Sunday, February 26, 2006

[This was actually written a couple of weeks ago.]

I was at an honor camp on Sunday to talk to interested inmates about Christianity, minister to them and talk with them. Sometimes a picture is given of convicts all having a jaded outlook (e.g., Shawshank Redemption: "Everyone in here is innocent."). Yet that's a graceless picture. When we were closing in prayer, one of the inmates prayed also, and in part of it he prayed "for the people we have brought harm against, that you would make their lives a little bit better." I was moved to hear that that was one of the things foremost in his mind. I also liked that he made that part of the prayer a "we," which would exhort the others to consider the same thought and decide their reaction to it.

I'm sure that some in this world would not consider those men's words worthy of ever moving us. To such a person I would ask, "Who have you hurt in this world that you aren't praying for?"

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Google Earth application icon, AT&T logo. If we get a few more, we'll have a nice set of marbles.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Kurt Vonnegut has been on my mind this week, and I ran across the following, somewhat amusing e-mail exchange from 1997, describing an incident with a friend of mine named Steve. For anyone familiar with Vonnegut's bizarre fiction worlds, I think it is somewhat fitting.
Although it will probably prove short-lived, Steve and I have been involved in an e-mail war (maybe it's actually just a "police action"). Yesterday I asked him if I could get significantly less humor documents forwarded. Just after that, I began hearing my e-mail beep repeatedly. I was getting the whole Steve stash.

By typing "RE" and then hitting return, followed by 2 more buttons, I could bounce one of the humor messages back to him. So on the same message, over and over as I got into a rhythm, I sent his mail back. I wouldn't be surprised if he had 100 messages when he got done. When the smoke cleared, the damage was assessed—Steve had deleted a couple of "good" messages.

I am positive this cannot be considered appropriate use of electronic communication.

Shortly after the first skirmish, I signed up Steve and his brother (I forget what I named his "brother") onto the "Kurt Vonnegut Artificial Family Page." It is an idea contained in a weird Kurt Vonnegut novel where everyone in the U.S. is issued an additional middle name. All those issued the same middle name are family. You also get a number. So in sampling the page, I have become David Dandelion-2 Eugene Ziegler. The following was what Steve forwarded to me, with a simple “?” in the subject line.

Steve is also a Dandelion. His brother is part of the Chipmunk family. I may be able to declare victory. He is now receiving in his box an ongoing Dandelion discussion. I finally asked to have my name pulled off of the user list because so many mail messages were bombarding my account. I still remain part of the Dandelion family.

From: ………
11-SEP-1997 00:52:48.68
CC: Subj: ?

Dusty Kelly wrote:

Well David Dandelion-2 Ziegler decided that you were all to chatty for him but In to take his place comes one of the Bracy Brothers, the other is a Chipmunk. So here's the newest update of the Dandelion Garden as of September 10th.

I'm getting most of your mail but I still haven't heard to much about the Dandelion Director. Has anyone risen to the occasion yet?

"Lonesome No More!" Dusty Chromium-2 Jay Kelly

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Reader's Digest isn't.

At least, it isn't for readers, and it doesn't digest. It just sits in the bottom of the stomach, a solid and fibrous lump of factual material. The presumption, or irresponsibility of its editors is that the words of storytellers and article-writers can be pared and peeled until we only have what is most essential. It's a life-worsening premise, and the refusal of writers alone to come near it should end its reign as one of the most widely read periodicals. Think about the premise. It is the opposite of poetry which says that, if anything, what's valuable in writing can be reduced to the style and structure of the words themselves. And because poets put their love of words first and foremost in their medium, they are the only ones immune to the Abridgers. I remember discovering RD when I was young, and thinking it a treasure. I didn't have any wise sage around me at this formative period of my life, no one to warn me what I had found.

"It's like a Twinkie, son. The promise is that you can have all the taste of a real pastry, but it sits on the shelf conveniently for you, already packaged and preserved." And RD isn't alone in their treachery. Don DeLillo is considered one of the best writers of English sentences alive. He wrote Underworld, a beautifully written novel, which starts out, "He speaks in your voice, American, and there's a gleam in his eye that's halfway hopeful." Now somewhere out there is an audio book giving us the kernel of his story. Perhaps it starts out, "He speaks English, and his eyes are hopeful." We still get what we need right? The only sacrifice is the beauty of the language, one of the best reasons to read.

Okay, I recognize that the process of condensing involves removing chunks, not rewriting. But why, once having started so well, don't we continue? Why don't we simplify the colors of a Monet or a Chagall, so it doesn't take as much staring to get the same understanding? Why don't we have 15-minute movies? Why don't we make CDs of Bach's music reduced to the melody line, so we get the tunes without all of the counterpoint and embellishment? In fact, why, if it were possible, shouldn’t we live for only 40 years, and just experience the best part?

Maybe it sounds like sheer intellectual hubris, and I may be oversimplifying or overstating, but it’s at least worth considering from this different perspective. And I should qualify the thought. One could get the idea that I am saying a writer's words are such gold that to take away one letter, one comma, one phrase, would be to reduce the work to worthlessness.

I don't think anything of the sort. It is the nature of writing that makes one so able to cut and chop. There is never enough editing, never enough revising, and so we never get a 100%, fully finished and polished work. We get maybe 80% in the best of the lot, and the rest is definitely less essential. But who presumes to know why a writer includes a paragraph, phrases a sentence a certain way, or makes a book 375 instead of 373 pages? Why are we after bare story, and care so little about style? Why do we mess with someone else's year or ten-year's effort?

What we lose in the trade isn't worth the cut. We are too busy for the other words, I guess. We only want what someone else ruthlessly judges as "necessary" without what is labeled "expendable." We want our beauty faster, our facts delivered without as much analysis.

But maybe the 30 years we would cut off of our life to only live the best of it, maybe the paragraph that is never seen again, has more to say about life than some of the stuff retained. Maybe the imperfections, the boredom, the unhappy stretches, have as much to teach us as the shining characters and the blunt, direct narrative.

Maybe, Reader's Digest isn't.
Don't give up on me. Just check back less often.

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