For Those of You Joining Us Now . . .

I write a daily blog called One Mind Snapping at tinywhitebox.com.  Manchester InkLink is now publishing a weekly piece drawn from these, and I figured you might want to know a bit about me.  If not, I won’t be crushed, although I will be surprised.  Hurt, even.  But not crushed.  At the bottom are links to the five most popular posts so far.

I live, along with my heterosexual male life partner, Sam, in a very comfortable if not spacious 72-square-foot box on the Canadian border.  (I’m aware that first sentence raises way more questions than it answers—it’s what’s known as a hook, a writing device I’m not good at.)  Sam’s gender is, I guess, immaterial because he’s a combination boxer and black lab, and his sexual identity is also moot because of an operation he underwent as a pup.  The Tiny White Box we live in is a converted motorcycle trailer that’s six feet wide and 12 feet long.  Inside is a bed for one-and-a-half (sorry, Sam), a coffee pot, a couple lamps, heat, a microwave and, most important, refuge from the rest of the world for me to write. 

The box is located on the grounds of a nonprofit called Warriors@45 North, a great organization that offers veterans a retreat from life and a chance to hunt, fish, ride ATVs and snowmobiles, all at no expense.  For 35 to 40 weeks a year, though, the property, in Pittsburg, NH, about 10 miles from the Canadian border, is unused, except for me and Sam.  Every day we hike four to 10 miles, Sam chases birds and I write. 

Until a few months ago, I was director of a place called Liberty House in Manchester, a temporary housing program for formerly homeless veterans.  If you Google “Keith Howard Liberty House” you can read of some of my adventures there.  Since I used to be a drunken homeless veteran, it was a good fit for Liberty House and for me.  After 10 years of sobriety and living off the streets, and five years of running Liberty House, though, I knew it was time to move along.  We’d increased the public awareness and the budget of the place so much, I knew it needed a saner and more conventional leader than I could ever be, a leader who consolidates success instead of immediately looking for the next hill to gaze over.  I gave them nine months to choose my successor, and made plans.  My first novel, On Account of Because, was published in July, and once I was done with the afternoon of public-relations excitement that attends every first-time novel publication, I got ready to move here to contemplate, hike, lead free writing retreats for veterans and write a memoir and a couple more novels.  You can reach me at keithhoward@gmail.com.

Five Most Popular Pieces

There is No God but that Doesn’t Stop Him from Working http://wp.me/p8SkS0-6D

“Now She Can Watch Me All the Time”–A eulogy (with jokes) for my mom  http://wp.me/p8SkS0-74

A Patriotic Rant with a Twist:  A Veteran’s View of the Anthem . http://wp.me/p8SkS0-7i

If You Don’t Want to Think, Don’t Read This . http://wp.me/p8SkS0-7p

Doing Time in Waukesha–A Prisoners Story . http://wp.me/p8SkS0-7t

 

A Fairy-Tale Memoir

A memoir in sonnets would be a great thing.  While I’ve written sonnets, both Petrarchan and Shakespearean (in form, not talent), 14 lines seems too short to explain a decision to leave a job I loved to live in a tiny white box, much less a marriage, its slow demise and its aftermath.  Hell, I can barely clear my throat in 14 lines.  A memoir in novel form would be a great thing—except the temptation would be too great to make the protagonist a great hero (tough in my case) or a great villain, instead of an entertaining bozo on the bus.  Instead, I am using the genre of the fairy tale to present my memoir, beginning today with the retelling of the story of how I destroyed my sister’s Chatty Cathy doll and left it in a toilet.  NOTE:  It is the fairy-tale format that determines the material, not vice-versa.

Once upon a time, long, long ago, before television cost money or people held little boxes to talk into on the street, there lived a boy and a girl.  The boy was very, very good and the girl was okay most of the time, except when she was cranky, which was quite often, but that’s not really part of the story.

The little girl’s room was like a toy store, filled with toys that she hadn’t even bothered to take out of the box.  Her closet overflowed with toys she had begged for, then grown tired of.  She was a very demanding little girl, and her parents had to work overtime to keep her from throwing tantrums, much less keep her happy.  She would beg for new toys every day, screaming, “Buy me that!” every time a toy commercial came on.  

The little boy, on the other hand, never asked for anything, and his room was smaller than his sister’s closet.  He had only one toy, a piece of string he had found in the schoolyard.  Still, he was happy tying and untying the string.  His only dream was that someday he would find a stringless yo-yo, and then he’d be the happiest boy in the world.

