Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Leap Blog Day

Today is Leap Blog Day. A bunch of bloggers have undertaken to do guest posts on other participating blog sites. My wildly entertaining and informative entry today is at The HusBlog. You should click on the link, read my post, and spend a little time getting to know HusBlog - a fine young fellow from Texas who enjoys guns and philosophy.

There is no guest post on my blog because I waited too long to ask anybody, and when I did finally ask someone I asked an actual celebrity. Probably a mistake. She was not persuaded that she should squander any of her fame on my meager few readers. She may also think I am a stalker. In any event she chose not to respond to my request, which put me in mind almost immediately of my dating life back in the Seventies...right after the invention of the answering machine.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Leap Blog Coming to a Venue Near You

Tomorrow is Leap Day. It is also, by dint of the creative folks at We Band of Mothers, Leap Blog Day. You can read all about it by clicking on the link above, although since the day is already upon us it's probably too late for you to do anything about it. Suffice to say that I am participating by posting a guest  blog, at the request of my new friend, The HusBlog. To read my scintillating spin on the weighty matters of life, the universe, and everything, on the 29th you should go there. Poke around the site while you're there so he will think this was a good idea and invite me to post again.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Tackling Obsession

My favorite rig...even though I've never caught a fish with it.





Periodically I become obsessed with fishing. This has been going on for years, but just today I realized that the obsession usually coincides with the arrival of a fishing catalog from Cabela's or Gander Mountain. So...mad props to the marketing guys who figured me out long before I became aware of their evil machinations.
My obsession doesn't usually extend all the way to actual fishing. Rather it stops short at the purchase of fishing tackle. I am seduced by bright, shiny objects and fishing tackle abounds with these. Exotic rods that bend in graceful arcs. Reels that gleam like jewels filled with tiny precision-machined parts that rival Swiss watch works. Lures bedecked with foils and holographic film and neon colors calculated to craze the fisherman, if not the fish. Who could resist this stuff? Not me.
It's not enough that fishing tackle is so enticing to look at. It feels good too. There is a satisfying heft and substance to proper gear. It has presence that transmits itself through your hands. Turning the crank on a nine-bearing reel redefines 'smooth' in sublime and mysterious ways. No Byron poem was ever so sensual nor any lover so addicting. Jiggling a rod to test the action at the tip sets up a subtle vibration. The rod oscillates in diminishing sine waves and your arm carries what feels like the beat of nature straight to your heart. Who would not be smitten? Again, not me.
Once you're geared up, you need boxes and bags and whatnot to keep everything organized and protected and to display it to its best advantage to your fellow fishermen. All your gear needs to be maintained in it's pristine newness. Mine does anyway. I've seen crusty lures and pitted reels, but they mostly belong to guys who like to fish.
My favorite rig is pictured above. It is a Penn Fierce 4000 reel on a Shakespeare Ugly Stick 7½ foot medium action rod. I like a long rod because I fish (when I fish) from piers and shorelines, and the extra length helps me cover a lot of water. There is a huge variety of fish in the Indian River Lagoon, which is close to hand—trout, red drum, snook, pompano, tarpon. Some of these fish can grow quite large; others not so much. My rig is substantial enough to handle pretty big fish, but not so stout that it lacks the sensitivity to finesse smaller fry. Even though I sound like I know what I'm talking about, I have yet to catch a fish with this outfit—principally for lack of trying.
This is why I don't obsess over a boat. If I had a boat I'd feel compelled to take my tackle out on the water and try my hand at actual angling. This would mean getting my precious gear wet, or worse, getting it into the mouth of a fish. Oh, the horror!

QUESTION: What's your magnificent obsession, and how do you tackle it?

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

THE UNEXAMINED LIFE

Temptation to resist...or a little gift from a benevolent God?







