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Saturday
Jul052014

The Soul of the Phone

 

 

  The other day, in a moment of wild rationality, I deleted the browser from my phone, and, in effect, banned myself from frivolous internet browsing. Sometimes, the most rational thing is the most rash thing, and in order to free oneself from some modern time leach one must show unthinking disregard for modern conveniences. When I pressed my finger to the small “x” at the top right of the app icon, a weight—a moral weight fell from me. I no longer had the option of wasting time reading droning Buzz Feed articles or banal tweets.  In taking away the option to do the worse thing, I gave myself the option to do the better thing. I was, you might say, rashly rational.

Take another example. Last Friday and Saturday I moved my good friend Brandon M. Schneeberger—sometimes secretary, sometimes boss of the esteemed Samuel Snow) into new snug quarters, which he has since dubbed The Ole Midshipman. Now, Brandon M. Schneegberger is a very old fashioned person who can become verbally violent in his condemnations of modern technology. Some may even call his ravings “unbalanced” or even “over-general”—perish the thought! Some have said he is agéd beyond his years (he might tell you the same). Whatever his critics might say, Brandon M. Schneeberger understands the concept of rash rationality, for he has chosen to keep the internet—the entity he claims has come “to destroy the world”—out of The Ole Midshipman. His reasoning is simple: he would rather explore his bookshelf, or fill a notebook with essays than walk on that sticky web of, as the poet Ruper Brook might put it, “lies and truths and pain.” I would only add “half truths” to the poet Brook’s list. Brandon M. Schneeberger has not taken away the internet as much as he has given himself his apartment. In withholding hours of internet browsing and e-mail he has given himself his bookshelf, his kitchen, his writing desk, evening ambles and board games with friends. He has sharpened his view out the small living room window facing a viney garden plot and an old oak.

Speaking from a literary perspective, I have no doubt the internet and television, if available to the literary minded of the past, would have prevented some of the masterpieces we read and enjoy today, for, writing a literary masterpiece takes time, loads of time—years of reading, years of imperfect, shoddy writing, years of linguistic drudgery that the modern (including myself) cannot and will not put in. To today’s literary man, the cost is no longer worth the payout. But I do not say this is all his fault. He is hardly given the option, really. By the time we reach an age that would allow us to decide on a literary life, we have already developed habits of self-entertainment and make most of our choices based on the “fun scale.” We become pleasure junkies long before we know the drug exists.

 Imagine Dostoyevsky staring with dead eyes at a laptop in his study, a blank page on his desk and a smart phone in his hand. Yes, he would eventually scratch out fifty or sixty thousand word books between trips to his blogs and his shows. They would probably be great books with philosophical and literary value, but they would not be The Brother’s Karamazov—rather, weaker, diluted, confused versions of his masterpieces. Plugged-in-Dostoyevsky’s books would read like, well, modern books.

And that is my beef with the modern book, not that the author has any less natural talent than those of yore but that he has not developed that talent and cannot, unless he has been raised in some micro house in the wilderness. When a young literary person ninety years ago arrived home after a day of work, his options for evening activities were simple: read, write, walk, idle, sleep, correspond, entertain, or go out. Today, he is deluged in options—drowned in options all flowing to him through two cables: the coax cable (one of the more appropriate names for any technological device, for what has been more maliciously coaxing to young men of our age than the coax?) and the Ethernet cable (also perfectly named; the ether dulls the senses; the ethernet dulls the conscience). Unless that young man has the willpower of the Joseph or the asceticism of a minor prophet, he will give into the siren song of pleasure and will not develop his brain adequately to write brilliant books. Therefore, I believe the age of masterpieces has come to an end and will only return when the age of entertainment options dies away. Our technology has outstripped our wills, and we read the consequences on all the “new releases” bookshelf every day.

As I write this polemic essay I am conscious of my own failures as a student and a writer. I deleted my internet browser, but I cannot remove the memory of hundreds of mornings, afternoons, and evenings wasted on some easier, more pleasurable means of passing the time than reading, writing, or reflecting. At 26, Charles Dickens had published three novels and a 688 page book of London sketches. At 26, I am thirty thousand words into one measly novel.

