“. . . to freeze a moment in time. . .”

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“. . . to make sure I could see the images of trees, cars, and houses . . .”

Recently I was walking around my neighborhood after sunset but before the darkest night. As usual I carried my iPhone in my pocket. I carry it when I walk to use as my ID in case anything untoward should happen and―perhaps more important―to take pictures. I’ve become one of those millions of inveterate would-be photographers that smart phones have created.

I love the word “inveterate.” Its root means “to grow old” as in “veteran,” but its general use is to imply “habitual.” As I grow old(er) I become more and more intransigent in my habits, especially the annoying habits that are of little significance except that they are annoying.

One of those annoying habits is not writing in a straight line but interrupting my rhetorical flow, such as it is, with interjections and explanations that are probably neither interesting nor helpful to whatever “argument” I mean to make.

A few days ago I heard on the radio a travel writer―one who goes around the world and writes about his experiences so the rest of us can travel vicariously through his descriptions―claim that he does not carry a camera when he travels. He wants to think and write about what he sees rather than trying to freeze a sight or moment in time so he can relive the past by viewing his pictures. He said cameras make a person “intellectually and expressively lazy.”

Mea culpa. But I was intellectually and expressively lazy long before Steve Jobs and his associates invented the iPhone.

On my recent walk around the neighborhood I was trying to organize my thinking around the intriguing patterns of light created by streetlamps and lights in the windows of houses I passed, trying not to be intellectually and expressively lazy. I went about six blocks east on the main street of the neighborhood and turned south onto a residential street so quiet it almost seemed no one lived there. I gave in to the urge to take iPhone pictures in the dark, or not-quite-dark, of the artificially lit street. The fascinating patterns of light were more than I could resist trying to freeze in a moment of time.

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“. . . I had passed a tree next to the sidewalk shadowed against the light of a streetlight . . .”

I took a couple of pictures and checked to make sure I could see the images of trees, cars, and houses in the phone’s photo app, that it had, in fact, taken pictures in the almost dark. A few yards back I had passed a tree next to the sidewalk shadowed against the light of a streetlight. I retraced my steps and took a picture of the pattern.

As I turned to continue down the street, I discovered the moon, about three-quarters full, familiar on a clear night―mid-way between horizon and zenith in the west, bright and warm, brilliantly white, a small slice of its upper left shaded, a few days into the waning phase.

I was spellbound. I felt as if I had never seen the moon before, as if it were a phenomenon that had just that moment appeared in the sky. For an instant I wondered, “What is that?”

Of course I recognized the moon, but the juxtaposition of the moon with the manufactured lights on the street, on which I had been concentrating and in which I had taken delight a few seconds before, startled me. My intellectual laziness, my attempt to find shapes and forms that pleased me rather than to see the world as it is, made possible a moment of surprise. “What is that?” The natural world impinged on my delight in the manmade world. Seeing the moon, really seeing the moon, on several occasions has given me pause.

My ophthalmologist told me the moon is the farthest object that we can see and focus our eyes on. I have a slight astigmatism, and seeing the moon singly rather than doubly, he says, is the best way to know that my glasses are doing their job. One of my favorite opera arias is Baby Doe’s “Silver Song” in Douglas Moore’s opera The Ballad of Baby Doe. “Gold is a fine thing for those who admire it, but silver, silver is the color of the moon.” I am fascinated by images of and writing about the moon.

However, my periodic “discovery” of the moon, unnerves me. The moon is impossibly distant, inaccessible to mankind except for a few astronauts. And yet, we can see it, we can study it, we can know a great deal about it. Every sighted human being has experienced the moon visually, but we cannot touch it. We can focus our eyes on it, but it is forever out of reach.

The moon is for me, when I see it, when I really see it, especially when I am looking for something else, the embodiment―can something so distant, something that I will never touch be an embodiment―of the mystery of my life. This is one of those moments I wish I had trained myself to think as a philosopher or write as poet. I am not, perhaps, expressively lazy, rather, expressively unskilled, unqualified, ineffectual. As I grow old(er), I want more and more to be able to describe my experience of the moon. Or, rather, my experience of the finite and the infinite.

No matter what words I think of, my writing seems sophomoric, even ridiculous.

The moon is finite (as is the earth and the sun and every other object in space). It will take a few billion years or so for it to crash into the earth or disintegrate on its own or be swallowed up in a great explosion of the sun. But it will cease to exist. Everything will in the form we know it. And yet, we see the moon month after month, and twelve men have walked there. Every Homo sapiens has seen it. Can we can say the moon is and it is not?

