Beware of Man’s Best Friend

“You’re not going?” I called after the dachshund, but he had turned his rear toward me and continued away to the spot where I had first seen him. There the tiny figure paused and pointed his long nose like a compass needle in my direction.

“I’ve brought the lawsuit against you,” he said, “for your own good.” – from A Floating Life by Tad Crawford (Chapter 8)

In The Waste Land T. S. Eliot warns us to beware of the dog that is the friend of men. Sometimes friends disclose more than we want to know or see. For more about dachshunds, visit this link: http://www.akc.org/breeds/dachshund/.

Can We Control the Forces of Nature?

“This led to the Delta Works, a true wonder of the modern world. It included an immense double gate to stop storm surges from entering the mouth of the Hollandse Ijssel. I realized that by becoming an engineer I could contribute to these projects that might take decades to build. . . . My dream is to repeat on a far grander scale what happened that night. To use the immense force of a tsunami or hurricane to protect against the very damage that it might otherwise inflict.” – from A Floating Life by Tad Crawford (Chapter 11)

Photo credit “© Raimond Spekking / CC-BY-SA-3.0 (via Wikimedia Commons)” The original image is here: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Deltawerke-Oosterschelde-Sturmflutwehr_Oosterscheldeseite.jpg. Additional information about the storm that led to the creation of Delta Works can be found at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/North_Sea_flood_of_1953.

Dawn of Creation

“Soon after, a dawn began like no other I have ever seen. It lit the waves, clouds, and sky with a rosy light so saturated and intense that it seemed to me a birth canal through which creation itself was replenished.” – from A Floating Life by Tad Crawford (Chapter 32)

As anyone familiar with Homer knows, the dawn is “rosy-fingered” and the sea “wine dark”. But why is the dawn rosy?

Link: http://www.erasmatazz.com/TheLibrary/Science/
RosyDawn/RosyDawn.html

Cheng Ho’s Sacrifice

“In 1405 an armada of 317 enormous junks, some reported to be as large as 500 feet in length and 150 feet in width, began the first of seven epic voyages that would take place over the next three decades. Traveling as far as the coasts of India, Persia, Africa, and
even perhaps Australia, Cheng Ho’s armadas brought trade and tribute to China. . . . One final fact left me pondering for some time. Cheng Ho was a eunuch. He had been castrated, at the age of thirteen, along with the other young prisoners with whom he was
taken, and placed in service to Chu Ti. As Chu Ti rose to become emperor, Cheng Ho rose along with him. But had the sacrifice been worth the reward?” – from A Floating Life by Tad Crawford (Chapter 12)

This statute of Cheng Ho is in Stadthuys (Red Square) in Melaka, Malaysia on the route of the western fleet’s journeys. Photograph by hassan saeed from Melaka, Malaysia [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http:/
/creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons. Some believe Cheng Ho could have reached the Americas before Columbus. His life and voyages are amazing. Link: http://geography.about.com/od/historyofgeography/a/chengho.htm

Bearfast

“Ahead, near the Great Lawn, I could see bears converging from several directions. Far too many to count. On a bandstand raised near the leaping light of a bonfire, a band of a dozen bears played drums, fiddles, and flutes in a jig that reverberated through the park. Around the fire a hundred or more bears danced with legs crossing forward and back and arms outstretched to clasp one another’s shoulders. . . . I squeezed between a couple of bears, tossed my arms over their shoulders, and let the frenzy of the dance move my limbs.” – from A Floating Life by Tad Crawford (Chapter 15)

“The Bear Dance” oil painting is actually on display a few steps away from Central Park – it’s part of the collection of works by William Holbrook Beard owned by the New York Historical Society.  Link: http://www.nyhistory.org/node/43788The Society also owns Beard’s famed painting “The Bulls and Bears in the Market” which is set on Broad Street with the New York Stock Exchange in the background.

An Ode to Cherry Blossoms

“Each night we drank sake together, hundreds of young men in uniform. We wrote poems about cherry blossoms and recited them. How brief is that beautiful moment of the blossoms—that is what all the poems said.” – from A Floating Life by Tad Crawford (Chapter 30)

This photograph of cherry blossoms was taken at the Brooklyn Botanical Garden. Link: http://www.bbg.org/discover/cherries. Cherry blossoms have played and continue to play an important role in Japanese culture.

