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· Pointed Takes on Style Delineated ·

· On Aging — De Facto  and De Jure  Style ·

If you've failed to find me lately, please chalk it up to aging — intermittent retardation, senior moment syndrome, misplaced intentionality, and such. It's a product partly of contrastive pedagogical emulation, the result of an old teacher's miming the odd literary lapses of students. For I've been dealing so much with the gaps, omissions, and non sequiturs of their work that displaced "energies" have quite sapped my own. You know the work.

So I have thought to trade up some today. Happily, my chance comes on my son Suave's birthday, his thirtieth. You may remember Suave from Standing Firm on Ceremony and A Lonerganian Précis — when he married Dr. Saavy — and from Valentine's Day Music and Space and Transcendence in Bach's Fantasia in G — when he was more musical. Nowadays Suave is a law student.

I'm the one aging now, and he wisely explaining — and agreeably so.

What I've in mind is Suave's LSAT essay, which I found last week on my desk. What luck, I thought — ready to reach for a bottle of Geritol, I have found much better "literary medicine." Though I've read thousands of such essays (but only at the pre-freshman level), to find one at the graduate level is welcome relief indeed.

Here's what Suave faced in a key moment of his twenty-somethingness. What do you think you'd write in reply?

THE PROMPT: From a newsletter about the biology of aging:

Aging is not inevitable. If nothing whatsoever influences the processes of aging, how do we explain the millions of people around the world living longer and healthier extended life spans. Demographers predict that the number of people aged 100 or more will increase fifteen-fold, from approximately 145,000 in 1999 to 2.2 million by 2050. Societies of physicians and scientists endorsing anti-aging technologies now exist throughout the world, but the traditional medical establishment continues to argue that there are no methods proven to stop or reverse aging. This is reminiscent of medical pioneers from the past whose innovations and foresight were trivialized or ignored, only to ultimately become accepted.


The argument that "aging is not inevitable" relies on an intriguing yet not fully relevant analogy. While great medical innovations have indeed been accepted only after some delay, those innovations have always concerned specific ailments or conditions, never a process so general and universal as aging. This difference in the scope of the analogized situations is not a minor one, and it proves the critical flaw in the newsletter's argument.

It should first be noted that the predicted numbers of those who will live to or past 100 are wholly irrelevant: the delay of the inevitable is not the removal of its inevitability.

Likewise, the fact that certain scientists and physicians are now endorsing anti-aging technologies carries as much in the current argument as that baldness will soon cease to occur.

The argument, then, rests on the analogy presented, and we see its weakness without difficulty.

The key insight counters the dummy premise that "nothing whatsoever influences the process of aging." The argument correctly suggests that this premise is false: our aging is affected by external and/or internal influences. While some of those influences may, indeed, be overcome by new innovations, the existence of innumerable external and internal influences is inescapable.

Why? Because we must live in the world, and we have bodies.

These two basic truths reveal the differences in scope mentioned above which is the critical flaw in the argument. Medicine may be capable of profound insights and innovations into how to heal ailments and lengthen lives. But it cannot remove us from our world of influences and make unnecessary our bodies, which are its subject.

Therefore, the newsletter is wrong: We must inevitably age.

Clear relief, acceptance, understanding, bald wit, and even stylish insight. Agreed?

So, to all you freshmen, Back to the Future!*

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· Aesthetically-Styled Christmas Prose — Re: Introductions ·

My wife and daughter-in-law are in the kitchen making lefse, winter solstice prompting their Nordic behavior. If you're clueless, lefse is the happy obverse of lutefisk — potato bread to die for if our fish by fame alone hasn't already turned your stomach. Next week I think we'll dispense with lutefisk, but bring on lefse.

I thought to begin this way since holiday prose is my theme today. You may recall I've dealt with it before in X-Mas-Letter Blues, Two Christmas Letters, in Minor and Major Washington Style, and Epistolary Happy Holidays. Stylish and I recently finished our letter — and Soulful and Smart theirs — studies in contrast that, for fun, I thought to share.

You know my "Keep-It-Simple-Stupid" style — but Soulful's fuller, richer style suggests I might fatten mine.

I mean here's the too lean note I thought to start on:

Season's Greetings from Ourfinetown. With our trips and activities so fun this year, we thought they deserved some modest trumpeting.

 · The Stylechoice Trumpet · What can I say, that it sustained, even in summer, my "summary" refrain?

In late July and August we helped Smart and Soulful with a new roof, Suave working a week in July. With borrowed scaffolding and harnesses, pneumatic nailers and hydraulic equipment, problems seemed even "professionally" solved. At least we had no serious injuries, and if beer was our only pay, family bonding was our bonus.

By way of contrast, now compare Soulful's far more musical

Season's Greetings Form Letter — Installment No. 5

Hello and Happy Holidays from our House(s) to Yours

You may have noted the plural in the above salutation. Yes, it's true — we are still fixing up the fixer-upper, slogging back and forth between two addresses, drill set and paint brush in hand. But we're close. Although close only counts in some cliché that we no longer remember. Not that we remember much of anything due to the off-gassing of various paints, adhesives, and caulks. Off-gassing was our theme for 2006. Soulful employed the term frequently as she embraced her inner granola and researched "green" building products; Smart gave new meaning to the word while "commenting" on said research. Or maybe it's the beans and rice that have fortified our efforts, preserving precious resources that have been used to fund the work. Please join us in singing: Twelve packs of insulation, eleven sheets of drywall, ten gallons of interior latex, nine palets of shingles, eight bottles of Advil, seven counseling sessions, six coils of Romex, five trips to Lowtrope Lumber (in one day), four packs of bamboo flooring, three Velux skylights, two pairs of earplugs, and a gray cat to perch on the window sill.

Makes Styles want to take a big whiff, or bite, of lefse!

Oh, if you've wondered why I've posted so little lately, here's my too-simple answer: analagous office moves, bad rain storms, house repairs, bike farkles, belated Christmas chores, and my Soulfully-Smart, Savvily-Suave, and, I hope, Stylishly-Stylechoice writing.

So to everyone today, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

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· Pro Deo et Patria — Father-Called, Father-Sent ·

Father's Day was for me a happy one, with my school year ended and summer in view. Though I'd saved some papers for noon reading on the deck, finals were behind me and a dinner in prospect with Smart and Soulful who, thankful for their blessings here, sat with Stylish and me in church Sunday. We were all happy.

But we were mindful, too, of less happy families. For Tony, a U. S. Navy Lieutenant, and his wife Natalie — with their children Gabrielle, Hayden, and Hudson — are soon facing a sad separation. Dressed Sunday in his parade whites, Tony is being sent to Iraq Wednesday.

I can't begin to describe the service, which honored members graduating and others leaving for building work in Mexico, but pastor's words for Sunday were profound: "transition" and "confidence." What struck me more, however — since Tony had ended his talk to us by saying, "Here I am" — came in a bible reading of some weeks before from the prophet Isaiah,

Chapter 6

1In the year that King Uzziah died, I beheld my Lord seated on a high and lofty throne; and the skirts of His robe filled the Temple. 2Seraphs stood in attendance on Him. Each of them had six wings: with two he covered his face, with two he covered his legs, and with two he would fly.

3And one would call to the other
"Holy, holy, holy!
The Lord of Hosts!
His presence fills all the earth!"

4The doorposts would shake at the sound of the one who called, and the House kept filling with smoke. 5I cried,

"Woe is me; I am lost!
For I am a man of unclean lips
And I live among a people
Of unclean lips;
Yet my own eyes have beheld
The King LORD of Hosts."

6Then one of the seraphs flew over to me with a live coal, which he had taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. 7He touched it to my lips and declared,

"Now that this has touched your lips,
Your guilt shall depart
and your sin be purged away."

8Then I heard the voice of my Lord saying, "Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?" And I said, "Here am I; send me." Tanakh: The Holy Scriptures, The Jewish Publication Society, Philadelphia, Jerusalem, 1985: 629.

You'll appreciate that Tony stressed that, regardless of our views on Iraq, our larger duties to God and country transcend personal, merely private claims. It is good we remember that, while we pray for fathers everywhere separated by the sad scourge of war.

