Friday, February 26, 2010

It's a Catch-22

Dear Joseph Heller,

I was a victim of circumstance, you see, and I never wanted to be a victim of circumstance. It was a catch, a Catch-22. I had decided to read each of the novels on the Modern Library's two "Best 100's" lists. (The Board's and The Reader's Lists) Actually, it is Annie Dillard's fault. In her book, An American Childhood, she talks about how difficult it was, as a child, to decide which book she should choose from the shelves of books at the Homewood Library. She finally found a way to choose good books. Dillard says,
"On its binding was printed a figure, a man dancing or running; I had noticed this figure before. Like so many children before and after me, I learned to seek out this logo, the Modern Library colophon."

So, I read your novel, Catch-22, which holds place number 7 on the board's list and 12 on the reader's list. I didn't read Ulysses, the most highly rated double-listed book (Board-1, Reader's-11). It is very long. Plus Annie Dillard said that it's awful, although my son-in-law loves it, so I may, yet, give it a go. Anyhow, I was stuck, for weeks, slogging through the amputated prose of Catch-22.

I kept asking myself, "Who would actually like this book?" Don't get me wrong, I was raised with runs and reruns of MASH within hearing, but this was too, too. . . long. It was a bit like hearing the Who's on First sketch repeated 500 times consecutively.

Now Yossarian and Doc Daneeka of your novel are the revealers of the Catch-22 concept.
Yossarian looked at him soberly and tried another approach. "Is Orr crazy?"
"He sure is," Doc Daneeka said.
"Can you ground him?"
"I sure can.
But first he has to ask me to. That's part of the rule."
"Then why doesn't he ask you to?"
"Because he's crazy," Doc Daneeka said. "He has to be crazy
to keep flying combat missions after all the close calls he's had. Sure, I can ground Orr. But first he has to ask me to."
"That's all he has to do to be grounded?"
"That's all. Let him ask me."
"And then you can ground him?"
Yossarian asked.
"No. Then I can't ground him."
"You mean there's a catch?"
"Sure there's a catch," Doc Daneeka replied. "Catch-22. Anyone who wants to get out of combat duty isn't really crazy."

There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that a concern for one's safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind. Orr was crazy and could be grounded. All he had to do was ask; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and would have to fly more missions. Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn't, but if he was sane he had to fly them. If he flew them he was crazy and didn't have to; but if he didn't want to he was sane and had to. Yossarian was moved very deeply by the absolute simplicity of this clause of Catch-22 and let out a respectful whistle.

"That's some catch, that Catch-22," he observed.
"It's the best there is," Doc Daneeka agreed.
I am not the first to quote this portion of the Catch-22 text. After I had read that, I could have said, "No need to slough through more." I use the word slough, because I must say, it is a pig-pen of a book. Is that what gave it the enormous popularity during the early years? That, plus quite an advertising splash in the New York Times. Those were the days. Ginsberg and Ferlinghetti were lighting censorial fires.

The 60's were a time ripe for disrespect, obscenity, and absurdity. It was a time for hatching such things as Monty Python's Flying Circus (1969). It was the best of times and the worst of times. The worst of things were released and tolerated in the name of the best of things.

Perhaps that is what this was about, with the old lady playing the part of Alan Ginsberg.

I guess this letter has become quite disrespectful to you. I'll take a break and see if I can finish in a more respectful tone later.

. . . to be continued

I'm Fifty and I Don't Know Nothing

Dear Alice and Violet,

I heard about you quite a while ago, and I thought about you deeply at that time. Toni Morrison is the one who was telling me. . . about you, about your lives, about the songs your lives were singing in a blue, blue melody with overtones so pure and so sad.

Well, dears, I just want you to know that I understand and the questions you raise are. . . well, I just wanted to tell you you're not alone.

Here's what you said that caught my ear. Toni was talking, telling me, and I just started writing it down. I was driving at the time. (My writing gets so squiggly when I'm driving, like the line of a saxophone solo, and the sentences get out of place.)

For instance, "I'm 50 & I don't know," is what near-onto stopped me in my tracks, that is, if I hadn't been driving about 70 miles an hour past the big Watt Road truck stop. Now, there is a place NOT to stop in your tracks, with those double-semis roaring across lanes. The lanes from Nashville join in right there. Some lanes hot-foot-it up from the south and some come in from the west. Those drivers are not fooling when they hedge you, in a flash, with a blinking light saying, "Want over! NOW!"

"We born around the same time, me and you," said Violet. "We women, me and you. Tell me something real. Don't just say I'm grown and ought to know. I don't. I'm fifty and I don't know nothing. What about it? Do I stay with him? I want to, I think. I want. . . well, I didn't always. . . now I want. I want some fat in this life."

