Thursday, March 12, 2015

Sir Terry Pratchett, 1948-2015

Another master has crossed over.

And so it is.

Blessèd be,
Michael Bright Crow

Here is a post I first published about Terry Pratchett on May 17, 2012.

Mort, by Terry Pratchett
Back in September 2011, Walhydra was reading Mort, the fourth volume of Terry Pratchett's brilliant Discworld Series. (She thinks it's the fourth...time is weird on Discworld. She's already read The Color of Magic, The Light Fantastic, and Equal Rites.)

Walhydra likes pretty much everything about the Discworld books, but her favorite character so far is—surprise, surprise—Death. Or should we say DEATH, since he always speaks in upper case, without quotation marks? He always appears as a hooded, animated skeleton with glowing eyes.

What Walhydra admires most about Death is his attitude

As far as Death is concerned, death is not some sort of evil consequence or punishment for mortals. It's just his job. All mortals die, and Death's job is to help them finish the business.

It's the mortals who, clinging to their lives, label death as "evil," as "punishment." Poor Death struggles with the unfair blame...though he always rises above it.

The title character in Mort is a young mortal whom Death takes on as an apprentice.

"Er," [Mort] began. "I don't have to die to get the job, do I?"


"And...the bones...?"

Death leads Mort to the great twin city of Ankh-Morpork, where they stop for a meal at the Curry Garden. The place is crowded, "but only with the cream of society—at least, with those people who are found foating on the top and who, therefore, it's wisest to call the cream." (19)

Mort is puzzled by the fact that, besides himself, no one seems to see Death.

"Is it magic?" said Mort.


"Yes," said Mort slowly. "I...I've watched people. They look at you but they don't see you, I think. You do something to their minds."

Death shook his head.


He blew a smoke ring at the sky, and added, STRANGE BUT TRUE.
Pretty much sums it up.

And so it is.

Blessèd be.

Here is a beautiful portrait of Terry Pratchett and Death, done by Flynn-the-Cat and posted on DeviantArt and RedBubble.

Death & the Discworld, by Flynn-the-Cat

Flynn's own commentary on the portrait:

A portrait of Terry Pratchett, his Death and his Discworld.

He's the creator of the Discworld, that little planet being carried away into space by the turtle Great A'Tuin, with the sun setting on it.

Death, the walking skeleton with an awful lot of character appears in all his books (however briefly) and spends a lot of time trying to figure people out. he's here because a) it's about dying (mental, age, possible-suicide), b) he's kinda a reflection of people (he is shaped by their expectations, so he's in mirror image to Pterry, c) he's one of Pterry's greater legacies, and d)... well, if anyone outlives the Discworld, it'll be Death.

The lilacs were worn in memory of a revolution in Night Watch and are now the symbol of Wear the Lilac Day on May 25th - Discworld Day, and now dedicated to Alzheimer's Awareness.

Because—oh yes, Terry Pratchett has Alzheimer's Disease. And I started painting this while listening to his documentary on assisted dying: Terry Pratchett: Choosing To Die
Here's a link to a new Terry Pratchett interview on the Late, Late Show, and a link to an NPR interview in August 2011.

Terry's own website is here.

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Leonard Nimoy, 1931-2015

Leonard Nimoy sat down with the Wexler Oral History Project last year, his impressive Yiddish skills on full display. In this video, Nimoy describes the origin of his famous Star Trek hand greeting: the Jewish priestly blessing, or duchening.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Nation of scofflaws: or, Teacher's petitude redux

Walhydra has been carrying this title around in her head for at least a dozen years, crafting and reciting sentences to herself, adding examples, grumbling. 

At first she was too angry to actually write anything down. Then, for several years, she was too much in grief Now she feels again the temptation to be publicly snarky—followed, of course, by having Goddess put her in her place once again. It's sort of a spiritual S&M ritual.

The obvious place to start looking for examples would be with driving.

Road rage imageWalhydra used to play this game on the way to work each day. She would count the number of “strikes” against her, a strike meaning that she lost her temper and cursed another driver. She always struck out before she ever got downtown.

Over the years she has tried various remedies.

