Thursday, September 30

i wrote this at 4 in the morning

Lately I've been listening again: To the radio, where the lefties, eclectics, and obsessives at KZUM complement the unreliable streaks of indie genius at KRNU and now-rare periods of quality at the River just well enough that I never even try climbing out of the low 90s on FM. To bargain bin CDs and ex-Dispatch member projects. To reggae and blues, a little hip-hop and some funk. To the traffic on Superior Street, and my roomie Jon's Essential Neil Diamond.

This is a slow recovery of my senses; somewhere in the last few months I lost music, and I'm only now realizing how badly I need it back, how much of it I still want to find. Somewhere in there Modest Mouse blew up, the Beta Band decided to call it quits, Wilco came out with an album that's worth listening to but doesn't say the things for me that Yankee Hotel Foxtrot seemed like it was saying and really makes me wish they'd rock out more, and Dispatch threw a free farewell show in Boston and I didn't go even as I was realizing that there is no band I am ever likely to love more.

Anyway, I got Rilo Kiley's latest a little while ago, when I had some money left from a rare paycheck. It's a pretty good album. I think it's maybe not quite as good as their last two, but I could wind up feeling differently. They came to Lincoln yesterday, and did an in-store set at the Homer's on 61st & O. They were late, per the unwritten rules for bands playing free sets in music stores, so I stood and talked to this kid who lived a couple miles down the road from me growing up.

We said the usual things about trying to make a living doing music or writing. I was thinking about this bumper sticker I saw at Winfield that said "real musicians have day jobs", about how I haven't picked up a guitar in a month, and how Molly wants an accordion in order to appease the shade of her great-grandfather.

Wednesday, September 29

I'd like to take a moment to cast some opprobrium in the direction of Plesk, the control panel software that runs on this server.

In fact, what Plesk does - a slick, unified GUI for managing just about everything on a shared server - is difficult and, to a point, really impressive. True, the overriding aesthetic is basically Microsoft Corporate, and so is the organizational logic of the interface, but someone has done admirable work here.

The point up to which Plesk impressed me was that moment when I realized that every single script we had moved to our shiny new server was broken in at least one important way. Nearly a month later, this simple transition has caused me more frustration than any other software-related problem set I have ever encountered.

Aside from my inefficiency (I'll admit that I haven't been playing the conscientious administrator to my best ability here), I think the underlying problem is that Plesk takes a flexible, generally manageable system (a Linux or BSD, plus Apache, qmail, &c.), and imposes a rigid fiction on top of it. That superficially friendly GUI requires an underlying framework, one which is impossible to break out of unless you want to scrap the entire thing.

All of this might be acceptable if the system as a whole could be expected to work. Unfortunately, it tends to be completely fucked.

My hypothesis is that this sort of thing is what happens when you try to impose a yes-or-no, checkbox driven interface onto a system which is at heart language based. It is like the difference between a multiple choice test and an essay. Of course, it may just be that Plesk sucks.

saturday, september 25

time is like some slow drug:
you don't realize how much you've had
until the delirium kicks in,
or the tremors

you've been awake too long,
but you don't dare sleep:
she's there and waiting
for you to say something
that will justify all
those miles.

Friday, September 24

I just read an essay over at D-Squared Digest criticizing the economics of Pound's Canto XLV. It is certainly the best thing I have read today, and quite possibly the best thing I have ever read by a business major.

Also on D^2, a piece on Iraq from the biz school point of view, via which I unexpectedly come to a text of Ecce Homo and the conclusion that sometimes, it is good to listen to Nietzsche:

Remain seated as little as possible: trust no thought that is not born in the open, to the accompaniment of free bodily motion - nor one in which your very muscles do not celebrate a feast.

Sound advice for the moment, I feel.

Thursday, September 23

Finally, two millennia later, we enter the room. What is this room we are called to enter? The whole wall is covered with myriad pictures and interlocking designs; the ceiling is painted too; the floor is covered with mosaics. There's a certain harmony to it all, it's true, but there's great mystery in it too: mystery in how it all fits together. And look--we can no longer tell where Jesus' part of the mural ends and where the followers' parts begin. There are obviously different styles here, but in some ways it's all mixed up, so that it gives the effect of one large whole. Only the closest study can reveal what comes from which artist. But many visitors don't even think about this. Because the pastor, the guy by the door, is already saying: "Look at what Jesus hath painted! Look at it!" As if everything in the room from ceiling to floor was Jesus' original work!

"Elaine Pagels and/or Christianity"

Molly is taking John Turner's class on Gnosticism. So we talk about Gnosticism and stuff a lot. Mostly, I don't know what I'm talking about.

