08 November 2006

Follow the Yellow Striped Road!

Driving a truck is no small affair.

Four weeks of truck driving school in Chicago to get my CDL. Then two weeks in Green Bay, Wisconsin at Schneider National's Training Academy. Now I'm back in IL, and not far from Chicago, so I can get home more often than some people do at this training stage.

What I'm doing now is "studying" under a "Training Engineer". I do the driving (in his truck), and he critiques my form, while (hopefully) giving pointers on what to do that would be better. Apparently there aren't quite enough Training Engineers (or T.E.'s) to go around. There were more than 60 people in my class in Green Bay, so thats a lot of new people needing TE tutelage. Add to that a similar number every week for other Training Academy classes.

While I do now have a TE, its something less than I imagined. There is one other student that has been with him for a week or so. "Shared" tutelage isn't a terrible thing, but its not going to get me out on the road making mileage-based pay any sooner. As I said, it's his truck, he has a regular schedule of pick-ups and deliveries of his own, and I'm along for the training. The other (possibly crucuial) difference is that he is dedicated to carrying freight for a particular retailer, and I am slated for OTR driving (Over The Road, otherwise known as "long-haul" driving). He does from one to three deliveries to branch locations on weekdays, gets to go home every night, and even has at least part of the weekends off, whereas I'll be sleeping in my truck most of the time. [In a future version of me, where they have given me my own truck]

This is going to be it for now. That's the pithy information. Hopefully I'll score a suitable laptop for getting Wi-Fi from the truck. But that's looking like it may be at least a month away from now.

Speaking of which, November is (as per usual) National Novel Writing Month. Last year I failed to finish, reaching only about 6000 words instead of the 50000 minimum. That failure was precipitated by two factors. One; my 60-hour per week job was monopolizing my time. Two; the story needed (and still needs) much more cultural research. This year, again I have work issues, but it is work-training, which may not make any difference at all. However, the story does not require research of any kind as has a vague setting. Since there is a Dryad that comes into play, I suppose I have to call it a fantasy. It's a story that occurred to memore than a year ago. I intended not to write it at all because the key event in the opening chapter is ... not pretty. I imagine that I am telling myself that I can write around that until such a time as I am comfortable with it. That could be never, but I don't have any other "hot" stories that are ready to be committed to hardcopy at this time.

20 October 2006

I stole this title.

Today I am off to Green Bay, Wisconsin, to begin job training for the trucking company Schneider National. Thereafter my life will consist of irregular routine on a regular schedule: 2 weeks on the road followed by (approximately) two days at home. For those who actually read this blog, that is actually a good thing. I expect there shall be somewhat of a hiatus until such a time as I can aquire a suitable laptop with WiFi, and I shall (perhaps) be blogging away merrily again.

I could ramble on about how pleased that I am with the current embattled state of the current Administration, and their "Conservative" stalwarts, but for the moment, its enough for my purposes simply to mention it.

November raises its frigid head. That means that once again it is time for National Novel Writing Month. The challenge is simple: write a novel of 50,000 words or more within the calendar month of November. Meet similarly aspiring authors both in your area, and via chat room, from around the world. Proceeds from both donations and merchandising will purchase books for schools in Viet Nam and similar areas in Southeast Asia.

My attempted novel last year suffered from the usual over-reaching and overly grandiose vision that I seem to apply to most of my projects. I did turn out some 8000 words or so despite working 60 hours a week. "The Order of the Shining Moon," however, will not see significant progress until a good amount of research has been completed in the areas of shamanism, shape-shifting, and Christian mysticism, to name only a few. This year, I'm thinking of a much simpler subject, but like last year, it is doubtful that I will have the time to get out a full 50,000 words. I do have some voice recognition software on this computer, but I abandoned that project when I realised that I had to take the time to orally record a "lexicon" of words needed to enable such transcription. Perhaps I can do that when I return from orientation, since I now see how useful this could be, and copy those files to the future laptop. A laptop computer which now seems to require an external microphone.....

Before I go; Anna Karenina. I was tasked with reading this book in... grade school, I think, but I didnt manage more than some 300 out of 868 pages. What I did manage to read then, I didn't much understand. So, when I was away over my July vacation, having finished a book on the life of Voltaire, I picked up Anna Karenina. It was not out of a desire to say that I had completed what I had started so very long ago. Rather than that, it was a conscious attempt to broaden my knowledge base as an aspiring author. I was looking for the means to write from a female perspective, as impossible as that may be for a man. In that regard, I may have chosen the wrong book, as its not especially clear that Tolstoy himself had any such clarity.

What I do find in Tolstoy, is the depth that he gives to even his minor characters, in their motivations, internal dialogue, and experiences. [I expect this is generally why his books are notoriously long: between the book covers he is packing a segment of history and society as experienced by several characters.] This depth stacks up favorably against a number of "popular" authors who may or may not have 'style', but seem to gloss over matters of internal dialogue or even ignore it in order to move the plot along.

Anna is the indifferent victim of an arranged marriage to a successful civil servant. At least, she is indifferent until her social intercourses bring her in contact with Count Vronsky. Vronsky is obsessed with her, and wins her over to the consternation of her husband. Karenin is not a man of action; at times the intrigues within his comittees sometimes exceed his mental capacity. Anna's infidelity seems to him largely an inconvenience, personally, and to his standing in society. She leaves him to live with Vronsky, which proves to be a better situation for both parties. She is free do do as she pleases and is not present to embarrass Karenin. Karenin, whether intentionally or not, ultimately succeeds in making her life miserable. He refuses to give her a divorce, which complicates her happiness with Vronsky. Anna still belongs to Karenin, and any children that she may have will bear his name.

As Anna's situation blossoms and then degenerates, Constantine Levin flourishes. They are aquainted, but rarely meet during the novel; their circumstances apparently not affecting each other. Constantine is a good and thoughtful man who is married and has his first child in the course of the novel. Levin is both a lens for the setting of the novel and a 'normal' person to contrast Anna's experiences. Levin is accepted in high society through his bloodline and his marriage, though he is most at ease on his farm. He tries to understand the world around him and his very existence, though in arguments he has difficulty expressing himself.

