Why are We Here?

Thu 08/04/05 at 3:23 pm

I suspect many of you may be surprised to learn that on some level I believe the answer to the title question is essentially the answer Jesus Christ ostensibly gave to the rich young man in response to his question, “[W]hat good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?” The author of the Gospel of Matthew tells us that Christ replied, “If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me.” (And Liberation Theology was born.) The biblical passage continues, “[b]ut when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions.” This action on the part of the young man prompted Christ to utter one of his more famous declarations, “And again I say unto you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.” Matthew 19: 16, 21-22, 24 (KJV). Even though I grew up Lutheran, “grace, not works” never quite did it for me. For me, it’s pretty much black and white. I just don’t think a person can be a Christian and still have a swimming pool unless and until everybody who wants a swimming pool has a swimming pool.

For that matter, putting a Christian face on what I consider my responsibility to my fellow inhabitants of this planet is just one more way to excuse my inaction. In truth, I believe everyone, regardless of race, color, creed, religion, gender — does “gender” replace “sex” these days? I’ve neglected to keep up. If so, does “gender orientation” replaced “sexual orientation?” I just want to use the most up-to-date terms of inclusiveness, so that no one escapes — should do whatever it takes to ensure that everyone else in the world has more than the bare necessities, rather that everyone has enough. I’ve no doubt this could happen. For instance, the economist Jeffrey Sachs has written a book entitled The End of Poverty: Economic Possibilities For Our Time in which, I’m told by the Amazon blurb, he details how the foundation for such an outcome; i.e., ending “global extreme poverty,” could be put in place in a matter of 20 years — probably much sooner if, indeed, everyone’s energy and attention was focused on factoring the needs of the world’s population to the lowest common denominator and taking it from there. That said, I have chosen to keep my toys, and so, worst case, hell awaits. (“I can swear there ain’t no heaven, but I pray there ain’t no hell, . . . but I’ll never know by living, only my dying will tell, only my dying will tell.” Laura Nyro, And When I Die.)

You’re probably asking yourself about now, where in the world is Kris going with all of this? Well, much as I try to ignore the flapping, every so often these days, I get a glimpse of time’s winged chariot in my peripheral vision. As many of you know, my lungs are trashed. COPD. Classic panlobular emphysema, to be exact. Not long after my initial diagnosis, I was advised to get on a lung transplant list because the wait for lungs was up to three (or even more) years and there was speculation mine wouldn’t hold out even that long. Thankfully, they have. The latest prediction (as of late 2004) is that I have a 45% chance of making it five years with the lungs as they are, or a 55% chance of making it five years with new lung(s). Either way it goes downhill from there. I’m sticking with my lungs for the present, though my recent (first) hospitalization as the result of an acute exacerbation event was certainly a wake up call. I had no idea. Also, not too long ago, I had a rather sobering discussion with a pulmonologist who felt the need to tell me that in his opinion the odds of my actually undergoing a lung transplant are “slim to slim.” I try not to obsess. After all, even the prospect of a few good years may be wishful thinking. I could come down with pneumonia tomorrow or get hit by an SUV or there might be an accidental launch of nuclear warheads that wipes out the planet. Hopefully, though, I’ve got at least five more years.

So the threshold issue becomes what to do in these next five years. The lungs have somewhat circumscribed my choices. Travel and golf require the expension (have I just made up a word? My OED says why yes, yes I have) of too much energy. Becoming semi-adept at chess or bridge requires more time than I’m willing to devote to those endeavors at this juncture. The same goes for learning the language of mathematics or poetry. (When I think of the time I’ve saved reaching these conclusions, why I’m feeling younger already.)

At present, I spend my days either reading or playing computer/video games. I read the Writer’s Almanac every morning and the New York Times Book Review, and whenever a book or an author strikes my fancy, I add another selection to my Amazon Wishlist. Once the total for books exceeds $25, thereby qualifying for free shipping, I place an order. My “reading list” is a two-shelf bookcase that holds about 100 books. Over time, even though I manage to finish one or two books a week, it’s filled up and the overflow has spilled over onto my computer desk shelf. As for video games, I possess both an X-box and a PS2. I adore FPSs (First Person Shooters) (Halo, Max Payne, etc.) and I have many, many yet to play. I could, without more, easily do nothing other than read and play games for the next five years. Most of me believes that in the end, doing nothing other than reading and playing will “matter” about as much as anything else I might choose to do in the time I have left.

Nonetheless, even the most cynical part of me finds it hard to believe that the answer to why I am here is to kill aliens on my x-box. I know what I’d like the answer to be. I’d like it if my destiny is to write this novel I’ve been thinking about for nearly twenty years. Before my diagnosis, I had conducted a significant amount of research, outlined the basic plot points as they had presently been revealed, and written about a hundred pages. You’d think, after all the books I’ve read about the need to discover one’s destiny, and upon its discovery the hero’s inevitable failure or refusal to follow said destiny, coupled with having been diagnosed with a terminal illness, that I should already have realized my destiny and have a manuscript in the hands of an agent. But NOOOOOO. Even though I’m on disability and have days on end to write, like Isabel Archer in Henry James’ The Portrait of a Lady, who once had the world before her and turned away, I can be as stubborn about fulfilling my destiny as the next person. I have, at best, half-heartedly continued to work on the book. I’ve continued to add to the research pile and have “polished” about half of the already written portion. I created Walking Raven in the hope it would provide a jump-start. Act as if, and all that. So far to no avail.

But I remember that someone, somewhere, in a book I read or a movie I saw or a play I attended kept repeating throughout, “Never be daunted!” So I’m renewing my effort to write my novel. And whether anyone reads this blog or not, I knew when it debuted and I still know that it will play an integral part in the fulfillment of my destiny (if one ascribes to such things).


Since I began thinking about the particulars of my novel, I have had more than a few “DO do DO do” (think Twilight Zone theme song) moments. I had one in connection with this particular entry. On or about the same day I began writing it, I finished reading The Winter Queen by Boris Akunin — quite good, by the by. I recently arranged my reading list bookcase alphabetically by author, and the next book up would have been Bless Me Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya. Instead, I decided I’d change the selection format and read the first book the title of which began with “A.” It turned out to be the 10th anniversary edition of The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. For those of you who have already read it, well, imagine my surprise. For those of you who have not, give it a read and imagine my surprise.

next post: Plate O’ Shrimp

Plate O’ Shrimp

Fri 08/12/05 at 10:18 am

I have never taken a psychology course. I think, long ago, I may have read Man and His Symbols by Carl Jung. I know I carried a copy of it around for years, and consulted it in conjunction with a paper I wrote long ago and far away about androgyny and Monique Wittig’s Les Guérillères. I am aware that Jung believes in the existence of a collective unconsciousness. Indeed, that concept forms the basis of my all time favorite New Yorker cartoon, captioned “James Joyce’s Refrigerator:”


If you can’t quite make it out, the “To Do” list reads:

1. Call Bank
2. Dry Cleaner
3. Forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race.
4. Call mom

I liked it so much I had the cartoon transferred to a t-shirt. Seehttp://www.cartoonbank.com/.

Even so, I was unaware, until I conducted a Google search of the term “synchronicity” for this blog entry, that Jung actually coined the word to describe two contemporaneous events that are linked together in a meaningful manner. I vividly recall a dinner conversation with my blogmate mjh and his wife Merri about the subject. After telling them about a synchronistic moment in my life, both of them, simultaneously uttered, “Plate of shrimp.” When asked to explain, they told me about the exploration of the topic in the film Repo Man. I immediately went out and rented said film, and have since acquired the DVD. In one scene, Miller, the groundskeeper for an automobile repossession firm, explains to Otto, the newest repoman,

A lot of people don’t realize what’s really going on. They view life as a bunch of unconnected incidents of things. They don’t realize that there’s this, like, lattice of coincidence that lays [sic] on top of everything. Give you an example. Show you what I mean. Suppose you’re thinking about a plate of shrimp. Suddenly somebody will say, like, “plate” or “shrimp” or “plate of shrimp,” out of the blue, no explanation. No point in looking for one either. It’s all part of the cosmic unconsciousness.

In a subsequent scene, the following is taped on the door of a diner:

Plate O' Shrimp Luncheon Special
Plate O' Shrimp Luncheon Special

In thinking about and researching this novel, I have had a number of “plate of shrimp” experiences. It seems as though every time I come up with a character or a plot point or a back story detail, the next day I read or see my idea in someone else’s book or movie. Sometimes the coincidence is quite remarkable. Those are the times I think maybe I really have tapped into The Collective Unconsciousness. I guess it really does all go back to Gilgamesh or The Bible or any number of other ancient writings and oral traditions. Maybe someday we’ll know how much has actually gotten coded into our DNA. When I get discouraged about the fact there really appears to be nothing new under the sun, my friends and family assure me that no one has quite yet told the story the way I intend to tell the story. So here goes, “Once upon a time . . .”

next post: Back Back Story
previous post: Why are We Here?

Back Back Story

Fri 08/19/05 at 10:21 am

I’ve never taken a creative writing course or read a book on how to write fiction. Thus, it wasn’t until I read Jasper Fforde’s series featuring Spec Op Literary Detective Thursday Next that I became acquainted with the term “back story.” Conducting a “define: backstory” search on Google brought up several definitions of the term. Among them, according to Wikipedia:

In narratology, a back-story (also back story or backstory) is the history behind the situation extant at the start of the main story. This literary device is often employed to lend the main story depth or verisimilitude. A back-story may include the history of characters, objects, countries, or other elements of the main story. Back-stories are usually revealed, sketchily or in full, chronologically or otherwise, as the main narrative unfolds. However, a story creator may also create portions of a back-story or even an entire back-story that is solely for his or her own use in writing the main story and is never revealed in the main story.

(And folks give attorneys a bad rap for failing to use plain, simple language.)

Of course, instead of reading the book, one could simply see the movie; i.e., another definition that came up during my initial search was a glossary entry found in the “Fundamentals” section of the website www.scriptsales.com. There, “backstory” is defined simply as the “action and events that took place in a character’s life before the present events of the story.” Okay, okay, it’s a stretch — or is that reach?

Getting back, while composing this entry I learned that altering the search term to “back-story” or “back story” generated different results. For instance, when I returned to writing this blog entry and re-searched (get it?) using Wikipedia’s preferred form of the term; i.e., “back-story,” I only got one result — Wikipedia’s definition. Taking out the dash but leaving a space between “back” and “story” yielded more definitions than the first time around, although the scriptsales definition set forth above got dropped. I’m too lazy to find one of Fforde’s volumes to see what version he uses. Accordingly, I’ll let the majority rule, and use “back story.” (Though if someone somewhere managed to use all his or her tiles by turning the word “or” into “backstory” in a Scrabble game, I probably wouldn’t challenge it.)

All that, just to set up an explanation for the title of this blog entry — and you wonder why it’s taking me so long to write the damn book. At any rate, if a “back story” relates the “history behind the situation extant at the start of the novel,” then by my use of the term “back back story,” I mean to relate some of the history behind the situation extant to the day I finally sat down at my computer and typed the opening sentence. I’ve never talked to anyone about what it was like for them to write a novel, so I don’t know if my experience mirrors that of other writers, but I have a pretty clear sense of the handful of occurrences that lead to my “let there be” moment.

My brother taught me to read before I started kindergarten. (I taught him to tie his shoes.) From then until I finished my master’s comps, I don’t remember a time when I was without a book. Given my passion for reading, I suppose it was only natural that I would have literary aspirations of my own. I’ve always wanted to write fiction, but this desire has been stymied by my absolute inability to come up with any sort of plot. I used to think it was became I was lacking in creativity, but I know now that’s not exactly it. Over the years I’ve come up with some fairly decent and original approaches to writing about the literature I read or the legal issues I faced. So what’s the problem? Those of you who know me are well aware that I failed to inherit my father’s “direction gene.” Well, maybe I also lack the “fiction gene.” And so the phrase, “[n]ever be daunted” once again springs to mind. See August 4, 2005 entry. [For this entry I took the time to (what else?) run a Google search of the phrase. Turns out the line is spoken by a fellow named Bill Gorton in one of my all time favorite works of literature, The Sun Also Rises by Earnest Hemingway. But, I digress.]

Over the years, I have compensated for my lack of any sense of direction by making a conscious effort to learn directions and orient myself to where Albuquerque’s Sandia Mountains would be in any given place I find myself. My direction mantra for the last twenty-some years has been, “Mountain’s East.” These days, if I’m familiar with a location, I can pretty much direct folks to it and even tell them whether it’s on the northwest or southeast side of the street. I take great pride in knowing how to get from one end of the island of Manhattan to the other, including by way of the uptown or downtown subway trains on either the east or west side (and, for that matter, knowing which stops have shuttles that will take me from one side of the island to the other).

Enter the notion of nature or nurture. (Trading Places, great movie.) It may not be in my nature to write fiction, but hopefully I’ve nurtured enough of whatever it takes along the way at least to be able to tell this one story. It’s by no means a sure thing, though. Despite being adept at maneuvering my way around Manhattan, one could still take me back to the old homestead at Madelia, Minnesota and tell me to find my way to Grandma’s house in Rake, Iowa, a place we drove to many, many times when I was growing up. I could probably make it to the general vicinity, but actually being able to find the town would still be hit or miss — and there can be those pesky windmills along the way.

next post: Back Back Story: Elfredge
previous post: Plate O’ Shrimp

Back Back Story: Elfredge

Thu 08/25/05 at 3:21 pm

I think it was sometime in 1982, but it could have been even a few years later, that my dad and I drove over from Forest City, Iowa to my hometown of Madelia, Minnesota. We stopped in at Luther Memorial Home, where he had served as the administrator from 1967 until the spring of 1973. While there, we ran into Julie Anderson’s mother who was employed there in some capacity or another. Julie had been one of my good friends during high school. I remember looking at her mom’s nameplate that to me read “Elfredge,” and thinking, “what a great name.” After all, I am a child of The Lord of the Rings. I am now fairly convinced I misread the nameplate. I still don’t know Mrs. Anderson’s name for sure, but I think it more closely resembles “Althea” — it could even be “Althea” — than “Elfredge.” Ever since that encounter, though, I knew if I ever wrote a book, I had a name for my hero.