I am and I am not. Like the lights on Fairmont Street in Dallas, I exist. Like the lights I exist as a pattern, a form. Now you see it, now you don’t. In our experience, save for twelve of us, the moon is but a pattern, a silver light in the sky. The lights on Fairmont Street will burn out and can be replaced. In a billion years the moon will irreplaceably cease to exist. I will irreplaceably cease . . .   img_5731-copy

“Time . . . dense and viscous as amber suspending intentions like bees. . .” (Kay Ryan)

Broadway, but not at the edge of my time.

Broadway, but not at the edge of my time.

Last Sunday my connection to the world broke. My iPhone crashed. I could not turn it on. Not 30 minutes before I had been telling a friend I should get a new phone to take selfies without my digital camera on a tripod. I was walking home from the train in the Arctic Vortex cold when it crashed. I thought perhaps the cold was preventing it from powering up.

I drove straight to the AT&T store. The manager/greeter had it powered up before he introduced me to a “representative” to see if, perhaps, it was time to get a new phone—I’d been eligible for an update so long I wasn’t even in their “update” system.

No wonder I couldn’t take a selfie.

Now I can. I’ve taken only three in three days, but why would I want to? Why would I want you to see me sitting here without having washed my face or brushed my teeth and only half-way into my second cup of coffee? Shall I make a duck-face?

You say you want to see me? OK. I’m neither proud nor ashamed. It’s just me. Besides, I should join the first-year university students who, a couple of years ago, would not allow their ID pictures to be taken if they were not dressed just right and their hair combed and styled perfectly, but are now willing to take their own pictures carrying on most bizarrely and upload them for the world to see.

Here I am. 5 AM and compulsively writing. Want to come over for coffee?

Good morning, sunshine! Selfie III.

Good morning, sunshine! Selfie III.

Now I have a new phone. For some reason it has gathered to itself two copies of every “contact.” And it doesn’t have a couple of apps I’ve paid for and are on my old phone but I don’t have a clue how to get onto this one. And it’s red, for goodness’ sake. Red?!

I shouldn’t be surprised. I have two laptops on my desk, one that works and I can’t figure out, the other that’s nearly moribund that I can use with alacrity. It’s not completely moribund. It’s like me, old and slow and unpredictable. I strike a “t” to start copying the words to “Thank you for being my friend,” and the cursor jumps seven lines above and, if I happen to be looking down at my hands (which I usually do when I type), I get “but I don’t have a thank you for cbelue” before I notice, or, worse yet the cursor will jump somewhere else again, and I will have “thank you for cbe new manipulations ing mylue.”

I know how to use Microsoft Windows Photo Editing (which is now out of production and is not on the new computer)  on the old computer, but I don’t have a clue what to do with Picasa on the new. And so on.

I sound like a 69-year-old (fart or curmudgeon, your choice) don’t I? Just a befuddled (almost) old man.

Connected to the world

Connected to the world

“It is at the edges that time thins,” says Kay Ryan. I don’t really want to be an old curmudgeon, but a poet. My time is thinning because I’m at the edges of my life, and I want to write poetry about some of the other edges of my life such as when I was as near the beginning of it as I am now close to the end. We’re close to the edges of our lives more often than we think—when we fall in love, or when we move from Boston to Dallas for reasons that make perfect sense but leave us open to fear and loneliness, or discover we need surgery to fix something  gone wrong with our bodies, or when we get up on stage to perform something either alone or as part of a company and are terrified, and when we were fourteen and the shoe shine boy in a barber shop and old men made us do things with their bodies we knew were wrong but we loved, and we discovered we could not, now or ever, finish the novel we had started writing because when people we loved died we became different people, and we did not recognize the writer who was making up that story.

The only technologies I had to worry about in the barber shop were the brushes and shine cloths that I was so adept with that I got tips beyond what any shoe shine boy ever earned before, and I had to worry about the technology of the tools to clean Jack’s electric clippers every night. And the black and white TV he let me turn on to watch “Have Gun Will Travel” and lust after Richard Boone while I cleaned the shop from top to bottom on Saturday evenings after Jack went home and trusted a junior high school kid to secure and lock up a place of business on his own. South side of 16th Street between Broadway and First Street, across from the Eagle Café. Scottsbluff, NE, 1958.

Ha! An artifact!

Ha! An artifact!

Anyone who remembers barber shops without Kerastase Paris, or Paul Mitchell, or styles with “shorter layers on the sides and back, maintaining a longer length on top” and held in place with “tea tree shaping cream” will probably not want to take many selfies. Because we get it that all the selfies in the world are not going to pull us back from the edges of time, time that used to seem as if life was suspended in it like bees in amber, but is now “a glittering fan of things competing to happen.”

