…though it should be noted that I paused to add this to my blog page with an hour left in the movie, which I am watching for the first time today.
…though it should be noted that I paused to add this to my blog page with an hour left in the movie, which I am watching for the first time today.
For today’s post, the first one in a while, I am going to write a little about one of my favorite things ever written. This bit of writing was originally in Japanese, so there are a couple different translations for the title. The book where I first read it has “Mountains and Waters Sutra” as the title, but I have also found it online as “Mountains and Waters Discourse“.
At any rate, the original title is 山水經, pronounced in English “Sansui kyō,” which literally translates to something along the lines of “Mountain Water Sutra” or “Mountain Water Scripture” or “Mountain Water Classic Work,” so anyways it’s about mountains and waters. It was written by a Zen monk named Dogen some time in the 13th century. According to the source I got this from, this text is part of Dogen’s principal work, “Treasury of the Eye of the True Dharma,” or as it was originally titled, “正法眼蔵(Shōbōgenzō)”.
At any rate, I like this text quite a lot. And I intend to at least attempt to describe why I like it so much, but I am not sure if I will be able to actually do so. A lot of it does not make literal sense, I mean, and furthermore, part of what I like about it is that it doesn’t make literal sense. Ergo any attempt to explain it may result in ruining the experience for another reader.
How can mountains walk? As I am not myself a mountain, I can’t really say.
Subjectivity is the text’s main theme, I would venture, though I am not sure Dogen would agree. At any rate, this is a picture of one of my all-time favorite kitties, Waymus Jaymus.
I began writing this article over a month ago. I first got the idea to write it before that.
My original intent was to simply type out the text and add footnotes wherever I felt like it, explaining my interpretation of each paragraph. I had some difficulty with the HTML code necessary for this to work, so I ended up abandoning the project for a while.
When I finally came back to it a little over a month ago, I ended up only having a short amount of time to work on it because of other engagements. But I decided to work in something about how Waymus Jaymus likes to get up on my shoulders with the line about how soaring is always done freely in the mountains…
And anyways she does like to do that a lot, but unfortunately for her (and for me), she can only do that when it’s cold outside, and I’ve got on at least a couple layers of clothing. When I’m just in a t-shirt (as I generally am during warm weather, unless I go shirtless, of course), her claws dig in too much to my shoulders, and I have to make her get down.
I was discussing this with her this past Friday. I mean I know she didn’t really know what I was talking about, but I had her in my lap Friday evening, and I said to her something like “It won’t be long til I’m wearing more clothes, kitty, and you can get up on my shoulders again.” And to repeat, I know she didn’t actually understand what I was saying, but she purred and stuff, and after a few minutes, she hopped out of my lap, and I went inside.
I woke up around 4 am Saturday morning. That’s not all that unusual: I usually get up around 4 am during the week, but I do tend to sleep in until around 7 or 8 on Saturdays.
Anyways, like usual, after I got up, I went outside to feed the kitties… and I immediately noticed that Waymus didn’t come to eat with the other kitties. Which again, not unusual… sometimes she hangs out on her own for a while before she comes in.
But anyways, something told me to go look for her.
It was dark, so I couldn’t see outside of the old horse stall where I feed the cats. I turned on my phone’s flashlight and stepped out into the darkness, and about 8 feet from the entrance/exit to the horse stall, there was Waymus Jaymus, lying on the ground. She was meowing like she was in pain.
I reached down to pet her and discovered that she was mostly paralyzed. She could move around a little, but she couldn’t stand up or walk. And her eyes were wide open, and they appeared to be dilated.
It took me about 2 seconds to deduce that she had most likely been bitten by a snake. As this realization was a bit shocking to me, I had to go sit down and think for a minute.
I did some research with my phone and discovered that antivenin is pretty damn expensive, something like $500 a vial, and that a vet visit for a venomous snake bite could run upwards of $2000.
I also discovered that it takes a while for venom to get into a cat’s (or a dog’s, or a human’s) system, and that a cat might not exhibit any symptoms immediately following a snakebite, but some time later would start to experience paralysis, pain, and so on.
Which meant that Way Jaymus had most likely been bitten at least an hour or so before I ever found her.
Anyways, the optimal treatment in this case would have been immediately rushing her to the vet, paying however much it cost to get her some antivenin… and hoping for the best. Antivenin is not a guaranteed cure in all cases, especially when the venom has had time to get into the animal’s system.
But that would have been the best course of action. There were only two problems: the first problem was that I didn’t have $2000. And the second problem was that it was a little after 4 am on a Saturday morning, and the earliest any vet clinic around here opens on Saturday is 7:30.
So all things considered, I prepared myself for the worst possible outcome: that little Way Jaymus, one of my favorite kitties of all time, was going to die.
For the record, the feeling of impotence right then, that came with knowing that I didn’t have the money to get her optimal treatment, combined with knowing that optimal treatment wouldn’t have been available even if I had the money… well, it wasn’t a pleasant feeling.
I resolved to make her as comfortable as I could. I got a cardboard box out of the recycling pile, put some towels in the bottom of it and draped up the sides, and carefully put the mostly paralyzed kitty in the box. For the time being I left it on the ground next to where I found her.
As a sidenote, the articles I was finding online about cats getting bitten by snakes mentioned seeing blood on or near the cat from the bite wound. I didn’t see any blood on the ground, and feeling around on little Waymus’ fur, I didn’t find any matted blood.
