Friday, November 30, 2012

Maybe We Just Weren't Conservative Enough

I've been reading This Modern World for years.  I love this guy and I'll include a link to this and many other wonderful comics.  Read this stuff.  Buy these products.  Laugh out loud.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Jacob's Ladder Part 3

Here is the final installment of a little experimental story I wrote 4 or 5 years ago.  In it, I wanted to write only setting, only motivation - no character development at all.  It is just a guy moving mysteriously through time and space simply trying to survive.  Maybe he is being being punished, living out his existence in a kind of perpetual purgatory.  While each little segment sort of stands on its own, here is part one and here is part two if you want to read the whole thing.

Jacob's Ladder Part 3

He opened his eyes. He was on a large, barren, snowy plane. The sun shone bright in a cloudless blue sky. It dazzled his eyes. He was wearing a leather fringed parka. It was made of animal hide and had a hood of long fur which surrounded his head and face; the long hairs tickled his cheeks.

It was beyond any cold he had ever felt. It stung his nostrils to breathe deeply so he immediately began short shallow breaths. He turned his head, still unable to see any signs of civilization, any sign of life at all. On his hands he wore crude but effective leather mittens. He looked down at the rest of his clothing. All leather skins, all very primitive. His feet were clad in rough leather moccasins. He could feel fur between his toes. He was warm enough but his heat was already dissipating. He wasn’t sure how cold it was but by the way his nostrils froze he knew that it was dangerously cold. These clothes could not protect him for long. It was just a matter of time before he lost too much of his precious body heat.

He had to move or it would be too late. He knew it would increase his circulation to move and therefore keep him warm a little longer. The soft surface snow was up to his ankles. Who knew how deep it was below that? As he looked over the dazzling crystal snow, nothing broke the view all the way to the clear distant horizon. Not a man-made structure, not a tree a bush, or a single blade of grass. There was a strong wind which whipped up the loose snow and blew it across the surface in crystalline waves. However beautiful the scene before him, he knew that the wind was his deadly enemy, robbing his body of the precious heat he needed to survive.

He started to jog; slowly as his fur clothing didn’t give and flex much. His sleeves and pant legs were thick and very rigid. Right away he felt a slight temperature increase inside his furs. But the running also made him breathe harder which stung his nostrils fiercely. So he slowed to a gently, rolling trot.

The steam he exhaled condensed on the fur rim of his hood creating a silvery wreath around his face. The sun was dazzling and tears filled his eyes and overflowed his lower lids. The tears froze instantly on his cheeks. He stopped and rubbed his face with the back of his mitten. The frozen teardrops fell to the ground with a tiny chittering sound. This frightened him. He spit and his saliva froze solid and shattered as it hit the ground. This was cold unlike anything he had ever known. If he did not find shelter – and soon – he would die. This cold was death. Nothing could survive for very long exposed to this temperature.

He began to jog again, pacing himself so he would not breathe too hard. The tip of his nose was numb as were his exposed cheeks. He pulled the hood more tightly closed around his face. As he moved along he felt his forehead go numb. Then his fingertips and toes. Frostbite. He had to keep moving. It was his only hope. He looked behind him and saw that his tracks were roughly in a straight line. His only hope now was to get to shelter, to warmth. He had to move forward, always forward. He might be moving away from people and further into the wilderness of blinding whiteness, but there was nothing else he could do. Forward. All he could do was move one foot, then the other. Always forward.

Seconds turned to minutes. Minutes to hours. A step turned towards hundreds and these to miles. His head throbbed from the glaring ferocity of the sun. The numbness that started in his fingers and toes had spread gradually to his arms and legs. The frost from his frozen exhalations that initially covered his moustache and beard had spread into an icy mask that sheathed his face from his eyebrows and lashes to his chin and throat. The fringe of his hood was a white icy ring encircling his frosted face.

He began to tire. Looking behind him, his footprints went all the way to the horizon. How many steps had he taken? How many miles had he walked? He stopped. Just stopped. What was the point? There was nothing behind him but his own empty footsteps in the slowly drifting snow. Nothing ahead but endless snow. Nothing to be seen anywhere but the lowering sun, dark azure sky and snow – boundless snow. As far as he could see in all directions – snow. Infinite.

