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This site is a group of individuals sharing thoughts, stories, and passages together on one site. Peruse, join the conversation by comment, and enjoy. 

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Monday
Mar172014

Phenomenon

I walked last night under the dark of a starless night. A front was moving through which turned our morning white after a lovely glimpse of spring.  

All of a sudden, upon my way, I was arrested by a noise. A quite natural noise really, yet without its natural cause. To my right, just off the walk, was a seasonal hosta bed covered with the leaf-fall from last autum and the later fall from a winter's beating. This patch was also roofed by low hanging branches of a redbud and hackberry trees. Now what I heard, I tell you with utmost sincerety, was the patter of tiny raindrops upon these leaves and the ground around, a pittering and crackling of the daintiest variety yet unmistakable and quiet clear in the still evening air. 

Of course, my first inclination was that the rain had already begun yet with the fury of mice feet. I, most likely, had not been favored with a drop. I turned my face skyward and waited my turn. My turn did not come. No, precipitous moisture was in my future but not in my present. 

Thus, the primary cause guessed at, questioned, and found wanting, my mind harkened back to the previous weekend. While parked, our auto had been the recipient of clear sticky sap drops from a soft maple feeling its oats. This dripping took place in the folds of the flint hills, paying no heed to decorum. For, I have knowledge that our friends in Iowa have yet to tap their sugar maples. This soft maple, however, was not waiting. "Now," I thought to myself, “could a sap letting have commenced on this warm spring night in our own neighborhood?" I stepped off my path to reach for the branches. Running my hand along various lengths, all felt dry to my touch giving no sign of the wooden rain. And still, the sound of rain continued.

As the ghost would be heard at Chesney Wold in Dicken's Bleak House, this sound was not abating at my movements and continued unabashed at my inquisitions. It would be heard! 

Ah, but had I exhausted all avenues of discovery? I had not. What if I were to move on to the next yard to test the breadth of phenomenon? Could I distance myself far enough from the canopy to completely rule out arborous motives? These tests were easily accomplished, and what do you think I found? The grass and leaves gave the sound of falling rain in yards all along the block whether away from or near to trees, regardless of the buffalo or fescue grass varieties, and, as with rain, louder with leaves present, yet present without. 

What a mystery! what a phenomenon! So rarely do I stumble upon phenomenons that, I must say, I am treasuring this one. Either I walked unseen and the grass felt free to grow at a remarkable leaf-moving clip or we are experiencing a great (and possibly epic) hatching of something in the soil. Don't tell me if you know. I rather like my phenomenon.

 

Phillip Tippin
In the reasonable light of day
Roeland Park, KS

Image:
Headlingley, Leeds
John Atkinson Grimshaw 

Friday
Mar142014

A Sneeze and a Blessing

There are times in a man’s life when his friends' wit outshines his own—when the mental agility of those around him makes his brain seem arthritic and sluggish. I find myself in that very situation daily. Much of my conversation is a frantic attempt to catch up with my friends’ speedy brains and get a pun or a quip-in-edgewise. 

Why, just the other day Brandon M. Schneeberger (esteemed secretary and sometimes boss of Sam Snow) and I were sitting quietly with our classmates in Classical Rhetoric, waiting for the professor, when one of those classmates—a woman, if I remember by her high pitch—sneezed. I, along with a few others spoke a blessing over her in the ancient and time-honored way.

“God bless you,” I said. I meant it. The modern, with all his (I use “his” in the absence of a proper gender neutral pronoun) faults, has not yet anathematized public blessings of sneezers, so I declare them proudly and with vigor whenever I can and will continue to do so until the tolerance enforcers “problematize” me and my benediction. I await with dread the day moderns wake up to the absurdity of a bunch of atheists going around with blessings for fellow organic, meaningless blobs on their lips. I can see the academic journal titles now: “The Convention of ‘Bless You’ and the Patriarchy,” “‘Bless You’ Harmless Habit or Evangelical Agenda?” “‘Bless Who?’ The End of Outmoded Oppressive Speech Patterns,” “The Separation of ‘Bless You’ and State: Religious Creep in Public Discourse.” For now, most are blinded by the mysterious pagan pleasure they find in speaking divine words over their friends, and I welcome their blindness, for it reassures me the ‘old beliefs’ are not dead. The ‘old beliefs’ still live/hide in three locations: biology, human nature, and human habit. Academics in the humanities have tried to whittle the first two into oblivion, but the third has proved hard to break. As I mentioned, most still say or approve of, “Bless you” following a sneeze. 

I say most, because I saw indications that day in Rhetoric class of an awakening. The jolly tolerant giant began to stir. One of our classmates piped up, following the nasal event and subsequent solemn benediction: “Oh, I don’t say ‘bless you.’ It’s just an outdated practice from the Middle Ages—people believing they needed to somehow force the spirit back into the body because it had been flung out by the sneeze, or something, and that they were going to die of the plague soon. Why would I do that?” It was at this point my friend’s wit out-gleamed my own. I was content to defy my classmate’s words silently with plans for future, louder, more solemn God Bless You’s. Not so Brandon M. Schneeberger. He looked thoughtful for a moment and said, “But if your soul was leaving your body, wouldn’t you want to put it back in?” As confusion filled the children of the Ironic age before us, peace filled my heart. Brandon, with a few voice choice words, had blown away the heavy fog of mixed positivism, pragmatism, chronological snobbery, post-modernism, and post-postmodernism (ironicisism) filling the room and choking its intellectual atmosphere. He had met absurdity with absurdity and, in my mind, come out the victor. He had defended the rationality of our ancestors with bravery by pointing out that, if one truly believed the soul could be hurtled from the body with a sneeze, the most rational action would be to bless that soul back into its body with a timely benediction. 

Though I do not believe that a sneeze is the indication of a spirit leaving the body, I do believe it is an indication of pathogens—biological results of sin—inside the body triggering a violent, holy, cleansing ritual to remove those purveyors of disease. In its natural rejection of impurity, the body is modeling its creator’s revulsion of sin. As I said earlier, the old beliefs are still found in biology. The body has not yet overcome its antiquated belief in “good” and “bad” germs, and I have a suspicion it will hold onto its reactionary beliefs long after the relativists’ preaching has died away. A sneeze, therefore, is a old fashioned, deeply holy action and worthy of a blessing from any true believer.

After a moment of confusion, the others in the room decided Brandon’s question had been a joke and welcomed the modern fog back into the room—smiling as it shrouded them in irony, passing pleasures, and confusion.  

The practice of public blessings may fall under attack soon and succumb to its injuries, but that deeper truth—the sneeze—will remain. It is a violent, daily reminder that the body will never be a pluralist and the immune system is populated with extreme traditionalists. Therefore, I’m afraid the only way for the modern to stomp out “dangerously outdated practices” altogether is not only to avoid blessing sneezers, but to never sneeze again. 

R. Eric Tippin
Near the Industrial District of Kansas State University
March 14, 2014

Painting: Benediction of the Priests
Oil on Canvas - 1876
Edouard Moyse 

Monday
Mar102014

Ambler, No. 4 [On Having a Good Time]

How unequall discerners of truth they are, and openly exposed unto error, will first appear from their unquallified intellectuals, unable to umpire the difficulty of its dissentions. -- Sir Thomas Browne

The town in which I live annually celebrates a day of stupidity, in which the village idiots make sacrifices to their bellies, doing so by way of drinking as much alcohol as they can possibly consume in a little less than twenty-four hours; they stumble around for a few hours, until they pass out without shame or satisfaction, completely ignoring propriety, morals, and decency. This being my first year to observe such a fascinating event, I noted with some surprise the future of America as it filed down to the bar district two blocks from my crumbling home. The drones began early: dressed in green, the green gods marched to the bars like overgrown army men on a mission for complete destruction of the rebel cause. These men, if they can be called such, were likewise bent on destruction, the destruction of heart, mind, and soul. But the depressing part was not that I saw so many men headed to destruction; it was the number of independent single women headed in the same direction.

At night the revelers began howling at the moon. The idea is to incoherently yell as loud as humanly possible until someone else can attempt to top both your volume and your incoherence. As I shoved my headphones into my ears to drown out the noise, I listened as grown men, if we can call them such, stood on their balconies in the adjacent parking lot of my apartment. I listened as grown men howled with vigor for no apparent reason. I listened as loud music filled my crumbling apartment complex with more incoherent noise, possibly sounds from a song praising the same god men have been screaming to for ages. As a true curmudgeon, I listened with that sustained self-righteous indignation that longs for privacy and a world full of mature, quiet adults. I had forgotten that in today's age, the best way to do this is to open a can of beer and scream at the top of your lungs.

* * * * *

The best way to arrive at truth is to deny truth. Morality is universal in that everyone universally has their own definition of what is moral and what is not. The best way to respect a women is to disrespect her and then objectify her. The best way to give a woman power is take away the one area in which society has given her the most power she could ever want, motherhood. For power is had in telling a few men what to do at work, not in showing a child the world by teaching him about virtue, love, and God. We attain joy by making ourselves miserable. The highest degree of joy is found in complete unconsciousness. The blacked out state is our new narrow road, and the morning after is our New Earth.

To say that the modern has completely entrenched himself in contradiction would almost be an understatement. Everything we seek to attain, we do so by doing the exact opposite of what will get us that thing. Men used to seek joy by seeking Joy. They now seek joy by making themselves depressed. But the modern's true contradiction is not in how he seeks joy as much as that he seeks joy at all. For the modern will argue for the meaningless of the world until he is blue in the face; he will then go out and howl at the moon for fun. But if the modern truly believed that all was meaningless, he would not attempt to kill himself through joyful means, he would not howl at the moon, he would not seek joy at all.

For joy, even the most minute and trifling pleasure, suggests meaning. It is not merely contradictory to be a joyful nihilist; it is dangerous. The joyful nihilist is far more likely to be depressed than the nihilist who is true to himself. The true nihilist believes there is nothing and embraces the nothingness; he accepts that there cannot be any joy. But the joyful nihilist tells himself there cannot be joy and longing and meaning and lives as if there is joy, and longing, and meaning; he then pursues joy, and longing, and meaning, by embracing his depressed philosophy and forgetting that there ever was joy, and longing, and meaning.

The joyful nihilist is like a man in the desert who has just reached a well of unending water. But from spending so many days in the desert, he has so convinced himself that there can be no such well in this desert, for the mere thought of drinking water makes him so joyful, that the reminder of not having it crushes his spirit and depresses him. Thus, to release himself from this burden which the mere thought of water places on him, he convinces himself again that this well is a mere mirage; he decides that he does still want water, but that it cannot exist here; he pursues the same well by turning around and retracing his steps.

* * * * *

I found myself walking with a friend by the lake that same evening the green gods were out howling at the moon. The evening was approaching slowly as it does in this part of the world. That shining orb always seems to spread her glorious ruby locks across the stratosphere with a splendid authority as she departs for the day. She falls slowly does that Beauty, but her daily resurrection reminds us that we too fall with sustained vigor only to rise, and as she descended we left our modern mode of transportation and headed out in the frosty air, under-dressed and unsure of ourselves. We glided over to the lake which to my surprise was nearly completely frozen. As is natural for a man, my friend picked up a stone and heaved it at the ice; like a tiny meteor hitting our planet, it made only a small dent in the frozen tundra on which it landed. Observing this, I picked up a larger stone and with all my might threw it towards the small ocean of ice; to my delight it shattered that part of the lake with ease.

There is a certain joy a man gets out of throwing stones. Keeping him from doing so is a dangerous pedagogical theory. As I was out there on that lake, making no headway in destroying the frozen ground before me, it occurred to me how mere stones and ice can offer enough opportunity for lasting joy than can many a case of beer. It was truly said that man is far too easily pleased with the trifling things of this world.¹ The paradox of it all is that it is not that we need more to be happy, but that we need our eyes to be opened to the truly joyful things our world has to offer. The joy of throwing stones into ice is the joy of man destroying something for the sake of destruction; it is a kid knocking over a sandcastle; or an construction worker bulldozing a building. Our attempt to destroy that lake was an attempt at destroying something other than our bodies.

As we continued throwing those stones, we also continued exploring the area. We traveled north along the shore, staring at the houses sitting on the peaks of the shore across the way as the dying sun made them glow like a young woman on her wedding day. The hills sang with the last light of a decaying day, and as the degrees dropped in unison, we headed back to the car, jumping from rock to rock to avoid the mud.

On the way back we wished to continue avoiding the green gods and stopped at a peak overlooking the lake and the glowing houses along the way. As we stood atop that hill, we could see the whole city aglow. The dam separated the lake and the spillway and the juxtaposition of the blueness of the lake was offset with the grayness of the small rivers and creeks of the spillway. In the same way the light green hills alongside the lake would slowly blend into a darker green of the valley which was the town. A darker green that signified another darkness that evening, one we both knew we must head back into if we were to live in this world of ours. But as we began to leave, we cast a last look at the glowing hills and without saying a world heard more in those few seconds than any of the green gods has heard or howled in a year. For at the moment we heard silence. At that moment we heard God speak.

______________

¹Lewis, The Weight of Glory

Sam Snow (theficklefarce.com)
Written in my beautiful apartment and
in the Catacombs of Kansas State University
Manhattan, KS
March 8 and 10, 2014

Painting:
"A Country House Across the Lake by Moonlight"
By British School
Oil on Canvas, N.D.

Friday
Mar072014

Ambler, No. 3 [On Entering a Gym]

In Philosophy where truth seems double-faced, there is no man more paradoxicall then my self -- Sir T. Browne

 

I am more liable to believe in the traditional Catholic teaching of Purgatory, not due to the nature of God, but due to the nature of man. For man, knowing he needs improvement, and believing he must do something about that, spends his entire life creating temporal purgatories where he seeks to mend these faults. Indeed, if man were in charge, Purgatory would necessarily exist, and the best evidence I have for this consists in a simple anecdote. For I discovered myself heading toward one of these modern purgatories this week, dreading the thought of entering the building as much as what would occur within. Though my thoughts were naturally bent downwards on depression and death, I lifted my heavy head upwards and in a quick an ample move, I contorted my burly body in such a way that my right arm moved leftwards as my left arm, grabbing the inside portion of my dark, wool coat proceeded in the opposite direction, thus creating an awkward situation for my brain, which naturally told my legs to continue on in the forward motion they had previously been going. It so happened that this contortion of limbs and movement occurred so swiftly that the uppermost button of my coat flew to the ground as quickly as did Ananias upon confirmation of his deception of the Holy Ghost.

On entering the building, I gave the chap my card, gathered my newly tattered coat and turned to a friend who had also just entered. I laid hold of that disobedient button and held it up to him, asking him, in the usual misogyny that characterizes my rhetoric, if his wife knew how to sew on a button. To my joy it turned out she was a skilled sewer of buttons, and I concluded our brief dialogue with a declaration that I had been coming to this horrible place of  self-mortification for far too long, for my body had outgrown my coat, and my buttons were beginning a small rebellion. The problem I often run into is not that I am too small, but rather that I am far too large for my own good.

* * * * *

I find myself in a modern gymnasium on a fairly regular basis. Now, a young man needs only one quality when he enters a gym. He needs to have a very small view of himself. The smaller one sees himself, the less likely his ginormous head will get in the way of the weights his arms are lifting. There is nothing more obnoxious than a over-sized head when one lifts weights. It is not the smallness of a person that tends to be the problem at these places of pain. For the bigger a person is when he enters, the more he must lift. The worst is a man who is genuinely small, but his head is so overgrown that, upon lifting the weights, his body is either thrust forward due to the disproportionate amount of weight in regards to his small frame, or, the dumbbells come into contact with that huge head, laying him flat on his back. Thus, to keep myself from what would be an inevitable meeting with the floor, I proceed to the upper section of this particular gym and use machines that are less likely to cripple my frame.

On days when the gym is busy, nearly every machine is being used, and it is almost musical as all the mighty men move, and grunt, and wheeze, and curse in similar fashion. The machines are so uncomfortably close to each other, one wonders if we are not all one organism working together. As I lift a rather insignificant amount of weight, sweat drops from my furrowed brow, that brow which gains wrinkles upon every second I spend in the wretched place, and I feel so utterly, utterly alone. As the weight is lifted both arms and soul are crushed; I gasp for air and ask my Father to call me home; I open mine eyes, hoping to see His, only to feel the burning sensation of sweat meeting pupil, only to be reminded of how little I am lifting.

But as my eyes are opened, I see another pilgrim across the way. They are also grunting and torturing themselves. And I realize I am not alone.

* * * * *

The problem with the modern is not that he is too small; it is that he is far too big. He is not too slow; he is too swift. He does not know too little; he knows too much. He is not pressed for time; he has too much time on his hands. He is not poor; he is too wealthy. The problem with modern society is that it proceeds to the gym to get bigger, not smaller. He can run around his world like he does the track, feeling as if he has improved himself all the while arriving not one step further than he began. For the real problem with modern man is not the economic crash or politics or war or even death. The real problem with modern man is not even that he is too evil, or even that he is evil at all.

The real problem is that he is far too good.¹

The paradox of the modern is that, though he believes there is nothing wrong with himself, he spends so much time on self-improvement. He goes to school to learn; to the gym to get fit; to counselling to fix his marriage. Modern man is the most rational of all humans that has lived; he is Superman without the kryptonite, who still feels as if he needs to do push-ups. But the paradox does not just reside in man's ideology about himself. He does not merely believe himself to be perfect, yet in need of self-improvement; he believes all people to be perfect, and his neighbor is in more need of self-improvement than anyone.

But it is true that the New Moralist has arisen from the ashes of this philosophy of sand. The New Moralist does not believe there is "no wrong." He believes there are multiple wrongs, and everyone ought to consider all of them as right. The traditional moralist believed we should improve ourselves with an objective standard and direction. The old moralist believed we should improve ourselves without any standard or any direction whatsoever. The New Moralist believes we should improve ourselves by unimproving ourselves and calling evil good.

The traditional moralist argued that man ought to go to the gym to improve his physical build. The old moralist argued we ought to go the the gym to improve our math. The New Moralist believes everyone oughto go to the gym to be crushed by the weight. For all moralists may speak with the same rhetoric but merely have different ends in mind. While the traditionalist told everyone to love his neighbor because his neighbor was a man, the postmodernist told everyone to love his neighbor because he could not be sure his neighbor existed. But the New Moralist teaches us to love our neighbor because that is the best way to hate him.

We live in a society of purgatories that are currently in the process of being flipped upside down. The man who makes it out will be so unimproved by improvement he will be surprised to find himself in the Inferno.

_____________________

¹Stolen from Chesterton, Orthodoxy.

Sam Snow, theficklefarce.com
Written in "The Catacombs"
Kansas State University
Manhattan, KS
March 3, 2014

Painting:
"Virgin Mary Releasing a Soul from Purgatory at the Intercession of King David"
By German School, Oil on Panel
1450-1550 

Wednesday
Mar052014

I Played the Piano Again: An Introspection

Many wise men of antiquity and beyond have warned against introspection, and for good reason. The modern man is weaned on introspection and sustains his post-post modern fervor with it. English departments have introspected so much they can no longer see far enough to read the books in front of them. The trouble is, the man of the Ironic age is specting his intro for the sake of justifying what he finds there. There is, however, such a thing as proper introspection. Proper introspection is objectively critical and mindful of the filth one may find when searching one’s own brain. Also, proper introspection does not last too long before it runs back outside, grasping for clean air. I hope in the following essay—if we ever get there—to introspect critically, succinctly, and properly. 

The other day, Sam Snow asked me the to show him where to find a piano on the campus of our University. Now, if Sam Snow, esteemed secretary for Brandon M. Schneeberger, asks one a question one does not simply “humph” and walk away, or worse yet, ask “why?” No! One complies, so we set our course in a southerly direction and, after a pleasant amble (an activity of which Sam Snow is eminently fond) found ourselves spelunking in the musty basement hallways of McCain Auditorium. As we wound through the maze of music rooms, smelling faintly of slide-grease and the old velvet of instrument cases, I heard the familiar mixed sounds of clarinets, ensembles, and singers floating from the tiny rooms. After a bear of a search and a couple brawls with swarthy tuba players, we found a door marked, “Practice Rooms.” I deposited Mr. Snow into his own room and was about to leave the building when an old temptation struck me. I was faced with one of most alluring of sights I know: a newly tuned piano in an empty practice room. Like my thirteen-year-old self, my sixteen-year-old self, and my twenty-year-old self I could not resist, so I did not resist. I sat down and played the piano again. 

