Tuesday, December 31, 2002

What decade is this?

No one seems to have come up yet with a moniker for the decade we're in. The 20th century was conveniently divided into the 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s, etc. But what do we call this time? The "Oh-Ohs"? That sounds a little too flippant. The first decade of the previous century was apparently called the "aughts"--as in, "I remember back in aught-seven, when Jebediah came home in his Stanley Steamer . . . ." But that sounds more than a bit archaic. The next decade will probably be called the "teens," though, as the corresponding decade was in the last century. Maybe we could call this decade the "pre-teens"? Too childish sounding, I suppose. How about the "zeros"? That has a nice ring to it, hmm? Anyway, happy new year.

Monday, December 30, 2002

The Interregnum

I like these weird days between the holidays, when time seems suspended. And this year, they're especially prolonged. (Because the holidays fall on successive Wednesdays, the break extends to two weeks for many people: Holiday Hiatus: 2 Workweeks Evaporate.) There's time to do many things that I usually put off, like maintaining my website and even cleaning up the disaster area that our condo has become. Today, though, I'm stuck babysitting my son and his two friends as they virtually beat up on each other via the PlayStation. Bang, crash, boom, expletive deleted . . . . How does the song go? "The most wonderful time of the year . . . ."

Sunday, December 29, 2002

Paths to Nowhere

This is one of a series of photos I've taken, called Paths to Nowhere. You'll find a link to a slightly larger version of this image, and others as well, on my home page at Dream House.

Saturday, December 28, 2002

Quote of the Day

"If you don't know where you're going, any road will take you there."
--George Harrison

Friday, December 27, 2002

Middle Earth

Saw Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers today. Though I enjoyed it, I found it a somewhat odd experience. Usually a sequel film can also serve as a standalone movie, but not TTT. There's no prologue explaining the story so far, and the film ends without an ending. To be continued. I felt I was watching a three-hour excerpt from a nine-hour film, which is essentially what Two Towers is, I suppose. I suspect that, in the future, people will watch each segment one after the other, as a nine-hour DVD marathon. Or maybe whatever technology replaces DVD will allow all nine hours to be edited together on one disk. People will have a "Rings" day and watch it all at once. That would be the best way to enjoy this trilogy, I think. . . . By the way, does anyone know why this chunk of the story is called The Two Towers? There was only one obvious tower in the film . . . . A-

Thursday, December 26, 2002


Is there anything as boring as the day after Christmas? The day when all the kids are complaining about having "nothing to do" as their toys and games litter the livingroom floor? Well, it's better to be bored than stressed, isn't it? Maybe. The worst feeling, of course, is simultaneous boredom and stress--the way I feel when I'm working sometimes. Give me plain old boredom any day.

Wednesday, December 25, 2002

Xmas Poem

Merry Xmas to all, and to all a good night. Here's a poem I wrote a couple of Xmases ago. It was originally published in Melic Review. Enjoy (I'm not always such a Scrooge . . .)

Fa La La

Red, green, red, green--
your lights nictitate like
arrogant cop cars,

making my eyes throb
as your garlands drip
Yule-shine onto the crust

of this decomposing snow.
All night you're dreaming of
the right Christmas--

gilded styrofoam,
tinsel and trash beneath a tree
of wires strung like nerves.

Let's admit that you're dying
to get it over with,
the frozen fa-la-la

for that suckling in the cow trough,
who will someday wander
the tepid Israeli hills

in dusty sandals,
knowing nothing
of such nonsense.

Monday, December 23, 2002


Ever wonder about those people who spend $2.00 apiece on those little bottles of Evian water? Try spelling Evian backwards.
--George Carlin

Saturday, December 21, 2002

Haiku 2,498: A cure for insomnia?

Perhaps I should read
Volumes of modern poems
Late at night in bed

Friday, December 20, 2002

Go with the flow

What makes people happy? You've heard the cliches: "follow your bliss," "go with the flow," "money can't buy happiness," etc. Turns out there's more truth to them than you might think:

Psychologists now know what makes people happy

My take on this is that happiness is always transitory. It's futile to aim for constant happiness--how would you know if you were happy if you didn't have any other mental state to compare it to? And, in my experience, trying to hold on to a feeling inevitably makes it slip away. Better to appreciate our moments of happiness and think of life as a melody of high notes and low notes. You have to let go of one note to hear the next.