So I felt a little hope, because if she had been bitten by a snake (and I am still about 99% sure that’s what happened), it was either a shallow bite or a bite from a small snake. Make no mistake, small venomous snakes can be deadly, it’s just that I was looking for every ray of hope I could find, and the fact that I didn’t see a big bite wound anywhere on her was a ray of hope, however dim.
So anyways, by about 4:30 or a little after, Waymus Jaymus was in a box stuffed with towels. I mention the time again because to repeat, even if I had had the money for antivenin, it would have been 7:30 before I could get her to a vet. And by then, if the bite was going to be fatal, the antivenin might not work anyway.
At any rate, every article I read said that other than taking her to a vet for antivenin, there was really nothing I could do to help her, other than to put her somewhere comfortable and preferably dark. And it was still dark outside, so I decided to do more research on my phone.
She was meowing a lot, and she was obviously in a lot of pain. For the next couple of hours, all I could do was sit there and hope she didn’t die. She didn’t, but things weren’t looking promising. Around 7 or so, after she had been through the worst part of the pain, from what I could tell, I picked up her box and put it in the hay barn, up off the ground and behind a gate, so no dogs could come along and bother her.
I hung around for a while, but seeing as how there was nothing I could do, and seeing as how I was tired from being stressed, I went back to bed for a couple hours.
When I got back up, probably around noon, I went to check on her. I was a bit upset to see her out of her box, back on the ground in the horse stall. She had mustered up enough energy to get out of the box, but not enough to get completely out of the horse stall.
I carefully put her back in her box (“carefully” because she acted like she might bite or claw me), and thankfully she stayed put that time.
The next morning, Sunday, she was in her box when I got up, and she was acting like she felt a little better, which I was glad about. There was one slight problem: I had her box in the same place I feed the cats, so I had to move it…
And after I moved her box, she sat still and let me pet her a little…
But then she got restless. She got up, got out of the box, and since I was just glad she was walking again (however wobbly), I let her walk around, and after a couple attempts of walking off into the woods (I don’t think she could see where she was going; I hope that isn’t permanent), she walked probably around 20 feet from where her box was sitting and crawled under some t posts that have been laid across a block of wood long enough for grass to grow around them and make them difficult to pick up. Waymus Jaymus crawled under there like she was crawling into a little cave.
And yes, I am aware that snakes like to curl up in little cubbyhole type places like that. At any rate, there weren’t any snakes in this little cubbyhole Waymus found, so I left her alone for the most part. She stayed there most of the day Sunday… it rained a little, but she didn’t get wet. I was hoping that if any water did drip through, she’d drink it… she hadn’t had any food or water in over a day at this point. I left her a little dish of water, and I think she drank some of it, but if she did she didn’t drink much.
She finally came out from under there when I whistled to indicate it was feeding time yesterday evening… but she didn’t eat more than a bite or two.
Same deal this morning, although she seems to be feeling a lot better. She wasn’t in her box when I first went to check on her, she was elsewhere in the shed, I guess roaming around. She was still a little wobbly this morning… here’s hoping she’ll eat more for supper tonight.
I really hope she pulls through. I think she will, but I don’t know for sure.
Here’s hoping, I guess. I will update this later, and maybe even write about what the post is supposed to be about, instead of about the kitty I added a pic of…
She’s a good kitty.
(And she’s fine now. Sorry it took me a while to add that.)
At any rate, since deciding to write this post, I have thought about the Mountains and Waters Sutra/Discourse quite a lot, and my interpretation of it has changed some.
For the record, I think this is inevitable: the text itself defies easy explanation, or at least explanation that narrows the meaning of it down to any one thing. As I mentioned above somewhere, my interpretation is not the only one.
But the past few times I have sat down to do this, one phrase from the text keeps popping into my head:
“The Buddha ancestors’ words point to walking.”
And I go for a walk instead of typing.
Gonna do that now, I think.
Be back later.
Something I like to do on Twitter (actually pretty much all I did on there for quite a while) is to take a picture of something with my phone, upload it to Twitter, and compose a “haiku” about it.
Twitter is where I got the title of this blog post, incidentally. “#フォト俳句” is a popular hashtag there, I just found out. I will make note of that for future use. 🙂
In case you can’t read Japanese (I can only read bits and pieces here and there, for the record), “フォト俳句” means “photo haiku.” The katakana “フォト” is pronounced, roughly, “fu oh toh” (which if you say it all together sounds like “photo”) and the kanji “俳句” is pronounced (and means) “haiku.”
I used quotation marks there because my “Haikus” aren’t always strictly Haikus. I.e. I don’t always follow the subject matter guidelines, I don’t always attempt to eliminate “ego” from them, and so on. Go here to find out more.
But anyways, I got to looking back through my Twitter feed the other day, and I have done quite a few of them. Here they are, take ’em or leave ’em.
October 21, 2015
Chemicals that burn
The sky while making it so
Gosh darn beautiful
April 15, 2016
A cup of coffee
With 2% milk in a
April 19, 2016
The mostly flat wall
Of trees along the highway
That the mowers cut.
April 20, 2016
The same thing, the opposite,
The bird is quite fat.
May 17, 2016
The feast is over.
The people have all gone home.
You should go home, too.
June 15, 2016
Butterfly on the
Ceiling of the front porch. Is
The pic upside down?
June 22, 2016
“Kitties, you say? I
Don’t see any around here…
I chased them all off.”
July 9, 2016
Lawnmower cat says:
“Lawnmower without mowing
Deck cannot mow much.”
July 11, 2016
Noosa Aussie Style
Blueberry yoghurt, where have
You been all my life?
