Cuz We’re So Civilized

October 19, 2014

harris

Certain beliefs place their adherents beyond the reach of every peaceful means of persuasion, while inspiring them to commit acts of extraordinary violence against others. There is, in fact, no talking to some people. If they cannot be captured, and they often cannot, otherwise tolerant people may be justified in killing them in self-defense.

Sam Harris

I’m tired of your words
There’s nothing left to say
You got some lousy ideas
So I’m blowing you away

You need to be killed
For what’s growing in your head
Your thoughts are crimes
And you’re better off dead

Mamby pamby liberals
Gotta recognize
It’s ok to kill
Cuz we’re so civilized

Road Leads on to Road

October 18, 2014

No matter where you go
Road leads on to road
And you’ll never know
Where unchosen roads would go

Gotta pay some dues
Whatever course you choose
There’s hurt on every highway
There’s dirt on every trail

Nobody gets a map
No exit from this trap
There’s no final explanation
The journey is the destination

Flesh and Pain

September 17, 2014

fp

There may be trouble ahead
But while there’s moonlight
And music and love and romance
Let’s face the music and dance

Irving Berlin

Pain is never far away
Enjoy it when it’s not around
And when a new wave
Comes your way
Do not linger
In its wake
Dive right in
Or ride it out

Flesh and Pain are
Child and Mother
You don’t get one
Without the other

An Honest Day’s Toil

September 11, 2014

am  dream

I grew up in a country
Where an honest day’s toil
Could earn a man a castle
Where the working man was royal
He could send his kids to college
They could elevate their lot
Everybody pitched in
Everybody had a shot

Every day the working man
Is struggling to get by
On a smaller and smaller
Piece of the pie
Cuz sleazy politicians
And heartless corporations
Sold out the workers
And mortgaged off our nation

Every road that you drive
Every building that you see
Was made by working people
Like you and me
We need to stop trying
To build nations overseas
And start investing
In you and me

Every day the working man
Is struggling to get by
On a smaller and smaller
Piece of the pie
Cuz sleazy politicians
And heartless corporations
Sold out the workers
And mortgaged off our nation

Blinded by My Ears

September 6, 2014

I heard a politician
His tongue was made of gold
He whetted all my wishin
What a tale he told
But once he got elected
He didn’t change a thing
His words were all infected
But Lord that man could sing

A honey-drippin phrase
Just puts me in a daze
I’m blinded by my ears
Every time I hear
A phony-talking sneak
It always leaves me weak

A man came from the city
What a song he sung
He made me feel so pretty
He made me feel so young
Now my soul is scarred
From all the things he did
He maxed out all my cards
And left me with a kid

A honey-drippin phrase
Just puts me in a daze
I’m blinded by my ears
Every time I hear
A phony-talking sneak
It always leaves me weak

Don’t Send a Conjunctive Adverb To Do a FANBOYS’ Job

September 5, 2014

Conjunctive Adverbs

I am begging you, in the name of all that is good and beautiful in this world, don’t send a conjunctive adverb to do a FANBOYS’ job.

A clause is a group of words which contains a subject and a predicate. In other words, a clause can function as a simple sentence all by itself. A simple sentence, as I told you before, is a group of words that tells us what someone or something is or a group of words that tells us what someone or something does. Here are two simple sentences (clauses):

I would love to give you a ride to Phoenix.

My car just had a nervous breakdown.

You might choose to join these clauses together in one complex sentence using the subordinator although:

Although
I would love to give you a ride to Phoenix, my car just had a nervous breakdown.

You could also join them together using the word but, which is one of the FANBOYS:

I would love to give you a ride to Phoenix, but my car just had a nervous breakdown.

Another strategy for emphasizing the connection between these two clauses is to use a conjunctive adverb. The following words are conjunctive adverbs: accordingly, also, besides, consequently, conversely, finally, furthermore, hence, however, indeed, instead, likewise, meanwhile, moreover, nevertheless, next, nonetheless, otherwise, similarly, still, subsequently, then, therefore, and thus.

However, you must separate the two clauses utilizing a period or a semicolon. Then place the conjunctive adverb at the beginning of the second clause. Most conjunctive adverbs should be followed by a comma when they are placed at the beginning of a clause (but not then). (Don’t capitalize the conjunctive adverb if you choose to use a semicolon.) Here are some examples:

I would love to give you a ride to Phoenix; however, my car just had a nervous breakdown.

I would love to give you a ride to Phoenix. However, my car just had a nervous breakdown.

One reason this can be confusing is that many conjunctive adverbs can be placed at the beginning, in the middle, or at the end of a sentence, punctuated like the following examples:

However, we did not see any more yellow-bellied sapsuckers.

We did not, however, see any more yellow-bellied sapsuckers.

We did not see any more yellow-bellied sapsuckers, however.

Indeed, Donatello is the most valiant of all the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

Donatello is, indeed, the most valiant of all the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

Donatello is the most valiant of all the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, indeed.