Thursday, December 19, 2002

Requiem for a Pencil

I do all of my writing with either a ball-point pen or a keyboard. I've never been particularly fussy about what I write with, as long as it gets the words on paper (or screen) and doesn't leak all over my fingers. Some writers are fussy about their instruments, though, and quite a few through modern history have preferred to use the Blackwing 602. Alas, this pencil is no longer being manufactured, though you can still find them on eBay--for about $20 a piece.

Wednesday, December 18, 2002

What's going on next door?

Is there anything more annoying than the Neighbor from Hell? (This is a saga about suburban tract-house neighbors. It can be even worse in an apartment building, let me tell you.)

Monday, December 16, 2002

Quote of the Day

”Shadows are harshest when there is only one lamp.”
--James Richardson

I think this aphorism refers to our tendency to look at issues from only one point of view (“lamp”). When we open ourselves to other points of view—even if we end up not agreeing with them—the shadows may multiply but they also fade. We’ve let in more “light.”

Saturday, December 14, 2002

Haiku 9,867

Winter's leafless trees
Whisper gnarled philosophy
As evening grows near

Thursday, December 12, 2002

Corporate Christmas

I ventured into Manhattan today to find the sort of artsy Christmas cards that I like to send to my clients. I found what I needed at Barnes & Noble—nondenominational photography cards depicting winter scenes—then walked a few blocks uptown to Rockefeller Center. Every year at Christmastime, I make a point of walking around the plaza to watch the skaters and observe the decorations and the enormous tree.

I’m not sure why I keep doing this every year, as the experience always leaves me feeling somewhat numb. Maybe it’s the giganticism that turns me off: the 20-foot toy soldiers, the 10-foot wire angels, the 76-foot Christmas tree. Combined with the milling, shoulder-to-shoulder crowd, all of this makes me feel small.

Maybe that’s the idea. Maybe it’s supposed to make me feel like a child, a kid again, gazing up at a world made by giants—i.e., adults.

The decorations along Sixth Avenue are even more extreme. Ten-foot Christmas balls float in a fountain outside one skyscraper, as if they’ve fallen off some colossal tannenbaum. Six-foot faux holiday light bulbs sit in another fountain, as if dropped by some careless giant. These baubles are so large that they seem designed to make me feel like an embryo, not a child.

I don’t like feeling infantilized; that’s not the Christmas spirit I want. I also don’t much appreciate the overly art-directed, oh-so-tasteful ambiance of Rockefeller Center’s less spectacular holiday wrappings—the gold lamé flags that ring the skating rink, for example, or the swaths of evergreen dotted with tiny white sparkle lights. It’s impressive to be sure (the tourists ooh and aah) but cold and corporate, too. I’d rather see something naïve but sincere—a row house with a tree in the window and a wreath on the door, or even something religious. Isn’t that what it’s all about?

Christmas at Rockefeller Center

Wednesday, December 11, 2002

Prejudiced Prose

" 'I was strolling past some Korean shops in Chinatown when I overheard members of a Cambodian mafia having a powwow. One of these heathens had welshed on a deal to buy a ghetto blaster and was shanghaied off to the Near East. As if that weren't hurtful enough, it was Dutch treat all the way . . . . but my narrative doesn't end with a Mexican standoff: the thugs are massacred by Siamese-twin American Indian boys."

That's a quote from a hilarious review of a new book, Guidelines for Bias-Free Writing (Indiana University Press). The book was written by, and is intended for, copyeditors (of which I'm one, by the way). Though it contains some practical advice, the book seems to be primarily an excercise in political correctness run amok. ("Never say wheelchair-bound when living with mobility impairment will do.") The sentence in the above paragraph is reviewer Denis Dutton's, who writes: "The chapter on 'Race, Ethnicity, and Religion' in these Guidelines contains so much vivid (and therefore offensive) language, it tempts me to imagine a story-line based on vocabulary the Bias Persons would prohibit."

