Quote from Auntie Mame: "Life's a Banquet"

Movie Still from Auntie Mame (1958)
Rosalind Russel as Auntie Mame (1958)
Life is a banquet and most poor sons of bitches are starving to death. ~Auntie Mame 

What is so great about Auntie Mame's advice to her young nephew is not so much the hedonism that it espouses, but the grim observation that most of would not know pleasure even if it hit us smack dab in the face.


The Calm Before the Storm is Lugubrious: So Says the Doleful Statue of Liberty

In this post, I write a "Journal & Rant" piece about superstorm Sandy — an Atlantic hurricane that hit the New York City region hard and caused massive amounts of damage to the city's infrastructure.
image source: nasa
A hurricane is a white circular atmospheric daub of cotton candy from the perspective of space. It looks as though the Northeast is about to get cotton swabbed. For us terrestrials, a hurricane is a force of nature that knows no equality or justice.

I cannot help but think of Irene in connection with all the other hurricanes I have known: kind of like bad relationships you sort of wished had never come into your life, but nevertheless, they sit there like a bad taste in your mouth.

All seems pleasant so far.
My Sunset Park apartment affords a view of New York's Upper Bay; I have a clear view of the Statue of Liberty. She looks slightly lugubrious in the dewey hours before a hurricane (or tropical storm, whichever forms she decides to take) hits the New York City region.

My roommates promptly filled every available empty gin bottle with water. I bought a token Infant of Prague votive candle to stave off the night in case of power loss.

I write this post in a sort of blasé anticipation. Come on Irene. I know: I could not resist.
Katrina in New Orleans: a sheer catastrophe. This one: who knows? Plenty of rain. Wind. Power outages. Normality will get a jolt to the left. Can we really afford a Katrina redux? Everyone knows New York City is certainly vulnerable to a head-on attack. We are crossing our fingers: denial is so much softer than reality.

The MTA shuts down public transit in the region at noon today: subway, bus, Metro North, and the Long Island Railroad. Mayor Bloomberg seems to be stalwart: hope for the best, prepare for the worst. His answer to a worst case scenario: people will die. Thanks for that reminder of mortality. Denial, remember!

People are uncharacteristically cheerful when awaiting a vengeful storm. A woman was skipping home yesterday in the breezy calm of pre-hurricane weather. Adults in Brooklyn do not usually skip. At the Safe-way the manager's mug creased an overly zealous grin as he watched the wads of cash unfold by people picking up loads of goods in the event of lockdown. Who isn't manic during an impending disaster?

We speak not of death but of anticipation. What will happen next? Are our lives so dull that a hurricane gets people talking about the end of the world as if they were talking about an upcoming birthday party?

What will I do?
I will do as I always do. Remain indecisive. Drink the last gin. Read Proust. I hope the Internet does not flicker out for long.

Last week an Earthquake: I barely felt it. This week: Irene (which means peace) rains (reigns).

Irene Did It: MTA Suspends Public Transportation

7 Avenue BMT Station Roped Off on the Brighton Line in Park Slope, Brooklyn 
I must say: not having our iconic subway trains in service because of Irene is eerie. I understand the rationale behind the MTA's decision but I am still stunned that in New York City today there is no revenue service AT ALL. The MTA suspended service on all subway, bus, Metro North, and Long Island Railroad - as well as New Jersey Transit and PATH.

Trains have been moved from vulnerable yards and holed up on tracks at a higher elevation. If I could be a fly on the wall during this complicated maneuver to put the MTA rolling stock on safe ground.
image source: bkabak


Aesthetic Thursday: Giant Head in Madison Square Park

The sculpture of a head sits in plain view in Madison Square Park in Manhattan.
Jaume Plensa, Echo, Madison Square Park

image source: Benjamin Sutton
It's an apparition out of a dream. I am walking in Madison Square Park. And I see a head. Jutting out of the ground. The head of a woman. Her eyes are closed. And she does not awake. But it is not a dream. It is real. A public art installation this Summer. And I thought I was dreaming!


