With the success of “Gray Thursday,” enabling frenetic purchasers to begin the holiday shopping season on Thanksgiving, I may need to rethink, or at least seasonally re-post, the curious and amusing take on consumer culture in Regifting and Post-Technological Ethics.
Something about this viral Photoshop video of model Sally Gifford Piper baffles me. The point (bizarrely) seems to be that the end result is an impossibly high standard of beauty. But she looks like a beautiful woman at first and then is transformed into what looks like an alien made of modular plastic parts. It’s depressing to think of how desperate we (men and women alike in my experience) are to buy into a conventional model of “female beauty,” just because we believe it to be conventional, without regard to what idiot is inventing the model to turn a profit, or to how counterintuitive it is to the natural instincts.
Here’s a sample page of the novel (Mr. Robert’s Bones) I’m working on. (I’d say I’m not quite half way through the rough draft.)
The kids moved slowly into Mr. Jimmy’s dimly lit house. The two steel-hooped barrels sat fat, glum, solid as ever, like surly guardians in the dismal light, but with the incongruous festivity of tiny gadgets and figurines on their heads. The dark painting hung in its place, but the broad strokes of purplish-blue waves seemed oddly different, as if they had moved a few paces toward edge of the canvas. The bedroom, dining room, kitchen along the shotgun path of the house were otherwise just as they had seen last time, as if no one had lived there in the interim. Instead of conducting them to the back porch, Mr. Jimmy sat them in the kitchen this time, at one of the interchangeable thrift store tables that seemed to sprout up in various rooms and porches of this fantastic setting. Mr. Jimmy had apparently been engaged at the table a short time ago. A photo album, some loose photos, and reading glasses lay on the scored and pock-marked wooden surface. Mr. Jimmy put the reading glasses on and eyed a photo for the album, like Melissa and Annie weren’t there. But then he spoke.
“You know the silver in Mr. Robert’s house?” faltered Melissa.
“I told you about it, didn’t I?”
“Well, we kinda been looking around for it.”
“I know you been looking. Well quit looking.”
Mr. Jimmy took a photo into his gnarly black fist, installed it into the album, and eyed another. Even Melissa remained daunted at his demeanor.
“Some people,” continued Mr. Jimmy, “knows more than you kids about that house. Some people knows more than he’s saying right now. That silver is tainted. Cursed. Blood money. Touched by the devil’s own hand. You understand what I’m saying?”
The speaker paused and let the question float. Then a heaviness descended on his countenance. With a delicate movement he took off his glasses and stared at, or through, the kids with a fixed intensity that pushed a chill up their spines.
“’Cause this is the last time I’m saying it.”
The kids hesitated, immobilized by dread but eager to forge on. Mr. Jimmy put his glasses back on and installed another photo.
“There’s more, Mr. Jimmy,” Melissa said.
Mr. Jimmy continued to fiddle with the album.
“Well, what more?”
Three cups of sugar, four
eggs, I stir, and then
you approach: kitchen
becomes temple, stars
move, blood boils and beads
up, I try to concentrate.
Four cups of sugar, three
eggs, you do bring
in thrills a febrile
wild terror of sacrament
primeval and undiscovered
in safer religions. Stars
move, your glance meets
the window. Three
eggs, I stir, I take
it you are a witch,
my bright-happy blood
beads no amulet.
Over the ocean
when you walk you leave
no tracks: i can only
.. stop to wash
your angel feet with words
that vanish in the gaps
of your passing
Three cups of sugar, four
eggs, I stir, and then
you retreat: kitchen
becomes empty, fruit
sours, cream curdles and dries
up. I try to concentrate.
Four cups of sugar, three
eggs, and the sun became
as sackcloth, the moon
became as blood, the stars
of heaven fell, mountain and island
were moved from their places. Fruit
sours, the center cannot hold.
Babylon the great is fallen, fallen,
and is become the habitation
of devils, and then was there
great weeping and wailing, saying:
alas, alas, that great city,
for in one hour she
is made desolate.
Separate we sit on the stone
a lizard below flashing green and gray
the sleek soft body coiled in fear
or hatred or worse. Monuments surround us.
The horizon ruptures, up, up
it floats and hangs through the moss
mislaid dreams of a fruitful season
our own bodies sleek and soft and coiled.
I see you now clear and separate
fading fingers fine-strung in moss
and behind you the radish slice moon
all beauty and light and bitter ash.
To my friends abroad who have queried about the U.S. government shutdown and debt limit crisis. You have rightly heard that the odd thing about this crisis is that it is not based on U.S. economic conditions, which are fine and quite capable of keeping the government running and paying its bills, but is a crisis that is entirely unnecessary and manufactured by political choice.
The Republican position is that unless the Democrats make some policy concessions, they won’t release the money to keep the government running, nor do they want to raise the debt limit so the government can pay its bills. They believe that the Democrats should be willing to negotiate on this.
The Democratic position is that this is extortion, not negotiation. Negotiation is “you give me something I want and I’ll give you something you want”; extortion is “give me what I want or I’ll do something destructive that no one wants – I’ll wreck the economy.”
To view through the oft-used household analogy, Democrats are saying that it’s legitimate for spouses to negotiate at the time of any major purchase. But once purchases are made, it’s not legitimate for one spouse to say, “Meet my present demands or I’ll close down our business (i.e., shutter the government) and refuse to pay all our credit card bills that are due next week (the debt limit issue).” The second case, to the Democrats, is more like extortion than negotiation. And they feel compelled to hold this line, on the grounds that a recurring strategy of “meet my demands or I’ll blow up the economy” cannot be tolerated as a sustainable model of governance.
Or to paraphrase one Democratic Congresswoman: “Health care policy should be negotiable. Social security and tax reform should be negotiable. Whether we can be trusted to keep the government open and pay our bills should not be negotiable.”
When I hear “Stoic” used in the pejorative sense, as “icy and unfeeling,” I feel a little sorry for Marcus Aurelius. Sure, he was a Roman Emperor and probably managed just fine without my sympathies, but his Meditations, informed by the Stoic thought of slave-philosopher, Epictetus, were anything but icy and unfeeling. I also wince a little on my own behalf, because my own spiritual (or moral or intellectual) house is built in part with the following materials – one overarching goal and two principles — drawn from the Stoics.
Goal: To keep the soul (or psyche) tranquil and focused
1. Always concentrate your energy on what you can control, never on what you can’t control.
2. In everything you do, never lose sight of your moral purpose.
It is true that the Stoics found reason a steadier charioteer than emotion (i.e., better at keeping you keyed to these principles and goal), but who knows, maybe they were right about this.