Although I’ve said that the little girl ordered her parents to buy her more, more, more and then a little bit more, there was one toy with which she was well pleased.  Chatty Cathy was a doll with a string in her back and a ring on the string.  When the little girl pulled the ring, Chatty Cathy would say things.  “Change me.  I’m wet,” was one of the things.  “I love you, Mommy!” was another of the things.    “We’ll need another battalion to retake that hill,” was not one of those things, because this was Chatty Cathy, not Chatty G.I. Joe.  The little girl would pull the ring for minutes at a time, listening to Chatty Cathy babble away.

One day, the little girl saw her brother playing with his piece of string, happily tying and untying it.  Hard as it may be to believe, with her room bursting with begged-for toys, she was jealous.

“Give me that!” she demanded.

“It’s my only toy,” said her brother.

“I don’t care,” she shouted.  “Mom!  Make him give it to me!”

Their mother’s tired voice drifted in from the next room.

“If it will make her happy, just give it to her.”

“Nyah, nyah, nyah,” said the little girl, taking the string from her brother’s hand.

For the first time in his life, the little boy thought of what the word “fair” means.  Before this, he had accepted that his sister got all the presents, while he got all the chores.  At that very moment, though, the little boy missed his string so much that he did something dark.  He did something mean.  He did two wrong things, for the first time in his life.

He went into his sister’s room, found her Chatty Cathy doll and tore the string out of its back.   Her last words were, “Hold me, Mommy.”  Because he had never done anything wrong before, he didn’t recognize the feeling in his stomach.  That feeling was guilt, and it made him do his second wrong thing.  Not wanting to taste trouble, he tried to hide what he had done, by taking the Chatty Cathy doll into the bathroom.  He took the piece of string and tied it around her right foot.  He tied the other end around the toilet flusher.  Then he dropped Chatty Cathy so that she hung upside down, her head in the toilet bowl.  He wanted to make it appear she had killed herself.

Of course, because the little boy had never done anything wrong before, he was not very good at hiding his guilt.  His sister demanded a new Chatty Cathy doll, which her parents bought her right away.  The little boy was of course punished very harshly, so that he would never do wrong again.

And I haven’t.

 

A Phrase that Will Not Pass My Lips

I’ve got a dirty mouth.  I don’t say this with pride exactly, but there’s no shadow of shame either.  I wish I could plead an inability to prevent these words from coming out of my face, but I can and have controlled myself.  My daughters were young when their mom and I split up, my oldest in third grade and my youngest in preschool.  The girls spent half their time with their mom and half living with me.  Throughout their childhoods, I was the parent who never swore—not to say my ex-wife has a dirty mouth—she doesn’t, particularly—but I made a conscious effort not to swear in front of the girls, who noticed.  In fact, Meri, my middle daughter, kept track of the number of times I swore in front of them—after three years, she announced I’d said seven swears, and three of them came when we were rear-ended at a stoplight.  So . . . I have no excuse for my foul language.

When I was in seventh grade, for instance, I was sent to the principal’s office for telling my reading teacher she was a sexless whore.  I don’t know what I meant by that, but I thought it was funny.  In fact, I found it hilarious because of the oxymoronic nature—what could that even mean?  Neither the teacher, nor Mr. Platine, the principal saw the humor potential.  I believe I was given a week’s detention, and a requirement to apologize.  Apparently I fought off the impulse to tell her she was a sexy whore, because I’m certain that would have resulted in suspension, and I don’t remember that as one of my junior-high felonies.

When I was in eighth grade, I had one of my favorite teachers of all time, Mr. Hodgdon, whom I insisted on calling Chuck, because that was his name, although here I’ll stick with the honorific.  Mr. Hodgdon taught American history, and he was willing to let me write my five-page biographical paper on Superman while everyone else wrote about Eleanor Roosevelt or Herbert Hoover.  He was a good man and a good teacher, and, except for my dirty mouth and love of a joke, I had no reason to ask him in class if he’d seen my socks.  When he looked surprised, and said no, I told him I thought I’d left them under his bed the night before when I’d been with his wife.  Even Mr. Hodgdon, even Chuck, couldn’t let that slide, and I spent more time with Mr. Platine.

I could go on with ways the words dripping out of my face have hurt people and caused me problems. Documenting my bad language would take up too much space, and not lead us any further than this conclusion:  I’ve got a dirty mouth. There are, however, two words I try never to use together, a phrase that I keep off my filthy lips.  I can see you mentally placing bets—is it the CS-phrase?  The MF-phrase?  The QQ-phrase?  None of those, whatever they might even have been.

