Thursday, January 12, 2012

"Love, Fa": Nothing good gets away

In her review of Steinbeck: A Life in Letters, Maria Popova of Brain Pickings sells the book in the best way, by giving us a taste of Steinbeck unadorned and earnest, answering in the afternoon a letter he received from his son that morning.

Brain Pickings is one of a hectic day's joys, by the way.  How could it not be, for it promises -- and often delivers, "[i]nterestingness, curated – picking culture's collective brain..."

Among his correspondence is this beautiful response to his eldest son Thom’s 1958 letter, in which the teenage boy confesses to have fallen desperately in love with a girl named Susan while at boarding school. Steinbeck’s words of wisdom — tender, optimistic, timeless, infinitely sagacious — should be etched onto the heart and mind of every living, breathing human being.

New York
November 10, 1958

Dear Thom:

We had your letter this morning. I will answer it from my point of view and of course Elaine will from hers.

First — if you are in love — that’s a good thing — that’s about the best thing that can happen to anyone. Don’t let anyone make it small or light to you.

Second — There are several kinds of love. One is a selfish, mean, grasping, egotistical thing which uses love for self-importance. This is the ugly and crippling kind. The other is an outpouring of everything good in you — of kindness and consideration and respect — not only the social respect of manners but the greater respect which is recognition of another person as unique and valuable. The first kind can make you sick and small and weak but the second can release in you strength, and courage and goodness and even wisdom you didn’t know you had.

You say this is not puppy love. If you feel so deeply — of course it isn’t puppy love.

But I don’t think you were asking me what you feel. You know better than anyone. What you wanted me to help you with is what to do about it — and that I can tell you.

Glory in it for one thing and be very glad and grateful for it.

The object of love is the best and most beautiful. Try to live up to it.

If you love someone — there is no possible harm in saying so — only you must remember that some people are very shy and sometimes the saying must take that shyness into consideration.

Girls have a way of knowing or feeling what you feel, but they usually like to hear it also.

It sometimes happens that what you feel is not returned for one reason or another — but that does not make your feeling less valuable and good.

Lastly, I know your feeling because I have it and I’m glad you have it.

We will be glad to meet Susan. She will be very welcome. But Elaine will make all such arrangements because that is her province and she will be very glad to. She knows about love too and maybe she can give you more help than I can.

And don’t worry about losing. If it is right, it happens — The main thing is not to hurry. Nothing good gets away.



*********     **********     **********     **********

Steinbeck married three times, Elaine Scott being his third wife in what was a happy union.  His sons Thom and John IV were from his second marriage with Gwyn Conger.

He wrote East of Eden for his boys.

In a letter of that period, Steinbeck  noted, "And so I will tell them one of the greatest, perhaps the greatest story of all - the story of good and evil, of strength and weakness, of love and hate, of beauty and ugliness. I shall try to demonstrate to them how these doubles are inseparable - how neither can exist without the other and how out of their groupings creativeness is born."  [Journal of a Novel:  The East of Eden Letters]

My love is like a red damn rose: Pot pourri

Did you know that the Soap Opera is in decline?  I suppose that its plummeting ratings mirror the dizzying ascent of the reality show, but who has time to ponder such mysteries?  Especially in this particular climate, where La Bonne et Belle Bianca and her dalliances with both Sven Feingold and his [biological] son, Marlinspike Hall's own Cabana Boy, lend every morning an air of mystery.

Not since that long ago time in the mountains of Asheville have I so enjoyed my first public coffees of the day, when anticipating which of my roommate's sexual partners might turn up in the communal kitchen, begging for the bean, was my version of doing the Times' Sunday crossword with a leaky gel pen.

But I am all grown up now, and since Sven towers over everyone on Manor property, from the genetically indentured Domestic Staff to the various Squatters, and probably looks down, as well, on our various guests -- Brother Anthony, the Retreat Master at the monastery down the road, being the sole, grotesquely tall exception -- I can readily distinguish Sven the Father Feingold from his more swarthy, earthbound son.  I prefer finding Sven in my kitchens of a morning, to tell you the truth.  Swarthy, earthbound boy-men are not conducive to peaceful wakings, and Cabana Boy also tends to bring out the swarthy, earthbound side of The Castafiore -- who is already a shade beyond Oompa Loopa, thanks to her unbelievably delicate pH balance being skewed by epileptic fits of spray-tanning.  The Diva combined with the Cabana Boy, mixed with sleepy confusion, me, three cats, and the somnambulism that is Fred?  We end up as often with a bottle of cheap rum as we do Italian roast.

So give me Sven in the kitchen, any day.  He's surly.  I understand surly.