With  speeders, for example, she turns herself into the sort of pokey old coot who used to piss her off so much—staying in the right lane with the cruise control set at the speed limit.  It's actually rather relaxing. Everyone on the road passes her.

The closer you get, the slower I goWith tailgaters, she recalls the advice of the defensive driving course the City requires all employees to take: "Slow down and invite them to pass."

(Walhydra imagines all sorts of questionable nuances for that word "invite.")

Despite these tactics, though, the truth is that Walhydra is too often terrorized by those manic stock car drivers who ride her bumper and race around her on both sides if she happens not to be in the outside lane.

"Are they crazy?!!" she shouts.

Stock car race

Then there are the in-town incidents with people who seem not to know the width and turning radius of their own vehicles. They swoop into oncoming lanes to turn right, to pull into diagonal parking or to pass parked cars.  They back out into oncoming lanes.

And they don’t know what that secret little stick on the steering wheel is for.

When she's honest with herself, Walhydra admits she feels disrespected and resentful over these incidents.

Jerry Mathers 1960She remembers growing up in a June-and-Ward-Cleaver America. Young people were taught to respect their elders, and it was just assumed that people would watch out for each other and practice common civility, rules of the road, etc.

This wasn't a matter of authoritarian imposition of order—contrary to what her peers believed during the "Sixties Revolution." It was simply a social contract, a courteous way of dealing with people in public to ease daily life.

Now it seems like people scoff at or totally ignore the contract.  Or deliberately violate it. Or...maybe...were never even told about or expected to obey it as kids.

Walhydra is constantly feeling offended and unsafe, because she cannot count on anyone to "abide by the code."

"Tomato juice."

"Wha—?"  Walhydra looks around.

Crippled Wolf glances up from the Stephen Jay Gould book he is chewing on.

"Tomato juice. Age five. Kindergarten."

"Oh." Walhydra doesn't really want to go there...but Crippled Wolf was there, too, so she can't very well avoid the issue.  The story was told back in 2006.
Tomato juice.
More exactly, spilled tomato juice. On her favorite flannel shirt. In front of other kindergarten five-year-olds, her first months in public school. Right after her family moved from the only home she had ever known.

They laughed, of course. For whatever reasons, Walhydra experienced it as laughing at her. Her peers had unknowingly introduced her to shame. In her personal mythology, that was the moment when Walhydra became self-conscious—in all the blesséd and cursed senses of that term....

It happens to everyone, of course. That disorienting schism between “I’m unique” and “I’m one of you.” Walhydra figures most of the crimes and sufferings of the human race can be traced to that schism.

What startled her awake, meditating on this, was that she had identified her own particular version of this turn on the path....
In her childhood, Walhydra’s line of defense was to become invincible.
Hermione Grander
She recognized quickly that “those in authority” were teachers. She was an utter failure on the playing field, due partly to non-paralytic polio at age four, and partly to having been shamed by the tomato juice incident....
However, she was gifted with being brilliant, creative and a quick study. The obvious survival strategy was to become a “teacher’s pet.”

This path had the advantage of making her immediately liked and protected by “those in authority.” It had the disadvantage of underscoring the message to her peers: “I’m
not one of you."
"We're not still five, you know," Crippled Wolf said patiently.

"Well obviously not!" Walhydra grouses, stomping and stretching to get the kinks out of her back. "What's your point?!"

"You're still feel bullied, and you hate it."


"Those are aggressive drivers. Bullies.

"But also the teenagers...even the grade school kids you feel intimidated by. The people who don't watch out for anyone but themselves. The one's who take your seat or talk too loudly on their cell phones or expect you do whatever they want at the library services desk.

"They all seem like bullies."

Walhydra sat down. "And...?"

" don't feel safe. Don't know how to protect yourself. It doesn't feel like anyone's in authority anymore, does it?"

Walhydra frowned. It was never fun to find out that underneath whatever she disliked about other people was something she disliked about herself.

"Well.... There isn't anyone in authority anymore! Everyone does what he wants, regardless of how it affects other people."


"Yes? Is that all you can say? You're just like my fa...."
“It’s not fair,” she hears herself whining. Starting in first grade, she would frequently come home from some round of teasing by peers or unappreciative discipline by adults to voice that complaint to her father, the Lutheran pastor.

