Archive for April, 2008

earthquake!

Interesting experience this morning. Got up to pee around 4:30 this morning, went back to bed and snuggled in. Laying there trying to get back to sleep, I heard the roof creak. This isn’t unusual. It creeks occasionally when it’s windy, and I knew that we have been expecting some rain sooner or later, so thought that maybe the rain had started.

Suddenly every hair on my body stood on end. If I ever thought I had spider-sense, this would have proven it. It was like my body went on instant, total alert. Next, a book on my bookshelf fell over, which freaked me out a bit more. I laid there telling myself that I was being wacky, and trying to get my adrenalin back to normal levels. It took me several minutes to calm down, but then my body started running hot and cold and I couldn’t get comfortable. I finally managed to drift in and out of sleep until the alarm went off at 5:20.

Hit the snooze button once, got up at 5:30 to go take my shower, and what do I hear on the news? We had an earthquake downstate at 4:37, and it was felt in our area.

I’ll have to admit, I did not consciously feel the earthquake – not one jiggle or shake – but I instantly knew that was what I had experienced. It amazes me that my body reacted to a stimulus that I could not recognize at the time. Sure, I heard the roof creak and the book fell over, but those are not uncommon things to have happen. If this is how animals can seem to sense an earthquake, I can totally understand it.

memories of a literary nature

I was just reading some poetry online and I suddenly had a flash of memory – a card game called “Authors.” I don’t know that I ever played the game, and I don’t remember the game being around my house when I was growing up. Nevertheless, I do remember the game cards and they bring back fond memories for some reason. Perhaps a relative or a neighbor had the game and I used to play with the cards when I visited.

I know that my first exposure to the names of several authors came from that game. Trying to send my mind back to that long-forgotten memory, I recall that the names seemed unfamiliar, and yet important; names like Longfellow, Tennyson, Hawthorne, Dickens and Cooper – thirteen names in all. Perhaps this card game was a forgotten inspiration for my love of reading and writing.

I have four other memories regarding literature that have meaning to me, or at least that’s all I can recall at this moment. The first one is sometime when I was in later grade school, perhaps fifth or sixth grade. I recall my mother (perhaps it was both of my parents, but more likely just my mother) taking me to the town library. I don’t know if it was the first time I was at the library or not, but it may have been. All I really recall is feeling very happy about having checked out a book, and it was not some “kid” book. I wish I could remember the title, but that memory is just a shade too foggy.

Another memory is the book fairs we had in grade school. I believe it was Scholastic Books that used to run these (this would have been back in the early 1960’s) and it appears that they are still doing so. I remember all the books, and wanting to have so many of them. My parents were not able to afford a lot of books, but I never went home empty handed.

The third memory is of one of my junior high school English teacher. I wish I could remember his name more clearly – perhaps Mr. Whitmer? (Ellis Junior High School, Elgin, Illinois). He was the first teacher I had (and perhaps the only one) that made English fun. My peak experience was when he read The Cremation of Sam McGee, by Robert Service, out loud to the class. It was at that point that I decided I wanted to be a poet. It was years of poetry writing later before I finally laid that pen down with the realization that I didn’t have the chops to cut it as a poet, but even still, an occasional line or two runs through my head accompanied by the urge to write them down.

My last memory is also from junior high school. It is where I discovered Robert Heinlein. The Door Into Summer was a seminal book for me – it sucked me into the world of science fiction, but more importantly, it introduced me to Heinlein. He was no small influence in the development of my own personal life philosophy, along with Ayn Rand at a later date.

In college I struggled to figure out what my major should be. I think my first major may have been Theology, later followed by Chemistry, and my final farewell from college saw me enrolled as an English major. Out of all the possible majors I considered, English was where I felt most at home. Unfortunately, I ran out of time, money and enthusiasm for college, so I’ll never know where an English major would have lead. I know that I questioned the usefulness of that major at the time, too. In hind site, I wish that I had followed that path, but you make your choices and you live by those choices.

Good memories. I wish I could remember more, and remember them more clearly, but that was never my strong suit. Guess I should just be making good memories now, eh?

The Dogs of Bedlam Farm – by Jon Katz

I think this author is crazier than I am. I guess we all go through our mid-life crisis in a different way, and I have to admit that I admire Mr. Katz for having the guts to follow his passion. I wish I had done so earlier in my life. If you like Border Collies and crazy old back-to-the-lander dog lovers, you’ll like this book.

(Finished 4/13/08)

personal histories

I went to check on my father’s house today. The house has been on the market for about a year and a half, with no real serious offers. My brother and I alternate weekends checking on the place – flushing toilets and turning faucets on and off to make sure all are functional and traps are not drying out.

My father passed away in December, 2006, and my mother back in 2000. Still, every time I walk into their house I expect to see them there and can almost hear their voices. It’s a rare visit that doesn’t find a tear or two in my eye. I miss them terribly.

Worse yet, I miss their memories. No, not the memory of them, but their memories of things past. I never took enough time to talk with them about their past, and things that I try to recall from my childhood are way too dim and need to be supplemented by their memories of the same event. I suppose that a lot of people feel this way after their parents pass away, but the loss of all that history really saddens me.

