A Writer of a Certain Age

July 29, 2012 at 10:05 am (By Amba)

This quote came along at just the right moment.

Trees have commonly two growths in the year, a spring and a fall growth, the latter sometimes equaling the former, and you can see where the first was checked whether by cold or drouth, and wonder what there was in the summer to produce this check, this blight. So it is with man; most have a spring growth only, and never get over this first check to their youthful hopes, but plants of hardier constitution, or perchance planted in a more genial soil, speedily recover themselves, and, though they bear the scar or knot in remembrance of their disappointment, they push forward again and have a vigorous fall growth which is equivalent to a new spring. These two growths are now visible on the oak sprouts, the second already nearly equaling the first.

~ Henry David Thoreau, Journal (or “Blog Post”), July 14, 1852

Thoreau was 35 years old, the same “midlife” when Dante said he was lost in a dark wood.  I daresay we’ve pushed it back some.

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All right, just slightly more…

July 22, 2012 at 11:01 pm (By Ron)

Here’s the quote that I have at the beginning of the chapter….I put it here because it reminds me of our blog host, Amba….  :)


“… in short, gentlemen, your entire cognitive enterprise is a load of crap, a polysyllabic abstraction forced upon you by an over demanding professioriat. Look, the whole damn problem is pretty simple. Our subconscious minds are one gigantic roller coaster, a roller coaster with every possible drop, water slide, and 360 degree corkscrew imaginable. Our conscious minds, our ‘rational selves’ are US, the passengers in that roller coaster, side-by-side in the cars of personal space, all connected in the Great Human Chain of Thought! The reason people are unhappy is simple: they fail to realize that THEY and they alone, bought the damn ticket! God’s role in this is equally simple: he takes the tickets, straps you in, and you’re off! He says only two things to you: “ticket, please” and “exit to the left.” The rest is up to you! So, all this mock white-knuckle terror and screaming, all this dizziness and puking, is not about the fear of death, but the failure to see the joy in being free of gravity! The most intelligent people, while they’re riding, throw up their hands and laugh! And the most noble, beautiful people, the strongest willed, the most gracious of heart know exactly what to say when it’s all over and their feet are firmly planted on the ground: ‘What a rush! Let’s go again!'”


— Crazy Mike, in a letter to the Journal of Cognitive Psychology July 1986.

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Writing out of dreams

July 22, 2012 at 4:15 pm (By Ron)

Most of this story, from my half-finished novel, came from a dream….and I share it with you now.

Ransom Waldo Maxty formed Maxty Cap and Clasp as a maker of customized caps for expensive fountain pens and ladies brooches in 1906. Despite its odd specialization, Maxty was successful in this trade. Unlike most such 19th century businesses, Maxty did not succeed by niggardly levels of thrift, but rather, by intense concentration on his customers tastes; no amount of filigree, or jewel encrustation was too much for those who desired to be truly unique. This even extended to his more modest lines of pen caps, for Maxty reasoned that even the average man wanted to stand out from his fellows. The growth of his business allowed Maxty to move from the Lower East Side to Hell’s Kitchen in 1912. On the day the Maxty Building was christened, Maxty’s only son and his beloved wife were killed in an automobile accident by a corpulent fool going 50 mph down Broadway. He never remarried, withdrew within himself, and the business suffered.

The defining moment in the corporate history of Maxty Cap and Clasp came in November of 1918. A small child, bleeding and dazed, walked into Maxty’s own offices and presented R.W. Maxty with a broken “Tradesman’s Pride” model pen cap, claiming that, as the owner, he must fulfill the warranty for her father as soon as possible. Maxty looked out the window at the crushed Chevrolet with the dozens of beer barrels on top, still flailing spooked dray horses on their sides, and one hand sticking out from it all in a wash of blood and foam, closed his eyes and told the child to return within a week. Six days later, Maxty fulfilled his guarantee with what has since been considered the finest example of their craft; a cap whose use of several colors of diamond, solid pieces of jade, and flame rubies in a Celtic cross pattern still inspires Colleen Killian-Wordsworth today as she sits and watches the Tempe sun reflect off of it each dusk. Maxty had intended for her to sell the cap to one of his wealthier clients, but when word of his gift reached her neighborhood, the neighbors would not let her dishonor her fathers memory, and instead raised money amongst themselves to send the girl to a distant relative in Albany, putting the cap in a safe deposit box. Though Maxty never referred to this event ever again, his respect amongst his own neighbors rose, and his business grew forthwith.

