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Saturday
Jul252015

On the Universe and Other Trifles: An Imitation of G.K. Chesterton’s Prose

Last fall, as a part of an independent study in which I participated alongside the now diceased Sam Snow, I was given the monumental task of imitating, at intervals, Rudyard Kipling, Hilaire Belloc, and G.K. Chesterton. I have posted my first two imitations on this site here and here (not here) but have felt a reluctance to post the third. This reluctance stems from a certain acid tone in the Chesterton imitation that the author himself might have taken toward modern ideals were he alive today.

I have decided, however, after very little thought, to post the imitation, trusting to my readers' sophistication and their and understanding that sometimes (perhaps always) content and style conflate. I exaggerate for effect because Chesterton exaggerated for effect. I over-simplify for effect because my subject utilized the same tactic. Now, to the imitation:

It is true, the universe is the largest thing we know, but we know so little, really[1]. We have placed our mustard seed faith in the universe as something vast beyond measure, but it could be that the universe itself is the mustard seed to some other colossal object. We believe our universe to be gigantic, romantic and hauntingly cold and beautiful, but, as universes go, it could be a rather medium-sized, homely one. Maybe in a cosmic perspective its great galaxies are mere clouds of sediment suspended in the flowing tides of space and its fiery nuclear orbs are but fireflies to some invisible galactic race of giants. In other words, we feel we are small because the universe is large, but perhaps the only reason the universe seems large is that we are so small.

The weak-eyed, shortsighted modern is reluctant to address is this all-important question of the firmament, but the question remains: Why is our universe so unfathomably large, so spread out, so maddeningly outside our ability to explore it? Space may be the final frontier, but in it we have finally found a frontier we cannot explore as Shakleton did the arctic or Livingston did the Congo. Our pride in our pathetic attempts at going to the moon and mars are like swimming a couple meters off the coast of California and claiming we have explored the Oceans of the earth or reading Sartre’s “No Exit” and claiming we know drama. We are like a colony of ants in Texas calling Siberia our “last frontier” or a snail in Seattle setting his sights on Singapore—a fine sentiment but a weak demonstration of sentience. The theist and the atheist alike are faced with answering the question of meaning behind this unexplorable size of our cosmos, this elephantine girth so incredible to us. The theist, faced with this question, can and does answer the “who” and “how”; the atheist does not have the luxury of the “who,” and, because of this, generally ignores the how. The atheist even goes out of his way to avoid the giant “why” question behind the universe in one of the most natural places in the world for discussing it—the university. One would expect every class at a university to begin by speaking about that university’s namesake; that every history class would begin with the history of the universe, that every algebra class would not proceed without outlining the numbers and formulae dictating all motion in the cosmos, that every writing class would start by tracing the primal and universal language written boldly in the stars, that students of art would not place brush on canvas before they looked into that most venerated and ancient portrait of the man in the moon.

But this is the modern trend. Just as the universe has no place in the modern university, so subjects modern professors profess to teach have strayed from their real subjects. Take, for instance, the new, vogue, and progressive new field of study, Children’s Literature. Now, there is one group of individuals unwelcome in the modern study of Children’s Literature, and happens to be the one group most naturally associated with it. I speak, of course, of real children. Introduce a real child into the modern academy’s study of Children’s Literature, and it would crumble under the sheer rationality of that child. For the child knows far more than the academic how to read Cinderella or Beauty and the Beast. The child knows Cinderella’s gender identity is far less important to the story than the fairy godmother’s strict rules or Cinderella’s shoe size, but the academic will write of jargon on the first and hardly mention the second two. The child knows the beast is transformed into the prince through the good graces of the beauty, but the academic seems to believe the beauty need become the beast in order to be a female worthy enough to subvert the male beast.

 It should be a requirement for every Children’s Literature department to have daycare attached, in whose playroom scholars must write every word of their criticism, surrounded by rollicking hoards of those they claim to represent. Let that scholar read his prose aloud to a company of seven-year-old-kids and let them be the judges of its acuity and cogency. Let him defend his dissertation before a dissident panel of hungry toddlers. Let him be dragged before a tribunal of eager kindergarteners and let them decide whether his attempts to prove the presence of phallic symbols in Winnie the Pooh make him worthy to take the name of children’s scholar. Let him find out that “serious Children’s Literature scholar” is an oxymoron to the real child and that his jargon-packed work serves only one practical purpose in the nursery—to put any child to sleep.

