My Origin – A Mysterious Howl and Moonbeams

English: Coyote attempts to get persimmons fro...

English: Coyote attempts to get persimmons from Opossum in a traditional native American Caddo story. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I received an e-mail from an online ancestry search site this morning.  It seems that I have little measurable genetic connection to any human gene series yet discovered.  Does this bit of information surprise me?  Not really.  Is it going to surprise my mother?  I think so…she has vivid, concrete memories of birthing me.  Is this going to make my life a bit more complicated?  Yes, definitely, and it’s already begun.

I was sitting on a porch in Washington state with a friend of mine last time I was in the United States, and she told me about the ancestry search she had begun using the same online site.  She is adopted and wanted to find out about her ethnic background.

The moon was full, we had finished off two bottles of Pinot Noir and were opening a third one.  A coyote was howling in the distance.  Nothing of this story so far is unusual, but somehow the combination gave me the urge to follow my friend’s lead and investigate my ancestry through the site, a service operated by the Mormon Church…and if you can’t trust the Mormons with genealogical research, who can you trust?

 

My first DNA submission was a blood sample.  I received a notice that testing had been inconclusive, and would I send in another sample.  I did.  The second was not only inconclusive, but confusing.  I was asked to send in more samples – hair, blood, and skin.  I did.  The e-mail I received today listed only one possible earthly connection, canis latrans, the common coyote.  But, after performing a process referred to as a “split” only 4,739 genetic markers could be found that would even connect me to a coyote.

 

The most famous of the Moon rocks recovered, t...

The most famous of the Moon rocks recovered, the Genesis Rock, returned from Apollo 15. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This is where it gets really weird.

The e-mail also informed me that my DNA had been sent to a lab which tested fossil DNA sample, hoping for some reasonable place to start.  The lab workers had been frustrated, and one of them…must have been a real smart-ass type, tested my samples against the elemental make-up of a moon rock brought back from the second Apollo mission.  They informed me my connection to material from the moon rock sample was equal to that of canis latrans.

I have no idea what my mother is going to say when she hears this.

I do know what the governments of Washington state and the United States of America are going to say, because they’ve said it.

I received another e-mail from the state of Washington, not an hour later.  The message was a confusing bit of governmental nonsense about re-examing my birth certificate, driver’s license, and teaching certifications.  This didn’t really bother me too much.  My driver’s license has been either revoked or suspended for about as many years as it’s been active.  But, since I’m planning a trip to the states soon, I called my lawyer in San Jose to make sure I could get back in the country with only one form of photo ID, which they’re very uptight about here.  He was near apoplectic.

“Who you are…I am meaning, what you are?” he nearly screamed into the phone.  He’s only a generation down out of the hills, and has a grandmother who is a practicing curandera…a witch to most people.  He told me he had received a visit from an American Embassy official inquiring as to my whereabouts, since I’ve moved several times since registering with them.  “We no service dogs, or coyotes, or what you ever are,” he said, calming down a bit.  I heard a voice in the background.

“And we no take rocks, either, you demonio desde…”  He never swears…even the words ” demon from hell.”

I also have a grandmother who was a bit strange when it came to natural healing, one who claimed messages sent to her from “other” sources.  She was one of those “there’s one born every minute” people who bought a deed to a piece of property on the moon back in the 1970s…those fakey things that some enterprising American had made up during the excitement of the lunar landings.  I mean, seriously…is there a country where there are more hucksters, selling more useless junk, to a more gullible populace, than in the U.S.?  I own a piece of the moon.  And, now – at least according to the most reliable of ancestory specialists – I am descended from a piece of the moon.  I have no idea how this is all going to turn out…who would?

 

Coyote pup

Coyote pup (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Can I really be some sort of coyote and moon rock mix?  I found an odd photograph during a Google Image search, labeled simply “coyote pup” …but look at it.  It looks lunar to me.  Maybe I’m just being paranoid…but, paranoia is simply realizing how weird things CAN get, according to some people.  Is this my first baby picture?

I’ll have to get back to you all on this one…after I field a few frantic, dramatic, and disturbing e-mails and/or phone calls from my mother, no doubt.  I don’t fear governments, but mothers are a different story.

Later…

 

Internet Privacy and You…What’s Up With That?

privacy

privacy (Photo credit: Sean MacEntee)

“People willing to trade their freedom for temporary security deserve neither, and will lose both.”

I made a mistake and watched the news last night…I also received an e-mail.  As usual with life, it seems, these two events collided leaving me in some strange, uncharted territory.

First off, I saw a story on a brand-name cable news network about two previously secret government operations, one called PRISM, and the other BLARNEY.  PRISM, it seems, is an operation set up by the U.S. government to collect images and documents posted on internet sites such as Google, Yahoo, and FaceBook, to name the most popular.  BLARNEY does the same thing with the written word, such as e-mails.  I don’t watch news much any more, so I was surprised that the interviewee felt he was in for a bit of persecution, outing these two previously covert operations.  Would this be considered an illegal search under the U.S. Constitution and its amendments?

Second off, I received an e-mail from my friend in Pakistan telling me that she had been sending me two e-mails a day for two days, but FaceBook was not delivering them.  My friend said she had taken out any mention of religion (she’s a Muslim), drone strikes, and politics…that self-censored e-mail I got.  I know she is not guarenteed anything by the U.S. Constitution, but I am, and it seems I’ve read somewhere I had the right to privacy.  I was wrong, and I’m not just being snide…there is no specific right to privacy in the U.S. Constitution.

Constitution of the United States of America

Constitution of the United States of America (Photo credit: The U.S. National Archives)

The fourth right, in whole, reads – “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the places to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

Like all our “rights” in such old documents, they don’t translate well to the current world.  The right to bear arms in conjunction with an organized militia being the one that gets kicked around the most.  These vague and outdated “rights” need a serious bit of updating.  But, the U.S. Supreme Court is supposed to take care of that, and such interpretations have been proferred.  Pertaining to this presumed right to privacy, Justice Antonin Scalia‘s dissenting school of thought has been that searches must be “reasonable” and the warrant requirement has been overly emphasized.  Those italics are mine, the watering down of any rights, pure conservative blather, an asterisk followed by an invisible – “…unless we feel like it.”

Does the U.S. government and that most powerful of intelligence agencies, FaceBook, really need to protect me from a young women using Ishaa-Allah, god willing, following her hopes for sales of her new book of poetry?  I know she’s a Muslim.  Does the U.S. government need to censor the fact that drone strikes happen near where she lives?  I know they do…and probably more often than we are made aware of.  Do I need to be protected from the fact that politics is a dirty business where she lives?  It doesn’t seem so, since only a dolt wouldn’t know it’s a down and dirty business everywhere.

On my guitar I have a bumper sticker that says, “Ignore your rights, and they’ll go away.”  How true.  I really am not some sort of militia weirdo hiding out in the woods of Michigan or Idaho or Montana or Hoboken, New Jersey.  In fact, I think I’m in pretty good company in contemplating what rights I truly have, and how they’re being coerced.  A pretty famous guy who most Americans admire – if for no other reason his mug is on the $100 bill – is reported to have made similar statements when trying to rectify past infringements on rights he thought should not be infringed upon.  I’ve always seen one of his more famous quotes listed as –

“People willing to trade their freedom for temporary security deserve neither and will lose both.”