“You’re right,” he would reply. “It’s not fair.”

For years—at least thirty, she figures—Walhydra thought this meant he wasn’t a “good Dad,” because he didn’t go and fix it. Then one day she woke up and realized he had just been confirming her observation of reality.
"I listened to him," Crippled Wolf says gently. "You didn't want to."

"Yeah, well.... So what do I do?"

"Keep yelling at them (silently) as bullies, or be the sixty-four year old crone you are."


"Haha! Almost sixty-four. Come on. Let's go get a double waffle cone of double chocolate ice cream."

Walhydra smiles.

Chocolate cone

And so it is.

Blessèd Be,
Michael Bright Crow

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Jesus and Mo: eggs2

Jesus and Mo, eggs2

See The Empty Day for my personal take on Jesus' passion.
He is just there. A historical person, demonstrating in the flesh, through the stories about him, all that a human being is capable of doing when in full relationship with God.

What, then, was so powerful for Jesus’ disciples—after their flight and betrayal and denial of him—that they could know him to be alive for them again?

It was the simple, bone-deep realization that they still experienced the kinship with God which Jesus had enabled them to know before his death.

That kinship was not broken, cannot be broken.

“Jesus knows, God knows. Just wake up and follow him again. That’s all we can do.”

And so it is.

Blessèd Be,

Friday, March 07, 2014

The intimate register

Crippled Wolf and Hubby Jim are sitting at Tenbucks on a Saturday afternoon, waiting for the dryers at their favorite "aging hippie" run laundromat to finish their cycles.

Field hockey, by Mike ShellAs they watch the people on the plaza outside, a toddler runs away from his dad, laughing gleefully.

“Escaped cultivation,” Crippled Wolf intones.

JimJim laughs.

“Huh?”  A friend sitting with them looks from one to another in puzzlement.

“It’s a long story,” Crippled Wolf explains.

Cytisus scoparius kz1A couple decades ago when they were hiking in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Crippled Wolf and Jim had stumbled on the phrase in the Audubon Field Guide to North American Wildflowers.

They were trying to identify what turned out to be Scotch Broom and discovered that it had been brought to America by gardeners and then…escaped cultivation.

Now, almost anything which manages to get “out of place” might find itself so labeled in their private banter.

Sociolinguists use the term intimate register to refer to the informal language used among family members and close friends.

Technically, the intimate register is the private vocabulary and nonverbal cues exclusive to a pair or group.  However, it can be said to include the whole private lore of those people—whatever allusions, punch lines, etc., have historical reference within their tiny circle.

Crippled Wolf can be grasping for a word, and Jim will say, “…thing.”

Or Jim can start to murmur, "No, I can't forget the evening...," and Crippled Wolf will run away screaming.

Ever single person shares intimate registers with someone: a lover, a co-worker, a group of friends.  It's part of what connects us a social animals, the ability to evoke a whole shared memory—and attendant emotions—with a trivial cue no one outside the intimacy would recognize.

It's not all that different from people privately wincing in their pews when the preacher calls for "Almost Persuaded."

[Haha! Got you, Jim, if you're reading this.]

So why has Crippled Wolf become so fixated on the intimate register recently?

Anticipatory grief.

Another day, a different evening.

Crippled Wolf and Jim are at their favorite sushi cafe, sharing a moment of "baby madness" as a couple sit down next to them with their eleven-week-old infant and the daddy gets all mushy—as new daddies tend to do.

In the midst of enjoying the moment, watching Jim grin and googoo at the kid, Crippled Wolf feels a spike in his heart.

"This won't always be here," he thinks.  "He won't always be here...or I won't."

And then what will happen to the intimate register?

It will be like the death of a sun, a solar system, a galaxy.

Such cold and emptiness.

It takes a moment for Crippled Wolf to get back into the present moment.

He's getting better at this. So much practice from escorting first his mother and then his father to their deaths.

But how does one practice losing the other half of one's heart?  

And so it is.

Blessèd Be,
Michael Bright Crow

Baby madness is that momentary "Awwww....I wanna baaabie" feeling one getsjust before the kid bawls and cures you of it.