The two-word phrase I don’t use is . . . “tiny house.”.  I live in a well-designed and perfect (for me and for now) 72-square-foot converted motorcycle trailer.  I call it a Tiny White Box—and I would have used Small instead of Tiny, but that domain name was already taken.  (If you’re an Australian reader interested in having a website designed, please go to smallwhitebox.com—tell them I sent you just to confuse them.)  The reason I don’t use those words to describe where I live is because I am not trendy, not cute, not clever, not anything but a man pushing 60, writing a lot and plotting the next phase of my life.  Any time I describe where I live, someone will say, “Oh, how lucky!  I’ve always dreamed of living in a (expletive deleted)!  Do you watch that show?”  Without wanting to sound holisticer than though, I haven’t seen THAT SHOW or any others—except for an inexplicable binging of “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” which I can’t explain except by my love of musicals—in years.  If I were to change my stripes and start watching television, I would not start, middle or finish with the province of wealthy folks who dream of perfect simplicity in a too-too-too perfect redwood dollhouse. I dream of finishing a book, hiking with Sam (is a dog) and helping some veterans have a chance to write.  I may call someone an MF or a CS or, even, when very angry, a QQ, but I do not and will not live in a TH.

 

 

Doing Time in Waukesha–A Prisoners Story

I’m not a for-real criminal, but I’ve done time.  Three bids in fact.  If being in a cell can be called a bid and if a total of about five hours in jail cells can be called time.  Let me explain.

I’ve been locked up three times.  In each case, I was guilty, and in no case did I actually have to go to trial.  The first time in jail came when I was 15, and involved a series of misunderstandings involving explosives, a laundromat coin-changing machine, an attempted escape out the back door of said laundromat and a couple of gun-drawn cops chasing me and my confederate down.  Although I do not wish to betray my partner, I’ll bet Jonas Zoller of 22 Faculty Road, Durham, NH, does not have an alibi for his whereabouts at 5:17 am June 7, 1974.  Just saying.

The reason I was jailed?  After the cops had arrested us for blowing up a coin-changing machine, they couldn’t reach my parents and put me in a cell while they figured out what to do next.  I’d taken my parents’ phone off the hook before sneaking out of my house at 11:45 the previous night—not because I thought I’d be arrested but because I didn’t want a wrong number to lead them to look in on me.  In a “scared straight” attempt, the cops locked me up until I cracked and told them why they couldn’t reach my parents at that ungodly hour.  Instead of going to trial, I was required to go fishing a few times with a member of the force, Ronald “Smiley” McGowen.  I don’t remember catching anything except for a slight crush on his daughter, Sherry, who I expect saw me as a notorious and desperate outlaw.  I am no recidivist.  I have never since taken fireworks into a laundromat, let alone ignited them.

The second and third times I was arrested involved an Army buddy of mine, Mike Peckham, who, at 24, was much older than my 17 years, leading folks to assign him ringleader status.  That was not accurate.  Mike and I were both studying “military journalism” at the Defense Information School at Fort Benjamin Harrison in Indianapolis.  The course of study to become a DINFOS-Trained Killer involved learning to develop black-and-white film, write inverted-pyramid news stories and show up for morning formation fully dressed.  I had trouble only with the last one, reporting for duty with a pair of sneakers on instead of combat boots.  It had been a long night and I wasn’t ready for it to end.  But I digress.  The story of the third arrest will come later, but let me tell you about the second.

Mike was from Minneapolis, a mere 500 miles from our fort, so we decided it made sense to leave Friday after work and hitchhike through Chicago and Milwaukee and across Wisconsin to meet up in the Twin Cities the next day at noon.  I know how naïve that sounds now—hitchhiking is seen as a form of Russian roulette, and finding someone in a city half-a-thousand miles away in the age before cell phones seems a fool’s errand.  The past is a different country, and none of this seemed odd at all.  To be fair, my lack of anxiety may hae been related at a crest in my illegal chemical consumption.  If I hadn’t been eating peyote like Good and Plenty and smoking weed a dozen times a day, my rational side might have won out.  So be it.

We set out, recognizing we could not travel together, for it would be way less likely to get a car on the interstate to stop for two young and strong GI’s.  (For the record, in my memory, at 17 I was about 6 foot three, weighed about 215 pounds, and shimmered with waves of menace.  My military records say I was seven inches shorter and 70 pounds lighter.  I choose to believe what I can see with my own mind’s eye.)  Without turning this anecdote within an anecdote into a third-rate On the Road (which is already fourth-rate at best in my judgement, and that of Truman Capote, who said of Kerouac’s Big Whiff—“That is not writing.  It is just typing.”), let me jump forward to about 2:32 in the morning in Waukesha, WI, a small Milwaukee suburb known to be very law-and-orderly.  Given Milwaukee’s penchant for maintaining public peace at all costs, this is kind of like saying a town is the slow ward of the State Home for the Confused.  Anyway, knowing nothing of Waukesha, I’d been dropped off at an I-94 ramp and raised my right thumb, turning to scan for upcoming traffic.  As soon as I did, a set of blue lights sprang to life and pulled up beside me.  At 17, I’d already been on a few long-distance solo trips, so I was familiar with the drill.  The cop would ask if I was all right.  I’d say yes.  He’d ask if I knew I couldn’t hitchhike on the interstate.  I’d say, Why no, officer.  He’d instruct me to go to the top of the on-ramp to hitchhike.  I’d start walking away, and before his lights were out of sight, I’d have gone back to the same spot we’d first encountered each other, and I’d hope to get a ride before he meandered back and gave me a very stern talking to.  I knew this, but apparently the Waukesha police were trained on a different frequency.  The cop immediately asked me for identification.  Weird, but I showed him my driver’s license and military ID.