Report: Earthquake in the Northeast

In this post, I record that time there was an earthquake felt in New York City.
Felt a Minor Shake
I was in a library near 14th street (320 miles away from the epicenter) when the quake occurred. I noticed the building sway but I thought it was due to the activity of a construction site next door.

It Was Barely Perceptible
It was not until the alarms went off in the building (twenty minutes after the initial seismic nudge) and when I heard some say "earthquake" that I knew what had happened.

I hope you did not shake too much!


First Sentence of a Failed Novel

Do you have failed first sentences of novels you tried to write? Here's one:

Her skin was chalky white, but Patrick thought she was rosy. Amelia was stretched out on the bed, beneath the mosquito netting.
Please share your own failed sentence in the comments section:
Image source: the new yorker

Quote from Don Quixote

Henry Caseroti, Cock-A-Doodle-Doo, 2010
Every cock crows on its own dung hill
Miguel Cervantes, Don Quixote


Repost: How To Get The Girl According to Movies

image source: pleated jeans
How many of the above movies can you identify?
From The Graduate to Harry Potter the above funny infographic promises to be a primer to how to get the girl — according to the logic of American Hollywood cinema. See the key below for the identity of the movies.
The Trope of the Boy Hoping, Wishing, Wanting (To Get Laid)
Movies like Superbad are representative of a certain kind of American movie: the heterosexual teen boy who will stop at nothing to get laid. It's such a staple of American cinema that not only is it a trope, but I would hazard a guess, has been the basis of many a real teen boy's playbook.
Key (From Top to Bottom, Clockwise): ⓣⓗⓔ ⓖⓡⓐⓓⓤⓐⓣⓔ, ⓢⓐⓨ ⓐⓝⓨⓣⓗⓘⓝⓖ, ⓙⓤⓝⓞ, ⓙⓐⓜⓔⓢ ⓑⓞⓝⓓ, ⓛⓐⓓⓨ ⓐⓝⓓ ⓣⓗⓔ ⓣⓡⓐⓜⓟ, ⓢⓟⓘⓓⓔⓡⓜⓐⓝ, ⓚⓘⓝⓖ ⓚⓞⓝⓖ, ⓣⓦⓘⓛⓘⓖⓗⓣ, ⓟⓢⓨⓒⓗⓞ, ⓗⓐⓡⓡⓨ ⓟⓞⓣⓣⓔⓡ, ⓑⓔⓐⓤⓣⓨ ⓐⓝⓓ ⓣⓗⓔ ⓑⓔⓐⓢⓣ, ⓣⓗⓔ ⓟⓡⓘⓝⓒⓔⓢⓢ ⓑⓡⓘⓓⓔ, ⓓⓐⓩⓔⓓ ⓐⓝⓓ ⓒⓞⓝⓕⓤⓢⓔⓓ, ⓢⓛⓔⓔⓟⓘⓝⓖ ⓑⓔⓐⓤⓣⓨ, ⓐⓝⓓ ⓣⓗⓔ ⓢⓘⓛⓔⓝⓒⓔ ⓞⓕ ⓣⓗⓔ ⓛⓐⓜⓑⓢ

Why do people despise religion because it is, “man-made”?

In this post, I think about why religion is often disparaged because "it is man-made" — a claim often made by evangelicals who espouse their own brands of religion that typically vilifies mainstream faiths to bolster their own belief systems.
Saint Peter's Square, Vatican City image: bbc news
Why do people despise religion because it is “man-made”? Does this presuppose a form of worship that is not man-made? Doesn't it sound odd to you that someone would tout this idea that their religious practice is not religious at all but is protected from man-made shenanigans?
Conversation With a Fundamentalist Christian
I was in the Safeway the other day. Someone was talking about the Catholics next to the $1.00 jug of Sweeeeet Tea for sale.

“I pray my rosary.”

“The rosary is idolatry. It's man-made.”

“So, what isn't man-made?”

“But, it is religion. Not true Christianity.”

“Throw out that statue of Mary in your room; that's man-made and not of God.”
Is Christianity Man-made?
It seems that the crux of the conversation revolved around getting rid of 2000 years of Christian history because it is all man-made.

