O Beauty, Where Art Thou?

©2014 By Bob Litton

The Purpose of Canyons

Three men who had been classmates in high school greeted each other joyfully at a school reunion. They had been good friends all the way through their public school years but had since moved to separate sections of the country and had lost contact with one another. Now in their thirties, all had entered different career fields: one was a college science professor; one, an artist; and the third, a cowboy.
They decided they wanted to spend more time together, so they agreed to meet a couple of months later at an Arizona resort town near the Grand Canyon, which none of them had ever seen. The day following their arrival in Arizona, they spent several hours drinking wine (the scientist and the artist) and beer (the cowboy). Although a bit woozy after that binge, they nevertheless wobbled late in the afternoon out to the canyon’s rim.
The science professor, wide-eyed with awe, exclaimed, “Just imagine how many eons are evidenced in the strata of that wall across the chasm!”
The artist, observing the purple, red and golden hues of the sunset as the fiery globe rested upon the canyon, said dreamily, “What a beautiful painting I could create here!”
The cowboy, squinting and gazing, gazing and squinting, as he tried to fathom what his friends were talking about, finally sighed wearily and muttered, “What a hell of a place to lose a cow!”
After pausing a few seconds to guess what was going on here, the three friends began to quarrel over which man’s vision was actual. Then they fought. Then they rolled in a wild knot to the canyon’s rim. Then they fell.
— BL’s extended version of an old joke of unknown origin

I just wrote a check donating a small amount of money to an FM radio station in Arizona that plays classical music twenty-four hours a day. The station ended their fund drive yesterday. However, I did not pledge anything during that drive because I don’t like making pledges I might not be able to live up to and because I shrink from surrendering my bank account information to Cyberspace. I will, though, continue to contribute occasionally what I think I can afford to the station because I have been listening to it for several months now and feel guilty about receiving and not giving.

Any of my readers who share with me an appreciation of classical music are probably as aware as I of the threat to that genre on the radio because of its relatively small audience and its resultantly minimal sponsor roll. While residing in my hometown of Dallas, Texas, I listened nearly every day to WRR-FM, the City-owned station at Fair Park which played classical music all the time. Every other year, it seemed, the City council’s agenda included an item regarding the possible sale of WRR. The sale proponents’ argument was that the City should not be sponsoring a radio station in competition with other radio stations, all of which were rock-n-roll, C&W, or talk show sites. The local intelligentsia always loudly retorted that WRR did not survive on tax money but on its own advertising and sponsorship incomes.

Concert hall venues are in about the same condition; some orchestras have disappeared. I don’t know if that is because there are too many orchestras for the population or because classical music is too incomprehensible for mass audiences. (Classical country has experienced a similar decline.) It occurs to me that, as with modern rock-n-roll, modern C&W is indifferent to the production of the poetic and often humorous lyrics that used to spice them (e.g., “Ode to Billy Joe” and “The Race is On”).The “moderns” prefer unintelligible mumblings about the cliches of dusty roads and tractors that are supposed to attend a repetitive beat designed for the “Texas Two-Step”. Beat conquers melody!

Even I do not enjoy the works of some classical composers as much as I used to enjoy them. Gioachino Rossini and Richard Wagner were early favorites of mine — back in my early twenties — for the obvious reason that they were often boisterous and manly, but Claude Debussy’s Claire de Lune, a very quiet piece, was also a favorite. I guess whatever was a favorite with the crowd was a favorite with me. Debussy still ranks high on my list of admirable composers, but Wagner has declined considerably; and I am not quite sure why, although I have my suspicions. Whenever they play Ride of the Valkyries — a piece I used to thrill to — I now can hardly wait for it to conclude. The Russian composers, especially Sergei Rachmaninoff and Alexander Borodin, have since monopolized my sympathies; but I appreciate several others almost as much. And I have become a fanatic for adagios, regardless of the nationality of the composer.

This slide from one style and mood to another has been cause enough for me to ponder the shapes and tones of beauty. Well, let me be honest: I have almost always wondered what are the attributes which excite the response within our minds and/or souls which we denominate the aesthetic sense “beauty”. In elementary school we were warned by our teachers to avoid words like “beautiful”, “wonderful” and “interesting”, because they are “worn-out adjectives”: the alternative for our written compositions (restricting the present remarks to “beautiful”) are words like “poignant”, “seductive”, “comforting”, “colorful”, “charming”, etc.; that is, more particular, pointed terms.