Elfredge can currently be found on “Xbox Live” endeavoring to kill her fair share of Spartans and Elites as she traverses the various maps of Halo 2’s Rumble Pit. Look for her emblem, on a triangle field, or, valkyrie, tenne-vert.

Elfredge Heraldry

Soon, however, she will meet her greatest foe. And who, you ask, might that be? Well, could it be, . . . SATAN? Maybe, but then again, maybe not.

next post: Back Back Story: The Immortals
previous post: Back Back Story

Back Back Story: The Immortals

Thu 09/01/05 at 7:14 pm

As a child, Catholicism fascinated me. In sixth grade, I had one of my Catholic friends teach me the Hail Mary. I also liked the idea of being able to ask God directly for what was wanted instead of leaving it to “Thy will be done.” You want a million dollars? Ask for it. And if it didn’t happen, well it wasn’t that the prayer had gone unanswered. No prayer goes unanswered; it’s just that sometimes, God says, “No.” Later in life, when questioned about how a Lutheran knew so much about those idol-worshipping, transubstantiating Catholics, I would explain, that, like Luther, I too believed there was only “one true Church.” Despite the above, I hope no one will be surprised to learn that these days, I’m incapable of supporting the Church’s position on almost any issue. For instance, Catholicism (and for that matter, all of the Big-Three — Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) is beyond redemption from a feminist perspective – it will take a whole lot more than using gender-neutral language, that’s for sure.

Even so, St. Anthony, the patron saint of lost things, continues to play a role in my life. In 1987, I had the privilege of beginning my life as an attorney by clerking for Justice Mary Coon Walters, the first woman ever appointed to the New Mexico Supreme Court. As the appointment lasted only a year, obtaining an associate position with a law firm provided more than a few anxious moments during my tenure with The Court. At the time, few firms were looking for new associates, and after a couple of courtesy interviews (in deference to Justice Walters), I began to despair of finding gainful employment.

Cora, Justice Walter’s secretary and a devout Catholic, came to the rescue. She told me I had to go over to the St. Francis Cathedral during the lunch hour and light a candle to St. Anthony to help me find my “lost job.” I did as she told me to do. The next day a fellow named Joe Sturges from Sager, Curran, Sturges & Tepper, P.C. called to set up an interview. I had sent my resume to the firm on the advice of Justice Walters, who told me Stan Sager was “the best mentor I could hope for.” I went to said interview, and the rest, as they say is history. I accepted Stan’s offer to join the firm. Six years later, I made partner. (And Justice Walters was right about the mentor part.) Since that fateful (if one ascribes to such notions) afternoon in Santa Fe, Tony has come through for friends, family members, and me on many occasions. At the moment I’ve got him working on my lost novel and lost lungs.

Another aspect of Catholicism that I thought about every once in awhile, especially during the time when so many priests were leaving the priesthood, was the edict that, no matter what, “once a priest, always a priest.” Somehow or other I learned that this precept stems from the biblical figure, Melchizedek. In the Hebrew Bible, Melchizedek was the king of Salem who rode out with the King of Sodom to meet Abraham “after his return from the slaughter of Chedorlaomer.” It seems Abraham and his personal army had come to the rescue of his nephew Lot who had been taken prisoner during a battle involving several kings and kingdoms. Following the victory, Melchizedek “brought forth bread and wine: and he was the priest of the most high God.” Genesis 14:18. And so was celebrated the first eucharist (small “e”) (from the Greek word for “thanksgiving” or “thank-offering”).

Melchizedek reappears in Hebrews 7 where he is described as the “King of righteousness, and after that also King of Salem, which is, King of peace.” In Hebrews, we discover that Melchizedek is “[w]ithout father, without mother, without descent, having neither beginning of days, nor end of life; but made like unto the Son of God; abideth a priest continually.” Hebrews 7: 2-3. I remember, the first time I read the above, saying to myself, “Self, what if Melchizedek is indeed still here, hanging around awaiting the Second Coming?”

The Hebrews reference to Melchizedek triggered a vague memory of another biblical character who might also be hanging around. The final verses of the Gospel of John set forth an exchange Jesus has with Peter. John 21:20-25. Specifically, as Jesus and Peter walk along, Peter turns around to see “the disciple whom Jesus loved following; which also leaned on his breast at supper.” For reasons that are not entirely clear, at least to me, Peter asks Jesus, “which is he that betrayeth thee?” Then, without awaiting an answer, Peter goes on to ask, “what shall this man [the disciple whom Jesus loved] do?” Jesus answers Peter’s question with a question, “If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee?” At this juncture, the narrator steps in to explain the ripple effect of Christ’s statement; i.e., “[t]hen went this saying abroad among the brethren, that that disciple should not die.” The narrator then takes some pains to explain, “yet Jesus said not unto him, He shall not die; but, if I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee?” We then learn our narrator is none other than “the disciple which testifieth of these things, and wrote these things: and we know that his testimony is true.” In plain English, the writer/narrator is the beloved disciple himself, John.

After re-reading the above, my inner conversation continued, “Self, what if Melchizedek and John are both hanging around awaiting the Second Coming, and the two of them meet up somewhere in Israel because they have learned the earth is threatened by an apocalyptic event?” (Rough beast slouching toward Bethlehem, anyone?) And so the seeds of the novel were planted.

next post: Of Rosemary and Flies to Wanton Boys
previous post: Back Back Story: Elfredge

Of Rosemary and Flies to Wanton Boys

Fri 09/09/05 at 7:14 pm

In 1988, I decided to read the Bible cover to cover. Before that, of course, I’d read (or heard read) a good bit of it. I made it midway through The Psalms before abandoning the effort. I discovered that reading the Sunday School stories in context often resulted, to quote Paul Harvey, in getting to “know the rest of the story.”

Take, for instance, the story of Noah. Genesis 5-9. I trust everyone knows that God, having become disenchanted with humankind, commanded Noah to build a really big boat and to load his family members and two of every kind of animal onto it, after which God caused it to rain forty days and forty nights. As a result, “every living substance was destroyed which was upon the face of the ground, both man, and cattle, and the creeping things, and the fowl of the heaven; and they were destroyed from the earth: and Noah only remained alive, and they that were with him in the ark.” Id. at Genesis 7: 23. How many of you, however, remember the details of the next two verses? Specifically, Chapter 7 ends with the pronouncement “the waters prevailed upon the earth an hundred and fifty days.” I, for one, was dumbstruck the first time I actually read the opening words of Chapter 8, to wit:

“And God remembered Noah.”

Let’s see, 150 days, that’s about 5 months before God thought about the fellow he had chosen to repopulate the earth after The Deluge. Now, I don’t know about you, but I was taught that God was an omnipotent, omnipresent grandfatherly type who would know every time I used a swear word. Based on the above, I’ll just say, NOT.

Then there’s the story of Job. For those of you who don’t already know, Job “was perfect and upright, and one that feared God, and eschewed evil.” He had seven sons and three daughters. He was also quite rich. He had “seven thousand sheep, and three thousand camels, and five hundred yoke of oxen, and five hundred she asses, and a very great household.” He was “the greatest of all the men of the east.” Job 1: 1-3. And then, as is so often the case when things are going exceptionally well, the other shoe dropped. (Maybe, it’s because of Job we experience the free-floating angst that harbingers the undropped shoe.) As with the story of Noah, sitting down and reading the account of what actually led up to the dropping of Job’s shoe also left me dumbstruck. Id. at 6-12.

It seems that “there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan came also among them.” Seeing him, God asks Satan, “Whence comest thou?” Satan answers, “From going to and fro in the earth, and from walking up and down in it.” God inquires whether Satan happened to run into his “servant Job, that there is none like him in the earth, a perfect and an upright man, one that feareth God, and escheweth evil?” Satan retorts with something to the effect of, “Well of course he’s perfect and God-fearing, he doesn’t have a care in the world, ‘but put forth thine hand now, and touch all that he hath, and he will curse thee to thy face’.” To make a long verse short, God replies, “Wanna bet?” God then tells Satan, “Behold, all that he hath is in thy power” with one exception; God forbids Satan to kill Job. The next thing you know, “BAM,” Satan kills his entire family. And we’re off and running.

Given the foregoing, you can now understand why, in the novel, I intend to portray the God of Noah and of Job as a somewhat out-of-touch compulsive gambler — at least metaphorically speaking. (And now you also know the answer to why bad things happen to good people.)

Oh, and if you haven’t yet connected the title of this post with its content, brush up your Shakespeare, or, alternatively, search Google. For continuity, you’ll also need to add the following parenthetical to the end of Gloucester’s lament: (or at least, our families).

next post: Us
previous post: Back Back Story: The Immortals


Tue 09/13/05 at 2:33 pm

Ever wondered about God’s use of the objective case of we, as in, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness?” Genesis 1:26. The appearance of the term “humankind” instead of “man” in this quotation signals my switch from quoting the King James Version (KJV) of the Bible as I did in my earlier posts to quoting the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV 1991). Even though it will take way more than rewriting the Bible using inclusive language to even begin to address the sexism inherent in the Judeo-Christian tradition, it is an important first step. I received a copy of The New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocrypha as a gift on June 3, 1991, and it has proved an invaluable tool in this literary endeavor. (Thanks A.) The footnote associated with Genesis 1:26 blithely speculates that “[t]he plural us, our (3.22; 11.7; Isa 6,8) probably refers to the divine beings who compose God’s heavenly court.” (Emphasis in original.)

The above-cited cross-references identify other instances in the Bible where God has had occasion to converse with these beings (hereinafter “Us”). For instance, shortly after Adam and Eve eat from the forbidden tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thereby committing Original Sin, capital “O,” capital “S,” God expresses his concern that “the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil; and now he might reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever.” Genesis 3:22. To prevent such an eventuality, God drives Adam and Eve out of Eden and places “the cherubim, and a sword flaming and turning to guard the way to the tree of life.” Id. at 23-24.

I was always taught the serpent lied to Eve when he told her she would not die if she ate the forbidden fruit. On the contrary, it appears that God, rather than the serpent, is the liar. Specifically, when Eve meets the serpent in the garden, he asks her, “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat from any tree in the garden’?” Eve answers that God told her, “[y]ou shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.’” The serpent, apparently quite truthfully, assures Eve, “You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

So, why hasn’t anyone bothered to point out that Adam and Even could have achieved immortality had they simply managed to eat from the tree of life — an action that was, apparently, not forbidden – before eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil? Well, I suppose one could say that technically God told Eve the truth, since by his omniscience he would have known that she and Adam would eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil first, and he’d be able to kick them out of Eden before they could get to the tree of life. (And you wonder where we lawyers learn our tricks.)

Us also figures prominently in the story of the tower of Babel. Genesis 11:1-9. Following the flood, “the whole earth had one language and the same words.” And humankind said one to the other, “let us build ourselves a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves; otherwise we shall be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.” For reasons left unexplained in the narrative, just the opposite proved to be true.

That is, the footnote accompanying this passage compares humankind’s architectural aspirations with Eve’s quest for the knowledge of good and evil and bills the story as a further example of how “God frustrated another attempt to overreach human limitations.” God, accompanied by Us, comes down to “see the city and the tower, which mortals had built.” God observes, “Look, they are one people, and they have all one language; and this is only the beginning of what they will do; nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. Come, let us go down, and confuse their language there, so they will not understand one another’s speech” — in other words, take the necessary action to thwart humankind’s (and here I’ll quote from the footnote) “Promethean desire for unity, fame, and security.” Picking up the narrative again, “and from there the Lord scattered them abroad over the face of all the earth.”

Given these events, especially if one ascribes to the chaos theory, it sort of gives a whole new meaning to the quote Walt Kelly first used on a poster for Earth Day in 1970:

next post: We’re All Alone
previous post: Of Rosemary and Flies to Wanton Boys

We’re All Alone

Thu 09/15/05 at 2:35 pm
“Nobody reads this shit,”
You proclaimed, 
Handing me a book written
For no reason other than survival.

Publish or perish.

“Nobody reads this shit, either.”
I muttered,
Handing the judge a brief written
For no reason other than comfort.

Eat what you kill.

“Will you read my nonshit?”
I asked again, this time
Handing you pages written 
For no reason other than need.

I was not worthy.

“Obviously I’ve mistaken you for someone who cares.”
I thought, almost appreciating the irony and
Retracting the pages
For no reason other than regret.

I can endure the sweet ache of your flustered rejection.
It is you who will miss the seamless web.

September 15, 2005
next post: Back Back Story: Cain
previous post: Us

Back Back Story: Cain

Thu 09/22/05 at 2:31 pm

A Wrinkle in Time and The Lord of the Rings hold the top two spots for the most influential books I read during my first sixteen or so years. Several candidates vie for third, including Demian by Herman Hesse. It had such an impact on me that I can remember being so restless after finishing the book I needed to take a walk. It was the “magic time” of day, Maxfield Parrish twilight, just after an autumn rain shower in Minnesota. I strode through the alleys of Madelia in my Hang ‘em High poncho and bumper tennis shoes, deeply inhaling whatever brand of cigarette I had managed in my minority to procure – probably a Winston. Reading Demian began a life-long fascination with Cain, or, more appropriately, the Cain archetype – now that I know Cain merits archetypal status thanks to the Google search I conducted for the term “synchronicity” in connection with my August 12, 2005 post.