In one of those weird series of intellectual coincidences, a lot of stuff I've stumbled across at seeming-random lately has had to do with gnosticism and early/primitive/revisionist Christianity. For example, Boing Boing linked this brilliant piece of PK Dick insanity the other day, I found a copy of The Gospel According to Jesus on a shelf at Dave's house in Winfield, and I read a fair amount of this guy's blog today.

Wednesday, September 22

What is most original in a man's nature is often that which is most desperate. Thus new systems are forced on the world by men who simply cannot bear the pain of living with what is. Creators care nothing for their systems except that they be unique. If Hitler had been born in Nazi Germany he wouldn't have been content to enjoy the atmosphere. If an unpublished poet discovers one of his own images in the work of another writer it gives him no comfort, for his allegiance is not to the image or its progress in the public domain, his allegiance is to the notion that he is not bound to the world as given, that he can escape from the arrangement of things as they are.

— Leonard Cohen's Beautiful Losers, quoted at Necessary Prose

c. breakdown

Two recent conversational dynamics: Over the weekend, talk of ultimate frisbee, music, beer, culture & politics on terms of somewhat unexpected mutual understanding. In some way related, the unlooked for culmination of the entire experience in John McCutcheon's angry & genuine & about-the-war "Not in My Name", accompanied by a chorus of folkies and Tommy Emmanuel's guitar. (Emmanuel's restrained accompaniment in a way more impressive than the virtuosity he displays during his solo performances.)

Last night, frustration at my simple inability to communicate any single idea through a combative & debate oriented fog of one-upmanship. I imagine small children with singsong voices, I know more than you know, I know more than you know. A sense of my ability to express an idea dissolving into intellectual muck and verbal incoherence. And with that, the question of what exactly I actually know.

Is it possible that I can only really feel in communication with people who already share my basic ideas or attitudes?

Alternatively, am I simply incapable of functioning in an atmosphere of contention, even when my grasp of the subject matter is more concrete and informed? I used to think I loved argument for argument's sake, but lately Good Christ how I'm sick of it.

tuesday, september 21

should not waste the awareness of rain
here where its presence is a gift
and a departure from the ordinary
which contains wonders nearly always

of course

but contrast is often necessary to vision.

Monday, September 20

I made it back to Lincoln yesterday afternoon with a fresh sunburn, a 5 day beard, and 26 pages of Moleskine notes. Most of the notes are even sketchier than my facial hair. Partially because I couldn't contribute anything to the music, I was determined to come away from the 2004 Walnut Valley Festival - four days of stage performances and jam-session saturated campgrounds - with something written. Here goes nothing.

winfield, pt. 1

wednesday morning, shawn calls
to say he got the winning
bid on that ambulance, and
if she runs alright we
won't have to worry about
taking two cars down to kansas

the ambulance is perfect
for this kind of roadtrip and
particular destination;
most of the scraped-off decals
are still visible and the
floodlights work if you know what
switches to hit, even though the
windshield wipers do not
there's a bed in back, and
places for oxygen bottles
it isn't hard to wonder how
many people died here, how
many lives ended or were
utterly transformed by
what happened in this little
space

we get gone from shawn's place
by five-twenty post meridiem.
i make a partial cargo
manifest: three guitars, two
straw hats, two tents, four sleeping
bags, one frisbee, two nickel
creek shirts, a pile of firewood,
one dao de jing, three rolls
paper towels, a box of
reynolds wrap.

the drive south is familiar
from as far back as i remember
anything, almost - rust tone
of milo, corn ready to
be cut changes as the land
shapes itself like kansas
into wheatfield and pasture
grass. salina and the
big elevator are like
they always were. we take
the crawford street exit to buy
unleaded gas and beer, move
on down interstate to wichita

i read the places we pass
like a map of my life's motions
and the moments rendered in memory
more images than stories

the whole of it i'd like to
sing or somehow show to other
eyes than mine - but so
simple and so common,
so much of themselves
are all these pieces
that i suspect we all carry
much the same weight.

wichita,
then winfield, where we stay
awake too late with guitars
and arguments, watching
lightning around the edges
of our sky

thursday i wake early enough
to snag scrambled eggs, a cup
of coffee and a shower
in dave's book-lined quonset

then, out to the festival
the cowley county fairgrounds
have become like part of some
other civilization
a little city of tents and
campers, pickup trucks, trailers
lean-tos, tarps and parachutes
strung from trees along with lights
and flags - old glory, the stars
and bars, don't tread on me

where dave's friends are camped,
we find room saved for
a tent, a campfire
and a steady stream of food
(chili, roasted potatoes,
pork loin, barbecued
beef, chicken soup,
biscuits and gravy:
hell for vegetarians)

there are also two tables
of the kind you find
stacked in church basements
covered in every size
and shape of candle
from votives and short fat
scented monstrosities in
jars to slender hand-dipped
tapers of pale blue or
green, some several hundred
in all

(later at the vendors' stalls
carolann buys a tie-dyed
bandana and knots it to
her leg, a ridiculous
splash of colors alien to
nature in southeast kansas;
i find molly a red and
yellow string; we are all
a little like some nesting
bird with a penchant for
colorful detritus)

this is altogether an unfinished story

Tuesday, September 14

the relative significance of movements

A few days ago, Jesse called to say his son had been born.