I have no option but to come away liking Tolstoy. His characters feel real. They have flaws, talk pompously, and sometimes fail to understand each other. There is a good scene in a train where two men (strangers to each other) speak very highly to each other of a group of four volunteers (who are esteemed in society). But what one man fails to ask about, the other knows and intentionally fails to mention; these men are socially derelict. Volunteering is possibly the only honorable course of action possible for them. These two fail to breach this topic (each for his own reasons) for fear of speaking contrary to what seems to be a publicly held truism: these volunteers must be applauded as (departing) heroes.

12 October 2006

My head is cold.

I did it.

I passed the basic skills test, and then passed the road driving test. I may have cheated a tiny bit during that backing up part, but I'll become much more proficient with practice. The road test was all me. My shifting was a bit rough in places [I slowed to 15mph, clutched out of 7th gear, gunned the engine, and shifted smoothly into 5th - without depressing the clutch pedal! D'OH! I don't know if the examiner saw that - it would have counted against me] and even jerky at times. All my cornering was good, and I was looking in my mirrors frequently (both very good). Best of all, I did not hit anything.

It definitely helped that the examiner was in a good mood. [Propriety prevents me from stating why.] All four of us passed the basic skills test (one retested the same day and passed). One of us passed his pre-trip test. I was the only one that passed the road test on the first attempt. I fear that at least one person may have failed on his second attempt. At that time I took the necessary paperwork, said my goodbyes, and headed for the barber shop.

My barber had gone to lunch. To pass the time I did two things to celebrate: bought melatonin tablets (I ran out this week), and Navy blue twin-size flannel sheets. After standing in snow flurries for at least two hours that morning, and being proud of myself, flanell sheets for a future truck berth seemed an appropriate means of celebration.

After a mane removal, I spent an inordinate amount of time locating the CDL facility in South Holland, IL. Once there, I tested for Doubles and Triples (# of trailers), Tankers, and HazMat endorsements. Passed them all. I had been rightly concerned about the Hazmat one. Now I am CDL-ified with all of the endorsements (and for that matter endorphins while the warm glow lasts) that I desired. I now seem to be capable of becoming a truck driver.

06 October 2006

How I did not do it

The Truck Driving school has an arrangement with the Illinois Department of Transportation which dictates that a State Examiner will come out and test students on and around the school grounds. This is nice because that means students are tested in the same setting and on the same course on which they practiced. However, if a student fails to pass, as I did, two things can happen. He could be retested that same day if time permits. [Time did not permit. The oral examination on the "pre-trip" takes a while and there were six students that day.] Otherwise, that student has to wait until the state processes and files the relevant paperwork and arranges another date for an examiner to go to the school. In my case, that took nearly four weeks.

I passed the pre-trip part handily, with no points against me. I won't have to be tested for that again (at least not this side of getting the CDL). Following the Pre-Trip part, is the basic skills test, and then driving out on the road about 8 miles near the school. I wasn't concerned about the road driving; I've got my double-clutching down pat. I am paranoid about allowing the truck to roll backwards when stopped at a stop sign or similar. If the truck rolls, I fail that part.

What tripped me up was the basic skills test. There are four basic parts to it. You need to pull forward to within 18" of a point on the ground. In my case the nose of the truck reaches that point roughly 7 seconds after I lose sight of it in front of the truck, when idling forward in low gear. Thats right: I have to stop within 18" of a point that I cannot even see when I am 18" away from it. The main trick to that is timing your stop from the moment it disappears from view.

Then I back up a distance of about 40 yards - while not drifting into any cones that mark the lane that I just drove forward in. That's harder than it looks, but the technique for steering a combination vehicle slightly when in reverse isn't difficult to learn. You must have your hazard lights on when in reverse. Also referred to as "four-ways", for the lamp at each corner of the combination vehicle. Next you move forward and turn right. During this turn, the wheels of your trailer must be near a specific cone (without touching it). Contacting any cone, or breaking the plane between any cones is an instant failure.

Now comes the tough part. After that turn you head back towards the entrance to this lane of cones, go past it, and bear left, stopping with the truck at least at a 45' angle to the "lane". Put it in reverse, and turn your "four-ways" on, you're backing the 45' trailer into the slot that is the "lane". And you won't be done until you stop within 18" of a spot that marks the back of the slot. The good news is that you can see this point... most of the time, the bad news is that you will never be closer to it than about 62' because you are in the part of the truck that is farthest away from it at all times. Not to mention that steering the trailer is doubly difficult because of the pivot point at the fifth wheel.

The first time I tested, I managed to get it into the slot, and within the 18" target. But it was "winning ugly". I basically forced the trailer in there at the last moment, leaving the tractor at a sharp angle to the trailer (not desireable) when I stopped. And the trailer wasn't straight in the slot either, factually breaking the plane (in real life this would be another trailer) of the cones with the driver's side rear corner of my trailer.

So, that was it for me for that day. I had to wait for the paperwork to be filed with the state of Illinois. Then I had to wait for the State to shedule a date for the examiner to come out to the school again for re-testing. That took nearly four weeks.

28 September 2006

Truckin'! Got my chips cashed in!

It would be decidedly pretentious of me to lay claim to being busy these past few months.

I took a ten-day vacation from my job and returned to it on approximately July 8 or 9 (I dont recall which). By that time, my idyll had nurtured any notions of discontentment that I previously entertained (and there were a great many) to the point that I had already determined to move on to something else.

My nine hour drive from Minneapolis/St. Paul to Chicago consisted of me wondering what other sort of work I should I should be getting into. [Normally an eight hour drive, I was taking a longer, "scenic" route to avoid a few toll booths and other hubbub] I have a degree in chemistry, but the last jobs that I had that "required" it could also easily have been performed by a cadre of trained monkeys. In point of fact, a cadre of trained monkeys would have been much more efficient in both positions due to the volume of activity that was expected from me. My last position maily consisted of me running around for 12 hours and pausing only long enough to test something before I was off again. Said monkeys probably would not enjoy it any more than I did, but would have the benefit of working at a much more relaxed pace.

To be sure, I wasn't looking for someting much more lucrative, so much as I was looking for something that I might enjoy doing without putting me at risk for heart failure or other exertion or stress-related disorders. That can be a tall order since many businesses are trying to do more work with fewer people.

Somehow I ended up thinking that I should be a truck driver. For a number of reasons, that makes sense. I'm patient. I am a careful driver. I am mechanically inclined. I prefer to go for days without shaving. And I'm predisposed to sitting around on my ass for several days at a time. I'm kidding. Sorta.

Certain issues at the workplace at the time made me especially anxious to make this change as soon as I could arrange it. From a starting point of knowing very little, I poked around on the internet to try to find out what I ought to be doing. I was shocked to discover that truck driver training could cost more than $5000, depending on where you go and what is involved. [The $5000 was for a 5-week course learning/practicing with multiple truck types] Also available (takes a bit more looking) from some places is a sort of on the job truck driver training.

After poking around a bit I found an address for a truck driving school was was suprisingly close to me. I called them on the phone and then went round to see them in their office and pick up a pamhlet with a course description. They charged $3000 for the course, and the next class, starting the following Monday, was already full and would last four weeks. The previous class was taking an exam, so I lounged around for a bit and talked to the owner about his street racing days. [Apparently he used to have a '51 Olds that was set up with dual thermoquads. He would disconnect the linkage to the front carburetor when he was not racing.]

To my impulsive mind, that was all the information that I needed. That night I gave four weeks' notice at work. I gave notice in an e-mail that I didnt sent til about 3am (cause I was busy) but by the time I returned to work on Saturday night, it had been replied to with a "hope-we-can-work-this-out" tone. I was astounded that it had been replied to at all, especially on a weekend. I gave notice at that time (July 22nd I believe) also because I didnt want to be a brand new truck driver in the middle of winter. There's a scary thought for ya!

I gave four week's notice for a few reasons. It would be four weeks until August 21, when the next class started. They had no prospective students for that class at the time, and I had not given them a committment yet. Four weeks, however, should be adequate time to see if I could find something better, and leave me this school to fall back on if I did not. The main reason that I gave four weeks was because the place I was working for isn't capable of doing anything significant in a mere two weeks time. The only reason that our work schedule was up to date was because people kept going on vacation that month. In the four weeks that followed, they did find one person to replace me (although they were ALREADY short by one person) and started to train him on the Thursday just before I left. That person quit the very same day. Four weeks wasted, just like I expected they would be.

During that four weeks I applied to do an on-the-job training deal with PAM transport. PAM, a few of its subsidiaries, and another company called USA Truck apparently contract this company to do driver training (the related screening) and then hire (to the tune of a one year agreement) the successful candidates. Their brocures read like a fast track to the trucking industry, with information on the four companies that you could be working for. I was all set to go down toFort Wayne, IN to start truck driver training with them on August 21 (ayep, same date!) when a closer reading of their materials revealed a sub-plot that I didn't like.

(Quotes are taken directly from their booklet:)
You can pay $2495 up front to pay for the tuition, in which case you will get $1750 back after one year of employment. (Nominal tuition cost is $5000 which will be deducted from your pay at $45/week during your employment) While you are recieving driver training, you will be staying (typically) at a local hotel for three weeks. "The cost to you is $295. [We] "may,
at our option, agree to finance your housing at a cost of $400." There is a further offer of $200 spending money during the training time. Far at the bottom of the page is the caveat: "Any loans made to you by [us] are simple interest at 18% per annum."

Immediately after hire, you spend 4-8 weeks driving with a trainer in the cab with you. You earn $300/week at this time (minus the $45 for tuition, I expect). Then you start out at 29 cents per mile and can be as much as 32 cents per mile after one year. Increases are more gradual after that.

Basically, I read the financing conditions for training costs and decided that I didnt like what I saw. I fully intended to pay cash up front and be done with it. IF, however, conditions with my employer for the next year were to be anything like the less-than-generous financing offer, I didn't want anything to do with it. So after they had screened me and everything, I finally acted on my suspicions and told them no. I hung up the phone, went down the street to Bestway Truck Training and wrote them a check for $3000.

Upside: I sleep in my own bed and have training less than a mile away.
Downside: I'd be driving a truck right this very moment if I'd gone to Fort Worth.

More on that next time.

13 July 2006

No Getting Married in the Front of the Bus


Did you miss me?
Well, don't worry. My aim is a bit off too.
Just make sure you get me next time.

Regular readers will have divined that I support "gay marriage". If you don't mind, I thought I'd expound on that for just a little while. Why it is constitutional, and why it is not going to be admitted as being constitutional until approximately 2008 or later.

My prima facie argument for marriage withought restrictions or bigotry is based on the Declaration of Independance's inherent promise of "life, liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness." Yes, I read that rather broadly, but I would do that, wouldn't I? I like the idea of a 'Pursuit of Happiness' as a lofty goal that can be attained by just sitting here and writing a blog that illuminates or irritates.

I recently remembered a certain senator who was opposed to Unrestricted Marriage speaking out against his being labelled a "bigot" for his views. Apparently, he and his comrades in arms fighting the Good Fight against people who are engaged to be married, beleive that they did not deserve to be slandered in those terms.

"Bigot" conjures up images of a past turmoil with its own injustices that took far too long to redress. Some observers might point out that in our current iteration of social unrest, the same sorts of people appear to be the agressors in curtailing the "Pursuit of Happiness". I don't care to point, but thats usually because I am picking my nose at the time. I consider that time well spent by minding my own business, thank you very much.

I'll leave it for someone else to compare and contrast the problem of Unrestricted Marriage with the Civil Rights Movement. I really do not have the time to be as exhaustingly thorough as that project deserves. Furthermore, I dont recall enough of the milestones in Civil Rights to get started on it - being the lazy American that I am.

What I do find to be enormously disturbing about this Marriage issue is that, following the Civil Rights movement, why is there any crisis at all? Shouldn't the core issues about people being free to go about their lives without being discriminated against or hasselled by a Draconian "Man" have been solved already? Why wasn't there a Constitutional Amendment saying that "Thou shalt pursue thy freedom such as it doth not violate existing laws or infringe on the rights of others."?

The answer, as I divine it, is probably the main flaw in our legal system. As my buddy Jim reminds me, the Constitution was written to be a living document, that can be changed and adapted to the needs of our country. As a part of this evolution, the Supreme Court is empowered to strike down laws enacted by Congress that are deemed to be Unconstitutional. Because of these Supreme Court decisions, most "evolution" or "interpretation" of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights is manifest in Supreme Court Decisions about what protections are, or are not provided for under the Constitution. Thus, the problem of school segregation (Jim Crow laws) and other social problems were "resolved" (a word I use only while rolling my eyes) through Supreme Court Decisions and not through adding amendments to the Bill of Rights.

So, lets start at the top, shall we? Why is unrestricted marriage legal? Because of Amendment #1 (and my personal favorite):
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances."

To hedge that bet, I'll stack on top of that Amendment #14:
"Section 1. All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws."

Regardless of how anyone chooses to restrict marriage, it is simply unconstitutional to do it. Amendment #1 precludes prevention of discriminating against religions that permit it, and Amendment #14 gaurantees equal protection against "abridged priviledges" and due process of law, which I take to mean that the state must recognize a religious or civil union as marriage under the law.

BUT, sadly we have to wait for the Supreme Court to strike down all these naysayers first. What that requires, is three things. First, a relevant case has to wind its way up to the Supreme Court. Secondly, the High Court has to be willing to try the case, and they don't always. Third, they have to adjudicate the case without simply sending it back to a lower court, in which case no judgement may be made on whether the pertinent laws are constitutional or not.

Fortunately, in the mean-time a constitutional amendment that proscribes certain unions could never get off the ground since that would be unconstitutional to start with. By 2009 or so I expect people will be proudly going to the altar. In a church with protesters outside, because that sort of thing wasn't allowed until after the Supreme Court struck down all the laws against it. Isn't democracy wonderful?

05 June 2006

Visions Revisited

1:48am; need a 3 hour nap before work.

What do I believe?
Sometimes I dont know the answer, but thats because I don't have the information to define it ... yet.

I had been about to post here that, for various reasons, I was renouncing my Christianity. As reasons I intended to cite tenets of faith that were simply at odds with the physical world and portions of Holy text that appear to be at odds with everything. Chief among these would be the book of Genesis which appears to consist largely of mythology, much of it not even of Hebrew origin. I'm not just talking about Creation or the Tower of Babel. I mean that I have serious problems when the basic identity of the main characters appears to have been subjected to revision. Another significant, but related, issue that I have is when the Book of Revelation trots out the ida of a New Heaven and a New Earth. That idea is basically a repackaging of a much older "pagan" religious idea of continuous cyclical destruction and regeneration of the world. I cannot very well be a Christian knowing that if this can even happen, the time scal would be in millions of years between the bounteous part of the cycles. The universe tends to not support physical regeneration.

Before I went ahead and posted that, self restraint urged me to do some research. My main inquiry went something along these lines:

1) Modern Christianity is based upon the New Covenant with God, established through the travails of a historical figure named (variously) Iesu. [How anyone can get 'Jesus' from a Hebrew name is beyond me - I'm fairly certain that it begins with a "Yah" sound, but thats an entire other discussion]

2) That being the case, I should restrain my criticisms to the body of work entitled the New Testament. That effectively reduces the mythological and mystical content by about 75-80%.

3) For the purpose of simplicity, I'll forgo critiquing the Gospels. There is surely plenty of meat there, but the preserving of oral traditions always results in problems like the bias of the authors. I'll call them the rough edges of perspective then, and move on.

The bulk of the NT is actually well edited for content. The epistles of Paul and a few others formulate a nice handbook for Christian living. There persists some debate on semantics, and who the real author of some letters were, but in general, I'll forgo those issues as well.

Thus my main questions boil down to these:
We go through the entire Bible, when all of a sudden, in the last book, we get all kinds of new bad guys on the scene. Where were these guys before?
I'm referring to the Anti-Christ, the False Prophet, the Beast, and a host of imagery and Evil Forces. Also, as I mentioned, we get amazing detail about what the last days of the world will be like. Where did all this stuff come from???

So, my first inquiries were as to when the Book of Revelation was added to the canon of the New Testament. Had it been added later (for whatever reason) that might add reasons for my distrust. The early Church, however, was very careful about selecting which texts to preserve in the face of severe persecution. The earliest documents on the subject clearly include the Book of Revelation as already part of canon (if I use that word correctly) attributing it to being written at about the same time as the gospels (roughly 80 C.E. or so - all the survivors who contributed to first hand accounts of Iesu were dying). So it was definitely not a later addition.

I was rather at a loss for how else to approach the problem after I had determined that Revelation was canon. Then I read an article in Christian Archaeology (I think I'm murdering that periodical title) about "the Throne of Satan". That greatly illuminated, and clarified the issue for me.

The "Throne of Satan" was the Great Altar at Pergamon, which was initially dedicated to Zeuse and Athena, and in time became consecrated to Roman Emperors, including Diocletian.
The message to the Christian Church there emphasized the great peril that they were in, since Diocletian, among other things, tried to preserve the pagan religions and persecuted Cristianity with renewed zeal. That was the answer that I was looking for.

The portents and imagery of the Book of Revelation can be read in several ways. Some choose to interpret them as pertaining to the End Times; the last days of civilization on Earth. They can also be interpreted as short-term prophecy, where the Great Beast is Rome, the Anti-Christ is Diocletian, and the False Prophet probably Nero. It is in this short-term sense that the Book of Revelation makes more sense to me. In this context, the messages to the churches have greater urgency. In this context, the promise of a position of honor in Heaven - not just of a vague treasure - must have been particularly heartening to those who lived in danger of imminent martyrdom. For the Christians living in the shadow of Rome, Revelation portrayed not a dark vision of the End Times, but a vital promise of ultimate victory when the Church faced its darkest days.

Sitting here, in a swivel chair within my messy apartment, I think I can forgive all three John the Revelators if they decide to dust off physical reincarnation of the world (and the body) in their message of hope.

Because it appears to me that the message was recieved.

03 June 2006

Certifiable Mail

(based on an idea that came to me at 7:15am)

I never liked shopping malls - until I realised how very useful they can be. The people milling about were a melange fairly representative of the local population. In one brief session, a curious outsider can discover much about the area he is in. Racial diversity, economic vitality, popular fashion, unpopular fashion, median age, even the populace's general mood might be percieved by someone receptive enough. Should curious extra-terrestrials happen to visit a shopping mall as the first stop in their visit, they might learn many of these things. And if they also heard the popular music that was piped into these places, they would know for certain that humankind was tone-deaf.

"Pardon me, are you Mr. Ludwig?"

Alas, the figures moving in the background never left him alone long enough to complete his thoughts... but perhaps the world was a better place because of that. In keeping with his previous train of thought, Ludwig faced the interloper and attempted to divine its nature.

Dress: businesslike. Not garish like a salesman, nor costly like an financial executive. Shoes clean but not highly polished; thus not an ex-soldier. [Ludwig wondered where that thought had come from - was it dogma that soldiers are doomed to polish their shoes fanatically for the remainder of their corporeal existence?]

Ludwig greeted the newcomer and assured him that he had found the right Ludwig.

"Good morning. You are right on time. Excellent!"

The newcomer's sudden look of bewilderment pleased Ludwig. He did expect to see this man today but there was no appointment set. Not only was it amusing to see how easily different people could be disturbed by relatively trivial concepts like timeliness and deadlines, but it was also instructive to see how well the subject recovered from unforseen stresses.

The man remembered his purpose relatively quickly.
"Er... I have a message for you, sir."

"Which you cannot give to me here." Ludwig stated as if completing the man's sentence. He was completing the man's sentence. Inwardly he sighed about people not paying attention or following directions that were so painstakingly drafted.

"Yes!" The man brightened visibly.

"I trust you drove here?"


"Good. Lets go out to your car: I have something to give you."

"What? But I thought that this was just the one message?"

"Shall we? I'll explain as we go."

The man turned and began to walk to an exit. Ludwig moved to stay near his side.

"You are correct." Ludwig began. "With the delivery of this message, your obligation is fulfilled.

"I should stress how unusual this situation is. Having never met me, you must have felt some considerable anxiety about being able to deliver the message successfully. Quite understandable. Similarly, I might question whether the message is genuine, since I have never met you and cannot therefore determine how reliable you may be.

"Unusual as it is, we felt that this arrangement was neccessary to achieve our goals. You, Mr. Smith, were neccessary to achieve our goals. Is it much farther?"

Ludwig had stopped abruptly, and was looking around at the parking lot.

Mr. Smith, a bit startled, had gone a further two steps before he realised Ludwig had stopped. "Its just over there" he said, pointing. "I like to walk. Need the exercise. Easier to find parking that far out."

Satisfied, Ludwig continued walking and talking.

"To be sure, if our goal were less important, almost anyone could be used as a messenger. Perhaps even a different John Smith would be sufficient. Are you aware of how many John Smiths there are?"

"Twenty seven, last time I looked."

"Quite. It must be bothersome for the various Mrs. Smiths to not be able to page their husbands lest they inadvertently draw a sizeable crowd. Certainly you can imagine my dismay when I was informed that we were looking for a man by the name of John Smith."

"Yes. It can be a nuisance. This is it. Do I give you the message now?"

"That won't be neccessary. It's just a blank page."

Ludwig plunged a knife into John Smith's chest.

"I told you. We needed to be certain we had the right man. It's a waste of time studying pictures and biographies when you can get the poor bastards to come to you."

Ludwig turned and left, since there were now only twenty six of that name.

19 March 2006


Upon reading my last blog entry, my friend Jim became alarmed and inquired whether I had been burned.

Adagio is a work of fiction and should not be mistaken for a chronicle of actual events or a veiled allusion to same.
With that said, it is also true that there is some of me in the story. This simply cannot be avoided. Often I 'paint' myself into the 'picture' as a way of solving problems of plot or dialogue. I know what I would wish to say or do in some situations, so it is easier to implant myself rather that speculate what some other character might do. This does occasionally lead to complications, however. It occurred to me whilst I was delineating the story that I should not want to be resussitated from complications which were caused by/included burns to more than 60% or so of my body. [depending on what areas, but you get the idea] The concept of bad burns was more a plot device to keep the subject's arms raised despite their natural tendencies than any reflection upon my well being.

In that vein, in order to prevent any future misapprehensions I shall delineate several things that I have/am/will be writing about that have also not happened.

I have not been killed.
(is that a shock or what?)
I have not killed anyone [today].
I have no uncurable diseases, though I may be susceptible to colon cancer.
I have not been shot, stabbed, peirced (violently), skewered, impaled, transfixed, bludgeoned, beaten, or properly taunted.
I have not engaged in sodomy, either as a 'pitcher' or a 'catcher'.
I have not engaged in bestiality. Anything that the aardvark claims is a lie.
I have not channeled any souls or spirits, nor knowingly come in contact with anything supernatural, except for one occasion where I sat partly in the 'cold spot' where someone died.
I am not aware of being the re-incarnation of any persons, spirits, or other personas of beatific or malevolent demeanor. Despite what my parents say.
I am not now, nor have I ever been a member of the Communist Party. I'm on the Communist Party Planning Committee. These parties dont happen by themselves.

