Thursday, February 17, 2011
The majority of my perception was locked in to the event. All of my sense organs had opened up and were drinking in not only the material, but the psychic stuff of the display. As I basked in the ethereal effluence, my mind told me that something was out of place. There was some object within view that my mind immediately recognized as fundamentally foreign. There was a flavor that, while subtle, contrasted so strongly with the smoldering intensity of the stylish preacher, the vitriolic disdain of his aggressors, and the empty amusement of the remaining crowd that I did not realize that this alien object had stepped up and started talking to me until halfway through his introduction.
My brain shunted all of its faculties to this man who had stepped over to my side, opposite the acid gallery. The only thing I remember him saying was a calm stream of half mumbled words that were so quiet that I could barely hear them. I did hear him though. His being, in its entirety. His very soul.
I knew immediately that he did not belong here. He possessed neither the righteous fury welling and roiling within the pontificator, nor the dripping corrosive ego of his auto-nominated adversaries.
What he had, what he was, was a gentleness and peace of spirit that I had never witnessed before. My mind continues to refuse to remember his words but recalls in total everything else. This man carried himself as if he were a weightless thing, formed of mass but not bound by the shackles of gravity. Every step he took was a return to the world, not for the benefit of any but merely to visit. To exist there.
Which was exactly what he did. After an exchange of names and before I fully realized what had occurred there, he departed. The only physical evidence I have of his existence at all is an illegibly scribbled name in my notepad and a book he gave to me with a phone number printed on the first page. I hesitate to call the number, for I fear that in doing so I will place the phone next to my ear and hear only the ignition of all the unrefined mind-fuel stored within me, resulting in a spiritual immolation that will burn away my identity and leave me changed in ways that I will not dare fathom.
I returned to reality with the book in my hands, hearing the preacher bellow, “When I was in college I was a drunken whore mongering frat boy! Then I was born again!” The caustic circle around him bubbled and hissed in response, prompting me to once again pay attention to the debate parody.
Of the mooks orbiting him, three stepped into the verbal coliseum to fight for they rationalized as truth and righteousness. In all likelihood though, they were more likely offended by his audacity more than his actual beliefs. How dare anyone adopt a worldview beyond apathy.
These 'champions of reason' stepped up to defend the honor of science and, uh, stuff. Wielded with deftest skill, each brandished their scathing wit and lit cigarettes. Each drag was quick and heavy, and they all made sure that the billowing fumes washed over the firebrand. It was almost as if they relied more on the smoke to dissuade him than their arguments. Of course it would be preposterous to even think that such confident, brilliant, and seasoned debaters would rely on anything but their rhetoric to vanquish him and drive the preacher away.
The loudest, and clearly most erudite of the three asked him, “do you believe in evolution?”
To which the main attraction replied, “no, I do not. I believe that man was created by god, and the world was made in six days.”
At that, he retorted with such grace and gravitas, “then you don't believe in science! You don't believe in gravity!”
To demonstrate his complete and uncontested mastery of the argument, he dropped his still-lit cigarette to the ground.
'There! You see? Gravity exists. Science is right! You are wrong!”
I am still left utterly dumbstruck by such an exercise in logos.
This paragon of reason, garbed in lard wrapped in a worn blue sweater, knelt down to reacquire his still-burning instrument. While he withdrew to imbibe his immolated confection, two more continued to fight the good fight against this most sinister and subversive foe. He had backed down, wounded as it were by the razor-edged recitation. Blood was in the water and two sharks, one a pudgy brunette with a black sweater and white short shorts, the other a scraggly hoody-adorned lad, were closing in for the kill.
Stirring wordplay of unparalleled tact ebbed and flowed as my attention started to drift to some of the new arrivals. A gang of bikers, atop their bicycles, had rode near to observe. They parked radially around the crowd and simply listened, but it was obvious that the amount of amusement they would derive from this would be small indeed.
Or at least, it would have been had not a lass playing a ukulele walked up and into the fringes of the crowd as well. While her tune was not the most moving of orchestral accompaniments imaginable, it nonetheless emphasized one of the many themes present in the performance.