Saturday night, CarolAnn and I sat in the Hiway Diner until about 3:30 drinking coffee and tea and talking about everything. After I dropped her off at the dorm she woke up her roommate, who probably still isn't talking to her.

Tonight Mike wrote from Iraq saying my writing has gotten better and he has stories to tell and I should knock off talking this Peace Corps nonsense and he can't wait to be back.

On Thursday, Cornfed, my ultimate frisbee playing compatriots, are going to pile into sundry vehicles and strike out for Columbia, MO and Club Sectionals. I'm missing this one because tomorrow afternoon I'm bound for Winfield, KS, and four days of the Walnut Valley Festival.

The weekend will be exactly a year since we drove all night back from Winfield, me and Levi and Andy the quiet funny German kid, so I could go to Omaha and stand in the airport, blasted out of my mind on fatigue, while Molly walked through security and got on a plane and left the country.

Monday, September 13

The consilience of inductions takes place when one class of facts coincides with an induction obtained from another different class.

The other night while we were waiting in a small-town bar for Shawn Cole to start playing, John loaned me a paperback copy of Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge, by Edward O. Wilson. I'm maybe halfway through the book, and so far impressed. Wilson writes with both clarity and directness about the idea that all human knowledge is fundamentally interconnected, and that the sciences and humanities must needs evolve towards a corresponding unity.

I think Consilience lays out a set of ideas that it's important for those of us outside the hard sciences (that is, nearly everyone) to be aware of. I felt the same way about Steven Pinker's The Blank Slate and Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs, and Steel, which now strikes me as defining an idea of history consilient with evolutionary biology, geology, and anthropology.

I am not by any reasonable definition a practitioner of science. Nor am I waving the flag for a pure philosophical materialism, untainted by the language or expectations of transcendence and mysticism. These conditions (or confessions) notwithstanding, I think that if we want to understand the world, it is necessary to enter into, struggle with, and make use of the deep insights science has been building.

(To be more specific, it matters for historians, poets, politicians, voters, teachers, designers, engineers, journalists, and architects to understand or try understanding: That people come from a long evolutionary process which optimized them for an environment most of us no longer live in. That the same process, roughly speaking, produced clams, kiwi birds, and Donald Trump. That human brains are not dollops of infinitely malleable gunk, any more than whole human bodies are, and that the same pressures shaped both. That language does not come from textbooks. That our instincts will sometimes betray us utterly. That we have instincts. That, freed of all confusion, each discrete true thing would accord with all of the others.)

Saturday, September 11

Tonight we walk back to campus from the Coffee House and stop by the fountain to listen to a music major play violin. On one of the rejected quarry rocks in the fountain, a young man of indeterminate nationality is sitting in what might be meditation or prayer, or something else altogether. Maybe he has a comic book in his lap, or a math text. It seems like his eyes are closed, though, except when he notices us looking at the praying mantis that shares the rock. After he turns around again, the mantis climbs his shoulder. Eventually it flies away.

(When I was still in high school, we found an insect on flowers my mom had brought in from outside. It was built along mantis lines, but was small and stocky, with mottled coloring - brown on pale green. We named it George. Eventually we learned that George had many readily identifiable kin, though they varied in size and shade.)

Wednesday, September 8

spider sex

across the windowpane
at the end of the hall
an orb spider has spread her web

last night it was a perfection marred
only by small doomed bugs thrashing
tonight she is gone and the web is empty,
ominously unstrung

until molly looks in another corner of
the window and sees three shapes moving
one is our fat-bodied spider
dangling from a thick rope of web
the others are smaller, faster-seeming
more sinister in their arachniform twitching

hands and faces close to the glass
we stand peering into the holes our shadows
make in its reflection
and watch as one small spider
repeatedly approaches the larger
legs flailing, draws closer and closer only
to be flung - or leap? - inches across the window
faster than our eyes can follow