I fully intend to add more B.S. as it comes to me.

I thought that Adagio turned out extremely well, considering that it was pretty much a direct download from my brain. I'm not sure that its an accident, but the only real details are in what the main character feels or attempts. That goes a long way to making it feel somewhat surreal. No irrelevant objects are described, or no notice is given to them. I should have added a few lines in the middle, something like:

Holding her again was exhilarating, almost overwhelming. Being all that she can see and feel at this moment. Right now. This is the moment he wants to preserve. This moment and no others.

That would have gone a lot further to making the alternate title make sense:
"A Time of His Life"

On the other hand, I realised that my feet had forgotten how to waltz, and that I do not have a proper copy of die blau donau. Bummer.

17 March 2006


Desperate to endure its enormity, he pushed the mountain back and braced himself to hold it there. Satisfied that he could hold it there, for now, he smiled.

"You'll be just fine."

It was such a lie.

He sat on the edge of her hospital bed for a while longer and talked.

1.) You must rest now.
2.) I gave the nurse my pager number.
3.) Just ask the nurses if you need anything at all.
4.) I'd like to fool around, but I don't think the doctor would approve.
5.) Look, see? They made these gowns just for frisky people like us!
6.) I love you very much and I cannot wait to have you all to myself.
7.) Yes, I took care of that. Leave everything to me.
8.) ...

Those were things he wanted to say.

He couldn't be sure whether or not he actually said them because he had to keep one eye on the mountain, just in case.......
He kissed her very gently, and bidding her goodnight, he slipped out of the room.

The mountain was shifting.

He walked down the hall towards the elevators. Casually at first, because he was still within earshot. Clean tiled surfaces do absolutely nothing to dampen sounds. After about ten paces, he began to walk with long, swift strides.

He had to hurry, because the mountain was moving again, and he wasn't going to be able to hold it back this time.

Reaching the elevator, he jammed at the button with his thumb. COME ON! He heard the hum of the elevator car, but it was scarcely fast enough for his liking. He hadn't really exerted himself, but he felt breathless. A frantic eternity passed in the space of about seventeen seconds. The elevator door opened lazily after emitting the obligatory "ping". He nearly ran into the orderly that was stepping out. Safely inside, he might have looked tired as he reached for his handkerchief. The elevator door closed.

Exhausted, he gladly allowed the mountain to crush him.

He cried, wept, sobbed, wailed, shrieked, wailed, and bawled. Not necessarily in that order, and sometimes all at once. Fleetingly brief periods of self control were used to wipe his face with the handkerchief. Still weeping, the elevator discharged him into the lobby. He didn't bother trying to compose himself, the attempt would have been futile. He wandered out into the parking lot, found his car (perhaps by smell: he certainly didn't appear to be actively looking for it) opened the door and collapsed inside. A good deal more crying followed.

It cannot properly be said that he ceased crying, and he was not weeping uncontrollably, he just chose not to control it. His mind eventually wandered out of the gloom. There, that's more like it! Think man!

She was going to die, but that was as it should be. The fire that burns brightest consumes its fuel fastest and dies out sooner. It was the fire of passion that burned so painfully now; the grand lives they had shared in such a very short space of time. The passion was still fresh, but now suddenly rent horribly asunder. It was too much to bear. It was...



Is. Is. Is. Is. Is. Is. Is. Is.
I am not dead. She is not dead, and I will not give her up to death. The passion is still very much alive. We are only being.... sidetracked. Her malady is unfortunate, yes; but we should continue to live well while we are alive. Precious moments are wasting. These moments shall never return to us... I need some way to... ... ... Yes!

Then he did stop crying. He reached for the small notebook that he kept in the cutout for the parking brake handle. He had such a poor memory that it was necessary to write down ideas lest they be lost forever. He uncapped the pen ..... but hesitated at first. His eyes shifted and his mind roamed...... Finally he wrote sporadically, and then furiously. He needed a telephone! He needed a telephone directory! He needed.... well, he needed a bath too.


He strode into her hospital room wearing a dark blue suit with a portable CD player in one hand and a bundle in the other arm. She looked pale, glad to see him, and insatiable about knowing what he was up to. His smile was akin to the sunrise. It was all that he could do to stay calm. He was proud and excited and pleased with himself. He put the things down on a chair and went and sat at her bedside.

[Admittedly, it is cruel to make people wait for their surprise gifts. Procuring the gift is a very special act in and of itself, but so very fleeting is the actual giving. A very great and grand thing it is for the giver to savor the moment before the giving. To feel the incurable curiosity and palpable excitement, and profess indifferently "Oh, its just a trifle.... nothing special." while delaying that blissful moment for as long as possible. Ah, the excruciatingly tenuous anticipation.]

He knew she would be brimming with curiosity, but he spent an inordinate amount of time fussing about how she was feeling and how well she had slept and whether the nurses had been good to her and was it very painful when they drew her blood so early in the morning and did she know that it had rained overnight and that the rain had not been in the forecast and wasn't it just a shame that they can't forecast rain like that and isn't it just as if we were still living in the Stone Age when we can't even tell what the weather is going to be like tomorrow and...

His smile completely gave him away (as he knew it would) and she lovingly struck him with the plastic knife that had been on her breakfast tray. She demanded to know what was in the parcel or she would find a very unpleasant use for the plastic knife.

His smile blossomed. He feigned reluctance as he slowly surrendered the bundle wrapped in colored paper. The paper did not last long. Then, for the first time in about an hour, you could hear a pin drop. He smiled a mix of pleasure and adoration. She just stared for a moment.

"What did you do? Karl? What did you pay for this?"

"It's a trifle," he insisted. "Look."

He showed her how he had cut the blue gown open at the back, and down the backs of the sleeves, and how he had added hook and loop fasteners to close the gaps so that it could be worn properly.

"It is a much more appropriate hospital gown for you, my dear.
"Now. You must put it on."

