Thursday, May 31, 2007

On a Roll

Anyone who knows me well knows I live for synchronicities. A few hours after writing my last blog about words containing hidden force fields, a friend just happened to tell me that she had heard earlier on the news about the "Morocco Bombing," and for some reason she thought they were somehow talking about Barack Obama.

Virgil says this is more like enigmatic gargling, but even so, surprisingly humorous to the naive ear.

Invisible Force Fields

Shortly after I moved to Blacksburg (in 1991) from England, a friend wrote me from London, pointing out that encrypted in the name of my new adoptive town, Blacksburg, Virginia, were the words "Black Virgin." His perception was quite stunning to me at the time, because I was very involved with that icon of powerful femininity, and had even created an altar to the "Black Madonna" in my new house. Since then, I have been on the lookout for the kind of linguistic experience that depends on an awareness of how hidden laws are operating all the time, though we may not at first recognize them.

In a now-ancient book called "On Being Blue," William Gass wrote that when you write, you learn that the things of this world are really containers, and every word is a mythic universe with its own intricate sonorities. You can discover, for instance, "the love that hides inside of glove and the ass inside of brass." You may even find "there is dung inside of dungeon" and "pee in perspective."

Imagine, therefore, my immediate delight when I discovered that if you pronounce the word "al-li-ga-tore" with just the right cadence, putting due emphasis on the first and last syllables, you will unveil, like a tuning fork struck on a star, the name "Al Gore." A writer with ambitions of this order is especially pleased when an epiphanic vision like this presents itself from the world's giant mosaic of pieces.

Virgil, who is trotting along behind me today, has been taking notes with his pen. He doesn't think these so-called "glimpses of Gibraltar" are anywhere near as exciting as, say, fly-fishing, boxing, or bull-fighting. But, I assure him, I'm not trying to be another Ernest Hemingway, and besides, I have no talent for boozing and bragging. I just like these tiny slivers of excellence: genuine found objects, bristling with internal syntactical geometries.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Alligator Farms

Several years ago, after I had met up with my alligator-muse Virgil, friends took me to visit an alligator farm in Myrtle Beach. The sun shone down on us hotly as we cruised the boardwalk bridges splayed out over brackish ponds with wide mud banks, on which multitudes of alligators were lying impossibly still, not even an eyebrow twitching. Occasionally you could glimpse one that was swimming, or yawning.

Once opened wide, the alligator's jaw would stay like that, immobile, locked into place, and you could peer down into its spotless interior of translucent pink, smoother than a ballroom floor. In repose, with its jaw closed, however, the alligator's teeth hung like stalactites visible from the outside.

When I regaled my friend Jane Vance about my unusual excursion to the alligator farm, she proceeded to tell me about one she had visited somewhere outside of Mombasa, in Kenya, that was also designed for tourists. The alligators were to be found in similarly brackish ponds, and visitors could observe them from rickety wooden bridges suspended over the ponds. Hundreds of alligators could be seen, their wide-open mouths an alluring invitation to flies avidly picking the rotting meat from the alligators' exposed teeth. At feeding time, the stinking carcass of a dead cow was hurled into the scummy water from a bridge. In a hellish display of frenzied thrashing, the alligators devoured the body of the cow. It was a terrifying atavistic ballet to watch.

Further on up the hill, the alligator farmers had built an air-conditioned restaurant whose specialty was--alligator burgers.

"That's the shits, man," says Virgil, when I tell him about the place. "And I'm still really bitter about it. But that's what it's like working for somebody else."

Alligator burgers, especially when consumed as fast food with no respect for sacrificial victims, are obviously not Virgil's idea of a special treat. He prefers English muffins to cupcakes any day, and is an addict of the three-for-a-dollar specials on yogurt. (He also likes San Pellegrino water because the bubbles tickle his throat.)