THE EDGES OF TIME

It is at the edges
that time thins.
Time which had been
dense and viscous
as amber suspending
intentions like bees
unseizes them. A
humming begins,
apparently coming
from stacks of
put-off things or
just in back. A
racket of claims now,
as time flattens. A
glittering fan of things
competing to happen,
brilliant and urgent
as fish when seas
retreat.

     (Kay Ryan. “The Edges of Time.” The Best of It: New and Selected Poems. New York: Grove Press, 2010. This collection won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 2011. Kay Ryan was Library of Congress Poet Laureate, 2008-2010.)

Stuff an old man will never understand (does he need to or want to?)

"The gods are just and of our pleasant DE-vices make instruments to plague us."

“The gods are just and of our pleasant DE-vices make instruments to plague us.”

For a couple of days, my iPad would not open one of those ridiculous keypads at the bottom of the screen (keypad? annoyance!) when I opened “Safari” (why ‘Safari’?) to Google something. I was stuck. One search I wanted to do was to find out what movie was being filmed at the other end of The Main Street Garden using the Old City Hall as the set. They kept faking an explosion audible for blocks around inside the old building, and then a crowd of extras would rush in, not out, the front door. Take after take.

The infernal iPad would not give me a place to type in a search for city permits (type? how many hours did I spend 50 years ago learning not to poke at a QWERTY keyboard with one finger?). They had a street blocked, so obviously they had a permit.

For some reason I remembered the little black keyboard I bought to make it possible for me to write even minimally (note: 4-syllable adverb) on the iPad. When the iPad is resting on that thing, it won’t open a keyboard on the iPad itself. So I found the keyboard—15 feet away on the kitchen counter—and turned it off. Voilà! The iPad opened a keyboard. How was I to know the two gizmos were talking to each other even half a room apart?

That seems spooky. Unnecessary. Inconvenient. Absurd. And ultimately (4-syllable adverb) incomprehensible.

The movie, by the way is a Zombie movie. We took a walk across the park and got there just in time to see a bunch of guys dressed unmistakably (5-syllable adverb) as Zombies come out of the building. I’ll never see the movie, of course. I’m 68. Why would I see a Zombie movie. Except the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers from 1956, which I will use in class.

I have a cute little 2012 Honda Civic I bought on December 31(paid cash for—some things I do understand, such as how you pay double for a car when you finance it—and, more importantly—how impossible car payments would be when I’m forced into retirement next year).

I do not remember a car my father owned, my late ex-wife owned, my partner the organ-builder owned, or anyone else’s car I ever used

Information the way God intended it should be shared.

Information the way God intended it should be shared.

on a regular basis (including mine) that did not have a “dome light” that turned itself on when you opened the door. So they’ve been standard equipment on cars for at least 60 years (I don’t remember if the ’47 Ford my dad owned before the ’52 Plymouth had one or not). Here, suddenly, I pay cash (lots of cash) for a 2012 car that does not have one. Oh, the light is there, and I can turn it on manually, but it doesn’t go on automatically.

This has been a particular pain in the ass (literally) as I have struggled to get in and out of my car with a cane and/or crutches for the past six months. I’m sure one of the little buttons on the steering wheel controls the automatic illumination, but I can’t figure it out.

Why have they turned a simple thing like having a “convenience light” come on when you open a car door into an electronic puzzle? Do I sound like my dad did when he was 68? Well, of course.

Fortunately when the *^+#-ing car turned on its dashboard warning light that told me I needed to check the air pressure in the tires (yes, it came on automatically!!!!), I found the express service center for the closest Honda dealer. Here’s something straight out of “Bizarro World”: the Honda dealership and its express service center are separated by the Aston Martin dealership. Honda→Aston Martin→Honda. I kid you not. So I’m going to go over there today and ask them how in blazes you get that stupid little light to come on. Of course, that’s going to happen right after my 9:30 AM physical therapy appointment when Grady is going to tell me I can finally quit using the damned crutches so the “convenience light” won’t be so important.

Then there’s Netflix, Spotify, iTunes, and “The Cloud.” I won’t even begin with my confusion about all of that. I won’t begin because I don’t understand any of them well enough to know what my confusion is. Voodoo. That’s what they are. All of them.

My dad was baffled by the remote control for his TV. Well, actually that’s not a good example for anything. I am, too. Why can’t I get a remote that simply turns the TV on and off, changes the channels and the volume, and starts/stops a CD video I want to watch. What are all of those buttons for?

