Sunday, December 30, 2012

A Little Escape From the Cliff

Moved by the dysfunction stalking the country, I was going to offer some depressing thoughts on the lack of confidence I'm feeling in our ability to evade the various cliffs facing us, but instead I'm offering escape today in the form of an excerpt from the upcoming work of fiction I am racing to complete by the spring. It has no title yet. But here's the setup:

A father and son have come across a Mayan tablet with a notation on it sought by Islamic warriors intent on building a warp speed transport craft. The father is imprisoned in a Jihadist camp in northern Canada. The son is attempting to find him. This is a section of the first person account of the father's imprisonment which takes turns with the son's quest.

If the Universe is spinning, then nothing has an essential purpose which has yet to be revealed. When the song ends, the play will be called. Until then we are running around the chairs trying not to be the ones standing when the music ceases. On the other hand, if the Universe is stable and we're the ones spinning, then this is a story with a beginning and end and the purpose of hell is to purify us for an eventual liberation. it would also explain all sorts of phenomena such as nauseau, the feeling I get when I contemplate the endlessness of my stay here.
Also, morning sickness, when the tumbling child wanting to be liberated calls out from the vacuum of the womb. 
Mary suffered tremendously with Ricky, or Richard, as she called him. I can picture her huddled beneath me, my arms around her stomach, holding her up like a sack of potatoes in the bathroom, sometimes for hours it seemed, the sun coming up in the window with the orange tree outside it. It never gave any oranges aside from one year some pitifully small fruit. But Ricky was as healthy as an onion. The little guy came out like a ball of fire, blathering, spewing his bodily fluids freely with the hospital cap on his elongated head, stretched from the difficult passage into this world through Mary's hole. She was our world tree, the axis around which our lives revolved. With her death we were cast headlong into the spinning vortex and tried with all our might to hold on to what we had, our memories of the love, the faith that it would continue to grow and wrap itself around our hearts and develop into something resembling the image we had in our minds of her.  I'd almost be capable of assembling my memories into a coherent picture excep that it would serve no purpose. There's nobody coming for me in this place. I don't believe it anymore. There's nothing calling to me beyond the noises of the infernal machinery in this undergound, viperous catacomb.
And yet she was above all else endowed with a sweetness of spirit, a rock meant to alleviate the spinning of whatever time and space we are sailing in. She never failed to pick me up when she smiled, and she smiled all the time. In the morning looking up from the bed with half closed eyes as I dressed for work, in the night when I stumbled around in the dark and switched on the light, unable to sleep from too much bourbon with the staff of Myers at the annual Christmas party.
She and Ricky sometimes whispered conversations at the table and I couldn't quite make out what they were saying, and she would smile at me and repeat what she'd said, sometimes not quite truthfully just to rub it in in, kind of harden me in her own way. She wasn't some kind of perfect wife, agreeing with me on every subject, God knows. But I could count on her honest opinions to be on the money.
Odds and ends from the piles and piles of mental images that come out:
Mary and Ricky reading the Lorax in Ricky's bed. A card Ricky made for Thamsgiving. She had it up on the refrigerator or years. His class pictures on the refrigeratior also. The photograph of the two of us on the deck of the Freedom standing in front of the ventilation shaft like a big tuba. The earring box on her bureau covered in dust. The mole on her back, about an inch windward of the vertebrae, her long feet splayed naturally the way she stood over Ricky when she was trying to get his cowlick just right for the first day of school. the way she cried when I came home and announced I'd lost the job at Myers, angry at them for not having given me time to even clear out my desk.
I am pausing now to write these words down. There is light now and an electrical outlet and a bed. The cell I am in still has puddled water from the condensation dripping from the ceiling. I have tried to position the bed so as to miss most of the drips, but the pencil, the paper, all of these are meager, yet important improvements. Jajabr comes and sees me now several times a week. We talk. I want to start to record our conversations. Next I will ask him for a favor and I will write Ricky a letter. I will send it to Tony, assuming that he has been placed in custodial charge until Ricky turns eighteen in a few years. I have asked Jajabr what he plans to do with me. He says the decision will be made by the judges. Apparently there is a counil of these men, holy men, in Jajabr's opinion, who legislate on all matters. I hope they are sensible. He has asked me to write out my case for freedom so he can forward it on. I am working on that too. But first, I need my memories. they make me strong, give me hope. I can't work without hope.