Monday, December 09, 2002

Quote of the Day

"Perception is a mirror not a fact. And what I look on is my state of mind, reflected outward."
--A Course in Miracles

True, I think. I look at a situation with a troubled mind, and it seems like the whole world is aligned against me. If I look at it calmly, rationally, drawing on both knowledge and intuition, it seems like a relatively small problem. And it's the same damn situation.

Sunday, December 08, 2002

More Poetry Outtakes


In front of God and everyone
Promises of passion
Whirl before our eyes

Look into my face and tell the time

In the normal course of events
With or without fear
We are walking in our sleep

There is nothing we need

Friday, December 06, 2002

Snow Day

I got very little “real” work done yesterday, unless you count the physical labor of shoveling snow. By lunchtime, the steps and sidewalk outside the condominium building where I live and work were piled high with a blanket of fluff. The “super” for our building is a part-timer with a day job, and I’m the only able-bodied male around the building during the day, so it was up to me. (Apparently. No one else seemed to be volunteering.)

There was just one problem: the shovels and salt were in the basement, and the basement was locked. We have a key, but my wife had it with her at work. (I keep forgetting to make a copy.)

I thought maybe I should just wait until she got home—usually around 6 or 6:30—but the snow was piling up fast against the front door. I decided to get a broom and at least try to sweep the fluffy stuff from the steps.

It worked at first, but some of the snow was frozen onto the concrete. I tried using the broom handle to break it up, but it was a cheap, plastic broom and the handle broke. Frustration. I went back upstairs and got the dustpan to use as a hand shovel. It worked pretty well on the steps.

While I was doing that—and feeling pretty silly scraping a dustpan along the stoop—our downstairs neighbor came trudging down the street with her kids. She suggested getting the basement key from another neighbor, a recent stroke victim, whom I didn’t realize was at home. She got the key for me, I found the shovel and a bag of salt pellets in the basement, and set back to work in earnest.

A guy from the building next door was also shoveling and offered to help me. Who says people aren’t neighborly in the city? We shoveled for a while, and then I threw some salt around, on his steps and sidewalk as well as mine.

Unfortunately, I used my bare hand to reach into the bag and grab the salt pellets, not realizing what this might do to my skin. I ended up with something resembling a mild sunburn on my right hand. When I was finished, I ran upstairs, washed up, and sprayed lots of Solarcaine (left over from last summer) onto my burnt digits.

The snow was still coming down in plump, wet flakes, and I knew I’d soon have to go out and shovel again. My hand was sore. I made myself a cup of coffee, sat down and thought of the myth of Sisyphus.

(Last year, I wrote a short story--published by Biffs Online--on a similar theme: Snow in the City. It won Biffs' "winter theme" contest.)

Thursday, December 05, 2002

What have you done now?

There's nothing like an apology to clear the air--especially a sincere apology. Sometimes a heartfelt-sounding excuse works, too. If you aren't feeling particularly sincere, though, there's always the Excuse-O-Mat. This text generator furnishes an endless supply of self-justifying rationales for all forms of perfidy.

Wednesday, December 04, 2002

Bad Writing Rewarded

Britain's least-coveted literary accolade, the annual Bad Sex in Fiction Prize, has been announced. Read about this year's winner, Wendy Perriam, whose novel, Tread Softly, is about "bunions, panic attacks and abuses in old people's homes":

award for godawful sex scenes

Here's an excerpt:

"The jargon he'd used at the consultation had become bewitching love-talk: ... dislocation of the second MTPJ ... titanium hemi-implant ....

"Yes!' she whispered back. Dorsal subluxation ... flexion deformity of the first metatarsal ...'.

"Oh yes!' she shouted, screwing up her face in concentration, tossing back her hair. Yes, oh Malcolm, yes!'."

Now I've Heard Everything Department

I never criticize religious beliefs--as long as they aren't used to oppress others--but this seems like a very peculiar idea to me: people in India are now worshiping an "AIDS goddess." As the author of the article below points out, however, India's religious traditions are very different from what Westerners are used to, and "AIDS-amma" might be more akin to Mr. Tooth Decay or Smokey the Bear than what we usually think of as a "goddess."

Birth of a Goddess