Monthly Archives: August 2008

A Meeting, the HRARA–

If armies were constructed across time, space, languages, religion and death, everything, would there be the possibility that Morrissey, Kundera, and Kierkegaard could exist on the same side?

Morrissey and Kundera, negative and positive versions and-or reflections of each other.  Kierkegaard would be on their side, but tempted by the dark force. And eventually, he’d get sucked in and forget even why he began the way he did.

Scott Fitzgerald would be like Kierkegaard, but not as totalitarian.  He would leave it to talk and drink.  Charlie Kaufman sulks with him while self-deprecatingly and arrogantly stating to himself how one can ever really be happy, because no one can possess a spotless mind.

Kierkegaard reassures him: “There are wishes that are forgotten like our yesterdays; there are wishes that one outgrows, and later can scarcely recall, there are wishes that one learns to give up, and how good it was to have given them up, and wishes which one hides away, just as a departed person hides in glorified memory. But there is a wish that dies slowly and only dies when the sufferer dies!”

This doesn’t make Kaufman feel any better.

“I don’t know. Sometimes I’m so happy, I could die now,” he replies.

Morrissey possibly become Charlie Kaufman’s best friend, except for the fact that two self-deprecating arrogant people can never be best friends, because they each think they are better than the other. So they are best enemies, enefriends and frienemies.

Morrissey is sick of the whole meeting.

He thinks, paranoid: “They say they respect me, but it must mean that their judgment is crazy!”

Rainer Maria Rilke whispers to himself, “You make me feel alone. I try imagining: one minute it’s you, then the next it’s the soaring wind; a fragrance that comes and goes but never lasts.”

Erasmus responds by chiming in, “[but] In the absence of reality, the appearance of it is the next best thing!”

….

HRARA- The Hopeless Romantics Against Romance Army

They gather at the Chesnut Tree Cafe and spout, “Communists say love is a form of capitalism– a form of oppression,”

And they’re definitely not fighting to liberate.

….

Kundera suddenly looks over to me.

Kundera: “I can never quite understand to what extent one should take your projects seriously,”

me: “Everything I do should be taken absolutely seriously. For example, I can imagine you” writing yourself in a novel of a fictional account of historical figures meeting after death discussing their respective immortalities.

“Surely you didn’t expect them to approve it, or did you by any chance think they would burst into applause?”

Kundera: “No, I didn’t,”

me: “Then why did you do it? In order to unmask them? to prove to them that in spite of all their nonconformist gesticulations they are in reality a part of the” HRARA?

Kundera: “There is nothing more useless, than trying to prove something to idiots,”

me: “There then is only one explanation: you wanted to have some fun. but even in that case your behavior seems illogical to me. Surely you didn’t expect that any of them would understand you and laugh!”

Kundera: “No, I didn’t expect that. Joking no longer makes sense. This world takes everything seriously. Even me. And that’s the limit.”

me: “I should rather think that nobody takes anything seriously! They all just want to amuse themselves!”

Kundera: “That comes to the same thing.”

….

works cited:

  • Milan Kundera, late 20th century Czech writer, ‘Immortality’ pg. 331-332.
  • Morrissey, present-day musician, ‘You are the Quarry’, “How Could They Possibly Know the Way I Feel”.
  • Rainer Maria Rilke, turn of 19th century German poet, ‘Song’.
  • Erasmus, 15th century Christian Humanist author.
  • Charlie Kaufman, present-day Screenwriter, ‘Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind’, Joel to Clementine.
  • Soren Kierkegaard, philosopher, ‘Purity of Heart is to Will One Thing’ pg. 150.
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Dinner

A group of seven people, sitting at an oak dining table meant for six, languished after dinner the way good friends do after enjoying a really good dinner, or if they aren’t such good friends, then a really good bottle of wine.

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Dandelion Wine

A retired chemistry professor– by way of an old homeland thirty years ago and more recently, Chapel Hill, North Carolina– uprooted his life and wife and planted them in a bed of lavender in Washington state, 3,000 miles away.

