29 July 2009

My Abject Failure to Present the Story of Christ Due to Acute Philosophical Toxicity and the Inappropriateness of Vapid Smiling

The idea of the title is misleading if taken literally. Metaphorically, it means that I attempted to write a post that was going to be totally positive, good news, and all that sort of thing. The title came from an edition (perhaps a periodically repeated edition, I forget) of the West Virginia Hillbilly, which was a statewide weekly newspaper publishing mostly cultural, literary, historical and folklore stories. The publisher was Jim Comstock, one of the all-time great cheerleaders for West Virginia, a totally positive guy. Some newspapers will publish a rare edition with a front page consisting only of good news. Comstock did it all the time.

Oh, and I tried. I smiled like Joel Oesteen. I mean, I put on a really idiotic smile, a smile that said, Hey, life’s a total glory, you die, ain’t that a gas! I spread my arms wide in openness and acceptance, asking the cretins of the world to bring all of their ridiculous, repetitive and pointless whining to me where they would be smothered in the flowery perfume of judgment-suspended love until the Power of Positive Thinking overwhelmed the stench of twaddle. Happy, happy, happy, positive, positive, positive, I was onto something pithier than Rhonda Byrne’s contraintuitive (ok, ok, illogical and silly) “Secret,” something simpler and truer than The 95 Theses and I was Able To Leap Tall Buildings In A Single Bound. I kept smiling. It hurt. This was the beta test of The New Me. It wasn’t working.

Vishnu on a Rotisserie, this is starting to sound like Dashiell Hammett. “I put my wingtips up on the cigarette burned desk, and a long pair of legs burst through the door. Yeah, there was a girl attached. Suddenly, a shot rang out. I stubbed out my stoogie. Her lipstick was smudged.”

Am I just not a positive person? What a dumbass question. What is a positive person? Does such a beast smile all the time? (What does Oesteen do when someone cuts him off on the freeway? Flip him/her off with a hearty “I love you, you blind moron!”?) Do positive people bake cookies and do a little insider trading? Give all their cash to the poor and not take the tax deduction? Or simply live a life free from encounters with the full spectrum of Reality?

Or is the constantly-positive person a useful creature? One writer, Robert A. Heinlein, was one of the nasty, cynical bastards of the 20th Century. He recommended an attitude for the enjoyment of life:

“Pessimist by policy, optimist by temperament -- it is possible to be both. How? By never taking an unnecessary chance and by minimizing risks you can’t avoid. This permits you to play out the game happily, untroubled by the certainty of the outcome.” (From Time Enough for Love.)

Heinlein was a mouthy and maligned author who usually spoke right to me. This seems like a good mix to me, but it doesn’t answer what role I will take in public interaction. To a great extent, that’s a “who am I?” question. Surprise - How the hell do I know? I can’t say honestly who is me month to month anyway. Talk to the rich and verbose, and you’ll find that since some revelation in the distant past, they have known The Truth and Preached It to The Unwashed. Rush Limbaugh hasn’t changed an opinion since . . . When? Ever? [I remember Limbaugh when he was a DJ at WIXZ in Pittsburgh - no politics, outlandish humor - one bit I remember was on some national holiday about Paul Revere warning the citizens about the British while riding a whale on wheels.] Nancy Grace (one of the targets of the Gerry Spence book, Bloodthirsty Bitches and Pious Pimps of Power) never met a criminal defendant who had an explanation or mitigation and you and I know she never will. And go ahead and substitute any of the people who Know The Truth, be it Political, Social, Environmental, Religious, Economic, or Whatever. Consider the improbability of Those In The Public Eye saying, Oops, I got that one wrong, what a dummy I am, it appears that the better way is [whatever]. And that includes Al Sharpton, Al Gore (that pains me, but his science is fuzzy and his facts are cherry-picked), and all of the Darlings of Left and Right. With them, positive-negative is not an attitude, it’s all a shtick, and we have no clue who they are at 3 AM when they are awake and alone and staring at the ceiling contemplating what their life really is all about. All fluff, all act, not a damn bit of honest disclosure of Self.

One of the links at the right is for the blog of my dear friend Doreen Lewis, a writer and college professor in Florida. She writes romantic fiction (at least three steps above the pirate-ship-wind-in-the-billowing-hair-tight-bodice mass market paperbacks), although lately most of her writing has been on a doctoral dissertation. Doreen blogs with an truly unreal presence of mind and honesty about what she learns and believes as she takes life head-on. As the old Kingston Trio song goes, “You gotta walk that Lonesome Valley, You gotta walk it by yourself,” but Doreen’s writing has taught me a lot about writing “in the present” and that when the wind changes, you gotta adjust the sails, simply saying that Oops, here’s a better way, I’m finding more about Who I Am. (Popeye had it almost right - the correct phrase is “I am WHO I am.”)