August 6, 2016
At the ripe old age
of 36, I still can’t
grow a (bleep bleep) beard.
August 12, 2016
Fat guy weed-eating
Without a shirt on, and a
August 18, 2016
The worst enemy
He ever faced, really, was
Himself, not the cigs.
August 19, 2016
Spiny orb weaver?
Not native to Arkansas,
least I don’t think so…
August 23, 2016
Man with double chin
Tries to figure out Facebook
Live. “Is there an app?”
August 27, 2016
Looking at old and
Forgotten phone pics: many
Pictures of the sky.
August 28, 2016
Where was that kitty?
There he was. That kitty was.
Been there the whole time.
August 30, 2016
“I’m just here for the
Mosquitoes,” the spider said.
“I am on your side.”
September 3, 2016
“The camp” used to be
Part of my grandparents’ house;
So I have been told.
September 7, 2016
It is possible
To be allergic only
To specific cats.
September 7, 2016
I’m not gonna tell
You I’m a good cook, but I
Am not a bad cook.
September 10, 2016
After getting his
Phone back online, M. sees that
Offline is better.
September 13, 2016
on the country road, reflects
the fast clearing sky.
September 13, 2016
shiny black beetle
crouched underneath some clover
hopes he is hidden.
September 16, 2016
Bright red Lycoris
Radiata, reaching up
Through severed tree limbs.
September 25, 2016
Sorry there isn’t
A haiku. I did not have
Time to make one up.
October 7, 2016
Light and darkness, air
And water, trees and sunlight.
A pleasant walk home.
October 16, 2016
La Flama Blanca,
before and after he rolled
Off the 2 X 12.
October 19, 2016
There… that’s better. (So
I’m a compulsive copy
editor. So what?)
October 19, 2016
The sky is blue ’cause
sunlight looks different from
October 23, 2016
“Look,” the toilet said,
“I just need a little more
space. That’s all, OK?”
November 2, 2016
Is a work of art painted
By you and your brain.
December 19, 2016
Numb fingers, dripping
nose, wind cuts through my jacket…
A beautiful day.
January 7, 2017
Plain white rice and green
Olives actually taste
Quite good together
January 20, 2017
Stagnant pond water
Only moves when the wind blows
Or the pond’s too full.
January 24, 2017
The adage “shit runs downhill”
Ain’t quite cuttin’ it.
Febuary 2, 2017 (written the previous Christmas)
The Israeli girl
At the kiosk in the mall
Is good at her job.
February 2, 2017
Time heals all your wounds
And coats all your memories
With a glossy sheen.
February 3, 2017
“It’s windy today,”
the cow said. “I am gonna
get behind something.”
February 4, 2017
So a new kitty
Ate with the barn cats–hold on!
That’s not a kitty!
February 11, 2017
Not bad for 8 bucks…
Forward to “Flatland.”
February 16, 2017
Chilly morning fog
Rising up from the water
February 18, 2017
This is the best kind
Of Gatorade, even though
It sounds kinda gross.
February 21, 2017
“Nom nom, nom nom nom,
(Gulp) nom nom nom, nom nom nom
Nom, (gulp), nom, nom nom…”
February 22, 2017
Nelson Kitty, on
A reconnaissance mission
Looking for trouble.
March 1, 2017
Nom… (gulp). [“You want some
hay, man? It’s pretty good stuff…”]
Nom Nom nom, (gulp), nom…
March 16, 2017
Yellow pine pollen
Falls upon a damp brown leaf
And dries in the sun.
March 21, 2017
What you see here is
Not a butterfly. It’s just
A picture of one.
April 3, 2017
Describe what you see
Without describing yourself.
Clouds, water, and stuff.
May 7, 2017
I think I need a
bigger umbrella. This one
ain’t quite cuttin’ it.
June 3, 2017
When you realize
You’re spending way too much time
Staring at your phone.
June 3, 2017
A cardboard box that
once contained Roma ketchup
packets, now empty.
June 11, 2017
in a Heineken bottle
cap. That one’s squirmin’.
July 10, 2017
“This is way better
than cat food,” the kitty cat
said. “Get back, it’s mine.”
July 20, 2017
Bird 1: “What is the
meaning of life?” Bird 2: “(Sigh.)
Not this shit again.”
July 22, 2017
“Meow,” said the cat
to her kitten. “Meow,” the
kitten said to her.
September 27, 2017
The sky looks blue to
My eye; looks grey through my phone.
Does this mean something?
To #DeleteFacebook, or not to #DeleteFacebook: that is the question.
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous targeted ads,
Or to take arms against a sea of trolls,
And by deleting end them? To logout: to delete;
No more; and by delete to say we end
The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks
That Facebook is heir to, ’tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wish’d. To logout, to delete;
To delete: perchance to Google: ay, there’s the rub;
For in that algorithm of Google what targeted ads may come
When we have shuffled off this social media platform,
Must give us pause: there’s the respect
That makes calamity of online life;
For who would bear the popups and surveys of bots,
The bandwagoneer’s wrong, the propagandist’s contumely,
The pangs of despised hate speech, the moderator’s delay,
The insolence of spambots and the spurns
That patient merit of the unworthy takes,
When she herself might her quietus make
With a bare search engine? who would narcissism bear,
To click and scroll under weary online life,
But that the dread of something after deletion,
The undiscover’d webspace from whose bourn
No deleted user returns, puzzles the will
And makes us rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to others that we know not of?
Thus Facebook does make cowards of us all;
And thus the native hue of Instagram
Is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of Twitter,
And hashtags of great pith and moment
With this regard their currents turn awry,
And lose the name of action.—Soft you now!
