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Friday
Feb062015

Nightcap


NIGHTCAP

I've invited Sleep out for a drink,
but here I am sitting alone at the bar,
looking at my watch, and I see
that Sleep is late, as usual,
whenever we make plans.
Always an advocate
for the spontaneous,
Sleep has no problem
making impromptu visits,
but something about the plan,
the careful selection of time,
puts him off. Tonight
I wish he and I had arrived together,
finishing our tall beers
at the same time—his light, mine dark
(I'm forever asking Sleep to try something dark),
gathering the tab in his fist
before I can even think about paying—
a practice to which I've grown accustomed.

Bryn Homuth
Manhattan, KS 2013 

Image:
"Automat"
Oil on Canvas - 1927
Edward Hopper 

Tuesday
Feb032015

Ambler, No. 41 [On Running into An Old Friend]

No. 41

Virtuous thoughts of the day laye up good treasors for the night — Sir T. Browne

Last autumn, I taught a first year writing course at a local University, and I had about a seven minute walk to the building I taught in. Each day, I would grab my briefcase and briskly saunter my way north to that building. Now, it is important that my reader understand the apparent contradiction in the phrase “briskly saunter.” “Briskly” describes my physical action in walking. “Saunter” describes my mindset while I’m briskly walking. I believe a man should walk with that decided purpose that says he cannot wait to see whatever he happens to see. The man who briskly saunters is alive in more ways than one. He walks with a decided purpose, but not a purpose to merely end the walk. Nay, he walks with his head up, enjoying the walk, for that is his purpose. It is the man who walks only to end the walk who displays lifelessness; it is the man who walks for the very experience of seeing his world who displays life. And thus it was that as I sauntered to teach, I did so not merely to get to the building but to see again what I had already seen.

*****

Just the other day, I took a short walk to the campus library with two colleagues. As we left the library and neared our own building we at once heard a soft buzzing in the air—there to our left were two young men flying a drone. If there is anything more depressing than a drone, I would like to know. Even the very name suggests the terrible monotony that is technology. But, as it were, these two men were happily flying this drone while passengers looked up and gawked at the machine—that is, a majority of people did look up and gawk, a majority of people who otherwise would have their heads down. Now, there was still a segment of the population who refused to look. Indeed, there is a segment of the population who refuse to live, and I fear that number will only increase as the seers of our age predict phones in our eyes and computers in our heads.

Several things occurred. First, one of these individuals who refused to show interest at the drone was walking in front of us. This man truly sauntered, with hood up, walking at such a pace that one might question whether he has yet arrived at the building. As three amblers, my colleagues and I were not concerned about this individual but were staring up at the sky in wonder and amazement. We then passed this young man, and one of my colleagues, upon looking down at the perpetrators with the drone, let out a “Hey! I know you guys!” A tad disconcerted, and not wanting to be associated with drones, we watched her leave and feigned ignorance. My other colleague then let out a sarcastic statement having to do with his individual rights, of which I commended. I say, I would be just fine if I was never in a picture again. In fact, I take great pains to avoid being in them.

In any case, my friend and I neared the building, and we walked in such a way that our heads were slightly turned back, staring at that horrible monstrosity in the heavens, yet still proceeding forward. It was at this moment that I recognized the man in the hood as a former student.

*****

In our morbid modern ways, men no longer walk as they once did. Take for example, my seven minute walk last semester. It is enough for me that I passed the same maple tree every day; it is enough for me that I made a point to walk with my head up and ears open to see and hear the slight changes in the atmosphere, as the days became weeks and November ate September. Every day—I should say every other day—I walked the same path so as to observe how the maple tree changed slightly, ever so slightly. Autumn affected the top of the tree first. On one occasion I noticed the once green leaves were an off-yellow; the next week they were nearly maroon; for two weeks the upper half of the tree (which seemed to be slowly devouring the lower half) was a vibrant red, as if those leaves knew something the others did not, as if they were proclaiming the glories of their existence before December came with its scythe and returned them to their Mother.