But in the universe of the university all things are topsy-turvy. Children’s Literature has little-to-nothing to do with real children; cultural studies celebrates everything but good culture; philosophy departments no more love wisdom than they believe they can prove the word wisdom has meaning at all; rhetoric and composition take only scant and scoffing glances at classical rhetoric and the tools of composition; communication scholars have made it their job to end any and all communication of unsafe ideas coming from those less open minded than themselves. Yes, it is only natural that the universe is ignored in the university. And why should it not be? It screams for answers and the modern is too busy screaming for questions. It declares the glory of God and they declare the irrelevancy of God. It makes man feel insignificant; they make man the measure of all things. It declares that there are constructs beyond social ones. They declare the social ones are the only true constructs. It threatens to cool man’s pleasure in time. They worship man’s pleasure wildly like pagans did Baal. It preaches a singular reality behind the university. They can preach nothing but diversity.

R. Eric Tippin
In "The Catacombs," Kansas State University
October 22, 2014 


Image:
"Blue Sky"
Oil on Canvas - Date Unknown
Herbert Rollett 

[1] Careful readers of this blog will recognize this sentence (and the title of this imitation) as self-plagarism. I care little.

Monday
Jul202015

A Technical Primer in Blowing Smoke Rings

This post was originally published on the website of the Eighth Day Institute (of Wichita, Kansas) as a lead up to a conference on the work of Inklings. You can find a link to the original post here or here but certainly not here.

To clarify, a smoke ring is not blown, it is ejected. I think the “blowing” nomenclature is counterproductive for the novice. If you blow a steady stream of air from your mouth, you will not get a smoke ring. If you blow continuously, the swirl necessary for a smoke ring will curl and curl until it bursts in a chaotic mess. More than one frustrated pipe smoker has unnecessarily hyperventilated thanks to this misleading verbiage. To form a stable smoke ring requires that one eject a cylindrical slug of fluid which is about four times as long as it is wide. The slug must have a beginning and an end, and you must provide a reasonably sharp, fairly circular orifice to give the swirls a place to collect. The tongue rather than diaphragm is the motivator: rather than blowing from your lungs, close the back of your mouth with your tongue and push the air out with a gentle back-to-front motion. The smoke ring will take flight when you cease to push air out of your lips.
 

This essential mechanism both issues Gandalf’s special-edition smoke sculptures from his lips and carries an A380 airliner from London to Dubai. There’s actually a raging online debate between Bernoulli’s Principle Progressives and Newtonian Fundamentalists about what it is that keeps winged things aloft (I wonder if, in a nominalist world, a capable mind deprived of teleologically significant grist doesn’t simply create ideology where none exists), but there is another way to come at the question. 

Fluid (including air) sticks to itself. If, for whatever reason (Mr. Boeing and Gandalf, or Tolkien and Lewis themselves, for that matter, have different motives to be sure), one pushes on some air, it will drag some of its neighboring air along with it. At the meeting between the air getting pushed and the air left alone, a molecular friction swap meet occurs. The end result is that some of the pushed air gets swung into the still air, and some of the still air gets swung in to the pushed air, creating a swirl effect that engineers (and Cable Weather Hyperbolistas) call a vortex. An airplane, for instance, is always moving on to new air and abandoning the old (truly modern, alas), leaving a trail of swirl behind it (though in the end, it is a very long, stretched ring that stretches from takeoff to landing). In the case of air being pushed out of your mouth, the swirl gathers ‘round your mouth forming a complete vortex ring which, if you’ve the good fortune to have a mouthful of pipe draw, you can see.

I doubt that any of this was explicitly available to the cast of pipeweed-smoking characters traversing Middle Earth, and the story does not suffer for lack of it. The pipe and its accoutrements lay late-summer-hazily over the topology of the storyline, always pleasant, never surprising, occasionally missed. I wonder how such benevolent nonchalance would be greeted from a contemporary author. Perhaps absence of vitriol against the unalloyed evil of tobacco can be forgiven the ignorant writer of yesteryear, along with fidelity to a sacramental ontology, as a doddering atavism that gets in the way of spectacularly rendered characters and settings.

