02.13.09

Fearful Figures

Posted in Figuratively Speaking at 8:21 am by Marion

FIGURATIVELY SPEAKING

If you haven’t noticed … today is Friday the Thirteenth.

Now I don’t have much problem with the day-date combination … and it’s even rare enough to qualify as spooky. For instance the combination will happen three times this year.

Still, it’s part of our culture to recognize something ominous about it.

How did this happen?

Let’s go way back, to Good Friday. Tradition has that Jesus of Nazareth was put to death on a Friday. The scriptural account of his death that day is heart-breaking, and succeeds in giving the day a bleakness that’s hard to escape. For many of us, we grew up attending public schools where every Friday, fish was served. I just figured it was fish day everywhere.

Then I learned that a Catholic tradition is to eat fish on Friday, a small act of penance to commemorate the death of Jesus. These days we continue this tradition by fasting on Good Friday. Fasting was incorporated into early Christian practice, as it was a familiar part of worship for Jews, from where all Christians come. Thus, a natural step for us to also adopt fasting.

So despite everyone’s clamoring for Friday, it has a somber reputation.

Combine the day with the number … 13 … a witches number in jest … yet one with rich cultural traditions around the world. Some believe it may stem from our lunar year’s having 12 months … which implies a 13th month lurking out there like a bad dream.

Triskaidekaphobia is a fear of the number 13.

Fear of Friday the Thirteenth is called paraskavedekatriaphobia.

Now what’s really fascinating are the ways our culture recognizes these fears … most of us would laugh and say, Ah, there’s nothing to that.

Yet tall buildings routinely omit the 13th floor. Just check next time you’re in an elevator.

And horse races also give a nod of the jockey’s cap to this superstition … at Santa Anita track in California, there is no 13th stall.

For us word people, numbers are a little frightening anyway, so maybe we won’t venture beyond the walls of Fiction Dailyland until after 1 p.m. … that’s 13:00 hours if you’re counting.

NEXT WEEK: Fiction Daily returns with more adventures in tap dancing, writing, karma and letters of the alphabet!

02.12.09

FD returns Friday

Posted in Life in general, Writers at 10:38 am by Marion

It’s happened again … here it is Tech Thursday and I was all ready to write about the “singularity.”

Then I get busy … dogs, cats deadlines and furballs … threats from all sides … several loads of clothes just sitting there in the middle of the floor … almost out of coffee … I repeat ALMOST OUT OF COFFEE … so focusing in abstract on a concept such as singularity, involving nothing less than the fate of the human race … is entirely beyond my abilities today.

Nevertheless, Fiction Daily will return tomorrow with an all-new superstition-free (or is that full?) Figuratively Speaking, we promise!

And next week, that singularity, at last.

TOMORROW: Where does this Friday-the-Thirteenth business come from, anyway? Figuratively Speaking wants to know.

02.11.09

Counting on Karma

Posted in Buddhism, HH Dalai Lama, Life in general at 11:06 am by Marion

This week I’ve had some close encounters with karma and faith.

So what is karma?

Karma introduced itself to me with a swift kick in the pants. The year was 1993 or 1994. I went to a sandwich shop with those bins of bulk raisins and malt balls. I got a bag of raisins and forgot to pay for it … just outside the door, I discovered my mistake, and instead of returning to pay, congratulated myself for getting away with it!

That night, my car was broken into. Wallet, purse, gym bag all stolen.

Lesson!

Now I’m not saying there’s a big mean deed-o-meter out there waiting to punish us … but it showed me that the rules I choose to live by are also the rules that will choose me.

It’s not a punishment. It is, however, a registration. An action will generate a certain effect … that’s a basic law of physics, but I believe it also applies to choices, morals and values.

So went my first lesson with karma.

Today, I have a greater understanding of karma. I see that the more I extend goodwill to others, the more I will experience.

