Wednesday, March 29, 2006

end of the month brain candy

and just to wrap up the month . . . a few nuggets of wisdom to chaw on in your spare time. no real order here, just sorta random life-isms from some of my favorite folks.

live above the culture. - dick allison

god doesn’t make chicken pullers, people make chicken pullers, and if you don’t want to be one, then, by god don’t. - jill conner browne

live with your head in the lion’s mouth. - ralph ellison

character is like a tree and reputation is like its shadow. the shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing. - abraham lincoln

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

america is soft

before getting started on this rant, let me make a disclaimer. there is a picture taped to my wall of an american g. i. in fallujah. he could be nineteen; he can’t be more than twenty-five. he’s got the thousand yard stare, his face is a blend of stubble and dried blood. and he’s smoking a marlboro. the cigarette dangles from one side of his lips, causing his mouth to ever so slightly hint at a snarl. above this picture i have taped a quote from george orwell - "we sleep safe in our own beds because rough men stand ready in the night to visit violence on those who would do us harm." clearly, there are americans who are not soft. and sometimes soft is good. i mean it doesn’t get much better than soft-serve ice cream. these facts aside, as a college professor, i never cease to be amazed at how soft the majority of my student population seems to be. A few examples:

* often, when the weather leans toward blustery, my students call my home and ask if class has been canceled. quite often, they are shocked - even angry at me - that a touch of wind and rain is not enough to call off a whole day’s worth of work. whether they truly are afraid of the elements or just lazy and want to avoid the heavy mental lifting of undergraduate composition and literature, the spirit of men like frederick douglass and joseph muir is woefully lacking in my student population.

* sadly, i have seen the same softness within the teaching profession itself. at a department meeting held to discuss new textbook adoptions, one faculty member gave a dissenting opinion of a potential textbook because, "it is too heavy." as it is not the 1960's, i assume the term "heavy" referred to the physical weight of the book, not the academic rigor of its contents. whichever was the case, as i was attempting to process this asinine logic, another colleague chimed in with, "yeah, and i would have to read the new selections and prepare new lectures." no wonder our students seem to want to do as little as possible to get by.

* the drive to succeed in athletics is so great that many of my students, both athletes and non-athletes, sympathize with and can relate to juiced-up sports figures whose bloated stats could never compare to the true natural athleticism of say - lou gerhig, barry sanders, or larry bird. as long as the lakers win, the memory of kobe bryant’s indiscretions are not only often overlooked, but are excused and even defended by some of my students. and, as a cowboys fan, while i cringe at the signing of a malcontent like t. o., many of my students think that dallas is smart to do whatever it takes to win as quickly as possible, regardless of character. sure the cowboys have been burned statistically by randy moss. but i gotta tell you, the day dallas passed on moss was one of the moments i was most proud to be a cowboy fan. doing the right thing, regardless of how the world perceives you, is hard. and soft folks are not comfortable making the difficult choices.

for those who look around and see too much that is soft in our fast food, instant gratification, linguine spined day to day existence, i recommend two books to serve as a bit of a salve. harvey c. mansfield, a professor at harvard, has written a book called, manliness. in the book, mansfield maintains that manliness is "confidence in the face of risk." he goes on to say that manliness "does exist, but it is underemployed." mansfield’s ideas reminded me of another book, the last american man, by elizabeth gilbert. gilbert presents a picture of eustace conway who was anything but soft. between surviving on fresh road kill (how does one tell if its fresh? by noting whether or not the fleas are still hopping of course!) and sewing up his own accidental chainsaw wounds, eustace seems an almost iconic throwback to an earlier time when self-reliance and tenaciousness were part of the very fabric of america. a time when anyone who wasn’t soft could choose to confidently face the risk of jumping on a trampoline without the comfort of a safety cage; a time when those just bold enough could roll the back windows of vehicles all the way down and dare to actually feel the stink of a bug splatter into his inner biceps as he hand surfed through the rushing air; a time when no one would have ever considered that there was a market for men’s skin care products like clinique’s happy for men - "a hint of citrus, a wealth of flowers. a mix of emotions. cool. crisp. wear it and be happy."

