Sunday, May 30, 2010
Think about this. WHAT DOES THE SKY LOOK LIKE from a habitable planet near the center of the galaxy?
On earth we don’t even know there’s a night sky, we’ve so polluted the air with bright lights and smog. But there are billions of other planets. Odds are staggeringly in favor of there being intelligent species all over the universe. Each of these sapient races will have its own sky, its own mythology, its own culture brought down the ages of their unique development.
Given a moderate world with ample water, there can be human-type beings whizzing around the central bulge, near enough, but not too near, the black hole that resides at the heart of nearly every spiral.
These races will have daylight, and they will have night light bright with stars, nebulae, clusters in such abundance that our imaginations must reel.
What if…what if what if what if…the farther away from the Center a planet resides, the more primitive are the sentient beings who live there? I mean, what if?
I’m letting my mind drift into crazy ideas. We earthlings live two thirds of the way out to the edge. We see (when we see) a sky of great beauty but of relatively slight distinction on the scale of galactic possibilities.
To live near the center of the galaxy! What a privilege! What staggering beauty!
The black hole and its increasing crowd of stars whizzing faster and faster around its gravitational vortex would be a sphere of lethality, a lifeless zone of intense radiance. It would the galactic no-fly zone, a sphere of quarantine.
There may be planets in this zone holding the ruins of ancient civilizations. Their peoples may have emigrated, or even hurled themselves into the black hole as the ultimate act of service to the mystery of infinite gravity.
Stars move, stars travel around the galaxy. It takes our sun approximately two hundred fifty million years to make one rotation of the Milky Way. We know that our sun moves up and down relative to the galactic plane, describing a curve taking some thirty two million years each way.
Are we also moving towards the Center or away from it? Astronomers calculate that the sun’s orbit relative to the Milky Way is an ellipse. We are going both towards and away from the Center, depending upon the epoch we consider.
What if..what if the more evolved a planet’s creatures become, the closer it migrates towards the center? We earthlings aren’t very advanced. That much is obvious. We just unplugged the whole planetary oil tank, whoops! Do not trespass, authorized personnel only, danger, hazardous waste!!
It was too early for an oil change. We had another hundred trillion miles to go. If we are this moronic, what kind of people are WORSE than we are? What if…what if farther out, towards the galaxy’s edge, live people who war and hate, cheat and plot, plunder on a scale we can’t imagine?! Farther IN live people who have refined themselves beyond our eco-cidal addictions to toxic energy sources.
I’m just playing with ideas. I’m not a helium-headed New Age nut case.
I’m not a believer. I’m an inquirer.
Wouldn’t that be an interesting way to organize a galaxy’s spiritual hierarchy? If there were such a thing…and why not? What don’t we know?
What DO we know?
Very little. We’re just frightened world-killers in a sea of stars.
Friday, May 28, 2010
May 28 2010
It all begins and ends with the vernacular word “nukular”.
I am, I freely admit, a linguistic bigot. If I hear the word “nukular” emerge from someone’s mouth I immediately assume that this person is an ignorant rube, a redneck, a born again fully saved right wing ignoramus who eats Jimmy Dean sausages for breakfast, lunch and dinner I don’t know how “nukular” got started but it must have been in some classroom where an unqualified teacher was too lazy to correct his or her students. From that vernacular “point zero” the usage went viral by word of mouth and spread its load of Bubba toxins to begin poisoning the language.
Following the un-word“nukular” comes a whole doomed Titanic full of un-words with tacked on extra syllables. Today I encountered the putative word “irregardless”. Why? Wasn’t it easy enough to say “regardless”? Or would that imply the speaker might be afflicted with impotency? There are C-Y’s flying around like clouds of mosquitoes. Pretty soon the word “tolerance” will morph into “tolerancy” and then our whole language of Englishity will topple from its preeminence as the lingua mundus, the universal language of the planet. It will be replaced by Mandarin Chinese. The West will be really fucked because most of us have tin ears and can’t distinguish the subtle tonal elisions of spoken Mandarin. For the sake of efficiency the written language will be phonetically rendered in Roman script. Henceforth, when Chinese is used in worldwide commerce, those who are fluent in its use will regard Anglophones as retrograde rubes with a reputation for recalcitrant nostalgia and revised memories of a time when they were a mighty cultural force in the world.
Many years ago I was driving around with a bunch of my high school buddies in a luxurious car owned by a boy named Mark Malzberg. He was the richest and stupidest kid in the school We drove first to Hamburger Heaven, but no one was there. We drove to Steak n’ Shake, but it was also a boring wasteland. We tried White Castle. We tried everything we knew in our pathetic repertoire of sixteen-year-old social watering holes. After an hour or so of pointless meandering, I said to him, “Mark, we’re really getting nowhere fast.”
Without missing a beat and in all seriousness, he looked over at me and said, “Yes we are!”
He had disagreed with me with unintentional brilliance worthy of Yogi Berra. I never forgot that beautiful error.