In other local soap opera news, we are never at a dramatic loss these days thanks to the vocal stylings of CrackHead Lady Across The Way, who turns out to be a very well-known organic pig farmer.  She steals the limelight with soliloquies to her Ugg boots and curious crowds gather -- mid-morning and again at midnight -- to watch her use the muddy pits of the hog lot as an exfoliating (yet wonderfully moisturizing) body wash.

You're in trouble now, Dear Reader!  You've probably gathered that it's Potpourri Day here at the Haddock clan's ancestral home, deep, deep in the Tête de Hergé (très décédé. d'ailleurs).  Not potpourri like Stinky Whore Perfume, no!  Potpourri like I explained in the first of my series of fifteen Potpourri posts, back in September 2008:

Pot pourri (rotten pot). Fitting that the name for a beautifully arranged bowl yielding questionable scents derives from the Spanish designation for olla podrida -- pork and beans. True, the Spanish being Spanish, said pork and beans stew is subject to the rarefying whims of the creative cook, a clay pot, and a long cooking time, and becomes a satisfying culinary hodgepodge.

I learned from reading the entry for potpourri in Wikipedia that, "(w)hen mixed, you need to enclose the mixture in a bottle or jar, and let it sit for a few weeks. Towards the middle of the weeks, the soon to be potpourri may smell rotten. If you wait a little while longer, it will start to smell better, so don't get discouraged or disappointed." (I particularly relish, and appreciate, the encouragement to fend off the ravages of clinical depression.)

And so it goes that necrotic pots and gentrified stinkiness head up this blog entry -- the result of my search for an excuse that might unify my disjointed thoughts.

There, I think I have excused myself enough -- for one post, at least..

Back here in January of 2012, I am all over the place, very anxious, in a lot of physical pain, and weeping like a depressed willow.  That's one of my most annoying features, and since it only happens when my fever hits that certain point, I am frequently annoying.  Running a tight ship, much less a Fictional Manor, while the eye orbs are leaking, requires a discipline that I just do not appear to have.  Please get the fineness of this characterization. Inwardly stern, I am outwardly a blow to various laws of physics and, increasingly, most notions of beauty -- plus almost all the foundational dictates of civilization and democracy..

Fred and I are accustomed to ignoring both my tears and the febrile egotism that comes with them, but we encounter nothing but consternation from our Turnip Vendor and the Hairy Men of the Monastery Novitiate -- who pop in, en masse, for hot chocolate during down times in the Liturgy of the Hours, usually between  Sext and None, which works out to be roughly after lunch but before 3 pm (or the ninth hour after dawn, whichever comes first).

The Hairy Men of the Monastery Novitiate, I mean, not the Turnip Vendor.  He, of course, comes at 10 am and I never serve him hot chocolate, just good, solid-stolid Earl Grey with an extremely thin slice of lemon.  I pick over the turnips in the time it takes him to drink it down and munch on a piece of shortbread -- but if I am weeping, he has time for a sour cream poppy seed cake, too.

Funny, isn't it, how we find our way, even in the midst of the cultivated angst and internecine struggles of this largely fictional, documentary-minded blog?  Absolutely amazing that I should find any path to follow on a day like this!  And through the film of hot, hot tears, too.

I don't publish even a third of my blog posts, using them mostly as fodder for the intensive hypnotic regression therapy that takes up most of real life in actual time.  [Oops, that cat is out of the bag!]  You know how much I resist putting my personal shit out there for just anyone to read and how I hate to rarefy the inner workings of my quotidian blahblahblah.  My extensive criminal history of assault-and-battery charges against various media-outlet paparazzi testifies eloquently to that reticence.  [Music to these ears?  "Time served!"]

Ma Teresa by Snowcrash
Entry in Celebrity Mugshots/Photo Effects Contest

You should be glad that so little makes it to these pages, otherwise every post would be a Potpourri post, and  the constant shift in topic might result in texts that are decidedly unreaderly (such creative animosity is the leading cause of semiotic whiplash for all age groups, sexual orientations, and left-leaning Democrats, but no bisexual Republicans over 60).

You are, by the way, escaping my spate of Barthes jokes.  By the skin of your teeth.

Meaning: Narrowly; barely. Usually used in regard to a narrow escape from a disaster.

Origin: The phrase first appears in English in the Geneva Bible, 1560, in Job 19:20, which provides a literal translation of the original Hebrew:

"I haue escaped with the skinne of my tethe."

Teeth don't have skin, of course, so the writer may have been alluding to the teeth's surface or simply to a notional minute measure - something that might now be referred to, with less poetic imagery than the biblical version, as 'as small as the hairs on a gnat's bollock.'
There is little more fascinating to me than process, which explains a whole hell of a lot, ifyouknowwhatimean.  [ifyouknowwhatimean, when repeated three times or more within the confines of as many sentences, means i-think-you-are-stupid-and-i-am-lying-to-you-right-now.  A lesson learned.]

