Archives for November 2006

Dept. of Rejected New Yorker Cartoons

This one is mostly First Son’s; I just gave it a lil’ tweak:

Two office employees standing by the water cooler, watching as a janitor walks past pushing a wheelbarrow full of suggestion boxes.

Caption: “I guess the boss finally made a suggestion.”

The Cynic Librarian

now has the first issue of the Kierkegaard Carnival online.

Poetry Corner

The Polygamist Speaks In His Own Defense

The plural of mouse is mice
The plural of spouse is spice.


A friend passed this along. It’s taken from Beggars for Heaven, a bio of the Maritains. Someone was scandalized by a writer’s portrayal of Joan of Arc. Jacques Maritain responded in the writer’s defense:

…”[the critic] has no idea of the spiritual war that is being waged beneath the external signs of artistic agitation. There are some Catholics laboring on frontiers that do not appear on his geographical maps; they only ask their brothers not to shoot them in the back.”

Jar Jar’s Mistake…

…is just one of the exciting titles in the Jedi Readers Step 1 series! Scenes from the Star Wars movies, lovingly illustrated and re-presented as helpful lessons for young readers! In this delightful book, Jar Jar takes a frog hanging from a market stall and begins to slurp it down, only to have the shop owner assault him for stealing! Jar Jar loses the frog, and it lands in Sebulba’s soup. What a mess! Sebulba is angry, and prepares to punish Jar Jar. Just then, Jar Jar’s friend Anakin steps in and reminds Sebulba that “‘Jar Jar is a friend of the Hutts.’ The Hutts are bigger and meaner than Sebulba. Now Sebulba is afraid!” What an excellent lesson. When dealing with bullies, it helps to have a bigger bully on your side. After learning a lesson like this, kids are better prepared for prison life!

Of course, Anakin has some advice for our friend: “Be less afraid. Bullies pick on those who are afraid.” And since Jar Jar has the Hutts on his side, he needn’t be afraid any more! Hooray for the Hutts! (Do they have a title on Jabba’s fondness for bloodsport and metal bikinis?)

(Nota Bene: The Wife is not to be criticized for her library book selections. She’s working on the fly, and she brings home a remarkable number of winners. She grabbed this one because the kids do love them some Jar Jar Star Wars hijinks…)

Notes for a Novel I Never Managed to Write


The Continual Feast


Jeremiah Hezekiah Claiborne: Youngest of the Claiborne brothers (21, born in Nepal in 1976), resident of South Bend, WA, where he has lived since leaving college shortly after beginning his Junior year; sometime fishing boat worker, logger, bartender at the World’s End Tavern, artist, poet; lives in a studio apartment overlooking Willapa Harbor (the apartment is one of three apartments making up the second floor of a house, the first floor of which is occupied by the Mudds, the family of four who own the house; the other two apartments are inhabited by (1) Patrick Welt, an odd, (mildly autistic?) chess-playing Catholic lad who just purchased a cheap organ and is taking organ lessons and (2) Joe, a fireman who spends most of his time either at the fire station or at his girlfriend’s and so is rarely seen by Jeremiah. Jeremiah stands just under six foot, has an athletic build, black hair, sports a beard in winter which he shaves off each April Fool’s Day, suffers from Seasonal depression in the winter and tends to exist in a semi-hibernative state from late November through early February. He has been seeing Delia Swan since Sophomore year of college and is deeply in love and lust with her. They fornicate often and with abandon. Jeremiah writes erotic sonnets to her and paints images of her. He is building a treehouse in a secret place in the woods. Jeremiah vaguely believes in the God of his father (Luther, a Lutheran minister), but combines this with a kind of nature-boy zest for life, beatnik romanticism of the road, and a zen eschewing of definitions. He studies Karatedo at a dojo in Aberdeen and reads books about Zen and such. Occasionally he golfs with his uncle William Claiborne who was once a Hanford engineer and is now an Episcopalian priest in Aberdeen. Jeremiah’s mother, Elizabeth, died when he was 3 years old — of a wasp sting in Nepal, where she and Luther and were missionaries for five years. Of his two elder brothers, Jeremiah is closest to Calvin (the middle brother, with whom he occasionally gets into trouble). His eldest brother, George, is somewhat aloof, although they have occasions of connectedness and brotherly affection.