Later, during my two weeks in college, I dated a girl who was nearly finished earning her degree in medicine. She was flush with idealism about serving the world and had set her sights on working in Lebanon during its umpteenth civil war.
We were in the parking lot of a fast food place, relaxing with burger and fries. The car was hers. I got around on a Schwinn Varsity that weighed seventy pounds. The bike rack for my English Lit class was reached after a climb of forty-two steps. Most of my other classes were in equally huge buildings with equally remote bike racks. This could be one explanation as to why my college career lasted two weeks.
Anyway, back to the medical student. With great sincerity she said, “I think I could do good work with the Lebanonians. I’m looking right now for a course in the language, so I can speak fluent Lebanonian by the time I finish my residency.”
She had just eaten a slice of raw onion that had come with the cheeseburger. I had been contemplating a tender kiss. The onion was no deterrent.
Then she called the Lebanese “Lebanonians”.
My desire for kissy kiss evaporated. The taste of this incredible faux pas on the lips of an almost-physician was far more of a turn-off than any piece of onion. I would never date a woman who calls the Lebanese “Lebanonions.”
I was then seized with the desire to test her further.
“I understand that Saudi Arabia needs good doctors,” I said innocently. “There’s a famine in Syria and the Arabs are being flooded with starving refugees.”
“I don’t think so.” She replied with a frown. “I’ve heard that Arabonion is a terribly difficult language, with a funny alphabet thrown in.”
I couldn’t resist. “How about Israel? The Hebronions can use doctors.”
“Are you kidding me?” she protested. “The place is loaded with Jewish doctors! I don’t know why they all go there, but they do, oh believe me, they do.”
This budding romance was now wilted.
Returning to the almost-present, we have, as a nation, just survived the presidency of a man who can say, “I wouldn’t misunderestimate those people,” and a thousand other toothy Bubba-isms. Who needs to speak decent English? The teachers don’t understand the difference between irrelevance and irrelevancy. Any kid can grow up to be President whether or not he or she speaks like a moron.
What would happen if it went the other way? If people started chopping off extra syllables and started excavating the words as if syllables were valuable ore? Irrelevance would become Irrelev. Regardless would become gardless. Nukular would become Nukew. It would sound like we were speaking Esperanto or Klingon. The use of texting devices will accelerate this word surgery until we are speaking in abbreviations. I’ve already heard it. I use it myself, though I only use it to speak to my cat, to whom I will say “STFU” when she whines and manipulates me for a treat to which she is apparently addicted. This means “Shut The Fuck Up!” Being a gentleman, I merely growl “STFU” at the cat and then get the bag of treats from the pantry.
I must take a moment to exclude from my rant all the f-zantastic slang that has arisen to fertilize our language. The source of this River Nile of Slang has generally been African American culture .
It occasionally grates on my nerves when I see an Eminem wannabe get into his car and call out to his friends, “That really p-zisses me off, yo! Somebody should tell that Zima queen and her friends to chill on the za befo they do the be-ho’s. Strew?”
In any case, our language is mutating at speeds too fast to comprehend. The new tongue can only be learned via total immersion. It requires hanging with fifteen year old black poet-children with skateboards and pistols.
One purpose of slang has been exclusion. When millions of Africans were kidnapped and shipped westward across the ocean, they became the property of people who suppressed their entire culture. Slaves were forced to speak the masters’ language. They devised alternative uses for this language but were actually circumventing it. They reinvented their culture with slang, Santeria and the Blues.
Little has changed from that original motivation. Slang is still a language of exclusion. American slang matured in a culture of jazz, blues, segregation and restriction. In the sixties it spiraled off in another direction, becoming a barrier between adults and their adolescent offspring. It has since drawn most of its energy from generational alienation.
he speed at which language now mutates is exponential. It seems inevitable that slang will fracture into dialects whose boundaries are age groups. The only means of communication between these boundaries is likely to be a return to conventional English. It will be the only way a seventh grader can speak to a ninth grader.
Slang is creative. This other mutation, this hick stuff with words like “conversate” and “orientated” is just irritating. I may have exaggerated my bigotry (I may just be a snob) but I’m not here to function as the Language Police. English is a living language that has been changing for more than a thousand years. It has probably changed more in the last decade than it has in the nine hundred ninety years before this time. There are now many occupations for which there existed no word or term twenty years ago. What was a “webmaster” in 1975? What was a Twitter? Software? HTML?
We live styles of life and make our income from a plethora of jobs that did not exist a few years ago. There was a time when a family of blacksmiths stayed a family of blacksmiths for five or six centuries. Now it’s difficult to find a blacksmith. Soon it may be difficult to find a family.
I am unable to appreciate hip hop because I can’t follow the words. They’re too fast!. There’s something about the speed at which people think, listen and speak that has accelerated. I’m amazed when I see a Hip Hop performance and can do little more than latch onto the spoken rhythm, to hear the rapper’s words as a form of percussion. Yet I see in the audience people mouthing the words along with the performer, speaking and comprehending and I wonder what I’m missing. I can’t help being a member of my age group. Words have always been precious to me and I feel excluded and lost. Hmmm. I feel excluded. Uh oh. That’s not good. Maybe I’m seen as a member of some kind of over-class from which certain realities must be hidden. Am I now too old to be culturally relevant?
