befuddled

Over the last couple of days I’ve stopped taking my breaks in the break room. The noise and vulgar nature is too much for me. By vulgar I mean utterly basic and common concerns. It amazes me that the entire thirty minute lunch time will have variations on the theme of “free popcorn”. Things never get much more beyond this. My interest in the outlooks of people do not last as long as lengthy banterings about sawdust getting into your clothes. So I’ve begun to take my breaks out in the bay, cross-legged on a table, with a book in hand, sometimes headphones, and sometimes a cup of hot chocolate. My books will range from last night’s companion guide to Shakespeare, to ecology, to psychology. The breaks are short, too short. Ten minutes are not near enough time for me to even get into an idea, much less play around with it. Still, they are like an oasis to my mind which is trapped inside a body working a steady repetitive labor.

It is a grand thing in life to ascertain when many different threads come together in a knot. I am often times in awe at the complexity of human nature. Holding discussions with people who hold the universe on their personal scale of morality I often find a failure to account for such complexity. If nothing else humans can be contradictory. This is why pure reason and logic alone has not yet solved the problems of human society. Yet, even as I am aware of such… I was never the less taken aback at the amount of disparate ideas in a co-worker. I was asked a question last night and the end of the conversation left me perplexed. The question was simply this; “Do you think it is wrong to call a sand nigger a sand nigger?”

Pause. I looked at him for about three or four seconds. Quickly trying to gauge in my mind why he was asking the question (and why it suddenly came out of the blue) and what I could do. I guessed that he wasn’t really looking for a nudge from me to convert from racism to enlightenment. What were the factors here? I was unsure and so I threw out a question in return to him. “Is the use of the word used in a derogatory manner?” He quickly answered; “No. Not when that is what they are.” I cannot remember the next comments, but he was soon into a long winded statement about terrorists who want to bomb America. I told him that he’s been listening to too much Michael Medved and needed to greatly broaden his news sources. I gave him a good returned speech about the number of people in the middle east and how many of them perform terrorism (as we Americans often see it) and I told him that similarly, the number of boards in the warehouse, only the one in his hand would be bad if we used the same percentages of terrorists in the population of people in the middle east. He said that “yeah… well they all support it.”

This wasn’t getting anywhere. It appeared that he asked my opinion because I am percieved by some to be the smart guy who sits and reads and talks of going to college. Perhaps words from me were sought as validation in his opinion? It isn’t too far fetched of an idea. We regularly will bounce ideas off other people as a means of reinforcing them. This is a very common occurence and is well studied in social psychology. I would guess that roughly 95% of the conversations that I’ve entertained over the last two years, email, phone, personal alike… were with people who appear not to be interested in investigating ideas, but validating their own. (as to the percentage of my own conversations of such directive, I cannot guess accurately but it is indeed not a low percentage)

There was a moment of silence and he threw another board onto the machine. I asked him, you want to know about another terrorist? I told him about Billy Bob, a white church going man who works as a welder at the local mill in rural Alabama. He drives a Chevy and has two coon dogs. He reads from the Bible often and attends Sunday and Wednesday services at the church. Billy Bob shot and killed a doctor who performed an abortion. Billy Bob also belongs to an organization that took the pictures of doctors performing abortions and made Wanted posters of them (some even had names, addresses, and phone numbers of the targets) and posted them on websites and around town. Billy Bob is a terrorist and is a member of a terrorist organization. And before he could argue about the abortion aspect and take the topic elsewhere, I told him that Billy Bob was acting in accordance with his interpretation, possibly not too different than the interpretation of many Americans, of the Bible. I attempted to not refute his answer that those in the Middle East sympathize with terrorism, but show how one can hold sympathetic views to something and still be opposed to it, that the connections between ourselves, social movements, and fanaticism are much thinner than he previously believed.