What you must not do under any circumstances is connect two clauses together with a comma and a conjunctive adverb as though that conjunctive adverb were merely one of those common FANBOYS. (Conjunctive adverbs deserve more respect than that.)

If you are still confused, try this. First, memorize the above list of conjunctive adverbs. (Or, if that seems too daunting a task, simply have them tatooed to the underside of your left forearm.) If you want to know when you are abusing a conjunctive adverb by placing it between two clauses with nothing but a comma for protection, simply cross it out. If you discover clauses on both sides of the conjunctive adverb, do the right thing and provide it with a period or a semicolon.

Evaluation. Correctly punctuate the following sentences. (Warning: I sneaked in a few FANBOYS and/or subordinators.)

I need to comb my hair in front of my eyes then I will be as cool as Justin Bieber.

Sharon won’t mind that I borrowed her new dress without asking besides I’ll return it before she ever finds out.

I was a a skaterboy therefore she said, “See you later, boy.”

It’s not my fault that your weeping willow died for I am merely a tree surgeon, not a miracle worker.

My homemade cinnamon buns moreover made me the most popular person in the William Hung Fan Club.

I want to be rich and famous so I am going to introduce myself to Rihanna.

I will show all my dance moves to Rihanna subsequently she will marry me.

Rihanna won’t respond to me on twitter even though I have downloaded all of her songs and memorized the lyrics.

Rihanna’s bodyguard told me to stay away then she got a restraining order.

False Cures

September 1, 2014

pain

People start dispersing
When I bitch and bray
But you can’t cure the anger
By sending folks away

Doctor gives me pills
To remedy the pain
But you can’t cure the body
By lying to the brain

Shutting down my feelings
Is my only goal
But you can’t cure the heart
My murdering the soul

Only Babies Expected Dreams to Come True: A Few More Thoughts on Theodore Roethke’s Glass House

August 30, 2014

glasshouse

The whiskey on your breath
Could make a small boy dizzy;
But I hung on like death:
Such waltzing was not easy.

Theodore Roethke, My Papa’s Waltz

I always get a strong reaction from my students when I teach Theodore Roethke’s often-anthologized poemMy Papa’s Waltz.” It’s about a drunken father who, much to his wife’s dismay, drags his young son through the kitchen and off to bed in a rambunctious dance. The poem is a Rorschach test on how my students feel about parental intoxication; they divide into partisan factions when I ask them whether this poem is a depiction of child abuse or merely an example of paternal playfulness.

Shortly after his father’s death, Theodore Roethke scribbled down some “accounts about his childhood and of his relations with his father” (23). For some reason, in a sketch titled “Papa” Roethke refers to himself as “John.” And here we find the genesis of “My Papa’s Waltz.”

Sometimes he dreamed about Papa. Once it seemed Papa came in and danced around with him. John put his feet on top of Papa’s and they’d waltzed. He-dee-dei-dei. Rump-tee-tump. Only babies expected dreams to come true (24).

Until I read The Glass House: The Life of Theodore Roethke by Allan Seager (previously discussed on this blog here), I had always assumed “My Papa’s Waltz” was based upon actual events. And Roethke, a great fabulist when it came to recounting the details of his own life, encouraged the false assumption that alcoholism was rife in his family.

While his father regularly took a schnapps or two, he could hardly be called a drinking man in spite of Ted’s later statement that he came from a long line of drunks. And his mother never took a drink in her life (38).

In the essay “Papa” Roethke laments that his father “didn’t like him much” (24). And in a another adolescent remembrance called “Fish Tale,” Roethke further reveals

I was awkward of mind as well as body. I asked thousands of questions. I always imagined myself fearfully hungry. All these things irritated my father who wanted, above all, to make me a wise fisherman and a self-reliant woodsman (25).

The Glass House is a biography written by Allan Seager, a novelist who happened to be an acquaintance of his subject. And Seager often takes the liberty of presenting speculation as though it were fact:

Quite illogically, Ted felt that his father, by dying, had betrayed him, left him far too soon without his love and guidance, and intermittently in those moments when he remembered his father as flawless, Ted was tormented by guilt for even having entertained the notion that a great man like his father could have done anything so base as to betray his son (62).

It’s clear that the death of Roethke’s father, a pivotal event which shaped both his life and his poetry, was the “most important thing that ever happened to him” (104). And Seager suggests that “It is an interesting conjecture whether, had his father lived, he would have been a poet at all” (62). But such speculation merely leads us to the cul-de-sac of a tautology: If Theodore Roethke had lived a different life, he would have been a different person.

Early in Roethke’s career, Rolfe Humphries (“The first poet of ability with whom Ted could have a continuing association”) served as a friend and mentor to the poet (76). In his usual fashion, Roethke attempted to impress Humphries with absurd accounts of his ties to organized crime and tales of women who were “always falling in love” with him (78). Humphries was impressed by Roethke’s talent (“the kid’s good”), but he saw through the bravado (78):

Humphries, however, penetrated the mask. “There was a lot of self-hatred in Ted, you know” he said. Everyone who knew Ted well recognized this eventually, that he was host to a mass of free-floating guilt that made him loathe himself (78).