He sat. His entire body felt numb, almost warm but he knew that was impossible. He knew he was actually feeling his circulatory system shutting down. What felt curiously like warmth was actually his frozen nerves ending their signals to his brain.

He watched the sunset. Beautiful, he thought. His last sunset. Red. Crimson. There were just a few clouds in the west now, sending brilliant shafts of sunlight and shadow radiating across the sky. Hadn’t he called that “Godlight” sometime in his past? As the sun lowered the blue above darkened to purple. He sat there upright as if in a straight-backed chair. He felt nothing but exhaustion now and even that was fading. A lightness overtook him. He became drowsy, his eyelids heavy. So, this is how it ends. He thought. He fought to keep his eyes open. Fought for those last precious moments, those last few beautiful sights.

Then he lay down on his side and closed his eyes and fell asleep.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

John Sheehan

I knew this guy when I was a kid.  John Sheehan.  He was a good family friend.  In fact, our lives were very entwined - in ways that reached well into my adulthood.

He was a best friend of my parents.  John was an ex-priest and a high school teacher; as selfless a man as I have ever known.  His best friend and roomie also became an ex-priest and, as weird coincidence would have it (or fate or luck), his old roommate married my mom late in her life, after both of them had lost their spouses.  Jim Burns gave my mom some of the happiest days of her life.  John and Jim and my mom remained connected throughout their lives.

I was rooting around in some of the papers left by my mom the other day.  She had several large manilla envelopes marked "KEEPERS".  In it were letters, birth certificates, newspaper clippings, photos - some really cool stuff.

Also tucked away in those mementos were a couple short pieces written by John Sheehan.  I think they came in Christmas letters (which usually came in February or March).  My mom moved around a lot in her later years.  She outlived three husbands.  And every time she moved, her few possessions became more and more distilled.  That's why I know that these poems and the memory of John Sheehan were very important to her.  

This little piece was dated December 6, 2003.  It was written in John's hasty half-cursive-half-manuscript scrawl.  

What we really should do with Saddam Hussein
is not drop bombs on his people
but pull a St. Francis
pelt them with food
and medical supplies
remove the unChristian 
unMuslim sanctions
shame him into humanity
shame Netanyahu into the fullness
of Israel's ancient promise
shame ourselves into 
dropping our worship
of guns and bombs and capital punishment
kiss Mother Earth
and rise to sing
Glory to God in the highest
and lowest
in the greatest and least
of the whole damned
blessed human family

Written around the edges of the simple white sheet of paper were these words.

Sent with love and hope.  Happy holidays, Mardi Gras, Easter and 4th of July...  Forgive us, O Lord, as we forgive.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Jacob's Ladder Part 2

This is the second installment of my little fictional piece called Jacob's Ladder. If you are just checking this out look at my last post for part 1.

Part 2

Pressure. Silence. An ache in his chest. Pounding temples. The need for air. Green light. Swirling. Salty taste in his mouth. He opened his eyes and all the world was a blur. Underwater! Panic. He was out of breath and submerged deep in a world of water. The ocean!

Air! If he did not have air his lungs would implode. He needed to reach the surface within a few moments or he would drown. But which way was up? He was so disoriented that he couldn’t be certain. Were his head and shoulders already pointed in the right direction? No time for thought. He needed to act. He reached up and out with his arms, closed his fingers into fins and scissor-kicked. He prayed he was moving toward the surface.

Steel bands squeezed around his chest. He kicked and stroked again. In a few moments it would be over. In seconds he would have to breath in. He kicked once more with all his strength. He could see faint gray light above. He sensed he was near the surface. If he just hold on. Stars filled his vision. His ears rang. He was blacking out. If he did, he knew it would be over. He reached out one final time, pushed his fingers together for a greater hold on the water…

He burst through the surface with an explosion of exhaled air and a gasp of inward breath. The man sucked in air so violently that he simultaneously breathed in salt water spray. Coughing violently, he nearly put his head underwater again. Treading carefully, he deliberately calmed his aching, searing lungs. He closed his eyes and forced himself to breath slower. To relax.

It took a minute but he gradually got a hold of himself and his panic slowly eased away. Opening his eyes, he rotated his body in a complete circle, scanning the horizon. Water and sky were all he could see. Not land, not a boat, not a seagull or pelican. Only water and sky.