Only villains smoke now. The fire in the Cracks of Doom, we now know, was fueled by Phillip Morris. In a desacramentalized world, smoking (of tobacco rather than the “healthful” cannabis) runs afoul of the corporeal morality which, in the absence of any transcendent reality, is the summum bonum, along with the consent of the human will to sexual intercourse of any variety. The horror with which my students received my jocular suggestion that one could use tobacco smoke to visualize interesting engineering phenomena punctuates the reversal. I wonder that a professor on a public university campus would be subject to arrest for smoking a pipe within a dozen paces of any entrance on campus, but would run afoul of no Kansas law were they to become romantically involved with a nineteen year old sophomore.

And for those of you yet wondering if it is Bernoulli or Newton responsible for keeping your aluminum chariot aloft, I can tell you that it is definitively both. And arguably, neither; to the frustration of nominalist Progressives and Fundamentalists alike, wings and rings fly without regard for the name. It is in the very nature of air to make flight.
 

Brandon Buerge
Newton, Kansas
June 29, 2015
 

Image:
"Albert With a Pipe"
Oil on Canvas - 1978
Peter Burns

Sunday
Jul122015

The Romance of Reading

The modern romantic ironically knows very little about Romance. We live in an age where “all you need is love” has become “I get whatever I want.” This is romance in the modern, cheapened sense, where life is a series of events that cater to my whims and fancies. And in order for the American to be released from this self-destructing road of hedonism, he must do away with thinking romantically and begin thinking Romantically. That is, he must do away with this silly notion that the princess in the tower is saved so they can ride off into the sunset, happily ever after. He must do away with any such thought; he must realize that he is saving the princess from an evil that must also be destroyed. He must realize that a marriage with her requires a killing of a giant and that any happiness will inevitably be colored with a variety of weekly—or daily—crises. But in our modern fairly tale, the evil that exists is up to the individual person, so that while the prince may see the giant as evil, the princess (a feminist) is already mad at the prince for trying to save her. This romance merely results in the pursuit of making the other person happy.

I frequent academic circles, and it so happened one day that we were discussing a recent phenomenon that takes place in the college classroom. In a modern classroom, the professor does not walk into rooms of chattering students; he walks into something more solemn than a mass; he walks into a room of adolescents who all have bowed in holy reverence to their phones. Some have their heads jammed so far into them only their neck can be seen. This should elicit some concern, for the obvious fact is that students are becoming less socially aware and more like zombies. A zombie could walk into the room, and the only person ready to fight it would be the professor. We talk these days about gun violence. But if we took the gun away a man could walk into any room of modern millennials and still have his way, for the children would be unaware until it was all over. But as most academic circles tend to be, someone took a stance I didn’t ever think I’d hear. “They may not be talking,” she said about those students, “but at least they’re reading!” Now I am highly skeptical they are doing any such thing, but for the sake of this essay, I will assume these mindless millennials are reading something and not merely playing Angry Birds. Let’s even go so far as to say that all twenty-five students are reading news stories and not status updates. We could even go so far as to say that every student is reading the textbook for class—or Dostoevsky or Dickens, for that matter. Let’s make all these students little literary bookworms.

The statement still reveals a terrible philosophical trend toward reading that has crept into the classroom in the last few decades. It is, probably, a result of the nonsensical “art for art’s sake” movement that eventually gave us very bad art. For it is the notion that “reading for the sake of reading” is good enough for most, and it will likely result in creating very bad readers. But in what other area of expertise do we ever trumpet this ideology? Do painters stroll across town with their buckets and ladders, exclaiming, “painting for painting’s sake”? Do they splash paint on every hearth and home they see, regardless of color or coat? Do sailors sail for the sake of sailing, without a care to where they port? Do barbers, with great zeal for their trade, accost each hairy head that passes their shop, shaving and snipping till there is nothing left, all in the name of “cutting hair for the sake of cutting hair”?

I myself am a mower of sorts—you might call me a mid-mower. Nearly every day this past summer I have mowed and trimmed the local town parks. Now, I do not get atop my mower and proclaim, “At least I’m mowing!” No, I have a very clear outcome I wish to arrive at. I primarily want to make sure I don’t kill myself or any children. I secondarily want the parks to be completely mowed as efficiently as possible. My highest goal is to have the parks look beautiful when I am finished. The point here is that if those goals are not met, I am dis-satisfied. If I’m flung off into on-coming traffic or mow over a child, I do not comfort myself with the words “at least I’m mowing!” I do not comfort myself with “at least I’m trimming!” after destroying the child’s sandcastle or the flower-garden. The modern notion, though, would have the mower mowing anything at any level of efficiency and decency. The mower would be equally pleased mowing a field of lilies or a field of ladies, or trimming an area of wildflowers or women. The fact is, without any standards on which to evaluate the work, the work becomes meaningless and the females grow angry.

