Thursday, February 26, 2009

Zhang He

was a 7 foot tall Muslim Chinese eunuch. Which, in of itself, is not historically noteworthy.

His appearance, and paradoxical religious and ethnic combination may have made him noteworthy in his own time. In court he may have been an extraordinary figure, and knowing the Chinese court he'd likely have been mentioned by someone or other. Indeed, some specialist historian may have discovered him, if his features and traits were all he was known for.

But Zhang He explored unknown worlds.

Having trained, not since boyhood, but from his mid-twenties, when he decided being a court official was not ambitious enough, to become an astronaut he left our atmosphere at the age of 35, the upper limit for qualification.

At first, of course, he was just a regular pilot. He ran shuttle missions mostly. By the time he was 45 he had earned a minor reputation for excellence in this field. By fifty he was considered for a small exploration unit. He got the job three years later.

He spent the next thirty years penetrating deeper and deeper into space. He catalogued stars, planets, did lifesweeps, and collected samples. He charted asteroid belts and debris clouds as one would describe a reef along a rocky shore.

After this period he began to have a mid-life crisis, choosing to transfer to surface operations. These ground sweeps are generally regarded as less cozy than their ship-based counterparts, and therefore paid less.

Once he was on the surface of his first planet, however, He knew that he had picked the right job. It could take years to catalogue a single planet. The scanners on the ships could give as detailed an image as one could hope for. Yet a human was still needed on the surface to verify the machine's scanned images.

He was able to sweep three planets before retiring: FG-472, KS-096, and RD-786. To s they remain numbers, but to Zhang He they were each wildly different homes. One, arid and cold, strikingly flat until one reached a precipice and was presented an inspiring canyon vista. One, completely monopolized by a primitive multicellular seditious lifeform that fed on the surface's silicone dust and potassium-based atmosphere. One, a volcanic wonderland.

The reason his name came down to us, however, is not for his planetary discoveries, which were minimal amongst tens of thousands, but the fact that he was the first human who, after he'd retired, successfully mate with an alien life-form. In his immortal words, "It was squelchy." Their child, unsurprisingly, became World Premier. The mother looked like a rotten tree stump. He did not live to see the ceremony, passing away at 149.

Monday, February 23, 2009

You Say You Want....

"When the revolution comes, you'll be first up against the wall."

This is a key example of phrase misuse. First, this has been applied to so many people, and groups of people, that when the revolution finally gets here it'll be more on the scale of an apocalypse, wiping out everyone. The only groups safe from this threat, so far, have been the Amish and the Nazis. The Amish, since no one had any qualms with their lifestyle, and the Nazis because everyone assumes it had already been said.

That, and the ironic implications. Which leads to my further concern of this phrase misuse. Whose in charge of this revolution, anyway? The nay-sayer who wishes your execution? Apparently not. They're too busy beating up on anyone with different opinions to successfully organize a mass of humanity. The government? Why would those in power start a revolution?

Obviously the revolution is going to started by a bunch of outcasts who aren't too busy being cynical and yet embracing enough to include foreign opinions while marshaling support for a violent struggle against near everyone in the world.

I'm not sure if that means the revolution will never happen, or is right around the corner. Either way, called it.

A Kiwi acquaintance of mine was once mortified by my teacher's use of the phrase 'There's more than one way to skin a cat.' His response, I will always remember, ''More than one way to skin a cat'? What Nazi thought that one up?!'

(Okay, I realize that the continuing use of the term 'Nazi' is nearing gratuity. I am also fully aware that I wrote a column on how the gratuity of the term is a shortcoming of horrible losers with no life and only the lamest ambitions. This is, somehow, not my fault, and further, for other reasons, I am exempt from my own nay-saying and wisdom. Like Clytemnestra.)

To grant the New Zealander a point, though, one must wonder where such a morbid phrase arose. Answer (according to the infallible internet): Mark Twain. Sick bastard.

Let's get back to phrase misuse. Howabout 'For the lulz'? I think I'm fairly sick of this one. To take corruptions in typing and to speak them in company, well, I lose respect. The whole crossover of internet memes into reality is a horrid development. Ever since it became acceptable to say 'lol' the crossover trend has gotten dangerous. Soon people will begin saying 'wtf'. You just wait and see.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

7 things about Chris Marlowe!

Greetings. I knew that I would have to title this bulletin with a line to summon thine attention.
It has come to my attention that a certain playwright has been butchering our language with a frequency which boggles the mind. So here are some quick reminders for all of ye on how to speak the Queen's English.

1. Subject, Verb, Object. “O! What a Rogue and Peasant Slave Am I”. No. Instead, “O! I Am A Rogue and Peasant Slave.” Likewise you would say “John caught the ball” not “John the ball caught.” Get your order right.

