She finishes cleaning up. Her hand wipes clean the table in the foyer. A few quick steps and she’s in the kitchen. She wonders what’s for dinner, if Alex will bring anything home, if her marriage will last another year.
The design is inspiring. Two years of hard work have paid off for the team. Jon is happy for the first time in his professional life. He drops by a store on the way home and buys a bottle champagne. He has always wondered what escargot tastes like. He may find out soon.
The truck is very large. Larger than any commuter vehicle has reason to be. He bought it because he could. He likes to feel like an alligator. He sees himself as a predator on the roadways. He wanted it to be green, but they only had it in red. He fantasizes that it is green when he drives it. Most other people only wish it were smaller. He struggles to make the payments.
Snow falls lightly on the immaculate lawn. Dawn slowly breaks as spearmint fog is slowly exiled from the valley. She can see her breath. It always makes her want a cigarette. She should probably move to a warmer city.
They’ve been wandering for hours. She keeps saying it’s just around the next corner. He lost hope quite a while ago. He wonders how people walked on cobblestones back then. The sun is getting noticeably lower in the sky. He’s pretty sure they are becoming more distant from their hotel. And they are being followed.
Are there airplanes up there? He squints up into clouds trying to identify different sizes of planes. The airport is just across the bay. Planes are always coming and going. He is on a boat. The water is cold, or so they tell him. The sky to the west is dishearteningly gray and the waves are noticeably choppier than they were earlier. He struggles to keep his balance, standing just aft of the steering wheel. Apparently it is called a “helm.” That plane looks like it has propellers. He wonders where it came from. It’s the only thing he can think of to keep from looking down.
He’s conflicted. Anyone could see that. He runs through possible outcomes in his mind over and over and over, each one more outlandish than the last. He paces. He sits and stares. He performs very biased scholarly research online. He forgets how hungry he is. His breath is erratic and he is beginning to develop a bad headache. He ultimately decides that doing nothing is the worst option. He takes a deep breath, picks up the phone, and dials her number. It is ringing.
She finishes cleaning up. Her hand wipes clean the table in the foyer. A few quick steps and she’s in the kitchen. She wonders what’s for dinner, if Alex will bring anything home, if her marriage will last another year.
a watery descent,
heavier than air or water:
her upward glances
locking minds, hearts, futures
life’s last lament
rising within small, evenly spaced spheres
I sing of golden fields and mountains blue;
Of white-powder clouds and clear atmospheres.
Of houses on hills, a town low in view;
Of hollows and rivers and other things here.
Thou quaint, thou tranquil, thou sweet, thou divine;
Thou solemn, thou wistful, thou knowing well.
Beauty and wisdom your State does enshrine,
To safeguard from evil all that is swell.
Here things remain as they always should be;
In every way she does nourish the soul.
Refuge from urban she does guarantee;
Washed of our cares when down main street we stroll.
Who travels to Dayton, these things he shall tell,
A hidden gem; Washington’s southern belle.
Musicians record songs all the time. They record originals and covers with incredible frequency, most of which never reach the general public or develop any significant following. Most of these recordings are listened to only by the musicians who made them and perhaps a small circle of friends. The songs are then forgotten, stored on hastily burned CDs that are lost in the trunks of cars or banished to some obscure folder on a hard drive, never to be heard again.
Sometimes, these songs are released to the public and become generally known. They are widely talked about for a short period of time, but are then remembered by a select few enthusiasts. They may create a miniscule financial return to the original artist through album or singles sales for years to come, but are otherwise cataloged in the archives of mammoth record companies, always for legal reasons, never for posterity.
The rarest of all recordings are the ones that have the power to change the lives of both the artist who creates it and those privileged few who hear it for what it is. These recordings are often obscure and never easily marketable to a wide audience. But their raw power is so potent that whole continents can shift upon the weight of their immaculately placed tones. Their power is necessarily indescribable using words, for the music speaks far more eloquently of itself than any language could hope to equal.
On October 8th, 1963, John Coltrane and his classic quartet recorded five live tracks at Birdland in New York City. Featuring the iconic rhythm section of McCoy Tyner on piano, Elvin Jones on drums, and Jimmy Garrison on bass, the group cut just under forty minutes of material for an album that would be known simply as Live at Birdland.