Now that’s not why I do it … I find it invigorating to extend good wishes to people who wish to do me harm. The first few times it’s frightening as I thought, If I wish them well, will it somehow empower them to harm me?

Guided by teachings of our great prophets — Jesus, Buddha, Gandhi, Martin King, His Holiness the Dalai Lama — I began taking risks that way. I first tried it when I would say a Serenity Prayer for people who wronged me … I heard that if you said it twice a day for two weeks it would dispel a resentment for wrongdoing. It works generally in less than a day.

I read a book by Emmet Fox, “Sermon on the Mount,” and it was transformational. I started praying for people who wished me ill.

These days, there are people who threaten everything I believe in or value. At first, I only offered quiet, restrained prayers, moderately sincere. I meet them and realize they’re mere human beings, with fears of their own. It becomes easier, then,, to wish them happiness without suffering. Perhaps if they have less suffering in their lives and hearts, they will not go after me.

More about karma next week.

02.10.09

Infrastructure Time

Posted in Events, Tap dancing at 10:11 am by Marion

Just a few words today … everyone’s so busy it’s unlikely the world will stop if I don’t post … still this blog is my chance to reflect, if only for a few minutes, on a topic of value.

Listening to the president’s press conference last night was sobering, though I’m glad to hear that money is being released for infrastructure. It’s a good direction. We’ve spent so long investing our country’s attention, money and effort in paper pursuits — stocks, futures, vagueness — that we’ve neglected the real items of value. Our bridges, tunnels, roads. Parks and schools. Forests and recreation areas.

Around us, people are losing jobs, companies are failing and people are out of work. School budgets are being cut, universities are trimming and charging more tuition. Yet we are the greatest nation in the history of man. Surely we have the resources to turn ourselves around?

As a nation, it’s as if we’ve fallen into the same bad habits that can trap us as individuals: misguided spending, too much junk food and TV.

Speaking of which … no tap class last night, as my teacher was sick … our president’s press conference took place in the time slot for House M.D. … my tap dance class was canceled so I was looking forward to chilling with the good doctor … the episode will broadcast instead on Monday, Feb. 16 … while I’m in tap class … but that’s why we have iTunes.

02.09.09

Kafka, Realist

Posted in Life in general, On writing, Writers at 10:10 am by Marion

Kafka anyone?

Every once a century or so, a writer comes along who clearly captures a great truth about what it is to be human. Victor Hugo gave us Quasimodo … a twisted, ugly man on the outside, whose heart held unmatched love, devotion and beauty. Quasimodo gives us a sublime being whose story is our story. Physical appearance trumps morals in human society, yet in the end, heart, compassion and love keep us alive.

So Kafka.

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Kafka gives us worlds of absurdity and threat. Where innocent people find themselves charged, convicted and condemned … through no crime of their own. In Metamorphosis, a man wakes up a giant beetle. Like the rest of us who find ourselves under siege from within or without, he makes do. He finds himself a beetle and he does the best he can. He adjusts. He mourns the loss of his ability to work, to communicate, to go about his day. But he persists.

So the first time I ever heard about this word by Kafka, I must have been a teenager, or younger, a child. I heard someone talk about the story plot, and it terrified me. How could someone survive being turned into a roach? No escape, no chance at life again, no walking, no being held by your mother?

For a child, it was unimaginable horror. It was unsurvivable.

Yet today as an adult, I understand what that beetle assault really means. It is the constant hostility of the world, and people driven by greed, who will attack and destroy. It is those people driven to have more, to take at the expense of others, who turn the rest of us into beetles and leave us bedridden.

Or, we face the person in power … such as the “officer” in In the Penal Colony. This character, one of literature’s most unsettling, uses a giant metal point to write lessons in prisoners’ backs, until they expire.

Likewise, for transgressions and sometimes without them, we find ourselves severely punished and facing sentences unbearably harsh, inhumane even for a criminal. Even a criminal deserves humane treatment. Otherwise, what are we?