The homely Zuckerberg! Trickster, in thy website
Be all my sins remember’d.
Here are some limericks. They’re a bit easier to write than Shakespearean sonnets, and probably more fun to read for most people.
So anyways, I’ll add to this page over time, also. To kick things off, here’s a limerick I wrote a couple years ago about myself, after arguing on Facebook with people who genuinely believed that “political correctness” was a bad thing.
I am not sure what date this was written on, but I am reasonably sure it was written in 2016. Like my sonnets page (and like the Haiku page that is coming soon), I will make note of the date each limerick was written. Anyways, here goes:
There once was a fellow from Lawson
Who chose all his words with great caution
Having learned as a kid
That whatever he did
Was not by default super awesome.
There once was a man very rich
Who ate only Filet-O-Fish
Tartar sauce on his paws
As he broke all the laws
And lied like a son-of-a-bish.
He was fat and was losing his hair
So he cried in the mirror and stared
Couldn’t get an erection
So he bought an election
Now the whole entire world has to care.
His fat finger placed on the button
As he chooses Big Macs over mutton
His toupee flying wild
As he rants like a child
And Tweets that he isn’t a glutton.
Never once had to worry or strive
Never cared very much for his wives
But the working-class Christians
Declared it their mission
To trust with this devil their lives.
And not only theirs, but the nation’s
To a spoiled-rotten child with no patience
He’d as soon blow us up
As pour Diet Coke in his cup
For that, he’s got federal agents.
It truly does boggle the mind
What Jung or what Sigmund might find
In a collective unconscious
Far beyond the preposterous
With no sense of hist’ry or time.
But burgers! Yes! Burgers and fries!
Candy bar ice cream! Fried pies!
The fish sandwich (hiccup)
Is better with catsup
I’ll stuff my face as democracy dies!
But with or without good digestion
He’s shown us all, without a question
That a man with great riches
Does whatever he wishes
And gains from his victims affection.
Before I get into reviewing Chapter Two of my novel, I wanted to make note of something: my total word count on this blog, prior to this post, is 114,000-something words.
I knew it was getting pretty bulky, text-wise, but jeez.
For reference, my 204-page novel (as estimated here on the Amazon page for it) is a little over 79,000 words.
Re the word count of this blog, I recently started getting what I can only describe as “targeted” spam comments on certain articles. Whereas most spam comments don’t usually have anything whatsoever to do with the article they’re posted on, and don’t generally make a lick of sense, I got a couple that seemed like maybe a real person wrote them.
Maybe I am just being paranoid.
At any rate, I copy/pasted all of the text from all of my blog posts into an offline document, just in case this blog page should be hacked or otherwise compromised. And that document is over 200 pages long.
Anyways, I have written a lot of stuff here, I guess.
Chapter Two of my novel is sort of a “make-or-break” chapter. I think that if a person reads this chapter and likes it, that person will probably continue reading the novel.
On the other hand, if they read it and don’t like it — or are offended by it — they’re probably not going to keep reading.
This chapter introduces three key characters, and it also begins the ancillary storyline involving the protagonist’s personal life. I am not sure “ancillary” is the right word, not only because the Google-derived definition doesn’t say anything about stories or narratives but also because this story is not subordinate to the main one, the one about the young physics prodigy and his teleportation device. The two storylines intertwine with each other and depend on each other, and one’s not much good without the other, to be frank.
I mean, what’s the use of writing a story about going to the afterlife and back if you don’t have a protagonist going there and talking to people he knew who died? I guess you could have him/her go there and try to find answers to “the big questions” about the meaning of life, what’s it all for and so on, but without a personal connection between the protagonist and the afterlife, I didn’t see much point in it. And besides, there’s no reason those “big questions” can’t be asked after the protagonist goes to visit deceased loved ones.
At any rate, I guess if you’re going to attempt to create a personal connection between your protagonist and the afterlife, and you want people to read your book and enjoy it, your protagonist needs to be someone they sympathize with and identify with. And herein lies the “make or break” aspect of this chapter:
To repeat, in case you missed this post, the genesis of this novel came from an older relative mentioning the concept of the “unreliable narrator” to me in an online conversation.
It may have very well been the biggest mistake I have ever made in my creative pursuits, but I didn’t want F. Darryl Mullin to be a universally-liked character. I wanted readers to have good reason to dislike him, in fact.
Without going into a whole thing about it, I wanted him to be the type of character that is begrudgingly liked, if he was liked at all. I didn’t want him to be some goody-two-shoes paragon of virtue “hero” type, but at the same time I didn’t want him to be some evil bastard who screwed everybody around and only thought of his own personal gain all the time.
But at the same time, I wanted him to have shades of both of those extremes. I wanted him to be someone that the reader found repugnant at certain times, but also someone the reader admired at certain times. Or maybe not “admired,” maybe just “didn’t despise” or “found humorous” or whatever.
I mentioned in part one of this series that the protagonist of this novel is not me, but honestly there are shades of me in him. I at least like to think that most people at least begrudgingly tolerate me on a personal level, that many people actually enjoy my company, and that while a few people do indeed have good reason to dislike me, those same people (if pressed) would begrudgingly tell you that I do have my good points.
At any rate, I don’t actually know for sure if any of that stuff about how others see me is accurate, any more than I can know for sure if I “succeeded” in creating a morally ambiguous character. I mean as far as I am concerned, I think I did a fair enough job of it, but if readers don’t agree, well, I can’t honestly say that I did.