The biblical story of Cain is set forth in Genesis, Chapter 4. Cain was Adam and Eve’s first born, “produced,” according to Eve, “with the help of the Lord.” (Hmmmm, who else was produced with the help of the Lord?) After Cain, Abel arrived, apparently without any help. Cain grew up to be a farmer. Abel grew up to be a shepherd. At one point, Cain offers God “the fruit of the ground,” and Abel offers “the firstlings of his flock, their fat portions.” What ensues is yet another example of God’s arbitrary behavior. See Earlier Posts, infra. In the narrative, we get no clue why God “had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard.” I’ve heard a few tortured sermons on the subject, and I’ve read Steinbeck’s East of Eden, but I’ve yet to be satisfied with a reason that bests the “flies to wanton boys” explanation. See September 9, 2005 post. In any event, having no clue why God adjudged his offering and himself unworthy upsets Cain. The next thing we know, in a variation on the “Mom always liked you best” theme, Cain rises up against his brother and kills him. After ordering Cain into exile, God, again without satisfactory explanation, pays heed to Cain’s fears of retribution, and, instead of “an eye for an eye,” sets a mark upon him and vows “sevenfold vengeance” on anyone who kills him.

Cain receives very different treatment in Demian. In Hesse’s novel, Max Demian befriends the young Emil Sinclair whom Max recognizes as one of his own, being marked, as Max and others are marked, with the same sign he believes the biblical figure Cain bore. Max doesn’t believe God gave Cain the sign to prevent others from taking vengeance on him for killing his brother. To Max, Cain’s mark identified him (and his progeny) as an individual of “intellect and boldness” with “courage and character” that normal, run-of-the-mill folks would, understandably, find “sinister.” Demian (Bantam Books ed.), pp. 24, 25

I so wanted to be Emil Sinclair. I wanted to bear a mark that would enable the Maxes and Evas of this world to know me as one of the chosen. Up until the time I read Demian my fondest desire had been to reach the age of majority, so I could take my smoking inside a bar where I would sit, nursing a drink, while quietly observing the other clientele, and having brilliant, alcohol-inspired insights which I would record from time to time in a small notebook. [Before moving on to real cigarettes I had practiced smoking candy cigarettes for years. I’d also practiced drinking by pouring Coca Cola into a souvenir shot glass acquired at Mount Rushmore and tossing it down in a single gulp. (Mind you, this was still in my “when I grow up I want to be a cowboy” days; I’d only just started reading O’Neill, Williams, Fitzgerald, and Hemingway – imagine the effect Long Day’s Journey into Night and The Ice Man Cometh had in continuing to foster this fantasy.)]

On a related matter, I had a plate of shrimp experience in connection with this post. See August 12, 2005 post. The Writer’s Almanac for Tuesday, September 21, 2005, commemorates the birthday of the poet Donald Hall. The entry goes on to relate that Hall’s first literary hero was Edgar Allen Poe. As a result he “wanted to be mad, addicted, obsessed, haunted and cursed; I wanted to have eyes that burned like coals, profoundly melancholy, profoundly attractive.” Yeah, what he said.

Thanks to Demian, at least I grew up wanting to be “cynical and drunk and boring someone in some dark café” only until such time as a preordained stranger would walk into the bar, notice me sitting at my regular table in a dark corner, and realize who and what I was. Mitchell, Joni, Blue, “The Last Time I Saw Richard.” He or she would come over and join me. At the conclusion of our conversation, this individual, having recognized my intellect and boldness, would offer me a tenured position in the English department of some prestigious college or university. And I would live happily ever after. Talk about magical thinking.

Demian’s influence showed in other ways, too. For instance, since I started reading “serious” literature up until the time I completed my M.A., I never read a book without a yellow highlighter in hand. It had to be a yellow highlighter, not any other color, and not fluorescent yellow, either. If I were to go through these highlighted volumes today, I would be able to collect all the allusions to Cain, the mark of Cain, and his mythic and artistic progeny including, but not limited to, the Wandering Jew, the Flying Dutchman, the Ancient Mariner, and Longinus. I toyed with the idea of one day writing a scholarly paper on the subject of Cain, which I would, of course, be asked to read it at an MLA convention, thereby sealing my reputation as an academician. I had a few papers like that in mind. Instead of writing any of them, however, I went to law school. So much for magical thinking. (Come to think of it, no one ever offered me a tenured position at a prestigious law school either. I would, of course, have been asked to teach Law in Literature; e.g., “Moby Dick: Agent or Principal,” or “The Jury in Camus’ The Stranger: A Really Good Reason to Abstain from Smoking at your Mother’s Funeral,” and the like.)

I’m posting this entry to explain, in part, why Cain (the very one) has been chosen to play a major role in the novel. A future post will relate how in my imagination Cain has managed to hang around until the present time. I’m rather pleased with his back story. So far, at least, my research has uncovered no other source that even suggests the tale I intend to tell. Could be, I’ve actually had an original thought.

next post: A Few Firsts
previous post: We’re All Alone

A Few Firsts

Thu 09/29/05 at 2:30 pm

My initial attempt at writing this novel occurred in the spring of 1999. By then, the only major modification to the plot or characters mentioned in these entries to date was that John had become Johanna for reasons that will be explained in a forthcoming post. All I needed was the right apocalyptic event and I felt as though I would have enough material to begin the book. So one fine morning in March I put a new cartridge in my sweet little Bordeaux Mont Blanc fountain pen (medium point), pulled a brand-new yellow ruled 8 ½ x 11 legal pad from the file drawer, and opened my copy of The New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocrypha (NRSV) to read, for the first time ever from beginning to end, The Revelation to Joh[anna] (hereinafter “Revelation”). [I’m sure it has escaped none of you that I have just used a technique called “foreshadowing.”]

I trust even the most Bible-shy of you have at least heard of Revelation, the last book of the Bible. Even though I took copious notes of both the text and accompanying commentary, and I had to get up a few times to pace around the room to calm my growing excitement, I finished the task in a matter of hours. But what productive hours! In addition to the apocalyptic event, I settled on the novel’s working title, its setting, and glimpsed, for the first time, its structure. I was overwhelmed with the realization that I just might pull this off.

The first verse of Chapter 4 gave me my working title. It reads, “After this I looked, and there in heaven a door stood open! And the first voice, which I had heard speaking to me like a trumpet, said, ‘Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.’” The commentary identified “the first voice” as Jesus Christ and brought to mind the opening verse of The Gospel According to John, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” I already had in mind that the novel would in some respect address my life-long struggle with the middle personage of the Holy Trinity which is comprised of The Father, The Son, and The Holy Ghost/Spirit (I prefer “Ghost,” so does Don McClean, American Pie).

I’ve never really had trouble with the idea of a life force. After all, I predicated what cell phone provider I would choose on whether the vendor could procure a phone number with 5334 as the last four digits; i.e., JEDI. Calling or thinking of such a force as “God” or even “The Holy Ghost” has never been terribly problematic either. As for The Son, however, it has been difficult, having read other myths and religions, to ignore the many common threads they share in this regard. Since emerging from the primeval soup, we humans have encountered or invented any number of beings who would qualify as a first voice. See, e.g., Campbell, Joseph, The Masks of God: Occidental Mythology.

A number of creation myths recount how a divine being spoke the world into existence. I knew of a few at the time I first read the above-cited verse in Revelation and my research for this novel has yielded several others; e.g., Yahweh. Jesus (in his capacity as The Word). Thoth. Hasch’ethi (Navajo for “Talking God”). I started to think about what role such a concept might play in an apocryphal thriller, and came up with the idea of a heavenly Council of The First Voice that would be comprised of all the various candidates who had held the position through the ages. From there, The First Voice rang true as a working title. [As I was editing this post, I took a lunch break and stumbled upon a Discovery Channel show hosted by Carl Sagan entitled, One Voice in the Cosmic Fugue. All together now, “plate-of-shrimp.” See August 12, 2005 Post]

I continued to read and take notes until I reached Chapter 7 and the marking of the 144,000 with the “seal of the living God.” Given my affinity for the mark of Cain, it is understandable why that particular passage engendered one of those instances of deep breathing and circling the room. See September 22, 2005 Post. I barely had time to catch my breath before reading, for the first time in context, the opening verse to Chapter 8, “When the Lamb opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour.” About half an hour. Can this person write or what? Or maybe, something actually got found in translation for a change. [At this juncture I would encourage each of you who has not already seen the film to take a break from reading this post and either migrate to Netflix and add The Seventh Seal to your queue, or head to your favorite video store and rent it. Fabulous movie — as is the short film parody of said same, Le Dove. Imagine playing badminton for keeps with Death.]

And then came Chapter 18 and Babylon. A city of kings and merchants; shipmasters, seafarers, and sailors; minstrels and artisans; and “the blood of prophets and of saints.” I hadn’t really been all that keen on having Israel as the setting for my novel, and as I read this chapter it occurred to me it could just as easily take place in my beloved Manhattan and the surrounding Burroughs. If Elfredge succeeded, New York City would be transformed from Babylon into the New Jerusalem. Listen, e.g., Let the River Run, Carly Simon, Working Girl Soundtrack.)

Things were indeed coming together, but I had yet to come across what I had hoped to find when I first sat down to read — the reason to write this book. And suddenly, there it was, the opening verse of Chapter 20:

Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding in his hand the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain. He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, and threw him into the pit, and locked and sealed it over him, so that he would deceive the nations no more, until the thousand years are ended. After that he must be let out for a little while.

The Phantom Zone leapt into the memory section of my brain. For those of you unfamiliar with Superman, the Phantom Zone is the planet Krypton’s equivalent to a maximum security prison where super villains, after due process of course, are, if convicted, banished. Essentially, they are flattened into what was visually portrayed in the comics as a two-dimensional entity and sent into orbit around the planet. And so I had it. The book would recount the means by which Satan, if all went well, would be consigned to the equivalent of The Phantom Zone.

In half a day, I had a title, a setting, and a plot. Best of all, I definitely needed to take an extended trip to Gotham.

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(Recently Updated) Back Back Story: Robin and Plate O’ Shrimp 2

Fri 09/30/05 at 5:03 pm

Darcy, Dante, Joe, and I attended the Greyhound Reunion Picnic at Bataan Memorial Park in Albuquerque last Sunday afternoon. The annual event is the major fundraiser for Greyhound Companions of New Mexico. While there, I had a plate of shrimp experience with regard to me in general and the book in particular. See August 12, 2005 Post. Many years ago, a good friend and I were discussing the fact that one of my most enduring (or was it endearing? — y’er right, prob’ly not) qualities was my sense of loyalty. She told me I had a “dog heart.” A few chapters into my first version of The First Voice, I realized Elfredge needed a protector with a dog heart. I toyed with the idea of simply naming this individual “Dogheart,” but I thought “Elfredge” was already pushing the envelope.

The issue resolved itself as I began constructing Dogheart’s back story. I hit upon a scenario whereby she was “from France.” (Foreshadowing, again. Patience, patience.) In France she was known as Coeur de Chien, but when she immigrated to the United States through Canada, immigration officials “Americanized” it. As for her first name, I have a good friend whose name I like a lot. Thus, the character Robin Chiencoeur sprung full grown from my brain.

As for the plate of shrimp part, our first stop at the greyhound picnic was a booth set up by Black Horse Design jewelers. Carmen, one of the jewelers, told me to check out the company’s donation to the silent auction. For the first time ever, they had donated the master casting of a piece that will be available for sale in October. The name of the piece is “Heart Hound.” Needless to say, we hung around until the auction closed to make sure we had the winning bid. (Darcy had to make a cash run, but hey, it was for a good cause.) The framed casting (with accompanying poem) has joined the ashes (and pictures) of Devon and B’mer on top of the entertainment center in the living room. See Posts for August 4, 2005 and July 5, 2004.

next post: Back Story: Melchizedek
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Back Story: Melchizedek

Wed 10/26/05 at 7:59 pm

Click Here

These next few entries might be a little tricky because although I’ve carried around inside of me the core “who” of these characters for some time, some of the who, and almost all of the what, when, where, why and how have come to me along the way, in drips and drabs, often years apart. These entries will focus on the who. The rest I save for another day.

Ever since deciding Melchizedek would be a character in my novel, I’ve had a sense of what he looks like. See September 1, 2005 Post. I’ve given considerable thought about whether to provide physical descriptions of the characters in The First Voice. For the most part, I personally (is that redundant?) find such descriptions in the novels I read distracting, sometimes even annoying, no matter how cleverly an author might convey the information. Sometimes, of course, it is necessary to provide certain details, e.g., the hairy-footedness of hobbits, to enable a reader to formulate an accurate description of a character in his or her own mind’s eye (think about that one for awhile). At present, none of my characters has any unusual or distinctive (not redundant) characteristics, so I have decided to refrain from giving any specifics, though I may include an occasional generic remark that might register in the mind of an observer from time to time, such as the fact that Johanna is “strikingly handsome.”

Shortly after my marathon read of Revelation (see September 29, 2005 Post), I closed my eyes and said to myself, “Self, who is Melchizedek, then and now?” I started playing around with his name to come up with a modern iteration. In no time, I had settled on Michael Zedek. I also decided that despite Hebrews 7: 3 wherein he is described as “[w]ithout father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days, nor end of life,” my Melchizedek would have a genealogy, and hence, a beginning. Continuing with closed eyes, I came up with the idea that the archangel Michael had fallen in love with a mortal woman during his stint guarding the eastern gate of Eden to keep Adam and Even from eating of the Tree of Life. See September 13, 2005 Post. From their union was Melchizedek born. His mother, being mortal, had died some time before the flood, but Michael obtained permission to bring his immortal child to heaven to ride out the flood. Melchizedek returned to earth after the deluge and has since been charged with the overall supervision of the construction of the monuments, the temples and cathedrals, which have been built to the glory of God over the centuries. And that’s how he’s gotten to New York. He is currently in charge of ensuring the completion of the only Gothic cathedral which is still under construction, St. John the Divine.