Well, Dad should have stayed around for “Orange is the New Black” and tried to watch it on his computer. But then, I don’t suppose the infernal electronics would have bothered him nearly as much as the Lesbian sex, had he been able to play it.

So you can have your gizmos. I’ll stick to Frescobaldi, music of the 16th century played on an instrument that has one electronic component—the blower.

The modern computer is (or is not) Beelzebub. This is NOT a rant against technology by an old fart who does not understand it.

What's keeping you alive?

What’s keeping you alive?

About a month ago I had reason to give an old college friend  a book. He had made a wise crack (although he was dead serious) implying university departments such as Queer Studies are simply “fluff” courses and keeping college students from real scholarly pursuits, thus dumbing down education.

He’s right that some college departments are dumbing-down education. Business schools. At Cox School of Business at Southern Methodist University, for example, no class is offered in economic theory that includes a study of Marxism. That’s not academic discipline, it’s indoctrination (the Cox students go from there with one understanding of the way economics works; that understanding is certainly serving you well, isn’t it? How’s your retirement fund holding up?).  But, as usual, I digress.

I told my friend I’d ordered a book to be delivered to him, one I know has been used in some Queer Theory departments. I thought little else about it.

This evening I noticed the ads gracing the Yahoo page when I opened my email are for Barnes and Noble, using as samples four books by the author of the book I ordered for my friend. I don’t get it.

NO, I DON’T MEAN NOT UNDERSTANDING HOW THIS HAPPENS. That’s the given. We old folks do not understand this modern technology.

But neither do my very modern, sophisticated, au courant (they have no idea what that means) students at SMU. They don’t “understand” it. They don’t have any better idea , than I do how their precious electronic gadgets work. They simply (I mean “simple-mindedly”) use them and use them to build what they think is a life.

My students were bored with/ surprised by/ confused by my telling them in class yesterday that the first working computer was built in my lifetime. That isn’t quite true—I had forgotten the exact year. (I was born in 1945, and—depending on what you consider to be a “computer”—the first one was either 1941 or 1943**.)

My students will write their next essay on Ronald Reagan’s  Challenger Speech. For the old folks reading this, I need not explain. In the speech, Reagan says (Peggy Noonan says through the Great Communicator),

We’ve grown used to wonders in this century. It’s hard to dazzle us. But for twenty-five years the United States space program has been doing just that.

I was merely trying to help my students understand the “wonders in this century. . . dazzl[ing] us.” They cannot comprehend that there were no computers available to ordinary people until I was already what they would consider “old” (I bought my first primitive affair in 1987 to write my dissertation). And when Reagan made his speech, the cell phone as we know it did not exist.

The Good Ole Days.

The Good Ole Days.

If my students were smart instead of smart-ass, at this juncture in my rant they would ask, “What’s the point?”

The point is that it does not matter one whit whether or not I (or they) understand the technology on which they are constructing their lives. It does not matter an iota whether or not Yahoo is paid by Barnes and Noble to place an ad on my computer tailored just for me.

What matters is the why. Why are we so enslaved to this technology that we are no more enlightened or spiritually evolved than the people who  three or four thousand years ago were enslaved to Beelzebub (whom people of my generation know as “The Lord of the Flies”)?

But it isn’t even the technology we are enslaved to. It, in turn, is enslaved to rampant, personhood-devouring Capitalism. Everything is for sale. Even your thoughts as you read this. What are you thinking about? The fact that you are mortal or the amount you have to pay for “organic” groceries that won’t harm your health? The reality that your time here is limited or the amount you’re going to have to pay your new personal trainer to get healthy so you won’t die so soon? What about the chic clothes you bought the other day attempting to look young?

You and I know I could go on and on and on and on and on and on. The problem is not the technology. The problem is that for all of us—yes, us old folks who rail about not understanding it, too—the technology is the latest tool in our frantic attempt to ward off our fear of death.

That’s all.

** “Computer.” Wikipedia. Web. 5 Mar. 2013. (I know, I know, Wikipedia is not a “source” for research. In this case, it’s good enough. If you want to check it out, go ahead. It says:
The first programmable electronic computer was the Colossus, built in 1943 by Tommy Flowers. . . Konrad Zuse’s electromechanical “Z machines”.  . . The Z3 (1941) was the first working machine featuring binary arithmetic, including floating point arithmetic and a measure of programmability. In 1998 the Z3 was proved to be Turing complete, therefore being the world’s first operational computer.

Fluff or academics?

Fluff or academics?