Benjamin Franklin

As with many oft-quoted persons, this was not exactly how it was originally said.  Franklin was preparing some notes for the Pennsylvania Assembly, shortly before February 17, 1775, and wrote –

“They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

This was published in Memoirs of the Life and Writings of Benjamin Franklin, published in 1818.  But wait…as is often the case, he was probably doing a bit of word “libertion” since he, being a publisher, had occasion to produce a book – An Historical Review of the Constitution of and Government of Pennsylvania – by an author named Richard Jackson in 1759.  On the title page that same warning appears, with the word “purchase” instead of the “obtain” found in Franklin’s quote.  I do love the liberation of words !  But, no fear, Franklin lovers and respectors…seems that a few years before that, in 1738, the following appeard in Honest Ben’s Poor Richar’s Almanack

“Sell not virtue to purchase wealth, nor liberty to purchase power.” 

I know…in the writing and publishing games everything gets murky if you dig long and far enough.  The word “murky” seems stuck in my mind since the collision of the news that my government is obtaining information from and about me through what I mistakenly think are private correspondences.  I’m not that naive, really…I’m not.  I never expected privacy, but outright censorship of my private correspondence, and the covert skullduggery from a government that claims to be the bastion of freedom and individual liberty and rights?

I’m sure this little bit of dangerous writing will garner me some more un-warrented attention, unless your name is Antonin Scalia, you front the Fear Factor Gang, and consider warrants “overly emphasized.”  So, if you’re reading this, you’ve joined me on some kind of list that some clerk – whose salary we pay – is compiling in some Virginia basement – which we also pay for.

Weird World…truly Weird World.

 

The Victoria’s Secret Model, Dr. Bill, and a Kid Named Alberto

Viví el Victoria's Secret Fashion Show por TNT

Viví el Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show por TNT (Photo credit: sitemarca)

“I felt like a piece of meat,” was the complaint from a model after participating in a Victoria’s Secret fashion show.

Yeah, this came off of Yahoo News, so you know it’s got to be suggestive, but did an experienced model really have come to this realization only after working her way up to the big time Show of Shows?  When they outfitted her in wings, squeezed her into revealing lingerie that left little to more to suggest, did she pause before high-heeling it onto the runway?  No.  She seems to have made sure the check was deposited first.

Nothing else to report from the world of non-news, at least of any interest…Prostitute ads, Pope wasting food…, Taco Bell firing coupled with FBI investigations – the usual stuff I’ve commented on before, the kind of information that has no value and calls for no action or reaction, other than offering the easy and empty, “Our thoughts and prayers are with you” reaction.

I’m considering doing a few posts on some of the American, Canadian, and European ex-pats who call Costa Rica home.  They are an odd lot…mostly people who have left wrecked lives or open indictments behind in their country of origin.  These are risk-taking people, mostly, and they are as quirky a bunch as I’ve ran across in thirty years of traveling.  Few photos can be included with such posts, since many of these people seem very camera shy, and most of them go by names they’ve made up or have adopted since their arrival.

Costa Rica often reminds me of a pirate-era Tortuga.  There is little altruism here, as I’ve seen ex-pats involve themselves with in many other countries I’ve visited.  Some people are here for the eco-tourism biz, and there are some who volunteer for turtle, sloth, monkey, or parrot rescue projects.  But, on the whole, these people are here for their own economic advancement.  I’ve got a better example to draw from – one from when I lived in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.

I was walking down the beach my second day in town, trying to kill two days until an apartment opened up.  I had been sleeping in an abandoned restaurant near the beach, and came across Dr. William St. John on my way “home.”  A skinny man, appearing to be in his 70s, bright green bathing trunks that were too tight for comfort, and he was working away at a pile of beach junk, dock lumber, rusted cable and ropes – there had been a severe storm a few days before that had destroyed the city pier, and this was the remains.  I stopped, watched for a few minutes, he acknowledged me, then went back to pulling the mess apart.

“There’s a pelican in here,” he said.  I started helping him.  We eventually freed the pelican, and by that time he had found out I was homeless, and offered me a place to stay.  I spent the next two days living on the roof of the Hotel California – really, the Hotel California – under a corrugated tin roof, my only furniture was a full-sized Brazilian flag.  His name was Dr. William St. John, from White Plains, New York, and he smoothed over the rougher aspects of my life, asking for nothing in return besides my company.  We spent two evenings on his balcony talking over many topics, the broadest, the meaning of life…the narrowest, the value of one life.

Dr. Bill had been a successful physician in Boston, with houses, summer homes, cars, boats, a portfolio of investments, and a severe alcohol problem.  Putting down the bottle somehow brought him to question the lifestyle he had constructed around the endless drive for symbols of status.  He sold everything, gave much of the proceeds to charities, saving enough to travel the world comfortably for the rest of his life, which he refused to do.    He took public transportation, traveled across seas on cargo ships, hiked dirt roads, paid for passage on Arab trading boats, and generally lived like a bum.

When I met him he had visited 52 countries, and had been changing the world for the better, one life at a time.

In Puerto Vallarta Dr. Bill had made friends with a Catholic priest.  Dr. Bill was an atheist, convinced the best he could do in this world was serve his immediate community, and in turn, the world.  But, he also knew that in a Latin American country a local Catholic priest was probably his surest source to discovering a worthy project.  Through that priest he had identified a young man named Alberto who had shown promise, intelligence, a sense of family and community loyalty, but lived in a shack up on the hill without electricity, indoor plumbing, or any of the other conveniences most of us take for granted.

Dr. Bill moved Alberto’s family into an apartment with the basic amenities…nothing extravagant.  He up-graded their wardrobes, concentrating on Alberto, since the young man would need presentable clothing to attend the private Catholic school he was to be enrolled in, on Dr. Bill’s dime.  Alberto got a new computer, the beginning to a library worthy of a young man on his way to medical school, and reliable transportation to school every day.  The Catholic priest was put in charge of monitoring Alberto’s progress, and a local businessman of good repute was charged with monitoring the priest and his relationship and guidance of Alberto.  With all this in place, Dr. Bill backed his way out of the picture, asking only for bi-annual reports on Alberto and his family.

This was not the first such project the good doctor had undertaken.  He received many such reports from countries such as India, Bhutan, Vietnam, Ghana, Morocco, El Salvador, and Ecuador, to name but a few.  Besides the criteria perviously mentioned, the common denominator in Dr. Bill’s kids seemed to be they had ambitions toward a profession that would serve their community.  I lost contact with Dr. Bill after he moved on, while I stayed to become a diving guide, a waiter in a restaurant called Baby Jaws, checked in on Alberto and his family now and again.  One of Dr. Bill’s requests was after he had set a more manageable future in motion for this lad, strangers – like myself – should stay out of the way as much as possible and let the situation play out.

I can imagine I’ll have a hard time finding another Dr. Bill, but I am sure I’ll be able to come up with some unique modern-day pirates.  Will report soon.

