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Tuesday
Oct072014

Ambler, No. 28 [On My Old Bones]

The Egyptian mummies that I have seen, have had their mouths open, and somewhat gaping, which affordeth a good opportunity to view and observe their teeth. -- Sir Thomas Browne

Dear Sir,*

At this very moment I have on my desk an old dictionary, cracked open to the O’s. It seems the issue you have brought to my attention concerning my old bones is a matter of definition. But before I define a thing I must bring to my readers’ attention the fundamental creed I live by: I wish in all things to be as unlike my generation as possible. For my generation, as I see it, does little but chase after the current material fad until they are bored with it or until some other salesman stops by with a “new” gadget that promises to fulfill their vain lives for the next two weeks. It is, of course, foolish to say that old people are not equally as bored as our youth, but at the very least, they are not roaming around and telling everyone how bored they are. And the problem really persists because my generation has been told that there actually is something “new under the sun.” They actually believe that modern scientists are saying something new when they preach the primordial soup theory as our origin. They do not seem to take into account the serious difficulty of this being both a new and true philosophy. It seems to me the old amphibian who emerged from the soup would be more knowledgeable about the soup than the scientist. The real beauty of those old ages is that scientists could actually say things that were new; they were not so hung up on the past. If evolution is true, it is anything but new. If it is new, I seriously doubt it could be true.

Nevertheless, we are told that every modern theory is a new theory, as if the Sophists and the Gnostics did not exist, as if every twenty-year-old atheist is striking out on his own as some unfettered free-thinker. But the twenty-year-old atheist is as old as Sennacherib or Protagoras; fighting the Christian God is as old as the dawn of man--we’ve been doing it since we ate the apple. And so when these newfangled atheists strut around as if they are doing something new, I cannot help but think they are proving the exact opposite. To say a thing is “new” is to say it is either lately made or lately discovered: atheism is neither of those things. It has been made ever since Lucifer made himself God; it can no more be discovered than can a void in space. But what I really hear the young atheists saying today is that they are “new” in the same way that modern cars are new--that is, they are somehow different than what came before them: in their case, their ancestors. Never mind the fact that they really are no different from their religious ancestors; never mind that they proselytize and preach just as much, if not more, than their religious associates; let us play their game; let us say they are different, that each individual atheist is both distinct from his brethren and unlike his ancestors.

Though I should point out the incredible arrogance that comes from believing your philosophy trumps six-thousand years of thought, I will refrain. I will give the new atheist the benefit of the doubt and then ask him why. Why, on earth, would the new atheist cringe at being called arrogant (or racist or sexist or narrow-minded)? I have never understood why an atheist cares about any single moral precept except the ones that told us to eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die. But then I do suppose the new atheist is trying to distinguish himself from the Epicureans and Hedonists; I suppose too he is probably closer to Christianity than he thinks when he finds more pleasure in monarchy than anarchy, more pleasure in meaning than nihilism, more pleasure in virtue than vice. But given all this he still has not actually answered my question other than he wants to be a different type of atheist--one who can have his cake and eat it too. But then we’ve only really arrived at where we’ve started. If nothing is essentially good about being new and different then why all this rigmarole about the evils of conformity, and, perhaps more importantly, why are all atheists exactly the same?

It seems to me that the more modern man goes on about individuality and not conforming to the dominant culture the more these silly subcultures--in wanting to be unique--conform to each other. Take, for instance, the modern insistence that students have unique voices, and we should not stifle their voices by teaching them the proper way to write and speak because that was handed down by white male suppressors. We stress this until we are blue in the face and then come to find that no student ever really says anything unique. Is it no wonder that, due to their decreased vocabulary, a certain word beginning with the letter F is used as an adjective, noun, verb, and gerund and all in the same sentence? As a culture we think of the fifties as a time of horrible conformity because our natural tendency is to look at the surface and not the soul of a man. The Renaissance--that horrible period dominated by classical learning and white, male supremacy--created far more varied and unique literatures than our day ever will. And this notion of conformity is the very reason why I depict myself as a man with old bones.

