Inky Fingers

There’s something about the smell of fresh ink. Each time I enter a bookstore, I pick a book from the shelf, riffle the pages, and bury my nose in it. Ink is the smell of hope and wonder.

You can get it delivered daily with a newspaper.

Down the alleyway from our house, past the county courthouse and jail, was the newspaper office and print shop. The publisher didn’t much care for my hanging about, but he did tolerate me enough to print a couple of book reviews. I don’t recall talking to anyone much, just standing there, inhaling the ink, and dreaming over the supplies in the front cabinet — though there was that one time when I asked for an estimate on a print run for a fanzine. I may have asked for a job once, but no help was needed. The Recorder is still there; the press is not. The offices no longer smell of ink.

I have in my library a pile of newspapers, mostly unread, collected from places I’ve been. Not quite sure how I picked up the habit, but I tend to snag the local paper when I travel. Some places offer choices: perhaps a free weekly in addition to a daily, or one from the Big City somewhat further away. Cincinnati offered the Enquirer and the Post when we were in Loveland; one set of grandparents read The Inter-Mountain, the other read the News Leader during the week, and the Richmond Times-Dispatch on Sunday. The Really Big City papers, such as The New York Times and The Washington Post, weren’t available everywhere, only in airports and near those cities. Maybe most people don’t feel that so many papers available and news-stands virtually everywhere is the one of the more exciting things about New York, so I’ll accept that I might be little odd.

But it was a bit of a shock to find that London, England, had even more. I gathered up The Times, The Sunday Times (found out that they were different), The Independent, The Observer, The Guardian, The Financial Times, The Daily Telegraph, the Evening Standard, and more! That was a fun week in 1992.

Why does London have more papers than New York? Does it have more interesting newspapermen?

I worked in a print shop for a while, one which had a four-color offset press. But the Benjamin Franklin printing office in Philadelphia screamed out ink in louder, bolder type.

 

Impropriety

News of the world is daily maddening, full of pointless cruelty. We must take our moments of joy where we find them. My sons are in the bell choir at Trinity United Methodist Church. Before the service, the congregation sings hymns as randomly suggested by the congregants. Number Two Son had been looking through the hymnal and apparently found a song he liked: Angels We Have Heard on High. He confidently raised his tiny hand. “It’s too early for Christmas songs,” I whispered. He slowly lowered his hand, and we sang some other song.

After the song finished, the choirmaster asked for one more. One of the congregants had noticed the little hand, and pointed him out.

“Yes? What number?”

He spoke loudly and clearly, “Number 238.”

I couldn’t sing along very well overcome with emotion.

But the thing that David had done displeased the Lord

It seems only appropriate that Kevin Spacey should play the lead in House of Cards. The recent outburst of sexual assault allegations following an article in the New York Times and Ronan Farrow‘s serial exposé of Harvey Weinstein has gone well beyond salacious gossip and appears to be resulting in substantive legal consequences as well as a, most likely more important, shift in the unwillingness to tolerate foul behavior. I say appears to be because we’ve yet to see the powerful face consequences. It’s good to see people speaking up for themselves and coming forward — finding their power as it were. I’ve some hope that generally acceptable behavior will change for the better, and ladies will no longer need to use their hatpins to ward off unwanted advances.

A smattering of folks have been shocked to find gambling in Casablanca. Open secrets aren’t actually, y’know, secrets. They’re more like intentionally unenforced violations of the criminal code. The perpetrator is friends with the president or the district attorney — or the perpetrator is the president or the district attorney — or the victim’s silence is bought through fear or money or both. This ability of power to do what it wants isn’t an American disease. It’s essential to the nature of power. Power does because it can. A similar scandal is roiling Parliament — France isn’t being left out — but traditional abuse in Afghanistan has been traditional for centuries: The U. S. Army overlooks this, effectively sponsoring it, because “we need them.”

It does beg the question, however, why we overlook these sorts of things for so long while they are so well known. They hang out in society as jokes until they are inappropriate, unacceptable. Our understanding of the casting couch shifted from twittering about sleeping one’s way to the top to disgust at an abuse of power. How long were jokes about Catholic priests and altar boys circulating in Protestant circles before the spotlight fell on the truth? The gym coach at my high school would have girls sit on his lap. We’d yuk it up: “Sit on my lap and we’ll talk about the first thing that pops up.” Ha ha. So funny.