With those parameters in place, I made the first of many, many forays onto and into the World Wide Web to perform research for The First Voice. I still have the print out of what I found during the initial search I conducted on March 18, 1999, a four-page document by Birger A. Pearson entitled “Melchizedek: Ancient Sources.” Turns out, Melchizedek is an important figure in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints a/k/a the Mormons.

Reading Pearson’s article those many years ago elicited the first of many “plate o’ shrimp” moments I have experienced in connection with my story. See August 12, 2005 Post. For instance, according to Pearson, one of the Dead Sea Scrolls “features Melchizedek as a heavenly end-time redeemer, with attributes of the archangel Michael.” Melchizedek is also mentioned by Philo, a first century Jewish philosopher of Alexandria who sees Melchizedek as a “reference to the divine Logos, the thought of God in which the pattern of all existing things is conceived and the ‘image’ of God according to which man was created.” An early Jewish text, 2 Enoch, attests to early Jewish interest in the figure of Melchizedek. According to Pearson, Chapters 71-72 tell the story of a child who is

born miraculously to Noah’s recently deceased sister-in-law, and the child, marked on his chest with a priestly seal, speaks and praises God. The boy is named Melchizedek by Noah and his brother Nir, whose wife had been posthumously delivered. In a night vision Nir is told of the impending flood; he is also informed that the Archangel Michael will bring Melchizedek to Paradise, thus enabling him to escape the flood waters. Melchizedek will eventually become the chief of priest among the people, and in the end of days he will be revealed yet another time as the chief priest, in this text, Melchizedek has three different earthly manifestations: born before the flood, serving in the postdiluvian age as a great priest, and functioning in the end-time as a messianic priest.”

Finally, a fragmentary text from a work entitled the Nag Hammadi translated by Pearson contains an “apocalypse given by angels to Melchizedek” wherein it is revealed “that he will ultimately reappear as Jesus Christ, Son of God, to do battle with the cosmic forces of darkness.” I’m still not quite sure what to think about these synchronistic hits that cause The Twilight Zone themesong to start playing in my head. When they happen, though, I feel exhilarated and inspired to keep going because I know I must be on the right track.

next post: Synchronistic Misses
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Synchronistic Misses

Thu 11/03/05 at 3:28 pm

During my recent follow-up research for these blog entries, I found that I had been laboring under a misconception in connection with the back story I made up for Melchizedek several years ago. Specifically, as I was preparing “Us”, I was puzzled by Genesis 3:24 which provides that God “drove out the man; and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim, and a sword flaming and turning to guard the way to the tree of life.” I said to Myself, “Self, that’s not right.” I was sure God had sent the Archangel Michael with his flaming sword to guard the eastern entrance to Eden. For the “Us” post, I had switched from quoting the King James Version (KSJ) of the Bible to the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV). I thought that might account for the discrepancy between my memory and the verse itself, so I went back and checked. The KSJ was substantially the same; i.e., God “drove out the man; and he placed at the east of the garden of Eden Cherubims, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life.” [By the by, for those of you who may have a rather different image of cherubims in mind, according to the NRSV annotation, the cherubim were “guardians of sacred areas and were represented as winged creatures like the Sphinx of Egypt, half human and half-lion.” The divine sword “was placed near the cherubim to warn banished human beings of the impossibility of overstepping their creaturely bounds.”] And so I asked Myself, “Self, where do you suppose I got the idea that Michael was hanging around the garden?” And Myself answered, “Well, if it isn’t in the Bible, chances are you’re thinking of Paradise Lost.”

When I once again got serious about writing the novel this time around, I ordered QuickVerse 8.0, a searchable biblical software application with several different translations of the Bible and a fairly impressive assortment of biblical references including, but not limited to, Milton’s Paradise Lost (and Paradise Regained). I loaded Paradise Lost and clicked to the end. As I skimmed the final verses of this great epic, I remembered from my graduate class on Milton that Milton had envisioned a kinder, gentler Yahweh. As noted above, the Bible reports that without further ado, God drove Adam and Eve out of the Garden of Eden, or to quote Yahweh himself, “I cast you as a profane thing from the mountain of God, and the Guardian cherub drove you out from among the stones of fire.” Ezekiel 28:16. In Paradise Lost, Milton has God, after informing the “Sons of God” about the Fall, send Michael down to ease the transition:

O Sons, like one of us Man is become
85 To know both good and evil, since his taste
Of that defended fruit; but let him boast
His knowledge of good lost, and evil got;
Happier! had it sufficed him to have known
Good by itself, and evil not at all.
90 He sorrows now, repents, and prays contrite,
My motions in him; longer than they move,
His heart I know, how variable and vain,
Self-left. Lest therefore his now bolder hand
Reach also of the tree of life, and eat,
95 And live for ever, dream at least to live
For ever, to remove him I decree,
And send him from the garden forth to till
The ground whence he was taken, fitter soil.
Michael, this my behest have thou in charge;
100 Take to thee from among the Cherubim
Thy choice of flaming warriours, lest the Fiend,
Or in behalf of Man, or to invade
Vacant possession, some new trouble raise:
Haste thee, and from the Paradise of God
105 Without remorse drive out the sinful pair;
From hallowed ground the unholy; and denounce
To them, and to their progeny, from thence
Perpetual banishment. Yet, lest they faint
At the sad sentence rigorously urged,
110 (For I behold them softened, and with tears
Bewailing their excess,) all terrour hide.
If patiently thy bidding they obey,
Dismiss them not disconsolate; reveal
To Adam what shall come in future days,
115 As I shall thee enlighten; intermix
My covenant in the Woman’s seed renewed;
So send them forth, though sorrowing, yet in peace:
And on the east side of the garden place,
Where entrance up from Eden easiest climbs,
120 Cherubick watch; and of a sword the flame
Wide-waving; all approach far off to fright,
And guard all passage to the tree of life:
Lest Paradise a receptacle prove
To Spirits foul, and all my trees their prey;

Paradise Lost, Bk. XI. What makes my misconception a synchronistic miss? Well, I will never know what might have come to mind those years ago when first I closed my eyes and imagined Melchizedek’s back story if in my reality there had been no Archangel Michael guarding Eden’s eastern gate. See October 28, 2005 Post. Moreover, as this memory blip informed the first bit of back story for The First Voice, other elements of the novel’s back story have been informed by it, as will be revealed in later entries. In other words, I might be writing a very different novel from the one I intend to write. On the other hand, I guess it’s possible the writers of Genesis got it wrong, and Milton, being more attuned to the Collective Unconscious, got it right. At least it seems to me that Milton had to be as divinely inspired as anyone else as he dictated his magnificent poem to his long-suffering daughters.

I could end this entry here, but as I would be remiss if I failed to show you what a poet can do with the line: “and he placed at the east of the garden of Eden Cherubims, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life.” Milton writes:

. . . and, from the other hill
To their fixed station, all in bright array
The Cherubim descended; on the ground
Gliding meteorous, as evening-mist
630 Risen from a river o’er the marish glides,
And gathers ground fast at the labourer’s heel
Homeward returning. High in front advanced,
The brandished sword of God before them blazed,
Fierce as a comet; which with torrid heat,
635 And vapour as the Libyan air adust,
Began to parch that temperate clime; . . .

I would be further remiss if I failed to end this post by quoting the final lines of the epic which comprise one of the most poignant passages of all of literature:

. . . whereat
In either hand the hastening Angel caught
Our lingering parents, and to the eastern gate
Led them direct, and down the cliff as fast
640 To the subjected plain; then disappeared.
They, looking back, all the eastern side beheld
Of Paradise, so late their happy seat,
Waved over by that flaming brand; the gate
With dreadful faces thronged, and fiery arms:
645 Some natural tears they dropt, but wiped them soon;
The world was all before them, where to choose
Their place of rest, and Providence their guide:
They, hand in hand, with wandering steps and slow,
Through Eden took their solitary way.

next post: Air Hunger and the big I AM
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Air Hunger and the big I AM

Mon 01/16/06 at 1:37 pm

“It’s a hell of a thing,” I think to myself as I turn to Darcy at the end of the day and state, matter-of-factly, and, if I do say so myself, with some poignancy, “I’m glad I didn’t die today,” and she, who was there for the worst of it, replies “I’m glad you didn’t either.” Yes, once again it’s exacerbation time at Walking Raven Central. And once again I managed to stop just short of taking that existential leap of, or perhaps in this case to, the absurd. And as I touched down on solid ground (metaphorically speaking, of course), I just want you to know that I thought of you, Gentle Readers. At the moment however, what it was I thought escapes me. And so you will have to wait until the next time (if there is a next time) for me to tell you what I learned about the great beyond — though I confess I didn’t see a white light, just Tinky Winky purple (which, according to Darcy, was about the color of my face at the time). Maybe that’s because, technically, exacerbatory episodes (now that’s a hell of a euphemism) fail to qualify as “near death experiences” in that the heart never really stops, though at times one has a fleeting moment of panic that it might explode. A lot of terms describe what happens, dyspnea, cyanosis, hypoxia, but the phrase that best fits for me goes back to our good old anglo-saxon roots — air hunger. When it’s at its worst, the only thing that will prevent an episode from occurring is to keep from moving around too much or too quickly, and forget about bending over. [I’m much better now. What a difference a few days (and a couple hundred milligrams of prednisone) makes.]

And now an abrupt change of subject. The First Voice, in part, will feature the God who calls himself YHWH [אהיה] translated as I AM. As explained by the Jewish historical society of Greater New Haven:

“YHVH” is a name that is usually translated as “LORD.” It is used approximately 7000 times in the Bible (Tanach), more than any other name for God. It is also referred to as the “Tetragrammaton” which means “The Four Letters” because it comes from four Hebrew letters: Yud, Hay, Vav, Hay. It is generally believed that these four letters represent the tenses of the Hebrew word for to be. That is, HVH (Hovah)=to be, HYH (Hayah)=was, and YHYH (Yi-yeh)=will be.

This is the special memorial-name that God revealed to Moses at the burning bush. “And God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM; and He said, thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, I AM has sent me to you… this is My eternal name, and this is how I am to be recalled for all generations” (Exodus 3:14-15). Actually, the phrase in Hebrew is “eh-yeh asher eh-yeh.” The word “eh-yeh” being the first person future form of “hovah” (to be). A better English translation would really be, “I will be who (or what or that) I will be.” Even though the name YHVH appears earlier in Genesis 2, God didn’t reveal Himself as YHVH until Exodus 3 in conjunction with the creation of Israel.

Because this name comes from the Hebrew verb which means “to be.” YHVH emphasizes God’s absolute being. He is the source of all being, all reality, and all existence. He has being inherent in Himself. Everything else derives its being from Him. YHVH denotes God’s complete transcendence in time. He is beyond His creation. He is without beginning and without end because He always is.

Although some pronounce YHVH as Jehovah, this is probably not correct since the vowel points that define the pronunciation (not added to the Bible until the early Middle Ages) are from the substitute word Adonai. Another, often used English transliteration is Yaweh, which seems to be more correct, but the consensus among rabbinic scholars is that we no longer know the proper pronunciation. The Jewish people stopped saying the Name by the third century C.E. out of fear of violating the commandment “You shall not take the name of YHVH your God in vain” (Exodus 20:7). According to the rabbis, the Tetragrammaton may not be pronounced under any circumstances. The word, Adonai, which simply means my Master or my Lord, is spoken in place of YHVH during prayer, otherwise, it is simply uttered as “HaShem,” The Name.

As I’ve alluded to in past entries, one objective I have in writing The First Voice is to expose the Tetragrammaton for the misanthropic deity I perceive Him to be . See, e.g. September 13, 2005 Post. I set forth the above today in the hope it may help those of you who may be unfamiliar with this aspect of Judaism better to appreciate the irony of the experience I had shortly after the worst of it. I was lying on the sofa trying not to move too much or too quickly when somewhere from the back of my mind came the thought, “Be still and know that I AM.”

next post: Back Back Story: Johanna
previous post: Another year, and . . .

Back Back Story: Johanna

Sat 01/28/06 at 11:12 am

In 1990, the publication of Harold Bloom’s The Book of J caused my character based on John, the Beloved Disciple, to undergo a sea change. See September 1, 2005 Post. As Bloom explains in his Preface on Names and Terms:

“The Book of J” is used here as the title for what scholars agree is the oldest strand in the Pentateuch, probably composed at Jerusalem in the tenth century B.C.E. . . . J stands for the author, the Yahwist, named for Yahweh (Jahweh, in the German spelling; Jehovah, in a misspelling), God of Jews, Christians, and Muslims. The later strands in Genesis, Exodus, and Numbers are all revisions or censorings of J, and their authors are known as E, or the Elohist, for “Elohim,” the plural name used for Yahweh in that version (J always uses “Elohim” as a name for divine beings in general, and never as the name of God); P, for the Priestly Author or School that wrote nearly all of Leviticus; D, for the author or authors of Deuteronomy; and R, for the Redactor, who performed the final revision after the Return from Babylonian Exile.

Id. at p. 5. Bloom’s Introduction sets forth his back story for J:

In Jerusalem, nearly three thousand years ago, an unknown author composed a work that has formed the spiritual consciousness of much of the world ever since. We possess only a fragmentary text of that work, embedded within what we call Genesis, Exodus, and Numbers, three of the divisions of Torah, or the Five Books of Moses. . . .
For reasons that I will expound, I am assuming that J lived at or nearby the court of Solomon’s son and successor, King Rehoboam of Judah, under whom his father’s kingdom fell apart soon after the death of Solomon in 922 B.C.E. My further assumption is that J was not a professional scribe but rather an immensely sophisticated, highly placed member of the Solomonic elite, enlightened and ironic. But my primary surmise is that J was a woman, and she wrote for her contemporaries as a woman, in friendly competition with her only strong rival among those contemporaries, the male author of the court history narrative in 2 Samuel.