And perhaps it was self-hatred which compelled Roethke to deceptively claim that he had driven a Stutz Bearcat as an undergraduate, that he had traveled to Russian and Germany, or that he had won a Hopwood Award before there was a Hopwood Award (83;112). But Theodore Roethke, mob associate?

When he was past fifty, Ted liked to say that he had friends in the Purple Gang in Detroit. (“I had such an in with the Purples, they offered to bump off my Aunt Margaret for me. As a favor, you understand”) (58).

Allan Seager is remarkably forgiving about Roethke’s habitual dissembling, concocting various explanations and excuses.

In his later years, as we all do, Ted liked to tinker with his past, rectify it by selections and suppressions, true it up to fit a mature notion of himself or it may be that he was unaware that he was rectifying, that he really remembered his youth in this way (38).

Two factors which may help explain Roethke’s often-strange behavior are alcoholism and mental illness. Today, of course, his bipolar condition could be controlled with drugs, but at the time hospitalization and long periods of rest were the only available remedies for Roethke’s occasional manic episodes. And these episodes could be rather frightening for Roethke and those around him. On one occasion he told Catherine De Vries, the wife of a colleague with whom he often went walking: “I could throttle you and stick you under a culvert and they wouldn’t find you for weeks” (90).

Today some might refer to Roethke’s copious alcohol consumption as “self-medication.” Yet there was a dark side to his drinking. “[H]e would drink heavily and, drunk, he grew wild, broke furniture, and beat out windows with his fist” (63-64). One of Roethke’s psychiatrists surmised that “his troubles were merely the running expenses he paid for being his kind of poet” and another said simply, “You can’t cure a personality” (109).

It’s possible that a prescription for lithium and a twelve-step program would have rendered Theodore Roethke a happier man. We can never know how this might have affected Roethke’s poetry, but Seager suggests that

the very qualities that made Ted a poet seem to have been the ones that made him ill, his sensibility and his energy….His native energy seems to have piled up inside him as a result of the abrasions of his youthful environment, an energy of resentment, rage, and fear, and to have been released by the shock of his father’s death (103)

In addition to being one of America’s greatest poets, Roethke was also a renowned teacher. Not surprisingly, his pedagogy was often unorthodox. Here’s an example from when he was teaching at Michigan State.

He said he was going to give them an assignment in the description of a physical action. “Now you watch what I do for the next five minutes and describe it,” he said. He opened up one of the windows and climbed out on a narrow ledge that ran around the building. He edged around the three sides of the building, making faces through each window, and climbed in again. Teachers do not usually do this (88-89).

Roethke could be remarkably blunt with his students. For example, he once “snarled at a torpid class”

You’ve heard of casting pearls before swine, haven’t you? Come on, you must have. Well, those were metaphorical pearls before metaphorical swine. But what I’m doing is casting real pearls before real swine (114).

Roethke taught in a less politically-correct era when professors were afforded great deference. And he had the temerity to say things that would quickly get today’s college professor into hot water. Seager recounts this episode from when he and Roethke were colleagues at Bennington College:

I was standing in the corridor as he was finishing the last class of a term. He said, “Well, I guess that’s all. Don’t turn into a lot of little bitches before next semester.” The girls, of course, adored him and it was at Bennington that his reputation as a great teacher began to burgeon (136).

Things That Aren’t Childish

August 25, 2014

Sooner or later
You gotta grow up
Your body’s gonna do it
Like it or not
But there’s a whole
Bunch of things that
Shouldn’t be forgot:

Puppy dogs and rainbows
Summer afternoons
Lazy Sunday mornings
Ridiculous cartoons
Teddy Bears who listen
Family treks to the park
Silly laughs with friends
Playing soccer after dark
All your daddy’s hopes
Your grandmother’s love
Castles in the sand
Castles floating up above

Feed your happy wishes
And dream every day
These things are never childish
Don’t ever put them away

I’ll Have What She’s Having

August 21, 2014

When I see two people happy
I start to scheme and plan
I’ve always got a hunger
For somebody else’s man

If he’s good enough for you
He’d be better for me
You’d better hold on to your man
Or he’ll be my property

He’s charming and he’s handsome
He’s difficult to get
I‘ve had eleven like him
I’m collecting the whole set

If he’s good enough for you
He’d be better for me
You’d better hold on to your man
Or he’ll be my property

He’s muscular and tall
And he drives a German car
My life is a movie
And I’m making him a star

If he’s good enough for you
He’d be better for me
You’d better hold on to your man
Or he’ll be my property

I’ll have him, I’ll discard him
I’ll find another mate
Vittles look so tasty
When they’re on a different plate

If he’s good enough for you
He’d be better for me
You’d better hold on to your man
Or he’ll be my property


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