Monday, January 24, 2011

How many keys?

I am reading Bill Bryson's (or bill bryson, as he is described on the cover) "the mother tongue, english and how it got that way." Often, it happens that you are fully justified in castigating my careless capitalization, but in this case I am simply transcribing from the book cover. It was loaned to me by Dr. Funk. The subject interests me, and I find it delightful. It is a veritable mine of the sort of odd, erroneous or internally contradictory statements that I particularly enjoy.

"One of the persons to think to do so was, perhaps somewhat surprisingly, J.R.R.Tolkien, later to become famous as the author of the Hobbit trilogy."(capitalization his)

He is discussing the study of dialects. I suppose the superficial reader might miss Tolkien's interest in Linguistics. It is perfectly possible to assume that he was merely reporting those languages, not inventing them. It is rather surprising though, that he missed the fact that "The Hobbit" isn't a part of the trilogy, and that if you include it you have four books rather than three.

but it seems that math can be a problem, as witness;

"The Japanese have now managed to get around the pictographic problem by using a keyboard employing katakana syllables which are converted on the screen into kanji characters, rather as if we were to write "twenty percent" by striking 3 keys- "20," "per," "cent"- and then seeing on the screen one symbol: "20%."

How is it that I had to use 4 keys to get that 20%, I'm counting the shift of course, and, not counting the quote marks, 14 were needed for "twenty percent"

It is obvious that Mr. bryson's typing has become totally unconscious (I assume the Mr. should be capitalized, no?) There is, however a larger and subtle issue that over the years has become a great concern to me. I say this often, that it would seem that the public has become so passive that you can basically tell them anything and they won't challenge you. Amusing enough in this context, and I am enjoying the book, and I hope Mr. bryson will take my carping in good sport and not mind so much his poor math being pointed out. But in the political arena this passivity is being used to persuade the public into any unthinking position that certain politicians want them to take, and there it is dangerous.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Dr Wright's Cat

Today is Martin Luther King Day. It just occurred to me that that fact adds some interest to a number of currents that seem to be swirling around me, and impels me to leave aside the "work" I should be doing for my clients and make some observations.

These currents, that are combining into a force, let's see: there is the violence, waste and sickness of the attack on Congresswoman Giffords, and the attention it has brought to the level of hate and aggressive speech in our public discourse. Also, a friend of mine is working very hard to address the habitual denigration of female doctors in our medical system, and has this morning sent me quite a lot material about the cases she is interested in. She also looks at sex trafficking- in New York, yes, it's an established fact! My client and dear friend who spends the winter in Florida has sent a copy of a sermon she heard recently, it deals with Kurt Cobain's suicide and his personal pain which resulted from the anger and violence in his parents marriage. At church yesterday I was given a copy of "The New Yorker," which contains a very nice article on "Blue Heron" and contains a picture of some our friends, but I opened it carelessly this morning and found the pages just ahead are filled with discussion, some rather graphic, of Stieg Larsson's novels, their violence, and ability to hold the public's attention despite their rather poor writing.

I went on line to make sure I had the correct spelling for Congresswoman Giffords, and found an ABC news report about her, not bad in itself actually, sandwiched between a very long advertisement for Macy's "million dollar" makeover- change your appearance and change your life, and followed by someone bring on pretty little critters (I'm not making this up.) I think, actually, that those conjunctions pretty much sum up both the way this world looks to me and what I think is wrong in it.

As my readers have probably surmised I have been having a time of "writer's block," and I feel rather negligent, and in fact have made some poor attempt to keep up with posting. I feel especially negligent at not having related the very satisfactory resolution of my "post Dr. Choi" medical team, particularly as that as yet unposted piece sits unfinished here on "Sam." Sam is my hard drive, named for the cantankerous cat who spent 18 years with me, my longest domestic relationship as it turned out. So here is the upshot of that: I was assigned to Joe Wright, whose NPR posts over the last 6 years or so were a consolation to my fears of this dread disease I live with. As my Primary is Rafael Campo I come to feel like my health care has become a writer's workshop!

I am jumping around, I know, but if you will continue to jump with me you will perhaps discover that there is a place I intend to land.

The friend I mentioned above, who is concerned with women in the medical field, is kind enough to include me often in her Boston Symphony Orchestra season subscription. Last Fall, James Levine conducted Mahler's Fifth Symphony. I find Mahler emotionally exhausting, and in this symphony the 4th movement, the "Adagietto," speaks especially strongly to me now. By "now" I mean in this "post disease," "post acceptance of finality" existence that I lead, what I call my "afterlife." I told my friend that this movement is what I would identify as representing my personal "near death" experience, and I can't help wondering if there wasn't a good deal of James Levine's own medical struggle contained in his powerful and delicate reading. If it is the case that there is any purpose or intentionality in our fates, and if I look for the purpose in mine, then I wonder if I am perhaps left here to tell you all that the experience of transition from this life is like that movement, rapturous, warm and full of love.