The second track on this album is a standard tune by Billy Eckstine called “I Want to Talk About You.” While the statement of the melody begins mellow enough (at least for Coltrane), it quickly takes on a characteristic all its own. Through his version of the melody, Coltrane re-defines what a melody statement can be. With each passing phrase, his melody becomes more adamant of itself, more forcefully asserts its place. This is not a melody for a singer to croon or for dancers to swing. This is an fiercely impressionistic, maybe even cubist approach to harmony and melody, no longer separated by instrument or function, but one and the same, occurring simultaneously in one man’s endless search for truth.
And that’s just it. A search for truth. What began innocently enough as yet another version of a standard tune has become infinitely more, a concentrated dose of philosophical jazz improvisation that not only annihilates the harmonic and melodic structure of a song, but struggles mightily against the very bonds of sonic possibilities to stretch and pull and tear until the Truth is revealed in all its perfection and glory. He deconstructs the song as if it is a cipher and beneath its layers lay the secrets of the universe.
Coltrane’s cadenza is ultimate. Freed from the limitations of the rhythm section, even one of the best that has ever played together, Coltrane takes his personal odyssey to bold new heights from which safe return is not guaranteed. His creation becomes larger than himself, it discovers new horizons while never entirely forgetting those already surpassed. His cadenza is a search for a kind of unified field theory not only as it pertains to jazz or even music, but life itself. Make no mistake, this is not simply a musical journey. Men who have described this search for truth in words have founded religions or even become gods themselves.
When the inevitable end comes, like so many other tunes, in the form of a jazz-style fermata, what has just occurred does not seem to immediately resonate with the live crowd. Two or three dozen people clap half-heartedly, the band moves on to the next number.
Even more than his experiments with free improvisation on 1966’s Ascension or any other recording from his last few years, Coltrane’s playing on this impromptu live cut from one night in New York in 1963 represents a raw expression of freedom. It is a religious experience unlike any other, one that we are lucky enough to experience time and time again through the magic of recorded sound. The world is a more complete place and our lives more fulfilling for it.
Just turn on the stereo and hit play. Church is always in session.
Most of us were taught a good rule of thumb when we were little. It goes something like this: “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” In most cases, this holds true. Maybe it’s a bit naive or unrealistic, but it tends to work in favor of harmony and civility more often than not.
Social networking, message boards, and comment threads have made saying unkind things easy and anonymous. The vast majority of people are not embarrassed by anything they do online. They aren’t always held accountable for their unkind words. Fortunately, it is just as easy to ignore people on the internet as it is to say hurtful things. For the most part, I think those two cancel each other out.
The problem I see is that people are just talking too much. Just go look at the comment thread for any YouTube video or Yahoo news article. For every post that actually adds something to the conversation, there are dozens that contribute absolutely nothing. They are meaningless (and often misspelled) words or characters. Of course, most opinions or comments are redundant of others, so repetition is inevitable. Whenever I read an article and have something to say, I always look to see if another user has already made my point. If I find that someone has, I don’t post. Repetition is not contribution.
Hundreds of millions of people worldwide have accounts on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, or other services. It is through these that they can post their thoughts on any subject or comment on any current event and be guaranteed an audience. It makes the average person feel like they are part of the discourse, that their opinions matter, that the world respects what they have to say, even if they aren’t saying anything.
I’m not about to advocate censoring or purging stupid, useless comments from the internet. Every person is entitled to their opinion and the freedom to express it. The problem I have is that such useless commentary often seems to bury actual conversation. People who have real arguments are ignored in favor of snarky comments, not-so-witty one-liners, or spam bots that serve no other purpose than to collect as many “likes” as possible and therefore validate that user’s sense of internet popularity. The end result is that people who want to participate in some actual, productive discourse are either too apathetic to post anything or, when they do post, are ignored and resented as part of some intellectual elite that looks down upon the average user as some kind inferior being.
