Saturday, May 14, 2011

Math Anxiety

Since a very young age, I can remember being interested in math and science, but feeling like I knew next to nothing about them and wondering if I ever would. When I went to university, many of my classmates' folks were professors or scientists, too, and some of them had been solving science problems since age two or so. I envied them, because school was just the next step in a fun little game they had played since early childhood. Now that I'm a parent myself, I hope I can do something similar for my son Hugo while he is still young. That is my idea, the only question is how to do it.
My dad told me how as a lad he built an aeroplane-shaped weather vane with two propellers that could spin, and fastened it to a fence post on the old farm. One windy day, with those propellers a-spinning as just as fast as can be, my dad wondered to my granddad why the plane couldn't just take off and fly away. Granddad replied that it just couldn't. Maybe he was at a loss to explain, or perhaps he didn't really know why himself, but that's all he said, anyway. My dad since went on to study civil engineering, and now understands why the plane couldn't've taken off for himself.
As a child of the early seventies, fonts of wisdom such as Sesame Street, Schoolhouse Rock, and The Electric Company fell short of slaking my thirst for knowledge. The Sesame Street graduate can count to twenty, but like some pre-adolescent blackjack player, is stuck on the verge of twenty-one. My name for forty at the time was "twenty-twenty" (thirty was "twenty-ten") but this seemed silly and wrong so I gave it up in the hope that someday I would just know better.
I played the swine before whom pearls such as the number π and formulae like E = mc2 were cast -- magical sutras whose meaning I understood but a little and whose use not at all. I was a young "mathematics groupie" and longed to satisfy my vague yearnings. I wrote 0 + 0 = 1 on a paper and proudly showed it to my parents. Like my granddad before, they just said flatly that it was wrong but offered no explanation, and I remained confused and unsatisfied. The numbers jealously guarded their shroud of mystery. Later, my dad gave me a little olive-green book promisingly entitled A Manual of Useful Data. Further armed with the gift of a Sharp scientific calculator, I spent hours doing calculations I dreamed up based on the data and formulae in the book.
Finally, I went to a university summer course near the end of high school and was introduced to calculus, and when I came back my dad exclaimed, "Now I finally have someone to tell this joke to!" and wrote out symbolically: integral with respect to CABIN of one over CABIN equals what? And yes, faithful reader, my first calculus teacher had done his job well enough and with only slightly trembling fingers I held up my end of the equation, so to speak, with the answer: LOG CABIN. My dad's 16-year-long vigil had not been in vain.
I believe it was Einstein (or Heisenberg) who said, "You never really understand the new theories, you just get used to them," so I reckon the same must be true for kids -- expose them to things that would interest an adult, answer their questions as you would an adult, and maybe it will sink in. So far, this has worked, and Hugo knows a lot more about numbers than I did when I was twice his age. True, I know more, but if Einstein and Heisenberg had the humility to admit that they didn't fully understand what they were doing, I should, too. I have to admit that a professional mathematician might cringe at some of the ways I try to use numbers, like zero and imaginary numbers, for instance, so am I on a different, more adult, level from Hugo, or just further along the same path?
Some parenting advice I liked was that having a kid is like hanging out with a friend on an acid trip that lasts for about ten years. For example, when he says that C plus D equal G, rather than just ignore him or tell him to stop talking nonsense, I try to make sense of it and I ask him what E plus G would be. When he tells me M, I recognize that he is actually performing base 26 addition using the alphabet as a number line (he has also done this with the stations on the Toyoko line, by the way). I also try to talk on his level, like when he asked me why yellow orange juice in a blue straw turns the straw green, which is really a question about quantum physics, I used the world of Thomas the Tank Engine to explain, which is perhaps another story in itself. For videos and games, I try to get things that also interest me because if he only watches "kiddie" stuff that I don't watch, I'll never know how stimulating it really is, plus I can't talk with him about it.
I don't pretend to know what I'm doing or what the final result will be or which of the things my wife and I have tried have been effective or not. But when he says something clever or seems to get something I've taught him, I tell him what a little genius he is and he now seems to believe it himself. I suppose, as in most fields of human endeavor, self-confidence is most of the battle.
Copyright © 2003

1 

Etre Suivie aux Etats-Unis


Between Silicon Valley and Tokyo, I lived in Colorado for a couple of years, and had a lot more time to relax. One day, I was sipping herbal tea with Organic honey and listening to National Public Radio. They were interviewing a French authoress who had come over to New York to be on hand for her recent book's publication. It seems it was her first time visiting this country, and the interviewer asked what struck her as the most "different" thing about America. I half-recall having groaned inwardly at the ostensible triteness of this question, but the Frenchwoman's answer struck me as altogether fascinating and memorable. 

She replied that the difference she noticed the most was that she was never "followed". Apparently an unescorted woman walking about in France can count upon being tailed by a series of men. Of course, in America, we have Stalker Laws -- it's against the law in many if not most States for people (men) to just follow other people (women) about, and one can be arrested and jailed for it. 
A friend of mine once recounted to me how she was "followed" in Paris, and finally turned 'round to talk to the fellow, and they ended up stopping for coffee and going through a series of negotiations and discussions centered around her coming over to his appartment for a private "photographic session" and so forth. My friend demurred, the negotiations ultimately went no where, the unlikely pair parted amicably, my friend went about her business, and the fellow in question skulked off to follow somebody else. Of what other stuff than this are amusing anecdotes made?! 
I suspect that the situation is similar in Japan.
It makes me think of how when we children would tease my parents whenever we'd see a circa 1950s movie wherein all of the young men had "buzz" haircuts, and how could women possibly ever have found that attractive, and so on. My dad's pragmatic response on at least one such occassion was to the effect of: "You kids wouldn't be here today if women back then thought that men were ugly." Fair enough. 
My dad and I lived together for the better part of two decades, and I can recall that he toed a fairly consistent party line against such things as "stalker laws" and other such under-inspired contrivances thrown up as obstacles to the basic (or base) desire on the part of men to pursue and meet women. When such things would bob to the fetid surface of the various media, he would softly Harrumph and then firmly and categorically state that if men left off pursuing women altogether, or were prevented with sufficient thoroughness, then there would be no future generations, and people would cease to be, and so on. 
As far as sexual education went, the collection of such occasional side comments was fairly nearly my lot, as it turned out. But that is surely another yarn in itself. 
It was as though my father were somehow in touch with some Loftier Wisdom which was able to weigh such matters and immediately pronounce judgement (usually negative -- given that most such so-called reforms are naïve and superficial).

One Roll Forward, Two Rolls Back

Failure

Sometimes there are days when nothing seems to go right. In data processing, those days seem to come on harder and heavier than elsewhere. A good backup strategy is one that can weather days when Murphy gangs up on you and still give you back your data.

In 1989 I was on a team administering a five-gigabyte accounting database with about five hundred users, and we had a "routine" database software upgrade to do. I had already upgraded the database software on the much smaller development database, and it came off without a hitch. Thursday night was to be the night of the upgrade of the production database, and then began a comedy of errors that was to last until after midnight on Friday.

We were already off to a bad start because we were reacting to pressure from management to get the upgrade done quickly. We did not have time to plan and coordinate properly, and began thinking "This is so straightforward -- what could go wrong?" Things can always go wrong. One must keep in mind, not the likelihood of something going wrong, but the time and pain involved in recovering from a worst-case failure.