2. Use of 'Most'. “The Most Unkindest Cut of All”? What is this horse shit? “To Take the Basest and Most Poorest shape”? Saying 'most' and 'unkindest' is plain repetitive. 'Most poorest' is similarly repetitive and sounds ignorant.

3. Use of 'Their'. “God Send Every One Their Heart's Desire!” No, Bill. 'Their' should not be used in such a reference. The agreement is all off.

4. Dialect. No one is ever going to want to hear dialect of the varied ignorant regions of Britain. For example:
“Let Go His Arm.”
“Chill Not Let Go Zir.”
This is gibberish, mate. To chill something means to lower its temperature. 'Zir' isn't even a word. O, and you forgot the 'of' in the first line. “Let Go OF His Arm.”

5. Prepositions. Do not leave them out, such as in the example above, or “As Good Deed As Drink.” You are getting sloppy, Bill. “As Good A Deed As Drink,” I think, is what you meant. Who is your editor?

6. Rhyme.
“Against That Time When Thou Shalt Strangely Pass
And Scarcely Greet Me With That Sun Thine Eye
When Love Converted From the Thing it Was
Shall Reasons Find of Settled Gravity.”
'Pass' and 'Was'? WTF? Those do not even begin to rhyme, you lazy bastard. If you are going to write a sonnet you had better make it rhyme. Look, too, at that second line. Subject, Verb, Object. Not to mention starting a line with 'And'. Zounds, Bill.

7. Lastly, Bill, you can't just make up words. None of the following are real words, even if they help you rhyme: Accused, Addiction, Amazement, Arouse, Assassination (really?), Bandit, Bedroom (what is the point?), Blanket, Bump ('dialect' again, eh?), Champion, Countless, Fixture, Flawed, Generous, Hint, Lonely, Mimic, Negotiate, Obscene, Rant, Torture, Worthless, Zany.
I know some of you will go about saying this whole exercise has been some 'zany' 'rant'. But I will never give in. THESE ARE NOT WORDS, PEOPLE. Even if the dictionary accepts them I never will.

Sincerely, Christopher Marlowe.

More Time

You want to know another way to waste your time?

Most of you are probably thinking 'No, not really, mate. I'm quite alright.' But you're not. You constantly waste your life. You should stopping reading this right now. No good will come of it, unless you consider it as just another time waster.

And here you are still reading. Really, the information to be provided is going to nothing special. You already know it.

You might just be reading to expose the apparent contradiction in the fact that I have wasted so much time writing this. But you'd be wrong. For, you see, my writing of this piece elevates my action to one of creation. Whereas your reading it can only be a passive exercise.

So here's how you can waste some time. Next time you have to travel somewhere go by bus, car, or boat instead of plane. If your destination is the store five blocks away walk.

Stand in line for a movie or show you have no intention of seeing. Collect a stack of books at the library, and then reshelve them. YouTube.

Cook inedible food. Something that takes a lot of time, and is utterly nonconsumable.

Actually start counting grains of sand on the beach. Go out to the country and try and make an accurate starchart. Endeavor to make your entire home dust free.

Call for tech help when you don't have a problem. Talk to your telemarketer.

Purposefully pick the longest line at the supermarket to buy a stick of gum.

If you do these things, trust me, you'll appreciate your time. Most of these are active pursuits. This is to show that even an active pursuit, rather than a passive one (compulsive email checking, television, etc) can be a total waste of time. There is nothing sacred in 'activity' rather than 'passivity'. Both can be life-affirming, both can be mind-numbing and worthless, utterly valueless, wastes of one's life.

So you just need to capitalize upon what is meaningful for you. Whatever is life-affirming to you is what you need to maximize. What is a drain on your livelihood and worth should be minimized or eradicated.

There you have it. Nothing too painful, nothing too novel. Yet, something tells me that this will be merely dismissed as an 'easier said than done'. I feel vaguely sorry for that. Because you're right, it is easier said than done. But if you value your time you still should do it.

(I swear this column will start being funny and have some fiction soon.)

Thursday, February 12, 2009


Why am I doing this?

Let's start over.

Why am I doing this while I'm sick?

Its true that when you're sick you no longer have a memory of what regular life is like. The same can be applied to when you're healthy: being sick just becomes a concept, rather than a stuffy mess.

When my grandmother got sick she was always a terrible nuisance, as grandmas are wont to be. She would bitterly complain and stew, pout and grump and generally make Saturday visits something of a wistful 'I wish I was anywhere but here' sort of experience.

Yet after the illness had taken its toll she'd always claim it was never as bad as all that.

