Wednesday, March 25, 2009


Every once in a while (which might actually be fairly often), I think about meditation. Meditation would be a healthy addition to my life because I have a lot of trouble powering down my mind, especially when I go to bed for the nigh. Relaxing my body into the dark and quiet of my bedroom seems to be an invitation to my brain to kick into overdrive. I have become dependent on a murmuring radio to give my mind something to focus on so that I can leave the rest of the day behind and achieve sleep. Even then, sleep is frequently invaded by whatever might be causing stress in my life. Work is the most common culprit.

After a day of constant correspondence and conversation via e-mail and instant messenger, as well as ringing phones and surrounding conversations, I like to come home to peace and quiet. I will turn on the radio but not the television, and I have moved away from “popular” music and back to the classical music and public radio programming which were the background of my childhood.

I have read several memoirs involving meditation and yoga and retreats, and I wonder if such an environment would have a salubrious effect on me. Could I really spend a week in a silent retreat not speaking to anyone? Would I have any interest in starting to speak again once I had spent a week not doing so?

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Moral Dilemma

As a small town hermit, my personal world is pretty small -- by choice, by nature and by circumstance.

I tend to not read magazines since I let my New Yorker subscription expire.  (Too many of them were piling up unread.)  I rarely watch television and refuse to pay for cable.  Despite spending quite a bit of time online, I don't wander around on the web much.  Social networking sites are pretty much lost on me.  Never having been one of the popular kids, I am much more of an observer than a joiner.

While I see signs of a struggling economy all around me, I have thus far been fortunate enough to not have it hit too close to home.

The other day, however, I found a reason to be genuinely (albeit somewhat selfishly) concerned.

As a self-described book junkie, a significant amount of my disposable (and sometimes some of my not so disposable) income is handed over to bookstores of one sort or another -- some new, some used, some online, some brick and mortar.  Sometimes I give in to the need to have something as soon as it is published and rush right out to a store to pay full retail (although usually minus a membership discount).  Occasionally, I have the patience to wait a few days for a shipment to arrive from an online retailer.  More often, I try to acquire titles, especially if they have been available at least long enough for the hardcover to be issued in paperback, used, either in a shop, online, or at a library sale.  I get more for my money that way, books get a new home, and I feel a little bit better about the piles of paper surrounding me.

In short, I don't have a lot of loyalty to any particular literary resource.  Usually, I land somewhere between efficient use of money and going where I can find the titles I want.

On Friday, seeing the noticeably depleted (perhaps reduced or streamlined would be a better word choice since I don't believe that brisk sales are the culprit) shelves of a fabulous local independent bookseller ( was a sobering and somewhat depressing experience.  As usual, the Toadstool Bookshop had the title I wanted, and I found a few others I decided I couldn't live without.  All three books came off the used shelves in the back.  Also in stock were two newly released hardcovers which have piqued my interest.

Herein lies my dilemma: Do I purchase the two hardcovers at full price (for a total of about fifty dollars) and support a wonderful local business, or do I purchase them online at a discount (for a total of about thirty-three dollars) and save myself the equivalent of a tank of gas?

Of course, the wiser choice would be to wait for the books to be released in paperback (because it is not as if I don't have at least a year's worth of reading in the house already) or become available used.

Nevertheless, the experience made me think a little bit about buying more than just food locally.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Do people *really* think that the Senator is recommending suicide?

"The first thing that would make me feel a little bit better towards them, if they'd follow the Japanese model and come before the American people and take that deep bow and say I'm sorry, and then either do one of two things -- resign, or go commit suicide."
-- Sen. Charles Grassley, on AIG execs

This quote is all over the place, and based on what I have heard so far, people are completely missing the point.

Granted, the Senator probably could have made his reference to Japanese culture a little more tactfully, but more than that I think he needed to make it a little more clearly.

The reference is to the high value placed on integrity and honor, and shame is taken very seriously.  It’s an ancient code.

Given the magnitude of the personal greed and betrayal of public trust, the resulting shame is sufficient to warrant apology and resignation at the very least, and according to the ancient Japanese code, seppuku is not out of the question.  The suggestion only seems ridiculous by isolationist American standards.

People need to take responsibility for their actions rather than continuing to work the system to avoid consequences.

One might argue that hearing such a recommendation from a politician is the epitome of irony, but that’s a debate for another day.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Personal Aspirations

Some say that it is better to give than to receive. Some say that you should treat others as you wish to be treated. There is a theory out there somewhere that love should be unconditional.