In the spirit of cross-training, I was not doing the production upgrade. I called in at about eleven, and was asked to come in. The upgrade had gone awry, the production database had halted and would not restart, and support had recommended a full recovery from backup, using the old software.

I felt sick. Such a recovery would require loading some 36 backup tapes, which alone would take hours, and then applying dozens of archived log files. If any of the salient tapes or files were missing, that was it, no database.

Recovery

We called the data center to pull the tapes from the last backup. When they arrived we found that the last tape was missing. The errant tape could not be found, so we had to go back to the preceding set of tapes, and then roll forward twice as far. This was not good, because it doubled not only the already substantial time to roll forward, but also the chance that one of the log tapes would be missing or unreadable, in which case that would be all she wrote.

Tuesday night's tapes were all there, so we set about applying them to the database. It probably would have been a good idea to use the Tuesday tapes just for the tablespace that was incomplete on the Wednesday backup, and use Wednesday for the rest. That might have saved us some roll-forward time, but it was four in the morning at this point, and we were all lucky to be lucid, let alone incisive. Somehow, database disasters seem to peak between one and five in the morning, when the human mind is at its foggiest. Those are the conditions under which recovery procedures are put to the acid test. It was about noon by the time we had applied all of the backup tapes to the database and were ready to begin the roll-forward. We had all been awake for over 24 hours by now. Luckily, the recovery was straightforward from this point onward -- just read the log files from the tapes and type their names into the database as it requested them -- but we called support just to make sure that everything was kosher. We knew how may files had to be applied, but they were each taking anywhere from ten minutes to an hour and ten minutes to apply, so estimating overall time to completion was impossible. The hard thing about this last part was waiting and watching the screen for endless minutes until the database requested its next log file.

In retrospect, we might have saved a little time and a lot of tension if we had just fed a file containing all of the log file names directly into the monitor program. But here again, we were all so ragged that it was hard to think straight. Furthermore, at the time we were exploring new territory with a big data base, and rocking the boat any more than necessary seemed like a bad idea.

It was not until half past midnight on Friday that I watched over my colleague's shoulder as he typed in the name of the last log file. We got back the messages, "log applied" and "recovery complete". We started up the application daemons, and verified that they were working. It was time to go home.

A few days later we performed a clean shutdown on the production database, started up the new software, and upgraded without a hitch.

Diagnosis

Why did the software upgrade succeed on the development database and fail on the production database? When doing the development upgrade, I had cleanly shut down the database as a matter of good procedure without even looking at the written instructions. Unfortunately, what seemed like cautious good sense to me was not so obvious to others with less experience. They had shut down the production database with a fast "shutdown abort" -- do not clean up, do not wait for users to log out. The fast shutdown was probably done out of impatience with the longer time to do a normal shutdown, and a lack of understanding of the resultant state of the database. In fact, the database was designed to restart and recover smoothly from a shutdown abort.

The software upgrade was unusual in that although the new version had a different file format, the new version was able to start an old-style database by reformatting the existing files the first time each was accessed. It was tantamount to crossing the Rubicon, however, since there was no way to change the files back to the old format.

Unfortunately, the software was capable of recovering from a fast shutdown and of translating the file formats on the fly, but not of doing both simultaneously. The reformatting routines could not properly convert abnormally shut down database files needing instance recovery (transaction rollbacks, etc.), hence our predicament. In the attempt to start up with the new version, the database files all got covnerted to the new format and corrupted (since they had not been shut down cleanly), so now neither the old nor the new version could start the database.

Lessons

I learned first hand that in a recovery situation, more than one thing can go wrong at once, and things can go wrong with the backup itself. Robust and easy-to-administer software blinded us to the critical nature of this upgrade, and we got sloppy with the shutdown, imagining that the database would take it in stride just like everything else. In the wake of our experience, technical support and development decided not to handle a file format conversion this way again.

Still, I think that the main lesson I got from this exercise was in the importance of the human side. We started out on the wrong foot, and we fell down. We all ran ourselves out to the ragged edge of exhaustion and managed to pull the database back this time, but what about next time?

The Shuttle and other half-baked aeronautical boondoggles

[reply to Vin Suprynowicz' February 1, 2003 This Bus Goes Nowhere]
 
Dear Vin,
 
It's probably no exaggeration to say that the space shuttle program and the space program in general could be the poster child for projects of human endeavor warped almost beyond all recognition by government meddling and military secret agendas.  That the whole thing was a big money-wasting contest to drive the Russians to bankruptcy has the ring of truth, and as wartime tragedies go, the occasional barbecued astronaut is easier to spin to the voting and taxpaying public than are endless reports of whole battalions slaughtered or sunk by the shipload. I would suggest a saber-rattling side to it as well -- getting a ton of anything into orbit and back with any degree of reliability is no mean feat, be it a ton of astronauts and their equipment or a ton of nuclear bombs.  The highly publicized launch of a manned spacecraft makes the dramatic point to anyone paying attention that it could just as well have been a multi-megaton nuclear warhead alighting gently on a neighborhood near them.  Even assuming that fissile heavy metals have millions of times the explosive efficiency of TNT, one or more multi-megaton nukes can still weigh several tons, so the ability to launch that kind of weight on a rocket is critical to a global nuclear delivery system.   I have heard it suggested that the Russians' supposed initial lead in the space race was due less to their better rocket-building and more to our better bomb-building, that is, ours were much better-designed and lighter, requiring less of a booster.
But why rockets, which are intrinsically dangerous and unreliable, especially given that the Air Force were already flying into space with airplanes at the inception of the Mercury program in the fifties, as portrayed in the film The Right Stuff?  Rockets, or ballistic missiles, happen to be the fastest way to get a nuclear payload to the other side of the planet, while an equivalent system based on aircraft could never provide reliable first-strike capability against a rocket-based system.  The safety factor of rockets doesn't matter from a military standpoint, so long as enough of the bombs hit their targets -- one simply overbuilds to cover the reliability shortfall.  We'll never know if aircraft would have led to a better, safer, cheaper way into space, since that avenue was scrubbed when the rocket-based space program began (at least as far as the public was concerned, anyway).
But why stop there?  Just for the sake of argument, why are airplanes shaped the way they are?  While a Frisbee can take a severe dog-chewing or even a shotgun blast and still fly just fine, a fraction of the equivalent damage to an airplane would send it crashing to the ground, probably in multiple pieces.  As a recent cover story in Popular Mechanics attests, it seems that the Nazis had a fairly mature flying disk technology, which we captured but kept secret until only recently, favoring development of winged aircraft instead.  Airplanes tend to be much more sensitive to damage or system failure and less stable than a flying wing or disk, but instability goes hand-in-glove with maneuverability, while a flying wing or disk tends to handle like an airborne boat.  Maneuverability is irrelevant, even wasteful, when hauling cargo or passengers, but critical to military applications where one may be shot at, pursued, or need to pursue, shoot at, or otherwise surprise an enemy in the air or on the surface.  This changed around 1980 when the advent of technologies like the Stinger anti-aircraft missile -- convenient, easy-to-use, shoulder-launched, very fast, very smart guidance system, thousands of them everywhere -- began to make it "kinetically impossible" to get out of the way of a missile which was very, very fast and possibly launched by surprise from very nearby.  At this point the buzz became "stealth" technology and warplanes like the B2 bomber, which happens to be a flying wing -- bird-shaped aircraft have lots of sharp edges and corners that give them a big radar signature while simpler shapes are easier to make "stealthy."
So, if you've ridden in (or crashed in) a commercial airliner, in a sense you've done volunteer duty as a Guinea pig in a gigantic aerospace industry effort to test and improve military aircraft, since all the manufacturers -- Boeing, McDonnell-Douglas, Fokker, Airbus, et al -- also make warplanes.  In fact, the 747 was originally built to be a military cargo jet, was rejected in favor of the C-130, but Boeing decided to go ahead and produce it commercially.  If commercial aviation had been the primary objective all along, it's not unlikely that the base design would be very different.  Just think how happy you'd be to step aboard a commercial airliner if you knew that there was a competing technology that was potentially more airworthy, more crashworthy, and generally more reliable (but with comparatively little or no military application)?
In short, involvement of the government-run military-industrial complex in aerospace has perverted not only the means but also the ends.  This outcome is inevitable, since military and civilian perspectives on engineering concepts such as reliability, for instance, are fundamentally and irreconcilably different.  One example is how Stalin's tanks were supposedly so badly built that they would break down after only an hour of continuous operation, but this was perfectly acceptable since under real battle conditions, a tank was sure to be hit and disabled by the enemy in far less time.  So any attempt to make them more reliable was simply a waste of resources better spent on building more tanks.  This is a great philosophy if success is defined only as getting there "The firstest with the mostest," as Confederate General Nathan Forrest termed it, but a frighteningly bad philosophy if you kiss loved ones good-bye as they board with anything more than just a hope of kissing them hello again, or if economics are at all an issue.  If we hadn't been doing one while pretending we were doing the other for the past fifty-odd years, the argument could be made that we would at least have penal colonies on Mars, the Moon, and in orbit, be actively mining the asteroids, and busily terraforming Mars by now, and perhaps a great deal more.  It is truly a shame and a waste.