A few nights ago I went to exercise in an old limestone stadium in my town. For some unknown reason, the field lights had not been turned on, and it was dark. The only lights were far off streetlights and floodlights from campus. I had supposed upon my arrival to find myself alone in the old stadium, but I found to my surprise a whole host of other exercisers moving silently in circles around the field and up the stadium stairs. The dim light gave me the impression they were floating like diligent ghosts on their rounds, for I could only see them by their white clothing. In the hour I spent carefully feeling my way around that field and up those stairs, none of the ghosts around me spoke—only carried on mournfully and silently. I caught the spirit of the moment and solemnly went about my routine. But as I exercised with the faceless around me, I began to feel a mystical connection with them. Because I could not see their faces, I began to imagine I could see their souls, limbering themselves up for the Day of Judgment with ghostly leaps and bounds. For a few magical minutes I had lost the option of seeing my fellow exercisers’ faces and I saw their souls—or at least remembered they had them.

Perhaps I’ll learn to see the soul of my phone with is browser removed. I’m only afraid I’ll find it black as that night in the stadium.

R. Eric Tippin
Gray Gables, the grandest estate in South-Central Kansas
July 5, 21014

Image:
Brandon M. Schneeberger's Desk in the Ole Midshipman
Taken by the Author 

 

Tuesday
Jul012014

Ambler, No. 15 [On States' Rights]

A third cause of common Errors is the Credulity of men, that is, an easie assent, to what is obtruded, or a beleeving at first ear what is delivered by others. -- Sir Thomas Browne

 

Though I do not remember the specific date, and though the specific location may only be guessed at -- a good guess, mind you -- I distinctly remember the confused individual some eight or nine years ago who, in response to something I had said, blurted out, "Kansas? Oh my, I've driven through Kansas. Kansas is so boring!" Never mind that this was stated from an individual who grew up and was presently residing in the state of Iowa, a state not generally advertised for its excitement. Never mind that the author of these mournful Amblers does hail from Kansas and can thus not properly address this topic without some level of bias. But the central issue of the matter hinges on this watery notion of boring. I have by my side a common dictionary which defines bore as "to weary by monotony, dullness, etc." and boredom is the state which corresponds to that description. Now, I do not presently have access to the Oxford English Dictionary, but I will create a fact to support my own argument. For I would not be so surprised if the whole notion of boredom, the very word bore, in this sense, did not come about until after man created that devil of a device we call the T.V. I very well could, and am tempted, to continue a very harsh indictment on how if any of the fifty states which make up our divided union should be described as "monotonous" or "dull" that state would inevitably be Iowa. But seeing as how I do not believe this, I wish to once and for all do away with the silly notion that a thing in and of itself can actually be boring, let alone an entire state.

Now, if one is to be bored, one must necessarily be wearied by monotony or dullness, and we must question whether this weariness is affected by something outside of the individual or if it is affected from within. It should be noted that nearly every object which we mindless moderns label as "dull" or "monotonous" are really the least dull and monotonous things in the world. If anything is "dull" or "monotonous" it is the very nature of the universe. For the planets continue on their course; the sun rises the same every morning; one season follows the preceding; all children are born equally, and every death has already happened. Nothing new occurs under the sun, yet I never hear any one yelling at the sun for being monotonous or at the seasons for being dull. But any time an old man gives a lecture on iambic pentameter, or the landscape appears very flat and very green, we can't seem to find enough words in the thesaurus to describe them as boring. It is, perhaps, our modern insistence on applying judgment at the surface-level: An old man may seem very old and thus very lame, but an old man may have more wisdom and wizardry in him than any ten galaxies floating in the heavens. A landscape may be very monotonous indeed if we are arguing from a negative -- if by seeing what is not there we cast judgment on what is there. But then we forget that a tree is only dull because it is not unique, as if mere frequency of a thing makes it less worthy of wonder.

*****

The western plains of Kansas are said to be boring for a variety of reasons. The least logical is that the plains are boring because they are very plain. Because no oceans or great lakes, no mountains, or great hills, dominate the landscape, they are boring. This person, in a sense, would have the whole of dry land be one mighty mountain. But because no mountains break up the landscape, one concludes the scene to be monotonous. It is thus assumed that "all blades of grass are created equal," and even a tiny break in the action is too small a deliberation to still the madness of monotony. It is further assumed that monotony is necessarily a first fruit of boredom. But we must here agree that if anything in this world appears monotonous it is the sea, and plains are just that -- vast seas of yellow and green which appear to majestically continue forever.

