Thinking a lot about baseball these days, and especially about Detroit Tiger phenom Mark “The “Bird” Fidrych, who died at 54 in a farm accident. He brought life back to baseball and the tigers in the summer of 1976, and how appropriate it seems now that his flight and steep sharp rise coincided with our nation’s bicentennial and that he was playing and one might argue, reinvigorating our national game. The Bird was the first ever jock to adorn the gaudy front cover of ROLLING STONE, never mind his baseball stats. Always found it sad that he had his year in the sun and mostly pain after that, but near as I can tell, he rarely complained or bellyached, and took life as it came. Pretty good model for all of us. Baseball will be back with us soon and we will celebrate its return. It, like the opening of trout season, is in our blood. And I think of my old friend and colleague Phil Carra lugging his baseball bat through corporate headquarters and few even remarking on it, because baseball is part of us, whether we know it and acknowledge it, or not. Over. Rest in Peace, Bird. You brought us great pleasure. Baseball, unlike most games, perhaps all games, is the one sport where both teams get their full alotment of tries. Sounds a lot like how we think of America, at least theoretically. I began life as a true-blue Brooklyn Dodgers fan, but have been a Tiger fan since moving to Michigan in the summer of 1958..Over.
Errand morning. Shaksper and I are sitting in Lonnie’s toy car in parking lot while she run’s errands, her final stop into TarJAY. I sat reading from Paul Horgan’s (Pulitzer, etc.) A CERTAIN CLIMATE: ESSAYS IN HISTORY, ARTS AND LETTERS. I am about a third into this excellent piece of work when I read the following: “The second of the two powerful forces of persuasion and education today is the craft of advertising, which all too often goes beyond its only legitimate purpose, and that is to meet, rather than create a need. Advdertising, with bland contempt for common intelligence, sees truth a a merely relative and adjustable value. One television commercial has a sternly reassuring man on camera, dressed like a financier, a character which he represents, who is trying to convince us for his own commercial purposes. hear what he says: “This is not just an ad — it is a fact.”
Horgan continues: “There is a sort of wild innocence, if not bloodless cynicism, in this tacit admission that advertising is not factual, even if it pretends to be. The ethical squalor of this, so widely unrecognized, may tell us much by analogy about why a vast malaise has come over our country….The cheerful acquiescence of the public in the organized dishonesty of most advertising — and its purposeful offspring “public relations,” with all too few honorable exceptions — are symptoms of the ethically unsatisfying nature of much of our technological life.”
Lonnie comes back from TarJay says she asked the sales clerk, “What’s the status of that identity theft stuff from last November?”
Lonnie says she expected that corporate would have armed all sales clerks to answer such inquiries. I suspected diff.
The clerk says after a pregnant pause, “I think that’s pretty much taken care of now.”
So Lon asks, “Did the theft problem ever include checks?”
Even longer delay this time. “Weeeelllll, I’m not real sure, but I think it was mostly debit and credit cards.”
Lon paid with cash.
Meanwhile, as she was hoofing back to the car I read the ditty above and looked to see that we were surrounded by fright-green ServPro vehicles (like the color of this type). Advertising all over them proclaimed, “Fire & Water –Cleanup & Restoration, then the piece de resistance statement, “Like it never even happened.”
I wanted to ask if a mother and three kids drowned in a flood and these folks cleaned up the disaster site, could their cleaning guarantee their implied promise, including not just the physical surrounds but the psychological damage as well? Or if it seems like it never even happened, I wouldn’t even have to pay for the service, right?
In another essay, called “Preface to An Unwritten Book,” Horgan writes: “To be commercially successful, most forms of expression now gratify not the highest, or even the average, but the lowest standard of emotional, intellectually and aesthetic adventure. The central sin of the aggressive society is competitiveness, with its indignities and vulgarities meanly motivated by material ends. On a private scale, this leads to the cheapening of ethical standards, not only of the present but of the future, through its inescapable influence on children, who have appetite but no critical judgment.”
Horgan adds, “We have in recent years seen millions of little round lapel buttons with a smile painted on them in three childish strokes. Why must we be incessantly reminded to smile? Are we inherently that savage that this precaution is nervously needed? Perhaps man’s discontent is all too clear to him today, and perhaps he must do his utmost to deny it, in order to live with it.”
