Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Fugue State: Fugue on a State Memo for Four Voices and Dog Barks



Long ago, in another lifetime, in a land called Gainesville, Florida, in a time called the mid to late nineties, I worked for HRS (Health and Rehabilitative Services, not the House Rabbit Society). During my tenure as a social worker (food stamps, AFDC, Medicaid), it became DCF (Department of Children and Families, which we called Decaf, same lousy service but half the caffeine), bosses came and bosses went. My caseload grew, diminished, morphed into other caseloads, but no matter what changes, the job remained the same. I swear, one of these days, I will write about it. Maybe a book. You’ll laugh. You’ll cry. You’ll stop paying your taxes.

Once, my supervision (I was a Public Assistance Service Specialist, or PASS, and my supervisor was a Public Assistance Service Specialist Supervisor or PASS II) went from Susan Einman, a woman any of us in her “unit” would have killed for, to a fellow whose name I cannot remember and any of us would have killed. My boss went from a literate polyglot who manifested the very essence of understanding and compassion to an obsequious, smarmy, condescending chimpesque proto-human pencil pusher. There was little to do but retaliate. For the next five years that is exactly what we did, myself, W.D. and A.C., (no, you can't know their names yet) in prank after prank of falsity, forgery and fun.

Some day, I swear, I’ll write about it. Maybe a book. You’ll cry. You’ll laugh. You’ll be glad you paid my salary.

One day, a memo, one I did not forge (I really should check the statute of limitations on the falsifying of federal documents before I publish this) came across my desk. It was from my new boss, the obsequious, smarmy, condescending little proto-human pencil pusher we called Monkey Boy for his habit of hanging bright red Eisenhower jackets on his bony bod—a vestment that would have been more at home on an eighties dance floor under a flashing disco ball but still a bit over the edge even for Disco Duck. He looked like an organ grinder’s monkey. Monkey Boy.

Susan was always afraid I would call him that to his face. I think she almost did once. I hope so.

The memo was horrible in all the ways writing can be: awful, terrible, atrocious, worse. It was badly worded and those same badly worded bits were repeated again and again and again. It pressed a point Monkey Boy didn’t need to make to already disempowered, demoralized “workers” (that was what we were called) who didn’t need the point pressed.

I was, at the time, studying fugues. The musical kind. Not the kind where one realizes, after twenty years in St. Louis, raising a family and having a meaningful life, that one is really from Des Moines and has (or, to be fair, had) an entire other family, life, job and name. Not that kind. But, for longer fugues, one can see the relation.

The memo passed my desk. The pattern of repetition looked like a fugue to me. I was caught up with my work, as usual, and had nothing better to do. Even if I had, art called and it was time to write. The memo was deconstructed and reconstructed. Barely re-written.

A fugue is meant to be performed and this was no different. After a few readings, it was set. It was scheduled for the Gainesville Spring Arts Festival. Time to get cracking. We had a fugue to perform. But we was still me. I needed people. Four of them. I needed a clock. One of them. I needed a dog.

I had none of these things but I did have Moon Goddess Books, my own store. A book store with lots of unconventional arty types. A Pagan store with folks who would be delighted to do something to slam The Man. A café where people got buzzed on caffeine and, in their mania, could be convinced to take on nearly any manner of whacked-out project. A fugue of a government memo. A fugue of clocks and dogs. Yes, this fit.

We found our folk and set about arranging the vocals. We had a month to prepare and rehearsed as often as bi-weekly. Grueling.

Four voices. Some parts were done together and some parts separately. Some by two and some by four. How did we choose? The performers did so by how it felt. One German Shepherd, whose bark was downloaded from a sound effects recording, barking randomly, or so it seemed. I wanted the barks to stand out as jagged jolting. A recorded clock getting louder and louder as the fugue progressed, the voices getting softer as the fugue came to an end, the barks harder to hear through.

The performance time came and I am gratified, still, that it went without a hitch—or at least none that anyone but myself and our four performers, two guys and two gals, would have noticed. At the end the applause hesitated. Perhaps because the audience was stunned silent or perhaps they were confused. I was happy, and still am—either or both being a desired result of the piece.

