Friday, September 30, 2011

Art, Order, Meaning

There is something so compelling, humorous, and startling about these photos.  They make me think about meaning in a new way. Take a looksee.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

"Every world spins in pain"

Today I'm watching my cat die from kidney disease. He's hurting and nauseated. Hiding it admirably well, even by feline standards.

I'm reminded of a quote from Terry Pratchett:

"I have told this to few people, gentlemen, and I suspect never will again, but one day when I was a young boy on holiday in Uberwald I was walking along the bank of a stream when I saw a mother otter with her cubs. A very endearing sight, I'm sure you will agree, and even as I watched, the mother otter dived into the water and came up with a plump salmon, which she subdued and dragged on to a half-submerged log.

"As she ate it, while of course it was still alive, the body split and I remember to this day the sweet pinkness of its roes as they spilled out, much to the delight of the baby otters who scrambled over themselves to feed on the delicacy. One of nature's wonders, gentlemen: mother and children dining upon mother and children.

"And that's when I first learned about evil. It is built into the very nature of the universe. Every world spins in pain. If there is any kind of supreme being, I told myself, it is up to all of us to become his moral superior."

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Grab Tight, Learn Lots

"But, on the other hand, Uncle Abner said that the person that had took a bull by the tail once had learnt sixty or seventy times as much as a person that hadn't, and said a person that started in to carry a cat home by the tail was gitting knowledge that was always going to be useful to him, and warn't ever going to grow dim or doubtful."

 -- from Tom Sawyer Abroad by Mark Twain, (aka Samuel Clemens, 1894)

And that, my friends, is what Mr. Twain actually wrote. Not "A man who grabs a cat by the tail learns something he never forgets" which, while more succinct, is not what the man said.

So there.

But does it really matter what he exactly said? I have fallen prey to the idea that an accurate and direct quote means more, but a moment's reflection shows that to be absurd; language is always evolving, so why shouldn't the wisdom built of it likewise evolve?


All right, then.  I'll try my hand at this.

"She who grabs a cat's tail tightly learns something she is unlikely to forget."

Or even:

"He who grabs an unwilling cat will remember the lesson."

Not bad. Now I think I'll go try it and see if it's true.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Witnessing Hell

I just watched a reconstruction and a documentary of 9/11. I didn't expect to spend 3 hours on this, but that's what I did.

I started with 9/11 De-Edited, Reconstructed & Synchronized, an hour and forty-five minutes of various coverage. The documentarists gathered all the news and video sources they could find, from dozens of sources, and synchronized them each passing second, presenting the entity without comment or opinion. Powerful stuff.

For some reason I felt I had to watch this whole thing. Not to try to make sense of it -- that's beyond me. Not to see falling people and wonder what it must be like to jump from a burning building to sure death. As one firefighter asked, "How bad is it up there that the better option is to jump?" Later someone says "it was raining bodies."

I watched because of my own need to have compassion, to witness tragedy so that maybe those who suffered, those who died can, however distantly, have had one more human being in their company.

On one of the top, burning and smoking floors I saw someone waving something white from a window. I can imagine them thinking that maybe somehow someone could still save them. I can imagine them thinking: "please don't let me die alone here, with no one caring."

We all die alone, whether on a bed or a morning jog or when we hit the ground from 70 stories up. Not much anyone can do about that. But just like ten years ago when it happened, I feel like I have to do something.

So I watch. I witness. I care. That much I can do.

Then I watched 9/11 Documentary (The Naudet Brothers), which gives amazing in-building and on-street views of the firefighters inside the building and on the street. This is a documentary, with high-quality filming, so you can see a lot of detail. I felt like I was there. The expressions on the firefighters' faces, the eyes of people on the street. The aftermath.

In retrospect, the firefighter crew's initial confidence is astonishing. But then again, is it? We do what we've always done, day in and day out, because it's what we know. I've seen disasters unfold and they always start just like the non-disaster version of things. You have to deviate from what you expect, and that's hard to do until you're sure. You have to recognize the world has shifted. You have to do something you've never done before, which is hard.

Ten years later, 9/11 is still shocking, outrageous. All the unanswered questions about what really happened and who was really responsible don't change that people's lives turned to dust and ash that day.

What happened? "Hell is what happened," said someone. It's worth remembering that hell happens to someone on this earth every day. And even if we can do nothing else, we can have compassion, we can be witnesses, we can care.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Hugs and Kisses from Death Valley

A funny thing happened to me when I slept in the high desert of Death Valley last week...

I saw one of these...

...and I heard the song of crickets, as never ever before...

...and a strong, sweetly scented, laughing breeze nuzzled my face and played with my hair...

...and I understood that "Death Valley" is a noun, not a verb; that sometimes it is harder to look at a thing than to be afraid of it; that magic comes in many forms.

xxoo, as they say.