Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Kay Ryan Week: A Sequel

Four-plus years ago I went on a binge of posting Kay Ryan poems.  The other day I saw her latest book — Erratic Things (2015)* — on the new book shelf in the library.  I'm still reading it, but partway in it's fabulous.  Here's my favorite so far:
On the Nature of Understanding

Say you hoped to
tame something
wild and stayed
calm and inched up
day by day. Or even
not tame it but
meet it half way.
Things went along.
You made progress,
understanding
it would be a
lengthy process,
sensing changes
in your hair and
nails. So it's
strange when it
attacks: you thought
you had a deal.

— Kay Ryan

________
* The title is enriched by an epigraph, a definition of "erratic": (n) Geol. A boulder or the like carried by glacial ice and deposited some distance from its place of origin.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Four Questions For the Second Seder

Why is this night exactly the same as last night?
Last night, we had a seder. Tonight, we're having exactly the same seder.
Last night, I asked you four questions. Tonight, I'm going to ask you the same four questions all over again.
Last night, you made a big deal out of the Torah verse "on that day". Now, you'll do that today too?
Last night you told me the story of the coming out of Exodus. Good yarn. But you're repeating it. Didn't we cover this already?


(Chag kasher v'sameach to those celebrating this week.) 

Sunday, March 27, 2016

A Century Past

Easter, 1916

I have met them at close of day
Coming with vivid faces
From counter or desk among grey
Eighteenth-century houses.
I have passed with a nod of the head
Or polite meaningless words,
Or have lingered awhile and said
Polite meaningless words,
And thought before I had done
Of a mocking tale or a gibe
To please a companion
Around the fire at the club,
Being certain that they and I
But lived where motley is worn:
All changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.

That woman's days were spent
In ignorant good-will,
Her nights in argument
Until her voice grew shrill.
What voice more sweet than hers
When, young and beautiful,
She rode to harriers?
This man had kept a school
And rode our winged horse;
This other his helper and friend
Was coming into his force;
He might have won fame in the end,
So sensitive his nature seemed,
So daring and sweet his thought.
This other man I had dreamed
A drunken, vainglorious lout.
He had done most bitter wrong
To some who are near my heart,
Yet I number him in the song;
He, too, has resigned his part
In the casual comedy;
He, too, has been changed in his turn,
Transformed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.

Hearts with one purpose alone
Through summer and winter seem
Enchanted to a stone
To trouble the living stream.
The horse that comes from the road.
The rider, the birds that range
From cloud to tumbling cloud,
Minute by minute they change;
A shadow of cloud on the stream
Changes minute by minute;
A horse-hoof slides on the brim,
And a horse plashes within it;
The long-legged moor-hens dive,
And hens to moor-cocks call;
Minute by minute they live:
The stone's in the midst of all.

Too long a sacrifice
Can make a stone of the heart.
O when may it suffice?
That is Heaven's part, our part
To murmur name upon name,
As a mother names her child
When sleep at last has come
On limbs that had run wild.
What is it but nightfall?
No, no, not night but death;
Was it needless death after all?
For England may keep faith
For all that is done and said.
We know their dream; enough
To know they dreamed and are dead;
And what if excess of love
Bewildered them till they died?
I write it out in a verse -
MacDonagh and MacBride
And Connolly and Pearse
Now and in time to be,
Wherever green is worn,
Are changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.

— W. B. Yeats

Thursday, January 28, 2016

A Musical Cultural Query, With Lots of Backstory & A Few Asides

(Cross-posted from Facebook.)

So people regularly use (in casual conversation, in fiction, etc) music as markers of personality and character — the sort of music that sort of person would listen to, listening to that sort of music carries *these* connotations. Music, basically, as cultural signifiers, as cultural coloring.

ASIDE: Personally, I happen to think a lot of this is bullshit (which is perhaps affected by the somewhat separate fact that I think it would be a better world if everyone recognized it as bullshit); I happen to think that a lot of what degree it isn't bullshit is actually about tribe/class/etc rather than personality (and sometimes rather damagingly conflates the latter with the former).

But set those personal beliefs aside: the fact is people do it, and do it a lot. My problem is that I simply don't know these associations. I was just listening to a podcast where someone said "I couldn't put U2 on that playlist" and another person said "thank you", and they clearly had the same association with U2 and I don't have the slightest fucking clue what it is. (My only association with U2, beyond knowing a few of their songs, is that when I was in Ireland several decades ago there was a huge amount of basically nationalistic love for them. That wasn't what these podcast people meant, though.) What did U2 mean in that sentence (aside from the specific band, which is only a fraction of what it really meant)? I genuinely don't know; I can guess a bit from context, but not very specifically, not very richly, not very accurately. (I know a tiny bit of it for classical and jazz. But only a bit. And that's not what gets most used, by a very long shot.)

ASIDE: Actually, these things are so vague that I rather suspect that people themselves have very different understandings of them: that one person will say, "U2, damn" and another will reply "I know" and that they'll never work out that they are actually meaning almost entirely different things.

It seems to me, however, that this is precisely the sort of thing that the web ought to help with. To tell us not only who U2 is (members names, song names, release dates) but what they mean — or, more accurately, what they are taken to mean, including any big disagreements in that. I'm thinking of something vaguely like "urban dictionary", except for bands/singers/songs. Except I don't know of anything like that. It's certainly not on wikipedia (probably too opinionated, although it's the sort of thing I wish wikipedia had more of, frankly).

So: does this exist? And if not, can someone build it? (And please don't say 'you do it!'; obviously, I am the *last* person who should try this, or I wouldn't be asking.)

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

David Hartwell

(This is a combination of two things I posted on Facebook today.)