That of quaint captivation, but ultimate irrelevance.
Jed was withdrawing in the face of the relentless and expertly-orchestrated barrage of straw-man comparisons and ad hominem queries. Despite his intermittent flares of enthusiasm and spiritual resurgence, his countenance had still worn away to a subdued meekness.
There was nothing more to see here this day. He had sworn to return the next day, with renewed vigor and a grander repertoire of scriptural axioms to convey to his ad-hoc flock.
Tuesday, February 15, 2011
Saturday, February 12, 2011
"What’s more powerful, a gun or a pen?"
I stopped reading your email at that question. I was afraid you would extrapolate on something that would not only affect my answer, but unnecessarily expand the discussion.
Before I go on, I want to make clear the definitions I ascribe to 'gun' and 'pen.' By 'gun', I assume you mean violence between human beings at every level of interaction, from the personal to the global. By 'pen,' I am going to assume you mean language, in that it is the abstract medium by which human beings communicate emotions, ideas, and concepts.
With those definitions stated, I think the question "what's more powerful, a gun or a pen?" is just shy of asking "what's more important, a candle or the very physical and chemical laws that make the candle's manifestation in our universe even possible?" Here is why.
Violence, in one form or another, has always been a component of the human condition. The reasons necessitating violence are much too varied for me to list, but it has been a tool employed by humans to alter their reality in a very specific fashion: that of removing obstacles that stand between a present circumstance and a desired future circumstance. Within the context of these words, this is often "kill that fucker before he kills me and steals the things I value." The mechanisms of violence have increased in not only complexity and sophistication, but also in scale and efficiency.
When once we humans were loose hunting parties, roaming savannas and utilizing rudimentary clubs and spears to not only acquire food but also defend themselves from aggressors (human or animal), we are now nations millions strong armed with guns, missiles, and bombs with which we attempt to take or defend entire geographical regions and the valued resources within. Mankind now has at its disposal weapons that can cause death and destruction with such frightening efficiency that a nation can reduce another nation on the other side of the planet to radioactive glass over the span of hours.
You can watch James Cameron's Avatar and be dazzled by an ecosystem aesthetically based off of Las Vegas while the United States of America bathes a rival nation in atomic fire. A thousand year span of history and culture and the millions of people who are its current inheritors can be exterminated before you get up for a third bag of popcorn.
This could not have been possible without language. .
It was through language that humanity began organizing itself into more coordinated and efficient social groups. It was through language that the cycles and patterns of the world could be communicated to those unfamiliar with them, thus making them more useful to the society in a shorter amount of time. Technology, agriculture, architecture, philosophy, science, military: all the hallmarks of civilization existed as more than a behavioral anomaly due entirely to the use of language in the perpetuation of the thoughts and designs behind them. It was through language that humanity formed nations and the armies that shielded or conquered them.
More than providing the means by which the designs of (for example) a gun can be distributed, and how people can be sufficiently organized to construct these guns in unimaginable quantities, language also provides the entire mechanism by which it is made known to all involved why the guns are needed. Before armies are amassed, guns and tanks constructed, and orders made and conveyed regarding the most deliberate and effective deployment of these weapons and the men operating them, they have to know why.
It is through language that those who lead nations can make it known to those tasked with defending them or assaulting them why it is in there interest to use violence to take the lives of others and be willing to sacrifice their own. Language puts the gun in a soldier's hands and propels the bullet that kills him.
Language not only makes violence above the level of clubbing someone to death with a rock possible, language also justifies violence and the processes needed to carry it out.
It was the thundering rhetoric of that motivated to rise out of it's postwar destitution and reinvent itself into an industrial juggernaut. It was his call to conquest that heralded the that cracked western Europe apart. His words drove a nation strangled by despair to tear that constriction from itself and fight for a more prosperous world, justly built atop the bones of lesser nations and enemy states.
The firm, steeled words of United Kingdom in the midst of its darkest hour. As German bombers rained destruction on the British countryside and eventually London, his speeches resonated within the souls of the ground and air forces who ripped the Luftwaffe out of the smoke-choked skies and cast them to the earth screaming in balls of fire and twisted steel. defined and reinforced the determination of the
Now I ask you father, disregarding any other external dimension of discussion and within a frame of reference where only violence and its relationship with language can be analyzed and discussed, what is stronger: the gun or the pen?