It's another day now. I can tell somehow by the sounds. There is a cycle of noises that carries in this cell, closer to a night and day, with a round of silence followed by more noises, motors, whinings and roars, and the occassionl thunder of the train tracks, but more distant now. Jajbr came down. There is no dilly dallying when he is around. The guards walk faster, tighter. His righteous indignation is the fuel that motors them onward in this outpost, wherever we are. He came inside with the food and asked me how I was. I said I would be better with natural light. the artificial light has failed to relieve me completely of my morbid thoughts. I confessed that i was thinking about dying.
Your weakness is a result of your lack of faith in the right way, the path of Allah.
It's what he always says. Patiently, I asked him for more information, trying to keep the bitterness out of my voice. 
 What are the signposts of this path?
I didn't mention, although it was my first thought, that it would be hard to walk any sort of path, living in forced confinement in a toilet. He doesn't seem to take that sort of thing well, I've found. Besides, I needed to get the envelope and a letter out to Ricky.
You must work purely for God. Align your desires with the rulings of the Sharia. Be resolute in your intentions.
I must try harder. But it's asking a bit much when I have no idea how long this will go on, don't you think?
Over that, not even our judges know. That is the time and day of the final reckoning.
I'm not talking about the Last Judgement. I'm talking about getting the hell out of here Jajabr.
You must have faith. Seek the counsel of the wise men.
And they are, where?
You know the story of the mouse and the Lion. I am the mouse and you are the Lion. I can save you. Your voice will return once you have found the true source of your strength in the one and true God.
What is this mania for conversion? Is that why you have me here?
I just think you might find wisdom in your captivity. After all, look at Mandela. He found a world in a cage. Why not you?
I'm not Mandela. I'm just an ordinary man, You trying to force a square peg through a round hole, Jajabr. I'm not going to lie to you. I appreciate your conversation., But t gets a litle old having to listen to all the claptrap about your salvation. No offense.
His face reddened. He stared hard at me and stroked his beard. His eyes are a strange dull amber and the hard black pupils that wax and wane with his moods.
You must be confronted with your ignorance.  That is your only salvation.
Like all of us Americans, huh?
No, not all. Some will find it easier to accept the true din. Whoever God desires to lead, he turns his heart to the righteous road.
The only road I care about is the road that leads me out of here and back to my son, Jajabr. You've deprived me of my freedom, but the only reason I have for living is my son. I need to get word to him that I am alive.
Your son is alive. I have word that he is in the hands of the enemy, at their camps and councils of the highest order. They have seized the tablet and are attemting to understand the message of the Mayan kings.
The Mayans? Tell me that dammed tablet had anything good on it Jajabr.
The ancient people of that lineage understood the Safira and how to assemble the levels of matter that came from it.
What do you inetend to do with it? Do you really intend to wipe us out?
If we have to we will purify by fire
With your bomb.
The technology is in its dvelopment phase.
Look, again, no offense. But it's been awhile since your side has had any decent technological jump on the West.
We controlled thirteen million square kilometers. That was not done with firecrackers, my friend.
Okay. But if you destroy the West, do you intend to strip out the engines of innovation that are our universities and our entrepreneurs, our commerce? What will you be left with?
Sharia law. An Islamic wy of living. The learning will not disappear. Humans will still behave like humans, only decently, without the excessive immorality, the homosexuality, the poverty of your children, the lack of health.
Oh, come on.
How can you defend your country when one gunman can enter a kindergarten and shoot down twenty children with an automatic rifle? These are cancers on the soul of the world, these acts. Your women are the ruination of our young. It will be brought to a stop, for the good even of ordinary Americans who are suffering as badly as any. We used to think it was your plan to keep only our people, the Arabs in a state of suffering. But now we see it is even worse than this. Your thirst for power has led you to cannibalize the mongrel hordes that live in your own slums and outbacks. The world itself is sick from your smoke. I must stop. It is enough for me to see you to know that we must prevail.
Nice talking to you also, Jajbr. Anytime. Stop in and see me again soon. I'm always here.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Sleepwalking to Nowhere

