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Tuesday
May272014

I Am the Modern Man

Today I typed (on my trusty Remington typewriter, Mr. Swiveller) a letter to my British pen pal, in which I made the wild claim that television and the internet have ruined America’s general landscaping. I painted a picture for said PP of the modern man arriving home from work, eating a quick supper and settling down to an evening of his “shows” with interspersed breaks to check Facebook, Twitter, and maybe a blog. I continued on to my claim that, if his “shows,” his Facebook, his Twitter, and his blog were taken away, he would return to his yard—to the fresh outdoors where he used to spend time manicuring his lawn (or in the case of a city-flat his garden boxes). In lieu of a yard, he would at least sit on his porch/deck/patio and wave at the neighbors across the way sitting on their porch/deck/patio and maybe even strike up a conversation. I said in no uncertain terms that this was something to be deplored and decried. In short, I railed against the modern man. What I did not say is that I was describing myself on many nights. To my great shame, I can be that modern man in times of weakness.

Take, par example, this evening. My wife and I supped on a generous meal of grilled salmon, apples, and macaroni salad. Following supper, I said in a modern, jolly voice, feeling refreshed and full-stomached, “Let’s watch a Foyle’s War [our favorite show at the moment {great show too}]” To her credit she said kindly, but firmly, “It is a beautiful evening out there. Could you get the garden shears from the Grotto?” and without a thought for my silly suggestion, she slipped on her work shoes and stepped out the front door to do battle with our overgrown yard. For a moment I balked. The sniveling, weak-kneed, entertainment-saturated, sissy modern man inside me whispered something to the effect of, “Isn’t it humid? What about bugs? There are fans in here. There aren’t any out there. TV would be more fun.” He made a mistake with that last word. Though I may have been a slave to “fun” in former times, I am no loner one of the masses who burn their incense to the god of fun, and who use the phrase, “It will be fun” to justify any excess and erase any natural compunction. So I said, lifting my fist in the air, “Sniveling, weak-kneed, entertainment-saturated, sissy modern man-inside-me, take a hike! I’m going outside to work in my yard with my wife!” I did just that. We edged along our sidewalk, trimmed bushes, pulled overzealous vines back from the house, lopped off new grown oak shoots, poured wrath (in the form of vinegar) on weeds growing up through cement-cracks, and generally wreaked havoc on the second law of thermodynamics. After an hour of work, we took a walk around our neighborhood through as many back alleys as we could find. And now I sit on our couch, glowing with health from an evening of yard work and ambling.

I have spent many of my latest posts on this site raging against the modern man, but if I stepped back very often I would find that modern man to be me.

I am only thankful it was not so tonight.   

R. Eric Tippin
At Home on Thurston Street, Manhattan, KS
May 27, 2014

Image:
Kenneth Normal Bell (1884-1951), Scholar (1903), Fellow and Tutor in Modern History (1919-1941), Founding Secretary of the Balliol Society (1927-1950)
Oil on Canvas - 1934
Henry Lamb 

Monday
May262014

Ambler, No. 13 [On The Neighborly Spirit]

There is surely a piece of divinity in us, something that was before the elements and owes no homage to the sun -- Sir T. Browne

 

The air was thick and muggy, and the evening grew darker with each step as I made my way home this evening from the bar district near my crumbling and dilapidated 'home.' I was not, mind you, at the bars this evening but walking home from what happens to be the bar district -- a district, which on this night, as most nights, was waxing with cling and clatter, and, unlike the street which led to my abode, was producing its usual amount of luminosity for its usual customers. I, on the other hand, was approaching the darkness which would climax in my entering that crumbling and dilapidated apartment I am forced to call 'home.' But all of this is quite irrelevant, for the night, as I mentioned, was thick and muggy, and I therefore attributed the horrendous heaving sound emitting from the figure before me to this fact. It was as if the individual were wading through the Slough of Despond, or if a cat had been caught in a mud puddle produced by the day's earlier rains -- wheezing its way to freedom, one paw at a time. We were not initially alone, this stranger and I, for I passed a nice-looking gentleman in a tie, and after I stared him down for a good three to five seconds, he finally produced a weak 'hello,' and I, ashamed at my conduct and rudeness, produced an even weaker 'hi,' though I capped it with my usual, dashing smile. And this got me to musing on how little folk say 'hello' to each other in passing. As I mulled this idea over in my thick skull, that horrible heaving sound once again made itself apparent, and it further occurred to me how, if he could even hear me above that sound, if he new I was behind him, he was probably more likely to guess that I would mug him and take his wallet than stop him for an evening chat. No, we were far too determined with our set courses, and thinking thus, a small but growing fear, rose within me and, yes, caused my spine to shiver. I say, I for a second, believed this person could at any instant turn around and club me to death, and in that instant, my little body and littler bank account would be depleted.

