Short on time...
I have been short on time since school began... I have some other things to post but not the time to do it. :-(
Books, Art, Music, Writing and the Teaching Life
I have been short on time since school began... I have some other things to post but not the time to do it. :-(
During the recent inspection of our new house, the inspector's final report indicated the house was in good condition. We did have to type up a statement negotiating for the seller to cover the cost of some minor changes. The document ended up being a team effort, with both of us putting in sentences over each other. My wife, "Bonnie," wrote the following:
I've been reading a book by Alan Sokal entitled Fashionable Nonsense. The book unmasks academic pretentiousness by leading thinkers. I can only describe Sokal's effort as excellent. I have also learned quite a bit from it. For example, here's a quote on chaos theory I discovered in 1996. I was working at Borders at the time and just randomly picked up a book and opened to discover the passage. At the time, the passage reached me; it meant something to me. In reality the passage is really empty. How do I know the difference? You be the judge:
School begins in one week (actually it starts Monday for teachers). As with everything, I often wonder how my father would look at me and what I do. The beginning of the school year is like the start of the baseball season; all the teams are in first place. It's a time to enjoy rather than regret the fact that the summer vacation is over. My father rarely took any vacation time. His toil was day in and day out, non-stop. His credo was that hard work is the only thing that pays off. His job as a warehouse worker was demanding physically and mentally. At his age, he should have been doing a lighter job, but he never once complained. I complain quite a bit and for the most part my complains are unwarranted. What do I have to complain about, really? I teach fiction and poetry to high school teenage girls, grade papers, do research, calculate grades... honestly, what do I have to complain about. Yet my complains persist each year. I have to remember more and more how my father did his share without voicing a complain. He was not deeply religious, but he was somewhat religious. I wonder if that was his trick... to put everything in the hands of the Lord and do His will without stopping to ask why. There's something about putting trust in the Lord. Many times, I saw my father's resignation at those things he could not change in his life. There are hundred of things I cannot change about my job, a job I truly love. Perhaps that is what makes it worthwhile. Providing for his family was my father's greatest duty. He loved to provide for us, to give us all the things he didn't enjoy as a young man. There is something deeply religious about that, no matter which angle one takes to it. My father's sacrifice was entirely my gain.
I started this blog in order to write about my father. It seems the more I think about what I want to write, the less writing I do. There were things about my father that I never understood things about him because he was already an old man (45 years old) by the time I was born. I never quite realized while he was still alive those things about him that he was unable to change or adjust for me. I mean, not that I expected him to change anything for me but I suspect it is inevitable to be forced to change some things when you have a child. To his credit, he quit drinking alcohol when I was born. I was told he wanted to set a good example for me. Later as a teenager, I suggested to him to stop smoking. He was not happy about it. He somehow connected his ability to do some things with his manhood; smoking was one of those things. I remember that at my suggestion he exploded responding that if he quit smoking he might as well become a homosexual. I didn't understand what he meant by that until much later. To him, smoking was part of his manliness, as drinking had been, and for him to quit it was a step away from his former self. And his former self--that whom he was before I came along--was the thing that he wanted to hold on to. I certainly do not blame him for this. It is unfair for me to think that a person has to change because of this and that. Moreover, knowing as we do today about personalities, etc., it is totally understandable for him to want to retain a certain aspect of his former self, a defining trait. It is sad that it was smoking what essentially killed him. Knowing rather well what the consequences were, he went right ahead and smoked away. Which brings me to the ultimate crux: in choosing between life and death, he chose manliness. I interpret it that way because I wish to retain that romantic idealism I always crowned my father with. The John Wayne effect. He died with his boots on. Whatever it was that he considered manhood, that was what he chose.
I just returned from Barnes and Noble. I saw the "made in China" Moleskines. Oh the shame of it... the cover looks different too. I am so glad for the ones I have.
If you are a fan of Moleskine notebooks you know that the recent news (if you didn't know you know now) of Moleskine's being made in China has everyone running to get the originals out of store shelves. From what I have read (I am yet to see a China made Moleskine yet), these newer Moleskines are of lesser quality. Not to bash China's industrial capacity, but I have heard of cheaper feeling oilskin cloth covers and ink soaking paper, etc., qualities that a devoted fan never encountered with a Moleskine. The reason Moleskines are so famous is because they are indeed a quality product. Every single notebook feels more like the work of an artesian than a mass produced item. So where am I going with all of this? Simple... in a panic I went ahead and counted how many of these valuable notebooks I have on reserve (before getting married I bought many of them) and the count is at 35 notebooks. I remember reading of people that said they couldn't walk out of a store that had them without purchasing one. So many times while on a new purchase I wondered why I was buying another notebook since I hadn't finished the one I was writing on, but now I feel vindicated. I never would have imagined a Moleskine made in China... perhaps another sign that the apocalypse is upon us.
I have been trying to make a laptop computer work now for a couple of days. The computer was on loan to a good friend for some months. I am sure I can get it to work again doing the usual things: reinstalling Windows, all my programs, etc. But lately I have noticed something different in my relationship with our now indispensable electronic friends. It has become an obssession of sorts trying to make this computer work again. In some ways, computers have become part of our humanity, our own definitions of what our limitations are within our being. These little electronic traps have become an extension of what Heidegger called the Dasein. Roughly, Dasein, Heidegger’s term for human being, is a being whose being is an issue for it. Dasein takes a stand on what it means to be a human being, or defines itself, through its coping with a world full of equipment. This equipment only makes sense in terms of other equipment, and this interdependent whole is known as a referential totality. Dasein copes with the referential totality for-the-sake of taking his stand on Being. Moreover, "These relationships [Dasein’s involvement with the referential totality] are bound up with one another as a primordial whole; they are what they are as this signifying in which Dasein gives itself beforehand its being-in-the-world as something to be understood." Could a Dasein exist today (2006) without this equipment? How would a world without indispensable equipment look like? What are the effects of the Dasein if it has too much equipment? There are several computers in my home. Between my wife's work desktop and her personal computers (two laptops), we also have two desktops and an additional laptop. How did we come to accumulate so many of them? Ultimately, I recognize my addiction to this referential totality but only inasmuch as I depend on this equipment for my writing, research and teaching preparation--which begs the question, Would I be able to do my work without my computers? A philosophical crux indeed.