This morning the alarm went off even though it shouldn't have. That kind of thing used to really bother me, but not so much any more. Getting up in the dark when I could have easily slept for another hour. There must be a purpose for those twists and turns of fate besides giving me an extra hour to write. Maybe more than anyone ever imagined. I'm reading a book, Parallel Worlds, A Journey through Creation, Higher Dimensions and the Future of the Cosmos by Michio Kaku. It's a fascinating narrative of recent developments in cosmology and physical science, something about which I've always been somewhat curious, but had little to no grasp of. One of the new theories coming out of the quantum revolution in physics is one about alternative universes that arise every time there are choices to be made, sort of like Schrodinger's Cat who is alive and dead at the same time. Too difficult to explain fully, but nevertheless it  has been a revealing way to think about where we are as a country, seemingly stuck between two alternative views of the universe, deadlocked and unable to either defecate or get off the pot. Especially given the Mayan end of time, and the beginning of a new long cycle, it seems likely to me that what we are witnessing is the dying of an old way of looking at things and the rise of a new consciousness. Certainly listening to the fumbling in the media around gun violence and who or what is to blame for the deaths in Newtown, there might be some good come out of all the soul searching, if we can seize the moment and take some step forward. The people who claim that there are no outright or easy solutions, so doing nothing is the best option, I hope they can be effectively silenced by all the outraged people who are adamant that something needs to be done. Something in this case means taking a step despite the uncertainty, choosing between two alternative views, and moving beyond the current status quo that is really a black hole leading nowhere.
The same situation holds with every major issue, from our fiscal woes to global warming to the politics of the Middle East, doing nothing is giving in to the mistakes of the past that have led us to these impasses. Moving out of the comfort zone is the only way to ensure our survival. The question remains, will we be able as a species to find a way to organize ourselves and find solutions that do not entail a world of haves and have nots, higher walls and bigger guns? That's not a reality I would want for my children and their children, but it seems increasingly likely that that is the way we are going. Like spoiled children, we don't seem able to take even the tiniest steps away from our cherished ideas and favorite toys.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

We are all Adam Lanza's mother

I confess I have been silent on this issue, like many, not wanting to light the short fuse of 2nd Amendment warrior-advocates. But now the time is right, the blogosphere is lighting up, and I feel compelled to do my part to get a hold of the moment and push the collective consciousness in the direction of common sense corrections. The killings in Newtown are so horrific it must be the chance now at last for us to put a stake through the heart of yet another right wing boogie man. Along with deniers of global warming, gun control opponents stand on ideology rather than reason, with seriously lethal results. If the events of yesterday are not enough to make someone gag with horror and revulsion at the idea of automatic weapons in the hands of madmen, they either have an empathy deficit or are so good at deluding themselves with the sound of certain words that it amounts to a pathology. We have all heard the argument before that outlawing guns is not the answer to these massacres. But at least outlawing the ownership of rapid-fire pistols and assault rifles will lessen the sheer numbers of dead. As William Saletan wrote yesterday, there will always be madmen, and no country is immune from the onslaughts of socially isolated lone wolfs intent on committing suicide by mass murder. But every other country in the civilized world recognizes that easy access to combat weapons does nothing for personal security, is not something that hunters require, and only heightens the chances of lunatics trying to outdo each other in the lethality of their final evildoing.
The problem is people like Adam Lanza's mother now have bought into the allure of security that possession of Terminator caliber weaponry brings. Absurdly, toting a Glock today is like driving a Suburban was 15 years ago. It makes you feel invulnerable to the rising tide of madness when all it really does is add to the total mass of lunacy. When otherwise sober adults think that the answer to the murder yesterday of Newtown's 20 kindergarteners is training and arming elementary school principals, it is time for all of us to take a deep breath and admit that, like Pogo said, the only enemy we are facing is us.
Obama said that he intended to take meaningful steps. Let's hold his feet to the fire on this one.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