At any rate, this chapter opens with a quote from UPWARD founder Rex Van de Camp, and is then followed by this as the opening sentence:
My bitch ex-wife says I’m a piece of shit. And she may be right. She’s a pretty smart chick.
That right there, friends, may very well cause a great many people to stop reading. And with good reason: the narrator uses not one but two sexist terms for women, as well as a four-letter term for excrement.
But the people who keep on reading discover that the narrator not only thinks very highly of his “bitch ex-wife,” but also that she and he are still friends, and if I did my job as an author at all, that he still has very strong and genuine feelings of affection and love for her. He stops calling her his “bitch ex-wife” midway through the chapter, opting instead to call her by the pseudonym “Doris.”
The novel is of course totally fictional (for the record I don’t call women bitches, never will, but I do say “chick” to mean “woman” just like I say “dude” to mean “man” sometimes; I am mentally about 16, sue me), but it is written from the point of view of a journalist reporting on something that is real in his fictional world. And he doesn’t want what he’s writing to negatively affect “Doris” or anyone else that he cares about in his personal life.
But at the same time, for his experiences in the afterlife to have any meaning to the reader, he has to give some back story about the person he goes to visit in the afterlife: Doris’ deceased father, “Pops.”
“Pops” is what Doris called her father, and that’s what Floyd calls him in the novel.
And you really ought to read it. At least through chapter 2.
If you don’t like it after that, fair enough.
Thanks for reading.
While I do appreciate the attention, assuming this comment was written by a real person, let me reiterate:
I only allow comments from real people. I.e. people who provide some form of identification.
This comment was most likely just spam; even so, I would have loved to allow it on the page it was originally posted on… but I don’t think “Viagra” is anyone’s real name.
If it is, I apologize. However, if it is someone’s real name, someone who was actually responding to the post, the IP address is located in Germany.
In case it isn’t clear, I live in the USA.
Which means, I have never been and will most likely never be in the position to say anything to the face of this German Viagra person.
Anyways, enjoyable comment… sorry I couldn’t allow it. 🙂
Ladies and gentleman, I wont to pologize of behalf of my liberel cousin.
I mean, who the hell he thank he is?
Dont nobody wont to read his opinoins!
He red a book or too, thanks he nose somethin about books!
Who he thank he is? I mean rilly.
DOne put his name on a web site, like he was Tobey Kieth or somebodey famos!
I usally get on here an talk abuot poloticks and whatall, but I aint got the patents or the time no more!
Anit nobody care bout your opinoins, Michael! Wont yuo do us a faver and shut this blog down!
Dont nobody care what yuor dang librel opinion is abuot nothen!
And you writeing poems now? I got one rihgt here:
Roses is red
Vilets is blue
Librols is stupid, MIchael
And so are you!
Dang loudmouth libral! Shut yer dang nmouth!
I pologize, to all the good, decent, people, and, I wont ya’ll to not be mad at me, just cuose Micheal is my cousin.
— I do.
Wells turned to the other fellows and said:
— O, I say, here’s a fellow says he kisses his mother every night before he goes to bed.
The other fellows stopped their game and turned round, laughing. Stephen blushed under their eyes and said:
— I do not.
— O, I say, here’s a fellow says he doesn’t kiss his mother before he goes to bed.
And, of course, all the other fellows laugh at poor Stephen again.
This traumatic (and funny, if one allows oneself to be cruel) episode in the life of Stephen Dedalus was nonetheless formative: he thinks to himself that since Wells is in third of grammar and ahead of him in that subject, there must be some grammatical reason the fellows laughed at both of his answers.
Of course, the reader (presumably) understands that Wells was merely teasing Stephen, and the fact that he changed answers to try and avoid being laughed at was what was so funny to the fellows.
But back to this episode being “formative”: since opposite answers were both found funny by Wells and the fellows, Stephen assumes that this must be reflective of some quality of grammar that he is not yet familiar with. I.e. he assumes it to be a peculiarity of language itself causing his schoolmates to laugh at him, rather than simple adolescent cruelty.
But I suppose I am getting ahead of myself a bit.
In this post, I intend to review James Joyce’s first (and most accessible, so I’ve read and been told) novel, “A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.”
As usual, I’m not really following any sort of set approach toward reviewing this novel. I would not turn this blog post in for any English class, is what I mean to say, and I don’t recommend using it as a source, should any undergraduate happen to come across it while desperately searching for sources to use for a comp paper.
At any rate, here goes:
The key to “understanding” this novel is mentioned right there in the title: it’s a “portrait.” Id est, it is not an “adventure,” or a “romance,” or even a “detailed character study.” It’s a portrait (actually five of them), “painted” not with oils or watercolors (or what have you) but with words.
The “artist” is the author, James Joyce. I.e. this novel is semi-autobiographical. It’s not clear to what extent the protagonist Stephen Dedalus “is” James Joyce, and I do not intend to investigate this right now, as I do not especially care to.
The novel is, at the risk of sounding trite, beautifully written. Joyce has a reputation for being “hard to read;” I can state with confidence that the only “hard” part of reading this novel came at the very beginning. I have attempted to start this novel a few times over the years, actually, but only made it past the first few pages on my most recent attempt.
Just for the heck of it, here is how the novel opens:
ONCE upon a time and a very good time it was there was a moocow coming down along the road and this moocow that was coming down the road met a nicens little boy named baby tuckoo. . . .
His father told him that story: his father looked at him through a glass: he had a hairy face.
He was baby tuckoo. The moocow came down the road where Betty Byrne lived: she sold lemon platt.