I finished reading In Buddha's Kitchen: Cooking, Being Cooked, and Other Adventures in a Meditation Center by Kimberly Snow this past weekend. As I was reading: I found the following passage, and it spoke to me pretty clearly:

"'Most of the relationships in our country are based on a sort of ledger model,' says Lama S. 'I make you a cup of tea, but on some level, somewhere, I'm expecting you to make me one in exchange. If a week or so goes by and I haven't gotten my cup of tea, then I start this angry little dialogue within myself about how "you" aren't fulfilling "my" needs. But any relationship that is founded on the idea that another person will make you happy is doomed from the very start. The only ones that will ever succeed are those that begin with the question "What can I do to make the other person happy?" And this motivation needs to be the ground of the relationship, not just a temporary attitude that you adopt to make yourself seem like a good person. You really can't be waiting for that cup of tea to come back to you but must learn to give freely. A cup of tea, a smile, a little kindness, there is always something that we can offer. Only through our unimpeded generosity do we become happy. ... The center of the universe has shifted a little from you to the outside. This can be done within a relationship, within the family, with the world at large. Give. Love. Help. But without wanting something back to balance the ledger. You'll find that this makes you deeply happy all the time.'" (pg. 160-161)

Give of yourself and give freely. Sounds like a good idea to me.

Not that I can't do things for myself and pursue my own interests or set limits and boundaries (although the ideal is probably to give with no boundaries).

Nevertheless, to give with no expectation of reciprocation is one of my personal aspirations.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

As you sow, so shall ye tweet? (Or perhaps as you tweet, so shall you reap?)

The real fun of Twitter is the interesting tidbits I get from the people I follow.

I'll have to find a few more interesting people to follow.

The first find of the day is courtesy of Neil Gaiman:

Sadly, and not terribly surprisingly, these wonderful trinkets are out of stock.

Do not despair!  There are more to be found nearby at

Or click over to for Lady Macbeth Claw Polish.  Or perhaps Mme. Moriarty Claw Polish is more to your liking?

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Is it scandal? Libel? Or not even news?

Articles like this one from the New York Times: tend to make me wonder.

What is really at issue here?

Is the article supposed to be about wasteful government spending for installing coffee makers costing more than I will spend on food for the entire year?

Is it about the loss of face for the Cimbali company when it was implied that their machines made inferior espresso?

Is it about the risk of poor water quality?

As none of these subjects are treated with any kind of depth or seriousness, who can tell?

Any of the three subjects, properly researched, has the potential for an excellent article, but the three jumbled together end up being meaningless.

And this is the news which is truly fit to print?

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

New & Improved!! (But is better actually any good?)

As is so often the case in my world, I started with one article (about a portrait of Shakespeare), moved on to another (the one about the author who sold the manuscript for her second novel for five million dollars referenced below), and another (about a "divisive" French novel), until I happened upon an article which interested me enough to read all the way through:

Ever since I first heard of the Sony eReader, I have contemplated the possibility of adding such a gizmo to my household.  There were two primary inhibitors -- the price tag and the availability only by mail order.  I wasn't about to pay that much money for something I couldn't try out and play with first.  Even my most outrageously expensive pair of fabulous shoes didn't cost that much (although I do have my eye on the three-thousand dollar Chanel boots, but my fashionista aspirations are best left to a whole other blog post).  The only things I have come close to spending that much money on are tickets to a Springsteen concert and a signed, limited edition of a biography of Stuart Sutcliffe.

Then Neil Gaiman started writing about this mysterious device he had been given to play with, and eventually he revealed that it was a Kindle, so I would occasionally look at it on the web site.  I would read some reviews and ponder the possibilities.

The real attraction has always been the possibility of carrying all sorts of books at once so that I wouldn't have to worry about not being in the mood to read whatever it was I had with me, especially when traveling.

That attraction is still there, but I think I would need at least a week with the device to determine whether the attraction is deep enough to sustain a long term relationship or just a mere infatuation.

I have seen one live Kindle.  It was in the hands of a fellow airplane passenger on the return trip from the National Book Festival in Washington D.C. last year, but she was reading, and I couldn't bring myself to disturb her.  I find it an almost unforgiveable intrusion when someone interrupts my reading as if the book I am holding is an invitation rather than a ticket to my own private world.

The key sentences in the article are (my commentary follows each sentence in italics):

"Unlike a laptop or an iPhone, the screen is not illuminated, so there's no glare, no eyestrain — and no battery consumption. You use power only when you actually turn the page, causing millions of black particles to realign."

(I have visions of a Kindle being possessed by a gremlin of some sort who insists or realigning the millions of particles into random pages in random books, or even with secret messages, rather than the next page in sequence.  Or perhaps it is the particles themselves who rebel and refuse to realign as proscribed.)

"It's all a thousand times more convenient and more exciting than loading books from a PC with a cable, as you must with Sony's Reader, the Kindle's archrival."

(More exciting than loading books from a PC with a cable?  What is less exciting?  The convenient part I will agree with, however.)