Most of us are cognizant of the supposedly emotional associations of colors, particularly red (anger, anxiety) and blue (cold, melancholy). Yet, red roses are often considered delightful gifts of appreciation and a blue sky is usually seen as a welcoming invitation to joyfully stroll down some country lane. Nearly three decades ago, the Dallas Fire Department changed the color of its fire trucks from cherry red to amber because the latter color reputedly grabs people’s attention more immediately. It has been supposed that the “beautiful” colors set in flower blossoms are meant to attract pollinators; but are the insects really appreciative of beauty per se, or are those blossoms’ colors perceived merely as glyphs designating the species beneath? How do the various colors of objects and scenes get emotionally separated and catalogued in our minds? I wondered.

As for myself, while still using crayons in grade school, before the era of “political correctness”, my favorite color was Indian red. Next in line was a sort of blue-green: cannot recall its name now. Somewhere along the path to adulthood I took to pastels, virtually all of them. Why did that change occur? The nearest I can fathom is that as I aged I became mellower — much less aggressive; I had learned the cost of belligerency.

I also learned that the generally preferred form for illustration was the human body, not tanks and airplanes. Animals and trees of various species could be rendered to appeal as well. But what was there about any of those that justified their characterization of “beautiful”?

I have discussed directly — and slantingly — in previous blog posts some of the issues concerning aesthetics, particularly the question of whether beauty is in the eye of the beholder or whether there is some abstract, socially accepted, ideal beauty that is relatively eternal (pardon the oxymoron). We humans have, I believe, an irritating urge to want demarcations in various areas of life, e.g. aesthetics: lines that will set off against each other the ways of viewing any phenomenon. (We do seem to be evolving into a blurrier manner of seeing in the areas of race and sexual orientation; there is now a budding debate over what is called “asexuality” to confuse matters even more.) Now I have reached a point where I can intellectually accept the non-reality of such strict borders, although I still cannot repress the emotional desire to draw them: consequently I keep returning to this issue of whether distinguishing palpable appearances is possible or whether they in fact slide into and blend with one another. Is there a sufficiently valid scale of perfecting to justify the careers of critics, or are we all just marooned on our little islands of individual preferences, each as valid — and as invalid — as the other? Does what we classify as beautiful occur to us out of an innate knowledge or have we been taught what is beautiful for so long that we now accept it as the “real beauty”? And why does anything have to be beautiful anyway?

That is as far as I have gotten in my cogitations to date. I apologize if any of the above leaves my readers frustrated; it could well be argued that I should have waited until I have some persuasive resolutions of these questions before sending them out into Cyberspace. However, I am beginning to doubt that that day will ever come. Anyway, more than half the fun from such musings derives from the questions, not the answers.

Finis

NOTE TO WORDPRESS BLOGGERS: If you would like to comment on this post you need to click on the words “Leave A Comment” in small bold print just above the by-line. That will open a box down at the bottom for your comment. I welcome comments, even critical ones, as long as they are polite and related to the essay, story or poem within the post.
Thank you for reading.
BL

NOTE TO NON-WORDPRESS BLOGGING READERS: WordPress has its program set up where only WP bloggers can register “likes” and “comments” on this page. However, if you are a non-blogger, I would be glad to hear any helpful criticisms you might wish to share and, therefore, have left my email address in the “About” page (see button above the title of this post). Please, no “snarky” comments, or I will have to delete it.
Thank you for reading.
BL 

Blurry Innocence

©2014 By Bob Litton

A certain word I have heard and read used strangely over the past thirteen years is “innocents”. During that period I have been tempted to write a column about its illogical application but refrained because I anticipated that my point would not be understood. All I would accomplish would be to call down a frenzy of rebuke upon my head. Now, however, I believe sufficient time has passed that I might, with at least a modicum of safety, venture to state my perspective on that term’s proper and improper utterances.

Definitely excluding the relatives and close acquaintances of the 9/11 victims, the horrific fate of all those people appalled me as much as most of my fellow citizens. Yet I did not feel as much sadness as I thought I should. Angry, now that I was; but I was as angry at the official guardians of our nation as I was at the unknown suicidal militants. My employers cancelled work that day. I walked the short distance from my apartment to White Rock Lake and sat upon a concrete picnic table and tried to figure out how I felt, how I should have felt. A policeman drove slowly down the narrow roadway at the lake’s verge and looked up toward the low hilltop where I was brooding; he, like all the law officers in the country, was probably looking at everyone suspiciously that day, but he didn’t stop.