*****

If one happens to be in Western Kansas, they will not discover monotony. In the southwestern nook, near Garden City, the wheat fields shimmer in the sunlight and contrast nicely with the smell of cattle if one is downwind. The green, which leaves very quickly, is often conquered by a brown and tan dusting, and in high winds -- a common occurrence -- the dust is picked up and blown sideways, overtaking everything in its path.

If one travels due north from Garden City, heading toward Scott City, they will encounter more wheat fields -- a sea of enchanting gold whose waves sway with the wind as if the very breath of God inspires their movement. Indeed, because so few trees obscure a man's view of the heavens, he may consider the acts of nature to be divinely inspired. For in Western Kansas, storms move in at a rapid pace, quickly dominating the skies like great black ships conquering the seas. The once peaceful skies soon speak of His majesty and justice, and man has nowhere to run for cover.

But if one mistakenly believes that Western Kansas is nothing but wheat, winds, and storms, he would be in for a surprise if he continued on the road between Scott City and Oakley, Kansas. For between Scott City and Oakley there is a hidden gem of open lands, uncluttered by tree or crop. Hills become cliffs, overlooking valleys which stretch for miles. The terrain here is anything but flat, and the smaller hills only hint at the much larger Rockies to the further west, and one gathers the inhabitants of this land have that fact forever hovering over them as if some medieval monarch overlooks their land. Indeed, each smaller valley only reminds us we are captured within a much larger valley.

Though Western Kansas has its own beauty, I believe the most enjoyable part lay in between Great Bend and Ellsworth. For here both corn and wheat fields exist in harmony. The forests of the east are complimented with breaks of open plains in which one can see again for miles on end before some valley reintroduces a grove of trees. Certainly, if one were inclined to amble about such a seemingly boring state, I believe they would only be bored because they are boring. For boredom is a very subjective state, and he who is bored has found himself in such a state not due to the world being filled with unexciting trifles but due to his own boring nature. A modern may arrive at the Grand Canyon and pull out his ipod; he will look on the vast landscapes like Oscar Wilde and conclude that they point to no greater truths; he will only find meaning and joy and love in his own self-constructed solar system in which anything that does not immediately please has no objective value. A modern looks out his backyard and complains there is no sea or swimming pool; a child turns the family tree into a fortress or forest. It is enough if the landscape have a lone tree or a forest of trees. For the miracle exists not in frequency but in life.

Sam Snow (theficklefarce.com)
Written at my new home, "The 'Ole Midshipman"
Manhattan, KS
June 30, 2014

Painting: Wheat Field
Oil on Canvas
William Page Atkinson Wells, n.d. 

Saturday
Jun282014

Chronicles of Early Times

As an exercise in writing and remembering, I decided to pen a short account (about 800 words) of my earliest memories. I did this while I sat, waiting for my wife and sister to find what they were looking for in some mammoth mall in Denver, Colorado. If you have no interest in the memoir of a nobody from Kansas, leave it and read any other post—say, this one. Anyhow, thirty percent of my readers on this site consist of my brother, so I am not anxious about complaints. If you would like to read a reflection on memory itself, try out this post, but certainly not this post.

My earliest memories are of my home and my church in Hillsboro, Kansas. I know they are my earliest because we moved from that home when I was six years old. I can date any recollection of those scattered moments to some time between 1988 and 1994. Although some have questioned whether my memories of that time are genuine or just mock-ups based on family videos and photographs of the time, I believe most of them are authentic because they are in the first person; when I re-live them I see through my own young eyes. If this were not the case, I would suspect them myself; as it is I have general confidence in their connection to real experience.