"But as traditionalists always point out, an e-book reader is a delicate piece of electronics. It can be lost, dropped or fried in the tub."

(As someone who carries at least one book pretty much everywhere she goes -- sometimes stuffed in a bag and sometimes completely unprotected -- I find the sturdiness of a real book tough to beat.  Even if pages get torn, stained or wet, they are still legible.  I have had more than one book take a bath, and even the ones which weren't the waterproof erotica anthologies survived to be read another day.  I have insurance on my cell phone because the salesman who sold me my first phone about three years ago told me that it meant replacement of my phone in case it was lost, stolen ... or dropped in a puddle.  I was sold.)

"The point everyone is missing is that in Technoland, nothing ever replaces anything."

(And marketing departments everywhere cheer!!  You can't just replace one thing with another.  You have to buy more.  Seriously, though, and somewhat less cynically, it's almost impossible to replace the original.  Pens, pencils and paper are still around because the personal computer hasn't been able to vanquish them either.  You will always need a backup and a contingency for something which requires some kind of power.)

"The reading experience is immersive, natural and pleasant; the book catalog, while not yet complete, is growing and delivered instantaneously; and apart from the clicky keyboard (an unnecessary appendage 99.9 percent of the time), the design feels right."

(That word "immersive" is highly seductive because I consider books my means of escape from reality.  If you say reality is for people who can't handle drugs, I say reality is for people who don't have the courage to fall in love with an imaginary man or woman.  If this little electronic gadget can truly take me to Redwall or Pern or Hogwarts or Maycomb, Alabama, then I might just be willing to hand over that much money for a literary toy.)

The NYT article is the first discussion of the Kindle which has addressed the issues which are important to me, and I have a better understanding of the device than I had previously.  I maintain, however, that until the Kindle and I are properly introduced (or some admirer presents me with one in homage), I shall continue consuming my reading material in a more conventional format.

It's like a recession, but not.

Author Audrey Niffenegger sold the rights to publish her next book for nearly five million dollars.

Congratulations are certainly in order for Ms. Niffenegger because didn't President Clinton only get a million for his memoir? Or maybe that was just the advance.

I'm glad nobody told Scribner about the recession going on and isn't listening to those who are portending doom and gloom for the publishing industry as a whole, but I do wonder if a move like this means that more midlist or unknown authors will the chance they need or if their numbers will become ever slimmer.

Stay calm. Breathe deeply. Enlightenment is within your reach.

Today I am spending my lunch hour reading In Buddha’s Kitchen: Cooking, Being Cooked, and Other Adventures in a Meditation Center by Kimberly Snow.

In chapter three, the author describes dealing with a particularly aggravating individual, and the response of one of the Lamas is that she is “Good practice for bardo … very good practice.”  Bardo is the state after death and before the next rebirth, and it “is often filled with wrathful deities, terrifying sights, loud noises.”  Staying calm and keeping your wits about you while in a bardo state is the path to enlightenment.

One of the tweets I read today was a quote to the effect of “What angers you, controls you.”

It has been a while since I have encountered these sorts of reminders about coping with the trials of daily life.  The timing appears to be apt because I feel calmer already.  Not so much enlightened, but definitely calmer.

Playing in cyberspace

I spent a large portion of Sunday playing in cyberspace – setting up a twitter account, overhauling my blog, chatting online, downloading a new program, and doing a bit of web surfing.  It was fun, but I don’t know that it was particularly productive.  The conversation was interesting, and I learned a few things in articles I read, but I wonder about the use of time.  Most likely, I should just accept it as fun and not worry about it, even if I do sit in front of a computer for a living.  Seems like I ought to have more active things to do with my time off.


Monday, March 9, 2009

The hazards of extensive (excessive?) connectivity

Today’s Doonesbury sums up the problem nicely, I think:

Of course, most people probably don’t think of it as a problem.

It’s just the Luddites like me whose computer and internet usage really hasn’t changed in the last fifteen years who think it’s an issue.

YouTube, FaceBook and MySpace are not part of my daily life, and probably eighty or ninety per cent of the minutes on my cell phone plan go unused every month.

I signed up for a Twitter account yesterday, so maybe that will rock my world. After all, instant messaging programs have become a major player, and I never thought that would happen.

By contrast, however, the hermit in me appreciates being able to communicate without having to actually talk to anyone.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Something Awful

Testing posts via e-mail

My blog is about to become something of an experiment.

Somewhat against my better judgment, I have created a twitter account, so I can tweet at will.

I have also (hopefully) created a couple of avenues to make posting easier (and therefore hopefully more likely).

There's quite a bit of hope in that last sentence.

The ultimate hope is to stop worrying about the audience (who or even if it is) and just write, and with a little luck, omphaloskepsis will not be the only result.