“So, you’re a soldier, huh?”  Even in 1976, this was an unusual tone for a police officer to take toward a soldier.  Vietnam had been over a couple years, and anyway cops were typically pro-military.

“No, Sir.  Just trying to get to Minnesota to visit some friends.”

“They pay you in the army, Soldier Boy?”

“Sir?”

“Do they pay you in the army?  Do you have fifty dollars cash on you?”

“Sir, I get paid, but I don’t have that kind of money on me.  Maybe $20.”

The truth, but only by a coincidence. I’d given Mike my share of the money we were going to use to buy a half-pound of weed from a friend of his.

“Do you know what vagrancy is, Soldier,” this last word might as well have been pronounced criminal ne’er-do-well.

“Sort of, Sir.  It’s like being a bum, isn’t it?”

“It’s not like anything.  In Waukesha, a vagrant is anyone who doesn’t have $50 cash on them, especially when they’re standing beside our interstate.”

I was tempted to remind him of the history of the interstate system, built under President Eisenhower for purposes of transportation, commerce and national defense, how every five miles of the federally-funded and maintained highway contained a mile-long straightaway for a plane to land on in case of disaster or attack.  I was tempted to share this, when the cop interrupted me by reading me the Miranda warning.

“Officer, you’re kidding, right?  You’re not really arresting me for not having money in my pocket?”

“The crime is vagrancy.  The evidence is your lack of funds.”

“But I’m just passing through.  If you’d like, I can just walk to the edge of town, and you’ll never see me again.  Promise.”

“Get in the car NOW, Soldier Boy!”

I did as he told me.  From the back seat of the car, I tried to plead my case, which unfortunately boiled down to, “Officer, you’re kind of being a dick,” which carried the day in my mind, but not his.  We got to the station, where I was quickly processed and put in a cell.  Thankfully, Officer Dick went back out to clear the town of military folks without wads of cash, and the desk sergeant on duty was a reasonable man.

“Sergeant,” I called out to him.  “Can I talk with you for a minute?”

“That’s what you’re doing, isn’t it,” he said, not without humor.

“Yes, Sergeant.  The thing is, it’s early Saturday morning, and I’m supposed to meet someone by noon.  In Minneapolis.  And it’s about 350 miles.  And, finally, I’m hitchhiking.”

“Meeting somebody?” the cop murmured.  “What kind of somebody?”

Playing to the room of one, I immediately began lying.

“A female somebody.  A girl.”

A lascivious Groucho Marx look crossed his face.

“What kind of a girl?”

Here a tactical decision—was I a love-struck Romeo or a rake, a real-life lover or a roué?  I opted for insincere sincerity.

“The girl I love and want to marry.”  The story was growing.  “Even though I’m 17 and she’s 16, we love each other and always will.  Her parents don’t approve of me, and they know I’m stationed in Indiana.  I sent Kris a round-trip ticket to Minnesota, and told her to say she was visiting a girlfriend going to school in St. Paul, at the university there.  I’m supposed to meet Kris at the airport at 12:15.”

“So, soldier, you’re asking me to release you without prejudice, drive you to the interstate, call out on the CB radio to see if any truckers are heading cross-state and would be willing to pick you up, then give you money to buy flowers for your girlfriend?”

“Sergeant, I’m not asking for anything, but if that’s an offer, I absolutely accept!”

Without another word, the cop let me out of the cell, motioned for me to grab my coat and did exactly what he’d promised.  When I got into the heated cab of a truck 15 minutes later, I had a twenty-dollar bill crumpled in my back pocket.  Even when I’d started to thank the cop, he’d shushed me quiet, seeming to enjoy the taste of the grin on the outside of his mouth.

