Watch for falling prey

Words have meaning. We use words to communicate with one another. Often the meaning of our words is shaped by context; a word might have a narrow, technical meaning in one context and a more general meaning in a different context. A phrase might be radically different in meaning depending upon where and how it is used. This can result in confusion, and sometimes it can result in humor. A humorous example is coming, but a certain amount of context must be provided first to arrive at the humor I wish to share.

One of the things I loved about college was taking four classes at the same time, being exposed to different thoughts from different fields, moving from one branch of knowledge to another as I read assigned classwork and as I researched material for different papers I was required to write. On many occasions, the same topic would arise the same week in two or three different classes, so I was required to consider that topic from differing points of view. Because I loved that experience, I have recreated it in my private post-college life. I don’t read one book, finish it, and start another. Instead I have a stack of books from which I read each day. When I finish one book in the stack, I reshelve it and choose another book of the same genre. My stack might be six or seven books high, and if I read twenty or thirty pages from each book, I make my way through them like a college student taking several different courses and learning about various things at the same time.

Last night I had finished twenty pages from Aristotle’s “History of Animals”—part of the Britannica Great Books of the Western World collection—and wanted to glance at something light before jumping into Martin Heidegger’s Being and Time. I happened to grab a book of humorous pieces by Dave Barry, newspaper columns he had written in the 1990s, and I spent a few minutes cleansing my mental palette with that light reading before diving into the profound examinations of Heidegger.

A cleansed palette might not be ready for Heidegger. Here is a selection of where I began last night: “The formal existential totality of the ontological structural whole of Da-sein must thus be formulated in the following structure: The being of Da-sein means being-ahead-of-oneself already in (the world) as being-together-with (innerworldly beings encountered). This being fills in the significance of the word “care,” which is used in a purely ontological and existential way. Any ontically intended tendency of being, such as worry or carefreeness, is ruled out. Since being-in-the-world is essentially care, being-together-with things at hand could be taken in our previous analyses as “taking care” of them…. Care not only characterizes existentiality, abstracted from facticity and falling prey, but encompasses the unity of these determinations of being….”

Nothing funny there, I know, and Heidegger had no intention of being humorous with those words. As a philosopher, he uses technical terms such as “ontological” and “existential,” as well as his own favorite word, “Da-sein,” which he uses to search for the core of what it means to exist. As I wrote a few days ago, “What is it that makes me me? What is it that makes you you?” That’s the kind of question Heidegger is asking, and is trying to answer, in the four hundred pages of Being and Time. But with a taste of Dave Barry’s writing lingering in my mind, I could not help but visualize “innerworldly beings” in a comic way. Nor could I resist an over-the-top application of Heidegger’s assertion that worry and carefreeness are ruled out. But the piece de resistance of this paragraph was Heidegger’s reference to falling prey. He is describing, of course, the danger of becoming a victim, of our being (or Da-sein) facing threats from other thinking beings in our world, a group he rather aptly describes as “the they.” (I was already considering an entire post, inspired by Heidegger, about “the they”—you know who he means, “the they” who say things that no one we know has said, “the they” who are running the world, even though none of us knows who “they” are. Heidegger had a problem with Them already one hundred years ago.

But, with a dose of Dave Barry still in my mind, I read the phrase “falling prey” and immediately pictured white-tailed deer dropping from above. I could even picture a Far Side cartoon with a road sign on the side of a mountain that says, “Watch for falling prey,” while deer are tumbling down the side of the mountain toward the road.

Another phrase from Heidegger that has stuck with me is not his own invention. He quotes a poem by Holderlin which contains the line, “We are a sign that is not read.” I spent part of one evening trying to create a meme which puts those eight words on a highway sign, but I was not happy with the results. “Watch for falling prey” would be funnier anyhow, but I still want to contemplate further the significance of those words, “We are a sign that is not read.” J.

Recovery

Continuing to be quarantined after recovering from covid-19 resembles a long holiday weekend or a “staycation,” as they call it. I could only guess when symptoms began, so the end of the quarantine is also based on guesswork. As far as the CDC is concerned, I’m free to leave the house tomorrow; but my employer does not want me back at work until Wednesday. So the next few days will be a transition of sorts, feeling normal and doing some normal things, but not returning to the full routine yet for a few more days.

