Monday, April 30, 2007

The Reluctant Virgin

"You've come a long way, baby," Virgil declares in his best Virginia Slims accent. He's referring of course to the new blog.

Virgil is the one alligator I know who is actually drawn to the high-amp, boisterous ravings on the Internet. He thinks Google, for instance, is the best thing since Wonder Bread and fairy godmothers.

I'm not a net monkey myself. I'm on the outside of all this, still waiting to come in. You can think of me as refusing the Annunciation, like those reluctant Virgins sometimes pictured in pre-Renaissance art.

"Oh no, not me!"

In fact, I'm one of those pathetic twits who still likes snail mail. I've only had a computer for seven years. Before that, you could have found me on the lecture circuit, delivering my anti-cyber manifesto, called "Delia's Gone." It bewailed the disappearance of the 3-d world into mind-numbing codes, bleeps, microchips, and databases.

"Delia's Gone." It's an old Johnny Cash song about a man who murders his wife, and then becomes overwehelmed by grief at the loss of what he most loved. One guru of artificial intelligence I read about at the time claimed he preferred virtual sunsets, because they are perfect and you can have one whenever you want. Another claimed that people who refuse to get involved with computers were only hurting themselves and their ability to survive, if they did not get with the program. It's a matter of sink or swim.

"Personally I just love swimming in cyberwater," says Virgil, relishing the sheer Kabukiness of its temperature. "But there are likely to be folks out there who'll think I'm not real either, right?"

If I were Dick Cheney, I'd have the perfect answer for that: "Hogwash!"

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Bagging Rush Limbaugh

The following comment by conservative radio host, Rush Limbaugh, was cited by TIME in their weekly list of quotes of the week:

"If this Virginia Tech shooter had an ideology, what do you think it was? This guy had to be a liberal."

"Lawsy," says Virgil, who is never lacking in dromedary phrases. "I think they got the wrong man when they bagged Imus, don't you?"

Imus, who was recently thrown off the air because of his racist slur against a black, female basketball team, after referring to the players as "nappy-headed hos," was an easy target, downed in a single shot. I agree with Virgil. Rush Limbaugh is far more radioactive. I think his time has come. Down with the power of bigoted Republicans to paint reality any color. I hate that their commitment to truth is always up for grabs.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

The VT Massacre

I had barely got this blog going, or even found my sea legs, when it happened. The massacre on the Virginia Tech campus, right in Blacksburg, where I live. At first I feared it was terrorism, and then later on, after the video emerged of the young Asian student with his cobra smile and guns akimbo, looking for all the world like one of those suicide bombers shown regularly on Al Jazeera, I felt vindicated, even though it was clear by that time that this was the work of a Korean college student, not an Al Qaeda cell. A sad, and probably mad, weirdo student who had been in classes with people I know.

The I Ching reading I had during those first couple of days, when like everyone else, I was either numb with shock or weeping uncontrollably, was helpful. It advised that I had no control over the affair whatsoever. It suggested that rather than anguishing over these conflicts, my time would be better spent in improving my image: by exercising restraint over my opinions and belief systems and putting my energy into my effect upon others. It said to allow fear and anxiety to give way to truth.

So, no more secondhand terrorist fantasies.

It is just two weeks now since those horrendous events, and things are beginning to settle down. At least for folks like me, who didn't actually know any of the victims personally. I don't work on campus, and I live somewhat outside the center of town. But I can tell you that driving around Blacksburg during those early days, you could physically feel the pall over everything, the force field of grief. It was palpable.

Yesterday my friend Kathy Pinkerton showed me images on her computer, a slide show of photos she had taken on the campus drill field, the main place of mourning, where people had constructed makeshift altars, much as they had in NYC after 9/11. Flowers heaped up everywhere, and candles, just like at Buckingham Palace after Princess Diana died. I started weeping all over again at the incredible manifestation of all these outpourings of grief.

That weekend was the one-year anniversay of a once-a-month, Saturday night salon that convenes at my house, for the purpose of holding "deep dialogue" about the current state of the world. At any given session, we are usually about a dozen or so in attendance. That night, instead of celebrating our anniversary, we spent the time processing the events of the week and how they had impacted on us. Even though most of the folks in the group live in Roanoke, everyone had personally felt the shock waves as Blacksburg's "9/11" reverberated around the globe. The sheer bulk of press corps encamped in our community that week was astounding, soon to be followed by evangelical groups who swooped into town in search of recruits to "save." That is, until the students finally revolted and asked to be left in peace to grieve among themselves without interference. Their courage and compassion have been exemplary, much like that of the Amish community when they were similarly struck down, also out of the blue.

In the midst of all this, I had my roof redone. Mess, fumes, and hammering for two straight days, but then it was over. Sadly the book will not be so easily closed on the massacre story.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Virgil Speaks

I expect you’ll be asking, right off the bat, why call this “Virgil’s” blog? The answer is that my personal muse is an alligator who goes by the name of Virgil. He can twirl his arms like a windmill—a reflex that gets triggered by emotional excitement and sometimes has revolutionary implications.

Virgil first began talking to me when my creativity was at a standstill. I was hoping to write another book but wasn’t having any luck finding a subject. At the time, I was trying, in the manner of Rosa Parks, not to surrender my seat, determined to cross the river even without a boat. I was trying to write, but had nothing to go on. Then suddenly, wrapped in lengths of grass, bark, and leaves, Virgil landed in the open cockpit of my brain, and slowly acquired momentum and mystery as he went along.

The point being that I had previously used “alligator” as a metaphor; in talking about the onset of inspiration, I had written something about how the alligator “brings the diamond to the surface, then uses it for its own, various ends.” So I was truly astonished when my metaphoric alligator unaccountably sprang to life and started talking to me. Metaphor no longer, he was offering to be my guide in the vast landscape of “mind at large.” Noting my surprise, Virgil asked if I had any questions. I certainly did have questions.

The first thing I wanted to know was whether it is possible to write something without having a subject?

I shouldn’t be concerned about a subject, Virgil responded, because a subject is simply a quality that some things possess and others do not. Then he suggested I pull up a chair, saying he’d be glad to handle this. All I needed to do was to become an example of the creative process in action. The writing would take care of itself. It would proceed of its own accord.

At the end of our first encounter, Virgil offered up this line from a poem by the Sufi poet, Hafiz: “There is only one rule on the wild playground: Have fun, my dear, have fun/In the Beloved’s Divine Game.”

Meanwhile, a subject kept creeping up on me: apocalyptic urgency. I needed to give voice to what must be spoken and heard. (Like GWB, I’ve made my decision and am moving forward.)

Are you sure you don’t mean “apoplectic urgency?” Virgil asks. He’s very skillful at throwing his three cents into the fountain. And he’s always right.

The truth is, I’m very angry. At what’s happening to the world I love. And now, what's happened here at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, my town. A massacre.

The state of the world is so deeply distressing, I feel we need a counterpoint to the sanctimonious, reality-concealing rhetoric of the current administration. I deplore the “grave and deteriorating catastrophe that is Iraq,” which has not brought us anything in terms of fighting terrorism. All it has done is make matters much, much worse.

So what does it mean when the civilization you are living in may be ending? What we should be doing on a ship that is going down? How do we meet this moment of extreme danger?

I’m no Hillary Clinton, but I still say, “Let the conversation begin.” Let it begin right here.