Dazed and confused, he knew he had to move forward. If not, he would surely drown. How long could he last out here treading water? An hour? A day? If he didn’t swim forward, he would simply lose strength and sink. Sink. Like a stone. Which direction should he swim? The sun was directly overhead so he could get no bearing from it. It didn’t matter. He simply had to swim.

Getting horizontal on the water, he reached forward and kicked. His stroke was not strong. He could not move very fast. That wasn’t the point. He just needed to move. He needed something to do; he needed to act, to survive. Even if he didn’t spot land before his strength left him, he might be seen by a craft. No matter. There was no choice. His will to survive was the one single thing he had. To try to survive was his only option. He would not give up. No surrender.

Time slipped into uncertainty. It washed over him like salty waves. Eyes stinging, throat burning, arms and legs aching, stroke after stroke after stroke.

After a while, he didn’t know how long, the burning and aching in his limbs became numbness. His shoulders tingled as if someone were jabbing them with needles. Then his knees, his neck from turning side to side. He knew that he didn’t have much strength left. He knew he didn’t have much time. He kept looking up instinctively monitoring his progress but that was impossible of course. He had nothing to mark where he’d been, how far he’d gone.

Still no land, no boat, no seabird. He swam on until his head was buzzing from exhaustion. His arms and legs felt as heavy as lead. He had so little strength left. Another hundred yards? Another fifty? Another ten strokes. One more stroke. That was it. That was all he had. He stopped pulling himself along in the water and became upright. He could no longer move himself forward but he could keep himself upright.

Again, the seconds turned to minutes and the minutes flowed by endlessly. His strength gradually and completely drained away until he thought he was too weak to even breathe. He knew that he only had moments left but he clung to them tenaciously.

His vision blurred, became fuzzy and gray, as gray as the clouds above. He was about to stop kicking and just let go, sink into the deep. How bad could it be? At least it would be rest. How he longed for rest. Peace. Maybe there would be peace.

He stilled his arms and legs and sank slowly, slowly, still holding his breath. He was still very much afraid but faced the inevitable.

Then a sudden sickening, stinging, scraping sensation against his feet, smashing his toes and tearing his skin, ripping back his toenails. Sandpaper against soft flesh. He woke with a start, came out of his sleep-like trance with a shriek. He burst to the surface gasping once again, coughing. His skin was covered in goose flesh, his hairs stood out on his neck. He wasn’t certain but all he could think was… shark. Was it below, waiting, sensing him, smelling his blood? Was it closing in on him, jaws open, sharp triangular teeth exposed, shooting toward him like a missile? Is this how it would end?

He swam with renewed energy. He was aimless. He was frantic. Knowing that his motions were probably giving the shark a clear target, knowing full well that the end was near. He had to do something. Swimming was all he had left; it was all he could do.

The sky was darkening, he could not see the sun behind the thick, dark, low clouds but it had to be near the horizon. They seemed to be rushing across the late afternoon sky. The brush with the shark had given him a kind of paranoid energy. His swim strokes were erratic and uneven. But he was in no danger of dozing or sinking. Not now.

Then he saw it. It may have been fifty meters away but he could make out the gray triangular form slicing through the surface of the water toward him. It wasn’t moving incredibly fast but its course was directly at him. It was the dorsal fin of a very large shark. It was moving on a slow curving course.

Oddly, he was not afraid now. He would almost embrace the end. He couldn’t hold out much longer anyway. There was no land in sight. He was doomed. As the fin approached, he sucked in a final lung full of air, pulled himself into a tight ball and awaited the end. He hoped it wouldn’t hurt, but he was ready. He hung suspended at the surface of the sea waiting for the jaws that would surely end his life. He waited.

Finally, he could hold his breath no more. His pulse was pounding in his temples and eyes. His lungs were burning. When would the shark attack? Just when he could hold his breath no more he felt something brush his face. It was not the sharp, toothy attack he expected, but light, feathery, tickly…

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Jacob's Ladder Part 1

Here is the first piece of fiction I put on this blog back in 2008. This is something I had been writing in my classroom during our writer’s workshop for a couple of months.  I’ll post it in three parts since there are three distinct parts to the story. I call it Jacob’s Ladder because it reminds me of a movie of the same name from the early 90’s. I think Tim Robbins was the star. I Googled the term and came up with some interesting Biblical references. This is from Wikipedia:

According to the Midrash, the ladder signified the exiles which the Jewish people would suffer before the coming of the Messiah. First the angel representing the 70-year exile of Babylonia climbed "up" 70 rungs, and then fell "down". Then the angel representing the exile of Persia went up a number of steps, and fell, as did the angel representing the exile of Greece. 