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· My Boilerplate Baptism Unto Death, Seahawk Style ·

I signed using my full name, Styles Stillwell Stylechoice, and even the law clerks brought in to mark my competence couldn't tell I was attending to a loud rain pounding on the roof. Maybe they were interested, like me, only in getting home to watch Judge Alito's hearings on TV or, with their husbands, to see my Seahawks training to meet the Washington Redskins Saturday. I mean, after twenty-three days of rain, who can endure on a dark and stormy afternoon signing "boilerplate" wills and testaments in law offices?

So what's the word today, you ask? Well, water — though maybe not quite as viewed, "thereunto," in Better Than It Ever Gets. That needs even some fine grain "brewing" in the sun to take. So I've thought to offer my own unlegal boilerplate on death and taxes — those in light of a theme I thought to mark in terms of a question, "How have stylish literary artists used water 'symbolically'?"

At least thematically, Martin Luther best answers this question. "For all our life should be baptism," he writes, "and the fulfilling of the sign, or sacrament, of baptism; we have been set free from all else and wholly given over to baptism alone, that is, to death and resurrection." Although I offer this sentence without sectarian pleading, I find it suggestively resonant. Charles Schulz's memorable Peanuts strip of January 2, 2000, renders its theme with some well-drawn water. In ten reiterating panels of pouring rain, Mr. Schulz plays with his own then-acknowledged leave-taking, not only of life but of art. To begin, Peppermint Patty says: · Peppermint Patty Signing Her Will and Testament · "Hey, Chuck, it's a great game isn't it? . . . We're having fun, aren't we, Chuck? . . . It's still your ball . . . Fourth down . . . What are you gonna do, Chuck . . . You gonna run or pass? . . ." Then under an umbrella, Marcie says: "Everybody's gone home, sir . . . You should go home too . . . It's getting dark." To which Peppermint Patty replies: "We had fun, didn't we, Marcie?" And Marcie, "Yes, sir . . . we had fun." And Patty, "Nobody shook hands and said, 'Good game.'"

From that vale of tears we call life, Schultz suggestively distills for us the essence of the old art of "singing" in the rain — of smiling, playfully, in the face of death. Great or good, every artist of course plays the game well. In his Moby-Dick, Melville plays it perfectly in his chapter entitled "The Grand Armada." "But even so," he writes, "amid the tornadoed Atlantic of my being, do I myself still for ever centrally disport in mild calm; and while ponderous planets of unwaning woe revolve round me, deep down and deep inland there I still bathe me in eternal mildness of joy." So does Thoreau in Walden. When he buys in imagination "all the farms," as he says in "Where I Lived and What I Lived For," he aims to die by water first, "so," as he says, "it may please me the more at last." These artists seem to say, "Come on in, the water's fine. But, please, 'Don't kick the bucket.'"

Of course, these "Waters of Separation," as Annie Dillard calls them in Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, haven't much to do with size, as one can drown as easily in a backyard spore as in a small pond, in a nasty virus as in a vast, vacant sea. But for artists herein lies the fascination of rivers — for they always run in medias res. And from small to large — from "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" to Mark Twain's Life on the Mississippi — their watery message is ever the same: the snag of death downstream and the current song of life. Think here of Walt Whitman's East River in "Crossing Brooklyn Ferry," or of the gentle-cycling "embrace" of the River Liffey in James Joyce's Finnigans Wake (wherein his "riverrun" goes "round and round").

And of course, that's our own recurring theme. And I hope we all drown in it — joyfully and sadly — maybe along with Norman MacLean, whose A River Runs Through It ends with this arresting sentence: "I am haunted by waters." Just think about it. In a strictly non-sectarian sense, it's like Luther's, especially as our theme "passes away" and our new one "runs" — but doesn't "punt" — now into eternity. I'm here for the plunge.

That Redskin who goes down in Moby-Dick at last — Tashtego is his name — is not quite taking another Seahawk with him. Care to bet on that? For win or lose, there's always-already, folks, another game, or year, or life to look forward to.

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· Epistolary Happy Holidays ·

I've been on holiday for a month. This is not to say I've accomplished nothing, for though incommunicado I've been implementing tools of other trades — indeed driven by car to California and back, survived some bureaucratic school chores, wired my son's garage recently, and, even, endured the services of a distant knife-wielding dentist. I've also compressed the air of our holiday cheer with remarkably efficiency, which is to say I've sent off another abbreviated Christmas missive.

I thought to share it today — though you'll get no added Bush-whacking letter from Laura now. My last one, in Two Christmas Letters, in Minor and Major Washington Style, might suffice for some semi-inspired introduction. In any event, do enjoy our 2005

Happy Holidays

Dear Family and Friends,

Our year began with the death in January of Styles' beloved sister-in-law JoAn. To celebrate her long life with Styles' brother Styleshort, we flew in early February to attend her memorial service in California. They had been married almost fifty years.

Over spring break we flew east to Washington, D.C., staying in suburban Virginia in a B&B operated by Sharon Reingold, one of Stylish's P.E.O. sisters. Sharon and her husband Rob, who works with the American Meteorological Society, gave us an especially warm welcome in Washington's typically rainy, late-March weather.

Summer was more pleasant, starting with the Fourth of July. Suave and Savvy had us staying over with her parents at their beach cabin on Camano Island. Including Suave and Savvy, all of us enjoyed fireworks outside on a perfectly pleasant Northwest evening. On the following day we met up briefly with Styleshort at SeaTac. He informed us of his budding interest in one Wittywise Solemnchoice, inquiring if double-knee replacement was right for her: Savvy advised, "Go for it."

In early August we enjoyed separate getaways to Vancouver and Banff (Stylish with friends by train, and Styles on his motorcycle), later driving off to Rochester, where we visited a week with Suave and Savvy. On our way back we visited Soulful's brother Mort in Kansas City, toured briefly in Denver, made a loop through Yellowstone, and — to understand just how good we had it — headed west over Lemhi Pass in Montana near to the day Lewis and Clark's Corps of Discovery did so in 1805. Quite a thrill.

Here we've had still more wonderful experiences. In November Smart and Soulful informed us of their purchasing Suave's old place at 711 Nth Street. Just as significant was The Goodplace's winning a $180,000 grant in August from Seattle's Bishop Foundation and Soulful's being selected earlier — with other Northwest artists, including Dale Chihuly — to do a "Red Door" for Seattle's Gilda Radner Cancer Research Foundation. Smart and Soulful are doing fine here.

Best was our traveling over Thanksgiving to a Los Angeles wedding. Wittywise stood on two new knees — neither of them knocking, we thought — promising to become the new Mrs. Stylechoice of Camarillo, California. We are happy for Styleshort and for our lovely new sister-in-law Wittywise.

Our best to each of you wherever you are this Holiday Season.

Not bad compression, huh, for the shortest day of the year?

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· Nature's Double Bill, Locally and Stylishly Displayed ·

In only three days this holiday I've seen thousands of migrating shore birds, two Italian operas, and the subtle operations of Nature in the fullness of her motherly moods, suggesting today that spring has really sprung. Mama mia! Talk about your unity in variety!

It's of course the old life-death theme; for you should have seen the dog-fight of a Merlin chasing a small Western Sandpiper Friday. Even at telescopic distance, it was like no aerial ballet I had seen. Much like the mother-birders on our boardwalk, I was rooting, myself, for the sandpiper.

But then Saturday night, hearing the often-paired productions of Cavalleria Rusticana and I Pagliacci, I knew that death's cold knife can pierce human life forms, too. Those sopranos, I mean, knew what they're doing, but, oh, what glorious singing!

Then today, in celebrating Mother's Day — happily the Seventh Sunday of Easter this year — to be having, along with Stylish, a breakfast courtesy of a loving son, well, it doesn't get much better than that, does it?

Best of all, both of us shared blue cheese and champagne at lunch before heading to a nearby nursery for our pick of summer plants. Indeed, we're going to have ourselves a pleasant, colorful place this year.

Come and see things for yourselves.

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· A Belated May-Day Post — Olds Folk at Home ·

A few intrepid Google searchers landed here Sunday. May Day apparently brought them out, and they read — or pretended to, at least — my May Day! post on political correctness. With its take on that stylish old cripple, Nancy Mairs, it ended on souls too timid to say what's what in any straight, labor-intensive English. So goes my work here.

I begin this way because I don't want to make that mistake now, surely not in describing my old Oldsmoblile. The thing's a fine 1963, a Holiday 88, sadly banged up a year ago in the neighborhood. Though it's somewhat crippled, it still has style. I took it out Sunday to our family rest home up north, an old barn, where it'll have to continue rusting unobserved. I mean, there's a time when everything has to go.

But I can still get sentimental. On Sunday I thought again about us Stylechoices, all four of us, indeed driving off across the country in 1982. Stylish and I read Huck Finn aloud to our sons Smart and Suave, a fresh breeze whipping around as old Pap — our two kids loved him — came stepping along with that cross in his heel. Again, in 1989, in Detroit, only Stylish and I heard that big black truck dude remark one evening, "Where'd you get that thing? I think I made it." Such music to American ears!

I got it, in fact, in North Hollywood in 1977, for only $450. It had 23,852 miles on it. Though it needed valve seals and new paint, it was like the sixties all over again. I've had to rebuild the engine since and paint the body twice, and I've put several sets of brakes on and even stitched some new seat covers, most recently, two years ago. I could almost think I made it all myself, but that's, of course, something of an exaggeration.

In any case, it's not your daddy's Oldsmobile any longer, but it's maybe ready now for organ (I mean part) donation since son Smart has another one much like it.

As I say, we Stylechoices (short of auto-resurrection) do trust in family values.

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· An L.A.-Style, Multicultural, Memorial Weekend ·

I spent the weekend remembering family in L.A. Flying Friday morning and returning Sunday night, I chanced to retrace on the ground — in a rented Dodge Neon — a line of memory apt to the point of my trip (my sister-in-law's recent death), and I thought to retrace it today. In Los Angeles tales develop naturally in multicultural style.

My wife and I began visiting my parents' gravesites near LAX. We'd cared for them before they died, Dad in 1990, Mom in 1993. Dad was the first native-naturalized American I'd ever known, a Minnesotan really (later a Canadian-American), and Mom found him, in L.A., to marry in 1942. We thought we'd brought Washington rain with us Friday to California, but we knew it was really sunny up north. (Dad, you should know, died of malignant melanoma, Mom of heart failure.)

There lay my uncle, too, and his lovely Jewish wife, my aunt, and beyond them my grandmother who died before I was aware in 1949. My Norwegian grandfather, who died in 1923, lies in Rainy Hills Cemetery on the plains of Alberta, Canada. As I wrote on my dad's death: "In youth he negotiated in Southern Alberta coulees on the Red Deer River; in maturity he negotiated the colossus we call Los Angeles."

We made our way north after stopping briefly for lunch by a park where I once pounded tennis balls against a wall in imitation of my tennis-playing cousin, Pancho, whose stepmom was my aunt (Willa Gonzales). Then off to my first house, now a small factory owned by Mexican-Americans working iron for Las-Vegas places like The Bellagio, The Venetian, and Mandalay Bay. Then we paused by David Wilson's nearby Museum of Jurassic Technology, where in the 1950s I'd had haircuts done by a vaguely British barber. I noticed the old Chinese restaurant two doors down was preparing Thai cuisine now.

Later that night we gathered in an Italian restaurant to recount tales of our American experiences. My cousin's husband, a Russian Orthodox priest's son, laughed along with us when my brother-in-law, a retired Swedish pastor, told how his own granddad had been forced to emigrate when he made the mistake of singing the Danish national anthem when Germans held sway in Silesia. Then we heartily laughed together as we recalled how Grandma might even have had some relation to Kaiser Bill.

Saturday's memorial service, I'm glad to say, was attended by some scores of other souls maybe with similar tales to tell. In any event, I think our JoAn — who died a month shy of her seventy-second birthday — would have enjoyed our fine mix of California-style memorializing.

To our beloved JoAn, then (1933 - 2005) — whose life led from Sacramento to L.A., but whose reach embraced the extended journey we can all take from sacrament to sainthood.

And that's one day short of "the rest of the story."

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· Two Christmas Letters, in Minor and Major Washington Style ·

We've been busy here with an annual holiday chore, Christmas letter writing. Maybe you have too.

We've been fitting the happenings of a whole year into a short text. It's hard work, especially when in a page your best tricks turn mostly on what's left out, not on what's put in. Since we have said little about our recent offline life, we've thought to share our Christmas letter, one edited each year with that cast of characters you've maybe come to know.

We Stylechoices are of course mostly insubstantial, with some minor Washington-State visibility, celebrity, and reality. So, please, do enjoy our

Season's Greetings

Dear Family and Friends,

Our enclosed photo [our virtual online scanner is unfortunately acting up today] records our most important event of 2004.

On May 29, Suave married Savvy Graceart at our local Lutheran church. After a lovely reception at the nearby Masonic lodge, they honeymooned briefly in the out-of-doors before Savvy graduated, the very next weekend, as an honors University of Washington M.D. After the ceremony, Savvy's parents, Holy and Grail, hosted another reception at their home. So celebrations here have been great.

They began with Suave and Savvy's engagement announcement Valentine's Day weekend. Soon we were busy with showers, shopping, and the usual preparations, all culminating in a Memorial Day weekend none of us will ever forget. Our card surely conveys something of our joy.

Now the newlyweds are working at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota — Savvy as an orthopedic surgery resident and Suave, with much shorter hours, as a foundation grant specialist. He's also taken to improving their house. He's been remodeling since their move last June. Stylish and I visited in July, and Smart and Soulful in November. All approve.

Smart and Soulful are both busy about town. Soulful's fine art show sold out completely in April, clear recognition seconded by an Artist Trust fellowship supporting her continuing development as an emerging local artist. Smart remains, of course, in his same position, with future building projects now under funding consideration. We hope his ambitious plans for improving outdoor exhibit spaces materialize.

We are both teaching and, occasionally, getting out and about — Styles twice to New Jersey for test grading and the two of us, on a grand road trip, happily delivering Suave's Mazda Miata top-down to Minnesota. Afterwards, though, we had to spend the rest of our summer on the floor installing tile in our kitchen and laundry. We are both of us pleased. Do come and see things for yourselves.

Our best to you this Christmas and for the whole new year.

Should you want some major Washington visibility, celebrity, and reality, we can also oblige. For we've just received from Laura Bush what she's recently sent from Crawford, Texas, via London. Since naming her in Home on the Range of Texas Gobbledygook, I've indeed been marked for my stylish democratic patriotism and Christian charity, at least online. So enjoy, more stylishly, from the Southern White House, Howdy Friends! What a year!

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· Better Than It Ever Gets ·

"A name can say a lot about a place, or nothing at all."

So begins John G. Mitchell's National Geographic article, Nature's Champion (July 2004). I cite it today since, though I'm only a denizen of Olympic National Park, its "natural" subject I can almost call home.

Olympic says a lot. It says that this is as good as it gets. Here, astride the pinnacle of excellence [Mitchell writes], stands the champion. Fitting, then, that mapmakers should borrow the modifier from mythology and stamp it upon this peninsula poking fist-like into the Pacific at the westernmost edge of the 48 contiguous United States. And if the word suits the peninsula, why not recycle it to the peninsula's national park, overlorded as it is by the mountain Olympus, named for the throne room of the Grecian gods?

 · Olympic National Park ·

Though I'm wary of his penchant for hyperbolic "excess," as Jeffrey Kittay once rightly said more generally of English descriptive nature writing (especially if it seeks some larger droit de cite [right of a citizen]"),* Mitchell is at least encouraging. I mean — if you think about it — his lavish praise is fitting since Olympians are, of course, typically washed by excessive rainfall.

So today I thought to let him continue:

The park is a throne room in its own right [he claims]: More than 900,000 acres (4,000 hectares) of icy summits and alpine meadows, rushing rivers and glacial lakes, fog-shrouded sea stacks and surf-fed tide pools; a sanctuary for spawning salmon and rutting elk; a seedbed of spruce and fir and cedar soaring above a rain forest as grand as any in the world. Who knows? Among American landscapes, Olympic National Park just might be better than it ever gets.