 

If You Don’t Want to Think, Don’t Read This

A few weeks ago, I was a guest on Peter Biello’s public radio show.  In this space I talked about how Peter, instead of asking to recommend five books, had asked me for some examples of writing prompts.  It turns out the prompts, more than anything I said, were of interest to some folks.  Full confession:  the prompts were all part of a final examination I gave to students in an alternative school I ran a few lifetimes ago.  At the request of a reader, I now present that final in whole.  If you find any of these questions thought-provoking, please write a response and send it to me (keithhoward@gmail.com) and, with your permission, I’ll publish it here.

Final Examination

Alternative Program

Current Events in Historical Modernist Thought

Please answer the following questions in complete essays of not more than eight pages apiece.

  • Looking around you at all the people you come in contact with each day, about what percentage would you say are fully human and what percentage are zombies or pod people?   How many strike you as having relatively fully-formed personalities and intellects (even if you may not care for them) and how many of them could, for all you know, simply disappear as soon as they leave your presence?  That is, if you interact with a hundred people over the course of the day,  with how many of them do you make human contact or sense that such contact is possible?  90?  63?  12?  4?   How do you explain this figure?  What does this say about you as a person?  What are the commonalties among the people you identify as human?  That is, do they tend to be the kind of people who do well on standardized intelligence tests, or is there some other factor which makes people be truly human?  Could this humanity be measured?  If so, what kind of  “soulmetrics” would you use?  If not, how do you know it exists?   Are you simply missing the humanity of a large number of people or is there something fundamentally strange about the human condition?  Or strange about you?  If you are becoming more of the kind of person you want to be, will this number likely go up or down?  What does this say?  Please be specific and cite examples.

 

  • Do cynical statements and bon mots seem to stick in your mind better than uplifting sentiments? Which has a stronger hook, doubt or faith?  That is, which are you more likely to remember and identify with, Yeats’  statement that “The best lack all conviction, while the worst are filled with a passionate intensity” or Jesus’ injunction to “Love one another as I have loved you”?  Sam Shepherd’s and Bob Dylan’s judgment that “People never do what they believe in, they just do what’s most convenient and then they repent” or  Fritz Perl’s  placid “You do your thing and I do my thing . . .”?  Why?   Is a healthy cynicism necessary for survival?  Do you want to increase or decrease your cynicism?  Given the choice, would you like to have a simple, child-like faith in humanity and fate?  Why or why not?

 

  • Using an evolutionary framework, how do you explain the existence of human consciousness? That is, while it  may take a leap of faith to accept that the mystery of life was created from non-living organic matter, it is at least possible to imagine a fertile primordial  soup being struck by electricity or some other force and becoming alive.  From this impersonal beginning, however, how do you explain the evolution of human consciousness, the ability of humans to be aware of, question and take delight in their existence?  What was the process by which consciousness was created?  If you accept a completely materialistic and behavioristic worldview,  which posits that humans are nothing more than the result of  impersonal and infinite time, plus chance, much like the image of an infinite number of monkeys locked for eternity in a room with typewriters eventually typing out “Hamlet,” how do you arrive at the sanctity of the individual?  What is so sacred about any individual creature, if it is simply a product of chance?

 

  • What, exactly, is the difference between men and women, besides primary and secondary sexual characteristics? That is, why is it that women are, in general, good, kind, loving, sensitive and intelligent people, able to care deeply for others and communicate their feelings, while men are obtuse, cruel, crude and unable to express their emotions, unless one chooses to define these broadly and include “horniness” as an emotion?  Are these differences primarily genetic or environmental?  What could be done to help cure men?  Given how hopeless men are, why aren’t all women lesbians?

 

  • If you were stranded on a desert island, with what one person, whether you personally know him or her right now, would you most like to spend the rest of your life? (Note:  choosing friends who are boatmakers or survivalist nuts defeats the entire purpose of this exercise and is therefore rendered unacceptable.)  Why?  Is there anyone in the world who would  choose you to be with him or her?  How does this make you feel?

 

  • What popular musician or band has had the strongest impact on you and your view of the world? For instance, many people cite Rupert Holmes, whose “Escape (The Pina Colada Song)” sums up so well the staleness which can creep into a relationship and whose “Him” seems to take the listener right into the mind of the cuckolded lover.  Likewise, the oeuvre of Three Dog Night, from the anthemic “Black and White” to the soulful “Mama Told Me Not to Come” to the mystical “Shambala,” seems to have helped a number of people understand their place in the universe.  What mindless pop musician or group has done the most for you?

 

  • Does good overcome evil? Immediately?  Eventually?   If you answer in the affirmative, other than a faith in the teachings of Gandhi, on what do you base this belief?  That is, please cite three specific and personal examples of good triumphing against all odds.  If you answer in the negative, how do you manage to get out of bed each morning?  If good does not overcome evil, why do you believe in the good and live your life accordingly?  (For bonus points, please identify what is “good” and what is “evil” outside of a Christian framework.  That is, “God said it, I Believe it and that settles it” may make for an effective know-nothing bumper sticker, but it is probably not an adequate ethical measuring stick.)