This time off has permitted me to do some additional reading and writing, as well as work around the house and yard. I have several other minor projects I hope to tackle over the next few days. In fact, this required holiday offers a glimpse into how I may budget my time when I retire. Retirement, though, is still years away. I expect to work full-time until I turn seventy for several reasons. First, Social Security is increasingly insecure because of an aging population. Second, my parents and grandparents all flourished well into their eighties. (My father is 93 and still in good health.) Third, I still expect to have talent and ideas to offer for years to come. Even when I retire, I will keep on writing, and I hope that my writing will continue to improve. I have no reason to stop working at this time.

On the other hand, facing anxiety and depression prepared me well for this covid business. I already learned how to get out of bed and get things done even when my mind and my body were saying no. I probably went to work on days I should have stayed home. But I can perform tasks adequately even when concentration and motivation are lacking. Taking it easy means diverting my energy to other activities. While the cats expect some of that time and energy to be given to them—they loved this quarantine the way they loved the whole-society quarantine a year ago—reading and writing and other stay-at-home tasks are always on the schedule, seven days a week, every week of the year.

Besides, healthy though I am, I always feel a bit off, and I find it easy to believe that I am battling some chronic disease. Lupus, Parkinson’s, Hypochondria, Crohn’s Disease: I can read the descriptions and match them to myself, but there’s always another part of my mind that brushes off the anxiety and keeps on ticking. This is why, the day after being tested positive for covid, I went out and mowed the lawn. A couple of people told me not to push it, but mowing is impossible with our machine without a fair amount of pushing. Afterward, I was able to tell people that I simply do not know the meaning of the word. When someone responds, “What word is that?” I am able to say, “I’m not sure what word, but if you said it, I wouldn’t know what it means.”

As long as I have several books at different stages of being written, I can focus on one of them and keep on writing or rewriting. I hope that, starting with this quarantine and continuing through the summer, I can break up the figurative raft of logs—the various books at different stages—and send them floating down the stream, one by one. J.

The best and worst of times

In January I began the great five-year adventure of reading through the Great Books—the classic writings of Western Civilization from Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey to Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. This being mid-March, I have just finished Herodotus’ historic description of the Greek war with Persia and have begun the equally famous Peloponnesian Wars.

Looking once again at the political adventures and battles that set the poleis, or city-states, in conflict with one another, I am reminded of Charles Dickens’ famous opening to his novel of the French Revolution. Everyone knows how the novel begins: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness….” Likewise, everyone knows the closing line of the novel: “It is a far, far better thing that I do than I have ever done….” Probably not so many people can summarize the plot that fills four hundred pages between those lines or can remember any other memorable quotes from that novel. But I wander from my point, which is that for Greece in the years of the Peloponnesian Wars it also was the best of times and the worst of times.

Against all odds, the Greeks had withstood two invasions from the mighty Persian Empire. They had overcome both the massive land army raised by Persia and also its mighty navy. Now Athens was being rebuilt, fashioning the remarkable structures that still draw tourists today. The great Greek dramatists were writing the great timeless plays that are still read and studied today. Greek science and mathematics were reaching new and amazing heights, and for the first time philosophy was being developed in the European continent.

Yet at the same time, the Greeks were destroying themselves with constant warfare against one another. Men lost their lives on the battlefield in the prime of their life, sacrificing themselves nobly for petty squabbles that were unworthy of the price they demanded. Armies leveled the crops and orchards of their opponents. Money was wasted on military equipment—money that could have further advanced the architecture, drama, science, and philosophy of the age. Crowding into their cities to escape the battles, citizens spread plague that cost the Greeks more lives and more sorrow. Wisdom and foolishness, Light and Darkness: all these contrasts can be seen in the ancient Greek wars as clearly as in the French Revolution or any other modern conflict.

One of the lessons of classic literature is this: the more things change, the more they stay the same. Centuries have come and gone, and people continue to make the same mistakes. We study the past, but we fail to learn from it. Indeed, the history of the Peloponnesian wars is, without doubt, a tale of Thucydides. J.