O, the wild rose blossoms
On the little green place.
He sang that song. That was his song.
Following this odd opening, the focus of the novel shifts for a moment to a brief reflection upon the sensations and smells involved with wetting one’s bed, how the protagonist(which at this point is known only as “baby tuckoo,” which may or may not also be the name of some character in a children’s story that is never actually told all the way through)’s mother and father have different smells, to another center-justified song/poem that’s all “tralalala”s, to the protagonist’s Uncle Charles and Dante clapping for him, as he dances to the tralalalas.
Please understand that the wonky punctuation I just used was intentional. It was an attempt to restate (or “re-paint”) the first page of this novel, to tell what is happening, to illustrate it for you, the person reading my blog.
Please understand that it is very difficult to do this. And if one approaches this opening page the way one approaches an ordinary novel, i.e. by trying to impose a definite narrative structure upon it, with one thing happening first, then another thing happening because of the first thing, etc., one is only going to frustrate oneself.
And one is being obtuse as all get out when one does so: to repeat, the key to understanding this novel lies right there in the title: it’s a portrait.
And to repeat, I attempted to force a narrative structure onto these first few pages a few different times, and to be clear, I was being obtuse in doing so.
One does not (necessarily) wonder, when looking at a painted portrait (or even a photograph), “What was the subject of this portrait doing right before this portrait was painted/taken?” Portraits are of course representative of a definite moment in time, and if one looks closely one can make guesses as to what the subject was up to before the portrait was painted/taken, as well as what the subject may get up to afterwards, but ultimately those things are irrelevant to the portrait itself.
At any rate I could go on and on waxing poetic (or trying to) about that sort of thing; trust me when I tell you that in order to appreciate this novel, one should think of it as a portrait… just like the title says.
But a portrait of what, exactly?
As alluded to before, the novel is split into five chapters, each one essentially being a glimpse into the consciousness of Stephen Dedalus at various points in his life, with each successive chapter jumping ahead a few years. The first one, what with the wetting the bed and the moocows and whatnot, takes place when Stephen is very young. It begins before he’s even started school, then progresses through to a couple events that took place during his first year at a Catholic boarding school.
“Hold on,” you may be saying. “That sounds like a plot to me. What about all that guff about how there’s no narrative and whatall?”
Well, yes, there are events that take place, but they are loosely connected at best. The connections have as much to do with the words used to describe them as they do with the events themselves.
It was nice and warm to see the lights in the castle. It was like something in a book. Perhaps Leicester Abbey was like that. And there were nice sentences in Doctor Cornwell’s Spelling Book. They were like poetry but they were only sentences to learn the spelling from.
Wolsey died in Leicester Abbey
Where the abbots buried him.
Canker is a disease of plants,
Cancer one of animals.
Later (or maybe even before, I don’t remember for sure), a Mr Casey is said to have a pouch of silver in his throat, but Stephen knows this isn’t actually true. The mention of cancer indicates to the reader (and to Stephen) that Mr Casey has cancer, though it is never explicitly said that he has cancer.
I apologize for being unsure of the chronology of the novel there. The novel features countless internal references such as that one, references that construct Stephen’s consciousness as well as the reader’s appreciation of the novel itself. Like, well, like life, these references are not all organized in bullet points, separated and independent of each other. The meaning of one thing depends on the context of another, the difference between them, the sameness of them.
It is very difficult to describe this novel without falling into the abstract. And while there are passages that could be described as “abstract” in this novel, it would be erroneous to describe any or all of this novel as “abstract.” Every word, every fragment of verse, every oddly-placed punctuation mark, every latin phrase, all of these things were put there with a specific and definite (i.e. “not abstract at all”) purpose: to take the reader into the mind of the protagonist, to allow the reader to see the world through his eyes, to feel and think what he is thinking.
But I can’t tell you that without using abstractions. A more skilled reviewer could no doubt do a better job of explaining what I am attempting to explain, but no matter how skilled the reviewer or how accurate the review, it would not match the esthetic (sic) experience of reading the novel.
So let me just summarize a few things that happen:
Midway through the novel, when he is sixteen, Stephen’s thoughts turn toward the romantic. He has a love interest who appears at various points in the novel, but he has trouble connecting with her in any meaningful way. He is afraid to even kiss her.
Meanwhile, he consorts with prostitutes. For a brief period in the novel (there are no graphic scenes in the novel, for the record), he’s bounding around the red light district like Randy Pan the Goat Boy.
(That’s a Bill Hicks reference, btw.)
At any rate, I am going to come back to this post later. I will publish it as-is, and continue from here later.
So it’s later, I suppose. The first part of this post was published on March 9, 2018. It is now March 20 of the same year.
I was listening to a lecture by Alan Watts yesterday, either this one or this one (for the record, those titles have very little to do with what he was actually lecturing about; they were created by the person running the “Alan Watts Wisdom” YouTube channel to draw in clicks, I assume), and at one point in one of those lectures, or possibly even one I listened to a few days before, he vocalizes “tralalalala” while talking about how when we humans were born, we were unable to perceive any distinction between ourselves and the world around us.
I have no idea whether Watts was a Joyce fan, but when I heard him say “tralalalala” it made something click in my brain regarding the novel I am reviewing in this post:
As I mentioned, there is a poem/song on the first page of this novel that features some “tralala”s. Here it is, just for the heck of it:
There’s another poem that comes right after that, and I think it’s also key to understanding Stephen Dedalus’ character development across the literary “portrait”. It appears on the second page of my copy of the novel, so I guess I didn’t think about it when I was writing the first part of this post. It’s easily visible here, and anyways I will also post it here for the heck of it, along with the prose that comes before it:
Uncle Charles and Dante clapped. They were older than his father and mother but uncle Charles was older than Dante.