Strangely, wonderfully, the person who wrote the memo, Monkey Boy himself, was there, and did not talk to me for quite a while. Those were a great few weeks. Eventually he had to speak to me though. But never was the fugue mentioned.

No recording exists. Not yet.

________________________________________________

Fugue on a State Memo for Four Voices and Dog Barks

Most of you already do this, and I thank you. Customer service is the key and one of our values is PEOPLE. Thank you for your assistance in this matter and see me if you have any questions.

Most of you do this. Customer service is the key. One of our values is PEOPLE. Thank you for your assistance in this question.

Most of you do customer service. One of our key values is PEOPLE. Thank you for this question.

Most of you do this key value. PEOPLE thank you for this.

Most of you do this.
Most of you do this.
Most of you do this customer service.
Customer service.
Customer service.
Most of you do this customer service.
Customer service
Customer service.
Customer service is the key.
Most of you do this.
Most of you do this.
Most of you do this.
Most of you matter.
Most of you matter.
Most of you matter.
Most of you question.
Most of you question customer service.
Customer service is the key.
Customer service is the key.
Customer service is the key.
This matters.
This matters.
Customer service is they key.
The value is the key.
They key matters.
PEOPLE matter.
PEOPLE matter.
PEOPLE are one of our values.
PEOPLE are one of our values.
The key is the value.
We value the question.
Value the question.
Value the question.
We value the key.
Value the key.
Value the key.
Value the key.
Value the key.
Question the key.
Question the key.
Question the key.
Question the key.
We value the question.
Value the question.
Value the question
Value the question.
Key question.
Key question.
Key question.
We question the value.
We question the value.
We question the value.
Question the value.
Question the value.
Question the value.
Question the PEOPLE.
Question the PEOPLE.
Question the PEOPLE.
Question PEOPLE.
Question PEOPLE.
Question PEOPLE.
Key PEOPLE.
Key PEOPLE.
Key PEOPLE.
Key.
Key.
Key.
Key.
Key.
Key.
Key.
Key.
Key.
Key.


Values







PEOPLE




Thursday, September 18, 2008

Seven Questions for Craig Smith

Craig Smith is an author and web designer, a translator to and from dead languages, the well-respected and well-read author of the blog Notes from the Dreamtime, the translator of The Inclusive Bible and a shaman. Even better than that, he is my exceptionally good friend.

Craig has been interviewing interesting characters for some time now. But no one has interviewed him. While I could not believe such an oversight, I sought to correct it. The result is below.

Enjoy.

________________________

Late Monday night, Adam emailed me and asked, "So who's doing your interview?" I replied that he was the first to offer. On Tuesday morning, these questions appeared in my mailbox. I replied that he was the cruelest human on the face of the planet.

His questions both terrify and exhilarate me, which I guess means they're good ones.

1. You spend much of your time, it seems, as an editor. Thurber once wrote about editing, "Editing should be, especially in the case of old writers, a counseling rather than a collaborating task. The tendency of the writer-editor to collaborate is natural, but he should say to himself, "How can I help this writer to say it better in his own style?" and avoid "How can I show him how I would write it, if it were my piece?"

Do you prefer to be an editor or collaborator? Or do you play both roles or either role depending upon with whom you are working?

The latter. It depends entirely on the writer.

A good writer—that is, one who has a strong writing style and a good command of the language—needs minimal editing. Then the task is to find overt mistakes (which the writer in haste simply didn't notice), and occasionally smooth over rough passages where the writer's intent doesn't come through clearly. I am very careful not to change their style, and yes, it's very much the role of a counselor.

The vast majority of writers fall into a second class. They're not great writers, they're just writing as a means to an end. These I take a heavier hand with. For a while I got a reputation for being able to cut a piece in half without the writer even realizing he or she had been edited—"You make me sound so good!" is a comment I've heard more than once. For them, I honor the writing style they're trying to establish, but which they haven't quite succeeded in creating. For them, I am definitely more collaborative.

Occasionally I come across bad writers. Honestly, I want nothing to do with most of them. I don't want to read them, I don't want to correct them, I just want them to go away. A few are on the bubble, and if I like the individuals at all, I absolutely want to show them how I'd approach it if it were my piece.