My better way is not as kindly uncle on the porch whittling. We need such kindly uncles. I’ve been reading with great pleasure the Harmony books by Philip Gulley, a delightful series of books about a Quaker pastor in a midwestern town - no violence, no (explicit) sex, the conflicts are emotional and moral, yet deep. I doubt if I could write such books or stories. No, I don’t doubt it, I just plain flat-ass couldn’t. I’d be doing dentistry with bolt cutters. Pastor Josh is at the Disciples of Christ Convention this week where there will be presented a resolution permitting ordination of people whose education is other than in a seminary. I call it the “Bubba in the Pulpit Plan,” and have had a good time jabbing Josh that this may be my ticket to divine service. That is, of course, purely in jest, because the parts of such work in which I might have the slightest success are the intervening-supporting-in-troubled-times parts. Call me at 3 AM when the shit hits the fan, I’ll make roll call. A gentle, loving sermon two weeks in a row would be beyond my capabilities and personality.

My way is to speak up. I stick out, and squeak the wheel. If someone is being an asshole and pointing that out will accomplish something positive, that’s me. When there should be an “attaboy” and nobody is doing it, I’ll do it. When someone is in trouble, I help them. In this place, when the thinking process of society is showing inadequacy or self-abuse, I’m going to go there and make a mess. If that makes me a negative guy, I’ll just have to deal with it. Sometimes, it is pointed out to me that I'm being an asshole. Sometimes that's true, and that's one of those Oops, there's a better way moments.

With all that being said:

I DO NOT KNOW THE TRUTH. My opinions are put out in the Marketplace of ideas, where they will sink or swim. I believe what I say. I believe that a thinking person should continue to take in information about a subject, subjecting that information to the usual test for accuracy and dependability, and then including that information in supporting or revising their opinions or plans. I believe that there are some absolute truths - lots fewer than Sarah Palin thinks, lots more than Barrack Obama thinks.

Moreover, lest someone ever hear anywhere some paeon to me, know that those who see me closely have a much better opportunity to see all of the warts and wrinkles. My staff occasionally sees a surly, uncommunicative fellow behind a closed door from which emits odd music and from which may or may not flow memos, documents and the like. When I become annoyed even in a public setting, I tend to be a touch over-honest, such as offering to buy some moron a ticket on the next train to Hell. Sometimes, pleadings I write take on a bit of the street preacher in me. (I enjoyed a discussion in a Court submission lately about the Fairmont City Council's plan to reduce crime. Golly, they figured out we have a crime problem, and now they're going to solve it without consulting any of the people who've been working on it for 1000 years.) And I am prone to a melancholia which is most unpleasant because it dulls the wits and judgment. So if you hear the representation that “he’s a great guy,” please answer for me, “Bulllllll-shit.” [I’m thinking of the townspeople’s response when Sheriff Bart (Clevon Little) told them that he was leaving town for noble reasons at the end of Blazing Saddles.] By the way, Blazing Saddles is a good movie, and those who insist on bleeping out the "N-word" are hopeless.

My goodness, I’ve blathered on so long, I’ve no time to rail against the unGodly today. Let me simply introduce 7 new blogs to which links are furnished to the right in two different sections.

In the upper “Eclectic Links” section, you will find:

LaJ’s One Cent Thoughts blog - these are the personal thoughts of She Who Must Be Obeyed, which may on occasion present an alternate view of this poor scribe.

Lexi’s Life - This blog is penned by Lexi the Yorkshire Terrier, who was a puppy mill rescue who resides with LaJ and tolerates the presence of your humble correspondent. The love of animals is a value. I cannot abide someone who lacks values.

Brother Bert - Bro. Bert’s blog, delicately titled, er . . . . Lest you think DNA has started to run true (the nature of my brother Preacher Joel’s blog is such that any sane and scientific mind would deny genetics, as there cannot be any correlation between sanity there and bilge here), let me point out that Bert is not a “blood” relation, but rather a co-citizen of an anti-Oz community online far away. If you find Bert’s prose offensive, you’re in the mainstream of American thought, but you’re missing out on stuff. The hyper astute reader may take a bit of time, but ultimately will conclude that Bert is unpretentious, has a sharp mind (to go with the sharp wit), and is one of those guys who has a LOT of significant life experiences upon which to draw which he doesn’t parade or even discuss. (Note to Bert: The various ordained kinda guys here are our kinda people, they just don’t know it yet.)

