Tag Archives: moral guidance

Thoughts on Eden while mowing my lawn

In the book of Genesis, Adam and Eve eat from the tree of knowledge of Good and Evil on the serpent’s advice, “know their nakedness,” and are thrown from the garden to a life of toil and want – the original sin that in Christianity, Christ died to forgive.
This sin of the apple is such a tortured and joyless reading of the story that I (nominally atheist, though also not) had to wonder how it has taken hold. Perhaps because we learn it as children, when banishment seems impossibly hard, when knowing nakedness only connotes embarrassment.
If you let go of this reading, the story is a much better message for adults than for children. It’s an obvious metaphor for adulthood, and of the need to separate from any parent – if you’re gonna have sex under My roof, God tells His creation, time to get your own roof.
If you are anthropologically minded, it represents the transition from the hunter-gatherer life to stabler but more labor-intensive agricultural life. A fall from grace, perhaps, but with the planet’s grace, hewing our own structures and spaces out of it, using ever more of it, removing ourselves from it with the flaming swords of burning wells.
Eden is garden, always a garden. Gardens are safe. You don’t worry about running through thorn bushes from lionesses in a garden, but you can still pick a strawberry. We take this idea into our names for safe child spaces, real or imaginary – kindergarten, A Child’s Garden of Verses.
A garden is a managed space. Adam and Eve don’t mow their lawns or trim the verge – who does? Maybe this is why the angels rebelled.
To a gnostic, of course, the serpent is the true good in Eden, the pirate message from outside the garden, warning the garden is unreal and pernicious. Think of the clones in Never Let Me Go, or Neo in The Matrix. They know something’s not right in their managed world. The serpent is the path out, and a reassurance that maybe what is beyond isn’t nearly as terrifying as they tell you.
Maybe you don’t need forgiveness for wanting to leave. Maybe you just grew up. Those flaming swords keeping you from that past? They’re just time.

On anger

The Promised Land, and its malcontents.
In the story of Moses, the aging Moses needs water for his people. Jehovah tells Moses to speak to a rock, but Moses strikes the rock twice. Jehovah lets the water flow, so the Jews can drink, but the cost is that Moses can’t enter the Promised Land.
This story is a cliché now, but I think we use it wrongly. It’s not about authority punishing misbehavior, but about the failure to change.
When the Jews are enslaved, anger and rebellion free them, at a horrible cost. One wonders if Jehovah, who created the Egyptians too, actually chose the angel of death. Maybe Jehovah just let Moses into the divine armory, to choose whatever weapon he thought best – and at the time, “by any means necessary” was enough justification for Jehovah to accept his choice.
Forty years later, not so much. For the independent Jewish people, forced by their years in the wilderness to survive on their own, now ready to build a new land, rebellion risks their new social order. Moses’s anger and rebellion have no place here. They are no longer liberating, only destructive, for there is no longer an other to escape, to destroy. This is not to say that the Jews will never need rebellion, but as the story of David later shows, it will never again be an unalloyed good.
I am an angry person. Continue reading

Notes on bad posture (symbol much)

I have a bad stance. I stand, walk and sleep with my feet pointed out. It’s always bothered me, but only mentally. I suspect it’s why I’ve never been much of a runner. It never hurt, however, nor derailed my skiing and skating. I thus never got serious about stretching the tight butt muscles that cause this splaying.
Now in my advancing years, I walk night hallways to soothe my infant son. My knees click. They click less if I point my toes straight. I can force that to happen, but for it to be natural I have a lot of stretching ahead of me, both in discrete sessions and in changing my postures of habit (goodbye cross-legged sitting).
The other day my dad came to visit. As I sat, he corrected me sharply, as only a parent-surgeon can. “Why sit sideways like that? You’ll hyperextend your knee.” He started naming ligaments. I just tuned out and shifted in my seat.
Later, as I forced myself along another oddly straight night walk, I considered the moment. I do often sit so one leg lies sideways across the chair, with my other leg over it. Had I ever thought about it, I might have called it my reaction to a world too short for me, like my leaning back on the rear legs of chairs. Now I see another adaptation to my bad stance — muscles so out of balance that it is more natural to sit like the Tarot’s Hanged Man.
This is a little story but for me an instructive one. Things that seem unrelated or rooted in different causes turn out to be the same buried problem, layered over and accomodated like a tree growing around a fencepost, creating all kinds of distortions. My last few years have involved re-seeing much of my life in this way, an unpleasant and humbling process but one for the long-term good. If nothing else, my knees should make it a bit longer. Perhaps I along with them.
Also, perhaps, another instruction: that the world is full of good advice and it comes out when one needs it, but it takes a modest attitude to hear it all.