An interesting thoughtful collection of essays, which force you to think.
Back to Woyk. Over.
On the very small news front, the short story collection has gone to the publisher for ed board meeting. It they’re interested it will be published a year or so from now. 30 all new, never-see-before short stories, all with female protagonists. Collection is called Harder Ground, Stories from the Distaff Angle.
Ed Jarvie was a legendary UP coach for the Rudyard Bulldogs. I played football, basketball and baseball for him and was in his world history class. He was also principal of the HS in my senior year. He was a major force in shaping me and lots more kids. Happy 86th coach and wife Yvonne, who was always just off-stage providing untold strength for a driven man.
Seems springyish today, heaving melting, but still only 32 degrees. Some visual thoughts to share. Over.
A week or so ago, Lonnie and three friends went over to a nice restaurant in town for dinner. While there, our friends noticed the cook step outside for a smoke and they were all disgusted. “Can you imagine him cooking our dinners?” It was a poignant moment, I thought, and it made me laugh to myself. We were there to informally of celebrate my friend Jay’s upcoming Scientific American article, my recent Gray’s piece and my new short story collection draft.
Naturally the comment go my mind grinding and I thought, while some folks who have read a novel want to meet the maker of the novel, few people want to meet the cook at the restaurant, unless it’s one of those tony snoot-ops where toffs go and the chef comes out to take his bows, like a tenor at La Scala.
Speculative Fiction Author Neal Stephenson talked about some of this in a collection of essays called, Some Remarks.
As a post script, let me add that most authors eat time up with signings and such because it is “part of the biz,” not because they enjoy it. And we end up with websites and blogs because most other authors do, so it is a modern “price of doing business.”
Wrote Stephenson, “A novel has roughly the same relationship to a conversation with an author, as a movie does to the actors in it. A movie represents many person-years of work distilled into two hours, and so everything sounds and looks perfect. But if you have ever met a movie actor in person, you know they are not quite as dazzling and witty (or as tall) as the figures they play in movies.”
I have tried to explain this to people many times, but they don’t seem to understand it and that is some authors, perhaps most loathe public appearances. Yes they and we meet nice people. But it is a superficial scraping and ultimately a waste of time for all involved. Most authors would rather have the time.
Stephenson goes on, “Likewise, a novel represents years of hard work distilled into a few hundred pages, with all (or at least most) of the bad ideas cut out and thrown away, and the good ideas polished and refined as much as possible. Interacting with an author in person is nothing like reading that person’s novels. Just about everyone who gets to meet an author in person ends up feeling mildly let down and in some cases, grievously disappointed.” Stephenson says his main communication with readers is through the pages of the books he writes and they read, and I agree with this. All other contact makes no sense. You order dinner at a restaurant. If it’s good, you’ll come back again. If not, you won’t and who the chef is has no part in the formula.
Stephenson concludes, “Normally my only interaction with readers is to go to a FedEx dropbo9x every couple of years and throw in the manuscript or completed novel.”
The noted author explains, “Writing novels is hard, and requires vast unbroken slabs of time. Four quiet hours is a resource, that I can put to good use. Two slabs of time, each two hours long, might add up to the same four hours, but are not nearly as productive as the unbroken four.” He’s talking her about getting into the zone, which almost all authors need to reach in order to put out creditable work. Anything that takes away from that, pal phone calls, sales calls, drop-ins, signings, speaking engagements, etc take away from that. So does FACEBOOK and blogging, and websites, but these are the cost of doing business in these perilous publishing times.
Just some thoughts from the desktop.
Want to read a fine book by an Iraq war veteran? Try Phil Klay’s Redeployment. Wonderful short stories that carry you away from first to last page.
Just finished reading Neal Stephenson’s In The Beginning…Was the Command Line.” Very interesting 151-page “essay” about computers, IBM, Apple, Linux, BeOS, and all the rest. Some interesting notions and observations, as always in Stephenson’s polymathic screeds. But here’s what jumped out to me:
“When Ronald Reagan was a radio announcer, he used to call baseball games that he did not physically attend by reading the terse descriptions that trickled in over the telegraph wire and were printed out on a paper tape. He would sit there, all by himself in a padded room with a microphone, and the paper tape would creep out of the machine and crawl over the palm of his hand printed with cryptic abbreviations. If the count went to three and two, Reagan would describe the scene as he saw it in his mind’s eye: ‘The brawny left-hander steps out of the batter’s box to wipe the sweat from his brow. The umpire steps forward to sweep the dirt from home plate,’ and so on. When the cryptogram on the paper tape announced a base hit, he would whack the edge of the table with a pencil, creating a little sound effect, and describe the arc of the ball as if he could actually see it. His listeners, many of whom presumably thought that Reagan was actually at the ballpark watching the game, would reconstruct the scene in their minds according to his descriptions.”