This sort of catches the essence of what I tried to do with this piece. A story with beginnings but no end. It was also inspired by my little friend Lisa, a really fine writer herself. She emailed me with an idea she had for a story in which the main character wakes up from an adventure that was just a dream. Then she goes on with her life and wakes up again. It was just a dream. Again, she goes on as if things are normal and wakes up. Just a dream.

The obvious connection to mythology is the Sysyphus character who was condemned in Tartarus to roll a boulder uphill then watch it roll back down again for all eternity.

The other night I was looking around and came across a wonderful little film on youtube called "Occurence at Owlcreek Bridge" . I saw this film in college back in the fall of 1976.You might find a tiny connection between "Owlcreek" and my modest story as well.

With this odd little piece, I wanted to present a story in which there is only a single character with no identity, not even a name. It is all a drive to survive. To keep moving forward. The man in all three is the same. You don't know who he is, where he's been, how he's gotten here. It has no beginning and, seemingly, no end. 

Jacob’s Ladder

Part 1

Thirst. Incredible thirst. Heat. The blazing sun beat down upon his shoulders and the back of his head like a burning hand. His face was turned on its side when he awoke from a deep dreamless sleep. The sand under him was piercingly hot. Had he just fallen? How long had he been lying there? His blistered, cracked lips were leathery as he licked them. Precious moisture from his tongue swiped over his parched lips. He spat out sand and slowly, painfully rose to his knees. His vision was blurred as he lifted his pounding head and gazed out toward the horizon.

Sand blew in dusty clouds. Sand stung his arms and legs. Sand burned his eyes. Sand as far as he could see.

Thirst. If he didn’t find water soon it would be over. His muscles ached; his joints creaked as he rose carefully to his feet. A wave of nausea almost made him black out again. He fought to keep from retching.

He didn’t know which way to walk but he knew that he must keep on moving. Staying where he was meant certain death. Thirst. Water. Water. Thirst. His tongue was heavy in his mouth. Thick. He had sand in his nose and throat. He didn’t know if he would find water in time, but he had to try. He needed to keep lifting his feet and putting them down. One foot in front of the other. His feet were lead. But he kept on walking.

In the distance he could see heat waves rippling off the dunes. It looked vaguely like the water he sought so desperately. But it was a fool’s dream. All he could see was sand. From horizon to horizon. Sand. Hills of it. Valleys. Waves and ripples. Sand.

His eyes ached from the glaring sun. His only relief was to close his eyes. When he did, he stumbled and fell having to painfully get back on his feet. He had to keep his eyes open to the full glare of the tormenting sun. He had to live.

Exhausted, he kept plodding. He wasn’t sure if he was walking in a straight line, but he tried. Every few minutes he looked over his shoulder at his trail. In the distance his footprints faded into a faint blur.

He walked slower and slower. His mouth and throat were so dry and sore he could not even swallow. He knew it wouldn’t be much longer. Maybe one more mile. Trudging on, muscles burning, head pounding, just a few more steps. Then he simply fell. He had so little strength that he could not even break his fall with his hands. At least he turned his face to the side before he hit the hot ground. Sand flew up his nose and into his parched mouth as he drew in breath.

Then – unconsciousness. Dreamless deep sleep. Darkness…

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Reality Check

I am so hopeful for America right now.  Before the election I was under the (mistaken) impression that if one side had a whole lot more money, and had the resources to tell lies loud enough, and often enough - that would be all that was necessary to win.   I am hopeful - because I was wrong.