But I cannot help but notice my fellow humans each day as I ambled by such a tree, watching it die slowly, yet musing how it never seemed so alive. The younger generation walks at a deathly pace; they walk so slow for a second one may think they walk the way of their philosophy: backwards. They walk slow not in order to gaze at maple trees or listen to robins. They cannot, for they not only walk slow, they walk with heads downs and ears plugged. They stare at their feet and listen to the same song drone on and on and on while they talk to strangers miles away. And when an ambler finds himself behind two or three of these modern zombies, who walk like a dying sloths clogging the way, he cannot pass, for they notice not fellow humans and are unaffected by the world around them.

*****

I have been honored—in the same way that my students are honored to take one of my writing courses—to have taught various athletes over the past year. Though athletics are far too idolized these days, the spirit of athletic competition is the spirit of the human soul. I was once quite the athlete myself back in my day, but unfortunately, time conquers all.

The former student I ran into that day of the drone is also an athlete, and I was naturally delighted to be in the presence of both a campus celebrity and a former student. And likewise my former students are equally delighted to see me as a celebrity writer and former educator who imparts not only knowledge and skill but eloquence and wisdom. Thus, it happened that as my colleague and I began opening the double-doors to our building, we naturally held them open for this young man with wide grins on our faces. His eyes lit up as they inevitably recognized me (despite such a length of days between us!), and I let out a gracious, “Hey, J—, How are you?” To which he replied with a slight head nod, a look of admiration, and a feeble, “Hey.” Taken aback, perhaps, at my humility, as I fumbled with books in my arms and a door in my hand, he proceeded past me to the next set of double doors and began the process of opening one.

As he grabbed that handle, I thought I would engage him in trivial conversation—mere chewing the fat, mere idle chatter, between two athletes, one in his prime, the other headed to a hall. So in all the glory of the scenario, I beamed as I posed a question to him, though his back was turned.

This exact moment contains the moral of this rambling. For as I asked the question, I expected a long conversation to ensue about writing, and athletics, and life. I say, I had grand visions of my former student thanking me for the knowledge and wisdom he learned from my class—how those timeless truths were used each and every day. I envisioned a hearty handshake or maybe even a fist-bump. And as I contemplated these things in my heart I asked the question on the tongue of both my colleague and me:

“How’s the semester going?” I asked with the giddiness of a fifth-grader. 

And with that, the young man opened the door to the building, entered, and ignored me. He ignored me as if I had made no more sound than the faint squeak of a mouse. Surely, he did not ignore me for lack of memory; surely he was equally eager for conversation with me. Nay, he ignored me for the very reason moderns ignore mice and men: the man had headphones in his ears and was deaf to the world. 

Sam Snow, theficklefarce.com
Written at The Ole Midshipman,
Manhattan, KS,
February 1, 2015

Painting: "An Autumn Morning"
By James Aumonier,
Oil on canvas, 1900

Tuesday
Jan272015

Ambler, No. 40 [On Stumbling]

Confound not the distinctions of thy Life which Nature hath divided: that is, Youth, Adolescence, Manhood, and old Age, nor in these divided Periods, wherein thou art in a manner Four, conceive thy self as One. — Sir Thomas Browne

At various times in my life, I take a holiday to a small town where I was once a student. It is good, nay, it is sanctifying for a young man to visit the old places where he has lived; it is possible that if we forget where we have come from, we may just lose track on where we are headed. If we have lost track, it may just be that we have lost track because we have forgotten the lessons we learned along the way, and visiting those old places is a helpful reminder. Many a young boy grows up as I did, playing some modern version of Cowboys and Indians. In my own case, I ambled around the Kansas City cul-de-sac of my youth with a toy rifle, like some modern day Davey Crockett (I had the coon hat). The neighbor kids would join with their nineteenth-century steel pop-guns, and we would shoot our neighbors whose backyard joined my own but who certainly did not live in our cul-de-sac. They were the enemy. And this meant, in my mind, that they must be attacked because the princess was surely locked up in their house. So, when we would plan our attack, we all flew down to the wooded area behind my house and conspired.