We like truth, or verisimilitude, in writing. We expect a logical progression of events, and characters who act consistently.

Yet at the same time, brave writers can break from so-called reality and give us grotesque situations that better capture the human experience than a so-called real portrayal.

02.06.09

FD will be back Monday

Posted in Life in general at 10:53 am by Marion

… and an all-new, superstition-free Figuratively Speaking on Friday, Feb. 13!

02.05.09

Digital TV Delay, part 2

Posted in Computers & Technology, Events, Life in general at 8:54 am by Marion

TECH THURSDAY

It looks like the transition to digital TV will be delayed after all.

With so much immorality prevailing in the previous administration (torture, wiretapping Americans, unjust wars) it was hard for such a trifling issue to appear on anyone’s radar. But the switch to digital TV was ill-conceived, poorly publicized and contemptuous of the public at large. Little information was made available and the shift was ramrodded through the administration with little consideration for its effects on ordinary, especially non-cable buying (read: poor) people.

In spite of the tremendous economic crisis, Mr. Obama and his administration turned immediately to this issue in his first week in office. At first, I admit, I worried he would become bogged down in trivia. Yet now I see that this issue illustrates plainly the new wind of our government. This issue became important because it speaks to the core of our national situation: by delaying the switch to digital, the administration and our leaders are saying, Guess what, the little people matter, after all.

Among the many problems with the switch is the shortage of the coupons, that work like store gift-cards. You take your card to the electronics store and it gives you a $40 credit on a converter box. (Never mind that the box is $60 … someone is making a fortune on this and you know it’s not the Chinese workers who made them.)

Once you get the box set up it’s nice having a digital signal. But let’s face it: electronic gadgets are complicated, even if you can figure out what to purchase. My husband set ours up … I refused to read the instructions out of fear they would scramble my brain like something from Star Trek.

So the government has run out of coupons … and we’re so busy giving money to idiot bankers and investment firms who frittered away our hard-earned house payments for the past 10 years on trips to Vegas and investments with Bernie Madoff that it doesn’t have enough for coupons.

In addition to that snag, there are problems with the signal itself. If you live outside the area of strong signal, you may not be able to receive any signal at all. That’s because it’s not possible to receive a partial digital signal … it’s all or nothing. This is called “the cliff.”

Previously, you could receive an analogue (or wave) signal even weakly and have some picture. With digital, once you fall off the cliff, you have nothing.

So now we have until June 12 to figure it out. To publicize the shift, to make the American public part of the change. That’s good news. It will cost broadcasters, including Public Broadcasting System, or PBS, thousands they don’t have right now. That’s not. But the times require it.

IN OTHER NEWS, Google is rethinking its partnership with AOL and selling its investment. Hard times online.

TOMORROW: Figuratively Speaking Friday

02.04.09

Mysterious Snow

Posted in Events, Life in general at 10:10 am by Marion

Six this morning and the curtains opened to bring a snowy, white world into the old dusty one. Followed a wonderful sense of slowing down and soaking in the perfect stillness and appreciating brief hours of promise, of tranquility.

Snow here in eastern North Carolina … tobacco land … brings a sense of expectation, of hope. Those folks in Chicago may talk about their flinty strength, but here in eastern N.C., we welcome opportunities for hope. We come from generations of poor people, who work the dirt with sweaty arms, breathing air so thick it sticks inside your chest.

To wake and see a world covered evenly with blanched sprinkles takes us away from the dust long enough to dream of mountains, of mysteries, of peace and a comfort that’s almost within reach.

Outside the sun has climbed over the nearby trees and illuminating the yard with the day’s burdens, work to do, unpleasant obligations to complete, bills, threats and ordinary, familiar struggles.

Comes Father Sun to wash away the illusion and find us in our familiar soup, refreshed and rested after a glimpse of another, ethereal, morning.