Delia Meria Swan. Attended college with Jeremiah in Walla Walla; is from Aberdeen, where her mother works in law enforcement. Her father is absent, in Seattle somewhere (has been since she was 5; she still has the book he was reading her when he left, marked where he left off). Delia is taking a year’s leave-of-absence from college (whereas Jeremiah simply dropped out and has no intention of returning), living in her old room in the basement, in constant semi-hysterical conflict with her mother and her mother’s alcoholic boyfriend, Hank; works as a waitress at the Red Apple, hacks around the Internet at night, often stays with Jeremiah for days at a time. Is embarrassed to be living in such a backwater; wants to live a comfortable, elegant life somewhere after the fashion of Beverly Hills 90210 (her favorite TV show); she is conflicted though: in love with Jeremiah but strong misgivings about whether he will provide the life she wants.

Calvin Coolidge Claiborne. The middle of the three brothers (26); English instructor at Snohomish River Community College; a tall, dark-haired, engagingly derisive fellow, his name is the result of his father’s whimsy and sense of family history (Luther the father of Calvin; but also Calvin Coolidge was his great great uncle). He has been at SRCC since completing his MA at the University of Washington at the early age of 20 (having entered college at 16, obtained a BA at 19 followed by one year of graduate study). He is married to but recently separated from Estelle Savoy, who once attended his College Writing 101 course. They have a five-year-old son named Sid who stays with Calvin on weekends. Calvin is an atheist but believes the coherence of Christianity and western civilization in general is superior to eastern murkiness. He understands and admires his father’s and elder brother’s beliefs, but doesnt believe. He is scandalized and chagrined over Estelle’s belief that Sid is the reincarnation of a Tibetan lama. He also has violent impulses towards Terrence, Estelle’s Buddhism-teacher with whom she is probably having an affair.

Estelle Louise Savoy Claiborne. Calvin’s estranged wife; 30 years old. Gave up a life of drugs and porn movies (her moniker was “Starr 69” and she still is sometimes called by the nickname “Star”), joined AA, turned her life around, moved to from L.A. to Seattle, ended up in Everett, enrolled in courses at SRCC where she met Calvin during his first year of teaching, got pregnant by Calvin whereupon Luther was called upon to perform a wedding ceremony. During the pregnancy she attended a lecture given by Terrence McBride, an Irishman Buddhist, on “Christianity as Buddhism” and was so taken with his Irish brogue and exotic ideas that she began to take private instruction in “breathing and meditation” from him. Became convinced, due to dreams and prophetic correspondences, that the child inside her wd be the reincarnation of a great Tibetan lama who had died earlier that year. Calvin’s intransigence on this point, his unwillingness to take it seriously, has led Estelle to leave him and even to consider an affair with Terrence (her pride and dignity, which are highly developed, have thus far prevented her from succumbing to Terrence’s advances, however). She is considering taking Sid to a monastery in Nepal, where he will receive training appropriate to his destiny as a lama. Coincidentally, the monastery is near the same village where Calvin spent part of his childhood.

Siddhartha Francis Claiborne. 5 year old son of Calvin and Estelle. Likes Power Rangers, Bill Nye the Science Guy, hot wheels and model rockets. Has an entrepreneurial sensibility, is always scheming how to make money; e.g. selling seeds, lemonade stand, selling rocks. Estelle is teaching him to recite mantras and be kind to insects. Calvin is teaching him to play baseball.