Women chose Obama   55% - 44% for Romney
African Americans   93% Obama - 6% Romney
Hispanic   71% Obama - 27% Romney
Asian   73% Obama - 26% Romney

For all ethnic groups aged 18-29   60% Obama - 37% Romney
                                    aged 30-44   52% Obama - 45% Romney
The higher the level of education, the more likely to vote for Obama (post graduates voted 55% Obama - 42% Romney)
Given all of the conservative weird-spin about the election, (including Carl Rove's bizarre accusation that Obama, "succeeded by suppressing the vote"), they will have to come to grips with the fact that they do not represent the American people.  Unfortunately, they seem to only strongly represent people in my demographic (older white guys).
I am hopeful because even though in many states it was the Republicans who reduced the time period for early voting, people stood in line for hours.  In the school district where I teach in SC, the line to vote (with pathetically few machines considering the crowd of voters) was at least 4 hours long.  And it was COLD.  But people waited.  They shivered.  Their kids (who had the day off school) waited with them.  So many of my second graders went into the booths to vote with their parents.  I am proud - and hopeful.    
I am hopeful because the campaigns where the most outside money was spent (in shameful amounts), the candidate with the outside spending advantage lost 21 times and won 16 times  (CFI data).
I am hopeful because the results of the Koch brothers spending millions of dollars on false attack ads simply...  didn't... work.
I was talking to a conservative friend after the election.  He was very worried.  He could foresee a time in the near future where white people (like him and me) were going to be the minority and that our vote wouldn't count anymore because, he presumed, that all people of color would vote for another person of color (probably also making the assumption that all whities would vote together for the white guy).  I am hopeful because we may have elected officials who can look at the big picture and not just concern themselves with the narrow interests of weathier white guys (like myself).  
I am hopeful because we might have an intelligent discourse among our politicians now, politicians who can look out and see the country for what we have become - and not for some 50's version that no longer exists.
I am certain that all of our problems will not be solved in the next four years.  And there are politicians who will double down and, like Mitch McConnell, who will obstruct because they just don't like the guy.  But I am hopeful. 

Thursday, November 8, 2012

I Just Can't Help Myself

In their own words...  You can't make this stuff up.


Rush Limbaugh - “I went to bed last night thinking we’re outnumbered.  I went to bed last night thinking all this discussion we’d had about this election being the election that will tell us whether or not we’ve lost the country.  I went to bed last night thinking we’ve lost the country.  I don’t know how else you look at this.”

Todd Akin - “There’s one class in this country: Americans. We also believe that the source of America’s great strength is our faith in a loving God, who allows courageous people the freedom to pursue the unique dreams that each of them have. And we believe that the Constitution is not a list of suggestions. We believe that ordinary people built America. We believe you built that.”

Donald Trump - 

"We can't let this happen. We should march on Washington and stop this travesty. Our nation is totally divided!" Trump tweeted. "This election is a total sham and a travesty. We are not a democracy!" 

Six minutes later, at 6:40 a.m., Nugent went from mad to sad:

Newt Gingrich  -“We all thought we understood the historical pattern and the fact that with this level of unemployment, with this level of gasloine prices, what would happen. First of all the President did a very, very effective campaign. Second, I think that the country was looking at a different set at of things than we were looking, and I think Republicans are going to have to take a very serious look at what happened and why did it happen, and why were we not more competitive at the presidential level…John Boehner and the House Republicans do control the House of Representatives, which is first in the Constitution. And which has a right to say, ‘Gee, we have a mandate, too.’ And the question for the President’s going to be, ‘Is he going to really sit down and listen?”

Glenn Beck - “Man, sometimes God really sucks…So I sat there on my set last night and what I said, I think about this time yesterday, was I caught myself halfway in the middle of a monologue and I think I cleared my throat and I said, I’m biting my tongue here to say things that I ‑‑ hopefully I won’t have to say tomorrow. But I got up yesterday at 3:00 in the morning and I knew. And I couldn’t sleep and I started to say my prayers and I got up and kneeled down by the edge of my bed and I knew that ‑‑ or I suspected that my mind’s not God’s mind, and the peace and the comfort that he had given me and so many of my friends was not about an election. God’s about a bigger picture than an election or a candidate. God is about the freedom of mankind. God is about the Constitution, which is a divinely inspired.

Just like those Christians that rolled up the Dead Sea Scrolls and put them in pots. I don’t know what happened to those Christians but they hid them. They hid them and they preserved them because it was important. The Bible was never wiped out, but the people who originally wrote the Bible were scattered. I don’t know what the future holds for the country, I don’t know what the future holds for business, I don’t know what the future holds for the dollar but I will tell you this: Do your own homework.”

Victoria Jackson - 

But not all is lost:

And then the requisite conspiracy theory: