Christmas Thoughts

Church Going

Once I am sure there’s nothing going on
I step inside, letting the door thud shut.
Another church: matting, seats, and stone,
And little books; sprawlings of flowers, cut
For Sunday, brownish now; some brass and stuff
Up at the holy end; the small neat organ;
And a tense, musty, unignorable silence,
Brewed God knows how long. Hatless, I take off
My cycle-clips in awkward reverence,

Move forward, run my hand around the font.
From where I stand, the roof looks almost new-
Cleaned or restored? Someone would know: I don’t.
Mounting the lectern, I peruse a few
Hectoring large-scale verses, and pronounce
‘Here endeth’ much more loudly than I’d meant.
The echoes snigger briefly. Back at the door
I sign the book, donate an Irish sixpence,
Reflect the place was not worth stopping for.

Yet stop I did: in fact I often do,
And always end much at a loss like this,
Wondering what to look for; wondering, too,
When churches fall completely out of use
What we shall turn them into, if we shall keep
A few cathedrals chronically on show,
Their parchment, plate, and pyx in locked cases,
And let the rest rent-free to rain and sheep.
Shall we avoid them as unlucky places?

Or, after dark, will dubious women come
To make their children touch a particular stone;
Pick simples for a cancer; or on some
Advised night see walking a dead one?
Power of some sort or other will go on
In games, in riddles, seemingly at random;
But superstition, like belief, must die,
And what remains when disbelief has gone?
Grass, weedy pavement, brambles, buttress, sky,

A shape less recognizable each week,
A purpose more obscure. I wonder who
Will be the last, the very last, to seek
This place for what it was; one of the crew
That tap and jot and know what rood-lofts were?
Some ruin-bibber, randy for antique,
Or Christmas-addict, counting on a whiff
Of gown-and-bands and organ-pipes and myrrh?
Or will he be my representative,

Bored, uninformed, knowing the ghostly silt
Dispersed, yet tending to this cross of ground
Through suburb scrub because it held unspilt
So long and equably what since is found
Only in separation – marriage, and birth,
And death, and thoughts of these – for whom was built
This special shell? For, though I’ve no idea
What this accoutred frowsty barn is worth,
It pleases me to stand in silence here;

A serious house on serious earth it is,
In whose blent air all our compulsions meet,
Are recognised, and robed as destinies.
And that much never can be obsolete,
Since someone will forever be surprising
A hunger in himself to be more serious,
And gravitating with it to this ground,
Which, he once heard, was proper to grow wise in,
If only that so many dead lie round.

Philip Larkin


Mark Twain Quote of the Day

“What a wee little part of a person’s life are his acts and his words! His real life is led in his head, and is known to none but himself. . . . His acts and his words are merely the visible thin crust of his world . . . and they are so trifling a part of his bulk! a mere skin enveloping it. The mass of him is hidden — it and its volcanic fires that toss and boil, and never rest, night nor day. These are his life, and they are not written, and cannot be written. . . . Biographies are but the clothes and buttons of the man — the biography of the man himself cannot be written.”

Mark Twain, The Autobiography of Mark Twain, Vol. 1


Muse Machine Turns 1,000!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Maybe it lacks the drama of A-Rod’s 500th homer or Cliff Lee’s zillionth dollar,  but according to the tireless statisticians who labor in the WordPress tech netherworld, this is the 1,000th post I’ve done on this blog, which was born in March 2007. According to my own rough estimate, about  80, 345, 389 blogs were born and died during that stretch. So when any blog reaches the ripe old age of 1,000 posts, well, attention must be paid for at least 14 seconds.

I’ve tried to anticipate some of your questions about this milestone: What have I learned? How has the blogging experience changed me? What sustained me back in the early days when my readers could be numbered in mere dozens? What sustains me now, 1,000 posts later, when my readers can be numbered in mere dozens?

Okay, I’m being falsely modest. Again according to the WordPress number crunchers, I’ve found a pretty decent audience with some of my posts; a recent one about trying to quit eating meat, a longtime concern, drew more than 500 sets of eyeballs, assuming everyone who clicked in had both eyes open. And, without making a virtue of necessity, I really don’t worry much about not drawing a lot of comments, for three reasons:

1. I think reading and not commenting is pretty standard on the bloggintubenet.  I’ve read certain blogs for six or seven years now and have never tossed in a thought.

2. The vast majority of comments I’ve ever seen on blogs were angry, vitriolic, obscene, and misspelled. As I noted in my General Explanation of Why This Blog Exists, I’m not in the blood-sport game, I don’t do name-calling, and I don’t substitute profanity for thought. So I’m not the kind of target that’s going to draw a lot of hate-flak.

3. The rise and global domination of Facebook has soaked up almost everyone’s available Web time. It’s hard to find time for Some Random Blogger’s myriad thoughts about this and that when you need to be letting your Facebook pals know about the bummer traffic jam at the mall, he said bitterly.

But for those of you who have dropped in now and then over the past 1,000 posts, thanks. I hope I’ve raised some good questions now and again. I know your time is valuable and I promise not to waste it.

And now it’s on to 2,000 !!!!!!

Even the Wicked. . .

I love quotations and aphorisms that sum up a great deal in a few words. I’ve had one in mind on and off for several years. It’s from the American novelist Willa Cather, who has one of her characters, a doctor, say this in a story: “Even the wicked get worse than they deserve.”

It’s a haunting line and it was used as the title of one of Lawrence Block’s excellent Matt Scudder novels, but I’ve never come across a real situation where I thought it applied,  wherein a truly wicked person deserving of punishment received more of it than a just universe would allow.

Until now.

Two More Goodbyes to Dandy Don

Besides being one of those people who always left you smiling–unless you were Howard Cosell during Meredith’s second stint on Monday Night Football–   “Dandy” Don Meredith ( a name he never much liked) was a man born to shatter stereotypes.

Anyone who thinks that all pro athletes are narrow, dim neanderthals who would be selling vinyl siding if they were not playing ball  should read this nice farewell from Texas sports scribe Gary Cartwright, who, belatedly manning up, admits that he and his fellow media bloodhounds were hugely unfair to Meredith during his days as a Dallas Cowboy.

And here’s  more on Meredith’s choppy relationship with Tom Landry (he once told Landry to “slide the game plan under his hotel room door”) and with  Cosell, one of the earth’s more unpleasant people.

Teach Your Children Well

In light of those shocking international test scores released the other day, the ones showing the U. S. badly trailing China, Japan,  and so many others, I just have one question:

How many teachers in Singapore or Japan or Latvia do you think draw $100,000 a year to sit in a room all day with a broken computer and do absolutely nothing for students–teach no lessons, grade no papers, contact no parents?  Would you like to meet some American teachers who spend years twiddling their thumbs while raking in a hundred grand? Here you go.

Gnash your teeth while wondering how we’re going to compete in the world that’s rapidly coming.