As anyone with anyone in the SF field in their social media feed knows by now, the extraordinary editor, David G. Hartwell, is dying. (Contrary to various reports, it seems he is not actually dead; but his wife has reported that he "is not expected to recover", and that he is being tested for brain death.) As best as I can tell, a fall down a flight of stairs triggered brain bleeding which has become fatal to his self if not actually his heartbeat.

There will be a lot more to say, mostly by people better qualified to say it than I. But, like so many in (or on the fringes of) the SF field, I knew him. I was his student in a summer class in 1988. It was a good class; and only years later, having myself been a teacher, can I recognize how extraordinarily above & beyond he went in teaching that class, meeting with us for hours before and after nearly every time. After that I saw him from time to time at SF conventions, once or twice elsewhere. He was a kind and generous man, and it is a shock to imagine him gone from the world.

A shock: it was so sudden, so unexpected. That a man who yesterday was (I believe) seeming in full health can today be on the brink of death is terrifying, and magnifies what is already an incalculable loss.

A note to anyone not acquainted with the SF field (should anyone in that position have read this far): I strongly suspect that David affected your life, too: simply because his affect on the SF field was *so* vast (he was the most influential SF editor in my lifetime), and because SF has had such a prominent role in the culture beyond the field proper (movies, TV, etc), it seems inescapable. I am not myself capable of articulating what that influence is, but it's there, and I hope others will do a better job of tracing it than I.

Finally, I can help noting that David and his wife Kathryn had children who are — I believe — teenagers. As overwhelming a loss as this is to so many in his field, as utterly overwhelming as it must be for Kathryn and his two kids from his first marriage, I can't help but think of them in particular. I know a bit of what it's like to have a parent die suddenly around that age; my heart goes out to them.

Not yet gone, you are already missed, David.

***

Can't stop thinking about David Hartwell. Most people (rightly) will be talking about his impact on SF, so here are a few links on another subject: his clothes.

Lee Whiteside's photo of David showing his ties at a SF convention (below, with another of his photos further down):

 
David as Fashion Theorist: his three laws, with corollaries (scroll down a bit).

Mary Robinette Kowal on some of the thinking behind his outfits.

And more ties.

And still more ties.

And yet more:



Seeing all this made me quite nostalgic for David all over again. Which is the point, I guess.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Quote of the Day: Erev Yom Kippur, 5776

She wept and wept, and the gods drank up her tears, as they have always drunk up our tears, yours and mine and everyone’s, and by their sweetness were sustained for another day.

—John Crowley, Daemonomania (2000)

To those observing Yom Kippur, g'mar chatimah tova.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Quote of the Day

These days, if you have something to say and it won't fit in a single tweet (or a tweetstorm), you have so many more compelling options than blogging. You can post on Facebook if it's just for friends, or Tumblr if it's image-based, or on Medium if you want a think piece shared more widely, or LinkedIn, or any one of a hundred other sites and services that are thirsty for content.

About the last thing you'd do is willingly maintain your own site, especially not in an age where your readers are as likely to be on phones or tablets as desktop browsers. Who still does that kind of one-man operation?

Chris Taylor

Readers, should any still wander by, will not have failed to notice that this blog has been silent a good long while.  Save for quotes and salutations, the last time I put up any actual content was (quickly checks)... July. Six months ago.

I'm not saying that I, like my polar opposite in the blogging world (as far as, say, "having readers" or "actually putting up content" goes) am quitting, or have already quit.  I am saying that these days when I have something brief to say, I tend to post it on Facebook, where I know at least some people will read it; and when I have something to link to, I tend to link to it on Twitter, where there is a better chance that someone might see it.  And that when I sit down to write long pieces these days (not as often as I'd like, but for reasons of time & energy rather than anything else) I tend to imagine them going places other than here.

Where does this leave me?  I don't know.  Maybe I (like so many quitting bloggers — including Andrew Sullivan! — in the past) will recant quickly.  Maybe this is the last post this blog will receive.  Who knows.  All I'm saying is: when I write these days, it tends to be elsewhere; and when I imagine writing more, as I hope and plan to do, it tends to be imagined towards elsewhere.

I'm not quitting; but I'm not not quitting either.  I am staying silent for now, without any specific promises, one way or the other, about the future.

The most I can promise is that, if this blog resumes regular posting, I will announce that fact on those other mediums.  And that I have every intention of writing attempts in times to come, wherever those end up.

Til later, then, whether or not "later" is also "elsewhere".

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Now We Are Six

Happy Birthday to my beloved son, Joseph Saperstein Frug, who is six today.


When I was One,
I had just begun.

When I was Two,
I was nearly new.

When I was Three,
I was hardly Me.

When I was Four,
I was not much more.

When I was Five,
I was just alive.

But now I am Six, I'm as clever as clever,
So I think I'll be six now for ever and ever.

A. A. Milne

Disclaimer: the picture above is actually from Thanksgiving, back when Joseph was still "just alive" and not yet "as clever as clever".

Sunday, November 23, 2014

US History 1973 - 2014 Commonplace Book: Lecture 32, America in 2014: Inequality (Con't)

Little piece of cornbread sitting on the shelf:
If you want any more, you can sing it yourself.

—Traditional children's song
Introduction to (and explanation of) this quote series can be found here.  Read this tag to see all of them.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

US History 1973 - 2014 Commonplace Book: Lecture 32, America in 2014: Inequality (Con't)

Let me give you a word of the philosophy of reform. The whole history of the progress of human liberty shows that all concessions yet made to her august claims, have been born of earnest struggle.... If there is no struggle there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom and yet depreciate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground, they want rain without thunder and lightening. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. This struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, and it may be both moral and physical, but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.

— Frederick Douglass, 1857
Introduction to (and explanation of) this quote series can be found here.  Read this tag to see all of them.