 

  • Jerry Rubin and Abbie Hoffman, who were both in their mid-thirties at the time, told Yippies not to trust anyone over thirty. How do you respond to this?  Are your political views less pure than they were 15 or 20 years ago?  Are they more “realistic”?     Have you sold out?  What was your price?  Would you change this if you could?  How?  For what political viewpoint would you be willing to be arrested today?

 

  • Estimate how many hours of your existence have been spent watching each of the following television shows: “The Lucy Show,”  “Leave It to Beaver,” “Davy and Goliath,” “Lassie,” “Gilligan’s Island,” “Three’s Company,” “MASH,” “The Adventures of Robin Hood” and “The Galloping Gourmet.”  Which of these shows did the most to further your understanding of  life and how it should be lived?  Which most forced you to confront issues which you would rather ignore?  Which most increased your belief  in the common humanity of all people?

 

  • Eschatology is the study of the last days of this world. (Never mind that the notion of “studying” a subject which presents no verifiable data is anathema to the scientific mind.) Christians believe a variety of bizarre things are likely to happen (e.g., required marks on the forehead and wrist in order to buy or sell goods, some particular significance to the number 666) which will signal the emergence of the Antichrist, the end of the age etc., etc., ad nauseum.  Science, on the other hand, seems to suggest that, following Newton’s Fourth Law of Thermodynamics, entropy is king of all and that things, all things, will eventually fall apart.  What do you believe?  Is there an end to the universe, a steady state with no energy, or will Gabriel’s trumpet sound, raising the fallen saints to glory with God?  More personal, and therefore chilling, what will happen to you when you die?  How often do you think about this?  Talk about this?

 

  • What is a moral point of view and why is it absent from our national life, except for the spray-painted spirituality of fundamentalist preachers and gown-grabbing right-wing Republican politicians? That is, it is difficult to identify any truly moral vision in the icons of our society–unless success (read:  money) for the sake of success can be seen as a moral stand.   What is Michael Jackson’s moral point of view?  Bob Dole’s?  Roseanne Arnold’s?  Where in your life do you take a moral stand?  Only when you have an audience which will recognize your ethical strength even if it disagrees with you?  What price are you willing to pay for your beliefs?

 

  • Rate, in terms of musical excellence, the following pieces of music: the first movement of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5,  “There’s No Business Like Show Business,” the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel’s Messiah, “Pop Goes the Weasel,”  “Ode to Joy” from Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9, and “Amazing Grace.”  If  your list’s organizing principle had been “hummability,” would this perfectly reverse the order?  What does this mean about music?  What does this mean about you?

 

  • Does the sound of a Southern Baptist calling out “Hallelujah” at some supposed evidence of God’s greatness seem like fingernails on a blackboard to you?   Why?  If you were visiting an ashram in India and saw hundreds of novitiates humming or repeating a mantra, would you be intrigued or repelled?  Is there a fundamental difference between Anglo-American religious delusions and Oriental religious belief?  How come?  As a thought experiment, imagine that you are a secular Tibetan, having turned your back on the Dalai Lama, and that you are visiting Memphis.  You wander into a Black revival meeting, where the congregation is shouting God’s glory and singing spirituals.  Would you find this a frightening return to primitiveness or a charming religious folkway to be experienced and enjoyed?  Why?

 

  • John Lennon, quoting Arthur Janov, the guru of primal scream, said, “God is a concept by which we measure our pain.” Please explain what this means, using this marriage of geometry and psychology to estimate your own pain. Second, please identify the  metaphysical concepts with which we measure the following:  confusion, distance, love, volume and pleasure.

 

  • The Bible speaks of the “unforgivable sin” of blaspheming the Holy Spirit, without explaining exactly is meant by this, although it clearly implies a verbal component. This notion has caused countless generations of teenagers to believe they have unwittingly lost their shot at redemption. What words do you think would cause God to damn forever an otherwise acceptable human?  How does this thin-skinned God sit with you?  Could a prayer beginning “Sticks and stones may break my bones . . .” be a way to break out of this theological conundrum?  Similarly, R. Vaughn Taylor, in his 1968 hit “Indiana Wants Me,” says “If a man ever needed dying, he did./No one had the right to say what he said about you.”  What did  the murder victim likely say about the narrator’s girlfriend?  For what words would you want your lover to murder someone and become a fugitive?  Is a sneering mention of fat thighs or facial hair grounds for homicide?  Gray hair?  Wrinkles?