 We carried on and a young couple passed us -- the girl far outshining the boy in both appearance and dress. It is odd that women will be first to attempt to look presentable over the men in our culture (they need less help), and I thought that the aforementioned gentleman in the tie had more right to have that girl on his arm than the bum in shorts, but then, I too was a bum in shorts. In any case, the moment passed and the wheezing whippersnapper ahead of me took precedence once again in my thoughts. As I studied him, I recognized he walked with an obvious (and somewhat familiar) limp, dragging his right foot considerably, almost as if the leg was made of wood, and for a brief second I nearly called out a 'Captain Cuttle' to rouse his attention but thought it too rude and that the particular reference may not be duly noted by my audience. It was then I nonchalantly glanced to my left: a black cat caught my eye, glaring at me under the light of an apartment porch. Initially, my superstitious side took over, but seeing as how the cat remained poised in her position, I figured I was in the clear, for I am currently unaware of any ill-omen concerning when humans cross the path of black cats.

The initial scare now gone, my thoughts again directed their attention to the man ahead of me. I generally walk like most moderns -- with head down, body hunched, at a quickened pace as if I must catch up with the world's rotation or else I'll be left walking in the same spot, pretending the globe is nothing but a large treadmill, or a hamster's wheel and we the people forever spending our days merely trying to gain a few feet. It is a sad effect the automobile has had on our culture; my generation has taken road rage to the sidewalks, and the slow-pace of the wheezing individual ahead of me prohibited my passing, for he slithered in such a fashion so as to block the path and keep me from an easy passage through. But the whole point of this garrulous introduction is that the more I observed this individual, the more I recognized him. The familiar limp in conjunction with the heavy heaving reminded me of an earlier instance that day, when a neighbor of mine, out for his common smoke, accosted me and a friend for half a second to merely ask, 'how you guys doing?' to which we gave the common retort of 'good' and carried on -- as most rude millinnials do. I have seen this particular individual a number of times and had not once said 'hello,' let alone, 'how are you doing?' So as I slowed my pace and neared my crumbling and dilapidated home, I watched as this man cut through the muddy grass, and, to keep from seeming as if  I would mug him, I continued around on the concrete. I followed him at a distance, observing him to awkwardly open the door to the complex and shut it without acknowledging my presence (and why should he?). I thus entered and, for the very first time in my very short life, realized that the odd individual with the wheezing cough and strained limp I had been following was not just a resident at my apartment complex but, indeed, resided directly below what I do solemnly believe to be a crumbling and dilapidated apartment.

*****

I have often felt, though often forgotten I was part of the problem, that our society has increasingly grown more distant from those directly surrounding us and that this unfortunate trend, due to the automobile and the internet, which have come to destroy the world, is often manifested in the walking habits of my own generation. Nevermind that no one says 'hello' anymore, mind that no one even attempts a smile. I work with individuals from both coasts, and they often say the locals here are so nice -- always smiling and saying 'hello.' I would hate to see their locals. It is not merely unfortunate, it is a tragedy that a man can walk nearly two blocks behind his immediate neighbor, who makes a very distinct wheezing sound and walks with an even more noticeable limp, and not realize he is his neighbor until his skepticism becomes sight.