What I finally concluded was that it is difficult for me to get tearful over any tragedy involving a mass of unknown humans, while I had choked up and my eyes had dampened a few years before when I happened upon the obituary of one of my former Food Stamp clients. I guess in that single trait I am similar to Ronald Reagan, who, one of his former aides had revealed, could not comprehend the hardships endured by a blurry populace but could sincerely and deeply empathize with a suffering individual in front of him. (I sure hope I don’t share any other traits with that nincompoop.)

As the following days succeeded and more information became available, I grew even angrier with those responsible for the disasters, and admiring of those passengers on United Flight 93 who managed to thwart the hijackers’ attainment of their primary objective; I tried to imagine if I could have had the courage they had shown.

But another element that reappeared over and over again during the following months grated on me: the continual use of the word “innocent” to describe the victims. Perhaps that was the first time I had ever heard the word used so frequently; if it had been previously uttered after any similar occurrence — say, on December 7, 1941 — I could not recall it (I was only one year old at the time). Why were the news people and politicians using that word? I wondered. Yes, the victims — the vast majority anyway — could be described as unarmed noncombatants. Yes, all of them had been unwarrantably defenseless. But “innocent”? Such a description leaves our military and police forces open to the aspersion of “guilty”! What else could it mean?

Recently I viewed a VHS tape of the 1942 Academy Award-winning film (six Oscars) Mrs. Miniver, which starred Greer Garson and Walter Pidgeon. It is the story of an English middle-class family, residents of an idyllic village, who find themselves unexpectedly becoming involved, both as participants and as victims, in the start of World War II.

There are two scenes in that film that impressed me as very pertinent to the argument I presented above: an encounter between Mrs. Miniver and a wounded German pilot whose plane had been shot down near her village, and a sermon at the film’s end that eloquently expresses the view that no one is exempt from the duties and harms of war.

Concerning the first scene, while her husband is away with other local men rescuing the soldiers at Dunkirk and her eldest son is off flying a mission against German positions in Europe, Mrs. Miniver happens upon the injured pilot hiding under a shrub.  The German, pointing a Luger at her, commands her to take him to her home. She offers to take him to the village clinic. He refuses, demanding only food and a coat. During their conversation in her kitchen, Mrs. Miniver asks him why he and his comrades want to harm innocent people in their homes. He retorts “maniacally” that the English are the enemies of the German people and that, regardless of his own fate, other German pilots will appear and give the weak British their just deserts for resisting the power of the Third Reich. None of the British are innocent, he exclaims, because they are all enemies of Germany.

After feeding the German pilot and then disarming him after he has fainted, Mrs. Miniver calls in the police to haul the fellow off. Later, Mrs. Miniver’s daughter-in-law of only two weeks is killed by a bullet from a German plane while the two are returning from a flower show. (This is the weakest scene in the film because there is no indication of the shell hitting their car or causing any physical injury to the young lady.) Other beloved local citizens are also killed in the German attack.

A few days later, presumably the following Sunday, the village’s survivors meet in the now roofless church for worship and memorials. The vicar  gives what has been recognized as an inspiring talk, not just for the characters in the film but also for all the peoples of the various Allied nations. I am going to quote it in full here, for, as I said, it speaks more eloquently on the points I related at the first of this post:

We in this quiet corner of England have suffered the loss of friends very dear to us, some close to this church. George West, choirboy. James Ballard, stationmaster and bellringer, and the proud winner only an hour before his death of the Beldon Cup for his beautiful Miniver Rose. And our hearts go out in sympathy to the two families who share the cruel loss of a young girl who was married at this altar only two weeks ago. The homes of many of us have been destroyed, and the lives of young and old have been taken. There’s scarcely a household that hasn’t been struck to the heart. And why? Surely you must have asked yourselves this question? Why in all conscience should these be the ones to suffer? Children, old people, a young girl at the height of her loveliness? Why these? Are these our soldiers? Are these our fighters? Why should they be sacrificed? I shall tell you why. Because this is not only a war of soldiers in uniform. It is the war of the people, of all the people. And it must be fought not only on the battlefield but in the cities and in the villages, in the factories and on the farms, in the home and in the heart of every man, woman and child who loves freedom. Well, we have buried our dead, but we shall not forget them. Instead they will inspire us with an unbreakable determination to free ourselves, and those who come after us, from the tyranny and terror that threaten to strike us down. This is the People’s War. It is our war. We are the fighters. Fight it then. Fight it with all that is in us. And may God defend the right.

I encourage all my readers to peruse the fuller synopsis of Mrs. Miniver at Wikipedia. Here is the URL to that article: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mrs._Miniver_(film)

Now, with all that said, I will acknowledge the existence of some categories of true innocents. They are babies, incarcerated criminals, retarded persons, and lunatics.

