Thursday, July 03, 2008

Ten Thoughts Original and Not
July 2008 email newsletter, No. 051

1. In a yoga studio, two women sit on mats and look at the burly, scarred, tattooed, bald man in prison stripes. Sitting on an adjacent mat, he has a mean, sullen look on his face. One of the women turns to the other and whispers, “He teaches pre-meditation.” That’s from the Mother Goose & Grimm comic strip.

2. Empty premises. The rules I learned about journalism no longer apply, especially (it seems) on television and talk radio. The problem creeps into print, too. We expect it from radio talk, which is, after all, jolts of opinion. We don’t expect it from a TV network that calls its news “fair and balanced” while (perhaps accidentally) confusing “Obama” with “Osama,” then joking about killing Obama; calling the playful fist bump between Barack and Michelle Obama a “terrorist fist jab;” and using a negative black stereotype by calling Michelle Obama “Obama’s baby mama.” Maybe they thought that last one was a clever play on words. It seems to me that Fox News reports reality the way so-called reality-based programs represent reality.

3. A comedian, I think his name is Bill Santiago, once used the phrase “intellectually celibate.”

4. George Carlin, who speaks no more, once asked, “If lawyers are disbarred and clergymen defrocked, doesn’t it follow that electricians can be delighted, musicians denoted, cowboys deranged, models deposed, tree surgeons debarked and drycleaners depressed?” And, “If a pig loses its voice, is it disgruntled?”

5. Steven Wright once said, “Depression is merely anger without enthusiasm.”

6. Robin Williams once said he was violating his own standards faster than he could lower them.

7. With standards in mind, psychologists Carole Wade and Carol Tavris once listed eight elements of critical thinking: Ask questions, and be willing to wonder. Define your problem correctly. Examine the evidence. Analyze assumptions and biases. Avoid emotional reasoning. Don’t oversimplify. Consider other interpretations. Tolerate uncertainty.

8. AOL recently shared a list of 10 books to read before we die. Their list: Gone with the Wind, Lord of the Rings, the Harry Potter series, The Stand, The Da Vinci Code, To Kill a Mockingbird, Angels and Demons (Dan Brown’s predecessor to The Da Vinci Code), Atlas Shrugged, Catcher in the Rye, and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. I actually agree with the quality of three or four of those. Here’s my own list, taken from a handout I share in my creative writing class: William A. Owens: This Stubborn Soil; Jane Wagner (performed onstage by Lily Tomlin): The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe; D.M. Thomas: The White Hotel; Gabriel Garcia Marquez: One Hundred Years of Solitude; Italo Calvino: Invisible Cities; Richard Brautigan: In Watermelon Sugar; Ray Bradbury: Something Wicked This Way Comes; J.D. Salinger: Nine Stories; Kurt Vonnegut: Slaughterhouse Five; Joseph Heller: Catch 22; J.R.R. Tolkein: The Lord of the Rings. If you’re counting, that’s 11.

9. How fragile life can be, filled with promise and peril. I bought dinner last night for a little girl (six or seven maybe) named Trinity, for her two teen brothers, and for their mother. The mother was very recently a successful businesswoman who hit a streak of bad luck and circumstances. She still has (because they are, I believe, paid for) the Lincoln Navigator and the country house that as no electricity. She’s sold just about everything else. I met them all at the local pawn shop on Monday where I bought a two-disc Beatles’ CD of the early hits for $4, and got a free Mozart/Chopin piano concertos CD. She pawned what she had left so she could take her daughter, Trinity, to the doctor for some day surgery for an infection in the girl’s hand. Trinity, her mom told me, recently rolled down the Navigator’s window when they came upon a panhandler at an intersection in Dallas, and told the man, “We can’t give you any money today. We’re poor, too.” Trinity wore a flowing “dress-up dress” that was all white except for a little gold around the edges. I thought it was a princess dress, but she corrected me because she’d seen “The Princess Bride” and knew that princesses don’t wear white. She told me it was her angel dress.

10. I wonder if my muses are slowly going sane.