I eventually moved from that neighborhood and did not return until I was much older. Much like visiting an old childhood playground, everything appeared much smaller and less significant. This is the great tragedy in growing older. Young boys live in a perpetual adventure. Anything can be a fort or a castle, even in an urban setting, though this is harder. Romance, for a young boy is not stale; it is that epic quest he enters to save his lady; it is the very opposite of what every modern feminist believes romance is, if they even believe romance at all. I do not, lest I am misunderstood, ever refer to romance in our modern, Nicholas Sparks, sense. I use the term in its original conception; I use it to refer to the romantic act that saves the princess because, yes, she can’t save herself; I use it in the sense of a god laying his life for men who cannot save themselves. And one of the great tragedies in life is that many men, if not all, grow up with romantic ideals and then throw them away when the world tells them all is meaningless. They are told that the only romance that exists is that between a man and a woman, or in our more twisted version, between a man and a man. But what gets lost in all of this is that romance spans much more than mere love stories written by bad writers who need different professions.

*****

This past week I toured my old college campus. I spent two years of my life running around that campus, and much changes in a mere two years. I walked the campus with a friend who also attended, and we commented on all that changed since our last time there. But what is more interesting to me is not what has changed but what has remained. For I had not been there in three years, and the buffer was enough to make even the ordinary seem different, new even. The architecture was both the old, ugly architecture of my past and the new, beautiful architecture of my new, appreciative self. What once was a hall that I entered every day was a hall I was entering for the first time, even seeing it for the first time. It is a noble thing for a man to stand and gaze at a building for the first time and the one hundredth.

We then visited what is an old coffee-house near campus, a coffee-house where many a conversation was had and many a pipe was smoked. Much was changed since my last visit. Much for the good, though I couldn’t help but be slightly nostalgic for the old days. In those moments where I smoked with friends out on the back porch, I learned many a thing, explicitly and implicitly. Much of my present learning I now realize was being learned during those moments. But men are such slow, slow learners.

I believe one thing I implicitly learned from those days was a delight in the mysteries, in understanding how little we actually understand. We spoke of this on a theological level mostly, and I now understand that the mysteries must applied to mere man and those seemingly mundane and trifling aspects of life. But one of those theological mysteries, so often forgotten as life progresses, is the paradox that a man must lose his life if he wishes to find it. That is, a man who serves others engages in a romance deeper and more full of meaning than any Nicholas Sparks novel.*

*****

As I was standing there in the coffee-house, ruminating on the past, my traveling companion and I were asked by an old friend of ours to help move a few things around. Jumping on our steeds, we obliged. We grabbed a large box meant for two, and I walked backwards as we grunted and hoisted it up stairs. The box merely needed to be “out of the way,” so we made our own way to an unlit backroom. We entered that room like two gallant knights; we entered that room, I say, too eagerly; some might say, and I would agree, that we entered that room in the quixotic fashion of two novice movers too pleased to be helping and not aware enough of the terrors awaiting. Alas! two men so long separated and detached from a life of romance, we entered that room unprepared. Had I visited that cul-de-sac of my youth, I may have been better prepared for what befell me. I would have expected a dragon or an evil knight. But as it was, I entered that room with the pride of a modern, back turned, expecting no difficulties and certainly no tragedies. And my fellow knight, eager to release his arms and back from the strain of the box, bulldozed his way into the room in similar fashion.

About halfway through the door, I felt it under my foot. My eyes grew wide with terror. No sound was made from whatever I stepped on, but I’m certain my companion, who couldn’t see it, could see the terror in my eyes. He could also see that I was slowly—I promise it happened in slow motion—beginning to lose my balance. As St. Peter slowly sank into the depths of that sea, so I sank—one leg giving, the other searching for balance, then both giving. Only I had no hand to save me, only the look of bewilderment in my companion’s eyes and a box which lay on my chest. Mass confusion followed, and the sound of “Woa, watch yer step” was heard, as I lay dying on top an open suitcase probably placed there by an evil magician.

“This never leaves this room,” I said as I stood up. We consoled ourselves that the adventure was complete, nevertheless. Shortly afterwards, our old friend—the Lord bless his soul!—spoke the words I will never forget: “Okay, this room needs cleaned. Everything out!” And we stumbled into another adventure.