Finis

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Thank you for reading.
BL

NOTE TO NON-WORDPRESS BLOGGING READERS: WordPress has its program set up where only WP bloggers can register “likes” and “comments” on this page. However, if you are a non-blogger, I would be glad to hear any helpful criticisms you might wish to share and, therefore, have left my email address in the “About” page (see button above the title of this post). Please, no “snarky” comments, or I will have to delete it.
Thank you for reading.
BL 

 

 

 

 

Morning Thoughts

©2014 By Bob Litton

NOTE TO READER: My muse was full of it this morning — that is, full of topics I do not want to write about because they are depressing, and other topics that are so jejune I fear my readers would not advance beyond the first paragraph, if that far. But I had to write something; otherwise those few regular perusers who flatter me by almost daily knocking at my blog’s door would imagine my death. So, I resolved that an end run around the invisible muse-wench was called for: random thoughts.

Have you ever been discomfited upon realizing that you think constantly — even, in a way, while you are asleep (they are called “dreams”)? Have you ever wished you could turn your brain off for a while because the notions there are too multitudinous or fraught with the distasteful that you are wearied?

Being a bachelor and most often alone, I frequently enough yearn for at least a quarter hour of silent, still mental status. Calm down, cool down, O Cerebrum! But it cannot happen, not unless I suffer such a head injury as to become comatose. Since I do not relish any injury, least of all the physical sort, I just tolerate the surge of random, hardly connected images which fluctuate — like a kaleidoscope — looking for the precise words to describe themselves. Here is an example of what I mean from this morning’s mental flooding.

Well, it’s almost eight. About time for the weather report. Already three days of expansive cloudiness and yet only half an inch of moisture, most of it in the form of mist and drizzle. Remember that phone call one man decades ago made to the TV weatherman? “I want to let you know that I have just shoveled six inches of ‘partly cloudy’ off my sidewalk!”  Speaking of ‘partly cloudy’, what does that mean anyway? Will the day be cloudy for twelve or so hours and then clear for the rest? Or does it mean that all day long there will be clouds in some of the sky, while the rest will be clear? Phooey!!! Those weather guys are always predicting stuff that doesn’t happen. Wonder why they even try to serve us with five- to ten-day forecasts. Hmmm. The radio weatherman is saying we got three-tenths of an inch of precipitation during the past 24 hours and it’s supposed to be cloudy the entire coming week. Bummer! But they always contradict themselves the next day or the day after that, so we can probably expect sunshine. Why don’t they just forecast for the next day and leave it at that?

Have to shower now and change into clean clothes. Used to love showering; now it’s a chore. Wonder why? Ahhh! That warm stream relaxes my neck. How could I possibly weary of this? Guess it must be my concern for water conservation. After all, I do live in a desert and the whole western third of the country is in a drought. Also, that article I read a month ago argued that we should not bathe every day because it is not healthy for the skin; the dead skin cells are needed to protectively cover the new cells. And when we do bathe we would do well to not dry off with a towel, but shake ourselves as the dogs do, because rubbing with a towel wipes the old cells off with the water. But, if we are in a rush and use a towel anyway, we should just pat ourselves dry, not rub.

Time for breakfast. Think I’ll just eat some cereal here and then maybe a couple of biscuits with coffee — lots of coffee — at the coffee shop. But first, I’ve got to take my pills. Those doctors sure like to cram pills down your throat. Look there now! I’ve got six bottles of pills, one of which pills I must split in two; it is so small already that cutting it in two is like a surgical operation; fitting it into the little triangular splitter is a damnable chore! They ought to issue laser cutters for these things.

Ah, now for the cereal! Wonder if this sugar substitute is really good for me; I’ve read conflicting reports about this stuff; wish those scientists wouldn’t say anything until they have got all their dominoes in a row. Heard this raisin bran is more fattening than that frosted flakes I used to like as a kid. Can’t believe it! No sirree, just can’t believe it.

Settle in before my computer so I can read the CNN news while I eat. Why do I do it? It’s always depressing. The only thing that is really new is the increase in the level of dangers and horrors and absurdities: beheadings in the Mideast, inadvertent slaughter of millions of birds by wind turbines and solar panels, athletes beating or killing their girlfriends or wives, earthquakes, volcanoes erupting, celebrities showing off their latest sexy bathing suits. Yuck!