Many of these pseudo-infantine snapshots are connected to music and singing. I remember my father standing me on the oak pew in front of us during church worship time and looking past the shoulders of those standing the next pew up to the projector screen (most likely an overhead or real slide show in those days). He held me under my arms and I could hear his strong voice behind me, taking the tenor parts when they were available. I loved to sing and imagined myself skilled at it. I was not yet old enough to have learned any of the songs[1] our worship pastor (I recall he had a black guitar) sang, but I would try to sing the words and notes nanoseconds after my father did and would think to myself, “I’m a fast learner and a good singer.” I convinced myself that because I could line up my notes almost exactly with the notes the worship leader, I really could sing a song almost perfectly without having heard it before. In later years I noticed my parents utilizing the same method when a song leader would introduce some new Hillsong or Sovereign Grace chorus to our church in Newton. I do not know if this similarity shows a child’s primal method for learning songs or if it simply demonstrates that I was already beginning to pick up trends in the elementary chord patterns of late twentieth century contemporary church music.

I know now that I could sing on pitch at an early age. My parents tell me I could warble “My Jesus I Love Thee” spot on before I could talk. My head was by no means small about this either. When I later learned to add talking to my singing I bragged, while looking at our kitchen refrigerator (again, a random but undeniable first person detail) that I could sing “better than Michael W. Smith”—one of our family’s favorite artists at the time. It was not that I disliked Michael W. Smith, I only believed that my voice was sweeter than his. My low opinion did not keep me from listening to his music. In fact, another early memory of mine is standing directly in front of our glass-fronted family stereo and dancing wildly to one of the songs from his “Go West Young Man” cassette tape (or CD). I also remember sitting cross legged in front of the same stereo deck and listening to the Les Miserables—entranced by it—until one day the house censor removed it from circulation, citing inappropriate content and putting it on the shelf in her closet (or so rumor had it). Either way it disappeared, and I promised myself I would find out what was so wrong with it when given a chance.

My first conscious sins have scarred my memory as well, probably because I returned to them so often as a child. One rule in our Hillsboro home I blatantly disregarded on multiple occasions was, “Do not climb on the stair railing.” It was a perfect row of oak posts lining the stairway to the basement with just enough room between each for little feet to stand. I found irrational pleasure in inching out to the end, holding onto the posts and leaning out over the ten feet of open air between myself and the bottom row of steps. This was enough of a fall to break a little boy’s neck, and my mother knew it. When she caught me (as she usually seemed to do) I summarily received my comeuppance in the form of a wooden kitchen spoon. I focus on this sin because in doing it, I remember (for the first time) thinking “This is wrong. I should not do this. Here I go”—three phrases that would haunt me in later more seminal years and still have not left me.

Of course, there are more memories, but I have reached my word count and I see my wife and sister approaching.

R. Eric Tippin
Denver, Colorado
May 21, 2014


[1] The songs I can recall are “Awesome God,” “God Will Make a Way,” “Create in Me A Clean Heart” “He is Exalted” “As the Deer” “Seek Ye First” and “I Love You Lord”

Tuesday
Jun102014

Ambler, No. 14 [On Scares, The Nature of a Boy]

We are so far from denying there is any Unicorn at all, that we affirm there are many kindes thereof. -- Sir Thomas Browne

 

I observed the tiny waves crash against the rocks, fixating my gaze on a single stone which jutted out of the water like the peak of some mighty mountain. But the waves fought in vain to cover the precipice completely, despite my mind's resolution that the rock would shortly be covered. I listened as my companion sang a tune of I know-not-what, and though I comprehended not a word, her voice gave the lyrics a peaceful rhythmic tone which clashed with the sound of the waves violently hitting the rocks. The scene was interrupted when, not long able to resist, I found the nearest pebbles and heaved them upward and outward to join the waves. I gazed northward along the rocky shore and observed a young boy drop his fishing line and mimic my action, though I'm convinced he never saw me. No, I'm convinced that the natural and biological concept of "male" inevitably compels a man to throw rocks, and this spiritual desire is heightened when near bodies of water.

My gaze returned to the water as my companion continued her beautiful tune. She eventually joined me on the rock on which I was sitting and asked me if I was thinking of anything. To my shame, I had very little, if anything, significant to give. But I eventually mentioned how I loved gazing out on the water and pretending I was somewhere entirely different. To the south, the end of this lake, was a dam, but if one gazed westward and northward, they saw only the western shores, covered with trees and almost entirely green. To the direct north the lake continued on until the blue blended white with the horizon. If one compelled their imagination to overtake them, they could for half a second, turn those shores into forests and that tiny lake into an everlasting sea.