He didn’t have a good answer for me. It is what I had hoped for. I didn’t aim for a statement from him, only a seed of doubt. Plant the seed in him, let it grow. But before too long he offered up another outburst about Saddam Hussein. I asked him who was Rumsfield’s buddy during the 80’s? Who gave Iraq technology and training to attack Iran? We did. Placing countries on heirarchy according to amount of weapons of mass destruction, biological weapons, nuclear threats, Iraq is hardly a big concern for us.

At another point in the night we had another exchange of ideas. I cannot remember exactly what they were, nore the arguments used. But I remember being struck by the absurdity of some of the claims. In one moment he was a relativist, I mean an utter relativist, much more than I. He argued that what I consider truth is not actually truth at all, that aliens might see that my truth of 2 + 2 = 4 as false. He used this point to counter some counter of mine. From one moment he went from a nihilisitic standing, to an objectionist view, to a absolute morality belief to relativism. The sheer nature of how nothing worked with anything else he said had me wide eyed in disbelief. Had I tried to write a character in a book as he is I wouldn’t have been able to do so, telling myself that such disparities in thought aren’t seen in the “real world”. Yet here they were. A few days earlier he had told me of a girl he met over the weekend.
“I went on a date with this girl over the weekend. I’m out classed. She’s smarter than I am”, he said.
“That’s not saying much” I chided. He grinned.
“She pretty, comes from a good family, she’s Christian and has morals, which is real good.”
“Sounds nice.” We turned to go to another stack of boards. While walking to it he looks at me with a grin on his face and says,
“There’s just one problem. She’s got a boyfriend.”

I have been playing more and more in my mind with themes for the story I am writing. Fantasy literature has a great advantage, I believe, in that it is percieved as common. When you think of great writers and the genres that they wrote in, one does not typically think of fantasy literature. I should probably add romance novels, adventure novels, and western novels to the list also. It is nice to write a book which ventures into various themes, giving the reader a chance to encounter them differently and to shape his/her beliefs. But of the guys that I work with, probably representative of the population of blue collar workers, how many are likely to pick up a copy of great literature? Only one person said anything positive about my book of Shakespeare. The rest said “damn, that’s a big book”. Because of the size of the collection they would never venture to read Shakespeare (for who my admiration has grown ten fold in the last week and may possibly be added to my top five list of authors for me personally). The one person who said “nice stuff” is young and seems to me to be the type who wants to go to college, study theater, hang out with the actors crowd and experience life as though it were a play. I’m not writing against him, not at all. I am actually describing several co-workers of mine at Bennigan’s in Houston who spent all of their free time acting in various plays in town and studying for their degree at one of the local colleges. Who is to say that life is not a play at all? Back to my point. Of the fantasy that I’ve read, it seems to follow the same recipe. Get the heroic agents in a struggle against the anti-hero agents amid a backdrop of a fantasy world populated with fantasy creatures and magic. Simple. Few have ever looked into other themes at all. I can only think of one writer who does address other themes, R.A. Salvatore (one of my top five authors). Racism is addressed, but in a caricatured manner and as flavor for the stew, not as a phenomena itself. Take for example the racial conflict between elves and dwarves in several stories. It is more than not told as humor, or to set up a scene where one punches the other (where they both end up as friends after the story). How many teen age boys will read a fantasy novel? I am not sure about the numbers now, but when I was going through middle school there were more than a few copies winding their way around school. Heroic, larger than life, and escapist aspects of a story are big draws to a young male’s mind. Now what if we could play around with ideas of nobility, honor, courage, class struggle, racism, environmental greed, sexual assault in these books? Give them seeds for thought? The problem with the fantasy world is that it is not real. I do not mean that it is not less real than a novel such as Angela’s Ashes, for to the reader they are both symbols on a page. To a guy in Houston the church in Ireland just as well might be a church in a fantasy world. It isn’t places or names that live in a book, it is the human element that make them live in a book. Remembering the quote in Elder’s book Reading the Mountains of Home , a place is an environment claimed by feelings. What are feelings if not human? Science fiction has a great advantage of fantasy in this respect. It is one of the big draws of early Star Trek episodes and a reason why I love Voyager. It is the difference between Conan the Barbarian, which behind all of it had a theme of religious fanaticism and individual will, compared to Conan the Destroyer, which might have had lust for power and greed as attributes of the villain, but no real substance to the plot.