Naturally, Mitchell's stylish hyperbole should prompt a smile, but you might enjoy on this sunny day a handy, more-officially-approved photo gallery, while I, a bit lower on nature's food-chain, enjoy an Olympia brew.

You might recall, of this Northwest beer, its fitting motto: "It's the Water."

*Kittay's remark, from his 1981 introduction to Yale French Studies — entitled "Toward A Theory of Description" (Issue 61, p.i) — I include for added amusment, interest, and study:

We still operate very much within the Aristotelian concept of action, which suggests that description be viewed [he writes] as secondary, and purely functional, or merely decorative. Consequently, description is seen as something which must be kept in its place, functioning to fill in or to set up, and having a certain marginality or accidence, making it detachable or skippable; otherwise, if it does claim a larger droit de cite [right of a citizen] (as in descriptive poetry of the eighteenth century), it is seen to be uncontrolled or excessive or boring. This volumn discusses the qualities, tendencies and resistances of description, what our attitudes are toward it, what elicits it, how it works, what it satisfies and leaves wanting, and the strange kind of relationships it establishes with such concepts as space and time and action, perception and cognition, writing and meaning.

Again, I'm but a championizing denizen of Olympic National Park, not yet a full citizen.


P.S. Do enjoy Mitchell's added peninsular Field Notes, too.

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· The Physician's Oath, Geneva Style ·

We were pleased to see our daughter-in-law become a medical doctor Saturday. Graduating with honors and an Alpha Omega Alpha key, Savvy is taking our last name apparently. We thought to mark her choice with pride today — since it accords in part with the 1948 World Health Organization version of the classic Physician's Oath.

 · Caduceus · All name changes are of course stylistic metonyms, but anyone familiar with such figures knows they also mark more substantive matters — like Savvy's. Indeed, Savvy's new name, like her degree, entails changed words and worlds. As she's moving now to the famed Mayo Clinic, we're told she's going to learn medicine not in the right or wrong way but in The Mayo way, so we thought she might also someday do medical things in A Stylechoice way. That would be interesting.

In any case, we heard Savvy with all her fellow graduates solemnly repeat the updated version of the Physician's Oath Saturday, and it sounded good to us:

At THE time of being admitted as a Member of the Medical Profession:

  • I SOLEMNLY pledge myself to consecrate my life to the service of humanity.
  • I WILL give to my teachers the respect and gratitude which is their due;
  • I WILL practice my profession with conscience and dignity;
  • THE HEALTH of my patient will be my first consideration;
  • I WILL respect the secrets which are confided in me;
  • I WILL maintain by all the means in my power, the honor and the noble traditions of the medical profession.
  • MY COLLEAGUES will be my sisters and brothers.
  • I WILL respect and value the lives of all persons;
  • I WILL not discriminate against any person in my medical decisions;
  • I WILL maintain the utmost respect for human life; even under threat, I will not use my medical knowledge contrary to the laws of humanity.
  • I MAKE these promises solemnly, freely and upon my honor.

You might like to know what we inscribed on Savvy's card, itself marked with St. Benedict's own good word: "Let peace be your quest and aim":

 · Asclepius · Savvy,

As you take the Physician's Oath today, affirming your service to humankind, we trust that St. Benedict's injunction will second and extend its meaning in a larger service to God. You today have our admiration for the work involved in achieving this milestone. In calling you Doctor, though, it's rather the charitable spirit of "Savvy" we honor all the more!

                             Styles and Stylish

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· A Lonerganian Précis ·

You may be curious about our wedding weekend. Rest assured, everything went well. My wife Stylish and I can't be more pleased. Savvy Graceart joined our younger son Suave Saturday in marriage, and we two Stylechoices are agreed — they make a handsome pair.

Although we can't begin to describe a weekend stretching from Thursday's two-family meal to yesterday's gift-opening brunch, we can at least note Friday night's rehearsal toast. Being a garrulous philosopher, I am occasionally obliged to follow Thoreau's apt advice: "Simplify, Simplify, Simplify!" (which my wife naturally calls a prelude to a K.I.S.S.). So I decided to clothe our toast in a single text (Bernard J. F. Lonergan's Insight) and a pair of matched Fruit-of-the-Loom T-shirts. Here's our story:

Since Suave and Savvy will soon be honey-mooning happily in Lonergan's Canada, we thought to honor their college majors (philosophy and physics) by condensing Lonergan's complex text to a simple, plain-talking textile. I mean even for an Oxford-tutored Lonerganian and his new Catholic bride, such a heady honeymoon ironically begs physical smoothing (which is why I worked our Sunbeam steam iron before Friday's rehearsal). So I found myself referring to some key passages from Lonergan's Preface, first chapter, and Epilogue (much to the relief of our very astonished guests when they saw my 875-page tome). Lonergan's key passages follow:

  • In the ideal detective story the reader is given all the clues yet fails to spot the criminal. (Naturally our happy couple once hadn't found one another.)
  • In the midst of that vast and profound strirring of human minds, which we name the Renaissance, Descartes was convinced that too many people felt it beneath them to direct their efforts to apparently trifling problems. (We here referred to such tasks as fixing the dinner arrangements and writing needed guest invitations.)
  • It might be thought that, at the end of this long book, the long-suffering reader was entitled to a concluding summary. (You can imagine our audience's brief, agonized laughter.)
  • In the introduction I stated a programme. Thoroughly understand what it is to understand, and not only will you understand the broad lines of all there is to be understood but also you will possess a fixed base, an invarient pattern, opening upon all further developments of understanding. (We here suggested Suave and Savvy had finally found each other.)

 Bernard J. F. Lonergan, Collected Works of Bernard Lonergan: Insight: A Study in Human Understanding, Vol. 3, Eds. Frederick E. Crowe and Robert M. Doran, Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1992 [1957], 3, 27, 754, 769-79.

So, the two T-Shirts? Well, their fronts and backs are depicted below — with Lonergan's brief quip reading: "But insights are a dime a dozen, eh?"

 · T-Shirt Front ·

 · T-Shirt Back  ·

Nice send-off, eh?*

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· Standing Firm on Ceremony ·

We've been into wedding work recently and realized, two nights ago, we had rehearsal-dinner invitations left to do. Though no big deal (they can of course be delivered verbally: "Hey, folks, let's all run over to The Greatgood Place for a brew"), maybe for prudence' sake — or propriety's — we decided, rightly, I think, to stand firm on ceremony.

A conservative decision but one fit well to the liberal tradition, too. Indeed, as we're having a Lutheran wedding presided over by a Dr. (a cell biologist happily into her second Rev. career), and by a lay Catholic deacon blessing the day a bit more sacramentally, we reasoned, quite naturally: "Yes, the ceremony demands the right balancing of two traditions, yet maybe without full deference to either." So who should pop up here to confirm our choice but the sagey Russell Kirk, whose The Conservative Mind (1953) includes this paradoxical word happily fit to our circumstances:

A man should be governed in his necessary decisions by a decent respect for the customs of mankind; and he should apply [Kirk claims] that custom or principle to his particular circumstances by a cautious expediency. . . . Even the most intelligent of men cannot hope to understand all the secrets of traditional morals and social arrangements; but we may be sure that Providence, acting through the medium of human trial and error, has developed every hoary habit for some important purpose. Russell Kirk, The Conservative Mind, from Burke to Eliot, 7th Rev. Ed., Washington, D. C.: Regnery, 1985, 37, 38.

So how did Kirk shape our invitations? Simply by reminding us to apply custom or principle "expediently" to particular circumstances. For as we employed trial and error on our own, we considered them quite serially: two real folks asking real guests on a real day to a real place in real time for some real food — beer, wine, salad, bread, lasagna, spumoni (plus toasts, talk, jokes, and gifts) — and then we thought, "Hey, we have some real Stylechoices here (left-to-right, say), a fine couple (Suave and Savvy), and some good writing to do! Let's go for it!"