It’s All in My Head – Elephants, The Sailor, and Bogus Gin

Elephant safari

Elephant safari (Photo credit: @Doug88888)

As  a teenager I read a book of teachings proffered by Hindu holy men.  One of them had to do with a student who had just taken in a lesson on how interconnected the word was…that he was one with the world and all living things.  Leaving the lesson, the student was walking down a trail and saw an elephant coming from the opposite direction.  Taking his recent lesson to heart, the student put a smile on his face and walked right at the elephant, which he was one with.  Later, after a bit of recovery time from his trampling, the student questioned his teacher about the practicality of such philosophy.  The teacher told him that, yes, he was one with the world, but the student should have stepped aside since elephants always have the right of way.  I think this stuck with me because it reminded me of one of my childhood heroes.

My grandfather was a boxing fan, and I often watched boxing matches with him.  One of our heroes, being from Washington state, with its large population of Scandinavians, was a heavyweight boxer named Ibar “The Sailor” Arrington.  Ibar was a local legend.  He had the seemingly suicidal habit of lowering his guard during boxing matches and challenging his foes to wail away at will on his Norwegian noggin.  It worked for him…for a while.  Most of the local meatballs he fought weren’t that good of fighters, and after they exhausted themselves wailing away on Ibar’s rock-like head, he would knock them out.  His final record was 27 wins (20 by knockout), 7 losses, and 2 draws.

Ibar’s retirement came after returning from Durban, South Africa, where he had fought a lightly regarded boxer named Gerrie Coetzee in a packed Kingsmead Stadium on December 15, 1978.  The Sailor had taken a severe beating – again – which left fans like my grandfather and I in a pitiful state.  It was featured on local news, and Ibar sat quietly, staring blankly at the microphone in front of him.  His manager did the talking, announcing The Sailor was leaving the ring due to medical reasons.  A reporter asked Ibar if he would have done anything differently during his career.

“I would have ducked more,” was all the wisdom he had to pass on to his disappointed fans.  I think Ibar would have understood the Hindu teaching about giving elephants the right of way.  After witnessing the Sailor’s demise, I have always given elephants the right of way.  My grandfather knew that giving elephants the right of way was not always a possibility.

My grandfather was another tough guy, and like most tough guys, rarely talked about the experiences which had made him so.  I always thought he was an average grandpa.  I only found out after his death that he had been sunk in the North Atlantic while serving on a convoy ship during World War I.  He spent what must have been the longest, most hellish night ever as he bobbed around in one of the most wicked patches of sea in the world, clinging to any flotation aid while his friends and crewmates screamed for help…drowning slowly…or quickly if sucked down with the ship…or succumbing to their burns and slowly slipping beneath the waves.  After being “in the water” sailors were routinely sent to the Pacific where there was little chance of deadly naval action.  He soon found himself put ashore, handed a rifle, and told he was infantry, when the United States sided with despotic Czar Nicholas’s White Army in their efforts to defend Vladivistok, the most important of Russian seaports.  He was shot in the leg, the bullet lodging close to an artery.  A veterinarian tried to take the bullet out, making a complete hash of the leg.  My grandfather refused further offers of help, fearing a future with one leg more than one complicated by a limp.

That man worked hard all his life, and I never knew what a mind over matter existence he lived, dealing with that buggered-up leg and the psychological scars of those two years.  He always preached mind over matter to me…that if things were going bad, or I was hurting, just ignore it and it will get better over time.  I always thought this was a fantastic rather than realistic approach to something as physical as the pain I suffered breaking several bones, getting burned, and even shot once.  Guess what folks…it isn’t, I received a sobering lesson in how fantastic this world really is after becoming so poor for a short time I offered myself up for medical experiments at the University of Washington.

Students in the incubation room at the Woodbin...

Students in the incubation room at the Woodbine Agricultural School, New Jersey (Photo credit: Center for Jewish History, NYC)

I started answering ads for test subjects during such a time of economic distress when I had moved to Seattle to become a rich rock and roll star.  One I answered – eagerly – promised $50 for an hour of my time, but I had to be over 21 years old, since the study involved drinking alcohol.  Quite a few people were lined up outside the advertised test site when I got there, but I was a frequent flyer, and got preference.  We chosen few were instructed to fill out a questionnaire concerning our attitudes toward sexual expectations following a dinner date, a movie, and various other similar situations.  We were then given three large glasses full of gin and tonic and instructed to drink them down within fifteen minutes.  My fellow test subjects seemed as eager as I was to comply, and an air of alcohol-relaxed sensibilities was soon evident.  People were more talkative, a bit more clumsy, bumping into tables and chairs, dropping pencils as we again filled out a similarly formulated questionnaire aimed at discovering the sexual expectations associated with various social situations.  There was quite a bit of cross-talking and plenty of innuendo-laced attempts at humor the second time through.  Then came the punchline  –

None of had to worry about driving home, and we need not be concerned about other safety issues…there had been no alcohol in the foul-tasting drinks.  It was a double-blind test.  We weren’t being tested on amorous expectations associated with dating, we were being tested to see if the suggestion we were drunk changed not only our answers, but our behavior.  We were all a bit stunned, and somewhat embarrassed, by the looks on the faces of my fellow lab rats.  I had wondered why the psychology department had chosen a drink like gin and tonic…something that seems more English Officers’ Club in Bombay from the era of the Raj than Rock Musician Decadence in Seattle during the Grunge Era.  They knew that none of us had probably ever had gin and tonic, and if we had, the drink is so sour it would be difficult to discern the gin-lessness of the drinks.

Since my introduction to the placebo effect, I not only understand the full-on power of suggestion, but have considered opening a bar that doesn’t  bother including alcohol in its drinks.  As long as it looked like a bar…and smelled like a bar…and the patrons seemed to be drunk – why not avoid the expense of alcohol?  After all, it’s a mental world…it’s all in my head.

Two Saints for Comic Debris

Human Writes

I must confess, I am not a Catholic.

The Philosopher Red:  “Do you realize what you’re writing?  Confess…you write like you’re really lost sometimes.   I think -”

I think I’m becoming irritated with the Philosopher Red…he’s always looking over my shoulder, making untoward and useless comments about everything from word choice to standing up straight when I write.  Anyway…

Even though I’m not Catholic, I’ve searched out a couple of saints, just in case I need some saving grace.  Without further interruption, I’ll introduce them and get to the Mercado Organico.

The Philosopher Red: “Interruption?  It’s more like the firm guidance your type needs to be relevant in this -”

Anyway…here they are in their glory.

Saint Mathurin (alias, Saint Maturinis) – A French exorcist and missionary – died c. 300 A.D.  Fathered  by a Christian exterminator named Marinus, and mothered by Euphemia – both pagans – he was secretly baptized…

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Our First Anniversary and a “Friend” Sighting, all in One Week !

This is an unusual post for me…all mushy stuff opening with a couple of questions, followed by a few statements of fact, and ending with a sigh of relief.

First – a year ago this June 1 my beautiful wife, shimmyshark to WordPress People…but forever Char mi amor to me, exchanged marriage vows with me.  That was something I never imagined happening again in my life…but some lifetimes a guy just gets lucky.  My first question is – what is the traditional anniversary gift for a one-year anniversary?  I know the various anniversaries all have some element or other symbolic substance associated with them.  Am I write in thinking it is paper?  I think I recall that from somewhere.  I could look it up in a minute on the internet, I guess, but I’m done looking stuff up on the internet for the week.