Moving Beyond Capitalism in the Wide World

I was excited to read about the direction of Ending Capitalism.   It's frustrating to try to take any sort of first step, however.  If one is a manager or company owner, or works in an office, one can have sessions about it, and try to bring RC principles into one's place of work.  This may make things a bit better, but Capitalism continues to operate as before, and one continues to participate actively in it. 
 
We face much irrationality in trying to end Capitalism.  People fear Communism, revolution, offending others, losing their jobs, losing what they have.  People hold to irrational beliefs such as, "it's the best possible system," or "everybody has to work to make things nobody needs so everybody can have jobs and money to buy things they don't need -- it has to be this way," and so on.  Economists are not seriously working on alternatives.  These are some of the ways in which the Capitalist System works to protect itself from being replaced.
 
What is Capitalism?  How can it "protect itself?"  Why is Capitalism a Bad Thing?  How can it be replaced, what would that look like, and how can we as individual humans work to bring it about? 
 
First off, it seems that late 20th Century Capitalism has become more complex and perhaps in some ways fundamentally different from that which Adam Smith, Karl Marx, and others discussed.  The "Capitalist system" has grown, spread out, and invaded our lives to a degree previously unknown, and has become like a religion, its various and sundry tenets held as sacred, ridiculous though they be when held up to rational scrutiny. 
 
I see this quasi-religious progression as yet a further ill added on top of the classism produced by the unequal distribution of the Means of Production, and something which could be termed "Consumerism," or what I like to call the Sales-Driven Economy.
 
The sales-driven economy is the outward _expression of late 20th Century Capitalism, and this may represent a break from the style of pre-20th Century Capitalism.  We live in a world dominated by "the market", in which everything (we believe) has its price.  The sales-driven economy confuses us all about what is really going on (e.g., classist oppression inherent in the Capitalist system), sells us the illusion that we can somehow get ahead by participation or will perish if we do not, lulls us into a false sense of security and irresponsibility by telling us that the "invisible hand" is silently taking care of everything, and so forth. 
 
The reality that we must recognize is that the sales-driven economy is a Darwinian system.  The unit of natural selection is not genes, however, but something which could be described as salable product ideas.  If something, anything, sells, it continues to sell, spins off copies of itself, and florishes, and if something, anything, does not sell, regardless of its merit or benefit to humanity or what-have-you, it dies out.  The microcosm in which this Darwinian system operates, what it uses for "fuel," are the Means of Production, our time, and our minds. 
 
The sales-driven economy has become the decision mechanism for how all of our lives and resources are spent, but the mechanism is at best only indirectly linked to the welfare of human beings.   Moreover, the system actively works to ensure its own survival by refining its "immune system" of collected irrational concepts to confuse humans into participation, and to attack other humans who try to do otherwise. 
 
However, there may be ways for each of us in our daily lives to decide not to participate in the sales-driven economy, and thereby sap some of its strength, contributing incrementally and directly to the Fall of Capitalism.
 
A major feature of the sales-driven economy is the role of "stable currencies" and the attempt to put a price in terms of these currencies on every imaginable item, i.e., to cast everything from a loaf of bread, to a toaster, to love, to a child's smile, to education, to knowledge, to freedom, to happiness in terms of a "good" or "service".  I view Time as the only true currency of spirituality, but it is not so with the sales-driven economy, and here is where some of the oppression starts to manifest itself.
 
The reality (upheld by Einstein) is that the clock ticks by at the same speed for all of us here on Earth, but in the sales-driven economy some people's time fetches a higher price than others'.  If one is a so-called "professional" or if one is title to a chunk of the legally-sanctioned unequal division of the Means of Production, for example, the result is that one's time is valued more highly than another who lacks these things. 
 
This hurts everyone: in the latter case one is disempowered within the sales-driven economic universe, while in the former one either becomes enslaved to a faceless master through the selling of one's "valuable" time to the highest bidder or is forced to watch its value diminish. 
 
Re-evaluation Counseling is an excellent example, by the way, of transcendence of the sales-driven economy.  By transcendence, I mean an exchange, or transaction, between people which is external to the sales-driven economy. 
 
Rather than going to a professional counselor, whose time may be valued at several times my own, forcing me to actively participate in the sales-driven economy for the better part of a day in order to pay for one session, I trade only one hour of my time for one hour of my co-counselor's time.  The result in this case is not only that less total time is spent, but that none of it is spent participating in the sales-driven economy or contributing to the oppression which it inevitably produces, whereas in the other case I would have had to have served as a "little soldier of Capitalism" for a whole day just to pay for my session, as well as during the session itself.
 
Herein lies the seed of the idea for how to end Capitalism.  Like any collective evil, Capitalism requires the participation of groups of humans for its continued existence.  Each time we participate in a transaction involving exchangable currencies, we are contributing to the strength of the sales-driven economy and validating its hegemony in our lives.  Each time we make the choice to abstain from such transactions, we sap its strength. 
 
As I said, the three "fuel sources" for the sales-driven economy are our minds, our time, and the Means of Production.  Each of us has some control over all three of these, and we can choose to direct them away from the sales-driven economy, rather than into it.  We can each use RC to free our minds from patterns and distress around money, work, our jobs, etc.  We can strive to spend less time being "consumers" and more time just "being."  And we can save our money, rather than spend it.
 
