Thoughts . . . by Mark Rich

. . . scribbled . . . scrawled . . . trimmed . . . typewritten . . . grubbed up . . . squeezed from circumstance . . .

Monday, May 11, 2020

Exit Bloom, Enter Bloom

[Written March third, this year.]

For days, in the mornings when studying Emerson, I looked at the last blooms on the Christmas cactus, and yearned to have pencil and paper at hand to draw what I saw — the fragile, warm-toned, and drooping bloom seen only partially, through the fern that sits nearer at hand — through its dark stems, its leaves capturing in green the northern window's morning light.

And now I see only the spent blossom — still, it is true, fragile, warm-toned, and drooping — there, barely, through rising stems and spreading leaves.

And now, too, with the cactus done, the begonia on the same table blooms.

Monday, April 27, 2020

Thoughts for Youth in a Troubling Time

A few days back, on the 23rd, I was remembering an incident recounted by a friend. She was replying to someone else's comments on Facebook. Misha, a friend in mundane life as well as in this electronic realm, related the behavior of a teenaged group she meets on a street. The youths disregard prevailing thoughts about the necessity for social distancing, and show in their actions a disrespect for their elders.

This occurs in a political environment in which some people, even some who call themselves "lawmakers," express a willingness to threaten and dispense with the older members of society, in order to let the economy function. An economy that functions on the death of the knowledgeable and experienced is an economy to let founder and die, to my mind. But I suppose that those who profess this willingness are Morlocks, who have no taste for the old, and would rather have the young at hand.

Misha perceived in these youths' actions and attitudes their resentment toward her being older, which makes her symbolically the source of all that is troubling their young minds.

On the 23rd, sitting in a rocking chair even older than I am, I found myself penciling thoughts that I might say to these youth. So I place them here. For who knows? One or two, out of any group of twenty or so resentful youths, might listen. So:

Thoughts for Youth in a Troubling Time

If you listen to your peers, weigh carefully what they say.

Sometimes if you follow the group lead, and then go into error or worse, it feels less bad a thing than when you make a mistake through your own thought, trusting to your own instincts as to what is right to do, or good to do. Yet however soothed you may feel in being able to say that it was someone else's fault that you acted the fool, you feel this way because you have a callous over a callous. For you have wounded yourself doubly.

If you act against what is right and good, that is one self-inflicted wound. If you do so to follow someone's exhortation, or due to group pressure, then you are listening to them, and not to your own inner voice. And that wound — of ignoring yourself — is the most grievous of wounds. People go scarred and lamed through all their lives because of it, and never know. They think that the smile they see in the mirror is a true one. Since no one has hurt them but themselves, they think themselves unhurt.

If you say to us who are older that you deserve your folly, because you are only young once and must have your day, then give an ear to what those who are older can tell you. Youth is the making of mistakes. We find our way through life by wrong turns. If we recognize them as such, we go on to be older in years, and perhaps wiser. Otherwise we go on to be older in years, but with our committed foolishness compounded with illusion.

Most of us mix the two approaches.

Besides this, I say that you need not fret yourself over being young only once. If you heed your inner voice, and view life as a process of continually making yourself anew, you will find yourself able to make mistake after mistake after mistake, no matter your years, few or many. For you never cease finding your way. And if you live in this manner to your dying day then your "being young only once" has lasted all your life.

We are young forever, so long as we make only our own mistakes, and steer clear of the mistakes that others would have us make. Though not easy — nothing about youth is easy — this is what life offers to you. It offers it to you, as an individual, alone.

Cheers . . .

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Masks for All in General

Science-fiction readers among you may have had a scene from a novel coming to your mind, lately. It has been to mine.

It must have been more than two decades ago that I read the Lisa Goldstein novel having this closing scene:

The tyrant who has persecuted mask-wearers finds one of their masks in his hands.

He tries it on.

Whether he then sees the world clearly, at last, or sees himself clearly — or whether Goldstein makes either aspect plain — memory fails to tell me.

The memory, though, does help bring to the fore this thought: that in fomenting rebellion against those state governments which have adopted lock-down methods to mitigate contagion's impact, our unmasked president is, indeed, persecuting mask-wearers.

Cheers . . .

Saturday, April 18, 2020

Major Tom To Face Trump

Dissociated Press, U.K. — Major Tom, famous for his courtyard perambulations in support of the British NHS, has accepted the nomination for the BOAST (British Organization Against Stupid Trumpists) party, which has gained admittance to the U.S. presidential race thanks to an epidemic-caused rules relaxation.

Observers have noted that Major Tom would run circles around the U.S. incumbent — being only physically impaired, not mentally. While his candidacy would shame the Grammatically Offensive Party, or GOP, his clarity and eloquence would set a bar for American candidates that most could best only by going under, not above, in a sort of political "Limbo."

His example of placing human compassion and personal effort above self-inflation and personal gain, however, would so dwarf the GOP that the American public would need to take care — to avoid stepping by accident on its members.

When asked for his opinion as to his chances, Major Tom quipped, "Not only do I know how to finish a race, I know how to finish a sentence. Correctly, in both cases."

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Notes on the Travesty

I voted yesterday in the Wisconsin primary and wanted not to. The event was a sham forced on the state by sham politicians disguised as justices. I wanted to stay away from the polls, though, for the sake of the volunteers there. This travesty of an event imposed unduly on their elderly constitutions.

Yet I went to vote in hopes that some youths might have stepped in, to help. Youths might catch something but presumably survive.

The case proved otherwise. One regular volunteer was present, pursuing her duty. Her two usual companions were absent, I was happy to see. The village trio have been dedicated workers, election after election, without, as it happens, growing any younger.

The voting process seemed slightly streamlined in response to the conditions. Unfortunately, the one person who replaced the two missing ones was another woman whom I might have guessed — well, not younger.

Statistically it would seem highly unlikely that yesterday's primary should not result in more illness. Though adequate measures were taken, the fact that health-care workers are falling ill during this epidemic makes a strong case for adequacy being inadequate.

And who holds the blame, if anyone falls ill in Wisconsin as a result of the primary? Or if anyone dies?

The party in Wisconsin that holds the state Senate, House, and Supreme Court, and that pushed through this primary, wields the power that it does thanks to outside forces. A pair of brothers with money-bag eyes were two of the highest angels, so to speak.

Which I mention in the context of guilt. It sits not entirely within this state's borders, even if all of guilt's puppets do.

If the state's Republican party members do not vote their politicians out of office, as soon as possible, then they, too, will be accepting whatever guilt there is to be passed around. Or at least accepting their responsibility for heartless stupidity.

For heartless stupidity might explain yesterday's travesty.

Heartless stupidity, naturally, stands not even a safe six feet away from cruelty.

And if anyone falls ill, or just falls over, due to this travesty, how can we not call the travesty's imposition cruel?

We know that it was unnecessary.

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

All Today's Observances Banned

Dissociated Press, Washington, April First: The President announced early today the banning of all April Fools observances, as inappropriate in a time of crisis.

"This is no joke," he told reporters, which he confirmed by turning red in the face and farting from his ears, the trademark gesture that made him the darling of red-in-the-face states.

In a related move, administration forces, by the U.S. Senate fondly called the Russian Trolls, shut down the website of presidential hopeful Bunsen Bernie on the grounds that it was a joke.

The candidate responded with a new website that stated, "In looking at our country's leadership now I finally understand what Ralph Waldo Emerson meant when he said, 'The world of men show like a comedy without laughter.'"

The president said, "That's not funny," and was unable to shut down the new website as a consequence.

— By Ezra Pines, DP's reporter on the Fool on the Hill.

Friday, March 27, 2020

A Dream of Noise

For some days my shirt pocket has been holding, near my heart, a dream of un-dreamlike immediacy and almost palpable reality.