Now, a first-hand account is always colored by the hand penning the experience -- and this hand is often dull and oblivious to its surroundings. But a more objective note, I will point attention to anyone who has walked on a university campus in the past five years. The usual complaint I hear from students is in regards to those horribly selfish smokers who apparently (I never see them) time their smokes so as to have droves of unsuspecting students follow behind them to catch their second-hand smoke. But a student rarely keels over from second-hand smoke. It is more likely that that same student will get run over by a bus or  train because his head is so far smashed into his much-worshiped phone, as if looking up for a split-second was like asking them to donate a lung. It is more likely a student is felled to the ground by an irresponsible biker whose pretentiousness allows him to believe he must ride his instrument of woe right up to the desk in which he takes his test -- as if he is too important to use the two legs  God has given him to walk with the rest of humanity across campus.

But it is not just the bikers (or, at a specific campus, skateboarders) who believe the lanes belong to them; it is the walkers. It is the writer of this loquacious Ambler. The game of Chicken, once reserved for alcoholics in automobiles, has made its way to the conscious minds of millennials on sidewalks and nature paths, and the right-of-way is an art so obscure and outdated, that observing it nearly makes one a prig or, worse, a traditionalist. It would go a long way in our society if that once common courtesy was revived, and before we attempt a smile, the first gesture at regaining humanity in our culture and to still the devolution which plagues our race, would be to  simply let one pass. Just this week I was at the zoo with a good friend, and I must note that the monkeys were less menacing than the men, and the lone island they clung to provided far fewer opportunities for peace.*

This rant may seem to suggest I was revolted that my poor neighbor with the wheezing cough and lumbering limp was taking up the sidewalk. But the point is that I noticed his taking up the sidewalk and neglected to muse on how much his soul was taking up. Even the stereotyped and misrepresented Ned Flanders is acknowledged, and though we never see his face, Wilson (W.) Wilson is a judicious neighbor, often sought for his wisdom and guidance. But we (I) have fallen so far from acknowledgement of our fellow humans, that we feel closer the further away we are, and as our proximity from each other dwindles, so our suspicion of getting mugged increases.

______________

*It should be noted, the ducks which invaded their territory did cause no little consternation.

Sam Snow (theficklefarce.com)
Written with a pipe between the teeth,
Manhattan, KS
May 24, 2014

Painting: "The Night Walkers"
By Honore Daumier
Oil on board, 1842-1847

Wednesday
May212014

On the Dangers of Uniformity

Last Saturday I watched my brother become a doctor. I was filled with pride for his accomplishment as he walked across the podium, his doctoral robes brushing the stage lightly. He was bringing honor to his family name and, more importantly, representing his faith by being excellent in his work. My elation at his accomplishment was checked, however, when I glanced down at the cover of my commencement program. On it, next to a seal of the school, was a quote by some generally well-known but little read ancient philosopher. It was one of those quotes so often found at ceremonies involving a large group of Americans which say something so general and so obvious they offend no one and inspire about the same number of people. It read, and I paraphrase for lack of the program at my desk, “A journey of a million miles begins with one single step.” Now, the ideas that, in order to end something, one must begin it and that large things are made up of many small things are true, but they are not profound. They are first-day-of-preschool stuff. They are only marginally more profound than the observations of the Monopods in C.S. Lewis’ Voyage of the Dawn Treader: “In my experience water tends to be the wettest thing in the sea.” 

That ancient philosopher’s quote is not useless, of course. It has a deeper meaning (a couple inches down) and proper places to be printed: self-help books with toothy covers and motivational speeches to “future leaders of the midwest” but it seemed painfully out of place at a doctoral commencement ceremony. I hoped to find something more apt on the next page, so I flipped over the cover. My hope turned to despair as I read some banal passage about “holding the world in your hands” in order to gain more understanding of its “beauty.” I asked myself, “Self, is there nothing more concrete, more specific to the students and their work as dental surgeons?” I would have settled for something erring on the side of over-specificity, such as, “Remember, electric high speeds have more torque and more consistent torque than their air-powered counterparts. You may soon be making such purchasing decisions in the near future,” or “Digital X-Rays sound nice, but end up being about as convenient as Windows Vista for Business. Remember that as you move forward,” or “You will probably over-diagnose cavities your first week, but hang in there.” Though they would look odd on the page, at least they would relate to the dental work of the graduates—nod at their past training and future labor.