There is a deeper thing going on here, however, a deeper philosophical trend that has paralleled the above. That is the notion that can equals should. “If we can do it,” goes the theory, “then we should do it.” We see this often enough. We can drive hours on end at dangerous speeds in a metal box, so we look down on those who do not practice this buffoonery. We can marry two men, so it’s morally right. We can face-chat with whomever, wherever and whenever, so if you leave Faceland,* you are an outcast. We don’t really think anything of it. The student can read whatever he’s reading, so he should not only read it but rest content at reading only that. He’s still reading Dr. Seuss in the tenth grade, but he can, so he’s morally obliged. This again begs the question. If the painters painting for the own sake began chanting, “yes we can!” upon arriving at every house, it does not keep them from being tarred and feathered for proving the statement. If I’m screaming, “yes I can!” after mowing over the child’s sandcastle, it will not stop his tears from flowing, though the sand in his eyes might soak up some. In short, the mere ability to do something does not mean things will improve if the thing you are doing is shoddy work. The boy who reads John Green all his life muttering, “yes I can” will never read Shakespeare. And even if the work is good work, if it is done at an inappropriate time, it is not acceptable. The carpenter hammering at two in the morning is thrown off his ladder; the boy opening and reciting his Shakespeare during his father’s funeral is smacked by the mother. But all this really does is shed light on the deeper truth behind the whole matter.

The children can’t read real literature, so they’ve settled for less. The real philosophy is “no we can’t, so we’ll settle for less.” No we can’t be socially aware of our surroundings, so we’ll get on Faceland and pretend to be social. We can’t live in communities, so we dash of to various cities at the speed of light. We can’t read Spenser, so we’ll read Stephanie Meyer. I’m not a good mower, so I’ll practice being a bad mower until I arrive. I can’t write a paragraph, so I’ll tweet ten times until one is created.

The heart should not rejoice but break at the sight of so many faces looking at phones, for both their social and reading skills are taking a hit. We who wish to raise literary prodigies are raising a generation of mere zombies too dead to attack. And it comes back to the fact that the students are living the modern romance—everything they want is at their fingertips. They do not have to fight for anything. If the above individual had thought about what she was saying, she would realize that no one in that classroom is reading. She would realize that reading, in the sense we are using it, must be more than a means of arriving at meaning. I have no problem for the common man to be merely reading for this purpose; many a common man may go through life barely literate and be completely happy and well-off. But if we truly wish to raise well-rounded intellectuals, reading Faceland status updates should not be enough. The reader who reads only for that end is not even alive enough to lose himself in the story; he is not even alive enough to lose himself at all. For reading is a means to losing oneself, to becoming smaller so you can see more and be more. It is not mere escapism, for the children are doing that in Faceland. It is escaping with the intent of returning to your land with a new perspective. But the reader reading for the sake of reading is the mower mowing for that same end; he has lost the ability to be small in a grand world; he has lost the joy of the battle in which he is engaged. For the mower is doing much more than merely mowing; with blades, he is fighting a furious field of overgrown blades. And when he grabs his weed whacker, he finishes off the stragglers. When I trim some large oak, I often imagine I’m trimming the toes of some giant turned to wood.

Broom Snow
Written & Transcribed at the Ole Midshipman,
Manhattan, KS
July 9, 2015

Painting:
"A Woman Reading a Newspaper"
Oil on Wood - 1891
Norman Garstin 

_____________________________

*Facebook, the Land of a billion false faces

Saturday
Jun272015

The Elephant and the Seagull: A Tale of Tradition and Progress

In a land far away, though not too far from us, there once lived an elephant. His name was Tradition. And he lived by his namesake, always keeping with tradition, and—but for the next water-hole—avoiding change whenever possible. Tradition was happy and content for most of his days, and he wished to keep life that way. In that same land lived a donkey. His name was Progress. He too lived by his namesake, constantly changing his views and ideas, if not because they were actually improving then because they were merely different. Progress was often irritable and malcontented, both because his situation never actually improved and because, in order to have enough energy to change it, he had to be upset about it. Thus, Progress would fly north only to get upset about the cold and head south; he would run south till he sweat so much that he ran away from the falling sun; but when the sun rose the next day he turned away west and tried to out run it. He tried every direction because none could satisfy him, and he found that his favorite way to get north was often to go south by spinning in circles. In fact, Progress had evolved so much that he actually never left his watering-hole, but his circular motions and zeal for them gave him the false impression that he was moving forward.