2. You once traveled, though shortly, rather extensively across the U.S. Whether you were in search of something, drawn by something, or leaving something may be of debate, but travel you did, and you wrote about it rather extensively in your blog before stopping short. Many of your readers might think you stopped before a revelation or just at the point you found a portion of your travel unresolved.

A Zen monk once asked, "It is the same moon outside and the same person inside, so why not sit?" Does location really make a difference or is it the process of transition? What did you gain? What did you lose? What is stuck? Could you have done as well staying at home? Does changing location change the person?

"Many" of my readers? Really?

Did I stop just before some major revelation? I didn't think I did, but maybe you're right. I had gone all revisionist on it in my mind; I thought I had stopped writing about the trip shortly before I took that long break between last December and this April, but it turns out my last Big Trip post was in March of 2007. I was shocked when I realized that.

Let's see, when last I left the story, I had just visited Little Bighorn and was heading toward Bozeman. And I guess I do view Bozeman as the gateway to the most significant part of the journey. It doesn't feel like I'm afraid to dig deep and expose something important, but my behavior may be telling another story. I'll have to look at that.

That said, each trip post takes a long time to write. At the time I remember thinking I wanted to do some lighter, faster, easier posts, to take a little break. But you and Indigo have rattled my cage long enough; I'll have a new Big Trip post next week.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but that trip changed everything for me. You know how a lot of people personify Nature, talk blithely about the Web of All Being, and speak of divine immanence as being "the Goddess"? I knew all that, intellectually, but on the trip (somewhere in Washington, if I recall, but I haven't checked my notes in a while) I had a palpable experience of it.
Does location really make a difference? I have no doubt that it's possible to have any important growth experience in any number of ways. The same truth keeps knocking on our house until we let it in; sometimes it comes in by the door, sometimes through a window, sometimes down the chimney or up through the floorboards.

But for me, it was important to go out on my own, with two thousand bucks in my pocket (and no credit cards), in a car that really wasn't all that road-worthy, to follow a quiet but insistent tug in my heart—a "calling," if you will; to camp out in the national forests and wildernesses, searching for some essentially spiritual experience, rather than trying to go sightseeing; to be utterly alone with my thoughts and the world for an extended period of time. All of which I don't think I could have gotten sitting at home.

"What did you gain? What did you lose? What is stuck?" Tough questions. I gained an understanding of the living, nonphysical energy that interconnects everything in the material world. I gained a hunger for greater personal and physical freedom. I opened the door just a bit to becoming more authentically myself and less what others expect me to be. I lost a parochial worldview, a limited image of who or what God is. I guess I'm still stuck in Comfortville (I laughed as I typed that, because everything in my life seems the opposite of comfortable): I don't need to risk my life, physical or emotional, right now. I'm all initiation and no completion. As one of my favorite (and one of your least favorite) poets, T.S. Eliot, wrote:

Between the idea
And the reality
Between the motion
And the act . . .
Between the essence
And the descent
Falls the Shadow.

3. It has been argued that cues for discrimination that are obvious, such as gender or color, are of greater import than those which are not, such as religion or gender preference.
Is this so? Has discrimination affected you and, if it has, has this been your choice to reveal what could be occult and accept the discrimination as burden?

I don't know that obvious cues for discrimination are of greater import as much as simply inevitable. When you can't hide, the bigots have a more obvious target.

I came out in 1982, at the age of 26, shortly after my father's death. I used to describe it as feeling a cloud of judgment over me had been lifted. In time I came to feel that my father had been a convenient excuse for my not being true to myself. On the other hand, when we decide it's time to make a change in our lives, I think we probably use whatever tool or trigger is at hand to aid us.

For me it was all tied up (as just about everything is in my life) with my spiritual journey. I was wrestling with the realization that the God I knew intimately and the God of conservative theology (and much of society) were in conflict with one another. I knew that my God valued truth in the inner being above all else, so I knew I had to speak the truth about my sexuality even if it meant being damned for eternity: to save God, as it were, I had to be willing to give up God. And the moment I did, I knew that love and acceptance and was the ultimate truth, and nothing else mattered.