Well, time to show myself in society. Off to the coffee shop. Pick up my paperback copy of Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling/The Sickness Unto Death and head out the door. Yeah, still heavily overcast. Real wintry looking. Oh, look! There’s my neighbor’s new used car. Just think, only a couple of years ago he was begging for money to pay his doctors’ bills; had lip cancer; a heavy smoker; better now, but he still smokes. And now he’s got a huge TV set, a computer, a sometime maid, and this decent-looking sedan. His old mini-SUV had broken windows that, for years, he would drape towels over when rain was predicted. I asked him the other day if he had come into an inheritance, to be able to make all these, to me, expensive purchases. He smiled and said, “Oh, I have some friends who make me offers I can’t refuse.”

Driving south a block I find myself behind another mini-SUV, newer and larger than my neighbor’s. It is sitting at a stop sign, but no traffic is coming from right or left. I am impatient. Maybe the driver is a tourist unsure of which direction to take. But I encounter this situation all the time in this town. What is it with these people!!!??? I’m about to honk fiercely when the vehicle starts turning left: the same way I want to go. Oh, good grief! Three blocks later it turns right: again the direction I want to go. I might not ever get to the coffee shop. They turn right again and pull into the coffee shop’s potholed parking lot, but I get closer and park near the door. I get out and look behind me. Oh, my goodness! It’s the lady who lives in the mini-mansion just a couple of blocks north of me, the one who goes to the coffee shop every day and studies — I think, memorizes — her huge study Bible. In certain areas she is quite intelligent, but she has a primitive view of theological matters. However, I do not argue with her; I’ve already revealed my views on that subject; and that was the end of it, for both of us. We just say “Hi!” now and smile at each other’s retardation.

In the coffee shop, the waitresses and kitchen staff greet me loudly, as usual. We tease each other a lot. I jocularly complain to the waitresses about silly things, but I also assure them they will always have a superior numbered spot on my list of girlfriends. It dawns on me suddenly that the coffee shops and restaurants are the only places I smile, even laugh.

Finis

  

NOTE TO WORDPRESS BLOGGERS: If you would like to comment on this post you need to click on the words “Leave A Comment” in small bold print just above the by-line. That will open a box down at the bottom for your comment. I welcome comments, even critical ones, as long as they are polite and related to the essay, story or poem within the post.
Thank you for reading.
BL

NOTE TO NON-WORDPRESS BLOGGING READERS: WordPress has its program set up where only WP bloggers can register “likes” and “comments” on this page. However, if you are a non-blogger, I would be glad to hear any helpful criticisms you might wish to share and, therefore, have left my email address in the “About” page (see button above the title of this post). Please, no “snarky” comments, or I will have to delete it.
Thank you for reading.
BL 

Here’s Some Soap For Your Mouth

©2014 By Bob Litton

I am not a puritan nor, I hope, a hypocrite. But I have a rather labyrinthine attitude toward what used to be called “foul language”. I say “used to be” because now four-letter words are not only used by women in general social settings, such as cafes, but by both genders in what used to be the high-toned literary magazines, such as New Yorker and Harper’s. A couple of years ago, New Yorker ran an essay relating the history of off-color words in its pages, how a former editor fought many years against them and how they finally emerged.

The basic argument for printing barnyard language is that it is necessary if the magazines are going to publish fiction and articles — especially stories and poems — that reflect actual day-to-day life. Just as there always are at least two sides to any other issue in life, with both sides bearing at least some validity, the argument cited above has some credence. However, I do not believe its limited validity is sufficient to override the sensibilities of readers who do not use such language and are offended by its presence in articles, stories and poems that are supposed to represent the tolerable side of people, even of villains and femmes fatales.

Now is the time for me to acknowledge that I use profanity, mostly when I get into my pickup truck; it’s really weird how one’s personality can do a 180-degree turn when he grips a steering wheel; good thing those people ahead of me cannot hear what I am saying. But I do not approve of the fact that that I do so, not even in the privacy of my truck. I really wish those words had not been invented.

When I was a young boy and began to perceive the double standard people had toward four-letter words, I wondered what I should do. I eventually concluded that, since people usually cussed only when they are angry about something and often mentioned only the vulgar term for excretion, i.e., something they do not want to touch, I would use the phrase “chicken noodle soup”: a meal item I could not stand (at the time). It did not take long for me to realize that that phrase had two weaknesses: (1) it took too long to utter, especially emphatically; and (2) it totally lacked any connotation of emotional steam.