Don't people realize that religion, no matter what package it comes in: non-denominational, Pentecostal, Wiccan, Zeus, Anansi, Sikh, Tao it is all man's approach to the concept of God?
Religion Is More Pervasive Than You Think
As far as I know God has not torn apart the skies and told us how she thinks. So, even if you believe your holy writ is God's word it does not place you in a nice cocoon of impunity. You're man-made like the rest of us even if you pray to God in the comfort of your room and eschew organized religion like most people eschew post-dated dairy products.
Religion and Power
Religion is about power. By religion I mean a body of knowledge that supports belief in some form of theism. Religious people bristle at the claim that religion is about power. “Religion? Sure,” they say, “religion is about power. But I'm spiritual. Religion is man-made.”


Definition of a Word: Tetchy

tetchy (adj.) 
irritably sensitive, touchy. 

N.B. tetchy is an interesting word because I hardly ever hear it written or spoken; but, I suspect, it is a useful word — considering all the tetchy people I know.


On Whiskey Bottles, Trail Mix and Walker Percy

In this post, I recount a story of when I found a bottle with a message tucked inside of it.
Shaking Off a Feeling of Emptiness
   Do you ever get this empty feeling you just can’t shake?  It’s like the person who pulls up to their house, sits in their car and lets the engine run when they get home from work, to breathe again, before easily letting go of the ignition, sighing as the car dies.  Not that the person hates his life.  He just needs to breathe.  Again.
This reminds me of Walker Percy, a writer who searched out answers to the odd questions of everyday life – like, “what do I do with myself?” He won the National Book Award for The Moviegoer in 1961, about Binx Bolling, a disconsolate everyman in New Orleans who ostensibly has a good life, a girlfriend, a steady well-paying job, but nevertheless feels this emptiness inside the pit of his gut that he just can’t shake. One day it occurs to Binx to embark on a “search,” to discover what is missing in his life.  
As A Monk I Would Walk in the Woods
The summer of my first year in the monastery, I was twenty-two years old. I was on a search.  I escaped the monastic schedule to hike with a fellow monk who had joined the community at the same time as me. Our plan was to climb the fence along the cemetery to reach a tiny creek, full of white sand, like an ocean's front, that meanders to the Bogue Falaya River. I think we did this once or twice: took off our shoes and socks and donned a bathing suit, crinkling our toes gingerly over rough patches of pine needles and dried up Water Oak leaves until we reached the banks of the creek. A soda for each and a bag of trail mix from the house – one for each – drank 'em and nibbled on fleshy banana bits and salted cashews on the banks, on a Sunday afternoon, when the everydayness gets heavy. We knocked back a few dried apricots into your mouth; take a swig of Orangina, to reduce the despair of the early twenty-first century. The water was cool, even in the summer, and the sand was supple, sinking a few feet past our ankles, making it difficult to walk, careful to avoid the odd shard of glass or roping water snake that patrols the shallow waters. When the bag of trail mix emptied and the sodas had gurgled in our bellies, we hurried back to the monastery to attend evening prayer. To enter back into the rhythm of monastic life. On days like this, as a friend of mine told me once, you feel on par with existence.
Walker Percy's Empty Bottle 
Coming out of the woods, I spotted an empty bottle next to Walker Percy’s grave. He is buried in our cemetery. Usually, there is a flowerpot on the edge of his grave: WALKER PERCY 1916 - 1990. So not to see the usual flowerpot, but an empty bottle struck me as peculiar. At first, I thought that it could have been leftover by rowdy teenagers from the neighborhood, but on closer inspection, I saw that it was an Early Times whiskey bottle, Percy’s favorite brand; an admirer had left behind a note stuffed inside. This intrigued me. 
Why would someone come to a Benedictine monastery to leave behind “a message in a bottle”?  What search were they on?  Did they find themselves at a difficult time in life, seeking answers? Or was it an inside joke, a jocund sentiment left for a friend? Or a prayer left unanswered? Coming out of the river and finding someone else’s message situated me at a crossroads, a place of tension where the monk meets the world – a place where my disconsolation and anxiety struggled with a sense of place and meaning – for I was very much not at ease all the time, in my skin, in my monastic habit, in this place I called home – and the questioning of another seeker confirmed for me that we are both searchers on this planet, seeking and groping for answers.  For aren’t we all searchers? Aren’t we all castaways on an island? For Percy, “to be a castaway is to search for news from across the seas.”
The Self as a Castaway
I think this is the self in any generation: a castaway on an island, searching for news from across the seas, salt in his face and hair, thirsty and desirous. But at every juncture, we are not at ease in our skin, with our station in life. We do not know how to sift through the avalanche of information that bombards us, not knowing the difference between the Good News and the Daily News. Coming out of the woods is a messy business. We emerge as castaways, hoping to decipher a message in a bottle.