This brings me to Dostoevsky, whose 'Notes From Underground' I used to think was the most important book of the past 200 years. In it, in the passage which is especially noteworthy and has for me retained some awesomeness, he describes having a toothache:

"Ha, ha, ha! You will be finding enjoyment in toothache next," you cry, with a laugh.

"Well, even in toothache there is enjoyment," I answer. I had toothache for a whole month and I know there is. In that case, of course, people are not spiteful in silence, but moan; but they are not candid moans, they are malignant moans, and the malignancy is the whole point. The enjoyment of the sufferer finds expression in those moans; if he did not feel enjoyment in them he would not moan. They express the knowledge that you have no enemy to punish, but that you have pain; the knowledge that you are in complete slavery to your teeth; that if someone wishes it, your teeth will leave off aching, and if he does not, they will go on aching another three months; and that finally if you still protest, all that is left you for your own gratification is to thrash yourself or beat your wall with your fist as hard as you can, and absolutely nothing more. Well, these mortal insults, these jeers on the part of someone unknown, end at last in an enjoyment which sometimes reaches the highest degree of voluptuousness. I ask you, gentlemen, listen sometimes to the moans of an educated man of the nineteenth century suffering from toothache, on the second or third day of the attack, when he is beginning to moan, not as he moaned on the first day, that is, not simply because he has toothache, not just as any coarse peasant, but as a man affected by progress and European civilisation, a man who is "divorced from the soil and the national elements," as they express it now-a-days. His moans become nasty, disgustingly malignant, and go on for whole days and nights. And of course he knows himself that he is doing himself no sort of good with his moans; he knows better than anyone that he is only lacerating and harassing himself and others for nothing; he knows that even the audience before whom he is making his efforts, and his whole family, listen to him with loathing, do not put a ha'porth of faith in him, and inwardly understand that he might moan differently, more simply, without trills and flourishes, and that he is only amusing himself like that from ill-humour, from malignancy. Well, in all these recognitions and disgraces it is that there lies a voluptuous pleasure. As though he would say: "I am worrying you, I am lacerating your hearts, I am keeping everyone in the house awake. Well, stay awake then! You, too, feel every minute that I have toothache. I am not a hero to you now, as I tried to seem before, but simply a nasty person, an impostor. Well, so be it, then! I am very glad that you see through me. It is nasty for you to hear my despicable moans: well, let it be nasty; here I will have a nastier flourish in a minute...."

And as we all know Dostoevsky ended up in prison with a prostitute in Siberia, so well done there.

Perhaps, then, these entries which have all been composed during my prolonged flu are my moans. At least we must agree that there is something malignant in copying such a long block of 19th century Russian lit.

* * *

So I've decided I need to eat healthy to get well. This means I ordered two large pizzas from Dominoes. Not that I particularly care for Dominoes, mind. Just, they're the place that delivers in a snowstorm in this wretched town.

Figuring I should consume some greens I got the pizza with spinach.

So while I listen to Peter Frampton's 'Do You Feel Like We Do' on repeat, trying to guess which part I like more and drink lemonade made from a plastic container of powder my health benefits. Whether in spite of or due to these actions, I cannot say. My hunch is 'due to'. Frampton, pizza and lemonade is a good combo.

Incidentally I used to think (about the same time as when I worshipped Dostoevsky) that cheese pizza, lemonade, and kosher dill pickle was the best meal in the world. High school was a special time. A time which, with some slight trepidation, I seem to be revisiting, this time on the 'grade-giver' side of things.

Also: that story about my grandmother is fictitious, I think. At least I have no recollection of such events. But it made for a decent little story to relate to. Even if you don't know someone who actually does do that it seems like such a reasonable human response that you apply it to someone you know.

Or, to paraphrasenly mangle a concept from Joan Didion: History according to me. (Didion's point, in On Keeping a Notebook, is that our records are best for preserving how it felt to us, not as a real depiction of factual events. This piece was also one of the saving finds of high school.)

For example:

"At no point have I ever been able successfully to keep a diary; my approach to daily life ranges from the grossly negligent to the merely absent, and on those few occasions when I have tried dutifully to record a day's events, boredom has so overcome me that the results are mysterious at best. What is this business about "shopping, typing piece, dinner with E, depressed"? hopping for what? Typing what piece? Who is E? Was this "E" depressed, or was I depressed? Who cares?

