I feel like I’m learning to walk again.
My creative life was in stagnation for a long time before my sister’s death. Too tired from work, too burned out from the volunteering, and all the other excuses I kept telling myself until I believed them. But losing her really kicked me in the ass. I don’t think it was anything to do with a sense of mortality, although it could be that. Wouldn’t be the first time I’ve missed the flamingly obvious.
It’s more like I feel the need to stop allowing those excuses to bounce around inside my skull. It’s time I got off my ass and started making myself do creative stuff again. Fake it until you make it, or something like that.
I’m not the same as I was before Gloria died. I think somewhere along the line, I got scared of something. Scared of what, I don’t really know. But I pulled back my writing into myself and stopped looking outward. Stopped trying to share it.
It’s just a lousy habit I got into. Like every writer, I have a healthy ego and I want to hang it out there for people. But somewhere along the line I talked myself out of doing that.
I’m also rediscovering my love of walking. I started hiking a lot in college and did it for years, but thanks to grad school and then a car accident that left me with a messed up ankle for a couple of years, I got out of the habit. But now that it’s warming up, I’m lacing up my favorite boots and walking all over this very walkable city. I used to do mostly parks and forests, and I still like that, but I love walking around Annapolis. It was designed in an era when people did a lot of walking, so I guess it suits me. Plus that way I don’t have to go drive to walk (which always seemed a little odd to me).
When I walked a lot, The Complete Walker by Colin Fletcher was my bible. It’s a cross between gear fetish and philosophical tract. It really affected my sensibilities about not just walking but being prepared for life too.
Fletcher was a lone wolf, and preferred to do his walking alone, being self reliant on his gear, his knowledge and experience, and his wits (and his dry British wit) to survive. He taught me that being alone and self-reliant can be OK. It doesn’t mean you don’t like company along the way, or that you’re antisocial or phobic or anything negative. It just means that, if you like being alone sometimes, then go and be alone and enjoy it. And when you need company, seek it out and enjoy that, too.
So I’m making myself pick up my walking stick and head back out on the road. I’ve got a lot of writing miles left in me, and it’s about time I was on my way again.
Today would have been my sister Gloria’s 59th birthday. She missed it by a little over a month.
Gloria died of cancer after five years of humor, grace, courage, determination, and about a million other things that I will never know. She wanted to see her two fine sons graduate and make lives of their own, and she accomplished that. After a lifetime of creative giving, she asked for only that one thing, and through the efforts of her doctors, her friends and family, and her own self, she was granted it. She leaves behind friends who are scattered quite literally all around the world, people whose lives she touched and who never forgot her kindness, her empathy, her acceptance of everyone for who and what they were, her validation of the grace and goodness in people.
Throughout her cancer life, just as we had for so many years before, we stayed in touch and we had many good conversations, just like always. She lived in Missouri and I live in Maryland, so we stayed in touch as we always had — by long, laughter-filled phone calls and long, deep e-mails, letters, and cards. I think neither of us wanted to change that, even if we knew that we might never see each other again. The cancer might disrupt her body, but we would both be damned if we were going to let it disrupt our relationship.
She didn’t want us to see her like that, anyway, she said. But on the phone she sounded like she always did, that gentle, lilting voice, that surprisingly hearty laugh, that soft, whispering wonder. It hits me hardest when I find myself wanting to talk with her, to share some new thing or just to chat.
Gloria was an artist and a writer, and a genuine Creative. She wanted to be able to show her kids that you could try anything, take a chance, roll the dice, and that whatever happened would be a learning experience that would make you better as a person. Her life was an open book, an example, a lesson for whoever wanted to learn from it. When she was diagnosed with cancer, she started a blog that turned that experience into a life lesson, too.
She wrote in it whenever she could, poetic expressions of the extraordinary and the mundane, and of the extraordinary promise inherent in every mundane moment, in between chemo treatments and when she wasn’t flat out on her back from exhaustion — and sometimes even then. The silence between posts were at least as eloquent as the words she wrote; we knew what it meant, and when we saw new words appear, we rejoiced in another triumph.