“There is a thin line that separates laughter and pain, comedy and tragedy, humor and hurt.” — Erma Bombeck

One of my college roommates was a page in the House. We didn’t talk much. I seem to recall he had trouble with the school and left after one semester. In that time and place he fit the profile of a troubled youth. He told me a story once, of Congressional shenanigans involving vodka enemas and sexual encounters with Congressmen. Nothing shocking, I’m sure, except he was a minor and an employee. He’s dead now.

Forgiveness, it is thought, arose to maintain the social group and because revenge isn’t possible in some circumstances. This is necessary and generally works to maintain the group. But parasites exact a cost. They take advantage of the overwhelming desire to maintain social cohesion. We allow them to continue, because we think we need them. We think their abuse of power is somehow justified, in the greater interest of our tribe, that it’s not our business, or because, frankly, some of us don’t care. Luckily, the Forest Troop of baboons provides some evidence of what’s possible when abusers are cast into the outer darkness: everyone benefits.

Now If I Could Just Think of a Title….

Hi, I’m Will. I suffer from word count envy.

I marvel over the seeming quickness of pen and flow of words of prolific authors, and envy that apparent ease. How could so much ink be spilled so quickly?

It’s been a mere 23 days since I started this daily writing practice, one with a publishing deadline. (My longhand journal entries tend to vary with anger and melancholy, and rarely record anything but, leaving blank pages on the calendar.) And in that short time I’ve felt the writing become easier, more fluent, so that I almost feel like two or more pieces a day is not inconceivable.

Hey! Maybe this practice thing actually works. 🙂

Hi, I’m Will. I have word count envy.

My Sons Build Better Box Forts

My love and I put together the IKEA Billy bookcases for my library last Thursday. They had been occupying the hall, and my books boxes, due to certain logistical issues. Now the books are unpacked and shelved, but awaiting organization. I’ve sorted out the non-fiction and poetry, but I’m not happy with the result. I’m a bit too obsessive with things being symmetrical. The way this room is prevents shelf symmetry. If I didn’t already hate much of contemporary architecture, I’d despise it for this sophomore student’s effort alone.

One really should be able to execute traditional design before attempting something novel. There’s a good reason that roofs join the way they do. Well, at least now I can sit in the library rocking chair, hot tea by my side and cat on my book, while I watch the water damage for signs of a new leak.

And agonize over how to get the subjects to line up. Might have to buy more books.

a picture of the library ceiling

Practice What You Preach

A wonderful pitter-patter of rain this morning. A frustrated pitter-patter of No. 2 Son practicing his drumming before school. He’s fighting frustration; the practice is hard for him. He does not yet understand that the practice is what makes it easier — with everything. Sometimes I think that’s a novel idea, but it’s more likely a common, misunderstood, and often forgotten one, especially when our art glamorizes the finished product and ignores the struggle it takes to get there. It takes a lot of work to look this good.

I’m an uncomfortable actor. I’ve not been on stage much: in fact, I can count the plays on one hand: God, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, The Fiddler on the Roof, Oliver! But I’m not uncomfortable because of the lines, or the singing, though I don’t think I’m very good at either of those things. I just don’t feel like the other person. I’m me, reciting lines. That’s not acting.

Back when personal websites became blogs, a number of blogging how-to articles sprouted up. How to optimize search traffic. How to construct your personal brand. How to have an authentic voice. I read the same pieces now about one’s social media presence: “cultivate your personal brand on your LinkedIn profile so that recruiters will love you and the job offers will come pouring in.” Seems to me that an “authentic voice” would get in the way of any personal branding or profile marketing I might do, so I intentionally decided not to focus on anything. If I write about technology or politics or work or whatever, it’s because I’m interested in it, not because I’m actively cultivating a particular identity. I suppose that might hurt my prospects.

A long time ago, scandalous behavior ruined careers. Or, if not scandalous behavior, then the wrong opinion, dragged from the recesses of past journal articles, whatever wrong meant at the moment of judgment, not necessarily what was wrong when it was written. Teenage me abandoned hope of a career in public service because standards were too high; it was as if one had to set his slippery sights on high office early in life and never waver from that goal. We call that “ambition.” One had to play a part I could not play: I can be somewhat blunt.