I can't say I've faced a lot of discrimination. Some of it is because I'm not terribly fey (though I'm not terribly butch, either), so many people just assume that everyone is straight unless they announce otherwise. And I don't wear buttons or have gay bumper stickers, and I tend not to announce it unless or until it comes up naturally. On the other hand, I tend to correct people if they make invalid assumptions about me, because (a) it's nothing I need to keep quiet about, and (b) it's no big deal. The older I get, the less I care what anyone thinks. To quote that old philosopher, Popeye, I yam what I yam.

In the '80s, I lost dozens of gay friends or acquaintances—thirty-two to AIDS, one to a gay-bashing incident, two to drug or alcohol abuse. That was pretty awful. And I've seen lots of discrimination; I just haven't been on the receiving end, except for having a few bottles (and epithets) hurled at me. Annoying, but not that big a deal—just some drunken rednecks.

So I don't feel much of a burden, honestly. I once had a dream in which I was standing at the creation of the world, and God said, "This time, would you like to be straight instead?" I thought a minute then said, "No thanks, I'm quite happy the way I am." It was a very satisfying dream.

4. Your religious and spiritual experiences are not quite within what we might call the common American experience. How do you define your present spiritual life? How have you come to where you are? Do you find your spiritual life effective? If so, are you more a spiritual materialist than purist—in other words, do you practice to build ego or to gain something, regardless of what that might be, or for the practice itself? Where do you think you are going with it?

I am an animist because I see all natural phenomena as alive. I'm a pantheist because I see God as synonymous with the material universe. I'm a panentheist because I see God as interpenetrating every part of nature and extending timelessly beyond it as well. I'm a Christian because for me Jesus is God enfleshed, and teaches us how we too can become God enfleshed. I'm an adopted Jew, a God-fearer who learned Hebrew to read the Bible in its original language because I wanted to know what YHWH was really saying. I'm a Buddhist because of the life and teachings of Siddhārtha Gautama, and the silence, and the kōans, and the still point. I'm a Hindu because I revere Ganesha. I'm a Yoruba because I was visited one night by the orisha Shango, the sky father, the god of thunder and ligntning. I'm a pagan because I honor the natural rhythms of the earth, the sun, the moon.

But beyond all those classifications, I am a shaman, because shamanism, stripped of its cultural overlay, is simply a toolbox. It's how the human brain naturally accesses nonordinary reality. It's plugging into the way the body and the psyche can be balanced and healed. And it's what underlies all human religion and spirituality, the barebones of our Selves, if you will.
How have I come to be here? Wow. I guess it's just a straightforward process of following where my heart and spirit have led me. I would say it's a combination of the theological and psychic shattering that my coming out afforded, and working through decades of chronic depression until I came to understand myself and God (or spirit or the Universe or whatever terminology you want to use) and the world in a radically different way.

I'm not sure what an "effective" spiritual life would be. Does it give me comfort or meaning? Yes, definitely. Does it make my life work better? Yes and no. It doesn't make me more "successful," particularly as the world defines success, but it gives me tools to deal with many of the challenges I face, and gives me a context with which I can understand the world better. But I can't honestly say I practice it as a means to an end, as a tool to get something or become something.

It all comes back to that ineffable Call, the music from the Piper at the Gates of Dawn. I'm like a dog snuffling the air, forever following the scent, wherever it may lead.

5. We all have traits that are annoying. Some of those traits, when found in another, are deal-breakers and we simply cannot abide them. What traits can you simply not abide in others? Which traits mean “I’ll not deal with that person,” and why? Which traits send you running? Of those traits, how much of each is found in you?

When I was a good deal less self-confident (and those of you who know me well will be rolling on the floor by now, because you know that deep down I am a mouse afraid of his own shadow), I was in a relationship with someone I believe has Narcissistic Personality Disorder. One day he gave me a collection of Jane Kenyon's poetry, and told me to read a poem called "Biscuit":

The dog has cleaned his bowl
and his reward is a biscuit,
which I put in his mouth
like a priest offering the host.

I can't bear that trusting face!
He asks for bread, expects
bread, and I in my power
might have given him a stone.

He didn't need to say so, but I knew I was that dog to him. And more often than not, I was given a stone instead of bread. Much has changed in me since then, and such cruel treatment—toward me, or toward anyone, frankly—is intolerable, and provokes a fierce reaction from me.
I can't abide liars, though I understand the impulse all too well: the need to protect oneself at all cost, even when telling the truth might be so much easier in the long run.

