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Tuesday
Jun102014

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

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

 

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

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

*****

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

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

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

 *****

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

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

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

_______________

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

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

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

Friday
May302014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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