*****

It is a common joke for a young boy, at the climax of his immaturity, to give those females around him a scare by either calling out "snake" in a moment of probability that one may be lurking or by placing an imitation of that lizard near their line of sight. As a child, I distinctly remember hiding a rubber lizard around the house to scare my mother, and I recollect owning a rubber snake, though I am uncertain whether it was used in the art of scare tactics or not. That the rubber lizard ended up melting in the oven, in a failed attempt at scaring my mother, is irrelevant. For it only proves all the more that a boy is naturally bent on the thrill of the scare and will sometimes go to extreme measures -- even if the measure is illogical, such as placing a rubber lizard in the oven.

Now, with anything dangerous, it is the thing itself and not its imitation which should be condemned. A boy is more of a murderer when, hating his sister, he hides a snake than when he shoots the neighbors, be they the "bad guys," with his toy gun. But, of course, deception by a rubber snake is perhaps worse than deception by a talking snake. The fact remains that my companion and I, after wetting our feet in the lake, took the rocky shore, heading north. The banks of this lake are walled up by large stones, rising roughly ten to fifteen feet above the waves. As we walked across the stone we observed how the wind blew with force as it had nowhere else to turn. Eventually, our own course took a slight easterly turn, and the wind and waves died down, nearly ceasing altogether. We approached a marina, located in a pleasant cove of the lake. A boat out on the water basked itself in the dying rays of a setting sun, playing music loud enough for the those on the shore to hear as they skipped from rock to rock.

Our way was eventually obstructed, and we took again to the rocks, consciously seeking flat surfaces on which to tread. It is common for the modern to assume no danger awaits his path, that all will proceed joyfully without pain or hardship. It was with this faulty ideal in mind that I let my companion, a female, lead the way. A man should always be of heightened senses when danger lurks, and this should be elevated to no end when a woman is present. Nevertheless, chivalry lost its daily battle with me, and I was hopping across a small canyon, observing the peaceful stillness of the lake's waves and musing on God-knows-what, I heard my companion let out what I will call a squeal which, honestly, moved me very little at first.

 *****

I had been out on these parts a couple of times before, and, well, I had merely be outside many times in my life. Often one will come across a very small lizard whose name and origin I am not aware of. As any good modern, I perceive the little critters to have evolved from either a mothball or a falling star, but alas, I am no biologist. In any case, this lizard is a cute and, to my knowledge, harmless critter, more scared of us than we of him. But, when certain individuals come across these creatures, their natural inclination is to let out a squeal and flail their arms wildly. Thus, when my companion did exactly that, I naturally believed she had seen nothing more than a tiny lizard who had probably already sought cover himself. Thus, when she let out such a squeal and raced towards me in complete fright, I was nearly unmoved.

At various times I pretend to be a Marxist, raging and railing against the bourgeoisie; in other moments I am a feminist fighting against the horrible oppressors who happen to be my sex. But at all times I adopt the persona of the one people group whom I believe to be the most absent-minded people of our age: the eco-critics. As I skip around nature -- "stumbling on melons... ensnared on flowers"¹ -- I make lofty statements about how the trees did not just come before men but actually breeded men who, as they are wont to do, suppressed their voices and used them as commodity. Thus, when I heard my friend squeal and then saw the large black snake hanging over the rocks in all its glory, the pseudo-eco-critic in me would declare the snake a beautiful creature, some form of our ancestors in the grand scheme of things. But common sense prevailed, and my immediate reaction was my friend's safety. For there is nothing altogether beautiful about a snake, and I believe there is a reason for this. The snake that so deceived Eve would not deceive again. There is something too obviously demonic about its look, something which appears to harken back to a time in the history of mankind when a beautiful day in the garden became a nightmare. Indeed, the glorious twilight at the lake that evening would quickly have given way to the darkness of night had my friend been deceived to pet the snake.

It is fair to say within proper, moral boundaries that boys will be boys. They are not girls anymore than they are trees. When a boy places a rubber snake to scare his sister, he is properly recognizing the frightful nature of that snake. His motives are another issue, for a boy does not need to be taught that a snake is scary any more than he needs to be taught that he is a boy and his sister is superior. It is a common fallacy to suppose that all boys play tricks on those they hate; it is more likely they play tricks on those they love and admire, on those they feel worthy of frightening. And whether it makes logical sense or not is besides the point, for ever since that first deception man has been fairly illogical. More than any of this is our modern mindset, for it is the fallacy of our age that men are no better than snakes or sticks. I fear nine out of ten modern eco-critics, had they been in my situation, would have cast my friend in the lake to save the snake, and their friends Marx and Sanger would have applauded judiciously.