Stephenson then goes on to say, “This is exactly how the World Wide Web works: the HTML files are the pithy descriptions on the paper tape, and your web browser is Ronald Reagan. The same is true of graphical user interfaces in general.”
Typical good writing from Stephenson, but the anecdote sent my mind in another direction.
How do people know when real is real or a facsimile thereof? The Reagan example is to my mind a sort of audio Photoshop, which I will describe generally as presenting something as real that is not real. Or not entirely so. The game was real enough. Reagan being there was not, yet clearly he was attempting to create the impression that he was at least for those listeners who didn’t know better. Is this ethical?
We had an interesting situation when Upjohn merged with Pharmacia of Sweden and we discovered our Swedish brothers and sisters were sending out photographs with press releases showing their CEO and our together and presenting a story as if they had physically met and decided x, y or z. Wasn’t true. The photo was photo shopped. I got onto it by seeing a photo and calling the CEO’s assistant who told me he was in an entirely different part of the world when the event in the release happened.
I then asked our Swedish colleagues about it and told them, you can’t put out a photo that isn’t true. They countered with, “But it can be done technically.” True, but you are telling the media (and our employees and shareholders, etc) that they met to do x when they didn’t.
They were not too happy with me or us, but the photo practiced stopped. Just because one can do something doesn’t not necessarily mean it should be done.
When I think of the President to be in that room I think wow, what a tough job of sustained creativity that must have been, and then I think, he was living a lie to his listeners by not proclaiming the facts of the representation. Had he, he might have lost his audience, or his station’s audience, so I have to think the decisions was made to gloss over reality in the interest of potential sales and audience size, one equally the other down the business model line of those says.
Then I wonder how much reality is there in today’s so called “reality television.”
As a writer of fiction I do the same thing the president did, but label my work either a novel or short story, which tells everyone it’s made up. Then I have to find a way to make the story seem real so folks will suspend their disbelief throughout the offering. What I’m writing may be factually accurate viz the real world, or not, but it’s my job to make it seem so, at least in the sort of writing I’ve done to date, and as I think about it, this holds true for all writing.
An interesting aside here is that over time, writers develop a sort of style, a quickly recognized and unique way of putting together thoughts and words. This has always been true of writing and writers, fiction and nonfiction. Stephenson talks about his brother-in-law, a theologian who reads 3250 year-old cuneiform tablets and Stephenson says “he can recognize the handwriting of particular scribes and identify them by name.”
Stephenson at the time was describing a massive manuscript loss due to computer malfunction and concludes, “It’s easy enough to buy little converter programs that will take care of this problem. But if you are a writer whose career is words, who professional identity is a corpus of written documents, this kind of thing is extremely disquieting. There are very few fixed assumptions in my line of work, but one of them is that once you have written a word, it is written, and cannot be unwritten. The ink stains the paper, the chisel cuts the stone, the stylus marks the clay, and something has irrevocably happened.
He finishes up, “But word-processing software – particularly the sort that employs special, complex file formats – has the eldritch power to unwrite things. A small change in file formats, or a few twiddled bits, and months or years’ literary output can cease to exist.”
“Eldritch?” I had to look it up too. It means “weird, sinister, ghostly.”
Now to work. I’ll close with this, from Robert Anton Wilson’s Nature’s God: “Is,” “is,” “is”—the idiocy of the word haunts me. If it were abolished, human thought might begin to make sense. I don’t know what anything “is”; I only know how it seems to me at this moment.”
Prolly as good a take on reality as we are likely to find.