But then our headaches began. Should we be Mr. and Mrs. Styles Stylechoice, or just Styles and Stylish Stylechoice, and with, or without, the two lovely Gracearts (Holy and Grail), whose soon-to-be Dr. Savvy daughter — her seldom-used first name is Nordicsmart — is, well . . . "betrothed" hardly seemed the word for her, much less "fiancée." Stylistically, we were simply overwhelmed!

Then matters temporal intervened ("'Half after' or 'half past' what?" I asked. "Let dinner do the talkin'," my wife suggested, rightly objecting to "o'clock."), plus attendant spatial matters: "Do we want a map, Styles?" Stylish asked me. "Ask Suave, maybe Savvy," I smartly replied.

Well, we finally settled on an invitation — not "right" or "left" — but "down the middle":

Styles and Stylish Stylechoice
request the pleasure of your company
at the wedding rehearsal dinner honoring

Suave & Savvy

Friday the twenty-eighth of May
Two thousand and four

The Greatgood Place
111 Middlebrow Avenue
Ourfinetown, Washington

We trust even if you're uninvited you might also enjoy our food for thought.

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· Laughter and the Love of Friends ·

Last weekend a wedding shower brought my wife and me to Seattle. The wedding, coming Memorial-Day weekend, might be less memorable perhaps — not that we are not looking forward to our son and his fiancée's wedding.

It's just that Saturday night we had a special evening, a feast hosted by long-time friends of our future in-laws. The memorable image of the enduring love among couples there we might someday recall as the presence in microcosm of the wedding itself.

Here's what we found ourselves writing to the feted couple:

Our best to you for the joy you have brought us both, a joy so obviously shared by the new friends you have also taught us to value. Our best today and for the long future.

     Mom and Dad

What I think we really meant to say was better marked in Hilaire Belloc's famous "Dedicatory Ode":

From quiet homes and first beginning,
Out to the undiscovered ends,
There's nothing worth the wear of winning,
But laughter and the love of friends.

We think all might be glad to learn today that the pair have just bought their first home. May friends and family fill it now with love and laughter.

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· Returned from California Sun to Washington Snow ·

I've just returned home to what the romantic poets have sometimes styled the "fierce art" of a hard snow storm. After driving from Washington to California and back, I pulled into my garage late Saturday night with renewed respect for John Keats' old weather line, "O for a beaker full of the warm South."

Naturally, San Diego was everything I had hoped for, sunny days spent partially out-of-doors, romantic street-side dining on each of three nights there, and MLA sessions graced indoors with sparkling, occasionally stilted, literary wit and wisdom. The Modern Language Association chose well its 2003 Convention.

But 2004 has already begun with a blast of frigid air here, an icy spirit having bumped my three classes back two days now and making me think (bundled up in my fleece and Merino wool) only of Emerson's romantically compensatory take on

The Snow-Storm

Announced by all the trumpets of the sky,
Arrives the snow, and, driving o'er the fields,
Seems nowhere to alight: the whited air
Hides hills and woods, the river, and the heaven,
And veils the farm-house at the garden's end.
The sled and traveller stopped, the courier's feet
Delayed, all friends shut out, the housemates sit
Around the radiant fireplace, enclosed
In a tumultuous privacy of storm.

Though I like Emerson's point, sometimes I'd rather have Percy Bysshe Shelley's more famous line, one riding on the prophetic spirit of a single thought trumpeted at the end of Ode to the West Wind:

If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?

At least I'm glad to announce (from the local TV news) a warming wind now rising from the far South Pacific.

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· Some Simple Secrets of Longevity ·

I've always been a sucker for long sentences. This doesn't mean that I'm overly obsessed by them. Even short ones do have their place. I think I prefer them. You might, too.

But a long sentence — one able to rise to the complicated challenge of a new journey — merits clear regard if without sacrificing speed it happily sweeps us along over the last bumpy road toward home, like riding with John Wayne as he pulls into Dodge City, gets down, casually ambles over to get a bourbon, and says, "Howdy, boys. What do y'all do here for fun?" I mean old Texas tumbleweeds really do roll.

I got to thinking as much Thursday in view of the wide stretch of ocean reaching in long relief westward from the south-facing windows of my house. You might recall my description of my Thanksgiving dinner: "We're all a happily diverse bunch," I said, describing my guests at length. Stripped of add-ons, here's what I actually said — "We're all a happily diverse bunch, with Tom, Nancy, and Savvy; Seppo and Rick; Pirjo; Tracy with Katri, Brett and Kaycey; Smart and Soulful; Suave; Matt and Marsha; and Stylish."

Now in thinking about that sentence, I suddenly recalled the secret — grammatically — of its construction, this in a classic British sentence by Sir Herbert Read:

Sentences in their variety run from simplicity to complexity, a progression not necessarily reflected in length: a long sentence may be extremely simple in construction — indeed must be simple if it is to convey its sense easily. Quoted in Joseph M. Williams, Style: Ten Lessons in Clarity and Grace, 7th ed., New York: Longman, 2002, 135.

What Read has in mind, really, is the stuffy old grammatical saw about simple, compound, and complex sentences, tempered by this helpful rhetorical tip, "Keep It Simple, Stupid."

I mean — returning to my Thanksgiving post — it turns on just five simple sentences, here ellipitcally stripped for easy reading:

We're expecting old friends and family for dinner.

We're all a happily diverse bunch.

This is nothing like the first Thanksgiving.

So is this report.

Do have a Happy Thanksgiving!

William Bradford had three others:

And besides waterfowl there was great store of wild turkeys.

Besides they had about a peck a meal a week to a person.

Which made many afterwards write so largely of their plenty.

Bradford's last sentence is but a fragment, of course, and brings me to the logical reason for today's post: to say happy birthday to my own older brother Styleshort, who turned seventy last Sunday.

He hasn't as yet made his own longevity disreputable by any untimely persistence in it.

And I hope I haven't either.

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· Now Thank We All Our God ·

We're expecting old friends and family for dinner, all gathering to celebrate our American national holiday today, Thanksgiving.

We're all a happily diverse bunch, with a trio of medical types who speak physiology; two engineers who talk of electrical grids and blackouts; a secretary whose Finnish substitutions of what for which amuse; a soda distributor who with his wife and his two children represent the Pepsi generation; our museum-director son and his wife, an artist, who ooze local memory and imagination; a pianist son who keeps us all soundly entertained; a college student and his mom who both manage a substation of bright light hereabouts, and my wife who will once again keep everyone stylishly cheered and deliciously fed this Thanksgiving.

Of course, this is nothing like the first Thanksgiving, an original report of which I thought to share today — William Bradford's Of Plymouth Plantation:

And besides waterfowl there was great store of wild turkeys, of which they took many, besides venison, etc. Besides they had about a peck a [sic] meal a week to a person, or now since harvest, Indian corn to that proportion. Which made many afterwards write so largely of their plenty here to their friends in England, which were not feigned but true reports. William Bradford, Of Plymouth Plantation, ed. Samuel Eliot Morrison, Major American Writers, Vol. 1, New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1963, 27.

So is this report, likewise, though I might feign saying I hear a knock at the door now.

Well, whoever you are, do have a Happy Thanksgiving!

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· The Sweet Sound of Silence ·

Returned from the East, I'm afraid I have lapsed into the sweet sound of silence. Not, of course, that I have heard nothing out West or back East. On the contrary, Monday was the wettest, stormiest day on record here. I heard leaky drips in my attic and, outside, the impressive, steady howling of North-Pacific gales. My younger son even begged me hear drops falling on the stage he graced last February with the sweet sounds of music — and they weren't, of course, proper piano sounds.

But last week back East they were. On the stage of Avery Fisher Hall in New York two Saturdays ago, I heard Zoltán Kocsis play Béla Bartók's Piano Concerto No. 3 (1945), and, again, last Tuesday there, I heard Murray Perahia play Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 1 in C major, Op. 15 (1795). Last Thursday at the 92nd Street Y, I again heard Kocsis play two Schubert sonatas [E minor (1817) and B-flat Major (1828)], these anchoring, brilliantly, a varied set of Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsodies.