Arkansas food traditions

The land now called Arkansas has been inhabited for many generations, and a good number of ways to study and examine the past help to cast light on life in Arkansas then and now. One of the newest subjects to be studied is foodways: what did people eat, how did they obtain it, how did they prepare it, and how did they preserve it? Contemporary Arkansas festivals feature some of the most interesting foodway traditions in the modern world.

Corn (maize), beans, and squash were the primary foods of the earliest dwellers of Arkansas, although they occasionally added meat to their diet. The first European explorers to enter Arkansas were led by Hernando de Soto, who crossed the Mississippi River into Arkansas in 1541 and died in Arkansas the following year. After de Soto came Jacque Marquette and Louis Joliet in 1673. These French explorers were responsible for the name of the state of Arkansas. After asking the Illini of the Mississippi River valley who they would meet in their travels south, Marquette and Joliet were told to expect the Ar-kan-saw, which was merely the Illini word for “people who live to the south.” Encountering the Quapaw villages where the Arkansas River meets the Mississippi, Marquette and Joliet applied the Illini’s label to the Quapaw, and the name went on to designate the river, the territory (once a county of Missouri Territory), and the state. The first permanent European settlement in the region was Arkansas Post, located near the Arkansas River not far from its confluence with the Mississippi. Arkansas is included in the land acquired by the United States by the Louisiana Purchase of 1803, and American settlers began to join the Quapaw, Caddo, Osage, French, and Spanish families who already lived on the land.

While some settlers established large cotton plantations in the flatlands of southern and eastern Arkansas, others took to the hills where they lived off the land as best they could. (This is called subsistence farming.) They planted various crops and raised chickens and hogs, but they also gathered berries and fruits from the forests and hunted deer, bear, and anything else that moved and might be edible. The hillbilly image of the Ozark Arkansan is largely shaped by stories (many highly exaggerated) told by travelers who met these hardy pioneers.

Even as Arkansas developed as a territory and then a state, memories remained of the early foods eaten by Arkansas settlers. Among the annual festivals still celebrated in Arkansas today are the Trumann Wild Duck Festival, the Gillett ‘Coon Supper, the Polk County ‘Possum Festival, the Dermott Crawfish Festival, the Arkansas Rice Festival, the Hope Watermelon Festival, the Bradley County Pink Tomato Festival, the Camden Daffodil Festival, and the Malvern Brickfest, not to mention Conway’s Toad Suck Daze.

Actually, the ‘Possum Festival has a spotted history. Beginning in 1915 as a challenge to neighboring communities, the Polk County ‘Possum Festival had a long and honorable history through the first half of the twentieth century. However, during World War II, when much of the male population was out of state serving in the armed forces, remaining citizens re-established Prohibition, forbidding the consumption of alcoholic beverages. Although the festival was attempted in 1945 and 1946, it was cancelled in 1947. A brief attempt to restart the festival occurred from 1995 through 2001, but with little success. Evidently for a ‘Possum festival to succeed, more than the meat needed to be marinated. J.

Bagging leaves, and a book is born!

This afternoon I raked and bagged eight bags of autumn leaves—using biodegradable bags, of course. I stopped with eight, because eight is all the curb can contain—and that’s two rows of four bags, no less. Besides, eight bags was about as much as my lower back and my allergies would tolerate.

Mrs. Dim makes my job a little easier. When she clears her yard of leaves, she also blows the leaves in my yard several feet away from the property line. As a result, I hardly need to rake at all; I can just scoop the leaves into the bags, and the job is quickly done.

When I had finished the eight bags, I went inside, cleaned up, changed clothes, and submitted a book to Kindle and Amazon. From their point of view, it’s my latest book, but I actually wrote it in 2002. Because it is satire, I’ve been reluctant to put it out there. When I first wrote it, I had a few copies made at the local printer and shared them with family and friends. I even brought one to a writing workshop in 2003. A pastor who was there read it and giggled over every page. “You have to get this published, J.,” he told me. Well, finally, after all these years, I have followed his advice.

The premise of the book is that a congregation, called FirstChurch, was trying to figure out why they were not as successful as the other churches whose advice they were following. They noticed one difference: the successful congregations had pastors who had written books about the church. So they asked their pastor to write a book. Desperate for material, he gathered material from the various organizations in FirstChurch and sent them to be published, reasoning that showing how to do it is as helpful as telling how to do it.