Id. at p. 9. I was so taken by the above description that Bloom’s J became my Johanna. As one of my immortals, this piece of her history by no means precludes a stint nearly a millennium down the road as “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” Can you say “trouser role?”

next post: Seamless Web
previous post: Air Hunger and the big I AM

Seamless Web

Thu 02/16/06 at 1:41 pm

When I finally decided to get off the dime regarding my work in progress, The First Voice, I made a list of the Walking Raven entries I wanted to write “as a way for me to marshal my thoughts and research about a character or other aspect of the narrative.” August 11, 2005 Post. I have finally gotten to the point where I can see the light at the end of that tunnel (only four entries remain on the initial list). As I began my final round of research for topic number 4, one Google link led to another, and I soon found myself mired once again in either synchronistic or apophenic, (depending on how you slice it) research results. August 12, 2005 Post. The experience led me to conclude it was time to step back and paint, at least in broad strokes, the big picture of The First Voice. Unfortunately, my artistic limitations prevent me from actually painting such a picture, so you’ll simply have to settle for words, and it just may be a thousand of them. Hopefully, when I’m done we’ll all be on the same page.

But first things first. Shortly after I wrote the poem “We’re All Alone” I read somewhere that the phrase “seamless web” is considered, by some at least, to be a cliché. As is often the case with me, my shame at using the phrase turned to defensive indignation as I said to myself, “Self, what other word or words could I have used to express it?” “It” being my experience that everything I decide to write about in The First Voice ends up being somehow related to everything else I decide to write about in The First Voice.

I first heard the phrase in law school when someone used the expression “the law is a seamless web.” Shortly thereafter, I wove my first seamless web in preparation for the moot court competition. I can still remember the exhilaration I experienced when I realized I had put together an argument whereby I could answer any question a judge asked me in such a way that no matter what, I won, hands down. The only problem was that I could also construct an argument for the other side wherein no matter what, I also won, hands down. This ability to weave a seamless web out of the facts and law of any given file served me in good stead throughout my legal career, and I hope the same will someday be said of my efforts with The First Voice.

But I digress. My indignation at the possible cliché status of “seamless web” led me to conduct a search of the World Wide Web and other resource materials either to vindicate my use of the phrase or to provide me with an acceptable, non-cliché alternative. In this endeavor, I left no stone unturned. According to several Google hits, Frederic William Maitland first used the phrase in 1898 in an article entitled “Prologue to History of English Law,” wherein he stated, “Such is the unity of all history that anyone who endeavors to tell a piece of it must feel that his first sentence tears a seamless web.” I found no dictionary that actually includes the phrase as a stand-alone entry. The Oxford English Dictionary (hereinafter “OED”) showcases the expression by identifying it as a “fig. spec.” and includes it, without additional definition, as the number 2 entry under “seamless.” (According to the list of abbreviations, “fig. spec.” means “figurative, –ly specifically.”) The thesauri I consulted list no synonyms for either “seamless web” or “seamless.”) I even went so far as to purchase Visual Thesaurus 3 (which itself resembles a seamless web) in the hope it might shed some light on the subject. It at least links to another word but it classifies the term “seamless” as only “similar to” the term “coherent.” By the same token, the only antonym listed, if any was even offered by the reference works, proved equally unhelpful; i.e., “seamed.”

One search led me to a site that identified what is in all likelihood the earliest example of a seamless web, Indra’s net. As explained by the entry in Wikipedia:

Hinduism and Buddhism give life to the idea of Indra’s Net. In the heaven of Indra, a vast net or web of silken strands, spans across space indefinitely in every direction. Every intersection of gossamer thread hosts a shining luminous pearl or multifaceted jewel. The surface of every jewel, completely reflects every other, and the net as a whole. Likewise, each reflected jewel in itself reflects every other, that reflects every other, that reflects every other, without end, as mirrors to infinity.

Say what you will, the best my research could do was equate “seamless web” as a metaphor/analogy representing “the interconnectedness of all things.” This explanation however fails to convey what is one of the most integral aspects of a “seamless web,” i.e., the sense of creation. The existence of a web (or net) by definition intimates that something or someone wove it in the first place. Moreover, Indra’s net fails as an acceptable alternative metaphor because Indra’s net is static. In contrast, even if one envisions an already existing seamless web, others can be woven. The ability to take threads from one seamless web and weave them together into another seamless web suggests the fractal-like quality important also to my sense of the concept. Fractals not only mirror entire images, they also mirror parts of images – hence, “frac” as in fractured.

Bottom line, I submit the phrase “seamless web” is used as often as it is because there is simply no other word or phrase that accurately communicates the meaning meant. Indeed, “seamless web” is so perfect it is almost onomatopoetic (in a metaphorical sort of way) — if you catch my drift.

In closing, before this latest round of research, I applied a narrow definition to the term “web.” In my mind a web was like a spider’s web, loosely knit with holes between the threads, if you will. Both the Encarta and OED definitions, however, presented other definitions, one of which I found of particular interest. The OED’s number 1 definition for “web” is “a whole piece of cloth in the process of being woven or after it comes from the loom.” Why am I telling you this? Because one of my greatest pleasures was the discovery, some years ago, of the luxury of sleeping between 280-thread count sheets. (I know, now 600- or 1000-count is not unusal.) Since then, however, one objective in writing The First Voice has been to weave a seamless web and present it between the covers of, to coin a phrase, a “280 thread-count novel.” It seems without knowing it I had already made up my own synomym for seamless web. The problem is, I don’t mind saying that this one strikes me as cliché material out of the gate. Bresides, say what you will, ending “We’re All Alone” with the line “It is you who will miss the 280 thread-count sheet” just doesn’t cut it.

Well, I think I’ve milked this for about all it’s worth, and I don’t mean to beat a dead horse, but I did want to run my thoughts on this subject up a flagpole to see if anyone salutes.

next post: The First Quotation
previous post: Back Back Story: Johanna

The First Quotation

Wed 02/22/06 at 3:31 pm

I am fairly certain that at some point Milton led me to Isaiah 6:6-7 which provides, as follows:

Then flew one of the seraphims unto me, having a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with the tongs from off the altar; And he laid it upon my mouth, and said, Lo, this hath touched thy lips; and thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin purged.

Whenever I need/want clearly and concisely to express myself, either verbally or in writing, I offer up the silent entreaty, “coal to lips.” Accordingly, the first two pages of my manuscript consist of the title page followed by a page containing the above passage.

next post: Proxemics
previous post: Seamless Web


Thu 03/16/06 at 2:38 pm

Each morning I pour a cup of coffee, fire up my computer, and check my email. I subscribe to two daily emails, the Oxford English Dictionary Word of the Day and the Writer’s Almanac. A couple weeks ago, one of the OED words was “proxemics,” a term coined in the 1960s to signify “the branch of knowledge that deals with the amount of space that people feel it necessary to set between themselves and others.” I was reminded that as a freshman at the University of Minnesota in 1973, I participated in an experimental program called “Interdisciplinary Studies.” All of my courses — save one elective (which, I’m proud to say was the first course formerly offered by the newly created Women’s Studies Department) — contained elements from a number of disciplines. Hence, for instance, “English 101” became “Communications 101.” In the course we studied cultural differences in the way people communicate, including the need for “personal space” in the process of doing so. I learned to be more tolerant of those individuals who wanted to have a conversation “up front and personal” and to check my tendency for hurt feelings if adjustments were made in that regard by individuals with whom I was communicating. Thirty and then some years later, I now have a word for those differences.

The appearance of the term also gave me the impetus I needed finally to sit down and organize my thoughts about another subject involving personal space that has been drifting in and out of my consciousness for awhile, that subject being the physical awareness of myself. During the early days of this blog, I wrote about an idea that came crashing through my brain one day — the significance of the irregularity of the verb “to be” and what it is to “am” as opposed to “be.” See April 21, 2004 Post. Both before and after that epiphany, I’ve spent my fair share of time thinking about being and nothingness or sameness and otherness having been introduced during that same timeframe thirty years ago to de Beauvoir and The Second Sex via Women’s Studies and Sartre via a class on Existentialism taken to satisfy my foreign language requirement. (Ah, the idyllic days of a liberal arts education in the 70s.) It was not until I read Why God Won’t Go Away: Brain Science and the Biology of Belief by Andrew Newburg, M.D. in connection with my research for The First Voice, however, that I realized the necessity for my brain to have a sector housing the neurons that enable me to apprehend that I am encased in skin which skin forms the boundary between myself and the rest of the universe.

According to Newburg, “the proper name of this highly specialized bundle of neurons is the “posterior superior parietal lobe” which he dubs the “Orientation Association Area or OAA.” Id. at p. 4. He goes on to observe “it may seem strange that the brain requires a specialized mechanism to keep tabs on this you/not-you dichotomy; from the vantage point of normal consciousness, the distinction seems ridiculously clear. But that’s only because the OAA does its job so seamlessly and so well.” Id. at p. 5.

The visual of this dichotomy is easy; I can see myself in a mirror. Feeling the dichotomy is a little iffier. Unless I am touching something, I don’t have a sensation of being separate. Once this thought came to the forefront, however, I began to notice the role warmth plays in defining me to me. For instance, when I first get into bed and pull the covers over me, I experience the sensation of the atmosphere warming around my body and I become aware of my “blobbness,” i.e., the pool of warmth I am thanks to whatever chemical processes heats my blood to 98.6° F. Feeling myself as a blob is “being,” and that in and of itself is quite delicious. But knowing I am a blob is “am-ing” and that, for me, encapsulates Hamlet’s “rub.” As Newburg explains:

There seems to be, within the human head, an inner, personal awareness, a free-standing, observant itself. We have come to think of this self, with all its emotions, sensations, and cognitions, as the phenomenon of mind. Neurology cannot completely explain how such a thing can happen — how a somehow nonmaterial mind can rise from mere biological function; how the flesh and blood machinery of the brain can suddenly become “aware.” Science and philosophy, in fact, have struggled with this question for centuries, but no definitive answers have been found, and none is clearly on the horizon.

Id. at p. 32. Perhaps my limited knowledge of mathematics makes me naïve, but I am confident that one day someone will come up with the mathematics to answer the question. Until then, in The First Voice, my character Michael Sadek will draw on certain tenets of quantum physics to explain the phenomenon to Elfredge. But because I in particular, and we in general, still lack the math, his explanation will require him to resort, as have so many others in the past with varying degrees of success, to metaphor. At present, then, Michael’s story goes something like this:

Back in imaginary time before the big bang, our universe consisted of a single point of zero size and infinite density, known as a “singularity.” One way to explain this phenomenon is to imagine the Platonic ideal of the verb “to be.” This singularity was comprised of planck-length particles known as strings which were all vibrating in the unity of “be-ness” that sounded surprisingly like the Buddhist manta, “om mani padme hum.” And then, one of those strings squawked, “I am.” The force occasioned by this irregularity caused the singularity to explode at the precise spot where the spacetime curvature becomes infinite, blasting a primordial black hole crater and creating the universe in its wake.

Thirteen billion and some years later, the original I-am string, along with a number of variations on its theme (collectively known as the Elohim to some) [see January 28, 2006 Post], arrived at a solar system revolving around a star that would come to be known as the Sun located on the outskirts of a galaxy that would come to be known as The Milky Way. These string formations went into orbit around one of the planets in the solar system that would come to be known as Earth. Once there, they used the materials present in the primordial soup to make blobs designed to encompass and form a symbiotic relationship with a grouping of strings comprised of innumerable “be” or “soul” strings and one dormant “am” or “mind” string. Electrical impulses set off at the start of this relationship caused the “am” string to begin vibrating at a frequency that engendered consciousness.

I’ll stop now before I give everything away. “But wait!” you say, “What has any of this to do with proxemics?” Well, based on the above, the meaning of the term needs to be expanded to include the branch of knowledge that deals with the amount of space that a mind feels it necessary to set between itself and other minds so as to avoid reassimalation with the other stings and thereby once again become one with the universe.

Copyright © 2006 by cko.

next post: Hardened Hearts
previous post: The First Quotation

Hardened Hearts

Tue 03/28/06 at 10:05 am

Though debated, I think it is fair to say the prevalent view in Judeo-Christian belief is that Yahweh endowed Adam and Eve with free will. I don’t have a problem with that. I do have a problem with Yahweh’s demonstrated penchant for interfering with the normal course of human events with an end to influencing the progress or outcome such events. Take, for example, the protracted negotiations between Moses and Pharaoh regarding the liberation of the Jews as recounted in Exodus, Chapters 4 through 14. At the end of Chapter 4, Yahweh commands Moses, “to perform before Pharaoh all the wonders that I have put in your power.” Should these wonders in and of themselves prove the means to accomplish the end for which he was sending them, however, Yahweh goes on to reveal that he intends to “harden [Pharaoh’s] heart, so that he will not let the people go.”1

The writer of Exodus suggests that at the conclusion of their initial meeting after Aaron’s staff-turned-snake swallows up all the Pharaoh’s magicians’ staffs-turned-snakes, Pharaoh was inclined to end it then and there, except “Pharaoh’s heart was hardened and he would not listen to them.” Exodus 7:13. In the ensuing chapters, the phrase “hardened heart,” or a variation thereof, appears more than a baker’s dozen times as the reason for Moses and Aaron’s lack of success. Instead, the Nile must be turned to blood and the land of Egypt and its people made to suffer from frogs, gnats, flies, pestilence, boils, thunder and hail, locusts, and darkness. Before sending the swarm of locusts, Yahweh leaves no doubt that He is behind Pharaoh’s stubbornness, telling Moses to “[g]o to Pharaoh; for I have hardened his heart and the heart of his officials, in order that I may show these signs of mine among them, and that you may tell your children and grandchildren how I have made fools of the Egyptians and what signs I have done among them—so that you may know that I am the Lord.” Exodus 10:1-2.