My point is that the general discourse is being hurt. The conversations that need to take place aren’t happening because comment threads are filled with people who say nothing just because they know they will be heard and their nothing will be validated as something. We owe it to ourselves to value free speech enough to protect it from unwarranted use. Freedom may be threatened by external and internal forces, but it can also be threatened by inaction and apathy. Pointless commentary and the endless pursuit of “likes” are a distraction that is slowly eroding our efforts to keep democracy in place through productive discourse. We need to stop treating “likes” as some kind of personal currency. They aren’t worth anything. The internet does not love you. While saying stupid things on the internet is a time honored tradition, it can’t be a replacement for having actual conversations that carry meaning and truth for all of us.
In conclusion, I offer not a change in policy or a means to suppress opinions, no matter how unproductive. Rather, I suggest we update the old rule of thumb. Instead of limiting conversation to only “nice” words, perhaps we should try to limit it to only “useful” or “productive” words. Maybe the rule should read, “If you don’t have anything at all to say, don’t say anything at all.”
A website called Franz Kafka Stories (franzkafkastories.com) feature this short description of the man:
“Franz Kafka was a weird and unhappy man who believed life to be quite fruitless and unfulfilling. To prove a point, he spent years of his time writing novels which he left unfinished, then, as he was dying, he asked his best mate to burn them. Luckily for us, they were never burnt, but in fact were published. Kafka is is a brilliant writer, so it would be a sad thing to never read his novels. Sure they may not have an ending, but, like life itself, the joy is in the journey.”
Now, I don’t claim to be an expert on Kafka. I’ve read his books The Metamorphosis and The Trial, as well as 22 of his short stories. Maybe this makes me more well-read than most, but it hardly qualifies me to teach a course or lecture on all things Kafka. Still, I have some opinions regarding the short description of Kafka and his works that the author (name unknown) of the website provides.
First, I can’t agree with the statement that Kafka was a weird and unhappy man who believed life to be quite fruitless and unfulfilling. No doubt there was unhappiness in his life that stemmed from his strained relationship with his father and the death of some of his younger siblings not long after their respective births. He also disliked most of the employment he found for himself throughout his life, but then who among us hasn’t disliked a job or two. To me the picture this paints is of a man not so different from you or me. He experienced unhappiness, to be sure, but he was not an unhappy man.
Nor was he weird. Born into a middle-class German-Jewish family, going to school, obtaining a law degree and working some halfway decent jobs while working on his writing until tuberculosis took his life in 1924 at the age of 40. He lived a relatively normal life, though not without struggling with relationships, employment, and other normal things that most of us deal with at one time or another throughout our own lives.
I don’t believe Kafka was trying to “prove a point” by writing many unfinished works. I don’t think he intended them to be unfinished. He died quite young and was unable to finish them. If Kafka was trying to prove any point, it would be that optimism and hope can be found even in the most trying of circumstances. Many of his works were published between World War I and World War II, so his message came at a time when the world most needed it.
The best way to get to know Kafka is through his work. He was a quiet and unassuming man with a very subdued and dry sense of humor. Though his works seem depressing and pessimistic at first glance, reading between the lines brings forth his true message.
The Trial tells the story of Josef K., who is arrested by an unknown authority and accused of a crime for which he can find no information. Josef K. navigates the labyrinthine legal system and confusing bureaucracy in an attempt to clear his name. His efforts are ultimately futile, as in the final pages he is punished severely for his unknown crime.
While the ending of The Trial is pessimistic, the main character Josef K. is a hopeful man. He hopes for vindication even against an entirely senseless system that cannot be stopped. He fights against it even in his final moments, recognizing that he, a completely blameless man, is being punished “like a dog!” Kafka shows the human spirit alive and well even under the most trying of circumstances, and he hopes that we will exhibit such perseverance against faceless and nameless evils.
The Metamorphosis is a novella that follows the last days of Gregor Samsa after he awakes from a night’s rest to find himself transformed into a hideous, disgusting monster. Since he is unable to work, his family must find other means of income to support themselves and to feed Gregor, who spends the remainder of his days locked in his bedroom becoming ever more depressed at his predicament. Though things do not ultimately work out for Gregor, his family is transformed for the better. The transformation of their son has also transformed their family. The final sentences of The Metamorphosis recognizes Gregor’s sister Grete as having grown into a beautiful young woman throughout the story, and only at the end of all suffering can we focus on the good that has come of it.