What prompts my recollections, however, is my understanding that words are simply inadequate to my musical experiences. Happily, I was put onto this theme by the fitness of David Wright's program notes for Thursday's Kocsis recital. Here is Wright's trying — and admittedly failing — to catch the very essence of the middle movements of the Schubert B-Flat Sonata:

 · Franz Schubert · Again, the unexpected key of the Andante sostenuto, C-sharp minor, can be "explained" as the "minor mode of the enharmonic flatted mediant" of B flat — or one can just appreciate it as a subtle change of light, foreshadowed by the development of the first movement, which begins in C-sharp minor. It is the key of Beethoven's "Moonlight" Sonata, veiled, romantic, sensual — tendencies that Schubert counteracts by writing the left-hand accompaniment in bare four-octave unison arpeggios. Except for a more active middle section, this movement creates a kind of frozen landscape by the use of near-identical rhythmic patterns in every bar — which makes its ability to convey great, wrenching emotional shifts all the more astonishing. And what could be a greater contrast than the blithe, unpredictable Scherzo? Here nothing is what it appears to be: a theme begins, then turns out to be a digression, and vice versa. Again, analysis is futile; the net isn't made that will catch this butterfly. David Wright, 'Notes on the Program,' Distinguished Artists Series, Zoltan Kocsis, Piano, New York: 92nd Street Y, October 16, 2003, 6.

But of course it doesn't stymie the creature. The sweetest sound I heard last Saturday, for instance — in Palmer Square in Princeton — was from a waitress (a lovely soprano at Westminster College Choir of Ryder University) who, in serving me a rich chocolate fondue dessert, happily heard me and a friend say, "Yes, chocolate."

Although she only nodded, if you ever chance to hear Sarah Sweet, do. I think I've caught the essence of her style.

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· Such a Woman — Anniversary Style ·

My wife and I are celebrating our 37th anniversary. In honor of the occasion, I thought to revise and extend my remarks, as they say in the "Other" Washington, by citing a famous passage from Luce Irigaray's "The Power of Discourse." Although I cannot altogether agree with her Lacanian presuppositions, she nevertheless comes off quite well. Even feminists might agree.

This "style" or "writing" of women tends to put the torch to fetish words, proper terms, well-constructed forms. This "style" does not privilege sight: instead, it takes each figure back to its source, which is among other things tactile. It comes back in touch with itself in that origin without ever constituting in it, as some sort of unity. Simultaneity is its "proper" aspect — a proper(ty) that is never fixed in the possible identity-to-self of some form or other. It is always fluid, without neglecting the characteristics of fluids that are difficult to idealize: those rubbings between two infinitely near neighbors that create a dynamics. Its "style" resists and explodes every firmly established form, figure, idea, or concept. Which does not mean that it lacks style. Luce Irigaray, 'The Power of Discourse,' This Sex Which Is Not One, Ithica: Cornell University Press, 1985, 79.

Naturally and properly, we're off on a holiday, and I thought to say as much here. Cheerio!

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· Dirty-Hand Style: Henry David Thoreau ·

Although I was educated in a library, I was raised — or more properly reared — in a garage. Written for students, that sentence is a particular favorite, and I thought to share it. It catches something of my "summer style" here.

Like Thoreau who recommends manual labor as a way of knocking palaver out of writing, I've been at that work recently, knocking out enough to have been silent or just invisible lately. Since submitting grades (I won't bore you with details), I've been "garaging" myself, and also garaging old pickups, too. Last night I drove to Snoqualmie Pass to trailer home my son's 3/4-ton Ford. Literally pulling an all-nighter from summit to sea — with eyes fixed on a heat guage — does concentrate the mind. I'm happy to say the rescue went well, with my son with a new part to find, his younger brother with a radiator to fix, and me with a good story to tell. Obviously, others will emerge in time.

Today I thought to share Henry Thoreau's take on a theme that has, since September, been alluded to much. In Wetting a Line \ Whetting the Points and Metaphors \ Methods \ Models, I'm afraid I left Thoreau's words mostly unattributed. So for those still awake I thought to cite them fully:

 · Henry David Thoreau · Men have a respect for scholarship and learning [Thoreau claims] greatly out of proportion to the use they commonly serve. We are amused to read how Ben Jonson engaged that the dull masks with which the royal family and nobility were to be entertained should be "grounded upon antiquity and solid learning." Can there be any greater reproach than an idle learning? Learn to split wood, at least. The necessity of labor and conversation with many men and things, to the scholar is rarely well remembered; steady labor with the hands, which engrosses the attention also, is unquestionably the best method of removing palaver and sentimentality out of one's style, both of speaking and writing. If he has worked hard from morning till night, though he may have grieved that he could not be watching the train of his thoughts during that time, yet the few hasty lines which at evening record his day's experience will be more musical and true than his freest but idle fancy could have furnished. Surely the writer is to address a world of laborers, and such therefore must be his own discipline. He will not idly dance at his work who has wood to cut and cord before nightfall in the short days of winter; but every stroke will be husbanded, and ring soberly through the wood; and so will the strokes of that scholar's pen, which at evening record the story of the day, ring soberly, yet cheerily, on the ear of the reader, long after the echoes of his axe have died away. The scholar may be sure that he writes the tougher truth for the calluses on his palms. Henry David Thoreau, 'On Style,' Modern English Reader, Robert M. Gorrell, Charlton Laird, and Ronald Freeman, eds., New York: Prentice-Hall, 1970, 247.

If you recall, it was my chore to split wood last December, but it's my task now to get down and dirtier with compost and concrete, grease and sawdust, and, yes, words and phrases, too. But I'm tired, I'm afraid. For in alluding at 4:30 a.m. to Homer's "rosy fingers of dawn," I fell into the sort of "palaver" Henry David Thoreau warned me against. Then again, being "grounded in antiquity and solid learning" may just be my way to style, pace Thoreau.

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· Syttende Mai: L. A. Style ·

 · Norwegian Lion ·

 · Norwegian Lion ·

Shielded here by Norway Lions, I'm celebrating Syttende Mai. Today is Norwegian "Independence Day," May 17th, famous for political-seasonal liberation — a day marking relief from Denmark's rule in 1814 and, of course, from winter's annually. If you've ever experienced hard and cold, you may — even if not Norwegian — celebrate.

They do, you know, even in L. A. The Half-Norwegian (On the Mother's Side) American Bar Association held their bash yesterday; I wish I had been there. A full-Norwegian myself — but a non-lawyer Angelino — I honor them, although I wasn't smart enough in fleeing L. A. (moving to the Pacific Northwest) to discover that Northwest cold does take its toll on Norskies fondly recalling soft Mediterranean warmth. But for such loss, "abundant recompense," as Wordsworth writes.

Like my childhood reading. In a book still widely read now called Snow Treasure, I learned at my Mom's insistence about kids sledding by jack-booted Nazi invaders — with Norway's gold bullion cleverly hidden under sled blankets. Impressive 1950s reading. Though I'm sorry Mom hid much from me whenever she talked Norwegian, the book's illustrations "jump-started" my learning. Though I still don't know the language, I am sharpening the style.

Speaking of style, my in-law Uncle Arnülf had it. Long Harbor Master of Haugesund, he once thanked the captain and crew of an American war ship, in perfectly eloquent English, for Norway's liberation. His style was sharpened by hauling Caribbean bauxite to American East Coast ports. The torpedo that hit his ship was, among the hundreds that sank others, only a dud. (By the way, his wife — back in Norway — could not reach him and his emigrant siblings for five years.)

Do you know that Norway sent more folks per-capita to America than any other European country — itself half-Norwegian — but one, Ireland?

Which raises the difficult issue of the Vikings. Well, all I can say is, we seem to be forgiven today. At least that's how I read, as I think you should, this very stylish speech by Superior Court Judge Lawrence W. Crispo, an Italian-American member of the L. A. bar raising a double aquavit to Norway's Two Independence Days.

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· On Parsing English Justice ·

Justice: The Hope of All Who Are Just. The Dread of All Who Wrong.

These few words appeared in the court I sat in Wednesday. They brought to mind an old writing maxim; you've heard it: "prefer active verbs." The injunction invites verbal action from stylish English writers. Indeed, the best handbooks repeat it, zealous E-primers fetishize it, and alert, really competent writers follow it — maybe more dutifully than religiously. I know I do.