_______________

¹From Andrew Marvell's "The Garden," a true eco-critic.

Sam Snow (theficklefarce.com)
Written in various places,
Manhattan, KS
June 9, 2014 

Painting: "The Ironbound Shore"
By John Atkinson Grimshaw
Oil on Card, 1869

Friday
May302014

HOBBLER No. 1 [To Lean, and To Support]

Today, the first ticks of my keyboard join in disjunctive rhythm with the mournful strains of the ninth movement of Elgar’s “Enigma Variations” as I sit and bask, sunscreen-shielded, in the rays of the brighter brother of the spheres God birthed to survey His Earth. After a successful master’s graduation and a return to the land of my childhood, it has happened upon my mind to begin my resurgence to writing by reflecting (as Sam Snow is wont to do) upon perhaps one of the simplest, yet most mentally stimulating activities that our Creator has gifted to our mortal bodies—the walk.

My body has been plagued as of late by a malady originating in my lower back, undoubtedly nerve pain, and, though different in duration and intensity than the sneeze (a human act my friend R. Eric Tippin struck so thoughtfully and carefully to life some essays ago), the same in its manifestation of the imperfection in man, of the sinful nature that forever accompanies our fleshly selves. This pain is alleviated by almost anything that is not a sitting position, and as my fiancée and I drove toward the land of her youth, something in my grimace and uneasy shifting spurned her to pull over and suggest a break—which I gladly accepted.

The trail itself was bordered on both sides by the freshly blooming arms of a variety of trees, some of which craned out over the path to cast shade on our blonde, Norwegian heads. Bicyclists zoomed by as though we were rock and they the water that bowed around our slower pace. Though we often walk with a physical closeness, I found myself leaning on her more than usual—a weight she lovingly bore as an addition to her yoke that morning. With each step of my left foot, waves of pain rippled across my left buttock and down my leg, but always partially quelled by the support I so fortunately had.

As I find myself just shy of two weeks away from marrying my beloved, I have thought often of the time we spent in pre-marital counseling. Our guiding pastor pointed us to Genesis on the first day, to read and be reminded of how God provided woman as a helper to man, one who would cleave unto him to become one flesh so that he would not be alone. As we proceeded down the path and I revisited the still-young memories of those sessions, many cognitive branches budded from that one limb of thought, but I will choose to wax on one in particular—what a shame it is that the feministic pathogens infecting modern culture seek to define such a station as demeaning, unworthy, or emblematic of any of the multitude of derogatory remarks non-believers use to characterize the bond between man and woman as Scripture outlines it.

Our pastor explained that the word “helper,” as it is used in Greek, is actually a word paired in conjunction with God. Our modern culture has distorted the word to denote an attitude of subservience—that one, in the act of “helping,” subordinates their needs to those of another, and thus loses that piece of “identity” to which worldly individuals so ferociously cling. What these people fail to recognize is that God’s perfection and divinity enables Him to help us, and to demonstrate His sacrificial love. I have long believed that each time any human being is able to step outside of the self and to value another before themselves—that moment is a fraction of the image of Christ in us, or to put it another way, a moment where W.W.J.D. moves from a bracelet worn around the wrist to a visible act.

I wish the modern feminist woman could realize that when I leaned on my fiancée’s shoulder that day, when I drew from her bodily strength to support my own, I saw not a demotion of her beneath me, but rather that she, being sure-footed, pain free, was sound enough within herself to give to me. It is my wish that the modern feminist find herself similarly filled with the Spirit, and realize that the God-ordained role as helper to man in no way casts a shadow over her existence, but rather affords opportunities to step into the divine spotlight—the only true place to seek recognition and self-actualization, where our Lord alone is the audience.

B.L.Homuth
Among various locations at my parents’ home in Fargo, ND
May 30, 2014

Image:
"Man Leaning Against a Wall"
Pencil on Paper - 1899
Edward Hopper