For I long to conform as little as possible with my generation, and I only use the characterization as a depiction of my physical capabilities in a secondary sense, so to fit in with the nature of narrative. I, of course, do not have old bones in the sense that they are aged, nor would I want that. Why, a few months ago I was visiting my grandmother and thought to myself how sad it was she could not throw rocks or amble in the woods. But in the sense that my old bones represent my desire to simply not be new, I thus characterize myself. There is a very real sense (I have noted it elsewhere) that the world is actually very old and those men and philosophies that came before us are actually the products of a young and spritely world. The new world was a world where men sacrificed unblemished lambs to an unseen deity, not a world where unborn children were sacrificed by unwed mothers. We live in a world grown old, a world that longs for the freshness and vitality, the wonder and joy, of a world newly created. But the vain technologies of our age give us the sense of wonder and creativity, the sense of uniqueness and novelty, when really it’s nothing new under the sun; it’s warped or dried up under the sun, like a man’s skin left out too long. Today we get giddy that we can face-chat China; we forget that the medieval man could chat with the dead. We tell ourselves that because a thing has never been done physically that that proves improvement. As if building the tallest gallows was an improvement on creating fewer criminals. And in this sense I am perfectly fine with my old bones. I suppose that, to answer your objection in a much more succinct way, I wish I was born in a different time period. It is certainly over dramatic for me to say, but a part of me would certainly much rather take on the Black Death and the corrupt Popes than to ever stand in a circle of modern, moralizing atheists telling me that I’m a sexist pig or a narrow-minded bigot. They of course never tell this to your face but instead post it on Facebook--the old world that has become our new reality.

Sincerely,
Samuel Snow

Sam Snow, theficklefarce.com
Written in Super Black India Ink,
Manhattan, KS
October 5, 2014

Transcribed by Adam the Scribe II
At Kansas State University,
October 7, 2014

Painting: "An Old Man in an Armchair"
By Rembrandt van Rijn
Oil on Canvas, 1650s

_____________________________________
*This post is written in response to a critic whom I greatly respect. The objection to my constant references to my old bones can be found here.

Monday
Oct062014

Zambian Men and Zambian Tea

I am writing my Master's Project on the work of Rudyard Kipling, and, as a part of my preparation, I was asked to write an imitation of his prose. Now, Kipling is one of the tightest, most exact, concrete prose stylists I know, so any imitation of mine is, by default, going to be full of fault. Still, I tried. As my setting, I chose an experience I had in Zambia, Africa when I was sixteen.

Just so you know what to look for, Kipling tends to write using odd, unfamiliar, specific words. He doesn't use many similes ("as a wet blanket", "like the wolf on the fold" . . . etc). Also, he tends to use "syndeton" in which the writer connects his phrases using quite a few ands and thens. For a sampling of Kipling's prose click here or here, but certainly not here.

So, without further ado, I present my imitation of Kipling's prose and dialogue . . .
 

The others lay curled with African food-pain in Kalmo. I sat in a concrete window seat, a bowl thrust at me steaming with heaped shema and rancid kapenta fish. Bare black feet padded toward me and ashy hands offered something in a carton to wash down the corn meal mush—a citrus milk-drink, lumpy on bottom and sour on top. I heard warbly Zambian larks, monkey’s scream, and the buzz of the fat bush fly.

Most of the boys spoke Tonga, but when they approached me they formed round, open English words smiling white.

“Do you like Fidy Cent? You like your food? It isn’t rice; we don’t bring rice here. Tomorrow we’ll swim.”

“Do you listen to Fifty Cent?”

“Yes! We do.”

“Do you understand what he’s saying?” I scraped a bite from the bowl. It was crawling with the silver kapenta, their tiny sides carved out by flies in the market that day. The boys didn’t answer this question, and I tried another. “What other American singers do you like?”

“Bob Marley.”

I forced the food down under their eager eyes, and drank the milk, curdles and all. Then the setting sun filtered through a tree and caught the dust suspended around us, and my hosts took away the scraped bowl and hollow carton to sluice my dish with leafy, luke-warm water from the creek. I lay my head on the concrete, and hoped my food-luck would hold. Though I wanted to try the bright green or blue Energade in the eight ounce, scratched-plastic, pliant, bottles, the accompanying symptoms did not warrant the risk. Next came the tea—English breakfast (far better in Zambia than in England) with one or two “good good”s from a bottle of warm milk. The kettle was community, but the visiting mukuwa (to that mukuwa’s embarrassment) had the first pour from it. I drank it piping with one spoonful of brown cane sugar; as I drank, the older boys around talked in rolling Tonga, while the smaller wrestled in the dust by the fire.

And then came the night and the wail of peacocks, and the bump of the boys’ cassette boombox in the next tent, the hum of insects, and the distant “hhh” of the breeze through the elephant trees, all at intervals between sleep. And the waking to a far off roar. And sleeping again. And the waking to boys’ muted laughs. And the sleeping again. Then the morning broke, hot and dusty in and out of my tent. There were stories of a boy—an orphan with a record—sneaking out that night smoking tumphy by the river. At this the missionary looked sad. “It is difficult for them to escape their old lives,” he said. 

The boy looked shame-faced and repentant in the morning light, so it wasn’t mentioned again.

When the sun rose hotter and hotter the boys swam—bare as their first day—in the sludge and water of the sometimes eddying, mostly sitting still, green-brown, vaporous creek. It smelled of lichen and rotting fish, and I imagined its other uses in the village farther up stream. They called the mukuwa down to swim with them, but being sixteen and white as cotton, he felt ashamed. So I asked, “Can I wear mukuwa swim trunks and then join you?” They only laughed and climbed a leaning, spare-lumber, rickety tower built by the river for a zip line platform and anchor. They yelled at their mukuwa to climb the tower with his soft white hands and “Drink no more tea!” Resolved, I worked my cup in the dirt so it would stay, donned trunks, and climbed the tower, which trembled coltishly.

The tumphy boy from the night before held the zip handle and laughed at the gangly mukuwa scaling the leaning tower. I splashed up pea-green moss like the rest, and after a try or two more, returned to my tea—I never needed to make my own—wedged in the dust. 

That night, when the other mukuwas arrived, we spoke of becoming men:

“Why, I took my son onto a dirt road and left him. I told him to walk and to trust me, I said, ‘you just meet me at the end of this road,’ I said. I did too.” This was the seasoned traveler among us, leaning back, sipping clean Energade and nibbling a saltine. The darkness sat very near the fire. “Well, when he walked long enough he found me by a fire, like this one. I told him he was a now a man, and would someday protect his wife like I protect his mother.”

“The men here see it as dishonor to be seen with their wives in public,” said the missionary, “though the church is making strides toward a better way. In Lusaka things are different.”

“Better?”

“Different.”

Then I remembered. I needed to ask where they bought their tea and if it sat on shelves at home. He told me, but the only word that has stayed in my mind is “rose,” and the red package, and yellowed bags—tea of the commonwealth to make Cecil Rhodes proud.

Then the time in the bush ended with a hot, joyful ride over potholes (and a few sections of road), a western meal in Livingston, a dry-season waterfall, a syrupy Coke with a slice of lemon, a canvas hotel, a woman screaming at a monkey for theft, a monkey screaming at a woman for pleasure, more tea, more raw cane, more “good good”s from milk jugs, more shema and over-ripe milk, thatch over our heads, wall spiders we weren’t allowed to squash with our shoes, icy showers from the downspout of a rain barrel, and, finally, Energade in the Johannesburg airport—tanzanite blue in its bottle. It was better than Gatorade but was not up to the rose tea, which I have not found the like of since, whether at home or abroad.

 

R. Eric Tippin
"The Wee Nook," Kansas State University
September 20, 2014 

Image:
"African Villiage"
Oil on Canvas - Date Unknown
Thomas J. Wani 

Thursday
Oct022014

A Shower in the Dark

A SHOWER IN THE DARK

Few things can relax a person quite like it—
the bathroom door cracked just enough
to let the outside glow through,
giving shape to the nozzle, the soap, the cloth.
There’s no need for anything more,
for colors, for words, only the shadows
cast on the wall, the warmth,
the steam and breath,
the ear attuned only to the sound of the spray,
like a page perpetually torn;
the eyes content to close, unstrained;
the skin against the fluid textures of water.
Or the smells—the oils, the fruits,
the olfactory meeting of sweat and clean.
It could be a way to inhabit Plato’s allegory,
after the business of the wash is finished,
when only your silhouette remains,
when there’s nothing to examine
but the mind’s corner of this makeshift cave.
This is time spent with the ideal,
as though you could turn and swipe curtain aside,
your own raw potential still hovering there, tangible
as fog on glass. Carry the memory of its nearness,
because when the flow stops, and the last drips
of solitude trickle down the drain, you’ll flip a switch
on the wall, soon searching for that same glimpse
of the self, and find that a mirror is not the same.  

Bryn Homuth
In a Drier Place than the Subject may Suggest 
September 30, 2014 

Image:
"A Cavern, Moonlight"
Oil on Canvas
Joseph Wright of Derby (1734-1797) 

Tuesday
Sep302014

Ambler, No. 27 [On Railing at the Heavens]

Some think there were few Consumptions inn the Old World, when Men lived upon much Milk. -- Sir Thomas Browne

Ambler, No. 27

The modern trouble with Shakespeare is that, like everything else, he has been modernized. It is not that one can now view Romeo and Tybalt brandishing their guns; it is not even so much that iambic pentameter can sound more like Lil’ Romeo than Romeo, son of Montague; it is that the comedy of Romeo became the tragedy of Romeo which became the love story of Romeo. But anyone who knows even the smallest part of Romeo’s story knows that the last thing Romeo’s story is is a love story. But in order to see Romeo’s story as the comedy for what it is, one must first do away with the all-too serious notion that Romeo should be imitated as a lover. It is not until we can see Romeo as a tragic character--and a tragic lover--that we can see him as the comedic character that he is. If Romeo’s “come, bitter conduct, come, unsavoury guide!” is seen as his wish for death if he cannot have love, then it is far too serious even to be funny; if he is railing at the heavens--at the general fate of mankind--then he is tragic and possibly even comic.

I suffer from the unfortunate notion that most of Shakespeare’s lines were written not to be directedat characters and crowds but at the firmament. Why, just the other day, a group of friends and I attended a local Shakespeare festival. As we paid our small fee, we entered a new time period--one of blacksmiths and archers, axe throwing and ale drinking. We waltzed along the wooded area from booth to booth under lights that lit up like giant fireflies. The scene was rather serene: small town folk chatting and clambering, for everyone knew everyone, and random Catholic priests appeared in their robes as men bit off chunks of turkey legs or ate pizza made from brick ovens, while the children galloped in groups or gambled at games, and actors from the stage waltzed around in their costumes like demigods from the seventeenth century. I have wondered, more than once as of late, why modern man does not strut around more often as if he is a great player on this great stage of life--why does man content himself with railing not at his neighbor but at fate? Why is it more common for the modern garbage man to bemoan to his boss, instead of moralizing to the skies? The common notion is too often to want what one is not; the common notion is too often to seek advancement or enlightenment; it is too often that the banker chides the garbage man for not being a banker and then laments when his fellow bankers can’t count; but the truth is that more bankers should probably seek to be janitors than janitors seek to be bankers, for it is better to have a janitor who values cleanliness than a banker that can’t count.

The problem as I see it is not one of social advancement but one of social contentment. All men are but players on this great stage of life--each playing his part and doing it with a pomp and a zeal--a holy pride--that doesn't worry about what it isn't. But, on seeing the wild peculiarities of who he is, the player strolls around town as if he is--as if his occupation is--as serious as an academic’s. It’s all too likely that it is. The world could do without any academics, for janitors still read books; I’m not sure the world would be as beautiful without janitors, for academics do not empty the trash and create enough of their own.

*****

The players who waltzed around the Renaissance-like booths took the stage after intermission. The play was As You Like It, featuring one of my personal favorites, the melancholy Jaques. It is another all-too prevalent consequence of our all-too serious times that (1) we don’t have pointless jobs like attendants and (2) those who work those pointless jobs, or any jobs for that matter, are not very philosophical, if they’re spoken to at all. The wealthy classes among us should not be derided for their wealth--as if anyone should envy that. But they should be derided for not spreading that wealth by way of creating pointless jobs.* A wealthy businessman today buys a house and fills it with two children and maybe a nanny and a house cleaner. But would the house not be livelier if it was smaller? Would it not be more chaotic--and thus more poetic--if it included a butler and a cook as well as a personal attendant? The problem with America is not the disparity of wealth, for surely that will always be there; the problem with America is that there are far too few Pickwicks and even fewer Wellers.

