Moments of Happiness

“When happiness shows up, give it a comfortable seat,” Fezziwig says.  I wonder just how much like old Ebenezer Scrooge I am—apart from the abundant money, of course.  This isn’t going where you expect, I promise you!  I don’t come across as a happy person.  I was forced out of my ideal career many years ago by Fundamentalists, and I struggle to keep my writing going.  That old rabbinic adage that you can’t be both wise and happy probably doesn’t help.  So I sit here worrying about the everyday cares and concerns of a sexagenarian (not as sexy as it sounds) and watching horror films to help me cope.  That doesn’t mean, however, that moments of happiness don’t appear.  When they do they shine bright and hot and shed enough light to help me make it to the next beacon that some thoughtful lamplighter has set ablaze.

For a birthday gift, we gave a family member a trip to see Cats live in Philadelphia.  Everything about that day comes back to me through rose-tinted lenses.  The worry and stress of driving in Philly—I’ve done it a few times and it’s always nerve-wracking.  Finding the theater, negotiating parking, finding a place to accommodate a vegan, a vegetarian, and an omnivore for lunch.  Locating seats only to discover they’re further back than they looked on the schematic map, and then the lights dim and the music begins and you’re in a different world.  All the worry and fear melt away.  Happiness has appeared and you know she’s sitting right next to you.  Even with evening Philly traffic still looming ahead and a drive when I’m beginning to feel drowsy, I’ve had an experience almost of a religious nature.

It’s no wonder that many early evangelical Christian leaders warned about the theater.  Live performances reach that spiritual place that weekly Sunday services only wish they could.  Of course, it helps that Cats is my favorite show—I’ve seen it live five times over the years.  It’s a show about happiness and finding redemption.  I’ve written before about the religious undertones to the musical, but here I’m thinking about how the day after always has a special glow.  Yes, the quotidian worries are still there.  The attempts to grow wiser and stay solvent.  The difference is that something transcendent—all the more valuable for being rare—has happened.  It has shaken me out of my comfort zone and my daily routine.  And I can’t wait for happiness to come knocking again.

Old Library Books

There’s a quiet joy to it.  Even if they have other people’s markings in them, books I obtain ex libris are among my personal treasures.  They bring back memories of reading library books—learning new things.  For a fleeting moment when reading my current used, ex-library book, I was taken back to a night long ago.  The youth group at my local United Methodist Church had occasional sleepovers in the church itself.  Despite being a small town, folks were okay with mixed genders (with chaperones, of course) doing this.  We were even allowed to go into the sanctuary at night.  Churches are scary places in the dark.  We would sit there and talk about nothing in particular, the way teens do.  And I always brought a book.

On one sleepover I was working on a term paper on—don’t laugh—vampires.  I’d been researching with the limited resources of Oil City High School’s library, supplemented by the Oil City Public Library.  I still remember the exact book I took along.  Although awaking ultra-early only developed with me during my commuting years, I’ve always been an early riser.  (The early teen, or tween, years excepted.)  I remember waking up before everybody else, returning to the sanctuary, sitting in our usual pew, and reading about vampires by the light of dawn coming through the windows (which were only modestly stained with off-whites and yellows).  And feeling profoundly happy.  Friends were asleep downstairs and I was curled up with a library book.  What more could you ask?

Many such memories linger as I age.  But my current reading of a marked-up library book brought something else to mind.  Many such books have marks near the beginning that quickly peter out.  As if most readers never made it past the introduction.  I’ve stopped reading a book or two in my time, but generally I need to get past page 10 or 20 before I’m willing to make that call.  I often find that a book’s introduction is one of the best parts—especially in academic books.  Authors try to draw you in with intriguing ideas and then, at least in my field, get technical once you reach chapter 1.  Honeymoon’s over.  The mind of the person, however, who marks up a library book and then suddenly stops intrigues me.  Perhaps I’m just feeling nostalgic this morning, but reading a withdrawn library book, with its soft pages and old book smell, is one of life’s great gifts.  Even if it’s not about vampires.

Human Capital, Are You?

Human capital.  Is there any more demeaning phrase?  Those in positions of political authority like to use the term.  To grow the economy, to people the military, to ensure the GDR Almighty surpasses each and every idol, we have to ensure the correct placement of our human cattle.  Oh, I mean capital.  I was recently reading about our rivalry with China.  The expert I was consulting noted that it all comes down to human capital.  With populations shrinking, this is annoying to those who want to measure nation against nation, back to back.  In China, it’s said, your fate is determined at a fairly young age.  And that made me wonder about late bloomers.  Like yours truly.  To see me up through at least fourth grade nobody would’ve supposed I was Ph.D. material.  (Considering how this all worked out, maybe they were right.)

Humans, if we’re honest, mature at different rates.  Some of us take decades to learn what we’re good at.  This may be a problem endemic to the poor—kids who are raised by parents that are uneducated and don’t even know about things like after-school classes and clubs to enhance the experience of growing up.  Or if they do know about them, can’t afford them.  They raise their children to be blue collar in mentality.  Of course, capitalism relies on this.  You need human capital to collect garbage and dig ditches.  To people the military.  I often wonder how many of these folks might’ve been (and still could be) hidden geniuses.  You see, when I grew up working as a janitor in my middle school, during the summers, I listened to the hourly employees as they talked.  It wasn’t all about women and alcohol.  No, some of them were untrained philosophers.  I learned that I wasn’t the only human capital that thought deep thoughts while running a floor stripper.

The very concept of human capital ensures that some potentially world-changing kids will be overlooked and slotted where “society needs them.”  If we would educate ourselves more our world could become a more equitable and pleasant place for the 99 percent.  Instead, we keep the capitalist machine fed, nations comparing one another’s capabilities.  China may use balloons creatively, but we can be assured that all developed nations are surveilling their neighbors, assessing how they’re using their human capital.  All I know is that I grew up destined to work as a janitor, but the thoughts in my head wouldn’t stop.  And one mentor, who worked for a church, decided to show me the way.  How I wish I could help others escape, but there’s some comfort in being part of a machine.

Which bit are you?

I P.M. therefore I A.M.

While I seldom have occasion to count beyond ten, I sometimes think the 24-hour clock would be a better option.  Since we have to face another major time malfunction (AKA switch to Daylight Saving Time) this coming weekend, I’m thinking about time.  That, and I recently had someone ask me to set up a noon Zoom meeting.  A nooner Zoomer is fine with me, but each time I have to ask is it “a.m.” or “p.m.”?  Parsimonious websites rather snarkily (but correctly) say that it’s neither.  It’s that liminal changeover between ante-meridian and post-meridian.  It, along with midnight, stands outside the a.m. and p.m. system.  Thankfully I don’t have many meetings at midnight, but still, a 24-hour clock, such as military folk like to use, makes sense.  A meeting at 12:00 would always be noon, and 24:00 would always be midnight.

I tend to wake up around 3:00 a.m.  I admit that it’s convenient to mark 3:00 p.m. as the 12-hour awake point in my day.  I could easily adjust to do the same at 15:00.  In fact, my watch—yes, I still use one—has the 24-hour timescale in smaller print just inside the more legible 12-hour one.  I’m sure that we can all count to 24.  Wouldn’t it make sense, in the service of ending confusion about a.m./p.m.?  (Not to mention having to type in all those periods!)  The way we divide time is arbitrary.  The reason that we settled on twelve actually hearkens back to the official title of this blog, namely the ancient world.  The ancient Mesopotamians had a base-6 counting system, unlike our base-10.  When time came to be divided into hours, it was done on a base-6 system, giving us 12 hours of light and 12 hours of night.

Such ancient ideas as these are very difficult to change.  We can’t even seem to agree that if Daylight Saving Time is such a good idea, why don’t we keep it all year round?  I suspect most of us adjust to gradual change more easily than that sudden loss of an hour of sleep.  Even the added hour in the fall doesn’t make up for it.  If we can’t change something that’s obviously that flawed, how can we hope to agree that having 13 to 24 added to our clocks would be better?  Or maybe just round things down to 20, for our base-10 system?  Yes, hours would be longer but maybe we could negotiate fewer of them for work.  But I’m just dreaming here.  And it’s not even p.m. yet.


Not to dwell on Satanism, but the morning after my last post on the topic, while out on my morning jog, I came across a pentagram incised in the pea gravel of the bike path.  Then another.  Lest there was any lingering doubt that this had to do with the local school’s Satan club, a few feet further along a 666 appeared.  None of this was there the day before and, given that folks my age are too busy to be out scraping sigels in the sand, I suspect that it might’ve been someone younger.   Dare I say, school-aged.  Protesting or promoting I couldn’t tell.  As I jogged, I fell to thinking about pentagrams.  They’re not inherently evil and actually have an interesting history.  For most of that history it was morally neutral, if not a positive sign.

In the 1800s, during Romanticism’s heyday, it was supposed that an inverted pentagram—one with two points up instead of one at the top—was a sign of evil.  It was also in the 1800s that the contemporary king of outrage, Aleister Crowley, began what would eventually morph into modern Wicca.  Crowley liked to refer to himself as “the wickedest man on earth,” at least among his friends.  The upside-down pentagram was seen to represent a goat’s head, and if you’ve read my book you’ll know that some groups have long associated goats with demons.  Ironically, during the Nixon Administration the Grand Old Party began to use inverted pentagrams on their elephant logo.  Evangelicals who otherwise object to this “Satanic” symbol seem quite okay with it branding their political party.  Truth in advertising, I guess.

The thing about symbols is that they only have the power we give them.  The five points of a star symbol match well the pentagonal symmetry that we often see in nature: sea stars, sand dollars, strawberry flowers, and eucalyptus seed pods.  It’s pleasing to the eye for creatures with five fingers and five toes.  There’s a rightness about it, even if it doesn’t look a thing like the stars in the sky.  Is it Satanic?  No, only to those who believe it to be so.  Are there Satanists trying to take over public schools?  No.  That doesn’t mean people don’t think they aren’t.  (That last sentence is all tied up in nots, I guess.)  Symbols, by their nature, contain the meaning we assign to them.  They say to me that kids pay attention to what adults do,  so if we act grown-up perhaps—just perhaps—they will aspire to do the same.

Something I Said?

I’m very aware of my own insignificance.  I know that I’ll die and be forgotten, just like everybody else.  Even if I manage to survive by some “Kilroy was here” action, the sun will eventually red giant all of this out of existence.  Still, sometimes I wonder if it’s something I said.  You see, I really didn’t know where to start when I published Holy Horror.  I was an editor myself and thought maybe the secret handshake would earn some kind of attention, but no.  And when I wrote both Nightmares with the Bible and The Wicker Man, both were with established series.  And in latter cases, the editor I was working with (long-term employees, both) left.  Left before the book was published and I was left wondering.  Was it something I said?

Not to brag or anything, but I’ve got about the lowest self-image a person can have.  When life beats you up repeatedly, starting at a young age, you quickly learn your place.  But still, all this leaving.  I’m a member of a faith community (if you want to know which one you’ll need to get to know me personally).  This particular tradition requires a meeting with the minister before joining—something that makes good sense.  The first church where we tried this, the minister was in the process of leaving and couldn’t schedule us in.  Then we moved and in our new area, the minister left about a month after we started attending, before we could meet.  Was it something I said?

I ask this question half in jest.  Still, having a father leave when you’re only two or three, you start to question just about everything.  I’m sure retirements, new opportunities, or just fedupness with the job (which I certainly understand) caused these changes.  But then I was ousted from three jobs in fairly quick succession.  During my interview at Rutgers University the chair of the religion department said “You must feel like you have a target painted on you.”  Leaving is a natural part of life, I know.  As an editor I know that leaving such a post is somewhat unusual because where do you go from here?  Ministers, well, they’re leading the charge during the great resignation.  Maybe they’ll become editors?  As for the rest of us, we’ll just continue to spin dizzily on this globe until old Sol stretches his arms and lets out a big, red yawn.  I won’t be here by then, but wherever I am at that point, I’ll be wondering if it was something I said.

Expiration Date

One of the perils of trying to understand others—something that is vitally necessary for a humane and civil world—is facing difficult truths.  Sometimes horror makes you do that.  I’ve recently been trying to watch horror directed by women, as this gives another perspective on what’s scary.  Directed by Mimi Cave and written by Lauryn Kahn, Fresh is very disturbing.  Noa is a young professional who’s not having much luck dating.  He best friend Mollie, who is African American, is the voice of reason in the film.  Noa finds internet dating services inadequate, matching her up with losers, but then she meets a handsome, funny guy in the grocery store.  She agrees to a date and they hit it off.  So far, so good.  Then he takes her to his place and abducts her.  He explains that he’s a supplier of human meat for an ultra-wealthy circle and she is to be consumed.

I won’t say much more about the plot since you may want to disturb yourself some day, but I will say that the movie reinforces something I get from reading Carmen Maria Machado:  women have to deal with men’s assumptions about their bodies.  Even the institution of marriage is all about ownership; men don’t want to pay (the key word) for supporting someone else’s child.  The nuclear family is intended to keep that at a minimum.  Just a glimpse at social standards reveals that men are held less accountable for cheating than women are, largely because there’s never a question of who someone’s mother is.  Noa’s captor is charming and nice.  He’s also a (as later revealed) Satanic psychopath.  He’s also also married, with children.

The film is disturbing on so many levels as it reflects on how a man feels he has the right, literally, to take women’s bodies.  Habeas corpus indeed.  It feels like being invited to dinner at Hannibal Lector’s house.  The religion element—for there often is one—is only revealed in two short glimpses.  One is the plate of one of the cannibals which has a Satanic symbol printed on it, and the other is a mid-credit shot of the butcher’s customers where the Satanic symbol reappears.  This theme isn’t really explored in the movie, but it is equated with “the one percent of the one percent.”  The clients are those who can afford anything and who crave the one thing they can’t have.  This is a movie to keep you up at night but it’s also one with a very strong social commentary.  That commentary is as disturbing as the entire premise of the film.

In Praise of Cardboard

There’s an irony to it.  Using single-use plastic bags to ship books.  Now I know better than to stereotype book lovers, but I suspect it’s safe to say that those of us who order books like paper.  And we are probably well aware that paper recycles more easily than single-use plastics with heavy, preternaturally sticky labels attached to them.  You see, much of the clutter about our house is our reluctance to just throw away things that can be recycled or reused.  There are rules for prep, however.  Labels are supposed to be removed from plastics and judging from my experience, I need to be doing more pushups to do so.  Some are stuck on so well that it stretches and distorts the plastic like the face of a movie monster, still without coming off.  What’s wrong with a box?

Books arriving, snug in a box

Apart from being easily recycled, boxes prevent books from getting banged up in transit.  I often receive books so tightly cased in plastic that removing them must be like pulling off snug leggings when it’s really humid out.  There’s an almost obscene quality to peeling off something that tight.  And getting the label off?  Forget it.  Boxes are better.  We tend to reuse many of them—they’re good for sending fragile gifts to others.  Or storing other single-use plastic pieces for use in art projects.  (Lids often can’t be recycled.)  As long as the paper’s responsibly sourced, cardboard has environmental benefits.  Besides, I suspect books prefer the feel of paper on their skins.

I’m not a very good consumer, but I do have a soft spot for books.  Even as reasonable grocery chains are phasing out single-use plastics, many book sellers are picking up the slack, it seems.  I know we have developed civilization to such a point that our lifestyle is impossible without plastic.  Indeed, the very keys on which I tap out these thoughts are made of plastic (at least Macs use metal casings for their laptops, or some of them, anyway.)  I have this nightmare that I’ll get something in the mail, or worse, a visitor at the door, telling me that they’ve pieced together, from all the fragments of labels still on plastic bags, that I’m the one who’s been turning them in for recycling without properly removing the sticky paper.  I know that I won’t have any viable defense—I don’t have the time, resources, or tensile strength to do the job properly—and all I’ll be able to say is, “I prefer boxes.”

Valentines and Bombs

So what was I thinking, posting about bombs on Valentine’s Day?  Regular readers know my fascination with holidays.  Valentine’s Day is another one of those that simply gets plowed under by the sharp shares of capitalism.  We work on Valentine’s Day, of course, after waking to news of yet another multiple shooting at a university.  Is it any wonder that we think about bombs on Valentine’s Day?  As Tina asks, what’s love got to do with it?  In 2016 we were taught that the politics of hate is how elections are won.  Surveys consistently show Americans favor stricter gun laws but congressmen love money more.  Maybe love does have something to do with it after all, Ms. Turner.

Love, it seems to me, was the best thing Christianity had going for it.  While the Gospels aren’t entirely consistent on this point, the figure we call John (not the Baptist) focuses on it.  Jesus spoke of, indeed, insisted on love.  “God is love” some radical went so far as to write.  But love gets in the way of selfish agendas.  We can wave Bibles around, and hold them up for photo ops, but they do no good that way.  Besides, love might, in some instances lead to sex.  And we know that Augustine won that argument centuries ago.  We don’t have a widely recognized holiday celebrating that dour saint, however.  Perhaps we should take a cue from the fact that nobody knows which Valentine yesterday really commemorates.  Isn’t love best when it can even be anonymous?

Photo by Jamie Street on Unsplash

I often ponder why it seems so difficult for people to love universally.  Yes, we do annoy each other.  Yes, we have conflicting agendas.  If, however, we pause for a moment and consider we’ll see that other people have feelings just like us.  They too want to be loved and appreciated, and held by those closest to them.  This is not a bad thing.  What’s so wrong with love, after all?  We pour money into the military industrial complex and try to regulate who can love whom.  And we say we’re living the religion touted by the New Testament.  I always try to keep Valentine’s Day special.  It can be tricky on a Tuesday when work will bear its inevitable load of problems to solve.  Still, if we all paused when we faced a people-related frustration on Valentine’s Day, and said to ourselves (saying it aloud would only cause problems) “I love you” to the person causing our frustration, I wouldn’t have been thinking of bombs on Valentine’s Day.

Natural Disasters

Like many, my heart goes out to those in Turkey and Syria suffering through the destruction and aftermath of a major earthquake.  Such natural disasters often bring out the best in people—empathy, love, and offers of support.  They lead to both tragedy and human warmth.  They also give us pause to reflect, if we will, on our worst behaviors.  Rescue efforts have been hampered, in Syria especially, by a weakened infrastructure, caused, at least in part, by foreign bombing.  And yes, the United States was part of that.  People who now feel our sympathy only months before faced death from us.  What is it about our species that makes us want to destroy one another through our own technology but then turns and wants to help when a “random” act of nature occurs?  We must prefer death on our own terms.

Image credit: Luca Comerio (1878-1940), Corpses of victims of the earthquake in Messina, via Wikimedia Commons

For me, part of this is reflected in how the so-called “culture of life” treats liberal social causes as the “culture of death.”  Those groups that support “the culture of life” are against abortion but desire no controls on gun ownership.  This is the same basic principle—we want to cause death on our own terms.  We want to play God and decide who is worth saving and who should be destroyed.  I have no doubt that if, say, a tornado destroyed an entire city block outside a convention center where the NRA was meeting that those at the conference would rush out to try to help find survivors.  When they reconvened, they would try to figure out how to protect their “right” to own and collect assault rifles.  Is this “culture of life” really worth preserving?

Meanwhile the people of Syria and Turkey are suffering.  Thousands are dead, winter is setting in, and Covid is still out there.  They need our help.  The amount we spend on aid will, however, pale next to the amount we spend on bombs, drones, and missiles.  I have to wonder if we never really stop to think about what we’re doing when we engage in behaviors that destroy others.  That weeping mother outside an earthquake-collapsed building could be the same mother outside a missile-collapsed structure.  With natural disasters we know that we all stand a chance of being victims.  We feel for those caught in the way.  Once politics enters the picture, however, and we have the ability to control who lives or dies, everything changes.

The Romantics

It takes one to know one—or so they used to say.  My current preoccupation has me learning about the Romantics.  This isn’t the same as “romance,” although both words derive from the Old French for “verse narrative.”  Novel, in German, is Roman.  In any case, Sir Walter Scott cordially embraced Washington Irving when the latter arrived unannounced at Abbotsford.  Reading the account in Irving’s own words, it sounds like a bromance, and some modern interpreters—inclined as they are to look for genital contact—have suggested Irving, a lifelong bachelor, might’ve been a homosexual.  Although there’s nothing wrong with that, I do wonder if it misunderstands the language of the Romantics.  To borrow a sentence from Andrew Burstein (more to come anon): “This had to do with intimacy, not sex as we understand it.”

I recently gave a talk about Herman Melville’s spiritual orientation.  I mentioned his close friendship with Nathaniel Hawthorne.  During the discussion period the question of whether they might’ve been lovers was raised.  I’d read this before.  I don’t know what went on in Melville’s bedroom—it’s none of my business—but I think the Romantics were all about intimacy.  We’re now familiar with the genre of bromance.  Guys, usually two, pairing off for pursuits of significance to both of them.  Or two women. I think of all the great same-sex pairings throughout literary history and wonder where we’d be without them.  Since our culture has long demonized sex, our mind is constantly creeping between the sheets.  Who touched whom?  Where and when?  Isn’t intimacy enough any more?  Where’s the Romance?  I’m no prude, but I wonder if we misread sex and the Romantics.