Link: http://www.stolaf.edu/people/kucera/YoshidaWebsite/evolution/essay_pages/stephanie_cargile.htm

Can We Change the Past? (Part one)

Can we change the past by understanding it differently?

The Sense of an Ending is a nugget of a novel by Julian Barnes that won the 2011 Man Booker Prize. Only 163 pages, it is easily readable in a day, perhaps in a single sitting. The premise of the novel is about how we make stories of our lives. The narrator, Tony Webster, is an older man who recollects how, nearly half a century earlier, his brilliant best friend from school ended up dating Webster’s first girlfriend. The young Webster is wounded by this and carries an image of himself as having been wronged by the girlfriend whom he considers to have been unstable.

We are all, inevitably, authors of the stories of our lives. These stories aren’t really fictitious. Curiously enough, these stories also may not be factual. Yet these are the foundations on which our identities are built. As T. S. Eliot says in The Waste Land, “These fragments I have shored against my ruins.”

The novel is such a good read with a strong spicing of mystery that I don’t want to give away too much of what happens. What interests me is whether we can, in fact, change the past by changing our understanding of what took place.

In a future blog post, I’ll discuss an experience from my childhood, and how my recollection of it ultimately possessed the power to transform the past.

One Hundred Readers

Numbers these days have added zeros in incomprehensible fashion. What used to be a million now seems to be a billion or sometimes even a trillion. In the face of this, what can one hundred possibly mean?

If the one hundred is one hundred readers, it could mean a lot. Let me explain.

I’ve written many books, but I don’t believe that I’ve ever received a letter or an e-mail from a reader that simply responded to this writing.

What frequently happens is that a person will contact me for advice on some topic that I’ve written about and say how helpful my books have been. Often, if it’s a phone conversation, the person will say that one or more of my books are on his or her bookshelves.

I’m guilty of this too. Year after year I’ve read wonderful books, but how often have I reached out to tell an author that I enjoyed what he or she wrote? Recently, I wanted to praise a short story by an author who had written very little; his primary career had been in law as a judge. I confess that when I couldn’t find his e-mail with the story, I gave up. I could have written a letter to the journal where the story appeared, but that struck me as ever so slow and unreliable compared to an e-mail sent directly to the author.

A few years ago I had a realization that it wouldn’t take very much to create a response to my writing far greater than any I had received before. After all, I hardly had any feedback despite hundreds of thousands of my books going into the world.

What if a hundred friends read a short story or article? Even if only a small percentage responded, it would be like a tsunami. I would have the benefit of contrasting reactions and points of view, the pleasure of direct and immediate reactions. An audience of one hundred readers who might respond could create far more interaction than an audience of thousands who would never think of responding.

I created an e-mail group that included about one hundred people. When my short story titled “The Kindness of Strangers” was published in Forge Journal, I sent out a short message and a link to this group.

The response was wonderful. Roughly a third of the people read the story and wrote back their reactions. It was nice that the reactions were positive, but just to be responded to was great. The sense of publishing into a void was replaced by the knowledge that people read and enjoyed the story.

What if I hadn’t let my friends know about the publication? I received no response at all from the regular readers of Forge. This isn’t a failing on the part of the readers. Rather, it follows the norm. So, if I hadn’t created a group of my own, I would have been left without that direct response that I at least find so valuable.

I then repeated this outreach with a short story titled “On Becoming One of Us” that appeared in The Café Irreal. The response to this piece (actually a very short chapter from A Floating Life) was strong and, in many cases, as macabre and humorous as the story itself. Again, I didn’t hear from the regular readers of The Café Irreal, so I would have had no idea what people felt about the story without my own outreach.

When my article about going into Attica Prison with my National Guard unit—“A Memory of Attica on the Fortieth Anniversary of the Prison Revolt”—appeared in Guernica and I was featured in an online documentary titled “The Attica Prison Uprising: Forty Years Later” by The Nation, I also let my hundred readers know and thereafter received responses of heartfelt surprise that I had been there and anger about the violence that ended the revolt.

So what does one hundred mean?

If it’s one hundred readers, it means a lot to me. It’s on a human scale in which each reply can be taken in and valued. It’s rewarding in the way that a conversation with a friend can mean so much. So I hope this blog will build a bridge on which tolls are never charged and travelers love to chat regardless of their innumerable and far flung destinations.