So The Metamorphosis is ultimately the story of a family’s redemption, having persevered through an unthinkable family tragedy. They mourn the loss of Gregor but also recognize how their lives have changed for the better because of their experience. It is a story of their hope for a more fulfilling life after the shocking events of the novella.
I can’t speak for the other short stories Kafka wrote that I haven’t yet read, or for his other two major works, The Castle and Amerika. But though I haven’t read them, I assume Kafka’s general message of hope against impossible odds holds true in his other works. You just have to read a little closer.
While I have shown why I disagree with the website’s description of Kafka, I do agree with the final sentence: “Sure they may not have an ending, but, like life itself, the joy is in the journey.” The journeys Kafka takes us on are not ones that describe happiness or deny that evil exists in the world. Rather, they are stories of hope and love that, dark and dry though they may be, will inspire goodwill in those that choose to read them for what Kafka intended them to be. In his world, hope conquers despair, love always prevails, and justice is valued above all else. It was his hope that we adopted these things in the real world, that they not exist solely in his works of fiction.
When I was younger and more prone to traveling about this fascinating world, I arrived in a strange city with no means of navigation. A friend had informed me of a good restaurant somewhere in the city, but with nothing other than a name, I was unsure how I would find it on my own.
As I walked along some boulevard or other, I came across a man who did not seem engaged in anything specific that would require his undivided attention. It was for this reason that I chose to ask him, rather than any other random passerby, about the direction to the restaurant my friend had recommended so favorably.
“Excuse me, sir, I am a tourist. Can you tell me the way to Fellini’s restaurant? I have heard very good things about it.”
The man stopped in his tracks and looked at me as if I had just scooped dog feces off the pavement with my bare hands and offered to sell it to him at a very competitive price.
“Fellini’s?” he repeated loudly. “You tourists make your way into our city with no knowledge and think it is the sole purpose of the locals to give you guided tours! As if we do not have things to do with our time! Were you brought here against your will? Were you blindfolded? Did you not think to acquire some foreknowledge of our city before your travels? Why don’t you find these things out before you arrive and spare us all the unpleasantness of being accosted on our own streets with your ignorance? Now I must be off!”
He stormed away before I could form a response. A good thing too, for I do not believe he knew the way.
Sizzle the air does awaiting the storm,
Oppressive the clouds are as it arrives.
Raindrops, like warheads, fall angled but true;
Deep rumblings foreshadow flashes to come.
Suddenly, Thor’s hammer strikes near and far,
Scattering mortals away to repent.
Wind and rain punish the landscape as well.
Lightning forever scars spots where it fell.
No peace is found from the wrath Heaven sent,
Havens are useless wherever we are.
Pray we to the Mighty, “Let it be done!
Take these disasters away from our view!”
Soon we are free from the storm’s binding ties,
The Sun looks upon us, weak and forlorn.
A recent article in The Atlantic by Norman Ornstein makes the case that the U.S. should require all of its citizens to vote. His full article can be read here.
On the surface, this seems like a good idea. How can having more people, even the maximum number of people, participate in a democracy be a bad thing? The larger the number of people voting, the more likely it is that the government will represent the people’s wishes in full.
Maybe so. However, while the U.S. Constitution guarantees all citizens the right to vote, the question in this case becomes: does the right to vote imply a right not to vote? Does exercising the right to participate in the democratic process include the right not to participate if you so choose?
Maybe this is simply a question of whether the government can mandate the entire population to do something. At first, most conservatives (and many liberals) would say no, but the government already mandates that we do things like purchase car insurance (and soon health insurance too) or register for selective service (for males only). The government also tells us what we can’t do in the form of criminal laws at both the state and federal level. So the precedent has already been set that we can be made to do things by the government if it is deemed to be in the best interest of the nation at large.
So, is requiring all citizens to vote in the best interest of the nation at large? I think the obvious answer to that question is yes. But there are other considerations that call this seemingly easy answer into question.