Dante had two brushes in her press. The brush with the maroon velvet back was for Michael Davitt and the brush with the green velvet back was for Parnell. Dante gave him a cachou every time he brought her a piece of tissue paper.
The Vances lived in number seven. They had a different father and mother. They were Eileen’s father and mother. When they were grown up he was going to marry Eileen. He hid under the table. His mother said:
—O, Stephen will apologise.
—O, if not, the eagles will come and pull out his eyes.—
Pull out his eyes,
Pull out his eyes.
Pull out his eyes,
Pull out his eyes,
And I “apologise” for perhaps being a bit scatterbrained with my approach here, but getting back to what I wrote at the end of the first part of this post, there comes a point in Stephen’s life when he consorts with prostitutes. The novel doesn’t explicitly say how many (or give any lurid details as to his actual dalliances, as I think I already mentioned), but it is hinted at that there were quite a few of them. And to repeat, these dalliances occur when Stephen is 16.
Not long after these dalliances are mentioned, there’s some sort of “retreat” or something at Stephen’s Catholic boarding school. And it isn’t an especially enjoyable sort of retreat, it’s more along the lines of a “scare the shit out of the students with threats of fire and brimstone” sort of retreat.
This is, in my opinion, perhaps the most tedious section of the novel. The “stream of consciousness” style that floats from scene to scene is held fast for several pages, just as Stephen’s attention is held fast to the sermon being given by the priest at his school’s retreat.
I won’t quote from it directly, but the gist of his sermon is that all of the students present are sinners who must confess their sins or face eternal damnation. This sermon has a profound effect on Stephen, one his friends take note of. He becomes withdrawn (even more than usual), he doesn’t act like his usual self, and so on.
The sermon compels Stephen to confess his sins regarding his red light district adventures, but fear of retribution outside the confession box (or even just being seen differently by whichever local priest he might confess to) prevents him from confessing at his school. So he sets out walking, and he keeps going until he finds a church in a working-class part of the city. He confesses to the priest there, who is somewhat shocked by his confession, being that Stephen is only 16. Nonetheless the priest absolves Stephen of his sins and advises him to try and curb his appetites regarding prostitutes. Which Stephen presumably does: in the glimpses of his life shown in the novel, he doesn’t go to the red light district and prance around like Randy Pan the Goat Boy anymore.
This, I just realized (I can be dreadfully slow on the uptake at times), hearkens back to the “Apologise, pull out his eyes” poem from the very beginning: if he doesn’t “apologise” for his sins, he fears he will be punished for them.
This is central to Catholic theology, as well as Christian theology in general. I am not Catholic, so I can’t speak personally to the ins and outs of Catholicism regarding this issue, but I was born and raised Southern Baptist. And despite the many differences between those two denominations, the idea of confessing one’s sins and asking for forgiveness is key to both of them. Southern Baptists don’t require “confession” per se, but the same basic idea is there.
Getting back to my mention of Alan Watts, Watts once spoke about how we adults see children dancing. If a child is simply dancing, with no reason to dance other than the fact that they enjoy it, it’s much more pleasing to watch. We adults can see that they are dancing simply because they enjoy it, that doing so brings them immense pleasure, pleasure that is not dependent on the approval of whoever might be watching.
This is quite different, Watts says (and I agree), than telling a child to dance, encouraging the child to dance a certain way, praising them when they dance the way we want them to and scolding them when they don’t. When this occurs, Watts says, the child has lost something: they are no longer just dancing because dancing is fun, they are dancing for adult approval. And furthermore the adults know that the child is not dancing just to be dancing, which causes them to lose some appreciation for the child’s dance: they recognize that the dance is not an expression of pure “joy” or whatever, but rather an expression of yearning for adult approval.
For the record I am not particularly compelled to watch children dance, nor am I expressing disapproval toward anyone who sends their child to a dance studio for lessons. I just recognize that the metaphor of the child’s dance used by Watts applies to this novel. Especially when you also include Watts’ idea that very young children have no conception of being separate from the world around them. The parents’ intervention regarding telling the child how to dance represents the beginning of the child seeing himself/herself not as part of a unified world, but as being something separate from it. Whereas the child once danced with no idea that his/her dance was even noticed by anyone, he/she now knows that other people are watching. The steps and gestures that were once done for their own sake are now being done for the appreciation and approval of others.
This may seem contradictory: if the child recognizes there are other distinct personalities in his/her world, it may seem that this is more of a “unified” view of the world than the child had prior to recognizing this. And in a way, it is, and to be clear this recognition is an essential part of growing up and functioning in the world, and is not a “bad” thing at all.
But to Watts’ Taoism-influenced view, the recognition of the self as something separate from the rest of everything is itself the separation. To Watts’ view, and to the view of many Taoist sages, Zen Buddhists, Hindu mystics, and others, this separation is merely an illusion. I.e. we humans are not actually a thing apart from the universe we inhabit, we are in reality a manifestation of it.
Therefore, the abbreviated life story of any given “sage” or “Buddha” or whatever might go something like this:
1. Birth – has no conception of “self,” sees no distinction between self and the world.
2. Childhood – interacts with adults and other children, develops idea of self as distinct from others and from the world.