Could not play? Really? Identity is as much a process of becoming as it is of being. We adopt masks throughout our lives: perhaps because we are unhappy with ourselves, perhaps to play a role we imagine the crowd asks us to play, perhaps to play a role in a game, perhaps to experiment with possibilities, perhaps because it is our profession,  perhaps to give us confidence. Fake it until you make it. Practice it. I could have chosen that path, and still could. I could carefully edit this site so that it reflects an image I want to present, and prune out the unsavory, contradictory bits. Keep them to myself. Others do.

Everyone does. “Think before you speak,” I was admonished as a child. Be considerate. Every little thought is not entirely unfiltered, yet. There’s a certain laziness to using expletives with abandon; one’s language becomes imprecise. The sense is often maintained, but exactly do I mean when I call someone a fucking asshole? It takes some discipline to find other words, but gets easier. The same applies for any speech: criticism of any kind springs to mind. It’s initially harder to find words beyond “that sucks,” but even “I don’t particularly care for this” provides more value. Meanwhile, there’s that slight pause, diminishing over time, during editing.

It’s been said that character is what you do when no one is watching, when we are no longer performing — when we relax and lower our shields.Are you a teetotaler in public, but a drunk in private? It’s nice that one can maintain the illusion, but there’s still a problem. Once we excuse character flaws because of tribal membership or policy preferences, then we are tacitly, and sometimes explicitly, affirming that the ends justify the means: that the only thing that truly matters is winning, not how the game is played, as if there are no consequences to collateral damage. Have we lost the sense of how the personal informs the political? Or lost the language to understand it?

You become what you choose to practice. If you choose to practice evil, then what are you?

The Masks, Twilight Zone, Season 5, Episode 25

The Timesheet

Today is a sick day.

I’m not often sick. Well, here I am: sick again. It’s not from work, exactly. My love brought something back from Santa Fe, and I provided it with a fertile environment in which to grow, helped along by scheduled weekend work that resulted in around 40 hours without sleep. The two have, naturally enough, affected my ability to perform well. So I’ve taken a sick day and found myself unable to sleep. This has not helped. On sick days I think about work.

I’m lucky in that my work is salaried and that I can take paid sick days, but it seems somewhat inefficient to do that because of exhaustion after working 16 hours on the two days which are ostensibly off-days, except the business is 24×365, I’m on salary, and this timesheet does not admit of off-days between Monday and Friday. Much better than the schedule in Germinal, one gathers.

I don’t recall being told by human resources, or any real person, at any of my employers, to work long hours; to take no vacation; or to avoid taking a sick day on Friday, Monday, or any day adjacent to an off day; but somehow it’s been communicated that this is The Way Things Are Done. Perhaps we were told by that impersonal, demanding timesheet. Someone made the decisions that it so dutifully implements in SQL and Javascript. Someone decided which working hours are customary. Someone required presence during them. Someone decided that since working on weekends is always intentional it should require management approval, though no extra pay is forthcoming and presence is still required during the week. Someone decided that a paid lunch hour should be recorded as present time and added that hour to the customary work schedule, somewhat unintentionally increasing the so-called working hours. Someone decided that my value lies in how long I work and not in how well.

I work from home so do not have the burden of commuting to the office. This does allow some flexibility in the schedule, assuming that all of those hours are there. But that’s not a worry for today.

Today is a sick day.

Please, Sir, May I Have Some More?

Netflix noticed something strange and unexpected among users of their video streaming service: they would watch all of the available episodes of a series before starting a new show, and they would watch for hours on end. They called this consumption pattern binge-watching. What explained this novel behavior? What did it mean, not only for Netflix’s business, but for everyone in theater?

But this behavior is not novel, and should have been expected, if the industry had not confused the limits of their production and scheduling processes with customer preferences. Any librarian or bookseller worth her salt could predict this. What do their clients ask for when they find a good book? More of the same. Even Hollywood moguls know this. Applying this knowledge is what they, still, have trouble with. Streaming video services, the medium formerly known as television, should remember to take this customer preference for more into account. Attempting to stretch a product over time through artificial limits such as the gradual release of episodes may inadvertently lead to lost viewership and reduced profitability.

The summer of 1981, I bought Lord Foul’s Bane at The Little Professor Book Center in Montgomery, Ohio. I remember this because it was the first book I bought on my own. I picked it out from the shelf. I smelled the fresh ink. I ruffled the pages. I complained about sales tax. After I read it, I went right back out — at my parents’ convenience — and bought The Illearth War and The Power That Preserves. But The Wounded Land was only available in hardcover, so I read that at the library. And that’s when I discovered that The One Tree would not be available for another year!

image of the first edition U. S. paperback covers of The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever

One year?!