Sam Snow, theficklefarce.com
Written under the influence of Alexi Murdoch,
Manhattan, KS
January 25, 2015

Transcribe by the Author,
With much mis-adventure,
January 25, 2015

Painting: "The Faithful Knight"
By Thomas Jones Barker,
Oil on canvas on plywood, n.d.

________________________________________

*Never have I, never will I, read Nicholas Sparks. The movies are torture enough, and I am ashamed I know that from experience.

Monday
Jan192015

Ambler, No. 39 [On An Evening with A Cat]

Let Age, not Envy, draw Wrinkles on thy Cheeks. — Sir Thomas Browne

(c) Glasgow Museums; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Those few men who have been blessed to enter my abode know that it functions under one main rule. At no point will a television or cable or the internet ever enter. I have written about this extensively elsewhere and wish not to belabor the moral. I do wish, before I get into what I'm actually going to discuss, to state that it is entirely possible (and even recommended for one's spiritual and psychological health) to live without a T.V., cable, or the internet. I don't even keep my computer here because computers are the very essence of evil. Now, to my point. A couple of weeks ago, I happened to be cat-sitting for my neighbor. I've gotten to know this cat over the past half year or so, and I must say he is growing on me. In fact, I used to be very much against cats in general until I met him. But his natural cat characteristics are very intriguing. Let me explain.

*****

A few weeks ago, I was cat-sitting a neighbor's cat. Never mind the fact that she came home to find her cat dehydrated and possibly anorexic; mind that I endeavored and succeeded in keeping that cat entertained for nearly fifteen minutes. On one of those nights that week, I was sitting at home, watching the majestic tabby cat sit like a king in my rocker, as if he was the rightful owner of the place. Recently, I have been attempting to live a life that is more rounded in the sense that I do things other than read and write. As I've mentioned in a recent post, there is nothing worse than that class of people who call themselves writers or readers just for the sake of being a labeled a "writer" or "reader." There is, of course, nothing wrong with being either. In fact, men should be active in both as mere hobbies or practices. But writing and reading are not ends; they are means. And the man who believes he's doing the world a favor by being a writer for the sake of the title should probably stop writing and go find something to write about.

It certainly is not difficult. If you're a miserable modern who finds every aspect of life depressing because "all is detached from meaning," then you may be hard-pressed to write. But as I was saying, and I seem to keep distracting myself, I sought to do something that evening besides finish The Secret Garden, and so I stood up on my two feet and began exploring the room for things to fix. I was nearly to the point of breaking something so that I had an excuse to use my toolbox when the cat, who had been napping, perked up and started watching me. I've never quite understood why cats are so interested when we change activities, but this one surely was that night. Finally, I remembered that my old alarm clock had been broken, and grabbing it, I began the attempt at fixing it.

There were no electrical issues with the clock, but strangely enough the button used to turn off the alarm had been pushed so many times, and with such vigor and force, that it was lodged deep into the clock. Now, I was under the impression that I could simply unscrew the bottom of the radio, pull the button out, and reassemble it. So I grabbed a screwdriver and began the task. As with most tasks that look easy when more capable men do them, this one gave me no small vexation. The screws couldn't come out so easily as expected, and after they finally did, I found that actually detaching the bottom of the clock was nigh impossible. Many a "crack!" and "snap!" was sent into the room as I placed the screwdriver between the upper and lower portions of the clock, trying to pry it apart. And all this alerted the cat, and he flew off his rocker, staring at my actions as if I was committing a murder. However, not wanting to snap the plastic completely, I soon gave up the whole notion of fixing the clock after about twenty minutes, and the cat stared on throughout the episode.

But then I stared at my half-destroyed clock, sitting there, not put together, not entirely broken. And the scene of my mangled clock intrigued me.

For as I and the cat stared at this clock, I began to have an odd moment. That particular clock had been with me for probably the last ten years. It was the first thing I heard many a morning, and though this is unfortunate, it is no less significant. But then it occurred to me that it all ended so very quickly. One day I'm using the clock as I had been for years, the next day it lay mutilated, soon to be placed in the trash. It is certainly not in any materialistic sense that I found I was attached to my clock. But in a more metaphysical vein, I thought about how easily it often is to discard our material items. I wonder if this is how it ought to be. If each item we own is mere utility and not some interesting object we can't explain, I fear we'll remain the modern materialists we are. That is, each object we own is not a bad knife or a comfortable chair. Nay the knife that won't cut is the knife of the house; it is the knife that gives us both vexation and food. The chair we fall asleep in may not go with the couch; it may be old and tattered, needing to be replaced; but it is still the chair we used for this period of our lives. And to treat it with mere utility is to do it a grave disservice and is more grounds for being labeled a materialist than even buying a new one. 