I observed the same troubling phenomenon on a magazine stand today in Denver, Colorado. The trouble? It held the same dull celebrity faces and headlines as the magazine stands of my local grocery store in Manhattan, Kansas. I had the sad thought as I looked on that everyone in the western world is reading the same things—watching the same television shows, quoting the same over-general ancient philosophers in their commencement programs. All our newfangled technology is creating western content uniformity (and mostly sinful content at that). As I stood in front of the uniform magazine stands I shared something (not all) of Sam Snow’s feeling when he wrote, “I thought it sad that taking walks had been replaced with televisions. I longed to live in a different time period, before the internet had come to destroy the world.” 

The internet, with all its benefits, has begun to erase the rich, detailed writing that occurs when local people write to and about their specific locality like Twain writes of Hannibal, Missouri or L.M. Montgomery writes of Prince Edward Island. The difficulty is that, in 2014, Prince Edward Island, except for a couple geographical features, differs little from Hannibal, Missouri. When Huckleberry Finn and Jim floated down the Missouri, they expected to find different folks from those up river, and their expectations were met. A modern Huck and Jim would only find the same people watching the same television shows, telling the same jokes, drinking the same coffee from the same Starbucks cups. Towns and people are losing their uniqueness. It has not disappeared, but it is being given away as the internet continues to vine over the earth. But more important is the thing for which the Western world is trading its local uniqueness—cheap pleasure: video games, movies, trash television, and numbered buzz feed articles. People are not growing more Christian or even more mock-pagan-virtuous but simply more addicted to their own endorphins. 

So I found myself in a doctoral commencement ceremony staring down at a quote that tried to speak to everyone, and in doing so spoke to no one. It was a symptom, and it saddened me to think that the only cure for the disease is something invasive, something terrible. 

R. Eric Tippin
Near the Rocky Mountains, Colorado
May 20, 2014

Image:
"A Young Man Reading"
Oil on Canvas -
Albert Ranney Chewett 

Wednesday
May212014

A Walk and Feast

 

Recently, I went striding over a prairie with three friends and the wife of my youth. The weather that day was spring-clement, and the two other men of the group and I bounded up ancient limestone-stratified hills, hurled rocks at distant tree lines to test our strength, rolled discarded tires down hills for the joy of watching them go, climbed a dead Bur Oak, and generally acted like boys infected with spring fever—showing off for the womenfolk, who walked peacefully behind, laughing and encouraging our antics.

My friend Sam Snow was one of the merry crew of bounders, and though he regularly bemoans his weary “old bones” in his weekly Ambler, I noted how light his step was this sunny morning. In a moment of what some might call bravado he edged onto an uncomfortably thin rotten limb of that Burr oak perilously high above the ground and jumped therefrom—like Zacchaeus from his Sycamore—just to test his knees. Though I chose not to put my knees in jeopardy, I did battle a stinging nettle on my way to vault off a Chinquapin Oak and came out the moral victor (there are no absolute victories in stinging-nettle fights).

As the morning sun began to warm the dewy earth around us I thought of two lines from Kipling, and recited them to one of my companions:

You’ll go where laurel crows are won, but—will you e’er forget
The scent of hawthorn in the sun, or bracken in the wet?

Neither of us knew whether there was any hawthorn or bracken around to smell, but it mattered little. During those hours on the prairie, we felt the exhilaration of walking over the Earth as its masters and stewards—the only creatures gifted with sentience and complex language. We sang; we quoted lines of verse; we discussed the New Earth; we talked the specialized jargon of pseudo-academics, and once we stopped to listen. When we tired and the walk was complete, we returned to my home on Thurston street and prepared a feast of grilled hamburgers with Munster cheese and cold sliced pickles, cheddar bratwurst, watermelon, chips, and iced soda. My friend Bryn, who was going home to the North the next day with his future wife, read our regular meal prayer:

 “Lord of the harvest and maker of every animal—you who turned water into wine and fed five thousand by breaking one loaf and filleting one fish, thank you for the meal before us. Thank you for the variety of food available to us on the earth and the satisfaction we have in eating . . .”