Ultimately, He hardens Pharaoh’s heart so that at midnight He can send the angel of death to strike down “all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sat on his throne to the firstborn of the prisoner who was in the dungeon, and all the firstborn of the livestock.” Exodus 12:29. This last act induces Pharaoh to give the Israelites leave to depart. But Yahweh isn’t done yet. He hardens Pharaoh’s heart so he will pursue the Israelites.2 Exodus 14:8. Finally, after having Moses stretch out his hand to part the Red Sea, and after making sure the Israelites will get safely across, Yahweh hardens “the hearts of the Egyptians so that they will go in after them,” and thereby meet their watery end. Exodus 14:15.

Though Exodus is by far and away the most striking example of Yahweh’s practice in this regard, a search of the term “hardened” reveals several instances where He sees fit to harden hearts (or spirits, necks, even faces) throughout the Bible. Kind of makes me wonder about other Pharaoh-types. Say, for instance, Pontius Pilate (but I’m getting way ahead of myself – so far ahead in fact I’m not even sure that’s where I’m going). In light of the above, maybe the next time you’re tempted to say, “The devil made me do it,” you’ll find yourself wondering if it isn’t Yahweh’s influence instead. It also makes me wonder what might happen if it were just up to us humans and all we had was our threescore and ten, give or take. Psalm 90:10.

I found the idea that we are somehow being manipulated by the “powers that be” to behave inhumanely troubling long before I started thinking about The First Voice . This entry, however, stems from some follow-up research I conducted with respect to the already posted entry entitled “The First Quotation.” In that entry I reveal that the opening quotation is from Isaiah 6:6-7 which reads “Then flew one of the seraphims unto me, having a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with the tongs from off the altar; And he laid it upon my mouth, and said, Lo, this hath touched thy lips; and thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin purged.” On the morning in question (September 15, 2005 to be exact), I looked up the passage in my Oxford’s New Revised Standard Version so as to compare it with its King James’ counterpart.

Then I did something I’m fairly certain I had not done before, I read the rest of the chapter. For those of you who have been reading my blog from the beginning, or for those of you who have taken my suggestion and are reading the entries chronologically earliest to latest, you’ll perhaps understand why I can still remember I experienced an adrenaline rush as I read the line: “Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Id. at 6:8. I had stumbled upon a hitherto undiscovered instance of God conversing with the mysterious “Us.” See September 13, 2005 Post. You may also understand why I experienced a chilling sensation as I read the next few verses — though neither the words “harden” nor “heart” appears in the passage, the intent is unmistakable. Isaiah continues:

And I said, “Here am I; send me!” And he said, “Go and say to this people:
Keep listening, but do not comprehend;
keep looking, but do not understand.
Make the mind of this people dull,
and stop their ears,
and shut their eyes,
so that they may not look with their eyes,
and listen with their ears,
and comprehend with their minds,
and turn and be healed.

Then I said, “How long, O Lord?” And he said:
Until cities lie waste without inhabitant,
and houses without people,
and the land is utterly desolate;
until the Lord sends everyone far away,
and vast is the emptiness in the midst of the land.

Id. at 8-12.

If I’ve said it once . . . “We have met the enemy and . . .”


1 It appears the only reason the Israelites were in this mess in the first place was because Yahweh had forgotten about them again. At least He tells Moses the reason He’s sending him to Egypt is because “I have also heard the groaning of the Israelites whom the Egyptians are holding as slaves, and I have remembered my covenant.” See “Of Rosemary and Flies to Wanton Boys,” September 9, 2005 Post. We learn in Exodus 12:40 that Yahweh’s memory lapse in this instance lasted somewhere in the neighborhood of 430 years. Yet again I suggest we can all pretty much ignore the admonition Cave, Cave Dominus videt [“Careful, careful, God is watching”].

2 To write this entry, I reread the pertinent portions of Exodus and when I got to this juncture, I experienced what chat-room inhabitants and text messengers describe as an LOL moment. The writer of Exodus tells us that upon discovering that Pharaoh and his army were in hot pursuit, the Israelites, who had spent hundreds of years in captivity building the pyramids, confront Moses with the question, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness?” Exodus 14:11.

Copyright © 2006 by cko.

next post: The First String Quartet (Metaphorically Speaking, Of Course)
previous post: Proxemics

The First String Quartet (Metaphorically Speaking, Of Course)

Thu 04/13/06 at 10:16 am

At some point, I either read or heard about a professor at Columbia who lectured about something called “string theory” while accompanied by a string quartet. I conducted some additional research and learned the professor was a theoretical physicist named Brian Greene who had written The Elegant Universe (“Universe”) about string theory (a/k/a superstring theory or M-theory) or, the “theory of everything” — “everything” being comprised of Planck-length vibrating strings.1 Growing up a Midwestern Lutheran with family ties to both Luther and Saint Olaf, sacred music played a large role in my life. Even today, if I get an “earworm” it’s often something from The Messiah. Consequently, I found it exciting that science appeared to be getting closer to discovering/explaining a phenomenon I have had no trouble believing exists (metaphorically speaking, of course) — the “music of the spheres.” I immediately obtained a copy of Universe.

Much of the version of the creation story as presented in my earlier Proxemics Entry was inspired by details culled from the pages of Universe. Thus, for instance, as I read about singularities, the scenes of heaven depicted by Milton in Paradise Lost came alive in my mind. I imagined the pre-Big Bang singularity as a place with God in the center surrounded by the heavenly host “praising God and saying [or rather singing, in perfect harmony], ‘glory to God, glory to God in the Highest’.” Handel, The Messiah. At the time, Satan and his rebel forces were responsible for the disharmony that caused the Big Bang. As I read, I also realized who, or, more precisely, what, many of my characters were. Turns out that during the initial explosion, certain strings manifested as celestial figures. Some of these string beings (“strings”) traveled from the edge of this universe to the Milky Way via a series of wormholes. Universe, pp. 264-265. The first stop was a smallish black hole in the middle of the galaxy. Id. at p. 81. There, they calculated the time of their arrival on earth by entering the black hole and hovering just above the event horizon for a specified amount of time and then climbing back out and continuing on to earth. Id. at p. 80.

There are hierarchies of strings, depending on the exact make up of their string structure.2 Some, including the more powerful “ethnic” gods; e.g., Zeus, Odin, and Trickster, have shapeshifting abilities. These strings are the Elohim or the “other gods” of the Hebrew Bible and other cultures. See Gen. 6:2, 4; Exodus 20:3, Job 1:6, 2:1, 38:7 Hence Christ’s ability to “pass through the midst of the mob” that wanted to hurl him off a cliff or suddenly to appear in a locked room.3 Luke 4:29-30; John 20:19. In The First Voice, Jesus and Satan will both possess these powers. Other strings are consigned to their initial materialization. These strings are the Nephilim of the Hebrew Bible and other heroes such as Gilgamesh. Gen. 6:4; Num. 13:33. Melchizedek and Johanna are Nephilim. Some of the Nephilim have endeavored throughout the ages to impart knowledge of string manipulation to humans. The first practitioners of the art were the magicians, then the alchemists. Today, they are scientists and what, since The X-Files, we might call paranormalists.

Strings have the power to manipulate other strings, and so, for instance, turn water into wine, or stones to bread, or to multiply bread and fishes. John 2:1-11; Matt. 4:1-4; Mark 6:38-44. (Though as to the latter, I would like to believe that the people fed themselves on that day by each producing food s/he had brought but were initially reluctant to share.)

The key to string theory hinges on the existence of considerably more than four dimensions. Universe, pp. 184 ff. As I read Greene’s discussion of dimensions, I thought back to my Superman comic days and the Phantom Zone. For those of you who may be unfamiliar with the fate of the planet Krypton’s criminal element, Wikopedia provides as follows:

As originally described, the Phantom Zone was discovered by Jor-El [Superman’s father] and used on the planet Krypton as a method of imprisonment of criminals. . . . The inmates of this dimension are cast into the dimension and reside in a featureless state of existence from which they observe, but cannot interact with, the regular dimension clearly. Inmates do not age or require sustenance in the Phantom Zone; furthermore, they are telepathic and mutually insubstantial.

In The First Voice, Elfredge will be charged with creating the circumstance whereby The Beast can be imprisoned in a similar dimension for a thousand years. Revelation 20:1-2.

As I hope you can tell by this entry, reading Universe proved to ba a defining moment for The First Voice. As I read and imagined the above, I knew it was only a matter of time before I would indeed put fingers to keyboard and endeavor to write my novel.
1 A Planck-length is “small almost beyond imagination: a millionth of a billionth of a billionth of a billionth of a centimeter. . . . To get a sense of scale, if we were to magnify an atom to the size of the known universe, the Planck length would barely expand to the height of an average tree.” Greene, Brian, Universe, p. 130 (Vintage ed. 2000).
2 Yahweh and the Holy Ghost/Great Spirit are not strings. Instead, they are composed of dark matter/energy. See, e.g., Universe, pp. 225, 235. On a related issue, Universe also enabled me to reconcile in my mind the apparent conflict of omniscience and free will by the explanation of that single electron simultaneously taking an infinite number of different paths from its starting location to its final destination. Id. at pp. 108-112. And then there’s also retrocausality (future events influencing present choices).
3 Until we humans progress in our ability to manipulate strings, our attempts to walk through seemingly solid barriers such as walls much rely on the phenomenon of quantum tunneling. The technique for such tunneling is simple; it requires only that an individual repeatedly walk into a wall. Eventually s/he would emerge on the other side. Unfortunately, success will come only after approximately 50 trillion attempts which would take longer than the current age of the universe to complete. See “Magic in Hyperspace: Walking Through Walls and Other Party Tricks.

Copyright © 2006 by cko.

next post: The First Line
previous post: Hardened Hearts

The First Line

Tue 05/16/06 at 11:17 am

Much has been made of the importance of a novel’s first line. Even so, as I sit here typing this entry I can only remember three of them (except for “[o]nce upon a time,” and “[i]t was a dark and stormy night,” which don’t count). I remember: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” “Call me Ishmael.” “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” I do better with “First Line” trivia games where the object is to guess the book from the provided opening sentence. Some of them are easy; e.g., “[i]n a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.” Others, I wonder how I ever forgot them in the first place, e.g., “Mother died today.”

I’ve given considerable thought to my first line, and I’m somewhat concerned it’s a bit obscure. At present, the first line of The First Voice reads:

“My other Patmos,” murmured Johanna as the plane broke through the clouds revealing the island of Manhattan and surrounding Burroughs.

As is clear from these blog entries, I’ve had CAR (“computer-aided research”) available to me from the start. I’m the first to tell you that but for Google, my trusty search engine, and others resources such as QuickVerse which allows me to perform word searches of several Bibles and untold secondary sources, I wouldn’t have the slightest idea about much of the material that will be included. The question then becomes how best to communicate this information to my readers without detracting from the narrative.

At one point I envisioned having the published volume accompanied by a version on CD that would have hyperlinks instead of footnotes or endnotes. For instance, a reader otherwise unfamiliar with “Patmos” could learn, with a click of the mouse or a tap of the touchpad that Patmos is the northernmost island of the Dodecanese island group located on the eastern borderline of the Aegean Sea. Clicking on the provided “History” link, one would learn the following:

In 95 AD, St. John the Theologian – one of the twelve disciples of Jesus – was sent into exile on the island. St. John remained on the island for 18 months during which he lived in a cave below the hilltop temple of Diana. In this cave exists a fissure, or small hole in the rock wall, from which issued a collection of oracular messages that St. John transcribed as the Biblical chapter of Revelations. During his time in the sacred cave now known as the Holy Grotto of the Revelation, St. John also composed the Fourth Gospel.

Given the above information, coupled with the fact that a woman on a plane named Joh[n]anna equates the island of Manhattan with Patmos, well, hopefully, a reader might start speculating about the “true” identity of this mysterious woman and maybe other ideas about what the book might be about. I’m just saying.

next post: Hiatus
previous post: The First String Quartet (Metaphorically Speaking, Of Course)


Thu 06/15/06 at 2:23 pm

So, last-night, I finally went to bed at a half-way decent hour; i.e., it really was last night. Okay, so my Xbox 360 broke. Elfredge’s dark-elf avatar (multiple definitions intended) is in a state of suspended animation on the hard drive. The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. Level 30, Order of the Dragon. Arch-Mage. Recently demoted from Guardian to Defender in the Fighter’s Guild after informing her superior that the Chorrel Guild Master’s remaining son had died at the hands of the Blackwoods faction. Thank God (if you ascribe to that sort of thing) it isn’t the hard drive. And speaking of nouns (“God” as a thing, get it?), “suspended animation” what a perfect, and hence, great, description turned noun. And it is a “noun,” because while the short definition of “noun” is “naming word,” Encarta goes on to explain that “noun” is “a word or group of words used as the name of a class of people, places, or things, or of a particular person, place, or thing.” (Emphasis mine.) And now we’ve gotten to the state of something (suspended animation) as the thing itself — and is suspended animation really a thing, after all? I’m just not going to go there – at least not in this entry, because then it would be here . . . oh, never mind. (And you wonder why I haven’t written the damn book yet.)

But that’s why I’m writing this entry. To tell you just that. “That” being that I’m writing the damn book. Consequently, I anticipate that blog entries, if any even, will be fewer and farther between than they already are. I’m not saying to stop stopping by all together, I’m just saying not to expect a whole lot if you stop by. Just know, it’s a good thing. Maybe I’ll even post a chapter or two down the line. Later, bye.

next post: Three Days After the Night Before
previous post: The First Line

Three Days After the Night Before

Sat 12/08/07 at 5:28 pm

When at first I quit smoking, that is to say, when I first quit smoking. I did so with the assistance of the 21 mg NicoDermCQ® transdermal patch, one of which I wore 24/7. For weeks I had wild, vibrant nicotine dreams. Since I smoked until I had holes in my lungs where alveoli once existed (those little tiny cilia weren’t simply counterfeiting death), every few months I experience an exacerbatory episode that I treat with antibiotics and a prednisone burst. When this occurs, instead of nicotine dreams, I often awaken in the early morning hours and have wild, vibrant prednisone thoughts. Those of you who have perused this blog in the past may recall reading posts recorded even as these thoughts were occurring in my relative spacetime. This night, though, I managed to go back to sleep. (Actually I’m going on my third morning after the night thoughts before.) Thus I write this post, self-consciously, after the fact. How much of the original experience I decide to memorialize with my shame-monitor firmly in place remains to be seen.