Here is my blurb for the book cover: “This is not just another book telling you how to make your church grow. Instead of telling, this book shows you what to do. With the help of Salvageable, Pastor Scribble has collected reports and letters and minutes from various organizations in FirstChurch. Together, they tell the story of a place where, as their motto says, ‘The Church comes first.’ Not everyone appreciates satire. This book might not be for you. But if you want a few chuckles over the quirks and oddities in the life of a typical American congregation, this book might be exactly what you are seeking.”

The point of the satire is not to mock any Christians I have known. Instead, the book portrays a mindset of a congregation, one that other bloggers have labeled Churchian. “The Church comes first” says it all. Obsessed with organizational structure and knowing that they need to bring in new members, the leaders of FirstChurch have lost sight of why the Church exists and why they have a mission to bring in new members.

Here is a sample of what the book contains:

NOTICE TO ALL FIRSTCHURCH MEMBERS:

It has come to our attention that some of our members are parking in the three spaces clearly labeled “Visitor Parking.” Because some of our members have recently joined FirstChurch, we are willing to consider this an “honest mistake” for now. Please remember that these three spaces are meant for visitors to the congregation, not for our members. After all, we want to be known throughout the community as a friendly congregation. If members continue to park in these spaces on Sunday morning, action will be taken to remove them from the congregation. Thank you very much.

Your friends at FirstChurch

The Kindle version, when available, will cost three dollars; the print version will cost six dollars. I recommend the print version for two reasons: I was able to use a different font for each organization, something that Kindle does not allow; and I was able to add a running joke regarding, “This page is intentionally left blank,” which would not have made sense on Kindle. I will add links to this post when the book is available. J.

 

With apologies to Lerner & Loewe…

If ever I would leave you
It wouldn’t be in Walmart.
Seeing you in Walmart
I never would go.
Your cart filled with clothing,
Groceries, hardware, and shoes,
They all cost more money
Than I care to lose!

 

But if I’d ever leave you,
It couldn’t be in Target.
How I’d leave in Target
I never will know.
I’ve seen how you sparkle
When sales nip the air.
I know you in Target
And it’s quite a scare.

 

And could I leave you
Spending merrily while at Sears?
With a credit bill
That will not be paid for years?

 

If ever I would leave you,
How could it be in Penney’s?
Knowing how the pennies add up to a lot?
Oh, no! not in Penney’s
Target, Walmart, or Sears!
No, never could I leave you, my dear!

So a string walks into a bar…

So a string walks into a bar. He hops up on a barstool and says, “Gimme a beer.”

The bartender looks at him, frowns, and says, “You’re gonna have to leave. We don’t serve strings here.”

The string says, “OK,” and hops off the barstool. He goes out the door and around the corner, ties himself a couple of times, frazzles himself at both ends, and goes back into the bar. He hops up on a barstool and says, “Gimme a beer.”

The bartender says, “Aren’t you the same string that I just sent out the door a minute ago?”

The string smiles and says, “No, I’m a frayed knot.” J.

So a doctor walks into a bar…

Doctor Edgar Fuller MD limited himself to one alcoholic beverage a week. Every Friday afternoon, he would stop at a neighborhood bar on his way home and order one drink—generally a rum-and-cola or gin-and-tonic, but sometimes he tried other drinks. The bartender expected Doctor Fuller every Friday, greeting him invariably with, “Howdy, Doc: what’re you having today?”

One Friday the good doctor felt like trying something different. When the bartender asked the usual question, he answered, “What do you recommend today?”

The bartender smiled. “I’m just branching out into something new,” he boasted. “We’ve always served fruit-flavored daiquiris: lime, or strawberry, even apple. But now I’ve got some new and interesting flavors: almond, pine, hickory…”

“That sounds interesting,” the doctor said. “I’ll try the hickory flavor.”

The bartender poured some rum into a shaker, added a little syrup, and shook the drink vigorously. He dropped some ice into a glass and poured the drink onto the ice. Then he slid the drink across the counter to his customer. “Here you go,” the bartender announced. “It’s a hickory daiquiri, Doc.” J.