The first consideration is that requiring people to vote might make some who are against the policy sabotage the system by wasting their vote on meaningless write-ins or creating anti-government voting blocs. They may also just outright refuse to vote regardless of what the law says, which brings in the question of what kind of punishment can be imposed on those who do not obey. Can the government really fine people or impose jail sentences for people who won’t vote?
Another consideration is whether or not people will educate themselves enough on the issues and/or candidates to vote with their best interests in line. Maybe people will just show up to press a button, any button, as fast as possible because they didn’t bother to read the voter’s pamphlet and view the whole process as a waste of their time. Having this type of person affecting elections and laws could be a dangerous thing.
A well-educated and enthusiastic voting population should, in theory, result in a functional government that closely represents the people. Getting the maximum number of people to vote of their own free will is the goal, but the solution of mandating people in order to increase voting participation seems poorly thought out. It will likely create more problems than it will solve.
I view the right not to participate in the democratic process as a form of protest, and therefore protected free speech. The problem is that a lazy voter and a protesting voter look exactly the same when the voter turnout numbers are compiled. Still, I think that the right of people not to participate in a system that too often does not have their best interests at heard should be protected, even if it allows some lazy people to ignore their civic duty.
Maybe a better solution would be to set a minimum percentage of the population that must vote for an election to be valid? If a law or election affects millions of people, the voting period could be open and the results postponed until a minimum of 50% of the voting-eligible population cast their ballots. This would prompt those who vote to encourage their friends and family to make the effort, as to do otherwise would bring the country to a grinding halt.
Maybe that’s a terrible idea and some of my readers will no doubt tell me why. However, I think forcing all citizens to vote is a bad solution to a very real problem. Engaging people in political discourse and democratic participation must be done without coercing them to vote against their will. The right to abstain from casting a vote is a long standing tradition in democratic and parliamentary procedure, and while some voters may be abstaining for dumb reasons, the right must nevertheless be protected. It is our job as a country to engage the voters and make them want to participate of their own free will. The fact that many choose not to is not their fault. It is our fault as a country and as a system for disenfranchising the population with hateful and ignorant and disrespectful discourse, deep partisan divides, and corporate corruption of what should be a free and beautiful process.
Recently, some willfully ignorant members of congress accused Huma Abedin, Hillary Clinton’s chief of staff, of being a member of the Muslim Brotherhood sent to infiltrate the U.S. Government. Senator John McCain defended her with an impassioned speech. Here is an excerpt:
Put simply, Huma represents what is best about America: the daughter of immigrants, who has risen to the highest levels of our government on the basis of her substantial personal merit and her abiding commitment to the American ideals that she embodies so fully.
Ultimately, what is at stake in this matter is larger even than the reputation of one person. This is about who we are as a nation, and who we aspire to be. What makes America exceptional among the countries of the world is that we are bound together as citizens not by blood or class, not by sect or ethnicity, but by a set of enduring, universal, and equal rights that are the foundation of our constitution, our laws, our citizenry, and our identity. When anyone, not least a member of Congress, launches specious and degrading attacks against fellow Americans on the basis of nothing more than fear of who they are and ignorance of what they stand for, it defames the spirit of our nation, and we all grow poorer because of it.
Well said, Mr. McCain. It’s too bad you didn’t (or couldn’t) say things like this during your presidential run in 2008. An American patriot such as yourself deserves better than the ignorant and hateful base of your party.
Short Fiction: His Deadly Dissonances
His Deadly Dissonances
By, Duke Sullivan
They told me not be afraid of the dark… That it was a place of...
Flash Fiction: The Greatest Symphony
The Greatest Symphony
By Duke Sullivan
… WOULD BEGIN WITH a chord so brilliant and eerie and hauntingly...
Intensified from Stage Lights
Intensified from Stage Lights
A Philosophy on Classical Performance
You learn the truth about yourself on the...
That moment when you meet someone that almost entirely resonates with you, makes you smile just by meeting their eyes, loves to get to know...
Experimenting with palindrome and prose(ish) poetry
era mourning, and
then perceive the pedals
dying under the frost, a
His Prison in Rain
Frustrated raindrops knock
Unable to break free of their chambers
Imprisoning yet can’t let go, or he wont.