TMI

Recently I was left alone for the entirety of a Saturday.  On rare days when I feel affluent, I’ll go and purchase supplies to take on the many tasks that need doing around the house—most of the books on my office are still stacked on the floor for lack of shelves.  I can build them, but that takes money.  Often when I have an unclaimed day I plan it out weeks in advance.  Things have been busy enough of late that I didn’t even have the time to do that.  All the sudden I woke up on a November Saturday with tabula rasa in front of me.  Then I realized one of the constant pressures I face: TMI.  One of my nieces—the one who started this blog, actually—first introduced me to Too Much Information (TMI).  I don’t get out much, you see.

Like most people who flirt with tech, I snap photos with my phone.  When we go somewhere that I suspect we’ll never be able to afford to go again, I take an actual camera and let fly like I work for National Geographic or something.  Since my laptop’s on a data diet, all of these end up on a terabyte drive, hurriedly downloaded as IMG or DSCN files, waiting to be sorted later.  Do this since the inception of digital photographs and you’ll get a sense of the magnitude of the problem.  My laptop says it’s full and I have to delete images with that dire warning they’ll go away forever.  I back them up.  When was the last time I did this?  I wrote it down, but I forgot where.  What did I even name the file?  Did I back it up or is it on my hard disc?  Why are there eight copies of the same photograph?  I spent the day sorting, virtually.

Before I knew it, the sun was beginning to set.  I’d awoken at 4:00 (being a weekend I slept in), and after a day of organizing electronic photos into electronic folders, I’d barely made a dent.  Deduping alone takes so much time.  Some of the pictures, while nice, I couldn’t remember at all.  I shudder, though, thinking about grandparents that burned old photos because nobody remembered who they were any more.  Then I realized that our lives are the most documented of any in history (so far) but nobody really cares.  You could learn an awful lot about some stranger just by going through their photos—where they’ve been, what they thought important, and just how obsessive they could be.  As I wound up the day, I realized why I don’t get out much any more.

Learn and Let Learn

My wife often works weekends.  Generally this involves trips to New Jersey, and since my unconventional schedule means we see each other awake only a brief time during the week, I often tag along.  The colder months of the year, and general economic caution, mean things to be done around the house can wait.  Most of the locations where she works have nearby bookstores, but even a guy with proclivities like mine finds it hard to spend more three or four hours in one place, even in such a welcome environment.  It finally occurred to me that one need not be a resident to find shelter, and free wifi, in the public library.  I’ll pack my laptop, and if it’s going to be a full day, a sack lunch, and head to the library for a change of scenery.  It has led to a kind of renaissance for my spirits.

Public libraries generally do not house the books I read.  The source of my jouissance has rather been discovering how well used the libraries are.  In both affluent and more modest neighborhoods, people willingly spend part of their Saturdays in buildings dedicated to learning.  Not all are there for the books, but they seem comfortable surrounded by them.  We gather in a temple to the human mind.  And everyone’s generally quiet.  Mentors coach young people who want to learn.  Some even dress well, as if the library might be a place to be seen.  In a nation where education is under attack, I always leave refreshed without spending a penny.

Such opportunities are a rarity.  Before the library opens, if we happen to be at her venue early, I may need to find a Starbucks.  They more or less assume you’ll consume to utilize their free wifi, but beyond that a day at the library comes without cost and considerable gain.  A variety of ethnicities are always present, and nobody’s right to be here is questioned.  It’s a microcosm of what we could be as a nation, had we the will, the desire to learn and let learn.  People generally have a difficult time with silence—just ask any introvert.  I suspect this is one reason not everyone shares my enthusiasm for a cloistered experience of a Saturday.  Libraries are where we’re forced to be relatively quiet to respect the needs of those actually there to read.  Hoi polloi prefer to be loud, as any bar on a weekend afternoon will reveal.  But the libraries remain, and even in their own way, are buzzing hives of the life of the mind.

Work Weekend

It’s a Saturday and my wife’s at work. She’s worked five days already and will still be at work tomorrow. I’m lazing in bed until 5 a.m. when I hear the neighbor’s alarm clock from upstairs. An hour later I see him headed to his car, dressed for work. I think about the concept of weekend and how it apparently means nothing any more. Well, I’m not at work, so it must mean something, but it’s not what it used to be. Don’t get me wrong—when I was a professor I gladly worked through weekends. Indeed, I was working pretty much all the time. I was paid to be a thinker, and I can’t shut this thing in my head off. My current job, however, is a 9-to-5 with expectations of more, but not entailing any extra compensation. Overtime? You lucky one, you’re “exempt!” And don’t forget to take your laptop home, in case something comes up in the middle of the night. (I do read the timestamps on my emails.)

The weekend is a religious idea. Ideal, even. We have the biblical concept of the Sabbath to thank for our free Saturdays, when they come. Christian beliefs about resurrection to account for Sundays. Days originally set aside for worship. Time off work is worship now. When else will we get the laundry done? Groceries bought? Floors swept? I leave before six each day and arrive home near seven at night. To keep up my Manhattan lifestyle I have to awake before four and head to bed at eight. If I had an extra minute to access my memories I might think this a little odd. I used to have time to write books. Where did that go? Vacation time? You have to be at the airport two hours early so you can be frisked for a plane that’s inevitably late. You get five days off, and two will be spent traveling. Work waits for no one.

1912_Lawrence_Textile_Strike_1

I guess it’s no surprise that those who argue that we should abolish religion have jobs that either they love or that don’t require weekend hours. They have time to examine this gift horse minutely in the mouth. You know, we don’t have to have days off. In olden times, or even today on farms, the concept of a weekend is only academic. Those whose jobs are just work to keep an imprisoned soul in its weary body are, after all, expendable. Perhaps I’m just too weak. The occasional three-day weekend rejuvenates me to a degree that’s almost frightening. I wonder why we can’t add holy Fridays to our list of days to worship. There is a price to be paid for neglecting time to reflect. I can’t imagine Pharaohs and kings wanting to grant any more time off, however. We all know who we’re really working for, and it’s not the one who gave us our weekends in the first place.

Alien Jesus

While trawling the internet over the weekend, I came upon an interesting article that ties together religion and paranormal belief. According to ADG, a unnamed woman (already the question marks erupt) in Galilee in 1967 was visited by aliens. Instead of photographing them, as most unnamed women would, she followed their instructions to point her camera at the lake (Sea of Galilee) and snap one for the album. When she turned back around the aliens were gone, and when she had the film developed there was a picture of Jesus and a disciple or two, walking along the sea in earnest conversation. Well, one doesn’t have to be a scholar of Tobit to spot the apocryphal, and this obviously bogus story received far more hits than any of my posts do. People are fascinated by the concept, even though most of the comments show some healthy skepticism.

To me the fascinating aspect is that religion and paranormal topics hold hands so easily. That is not to suggest they are the same thing, but rather that they are both perhaps directed toward a similar goal. We find ourselves in a cold world, often. There are cruelties, atrocities, and a disheartening lack of care for others. We want to believe that somebody out there has got our backs. Is it so different to believe that God dwells in the sky than to believe that aliens do as well? What is more important than the putative fact of such celestial dwellers is the belief in them. Our minds, no matter how we may protest otherwise, are perfectly well aware of their own limitations. We can’t know everything, and so we must believe.

Many of us find ourselves in an uninspiring cycle of work, sleep, and work. Sometimes we actually even do sleep, too. Cogs in a capitalistic money machine, we leave our weekends free (sometimes) to pursue a little meaning. As much as some may castigate religion, we should not forget that without it we would not have the weekend! For a little while we can break the meaningless cycle, the treadmill upon which we heavily thump our way through five days out of every seven. Is it any wonder that so many want to believe that, like Calgon, aliens might come to take us away from our drudgery? If that doesn’t work, there’s always religious services. All you have to do is point your camera and believe.

BurnandJeanPierre

Monday Morning of the Soul

Western society is much indebted to the Hebrew Bible and the culture it has engendered. Nowhere is this more evident than the now hallowed concept of the weekend. Most of our time increments are determined by the movements of celestial bodies – the sun marks our days and years, the moon keeps our months rolling along. But the seven-day week is a bit of an anomaly. We know that the ancient Babylonians experimented with the seven-day idea, but it was the Hebraic concept of the Sabbath that provided us with a regular day off.

Ancient agrarian societies knew no “days of rest.” The old saying, often attributed to nineteenth-century American farmers, states that your cows require milking, even on the Lord’s day. Life in ancient times, for most individuals, was a daily slog, repetitive, long, and repetitive, of struggling to survive. The idea that you could take a break from survival to relax and not work simply did not equate. A break from survival is the same as death. When ancient priests – city-dwellers, no doubt – decreed that Saturday was a special day because even the Almighty needs a little Miller-time, well, the idea caught on. Society, once it had become sufficiently urbanized, could allow one day off a week.

Fast forward to the Christian contribution. Early followers of Jesus were Jewish and therefore already sold on the Sabbath concept. The resurrection, they asserted, took place on Sunday, so it was appropriate to worship on that day as well. A two-day worship minimum had been established. To many ancient folks this looked like laziness with a religious blush. Nevertheless, it caught on. Now many of us in a leisure-based society, with white-collar work that usually can handle being put off a couple days without immanent starvation or over-lactation, live for the weekend. Constraints of doing it for “the man” are off, we are free to be who we really are. Two-sevenths of the time, anyway.

Religions have given the world special gifts. As another dreadful Monday morning forces us out of bed early and focuses our eyes on a distant Friday afternoon, we should remember to thank Judaism and Christianity for their combined worshipful sensitivities. If it weren’t for them, we would have endless weeks of Mondays.