In it, the incompetence and brash blunderings, verbal and otherwise, of a certain world leader make a saint of him. Through his actions and inactions he forces his country into a corner where the practices and processes falter that have primarily a monetary reason for being. Of the space it occupied before, no more than this corner remains to his country. Only through dedication to individual well-being on a universal basis may it again enjoy freedom of the whole room. Capitalism staggers, if not quite collapses. A socialist remedy offers the sole recourse. The solution to the country's ills requires cooperation, mutual regard, and thoughtfulness.

Meanwhile the roads are emptying. We hear "the busy hum of men" — that hum which drew Milton's youthful thoughts toward the city and away from rustic ways and pleasures — die down to something un-busy, if a hum at all. We find ourselves swept up, too, in helping meet the Paris Accord. Up till now, emissions-reduction guidelines have generated much hot air and heated reaction, contrary to their aim. Cooler exhalations emerge. Not only have we shown ourselves that human health towers over the putatively all-powerful deity of The Economy, but we find that the quieting of the busy hum puts us in the corner of what we call Nature, or the Earth.

Our corner seems not so small, suddenly; and that old room, the one from which our country is in retreat, less large.

Absurd, you say? Dreams are. And which would we rather have? A lamed Hephaestus named The Economy, or a Nature in the process of being murdered? Do we not hope to hear that shout across the waves from a far island: "Oh — I was wrong! Pan is not quite dead!"

Besides the staggering Economy and a more freely breathing Nature, those among us who regularly attend the church of Poetry are learning that a revered spirit, that of Silence, has not forsaken the human world. With what pleasure, the other morning, I stepped out to check our bird feeders and heard chickadees, finches, and, in the distance, crows — but not a motor, even though a state highway cuts through our village not a block away, and another, larger one transects it but a mile from here.

Single-handedly for his country, through ill-meaning impatience and self-interested blindness, this world leader has subdued the malignant deity that propped him up, has abruptly lowered fossil-fuel emissions, and here and there, now and then, has restored the Sabbath stillness that has gone missing from even the Sabbath. Seeing this man-child of tantrums wearing this new halo of wholesome achievement, we may feel the urge to raise him to sainthood — even though he has proven himself not quite the material for presidency.

How strange it has seemed to me that this last should still have needed proving. But much has seemed strange, and worse than strange, even before this time of calamity and fatality.

Weekday mornings, in our village, we listen in vain for Silence. The local bank has been building a new, large facility near here, which as yet is but a steel skeleton with walls and a few window-openings. The construction crew still appears early for work, running potent equipment and driving outsized vehicles over what peace and quiet might lie in their path — as such vehicles do, without asking permission from nearby ears.

In my mind, dare I say, I see shambling members of a dying race toiling in the lifeless shell of a temple to money earned from money.

We never will leave our noise behind us, though — except by going extinct. We never will leave it because it is a part of us — a part that has been stolen, disfigured, and amplified by motors and automatic tools, and rendered so malignantly overpowering that it dominates some arts. Reading Keats, though, teaches us that "gently whisp'ring noise" may mark a realm where gathered souls may find fulfillment. "Noise" appears in his sonnet "To My Brothers" not as an awkward rhyme that Keats forced into place, but as a fitting word. "Noise," in his time, applied to a spectrum of sounds.

May we find it in us to re-create a vanished world, and to restore that driven-away, whispering end to the spectrum — now that restoring it has been shown humanly possible.

Elsewhere . . . the life of the sea returns to Venice, and blue to the sky of China. Perhaps in those places as here, the life of the soul threatens a return, to meliorate an increasingly uncivil civilization. Silence opens the door for such a return.

I personally would rather not see a blathering blusterer ascend to sainthood — so well-suited does he seem to descent. I have in mind, however, Emerson's conception of a force that he called Fate, that goes masked in many guises.

"If Fate is ore and quarry," he says, "if evil is good in the making, if limitation is power that shall be, if calamities, oppositions, and weights are wings and means, — we are reconciled."

May we all so be, if and when we see the good in the making.