It's at this point I make the connection between the RC direction of ending Capitalism and the philosophy of Financial Independence, or FI.  FI is a discipline of learning to appropriately value money and the life energy it takes to acquire it.  As one progresses to higher and higher levels of Financial Integrity (also FI), things like bartering and direct exchange of services play a larger and larger role, as these turn out to be a better, more effective use of one's life energy.  Contrary to the runaway consumerism of the sales-driven economy, the focus is on having "enough" rather than "more". 
 
FI recognizes that much of the output of the sales-driven economy is bad for humans and for the planet.  An FIer (ef-eye-er) cuts participation in the sales-driven economy to a minimum, thereby freeing up time for more humane pursuits.  The summit of FI is when expenses decrease and savings increase to the point that one can live off the interest and thereby permanently leave paid employment. 
 
FI and RC both hold to the belief that the headlong struggle to develop a matured infrastructure is already complete, so we really don't all have to work so hard anymore, and the fact that we still do is based purely on pattern, needing to be discharged.  Both also favor trading and bartering between people. 
 
FI is already actively practiced by thousands of people, and may give us an inkling of what the next step may look like in the process of ending Capitalism.  For instance, questions of public policy, government, taxation, etc., will start to arise as greater numbers of people "opt out" of the sales-driven economy, spending less and less or none of their time working for money, saving their money rather than spending it, volunteering, being economically self-reliant, and engaging in non-taxable, non-exchangable-currency-oriented transactions with one other. 
 
Groups of people following these practices can become a laboratory for post-Capitalist society.  For instance, will more or fewer of us be engaged in agriculture?  How will young people be brought up and educated?  What transportation and communication systems will we need?  Which existing goods and services will we no longer need and which new ones will we have to have?  We may find that we all only need to work a couple of hours per day, or that young adults need only work a few years to earn their nest eggs before turning the few "necessary" jobs over to the next group, or something else altogether. 
 
Governments and the economy will have to gradually learn to deal with the transition.  A major disadvantage of the Bolshevik revolution was that, all else being equal, a new and untested economic system was implemented overnight on a national scale.  Through FI, individuals can move at their own pace, one by one, to a new way of life.  Capitalism will be eroded gradually due to a decrease in active participants and funding, and replaced bit by bit by a new system that will grow and take shape through peaceful evolution. Governments and institutions will have time to react to the transition.
 
-- end of published text --
 
RECOMMENDED READING:
"Your Money or Your Life: Transforming Your Relationship with Money and Achieving Financial Independence" by Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin
 
"Walden" by Henry David Thoreau
 
New Road Map Foundation, PO Box 15981, Seattle, WA 98115
phone: 206-527-0437  fax: 528-1120
http://slnet.com/cip/nrm
Creative Commons License
Moving Beyond Capitalism in the Wide World by Jay Dearien is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Salmon Haiku 鮭の俳句

葉が落ち
里帰り鮭
子を逢えず

Canada, copyright © 2000

The leaves fall
The homeward-bound salmon
Does not meet his children

The Schoolbus in Wintertime


I never thought of myself as a troublemaker in grammar school, but perhaps I was mistaken. 
 
All of us kids would gather each weekday morning at some ungodly twilight hour and wait for the schoolbus up where the uneven gravel of Countryside Lane gave way to the northward-running asphalt of South Holmes Road. None of us wore watches at that tender age, as I recall, and we had not yet discovered the wonders and mysteries of the word "procrastination" (nor its spelling, as likely as not). In any case, though we didn't know it then, we were carefree, and it felt like we had all of the time in the world, so one typically set off on the quarter-mile trek up the lane for the bus stop in plenty of time. In wintertime the lane was packed in snow and ice, and there was no question of a successful mad dash across that treacherous footing in all one's heavy winter gear should the horrid apparition of the big yellow bus looming out from behind the Winston's trees manifest itself, slowly pulling to a stop in the distance at the end of the lane, lights flashing, and the fortunate other children slipping abord with magical rapidity. So we tried to leave a little extra early in that season. During the wait for the bus, we always used to have snowball fights across the lane, like a classical pitched battle, with the lane as a sort of No-man's land. I'm sure that the excitement of these battles, and the memory of the previous days' heroics afforded additional incentive to get suited up, boots on, and out the door in plenty of time on those winter mornings. 
 
My friend Tony and I were home one afternoon, and since the morning snowball fights were such fun, we thought we'd go up to the end of the lane and have an extracurricular one, just the two of us. Aside from its familiarity, another advantage of this choice of locale was that it was far enough down the road that the Fitzsimmon boys, who were older and bigger (and a mean and onery pair) would not notice us, as they would have in front of my house, and come out and spoil the fun. 
 
So there we were, making our snowballs, when along came the school bus bringing the older children back from junior high school. We thought for a moment that it might be fun to snowball the bus, but we immediately thought better of it. When the bus stopped, however, Mabel, the bus driver, stuck her head out the side window and hollered at us that we were both kicked off of the bus for a week, and drove off. Not a snowball had been hurled, but we both just decided to go home after this unfortunate turn of events. 
 
I explained to my folks what had happened, and that there had been this misunderstanding. Since I was kicked off the bus for a week and he had to drive me to school early anyway, my dad suggested that I go to the bus driver the next morning when she was dropping the kids off at my school and explain what had happened and try to resolve matters. The next day at school, I stepped up into the door of the bus and explained about me and Tony, and the Fitzsimmons, and everything else to Mabel's gruff, scowling face. Her only reply was, "You don't take me for a fool, and I won't take you for a fool." This being a coloquialism with which I was then unfamiliar, but taking the words at face value, I thought to myself, "Okay, that sounds like a good bargain," and innocently assumed that the matter was resolved and the misunderstanding all cleared up. It didn't occur to me until years later that she was calling me a liar to my face. 
 
Copyright © 1997 

1 

Reëvaluating near-death experiences on the ol' irrigation ditch

I think back upon the time that a bunch of families from Countryside Lane all went to the Big Canal out back to have a picnic and to "surf" on the canal. 'Twas a singular gathering, as I recall -- we didn't all get together, young and old, for group activities that often. I for one have never "canal-surfed" before or since. The modus operandi was to attach a flat board to one of the bridges across the canal with a long rope, and hang on and steer with another bit of rope tied into holes in the front two corners. This way you could put your weight on the back of the board, hanging onto the loop in front, and shift your weight from side to side and thereby surf back and forth across the canal. It was more like a kind of waterskiing, in which the skier held still and the water moved, than actual surfing, but I digress.

Jimmy Onderchek, who was older and bigger than me and my friends, and had the reputation of being something of a bully, decided that it would be a pretty neat idea to climb up and straddle the rope, legs dangling off the edge of the bridge, and draw up a length of it while I was doing my canal-surfing at the other end. Now I, reckoning that Jimmy did not have my own best interests at heart, began to holler to him to turn loose of that rope. After having pulled in quite a few feet of rope, he did eventually comply with my request, and turned loose of it all at once. I shot backwards quickly, until the rope snapped taut and I was thrown off the back of the board and into the canal.

Now the canal at this particular time was only about shoulder deep, but the waters were moving quickly and the bottom was covered with small, slippery pebbles. So although I could keep my head above the water, I could not get a foothold or make any progress towards the edge, some twenty feet away. I was fairly stunned and dazzled, canal water in my eyes, plus I think I managed to suck in a fair amount of it during my probably less-than-acrobatic dismount-and-entry, but it did occur to me to yell for help at this point, which eventually roused the hitherto anti-interventionist grown-ups standing about on the bank. Mr. Benedetti dove in and pulled me to safety. Or so I surmise, because although I vaguely recollect the splash sound of somebody leaping in, I don't remember much detail until the point when I was being pulled out through the grasses and weeds at the edge. If he hadn't jumped in when he did, I would have been swept over the submerged control dam downstream and likely drowned in some underwater backcurrent, outflow pipe grating, or other similar modern agricultural terror.