And yes, the cruelty and the lying that I hate: both of these are parts of me. I don't know that I hate them because they are in me; I know that I have worked hard to overcome them in myself, and so perhaps I am like an intolerant ex-smoker. I don't know.

I am impatient and short-tempered with people who give poor customer service (I used to teach classes in how to go above and beyond expectations when dealing with the public). And I am intolerant of people I call "willfully ignorant," who seem defiant in their lack of education or gentility. Perhaps this intolerance is a form of intellectual snobbishness, but I hope it's because I love the language so much that when people abuse it, it's like spitting on something sacred.
Occasionally I'll run across people whose "vibe" makes me want to either run away or (more likely) do them bodily harm. I can't explain it. It's nothing they've done or said, really, or maybe it's everything they do and say. It's a reaction so visceral and so strong that I have to step outside myself and say, "What in the world is that about?" So far I haven't found an answer.

6. Tell me about poetry. You say you are not a poet. Why have you said this?

Payback is so unbecoming, Adam.

I am not a poet because I am clumsy at it. (And don't tell me that lots of people say they are poets who write perfectly wretched poems. Just because a mouse is in a cookie jar, it doesn't make him a cookie.) I can sometimes shape prose with enough felicity that it sings; poetry needs a much sparer touch, which I don't often have. Generally the best I can do is take a prose poem and break it into shorter lines.

What I think I do have is a poet's heart. I think Deloney is a natural poet, despite the fact that his poems always look like paragraphs. Indigo Bunting sometimes comes up with phrasings that are breathtaking. I can see poetry in words. I can even edit poetry pretty well. But I think my natural element is prose. Maybe I just need a larger canvas to say what a poet can express in a few brush strokes.

7. We each have ways we make others suffer. Most of the time this is inadvertent or, at least, not on purpose. How have you made others suffer? Was any of it purposeful? How have you made yourself suffer? Are you doing so now? How and why? To what end?

I have been cruel. I don't know if my cruelty made them suffer, or if they just shrugged it off. On the other hand, our actions have far-reaching consequences, and even acts of charity may have caused suffering, while acts of deliberate meanness may have brought someone to a new and better place.

I have certainly wanted to make a few people suffer, to make them feel what they put me (or others) through. I have wanted them to have a taste of their own medicine.
But me—ah, that's the person I have been the cruellest to, both deliberately and inadvertently. I have a running tape in my head (I guess we have to change that metaphor now, don't we? No one uses tape for recording things anymore!) that tells me what an enormous failure I am, how I always let everyone down, how I never live up to my potential, how stupid and petty and worthless I am. I think I am starting to hear it as old, worn-out programming, and I am trying to say "No, that's not true," and replace it with something that heals those old self-inflicted wounds.

Why is that programming there in the first place? Some of it stems from my childhood molestation. Most people who are abused spend their lives trying not to feel dirty and worthless. Some if it is habit—we keep repeating the things we've heard repeated over and over; we don't question, don't object. We're sheep at heart, especially when the critical voice in our head is our own. We just say, "Yes, you're right," without questioning it. One of the blessings of meditation is that you get to see your thoughts as just thoughts, without attaching any value to them. You get to look at them dispassionately, then decide if you want to keep them or not. So I'm trying to rewrite the old self-destructive script, and I'm making progress. But I don't know that I'll be finished anytime soon.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Six Absolutely Nonspectacular Things about Me.

I have been tagged by Indigo Bunting. So that means I’m It. This is, if I read correctly, a meme. I don’t know what a meme is, other than something cried again and again by a spoiled child. I could look it up but I won’t. – it is a seldom thing I do not know what a word is and I am rather enjoying the experience.

It appears the sort of game one plays on Facebook. Yes, I am on Facebook. What, I can’t have a virtual life? Like my social calendar is so full I can’t afford some quality pixel-time? It’s the sort of game one would play, as well, sitting in a campfire circle with nothing better to do, on a long car ride or crushed in a shuttered two-bedroom, one bath house with three families for four days while one waits for two hurricanes to decide what they are doing although I recall that game being six reasons not to bludgeon Adam.