Dostoyevsky surprises me every single time I read him. This is the third time I am reading The Brothers Karamazov and every single time I reach the point when Alyosha seems to dissapear from the novel altogether (chapter 3, part IV) I start thinkinig it was him who murdered his father. But this is Dostoyevsky's genius... he leads the reader on so carefully that it is hard to predict (even in a re-read) why Alyosha disappears. Suspicion then points directly at him. The novel takes a turn in telling the story of Krasotkin, a school boy on his way to visit Ilyusha, the dying boy. I believe this is a master working a plot through so many different levels of literary possibilities it is really impossible not to feel shaken down to your very bones. Don't you love it when reading does that to you?
Demosthenes declared that "[n]othing is easier than self-deceit. For what each man wishes, that he also believes to be true." I wonder if many of the things I hold true today grew out of self-deceit. Determining this is no easy task. This is an issue that has come up in recent conversations with an acquaintance about my perception of my father after his death. It seems to me that this acquaintance of mine wants me to pursue the idea that deep down inside I resent my father for his emotional neglect, and that the idea of my father as a great man is only a cover up for angry feelings inside of me. I don't know how to rebuke this even though I don't believe an ounce of it. All I can say is that my father was a product of his own upbringing, an upbringing which probably offered little to no emotional sustenance. My father was a very quiet man, stoic, seemingly unfeeling. Deep down I believe he was different but was unable to show it. My defense stems from the fact that I did recognize the genius of my father before he died. I didn't expect to bond with him in his old age and a great distance between us made sure it didn't happen, but a sense of reconciliation grew inside of me as I recognized, one by one, the great qualities of the man. I didn't get to see him much in the last ten years of his life, and our conversations on the phone were brief and dull. I can only conclude that the construction of meaning and the image I have painted of my father as a good father comes from love... and that is perhaps the greatest proof that my feelings are no self-deceit.
The picture of my father inside my copy of Paul Auster's The Invention of Solitude... taken for a work ID card right after his shift that day, no doubt... a work horse totally drained of energy, sweaty, hair dishevelled ... my father, the non-present but great provider... the sixteen hour work day father... the endless toil of his work routine... thirty-five years... never missed a payment on the house... That picture... what it wants to say is "I gave it all... I am still giving it all..." He left it all at work... everything. I wonder if he ever had dreams beyond hitting the lottery. Looking at him in his coffin... how tired he looked, naturally... he looked as if he had just gotten off work. I could say it in a million different ways, but Auster again got ahead of me and wrote: "Work was the name of the country he lived in, and he was one of its greatest patriots." The picture speaks to me in a million different ways... the look is mesmerazing, the thousand yard stare...
A recent article in the newspaper called it an obssession. The truth is that as a fan of Moleskine notebooks I find the statement offensive. I got my first Moleskine in Washington, DC. I have my original receipt, whereof I immediately placed inside the Moleskine pocket. The receipt dates to 1998, long before the Moleskine fever hit the trendy market. Back then, my supplier of Moleskine was a small "mom and pop" stationary shop on a sidestreet in Georgetown. I am proud of that receipt as I am proud of my list of completed notebooks. I haven't really bought any more Moleskines since I got married (we are on a tight budget), but I love to look at my collection (especially my very first one) and I am glad I got so many of them before I got married. I recently read a post by someone who claims having an addiction to Moleskines. "I can't walk into a place that has them and not buy one," said the offender. Perhaps Moleskines go beyond a feverish obssession--it's more like a lifestyle choice. I often wonder how long it will take me to fill all the ones that I have... but then again, I am glad I got them.
Recently, Jessica Stern of The Boston Globe compared the recent world-wide Jihad movement with the ganster rap fad, something that appeals to young people without them giving much thought about what the movement is saying. She also states that "Jihad has become a millenarian movement such as the anarchists of the 19th century or even the peace movement of the 1960s and 70s. But today's radical youth are expressing their dissatisfaction with the status quo by making war, not peace." In order words, Stern holds that the Jihad movement is like a fashion movement to Muslim youth. It is indeed something that appeals to them because of the seemingly 'righteous' element it involves. Somewhere across the live coverage of the Qana massacre and Hezbollah dropping +190 rockets a day on Israel the reality gets lost. Dissatisfied youth always collects itself within a movement, or a fad. They declare themselves Jihadists mainly to fight a Western world the vast majority of them do not know at all. The Jihad movement is, in many ways, another form of indoctrination a la Hitler's Youth. I wonder why a Jihad organizer never volunteers himself for a suicide mission; it is always the young (often teenagers), the dissatisfied youth that they send forth to kill themselves and others. Stern also states that "[t]here's an appeal to an identity of victimhood [within the Jihad movement]: If I am a victim of someone else's bad actions, I have an excuse for not meeting expectations--my own or others'. There is an appeal to righteous indignation." The questions remains: Are Muslism young people embracing the Jihad movement out of real love for Islam, or due to a misconstructed, misleading idea of what that religion really stand for?