It is getting late. I must take my leave now and get ready for work, go to the bank and deposit my paycheck (if it is in the mail), get some quarters for laundry tomorrow, and begin my walk to work. It is a glorious day, completely grey with a light Eugene rain (a drizzle in Houston). I love the weather. While walking to work yesterday I was struck by the beauty of a collected pool of water on black pavement, reflecting the grey sky and dark rain soaked wood of a tree. Had I not been too pressed for time I would have stopped right there and popped out my small travel journal to write a sonnet. Instead I stopped for a moment to stare and take it all in, giving my heart a small deposit in its happiness account. I have been giving a lot of mental energy lately to perpetuating the vision of finishing my novel. I am surprised at the desire that I have to edit the novel. Edit? I never edit. I’ve hated to edit. Yet I am growing impatient to being able to do so to my story. They say that writing a novel is a crafting, a weaving of a story. I can percieve many weaves I’d like to make and if I can rein in my impetuous nature enough I am confident that I could indeed weave a notable story indeed. I’ve told friends and coworkers to dream, to dream big, to not be afraid of one’s dreams and if people laugh at them, don’t worry… just keep dreaming and you’ll get closer than you realize. There is hesitancy in my own heart… but still I keep investing into this new dream. I have started to visualize the occurence. I’ve written about it once before in this LJ, but I’ll do so again.

While at work, taking board after board off of the edger and stacking them on a cart, my mind gets bored and begins to roam. If I do not give it something to roam toward I often erupt into songs and sound effects (I got some strange looks when I was singing and dancing to Sinatra’s “Swing on a Star”). I visualize my sitting at the computer and writing. I visualize re-writing. I visualize printing out the rough draft of the novel onto paper and sitting in the window with pen and coffee and going over the draft. Make changes, send off parts to friends via email, get input, make more changes, weave elements into the story, use foreshadowing (I love forshadowing) and try to create something I’d be proud of. I send it off to a publisher, or multiple publishers, before one decides to print it. I have no idea about much authors are signed for or how much they make from book sales, and I know that many have published their own books at great personal expense just to get it out there. Still, I am dreaming and if you dream small…. I imagine making $50,000 on the book. Woo Hoo! I imagine going to K-Mart (yes… K-Mart) and buying some new clothes (I am nearing that time again, my clothes are wearing out), getting a laptop, a convertable mustang (again, 66 or earlier) for around $6,000. Then I tally up the cost of rent, electricity, phone, for a year and I put that amount into a seperate bank account. Then I enroll in college at the UO.

Neat dream huh. I also imagined going to Ireland but staying in small towns, cheap places, drinking beer in the pub, getting away from tourism and into the heart and soul of Ireland. Research for further characterization in further writings. I am still intrigued about the idea for a book that I had not too long ago drawing parallels from Southern mentality and slave ownership in the 1700’s and corporate mentality today. It might sound amusing, but while walking to work I imagined a television interview between myself and Larry King complete with call ins and questions. This even spun out into the likes of Michael Medved and Rush Limbaugh attacking me on their programs and inviting me to participate on their program and what my response was to their requests. (in the fantasy I turned them down, not for fear of them, but by the understanding that they wanted only to discredit me).

Oh how I will dream sometimes. But when I look at it, why can’t I become a writer? It would be a good job for me (provided that I am able to write worth a darn and get published). It would be much more of a harmonous job with my academic pursuits. I’d be able to fit it around my college schedule much more, and incorporate my college classes and library pursuits into the writing, using each to support the other. The writing paying for college, the college providing fuel for thought for the writing.