The farm, promptly named the “Purple Turtle Farm” by the professor’s daughter, was an exhausting hobby the pair launched themselves into– specifically, into the act of growing lavender, to care for it, feed it, shelter it, only to then pick it and dry it. After the drying process, the wife, who was intense in the calmest of ways, like the eye of a storm– sewed little dolls and cloth packages with the minty-smelling flower inside. The smell, was not like an ordinary flower’s smell, but so intense, I thought of Vicks.

“When you are stressed, breathe the lavender,” she instructed me. “I just went to a dried flowers store, and i smelled their lavender. There was hardly any smell; it was dead,” she deliberately described.

“Did you show her yours?” I asked.

“No, i didn’t want to be rude.”

“Then she could have bought them from you,”

I kept on.  She didn’t say anything.

There were two kinds of lavender on the farm: Lavandula dentata, French lavender, that grew to impressive heights, and Lavandula stoechas, Italian, which grew to only half the French size, but were deeply colored purple, the kind associated with the color.  Like a true academic, the retired professor experimented with hybrids.

At the family event that led them away from the smell of lavender closer to the smell of oranges, and closer still– pollution, they brought the lavender with them. During the wedding, they presented a bottle of wine they had made on their new farm. It was another hobby they began, wine-making. The bottle, with its own label, italicized: Purple Turtle Farm Dandelion Wine, 2004.

The dandelion: visibly beautiful, a straight stem leading to the heavens and at the end journey, bursting into a perfectly round sphere, with airy lightness but heavy in its perfect conception. Like the intensely calm wife.  Was the dandelion ever an inspiration to medieval painters who placed those heavenly halos on maternal madonnas?

The perfection of dandelions attracts many that make love to it, pollinating, and floating away. There are approximately 93 different species of bugs that love the dandelion so much, they procreate just to produce more of themselves to flock to and make love to over again.  But this love– it’s a nuisance, a weed.

How perfectly light it is yet holds itself together. Then I blow and it falls apart. Another one. The round beauty, the softness! Blow. It’s gone, there’s a stem left. I tear it from the roots, and I bite on the stem, little by little, until it’s just a crumpled mess, a zig-zagged stem.

Dandelion wine– let’s destroy magnificence, with grace. Let’s toast to the loveliness, then swallow it into our bowels. Let’s strike the expected hard blow with fate and let beauty dissipate aimlessly…

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Roman Holiday

Caligula, who was only 28 at the time of his death, achieved more than his contemporaries at any age belting a reputation as an lunatic fed and fueled by paranoia, only natural amongst the Julio-Claudian house that produced as many murders and births in its hundred years of Roman leadership.  Devoid of the usual greed that renders assassination a rite of passage before becoming emperor, Claudius was an unwilling reactant and participant in his own accession to the throne, his toes discovered and prodded by a soldier behind the robes of a curtain after the particularly morbid assassination of his nephew Caligula. As the exploring soldier, branding a sword and a shield emblazoned with the aquila, lifted the curtain, he proclaimed Claudius the emperor of Rome and all the lands circling the Mediterranean and far inland and abroad.

In his reign, he conquered new territories, adding to Rome’s glory, as well as improved qualities of life on the home front, by mandating public works such as aqueducts, built on strong, deftly engineered arches, ferrying water from the mountains to the bursting fountains of Rome. Roads carrying goods and traders from India and Egypt and beyond were his creations; today, we don’t blink at the mention of mere roads, but just 30 years after the birth of Christ, it was new, fresh, an amazing improvement to society– a technological achievement. Workers used rope and sticks to form two straight lines, and dug trenches betwixt those. As a foundation, small stones were laid to provide room for drainage of rain, and covered with the rudus, a mixture of sometimes sand, or clay, or both. On top, large stones or stone slabs were laid. Roads went straight one way (to Rome? well, yes–) — because corners could not be curbed. It was a question of technology.