Well, by the time it arrived, I had forgotten a bit of the earlier book. I read The One Tree — one must finish a series, y’know — but without the enthusiasm I’d pursued the previous volumes. I eventually read White Gold Wielder. I think. I’m not quite sure.

Storytellers have quite a few tricks, “narrative techniques,” to capture the attention of their audience. Cliffhangers, for instance, are quite effective. But their enemy is time. Will the audience come back after intermission?

Everyone Sang

Everyone suddenly burst out singing;
And I was filled with such delight
As prisoned birds must find in freedom,
Winging wildly across the white
Orchards and dark-green fields; on – on – and out of sight.

Everyone’s voice was suddenly lifted;
And beauty came like the setting sun:
My heart was shaken with tears; and horror
Drifted away … O, but Everyone
Was a bird; and the song was wordless; the singing will never be done.

Everyone Sang,” Siegfried Sasson (November 1918)

There is such joy and hope in this poem, by some accounts written moments after hearing the news on the day of the Armistice.

Compare to “In Flanders Fields,” more commonly associated with the war, at least by this schoolboy.

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
    That mark our place; and in the sky
    The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
    Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
        In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
    The torch; be yours to hold it high.
    If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
        In Flanders fields.

In Flanders Fields,” John McCrae (2 May 1915)

Written after the death of a friend in the Second Battle of Ypres, here the countless dead beg the living to fall prey to the sunk cost fallacy, and throw good money, or lives in this case, after bad. In 1915 the war was still not entirely hopeless.

Sassoon addressed the waste of war in other poems. Whether “Everyone Sang” is a hymn in response to the peace or not, there’s a moment of hope, of life breaking out in joy.

Hear Siegfied Sassoon read “Everyone Sang” at the Poetry Archive.

Some Days

Chilly. On mornings like this I’m encouraged to stay in bed by warm blankets, warm cats, and the cold air. Funny how the summer’s heat encourages the same. I do like my cozy bed. But I’ll pad to the stove and put on the kettle for tea. The flock of robins on the bare branches of the maple next door, black against the grey sky, chatters about their plans for the day.

I found another wonderful thing on the Internet: the weather maps by The Dark Sky Company. Click on that link. I’ll wait.

Continue reading “Some Days”

Gaming the System

Today is election day. The children, in this school district, have the day off. It should be a state or national holiday, if elections are important to this civil society, or even if they are just a spectacle. I intentionally did not vote in uncontested races.

I’m conservative. I believe that what exists has value, even if not readily apparent. I do not believe things should be changed for light or frivolous reasons. This generally means that I despise a lot of what passes for conservatism these days. The moral decay of society — I’ll bet you think I mean something else by that than what I mean by it. See how corrupt we’ve become? — pits my conservative inclination in constant war with my desire for a purging flame. But one thing I would see changed is how the system is turned upon itself, where the letter of the law subverts the intent. (Now, if perversion is the intent, then we need to have a discussion about principles. I’ll bring my whip.) Such as in, for example, elections.

The present system, unless otherwise specified, requires only a simple majority of those voting for a representative to be chosen or a proposition to pass. The assumption is that to refrain from casting a ballot is to abstain, a neutral position. The ballot itself has only binary options: for or against. This assumption leads to trickery such as adjusting polling hours and voting requirements in order to affect who votes and how many votes are cast. More generally, it’s become a means by which incumbents maintain control over the system rather than one where the outcome of the election reflects the will of the people. Gerrymandering is the best known case of the incumbent picking his voters.

Anyway, here in New York State we have, in addition to local town and county governments, various special districts with the ability to tax: the school district, the library district, the fire district, the water district, the sewer district, the i-have-a-fwend-in-wome district, etc. The bulk of local taxation arises from the school district budget and secondarily from the town budget, which is predominantly highway maintenance. During the general election, local offices are often uncontested, having been resolved in party committee meetings or a primary earlier in the year. Elections for the special districts might not to be held on the same date as the general election. The library district, for example, puts its budget up for a vote during the general election, while the school district budget vote and school board elections are by law held in May. The fire district is planning a special election for a bond referendum, to be held in December.