The Ugliest Thing- Doing Nothing About Climate Change

I love this wet, muddy weather. There's fog coming from the woods and the lakes and water dripping from every branch of the maples surrounding the house and the eave of the wood shed as I gather logs to stoke the two wood stoves. The thermometer is hovering right at the freezing mark, but what's coming down from the upper atmosphere is distinctly unfrozen. This is a maritime climate day in what should be the continental cold belt of North America's east coast. It's beautiful, but unsettling, a marker of the changes sweeping the globe that herald grave dangers in the years ahead. The damage has been done already, not just 200 years of industrial output in the developed world based on burning the planet's cheap, plentiful millennial stores of sun energy in the form of oil, coal and natural gas, but the seeds of social confusion and mistrust as the oil industry and its allies have managed to stalemate any possible consensus on what to do about global warming caused in large measure by the thickened belt of insulating carbon accumulating in the upper atmosphere, a result of our profligate, promiscuous and prodigal burning spree. International conventions called for the last 25 years have gotten us nowhere, and the latest round of Doha talks seem about to break up without an agreement once again on how to proceed other than continue to talk about talking about the problem. The absurdity of the bureaucratic pace of negotiations is evident to anybody paying attention. It seems that the human race is hopelessly mired in egotistical one-upsmanship, unable to summon the collective will to save itself. Where does the blame lie? Despite bleating from the political class that the Chinese or the Indians, or whoever, is making an agreement impossible, I believe that future generations will have little difficulty seeing that Americans, overfed, bloated, dysfunctional victims of our own prosperity, failed in our self-appointed role of world leaders at this most crucial juncture. The funny thing is how beautiful failure can look and how comfortable it can feel. That could just be a temporary illusion, however as the economic pain from climate change begins to sink in to the collective nervous system. Here in my town, dependent on the ski industry for a large chunk of our revenues, how many responsible adults are looking out at the landscape and seeing another disastrous year for the ski, snowboard, and ice-fishing aficionados that fund our town's essential services? More than a few,  I'm guessing. Not much further afield, acidification of the oceans caused by carbon deposition is creating havoc in the shellfish industry of neighboring states. It looks increasingly like doing nothing about global warming and its consequent climate change will be the ugliest thing we never did.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Good Neighbors in the Snow

The first coating of snow on the road and the good comes out in some people. Our friend Carol and her son Tristan were on their way up for a visit from Connecticut. They got a mile from the house when they went off the road into a ditch.  Someone in the campground saw them and went for their truck, pulled them out, and gave them a ride up to the house, since Carol was too scared to drive any further on the icy dirt road. They pulled into our driveway and Carol got out, stumbling, into the snowy yard and the wind. She said she'd gotten lucky. "Come meet these guys." Smiling, a big soft-spoken guy, the driver said he was Bill and and his wife was Janet, and they were recently moved in from Claremont to a trailer in the campground. Then they drove off and we went inside the warm house. It's good to know there are still neighbors like that.
Later in the day I was watching my daughter play in the basketball jamboree that kicks off the winter season for the fifth and sixth grade league. It was in a gymnasium in a neighboring town, and a sign in the gym entrance had a quote from John Wooden, the former UCLA coach. Paraphrasing, it said "Compete with intensity, but not to embarrass your opponent." And that's how the girls played. There were a lot of scraped knees and jump balls. But nobody yelled at the refs for a bad call, and nobody screamed at a kid for a stupid mistake. It's good to know there are still gyms like that.