Saturday, March 04, 2006

brokeback oscars

last summer i decided to plug a few the holes on my reading list and spent the better part of july reading annie proulx’s fiction. at the tail end of a collection of her short fiction i read the now infamous brokeback mountain. even as predictable as the story was on the written page, it is even easier to divine what will happen tomorrow night during hollywood’s annual self-pleasuring celebration. as much as i like the movies, this years nominees, especially in the best picture category, leave much to be desired. i thoroughly expect a brokeback mountain sweep as a bird finger to the right wing from the hollywood left. but even if brokeback does not perform as well america’s hottest two young cowpokes in the west, lets look at what else is offered. crash, good night and good luck, capote, and munich. a film about the perceived innate racism that is THE backdrop of american life; a bit of propaganda presented by hollywood’s resident golden boy wonder and revisionist historian george clooney, the story of a homosexual author, and a movie about terrorism that bends over backward to humanize the terrorists by attempting to draw parallels between those who killed innocent israeli olympians to those who sought retribution. anyway you slice it - the academy is poised and ready to tell conservatives, "we’re number one." in short - it was a poor year for hollywood and low box-office returns point to how out of touch hollywood remains with the red states (see indeed, without the chronicles of narnia and harry potter and the goblet of fire, the purses would be even emptier. how soon has tinsel town forgotten the overwhelming success of movies like passion of the christ, the incredibles, and finding nemo. for my nickle here are a few movies i saw this year that i thoroughly enjoyed. i must confess that few are actually available to be seen at the box office and may have been released prior to this year and do not qualify for academy recognition.
my left eye sees ghosts - a very adorably touching asian film that sort of crosses shawn of the dead with amelie and the sixth sense.
old boys - another asian offering dealing with mystery, intrigue such that hollywood is afraid to broach these days. certainly more thought provoking about the nature of humanity that any of the current best picture nominees.
dirty filthy love - how does one maintain a relationship with ocd and tourette’s syndrome? a very graphic but novel approach to amazing grace.
off the map - so I’m a sucker for sam elliot. i also like field of dreams and the postman.
chrystal - another brutal billy bob thornton film that carries the theme of grace to the extreme.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

isn't janus a mutual fund?

a financial institution wisely chose janus to symbolize their company. after all, janus is the roman god of gates and doors whose double-faced head is able to look in opposite directions at both the beginning and the end. he is a representation of cycles - planting season, harvest, marriage, birth, beginnings, endings. janus is a transitional figure in roman culture, representing the shift between primitive life and civilization; between the rural and the urban, the agrarian and the industrial; between peace and war; between youth and age, innocence and wisdom. he can see both the reality of what was and the hope of things to come. janus, for me, represents the very present moment where the dichotomies of humanity occupy the highest tension. this moment, while standing, albeit often uncomfortably, in the doorway, allows us to live fully, experiencing a imminent sort of sublime precariously perched between vertigo and chi, change and tradition, order and chaos, hope and despair, justice and grace, the temporal and the eternal. in some way, our entire lives are about transition, and we are always standing at the threshold occupying the exact moment from which we can look both backward and forward, certain of the past and expectant of the future.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

technology is great until it doesn't work

technology is great until it doesn't work. how many gadgets and gizmos do you have that seem like a good idea at the time but don't actually work when you need them? atm's, butane lighters, computer software, itune radio recievers, battery operated baby swings. i remember standing in line with my parents on pay day and getting the cash we would need for the month minus the fees and headaches associated with the convienence of today's atm's. the three or four butane "wind proof" lighters i have never seem to work when i want to fire up a cigar indoors, much less in the wind. computers - forget about it. i've been trying to figure out how to start this blog for over a week now. and i may be wasting even more valuable time writing this entry that may or may not ever be "posted". my buddy has an ipod that he touted as the musical equivilant of sliced bread. but on a road trip this weekend there was more than just a bit of static produced on the car speakers. i'd rather listen to road noise and contemplate road kill in silence than listen to cd technology filled with more static than a bad 45 lp while crystal clear cds sit at home in deference to this modern marvel. and i seem to remember baby swings having cranks on them that never really wore out. as it is now - i need to buy stock in a battery company, and i certainly don't hear any of my green friends with children bemoaning how many batteries we are all contributing to landfills while our future sleeps soundly via mechanized bliss. all this is to say - i sure hope this post makes it - or i might just abstain from blogging.