Previous readers also know that I’m writing, in fits and starts, a novel entitled The First Voice. Yesterday marked another start. I’m presently writing Chapter 15 wherein I explain sapience, using, in part, the story of Adam and Eve. Wanting my account of the Edenic events accurately to reflect the episode as set forth in the Bible, specifically, Genesis, Chapter 3, verses 1 to 7, I reread said same. The New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) tells us Eve ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil because it was “good for food, and a delight for the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise.” Genesis 3:6. Sapient means “wise or learned.” So far, so good. When I read the second half of verse 6, however, my brain stopped. “[A]nd she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her. Id.(Emphasis added.) Huh? I said to myself. There it was, clear and unambiguous: Who was with her. Well, I admit it. Adam in attendance at the scene during the encounter with Satan was news to me. How had I missed it all this time? At first, I thought perhaps that part of the verse had been added to the NRSV in its attempt for better accuracy in the translation. But no. I checked the King James’ Version (KJV). There it was, Eve ate the fruit and then “gave also unto her husband with her.” Id. (KJV). I checked the wording in all the Biblical translations included in my 8.0.4 version of Quick Verse, my Travel-Size Edition of the Torah and Commentary, and David Rosenberg’s translation of The Book o f J, considered to be the origin of the Hebrew Bible. Only the Torah and a translation called The Message: the Bible in Contemporary Language leave room for a different interpretation of Adam’s whereabouts. These two versions provide that Eve ate and then also gave some of the fruit “to her husband, and he ate,” without specifying whether the two events occurred contemporaneously. What difference does it make? I leave that explanation to Elfredge, Johanna, and Michael in Chapter 15.

This blog entry is about my realization last night (x3) that when I first finally read the last half of Genesis, Chapter 3, Verse 6, I really, really wanted to talk to someone about my discovery and its implications. I ran it by my friends and family, most of whom agreed that yes, how interesting. They too had missed that the Bible put Adam at the scene, but nobody much shared my enthusiasm – well enthusiasm is somewhat understated, make that my shock and awe. In researching and writing Voice, I have had several similar moments of illumination over the years. Indeed, much in my life causes such moments. And when they happen, half-formed thoughts shoot around in my brain. More often than not, these thoughts remain incomplete, elusive. Some may make it as far as a cryptic note in a computer file entitled “Writing Ideas” — my current enigma being , “I will gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today (Faustian overtones).” No idea. Zip. Zero. Zilch. I’ve parlayed other thoughts into blog entries. But most fall back into the depths of the collective unconsciousness. It’s simply not worth the effort to articulate them to/for myself.

I may think, therefore I am, but I articulate because you am. See March 16, 2006 Post. At least I endeavor to articulate; i.e., express thoughts, ideas, or feelings coherently. I endeavor to articulate these thoughts because, like it or not, I need, I want, to communicate with you, my fellow human beings. There, I said it. I am not, after all, a rock. Queue Sounds of Silence, Track 11. Whether the preceding few sentences (and the next few anticipated sentences) make it into the blog remains to be seen, as I can feel my heart rate increase and the shame-flush spread. I am a card carrying, off-the-chart introvert, and these cravings I’ve been experiencing over the last few years for what I will call meaningful communication, in any of its many forms, are rather disconcerting, and frustrating. I recognize some of the frustrating part is a byproduct of my illness. I read somewhere that emphysema is called the “sitting disease” because exertion of almost any sort, well, just takes the wind right out of ya’. It’s damn hard for me to get to the coffee these days, much less out the door. Moreover, especially this time of year, germs are not my friends, so limiting live contact is wise. Besides, cravings aside, I really am an off-the-chart introvert. If I really think about it, I (mostly) do “want to be alone,” so I suppose I may be venturing into the area of “be careful for that which you wish.”

Notwithstanding, each of us may be here for different reasons, but I believe one of, perhaps even, the core reasons we are here in the human realm is to take time to engage in meaningful communication, verbal and nonverbal, with one another. Obviously, there are degrees of interaction ranging from the txt msg: “how ru?/Good u?” to On the Road’s Dean Moriarty a/k/a Neal Cassady sit ting in the bathtub with Sal a/k/a Jack knee to knee and eye to eye and talking until there isn’t anything left to say, in a word, grokking, to borrow a term from Stranger in a Strange Land.

So when does communication make the change from the quantitative state of cleaning out the email box while listening to the now elderly remaining parental unit advise as to the weather conditions, food consumed during the week, and which second cousin twice removed finally crossed Bifröst to the qualitative state of a meaningful exchange of ideas and emotions between two or more human beings?

My Buddhist buddies use a couple terms that speak to this question. They talk about being “mindful” and living with “intention.” To me, “mindful” means keeping my mind in the present instead of letting it think about past events or plan future ones. My concept of living with intention may be a bit simplistic, but essentially, it means paying attention to what I am doing at any given moment. My friends and family often remind me it is good if I can remember to drive with intention. Clients or witnesses being prepped for depositions are admonished to “answer the question that is asked,” rather than respond as if they were asked the question they, in their eminent wisdom and with their uncanny telepathic ability, just know opposing counsel really meant to ask them. Simple experiment: Ask folks, “do you have a watch?” and see how many respond “yes,” or “no,” as opposed to those who tell you what time it is.

By extension, to answer the question, one must hear the question. Accordingly, and as important, if not more important, one must listen mindfully and with intention. Meaningful communication is a two-way street (or in a group, a multi-lane freeway). Why should I expect my friends and family listen to my subject du jour if I fail to accord them the same honor? And here, three nights ago, to bring this full circle, my prednisone charged brain reminded me, I have been remiss. How many times has someone tried to speak to me about a subject, and I have either taken steps to peremptorily dismiss it and move onto my preferred agenda, or locked onto a buzz word and used the time the other continues to speak to formulate a response that will take the subject in my preferred direction? Well, no more. I will endeavor hence forward to remain mindful and listen to you with intention.

next post: Happy Bloomsday
previous post: Jesus Camp

Happy Bloomsday

Mon 06/16/08 at 8:23 am

“The hidden hand is again at its old game. ” — James Joyce, Ulysses

next post: Happy Anniversary, Jim and Nora
previous post: Three Days After the Night Before

I’m Not Sayin’ I’m Lost Exactly, But I Have Wandered Off-Course

Fri 05/22/09 at 12:47 pm

I found this document today, tucked in a Word folder entitled “Pages.” I reproduce it here, [nearly] untouched.

2:50 p.m., Tuesday, September 10, 2002

Okay, how to proceed from here. If I write these pages in cursive pen to paper, folks will have a difficult time reading them. So, I would need to translate into typewritten pages. I don’t have time for such nonsense, but perhaps Christine would consent to do so. I could also dictate, but again transcription impediments. Christine, again. Besides, while there may not be a lot of difference between pen to paper and keyboard to screen, I think there may be more of a difference between voice to tape. I don’t know why exactly but it’s a filter thing. To write or type, the words must form written symbols. No need for such translation with speech until a later time.

I can see one major difference right now between cursive and type. I make a number of errors when typing that I would not make writing, which does interrupt the flow of thought. By how much though, I’m not sure. I am, after all, capable, though not as much as before, of “holding that thought.” For the moment, I guess I’m inclined to type, unless I see a great difference between the two. I will however continue alternating for a bit to see if there’s a real qualitative (as opposed to quantitative) difference. It is nice, though, to use my retractable fountain pen. It writes smooth and silent.

I awoke to rain this morning. The sky was almost uniformly gray with no blue sky or sunshine in sight. It’s brightening now, with some cloud definition. The rain stopped a while back. Sigh. It was dark enough the street lights came on in the middle of the afternoon. I need to put more descriptive passages in the novel. Or do I? Are they just filler, or do they serve a function? Well, they probably set the atmosphere the writer wishes to convey to the audience. But, if one writes that it rains, then what else is needed? Well, rain is different with respect, for instance, to intensity and duration. If one of the goals of writing is to create an almost cinemagraphic effect; i.e., to enable the reader to see the action of the book with the mind’s eye, then perhaps it’s important, but only if one wants to have the reader’s eye more attuned to the writer’s eye. So, one can say, “it is raining,” and the reader can pick what kind of rain. The conditions. Would it be possible to write around the rain such that the conditions are suggested by the action, though not described? Implicit vs. explicit surroundings. But that supposes that the conditions of the surrounding are somehow informed by the action. How stupid is that? It’s raining, therefore one acts in such and such a way, when, indeed, one could act in such and such a way whether it is raining or not.

I know there is a convention where the surrounding conditions are written to reflect the inner weather of a character. I don’t want to do that. I will write of murder in the sunshine. But that’s sort of unnatural, too, since murder seldom occurs in the sunshine. If most murders are “red ball” murders (passion killing) or manslaughter, are we as human beings more passionate or more careless in the dark? Or is [it] that as a general rule more drug and/or alcohol use and abuse occurs at night? So, it is not necessarily human nature to kill, but human nature somehow altered by chemicals. And what, if anything, can be inferred from that?

My blinds are closed, thereby preventing me from looking west. I think the sun has broken through. Heavy, heavy sigh. But, would living where it rains more really make a difference on who I am? Are there rain people or sun people or snow people? Well, there’s SAD, but not everyone suffers from it. Assuming one doesn’t, then what, if any, difference does it make except in terms of personal preference? I almost wrote, “what, if anything,” which would then be followed by “makes a difference.” It appears the two sentences have the same meaning. Aesthetically, I prefer, “[w]hat, if any difference . . .”. But they are the same because “it” and “thing” are synonymous. I wish I’d been sober for my logic class. I wish I’d taken linguistics. I wish I understood the language of mathematics and music. But choices must be made. Time is more finite for me than for others. First things first. Write the book. Then decide where to go from there . . .

End, 3:35 p.m.

12:47 p.m., Friday, May 22, 2009

“And so it goes.”

next post: Part the Second
previous post: Happy Bloomsday

Part the Second

Thu 12/17/09 at 4:35 pm

For those of you who don’t already know it, I’m on the list awaiting a lung transplant. [Well, maybe someone has arrived here through www.stumbleupon.com or the like.] I have severe COPD; i.e., “end-stage emphysema” as it was called back in the days of plain speaking. Since being diagnosed, I have spent a fair amount of time contemplating my mortality. For some, such contemplation results in a taking up, strengthening, or renewal of faith in a higher power or powers. For me, it has proved the opposite.

If all goes as planned, these next few blog entries will prove precursors to getting back to the writing of my novel, The First Voice (“Voice”). Depending on the way my existential winds blow, however, it may remain unfinished. Thus, I thought I’d use this entry as an opportunity at least to present a piece of what has been written. I do so because as it happens, Elfredge Bettisdatter, Voice’s protagonist, has traveled a spiritual path nearly identical to mine. A while back she had occasion to review this journey one fine afternoon while riding the subway from the 14th Street stop in lower Manhattan up to St. John the Divine:

For this trip under the island, Elfredge opted for the express train. Maybe I’ll even walk from 96th. Dad would be so pleased I’m going to a church on Sunday. Religion had played a major role in her childhood. Weekly attendance at Sunday school and Sunday services was mandatory. No comics until afterward so we’d be in a proper frame of mind. Each night the family gathered for devotions, and then bedtime songs and prayers. Now I lay me. Way scary. Summers brought Bible school and Bible camp. Epiphany was her favorite church holiday. Come to think of it, that might have more to do with Joyce than the Magi. Still, my favorite participants in the Christmas story were those three wise men. Maybe I should take a closer look at Zoroastrianism.

Elfredge grew up across the street from the Lutheran Church she and her family attended. God’s House. Specifically, God the Father. The church was never locked, and she would often stop by on the way home for a quick audience. The glowing red light above the altar informed her that God was “in.”

If anyone had asked, Elfredge would have said that she pictured God the Father as He was depicted on Michelangelo’s ceiling or in William Blake’s illustrations. If she stopped to think about it though, Elfredge realized that, in her mind’s eye, the presence she felt was a great brooding dragon draped over the altar. Upon hearing her enter the sanctuary, He would open the monocular eye facing her and readjust His giant head ever so slightly for the best viewing angle. He never spoke, only listened, and for that reason these encounters were, for the most part, dissatisfying. Even so, she usually felt somewhat better simply for having articulated her wishes, couched, always of course, in terms of doing His will for her life. She envied her Catholic friends who were permitted to ask for specifics without qualification.

As for the other members of the Trinity, for many years she had the feeling that the Holy Ghost awaited her somewhere. She also somehow knew that before any such encounter could occur she first had to come to terms with Jesus Christ, and she found the whole Son of God thing troublesome. She had tried desperately to believe. Christ, however, turned a deaf ear to her entreaties to come into her heart. For a while, she would only recite the first and last parts of the Apostle’s Creed, remaining silent during the middle section. She wanted to avoid committing blasphemy just in case Jesus being the Son of God and all was true. She lacked the strength of character to decline to be confirmed, and would have totally understood had God seen fit to strike her down by lightning rather than permit her to take her first communion. I believe. Help my unbelief! Afterward, whenever possible she would cut out of church just before that part of the service.