Not to say I have not played for the last few years, but I have not played like that. I secreted myself  away and really tried to remember. I was not playing to impress a living room full of family or to lead a church congregation in song. I was playing honestly, without show, and I found that ‘honest’ does not sound very pretty. My fingers are not as limber or precise as they used to be. Although I can find the keys I used to play, I cannot find them as rhythmically or as confidently as once did. Out of habit I began by pounding out the songs I always play when I sit down at a piano—my pianistic tropes: "The Old Rugged  Cross," "Reverie" by Debussy (I only remember the first page and a half now), and a song or two I have written. When I had finished these I just sat there racking my brain to think of something else to play more interesting than a chord-vamp in the key of D. It upset me that I could not recall even one of the hundreds of songs I have played since I began at age four with Middle C and “Mississippi Hotdog.” After a few moments of uncertainty I reverted to the only thing I could think to play at the moment: the basic elements of piano playing, the scales. I worked my way up and down from C, stumbling terribly in A but performing surprisingly well in B. Of course, I avoided the "sharp" and "flat" scales (though I felt the old shame that in all my years of lessons and practice I had never really learned those dreaded black-key runs). As my fingers moved along, up an down, the confined room began to grow muggy and hot like former practice rooms I had occupied when I warmed up for piano contests or worked out new ditties for my college band. Many of those practice rooms had “fan” switches to circulate air. This one did not, but I played on, enjoying the charged, humid air. 

I have often wondered why God gave me musical talent. I have spent most of my life squandering it with musical slight of hand and short-cuts that allow me side-step technical excellence while producing passable music. Most of my failures come back to scales. I never would practice them enough to make them automatic. The fingering of multi-octave runs would overwhelm me when I practiced and I would quit, thinking, “I’ll move on to more substantial things—real songs.” It was my neglect of the scales and the “grammar” of the piano that held me back in the end. I remember lying on my back directly under the soundboard of our baby-grand piano with my eyes closed listening to my eldest sister Ellen play Debussy’s “Clair De Lune,” filled with the emotion of the song, dreaming of playing it the way she did. But I never did. I never mastered the scales. Honestly, I can hardly read the bass clef notes (and never really could). Most of the piano theory I internalized during my formal lessons has been packed away in some inaccessible corner of my brain far from the light of my conscience. In short, when you hear me play the piano you are hearing an instrumental illusionist perform a trick with no real substance to it. It is only recently I stopped fooling me.

*************** 

Hearing and watching myself play so haltingly and imperfectly was like gazing at a Roman ruin I encountered once while in Schwäbisch Hall Germany; it was just sitting there pathetically, jutting out of the grass in a city park, next to a public restroom. Its beauty was still there, but it had a tragic feel, as if the glory had faded and would not come back without some grand restoration requiring more resources and time than anyone was willing to sacrifice. In the same way, my dilapidated piano skill reminded me of a certain truth I forget on a daily basis: I have not yet reached a state of being. I am, outside of those unchanging promises gifted to me at the moment of my salvation, becoming. I am becoming less skilled at the piano, becoming more blind in my left eye, becoming a skeptic of televisions and the programs they broadcast, becoming more emotional about Sunday sermons than Sunday music, becoming a fierce creature of habit (upset if my car-clock is even four minutes past my accustomed home-departure time of 5:50 AM), becoming more appreciative of the New Earth, becoming more joyful as the LORD opens my eyes to the world as he sees it and the world as he will remake it. My piano playing that day in the practice room was a shadow, and a reminder that someday I will cease to merely become and will be what God forms me.

The happy ending of this little episode has not yet happened, for I have not yet lived it. Someday, if the LORD wills, I will practice the scales. I will practice them until I cannot forget them, and then I will practice them a few times more. I will learn the bass clef; and I will play “Clair De Lune” like my sister played it. I will honor God with the talent he gave me instead of fooling it away on chord charts and cute rhythmic three note patterns. If this does not occur on this Earth it will certainly occur in the next—though then my piano will be on my sailboat. 

 

R. Eric Tippin
In My Office At Kansas State University
March 3, 2014

Image: "Saxon Sydney-Turner at the Piano"
Oil on Canvas - 1908
Vanessa Bell