Drowning in irrigation ditches is, I gather, a fairly common form of fatality among youngsters in the area where I grew up (although it may have been supplanted by AIDS or drive-by shootings since I was a boy). I suspect that quite a few, although I don't know how many, are lost each year in circumstances similar to mine. It leaves one to wonder how many are semi-dramatically rescued at the last minute in the way in which I was. Around the time that I came to Japan, a friend told me about how a family he knew had just lost a boy who had fallen into an irrigation ditch and drowned, and how the father of another family had also been lost trying to rescue him. The water was too fast, the edges too steep and slippery, and they were both swept under a debris-choked grating and couldn't be gotten out. This took place just a few hours' drive south of where I grew up.

Now, I'm not sure I can say I've ever "stared grim Mr. Death in the face", but through this and other experiences I know a feeling similar to one you might have a few days after a late-night party when a friend tells you that somebody you know showed up after you left. Sometimes I find myself almost paralized in the contemplation of what could have happened if things had gone just a little bit differently, one way or the other. I wonder how I get myself into such situations, and what does it mean that I.....survived.


copyright © 1996
1 

Anachronism in the face of cold steel

We had what I thought was a fairly active chapter of the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA) at Carnegie-Mellon University (then CMU -- now "Carnegie Mellon [University]"). There was an ostensibly active member who would mind the components store of EE lab on Thursday nights back in 1986, and he regaled several of us lab-goers with some local anecdotes while minding those microchips and making himself a suit of chain mail out of wire. Since it has bearing on the first anecdote, I'll digress briefly into how one goes about making such a suit. A suit of chain mail (for the heathen among you) is a sort of medieval armour which is like long underwear made out of hundreds if not thousands of tiny rings (about 1 cm diameter) linked together to form a fabric from which the suit is made. The mail may be fabricated by wrapping 1/16" wire around a metal bar, clipping the wire off to form little circlets which may then be joined together and optionally welded closed to form the "fabric" and ultimately, the suit. Chain mail will stave off arrows and blades, but is yielding, allowing full freedom of movement (and blunt impacts to be felt through the armour). It is however, rather heavy to wear (like most armour). I'm still amazed that a CMU student had the time to make such a thing. Anyway, on with the story...

Anecdote #1:

An SCA member and CMU student had just completed a suit of chain mail, and decided to put it on under a sweatsuit and take a walk around town (Pittsburgh, PA) to get a feel for the weight. During this promenade, he was accosted by a mugger who threated him with a knife, saying something to the effect of: "Give me your money or I'll stick you with this!" Our hero rejoined with something to the effect of: "It's a deal!", and the assailant proceeded to assail in the following manner:
- Ching!
- Ching!
- Chink! --SNAP!!
...and then fled without further ado, leaving our hero to continue his stroll without further incident.
-- CURTAIN -- 

Anecdote #2:

Another SCA-er/CMU student was returning home late one night from an SCA event via the sidewalks of the City of Pittsburgh. Our hero was the proud owner of a reasonably authentic longsword or broadsword of some stripe, which he had brought to said event, and which was now strapped to his back for his walk home. Again, for the heathen among you, such a sword is a good-sized weapon, about a metre in length, with a handle which may be large enough to accomodate both hands for particularly energetic swinging and thrusting maneuvers (you usually need both hands, as such a sword is quite heavy). En route, our hero was confronted by a switchblade-toting scalawag, who said, brandishing his weapon, "I've got six inches says you're gonna give me all your money!". The student, also a master of Hollywood dialogue, reaching over his shoulder, retorted, "I'll see your six inches...."
- KA-SHIIIIING!!!
...and raise you three feet!"
The bad guy fled forthwith, leaving the inadequate switchblade twirling cartoon-like in mid-air. Had he been somewhat bolder, however, one could perhaps imagine the next morning's headlines:
CMU STUDENT ATTACKED: ASSAILANT DISEMBOWELED
-- CURTAIN --
 
Copyright © 1996
 

Christmas of the Self-Denied

Run through with the chill sabre of failure,
The lifesblood of my spirit flows from the wound like a river. 
 
Whether it be real or imagined,
How can I endure with my will so wounded and weakened? 
 
My friends only fuel the fire, when I don't quite walk the line,
Think they that I lack troubles, ill-at-ease in my own mind? 
 
"Won't you come shopping for a Christmas tree?"
I think not -- my psyche has been troubling me. 
 
"Won't you take part in the season's cheer?"
Alas, it will be but a break from routine, I fear.
 
"Why not go and enjoy yourself with friends?"
Sadly, it is thus that many of my troubles begin. 
 
Perhaps I've had better than what to others fate has dealt,
But I'll never reap those riches, unable to forgive myself. 
 
Each misstep I have made is loaded on my yoke of pain,
And I fear that bitter weight will drive me insane. 
 
-- copyright © 2005
1
 

Pain

Life is another name for pain and pain is life's other name,
Each of us is a masochist in his or her own way,
Others, like lepers, cannot feel that which cuts or burns them.
Each of us must find the pain we like best, or feel least, and accept it,
Until its effects, unseen, accumulate, and compel us to die. 

copyright © 2005

My Roots are as the Moss

Insecurity and unrest have at last called at my door,
But my fears of both of them shall trouble me no more,
For my roots are as the moss, Dear,
Yea, my roots are as the moss. 
 
My keeper and provider, your ship adrift upon the sea of doubt,
You needn't want for my help, Captain -- ev'ry whim shall I carry out,
For my roots are as the moss, Dear,
Yea, my roots are as the moss. 
 
I will follow wherever you should go, and walk your selfsame path,
What little aid I can give I shall, and leave all that I have,
For my roots are as the moss, Dear,
Yea, my roots are as the moss. 
 
-- copyright © 2005
1 

The Mortal Angel

The mortal angel with taped-on wings leapt up into the sky,
And from her lofty perch tossed dewdrops on passers-by.
Shortly after, she returned to earth, unable to really fly. 
 
Now she walks among her fellow man -- divinely aloof but mortally clad,
But being a mortal angel is not what makes her bad;
One cannot have the best of both worlds and not be sad. 
 
To not fear death or degradation, or other earthly pain,
And yet to have companions, and take part in mortal play,
To be chaste and undying, yet free of loneliness' chains. 
 
For an angel who is resigned to walking down below,
Is as any being might be in a hostile world unknown,
And the life of such an angel is one led eternally alone. 
 
-- copyright © 2005
1 

The Maze

Silently and in darkness, I stalk the hallways of my mind.
Why should I use such stealth in these corridors that wind?
In truth, my movements are to elude and not to find;
Fragmented memories of my past pursue me all the time. 
 
For who is it, if not others, who takes the blame for your life,
If the maze of your memories holds a past all full of strife?
Vengeful anecdotes pursue me, and I fear their bitter strikes.
In such a dim dungeon full of perils, how can one be blythe? 
 
-- copyright © 2005
1 

Like a Public Library is my Mind

Like a public library is my mind,
And I search its wrinkled rind,
For enlightenment, but never find. 
 