 

  • Like Gale Sayers, the great Bears running back, O.J. Simpson was not dependent on power for his success, relying instead on speed and quickness. Given this running style, could it be that the murder of Nicole Simpson and Ronald Goldman has so shocked America because of the messiness of the slaying? Maybe Hulk Hogan, strung out on steroids, would slash and mutilate his ex-wife, but shouldn’t O.J. have been more graceful,  simply sliding a stiletto between Nicole’s shoulders, having her slip from a tower or, better, dosing her drink with a non-traceable poison?  Bearing in mind this notion of the murderer fitting the means, how, in a perfect world, would the following people kill their spouses:  Billy Graham?  Don Knotts?  Jesse Jackson?  Pat Buchanan?  Mel Gibson?  William F. Buckley?  Wilt Chamberlain?  Mary Tyler Moore?

 

  • Who was your favorite Beatle? Why? Who was your favorite Monkee?  Why?  Who was your favorite Stone?  Why?  Who was your favorite Archie?  Why?  Who was your favorite Blood, Sweat and Tear?  Why?   What commonalties exist among your choices?  What does this say about you and your artistic sense?

 

  • Who is Jesus Christ? Bear in mind that if you answer that he was a great moral teacher  who was not, however, divine, you are faced with his claims to be God or God’s son on a regular basis throughout the Gospels.  Great moral  teachers do not typically misrepresent themselves or  misunderstand their identities.  Likewise, if Jesus’s followers had applied his teaching that they should take no thought for the morrow and should plant no crops, they would likely have died off from starvation within a generation.  This seems not to be the advice of  a God.  If , contrariwise, you choose to answer that he is simply mythical, of course, you must respond to the contemporaneous accounts of his existence and crucifixion and to the fact that for two millennia humans have claimed to have had their lives transformed by an encounter with the risen Christ.  What is your basis for rejecting this plethora of human experience?  On yet another hand, if you choose the orthodox Christian position that Jesus is in fact God, a part of  the trinity, you must explain why the singularly confusing idea that if God himself walked among us for 33 years, he never said a single thing about the importance of sanitation in saving lives.

 

  • College sophomore philosophizing may deserve ridicule, but the kinds of questions we raise during adolescence are important, so important, perhaps, that we are terrified by them in later life. Leaving aside the linguistic brambles of such chestnuts as “Can God make a stone so heavy that he cannot lift it,” examine the question of thought and language. Specifically, is human thought exclusively a product of language;  were a human to be raised in a completely language-free environmentis it possible to imagine a non-verbal thought

 

  • Flaubert said, “Emma Bovary c’est moi.” About what character in fiction, film or other media would you cry out, “Yup, that’s me?”  Please explain why, bearing in mind that the medium of your choice will be reflected in your essay and your grade.  That is, choosing to compare yourself to Clyde Griffiths in Dreiser’s epic  An American Tragedy is likely to gain more points than selecting the title character in Helen Reddy’s 1973 hit  “Delta Dawn” or Morris the finicky feline in the cat food commercials.

 

 

My Political Astrological Reading:  An Ominous Force for the Environment!

It’s another eerily beautiful day here in the Great North Woods.  Yesterday’s blog post—on my personal responsibility to leave others alone when it comes to their personal responsibility (or, more succinctly, the standing for the national anthem issue)—generated a lot of traffic to tinywhitebox.com (good) and a few fairly negative comments to my email (not so good—but better by far than “you suck” appended as a comment).  Please write me at keithhoward@gmail.com, rather than sending live rattlesnakes to PO Box 446, Pittsburg, NH 03592.  Thanks.

While I’d much rather stir up controversy with religion or sex than politics (the taboo triumvirate according to my mother); still, I’ve never really determined my overall political standing.  I mean, as I shared yesterday I’ve voted for candidates from both major parties for every office, although more often Democrats than Republicans.  On foreign policy, I think a reliance on the military leads to interventions I’m against, but a reliance on diplomacy with no military to back it up leads to weakness.  On domestic issues, I don’t much care what people do in their bedrooms or whether they smoke pot—fairly libertarian views, I think government programs are by and large inefficient and wasteful—fairly conservative, but I think investing in individuals—through the GI Bill and increased higher education aid, for instance, is wise—liberal ideas.  I see myself as a moderate, although my liberal friends see me as conservative and my conservative friends view me liberal.  Strange.

