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Notes on the Hereafter

The Sweet—or not so sweet—Bye and Bye has been in the news lately. There was of course Harold Camping’s prediction that the Rapture would happen on the 21st of May. Obviously it didn’t, but now he predicts that the Rapture, and the Destruction, will occur on the 21st of next October. Sort of a package deal. We’ll see. At my age, I don’t sign up for extended warranties or magazine subscriptions, so I’m set. Let’r rip, Harold.

“Great Wits Are Near to Madness Close Allied.”

Many years ago—so many that the card catalogue was physically a card catalogue—I was trolling through it idly and came upon the intriguing title—Gravity and Levity—of a book by a psychiatrist named Alan McGlashan. It is an interesting little collection of essays that roam the borderland between medicine and mysticism.

Tears, Idle Tears

Let’s hear it for sadness. No need to whoop and holler, but let’s hear it anyway. Sadness is sadly underrated.

Let me quickly say that I am certainly not talking about depression, and if you have ever been clinically depressed you know what I mean. Depression is a thirsty leech on the soul and we will speak no more about it.

Hammer

Most writing taught in schools is fairly conservative. Some leeway might be allowed depending on the crowd (sorry about the rhyme...or maybe not, as we’ll see), but the usual requirements include spelling correctly, eschewing sentence fragments and the dreaded comma splice, and so forth: all the things that your equally dreaded freshman composition teacher enforces with an iron fist and a red pen. But there is a subversive tradition in the history of writing in English. It’s rare, but it’s there. Some have called this Grammar B (as opposed, of course, to Grammar A, the mainstream).

Words, Words, Words

Again I wake up in the small hours, but instead of waking up with a snippet from a Vachel Lindsay poem in my head, I wake up with a word. The word is “rollicking” and all of a sudden I dislike it intensely. “What a stupid word!” I hiss into the darkness: “What a stupid, fatuous word!” You don’t hear the word in conversation, thank goodness, unless someone is being intentionally fey, and I for one would put a quick stop to that conversation.

Vachel Lindsay, Prairie Troubador

I have a old friend who lives in Liberal, Kansas, a brave little outpost at a crossroads just north of the Oklahoma panhandle. Being an Albuquerque sophisticate, I like to tease Bill for living out in the boondocks. And so it was that, lying awake in the small hours last week, I remembered some lines from a poem:

Of the babies born at midnight
In the sod huts of lost hope,
With no physician there,
Except a Kansas prayer,
And the Indian raid a-howling through the air.

Tiger Mother

By now almost everyone has heard of Amy Chua, the self-proclaimed “Tiger Mother.” She is the Chinese-American mother and Yale law professor who just published Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. When an excerpt from the book appeared last month in the Wall Street Journal, all hell broke loose. But in case you have been off-planet since the new year dawned, here are some highlights.

Theft

A few nights ago—early morning, actually—a friend of mine had a good-sized ceramic pot stolen from his front stoop, one of a matched pair. Neighbors coming home in the small hours surprised the thief before he could get the other one onto his truck. The slamming of the tailgate woke Charles up, but by the time he had got his bathrobe on and got out the front door, the guy was gone. The small bush that had been in the pot was, says Charles, “lying like a crime victim in the yard.”

No Pain, No Gain

Anyone who ever turned out for high school sports has heard the old adage “No pain, no gain.” Having heard it, a person seldom forgets it, mainly because “No pain, no gain” expresses the Spartan ideal so neatly. As a memorable example of locker-room philosophy, it is right up there with “When the going gets tough, the tough get going,” and “If you can’t bear up, bear down.” But if we take a hard look at it, I think we will find that this hoary adage is true only in a very limited way. As a general guide to life it can be misleading or worse.

Patience

Patience is a virtue/ Have it if you can / Never in a woman / And seldom in a man.

Well, whoever said that was a misogynist of the first water. Seems to me that women are much more patient than men. But I digress—without even having established a point to digress from.

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