"Wake up. Fat or lean, you got just one. This is it."

"You don't know either, do you?"

"I know enough to know how to behave."

"Is that it? Is that all it is?"

"Is that all what is?" There's more of this conversation excerpted here.

I do understand, Alice, Violet. Getting old is no trick. And sometimes you look up from your reading, or driving, or laundry, or sewing, or music, or writing of blogs and say, "Hey, wait a minute. Is this it?" And you're not sure what "behaving" has to do with it.

Well, I want to encourage you, not that I'm sure of everything, because I'm just me, but I've lived and come from a family of folks who have lived a long time.

My husband calls me a Communist, but I'm not. I'm just a socialist. And I'm not even a good socialist. I haven't even read Karl Marx. But I kind of believe that in some ways all things are equal. The sky up above our heads and the solid pavement or earth beneath us lend some equality to all things. And, it is the embrace of this equality and availability of good things that can grant to us the opportunity to say, "Yes. That is all there is. Isn't it fine!"

My mother said, the other day, that she was thinking about heaven. She said, "It's so close!" She wasn't fearful. She meant, "Isn't it grand." I was out the other day and saw eight deer in a field. My children were together at Thanksgiving and played kickball in the cold. They let me play even though once they observed my running style, they thought I'd better be the pitcher for both teams.

In spite of what you hear from various sides, both conservatives and liberals, "behaving" does have something to do with living a happy life. You can't spend up your capital. . . energy and money and emotional engagement on foolishness. You can't shut your window and breathe fresh air. You can't run after what doesn't exist and find it. How do I say that in the terminology of behaving? You can't covet something you don't have and enjoy what you've got. You can't be unfaithful to your husband, wife, and family and experience the delights of your husband, wife, and family. You can't lie and still believe. You can't curse and be blessed. You've got to behave yourself.

I'm way over fifty now. I don't know much. But, as much as I know anything, I know that love and faithfulness, beauty and truth, goodness and justice, with a good dose of humility thrown in are investments whose payback is the only payback. So that's what you invest in.


P.S. Christianity is, by the way, about second chances. That's why I believe in the gospel of Jesus. The story there is of redemption. A second chance at the fat of life. Today is always the day for new investment in that which is the real fat.

There is a commonly known passage from the Bible that talks about enjoying the beautiful fields of our lives and following after God and spiritual things in a way that brings fulfillment. It ends with these words, "Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever." How fat is that?

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Crossing the Partisan Divide

Dear Republican Senators Scott Brown, Susan Collins, Olympia Snowe, George Voinovich, Christopher Bond and Democratic Senator Ben Nelson,

The Continental Divide of the Americas, frequently called the Great Divide, is a hydrological divide of the Americas that separates the watersheds that drain into the Pacific Ocean from those that drain into the Atlantic Ocean. There are other continental divides on the North American continent, however the Great Divide is by far the most prominent, well, at least hydrologially speaking. One blogger posted a picture of himself at a sign in the Rockies that announced "Continental Divide". He noted that if he spit in one direction, his saliva would wend it's way to the Pacific. If he spit in the other, the expectorant would find itself reaching the Atlantic Ocean.

There is only one greater divide cutting through the United States at this time, and you, Scott, Susan, Olympia, George, Christopher, and Ben, are our only hope for eroding it. That Greater Divide is the partisanship that defines and divides all of politics these days.

And I want to say "Thank You", to you six, for taking your pick axes and shovels and, at least for one day, one vote, making rubble of the partisan divide that is rendering our political system impotent.

My New York Times headlines this morning recounted the story of your defection from politics as usual. With G.O.P. Help, Senate Advances Jobs Bill, it said. "A rare bipartisan breakthrough," the article stated. It said the Republicans broke ranks and that one Democrat did too. I cannot thank you all enough. What I am impressed by, is your willingness to do what the rest seem unable to do--THINK FOR YOURSELVES!

Water runs downhill. The continental divide marks something that is inexhorable. But people, even congress people, can walk uphill. You have demonstrated that this is possible. I can't thank you enough.


Saturday, February 06, 2010

When I learned to curse...***with added cursing fun***

Dear Sailors all over the world,

You have been given the status as the worst cuss-ers ever, so I address this letter to you, hoping you may find it an interesting break from the monotony of your ocean voyages.

So, we all know the scene from a Christmas Story, the one where Ralphie is helping his dad change the tire and something happens and he lets out the F-bomb (nicely disguised as FUDGE!) loud and clear for all to hear. And when his mom asks where he learned such a word, but he can't give the obvious truth that his dad swears like a sailor all the time. So he blames it on a friend.