George Washington Claiborne. Eldest of the brothers (30). A monk at St. Albert’s, a Benedictine abbey Near White Bluffs, WA and the Hanford nuclear site. George and several other of the monks (some of them former Hanford scientists) have formed an apostolate whereby they subcontract themselves as information specialists for the other groups working on the Hanford clean-up (in effect, they are the librarians of the clean-up effort). The monastery also has a vineyard and a cherry orchard. The monks also operate a jet-boat tour of the Hanford Reach. There is a legend of gold buried somewhere on the abbey grounds from the days when the wagon train line brought in gold from Montana to ship by riverboat from White Bluffs to Portland.

Luther Paul Claiborne. The father of Jeremiah, Calvin and George, a 58 year old Lutheran minister and widower since 1979, when his wife Elizabeth died of a toxic reaction to a wasp sting during their fifth year of missionary work in Nepal. At that time, Luther returned to the states with his three young sons and took up residence in Coeur d’Alene, ID, where he has been a pastor at Lord of Life Lutheran Church since 1980. A gruffly humorous bear of a man who holds dear the memory of his wife but doesn’t let grief slow him down. The truth is he’s a bit frenetic and could stand to slow down. Lately he has been spearheading an effort to establish a “Human Rights” collection at the local library (focusing on holocaust information) and has been receiving threatening calls from the local neo-nazi contingent.

John Peregrine Smith. Mysterious resident of Coeur d’Alene, professor of Philosophy at Gonzaga University, Internet enthusiast, dialectition, Jew? Christian? He is secretly involved in the activities of a white militia group in North Idaho but it is unclear whether he is merely trying to stir up trouble or whether he earnestly espouses the anti-federal dogma of the group.


The Feast of Corpus Christi (May 29)

Jeremiah Claiborne lived upstairs from the Mudds. His was one of three studio apartments which occupied the upper floor of the house. Mr. Mudd was an electrician whose free time was devoted to the use of metal detector and shovel to hunt for buried treasures. Mrs. Mudd was a Mary Kay representative who drove a pink Honda Civic which she hoped someday to upgrade to a pink Cadillac.

One morning in May, Jeremiah looked out his window and saw Mrs. Mudd speeding away in her pink Honda. He had been stirred from his late-morning sleep by enraged shrieks which shaped themselves into a distinctly female hand with vivid pink fingernails clawing at the cerebral chalkboard of Jeremiah’s dream. When he sat up in his couch-bed and looked out the window, the pink Honda was halfway down the block and Mr. Mudd and the two young muddlings were standing in the yard looking sullen and stunned. Mr. Mudd was leaning on a shovel and had evidently been digging a hole in the middle of Mrs. Mudd’s rose garden, and the two children were astride their bicycles, helmets askew and looking like someone had just let the air out of their tires.

In the distance, down the hill towards the Willipa River and the harbor beyond, piles of oyster shells glistened in the sun under a sky so fair Jeremiah spontaneously entertained a vision of Aphrodite standing atop the shells, her long locks making cloudy wisps against the blue sky. Then he imagined her stubbing her toe on the sharp shells and looking up at Jeremiah, saying, “Get me off this damn pile of shells! I don’t want to play Aphrodite anymore.” The goddess had become his girlfriend Delia. Jeremiah thought perhaps he would paint her picture that way sometime. He had already painted Delia, or at least sketched her in his mind’s eye, as various and sundry goddesses, nymphs, whores, moviestars and

If I Had One Wish…

…I think I’d wish for the Christian story to be true – just to make sure…

The Lappy

So the laptop, the one I bought (albeit used) so that I could run OSX, so that I could have a pretty lil’ website and run Blogger and develop my platform for my soon-to-be breakout bestselling little book? Yeah…there’s duct tape holding the power cord together. A black binder clip is keeping the screen casing from splitting at the seam. One of the hinges rattles with unnerving freedom from any apparent mooring. Thanks to a very funny comment from The Wife, I now have to try very, very hard not to see this as a metaphor for the ol’ literary career…

The Wife Has a New Favorite Thing…

After her fifth time watching this, she said, “I want to be Stephen Colbert’s friend.”