Louis Janmot, Poem of the Soul – On the mountain, public domain (via Wikimedia Commons)

The Romantic Movement produced the culture I taught myself living in a run-down house with no spending money.  I borrowed recordings—actual records—of Beethoven symphonies from the library that I had to listen to with headphones because nobody else wanted to hear that kind of thing.  I read Poe.  I read about Poe.  Gothic, a subset of Romanticism, became my muse.  I had no intimate friends with which to share this.  Not until seminary—that place where such unusual, unspoken things occur.  Of course I was in Boston, the most Romantic of American cities with New Bedford to the south and Salem to the north.  To the east the boundless ocean.  We still read the Romantics.  We still read about them.  I can’t help but think we might misunderstand them.  Yes, Irving and Scott were together “from morning to night,” but thinking back to my own Romantic ideals as a teenager, I suspect they just talked.  Intimately.

Being Sapiens

Sometimes you need some distance to appreciate an object.  A telescope may be required if it’s a distant subject, like a rare comet (if the skies aren’t perpetually cloudy).  At other times a microscope is more helpful.  Yuval Noah Harari Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind made a pretty big splash a few years back.  Big name people, who presumably don’t have the time to get into the historical weeds—and yes, it’s quite overgrown out here—blurbed the book and it made it onto the New York Times Bestseller list.  It’s not a little book, and like most such works it’s  a synthesis that historians approach with trepidation.  Such projects occasionally make great observations, like the astronomer with her telescope.  But those who look up from their microscopes often say, “well, that’s not exactly right.”

How do you summarize 2.5 million years or so?  You have to be very selective and you have to keep backing up to pick out the things that help this story make sense to you.  Harari (my autocorrect keeps wanting to make him Harris, which sort of fits his overall thesis) divides human history into four parts, generally revolutions: the cognitive revolution, the agricultural revolution, the unification of humankind, and the scientific revolution.  Along the way he tries to pick out the major developments.  One of them, of course, is religion.  While some of the details are overstated, his big picture here is helpful to read.  Religion has helped us, but it’s also hurt us.  Perhaps the latter more than the former.  For this we need a microscope.

His part on science and the economy was both insightful and disturbing.  I don’t believe, for example, that capitalism is necessary for advancement.  We too quickly claim that socialism doesn’t work without ever really giving it a fair trial.  Instead we let wealthy industrialists come up with new ways to keep us entertained and compliant while they handle all the money—leave it to the big boys.  The future comes to resemble them.  And we’ve seen where that gets us.  Summarizing a big book like this that covers many thousands of years isn’t a straightforward or easy task, just as trying to pick out the highlights of our history can’t be.  Part of the problem is that we’re still in the middle of it.  Things may happen—the Covid-19 pandemic is a notable example—that change the course of the river.  Since this book was published before that happened, who’s to say that things might not turn out quite differently than anticipated?  This is a provocative book, but I need to get back to my microscope.

Toil et cetera

Few items are as necessary for modern day life than a functioning toilet.  If you live in town and don’t have an outhouse your other options are pretty limited.  Religion scholars tend to know quite a bit about what goes on in toilets, so I’ve repaired my fair share over the years.  When we had a leak in a fill valve, I had to wait for a weekend to do the repair.  I figured half an hour and thirty dollars at most.  I left it for an afternoon project.  Once I got the new fill valve installed, there was a problem.  The tank wouldn’t fill with water.  It had been clear that the faulty part was the fill valve, as it was hissing and sputtering and there were no leaks into the bowl.  I made a late trip to Lowes for another valve, following the logic that the one I’d bought earlier must’ve been defective.  It didn’t work either.  We had to flush by buckets of water.

Sunday after church I rushed to Lowe’s since, logic dictates, it has to be the flush valve that was the problem.  These are the only two parts inside a toilet tank that require repair.  So I got the tank off, and after running to the hardware store to buy a specialized tool to get the nut of the valve off, I learned that “fits 99% percent of toilets” left that troubling 1 percent for a reason.  Our toilet was special.  The parts were not standard size and neither my local hardware store nor Lowes had the parts in stock.  If we wanted a working toilet that day we would need to replace the entire thing.  So we went toilet shopping.  Hauling a toilet up the stairs is something I hope never to have to do again.  By late Sunday afternoon my half-hour, thirty-dollar project had turned into a multi-day, three-hundred dollar project.  I followed the installation instructions religiously, but, of course, it leaked.

I ended up having to call the local plumber we’ve got on speed-dial.  We’re in our fourth year in our house and we had plumbers here at least six times.  I picture their office assistant grimacing each time our number comes up on their caller ID.  The plumber came and, apart from generating serious tool envy on my part, demonstrated how everything from the soil pipe up had been misinstalled by over-confident DIYers.  I try not to cut corners with plumbing or electrical.  Despite how easy it is to install, or even repair, a toilet, you have to have the correct foundation.  And even scholars of religion need to admit when they’re in over their heads.

Read the fine print.

Aging Children

So I was reading this academic article from the late fifties.  In it the author was discussing how, in literary studies, imagination was considered childish.  It is something we’re expected to outgrow to participate in the adult world of cold, hard facts.  (Making money and such nonsense.)  And I came to think about the elderly I know.  You see, I’m part of that sandwich generation where children take longer to grow up and need more care longer, and parents live longer, requiring care as they age.  I know several elderly folk.  One thing I can say is that as they age, they live more and more in their imagination.  The cold, hard facts, in other words, are mere preoccupations of our “productive years.”  I, for one, stand with childhood and advanced age.  Imagination makes us human.

We’re all aging children.  I’ve rebelled against the work world since I’ve been in it.  My first job, at 14, was being a janitors’ assistant.  That meant taking all the jobs the school janitors didn’t want.  It often involved being left alone at a remote bus shelter with a Lord of the Flies-inspired group of tweens and being told, “Get that shelter painted by the time I get back” as the boss left.  (Ironically, my boss was also my seventh-grade science teacher.  The more I learn about everybody else’s school experience the more I realize just how extraordinary the Oil City School District was—Flu, may you rest in peace!)  From that point to now being told “Bring in more money for the company,” my mind feels truly at home only in imagination.  Perhaps I’ve grown up too soon, but we should still be listening to our elders.

There should be nothing but praise for those who manage to keep their imagination alive in the workaday world.  It’s not easy.  Faced with numbers, “metrics,” and “evidence-based” analytics, we’re expected to act like CEOs.  Every time I open Quicken I’m reminded I should’ve been an accountant, a real “adult” job.  My own evidence, however, comes in dreaminess.  I’m a daydreamer—always have been.  As a professor it was easy enough to get away with it.  Less so in the business world.  I still spend a couple hours every day in creative pursuits.  It keeps me young, I think.  Well, maybe it makes me old before my time.  In either case, I can imagine no better use of any adult’s time.

Virtually Taxed

Nobody ever explained it to me.  DVDs, with no moving parts, can still go bad.  Having amassed a library of them over the years, and storing them the recommended way, I nevertheless come across several that have “damaged” areas—like a skip in a record—that confuses readers to the point that the movie simply isn’t enjoyable to watch.  The other day my wife had a hankering to watch one of those movies.  I checked our two streaming services and it was only available for rent, or “purchase.”  I still can’t wrap my head around buying something that doesn’t exist with money that’s purely electronic.  And people don’t believe in the spiritual world!  Well, I bit the bullet and clicked to “buy” the movie—perpetual access is what we call it in the biz.  We watched and all was well with the world.

The next day when I went to file away the receipt, which came in the form of an email, I noticed that we’d been virtually taxed for this virtual purchase.  It never occurred to me before that when you’re buying electrons configured in a certain way, that this is a taxable event.  And your tax is based on the state in which you live.  If you’re in a place with no state tax—New Hampshire, I’m looking at you—these electronic purchases will save you some money.  The funny thing about this is the system works only because we believe in it.  The skeptic who says “What, exactly, did I just purchase?” raises a valid question.  Despite current trends, I don’t mind a bit of clutter.  I can always find the physical object I’m looking for.  It’s the electronic ones that give me trouble.

Our world is becoming less and less substantial.  More and more virtual.  Some of us prefer the corporeal sensations of the hunter-gatherer world.  Feet on actual ground, hands on actual book.  Or DVD.  Whatever.  The cloud, with its taxes, strikes me as distinctly odd.  Politicians can virtually live in a state—Dr. Oz wasn’t, and isn’t, a resident of Pennsylvania—so can I virtually move to New Hampshire and not pay taxes on my electronic purchases?  I’ve always wanted to live in New England, but my jobs have never allowed it.  There’s something about this physical universe, and house prices being what they are I can’t see a move anytime soon.  To deal with this reality I guess I’ll stay where I’m physically located and just watch a movie.

Photo by Olga DeLawrence on Unsplash