(the other seems to hang back, waiting for some
opportunity)

this has the weird patterning of something inevitable,
a function of the little mechanism that is a spider
it's almost programmed,
is like small birds opening their mouths
when a shadow appears over the nest
or leaves turning to follow the sun
is like the negotiation of some protocol
for passing sealed messages between hostile courts
or signals across a noisy wire
and yet, the logic of evolution
suggests that between

these 16 legs engaged
in what first looked like predation, then sex
(and likely partakes of both)
and the choreography of human love
there must be some connection
perhaps distant, but inescapably real:
inescapably difficult to reconcile with what
we would like to believe

we have been taught to fear determinism and
the understanding of our lives as simple processes:
we must be more than
branching conditional statements
expressed as a physical frame:
we have been taught that we should know ourselves
as fearfully and wonderfully made
golden threads of possibility running
through the stone matrix of reality
fluid unpredictably, ultimately the expression of
the susceptibility of god and all
the work of his hands
to hope

surely then, that which grows and holds
between children and parents, comrades, friends and lovers
must somehow be more than variations on a theme
that equally contains the flickering automatic
interaction of spiders —
some kind of sterile madness
seems to lie that way,
comedic or tragic
in equal proportion to the scale
on which it is believed

and yet what is this fear
to the experience of love?
subjectivity, just so long
as its memory does not fade or break
denies or renders fear irrelevant
— and may leave us free
to see ourselves and wonder

we could admit
that human love is never pure
if it is real
never an abstraction
there is always something
to drive and conduct its ordered pulses
heat, food, sex, memory
two people in some room
silence and something
pulls through the
intervening space
like gravity or a zone of lower pressure
begging for release in collapse

how unlike the unthought need to spin or
hang waiting in moonlight or
grapple with an intruder, a mate,
are the things we feel
between one another?

(and even so, these startful
small manylegged things
with their ancient shape
burned as a warning somewhere
deep inside the mechanisms of
our own involuntary motions
— their dance or combat or
courtship is something more
or other
than a static routine running in an
endless loop on the circuitry
of the universe

whatever life is, we can recognize
that there is life here
however alien its aspect)

direction as well as magnitude

we are all of us the sum
of our longings

and our longings are best
expressed not as scalar quantities,
but as vectors

like arrows on a gridded page
(momentum or acceleration)
need and hope and want
hunger thirst and lust.

a bright shape stretches, twists
hurls itself against these walls
(these boundaries and markers)
thrashes, turns from side to side
quivers and holds expectant still
waiting for action
impatient leaps away from us
and dances back calling
follow!

this is your soul
the nervous twitching beast
that lives in your stomach,
darts about your chest,
pulls on your fingers and toes
whispers wild goose madness in your ears

let's go!
get going
gone!

Sunday, September 5

Well, something like six months after I bought it, nebraskaultimate.org finally resolves to a real address.

It's a clumsy name. I suppose we'll have to use mixed case - nebraskaUltimate, or NebraskaUltimate, or something like that. But anyway, I'm going to put a real site there, and invite any Nebraska teams or players who're interested to join in, and run a mailing list or two.

While I wasn't looking, somebody snarfed up nebraskaultimate.com, which I guess could cause some confusion. I'll have to see what I can do about that.

friday, september 3

justify yourself

a manifesto or a
meditation, an open question
many hopes seeking alignment

if it appalls you to think of life
as a market economy
think instead of a system of balances
in which the cost of any valued thing
is closer to that exacted by gravity
than the kind negotiated in
'legal tender for all debts,
public and private'

because the truth is not
that you get what you pay for
but that someone pays
for what you get

x billion years of evolution
grinding, chaotic, inconceivably wasteful,
possibility hoarding its tiny victories
over time and organic decay

the accretion of civilization:
the blood of countless martyrs
nourishing, somehow, the growth
of all this fragile complexity
on the improbable substrate of human biology

colonial economy's mass murders
imprisonments and slaveries
broken hopes and the sold out dreams
of countless emigres
later wars and genocides
industries and overflows, those dark
satanic mills

near the end of another bloodsoaked century
i am born and pass through
fields, towns, pages,
classrooms, cities, countless dreams
a moment or two of awareness
and the company of some few beloved
and at the end of a day
neither heroic nor timeless
no more evil than most
there is not the weight of
years gone, nor
the presence of all those
unlamented dead
but only the dusty lamp
and a sheet of paper on
a rickety table.

and this is as good a place to start
as any. beginnings are nearly always a function
of imagination in the same way that names
and numbers and all the forms of the visible
universe are only parts of some whole we apprehend
but a little.

Thursday, September 2

Things are still broken around here. (If anyone out there is a genius with Apache and mod_rewrite, I'd love to hear from you right about now.) I've made some little fixes so p1k3 is navigable again, even if the images don't work and the URLs are all borked. Probably best to proceed as if I'll figure it out eventually and get back to writing stuff.