Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Some Words from Madeleine L'Engle

[An excerpt from her Newbery Medal Acceptance Speech, August 1963]

Because of the very nature of the world as it is today, our children receive in school a heavy load of scientific and analytic subjects, so it is in their reading for fun, for pleasure, that they must be guided into creativity.  These are forces working in the world as never before in the history of mankind for standardization, for the regimentation of us all, or what I like to call making muffins of us, muffins all like every other muffin in the muffin tin.  This is the limited universe, the drying, dissipating universe that we can help our children avoid by providing them with “explosive material capable of stirring up fresh life endlessly.”

So how do we do it?  We can’t just sit down at our typewriters and turn out explosive material.  I took a course in college on Chaucer, one of the most explosive, imaginative, and far-reaching in influence of all writers.  And I’ll never forget going to the final exam and being asked why Chaucer used certain verbal devices, certain adjectives, why he had certain characters behave in certain ways.  And I wrote in a white heat of fury, “I don’t think Chaucer had any idea why he did any of these things.  That isn’t the way people write.”

Most of what is best in writing isn’t done deliberately.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

my mom and her bike

The year was 1972.  The place was Clear Lake City, TX.  A little thirteen year old white girl who would go onto become my mom accepted a summer job babysitting three rambunctious girls (ages 4,7, and 9) Monday thru Friday from 8 to 5.  She took the job with the goal of saving up money for a ten speed bike, whilst the rest her friends (all of whom already owned bikes that their parents bought for them) spent most of the summer lounging at the community pool. Two weeks before school was set to start, she finally had enough money for the bike.  Her mom (my grandma) took her to buy the bike, a bright shiny white one.  It was her first major purchase with her own hard earned dollars, a proud achievement in the life of a thirteen year old kid.  She was so excited to share her bike with the world; little did she realize to what extent she would be sharing that bike with the world.  Her mom said, “Okay you can show your friends, but don’t leave it alone until you get a lock.”  [She should have bought me a damn lock, my mom grumbles as she recounts this story.]  Filled with excitement and happiness, she rode the bike, her glorious new treasure to the community pool where her friends were.  She hurried into the pool area, rounded up her friends, “Hey guys, come look at what I got!”  When she returned, the bike was gone.  Gone in 60 seconds, literally.  Her mom drove her all over town looking for it, to no avail.  She had nothing to show for all her hard work but tears.  And she never saw the bike again.

Sadly, this all too true story serves as somewhat of a metaphor for those working class people who work hard, and yet do not get to reap the fruits of their labors, but instead of bikes being stolen the years, hours, and minutes of their lives are stolen.

Story by my mom
Written by her son Aguilar Elliot

Monday, September 12, 2011

the Samurai and the Astrologer

On the eve of a great battle, Miyamoto Musashi (a samurai who lived from 1584-1645) noticed that the daimyo (samurai lord) with whom he had taken service seemed unable to focus on the impeding battle.  Asked what was the matter, the daimyo told Musashi that an astrologer had predicted that he, the daimyo, would soon die.  Shocked by this, Musashi called for the astrologer in the daimyo’s presence.  When the astrologer presented himself, Musashi questioned the wizard:

“Where do you get information that our lord will soon die?” Musashi asked.
“All is written in the stars,” the astrologer answered cryptically.
“And when do the stars say you will die?” Musashi asked.
“The stars predict that I will live a long life, find fame, and fortune, and have many offspring!”  the wizard proclaimed confidently.

At this point, Musashi’s sword separated the wizard’s head from his shoulders.  Placing the head of the astrologer at the feet of the shocked daimyo, Musashi explained to the samurai lord: “If a man is unable to predict his own fate, what hope has he of predicting the fate of others?”

(found this in the book Mind Manipulation: Ancient and Modern Ninja Techniques by Dr. Haha Lung and Christopher Prowant)

Friday, September 2, 2011

Why I have never owned a Cell Phone

I am 27 years old.  I live in the modern world.  I am of sound mind (I think).  And I have never owned a cell phone.  I have never texted anyone.  Please don’t throw me to the wolves.

I would not classify myself as a technology hating Luddite.  I understand that without technology, I would not have a great many things that I enjoy.  I would be nearly blind, because my crappy vision requires me to wear contacts.  I would be melting in this scorching Houston heat without air conditioning.  And I would not be typing up this blog, if it were not for technological innovations.  So it would be hypocritical of me to make a blanket statement vilifying technology.  I don’t think material objects are inherently good or evil.  Things are just things with no moral sensibilities, although it might be interesting if objects like say toasters could make right and wrong choices.

I think with me, it’s just that I possess a simple nature.  I don’t have a great desire to accumulate a treasure trove of technological treats.  I don’t care to keep up with the latest gadgets and gizmos; it’s just not my style.  I’m very much a person content with the interior life.  I don’t have to always be looking outwards for satisfaction.  I don’t need crazy amounts of extravagant external stimuli to keep me occupied and happy.

Some of my friends have told me that cell phones would make my life simpler, thus giving me what I want, but I draw a distinction between simplicity and convenience.  Cell phones would certainly make my life more convenient.  I could much better coordinate activities with friends.  I could get directions when I’m lost in a forest.  I could call for help when my car breaks down.  But a cell phone would not automatically make my life simple.  A cell phone would be another thing, another material possession that I would have to worry myself about maintaining and safeguarding.  It would be something else that I would have to spend money to acquire and upkeep.   And in general, I just have a value for limiting the amount of possessions I own. 

That said I’m not discounting the possibility of ever owning a cell phone.  But as of right now it’s not something I feel like I just have to have in order to derive meaning and contentment from this world.