In fact I have abandoned altogether that kind of pointless entry; instead I tell what some would call lies. "That's simply not true," the members of my family frequently tell me when they come up against my memory of a shared event. "The party was not for you, the spider was not a black widow, it wasn't that way at all." Very likely they are right, for not only have I always had trouble distinguishing between what happened and what merely might have happened, but I remain unconvinced that the distinction, for my purposes, matters. The cracked crab that I recall having for lunch the day my father came home from Detroit in 1945 must certainly be embroidery, worked into the day's pattern to lend verisimilitude; I was ten years old and would not now remember the cracked crab. The day's events did not turn on cracked crab. And yet it is precisely that fictitious crab that makes me see the afternoon all over again, a home movie run all too often, the father bearing gifts, the child weeping, an exercise in family love and guilt. Or that is what it was to me. Similarly, perhaps it never did snow that August in Vermont; perhaps there never were flurries in the night wind, and maybe no one else felt the ground hardening and summer already dead even as we pretended to bask in it, but that was how it felt to me, and it might as well have snowed, could have snowed, did snow."

Here in Vermont in February there are flurries. And amidst the music, pizza, Dostoevsky and questionable history I'm still here, typing away, with a stuffed-up head and Joan Didion for comfort. Just wait, I'll have a nastier flourish in a minute....

Wednesday, February 11, 2009


Some people suffer more than others. What some may call their 'suffering' would be laughed at as juvenile by others. If you 'suffer' from restless leg syndrome, you are amongst the laughed-at. Those who have survived the Rwandan genocide are the laughers. At least they would be laughing if they knew who you were and weren't so hungry.

So very, very hungry.

If a student enters my class and says they are having the worst day ever I congratulate them on getting it out of the way so early on in life. Because I'm a dick. When the cause of their worst day is a misplaced pack of gum I just start laughing.

Some people claim to suffer from a type of graphomania - a compulsion to write. I feel a desire to write, but nothing so serious as a 'compulsion' has gripped me yet.

Which is why I've started this up again. It definitely beats a diary. Diary entries get old very fast, especially if you've more or less entered the working world. Unless you're part of the jetsetting crowd, don't bother.

Assuming, of course, that your diary is a creation for others and not yourself. If you keep a diary for yourself, well, have fun.

In the mean time I'll keep this going until I get bored and in the process disclose as little about my dull daily life as possible. Here's to round two.

Monday, February 9, 2009


"The majority of mortals, Paulinus, complain bitterly of the spitefulness of Nature, because we are born for a brief span of life, because even this space that has been granted to us rushes by so speedily and so swiftly that all save a very few find life at an end just when they are getting ready to live."
- Lucius Annaeus Seneca, On the Shortness of Life

"I don't know why we are here, but I am pretty sure that it is not to enjoy ourselves."
- Ludwig Wittgenstein

"Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana."
- Groucho Marx

My greatest concern, that is, not my fear, nor my worry, nor my faith, but my concern has, for many years, been time. And, commonly, that I may not have enough.

Although I should not be so quick to say my concern is a 'common' one. There are unknown scores, hundreds, billions, who, throughout their lives, have rarely, if ever, concerned themselves with their time on earth.

For some this was a historical point: they were concerned with their life after death, or had neither the capacity or leisure to consider such things. Truly, one's time is a concern for the well-off.

Time is fretted over by those with high expectations of themselves. It is feared by those who had expectations and did not meet them. It is the concern of those who are unsure of their expectations and abilities.

Nothing reinforces these disturbing states like a good illness. There's three days off the tablet. Wasted.

You'll not be getting those back again.

If you find you fall into one of the categories of 'time disturbia' and ever want to horrify yourself, do a quick calculation of how many months of your life-total will be spent tying shoes. Or flossing.

* * *

The accomplishments of life are not brought about suddenly. Rather, they develop organically and slowly.

Thinking over those people I hold dear, nearly all were gradual developments. The 'holding dear', of course. Although, to be fair, the gradual development applies to the people themselves, as well.

We develop gradually, and while there may be life-changing moments, our selves are not events.

Nor our friendships.

You could, for what it's worth, measure time through these developments. But then you have to ask yourself when did they begin? When did I become who I am, and when did she and I begin to be friends?

Obviously we couldn't have been friends before we met. But when we first met we didn't hit it off right away. There was that one night, but at the beginning of the night I still didn't think of her as a friend, well, let's see...

The paradox is old. Most often it's referred to as the paradox of the heap. If you have a heap of sand, and take away a single grain is it still a heap? Of course it is. Two grains? Three grains?

And when you find yourself with a single grain of sand left, where has you heap come to now?

And if you wish to think of the grains of sand as time, and the heap the measure of your life, then when is your life spent?

So it may not be the case that one's life is wasted if one does not accomplish great things. For their time may be spent cultivating stuff of a richer sort, which takes dedication and perseverance and patience before they can reap the benefits.