I will never fully come to terms with the loss of my big sister. In a very real sense, I am here today, doing what I am doing, because of her. She was the oldest and I am the youngest, and I was her special little guy, and the knowledge that I was special to someone as wonderful as her was the treasure I kept in the sanctum sanctorum of my soul growing up, which no cruelty, no meanness, no abuse could take away — and which served as my touchstone for compassion and empathy when encountering people who hadn’t been lucky enough to have had such a treasure of their own.
The morning after Gloria died, I visited her blog. I don’t really know why, except maybe to just see her work again. And there was he title of her last blog post, written back in September about a fun trip she had taken with her dear friends:
such a wonderful wonderful time
Safe travels, my friend. Thank you for those many times full of wonder.
Many, many thanks to Rock Toews, the owner of Back Creek Books, who, when he acquired it, immediately e-mailed me to let me know that he had something that he thought I would like.
It is in beautiful shape inside and out, leading me to think that it had probably been professionally cleaned not long ago. It came with the original instruction manual, touch typewriting chart, and even the original cleaning brush. Needless to say, I will scan these in (well, not the brush, obviously) and share them soon. And since the type faces are so clean, a typecast is surely in order.
While this machine is very quiet compared to my other typers, the sounds it makes are all in the deep bass range, like something from a big desktop typewriter, rather than a portable. Unlike the tinny, snappy sounds of my Royals and the downright banging of my Remmie, this one sounds sort of like like a giant rubber-coated cast-iron contraption pounding away in a padded room somewhere.
You can probably tell that I love the sounds it makes.
The Floating Shift is just brilliant, and it has the most positive, solid-feeling backspace key I’ve ever used. Backspace keys always seem to be wobbly and have a mushy feel. Not so this one — it’s as solid and crisp as a regular key.
And speaking of the keys, man, are they lovely. I can see why they are a favorite among keychoppers (may their fields be burned and salted and their women driven before them lamenting in torment). And they are comfortable, too. The shallow scalloping makes a difference.
I know the boxy flattop look isn’t for everyone, but for me it has a sense of purposeful elegance. It’s designed to be a working machine, and everything about it seems designed around the convenience of the user. It has lots of little quietly understated yet classily executed features — like the paper rollers that slide automatically based on the margin settings, a very nice touch that serves the function of keeping the paper against the platen while at the same time not obstructing the typer’s view of the page. But the rollers also have a sculptural curve to them, which is as much about aesthetic as it is about function. It’s those thoughtful little touches that I really appreciate, and which make me smile as I type on it.
Not long ago, I began toying with an idea for an essay that would explore the implications of “corporate rights” as granted by federal law, but from the perspective of a thought exercise: think of the corporation as an individual, a flesh-and-blood citizen. In the law, take out the word “corporation” and replace it with “person.” Now, what would their rights, responsibilities, and societal obligations look like when compared to those of real individuals?
We — at least those of us in societies that descend from Greco-Roman and European traditions of law — tend to view our organizations as human analogues. Our organizational creations are like large-scale people. (The word corporate, after all, derives from the Latin word for body.) In a sense, though, we also view them as ideal people, not just as idealized ones. They are truly creations of and by us, and it’s inevitable that we project onto them the image of what we truly see ourselves to be, or what we want to be, as citizens.
So, with that in mind, I want to look at how the law has helped us define that ideal person — what the law expects from him, and what the law requires he be granted. The law defines the boundaries of the playing field; what does the playing field look like for Corporate Men?
I’m sure it won’t be surprising that this essay would be something of a polemic. I make no secret of, or apologies for, the fact that I am an old-school Progressive, for better and for worse. I have very strong feelings about this subject, but I am also sincerely interested in learning what the law of the land is here. I want to be surprised, and I expect that I will be.