Throughout the late teens and early twenties, Maxty never varied from his daily routine, and when he took his afternoon constitutional, his pockets had enough candy for everyone. When St. Patrick’s day occurred during Prohibition, the use of a secret code word at certain locations, would allow any decent Irishman a drink , all paid for by Maxty. If there was a crisis back home, or at certain key events in someone’s life, passage back to Dublin would be arranged through St. Bridgit’s, from “divine sources.” At the height of his success in the late ’20’s, Maxty very discreetly requested the Irish policeman of his precinct to escort his female employees now working the newly created 2nd shift home for their safety. Clothes line gossip quickly distributed the truth which enhanced Maxty’s already strong image, and nearly every mother felt obliged to show her child that men like Maxty were why penmanship truly mattered. Pen caps were handed down from father to son in a passage rite that couldn’t be explained to someone from Queens, much less the world at large. On his birthday in 1928, the women of Hell’s Kitchen surprised Maxty by bringing in their children for a song-and-dance program so moving to him that for all the years until his own death, Maxty would send each child from that day a card on their birthday written in a hand so beautiful that many people would exchange them just to admire the different cursives, accents, and capital letters.

The Depression hit Maxty Cap and Clasp hard. Maxty was reluctant to let people go, his misplaced faith in Herbert Hoover perhaps the strongest indicator of his now, suddenly, being out of sync with the times. As his fortunes dwindled, people left out of guilt from “stealing from the Old Man.” In 1938, while playing Santa at the Horace Greely Young Persons Social Club 32nd Christmas Ice Cream Social, Ransom Waldo Maxty passed away after asking for a “moments respite.” His wake reduced productivity for blocks around for a week, and was the closest Italians, Irish, and Poles would be for a long time before and since. When in the late ’50’s drunken hoodlums stole the giant brass fountain pen from the top of Maxty’s black marble headstone, no one really objected, as the Deco gewgaw didn’t fit the quiet solidity of a man who founded and ran a successful business in Manhattan for 32 years, light years away from the folie circulare of Wall Street, without ever caring about a quarterly earnings statement, without ever having heard the term “junk bond”, and without ever, even once, having meet a person from Japan.

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Ron’s Superhero Surrealism

July 8, 2012 at 10:19 pm (By Amba, By Ron)

Tell me this e-mail I just got from Ron (posted here with his permission) wouldn’t make a great graphic novel:

so Ron falls asleep….and Ron dreams…..

My friend Annie calls me(!) from NYC to say almost tearfully “I have no coffee and can’t get out of my apartment.”

I go to the web page of my blog, Fluffy Stuffin, “reach into the screen” and make an orange and brown paper airplane through folding…so I can get to NYC by riding it….

When I get to the West Village, I see the whole block is getting that blue and white and grey hue like Ambiance.  I go through a nettle of “id verification” pages to find you stuck and working….I take some of your finished pages and somehow are able to form them into building-like materials.  I go to the window and make the Platonic Form of the Coffee House In The Sky, and a path from your place to it, hovering above NYC.  I take your phone, and arrange for Bix Biderbecke to meet you for coffee.  I go with you, but not until I raid my various weapons caches below 14th street and sit nearby in the coffee house, filling shotguns, loading clips into automatic weapons….you leave Bix for a second and ask me why I’m doing this….I say that I am heading to Soho looking for a painting to buy, and that I would meet you later at the High Line….

When I do, I have taken a round or two (with bandages!) and have spent all my ammunition, but I have the painting I wanted….You take it from me and sort of “press it” into my back, telling me that’s what editors do….

We then take this pair of giant bubble wands and with a solution of bubble soap, cotton candy and catnip make a “walking tunnel” alongside the High Line… for cats..

Then I went back home!

I even sort of remember my assault on the art gallery….half John Woo, half Woody Allen.  Oh!  I just now remember you “telling” me that NYC has way funnier Jews than Woody Allen! (while I’m in some crazy gun battle!)
This is how my noggin works….


I’m so jealous.  I hardly dream, or remember dreams, at all anymore.  Ironically, I’m just now in the process of trying to cut back on caffeine to see if that makes any difference.  So did Ron pick up on my jonesing for coffee and blazon it into the dream I can’t have?  Ron, could you please fly here on your paper rescue airplane and bring me some dreams?

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Is Taste the Seat of the Soul?

July 6, 2012 at 1:42 am (By Amba)

Is there a “true self”?  Buddhists say that everything we take for “ourselves,” our “soul,” is just the effect of some past cause, in this life or others, and that to peel away those reactions-to-actions is like unwinding the translucent layers of an onion: at the core is nothing. In Western psychology we seek the true self in therapy, but it mostly comes down to the truth of emotions shaped in the vessel of childhood longings and hurts—reactions, again.  Can reaction be essence?  And aren’t childhood emotions generic, though biographical particulars—stories—are unique?  Are we only our stories, or is there a someone they happen to?