*****

So it was that I began to say goodbye to my clock; yet the entire time I took it apart, the cat watched with eager expectation. Having jumped off his rocker, the cat looked with wide eyes as I tried t fix what I was only further destroying. Perhaps this is why cats are growing on me. For a cat does not cease from it's ability to wonder at new things. The slightest sound will cause it to perk up its ears; movement from its master must be found out; if the man happens to be writing, the cat must lay on the papers.

But what gets me is how cats can be equally intrigued with the routine and old. Of course, a cat has no ability to think about such things as routine or old, but it is still refreshing to know that some of the things that rouse a cat's attention are not the new things so much as the old, those that are done each day. It is unfortunate; indeed, it is the disaster of man's state that he grows bored so easily. If anything should be exciting, it should not be the new and extraordinary, for that seems almost too obvious and ordinary a thing to find exciting. What should surprise and excite is that which continues to happen over and over again. If a cat were to jump off his rocker and suspend in the air for thirty seconds before landing, I would be very surprised and even possibly terrified. But then I would quickly chalk the instance to mere random chance if it never happened again. However, if every cat in the country began floating in the air after jumping out of rockers, and if this peculiarity continued for twenty years, I would have to assess the possibilities. It may be reasoned that some mastermind is behind a cat conspiracy, in which case I must wonder at the complexity of cats and their god. Or I may still cling to the theory that the floating cats themselves are still operating by mere chance. Of course, if I chose the latter, I must explain why none of the cats does not take flight completely by mere chance. I think that over the years, I would either have to wonder at the phenomenon every time it happened or began to believe that it was only I who was off my rocker.

Sam Snow, theficklefarce.com
Written at The Ole Midshipman,
A tabby cat watching,
Sunday, January 18, 2015

Transcribed by the author,
With much stress,
Monday, January 19, 2015

Painting: "Tabby Cat"
Charles Edward Stuart,
Oil on canvas, 1901

Wednesday
Jan142015

Ambler, No. 38 [On A Walk to The Post Office]

But to be content with Death may be better than to desire it. — Sir T. Browne

No. 38This morning I walked to the post office. Post offices are rather ugly things. The outside is usually some type of brick building. The inside offers little condolence. Much like the DMV, these government employees are commanded not to smile, laugh, or bless but must do their work with a cold severity that expresses seriousness. Of course, not all postmen are solemn Sally's. I once met a postman who couldn't help but crack jokes. Why, one time I sauntered into his domain with a particular package addressed to a particular university. The bubbly man took the package, and as they are wont to do, began submitting the destination information.

"Eh? What's this?" he chimed. "Yer sending it to the wrong school son!"

"Huh?" I replied. "The wrong one!?" I was, for half a second, rather dismayed. For the contents of the package were for an application, and, well, I had sent multiple out to various colleges. Then, of course, it dawned on me that this jolly man certainly had no clue what he was talking about. How could he? But it then clicked that the man was clearly a fan of the rival, and he thought I should be sending packages to them instead.

It must, I think, be somewhat interesting to work in a post office. To see all the thousands and thousands of places where letters are sent. Post offices are great buildings of communication. They are not some hand held device. They do not speak there in emoticons or epigrammatic sentence fragments. The postmen are perhaps the last great connection to a world once known. Postmen used to be carriers of death or life. They once saw the faces of loved ones who found out their lovers had died or the faces of new grandparents. They now see holiday cards and presents. The postman is the great middleman of all true relationships that defy modern communication and contact each other through lengthy epistles. Sadly, no one does this anymore. But as I was making my way up to the post office this morning, I couldn't help but notice how it was the ugliest building around. But why is this? Why are not these grand buildings that symbolize man's great desire to communicate across these lands by the most natural means not erected as tall stone buildings like castles? Why is not everyone who enters laughing and singing and downright joyful about the incredible mystery they are part of? Why does it not surprise us that a mere handing of a letter to a probably generally incompetent man almost always reaches its destination? And why, for the sake of all things holy, the eagle? Why does not every post office erect a giant statue, overlaid with gold, of a mighty pigeon with an all-too important missive grasped in its right claw?