To try to get some clarity, I lugged my laptop to an internet connection and took a political typology quiz presented by Pew Research, an independent and neutral organization, I believe.  (I fear “independent and neutral” will be read by conservative friends as “liberal” and vice-versa, but what’re you gonna do?)  Because of the word “typology” instead of “type,” I could tell I was dealing with serious folks.  This quiz (http://www.people-press.org/quiz/political-typology/) consisted of 23 questions asking me to identify which statement I identify with MOST.  This forced-choice format led to some difficult decisions.  For example:

“I don’t care how many people starve to death or lose their jobs, protecting the environment is our nation’s highest priority”

versus

“Battery acid in baby’s bath?  Big deal!  Jobs, jobs, jobs are all that matter.”

Perhaps I exaggerate.  But not by much.

At the end of a grueling four minutes, I’d completed the quiz.  Pressing “Finished,” I was immediately given my diagnosis:  I am among the most conservative members of what Pew calls Next Generation Left.  Given that I’m pushing 60, I’m far past the next generation anything, and my placement on Pew’s ideological scale is solidly moderate.  Still, I could accept that label.  Until I read the descriptive text:

“Generally young, well-educated and financially comfortable, the Next Generation Left have very liberal attitudes on many issues, including homosexuality, abortion, the environment and foreign policy. While overall supportive of an activist government, most are wary of expanding the social safety net. Most also have relatively positive views of Wall Street’s impact on the economy. While most affiliate with the Democratic Party or lean Democratic, few consider themselves strong Democrats.”

The parts of this that are accurate are not important and the parts that are important are not accurate.  As I’ve mentioned a bunch of times, I have three daughters in their 20s; each of them has gone through longer or shorter stretches of their lives believing that when I was born indicates or determines who I am.  With a birthday of November 17, this is the kind of nonsense I’ve heard over the years:

“Multi-faceted and complex, the Scorpio man is an emotionally charged individual who can be as intimidating as he is passionate. Intensely loyal to friends and family, his unlimited fervor makes for a wildly exciting partner. Like his Zodiac sign, the Scorpion, he can be an ominous force to be reckoned with when angered.”

Now I’m intensely loyal to Wall Street’s impact on the economy and has unlimited fervor for homosexuality.

I think I’ll go back to be a moderate who leans Democrat but votes for Republicans when they’re the better candidate.

Biscuits from a Baked Brain

Last night: I’m sitting by a quiet riverlet. It’s 7:40 on a Sunday evening.  September 24.  Three days into fall and it’s dark outside.  I’m in Pittsburg, NH, less than 10 miles from the Canadian border.  And I’m wearing a freaking t-shirt!  Today was 80 degrees!! I haven’t turned on the heater in the Tiny White Box since I got back two days ago!!!  I’ve got a fire going as I look at the moon, but I’m sitting far away—it’s just for ambiance.  I know, deep down in my dark heart, I will regret these words but I want Fall to feel like Fall, not midgoddamnedsummer.

Monday afternoon:  This is the time I should be eating my words, whining about how COLD it is, and wishing I’d never cursed the summer away.  HAH!  It’s now 85 degrees with the leaves changing to peak, I’m wearing shorts, sandals and a t-shirt and staying out of the sun.  When I was in the sun, my brain was boiling.  How do I know?  Here are some biscuits from a baked brain.

–If I didn’t need Facebook to spread word about the Tiny White Box, I think I’d resign my commission.  It seems very few of my Facebook friends go to dead-end jobs, fight with their kids or eat meals of canned chili, shredded cheese and Fritos.  Instead, they’re all cavorting, hugging precious children and taking pictures of beautifully-designed-for-viewing-as-much-for-eating meals.  Even with my simplification, I can still look longingly at a loin of lamb.

–Have the last 10 words in the previous sentence been uttered before?  If not, why not?

–Am I the only person who believed in junior high I could somehow wriggle my way into a girl’s heart by befriending her younger brother?  Did this ever work?  Has any young teenage girl ever been smitten by a friend of her dumbass kid brother?

–With the weather so hot so late in the year, will mosquitos hatch, then be killed off by the eventual first frost?  Or has natural selection taken its course in the evolution of mosquitos so they’ll be a year-round companion?  What effect will Off spray have on women’s winter furs?

–Do I know anyone who actually has winter furs sans the faux appellation?  Does faux rhyme with pho, the Vietnamese soup?

–Did I use the word appellation properly above?  Is there even such a word, or have I made it up, a forced combination of apple and jubilation?

–Why do I almost never finish reading a novel but almost always finish reading history and other nonfiction?  Of how many novels have I read eleven-twelfths then lost interest?  How do An American Tragedy, Rabbit at Rest and The Executioner’s Song even end?  Do all the protagonists somehow recover and escape their fates?  ( And pipe down over there about Mailer’s book—he won the goddamned Pulitzer for it as a novel.  I think.)

–As I eat rice and beans and vegetables tonight, will my stomach be dreaming of chili and cheese and Fritos?