One day, while Progress was undergoing his daily gyrations, Tradition arrived at this same watering-hole. When the old elephant saw him, he saw a donkey who was so progressive, his mere forward movement had to be countered by several movements to the right and left, with the occasional attempt at biting his own tail. After laughing at Progress, Tradition decided to try and help him.

“Hullo there,” he said. “What is your name, and where are you headed?”

“My name’s Progress,” the donkey said. “Though I’m thinking of changing it.”

“A lovely word, lovely. Do you live by it?”

“Oh, indeed, I do. Whatever new whim or fancy enters my head, I proceed in that direction. I try it out until something better comes along. When I die, I want to be well-rounded, you see. I want to be a donkey who has given every idea a shot and has lived nearly everywhere. Perspective is important you see. If we only do what we’ve always done, we never move forward. And moving forward is the most important aspect of life. Nay, moving forward, change, mere change, is life. A young donkey colt is constantly changing. Remove change and you remove the life force. So when I try out a new direction, I immediately must subvert it; I must find something negative about it, tweak it slightly, or even go in the opposite direction.”

“I see,” Tradition responded. “Have you ever tried subverting subversions?”

Progress gave Tradition a quizzical look, for the question was clearly beyond his scope of understanding.

“I have an idea,” the elephant continued. “How about you travel with me to the next watering-hole? I usually know exactly where I am headed. You see that well-worn path up ahead. I always take that path because I know it leads to water. It is the path that has been tried and true that I take.”

By this point in his adventures, Progress had not actually been to a new watering-hole in some time, though he was under the impression that he had seen them all. The offer was therefore unexciting to him. Most things, you see, made Progress get bored very easily. However, there was a certain charm about Tradition, something solid and stable about how he carried himself, and so he accepted the offer. He had, after all, never tried the path, which Tradition spoke of, and it would be an interesting change, if nothing else.

As the two creatures traveled down the path, Progress, like most modern donkeyes, almost immediately grew bored and irritable.

“Say, how long is this path, Tradition?” he asked.

“It is a long path, Progress, a long path” the elephant responded. “It is not a safe path either, but it is full of perils and dangers. Yet, I hold fast to it because I know it works. Come now, what are you doing?”

At the words perils and dangers, Progress immediately went into the fetal position and started to cry. In all his changing ways, he never tried anything that might cause pain. Tradition saw this, and because time was of the essence on his travels, he decided he might speed Progress’s destination up a bit.

“Progress, get up! I see now that you seem to be an animal full of ideas. You change philosophies and geographical settings quite often, but have you ever thought of progressing against those two things? Have you ever tried progressing against fear? Have you ever tried progressing against your own mere nature? If changing truth is as easy as changing a mood, why not change fear into courage, or legs into wings?

Almost immediately, Progress was transformed. Of course fear was only a relative term, created and defined by old, white men like Samuel Johnson. But the definition was arbitrary, and so from this point onward, Progress decided that fear no longer meant “An emotion excited by danger, evil, or pain; apprehension; dread” but that it could also mean “The capacity to meet danger or difficulty with firmness; bravery.” So while Tradition talked about the wild animals on the path and the high cliffs with narrowing avenues, Progress approached with an illogical fear. His mind was changed almost so completely at the mere change of the word’s meaning, so Tradition thought he would test Progress a little more.

“Progress, I’m sure you have dabbled in existentialism. Have you ever questioned why you were a donkey? Or, have you ever dreamt of being something else?”

“Certainly, Tradition, certainly. Why, just the other day, I saw a fish swimming in a water-hole, and I thought to myself, ‘I’m tired of being a donkey, why am I not a fish or an amphibian? It would be so much easier to stay cool, after all.’ I immediately subverted the experience by telling myself that thought preceded essence and that all living creatures and plants came down from the great Pan and that we were all really one creature, and I rested content in the fact that I was at that moment a donkey and a fish and an amphibian. I then grew discontent and subverted that thought by—”

“Hold it right there!” interrupted Tradition. “But though you are all things, since we all come from the same Pan-Spirit, do you not acknowledge that your physical form still limits you to that of a donkey? That is, I do not see gills on you.”