3. Adulthood – develops and hones self, experiences both positive and negative things as a result of being oneself.
4. “Sagehood” – recognizes that this “self” is an illusory construct, seeks to dismantle this construct and examine it, so that he/she might return to a more natural/innocent/whatever state of being.
I am not sure whether Watts (or any Taoist, Buddhist, Hindu, et al.) would approve of that little summarization, nonetheless there you have it. And before anyone starts to think I have gone completely off-topic here, I posit that Stephen Dedalus’ progression as a human being follows this pattern pretty darn closely. Although I wouldn’t necessarily try to claim that he is any sort of “sage” at the end of the novel.
But that might be due to the fact that “adulthood” is only beginning at the end of this novel. At the end, Stephen begins to reject all of the things he has been taught, and makes what he (and many readers) considers to be an incredibly profound proclamation. To wit:
—Look here, Cranly, he said. You have asked me what I would do and what I would not do. I will tell you what I will do and what I will not do. I will not serve that in which I no longer believe, whether it call itself my home, my fatherland, or my church: and I will try to express myself in some mode of life or art as freely as I can and as wholly as I can, using for my defence the only arms I allow myself to use—silence, exile and cunning.
And that is, in all honesty, a pretty brave and “sage-like” thing for a young man to commit to. It’s been quoted a gajillion times by internet intellectuals as a motto, one that echoes the libertarian manifestoes of Ayn Rand and others.
It’s unfortunate that Stephen’s success or failure in this enterprise is not expounded upon in this novel. Perhaps I will find out more about it when I read Ulysses, though I would probably do well to review Homer’s Odyssey first.
At any rate, and admittedly this is a bit childish of me, the reason I named this post what I did was that at the beginning of the last chapter, before Stephen makes his grand individualistic proclamation, his mother was giving him a bath. I have no idea how common it was for 20-year-old men back then to be bathed by their mothers, at any rate the grand individual was getting his ears scrubbed by his mother not too terribly long before deciding to eschew society and unwittingly become an idol to many Individualists on the internet.
Which probably merits a Freudian analysis if anything ever did, hardy har har. But I have no interest in pulling that thread, so I’m not a gonna.
Thanks for reading.
I am just gonna come right out and say it: I am a pretty big fan of “The Big Bang Theory.” People bash that show a lot, and often with good reason… but so what? I like it. It isn’t the greatest TV series of all time or anything, but it’s a funny enough show, and I like the characters (and even relate to them on occasion), so I like it.
At the very least, “The Big Bang Theory” hasn’t slowly morphed into a running political commentary nobody asked for, one that doesn’t even realize how far right of center its politics are, where every other joke positively oozes with unacknowledged privilege… at least not yet. That isn’t to say that I am necessarily repelled by TV shows and movies that are infused with political messages that often go unnoticed by casual viewers, because I’m definitely not… I guess I am just saying that I am glad “The Big Bang Theory” isn’t (intentionally) political, because if it were, I would probably not like it as much as I do.
But I am not here to talk about TV and movies I like or don’t like (or wax pseudo-intellectual about “liking” or “not liking”), I am here to talk about why I quit Facebook again .
And yes, it’s partially because a good 50% of what I’ve been doing there lately is read about TV shows and crap. The other 50% is split between being genuinely amazed and awed at the level of myopic egomania from folks who have convinced themselves that they are guided solely by “reason” simply because they reject religion and people virtually shouting at each other over politics.
Before I go on, I should say here that I have a great many things in common with the online atheist community. For example, I agree 100% that religion has no place in government, and that science education should not be compromised in any way because of anyone’s religious beliefs. To their credit, nobody in this loosely-organized online community disagrees with these ideas.
But there’s definitely a lot of disagreement in this community… and a lot of it is pretty silly, in my opinion. Many of the best things in life, like it or not, are completely irrational. Love, for one. Whether it’s a sad little crush yours truly still clings to, or the desire to legally bind yourself to one sexual partner for life (at least nominally), “love” doesn’t exactly make rational sense, if you think about it very much.
That’s not to say science can’t “explain” what “love” is. It can, or at least it can in a post hoc sense. I.e. science (ideally) can tell you after the fact *why* you’re attracted to this or that person (a lot of it depends on personality types), and it can predict to some degree which type of person you’ll be attracted to, but it can’t really predict which individual/s you’ll “fall in love” with.
Some scientists readily acknowledge things like this. Others don’t.
Some of them even attempt to correlate “science” with the way they treat other people. For many people in this online community, “political correctness” is somehow antithetical to science. If you discourage the use of slurs and epithets, these people believe, then you are (somehow) moving society backward instead of forward.
This online community is essentially a self-contained group of like-minded people, agreeing with each other and excluding alternative points of view. Which is fine, in my opinion… but somewhat ironically, this group doesn’t really seem to realize that it functions this way.
And if you mention anything about systemic racism to them, they’ll shout at you about “identity politics” until their political views become very hard to distinguish from the views of hardcore religious people.
And I don’t mean to disparage religious people. Some of my all-time favorite people are/were very religious.
Likewise, some of my all-time favorite people are/were hardline atheists. I just find it kinda hilarious when they mock things they don’t really even have the faintest grasp of, and their only argument is “I’m an atheist, so that means I know stuff.”
But I don’t want to waste this entire post griping. Or pretending that I (as in yours truly) am not (often) the instigator of the “virtual shouting” over politics mentioned before. And I can be a bit of a smartass when it comes to political stuff, though I generally at least attempt to be civil.
It’s more fun to crack jokes. Even when (especially when?) people don’t realize they’re jokes.
Anyways, I quit Facebook for a while. Big whoop.