We ate. The company dispersed, well exercised, well fed.

As with most nearly perfect mornings it was a type and a shadow of perfectly perfect mornings on the second iteration of the Earth. Like most nearly perfect mornings it was tainted by the sin of those participating and the sin of those nearby recovering from hellish, debauched night-befores. Like all nearly perfect mornings, it served to confirm my faith in the Christian God’s ability to fully perfect our experience of time as well as our bodies.

The modern pagan has made an art out of forgetting the next thing. He prides himself on “living in the moment,” by denying the existence of future moments. What makes any activity imperfect for him is the passing of time—the looming menace of “the next thing to do” or “the next parting.” Want to call down wrath upon yourself? Talk to the pagan about Monday on Friday. Want to make him loathe your company for a couple months? Mention eternity while he is discussing his ten-year career prospects.

 Just the other day I was having coffee with a Marxist, listening to him tell the story of his future in academia, when I said nonchalantly, “Yes, but what you are saying is built on uniformitarian principles. One little economic crash could end academia as we know it, and one little natural disaster could end us as we know us. We must think of that, you know—gain perspective.” He looked puzzled and disappointed at my wild, unbalanced thinking and said, “I try not to think that way. It’s not helpful.” Ah yes. There is the modern pagan’s formula: think only of your current pleasure or plans for future pleasures.

Our prairie walk that morning was pleasurable, but more so because we could place it in a context of past pain, future pain and parting, and future redemption. We did not have to deny chronological or eternal realities to accept the gift of present pleasure, and that itself is a gift.

 

R. Eric Tippin
On Thurston Street Manhattan, Kansas
May 19, 2014

Image:
"Figures Walking"
Oil on Board - 1967
Denis Lucas 

Wednesday
May212014

Ambler, No. 12 [On Paperwork, A Means to Depression]

That other attribute wherewith I recreate my devotion, is his wisedome, in which I am happy; and for the contemplation of this onely, do not repent me that I was bred in the way of study -- Sir Thomas Browne

That man is the freest of the beasts is a concept that is both accepted with enthusiasm, yet disdained in droves. Man, free to extend the capacities of his mind, to reason well beyond the limits of the brutes, both to promote justice and peace and to annihilate his brothers. Man, so commonly disposed to virtue and reason, is thus distinguished from the creatures, whose barbaric natures fetter them in impulses and foster lives of monotony. But though man reasons beyond even his own capabilities of understanding, he also finds that the very nature of his ability to reason makes him bound in a way unlike the beasts -- for man is, unlike the animals, commonly found with thoughts that tend upward and outward, and while the beasts are fettered to instinctive impulses, so man is fettered to his thoughts on the firmament.

Man, unable to reach the physical localities of many of the beasts, has yet found ways to stretch his presence across the globe. Man, so keen on adventure and exploration, though unable to fly as the eagle or swim as the dolphin, has, nevertheless, scaled the heavens and submerged the sea's depths. But man, after searching out the four corners of the globe, conquering skies and seas, has achieved so much in exploration, that modern discovery is relegated to the atmosphere, and those of us left below are told to repress our adventurous spirit or hand it to a guide. Man, now having explored the countryside, has so regulated every jot and tittle of land and lot, that adventures are either covered in mountains of paperwork or controlled by machines and fences. Any modern man who so decides to go on an adventure -- decides to leave the nicely paved paths -- is liable to prosecution or execution, and the free-spirited creature, once so open to freedom from instinctive impulses, is told to harness his adventurous spirit through games and gadgets.

Those powers which so suppress modern exploration have strewn their signs across the landscape, and unless one is willing to fill out mountains of paperwork, signing away any ability to sue for negligence or admitting to knowledge of the dangers that await. But though man is so told he is to not trespass, a gravel path which led right past that warning sign went unheeded in the cool evening as a companion and I strolled past nonchalantly. That path we were on forked as many do, and we chose to bear right, flying right past that sign which warned us we were breaking the law.