It is almost comical that Claudius was found hiding behind a curtain, with guilty toes peeping out.  He was nearing 50.  To be found in such a childish position, and then to throw himself at the feet of a soldier for mercy, only for that soldier to rise him beyond to the greatest he ever imagined to become, to even to be able to pass mediocrity, to the preconceived judgments of those that knew him.  To his family, he was slow, a fool, and did not warrant any serious consideration. For anything.  Tragic!  A Roman historian writes the following about Claudius:

Besides, everyone doubted his intelligence. No one would have had the preposterous idea of entrusting him with such important responsibilities, still less have imagined him capable of governing the empire.

Perhaps that is exactly the reason why he was named emperor, so he could be puppeted, controlled, maybe by the praetorians that murdered his nephew?  They were wrong.

Resigned to what people thought of him for the past fifty years, Claudius insulated himself in philosophy, enriching the Roman alphabet by three letters that the Americans, the Spanish, the Cubans, the English, the Italians, the Vietnamese, and many others use today.  He was an amateur historian as well.

What we have here, is a man making up letters, looking into the past, dreaming about philosophy. In today’s terms, we might call him a stoner in possession of a  crayon.

In Plato’s terms, we would call him a philosopher-king, an erudite, a lover of words, a helper of those who cannot help themselves, leading them out of the cave– a dreamer of what could and should be done.

But that passionate philosophical dreamy side– that so often teeters dangerously into irrationality– made him a poor judge of character in his personal life.  Married to a woman named Valeria Messalina who publicly cheated on him not once, but repeatedly (and tried to have him overthrown as well, as if that wasn’t enough damage to Roman testosterone).  He had her executed, as was the custom in those days, and throughout the centuries following to Ann Boleyn’s influence on Henry VIII.  Claudius remarried for the fourth time, to Agrippina, a widowed mother.  She was already his niece.

Incest was nothing new.  It was frowned upon severely and shocking, but nonetheless, common.  There had been rumors that Agrippina had sexual relations with her own brother and the former emperor, Caligula.

Roman hierarchial law dictated almost nothing except senatorial approval.  This might have made it easier for the political-savvy Agrippina to convince Claudius to appoint her son from her first marriage as his political heir, over his own flesh and blood, Britannicus.  As shrewdly planned, Nero became emperor at 16 when Claudius mysteriously died from poisonous mushrooms.  Agrippina believed she stepped into a powerful ruling position with her son at the helm of the Imperium Romanum.

Remember: Nero was a young boy, an adolescent undergoing hormonal changes, and probably partial to ugly and tyrannical tantrums and mood swings.  No doubt he was especially prone being brought up at the coddling of his overbearing mother in a life of privilege.  Agrippina faced her last night in her son’s 21st year when Roman soldiers rushed into her room, accusing her of treason and announcing her impending execution. Strong-willed and brash to the end, she ordered them to stab her in the stomach from which Nero had come.

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Tomato

A ball, bouncing on a floor, exerts pressure on the floor, and returning, pushes air upwards.  Like a catapult weapon in the Middle Ages.  Or when a lover gingerly takes a handful of just-washed hair to pull, grabbing hard, and feels the taut snap back.  In Physics, Newton’s third law of motion states taught that with any action, comes an equal and opposite reaction.

Manifest Destiny, in quest of its pride, and of its less preferable characteristics, have brought cultures to the brink of extinction across the world, unable to adhere to the law of motion of equality how it’s seen in the social sense.  In recent history: the Koreans and Japanese; the Turks and the Armenians; the Nazis and the Jews; the Tutsi and the Hutu; the English and the South Asian Indians; the Catholics and the Hugenots; and sadly, this list is in no way comprehensive.  This is how it works– one nation that pulls up in power, will push another down, like a Newtonian bouncing ball.  At the height of British power, there was a saying: the sun never sets on the British Empire.

There is a man in class; he is middle aged and from Spain.  I am not sure how long he’s been in the states, but he speaks with such a vitriolic hate towards America, the government, the bureaucracy, the people, that I wonder why he’s here.