Since these things have never been spectacular, saying they are now un seems a bit silly. So, in the interest of temporal and causal correctitude, here are six nonspectacular things about me:

1. I put the cap back on everything. Toothpaste, deodorant, spices. Everything. I close the lid on the toilet. (Always fun in the middle of the night to hear my wife curse about that. Especially when it’s cold out.) I’ll spend the afternoon looking for a missing cap.

2. My eyelashes are way too long. They make streaks on the inside of my glasses. Always have. Bloody pain in the ass.

3. I love the smell of the mold that grows on flagstones inside homes. The smell of musty books too.

4. If you walk on my left side or too far over on my right I don’t know you are there except for the sound you make as I repeatedly walk into you. I usually don’t hear that though because after the second time I’m laughing too hard.

5. My favorite bit of writing in the world is Einstein’s Dreams by Alan Lightman, an appropriately named fellow as he is a physicist who studies light. He has a Ph.D in Literature and in Physics. The writing is elegant and clear, has a rhythm that transcends the beauty of most music, a cadence that dances in the air moments still after the words have passed. It is to be read aloud and, in my home, is again and again. It is romantic, it is grounded, it is warm and stark. It is to what I aspire and do not achieve. It is a worthy goal for which I thank Lightman.

6. A certain part of my body bends to the left. Only one percent of people have that. But the bend is small and, really, fully nonspectacular.

(Craig wrote this part. I feel incredibly lazy. I am not rewriting it.)Tagging, I understand, obligates those tagged to write a similar post in their own blogs. So I hereby tag Alane, Susan, The Mongolian Monk, Laura-Sue, The Amok Monk and Val unless they have already been tagged by others, in which case they need to tell me so I can find someone else to tag. (On second thought, don’t.)

Meme Terms and Conditions

1. Link to the person who tagged you.
2. Mention the rules on your blog.
3. List six unspectacular things about you.
4. Tag six other bloggers by linking to them.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

A Better Wife

I am posting this, originally a response to a post on Route 153, a blog by a woman I know only by the name Indigo Bunting. She lives in Vermont, several universes from here, and is an editor friend of an editor friend. That is a double editor. I’m not going to argue with that. So when Craig said try writing short form and Indigo suggested posting my reply, a bit long, to her blog entry “Girl” as an entry of my own, I complied. I know what’s best.


“If I didn’t define myself for myself, I would be crunched into other people’s fantasies for me and eaten alive.” Audre Lorde


My wife claims I am a much better wife than she.

I am not sure she has worn anything but dungarees in over two decades with the exception of three occasions. I can recall each of them. One wedding, one bar mitzvah and one charity event. I wish to point out that wedding was not even our own. To that we each wore dungarees and t-shirts. If I count pagan festivals, over the course of the last twenty-five years I think I might actually have worn skirts and such more often than she. Makeup? Ha! Cooking? My territory.

Sewing the holes in the clothes? Mine (after she threads the needle for me).

Her shoes are as sensible as can be - Merrels made for standing. The blow drier is never used except by my son. She is a pick the clothes from the pile, wash’n’go, no frills cheap-date of a gal I adore more than the bright stars and the loamy Earth.

And I don’t dare take her into a lesbian bookstore or I need to fight to keep her. I do this as often as I can.

If there were continuum for gender-behaviour, with guyishness staff and girlishness distaff, my Lee would be a bit right of center. I would be a bit left. It all balances out to who the hell cares.

But she does like her purses. Stone Mountain, Dooney and Bourke, Coach. She looks and looks and looks but never bought. She tells her patients they need to ditch their purses and use backpacks. She follows her own advice on this.

Last birthday she decided to treat herself to a purse she had long wanted. A Stone Mountain bag. She spent nearly two hundred on it. She used it for two days and returned it. Not worth what she spent. She was cured.

Then, a few months ago, I found at a local auction a Prada bag. I grabbed it for $35.00. She is delighted. She has her girlie-bag. It is a back pack, of course.

As far as myself, well, I don’t build, I do garden a bit but I do not do lawn work. Fix the house? HA! My father and wife, many years ago, got together and sold all my powertools while I was on a trip. For my own good, they told me. I didn’t argue. Of course, that is the same way I ended up moving in with my wife. That is a different story.

I love opera, but I always retranslate the songs. They are all about cows and barnyard life.