She protested faintly, and was fairly weak, but stood shakily as Karl closed the dress around her.
He set up the CD player and started the music. The opening strains of the Blue Danube filled the room. She was pale, excited and happy, but unsure...

"But..... Karl, I can't dance....." she said, not wanting to disappoint him.

"You do not have to."

Karl tried to contort his face into a debonair and dignified look, but he knew it didn't quite work on his features. She smiled at the attempt all the same.

He moved to stand facing her, and reached for her hand. Bowing to her, he kissed her hand. Straightening up from the bow, he moved a step forward and put his arm around her. Straightening fully, he lifted her off the ground with the arm he had put around her.

Karl was suddenly shocked by how light she was, but he recovered quickly and, not wanting to jolt her too much, started to sway around the room. Her eyes misted and after a while she laid her head on his shoulder and kissed his neck.

"Would you like me to stop?"


"Very well then" he smiled.

He pranced around the room as the orchestra's performance reached a crescendo.

bah-dah-dah-dah dum, dum dum -


The heart monitor wailed. The attempt at a debonair look was frozen on Karl's burned face. A twisted smile of delight on his taut lips. Lying on the gurney in the ICU, with his blackened and oozing arms outstretched he looked like a mannequin separated from its eternal dance partner. Despite the urgent wail of the monitor, the only pertinent activity is a woman's grief; watching this destroyed man slip away from her. She sobs helplessly.

A passerby takes in the scene with some alarm, but querying a local nurse receives only a brief countersign; "DNR."


She lifted her head from his shoulder. Her complexion wasn't nearly as pale as he had thought earlier. See? It was just a trick of the light! She only needed some air; to be up on her feet a little. Isn't this wonderful?

She was up on her feet. She was dancing. And it was wonderful.

He did hear someone wailing in the distance. Yes, over there - down the hall. In the ICU. Well.... it's a shame that someone should be hurt or dying while he was having such a marvelous time, but he couldn't very well help everyone, could he?


Karl Erik Aune
[alternate title - A Time of His Life]

People should know what horrors lie in wait for burn victims. Especially after the fire is out. People go into the flames but shattered lives and broken minds come out of rehab years later. Life is precious, but it is the quality of life that matters.

20 February 2006

It's not the real Grail???

After yesterday's summary of what the typical theme is in Indo-European mythos, I will now, in what promises to be a multi-part discussion, dissect the King Arthur legend through the lens of that mythos. Specifically, since there are several versions of the legend, I have chosen to use John Boorman's "Excalibur" as a pithy summary. This is largely because Boorman uses wonderful symbolism, and it is my favorite film. In the interests of brevity, I will have to ignore Boorman's marvellous visual symbolism, which is a real shame. Go see the film now; I'll stay here and wait until you are done. I capitalise the word "land" to stress its importance, or because of my conceit, whatever.

There are two basic ideas that you must retain for this discussion:
First, the world is a macrocosmic representation of man, and its components are the equivalent of the constituent parts of a man. Secondly, that a proper king must be the embodiment of all three social classes, or be depicted as doing that through his posession of the symbols for all of the classes. The symbol for the common people varies, the warrior caste is usually represented by a sword, and the priest caste is typically represented by a (ornamental?) cup such as priests use to pour libations.

In the opening, we see the mighty Uther Pendragon ("pendragon" means the precedent to the dragon, but the Dragon is a further layer of Boorman's symbolism that I have to ignore here) doing battle with the forces of the Duke of Cornwall. Merlin promises him the sword Excalibur, but we see that Uther is ruled by his vices and proves to be an unworthy king. [This is true to themes in other Indo-European folklore] Uther, ambushed and at the point of dying intends to deny Excalibur to everyone else, believing himself to be the rightful king, and drives the sword deep into a large boulder. Since stones are the homologic alloform of bones, it could be said that he drove the sword into the bones (or marrow) of the world. Uther is the mightiest of warriors, but posession of the symbol of his class (Excalibur) and access to divine guidance, which is the priest caste embodied in Merlin the Magician, is not sufficient. He fails as a king, and the land descends into the strife that occurs when the classes are not united.

Along comes young Arthur, who easily plucks the sword from the stone when no warrior is capable of doing it. [Arthur, as a squire, is hardly a commoner, but a later exchange between Uriens and Arthur makes it very clear that squires are definitely a social strata that is subordinate to Knights.] Merlin appears and briefs him on the situation. An interesting sequence follows where apparently Arthur melds with the land.

"What does it mean to be King?"
"You will be the Land, and the Land will be you. As you thrive, the Land will blossom; if you fail the Land will perish."

Arthur goes on to become a successful King. There is peace, prosperity, and it seems they have driven away evil. This should imply that Arthur is successful at uniting the classes, although the common people do not appear to be represented. I believe that Boorman has substituted "the land" for the working class. This actually fits well with some known folklore.
[Afterthought: "uniting the classes" may not be the proper description. It may in fact be completely wrong as the classes continue to be stratified throughout the King's rule.]

[One example is a tale of three sons that attempt to usurp their father's throne - the only link between them and the three social classes are their names, which are rather obscure etymologically. The son who represents the lower class is named 'Lothar'. In celtic, it appears that that can mean ditch, trench, or canal, among other things. Bruce Lincoln opined that the commonality there is a low-lying water vessel; like a wash basin. That may be a bit of a stretch, but I'll accept that either a ditch or wash basin symbolizes the common people.]

Therefore, Boorman's King Arthur *is* the Land/commoners, posesses Excalibur (the symbol of the warrior caste) and has the guiding advise of Merlin (priest caste).

Internal divisions occur, strife originating from within the very Round Table destabilizes the kingdom. [Karl's note: I've just realised that the Round Table is yet another instance of symbolism - it indicates a wholesome state out of a cycle of strife and stability] In dual sequences involving Launcelot and Gwenevere, Merlin and Morgana, King Arthur loses the advise of Merlin and posession of Excalibur at the same time. The result, of course, is strife. Morgana's evil takes root in the world, and the land languishes. Arthur grows ill as the Land suffers, again because Arthur is the Land"

Launcelot: (anguished) "Excalibur! The king without a sword! The Land without a King!"