I was very, very sad to read in today’s Gazette that Michael G “Mike” Martin, 72, has died. Haven’t seen Mike in years, but for a quarter of a century we saw a lot of each other at WMU games, at K-Wings games, in the Kalamazoo Optimist Hockey Association, SW Michigan High School Hockey League, and Portage Northern H.S. Hockey, and in the Over-30 Fat Boy Adult leagues. At WMU and the K-Wings, we were just fans and pals. The rest of time we opponents, of sorts. I was either a coach or player or minor team official. Mike always did the job and always made me laugh. By the way, he was always Martin on the ice. He had his own way of communicating. To say the least.
Me: Why the hell did you call that, Martin?”
Mike: “Your tie color sucks.”
Me: “I’m not wearing a tie.”
Mike: “There ya go.”
Mike: “Heywood, your player speared the goalie.”
Me: “You don’t know a spear from a darning needle, Martin.”
Mike: “Yah? I know that goalie’s my son. Any further questions?”
On the ice in a fat boy league fracas, in the aftermath, bodies here and there, Mike trying to assess penalties. He turns to me:
Mike: “You’re getting old, Heywood. Took you two punches to knock that sucker out.”
Me: “You need glasses. I didn’t punch anybody.”
Mike: “Well, you should have because you’re getting five and a game.”
Me: “See you at the bowling alley after the game?”
Mike: “Yah, sounds good. Now, Yooooooure outtta here!”
He was a fine and memorable man who gave decades of his life to hockey and kids in this county and state. He will be missed. My condolences to his family. There are legions of us out here in the darkened stands who are so sorry for your loss. I expect when we meet again, he’ll still be wearing stripes.
We took a circuitous route to the grock store today for our Sunday papers (NYT, Chi Trib, and Kaz Gaz). In an approximate three mile radius of our house in Portage we counted 15 churches. They are: Prince of Peace Lutheran; Victory Baptist; Cross Community Church; Greater Faith Empowerment Center; Kalamazoo First Assembly of God; Chapel Hill United Methodist; St. Michael’s Lutheran; Oakland Drive Christian Church: Kingdom Hall /Jehovah’s Witnesses; St. Catherine’s Roman Catholic Church; The Bridge; Portage United Church of Christ; Cornerstone Pentecostal and Valley Family Church, which has an annex in the radius but has moved main ops to church once called the Cathedral. Valley is a megachurch. All those churches and not a single family bar. Too bad. It appears to me that Christianity is a badly segmented, split and tied up in disagreements as the factions in our political parties. A republican is not just a republican, or a democrat just a democrat, but some other subgroup/category. Same for the Christian churches.
Then I read in the Chicago Tribune how Pentecostal style worship and wealth gospel have proved popular across Asia. America invented the mega-church, but Asian countries now have the biggest. Prosperity gospel blends the spiritual and the material. Kind of like predestination once declared that our spiritual faith would be known by our worldly status and no, the meek-and-poor did not inherit the earth in that scheme. The Trib story says the Singaporian churches are “working to export it to the world and turn Singapore into a hub for evangelical Christianity.” For some years now Christian denominations in Africa have been sending missionaries to the US, while the US continues to send same such folk that direction. Who is trying to save Whom?”
I also read in the Trib that rain dances are being held in San Juan Bautista, CA. “In a small town, when you call a rain dance, word gets around,” said Ray Sanchez, a barbecue chef, construction worker of Apache heritage.
Trib also reports half the states in the US are considering decriminalizing or legalizing pot.
Sad item. One Ebony Wilson of Somewhere, South Carolina, 32, pregnant, told her Fam she needed a break. There was talk of an abusive husband in the story, but not much detail. Ms. Ebony some of her kids, 3,9 and 10 to Florida for a “break.” Drove out onto a beach near Daytona Beach, and got stopped by cops. She seemed normal, and police let her go on, whereupon she promptly told her kids to close their eyes and go to sleep and aimed her minivan for the ocean. She got to a depth of 3 feet, before being stopped. Her nine-year-old fought her for the steering wheel the whole way. Others noticed the erratic driving, pursued and caught up. At some point she reportedly told authorities, she was” taking her children to a safer place.” The kids reported she started talking to Jesus and qall when they got to Florida. The news report says there is no known history of mental illness. May I suggest away from her is a safer place and I wonder, as a writer, what life holds for those kids, what sort of PTSD will live in their neurocells. Her marriage was not characterized as a happy one. We live in a sad, strange world.