Over the years since then I have used the popular profanity, but infrequently and preferably when I am alone. A singular trait in my attitude toward others has developed from this personal reticence: I have become very observant of the social occasions and vocabulary of others while they swear. I noticed in air force basic training that several of the other recruits cussed without much call for it; they had nothing to be angry about. I surmised that their behavior must be due to their seeing this training experience as a maturation rite: we were becoming men and should exhibit all the traits of men. During one barracks meeting, I spoke up about my concern and said foul language does not make us men. The flight (air force equivalent of “squadron”) became much more sedate after that. Then one day, I cannot recall what caused it, but something happened that angered me, and I uttered a vulgar exclamation. One of the other airmen, who was nearby, looked at me quizzically and said, “Bob, I thought you didn’t like cussing.”

Going back a little ways, in my senior year of high school I worked as an assistant to an electrician. This fellow’s use of profanity was not only colorful but, in a sense, funny because of its constancy; he seemed to use foul terms as punctuation marks, much as many people use the interjection “uh” or the phrase “you know” with tedious frequency.

But foul language irritates me most when I hear it used by or around women and when I hear it in a loud customer’s conversation in a restaurant. One evening I was sitting at a table in a restaurant in Dallas, trying to enjoy my meal, when I heard this young fellow in a nearby booth tossing out profanity during his conversation with three other people. I sat there and debated with myself whether I should pick up my tea glass and go over and pour the contents on his head. Fortunately, I was sober that night, and the more rational side of me won the debate. However, I left that restaurant shortly afterwards, wondering if I would be able to digest my meal.

Now back to the present day and the national media. I have become a frequent viewer of Comedy Channel’s Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. Each presents a mixture of in-depth news analysis and satirical hyperbole. I like Stewart best because he is not as self-adoring as Colbert and because more of his “news stories” are of greater interest for me personally. However, Stewart has a bad habit of letting his sentences slide into mumblings. On Colbert’s positive column I mark his clear articulateness, sometimes in amazingly extended paragraphs; but he has a bad habit of not letting his guests finish their sentences; he finishes for them, usually twisting their intent to fit his own biases. The irritating fault which both share, however, is their almost continuous dives into every body function from excretion to copulation. I do not like having such language pushed into my face, so nowadays it is with some hesitation that I view those shows.

When I was very young, I heard that a playmate’s mother had washed his mouth out with soap. I wondered whether she had used a liquid soap or a bar and how it tasted, but I never asked. That has been a lifelong fault of mine: being very curious but neglecting to seek answers — at the time. I still wonder if any mother ever actually used soap to clean up her child’s language.

Finis

NOTE TO WORDPRESS BLOGGERS: If you would like to comment on this post you need to click on the words “Leave A Comment” in small bold print just above the by-line. That will open a box down at the bottom for your comment. I welcome comments, even critical ones, as long as they are polite and related to the essay, story or poem within the post.
Thank you for reading.
BL

NOTE TO NON-WORDPRESS BLOGGING READERS: WordPress has its program set up where only WP bloggers can register “likes” and “comments” on this page. However, if you are a non-blogger, I would be glad to hear any helpful criticisms you might wish to share and, therefore, have left my email address in the “About” page (see button above the title of this post). Please, no “snarky” comments, or I will have to delete it.
Thank you for reading.
BL 

Do You Know the Way to San Mars-se?

©2014 By Bob Litton

I do not recall when we first became inundated with newspaper and magazine articles concerning, or referring to, the possibility of other planets on a scale comparable to Earth’s, and more speculating as to the possibility of intelligent beings populating those planets. Such articles are certainly abundant now.

Of course, ever since the late 19th century much science fiction and fantasy has featured human-like creatures, even articulate strange-looking beings, on other planets. That is where Superman came from and where Flash Gordon ventured to. Mars was the favored home of the “aliens”: note that we often describe them as “aliens” even on their own planets! However, since rapidly accelerating astronomical investigations have completely debunked any notion that Mars supports intelligent life, at least during the near past, the war god’s namesake no longer satisfies science fiction fans. We have had to gaze and fantasize further afield.

We have reached a new plateau in our fantasizing, one that lures us into credulity: The prospecting for life on planets outside our solar system — balls of stellar dust or gases — will take decades, perhaps, for us to determine one way or the other whether we are alone in the universe. Even other solar systems and galaxies are not sufficient to slate our thirst for sister planets: We now hypothesize the existence of “alternate universes”. Seriously.

But back to our galaxy. Thanks to our rocket-mounted instruments and enhanced telescopes here on Earth, the cosmologists claim to have found 750 likely Earth twins; at least that was the number I last saw a month or two ago. Moreover, even before these recent discoveries, scientists frequently argued that, based on statistical probability, with billions or stars in our own universe, many of them with circling tributary planets, the law of averages dictates that Earth for certain has twin planets out there somewhere.