I suggest the following two changes, in addition to the one I made in the first paragraph.

  1. There can be no uncontested elections. None of the Above is always a candidate.
  2. Winning requires a majority of the total population, rather than of those who participate in the election.

I’m sure there are problems with these suggestions. For one thing, they’ll make it more difficult to win an election: That’s intentional. Let’s try it with something significant but inconsequential, such as a bond issue for a local fire district, or the school board.

Attention Must Be Paid

My work — the employment for which I’m paid, that is — is invisible. Nothing to see here; move along. Long ago, the company asked us to let undergraduates, prospective employees who were interested in the field, shadow us for a day so they could get a sense of the job. Instead of an internship, looking over my shoulder while I type. Had they seen Office Space? Do we really need to impress on the young how accurate Waiting for Godot is? At least Kafka has a giant cockroach.

Number Two Son is nine, about the age at which I began playing Dungeons & Dragons. He wasn’t feeling well and stayed home from school today. After waking and breakfast, he asked me to read with him, but I was working. He read to himself a bit then puttered around with math and the slack line while waiting. Then at lunch we read The Lorax.

He asked questions a lot while he was puttering. I was inattentive at first, but wasn’t getting anything done. It took me a while to remember that he was there with me in real life, a real person; that today was special because he wasn’t normally at home during the week. Then I took the time and gave him my attention.

As we chatted at the lunch table after reading, I wondered what about my work could be interesting to him. Or, if not that, what about what I’m thinking about anything. When he asks, “what are you doing?” and I answer only, “work,” what does that say? I’m not writing video games: It’s not like he can see how moving a semi-colon changes a syntax error into a functioning for loop, or a comma changes meaning. And he’s not reading what I write, so my rants online about whatever don’t register — that may be a good thing. But how can I say he learned anything at his father’s knee if I don’t talk to him? My work is invisible; he can’t watch.

What if we tried talking to our children as if they are people and interesting, instead of waiting for them to leave home first?

What if we gave them the time of day?

Maybe tomorrow we can talk about how The Lorax is a tragedy not a comedy.

In the Scriptorium

Only try to do it yourself and you will learn how arduous is the writer’s task. It dims your eyes, makes your back ache, and knits your chest and belly together. It is a terrible ordeal for the whole body.[*]

I sit hunched over the keyboard or this book. That is how I sit: hunched. My head dipped toward the surface, back arched, lungs squeezed against my stomach — my body changing to fit my tools. This way I can see what I’m doing. Or I could lean far back and look through glass. There’s no in-between. Helpful eyes, these.

Outside it is grey, low clouds, fog on the hills, a thin rain. Inside, darker still. I can hear the crows. I associate this time of year with Medieval Europe for some reason. Must be the weather. I’ve enhanced the mood with candle, incense, and Anonymous Four.

Two Wrongs Don’t Make a Right

What with the renewed interest in a Russian antagonist recently, it has become fashionable in some circles to dismiss criticism as use of a rhetorical device that has stood the long test of time: whataboutism.

Well, yes, tu quoque is a logical fallacy, and that would matter if public opinion were logical. But it is not, so it doesn’t. Whataboutism as a device works because it plays on the cognitive dissonance arising from the conflict between one’s ideals and hypocritical behavior. The case of Thomas Jefferson, for example, writing that all men have the right to liberty while keeping slaves. The United States is particularly susceptible to this style of argument because of our founding in the Enlightenment and because we pretend to be a shining example to the world, a City upon a Hill. How can we on the one hand pledge allegiance to liberty and justice for all while simultaneously denying it in practice? How do we reconcile our behavior with our ideals?

Whataboutism works because it’s true.

Whataboutism may draw a false moral equivalence between parties, without concern for shades of grey, but a decent respect for the opinions of mankind does make it unseemly to criticize others of a crime, e.g. torture, when one engages in that crime. Or at least makes the accusation more than a little ironic. Well, isn’t that just the pot calling the kettle black! The U.N. Human Rights Council is likely tired of hearing this. It would be something else entirely if we admitted our flaws, acknowledged them, and actually held ourselves to at least the same, if not a more stringent, standard than we hold others. “Let he who is without sin…” and all that.