We have some snow melting under way here. Supposed to be in the fifties tomorrow. I read in the Trib today, “So much ice coverage in the Great Lakes will not effect spring. Data from 1973 now suggests little or no correlation between the max amount of lake ice and mean spring temperatures. Rationale: Because the surface area of the Great Lakes is so small compared to the large-scale airflow over the continent. The paper cited 1976-77 which had 94 percent ice coverage and up until then, warmest spring on history.
Working memory is linked to IQ and is the first brain function to decline as you age. It is central to your ability to manipulate stored information and can be improved by practicing a series of simple exercises, which of course you must pay for in order to use them.
On a somewhat more serious note, a piece by Kyle Bibby of the Kazoo Nature Center says today, Robins don’t really migrate. They move into the woods when neighborhood food production falls off, or slightly south. Interesting.
I am now trying to close up taxes, but am also thinking about writing. The magnificent Neal Stephenson in Snow Crash talks about language. Character says, “Well, a French-speaker’s brain starts out the same as an English Speaker’s brain. As they grow up, they get programmed with different software – they learn different languages.”
Another character then explains, “Yes. Therefore, according to the universalists, French and English – or any other languages – must share certain traits that have their roots in ‘deep structures’ in the brain. According to Chomskyan theory, the deep structures are innate components of the brain that enable it to carry forward certain formal kinds of operations on strings of symbols. Or, as Steiner paraphrases Emmon Bach: These deep structures eventually lead to the actual patterning of the cortex with its immensely ramified yet, at the same time, ‘programmed’ network of electrochemical and neurophysiological channels.
Another character concludes: “So Lagos was trying to say that the newborn human brain has no structure – as the relativists would have it – and that as the child learns a language, the developing brain structures itself accordingly, the language gets blown into the hardware and becomes a permanent part of the brain’s deep structure – as the universalists would have it.”
How much of this is out of Stephenson’s mind I don’t yet know, but will take a look. The notion that language can shape the brain is intriguing. And if true, what effect does multiple language-learning have? Or learning drastically different kinds of languages?
Fascinating stuff. Appropos of nothing but pure curiosity and the high state of Huh.
On a more practical side I have all my topo maps for five counties this summer. Soon we will be out in the bush marking up the great fishing and animal sighting-spots.
On a less practical side, I realized that when Zip drives went bye-bye and flash drives and CDs became all the memory rage, I failed to transfer 6-7 manuscripts to the newer storage methods, and now I must get that done in the next few weeks. It never, never ends.
Friends Joe (“Griz”) and Nan Harris sent me the attached photo. A shelf all to myself. Funny. A true honor.
Reading Through February. Actually I’m in he Wellington book now, and several of these I read last year and again this year, largely to transfer marginal notes to my Commonplace book.
(1) Carolyn Ells, Michael G. Flaherty, Eds. Investigating Subjectivity: Research on Lived Experience. (1992) [NF]
(2)Welker Givson. Tough, Sweet & Stuffy: An Essay on Modern Prose Styles.(1966) [NF]
(3) Mary Ann Glendon. Rights Talk: The Impoverishment of Political Discourse. (1991) [NF]
(4)Edward H. Crane, Intro. Speaking Freely: The Public Interest in Unfettered Speech: Essays from Conservative Research (1995) [NF]
(5) Websters. Picturesque Word Origins. (1993) [NF]
(6)James Salter. There & Then; The Travel Writing of James Salter. (2005) [NF]
(7) Greg Grandin. Fordlandia.(2009) [NF]