This leads to my second question – what in the world do I give the such a special woman as a gift that is made of paper, if my recollection is true?  She got me a bottle of Chilean wine…Pinot Noir…my favorite, which is hard to come by and expensive here since the climate is not conducive to growing those tiny grapes that are cultivated at a very limited range in altitude and under conditions that are rare in South and Central America.  I know about this bottle of Pinot because I’m a snoop, and I helped her unpack groceries after her shopping trip the other day, despite her protestations she didn’t need my help.  If it is paper, that leads me to a statement –

char framed BW

My wife, the budding photographer, is having her work published for the first time next week in a poetry collection created by my friend from Pakistan, Maryam Shahbaz.  There is also an exhibition of her work being planned within the next month.

After only a few months of taking photography seriously, and being limited by the fact that the only cameras we have are a cell phone and an ancient digital thing, I’m extremely proud of her.

This is a self portrait she did one morning on our balcony.  I repeat, how lucky can a guy get?

Our move from Seattle to Central America might have helped a bit, giving her a colorful and constantly changing palette of images to work with.  But, the eye is hers, so we’ll toast her eyes next Saturday, along with the rest of her.

And, speaking of Maryam Shahbaz…

 

20130402_123840A communique arrived from Pakistan.  Some tough times have been had by a young woman who deserves much better, but things work out.  Her first collection of poetry, The Light Behind the Veil, is in the final stages of incubation…a few alignment edits with the printer, a few other minor publishing issues, and she’s off and running as a new voice in Pakistani poetry, a country known for its storytellers and poets.

Maryam is a private person, not used to the spotlight or a lot of attention, so I promised her I would not air any of our communications other than the fact she was alright and will return to the world of WordPress once her poetry collection is out and things calm down for her and her family.

The recent elections in Pakistan, in which the conservative forces of Flat-World-ism won out, stomping on the face of any hopes for the Progressive movement toward a better world for all of that country’s citizens instead of the favored few.

I told her I know how she feels, having lived through a few of those Back-to-the-Past elections which brought a New World Order in name only to the United States.  I can empathize with her and her country’s disappointments.

Here’s hoping for the best for her and Pakistan.

Anyway…I’m off.  Still trying to figure out this anniversary thing.  And, if paper it is, I guess paper it will be.  What does one give to someone so special made of paper?  A book of poetry with her photos in it?

We’ll see.

Later….

The Mysterious Art of Speaking in Tongues

It was a dark, damp night when the Alchemist got off the bus in a small, Central American beach town.  He wore the garb of his arcane and mysterious profession – a dark suit of linear stripes, mirror-sharp footwear, and carried a black leather case full of flat, bleached wood pulp embossed with 44 mysterious black ink symbols arranged in linear rows.  It had been raining for three days, and the rutted dirt streets ran red with mud, blood, and liquid spirits.  His arrival from Cleve Land, an outpost in the Empire to the north, went unnoticed in the chaos of neon signs, weighted jungle foliage, and streets with no names or number associations.  No One was there to meet or aid him, and he wanted for no One here at the edge of the Western World.  His foreign sweat, mixed with jungle-steamed rainwater, ran in rivulets down skin that marked him as an outsider…an interloper…an emissary from the land of Commerce.  His cellphone rang…it was her.

Alright, enough playing around.  I’m here to discuss my personal experiences teaching ESL, English as a Second Language, and maybe relate a few experiences from trying to teach EFL, English as a First Language, if I feel like it.

wayra class 2First off – I had an interview to teach English at a Spanish Institute in the beach resort of Playa Tamarindo.  This is the dream gig of every teacher, and maybe some real people also.  What can be so hard about teaching English…especially if English is Your First Language?  And, who wouldn’t want to live in a resort community, getting paid to work in a place where people spend $400 a night or more just to have a place to sleep with an air conditioner?  And look at this classroom…open air, parrots flying about the campus, monkeys dropping in on class sessions, sloths sleeping in the roof supports – what could be better?

What could be better?  There are a few considerations to take into account.  Not everyone who knows how to speak English, even people with college or university degrees that imply they should know plenty about a specific subject, has the tools to pass that knowledge on to others.  Teaching is an art.  I know high school dropouts, surf bums, even criminals, who would make fine teachers.  And, in the same vein, I know highly intelligent people, or educated, people who suck at teaching.  I’ve met many of these people, enough of them as teachers in classrooms to make that statement with complete confidence.

So, just how should a language instructor prepare for such employment?  Here’s a short list.

 

1) Schooling – Most language schools will require instructors to have at least a Bachelor’s Degree in some subject, and it need not be in the language they are to teach.  While negotiating for my job at this school I slowly became convinced the English classes weren’t going to be enough to support me.  I discovered they also needed a Social Studies tutor, an American History tutor, an Ancient History tutor, and a Science tutor.  I became those things.  Along with a basic degree, most language schools – and I mean most – will require an ESL, TEFL, TEOSL, or CELTA degree or certificate.  The Cambridge University CELTA is the gold standard.  They don’t come easy.  A simple internet word search will reveal dozens upon dozens of “online schools” offering cheap certificates with the other acronyms on them, or one can be found at the end of a short higher education course.  Easy enough.  The main point is paper.

 

English: An Italian immigrant makes an America...

English: An Italian immigrant makes an American breakfast aided by instructional materials from the YMCA. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

2) Paper, Paper, and More Paper – My ESL teaching experience came in Latin America, and Latin Americans love paper.  The general rule for resumes in the U.S. is keep it to one page, so the HR department people can make a snap decision as to hiring you or the 12,428 other candidates crowding to fill a position.  Not here, bucko…the more paper the better.

A three or four page resume, along with a photocopy of every degree, certificate, or good conduct award only adds luster to your qualifications.  I even included a “work well done” commendation from a library I worked in while I was suffering through grad school.  I would have discarded it long ago if I had recognized it for what it was.  It had a fake gold leaf border, and an official-looking stamp on it, so I mistakenly chucked it in with my other degrees…it was treated with reverence south of the Rio Grande.  I had no CELTA, TEFL, TESOL, ESL, or certificate of any other degree of competence attesting to my skill at teaching languages.

And, as any educated person knows, it’s impossible to perform even the smallest of tasks, such as boiling water, without large pieces of paper.

 

English: Jewish Children with their Teacher in...

English: Jewish Children with their Teacher in Samarkand. Early color photograph from Russia, created by Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii as part of his work to document the Russian Empire from 1909 to 1915. Français : Enfants juifs avec leur professeur à Samarcande. Une des premières photos en couleur de Russie. Prise par Sergueï Prokoudine-Gorski, c’est une partie de son travail d’un document sur l’empire Russe de 1909 à 1915. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

3) Teaching Experience – This is stressed by most prospective employers in the language instruction field, but there’s a first time for everybody.  But, some type of teaching experience – any type – comes in handy.  Do you have the personality for such work?  Students can be difficult.  Are you a good public speaker?  Fewer people are than think they are.  Can you adjust to the learning styles of “unique” students without losing the attention of the rest of the class?