Which of those two can exist without the other? Which one of those is necessary for every single aspect of the others existence in not only construction but also in justification?
Wednesday, February 9, 2011
I skulked over to the young lady's grassy knoll, sighing with relief upon verifying the absence of a high-powered rifle. I asked her her name, her supposed father's name, and her perspective on the custom as he continued to dither and bicker with the crowd of half-articulate hecklers.
Oh boy did I get a perspective.
Her name was Martha Smock, and she said her father's name was Jed Smock. It was a start, and despite her crossed arms and divided attention, I felt that I had enough of a reporter's rapport to press on with the questioning.
“So, how long has he been visiting campuses like this?”
“Thirty eight years. He's sixty seven, and has been doing it since he got out of college.”
“Oh wow, here exclusively?”
“No, he's been to all fifty states and a bunch of different countries.”
Oh shit. Oh shit.
My mind refused to process what this meant. I accepted these words as just a simple, objective fact. I never gave them a moment's consideration. I just filed that datum away in the 'that's neat' pile and never gave them a second thought until now.
He had been doing this since he was twenty nine years old. He has been traipsing around the globe enthusiastically commenting on the lifestyles of the college-bound for more years of his life than not. For more years than my life, in total. Jed Smock was not just an obscure preacher riding the zeitgeist because he decided that it would be a good time to raise some hell about why we were all going there just for the sake of ego and publicity.
His intermittent outbursts, fumbling anecdotes, and fragmented sermons were eroded not by weakness of spirit, but by time itself. More than any self-righteous heathen who stepped up to compare straw men with him, he fought against the march of ages. Centuries from now, when the bones of our previously extravagant and decadent civilization are being picked over by bemused post-humans, they will find his fossilized skeleton still grumbling and hollering about sodomy and whore mongering.
As I write this, all of my blood is trying desperately to be everywhere but my brain, so that I will not continue to pursue this line of thought.
Fine. I'll move on.
I next asked her where she was from and how long she had been traveling with him. She had lived in Missouri with her family, and grew up with the reality that her father was trotting the globe with the word of God on his lips and an icon of man's salvation in his hands. Until she graduated from high school, she didn't want to tour with him full time.
When I asked her if she agreed with his moral code, her reply was a slurry of disjointed axioms that she relayed to me with the enthusiasm of a septic tank repair man waking up for work. A long time ago these were hard learned life lessons to her, but that time had passed and the content degraded into a loose scaffold pointing in the general directions of right and wrong. Even then, it was apparent she didn't care.
Despite her father's opposition to woman’s suffrage, she still exercised her right to vote. Her mother did to.
With the value dissonance practically on her sleeve at this point, I asked her why she toured with him. She looked away furtively as her body started to tremble.
“I like to do it.”
I watched her frame shiver as she elaborated upon it, but she wasn't so absorbed as to not notice my skepticism.
“It's not like he's forcing me to do this. I chose to.”
“Cold?” I asked.
“Yeah. We're going to Arizona next. It's in the 70's there.”
“I bet that's nice.”
“I hope we go before Wednesday. It's supposed to get down to 40 here.”
We made small talk, which seemed to calm her. When I thought I had enough information, I walked back to the periphery to take in the show at my leisure.
Monday, February 7, 2011
I was on the way to the Corbett Center corner shop to pick up my day's worth of sugary delights when I saw a crowd orbiting some manner of spectacle. I gave it only a passing glance as I stepped through the doors, but gave it a bit more attention when I exited them two minutes later.
Taffy in hand, I beheld a man in a snazzy black two-piece hoisting and swinging around a wooden staff capped with a crucifix, Christ included. As expected, he was bellowing all the various reasons why the collective alumni would be slated for eternal damnation. Four meters away near the grass lot was a young lady in conservative dress, tied up hair, sunglasses, and a sandwich board jumping to the left and stepping to the right as a man was taking pictures of her. He wasn't an amateur – he had a portable indirect light source and was utilizing proper framing techniques. The sandwich board had a top 20 list of collegiate sins, in no particular order, including but not limited to “drunkenness, music idolatry, sodomy.”
