This is the back of a cookbook. I photographed it sideways to fit the widescreen aspect ratio; then I used my computer’s art software to rotate all of its words and images (except the barcode) 90 degrees, so as to please the spectator.
I’ve been reading books lately, staying indoors to avoid the cold weather. Trying to decide whether to shovel snow now or later, and whether or not to sign up for further schooling. I’m proud of being self-taught in whatever I half-know; but everyone tells me that if I want to earn the big bucks, I must attend college. I’ve already been through public education: twelve years of it, and I passed high school (barely); but that’s apparently not the same as college. College is important because it straps you with a debt so large that you’re COMPELLED to earn big bucks: as if a flame has been lit beneath your feet, this nuisance inspires you to menace your employers until they’re practically forced to shower you with benefits.
But do I even want the big bucks? I got my copy of Wordsworth’s Prelude for fifty cents at a used book store. No, I don’t have it in me to care about chasing the big bucks. But winter is flu season, and if I catch the flu I’ll have to go to the doctor, and they’ll only treat me if I shell out the big bucks (I live in the U.S.) — thus I’ll be strapped with such a huge debt that it’ll COMPEL me to earn the big bucks nevertheless. In conclusion: People should just get sick instead of going to college.
And bucks means money, for those of you who live so far in the future that you are saved.
We humans have achieved the eminence of horses in Hollywood. Our producers and directors shout “Gallop!” and we ask “How fast?” Then the scene plays out: we enter the danger, we collapse in injury, and they swiftly cart us off to the rendering plant.
That’s not true. Think of all the good souls, the medics volunteering to help people in disaster areas—and risking their own life to do so! These good souls are like the sanctuary pastures that rescue animals from the circus.
But can’t we find a way to shut down the circus itself, so that nobody has to go through the trauma in the first place?
Yesterday I overheard some people talking about the redistribution of wealth. Two customers at a table in a place that serves coffee. Both took turns making angry comments about how unfair it would be to tax the rich for the sake of giving all people free college and health care. I’m just reporting what I witnessed.
Fairness and evenhandedness. Where did these ideas come from? Right and worth and merit. Did humans invent such concepts? If so, should we be proud of them? Are more concepts forthcoming which will outshine our current bright ideas? (I mean, should we build on and continue to revise these notions, or is the present ethical setting our permanent flat?) Is it better to give or to receive? Is competition or cooperation superior?
It all depends on the context, I suppose. And regarding the age-old opposition of those two ‘-isms’, capital vs. commune: Why can’t we simply save the best aspects of both?
Yet if all eventually descends into forgetfulness, can anything truly matter in the long run?
Politics is like…
I was going to say ‘a tar pit’, for instance, or ‘fool’s gold’, and then add ‘to poets’; so the assertion would read: Politics is like birdlime to poets. (My thought was that poets would rather live inwardly wild: to drink delight of strictly mental warfare; yet this depends upon the calm of the outer world; and when the outer world grows wild, political activism promises to calm it, so that the mind can bliss back to its desired agony; yet this aim is never achieved, because Peace on Earth takes at least a generation to finagle, and its continuance requires nonstop vigilance, whereas mortals tend to tire of anything after a couple eons.) I didn’t write any of that, however, because I don’t know if politics is truly different for poets than for normaltons (a variation on simpletons)… Do normaltons even exist, by the way? (Maybe they’re the ‘missing link.’) And who’s to say that anyone’s NOT a poet? Plus, people don’t care about verbal similes anymore: they want accurate-looking computer simulations. …Or do they?
To assert that people WANT the films they’re fed by today’s financiers is similar to saying that children WANT the food they’re served in the school cafeteria (again, I live in the U.S.); in either case, it’s truer to admit that the masses are starving.
—Writers of my stamp have one principle in common with painters.—Where an exact copying makes our pictures less striking, we choose the less evil; deeming it even more pardonable to trespass against truth, than beauty.
I wish that more of our era’s productions would allow us to substitute “filmmakers” for “painters” in the above quotation (from Laurence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy, Bk. II, Ch. IV). I’m a little bitter right now, because I just got done watching that stupid movie with the stupid bear that was made with computer-generated imagery (C.G.I.); but it’s not the movie you’re thinking of – it’s the other one. There are many C.G.I. bear films in the U.S.A.
Our era. Using that phrase makes me wonder about other eras. Other bear films. “Thou shalt remain,” Keats writes of his urn, “in midst of other woe / Than ours.” That time is now. But is the urn right to say to us: “Beauty is truth, truth beauty”? I vote yes. At first I was planning to take issue with the urn’s claim by pointing out the existence of ugly truths; but then I recalled this proverb of William Blake:
The roaring of lions, the howling of wolves, the raging of the stormy sea, and the destructive sword, are portions of eternity too great for the eye of man.
So, once again, sublime poetry has managed to improve my mood. I now remember: what seems ugly is part of a beauty that lies beyond my comprehension. We are “An unhappy people in a happy world” (as Wallace Stevens writes in ‘The Auroras of Autumn’) who chose to live as fragments in order to experience the knowledge of perception “in hall harridan, not hushful paradise”—thereby we “meditate a whole,” the way that a painter steps back away from her work to admire it… Or steps INTO her work. That’s my take, anyway.
So the world’s ugly truths and I make amends, with a last word from Blake:
The cut worm forgives the plow.