We certainly aren’t without sin. No one is. One might take a moment for self-reflection. Or not. Many so-called patriots prefer denial and cannot admit fault. Brush the dirt under the rug of history while claiming the dirt doesn’t exist and, even if it did, it’s not dirt but soil. We don’t air our dirty laundry in public. This is the “my country, right or wrong” crowd: the reduction of civil society and the clash of nations to a team sport, and, strangely enough, the active embrace of the core argument advanced by the current crop of whataboutism.

Masha Gessen, in “In Praise of Hypocrisy,” writes,

Fascists the world over have gained popularity by calling forth the idea that the world is rotten to the core. In “The Origins of Totalitarianism,” Hannah Arendt described how fascism invites people to “throw off the mask of hypocrisy” and adopt the worldview that there is no right and wrong, only winners and losers. Hypocrisy can be aspirational: Political actors claim that they are motivated by ideals perhaps to a greater extent than they really are; shedding the mask of hypocrisy asserts that greed, vengeance and gratuitous cruelty aren’t wrong, but are legitimate motivations for political behavior.

[Vladimir Putin and Victor Orban] seem convinced that the entire world is driven solely by greed and hunger for power, and only the Western democracies continue to insist, hypocritically, that their politics are based on values and principles….

Despair at how the world is shaped by power imbalances, and embrace a blunt conception of the Good Life:

They err in understanding a description of how the world works as a prescription for the way it should. Still ideals beyond power give us something to strive for in this dog-eat-dog world where only the murderous survive. Isn’t it odd that those who care so little for the public opinion that they have no qualms looting their country for their own personal aggrandizement are among those who are the most assiduous perpetrators of fraud, indirection, and deceit in hiding their wealth and the sources of it? Isn’t it odd that heroes must hide their feet of clay?

Perhaps there’s something to these ideals after all.

Daylight Saving Time (Revised)

The initial idea for Daylight Saving Time was not, as is commonly thought, to save energy or to give farmers more time to do their work. (Dumbass. Farmers and animals don’t use the clock: They use the sun.)

The initial idea came from a gentleman in the building trades who considered all the lay-abed clerks to be wasting precious daylight sleeping when they should be hard at work (see Seize the Daylight [2005]). The arguments for saving candles, kerosene, and electricity came later. More recently, demand for DST has come from people who like “all the extra time” after school and work.

So, to thumb our noses at the busybody jackass who came up with the idea, and to satisfy demand for more time after work, let’s shorten the “standard” work day.

I think this will be a win-win all around.

But I Get Up Again

I didn’t hit publish on my latest until after midnight, so it looks like I missed two days, not one. I could fudge the record by back-dating posts, but I’d rather not. Instead those gaps in the calendar stand as an example, assuming I continue writing.

Everyone stumbles and falls. Some get up and keep going.

How we approach failure matters. Even in this one sentence, this one paragraph, I keep writing even though I’m not quite sure how best to say what I’m thinking. I could wrestle over each individual word used before I put pen to paper, and do — that’s how I normally approach the page — but when I do that two things happen: I forget what I was trying to say, and I don’t write. Why would I even do this to begin with? I’m not producing permanent etchings on rock; I can change words as I go along, or come back later and revise whole sections — and that’s just on paper. Digital ink is even more flexible. But I’ve done this for decades; I stopped writing in a journal when I was 11: my scribblings were defacing the beautiful book.

I recall some author attempting to make the case that these specific lines in Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” were proof that they were a Satanic band, because you can’t get to Heaven on the highway to Hell:

Yes, there are two paths you can go by / but in the long run / there’s still time to change the road you’re on.

Which is funny because this point is made several times in the Gospels: there’s still time to change. We are all sinners, redeemed by the grace of God. As Paul argues in Romans, because God has forgiven you, refrain from continuing to sin, and instead walk in the path of righteousness.

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. — Romans 6:1-4 (ESV)

(Now that I think about it, that commentary on Led Zeppelin hides a temptation. Shall we despair and continue to sin because there is no hope?)

Let not your sins be a heavy burden, but get up and walk with God, “for my yoke is easy, and my burden light.” That attitude applies not just to grievous faults, but to every little mistake we make. As the Zen Buddhists say in teaching mindfulness, and the yogis in teaching yoga, approach with beginner’s mind. Return to the breath if your attention wanders. It is still there. Observe that thought passing through, how you are not your thoughts. Begin again.

“Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. — Matthew 18:3 (ESV)

We carry the mistakes of the past with us, as lessons: The bee may sting if you try to pet it. What lesson will we learn? What will we teach? If we do not risk failure, if we win without effort, is that success? Each moment, this moment, is new. Pick up the pen and write.