“Oh, most certainly, Tradition. But that is the beauty of it all. While I take on the physical form of a donkey, inside I currently self-identify myself as Salmon and a Salamander. I don’t believe in literal essences, of course, that is a far-too fettering approach to life; but I do hold that though outwardly I am a donkey, inwardly, I am essentially many things.”

“Progress,” Tradition said gravely. “I think it is high time to subvert this philosophy.”

“Indeed. As I was saying, I had these beautiful—such an arbitrary term!—thoughts in my head that day but grew bored with them and had to move on to something else. That’s when a pack of wild donkeyes showed up at that very water-hole. I decided then and there that mere self-identification, though very progressive, was only a step along a very forward thinking path. You see, I had self-identified as many things, but I had no foundation; my theories came from my own head, but would that help social progress? We are but individuals in a larger society made up of other individuals, and we cannot neglect the greater responsibility we have to social progress and peace.”

Tradition raised his large, bushy eyebrows at Progress’s use of evaluative terms, but held his own peace.

“So I approached the group of wild donkeyes and presented my case to them. None of us agreed completely on anything, but we all agreed that whatever we could conclude, we ought to conclude and it ought to be true and final. It was very difficult, but we eventually made a social contract, which we called ‘social constructivism.’ What was meant by this was that if we could agree on anything, that meant it was true. As a small society, we disagreed on some of the larger issues of life such as what happens after we die or who created us. Since we disagreed, we decided it was best not to discuss those things and instead focus on ourselves. We were able then, to socially construct truths for ourselves. By presenting ideas we made up to the whole group, we could be reassured of their validity. For instance, when I told the group of my existential experience, they all agreed that I had every right to self-identify as a Salmon and a Salamander. And for the first time in my life, I felt this was very real change. For instead of me changing my mind on my own, I had society telling me it was true. And if everyone agreed with me, I was contented and happy. Thus, from that point on, I decided to live the malcontented life of a donkey who was inwardly tormented because his true self was a Salmon or a Salamander.”

After hearing this tale, Tradition was rather discouraged, and he decided that perhaps progress for the sake of progress only lead to absurdities and eventually death. He therefore decided to encourage Progress in his search for self-actualization.

“Progress,” he began in his slow, solemn way, “you tell an interesting story. But do you think that you are actually experiencing everything you could experience? I don’t doubt the experience of being a Salmon is without excitement; but what if you could both be in the sea and floating above it? What if you could feel the high wind in your hair, the hot earth under your feet, and the cool sea upon your neck? Why not be more, if more is indeed better?”

Though progress had never considered self-identifying as a bird, he feigned that he had thought of this, and that it was only a matter of time before he realized his true nature as that of a Seagull.

“But,” continued Tradition, “is it enough that you are only inwardly those things? Tell me, what is reality? Is this stone, which I kick, not real? What is the true essence in the world?”

“Ah, you touch on a good point,” observed Progress. “Reality, as we see it, is a fiction. It is, in other words, a lie. That stone you kick is real only in the sense that it was accidental. Since there is no higher reality unless we socially construct it to exist, that stone has no deeper meaning than that matter which makes it up. But more importantly, we must question whether that stone would exist had we never come across it. It is the old question: Does a tree that falls in a forest make a sound if there is no one there to hear it? The answer is most obviously, “No, it does not.” We must individually experience things into being, into reality, and them solidify their existence through society. You see, that stone only exists within our society of two. It is not real for the masses of the world because the masses are not here to experience it. What is reality for us is not reality for everyone else. In this sense, the majority concludes that that stone does not exist; therefore, that stone you kick is a fiction.”

The elephant did not fully understand, but then he rested on the fact that he believed Progress to be speaking nonsense. He probed further.

“If I understand correctly, a thing’s existence is only complete by its being observed by a cognitive being? And that the majority must acknowledge it for it to become a true reality.”

“Absolutely.”

“Can it then work the other way?”

“What do you mean?” Progress questioned.

“Well let’s take this stone again. Before we came across it, it did not exist. By observing it, and by talking about it, we have solidified its reality.”

“Yes. Very true.”

“Can we not then construct or own stones from mere discussion? That is, if existence and reality is determined by cognitive thought, can cognitive thought not evolve to a point where matter is changed? Can we not cry out and create silent stones from nothing? If there is no creator, can we not become creators?”

Tradition was, once again, thinking much further along than Progress, for the donkey had not yet considered this possible scenario. But because he was itching to subvert his latest theory, he decided to go with it. Tradition, meanwhile, continued humoring the mutable donkey.