Escaping Real Life (cosmic Shawshank edition)

Fifteen years ago, a couple of pipes of marijuana and the first Hubble Deep Field printed in Scientific American inspired me to write a little fable, of civilizations trying to communicate between galaxies by making stars go supernova in patterns. Never mind the consequences for whatever happened to be orbiting those stars, never mind that the initiating civilization might die out before anyone else saw or answered the message. To communicate with faith was the point, and, as I wrote, “Maybe, someday, there will even be something to say.”
I never did anything with the story — though reciting it over a lunch date, also with weed and cheap wine too, did score me a nooner in a suburban playground with this wild brunette from Legal. Anyway. I digress. I was trying to complain.
The past few months have been a time that mired me In, as nerds used to say, Real Life. Note that word “mired” – if you were my therapist you’d ask for more about that. It’s been a taxing few months, with a lot of hassles and family issues too. Still, most people whose houses get into Wall Street Journal don’t feel “mired.” Bad form even to say it, really, a level of rude kill-jollity much like wearing a Morlock mask to an Eloi holiday party.
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Tinkerers and the Tea Party

Recently on Slashdot I read a thread about how 3-D printing — the technology of making an object layer by layer, as opposed to carving it out of a block of matter or forming it in a mold — is limited by the difficulty-of-use of 3-D design software. As threads on Slashdot do, it quickly became a forum for all kinds of venting and debate. One especially nerdy (and I mean that as a compliment) rebuttal explained a system for recreating sheet-metal parts in software, as a way of showing how “easy” it is to digitize a flat object like a gasket.
I suppose if I described exactly how to build my garage shelving out of 2x4s and plywood it would be even longer, but most people will read that post and be glad they have a hardware store to run to when their garden hose is dripping.
Tinkerers persist in society despite the vast system of production and shipping that we humans have created. This is of course usually seen as a blessing — where would we find innovation if not for such people — but the people doing this seeing are often faux-wistful columnists who would not at all be happy if they had to design their gaskets, or even their paper clips, from scratch. Continue reading

Nobody knows anything (Boston Marathon bombing)

It’s weird to post a long-mulled-over essay about potential violence in America only to find one’s social page filled up with actual violence. I already put a stake in this ground but I’m not crediting myself with any foresight. Nobody knows anything, except for the investigators. It’s tempting to guess, but stupid.
After the Oklahoma City bombing, the initial guessing on US news was that it was the work of Islamic extremists. Only three years earlier, followers of the “Blind Sheik” Omar Abdel Rahman had tried to destroy the World Trade Center with car bombs.
The night of the bombing I was with a friend, switching news channels along with most of America. At one point when she left the room, I added Univision to my rotation. I admit I was unsure of my Spanish when a University of California professor suggested it might be the work of Americans disaffected with their government.
It was days before I heard the same on Anglo media. Nobody knows anything.
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Lost, Discouraged, Sisyphean

Four months since I did any work worth the mention. Five days since my beloved dog T__ died, his death too sudden. He lived 13 years, long enough to see his work completed: my first novel, written and rewritten while his snoring bulk warmed my toes, finally finished; my firstborn son, born to the wife he found for me, now just old enough to remember him always.
We go on. But not comfortably.
I am a privileged man. I live well in a rich country, my few problems good ones to have. As a young man I made public light of our universal predicament, joking that I was an ephemeral being floating through life, leaving no vestige of my passing. In middle-age it is truer and less funny. I am the defiant cry of my parents, exiled by wars both hot and cold from the land of their birth. But I fear I am merely the echo that starts some avalanche. I want something more.
I want to write memorably but I don’t know who is looking for that.
Last year my friend A___ sent an excerpt of Rudy Rucker’s autobiography. Rucker in turn cites Camus to explain the depressing experience of writing as well as you can only to have no one notice. It is what I return to as motivation, a reminder that the world is hard to move. Continue reading

A matriarchal Iliad

So I set myself a tricky task last post and it’s been stymieing me. How to talk about a more equal culture when one’s understanding of gender roles begins in their inequality? Too easy to make lists of masculine and feminine virtues and vices, but which are innate and which learned? I have some fiction passages from my novel but I didn’t want to go there just yet; they illustrate an argument but they don’t make it.
Happily I got the opportunity to go back, if not to first principles then at least a bit closer, when my wife and I attended Studio Theatre’s production of An Iliad, Lisa Peterson & Denis O’Hare’s passionate play about the the telling of the epic tale and its meaning to humanity.
The Iliad is less gourmet than glutton, not celebrating or condemning war but being there completely, in triumph and in hissy-fit, in bloodlust and in parental guilt. There’s no question about whether it’s a good war — it’s not. Perhaps this is why the Trojan War resonates in a way other epics don’t, save perhaps Don Quixote, perhaps for the same reason: there is no righteousness save self-righteousness, no tragedy that is not earned through folly. It’s a very male book, and patriarchal too, a story of power and fatherhood and sonhood and brotherhood, but not a heroic one.
So I wonder, what would a matriarchal Iliad say? Continue reading

My need to invent (shout out to Bottled Worder)

I had a very hard week last week in my family life — mid-40s fertility has highs and also lows, and let us leave it at that — and I was not taking it well. I tried to write about it but I couldn’t. Not from any objection to over-sharing with the relative strangers who follow me (I read Ellison in my youth, and then Genet; I can over-share in my sleep) nor from any special reverence for the sacred bummer of all things involved with making new life.
I am simply foundering on the effort to be self-centered.
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