I cannot wait until the new library opens. What I miss most in my poor state is taking a stack of books to the coffee shop and reading. But now that the library allows coffee in thermos cups (hopefully the new library will too) and the new library is designed to be open, spacey, cozy, and upscale bookstore-ish, I can make my own mocha at home (and save $5) and walk the two and a half blocks to the library, grab whatever books interest me and find a cozy spot.

I have had a desire over the last three weeks to read Malcolm X’s autobiography and Hitler’s Mein Kampf. I hope that a person reading this will not believe that I ascribe Malcolm X and Hitler to be the same sort of person simply because I’ve placed their names together. I see no similarities between the two at all. There is another book I’d like to read and it was recently featured in the QPB catalogue. It is called Nigger and it examines the history of the word and the social, political, and personal forces behind the word. America, I believe, has a huge cancer with racism. We are no further from the exorcising of this demon than we were in 1760. By turning our backs on it and pretending it goes away, by abolishing “seperate but equal” we’ve not yet come to terms with it. Doing so will be a painful experience for us as a society to be sure. I am not concerned in the matter becaues I, as a white man, feel obligated or guilty for what has been forced upon the blacks during the slave trade years. This is the rhetoric and methods of some and I believe this to be greatly undermining a healthy society on both sides. It creates victims all over the issue. I applaud black men who have stood up and said “I do not demand this job because I am black, I want no special treatment, I want the job because I am the best man for the job.” The world is not fair (which doesn’t mean however that we should chalk up injustice as a necessary evil), yet I applaud these men more from the standpoint that they are pushing beyond that victimized barrier. They are trying to step out beyond the boundary of victimhood to being self assertive, to being true equals in society and by their painful strides perhaps make it easier for others to follow. What a nice day it would be when “race” is not on a questionaire, job form, or test. However until such a day when the concept of race seems utterly ridiculous to us (do you see on the SAT a spot to check if you like regular coffee, de-caf, or cola?) I believe it is benefitial for us to continue to check the race box. While we might want to check the “other” box just out of idealistic opposition (and I certainly sympathize with this) the checking of race box affords those who monitor such things to notice trends. Example, the education levels of white students compared to black students. Does this constitute a difference in I.Q.? Hardly. Does it show a bias in state funding of education (suppose we break down the racial populations to check within groups the scores of various schools, or income levels…. recall a sociological study in which exposure to art galleries and symphonies improved reading comprehension levels across the board). The question of racism is not as easy as skin color. It is differences in ideaology, class, resources and behavior. My father told me once of a “good black” (he didn’t use the “n word” on my account) because he lived in a clean house, went to church, had a wife and family, and worked hard at his job. He acted just like a good white man. So he was afforded the position of good black which is below a bad white. I am not professing to know the answers to racism, but if we cannot overcome this question of race in our own society, how will we ever afford justice? If we cannot have justice on so small a matter as race, how can we tackle the much deeper and harder fight ahead… the disparities of class and the consumption of greed.

I am getting into good thoughts here. But alas I must go. I’ve an errand to run before work and with such a beautiful day I wish to take my ease while walking to work. The climate of the Pacific Northwest suits me well. I remember one day at UAM when I was inside of the cafeteria. One end has large open windows which gave view of a small field and the trees behind. It was a dark, cloudy day with a veil of drizzle falling… almost a fog it was so thick. I loved it. wrightbooks said that it was too gloomy and she didn’t like it one bit. I told her that I loved it immensely, that with the rainy day I could love the sunny day more, which allowed me to love the night. The differences between days gave each other their own kind of beauty. I see this same beauty when I read evolutionary theory (whether biological, behavioral, or memetic) and I am in awe and wonder at the beauty and elegance of it all. Perhaps a person should find the climate and society he/she feels best in and move there. Perhaps for some Phoenix would be best for them, perhaps another it is Baton Rouge (very humid). But whatever, if you aren’t moving at least a little portion into the direction of your dreams, you are wasting time.

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