For long o'er the card catalog I pore,
Seeking vainly to fling wide the door
To knowledge that I hope's in store. 
 
My library's empty as a shell,
Though others' be a void as well,
Neither word nor deed will tell. 
 
-- copyright © 2005
1 

Ode to a Leaf

A small golden leaf, flecked lightly with green,
I look up at your tree, you drop down to me.

O small golden leaf, flecked lightly with green,
Pray, tell, why are you smaller than those still in the tree? 
 
Your body I rend, breaking your stem,
I pull on each end and break you in twain --
Was your life to wane that others might gain?

O small golden leaf, flecked lightly with green,
I look back up at your tree and in doing so see
That leaves such as you are a minority. 
 
O small golden leaf, abandoned by your tree,
Was your death merely a frivolous cruelty? 
 
O small golden leaf, for you I greive.
Your sad story I hope will never be written of me.
But pray, tell me, friend leaf, are you and your tree
Anything like me and the rest of humanity?
 
-- first poem written, copyright © 2005
1 

Island of Loneliness

I am an island alone in an ocean of loneliness,
Envious of all continents and archipeligoes.
 
 Eurasia's Mediterranean affair with his dark mistress
And the Americas' great love which Roosevelt strove to sever.
I am basaltic -- forever distant from the granitic shelf,
Until through dubious drift's eternal endeavor,
The cartographer's vision should unmake itself.

Currents from every point are all bitter and cold.
They dissolve my body and ghostlike through the seas I roam,
Observing all loves in every part of the globe,
Ever trapped in the fluid yet adamantine foam. 
 
-- copyright © 1985, 2005
1


O Lustrous Gem

O lustrous gem, shimmering from lofty mountain heights,
Happy hearts lie in the wake of your smiling gleams.
You are so distant and yet so near in sight,
You chase the darkness from this poor jeweler's dreams. 
 
Hopeful seekers up the craggy bastions go,
Whilst I, so late a pilgrim and unsure, do tarry long.
Would you cast your lovely gaze upon the slopes below,
Where I crowd amidst the teeming, ant-like throng? 
 
When at last a happy quester would seize the bright stone,
If his hand unfavored be, she will it surely burn.
Perhaps I fear the summit to approach,
For fear of standing with those so spurned. 
 
What careful setting would rightly your beauty enfold?
I wonder, am I of a pure enough grade of gold? 
 
-- copyright © 1984, 2005

One Road

Ah! Sweet Volition!
I gaze into the cool, sparkling pond of existence.
I disturb its waters with my hand.
I have the power for good and for beauty. 
 
Ah! Freedom! My oft elusive friend,
You are the health of my soul.
I am drunk with the vision, but I am not dizzy,
For you have given me far-seeing sight
Which links together the souls of all men.

There is a lovely, sweet sadness to life,
In knowing that all choices are mine,
But that I must choose one road,
And in doing so I die many deaths,
Until the final death gathers us all toward home. 
 
-- September 7, 1987 copyright © 1987, 200
1
 

"Time"

You are my enemy.
You give me life,
But only in letting me see how you slowly kill me.
All of the disasters of my life are brought to me by you,
And you sweep my happy moments behind me and blur their memory.
You let me see much further than you will ever let me go. 
 
You are my enemy.
Your goal is nothing less than the end of all things.
I can do nothing against you.
Your shackle gleams from my wrist --
Symbolic, but only too painfully real.
I am your slave. 
 
In the end, I will escape you,
Though you will think to have destroyed me utterly. 
 
-- March 31, 1988, Sweden, copyright © 1988, 2005
1 

The Insanity of Solitude

Cut off from my fellow man,
I retire to the mansion of my mind.
I wander through the cold chambers of my soul
Until a single thought comes to me
And entices me with her charms.

Is it her urgency or my emptiness that binds us?
Embracing one another, we drift through the endless corridors of my spirit.
And then, the climax of our passion -- a question that has no answer.
Bewildered, I try to recapture the moment,
As we spiral downward together into the darkness of meaninglessness.

We gaze at one another, surrounded by the darkness.
Backlit by the meaninglessness, she seems to smile.
Are you out there, God? -- I cannot find the answer.

-- May 14, 1988, Cairo, Egypt copyright © 1988, 2005
1

A Statue Fair

I liken her to a statue fair,
Sprouting surreal from some dingy sculptor's lair. 
 
I adore the deliberate lines of her form and the strong beauty of her face
Set midst the haphazard rags, dust, and grayness of this place. 
 
How fortunate for me that she deign tarry in this course studio
'Ere she ascend to opulent spaces where such as I never go. 
 
-- June 9, 1991 copyright © 1991, 2005
1 

Rebel's Freedom

O Lord, the voice of Your Spirit comes to me,
Making itself heard above and through the meaninglessness.
Your Earth clutches at my feet as I walk,
And the hands of your servants are upon my garments.
But I, fool that I am, pay no heed,
Trading happiness for a rebel's freedom.
I press onward on my own path,
Turning always from side to side,
Lest the fool see the face of his folly;
Until at last I reach that final blind alley.
Then at last will I be forced to look myself in the face.
O Lord, will it be a sadder face than the one which I now wear?
 
-- November 4, 1988 copyright © 1988, 2005
1 

Princess at the Pittsburgh Airport

The painting I see is by an artist inspired
By creamy skin, lovely shapes, and dazzling color.
But ere brush could tell canvas the story entire,
The vision was lost, and things ended duller. 
 
Central is a lost princess in all of her splendor
Surrounded by blandness which distracts not the eye.
For her loveliness demands all its attention.
As if in a dream, I stand stupified. 
 
The bold strokes of her form proclaim loud her beauty,
A young goddess surreal in this milieu mundane
Of blurred edges which suggest mediocrity,
Painted in by a vain artist to make her look plain. 
 
The artist isn't foolish, for we share a like mind.
In the contrast he paints, his own heart he shows.
Through the clash 'twixt the real and this woman devine,
He would bring such a one to the world that he knows. 
 
-- copyright © 1986, 2005
1 

Wednesday Morning in Venice

The Moon's reign of nighttime has at last begun to yield,
And the Sun has caused the morning chill to lose its edge.
The Sun and Moon's eyes meet each other from across this field
Where in sleeping bags God's creatures have made their beds. 
 
And two by two He made them, male and female,
Gently slumbering on this field of cobblestone
Through which a satyr frolics, to his music's distant wail;
And the field, just for this moment, has the coziness of home. 
 
The flowers of His creation bloom forth from nylon pods,
And to the innocence between them has come no sin.
I have asked that You would grant me wisdom, God,
And through this scene I feel it has been given. 
 
I will not ask where they'll be in years to come,
But for now, they, You, and all the world are one. 
 
-- July 23, 1986, Venice, Italy copyright © 1986, 2005
1 

Babe in Arms

The tiny babe in arms is helpless but he doesn't worry,
For his mother kindly lavishes her care.
Were she to withhold her love and food from him,
He would surely cry and rightly so,
For he would have no choice but to despair. 
 
 That is very much what God is like,
For we endure only through His mercy and His grace.
It is only due to ignorance that we should ever worry,
For He has promised always to be there. 