What finally gelled everything and got me serious about researching and writing it was when I came across a reference to W.H. Auden’s short poem “August 1968,” which he wrote in response to the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia. The poem begins:
The Ogre does what ogres can,
Deeds quite impossible for Man,
But one prize is beyond his reach:
The Ogre cannot master speech.
When I read that, it occurred to me that in the recent Citizens United ruling (which, as a name, has an unintended but deliciously creepy corporatist undertone to it, don’t you think?), we’ve just witnessed a majority of the Supreme Court advocate for giving the Ogre speech lessons.
Citizens are granted by law responsibilities, and by virtue of their very existence rights. But with Corporate Men, we have the power to assign both as we see fit. What rights and responsibilities have we given Corporate Men? And how do they compare with ours? This is what I want to explore.
Regardless of my political and social perspectives, I come to this essay with the intent of sounding a warning. I don’t see in the granting of rights to our golems a vast silent conspiracy. I don’t see a diabolical plan at work here, I really don’t. I just think there are a lot of people who are really excited about the possibilities inherent in a new legal entity — in creating artificial life through the law — and they want to be able to say that not only were they there at the beginning, they actually helped bring it about. They want to have their picture taken with the Corporate Men, smiling and waving.
But putting aside for the moment the excitement over being able to concoct new life in the laboratories of the law, I think there is a real long-term and unforeseen danger in all of this. Because to Corporate Men, we don’t look like Democrats or Republicans, conservatives or liberals.
To Corporate Men, we look like white meat and dark meat.
I think this is a timely subject to be thinking about because the recent presidential election was, for all practical purposes, the first election in which Corporate Men had the franchise (albeit one granted through a constitutional back-door). And while we flesh-and-blood individuals were able to shout collectively louder than them this time, do not doubt for a moment that the Corporate Men are being tutored by their creators and handlers to speak much, much better next time.
November 6 demonstrated that the country is undergoing some seismic demographic shifts (which, not apologetically, I welcome). But there is potentially a much bigger shift coming — maybe not in 2016, maybe not for a decade or a few decades — and if we allow that one to come to pass, all of us, no matter where we stand, are going to lose.
Well done, Maryland.
I’ve just published a short illustrated essay here on SV called “A Matter of Perspective” about how a college class in technical illustration literally changed the way the world looked to me. It’s also a paean to analog drafting tools, amid which I grew up:
“I unscrewed the top of the bottle and took a deep whiff, and was instantly transported into a pre-computer world of drafting tables, T-squares, long-legged fluorescent lamps, color-coordinated pen points, nylon vellum, and polyester erasers. For what makes Rapidraw India Ink special to me is not its superlative quality, but rather its unique odor. How do I describe it? Like salty wet plastic, with just a tinge of bitter citrus. It’s a cousin to the heady virgin-vinyl scent of a new LP, or of a freshly-opened Star Wars figure.
“Along with the hot-rubber smell of fresh eraser dust, for me the smell of Rapidraw is the smell of art.”
I hope you enjoy!
Over on Channel 37, I’ve just written an allegorical short story in the style of The Twilight Zone called “One Percent Inspiration” about a typewriter repairman who wakes up one day in a world that has forgotten about typewriters — and who discovers that someone out there wants him to forget, too:
Now, this kind of thing went on for several years. I would fall asleep and some amazing technology that I remembered would be removed from the world, and everyone would be getting along just fine, as if everything had always been like this. But other technologies would still be there — electricity, fans, lights, things like that. (These words probably don’t mean anything to you now, I bet.) And typewriters.
See, if I was some kind of really smart guy I could probably reinvent each of these things myself and get all the credit and the money for them, but all I know is typewriters. I don’t know how a radio works beyond you turn a knob and sounds come out. So I couldn’t build one to save my life. Or to become rich and famous. Like I said, all I know is typewriters. So I just kept my head down and made do, sometimes lying awake at night wondering if I was really just going crazy.
Then I met Horace.
I hope you enjoy my story!