TOMORROW: Tech Thursday

02.03.09

Watching for ‘Watchmen’

Posted in Computers & Technology, Events, On writing, Writers at 9:49 am by Marion

Yesterday I saw a New York Times article about the new film of Watchmen.

So a few words about Alan Moore and artists David Lloyd and David Gibbons are certainly in order today.

If you’ve not read Alan Moore, you’re in for a treat. Mr. Moore is a singular writer, whose commitment to his values are such that he refuses to take Hollywood money for the filmed versions of his works. He creates what are called graphic novels … we called them comic books, but Mr. Moore’s works helped define the genre.

What are those works?

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Alan Moore, 2006, in England, where he lives

The best known are certainly V for Vendetta and Watchmen. I first became introduced to Mr. Moore’s works when I saw the film version of V. The film version was a great introduction … though purists would object. Indeed, Mr. Moore himself was so irritated he refused to have his name associated with it.

Yet it’s important to remember that many of us need simple elements to introduce us to greater ideas. For me, the gentle love story between V and Evey drew me into the larger idea of the tortured antihero protagonist, V. Otherwise, he may have seemed an antisocial creep.

His caring for Evey allows us to identify with him and trust him, even as he reveals his darker side and the depth of his dedication to free principles and ideals.

The larger context for their relationship is the bleak totalitarian society around them. These kinds of ideas can be too much to stomach without a simple, emotional, thread. (Same with Julia and Winston in Orwell’s 1984.)

V offers so much. Its main idea is that we allow ourselves to become trapped and imprisoned by authorities. We never question their hold on us; we never assert our full selves. These ideas apply not only to futuristic fiction worlds; they apply here and now.

Here’s a passage from the diary of an imprisoned woman named Valerie, written on a toilet paper roll

The other gay women here, Rita, died two weeks ago. I imagine I’ll die quite soon. It’s strange that my life should end in such a terrible place, but for three years I had roses and I apologized to nobody.

I shall die here. Every last inch of me shall perish. Except one.

An inch. It’s small and it’s fragile and it’s the only thing in the world worth having. We must never lose it, or sell it, or give it away. We must never let them take it from us.

(from V for Vendetta by Alan Moore with art by David Lloyd)

So now there’s a film of Watchmen, and many of us are skeptical. Still, though I haven’t been to a movie theater in nearly five years, I may consider a big screen for this one. To see Dr. Manhattan full sized would be a treat.

02.02.09

Email Feng Shui

Posted in Life in general, On writing at 8:44 am by Marion

I committed myself to working yesterday … a Sunday! … and though the final accomplishment was minimal, its effect on my inner peace is dramatic.

Did I write a chapter on the novel? Did I complete a major feature article? Did I attain the elusive Crane pose in yoga?

Not remotely.

No, my big achievement was to go through the past six months’ worth of emails. Yes, I have held on to just about everything. My previous computer had about 10,000 emails on it … and that was probably one of the reasons I couldn’t use it any more. I came up with a system to back them up on my external hard drive, but then, they were basically inaccessible (I was using Outlook Express).

With this new computer I switched to Thunderbird … Hello Open Source Platform! … Though I’m a wash when it comes to modifying it for the most part, I did manage to add a few “buttons” such as “Previous!” and “Next!”

It took about 2 hours to go through about 3,000 emails, but today, I feel so relieved and unburdened.

It gives a lot of credence to the ideas of Feng Shui, which encourages a home that is free of clutter and unneeded items sitting on tables, undone business, broken items needing repair and dust.

Unfortunately that pretty much describes my home.

My friends know that once every year or so, I start at the attic and work my way down … clearing and cleaning every closet, drawer and bookcase. I haven’t done so in some time, and it’s sorely overdue.

Just from the small act of clearing and filing my emails, I already feel so much freer of mind … it confirms my belief that clearing the home and creating peaceful, intentional, surroundings … rather than wasting time … actually gains us time because we are so much more focused and free to do what really matters, with meaning.

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