But the "Adagietto" is not the last movement, neither of the symphony, nor of my life. It is followed by the cheerful "Rondo-finale." The odd thing is, well, odd to you I suppose, that it was that movement that I had trouble with. There was pain in moving from the quiet resolve of the 4th back to the cheerful life of the fifth. A distance felt, as though life is being watched from afar, and the joy and the dancing filled with pathos, this is just how I feel in this phase of my life. I expect people to think it somehow ungrateful of me not to rejoice in having overcome, if that's what I've done, AIDS and it's attendant problems, the personal and material loss I've experienced, but I've been teased with an experience of the end, and it was glorious, and so I wait.

In composing my "unposted" post about Dr. Wright I went to his blog to collect a link and found this very beautiful statement about loss. I feel just like Dr. Wrights cat, looking through the glass, perplexed and vacant.

And so to get back to the beginning of all this I want to tell you what I see.

I see us all tending to cause pain to our fellows and the world; often to our gain, but as often with no gain in mind at all. A woman promoted and honored by her colleagues only brings them and their department credit. Keeping people down and excluding them only prevents the accretion of good. The man who pays and exploits for sex degrades himself more than he degrades the person he exploits. He denies himself human fulfillment and erodes his own sense of self. Those who focus on their desires will always be disappointed, and not because their desire can not be achieved, but because, as Dr. Johnson said 250 years ago, our wishes are vain and false. Those who pay money for, and reward, the creation of violent fiction harden themselves and condone violence in our society. Those who seek their own benefit without taking care of the world they live in make a fortress for themselves and will live under siege.

These lessons have been presented to us repeatedly. It doesn't take a great sage, although it does take a certain amount of courage, to grapple with them. It also takes a willingness to live with a concept and deal with it over time, a capacity that our society seems to be losing rather quickly.

I wonder in particular about the situations where pain is caused for no reason. I have been subjected to those actions in the past, and I observe them around me continually. Dr Johnson would say that they are where real evil lies. I don't know about evil, we always use that term for the things we don't approve of, I prefer the word destructive. Whether we are good or evil, I think we all know when we are building up and when we are tearing down. As a society I think we should be talking more about why destruction is so "salable" as entertainment, why we look so strongly at the differences between us and ignore the similarities. When we criticize is it to be helpful or just to show off, when we deny others their rights, or proper credit for their accomplishments could it be because we have no confidence in our own? And when society strikes out at good people, and we protest and complain, do we ask ourselves what change we can make in ourselves that will give us the right to our own complaints.

Finally I ask what we suppose we add to the value of our own lives or our society by depriving others and oppressing them? The discussion is often cast in terms of the rights and hardship of the oppressed. From this side of things I have to say that I really can't see what the oppressors are gaining. It seems like yet another case of the emperor's clothes: that in the end the oppressors are denying themselves the skill, support, and benefit of those they oppress, whether spouses, coworkers, nations or races. It's just stupid.

Saturday, January 15, 2011


People are talking a lot about the snow we've had. As I've said many times before this world is beautiful in all it's guises. This evening I took a long walk, but didn't have a tripod so I couldn't catch that magical time when the street lights are reflecting off the white ground as the sky darkens to a haze of mother of pearl. This is from the Arnold Arboretum last weekend.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

May you live in interesting times

Violent language pervades our culture: "no, I'm going up, would ya hit 6 for me?" Even in elevators, I suppose people would be shocked if the friendly person actually drove his fist into the button panel but the language has become so much a convention that it requires some attention to use "press" in this context, despite it being the appropriate word.

I've just come from the opening of the new Yawkey Center at Dana Farber. My tour group was waiting for the elevator, one opened at the other end of the bank and another group scooped it. "We could fight them" a bright young man said, (yuk, yuk!) As we entered our own car I said to him "we mustn't use aggressive words in public discourse anymore," trying to be equally jocular. "What did he say?" the woman with him whispered. "I guess something about my language," he replied, perplexed.

How he could have missed my point I don't know, but he seemed to. If there is an explanation I think it is that this language, and the mindset that produces it, is so accepted that it doesn't register anymore. Watch television (if you can,) even the commercials are violent. American have constructed such an artificial society that they mostly live in isolation from consequences and thus don't have to understand the real meaning of their language, their attitudes or their politics. The ultimate example of this disconnect is in Sarah Palin's claim to be the victim, to be the subject of "blood liable."

We live in very interesting times