I would rather have a migraine than watch football. Really. I find them less painful and more interesting. They also don’t last as long.

I’ll play soccer but watch sports? Like on a TV? No thank you.

I use the same Jansport backpack my wife complained I overpaid for, at $35 dollars, when my daughter was three. That was twenty-three years ago.

I don’t tinker with my car. I sold my truck a few weeks ago. The truck festooned with breast cancer awareness magnets and a sticker that said “Real men change diapers.” You know, a real guy truck.

Not fitting into a set role makes it easier to allow other people not to fit into roles either.

Ok, now to rebuild what feels to be my diminishing masculinity, I’m going to go tell my wife to cook something and have her get me a beer.

I’d better go buy some beer first. And make dinner reservations.

Friday, September 12, 2008

I Love Creosote

I love creosote. Not just the smell, which many people, if not most, find hard enough to believe, but the feel of it as well: the tacky frictional darkness under the fingertips. I love the smell of it as I roam the lumberyard, search out the scent, get closer and closer to a board with just enough of it to get my hands on, my nose close to sticky yellow.

The feel of creosote is harder and harder to find. The smell, though, is not so difficult to come by. On the occasions my wife will drag me to a big-box home improvement store, for it is she who likes the gadgets and tools, not me, I will wander to and stall in the lumber area casting for whiffs of it. If there is an exterior lumberyard, all the better because the outside temperatures tend to drive the creosote to the surface and, if not the creosote entirely, the scent, certainly.

This has been my habit as long as I know. I remember if from Sunday station wagon lumber drives with my father as he would choose boards, plywood, two by fours for whatever project was next on his list. Back then there was more creosote to smell as it was used much more than today, much less discriminately. It was everywhere, oozing from the wood, down the stacks, to the ground. The lumberyards stank of it if I could to, it was heavenly.

One might think these memories are why I love then scent so. Association of a smell with a pleasant memory. True, smell is our deepest, most primal sense, nestled far within the limbic system, the part of the brain we share with lizards. Scent will bring an emotional response more easily and to memories more distant, more faint, than any other sense and it can do so even if the memory itself is lost. The emotional content is still there and scent will bring it back.

But it cannot be so with creosote. These forays to the lumberyards would be followed by build-time where I would be conscripted to help measure, which I never did well, cut, where the sound of the saw would have me doing as I do today – picturing myself falling on a whirring blade, losing bits of my body. Later, as he worked through the night, I, tired, would never hold the light quite right, shine it in the right place. The hammer and power tools would have me holding my ears. Home projects often ended in violence. None of this comes back as pleasant. I never looked forward to trips to the lumberyard. Except, of course, for the creosote.

My brain likes the smell. I like it. Love it. Always did. And that attraction to the scent must, somehow, be separate from those experiences.

When I lived in Gainesville we had an apartment near a wood treatment plant. Koppers would take lumber and pressure treat for exterior use, in playgrounds, in buildings, for gardens. In Gainesville they made utility poles and marine pilings. This involved copper and arsenic. This involved creosote.

Never mind the ninety-four acres of Cabot/Koppers is one of the top superfund sites in the United States. Never mind one could grow a garden in the area but was strongly suggested to not eat the produce one grew there. I could smell the creosote so it was all fine.

Still, today, if there is a roof being tarred, I will linger. If there is a road being resurfaced, I will open the windows of the car or raise the visor of my helmet and breath deeply. Still.

I also like camphor.

Friday, September 05, 2008

An Open Letter to the Obama Campaign and the Republican National Committee upon My leaving the Republican Party

Senator Obama,

I don’t know if anyone in your campaign will see this. I am sure your staff gets so many letters and responses to the notes it sends out that I am sure many, if not most, must be summarily deleted. Regardless, I am writing because I wanted to state something.

I am (OOOPS! WAS) a registered Republican. I would tell the folks, during election cycles, the ones who called on the phone, those who emailed, those who knocked at my door or asked me for support at public events, that I supported the platform but, at this point, rarely the candidates. It has been about fifteen years since I could vote for a Republican candidate. Some Republicans I see eye to eye with but mostly, lately, I do not. I would tell those asking for contributions or support I would be happy to donate and put in the work when the party, MY party, stopped being hate-mongering hypocrites and became more honest and centrist, became as it was during the days of Lincoln, as it was supposed to be - became as it was during Eisenhower when, in his farewell speech in 1961, the general warned us against the military-industrial complex. He coined the term, as you know. He knew what he was talking about.