But alligator burgers, well, they deeply compromise Virgil's sense of chivalry. Perhaps it's the thought of universal cannibalism that repulses him: the violent ecstasy of eating and being eaten. Maybe there is even some memory trace of ritual banquets, sacrificial altars, and victims' hearts being offered as divine food to the gods. Who knows? At this point, all Virgil offers about his most private feelings is that he is thinking about the philosopher, Emanuel Kant.

"Emanuel Kant?"

"Yes. Kant had this single criterion for decision-making: "What if everybody did this?'"

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Enter Al Gore

This was a kind of lost week for me as I was mired in trauma and missing my vivid, colorful, incandescent Virgil and his doses of healing mischief. Also there were glitches in the blog posting department, which dear Nik seems to have resolved for me at a distance. Bravo Nik!

In lieu of a new blog by me, just consider this excerpt instead, cribbed from The Huffington Blog, by James Heffernan:
" I Have a Dream: Let's Re-elect Al Gore"

"Is there a single American voter who hasn't at least once wondered what sort of country and what sort of world we might now have if the Florida votes had been fairly counted in the presidential election of 2000? We will never know the answer to that question, but a Gore candidacy would give us the chance to make some amends for the most disastrous miscarriage of political justice in the history of this nation, to rebuild a confidence shattered by the pneumatic drill of fear, and to rediscover the true meaning of our constitution.

OK, OK, but he's still not running. How can we persuade him to run?

I don't know, but I do know there's a website called If you think he should run, go straight to it and add your voice to the growing chorus."

At this point Gore looms over us like an avenging angel. If only, if only, there were some way we could persuade him to come down here. Ponder this, until next week, when Virgil and I will be back again.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Exit Tony Blair

Tony Blair made a farewell visit to the White House this week, in a last photo-op good-bye to his imperial ally, President Bush. The Prime Minister is stepping down from office after ten years of service at the end of June. Standing together, side by side at two separate podiums, both leaders echoed a loud, resounding Molly Bloom "Yes!' to their embattled policies in Iraq over the past four years.

"I think we did the right thing then, and I still believe it is the right thing now," Blair reiterated several times, letting his words fall like loose change over the President.

"What kind of demagogic doo doo is this anyway?" asks Virgil, who is something of a cruise missile himself, when he wants to be.

Meanwhile, like Gustave Flaubert submitting his sentences to the shouting test--Flaubert had a habit of going outside and reading aloud everything he'd written to an avenue of lime trees near his house--Senator Robert Byrd was proclaiming with elegaic urgency:

"We need to conclude this terrible mistake we have made in Iraq. Anti-Americanism is more robust now than in any period in our history because of Iraq. The international community is skeptical of U.S. intentions because of Iraq. Our Constitution has been trampled because of Iraq. Thousands of U.S. troops and Iraqi citizens have lost their lives because of Iraq. Thousands more are maimed physically or mentally because of Iraq. Billions of U.S. dollars have been wasted because of Iraq. President Bush has lost all credibility because of Iraq. Terrorism is on the rise worldwide because of Iraq."

"This is just so bizarro," says Virgil. "Who do YOU think is right? And how the heck is an alligator supposed to deal with this?"

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Virgil and Annie Dillard

Earlier this week, it was noted on NPR that in the latest scramble to produce more environmentally friendly fuels and reduce the world's dependence on oil, the Japanese are seeking ways to run their cars on sake. The revolutionary implications of this have not been lost on Virgil, who has always thought that gasoline was downright yukky to drink with sushi--unsuitable as using a cold rasher of cooked bacon for a bookmark. (Before you groan, know that the English writer Cyril Connelly actually did this.)

Sometimes in his sheer joie de vivre and dingbat adventurousness, Virgil reminds me of Annie Dillard. One time when she was walking along Tinker Creek, where she used to live, Annie Dillard encountered a group of black steer drinking from the creek. For a brief moment, she envisions them already transformed into leather shoes and beef stew for human consumption.