Between God and mother I'll choose independence,
For no other can love us like those two.
It is terrible to fear what the next day brings,
Whether love or loneliness, want or bounty.
If I were ever to find myself so doubting,
Perhaps I, like the crib-death dying in his lonely dark night,
Would choose no more to live. 
 
-- September 8, 1987 copyright © 1987, 2005
1 

Double Mind

I pursue you with a double mind,
But with a single brain.
Though my intentions be true and fine,
My purpose's split in twain. 
 
For if I my present loneliness avow,
Do I thus my hitherto-lived years disdain?
And hate my life before I met you,
Each of its days having been lived in vain? 
 
Next to the hope of enduring ador,
I esteem lowly the confusèd days of youth;
But shall I choose my former self to martyr,
If you be not the queen of my heart forsooth? 
 
So then pursue you I ever with divided spirit,
But lest I succeed my will to unify, how can I ever conquer it? 
 
-- April 2, 1991 copyright © 1991, 2005

Unfettered, I Run

Unfettered as I am to the poor play that life presents me, I run,
That in rolling I might not gather the moss of disillusionment.
Quick as I can, I live the cycles of birth, of learning, forgetting, dying and moving on.
What shall I do, O my Lord, when I come to that last blind alley,
And the strength of my limbs avail me no longer
To put one foot before the other? 
 
-- July 19, 1989 copyright © 1989, 2005

Comme une miche du pain

Je me sens comme une miche du pain sortie trop tôt du four,
Comme un petit enfant mis trop tôt au jour.

Mais à qui demande-t-on, <<remette-moi,>>
Quand on remarque cette certaine manque en soi

Comme une miche du pain sortie trop tôt du four,
Comme un petit enfant mis trop tôt au jour?
 
-- le 27 décembre, 1990 copyright © 1990, 2005

The Postman, a.k.a. "Poem to a distant correspondante"

I have paid my pence, all twenty-nine,
And slipping it into the box, lay holy claim to his time, 
 
The Postman, who shuffles doubt-filled to his duty,
To bring you my scribblings, scrawled 'midst musings on your beauty. 
 
In his unwilling complicity with this folly of mine,
He must be surely moved to think of Christmastime, 
 
His sacks filled top-full with arctic-bound notes,
Writ all by children, spurred by fantasy and hope. 
 
Does he keep their letters, that they might not the real truth know?
Or does he bear them northward, leave them to God, turn, and go? 
 
Or still yet, exasperated, say, choosing to play the cynic,
"Vain child, give up your dreams and see the world for what it is"? 
 
Or does he share my unrequited longing tender,
And so is loath to coldly stamp it, "Return to Sender"? 
 
-- May 18, 1991 copyright © 1991, 2005

l'Océan

Un jour, je me levais, malade, et je marchais à l'océan,
Afin de lui donner ma maladie,
Et ainsi retrouver la santé.
Je faisais me petite cérémonie,
Comme j'avais fait autant des fois avant.

Mais cette fois-ci, l'océan m'a repondu,
<<Je suis désolée, mon ami,
Mais je ne peux plus vous aider,
Parce que tous les gens du monde,
Depuis la nuit du temps,
Ont versé leurs maladies dans moi,
Et voilà! maintenant elles sont devenues trop nombreuses,
Et je suis tombée malade moi-même.>>

<<Mais, que deviendra de moi,
Si tu ne peux plus me guérrir?>>
<<Ce ne me intèresse pas,>> disait l'océan,
<<Lorsque je meurs moi-même,
Et après moi, il n'y restera plus rien.>>
-- 30 avril, 1991

One day, I rose, sick, and I walked to the ocean,
That I might give her my sickness,
And become well again in so doing.
I performed my little ceremony,
As I had done so many times before. 
 
But this time the ocean answered,
"I am sorry, my friend,
But I can no longer help you,
Because all of the people of the world,
Since the beginning,
Have thrown their sickness into me.
And now they are too many,
And I have become sick myself."

"But what will become of me,
If you can no longer heal me?"
"That is of no interest to me," said the ocean,
"Since I myself am dying,
And after me, there will be nothing left."
-- April 30, 1991 copyright © 1991, 2005

Poem to Michèle

I see you hiding there, behind your eyes, behind your body,
A nymph whose forest home is all a careless order;
Whose life is o'erstrewn with deliberate debris 
 
I see you hiding there, behind your looks behind your gestures,
Fearing that I will soil your sylvan floor with rude footprints,
And yet beckoning, beckoning -- I can but go. 
 
I see you hiding there, behind your words, behind your silence.
You are that which I myself would like to be.
I seek not to own you but to become you. 
 
I see you hiding there, behind your eyes, behind your body.
I know not whether we will be one or forever two,
But I know that it is into your forest that I must go.
-- September 12, 1991 copyright © 1991, 2005

Numb to the Blandness

Sometimes I get so numb, so numb that I can't stand it,
But to survive I must enjoy the numbness, savor the blandness,
Look with relish at the trough of lukewarm oatmeal --
My life -- stretching off to the horizon.
How I long for something crunchy, a hot pepper,
Or a piece of ice to sting my teeth;
Something to let me feel pain and pleasure again,
Instead of seeing how much more comfortable I can get.
-- October, 1991 copyright © 1991, 2005

"Waxing poetic..."

And now I wonder whether I should wax poetic,
And charm you with my daring to risk to appear the fool.
But rather, I think that I shall merely wax, and seal this letter thereby,
That I might gum not only the wheels of postal machinery,
But also those that whisk us to and from our daily routines, by and by.
-- copyright © 2005

Steve & Sylvia

The roadkill 'long the highway to True Love lay strewn in heaps,
The spiritual voyeurs through misty panes do peep,
All wond'ring what the secrets are they keep,
Those who would the fruits of True Love reap. 
 
Whilst we the weary walking wounded shamble,
And would-be lovers struggle, mired in bramble,
We all look up to you in our earnest gamble,
That True Love might triumph 'midst this confusèd scramble. 
 
Think on us a moment, and how the example you have shown,
Gives us hope for peace in the war of Love that we have known,
Pray, think fondly of those who struggle yet within the battle zone;
Think once, and then no more, for your Love is not ours, but your own.
-- July 23, 1991 copyright © 1991

Guerre du Golfe

Le temps, ce vol,
Comme de l'eau jetée dans l'air,
Qui coule ensuite dans le sable du desert.
Payant pour la médiocrité avec du sang.
Mais, au lieu de devenir une bête,
Je garderai cette dernière petite partie de mon âme,
Bien que ce me coûte la tristesse.
-- août, 1991 copyright © 1991, 2005

To Tad

My love is a fair and distant land,
Full of simple joys and exquisite pleasures.
She is at once exotic and yet familiar.
I count well-spent each hour I wander her territories.
How I long to explore her vast dominions,
How I yearn to delve into her mysteries.
My lips rejoice to speak her language,
But bitterly will my tongue form empty phrases,
For the urgency of routine has bid that I must quit her,
And return to the grey wasteland that is my home.
--  May 22, 1989 copyright © 1989, 2005

Déjà vu

We gather again to break the bread of déjà vu,
And oh, we are a proper pair, we two,
You with your carefree gladness,
And me with my depth of sadness,
Enough to make your voice break with despair.
How I wish that I had strength enough,
To drain this bitter bottle's final draught,
And fill it again with a note,
To o'er the waters between us float
To beg you cross the mountains of distress,
And brave the jungles of prejudice,
To find at last my brighter side,
This our dark night to illumine
With desperate hope I lift my quill,
And choose an elixir to make it fill,
What ink could chance endure the flood?
Which indeed, save my own blood?
-- August, 1992 copyright © 1992, 2005

Il faut s'aimer...