(8) Jane Emery. Rose Macaulay: A Writer’s Life (1991) [NF]
(9) Tad Tuleja. Foreignisms. (1989) [NF]
(10) Marshall McLuhan. The Gutenberg Galaxy. (1962) [NF]
(11) Ford Madox Ford. Parade’s End (1924-25-26-28)
(12) Richard Davenport-Hines, Ed. Hugh Trevor-Roper: The Wartime Journals.(2012) [NF]
(13) Hugh Trevor-Roper. The Letters of Mercurius. (1970) [NF]
(14) Adam Sisman. An Honourable Englishman: The Life of Hugh Trevor-Roper. (2010) [NF]
(15) E.B. White. Essays of e.b. white. (1977) [NF]
(16) Phillip Lopate. Portrait Inside My Head (2013) [NF]
(17) George Packer. The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America. (2013) [NF]
(18) Elizabeth Raum. The Aztec Empire. (2013) [NF][Juvie]
(19) Allison Lassieur. The Battle of Bull Run (2009) [NF]
(20) Allison Lassieur. The Middle Ages. (2010) [NF]
(21) Scott Andrew Selby. A Serial Killer in Nazi Berlin: The Chilling True Story of the S-Bahn Murderer. (2014) [NF]
(22)Amir D. Aczel. The Jesuit& the Skull: Teilhard de Chardin, Evolution, and the Search for Peking Man. (2007) [NF]
(23) Robert M. Gates. Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary of War. (2014) [NF]
(24) John Dos Passos. Three Soldiers (1921) [NF]
(25) Marcel Proust. On Art and Literature. (1954) [NF]
(26) Hilton Als. White Girls (2013) [NF]
(27) Rimbaud. Illuminations and Other Prose Poems (1946) [NF]
(28) Paul D. Staudohar. Baseball’s Best Short Stories (1995) [NF]
(29) Michel de Montaigne. The Complete Essays. (1994/1568) [NF]
(30) Diane Osen. Ed. The Book That Changed My Life: Interviews withi National Book Award Winners and Finalists(2002) [NF]
(31) Jincy Willett. Winner of the National Book Award (2003) [NF]
(33) Edmund White. Rimbaud: The Double Life of a Rebel. (2008) [NF]
(32) Logan Pearsall Smith. Unforgotten Years (1939) [NF]
(33) Stillman Drake, Trans. Discoveries and Opinions of Gallileo (1957/1610-13-15-23) [NF]
(34) Ann Roiphe. Art and Madness: A Memoir of Lust Without Reason (2011) [NF]
(35) Grace Tiffany. Paint. (2013) [NF]
(36) James McBride. The Good Lord Bird. (2013) [NF]
(37) Jim Harrison. Brown Dog. (2013) [NF]
(38) John H. Ritter. The Boy Who Saved Baseball. (2005) [NF]
(39) Liza Picard. Elizabeth’s London (2003) [NF]
(40) Neil MacGregor. Shakespeare’s Restless World: A Portrait of An Era in Twenty Objects (2012) [NF]
(41) Gail Kern Paster, Intro. Shakespeare: The Essential Guide to the Life and Workds of the Bard (2007) [NF]
(42) Neil MacGregor. Shakespeare’s Restless World: An Unexpected History in Twenty Objects (2013) [NF]
(43) Emile Zola. The Ladies’ Paradise (2008) [NF]
(44) Maxine Hong Kingston. Tripmaster Monkey: His Face Book (1987)
(45) Ian Mortimer. The Time Traveler’s Guide: Elizabethan England (2012) [NF]
(46) Paul Dickson. Words from the White House (2013) [NF]
(47) John Smolens. My One and Only Bomb Shelter (2000) [NF]
(48) Albert Camus.The Myth of Sisyphus and Other Essays (1955) [NF]
(49) Jim Nye. After Shock: Poems and Prose from the Vietnam War (1991) [NF]
(50) Norman F. Cantor. In the Wake of the Plague: The Black Death & the World It Made (2001) [NF]
(51) Leo Damrosch. Jonathon Swift: His Life and His World. (2013) [NF]
(52) George Simenon. Maigret in Holland. (1940)
(53) William Benzon. Beethoven’s Anvil. (2001) [NF]
(54) Robert Mason Lee. Death and Deliverance: The True Story of an Airplane Crash at the North Pole. (1993) [NF]
(55) Jim Wallis. God’s Politics: A New Vision for Faith and Politics in America. (2005) [NF]
(56) Neal Stephenson. Snow Crash. (1992)
(57) Willa Cather. One of Ours (2008)
(58) James Dale Davidson & Lord William Rees-Moog. The Sovereign Individual: How To Survive and Thrive During the Collapse of the Welfare State.(1997) [NF]
(59) Joseph Heywood. Harder Ground: Stories From the Distaff Planet. (2014) [SS/draft]
(60) Rory Muir. Wellington: The Path To Victory, 1789-18-14 (2013) [NF]
Michigan conservation Officer William Cherry of Missaukee County died last night. Natural causes, no details. RIP. When one goes down, all feel the pain.