The unexamined life may not be worth living, as Socrates suggested, but it sure is easier than second guessing your every motivation. Maybe it's not exactly what Socrates had in mind, but for the dutiful Catholic a regular examination of conscience is part of the defining regimen. It's something we do before we go to confession. This means a thorough scrutiny of the things we have done that we shouldn't have and the things we didn't do that we should have, as well as the reasons we did or didn't do them. As you can imagine there is enormous potential for inner conflict in this process.
The first problem is deciding what's right and what's wrong. We don't actually get to decide this, of course, although many of us are hard pressed to refrain. We may start by going through the 10 commandments, which seem pretty straightforward, but we soon realize that there are degrees of everything and the more we think about it the harder it is to lay down a distinct line between what we need to confess and what's not so bad after all. To make matters more difficult we have to go confess the bad stuff to a priest, often a priest who knows our mother.
This is a hard place to be. This is the garden where the Serpent resides and tries to persuade us that we are the best judges of our own behavior. He goads us to eat of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. He seduces us with the notion that we are as good as God when it comes to deciding what's sinful and what's not. It's an easy job for the Serpent, not least because it's sometimes hard to decipher exactly what God means.
What exactly is coveting for example? Say you admire your neighbor's wife because she looks like Kate Beckinsale and cooks like Paula Dean. One, who could resist such a creature, and two, when does that stop being mere admiration and start being sinful? To complicate matters, suppose your neighbor is a derivatives trader for Goldman Sachs, an insufferable blowhard, and a philandering dog? When does thinking his Aston Martin ought to be in your driveway instead of a 9 year old PT Cruiser cross the border from longing for social justice into rank covetousness?
And how about the eighth commandment? 'Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.' We are told this means you're not allowed to tell lies. What does bearing false witness have to do with the untruths we tell to grease the skids of social discourse? If your husband wants to know if his snoring is an irritant, how charitable is it to say the truth that if it were any worse you would murder him in his sleep? When your six-year-old wants to know why Santa brought him underpants instead of the Freddie Kruger action figure he asked for, do you lie and tell him he should have been a better kid or tell him the truth that Santa doesn't really exist and the crappy gifts are actually from his mother?
I think you get the idea. A good examination of conscience is a tricky endeavor, fraught with moral peril. You have to know what God thinks, even though a lot of what He's said sounds like a 17th century English poet who's been drinking wine all day. Plus, if the nuns and your catechism are to be believed, He actually left a lot of stuff out of the commandments. So for instance, where it says 'Though shalt not kill,' it seems pretty direct and easy to understand, but we are taught that this also means you can't punch your brother for sticking his tongue out at you in the backseat of your dad's car, or you can't slap your kid for punching his brother, or you can't get angry with your wife for maxing out the Mastercard on the wedding reception for your daughter, who is marrying a vampire wannabee.
We all understand 'Thou shalt not commit adultery', but there are hundreds of ways to be unfaithful to your spouse and the institution of marriage without actually knocking boots in secret trysts. So how do you decide when taking your car to a sorority bikini car wash is less about keeping you car clean and more about chatting up some coeds to see if you've still got some mojo left? Where exactly does wishful thinking become an affront to your vows?
Once you've got a good grasp on your sins, you have to then cultivate a 'firm purpose of amendment'. This means sincere determination not to commit the same sins again. This too is much easier said than done, especially when you consider that most of your so-called sins happened by accident. You resolve to do better. You go to great lengths to avoid situations where you are likely to be tempted. You pray for strength. Then one day you are at the farmers' market looking at the honey crisp apples when a gust of wind lifts the silk skirt of the woman standing next to you to reveal lacy yellow boy-short panties and legs that extend beyond your wildest imaginings. It's difficult at this point to know whether to complain to God that He has led you into temptation in spite of your prayers to the contrary, or to thank Him for the fortuitous view of some of the pinnacles of His creation.
Bean, the contemplative
My dog, Bean, conducts regular self-examinations as well, even though, technically, he is not a Catholic. Admittedly, his focus seems to be more proctological than spiritual, and he does not seem to differentiate much between enthusiastic self-examination and probing the southern-most regions of any other dog that comes within range. Bean has not eaten the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Neither did any of his ancestors. He remains blissful in his ignorance of any arbitrary borders between the proper and the proscribed.
For all his wonderful qualities, Bean is incapable of looking gleefully forward to an opportunity to do something that he knows he shouldn't while praying at the same time, and fervently, for the strength to resist the temptation. We humans can, and, because we can, we do. It's this kind of conflictedness that makes the smelter in which our humanity is fired, repeatedly, until we are sufficiently purified to stand before our Creator and admit to being worse creatures than our dogs.

Friday, February 10, 2012

REGRETS: Pratfalls in the Divine Comedy






When I was 21 or 22 I told my mother, who was busy at the time chiding me for what, according to her, were serious lapses in my attention to my future, that I had as yet no regrets—that everything I had done or failed to do to that point only added to the sum total of me, which sum, in my opinion, seemed to be tallying up just fine. It turns out though, 40 some years later, that I had many regrets at the time. I just didn't know it.
Now that I'm shipwrecked and washed up on the shores of an uncertain dotage, ill-provisioned and without prospects, all those early and unseen regrets are coming due like markers to a loan-shark. Now I understand perfectly all the places where I went wrong. I know where I didn't apply myself as I ought, when I skated or took the path of least resistance or effort, where I caved to idle self-indulgence, and where I wasted monumental effort on things that were bound never to pay dividends. I knew what I was doing when I did it...or wasn't when I didn't, and I understood the consequences.
Those things don't bother me so much. I made trade-offs that I valued one way at the time. That I have changed the valuation over time may make my decisions lamentable, but it does not make the consequences unfair. I got what I asked for...up to a point.
My problem is that now I think I'm well past that point. I'm past Karma, past just deserts, past what I bargained for, and well into the uncharted realm of cosmic retribution. I can say without irony, 'I don't know what I did to deserve this.'
Maybe it's that I made disparaging comments about the so-called law of attraction. Maybe it's that I sprinkle my prayers with profanity and vulgarisms. Maybe it's that I think Kim Kardashian, who seems to have replaced Paris Hilton on the altar of American celebrity worship, is a waste of otherwise useable oxygen. Maybe it's because I believe that professional wrestling is more entertaining and realistic than any episode in any city of the Real Housewives—ever. Maybe it's because I think the Republican front-runner du jour, whoever it may be, is a crackpot and ignoramus, but I'm still going to vote for him because he will be correct on one issue—abortion. Maybe it's all these together. Maybe it's something else entirely. I don't know.
'Keying Up'
a court jester fortifies his wit
William Merritt Chase - 1875
Whatever is going on puts me in mind of the Book of Job. I must confess I don't get the Book of Job, but neither can I deny that it is a fascinating study in the fundamental unfairness of things. Job is a victim. He doesn't start out that way. Initially at least, he has the world by the tail. His God, however, who is also my God by the way, is a capricious bully who hangs his loyal servant up for sport and wagers with Satan that the poor slob won't cave. What kind of bullshit is that? Even when Job passes the test and God restores his former status and fortune, Job never really finds out what it was all about. It doesn't matter to him. God is God, he says in effect, and God can do whatever God pleases without having to answer to mere mortals.
I have to tell you that this is a completely unsatisfactory ending for me. I'd like it better if Job learned something useful from the exchange, even if he only learned that occasionally God will screw you up for for His own amusement.
Believe it or not, this would make more sense to me than what I have now in terms of either prospects or understanding. I mean if an angel were to appear to me as if in a dream, and say, in effect, the court of heaven needs a jester and that God would like it to be me, I would accept the position and even feel a little honored. Doing pratfalls in the Divine Comedy would be way more gratifying than whatever it is I'm doing now, which seems to count for nothing. Maybe I am the court jester. Maybe I'm providing entertainment for a fickle universe with a mean streak. Problem is, just like with Job, no one asked and, so far at least, no one's bothered to explain.