Monday, March 30, 2009

Meditation in Seven Parts

So, what’s been going on? Not much, if evidenced by the scarcity of blog entries this year. I’m referring, of course, to my own blog, not the state of the Universal Blogosphere. Actually, many things are happening in my life, but none seemingly worth writing home about, apparently.

Blog. Web log. When I think of the term “log” I don’t immediately think of a pink, leather-clad diary book, with locket and key, and all the secrets of one’s heart locked within for one’s younger sibling to pry open with Dad’s screwdriver and share with all of his creepy buddies in the clubhouse out behind the alley. No, that would be a journal, or diary. When I think of a “log”, I think of logbook, the keeping of which must be of the highest imperative, aside from keeping the ship from running aground or sinking.

I remember keeping a logbook years ago while enlisted in the US Navy. The Navy did things during training assignments at shore facilities to perpetually remind the recruit that the eventual purpose for everything one did was revealed, in all of its glory, when one eventually received their assignment to “The Fleet.” Among these activities was that most time-honored of traditions, standing watch. Standing watch while at sea is both historic and of vital necessity in both peacetime and during war; standing watch while ashore at a training facility is one of the most frighteningly boring duties in a young man’s brief life. This entails standing at the entrance to what is essentially an apartment building, checking ID cards, and making roving patrols to ensure that the inmates are not running the asylum – or at least ensure that they do so in as orderly a manner as is possible for young men bent on raising hell, imbibing of copious quantities of cheap alcohol and exploring the possibilities of meeting up with members of the opposing gender. And every detail of one’s watch, as uneventful as it typically was, necessitated a carefully hand-printed and time-stamped entry into a hardbound logbook, of the kind one could imagine would serve as adequate testimony at one’s impending courts martial for having failed to dutifully note that at precisely 21:35 hours Chief Petty Officer Dowdy called to inquire if all the fire extinguishers in one’s dorm building had up-to-date inspection stickers. It should also be noted that all entries in said logbook could only be made using the Official US Government Black Ink Retractable Ballpoint Pen; using any other writing instrument was a bona fide bone-headed move, considering said illicit logbook entry would serve as both crime and evidence, a perpetual record of one’s nascent and irredeemable civilian tendencies.

So, no; despite its name, this website is not a log, for to serve as such would place demands on the fair reader’s patience that far outweigh what has been, up to now, a merely tedious slog through arcane areas of culture, using language and concepts ill-thought out and poorly executed.

Thus ends any hope the reader may have entertained of finding some morsel of value within a huge, heaping helping of horse manure. What follows is therefore merely a semi-random, non-ordered listing of arcane facts, observations and trivia that the writer hopes will temper the dear reader’s temper with twinges of sympathy.

Typecasting, the art of posting online a scan of a manually typed page, is both a refreshingly retro-tech activity that keeps alive the memory of the manual typewriter and also the most wasteful of information conveyance methods, in the extra amount of bandwidth required for an image file as opposed to a mere text file. Yet typecasting celebrates the simple mechanically-printed missive as a work of art, preserving the unique peculiarities of key imprintation offered by each individual machine and the interaction of muscular forces upon each letter as a kind of performance art; no two versions of the same text possessing the same exact qualities. Typecasting is akin to a marriage between Guttenberg and Beethoven – piano keyboard meets printing press – the resulting document serving as both score and performance.

Despite having recently expanded the scope of my photographic potential with the acquisition of a high-resolution digital camera, I remain habitually fixed to the imperative of exposing sheets of silver gelatin darkroom paper in antique and hand-built cameras, using lenses that range from simple pinholes to plastic Fresnel lenses to classic glass of a former photographic era. This habitual urge to pursue the creation of some wonder-filled image with seldom-seen and mysteriously enchanting qualities is, I suspect, a psychological addiction to the awe and wonder of having first beheld the creation of one’s hand, the calling of it “good.” Art, as an act of creation, has always had an association with the mystical and the spiritual, for it is fundamentally a re-creation, a ritualistic recounting of the original act of creation in symbolic form. The sacred texts reveal the power of art in both the icon that is venerated and the idol – the graven image – the making of which is proscribed. Art remains both sacred and profane, so that while we continually see the profane in the sacred, we seek the sacred in the profane.

Not counting the paying of interest, I recently calculated that I have spent nearly as much money on the purchase of motorized vehicles during my adult life as I have for my now-paid-for house. Despite the current miserable state of financial affairs at many automobile manufacturing firms, their’s has been a resounding success. Communities, whole cities -- and interstate commerce – have developed since the Second World War with their principle means of intercourse being the automobile. We cannot imagine going back, despite the well-intentioned few who manage to bicycle or employ public transit, for to do so would require the tearing down and rebuilding of all the infrastructure set in place since Levittown and the birth of the suburbs, spawned by the ubiquitous automobile and a consequent network of roads and highways built for their employment. We can’t any more lessen our consumption of petroleum than can a fish lessen its use of water; petroleum is the current within which we swim; our life’s blood.

Just as personal transportation has transformed our infrastructure and culture in the second half of the twentieth century, the virtual transportation provided by the Internet is in the process of revolutionizing our culture once again. What is worth considering is the price required to be paid in order for the transformation to proceed. In the case of the revolution in physical transportation bought about by mechanized conveyance, what society has lost is the sense of place. We are no longer “of somewhere,” in the sense of having been born, lived all our life and died within a certain limited radius. This has had the effect of breaking down our traditional cultural associations with clan and tribe; we can no longer feel that we “belong” to some where or some group of people larger than our immediate biological family, because our “somewhere” has now become “anywhere.” Our associations become simultaneously more loose and interwoven, and also less secure and stable. With the tremendous increase in social freedom and cultural flux brought about by the revolution in mechanized conveyance, we are a less tightly connected society, with the result that the individual is less securely rooted within a personal identity as a member of a society; isolation, social abnormality and fragmentation are a result. One phenomenon worth noting is the tremendous increase in gang membership and identity among the youth, a kind of neo-tribalism, as is the speculation that at work here is some resultant re-adjustment, or compensation, for the social fragmentation brought about by the explosion of personal mechanized conveyance: my neighbor; who is now my neighbor, when I can at once be anywhere and everywhere? It remains to be seen if the revolution in tele-presence, brought about by the Internet, becomes an antidote to the ills of an ever-moving culture, or merely serves to dramatically increase the rate of dissolution of culture, as the once-strongly-held bonds dissolve and all that is left is a terrible morass; a thick, tenuous goo with no substance. We can at least hope that, as old cultures dissolve, new means of connecting groups of people in personally meaningful ways will be found. For it would be a terrible thing to see the tools of man’s handiwork become, as was once threatened during the Cold War, the means of man’s downfall.

I think, therefore I am. I’m pink, therefore I’m ham.

My Step-Mom used to say “you made your bed, now you have to lie in it.” This never made sense to me at the time because, after having been coerced into neatly making up my bed, I was never, ever permitted to then slip between the sheets and sample the surely bonds of slumber. Heck, even in boot camp we were permitted to lounge about the barracks on a Sunday afternoon. I didn’t think boot camp was all that bad, after having grown up in “Stalag 3116,” as my brother refers to the old homestead. But we have: we’ve made our beds, and now have but to lie in them. The chickens have come home to roost; all our eggs are in one basket. But we’ll burn that bridge when we come to it.