rembrandt - above is his painting of Hannah, the prophetess. Reading. . . .

who's reading whom?

A real book is not one that we read, but one that reads us.
W.H. Auden, poet (1907-1973)
Sounds clever. What do you think it really means? You know, feet on ground, "Oh yeah!" sort of stuff?

Not to prose-ify poetry, or anything. . . .

[I have an idea, but I'll let this percolate a bit first. Any other thoughts?] Also, painting photo found here - it's a Rembrandt painting. There's a second painting pictured there, as well. Also very cool!