“Let’s take your longing for becoming a Seagull,” he said. “Why be content with the inward torment of self-identifying with being a Seagull and not outwardly living like one? It seems that even though your society accepts you as a Seagull, they still shun your living as one. They are not nearly progressive enough; unless they let you live how you self-identify, you will always be mere stone to them. That is, they will still be determining what you are by determining how you live, no matter how you feel inside. We acknowledge this is a stone, thus limiting its ability to be a tree; they acknowledge you as a Seagull, but only inwardly, limiting your ability to sprout wings and fly. Is it not time to fully experience your true self? I say, be a Seagull! Put on wings and fly!”

The fickle donkey was so moved by this speech, that he nearly began flapping his skinny little legs and dashing off the cliff side. Tradition held him back, however, for he was having a bit too much fun to see the end just yet.

“Hold it a moment!” he said. “You must first don a good pair of wings before you take off flying. As for our society of two, though, lets decide right here and now, this Saturday, June 27 the year or Our Lord two thousand and fifteen, that you are now inwardly identifying as a Seagull. Go now, gather up some branches and leaves. Lets make you some wings!”

Progress was so overjoyed at this idea that finding enough branches and leaves to create wings seemed to take no time at all. Tradition helped him situate the wings to his sides so they would not fall off, placing a rope he could pull, so they would flap. The transformation was now complete. The donkey was no longer a donkey but a seagull, though an ugly one at that.

“I feel so free and self-actualized,” he said. “I feel like all the tormenting my soul has undergone these past few moments has all vanished away. I feel nearly content with life. I feel I can be the best seagull. I feel I can do what any seagull can do. I feel the bonds of tradition and stereotyping and bigoted negativity are all in my past and the rosy future is one of inward peace and outward realization. I feel. I just simply feel.”

And with that statement, the seagull stood tall and proud. He pulled the rope a couple of times to make sure the wings worked, and after a few successful attempts, jumped over the side of the cliff, screaming, “I feel I'm free!” But the truth of gravity pulled him down quite quickly, and the seagull fell upon the rocks. He split his head open, broke his neck, and gave up his spirit—the spirit of a dead donkey.

Tradition looked over the ravine for a moment and then heard a noise come from the trees. About ten donkeyes had now entered the path chanting, “Change for the sake of Change! Progress for the sake of Progress!" but they stopped when they saw Tradition.

“There’s your Progress,” he said after hearing their last chant. And with a final glance over the ravine, he turned and continued on his well-trodden path.

The donkeyes meanwhile were dismayed. They all tried to agree on what to do next, since their leader was dead, but no one could really decided on anything coherent. Some tried to go after Tradition, but others wanted to follow Progress and dash their heads against the rocks. In the end, all that one could hear amongst the donkeyes were a few words. When their faces were turned toward Tradition they said such things as “Bigot! Murderer!” But when they faced Progress, they chanted “Martyr! Martyr!”

The End

Broom Snow
Written at Thee Ole Midshipman,
Manhattan, Kansas
June 27, 2015

Painting: "Dead Seagull"
By G. Murray
Oil on canvas, n.d.

Saturday
Jun272015

The Empty Field Game: Baltimore, MD, April 29, 2015

To learn more about the baseball game and the events surrounding that inspired this poem please click here but not here.
 

THE EMPTY FIELD GAME
Baltimore, MD, April 29, 2015 

If America’s pastime could continue
past time, after the reign of noise and the city,
when most have retreated
to the hidden places of the world, tucked back
into the thicket of themselves. This game
would be a mirror to that future—the crack
of ash against ball, the smack of fist and leather
ghosting through a phantom crowd,
no collective stretch of arms to soften a home
run’s flight, no thousand cheers or shouts
like the quickening rush of water.
Were entertainment to wait out the apocalypse,
this is the sanctuary to where it might steal away,
the endurant diamond with the hardness
of its underground twin, choked in
but lustrous still, gleaming
if only for those who discover it, their spiked cleats
scratching and gouging the base paths
like a pickaxe swung again and again
against a vein of coal, the athlete like a miner
with no witness to his craft, only the glove
of the dark clamped loosely across his mouth
as if to stifle a scream, when all that can be mustered
is a wheeze, a cough, a sputter, or anything
that might clear the dust from his slowly filling lungs.

 

Bryn Homuth

Photo Credit: WSJ.com