You’d ask these questions if you were, say, Patty Hearst: someone who fashioned another identity under duress, was stuffed in a closet and forced to reconsider whether her identity as a newspaper heiress was of the essence or merely an accident; who, to survive, found the raw materials for machine gun–toting “Tania” within herself; who, when she returned to her former life, must have wondered whether the shattered, sheltered girl she could never be again was her “real self.”

Something a little like that happened to me.  Though I wasn’t coerced, falling in with Jacques was not unlike being kidnapped out of the world of my birth (strange, seeing as just that had really, literally happened to him).  Over time, I had to sink or swim so far from the shore of who I’d thought I was that I began to see how much of who I’d thought I was—opinions, emotions, interests—was the product of class, culture, and generation.  It didn’t seem like the essence of me at all, after all—if there even was such a thing.  When the innocence of your relationship to your origins is relativized, you sort of lose the only origin, or origin myth, you had.  It makes you feel like anything goes.  I’m making this sound scary, and it is disorienting, but sometimes in a wonderful way.  The original me would never in a million years have dreamed of learning karate.  Once I had broken that barrier, I could imagine myself in all kinds of different lives.

That kind of experience makes you wonder if there’s such a thing as a true self.

But now I think I might have located it.

Lately I’ve been very aware how untransferable taste is.  How impossible it is to get someone to hear what you hear, to love the same constellation of music you love, to be struck at the same angle by the same books; how hard to buy someone else an item of clothing—how often have you been given something that really suited the giver?  How members of the same family all want to eat different things . . .

Tastes crop up early and inexplicably.  They choose from what’s at hand, of course, but from that generational and cultural pool they always choose uniquely. Maybe they have something to do with the individual composition of our senses—the way you and only you hear and see.  Or maybe the array of things that please us are like iron filings that outline the shape of our soul.

Don’t you feel that no matter where you had been born, what language you had spoken, what stories had befallen you—the same flavors and colors would have pierced you, the same sounds and stories haunted you? Precisely because these things can’t be explained—they and only they might be of the essence.

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Reading Comprehension FAIL

July 4, 2012 at 8:41 pm (Icepick) (, , )

This morning I saw a story that caught my eye on Yahoo! News. The headline read:

Insight: Florida man sees “cruel” face of U.S. justice

So I clicked on the story to read it later. I just finished reading the story and doing a little research on it.

The story is about some low-life named Quartavious Davis from South Florida. Mr. Davis is upset because he was sentenced to almost 162 years in prison for his first offence. However, his outrage and shock is a bit misplaced, as his first conviction actually covers seven armed robberies, during two of which he allegedly fired his weapon. This string of armed robberies was committed with several accomplices (making him a gang-banger, and a lousy one at that) shortly after he turned 18. I guess the $674 a month he was getting from Social Security Disability Insurance wasn’t enough. (Yes, this guy is a poster-child for the anti-welfare crowd.)

Mr. Davis got this massive sentence because (a) all his co-defendants took plea deals and rolled on him and (b) the federal government has a policy known as “stacking” in which the sentences get stacked on top of each other.

So obviously, this is a problem with Florida’s horrible, archaic justice system, right?

Well, no. I’m willing to bet that this crowd (do we count as a crowd?) noticed that I mentioned the federal government. Yes, Mr. Davis somehow managed to get his dumb-assed self prosecuted in a federal court, by a federal prosecutor (funny how that works), before a federal judge, and has been sentenced to rot to death in a federal prison under federal sentencing guidelines.

However, the article in question (from Reuters) makes this into a state issue about Florida. The commenters there and elsewhere barely noticed.

So this is all about the backwards state of Florida and how racist and evil conservatives are for a great many people in the echo-chamber.

Whatever. The people making the complaints about the awfulness of Florida are incapable of reading. Not to mention that the goon reporter from Reuters is intentionally misleading them. (You can read the story yourselves and figure out how.)

But here’s a nice little factoid from the Reuters article:

Since 2003, the Justice Department has had guidelines in place that discourage prosecutors from stacking in cases where it can lead to excessive sentences.

Yet prosecutors have broad discretion within their jurisdictions to follow their own lights, according to criminal-law experts.

So the Bush Justice Department actually discouraged the practice, though (in typical fashion) they didn’t actually do anything to end the practice of governmental over-reach.

So who is behind this sentence? Besides the Congress and Justice Department, the man most responsible appears to be Wifredo A. “Willy” Ferrer, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida. Who just happens to be an Obama appointee.

So, clearly a Hispanic-American federal prosecutor reporting to a black US AG and appointed by a black President working under federal guidelines is a sign of racist Florida being a backwater of justice.

ADDED: I should add that Quartavious Davis’s parents should probably spend time in prison for their choice of name for their son. This isn’t a new position for me.

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