"We must find what was lost." Boorman's film never actually refers to the cup as "the Holy Grail". I believe the word 'grail' is used, but so is 'chalice'. [Morgana, on the other hand, offers questing knights a 'cup' of her own. Morgana will have to wait until a later installment.] What you and I now know is that what was lost is the essence of the priest caste. How shall the knights recover that? "Signs. Portents. Omens." All of which have traditionally been the domain of priests.

Here (to my personal joy) Boorman stays faithful to the Arthurian legend. In the legends as I read them long ago, Percieval, Bors, and one other knight found the Holy Grail. Bors and the other knight were taken into heaven, and Percieval returned the Grail to the King. Percieval was a wild boy who became a knight, and thus ..... oops, I was going to leave Boorman's general symbolism out of this, wasn't I? Well, it can't be avoided now. We see that it is only by Percieval shedding his armor (symbolic of innocence or nature or common people, your choice) that he can approach the Chalice, and provide Arthur with what was lost: the preistly advice of Merlin: "You and the Land are one!"

Once Arthur drinks from the Chalice, he is filled with inspiration and psychoanalyses the entire film since the point where strife started to take hold of the Round Table. [JOKE] Having recieved this infusion of priestly advice, Arthur knows what to do. He must posess Excalibur to be King and save the Land. He finds the sword in the keeping of Guenevere. Notice that it is only AFTER Arthur reclaims Excalibur that the land flourishes again. [huh, actually, I have forgotten, been too long since I have seen it, and its too cold right now - but I remember the land conspicously thriving after Arthur has Excalibur]

In another important sequence, Arthur awakens the spirit of Merlin when he is leaning against a stone circle. Again, stone is an alloform of bone.

Merlin's spirit vanquishes Morgana, but Merlin himself is otherwise out of the picture.
Arthur intentional disperses the last of the symbols that is in his keeping. Mortally wounded, he commands that Excalibur be returned to the Lady of the Lake. "One day a King will come, and the sword will rise [again]". This is another common theme in folklore; a king falls, and there is strife between the classes until another (worthy) King comes along.

To summarize: A common (or lowly, in this case they are not the same thing) boy that is able to posess the essence of the three castes rises to become the rightful King. When he loses control of the classes or the symbols that are their essence, the King loses power and fails. A society in strife becomes wholesome under a proper King and returns to strife without him. A cycle that is implied in folklore as eternal until the destruction and re-creation of the world, which is also an eternal cycle.

And by now you may have guessed at the truth:
There was never any "Holy Grail".

19 February 2006

Is there a symbol for the map legend?

No way to shorten the long story, so I'll just skim the marrow. Still 12 hour shifts, now 60 hours a week. I miss my three day weekends. What is really crazy is that I have more than ever to blog about now that I have no time to blog. Theres probably a good blues song in that. That will be my contribution so society. The song wont sell a single copy, but will get shared endlessly in the dark corners of the internet.

I am in a hurry to get my musings on King Arthur down in black and white here, but cannot do that without providing backstory first. This time the lengthy banter is not so much that I want to tell the entire story. It is because I want the reader to at least glimpse my fantastic vision when I reveal it. So: on with the book review.

I have just finished Bruce Lincoln's "
Myth, Cosmos, and Society : Indo-European Themes of Creation and Destruction." It will take me some time to fully digest, but I am already gaining new insights from it.

Lincoln presents excerpts from several cultures throughout the spectrum of Indo-European languages that clearly show a similar and all-encompassing mythos. He leads us into that mythos gradually, presenting to us first the "homologic alloforms" - that man is a representation of the cosmos, and the parts of a man have equivalent representation within that cosmos. [Mind that 'cosmos' here refers only to the visible world; earth, sky and stars] We begin by recognising that the multiple cultures have creation myths where the first man was killed and his body was the material used to construct the world. From that it follows that the earth (soil) is flesh, the stones are bones, the trees are the hairs on the head, and so on.

From there we go deeper and deeper, the significance of "homologic alloforms" with respect to food, growth, human sacrifice, magical healing, cures for baldness, and the afterlife (or rebirth, for these cultures).

In the last chapter, he expounds on myths that, when taken together, define the roles of the social classes in these very similar societies. This is the important part. As per usual, the social structure is vertical. Commoners at the bottom (represented by various symbols) supporting the 'nobler' classes; warriors in the middle (symbolized by the sword), and the priest class (symbolized by a cup or goblet) at the top. A recurring and key theme among many examples of folklore is that for a king to successfully rule the society, he must unite all these classes. When he fails to act properly, or dies, or there is no king, there is strife between the classes, or simply strife in general. At least two examples clearly show the rightful king as being the embodiment of all classes, or the only one who can hold the symbols of the three classes.

He concludes by telling us that all of these myths were clearly propogated by the priest class in order to maintain their positions at the top of society. They recieved tributes from every other class and gave counsel to the king. The commoners far outnumbered the priest class, but were treated poorly. The commoners were largely kept placated (in part) by a thorough system of myths and folklore that depicted that it was normal and proper for the warriors and priests to be the nobler classes. Furthermore, if they were not the rightful lords, then all of the other myths were also false, even the promise of a ressurection in the end times. The latter was probably the anchor for the whole mythos: for a downtrodden commoner the only real Nirvana could come with the ressurection.

I had some reservations throughout the book. Were there contrapositive excerpts that he did not present? How thorough was his review of folklore? Overall, I found it a fascinating and enjoyable book, although I had very little time to read it. It is not a long book - a full 1/4 of it is notes on the text - but I only finished it after I renewed it from the library for the last allowable time. My one big complaint is that the last chapter (reflecting on the societies propped up by these myths) ends rather abruptly. I felt it needed more. An example that brings everything together. I was thinking about this last night when I realised what the perfect example was. I shall present that next time.