But then she does the most wonderful, whimsical thing, worthy of Virgil. She rushes toward them in a wild sprint, flailing her arms in the air and hollering, "Lightning! Copperhead! Swedish meatballs!" until they scatter across the flat pasture. And by the next page, Annie is busy scaring frogs in the same knockabout, clownish way.

This kind of goofball brilliance really knocks me out! I do have to wonder, though, about Annie's other great idea, that if she could only give her daughter one piece of advice to live by, it would be "listen to no one--no one except yourself." I used to be in love with that idea, but now I'm skeptical. Because GWB must have picked up on that advice somehow, probably by inhaling it, like nicotine. And now we may never get those troops back home.

Unless, of course, the enemy continues successfully bombing the Green Zone. Meanwhile I can't help wondering what Annie's daughter has been up to with her mom's advice.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

About Illness

Apologies are in order for a slowdown lately on the blogging trail, I've had a bit of a health setback this past week that got me frankly wigged out for a few days. It must be said, I wig out real easy. But I'm on the mend again.

One of the things I resort to when I am wigging out (mostly over bodily symptoms), is to channel stuff from my old diaries. However it works, this seems to maximize my cosmic connection and usually offers scintillating revelations. Something I ran into this week that got my attention was the following question:

What do you hold strong opinions about that you know nothing about? (This has to be a Rorschach in disguise.)

In my case, the answer is obvious: it is my health. The strong opinion I hold about my health, for better or worse, is that I know more about my health than anybody else, medical personnel included. Going against the medical paradigm in our society is one of the hardest things you can do.

On that note, I will share with you some of my recent diary revelations:

Falling sick is like being captured and sold into slavery.
Our minds can heal us and they can slay us.
The loss of a sense of safety can be more devastating and frightening than the event itself.

The freeze response to a traumatic threat produces a biochemical blast throught the system. Once launched, this red alert response is hard to turn off.
Hypervigilance of symptoms takes up enormous cognitive space.

Learn not to jump into that chain reaction.
Say "lilacs" instead of checking out symptoms. Become stronger than your saboteur. There are times when you just have to stand in your own truth.

Ivan Illich says that diagnoses (by catscans, sonograms, etc.) always intensify stress, define incapacity, focuses on uncertainty, and makes one dependent on future medical findings. All of it requires submission to the authority of specialized personnel. How a thing is named shapes how it is perceived, and labels ratify control. They may even acquire "prophetic" powers.

Virgil and I discussed all this at some length during my crisis. And we both came down on the side of Teddy Roosevelt. Diagnosed with chronic asthma in his early twenties, Roosevelt was told by doctors that he had a bad heart and should not climb stairs.

Instead he climbed the Matterhorn.

He could never admit to frailty in himself and did not want the public to know of his illnesses. It didn't fit his self-image.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Ivana Trump's Bras

One of the more hilarious exchanges I ever had with Virgil occurred when he told me about meeting Ivana Trump, the ex-wife of millionaire mogul Donald Trump.

Virgil wondered how much a beautiful bra had to cost to make Ivana think twice about buying it.

"I don't really look at the price," Ivana explained, taking the question quite seriously. "When I go to Bloomingdale's, to the fourth floor, I go there for two hours and I buy 2000 of the black, 2000 of the beige, 2000 of the white. And I ship them around between the homes and the boat, and that's the end of it for maybe half a year, when I have to do it all over again."

When I first heard this, I couldn't help wondering whether it might have been things like that that drove Islamic terrorists to bomb the World Trade Center?

A friend of mine calculated that with 6000 new bras every six months--that's a total of 12,000 bras a year--Ivana must be changing her underwear every hour.

What does she do with the old ones, I wondered? Take them to the Good Will? Send them to poor women in Afghanistan and Iraq? More than 800 million people in the world are hungry. Surely no one should be having 12,000 bras until world hunger has ended and everyone has enough to eat?

But another friend, skeptical of the whole story, checked it out on the website of the New York Times, and found that it was indeed listed in a special section of the paper, headed "Mistakes." As it turned out, the correct total of Ivana's purchases was a mere 72 bras, not the alleged 12,000. She actually buys a dozen of each, in three colors, twice a year.