But Wednesday, asked by a judge to be his appointed tool of local justice, I knew I was in trouble. For I'd hoped I couldn't be, and when I wasn't, I dreaded I'd in fact wronged someone. I felt an essential guilt weighing, metaphysically, on anyone standing before the old bar of English justice.

It wasn't a matter of identity politics. For I'd not been asked if I was rich or poor, liberal or conservative, gay or straight, or a host of other oppositions bedeviling thought today. All I'd been asked was one question: could I be just? The categories figuring in my oath — "facts," "truth," "evidence," "reason" — were all good metaphysical abstractions, but when taken from me by a "peremptory challenge," I felt myself then pleading at the bar. For I couldn't be a juror, since I'd been judged and, indeed, found wanting.

Although I've known that's crucial to our system, today I thought to pass the explanation on to a better writer, G. K. Chesterton. Since Chesterton became an English juror (and I just a reject), I thought you might like his Twelve Men. By the way, consider me Chesterton's "bicycle thief."

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· Valentine's Day Music ·

 · Three Centuries Old · It's fortunate the instrument Bartolomeo Cristofori invented some three hundred years ago is known nowadays only as the piano. Pianoforte better marks its real appeal, of course — soft and loud — and its proper achievement, hammering home (literally via a technical trick called an "escape mechanism") a new musical experience, one I suspect Prince Ferdinando de'Medici of Florence recognized: the sounds of love and war at once.

I got thinking about all this at my son's piano concert tonight. I'd earlier been following the news. Between Blix and Bush, of course, I'm glad my escape mechanism was just musical. I couldn't help thinking, though, that the distance between love and war — between Debussy's "L'Isle Joyeuse" and Liapunov's "Lezginka," say — isn't really that far. In my generation making love not war seemed the thing, but today "studying war no more" isn't quite our forte.

Still, I'm hopeful that like Suave's encore, we might in fact rest in the piano peace of Grieg's "Arietta."

It really is heartening Valentine's Day Music.

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· Space and Transcendence in Bach's Fantasia in G ·

You might recall the imagined high note I ended on two weeks ago. In Art, Thought, and Technology on Nicholson Baker's "Up" Escalator, I fancied a metaphorical "tenor" (foot)noting his "vehicular ride" on an ordinary escalator through the third movement of a musical sonata. The form, of course, was my thought not Baker's, so my idea employed Baker's The Mezzanine effectively to transpose "notes" in virtual space with a still larger, deeper significance. Today I thought to mark such "notes" directly — indeed, in musical form itself.

 · Johann Sebastian Bach ·

Actually, since I can only represent the "sounds" indirectly, I'm forced here to be metaphorical, especially so since the musial thought I've in mind is actually my son's, and the "note" he would mark is a profounder one of J.S. Bach's. What I particularly have in mind is a brief essay written in appreciation of Bach's Fantasia in G (perhaps Bach's greatest organ work). What captured Suave's imagination, however, is only found in the score, not in the sound of Bach's work, and so I'm permitted a wider meditation on themes and variations fit to the still larger space of Bach's own musical imagination. For the theme is space itself — and how music marks its very transcendence. You'll see that very idea expressed in Bach's music.

Insofar as it depends on the related concepts of boundary and limit, the word space seems to suggest the reciprocal ideas [my son writes] of expansion and contraction. Metaphorically, we can perhaps see as much in music. When a performer employs rubato to make a steady beat more flexible and interesting, he actually makes the music more understandable by expanding or contracting upon the representational limits of the composer's score, drawing the listener's attention to what we call musicality — to the very essence, that is, of live performance. The printed score can only suggest it.

Likewise, in order to make the most of the spaces of our lives, we must also expand and contract our sense of existence, weighing and considering especially our sense of freedom and responsibility. Personal and social realities are ever changing, always flexible. Bound by spaces we inhabit, we struggle to maintain balance between what is possible and what is impossible. But the very things that are possible can be defined only through the bounds we set on the imagined worlds we choose to live in. To lead a full life, a satisfying life, a human being must strive to transcend the many personal spaces he occupies, expanding his chances, opportunities, and possibilities in life.

Although I cannot fully represent the scope of Suave's essay — which turns successively from music to photography to literature to life and to music again — its concluding paragraph catches perfectly the essence of the point (the stylistic "note") both he — and I think Bach and Baker, too — would suggestively sound. Indeed, you might even hear it in Bach's music.

We must learn to travel [Suave continues] in a new dimension of space, an intellectual dimension. That dimension has never been better or more artfully represented, I think, than in the music of Johann Sebastian Bach. I am thinking particularly of his great organ work, Fantasia in G. It is a magnificent piece, exploiting all the intricately complex resources of the instrument. Opening with a playful toccata-like figure, it slowly develops into a methodical five-voice Grave section, gradually crescendoing to a shaking thunder, where it falls off abruptly into a serene, reflective meditation. Whenever I listen to this piece, I am ecstatic. It is today my favorite piece. But what most fascinates me about it is not necessarily heard, but rather seen. Bach wrote in the score an impossible low B in the pedals, a half step below the range of the instrument then or now. I learned this on the dust jacket of my recording; Claire van Ausdall, commenting on that low B, wrote: "It is not so much a case of Homer's nodding, one suspects, as of the composer's contrapuntal vision momentarily effacing such earthbound restrictions as the limits of a mere mechanical boundary." Bach's reaching to that low B, pushing at the boundaries of musical space is, I would add, still very much with the space of music itself. For in reaching beyond the space of his instrument, he is, I like to think, approaching there the more mysterious essence of music itself.

You should know that as I've been writing this, I've been listening to my son's own fine music. He's practicing for a Valentine Day's piano concert. One work, triply distant from the Fantasia in G, is Bach's great Partita No. 2 for violin, BWV 1004 — called "Chaconne" — arranged for left hand by Johannes Brahams. But on whatever instrument — and by whatever hand — it goes ("Andante," say), marked also in Suave's essay, "only by the grace of God."

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· Christmas Light ·

 · Christmas Light ·

Trees hereabouts mark Christmas all year. They seem to go with the territory. Of course, you seldom see trees decorated save with what you perceive, rain or shine, quite naturally to hang from their boughs. Here hangs, for example, thanks to the miracle of digital technology, the light of the world caught suspended in fir.

Such radiance seemed to deserve sharing today. Of course, those indoor trees around which we may have gathered will all soon enough be put away and, with them, the bright lights that have artificially but happily, I hope, graced your Christmas Day. In any case, I have thought to reflect on how my own web of words — this technology in which we live and move and have our being — may itself be neither so artificial as is sometimes thought nor so ignorable as might still be imagined. For as old St. John has said, the light of the world does in fact hang in there with trees.

In any event, around here it does — and may it do so where you live, too. Merry Christmas!

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· Keeping Northwest Books in Style ·

A four-day stay in Vancouver prompts my post. I go back a long way there, to 1966 when Stylish and I first visited British Columbia's most cosmopolitan city. In addition to spectacular views, we discovered something new, two public libraries keeping Northwest books in style today.

 · Vancouver Public Library · It was good to find just two blocks from the Georgian Court, where we stayed, the impressive Vancouver Public Library. If you visit, VPL is a must-see. Built in 1995, the building gestures to the Roman Coliseum architecturally but remains alert to the rich, variegated life of Canada's most diverse, multicultural city. Designed in 1992 by Moshe Safdie & Associates, its 9 floors house 2.5 million items adjacent to a new $50-million, 21-floor Federal Tower. An upbeat gathering spot, the VPL has been among the first of North American libraries to have included, with great success, adjoining retail shops.

 · The Koerner Library · No less impressive was the 1997 Walter C. Koerner Library on the campus of the University of British Columbia. Commanding spectacular views from its 920 carrels, the Koerner rises five floors above ground, its lowest belted in rock granite and its remaining in plate glass. For UBC's humanities and social science students, it offers an impressive blend of literary, natural, and technological sophistication unequalled, in our experience, elsewhere. We did find it amusing that benefactor Walter C. Koerner, an important UBC backer, made his initial fortune as a clever verbal stylist — simply renaming our low-grade "Hemlock" as "Alaska Pine."