Not long ago Garrison Keillor made the point that, as a Republican, he was ashamed of the way the party was acting. He wanted the Republicanism of Eisenhower not the Republicanism of hate. He wanted the Republicanism he knew as a child and had come to trust. The one that worked to end segregation. Not the one that legislated division. The one that worked to increase our freedoms, not curtail them.

Well, I can’t stomach it anymore. After the second night of the Republican convention, I officially changed my party affiliation to Democrat. After hearing the hate and disrespect issue from the mouth of the governor of Alaska I felt I had no choice. Sarah Palin pulled the plug on what was, for me, the painful lingering death of my loyalty to a political party. I visited my government center the next day, changed party and I sent my old voter ID card to the Republican HQ with a note. With THIS note. I wanted it to arrive during the convention so I over-nighted it.

You had my vote from the start but now, you have me in the party as well. I just donated and I’ll carry a sign. Get me a yard sign, a phone list, whatever. We can’t let those hateful hypocrites in office.

Adam Byrn Tritt, M.Ed

This I Believe

About two weeks ago, riding in the car with my wife, we were listening to about the only station, locally, anyone is likely to find in our car – NPR. After the story about the upcoming political conventions the series “This I Believe” aired another in its weekly essays. I have written for the project, which can also be found in print, and while I cannot say I listen faithfully or find every one of the essays a treasure, a few stand out. I can remember hearing them and (this is the important part as a writer) they had an effect on me. As a writer, I could not ask for more praise or better praise. The sheer beauty of writing aside, if a work is forgotten, if a reader is not affected, then the sound and glory are nothing.

My favorite is by Penn Jillette and is called “There is no God.” As much a fan of Thoreau as I am, I cannot help but wish he had written this. It seems to be what he was trying to say through much of his time at Walden Pond. The essay is transcendentalism without the deism. It is a wonder of words and I am appreciative.

What we heard that afternoon in the car was by Sufiya Abdur-Rahman and is titled “Black is Beautiful.” It echoed so much of what I had written on the topic of the dark and lonely side of the headlong rush to assimilation and the expectation that we should all want to fit into a homogeneity so stark that we should have trouble telling each other apart. I am not a fan of Hyphenated-American-ism but what is wrong with have identities? I guess I am more a tossed salad American than a melting pot American.

I was moved to write Ms. Abdur-Rahman. It was rather hard to find contact information but I managed to do so by looking her up on MySpace. I sent a note to her from her MySpace profile.


Ms. Abdur-Rahman,.

I am writing to thank you for your essay on NPR.

As a second generation American, it has been my belief we need not be like everyone else to be an American. Indeed, it has been pointed out, and I feel truthfully, the differences among peoples are one of the things that have made this the amazing country it is. I applaud you essay for pointing out we can be, and should remain, who we are at our core.

I am Jewish. I was raised in the North and now live in the South. I have taken my children to see the Civil Rights Memorial in Montgomery to look upon the names of the heroes there and have pointed to the names of the six Jews next to the rest of those who fought for freedom. I have shown them the my parents took pictures of, when we moved to Miami, that said “No Niggers, Jews or Dogs Allowed.” I have explained that giving up our heritage means giving in. And we held on despite my daughter’s high school beatings for being a dirty Jew, the head start teachers command our son should learn to be a Christian so he can “pass” when he needs to, my own difficulties attaining academic posts because I did not attend the right kind of church.

We moved here during WWII. It was my feeling, after having lost two-thirds of my family, that it would be a slap in their faces to assimilate. My parents though, my grandparents, said “assimilate.” They spoke Yiddish. My parents understood it. I can do neither. Now my daughter, 23, and I are relearning what we lost. We have a long way to go.

Your essay brought the importance of that back to us. I applaud what you are doing and bless you for your struggle.

Adam

Adam Byrn Tritt

Did I get a response? You bet. It was quite a heartfelt note back and I shall not share it here. If you want a note from Sufiya, write her yourself.