I guess that blogging can be seen as a bit of a narcissistic pursuit, but it also can have a great value. As I write down my thoughts in this blog and other places, I am aware that I am creating a history of my life. I know that the general public doesn’t really care. Hell, why should they? They all have their own personal history to deal with. However, perhaps some day after I’m gone, my son or other ancestor might find my ramblings interesting, or at least may fill in some gaps in their own personal histories.

Actually, I do find other people’s lives interesting. I have found more than one journal that has been published online that has kept me glued to the monitor. They are not exciting lives of important people, but rather tales of every day events in an ordinary life. But those tales are of a different time, and a different place, and I find it fascinating to be able to see the world through the eyes of those journal writers. After all, we all have stories to tell.

mouse as metaphor

We seem to have a bit of a mouse problem at work. I’m not sure why right now – maybe it’s the change of seasons. Normally that is a problem in the fall when mice want to come inside, but maybe they are trying to find their way outside now. In any event, the mice are bold enough that people are seeing them running hither and yon throughout the office.

I hadn’t seen any myself until today. A fellow employee was standing by my office door talking with me when suddenly he pointed at something. He had seen a mouse running down the hall towards him and when he pointed at the mouse, it took a sudden turn into the office right before mine.

The guy I was talking with ran into that office to see if he could find the mouse and I heard a bunch of crashing and banging. I asked, “Did you get it?” He said, “No, but it’s right here.” I went out into the hallway to see what he was talking about and just as I stepped out, the mouse came running out of the office along the hallway wall toward me.

I’m sorry, but even though I know they are little vermin that don’t belong in buildings, I could not bring myself to stomp the little guy, but I did block him and he headed back the other way. Unfortunately for him, not everyone feels the same way I do. My fellow employee neatly stomped the mouse to death with his steel-toed work boots.

The mouse laid there on his back, with his little feet twitching in the air. Poor little guy. Mr. Stomper got called away and I went and got a paper towel with which to pick up the mouse. When I got back, he was still, and quite dead. I picked up his soft, warm, furry little body, wrapped it in the paper towel and put him in the garbage can. One mouse down, who knows how many to go?

I do not want mice in my house and I will poison and trap them as needed. Mice are cute, but only in cages and the movies. But the speed with which that little life was snuffed out kind of shocked me. Boom! All over in an instant. That foot had his name on it.

When I think about how cavalierly some people treat a human life, it disturbs me greatly. Following the train of thought from my last post, there is something terribly wrong with a culture that values a human life as cheaply as a mouse’s life. I do not know how to fix it, but somehow we need to change the “law of the jungle” kind of thinking into something rational and civilized.

It seems that, as a society, we are becoming more violent. It is no longer just boys who join the gangs and kill each other. Girls are following in the same footsteps. We create games where the goal is to kill as many people as possible. Movies are as violently graphic as they can be. Television promotes “extreme fighting” as acceptable and desirable behavior, something to be admired. Song lyrics promote the ideals of killing, cheating and disrespecting others.

Somewhere along the way we have to either reverse this trend, or we are going to have to build prisons that will house many times the current number of offenders. Worse yet, we will become prisoners in our own homes.

a society in peril

There is an interesting juxtaposition of news stories today. In Chicago, a student rally is planned at the James R. Thompson Center in Chicago where some State of Illinois offices are located. The students are urging lawmakers to enact stiffer gun laws in response to several recent shooting deaths of high school students.

Also today, an organization called America’s Promise Alliance released a report regarding high school graduation rates in this country. In the Chicago metropolitan area, only 51.5 percent of enrolling students graduated in the 2003-2004 school year. Barely half of the students made it through all four years.

I think that the students rallying for stronger gun laws ought to be rethinking their position. The problem is not guns, it is the culture in which those students are growing up. The ludicrously low graduation rate combined with the high level of gang violence is indicative of a society in deep peril, and not from guns – objects that can do nothing of their own volition.

Mayor Daly of Chicago is constantly harping on the need for stronger gun control laws. This is nothing more than a specious canard, as the gangbangers committing these murders are already breaking several gun laws. While he may actually believe that more gun laws would be effective, it appears to be more an attempt to point the finger away from the failure of his administration and Chicago law enforcement to have any effect on gang violence.

And that is the phrase that should be used – “gang violence.” Every time I hear someone use the phrase “gun violence” I know that they are making excuses for the hands holding those guns. Again, a gun cannot commit violence. Only a human being is capable of that.

There is a rot developing in our society. We are moving away from reason and rational thought towards emotionalism and whim. We are moving away from personal responsibility towards the expectation that someone or something else is at fault for our lot in life. We are moving away from self-improvement, self-determination and self-respect towards demanding that special allowances be made, and undeserved recognition be given, based merely upon our claim that it is only “fair” to do so.

Until the cultures in which these people are growing up change from within, nothing will change. Until the people living with this kind of violence give full and unconditional support to the elimination of such violence, nothing will change. Until people quit expecting their problems to be handled by someone else, nothing will change.

This is not a simple problem that will be cured with simplistic solutions.