Report from the Schoolyard: Joy to the World the Teacher's Dead

The Hidden Banter of the Schoolyard
    Inside the inner circle of school-talk lies an entire world closed off – for the most part – to the outside, adult world. In elementary school, we used to say that if we could find the person who invented school, “we’d kill ‘em.” At recess, huddled in our peer circles, after gossiping, the banter became indictment of school in all of its ugly designs. That’s what we thought. Partly because that is the way school children are supposed to think about school, at least amongst themselves. Adults were horrified when they caught us singing the maladaptation of the Christmas carol "Joy to the World."
Joy to the world!
The teacher's dead!
We bar-b-que'd her head.
What happened to her body?
We flushed it down the potty!
Heaven and nature sing!
Heaven and nature sing!
Magistricide Horrors
    Adults were horrified that we would fantasize about magistricide.
    Now that I am a teacher myself I understand the latent aggression towards teachers (and how it sometimes flare up and becomes less than latent).
    Students respond to their teachers as figures of authorities. As a student there is a low level of power; at every level there is someone in a higher position, a pecking order. Teachers represent the upper echelon of the order (even though we don't get paid much).

To fantasize about killing your teacher is a fantasy about control.    We sang the song because we wanted to hold onto some sense of control. In middle school, a child is at the mercy of bigger kids, janitors with mops, nasty lunch ladies, assistant principals, bullies, school food, bus drivers: there is seldom a moment of absolute freedom from authority.
    Except at recess. And that is where we sang our lilting dirge.
Joy to the world the teacher's dead.
    I don't think we meant that literally. If our teacher did, in fact die, I am sure we would have felt guilty. Just like the little kid who wishes privately his parents were dead — and they do in fact die — has to go through a lot of therapy afterward.
    Perhaps what underlies all of this is the education of power. Is growing up the education of using and balancing power?
    Even as middle-schoolers we understood power structures even though we had never picked up Michel Foucault's book Discipline and Punish.


Prose Poem: "Cloister"

image credit: Greig Roselli
In the cloister, there is often a sign on the porter’s door that reads, behind this door no one is allowed.  But, sometimes, after time has passed, the sign is worn by fingerprints and folks pass over the threshold unbeknownst to the lawgivers. And, as usually happens when laws are broken, a tension arises there – in the navel, in the cloister, and then, as it ineluctably does – community begins again.
"Cloister" is a prose poem by Greig Roselli.


On the Wizard Merlin and Celibacy in Mary Stewart's Novel The Crystal Cave

Merlin, celibacy, and power in Mary Stewart’s novel The Crystal Cave is a topic I wrote about back in 2007, and I found it whilst cleaning files on my laptop. Enjoy! It was written for a class on Arthurian Legend. The text starts here: 

    What I mean by power is a tension in society between those who have privileged knowledge and those who don’t.  Power is not a stable constant.  It is contingent upon shifts in knowledge within society itself.  The avenues by which celibate roles gain an upper hand, depends in part where the non-celibates have control and vice-versa.  These roles cross over and get distributed.  There are significant shifts in the power knowledge divide, which Foucault calls “epistemic shifts.”  This is the basic struggle or tension between power and knowledge that can be traced out through history through an archaeology — a search for origins.  To see how celibacy has held sway in history, especially among those like Merlin, who represent powerful celibate men, is to dig out the origins of this power and name the origins.