Am I “out of it”?
I never thought I would become a victim of slang. If you catch me in a zifflenook it might just be a Rangoon boof alarm. Aight?
Sunday, May 16, 2010
The Writer’s Stampede
Where did all these writers come from? It seems that everyone has a book to promote and is searching for an agent, thinking about self-publishing, attending workshops and jumping through endless hoops to garner attention with a book project.
Literary agents report receiving from four hundred to a thousand query letters each week. Agents have become something like gods, they have the power to bestow bliss, rapture and burning hope in the hearts of writers.
All this is happening in an age when it is thought that no one reads books any more, that video games and other distractions have turned our children into withdrawn illiterates.
Then along came J.K. Rowling with Harry Potter and the world changed.
Ask any agent or publisher what the odds are of selling a book. Conventional wisdom holds that selling a book to a publisher is impossible. The odds are astronomical. Self publishing is one way of getting a book to the public but the writer must SELL the book. It’s one thing to place a work in the digital marketplace, get an ISBN number and register the book with Amazon. It’s another thing to SELL the book. The effort required to promote a book is staggering.
It requires spending twenty eight hours a day on Twitter, Facebook, Bonghook, Bookface,
Yourspace, Myspace, Crawlspace plus traveling to at least ten writing seminars a month.
Certain genres have congealed as dominant in this scurry towards publication. YA, or Young Adult, is by far the big market. Add Vampires, horror,
the supernatural and you have the Infinite Candy Mountain of book projects.
Park your dragon in the rear and get your ticket validated.
I’m a writer. Just another writer. I’ve made a few sales. I generate a little income but I haven’t sold any of my book-length projects.
I’ve queried agents hundreds of times since I began writing fiction in the late seventies. I signed to a major agent for two years after selling my first story to Playboy Magazine. Then I proceeded to screw up, to write poorly, and my window of opportunity passed.
I continued to write and got better. I devoted thousands of hours to my novels and they got better, and better, and still better.
I’m still querying agents by the hundreds and receiving form letter rejections. "Not what we're looking for." "Good luck with your writing career." "Burn your manuscripts and take up knitting." Stuff like that.
I believe in my writing with passionate intensity.
I feel as if I’ve just walked into Disneyland on a day when a major publisher has announced that it will randomly chose one writer in the park and offer a three book contract with a half million dollar advance.
The crowd is suffocating, stifling.
I feel lost, overwhelmed.
I don’t have a vampire in any of my books. I have good writing. It is muscular, powerful, original, funny and compelling.
All I can do is continue writing and querying agents, entering contests, hanging around internet writer’s blogs and endlessly revising the books t hat I love as I love my own children.
Friday, May 14, 2010
orld Is Broken
I ‘m not sure when I snapped. One day I realized that every morning when I woke up I would glance at the news and see an article, a headline, some event that would stretch my credibility to the breaking point. I knew that, like Chicken Little, our sky was falling and nobody knew what to do about it.
I stopped consuming the news. I couldn’t take any more.
Then the oil “spill” in the Gulf of Mexico occurred and I realized this: we have broken the world and we can’t fix it. We, homo sapiens, have committed such atrocities upon nature that we have impaired the planet’s ability to sustain our human population. As we destroy ourselves, we’re taking a lot of other species with us. Polar bears, cheetahs, mountain gorillas, humpbacked whales, they’ll be gone too. I will miss them terribly. My heart is already broken.
I see Earth as a complex and self-regulating organism. I am mostly in agreement with James Lovelock’s Gaia hypothesis.
In the long run, Earth will repair itself. Its powers of regeneration are almost infinite. The problem is that what’s good for Gaia is not necessarily good for human beings. Gaia may need a couple centuries of Shake, Rattle and Roll before the ecosystems are healthy, before the ocean is repopulated with aquatic creatures, before the life that dwells on this planet is capable of flourishing.
How do human beings fit into this scenario? I think we’ll still be here. There will be a relatively small population of people, perhaps a few hundred million, dwelling on this planet. The sprawling infestations of some ten or twelve billion people will have died off. That includes you, me, and maybe our grandchildren and great grandchildren. We are on the brink of an era of earthquake, flood, storm and eruption. Rising sea levels will push people into terrible wars over resources and real estate.
It’s very sad that Gaia needs to teach us such a harsh lesson but we have been very inattentive students. The rules were simple enough: be reverent towards life. Be kind to other creatures while accepting the ubiquity of predator/prey relationships. Take only what we need to sustain ourselves. Develop non violent technologies, that is, make life-enhancing tools that do no harm to the biosphere. That’s all it takes.
Do I sound crazy? How can I be sane? I am witnessing psychotic behavior on a global scale.
If you’re not depressed, there must be something wrong with you.
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