I had one young genius that would hum songs, doodle castles and dragons, nod his head rhythmically, make faces at other students behind their backs, and generally carry on like a lunatic.  He was driving me nuts…all my efforts and he was ignoring me.  I stopped my lecture and asked him a question about a point I had made a couple of ideas back.  He repeated what I had said word for word, adding his own interpretation of and thoughts on the subject.  I didn’t even remember what I had said.

But, he was setting a bad example for the rest of the class whose brains weren’t as compartmentalized as his…what would you do in such a situation?

Would you cramp his learning process, or let the rest of the students follow his example until the whole class ran off the rails?

Tough question.

 

4) Flexibility –  Besides dealing with unusual students, dysfunctional or non-existent classroom equipment, and dysfunctional or non-existent school staff or directors, can you adapt to often radically different climates, expectations, and local customs that may seem wasteful, useless, or at best, downright confusing?  How well would you deal with a job interview after slogging through knee-deep mud, a good drenching in a tropical downpour, with a stomach-cramping case of the you-know-whats?  Are you capable of restoring malfunctioning internet systems?  Can you eat something that makes you sick to look at, let alone eat?  Are you resourceful?

I was teaching creative writing for an at-risk-youth program, the kind where I had to disarm some students.  The classroom supplies – several broken pencils and a couple of run-dry magic markers – were handed to me in a Tupperware container.  I had to go to a local university, wander around the halls looking for un-guarded pens and pencils, and in the process found a packet of multi-colored binders, then discovered an unlocked supply room where I liberated several packages of computer paper, as well as four packages of lined-paper legal pads.  I took a trash bag out of a garbage can, emptied it, and tossed my school supplies into it as I made my escape, only stopping at the information desk, where I slipped a plastic container containing paper clips and thumb tacks into my Santa Sack of necessities.  Artful Dodger 101 is a pre-requisite for teaching in a Developing Nation.

 

Marie F.U.S.S.5) More Flexibility – So, let’s say your teaching gig is a flop…let’s say that you can’t handle the spoiled rich brats and their sense of entitlement, and their defensive parents who think their little darlings can do no wrong…and all their shortcomings and problematic behavior becomes YOUR problem…then what?  You’ve run your bank account dry moving to some shit hole of town in the middle of nowhere, and you’re getting hungry.  Can you talk your way into some alternative employment – at least enough to get bus fare back to a city, and air fare back to what you consider civilization?  Can you operate a boat?  Catch fish?  Guide Yak Tour Inc. customers up into the Himalayas?  Burn your resumes, degrees, and library service appreciation awards for heat or to cook Iguana over?  Handle an AK-47?  Sell your body on the dusty streets of an oil-boom town?

You might have to.

Ten Plagues Upon Playa Tamarindo

English: Second plague of Egypt. Frogs. Pictur...

English: Second plague of Egypt. Frogs. Picture from popular bible encyclopedia of archimandrite Nikiphor (1891 year). Русский: Вторая казнь Египетская – жабы. Иллюстрация из иллюстрированной библейской энциклопедии архимандрита Никифора (1891 год) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A wet season downpour drove me inside yesterday, and the usual internet problems left me with little to do besides…read books.

My latest acquisition is a Bible, courtesy of some Evangelicals who are trying to pester the loyal Catholic mobs to cast their culture aside, and slide into social anarchy before being redeemed by the Cult of Speaking in Tongues and Snake Handling.

I have read this book before, and know to skip Genesis…that first page always gets me, where God is a singular sky god for a while, then a plural land god when he says, “Let us make man in our image” before becoming a singular sky god again.

Bad editing and no consideration for continuity always drive me to close a book, or go directly to the end and find out what happened, allowing me to feel like I read it.  That’s been my approach in the past, go straight to Revelations, and read a few chapters in reverse order.

Now, if you’re looking for some tough talking, action-packed, tightly written words with the power of a literary locomotive, that’s a good place to start.  I usually get bored by Kings or where everyone is begatting, so I’ve never read Exodus.  I should have, since that book seems to hold the secret to the Wet Season torments that drove me inside in the first place…the Ten Plagues that Moses allegedly brought down on the Egyptians.  If I go over them one at a time you’ll see what I mean.  “Fasten your seatbelts – it’s going to be a bumpy night,” as Bette Davis advised her entourage in the film “All About Eve.”  (Another Biblical reference…hmmmm).  Don’t let me digress…here are the plagues I missed in Exodus, but am living out now:

1) Plague of Blood – when it rain here in Central America, it rains.  And, since the roads are not paved and there are no ditches or water channels, they become rivers of mud…in the case of western Costa Rica, where the earth has a red tint to it due to iron and other volcanic minerals, the rivers running by my front door are Red as Blood.  Torrents of knee-deep water come down the hill behind my place, carrying boulders the size of bean bag chairs.  A good friend of mine has scars on his shins from sliding down one of these roads a couple of years ago…a good reason to stay inside.

2) Plague of Frogs – I heard this trumpeting sound the other night.  The lonely little EMS vehicle always parked outside the main market, I thought.  I’d never heard it, since it hasn’t moved in the eight months I’ve lived here.  But it sounded like geese…big geese, the volume of their calls bringing to mind visions of madness.  But, as usual, I was wrong.  It is the rainy season infestation of frogs, a friend told me.  He also told me if I wanted to see them all I had to do was go down to our pool, which they take over for the month or so they’re in their rutting period.  So, I went.  Frogs were in the pool, and around the pool on lounge chairs, puffing up and emitting a terrifying sound from their froggy mouths to advertise their sexual potency.  But they were hand-sized creatures, hardly large enough to emit so much noise, but what do I know…I retreated to my apartment building, toweled off, and slammed the door in case any of the croakers followed me and tried to slip in after me.

3) Plague of Lice or Gnats – hasn’t happened yet…but I know where the EMS vehicle is now.

4) Plague of Flies or Wild Animals – Wet Season does bring on an unusual amount of flies, and the animals are coming back down out of the hills.  The Howler monkeys have set up shop across the street and in the patches of jungle beside and behind my apartment building.  I saw a juvenile yesterday, hanging by his tail, using a tree branch like a switch as he tormented the dogs howling beneath.  I felt better after that, knowing I wasn’t the only creature suffering these plagues.

5) Plague of Pestilence – I forgot what pestilence means…and, everyone has their own definition, so I’ll let this one sit.  I’ve got enough to deal with already with Rivers of Blood, Frog Gangs and Switch-wielding Howlers.

6) Plague of Boils – there is usually a boil alert when water starts washing the sewage and garbage down from where the Nicaraguan and Columbian illegals have set up their shanty towns.  I already knew this…not plague worthy in my book.

7) Plague of Hail – I haven’t seen any hail yet, but the rain is falling so hard that a piece of the roof fell in not long ago.  Not a large piece of roof…just enough to damage an iron railing, or bust a head if anyone had been walking beneath it.  Fell on the steps just outside my back bedroom window, where I was reading Exodus…I think I should have stuck with the wickedly fierce prose in Revelations.

6588) Plague of Locusts – Locusts, Schmocusts…I have grasshoppers the size of magic markers coming in and out of my place all the time.  They take over the coffee pot when they please, and licked the cream my wife spilled right off the floor.  They crunch under foot when I step on them on my way to empty the garbage…a sound similar to when tap dancers toss sand on a stage before they start their steel-bottom shoed shenanigans.