My favorite Barthes joke is but biological truth -- lunch with François Mitterand, followed by the laundry truck. Always the cultural critic.

I can't help myself.

But there is still hope for YOU!

I do you an infinite mercy, not rushing any and every thing out these Baptistry doors, over the drawbridge, left at the moat, through the barn-cum-rehabilitation-centre-mostly-for-carnies, and over the rope bridge to the Computer Turret.

Shortly after commencing this post, I stumbled upon one J. Patrick Rick, author of The Abbey and Me: Renegades, Rednecks, Real Estate and Religion.  Why Mr. Rick was taking a nap in the Captain's Private Quarters, I will not presume to say.  He waxed poetic, but waned prosaic, as he explained the focus of his recently published book.  It documents, he said, "the story of how a mansion, converted into a monastery, was raided in a hostile takeover."  Leaning into the 19 pink heart-shaped satin pillows required for Haddock's ease, Rick wondered aloud "why Marlinspike Hall evokes so many memories of talking pike, flying elephants, arthurian fantasy, agrarian utopia, and preposterous Disney animation cels?"

His story is, he insists, all true:

A little after midnight on New Year’s Day 1975, a band of Menominee Indian warriors took over the Alexian Brothers novitiate in Wisconsin, seizing several hostages in the process. Rick begins his investigation by researching the depression-era construction of that rural and palatial private mansion prior to its use as a monastery.

He further educates his readers about the glory days as a remote religious institution, its role as an epicenter for civil disobedience and its date with dynamite... Rick says he was motivated to write about this particular subject when he returned to find his novitiate, a.k.a. abbey, crumbling down.

“Over 30 years after leaving Wisconsin, I had to return to Milwaukee for a business trip,” Rick says. “I decided to make the nostalgic half-day drive up north to Gresham only to find the monastery I remembered so fondly was in ruins.”

The author, known as Brother Gordon in the monastery, allowed his persistence, curiosity and fond memories of a long-forgotten place to speak the praises of this once spectacular monastery and its extensive history...   
I bought a few copies for The Manor Gift Shoppe, eye candy to put next to the registers along with jars of Abbot Truffatore's tomato jam and some local candy -- samples dominated by Tante Louise's chocolate-covered pretzel balls, bite-sized nuggets of sweet and salty perfection.  Haddock Corporation hosted a mandatory Happy Hour mini-symposium last week, all about how to encourage impulse buys -- and I took copious notes.  As folks ponder the beauties of our medieval manor turned decorative arts museum, theme park, petting zoo, and addiction treatment center, we want to bolster the local economies, sure, but also we want to nourish the imagination, planting the seeds of psychosis, in hopes of thus garnering a return visit, and maybe even an extended stay!

Well, my pot is pretty much pourri.  And really, tomorrow's post will almost write itself, as we regale you with the tale of all that happened between today's paragraphs.  Though it doesn't show, The Manor was without a communications bundle for most of the day, occasioning much cursing and damning of the major telecommunications company in the Metro Lone Alp area.

Tomorrow will be spent doing pre-op stuff.  I am getting nervous, but also am hopeful that this surgery will be the one that finally turns things around.  This time, the stubborn little pathogen(s) will take to the culture media like bacteria to agar... (Sorry, the end of the day allows for no skewing of reality with fancy-schmancy similes and such.  Oh hell, all right.  My love is like a red damn rose.  There.  Are you happy now?)

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Happy Birthday, Stephen Hawking, and How Goes the Universe Today?

University of Cambridge, Research News

Professor Stephen Hawking’s 70th birthday public symposium

To coincide with Professor Stephen Hawking’s 70th birthday, the University of Cambridge’s Centre for Theoretical Cosmology, in conjunction with Intel, is hosting a public symposium on Sunday, 08 January entitled ‘The State of the Universe’.

Speakers will include Professor Hawking, the Astronomer Royal Lord (Martin) Rees, Professor Saul Perlmutter (University of California, Berkeley, 2011 Nobel Prize in Physics), and one of the world’s leading theoretical physicists Professor Kip Thorne (California Institute of Technology).

2 – 6pm, Sunday 08 January 2012

However, for those unable to attend, the symposium will be webcast live. Please visit:

In addition to the symposium, a scientific conference (which is already fully booked) will be held earlier in the week (05-07 January). A major goal of the conference will be to review the current status of the fields of black holes, cosmology and fundamental physics; the 27 invited speakers are all world leaders in these fields. Additional information regarding the conference can be found at the following website: