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Rumilluminations May 2011
By: Esther M. Powell
Posted on: Sun, May 01 2011 - 9:25 am

May 30, 2011                                      Valparaiso, IN

Guess I got confused about the last day of May.  Today is the next-to-the-last (penultimate, I learned in Latin class) day of May, and it thinks it is July.

Tomorrow it is supposed to rain again.

But saying next-to-the-last for understandability (let's see, can I stand under ability?)  Is that what I am doing when I reject the word penultimate?  What does understandability imply, that no one is able to stand under the penultumbrella?  Not even if it is a parasol?

Shouldn't penultimate be easier to say than next-to-the-last?

Well, it is.  But too many people don't stand under that Roman umbrel - Latin.

Latin holds a lot of clues for the mastery of English, but English is not considered a Romance language.

How come?  I want my language to be romantic!

If Italy is a peninsula, how come Italian isn't penromantic?

Have we at least a penpenromantic language?

No, we are a language of the open road!

Even better.

May 29, 2011                                         Valparaiso, IN

Never have I had cause to doubt May.

God, perhaps.  My parents - most certainly!

But never May.

Why, my own middle name is May!

But this May has been different.  For the first time I perceive May not as abundant and floral (even, kind of, in the Southwest) but as well, may!

As in may be.  Maybe yes, maybe no.

This May the answer has been pretty much "no."  Today the word was maybe tornado.

May has one last chance this year to say "yes," and may do so tomorrow.

Possibly 90 degrees, a possible record-breaking heat.

But otherwise?

Who says April is the cruelest month?

May 28, 2011                                          Valparaiso, IN 

We may have seen the movie Social Network on the small screen at home, but it is making a big impression on me.  Yeah, I wrote nasty flippant words about its anti-hero (well-deserved) in my movii parvae section, but still the film resonates.

My partner says the old mafia weren't as bad as these guys in many ways.  Criminal, yes.  So monumentally disloyal? No.

What is this arrogance that downplays the value of anyone else's skill, even if it supports your own life?

The business major (and co-founder) of Facebook who gives what's-his-ass an essential logarithm or two (humble little old ignorant I don't pretend to see their necessity, but w-h-a needed them) to get going somehow.

The original idea men are treated by w-h-a as of being no importance whatsoever but somehow still have to be lied to and stalled and parried so must have some significance in the grand scheme of his.

Yeah, sure, ideas are a dime a dozen (or a damn a dozen?) and that particular idea made me appreciate (although not do) good follow-up (ideating is so much more fun!) but goood and timely ideas are not so very common.

The incredibly heavy irony of a social network being invented by someone who had the tact of a falling reinforced steel beam is underlined by the fact that the whole idea evolved from very uncool antisocial blogging-in-anger he indulged in after having been rejected for his rudeness.  Ha, ha, I loved it!

Who has the last laugh, you say?  The world's youngest billionaire?

Nah.  He doesn't have the last laugh.  He's only rich.

May 26, 2011                                    Valparaiso, IN

Generation gap?  Communications breakdown between the sexes?  Who says?

Part of (probably the only) dialogue at supper tonight:

Partner:  He's probably going to be able to finish tomorrow.

I:  Unless it's too rainy.

Mom:  Do you think you are going to be able to finish it so soon?

I:  No, Lonnie will.

Mom:  Oh, I thought you were talking about the puzzle.

I:  No, we were talking about the lawn.

Partner:  Actually, I was talking about the guy who's working on the porch.


May 24, 2011                                       Valparaiso, IN

To return to an old topic, health insurance, I'd like to comment again on our cultural attitude that responsible people should be willing to pay for health insurance.

I have to take issue with this attitude.  Truly responsible people should take care of their health.  If you aren't earning enough money to pay for quality vegetables and organic foods and health insurance, the health insurance should be what goes out the window.

Unfortunately, the poorer among us can't afford either.

I think the people who should grow up are the very wealthy who consume a huge percentage of the country's resources and feel no responsibility for those less fortunate.

And yes, I mean "fortunate!"  It takes more than hard work and talent to become incredibly wealthy.  It takes good fortune and opportunities as well.

It's time that the very wealthy shell out a little more so that the very poor can pay rent and eat and still have a fighting chance at survival should things go wrong.

Meanwhile, how about a sliding scale insurance plan that takes into some consideration the individual's health habits, weight, etcetera as well as their income?

The insurance companies take into account a person's smoking habits.  Why shouldn't a government plan?

The rich are always squawking about having to carry the poor.

In reality it is the other way around, and if the rich continue to ignore this fact, they will find themselves in the middle of a real class war, instead of the victims of the muttering resentment they now kid themselves is a "class war."

Hey, this is no threat.  It is history!

May 22, 2011                                        Valparaiso, IN

People who have never lived in the West wonder how it is so different from the Midwest.

I'll tell you!

South of town here in Valparaiso, there is a dog-training place called the Canine Country Club.

My son's dog, who resides in Las Cruces, New Mexico, goes to the Doggy Dude Ranch.

When I lived in Santa Fe, there was a good deal of talk about "spiritual" matters.  Lots of people were Catholic, lots of people were Protestant, and lots of people were nothing.  But I don't really remember a whole lot of talk about religion.  People might profess it, but nobody really seemed to care about what the rest of us believed.

(Having said this, I must except the Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses who seem to proselytize everywhere!)

Here Godspeak (including lots of stuff like "God bless you"s and offense taken at the mild neutrality of expressions like "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas") prevails to such an extent that I find myself much more obsessed with religion and religious issues.  Call mine an equal and opposite reaction!

Think "The Big Sky" is just figurative?  Go visit a place with few trees, lots of views from high places, and flat land with mostly cloudless skies above, and you will see that the feel of West versus Midwest is very different!

I really like the paler sky in the Midwest just as much as the Southwest most of the time.  Ditto the landscape.  But the big sky doesn't just feel bigger.  It feels -- different.

And let's face it.  Whether the towns are centuries old Spanish or wild lawless old West or newer mushroomy American, they feel different, too.

I don't attach values to most of these differences.  The West and Midwest both have their charms.

But in one word, how does the West feel different?

I don't know.  It just feels freer.

Or is that Westtalk?

In the Midwest, I might say, "I just feel more free in the West."

May 20, 2011                                         Valparaiso, IN

Like Pavlov's dogs, I rely a good deal on stimulus and response.

I leave stuff where I can see it so I am reminded to use it, whether it is a dustmop or a prescription.

But I sure seem to have trouble keeping my sequences straight.

For instance, I grind flaxseed for my cereal in the morning.  If I have leftovers, I am supposed to put them in a little tin in the refrigerator.

Where the tin is should mean something.  If it is on the shelf, it should be empty.  If it is in the refrigerator, I should not have to grind fresh seeds.

In truth, however, the location of the tin doesn't mean anything.  Half the time I find it empty in the refrigerator or still on the table with ground flaxseed losing its nutrients at room temperature.  For some reason I can't get into any meaningful habit when it comes to the flax I sprinkle on my cereal.

It occurred to me I could have a worse problem.  I wonder how many people can't remember things without cursing.  How would it be if my stimulus for remembering to put the flaxseed into the refrigerator had to be cursing at the top of my lungs and the bass of my vocabulary!

Oh, who cares if I get those omega-3 vitamins from flaxseed?

I can always eat fish!

May 19, 2011                                          Valparaiso, IN

If you had to resend something, did you resent it?

Maybe "foon" will catch on, but if two buff people foon, does that make them buffoons?

Is it foolhardy to be hardly a fool?

Are lattes good for my lats?

Are liver pates good for my pate?

When you drink soda pop, do you pop a dose?

Maybe I'll croon a tune in a saloon.  I'll ask boons from raccoons in the dunes in June.  I'll moon with the loons from night to noon.  I'll brood over ancient runes in old cartoons wearing pantaloons.  And, of course, foon and swoon under the moon.


May 18, 2011                                             Valparaiso, IN

Why, oh why did they call that new utensil, the combination of spoon and fork, a "spork"?

Such an ugly word!  Why not call it a "foon"?

But on second thought, good.  Table utensils need to sound like table utensils.

"Foon" sounds like swoon and moon.  Decidedly more romantic!

In fact, I would like to suggest the word "foon" as a combination of the f-word and "spoon" as in necking.

Part of the reason people use the f-word is that it is short.

Well, "foon" is short and also sweet.  It makes the act of intercourse include both sex and love.

Plus "foon" possesses the magic of "o"s.

Leave the "spork" to itchy picnics!

I'd rather foon, spoon, and swoon under the moon!

May 17, 2011                                           Valparaiso, IN


Has this one-word remark progressed from being an ordinary, (albeit trite) comment to being an insult?

People have taken it that way when I have said it, even when I said it with enthusiasm.

The definition for "interesting" is "capturing one's attention."  That seems to me a good thing.

There is one circumstance, however, when I admit that the word is definitely an insult - at mealtimes.

How can a plate of food put in front of your nose fail to capture your attention?

It can't - whether the impressions are good or bad.

Hence, the insult in calling it interesting.  More lively imagination is called for in describing what's on the plate!

Or is my failure to find my food unworthy of attention caused by a level of conversation unable to distract me from food?

Huh!  Now there is an "interesting" idea!

I try to imagine a dinner table surrounded by erudite conversationalists who later completely fail to recall what they have eaten, the conversation was so gripping.

My imagination fails me.

No meal could possibly be that neutral!

May 16, 2011                                   Valparaiso, IN

Today I chewed my lawn.  Or, not wanting to make it sound as if I have joined the bunnies, should I say I scraped the lawn?

Maybe the only thing I actually accomplished was tromping the lawn.  I certainly cannot say it was completely tromped down.

At the risk of being a poor workman, I am blaming my tool - the grass-chewer.  Or weed-scraper.

Sure, I've let the grass go a little too long since the first or second and, if truth be told, the not-yet mown part of the lawn.  Who can blame me?  The grass doesn't stop growing because it rains - but we have to stop mowing.  Or whatever.

I would rather have been chewing the annual Book Sale Room luncheon given to the volunteers of that fine fund-raising flock.

I would rather have come home with another plant for my garden than torment the ones I already have.

How could I possibly have forgotten one of my favorite social events of the year?  It's a mystery!

To compensate for that error, tonight when I washed the dinner dishes I forgot to wash the pans.

What was I doing?  Only my lawn-scraper knows for sure!

May 15, 2011                                       Valparaiso, IN

I want to live in a carless, dogless, Godless community.

Shocked?  The very word "Godless" sounds like I want to live in a terrible place, like maybe a prison!  (That would fit carless and dogless too!)

But why does the word "Godless" evoke such shock and horror?  After all, the word "Godly" doesn't exactly mean warm and fuzzy!

We agnostics and atheists really don't deserve not to have a word to describe our potential community free of rabid religiosity!

Irreligious?  Still sounds amoral!

Non-religious?  Still defines us as not something else that is supposed to be good.

Humanist would be fine with me, I guess.

Nature-loving?  I'll be a rabbit worldling!

May 14, 2011                                           Valparaiso, IN

"The winner rewrites history."  Did Nietsche say that?  I'll look it up later.

The phenomenon is amazing.  Even if you are an incredible loser, you still become a national hero.  The battle might be lost, but the moral victory, if no other, won.  At least, if the cultural winner is telling the story.

I guess Custer is an example of that.  He behaved badly in many ways; the way he went into the battle of Little Big Horn was stupid.  But still, he was a great U.S. hero.  He must have read The Charge of the Light Brigade when he was a boy.

Only now are we beginning to hear the whole story about Custer.  If the winners of the West had been the Native Americans, in their role as defending champions, think what a different picture of Custer would have been promulgated!

Come to think of it, what about Christ?  His followers won in the end (in many parts of the world.)  What would his neighbors have said about him?  What did non-converting Jews of succeeding generations write about him?  Anything?

I sure haven't heard their stories.

But of course, where Christ lived and died Christians have not won.

That is kind of ironic.  The Jews and Muslims are fighting over the territory!

Well, maybe they are rewriting history - only I can't read it!  Anybody know of good Jewish and Muslim accounts of the life of Christ and the rise of Christianity - in English translation?

Maybe it is the death of Osama bin Laden that is bringing these thoughts into my mind.  His most recent wives and their relatives are reported as thinking him kind and generous.  He is their valorous, charismatic leader!

U.S. devil, family saint.

Pah!  More and more I just want to stop polluting my mind with notions of ideology, charisma, and noble death.

How about this idea?  Treat everyone the same?  Or better yet, treat them the way you feel like treating them based on what they deserve from you?

Nah - what anarchy that would create!

May 12, 2011                                            Valparaiso, IN

Wha'smatter?  My inspiration is like the splatter of pain on the windoze.

My dozey gray matter is spattered on the wall of Ian's 'cyclopedic knowledge.

Craters have appeared in my tattered motorvation.

My latter-day creations lie like Latter-Day saints in water reborn for no reason.

My thoughts clatter amid seasons of sleep and treason.

Flattery on a platter is not on offer, nor roses either.

'Smatter?  Ego-shatter!

May 11, 2011                                          Valparaiso, IN

Well, hello!  I've taken one day off voluntarily, and one day off involuntarily when our modem wasn't connecting us to the Internet.

In a way, both days off were involuntary, since I haven't felt much like writing lately.

But yesterday was worse than the day before, because it wasn't under my power to alter.

I thought.

But - when will I learn? - it was in my power to correct my problem without a twenty minute phone call, so on the assumption that there are those of you out there who don't know what I didn't know, here is a short troubleshooting list.

If your modem has a red light where it should be green, don't be in a rush to pick up the phone!  First:

1.  Turn off your modem.  Sometimes your modem gets "confused" and needs to be turned off for a while to sort itself out.  I think an analogy with sleeping is helpful, only your modem only needs two minutes!  Then turn it back on and see if your problem is solved.

2.  If the red light is still red, unplug your modem from the power source and wait for three or four minutes.  Then plug it in and see what happens.

These are two quick fixes for what may be wrong.  If I had learned and remembered them, I would have saved myself and the Internet provider time.  Especially me.

Now that I have written these two moronically simple tips down, maybe I will actually remember to think before I pick up the phone! 

May 8, 2011                                       Valparaiso, IN

We were talking about the Diet of Worms in 1521, which resulted in an edict calling Martin Luther a heretic.

That led us directly to memories of the rhyme, "Nobody loves me, everybody hates me, Guess I'm going down the garden to eat worms."

Evidently there are lots of versions of this rhyme which is also a song (with twenty versions!)

I first heard it as a child more than fifty years ago from my mother, who probably picked it up in her childhood early in the century.  Someone named Stanley Murphy supposedly wrote similar words published in 1911.

We are wondering if the original version dates back 500 years.  Maybe it was originally sung by Luther himself!

Ha, ha.  Well, obviously not the English version, but the German word for "worm" is "wurm" - close enough for a pun with Worms.

Hold on a second - I'll look up the word for "diet" in German.  The Diet of Worms was some sort of council (a "reichstag".)

Well, the word for "diet" in German is "diat" with an umlaut over the a.  I'm willing to bet that word didn't even exist in the language of Germans of the 16th century!

Still, it has been amusing to speculate about the rhyme and its origins.  Even an anachronistic pun can be humorous!

To quote my partner, "The pun is fun!"

Anyway, this happy Mother's Day doesn't have me contemplating eating worms.  (Although my partner just saw a happy robin mom flying by the window with a worm!)

This mom, however, is contemplating going down the garden and playing in the dirt with worms -  er, maybe tomorrow!

May 5, 2011                                     Valparaiso, IN

It seems to be a truism that religious leaders have been very charismatic people.

They must have been, to get so many people to listen to them.

Many spiritual teachers seemed to think that they have direct communication with God.

So what is the difference between them and the leaders of cults?  It seems to me that the early charismatic originators of later greater religious movements were really more like leaders of cults!

I'm not sure I trust charisma as a quality of spiritual dimension.  In fact, charismatic people, I suspect, have an extremely sensual dimension that attracts others.

Well, maybe that's going too far.

But I believe that spirituality is really just the ability to grow, and has nothing to do with belief.

May 4, 2011                                      Valparaiso, IN

After experiencing some human resources departments in hospitals and other businesses, I am really curious about the views of ex-human resource people.  (Ha, ha, I am definitely using that term advisedly!)

I saw an Readers' Digest article at the dentist's office that gives some of the "tricks" of human resource people when hiring, and I had suspected certain of their ploys from time to time.

Now I would love to see a full-length book about, hopefully and especially, the sufferings of now-unemployed HR people!

What are they doing now, I wonder?

Am I being mean-spirited?  Probably.  But when I think of all the work could be accomplished by people for the money that goes to the human resource people for their "services" I can't help but wonder if they are worth it.

I could devour a lengthy expose of their lowest and nastiest tactics with the same enthusiasm I read a murder mystery!

Ha!  Now there is a department to inspire a murder!  Write about one!  Or if someone else has, let me know and I'll read it.

May 3, 2011                                Valparaiso, IN

Spring sprang.

Flowers flowed and showers showed.

Birds flipped!

Days houred longer and winter went where?

The past passed and pastels pasted on petals.

Plum blossoms plummeted under pelting rain toward petalling lawns.

Blooms lost their bloomers and were bested by bees.

Spring sprang but is still springing - waspish warmth and branches bringing wingers singing

Far-field fun and pollen flinging!


May 2, 2011                                           Valparaiso, IN

The weekend was glorious and I didn't celebrate May Day by giving away any flowers, so I thought I'd give you a verbal bouquet of the blooms we saw on our walks.  You can compare them with the first day of May in your area.

Daffodils narcissus and tulips in abudance, forsythia and flowering quince.  Wildflowers - the tender anemone and as yet just the buds of the toad trillium along with large drifts of delicately stiped spring beauties.

Flowering trees like magnolia and some white fruit trees are in full bloom, but the weeping cherries are already on their way out.  They can't be included in our weekend bouquet.

Lenten rose is uncommon around here, it seems, but the one blooming plant we saw was heavy-laden with hairy dark lavendar flowers.

Violets persist, and the bluebells are spectacular.  Grape hyacinth and vinca fill in the spaces, but so do the pachysandra with their teeny white blossoms.

A few rhododendrons are fairly shouting out happy spring, too.

Right now, the language of flowers is a universal delirium.

We hope you had a lovely blooming May Day!

May 1, 2011

With The Excorcist there was a cultural bringing back of the devil in this country.  Not for everyone, of course, but for many the devil became real again.

I remember saying quite a while ago that I thought that the concept of the Devil was unhelpful.  If you look for an agency outside yourself to explain your evil impulses, you lose accountability for them.  In a society that values individual responsibility, this is untenable.

But this morning, hearing from my partner about his readings about Martin Luther and the belief of society at large that the Devil was as real as Christ, I'll take my argument one step farther.

First and obviously, Christ is an historical figure; the Devil, believers in human Antichrists notwithstanding, is not.

But my psychological objection to believing in a Devil as real and as powerful as the Christian Christ, is that he has way too much power.

The powers of our dysfunction are great, but they aren't greater than our human capacity to indulge them.

People jokingly say, "The Devil made me do it."

And that is what the very idea of the Devil is.  We may feel in the toils of something greater than ourselves.  We may feel gripped by incredible powers of anger or lust or greed almost external in origin.

To the extent we have been taught to espouse these emotions, maybe their source was (originally) external, but they are not.  The Devil, like God, is within us, and we can either nurture him or we can turn away from him.

We can even douse the fiery evil creature who will then, like the Wicked Witch in the Wizard of Oz, cool down and lose significance.

The all-but omnipotent Devil is not in control of us.  We are.

And I don't know about you, but I'm no devil.

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