Stop the World, I Want to Get Off

The most satisfying work I’ve done has been sweeping an empty room, turning off the lights, and closing the door. Because the work was done. Had come to an end. Fin. Entropy reduced to zero.

Having small children and other creatures living with me, it rarely happens that a task is completely done. There’s one more dish to wash, another sock to put in the laundry, more crumbs on the floor, another meal to make. The work is over when I die. For small portions of life, we can pretend that each beginning has an end. We empty one house before moving to another. What if there’s not? How burdensome!

Stop the world, I want to get off. Button, c. 1960I like to imagine a revolution, the world swept clean by fire before the dawning of a new age. There’s something so easy, so glamorous about a clean slate for starting over. It eliminates all concerns about the moment of transition.

And doesn’t exist.

The other day I watched a lovely little presentation on the benefits of treating infrastructure as code, and managing it holistically, as a software project. It’s a wonderful thought, and one I’ve been an advocate of since reading “Bootstrapping an Infrastructure” around the turn of the century. It’s nice to see the attitude gaining traction some some n years since virtualization made it possible for nearly everyone. But this is an attitude shift, a change in mindset rather than a drop-in replacement for whatever software ails you. What if one, unlike a fancy new software start-up, has existing infrastructure, policies, procedures, and people? How does one adapt to a new paradigm where computing resources aren’t expensive, and the most expensive cost is history and tradition?

Burning it all down is not an option.

The Darker Half of the Year

I don’t believe in ghosts or demons from the deep. Then again, I don’t not believe in them either. There’s insufficient evidence for canals on Mars. But I would like if All Hallow’s Eve were more hallowed, if Samhain were a thinning between the worlds, and not a confectioner’s gimmick. These days the closest we come to fear and wonder is paranoia over pedophiles and madmen next door poisoning the Baby Ruth or slipping razor blades in apples. Though, come to think of it, that’s not all that different from the Faeries leaving a changeling for a baby, or being caught up in the Wild Hunt.

Perhaps it’s the missing sense of reverence that no longer attends Halloween, and for some has gone from Christmas and Easter, that I desire. There’s nothing particularly special about those days other than that we’ve set them apart as holidays — and then imbue that day with no significance other than market day. We do the same with somber national holidays like Memorial Day. Thanksgiving we’ve left alone because there’s still Friday to shop. It’s as if shopping is the holiest thing we could possibly do.

What is it I’m looking for, exactly? Something experiential? An ecstatic moment? An imaginary romantic ideal? The annihilation of advertising? Longing for years gone by? Not year-old candy, that’s certain.

Pictures of It Didn’t Happen

Twitter and smartphones have changed the art of citation on the Internet. It’s not enough to quote something and to link. A picture must also be included of the source with the quoted text highlighted. (Then the link and attribution are forgotten.) Perhaps this practice arose because the sources are easily deleted or altered. But everything digital is malleable. Pictures can be fabricated.

This is not a tweet by Donald J. Trump.

The question arises, what can we trust? Photographs, of the non-digital variety, have been the subject of manipulation since the invention of the medium, whether for monetary fraud, such as spirit photography, or for political, like the memory hole. Some news organizations, such as the Associated Press, adopted strict usage practices around photo manipulation to ensure trustworthiness. Other publications are less concerned about objectivity in the pursuit of their art. We made the distinction: is this a representational work with a claim to objectivity? Or is it art, potentially with a claim to so-called truth? What helps guide us now?

TED Radio Hour talked the other day about our understanding of memory and new techniques for altering it. We’ve known our experience is plastic for some time: lawyers lead the witness. But these medical techniques of memory alteration are the premise of Philip K. Dick‘s 1966 short story, “We Can Remember It For You Wholesale,” frequently remembered as the motion picture Total Recall (1990), and pose a quandary: Should we? What is real if we can remember a fictitious vacation on Mars? No wonder some people think Apollo 11 landed in Arizona.

Funny how the Big Questions of Life have indefinite answers, if any. What is Real? What is Illusion? What is True? The same questions troubling us long ago bother us today. Is there anything there outside of our senses? Our sight grows old and dim. Our memory lies. We forget. Perhaps the Ancient Greek word for truth is intentionally precise: not forgotten.

What’s to be believed? Our dementiaThe treachery of images?