John Gardner a Fake?

I haven’t read enough Gardner to confirm this, but I suspect this fellow (John Crowley) is onto something. For me the first sign of Gardner’s going awry was that he slammed Percy’s Lancelot for failing to be a “moral” book.

John Gardner was, in fact, a fake. He was a terrible immoralist who dared to write a book called “On Moral Fiction”, and despite my general agreement with JM about writers sometimes writing against the person they are, that wasn’t a novel, it was a screed. It’s actually my belief that John Gardner sold his soul to the Devil (this would, actually make a fine story, which I don’t care to write). My first intimations of something wrong came when I saw that The Sunlight Dialogues first appeared in a gorgeous edition with illustrations. Who gets illustrations in common literary fiction? Then in a bus station in Indianapolis I found on the paperback rack a copy of his multi-thousand-line epic poem “Jason and Medea.” A mass market paperback? In a bus station? Who made that deal, I’d like to know? Then there was his successful descent into sloth, alcoholism, and self indulgence, a repellent figure who nonetheless got any woman he looked at, apparently, sometimes more than one at once–well it was the times, I guess, but then those huge unreadable books kept piling up, hypnotized editors continuing to publish them; he plagiarizes half his book about Chaucer and gets away with what’s ruined many a rep; continues admired, honored, even revered, and then came that dark night on the lonely road in the woods when his contract was up… How’s that for a Secret History?

Read more.

“The Northerner is at heart a pornographer. He is an abstract mind with a genital attached. His soul is at Harvard, a large abstract locked-in sterile university whose motto is truth but which has not discovered an important truth in a hundred years. His body lives on Forty-second Street. Do you think there is no relation between Harvard and Forty-second Street? One is the backside of the other.”

Today in Porn, Humanizing Edition

Rod Dreher recalls an encounter or two with Al Goldstein:

“I had to look at copies of Screw for research, and it was probably the most repulsive, degrading thing I’ve ever seen. It was utterly despicable, and without the least redeeming merit. Yet I was genuinely startled by how much I pitied Goldstein — I mean, really pitied him, not in a sneering, condescending way. I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who was such a black hole of raw emotional need. Nor have I ever met anyone who so plainly despised himself — or in whom self-loathing manifested itself so strangely. When he talked about his son, Jordan (that he would give his son that kind of name tells us a lot), doing well at Georgetown, he got tears in his eyes. He was, as I recall, estranged from his son at the time, and if memory serves, felt acutely that his boy was ashamed of his old man. And Goldstein thought the boy should be ashamed of him … and yet he loved that kid ferociously. What a sad, complicated man.”


“And then while the hooded-eyed ex-pimp checks the till against receipts, hunched at his table and oblivious to all else, the black scrubbers and sweepers and stackers move about their tasks, pausing often, wooden handles held in work-hardened hands, to watch these young men play purely for each other, laughing joyously between solos, at teh ends of numbers, shaking their heads in admiration at some high flight – Armstrong’s pyrotechnic brilliance balanced by Bix’s melodic mellowness – oblivious to the hood in the corner making the count, to the whole hooded empire of which this is a part, of which they themselves are interchangeable, easily disposable parts.”

– from 1929: A Novel of the Jazz Age by Frederick Turner

Onan Goes Onscreen

And no, we’re not discussing Borat…

Barb liked Little Children a lot more than some people:

“Little Children goes way beyond In the Bedroom in looking at sin as the native human disease that afflicts us all in varying degrees. In the film, sin manifests itself as immaturity and all the action in the film proceeds out of the mainly adult characters acting like, well, little children, who play with their seven deadly toys, like toddlers with a set of colorful plastic keys. Some of the adult children in the movie play with more harmful, scandalous toys than others, but the basic point of view here is the omniscient which watches all of the silliness with the same compassion.”