The careers of some astronomers are now concentrated on discovering and analyzing those habitable balls, all of which are multiple light years away from us. One of the purposes of the exploring rocket dubbed “Rosetta” is to serve as a sort of decrypting tool for use by any “Extra Terrestrials (E.T.’s)” on whose doorstep Rosetta eventually plops down exhausted.  Inside the rocket, according to the television show “Cosmos”, is a trove of communication media — everything from glyphs to voice and video recordings employing speakers of dozens of different languages — intended to provide decipherable clues as to who we are and what we do (or did). All of this naturally began as a consequent of our visits to the moon. Astronauts had displaced cowboys as heroes for children.

Early on, I began to wonder why this obsession with the search for other Earths was going forward as urgently as it seems to be proceeding. There were several probable reasons, I learned, none of them exclusive of the others. One, the simplest, was that it was the logical thing to do since our terrestrial frontier had been settled: It was a challenge, like climbing the highest mountain “because it’s there.” Another reason was the Earth’s saturation with population and the concomitant exhaustion of Earth’s resources; famed cosmologist Stephen Hawking said not many moons ago that Mankind will have to find some other place to inhabit soon, because we have no more than a thousand years left to survive here: We were looking for a place where we could retreat as colonists. Still another incentive was to alleviate our fear of being alone; it seemed that the more we learned about the vastness and deathliness of space, the lonelier we felt. Finally, but not least of course, was the scientists’ natural desire to determine, by examining the constituents and development of younger stars and planets, exactly how we originated: the God question.

Since all the “twin Earths” are many light years far, far away, I decided it was time to determine how long it would take me to travel just one light year. Researches informed me that the speed of light is 186,000 miles per second and that over an Earth year’s time it traverses 5.88 trillion miles. (We’re getting into some heavy arithmetic here, folks, a skill at which I am the least of adepts!) After much hair-pulling and numeral cross-out’s, I calculated the number of seconds in a light year and the number of seconds in my conceivable life span (assuming I live to the next anniversary of my birth moment): 74 years. Then I divided the latter into the former and arrived at a total of 4.685 lifetimes! And that is just to travel one light year, friends!!! How the hell can we expect to transport ourselves to some “Earth twin” that is several light years away unless we resort to a sequence of clones and/or cryonics?

Of course, we can still colonize the moon and possibly Mars; the “Red Planet” is only 34,649,589 miles (4.35 light minutes) away when our variable orbits are nearest one another; but, to me, those are such dreary places. I might as well hang in here and wave goodbye to the fleet of ark-rockets that will tote everybody else off to a “galaxy far, far away”.

Have a safe journey, my fellow Earthlings!

Finis

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BL

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Two Antique Sonnets and a Joke

©1960 By Bob Litton

PREFACE:  Gentle readers, how about a little back story:

The first poem, “Tannhaüser in the Underworld”, I wrote after listening to an LP album of Richard Wagner’s romantic music drama Tannhaüser. If you are not acquainted with that work, or at least the story, you might get more out of my poem by reading a synopsis of it, but I wouldn’t count on it. Basically, Tannhaüser was a legendary poet-singer who, in Wagner’s version, has a problem coping with his dual nature: the sensual and the spiritual.

The second sonnet, “Dear Christmas Spirit”, is obviously patterned after “letters-to-Santa”; but it’s a serious imitation. I had just been reading much of the British Metaphysicals’poetry (John Donne, etal.) and their style is slightly reflected in my verse here.

As for “Eclogue”, it is simply a small dessert of amusement. I had noticed one day that I had a habit of wondering what or who I might be if I were not me; I suppose the question must have been generated upon my hearing that many people believe in reincarnation. The “borogove” and the “tove” are fantasy creatures I borrowed from Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland.

Tannhaüser in the Underworld

Behold this change in me, fair Queen of the wood!
How my wild renunciation of Love fades
and flees before the glow of your semblant rood,
how I blush amid the laughter of your maids.
Whether you be lusty Venus, full of guile and fire ─
or fair, chaste Elizabeth, lost in a darker green —
I know not, but know only this scarlet stab of desire
which long night watches and prayers failed to wean.
You’ve led me benighted to this mountain’s cave,
toward what end I hopefully, fearfully surmise,
for it confounds my vision as both boudoir and grave;
so I dare do  naught but expect the lover’s prize.
What omen that me these contrary thoughts enthrall,
while all about —  as if Heaven cared! — stars do fall?