So I was listening to an interview about a new book called the Hidden Brain today, and I don't know why but it got me thinking about when I learned curse words. I don't mean learned how to curse. That, obviously, happened at the dinner table when I had immunity. But I mean learned what curse words meant.

I find this interesting (and understandably you may not) because it seems that I had some pretty strong emotional responses to these words, or else how could I remember these scenes so clearly?

The first scene is when I learned what the D-word means. I remember being probably 8 or 10 and being in our kitchen. My dad and Aunt Dee were sitting around making jokes about the "dam road", literally talking about a road that runs by a dam. And I couldn't understand what was so funny (well, it wasn't actually that funny, but a lot of laughing happens when DeGeorges get together). So I remember asking "What does that MEAN?" and finally my Aunt leaned over and whispered in my ear "it means being sent to Hell." Enough said for me. But the thing that is so wild is how I can still almost feel the breath as she whispered in my ear. The memory is just that clear.

When I was working as an intern with a psychologist, she told me the story of a woman who had extreme difficulty talking. She stuttered and could not clearly say words.
Except for swear words. She almost had tourettes, but when she would start swearing, she did not stop or stutter as she usually did, but could go on clearly with no problems. But why, I want to know. What is the difference with those words. They mean the same thing as many other words, so what gives?

It makes me think about the Sh word. I mean, what is the difference between these words? (Note, as you can tell by how I type, I am SPELLING here, so this is allowable...) S-H-I-T, C-R-A-P, P-O-O-P...I mean they all have 4 letters and mean the same thing. So what is the emotional difference of the first?

So here is what my brother said about curse words in our family...As I said before, spelling is OK, and quoting is OK, too.

So now for a biggie. The F-bomb. I don't actually remember this one, but I have been told it so many times that it is part of my history. Just imagine your young kindergartner riding in the back seat. And you hear her using her phonics skills

newly learned in school. eff---uhhh---kkkk. YEa, don't sound that out loud!! First the sounds are separate and slow, then, as the child grows in confidence, they are slurred together to form the word. And then it is proudly repeated with confidence. I can just imagine my mother going, "No no, honey no, we don't say THAT word. But good reading!"

I do remember, however, asking my dad what the F-word means. We were out at the barn dealing with the animals and he turned toward the rabbit cages. "Remember", he said "when we saw those rabbits trying to make baby rabbits?" "Yea, dad, I remember". "Well honey, that was what the F-word is."

Do parents mess with kids minds on purpose or what? But really, that was sufficient. Between that and Websters dictionary, I got it. Thank you Webster, for your clear concise definitions! After that experience I stuck to Noah for further definition needs. But you know, thank goodness I had the book and not the online dictionary, because who knows what would have come up!

Sucks, which used to be a curse word, but apparently isn't anymore, was written on a sign near my school. The graffiti said "School Sucks". I got that one without any explanation!

I could go on about when I learned the word bitch and proceeded to go to school the next day saying to other kids and telling them it was not bad because it's just a word for female dog, but I think I should stop here and do some real research about this phenomenon. And maybe I will read the Hidden Brain too. Any interesting stories about how you learned how to cuss?


CaDh 8

PS. I almost forgot to tell a story of my first use of the word "Ass". Now, I must say that ass is a word that I learned early... "The ox and ass kept time, pah rum pum pum pum..." One of those duel purpose words that you learn once and then you learn again. They are confusing words to children. But I was truly an innocent child and really did keep my mind fairly clean for about as long as it is possible. So one day our teachers at school told us that we were not to call each other "inanimate objects". Yes, it sounds silly, but anyone who remembers junior high and has any imagination can see how some fairly good teasing (we'd probably call it bullying today) could be done and hidden by using code words of common classroom items. So apparently this was going on. Of course, as soon as we were told NOT to do this, we went onto the play ground at recess and started calling each other every name in the book. Think of a play ground..."You kick ball!" "You shoe!" "You lunch box!" "You asphalt!!!"...I think the whole playground got quiet after that left my mouth. But I was clueless. I didn't even know what I said. The recess monitor came and got me and told me I was in big trouble. Why? I mean, yea we were doing something we had been told not to, but why just me? Thinking back it is kind of funny that that woman had to tell my father (the principle) what I had said, and was more embarassed to tell it than I was! I really innocently thought that my dad would understand that I would NEVER intend such a double meaning, but that I was just using the proper term for the pavement we were standing on!
Well, I don't know if my dad believed me. I would not have. But the worst behaved boy in class did come to my defense and told him I would never do such a thing. I thought that was pretty cool. Now it is a standing joke in the family and it is always OK to call someone an asphalt!!