Il faut s'aimer pour avoir des enfants
La mienne est une histoire déporvue de sens et de joie
Et il ne sert à rien de la continuer
J'en sais assez pour savoir que je n'en sais rien
Mais au lieu d'agir d'inconscience, je ferai le choix
Il faut s'aimer pour avoir des enfants
Et moi, je ne m'aime pas autant
-- mai, 1993, Thibet copyright © 1993, 2005

Wanderlust

The wanderlust of adventure calls me
Piquing me to reveal unseen sides of myself
I mourn the deaths of these other selves
As I moil to make a new me in the stubborn here and now
The plaintive whine of passion denied make me wonder
Am I really being disciplined or merely cheating myself?
-- May 25, 1993, Boulder, Colorado
copyright © 1993, 200

The Wall, a.k.a. "Why Should I Feel Trapped?"

Smacking for the thousandth time against my wall of stone,
I pause to rest a moment, and to reflect.
The sweat and blood drip from my face,
And my body is sore and covered with bruises.
Other travelers amble past, on courses different from mine,
They take time to pack picnic lunches,
To make love, and to stop and smell the flowers.
How I would love to set my face against their same sunny horizons
Instead of the cold, hard face of my stony taskmaster.
In glib tones they tell me how they envy me.
Vultures soar above my head,
And alight along the top edge of the wall.
Some call out words of encouragement,
Others tell me that I should do better.
They know that they will have their meal.
How I long to batter down this granite grayness,
To see what lies beyond
And sometimes dream of floating o'er it, or walking 'round it,
But I know that it is impossible.
At least I can say that I have no regrets,
For I am truly doing the best I can.
--  April 21, 1992 copyright © 1992, 2005

The Swamp

A swamp of plastic mediocrity
Sucks at my ankles as I try to leave it
I would fly and float above it all
But I see the blood spurt with each tether I would cut
The proximity of forgetfulness terrifies me
I cling to each piece of flotsam and wait for rescue
I flail desperately against Lethe's current
Or is it my own nature that opposes me?
-- May 22, 1993, Boulder, Colorado
copyright © 1993, 2005

Ode to a Wyrm

O ropelike friend
So slimy you
Mere dirt to me
Your food and poo

O stringlike Phoenix
By spade rudely cloven
One half left buried
One in barrow hoven

One self made two
How do you do it?
Can I too find harmony
Without a shovel to the skull?

Furlough from Hell

Furlough from Hell


How many tears are enough to shed
To mourn the wholesale waste of genius?
How many quick and painless deaths
To equal a lifetime wracked by torment?
How vast and great a fortune tossed away
To pay back a Titan chained for decades?
How great a choir of how many voices
To laud the respite from endless horrors?
Is a mere quietly-breathed sigh of relief enough
When the sword of Damocles dangles still above?
-- January 14th, 2005, Copyright © 2005

La Cucaracha ya no puede caminar

The season of the big cockroaches has begun. I sidled into the pisser for a slash. It was one of those things where you don’t really realize you have to on the way home but once you’re back for a bit and starting to get your suit off and trying to hang it up you suddenly realize you really have to go. I’ve left the door open and right out of the corner of my eye I see this great brownish black thing creeping down the doorjamb at about the level of my knee, right next to me and then creeping down below the level of my knee. I let out a “Boah-ahh!” and a start worthy of a Danny Thomas or other such Golden Age giant of physical comedy. “Cucaracha…” I mumble as I carry on with business, never taking my eyes off of my unwelcome visitor and his long waving antennae during what was to have been “me time.” He seems to sense that the game has begun, I choose my weapon…perhaps badly. I try and whack him with the bottom of a can of spray air freshener. What an image it must have been – a pale florid and flabby hairy middle-aged white guy in only his boxer underwear trying in this pathetic existential ballet to kill two birds, to stave off these twin harbingers of ultimate decay, stench and cockroaches, with the one stone of this can of deodorizer. I rain down ineffectual blows upon the villain roach who flees to and then behind the small credenza supporting the disused toaster oven and a roll of toilet paper. Jockeying the small faux wood pedestal, upsetting the toilet paper to the floor, perception dawns that it opens only to the back and Pancho Villa is now holed up in box canyon. Drawing with inexplicable and hitherto absent quickness upon my years of having dealt with Japanese vermin and their strategies for evasion, I again seize up, not unlike Isildur, the hitherto impotent sword of my deodorizer can and spray point blank and copiously into the gap under the toaster stand. I ponder, grasping vainly for a next move during the pregnant pause that ensues, until, lo, the beast totters out, visibly shaken, and attempts to crawl a couple of inches up the side of the pedestal. Sensing feverishly that I must strike while the iron is at least still lukewarm, I snatch up a handful of the junk mail lying on the floor, roll it tightly into a lethal baton of unsolicited advertizing and whack the hapless Pancho where he clung and again on the floor below. Now he lay supine and twitching slightly, utterly vanquished. Returning victorious to my pile of junk mail, I selected a postcard ad for a 24 hour plumbing service and scooped Pancho up from the grimy faux wood vinyl field of his final humiliation and bore him back to the dingy porcelain and plastic altar where our feud was first sworn and joined. He lay upon his [beyer], one wing draped around its top edge, like some mortally wounded hero carried from the field of battle towards a final watery Viking rite, a funeral at the flick of a cheap chrome lever.

The Little Ant with the Criminal Mind (9/6)

(9/6 @ 9/5) The little ant with the criminal mind.  It’s an idea I had a long time ago, but I may not have grasped the full implications of the idea at the time.  A self-aware neuron.  A social componet that is self-aware and self-critical.  Because of the nature of society he is self-aware, because society is composed of collections of feedback loops.  Because the whole has to be somewhat aware of its individual constituents, the constituents sometimes get a glimpse of their positions in the whole and the constituency of that whole.  Is that right?  There is a layer above, and it’s totally alien to our experience and our vocabulary for describing it.  The little ant is aware of the mechanims that drive him and his fellow ants through all of their social behaviours.  He is aware that it is not some duty to God that is behind it but the propensity to produce and the sensitivity to pheromones.  How to compare this to the prefrontal cortex?  The modeling of what other ants do.  The reaction to other ants’ actions and secretions.  The illusion of consciousness.  The ants can only be self-aware in a kind of cartoony sense…or can they?  Ants behave as though they have a measure of intelligence and a sense of purpose, where in fact as individuals they almost certainly lack these things.  How to start the book?  Perhaps the little ant’s working week.  His routine.  And perhaps “he” should be a “she”.  Or I make a foreword on the gender of pronouns.  Perhaps the little ant should be manic-depressive.  Some things right on some days and all wrong on others.

The Little Ant with The Criminal Mind (9/6)

(9/6) The little ant with the criminal mind.  The ant can perceive how his own actions are governed by the pheromones and he tries to control the environment and the colony by picking plants and mushrooms, flowers, that give off comparable pheromones.  He thinks about doing this because he and his comrades have been captured by another colony, so they are out of place and only partly influenced by the pheromone environment.  So they decide to take over.  The black ants produce some pheromones naturally, others they have to harvest certain mushrooms and flowers, ferment them.