Maybe he is unaware, or has not accepted, that everything is dichotomous, like Newton’s law– bad parts come with the good– and nothing is perfect.

(but, if it were– I’d like to be equal parts-scathingly gorgeous equal parts-tart equal parts-intellectual equal parts-devastatingly amazing writer whose only real obligations are to drink coffee, read, and write.)

American Manifest Destiny, popularized by the Monroe Doctrine and implemented through free land, pushed settlers in and Indians out.  For the destruction of the native North American peoples, the decimation of their culture and population, degradation of culture and segregation on reservations, let them have casinos.  As many as they want.  Because celebrating their destruction by later instituting a defunct celebratory October holiday, is never appropriate.

A parasitic relationship that brought measles, smallpox, and influenza to North America, killing millions, while taking the native tomato back to Europe.  Imagine, the rich history of Italian disjointed political entities from a civilization thousands of years old that spanned the enormity of the known world and spread Christianity, and later, the birthplace of the Renaissance– with only white pasta, white pizzas.  The New World discovered disease, and as a opposite reaction, the Old World discovered tomatoes, and created some of the tastiest dishes in the world.

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Fixation.

A tribe of indigenous people lives in the Amazon as they have for the past hundreds—maybe thousand—years.  They were under the radar of the lost Chinese naval fleets in the 15th century, Spanish conquistadors and disease, Christian missionaries and Jesus.  Not too extraordinary or fascinating in the age of mass media; we like to think we’re familiar with their lives, while whispering to each other about their exotic and barbarian culture and habits, studying naked breasts in National Geographic.   Except these people are like none other in the world due to their exquisite lack of language.  No fixed words for numbers over two, or colors, or references to anything beyond the immediate past.

French, once a worldwide language, has been taken over by English for use in official norms.  Soon enough, Chinese will take its place.  As for now, the English language adequately suffices in its ability to convey any meaning down to the microscopic point of deriving our message, clarifying our delivery, and conveying our background.  Specificity is the rule rather than the exception, and if I’d like a burgundy glove in lieu of a maroon mitten, that wish will not be misunderstood– we’d expect to think.

George Orwell, wrote in his famous novel, 1984— now a standard high school literary requirement–  about semantics.  He did not scribe the actual word “semantics”, but with this possession of the English language that has more words than any other language, that wasn’t necessary.  For when there is a plethora of choice, dubious decisions are made. And so in 1984, a concept was spread through Orwellian prose.

Doublespeak–  to convey a meaning contrary to words actually uttered.  Have you once had the misfortune of speaking to someone who seemed as if he understood you, and superficially seemed in agreement, empathizing wholeheartedly, only to realize later he is a polite Contrarian?  This is doublespeak.

So for the tribe living roughly untouched in the Amazon, their lives are untouched by Doublespeak, by lack of premise and guise.  No names for colors and no anxieties of getting shot for wearing blue.  No numbers to tally wealth for class struggle and personal finance.  No references for the past to hold long grudges like the the Palestinian–Israel conflict that began with a jealous feud between the mothers of Ishmael and Isaac.

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Drinking and Burning

See, it’s like this.  You think that things are behind and beyond you, that you’ve changed so much and you no longer like the things you once lived for, but all it takes it just half an hour with your college buddies, your drinking friends, those unquestionably bad influences to drag you down into the gutter again to revert you back to your old ways.  Competitive drinking has suddenly made a comeback in your life.  So while a six ounce plastic cup of Stella spills from your glossed lips onto the front of your dress, just think, I have to win.

Do you understand?

It’s frightening, isn’t it, that the anchor isn’t as grounded as you believed or hoped.   How shockingly simply easy it is to go back to old life.

I’ve got blotches on my body.  Skin in patches of alcoholic red and white.  I’d hope to think they’re just really amorphous hearts.
And you sit at home, reflecting how much you adore your love’s beautiful face.

If I fell underneath a bridge would you catch me?
If I were any less would you love me?
And so on.

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