*****

The path continued on to the right, but as boys are wont to do, we left that path for a small creek -- what the locals often refer to as a "crick." The sense of smell, so often neglected as a sense which protects, alerted our attention to the distinct smell of a skunk. Now, the modern farce here is that some power-that-is thought that constructing a sign which reads “no trespassing” would actually stop anyone from trespassing. The problem is that many modern people, like us, are completely oblivious to any ugly white sign stuck on a nature path, as if anyone is going to look at the one eye-sore along the landscape. Moreover, those who are not oblivious probably cannot even read or at least have little to no idea what “trespassing” even means, for it is a whole three syllables. But even granting they can read and do know what “trespassing” means, they have probably grown up under the modern education system, which teaches us that even if we think we know what “trespassing” means, we really actually have no idea because it is merely constructed by old white males, and so the reader of a no trespassing sign must analyze the meaning, not by its dictionary definition, but according to his, or her, or its cultural group he, or she, or it belongs to. This process probably takes a couple of hours for all people belong to various sub-groups. If you happen to be a middle-class, Hispanic woman, “trespassing” means something different than if you are an upper-class, Asian-American male or if you are some concoction of a gender yet to be discovered and revealed. The whole farce of it all is that even when we are done figuring out what “trespassing” specifically means in our own cultural context, we then (coming to the same conclusion as the dictionaries, as happens every time) have to realize that because it was preceded by a “no,” we are bidden to subvert whomever placed that sign there, so that, at the end of the day, it would have been better to either create a sign that read “please trespass” or put a rabid skunk in its place, for as the smell became more poignant, my companion and I fled that little cove for the path.

We took turns throwing rocks at things along the way and commented on the cornfields to our east, surrounded by fences as if deliquents were going to get in. I commented on the joy that cornfields give, that though my time among them as a teenager was filled with moments of sadness, the cornfields were always nostalgic to me for that lost time, and they had a certain beauty that, unlike the untampered grazing fields, pointed our attention to man’s dominance of the world.

*****

It was about this time that my companion mentioned we were probably breaking about fifty ordinances. Now, nevermind that we were, the point is that a boy today cannot simply sail out on his local river without someone telling him he is breaking the law. It is more likely we would imprison a small boy on a raft, smoking a pipe, than any sex-offender among us. But the whole problem truly boils down to our trouble with the legal system. The whole reason everyone has to fill out three-hundred pages of paperwork to take a step in the river is due to a common acceptance of stupidity. The boy who drowns in the government’s river is now the least responsible person -- about as responsible as the goose watching him drown. If my companion and I were to waltz out into one of the cornfields and rise up and slay each other like the children of the corn, the last person to fetter would be the victor. It is more likely the cob used to club the defeated is to blame, and the murderer, to ward off punishment, should put the stalk in the dock and sue the seeds.

But while violence is still frowned upon in our lands, stupidity is lauded. Every year we hear about how some idiot spins himself on a windmill or trips over a sprinkler head, only to point blame to man who built the windmill or watered his grass. Now, it used to be as good a joke of any to place an object so as to make a person fall; now it is a multi-million dollar lawsuit. Stupidity reigns supreme from coast to coast, and those who are thereby affected are the pioneers and explorers of our age. So unlike Lewis and Clark, we strutted out of harm's way that evening and proceeded back to the path outlined for us by government officials. We crossed a bridge that was too safe and rounded our way back to the automobile which would take us away from nature and back to the town in which we live. “It is sad,” said another companion of my mine recently, “that we have covered everything in concrete.” Indeed, it is. But I suppose the modern philosophy is that one is easier clubbed to death with a cob of corn than cut of cement.

Sam Snow (theficklefarce.com)
Written with nothing else to do,
Manhattan, KS
May 19-20

Painting: "A Cornfield"
By Peter De Wint
Oil on Canvas, 1815