*****

Just yesterday I sent another application to a different college for a different purpose, and I did so by way of fax. Naturally, I was skeptical. I asked the receptionist how it worked, and performing the action, she politely said the man on the other end would receive it in his fax machine shortly. this didn't satisfy me. I stood, confused and bewildered for a second. Then I simply let out a "huh! I'm always amazed those things actually work." Now, amaze is an understatement, for the inner workings of the fax machine transcends all comprehension. that a man can be sitting at his desk, minding his own business, and—BANG!—my resume flies out of some haunted machine in the corner and lands on his desk. Incredible. It is one thing for an email or a text message to end up on his desk. Those things aren't real. They are fictional messages that exist in a fictional space, the ether. But the paper copy of my resume is a very real (and depressing) thing. One can hold it. And that some man a thousand miles away was holding (and perhaps scratching his head) was too much for me.

And this is why the post office is such a marvelous place. Men, carrying and delivering letters to other men. The only thing that could make the postal services better is if mailmen personally delivered my mail to me, shouting, "Delivery!" and rushing up to me in some intense fashion as if the letter, be it a mere bank statement, were a matter of life or death. Wouldn't it be grand if postmen took their jobs with a  seriousness that did not produce solemnity but gaiety? There is a seriousness that implies the man doing the task is the main line of defense for its getting accomplished. There is a seriousness that is all too serious about one's self and not nearly serious enough about the task at hand. But there is another seriousness that forgets about the self and thinks only of the task. Delivering a man's mail in the cold and snow does not become a nuisance, it becomes an adventure, once the man forgets about his wet shoes and red nose. One man saves the princess from the dragon because he is the man to do the job. Another man saves the princess because that is the noble and right thing to do. And this sentiment can and ought to be applied to any task one is doing. I write these ambling posts with the spirit of a serious essayist who knows full well that he is an altogether incompetent chap for the task.

*****

In any case, I was making my way to the post office this morning, and the spirit of adventure was upon me. Everything around us this time of year is dead. Or I should more correctly state that everything around us looks as if it were dead. Everything but the snow. And well the wind—a dreadful thing in these parts—certainly felt alive. And I guess I should mention that I heard a bird up in the trees, singing its lonesome winter song to no one in particular. And what is more alive than someone singing without a purpose? And then, of course, I saw my own breath, and is it not alarming how easily one can perceive  their own breathing in the bitter cold? And I must also mention that the sun is out this morning, and that life-giving force has been on holiday recently. And is a man not more alive than we he returns from holiday? And then, of course, other men were out walking about, not as if they were dead, but as if they were rather alive. A man walks with a certain purpose in the cold, for the lively wind freezes his faces and reminds him he is very much alive.

And in fact one of those ambling men was carrying a couple of packages, and I spied him from afar on my way out of the post office, after I had sent out yet another application to yet another college. Well, I went a different way this time as I left, and there was that man carrying two mid-sized packages. Immediately, my curiosity led me to wonder what might be in the boxes and where they might be heading. The possibilities flew through my brain, and the thoughts must have left a welcoming expression on my face. For as the man passed, he simply smiled and said, "Good morning." Now, we moderns never say "good morning" anymore because good implies some value, and we generally hate the mornings. Yet this man had the spirit to declare the morning good. Well, I say. I don't know what he had in those packages or what his intentions were. But I can say this. He was sending something by mail, by the old means of communication our grandfathers relied on. And this is a very good thing, for it is a seriously jolly task.

Sam Snow, theficklefarce.com
Written in my office,
Kansas State University,
January 9, 2015

Transcribed by the author,
Retiring from such a task,
January 12, 2015

Painting: "The Postman"
By Thomas Liddall Armitage,
Oil on canvas, 1891