9) Plague of Darkness – hasn’t occurred as of yet, but it would be a relief.  The Howlers shut up, it never rains at night, and it would be convenient if those frogs got run over by the drunken, brain-dead surfers that race around on the mud-slickened roads after a hard day of Flor de Cana rum and the head-high, right-breaking waves I hear crashing against the shore.

10) Plague of the First-Born – being a first-born, I don’t even want to hear about this.  I’m definitely staying away from this Old Testament mayhem…going back to the ferocious idyll of Revelations, thank you.  I’ve learned my lesson for the day.  And, if I end up going to Hell for any perceived insolence, I’ll go with the words of Mark Twain on my lips –

“Heaven for climate, Hell for company.”

Later…

 

Baby Turtles, Bonnie and Clyde, and Outlawing the Semicolon

English: Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow, somet...

English: Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow, sometime between 1932 and 1934, when their exploits in Arkansas included murder, robbery, and kidnapping. Contrary to popular belief the two never married. They were in a long standing relationship. Posing in front of an early 1930s Ford V-8 automobile. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s been a week of missed opportunities, once again.  I found out too late it was World Turtle Day, and while internetting around to see what I had missed, I found I had also missed National Taffy Day, Chardonnay Day, and The Bonnie and Clyde Festival in Gibsland, Louisiana, where the whacky Dallas duo were ambushed and killed on May 23, 1934.  Bummer. And, then there’s the raging debate over semicolons.

Missing World Turtle Day blows. The worldwide celebration is observed in a variety of ways, from dressing up as turtles or wearing green summer dresses, to Turtle Day lesson plans and craft projects that encourage teaching about turtles in classrooms.  Founded in 1990, the American Tortoise Rescue is responsible for promoting the idea turtles need love too, and seems to practice what they preach, claiming to have placed 3,000 tortoises and turtles in caring homes.  Does this call for a re-reading of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species ?  In a Darwinian world where might makes right, human industry polluting these slow-moving, antique, and unproductive members of the food chain into extinction makes perfectly good sense when reviewing the bottom line…which is always the bottom line.

Taffy Day…Chardonnay Day…I can take or leave the taffy, but I’m open to housing any homeless bottles of decent Chardonnay.

A Bonnie and Clyde Festival though, and the Bonnie and Clyde Ambush Museum in Louisiana in the Spring…I am making plans for next year and circling the dates on my American Tortoise Rescue calendar.  This does sound choice.  A group of actors from Denton, Texas, a town whose local bank was robbed twice by the B&C gang, show up annually to re-enact the ambush and squirt fake blood all over Ringgold Road where the real event took place.  Besides reenactments, tourists can meet some of Bonnie and Clyde’s relatives, such as Clyde’s nephew, Buddy Barrow, and his sister Marie Barrow.  And now and then some of Bonnie’s kin show up as well.  Then there’s “Boots” Hinton, whose father Ted was one of the six lawmen from the ambush.

English: L.J. "Boots" Hinton, curato...

English: L.J. “Boots” Hinton, curator of Bonnie & Clyde Ambush Museum in Gibsland, LA (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Boots” must be a popular name to bear in the piny woods of Louisiana, since the undertaker who embalmed Bonnie and Clyde back in 1934 was C.F. “Boots” Bailey.  He was an attention-mad sniveler though, complaining to the press about what difficult clients the notorious outlaws had been.  Seems the two bodies were so full of bullet holes the embalming fluid leaked all over Boots’ boots.

Some lifetimes life just sucks.

To get a scholarly perspective, anyone attending the event can sit in on the Friday night historians meeting at which “they come and argue about stuff,” says Billie Gene Poland, one of the festival’s organizers and the curator of the Authentic Bonnie and Clyde Museum in Gibsland.

The Authentic Bonnie and Clyde Museum…or…The Bonnie and Clyde Ambush Museum.  It’s like deciding between the Louvre and the Paris Museum of Modern Art on your last sober day in Paris.

English: Bonnie_&_Clyde Ambush Museum (Revised...

English: Bonnie_&_Clyde Ambush Museum (Revised), Gibsland, LA (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Ambush Museum doesn’t have a budget, they depend on donations, which means the pickin’s here are pretty slim.  There are some gun displays and two female mannequins dressed to look like the gangsters.   Outside the museum, there are lots of vendors selling everything from commemorative T-shirts to small swatches of cloth torn from the pants Clyde was wearing when they were gunned down.  Seems authenticty might be an issue.

For those who prefer Broadway, you missed out too.  The musical “Bonnie and Clyde” was run off the road.  Premiering at the La Jolla Playhouse on November 20, 2009, the show idled around the country, eventually making it to Broadway on November 4 of last year.  It only lasted 69 shows, then died, which seems to be a connecting thread here.  There’s always the 1967 film by Arthur “Bloody Art” Penn, starring Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway.  And Bonnie’s poem (figures she was a poet) “Trail’s End” has inspired songs by everyone, as in Brigette Bardot, Flatt and Scruggs, Mel Torme, Merle Haggard, Die Toten Hosen, a German punk band, and even weirder…in 2007, Belinda Carlysle, former head mistress of the all-girl pop band The Go-Gos.

And, if obsessive disorders interest you more than crappy music, you might look into Hybristophilia – Bonnie and Clyde Syndrome, big brother to Asphyxiophilia, Autassassinophilia, and Chremosistophilia.  Bonnie and Clyde Syndrome sufferers seem to be turned on by predatory types, becoming sexually aroused and more orgasm responsive when contemplating the careers of psychopathic killers, which is why Ted “Boots” Bundy,  Jeffrey “The Heel” Dahmer, and Charlie “Sole Man” Manson never knew a slow mail month while in prison.

Bonnie and Clyde Death Car at the National Mus...

Bonnie and Clyde Death Car at the National Museum of Crime & Punishment (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Daily Trivia Tidbit:  Bonnie and Clyde’s death car is on display to the public at the National Museum of Crime and Punishment.  Who would have thought there would be such a place…and, who would have thought a country ever-teetering on the brink of fiscal disaster would fund such a museum…and, who would think this ramble would need another bit of useless trivia?

This has been a very trying post, and I feel a touch of Hybristophilia coming on, so I’m going to have to hold off on the semicolon question and write some letters.

Later…

The Confession of a Word Thief

"You brute! You coward!" from an ano...

“You brute! You coward!” from an anonymous artist’s illustrations to Oscar Wilde’s An Ideal Husband. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There are many things which I wish I had said, in real life and in other situations.  I often find these bits of compact wisdom when looking up quotes to head a short piece I’m working on, or to back up a point in a longer one.

Sometimes I am searching for a quote I can “liberate” to be used as dialogue for a character.  This is, I imagine, a practice that is employed by more authors than myself, but I’ve never heard any One admit to it, and chances are, I won’t.