Parson Jim N.’s Late Meanderings - Parson Jim’s blog bleeds a multiple personality disorder. I love Jim N. He is one of the truly nice people in the world, and he is both a true scholar and down-to-earth. He played a big part in my own travels on those paths not made with hands in the past 2 or 3 years, and my impression is that he enjoyed my bewilderment. He swings from scholarship to current events to logic to down home common sense with two word transitions, it all works, and it’s all delightful. I love it when one of us tells the other that he is full of shit - I know that we then will have a fun and meaningful discussion, that we will learn from one another, and that not a ghost of animosity will arise. Do you have any concept how rare that is?

I’ve also added a “Legal Links” section, which may be of interest to a more limited readership:

circuit4.blogspot.com is a blog of the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. The Fourth Circuit includes West Virginia.

scotusblog.com - Scotus is the acronym for Supreme Court of the United States.

sentencing.typepad.com - A huge issue in federal criminal cases these days is sentencing. There are lawyers who limit their practice to sentencing only. At a continuing ed last week, I heard from a guy who was so good, his presentation will double the time I spend preparing for sentencings in the future.

Oh, spots of GREAT news - my comrade & brother Dave has gotten a great report on the progress of treatment on his prostate cancer. And my good friend prosecutor John Parr (& family) has welcomed a new grandchild into the world.

Pippa passes.



Blank Field said...

Robert Anson Heinlein was the best! ... until he became afraid of dying. At least that was my interpretation. Lazarus Long was such an obvious alter ego...

Don't sell Vapid Smiling short! There are very few instances where you wearing a Vapid Smile is not appreciated by those around you. And if the situation doesn't call for Vapid Smiling, do you really want to be there? Sure, maybe you HAVE to be there, but it wouldn't be your first choice of how to spend some time.

Of course I'm prejudiced... I am a champion Vapid Smiler. I think of Vapid Smiling as an applied lubricant for the frictions that human interactions generate.

Pippa passes short into the flat and hits the tight end right in the numbers to pick up a first down to keep the drive going...

Rosary said...

I must agree with you on the wonderfulness that is Blazing Saddles.

Joel Osteen gives me the creeps. As do all those other "think positively and you'll get heaven,rich, health, etc." people. You can think healthy thoughts all you want, but if you're sitting on the couch eating McDonald's or Hardee's/Carl's Jr's, you're not going to be healthy. It bloody well takes work and good thoughts to accomplish much of anything.

Jim N. said...

Hey Roger,

Since last week was spent in prep work for yesterday’s sermonic spurts, getting to read this blog was put off until today. I love it! I have come to expect “in your face” blunt honesty from you, and that trait (thank God) continues unabated. I’ll take it any day. You express misgivings about your identity (“How the hell do I know? I can’t say honestly who is me month to month anyway”), but my observation, for what it’s worth, is that an essential part of who you are involves a persistent refusal to put up with inane gobble-de-gook. To be able to trust that quality in you helps me to know that when I am being dim-witted or muddle-minded or just plain phony, you’ll take me aside and take me on. To be able to rely on that comes as a gift!

Something that came to mind while reading and rereading your latest post has to do with a concept that stems from Alfred North Whitehead, who as you know, started out in mathematics and logic, and from there moved into the realm of philosophy. It is from his work that a branch of theology known as “Process Theology” emerged. One theorem of this approach, called the “initial aim,” proposes that while much of who we are is due to the influence of the past, there is, nevertheless, an impulse at a preconscious level (some would call it “God”) influencing the shaping of who we are still becoming, and that the part of our psyches that is tuned into this influence receives it and considers it as impetus for novelty and further growth. (Yeah, I know, this may sound too much like heady gibberish.) One point, however, is that whatever is guiding the process, there is something within us compelling us toward optimum realization of the best that is in us, and that best is different for different folks.

You were present, I think, at a small group meeting where I shared the experience of coming-to during surgery (not something I ever want to repeat) and how in the throes of horror I relived an earlier experience (I’m being deliberately evasive here). Later reflection on that episode has confirmed something about “who I am” that in some sense came as a special revelation in the midst of surgical torture—one that I am more convinced is a part of who I am. But that attribute is one that is special to me, and I must be willing to acknowledge that people are special in different ways, and too, to value their unique differences that evolve in part from the past and in part from continuing complexity in living.

This may be coming across as bullshit, but I hope not. It is my way of saying that I really admire and value the person I know you to be.

Jim N.