Belief or no, Good Friday had a profound effect on her. 3:00 p.m. It is finished. The temple curtain. Torn asunder. The cross on the altar draped in black. God in all Three Persons dead. Black Saturday. On Easter Sunday, Elfredge would sit in the balcony by herself, and look down upon the communion of saints in their Easter finery and she would have fleeting sensations of what it meant to be a member of the Body of Christ, a communicant. Then the first shaft of sunlight would beam through the stained glass window behind the altar, the brass choir would sound, and the congregation would rise as one. A person would have to be dead to fail to thrill as the worshippers began to sing in glorious four part, descanted, harmony, “Christ the Lord has risen today, Ah, ah, ah, ah, ah, lay, ay, loo, oo, ya.” Pooh-pooh Lake Wobegon all you want but Garrison himself has waxed poetic about singing with Lutherans. Even then, faith eluded Elfredge, and the exhilaration of the moment gave way to feelings of loneliness and isolation.

Eventually, belief in a Creator God went by the wayside, and, finally, Elfredge gave up the Holy Ghost. On off days, she might echo Gloucester. We are as flies to wanton boys; they kill us for their sport. Overall, though, she viewed the human race as an evolutionary anomaly. A fluke of the universe. The Number 3 screeched into the 96th Station, and Elfredge returned to the material plane.

In part, this conclusion of flukedom comes from there simply being too many shared “plot points” among the hundreds, if not thousands, of “one true religion(s)” that have come and gone from the beginning of human sapience. I include here a couple from the Judeo-Christian and Islamic traditons. For instance, imagine my surprise a few years back, when, as a near lifelong admirer of Leonard Cohen, I learned that for Muslims, the story of Isaac is the story of Ishmael.

For those of you unfamiliar with matters religious, the big three patriarchal religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) share Abraham as The Patriarch. In the Judeo-Christian tradition, Yahweh, in return for Abraham’s agreement to worship Him as the one and only true God, entered into a covenant with Abraham promising that he would be the father of nations. Well, the years went by and Abraham and his wife Sarah remained childless. Eventually, Sarah, seeing as how Yahweh was preventing her from conceiving, gave her Egyptian slave-girl Hagar to Abraham as a wife. Hagar and Abraham, who was 86 at the time, had a son named Ishmael. Fourteen years later, Sarah conceived and bore Isaac.

The Hebrew Bible contains an account of Yahweh’s command that Abraham offer Isaac as a burnt sacrifice. Just as Abraham, in his unwavering obedience, begins the downward sweep of the axe to kill Isaac, Yahweh stayed his hand and provided instead a sacrificial ram that just happened (wink, wink) to have caught his horns in a thicket. Isaac went on to become the progenitor of the Jewish nation, and, by extension the Christian “nation” through Jesus (assuming His mother Mary’s lineage, like that of her husband Joseph, can be traced back to King David).

With the birth of Isaac, Sarah made Abraham send Hagar and Ishmael off into the desert where they would have died of thirst but for Yahweh a/k/a Allah’s intervention. The Koran also contains a section chronicling Allah’s command for Abraham to offer his oldest son as a sacrifice. Thus, Muslims maintain this son was Ishmael. Moreover, Muslims believe the name “Isaac” was inserted into the Hebrew Bible at a later date, and therefore represents corrupted text. Ishmael went on to become an expert with the bow (according to Genesis) and the progenitor of the nation of Islam.

And how many of you know that Muslims, too, await the second coming of Jesus Christ? Indeed, I still remember the first time I read the section addressing this belief in Wikipedia. I was blown away. The section as it appears today has been reworked somewhat, but I still have a copy in my notes of the Wiki entry which read as follows:

The mainstream Islamic view of the second coming maintains that Jesus was replaced by a duplicate who looked like Jesus, and that it was the duplicate who was crucified while the real Jesus was lifted up to Heaven by God, where he is waiting to descend during the “last days” when corruption and perversity are rife on Earth. He will then wage a battle against the false Messiah or Dajjal, break the cross, kill swine and call all humanity to Islam.

I realize that two examples or two hundred examples of “both sides can’t be right” will fail to persuade most of you that maybe as far as religions go we humans made it all up in the first place. Even I, who can state unequivocally that I believe ours is a random, indifferent universe, still find myself at times imploring a God in whom I no longer believe to make it so my brother is no longer dead.

Besides, proving or disproving God’s existence begs the question. Think about it. Whether God exists is neither here nor there. Let’s say at some point the Hubble telescope (or the Very Large Array) manages to zero in at the precise location of the creation of this universe and the pictures of the swirling cosmos that gets sent back to earth looks remarkably like an old guy with a long white beard. So what? So what unless God knows we exist and does indeed take a personal interest in each of our individual lives. If God has no plans for us or will to be done, then whether or not there is a God doesn’t much matter in our little corner of the universe. And if that’s the case, well, to borrow a line from Joni Mitchell, it all comes down to us.

next post: Fragment 2
previous post: Part the First

Fragment 2

Sat 10/01/11 at 12:09 pm

2:50 p.m., Tuesday, September 10, 2002

Okay, how to proceed from here. If I write these pages in cursive pen to paper, folks will have a difficult time reading them. So, I would need to translate into typewritten pages. I don’t have time for such nonsense, but perhaps Christine would consent to do so. I could also dictate, but again transcription impediments. Christine, again. Besides, while there may not be a lot of difference between pen to paper and keyboard to screen, I think there may be more of a difference between voice to tape. I don’t know why exactly, but it’s a filter thing. To write or type, the words must form written symbols. No need for such translation with speech until a later time.

I can see one major difference right now between cursive and type. I make a number of errors when typing that I would not make writing, which does interrupt the flow of thought. By how much though, I’m not sure. I am, after all, capable, though not as much as before, of “holding that thought.” For the moment, I guess I’m inclined to type, unless I see a great difference between the two. I will however continue alternating for a bit to see if there’s a real qualitative (as opposed to quantitative) difference. It is nice, though, to use my retractable fountain pen. It writes smooth and silent.

I awoke to rain this morning. The sky was almost uniformly gray with no blue sky or sunshine in sight. It’s brightening now, with some cloud definition. The rain stopped a while back. Sigh. It was dark enough that the street lights came on in the middle of the afternoon. I need to put more descriptive passages in the novel. Or do I. Are they just filler, or do they serve a function? Well, they probably set the atmosphere the writer wishes to convey to the audience. But, if one writes that it rains, then what else is needed? Well, rain is different with respect, for instance of the intensity and duration. If one of the goals of writing is to create an almost cinemagraphic effect, i.e., to enable the reader to see the action of the book with the mind’s eye, then perhaps it’s important, but only if one wants to have the reader’s eye more attuned to the writer’s eye. So, one can write that it was raining, and the reader can pick what kind of rain. Would it be possible to write around the rain such that the conditions are suggested by the action, though not described? Implicit vs. explicit surroundings. But that supposes that the conditions of the surrounding are somehow informed by the action. How stupid is that? It’s raining, therefore one acts in such and such a way, when, indeed one could act in such and such a way whether it is raining or not.

I know there is a convention where the surrounding conditions are written to reflect the inner weather of a character. I don’t want to do that. I will write of murder in the sunshine. But that’s sort of unnatural, too, since murder seldom occurs in the sunshine. If most murders are “red ball” murders (passion killing) or manslaughter, are we as human beings more passionate or more careless in the dark. Or is [it] that as a general rule more drug and/or alcohol use and abuse occurs at night? So, it is not necessarily human nature to kill, but human nature somehow altered by chemicals. And what, if anything, can be inferred from that?

My blinds are closed, thereby preventing me from looking west. I think the sun has broken through. Heavy, heavy sigh. But, would living where it rains more really make a difference on who I am? Are there rain people or sun people or snow people? Well, there’s supposedly SAD, but not everyone suffers from it. Assuming one doesn’t, then what, if any, difference does it make except in terms of personal preference? I almost wrote, “what, if anything,” which would then be followed by “makes a difference.” It appears the two sentences have the same meaning. Aesthetically, I prefer, “[w]hat, if any difference . . .”. But they are the same because “it” and “thing” are synonymous. I wish I’d been sober for my logic class. I wish I’d taken linguistics. I wish I understood the language of mathematics and music. But choices must be made. Time, for me is more finite than for others. First things first. Write the book. Then decide where to go from there . . .

End, 3:35 p.m.

next post: NaNoWriMo
previous post: Part the Second


Sun 10/23/11 at 6:31 pm

“The time has come,”
This Walrus said,
“To write of many things.
Of space and time
And Gotham,
And what the future brings.”

— cko

next post: Virtual Scroll: Take 2
previous post: Fragment 2

Virtual Scroll: Take 2

Mon 04/30/12 at 11:30 am

A few years ago, I had an experience that resulted into the beginning of a memoir of sorts entitled Tink: An Epic. It started when I took a road trip to Los Angeles to visit my brother. I stayed in a hotel adjacent to the back of my brother’s apartment complex. One morning, I experienced an incident that prompted me to write the following:

Imagine a fish out of water. Now, imagine you are that fish. Panning out, you as fish are flopped on a king-size bed in a Comfort Inn on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood California. Less than ten feet away is a closed door. Less than 10 feet from that door is the locked hatchback of a 2007 Tangerine Pearl PT Cruiser Touring Edition with indestructible seats and a beige interior. It just barely registers on the LA auto cool scale. Behind the locked hatchback is an ocean of air consisting of an LV30 tank of liquid oxygen and four or five standard E-cylinders. You delude yourself that you have options. You can (a) flop off the bed, somehow open the door, flop to the back of the car, somehow unlock it, thrust a cannula up your nose and turn the liquid tank dial to 4. If that were really an option, you’d’ve already done it and not found yourself in this predicament. So, you move onto (b). You have enough consciousness left to know you still hold onto your cell phone, try John again? He said he kept his phone on vibrate, but maybe not at night. He hadn’t answered a minute ago. Option (c), then. 911. Option (b) one more time before consigning your fate to the municipality of LA. Send. Send. He answers! “Come!” . . . “Now.” And then the wait. Can you wait? Breathe. Breathe. But this atmosphere is only 7% oxygen. Not nearly enough for lungs reduced to 15% function, with airwaves full of mucous obstructions, inflamed by LA pollution, narrowed with panic. Breathe. The Calvary arrives. “Get [housekeeping] to open the door.” Success! No, unbelievably, inevitably, stupidly I’d flipped the hinged-lock over. I would have to move, after all. Lunge and the door opens. Somehow the car key gets handed off. Get a tank. Take off the paper wrapper covering the fittings. Regulator off the empty tank. Onto the new tank. Set it in. Turn it on. No! Precious molecules gushing out the sides. Unscrew, reset, screw. Turn. On. Click around to 4. Grab a cannula. Put in nose. Breathe. Breathe. 4 liters of 100 percent oxygen each minute. Yes. Gasp. “We did it!” Gasp. “You did it!” Praise. Praise for the brother, so often incapable of performing the most basic technical or mechanical task. “Never tell Darcy. You, we must never tell Darcy.”

And how, you may be wondering, did little fish find herself in such dire straits at the Comfort Inn that morning?

At that point, I realized I had the start of an epic. It began in medias res, and presented a question that would take some spacetime to explore and eventually answer.

On the drive out to L.A., I listened to Jack Kerouac’s On the Road. I realize most of you probably know the process Kerouac went through to write his road trip experiences. For those of you who may be unfamiliar with the story, in brief, he loaded a blank 120-foot roll of tracing paper into a typewriter set up in his Manhattan kitchen. Dubbed “The Scroll,” he sat and typed virtually nonstop for three weeks. The finished product was a single-spaced document without margins or paragraph breaks. [A tour of The Scroll in 2007 included a stop at the Palace of the Governors in Santa Fe. I have no idea how I missed that.] Over the next few years, with a lot of help from his friends, the scroll became the novel On the Road.

I decided I would create a virtual scroll on my computer where I would record in no particular order the life experiences that had forged the bond among we few, we happy siblings, Big Brother John, Middle Me, and Baby Sister Mary Beth. I managed to write a few thousand words over the course of perhaps a month, and then an insidious event occurred that would sabotage almost everything in my life. I subscribed to World of Warcraft and became mired in the realms of Azeroth, et.al for years, yes, years. It has only been in the last few weeks that I have managed to abandon my beloved avatars. In large part, I credit George R.R. Martin’s saga The Song of Ice and Fire. I read all five volumes seriatim, only taking time to sleep and maintain my Facebook pages.

During those lost years, I had also forsaken my novel The First Voice. Sporadic attempts to make progress ended badly. I didn’t suffer from writer’s block. Instead, I realized I was a writer who hated to write. Moreover, I had so much other “stuff” floating around in my brain that I couldn’t stay focused on Voice. I returned to the notion of the virtual scroll. I decided to put the original project on hold and start a new scroll where I would empty my brain and make room for Voice. And so I purchased a “typewriter” in the form of an 11.6 inch MacBook Air that is dedicated almost exclusively to creating this new scroll. I loaded Word, opened a new document, chose – what else – the “American Typewriter” font, and here I am.

I envision this scroll to be a record of what has brought me to this point in the present in one multiverse, as opposed to what brought my brother and I to the earlier point described in the first scroll. [As an aside: recall that all points in a circle are equidistant from its center.]

For those of you who don’t know, my brother was brutally murdered in a road rage incident in L.A. in the early morning hours of November 23, 2008. I still haven’t reached a point where I can write about him. Shortly after his death, I did compose a Walking Raven post entitled Two Flutes and One to Wail for those of you who would like to know more.

At this juncture, I intend to focus on “stuff” that I will publish intermittently in the form of Walking Raven entries.

Long ago, I asked my buddy mjh to set up www.walkingraven.com. In part to jump-start a sustained effort to write Voice. I am hoping that writing this scroll will help me return to it, even though if I’ve learned anything from my Facebook experience, it is that attempts at “social-networking” serve more as reminders, we are all pretty much isolated voices crying in the wilderness.

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Happy Bloomsday

Sun 06/16/13 at 12:15 am

“What’s in a name? That is what we ask ourselves in childhood when we write the name that we are told is ours.”
— James Joyce, Ulysses

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