Here’s my confession…and for a momentary bit of entertainment while readers of this confession form opinions about the degree of my transgressions, here are a few fun quotes I came across while looking for the source of a quote I wanted to “liberate” a couple days ago:

“If you look like your passport photo, you’re too ill to travel.”  – Will Kommen

“Tradition is what you resort to when you don’t have the time to do it right.” – Kurt Adler

“Anyone who believes exponential growth can go on forever in a finite world is either a madman or an economist.” – Kenneth Boulding

  

“You have to choose where to look, and in making that choice you eliminate entire worlds.” – Barbara Bloom

All these were wonderful little bits, small amusements on the way to what I was looking for.  I needed a smart, memorable.  quick-hitting line I could put into the mouth of one character trying to calm another character who was worrying way too much about something nothing could be done about…except worrying.  Such liberations, if done properly, need to be from a source that is not famous, since recognition ruins the appearance of originality, for people attached to the idea that all their thoughts and writings are pure of intentional or unintentional borrowing.  I had remembered hearing a quote once about the “…unimportance of most things…”, and I had done a word search with as much of it as I remembered, and got lucky.

It turned out well.  I thought it had been Oscar Wilde…that kind of sarcastic and witty wordplay.  That would have ruined it though, since most people will recognize Wilde like they do Mark Twain, Abraham Lincoln or other such iconic voices.  Like I said, I was lucky.  The quote was ascribed to someone named John Loque, a name that when I put it in a google search didn’t even draw a hit…John Locke, the economic theorist came up again and again.  Seems Loque hasn’t drawn any attention from any One except me.  Good.

Here’s the original quote:

“It’s almost impossible to overestimate the unimportance of most things.”

– John Loque

A truly unknown source – and to not have the name even come up on a google word search is about as close to a definition of anonymity as I can think of.  Do a word search on yourself…see if something doesn’t come up.  I’ve got a little short of a page full of hits.  I did a similar search using my mother’s name…again, hits.  Some of her hits even had photos.  Weird world.  Anyway…I needed to do a little re-working of this quote, like a guitarist taking a riff and playing around with it until it becomes theirs.  What had drawn me to this quote originally was the way it turns back on itself, using “overestimate” and “unimportance” together…over…under.  I was going to put these words in the mouth of my character – a witty guy who likes the way words can play off each other, pushing and pulling against each other like a line of boats moored together in a choppy sea, so the line would have to come off as ambiguous, over-stated, a thought stopper.  Here’s what I came up with:

“It really is impossible to overestimate the relative unimportance of most everything that actually happens.”

Now that worked perfectly.  It rolled off the tongue of my character with the elegant ease of one trying to reassure a friend, but maybe agitating them even more with all the push-and-pull, along with a few qualifying words that would truly make the character spoken to have to stop and slowly figure along the sentence to gauge exactly how the words were working together.  And, the bit at the end about “…everything that actually happens…” allowed me to not have to have my slippery character say something un-slippery like, “Don’t worry.  Things don’t usually turn out as bad as we make them out to be.”

Pooh Hamaca 2Besides all that, it’s just a good piece of advice.  It might even be showing up soon while doing a google word search.  I am truly standing on the shoulders of Giants…Giants such as John Loque.  If there really is a John Loque, and if he’s still alive – or if there’s a family member managing the fortune in royalties lost due to my liberation of this quote – here’s where to find me.  I remain, faithfully yours, and unconcerned.

Traditional…Independent, or – Don’t Publish at All?

Engraving for Thérèse philosophe (libertine no...

Engraving for Thérèse philosophe (libertine novel, 18th c.) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Getting a rejection letter can be depressing, especially the form letters, or even worse – No Response.  Or, they can be uplifting to the author if there is a bit of writing on the rejection, and maybe even a bit of advice, a crumb on the path to publishing.  But, like an intelligent child focusing on the one time years before when he was stamped stupid by some teacher, parent, or other bully, some authors crumble and go for the strychnine.

 

Chuck Ross, a door-to-door salesman was an aspiring writer back in 1975 when he came up with the idea that the publishing industry couldn’t and wouldn’t recognize talented authors, and to prove it, he typed up 21 pages of Steps by Jerzy Kosinski – a book that had won the National Book Award for Fiction in 1969, and mailed it off to four major publishing houses and was rejected by them all, including Random House, the publisher of Steps.

Ross aired his un-scientific discovery, and left publishers sputtering – Kosinski himself said if the whole book had been submitted it would have received an offer to publish.

Ross was a true trickster, one that would make Old Man Coyote proud.

In 1979 he repeated his prank, this time typing up the whole manuscript, changing the “author’s name” to Erik Demos, and sent it to fourteen publishers.  Fourteen more rejections.  Good luck out there in Unknown Author Landia.  It’s probably easier to publish independently, or not publish at all if one wants to be the next big thing in literature.

That was Jean Shepherd’s take on the world of literary success.

Jean Shepherd was a radio deejay in New York City during the 1950s, and held down the plumb hours of midnight to 5 a.m.  Out of boredom he dumped the scripted format of the show and became Howard Stern before Howard Stern became Howard Stern, talking trash, delivering dark, satirical views of whatever was on his mind that day.  He developed a hardcore following of what he called Night People, making them feel special by professing, “night is the time people truly become individuals because all the familiar things are dark and done; all the restrictions are removed.”  Every clique or gang or country needs enemies, some good ‘ol bonding by fear or disdain.  Shepherd’s chosen enemy “others” were day people, creatures who fed on “creeping meatballism” and were responsible for all rules, red tape, and disturbing the daytime sleeping habits of Night People.

Shepherd was another vicious doubter of the wisdom of the book publishing establishment.  He decided to prove his point, suggesting that his followers all over the country go into bookstores and ask for a hot new book that didn’t exist.  Not existing is difficult, even for a book.  He came up with a title for his non-existent 18th century bodice-ripper of a book, I, Libertine, a non-existent author, Frederick R. Ewing, whose fictitious bio made him an Oxford graduate, retired Royal Navy Commander, and a scholar who delivered a series of BBC talks on “Erotica of the 18th century.”

I, Libertine

I, Libertine (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The first day of Shepherd’s experiment went alright – 27 requests placed at a 5th Avenue bookstore.  Many more followed in the following days, from all over the United States, England, and Scandinavia…the perks of having a steward on the Queen Mary as one of his followers.  Bookstore owners started contacting publishers, publishers were befuddled, but publishers know the merit of a buck, even if they may not always care to bother with the merits of an unknown book by an unknown author.  Ian Ballantine – publisher extraordinaire – sniffed along the trail until he discovered Shepherd, and knowing the merit of free publicity already in place, commissioned science-fiction writer Theodore Sturgeon – a Night Person follower of Shepherd’s – to write I. Libertine in a hurry.  Sturgeon did.  It sold approximately 130,000 copies, although critics panned it, some savagely.

There you go, hopeful writers…to toss pages upon pages over the transom, give up and independently publish, or not publish at all…buy the ticket, take the…

Trivia Extra for the Day:  Theodore Sturgeon was one of Kurt Vonnegut’s favorite science-fiction writers, and the Vonn’s alter-ego, fearful vision of his literary future and certain legacy, the character Kilgore Trout, was named in honor of  Sturgeon and the G.I. Kilgore of World War II fame…Kilgore Trout.

The Beat Goes On…The Beat Goes On…

Comment From an UnFollowed Blogger

Bertolt Brecht „The victory of the reason can ...

Bertolt Brecht „The victory of the reason can only win the sensibles” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This is a comment I received from probably the most un-followed blogger in the bloggosphere…in fact, I think I’m one of three or so “followers” listed on his blog site.  I find many of his posts to be as passionate, intelligent, and profound as I’ve seen on WordPress.