Dear Christmas Spirit

Bring me Faith which can change but not diminish,
though I walk Job’s way beneath a sleeting sky.
Grant me Strength still innocent of a mocking wish
that someone else my life might justify.
Tote also Hope in your burdening, sooty bag,
something I might wear against the damp’s return,
when the wax wick splutters above the chimney’s slag,
and these rimy logs are too frozen to burn.
But leave those behind if they leave not room
for Charity.  Least flesh needs the warmest soul,
knit to another like a child in the womb;
nor does it pause before Life, its sleeves to roll.
If you grant all these to my selfish cheer,
with others I’ll share them throughout next year. 

Eclogue

Quizzed a borogove within the tree:
“What would I be if I were not me?”
A tiny tove by the dial replied,
“You need not be so satisfied!”

Finis

Territorial Imperative

©2014 By Bob Litton

Well folks, my wench of a muse is back…sort of. Not sure how long I can count on her; just like all females, her dominant characteristic is moodiness. It is manifesting itself even now in its usual pattern of vigorous starts and fading finishes; she murmurs these delightful ideas in my ear and then leaves me the onerous task of developing them.

There is a slight difference this time, however, in that, instead of abandoning me, she simply fell asleep — without telling me! Now she is blaming her lengthy nap on me, stomping around in my cerebellum like some angry neighbor above trying to signal me that I’m playing my Victrola® too loud. Ain’t that just like a woman — blaming her man for something that she has or has not done?

One of her inspirations concerns space: not the space that interested Flash Gordon, but the areas we consider our own; you know, that yardage around a tree that a dog has peed on to designate his territory. The zoologists call it the “territorial imperative”. We humans are inclined to measure our areas in similar fashion, ever since the farmers started stringing those barbed wire fences through the ranchers’ “open range”.

Well, I have my declared spaces, too. The primary one, of course, is my apartment; even though I don’t own it, I am cautious about whom I allow to enter and how they treat it and my possessions when they are inside. The books and records, I am especially protective of. But I even get angry at heaven when I sense my roof is threatened by a hail storm.

The second space of which I am jealous is my claimed parking area, particularly at the coffee shop I most often frequent and at the senior center where I ingest my weekday lunches. That latter place was where the muse first pestered me yesterday.  As I was rounding the corner about to enter the parking lot, wondering whether my favorite spot would be open for me, she muttered, “Why don’t you write about this, Bob? You know how it jangles your nerves and raises your blood pressure when somebody else’s vehicle is parked there right next to the sidewalk. The vehemence with which you will write it up is bound to arouse similar feelings in your readers: They are all certain to empathize with your anxiety.” As for my apartment, each tenant has his or her own numbered parking space, so there are few problems unless one of my neighbors is having a yard sale.

I also have my favorite tables at the coffee shop and the senior center. The waitresses at the former already know what it is and have the coffee and honey jar in place there shortly after they see my Isuzu Hombre entering the parking lot. However, since the coffee shop has an almost constant influx and outflow of customers, I learned almost from the beginning that I cannot count on that table being open, and it doesn’t really bother me anymore. The senior center is a different story, naturally, because mostly the same people eat there each weekday noon. (There are no waitresses, of course.) We all have our assumed regular spots — so regular, in fact, that it has become somewhat boring: always the same people with the same redundant greetings and other repetitive, personal habits. (I will write about that another time.)

There is one restaurant I enjoy patronizing about once every week or two; not any more often because it is generally expensive. However, they have a healthy “cup” of homemade soup for only $5.95 that changes daily. Cornbread muffins and pecan biscuits come with it. They call it a “cup”, but it is served in what most people would call a bowl. However, what I really most like about the place are the pretty waitresses who welcome me every time I walk in and assume my usual stool at the bar. There is a rapid turnover lately, though, because most of the girls are university students and, so, graduate or enroll, fitting their employments to their university schedule. I recognize only half of them right now: I have to memorize several new names and associated faces. Bummer! My bar stool, however, is always waiting for me.

Even at City Hall, when I attend a council meeting, I always arrive early so I can claim my favorite chair across one aisle from the coffee pot and cookies. From his demeanor, I suspect the mayor believes I consume too much of the taxpayers’ coffee. The brew is quite tasty, as a matter of fact, and I don’t think three cups plus six cookies is too much.

In sum, I guess it all boils down to knowing my direction will lead to my various roosts, everyone else should acknowledge my territory, and lines and searches are abhorrent to me. I have peed on my trees!

Finis

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