“Some people” in that earlier sentence being my man here at the day job, for whom the “omniscient” is merely “smarty-pants.” But while Barb worries about the rather explciit sex onscreen, Duncan gets charmingly particular:

“To have three separate male characters masturbate on screen on three separate occasions must set some sort of record.”

Hoo! (Yes, I’ll be seeing this one anyway. And averting my eyes for the coupling.)

From the Video Music Archives II

Björk Guðmundsdóttir’s Unravel was released on her third album Homogenic in 1997, but neither as single nor video. Which is strange, since to my ears it’s one of the most haunting love songs ever written. A lot of other people thought so, too, and all this demand led to the Vespertine-style video released with a collection of her greatest hits in 2003 or 2004. And what a video it is. It begins with what could be yarn, though perhaps a tad gossamery for knitting. Smoke maybe? And then we have Björk’s head, possibly with some of that same stuff (whatever it is) tied up in her hair. And then we see that she is hunched up, rocking back and forth, with … something on her back, but … er … hmm. Well … um … could be a Tribble, maybe. Or maybe the white stuff is smoke, and it’s an ash tray. Or maybe … ah … vaguely, um, sexual … but I’m really not sure. Wouldn’t want to go out on limb here. And then there’s that other big thing, which also looks like a back, thrashing about, with a lot more of that white stuff – plenty of white stuff all over the place, being collected and whatnot. With a grin. Hmm. In short, I have no idea what the hell is going on here. But it’s a great song. Diminished, somewhat, perhaps, by the video. But haunting.

And here is a lovely version of the song performed live at the Riverside Church. And if you wondered whether some of her incredible vocal effects were produced with the magic of studio electronics, here she is in the famous Swan Dress performing live in Japan. Incredible.

While you are away/My heart comes undone/Slowly unravels/In a ball of yarn/The devil collects it/With a grin/Our love/In a ball of yarn/He’ll never return it/So when you come back/We’ll have to make new love/He’ll never return it/When you come back/We’ll have to make new love/While you are away/My heart comes undone/Slowly unravels/In a ball of yarn/The devil collects it/With a grin/Our love, our love,/In a ball of yarn/He’ll never return it/When you come back/We’ll have to make new love

A lil’ something something for the crunchies…

Our Daily Bread, the movie:

“In his superb documentary ‘Our Daily Bread’ the Austrian filmmaker Nikolaus Geyrhalter does exactly what Mr. Pollan proposes: he looks. Much like ‘The Omnivore’s Dilemma,’ and much like Eric Schlosser’s book and Richard Linklater’s film of ‘Fast Food Nation,’ this documentary is an unblinking, often disturbing look at industrial food production from field to factory. Mr. Geyrhalter has said that he is fascinated by ‘zones and areas people normally don’t see.’ His fascination is our gain. ‘Our Daily Bread’ can be extremely difficult to watch, but the film’s formal elegance, moral underpinning and intellectually stimulating point of view also make it essential. You are what you eat; as it happens, you are also what you dare to watch.”


Remarkably restrained piece in the NYT:

“In states with the most permissive regulations — many of them in the Midwest, including Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Michigan and Nebraska — the idea of unschooling has flourished in recent years, with families forming online communities, neighborhood-based support groups and social networks for their children.

Members of such organizations form a united front against sometimes fierce criticism from outsiders.

‘When you are in a subculture of a subculture, you often get painted as the freak family,’ Ms. Tucker said, ‘and people believe that what the expert says is true, instead of thinking the alternative viewpoint portrayed has some merit.’

Ms. Walter, a natural-childbirth instructor, has had to assuage tense feeling from some of her peers.

‘Sometimes people take it personally, like, “Oh, school’s not good enough for you?”‘ she said. ‘No, no. It’s just that this is what works for our family.'”


Me: First Daughter, you are a clever and beautiful girl, and I love you very much.

First Daughter: Well, what’s the cleverness about me?

Me: That’s a very clever question.