When I confronted Virgil with this, he said with his usual papal certitude: "Oh well, everybody knows product information is notoriously unreliable these days." Virgil definitely loves breaking through the bullshit.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Nik's Gone

This time it's not Delia, but Nik who's gone. Nik has been my stalwart and unflappable computer tutor for nearly a year. My blog comes to you compliments of Nik. I could never have have done it without him. Even the multi-talented Virgil could not have done it without him.

Nik graduates today from Virginia Tech and goes on to greener pastures in the digital world. As Bill Clinton, quoting Virgil, says, "You have to go where you're planted." Nik, as you will see, has just a hint of cheesecake, and a brilliant brain to go with it. He loves wine and biking. He's a guy with a flair and I wish him well as he backpacks into the unknown. Nik, you taught me things my mother never did. I am sad that you've gone.

Friday, May 4, 2007

Guns or No Guns

The shootings on campus at Virginia Tech have ignited a welter of debates nationwide. Should college campuses be gun-free "safe havens," as VT was, or does that merely signal an open invitation to shooters who know they won't be facing any armed resistance?

The Virginia Tech Pistol and Rifle Club, in opposition to the university's ban on guns, has posted this on their website:
"We note that restricting appropriate firearms for good, responsibe citizens leaves the field completely open to psychopathic criminals."

Oye! Even the seedy Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has come out against the idea of having more guns as the way to prevent violence on campuses. "I don't think that is the answer, quite frankly," he said.

I never imagined the day would come when I'd be quoting Alberto Gonzales in order to agree with him. He's hardly an icon of what Susan Sontag liked to call "models of the serious."

It seems obvious to me that the proposition of "more guns means more safety" is the perfect example of a malignant paradox, a version of logic on steroids. Just imagine a scenario in which there is a viral explosion of guns. Any person you meet, someone who is just passing by, may or may not be carrying a concealed weapon. Would you feel safer?

Obviously the gun-carrying individual may believe himself better protected agains the horrors of defenselessness. But what about the rest of us? The notion of guns as the new protective apparel seems as perverse as the idea of wearing lace to keep out the rain.

I finish my last sentence, and then, as if on cue, Virgil suddenly roars in like a whirlwind. He's been tied up all day, he explains, at the podiatrist's, getting his paws checked. "I have something for you," he says, handing me this quote:

"So when in anguish over any human violence done to innocent victims, we ask of God, 'How could you let that happen,' it's well to remember that God at that very moment is asking the exact same question of us."

I still can't quite figure out how Virgil does it. My cutie-pie alligator is just so fabulously, impossibly SMART.

And he seems to really love his new job as blogging assistant. Truth be known, he is a whole lot better at it than I am.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Two Extremes

Last week I read an essay by someone who claims he is obsessed with George W. Bush. (Join the club.) He says he loathes him with an intensity that makes his stomach hurt.

This man spends hours Googling "George W. Bush low IQ" (500,000 hits), "George W, Bush stubborn asshole" (67,000 hits), "George W. Bush "revolting narcissist" (23,200 hits).

I report this to my irrepressible, trickster alligator-muse for some lightning insight.

"Crikey!' Virgil responds with a perceptible wince. "Do you suppose he's actually read them all?"

It's a fair question, but I don't know the answer. What does occur to me is that he could have been studying the Kama Sutra, or hotfooting it in a lizard's costume like Fred Astaire, instead of being plugged into a machine all day, downloading all those useless bits and pieces of information.

"Do you suppose President Bush Googles himself?" Virgil asks.

I tell him that somehow I doubt it. I don't think George has much use for computers. For one thing, by his own account, he hardly ever reads, so I think he'd be very twitchy among the pixels. He does, however, know a few good card tricks. And as a pampered sultan and leader of the free world, he sure kicks up a lot of sand.