Every wealthy man should hire an attendant of some sort who does nothing but follow him around. But it is not enough that he should be followed around; he should constantly be moralizing and philosophizing on both his state of affairs and--more importantly--the inevitable contradiction that is his boss. But then he should not be quarreling with his boss; he should be railing platitudes at the sun; he should be stating deeper truths to no one in particular--metaphysical asides, if you will. And though much of what he has to say will be melancholy, even very depressing, for whatever reason it will be humorous. I could not help when I was watching the melancholy Jaques that evening but be somewhat disappointed at the directors’ take on him. I must first state that the actor did a very nice job before stating that the entire conception of his character was off. For melancholy Jaques was not melancholy, he was angry, and unless angry people are throwing tantrums, they are not funny, usually. And so when Jaques stated the all-too famous lines about our world being a stage and everyone only merely a player in it, I found it to be somewhat lacking, and this was due to more than just his being angry; it was somewhat lacking because someone was listening. During the whole epic speech, the Duke and his merry attendants kept nodding and smiling and rubbing their chins as if what Jaques had to say was all very interesting. But it’s not so funny if what Jaques says is both interesting and heard; it’s funny if the Duke, having himself moralized, ignores his attendant as if his four lines are superior to Jaques’ twenty-eight; it’s even funnier if after these twenty-eight lines the Duke bats not an eye and attends to Adam who has just entered. All comedy rests on a serious, even melancholy, frivolity; it rests on the joker’s ability to say something he well knows is funny, something he is even willing to laugh at, but something said as serious as a fact; nay, more serious--said as serious as a joke, and said to no one in particular but said simply because it need be said. One may say that if a joke is said to no one in particular then it risks the possibility of never being heard. But then perhaps the greatest jokes are those that go unheard. Perhaps the most humorous essays are those that few men ever read--essays that do nothing but state philosophical platitudes and random railings at no one in particular, essays only laughed at by their narcissistic and overly self-conscious author.

Sam Snow, theficklefarce.com
Written in haste after fighting with a dip pen,
September 24th and 28th, 2014

Transcribed by Adam the Scribe II
In the Kansas State English Building,
Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Painting: "A Scene from 'As You Like It' by William Shakespeare"
By William Hamilton
Oil on canvas, 1790

____________________________

*Those brave souls who do read through to the end of these railings will observe that I have been practicing what I preach in recently hiring a transcribe, a job pointless for him but eternally valued by me.

Sunday
Sep282014

Correspondence with the Ambler

To the Ambler,

 Dear sir, I have come to read your many and varied dispatches with some relish of both the dill and sweet varieties made, as most people know, from the pickling of cucumbers, ones unnaturally aged, as it were. And, it is on that very theme I feel impelled to jot down a quick note to the Ambler himself as a way of pointing to a protrusive root on his path. 

 I fear bringing forth correction upon so esteemed a traveler carries with it the danger of a smashing rebuttal, but I will not make that my excuse. Rather, relying on your kindly eye, I will plunge forth bravely into the cold waters of trout, refreshment, and possible drowning.

 The contention I wish to sally is found throughout your entries in the form of this phrase: “My old bones.” I certainly do not wish to contradict your apparent sensation of age within your appendages (if it is illness I do sincerely hope for a brief convalescence). One cannot argue with feelings, but surely one is still able to argue upon facts. For to claim the entrustment of “old bones,” the Ambler himself is ignoring a fundamental prerequisite of oldness, that of age. For oldness cannot be claimed in a dirth of time, no matter the sensation. We simply do not now possess the adequate years among us for such a claim. Decrepitude, dilapidation, deterioration, or debilitation, maybe, but not aginess, not oldness.

 Now, please do not presume to assume that I assume to know your age. You may hold counsel in your spritely nineties or moribund teens; it makes no difference. I’m afraid a ripe old age does not exist anymore (in a worldly sense (even the trees seem to be dying younger these days)), and, I’m not sorry to say, only questionably exists in light of eternity. For that is an old age of discovery and not one of completed discovery; an old age of further expectations not one of the companionship with memories of many exuberant expeditions never to be attempted again. In this light, there are worlds to explore and old age’s veneration will be one of rest, wisdom, and expectation.

 For, those in Christ come from the "womb of the morning.” We follow Him who holds the dew of His Youth.* The Evening has passed, the dry bones have and will dance.

 No, my friend, this oldness, no matter the feeling, we cannot claim. Even if your bones do tremble they should not hinder the "the hope in our hearts, and wings on our heals." I’m afraid you have many an eon before attempting to throw off this youngishness of yours, and even then, you might struggle in the undertaking!

 

Sincerely,

Neleus of Iolcos 

 

*Psalm 110