 

I’ve gotten to know a bit about him over the few months I’ve been blogging: he is a hospice nurse, a taxing occupation I can imagine; he served in the Peace Corps in Armenia, a country whose population has been nearly exterminated by its geographical neighbors, and whose infrastructure is still devastated by a killer earthquake from a few years back; and he is a highly intelligent, articulate, and talented poet, often writing in three languages – English, Spanish, and Armenian.  He fed refugees from his own food supplies, and continues to champion the cause of an abused, terrorized, and destitute people who have become road-kill under the wheels of history.  It all sounds so noble, and in my estimation is…but it is not hard for me to understand why he is probably the most un-followed blogger – he posts quite a bit of erotica.

When I first came across his blog it was one of those WTF moments.  There were images of what some people would deem pornographic.  There was a Supreme Court ruling which has become the common definition of pornography, and that is that art may be graphic, and it may contain adult-oriented material, but if it has artistic merit, it’s erotica, not pornography.  I’ve mentioned in comments that his wonderful poetry and other posts would draw quite an audience if he cut down on some of the more graphic imagery.  He has made it clear he couldn’t care less.  He creates his posts for himself and does not care about any mass readership.

I once mentioned a poet I followed on WordPress that could definitely benefit from reading his work, but she is a deeply religious Muslim, and would be offended by some of the material on his site.  He immediately replied that I should not refer her since the last thing he wanted to do was offend or shock anyone’s sensibilities.  I can respect that.  He recently commented on a post of mine, “Just Who am I Writing For?” with a bit of his usual sensible advice…advice which benefitted me, and, I thought, might be a bit of self analysis on his part, since like me he often posts politically charged material.

This is in no way an endorsement of ch3mical r3nt boy’s blog – I think he’s satisfied creating art for art’s sake…art he knows will evaporate into the ether of the cyberspace unseen, unappreciated by the masses, and completely satisfying to him.  So, here is his reply to my question about just who I write for and why:

I love this post of yours! You ask (and answer) so many question I’ve been struggling with too. You remind me of something I read by Bertolt Brecht, his essay about the difficulty of writing about the truth. For an artist to tell the truth, Brecht said, he or she needed:

1. courage to write the truth

2. the keenness to recognize the truth

3. the skill to manipulate the truth as a weapon

4. the judgment to select those in whose hands the truth will be effective

5. the cunning to spread the truth among many

 

For the most part the moment, it seems to me, 90% of artists who feel compelled to “speak the truth” (whatever that means to them) are very good at points 1 and 2 and then completely fail at 3,4 and 5. It’s why political poetry, say, tends to be less art and more preaching. Blogging is wonderful, I do it every day and am very proud of what I create, but the Internet is a gated community and only those who have the money and time to participate in it can benefit from the wisdom within. In a world were 3/4 of the population don’t even know where their next meal is to be found it’s hard to take blog activists as seriously as they take themselves.

This isn’t to say blogs and social media don’t serve their roles and play important parts for those who use them (we create families here, we make friends and fall in love and get a chance to send our desires and dreams out to an audience of like-minded people), but the Internet is still an echo chamber (granted, a very large echo chamber) and I think a lot of us forget that. In the end the Internet as a tool for spreading truth will never be the solution to Brecht’s five difficulties since those who need the truth the most have no access to it if we keep it on-line.

Cheers!

 

The Politics of Yertl the Turtle

Your Majesty please…I don’t like to complain,/ But down here below, we are feeling great pain./ I know, up on top you are seeing great sights,/ But down at the bottom we, too, should have rights.”

 

Yertle the Turtle and Other Stories

Yertle the Turtle and Other Stories (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

That quote is lines 65-68 from “Yertl the Turtel”, one of three stories from Yertl the Turtle and Other Stories by the rabble-rousing labor activist and raving anarchist, Theodor Suess Geisel, better known to you, me, and millions of other children as Dr. Seuss.  The famous children’s book was published by Random House Books on April 12, 1958, and Dr. Seuss’s demonic, socialistic thoughts, have been polluting minds – young and old – ever since.

But, like all instigators of class warfare, the good Dr. got called to account for his dangerous words a little over a year ago by Dave Stignant, acting director of the Prince Rupert School District in the sleepy little hamlet of Prince Rupert, British Columbia, Canada.

But, let’s start this from the beginning.  The photo of the turtle that heads this bit of pinko thinking was taken by my wife.  The turtle is at home in a pool outside of Auto-Mercado, an American-style supermarket between Tamarindo and Villareal in Costa Rica.

I commented at what a limited world-view this poor creature must have had, and a friend of mine replied that it probably wasn’t all that bad, since the turtle was king of all he surveyed.  I immediately thought of one of the first books I owned as a child, Yerlt the Turtle and Other Stories.

It’s a short piece -probably one of Dr. Seuss’s most famous – from this stanza:

Then again, from below, in the great heavy stack,
Came a groan from that plain little turtle named Mack.
“Your Majesty, please… I don’t like to complain,
But down here below, we are feeling great pain.
 I know, up on top you are seeing great sights,
But down here at the bottom we, too, should have rights.
We turtles can’t stand it.  Our shells will all crack!
Besides, we need food.  We are starving!” groaned Mack.

 

Similar turtles were used in an editorial cart...

Similar turtles were used in an editorial cartoon published in PM on March 20, 1942. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The gist of this story is that Yertl the Turtle is the King of the Pond on a “faraway island of Sala-ma-Sond, and wanting to be more powerful, he had ordered his turtle subjects to pile up so he could survey more to be King of.  Mack, a most common and plain little turtle, was on the bottom.  All was fine until the moon came up, and Yertl called for more turtles since there should be no higher than the highest authority…himself.

How this all became an issue in the Prince Rupert School system was that a elementary school teacher had introduced this book into her class plan.  She also seems to have had a t-shirt with “But down at the bottom, we too should have rights” on the chest.  She was a union member, and there was a bit of re-working to be done as far as contracts and pay-scales were concerned.  The indignant Stignant banned her from using the book in her classroom, wearing the t-shirt, and from even having any items concerning Yertl the Turtle on school grounds, or in open view inside her car.

“It’s a good use of my time if it serves the purpose of shielding the children from political messaging,” the indignant Stignant said.  “I don’t consider it’s taking a stand on the dispute.  It’s a matter of legality and living up to our obligations to children and their families.”

 

YERTLE

I was digging farther into this, the results of the Yertl the Turtle controversy and book ban, and especially the fortunes, or misfortunes of the indignant Stignant…but the internet connection went south, I lost my original post, art, and settings, so I’m getting this off as fast as I can before it happens again.

Save it for another day.

I do know that the end of the tale has plain little turtle Mack burp (which was quite a rude thing to say in 1958) and the turtle tower collapsed, leaving King Yertl face in the mud of the pond.  Maybe the final stanza gives some indication of how the whole union brouhaha, as well as the indignant Stignant’s, fortunes fared:

And tosay the great Yertle, that Marvelous he,
Is King of the Mud.  That is all he can see.
And the turtles, of course… all the turtles are free
 As turtles and, maybe, all creatures should be.