I only took in the spectacle of the open studio puritan-porno shoot, immediately imagining the hordes of little choir boys who would get hot and bothered at the sight of such a unique and specific fetish. I could only imagine what the sight of a formally dressed young woman toting around on her body a list of quite a few delectable transgressions could do to the minds and loins of the born again. I would have stayed and flipped it out myself to get a taste, but I had class to attend.
I returned two hours later to see that the spectacle was ongoing. The girl who was the subject of the penny-dreadful pin-up pictures was sitting in a chair under a tree. Passers by and passive gawkers had gave way to a tight ring around the man – fellow students standing shoulder to shoulder with the weathered preacher in the center. For every word he spoke, those around him spoke ten, and with such rapidity and deceptive evenness that it very well could have been their cumulative torrent of hot air that blasted his thick hair back. The only thing I heard from the circle was garbled noise. Sound and fury signifying the ideological war that we lived with every day, and the painfully flawed manner in which it was waged.
I then heard the missionary intermittently bellow over the din something about “godless lesbians.” I stood around and continued to watch until I heard “I am here to preach! Not to listen!” At that I decided to do the exact opposite, because that is what all the cool and hip kids do. I walked over to a group of young women sitting on the stone-work walled garden and decided to ask them what was going on. I assumed that they had been there longer than I had, thus they would have greater insight on the matter. I asked if they were the previously mentioned godless lesbians.
I was half surprised when they said yes, and had I a mind to be, half aroused. My own smut preferences aside, I learned from them that this particular preacher had been coming to campus and performing a one-man revival for the past six years. I commented on his dedication and inquired further, learning that he had always showed up during the first few weeks of the winter/spring semester. I then asked what particular sins he was showcasing in this endeavor, and a stocky woman with an unshaven lip responded. I already knew the great list of things that are fun but worthy of damnation, but I wanted to hear her interpretation.
I might have missed one or two, but in the tone of voice one uses when one had memorized tedium, she stated, “because I'm gay, because my parents are separated, because I'm a woman and I vote, and because I got a tongue piercing.” To emphasize the last one, she let her mouth hang open long enough for the little gremlin in my chest to cringe.
When I finished recoiling in abject horror, I shifted the conversation to the the aspiring Playboy: Quaker Edition bunny minding herself on the dead grass and leaves.
“She's his daughter. He paid her like ten bucks to do a skit, like she was some kind of immoral sorority girl or something.”
The whole conversation with the 'godless lesbians' was flavored with a diminishing sense of amusement on their part, tinged with simmering annoyance with an aftertaste of pity and contempt. It wasn't just them – everyone had that look, and all the words spoken in the periphery of the event had a similar acoustic odor.
“The gays are coming, too. They're going to have a gay pride parade tomorrow.”
“Yeah it's fun to fight against a common foe.”
“Last year he almost got beaten up by a guy in a Darth Vader costume.”
Stirring words from the passive aggressive.
“He promised to be here tomorrow.”
“Yeah, he usually gets escorted off campus.”
It appeared to be a time to smoke 'em if you got 'em, as everyone who smoked had a cigarette out. I heard the preacher mumbling about something concerning 'cigarettes' and 'women' and 'sin', and at that I saw that people were lighting each others choice of carcinogenic wraps. The lesbians had came out, and had there been any gays in the audience I assumed they made their presence known in whatever method they deigned. It was also par for the course that the atheists had proclaimed their unfaith, and even a Muslim man was trying to have discourse with the firebrand in black. They were all cackling hyenas around a single lion who couldn't decide whether to roar or sleep, and took turns with each option whenever he decided to.
Vulture I was, I went on to bother his cub.
I keep getting told by everybody I show my work to that I am a fantastic writer. I am skeptical of this, and seek to test their collective hypothesis with the grandest of all trials: the rabid-shark and horny-piranha infested waters of the internet.
Enjoy the booby chum.
Enjoy the booby chum.