It goes to show you how far a little bit of style can take you. But here it has simply taken us from Vancouver to home, where, if our books are not so well housed, they are, we think, just as well loved.

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· X-Mas-Letter Blues ·

We just sent out our Christmas letters. I'm not sharing, though, since those who'd visit might be truly bored — rediscovering, you know, some sorry couple just "Singin' the Blues":

 We ain't got no MONey,
 We ain't got no LUCK.
 Some ol' folks HONey,
 Done take that TRUCK.

You know the type?

Aye! Wishin' they'd won the Big Jackpot when they ain't got a Ticket!

Crazy Imaginary Cry Babies!

Aye! Thinkin' o' Puttin' on the Ritz!

My Eye! Puttin' on the Agony — Puttin' on the Style!

My Eye!

Welcome, Family and Friends, to . . . · You Got Style ·

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· Aldo Leopold: Good Oak, Good Cedar, Good History ·

Log spliting has put me in mind of Aldo Leopold's A Sand County Almanac (1949). It is a treasured text in the plain style, simple and direct, honest but subtle, and indeed, like a weblog, ordered monthly and topically. Here begins, for instance, Leopold's "February" — written by the warmth of "Good Oak" burning in his fireplace: "There are two spiritual dangers in not owning a farm. One is the danger," he says, "of supposing that breakfast comes from the grocery, and the other that heat comes from the furnace." Admirable thought. Though I work no farm and own a furnace, yet as I garden and burn logs in season and end toiling today in three quarter-sections — herein called my classes — I'm happily at ease. · Aldo Leopold ·

What Leopold has happily set me to thinking about today is a famous passage near the end of "February." Leopold reflects on the tools of good history in it — and meditates simply and deeply on a glowing oak on his andirons, one cut, bucked, and split from an eighty-ring giant scarred by lightening and transecting, twice, American history from 1945 to 1865. He considers especially the environmental-geographical, not political, history of his oak, and dwells, at last, on the aforementioned tools making good wood of it. It is to these tools — "requisite to good oak, and to good history," as he says — that he points: namely, the saw, the wedge, and the axe.

The saw works only across the years, which it must deal with one by one, in sequence. From each year the raker teeth pull little chips of fact, which accumulate in little piles, called sawdust by woodsmen and archives by historians; both judge the character of what lies within by the character of the samples thus made visible without. It is not until the transect is completed that the tree falls, and the stump yields a collective view of a century. By its fall the tree attests the unity of the hodge-podge called history.

The wedge, on the other hand, works only in radial splits; such a split yields a collective view of all the years at once, or no view at all, depending on the skill with which the plane of the split is chosen. (If in doubt, let the section season for a year until a crack develops. Many a hastily driven wedge lies rusting in the woods, embedded in unsplittable cross-grain.)

The axe functions only at an angle diagonal to the years, and this only for the peripheral rings of the recent past. Its special function is to lop limbs, for which both saw and wedge are useless. Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac, New York: Balantine, 1966 [1949], 18-19; above 6.

Tomorrow, you should know, I am going to be making myself useful with the wedge (probably between rain showers). But I'm working on "Good Cedar," not "Good Oak." Two summers ago a Stihl chainsaw felled the cedars I'm splitting — indeed, cedars killed not by lightening but by tree bugs. But like Leopold's oak my cedar will soon warm the holidays (as it has warmed me twice already in summer) in a doubly reflective glow of Leopold's environmental meditation. Understandably, though, Leopold is an especially difficult stylist to follow.

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· A Punny Thing Happened on the Way to . . . ·

Electro-Magnetism. Yes, you heard me right, electro-magnetism — the mysterious but mathematically-formulated, exactingly-controlled energy powering our literary relations here at · You Got Style · I think about it often in November, especially when the winds I last wrote about threaten to break the lines linking my machine to yours. Tricky business that, as old Ken Lay would say, and my late dad, who once proudly wore a 50-year IBEW pin as a lineman for the Pacific Electric Railway — where he said, quite properly, "Red Cars" (L. A. style). He also knew how to say, "Hot stuff."  · Pacific Electric Logo ·

I got to thinking about all this while I was writing Under the Weather Tuesday. You'll recall I was doing a deliberate double-take on weather/whether and a subtler, single-take on rafters. Although I felt like apologizing — even writing first, "Forgive my puns. I couldn't resist." — I decided to drop my sad pleading and, with the authority of James Clerk Maxwell behind me, stand up plainly and honestly for some electro-magnetic juice delivered straight. Maxwell, you say — literally or figuratively? Literally, though it's still, as you'll see, very tricky business.

What I have in mind is the witty first paragraph to his essay "Are There Real Analogies in Nature?" Included in Campbell and Garnet's 1882 biography of Maxwell, it remains a good literary-philosophical supplement to his more famous A Treatise on Electricity and Magnetism. Although Maxwell's scientific equations aren't my subject, his speculations in that essay seem in some ways their equal, especially in the wisely affirmative answer he gives to his essay's leading question (not surprisingly given Maxwell's Scottish-Presbyterian style, the answer has a nice moral tinge — slightly shaded by Kantian reflections on the larger methodological-scientific questions that prompt it). In any event, since my present interests are stylistic, I'll just cite Maxwell's witty (I think you'll agree) first paragraph. The subject is the reciprocal relation of puns to analogies.

In the ancient and religious foundation of Peterhouse there is observed this rule, that whoso makes a pun shall be counted the author of it, but that whoso pretends to find it out shall be counted the publisher of it, and that both shall be fined. Now, as in a pun two truths lie hid under one expression, so in an analogy one truth is discovered under two expressions. Every question concerning analogies is therefore the reciprocal of a question concerning puns, and the solutions can be transposed by reciprocation. But since we are still in doubt as to the legitimacy of reasoning by analogy, and as reasoning even by paradox has been pronounced less heinous than reasoning by puns, we must adopt the direct method with respect to analogy, and then, if necessary, deduce by reciprocation the theory of puns.  James Clerk Maxwell, 'Are There Real Analogies in Nature,' in Lewis Campbell and William Garnet, Life of James Clerk Maxwell, London: Macmillan, 1882, 235-44.

Although I don't want to reciprocate the transposition here — by going astray into deconstructive excursions into catachresian takes on Paul de Man, say — it seems worth noting that, stylistically speaking, Maxwell's text seems to be onto something. In any case, as mine has expressly that aim, I thought to conclude with a good short story, one brought to my attention earlier this week in a widely-shared punny email. Slightly edited for dramatic emphasis, I give you

Taco-Bell Liver & Cheese

Three handsome L. A. dogs are walking down Whittier Boulevard when they chance to see a beautifully enchanting Poodle. The three dogs fall all over themselves in an effort to be the first to reach the lovely creature, but all end up arriving in front of her at the same time. The three are speechless before her beauty, slobbering all over themselves — hoping for just one enticing, encouraging glance. Aware of her charms and of her obvious effect on the three would-be suitors, she decides to be kind, telling them:

"The first one who can use the words 'liver' and 'cheese' together in an imaginative, intelligent sentence can go out with me."

The sturdy, muscular black Lab speaks up quickly and says,

"I love liver and cheese."

"Oh, how childish," says the Poodle. "That shows no imagination or intelligence whatsoever."

She turns then to the tall, shiny Golden Retriever and asks,

"How well can you do?"

"Um. I HATE liver and cheese," says the Retriever.

"My, my," replies the Poodle. "I guess it's hopeless. You're just as dumb as the Lab."

She then turns to the last of the three dogs and says,

"How about you, little guy?"

The last of the three — tiny in stature but big in fame and finesse — is the Taco Bell Chihuahua. He gives her a sly smile and a quick wink and, casually waving to a passing Red Car, says to the Retriever and the Lab:

"Liver alone, cheese mine."

"Hot stuff," my dad would say. "Tell me, how much do we owe?"

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· Under the Weather ·

I was under the weather, as the cliché has it, this last weekend, wheezing my way through the Veterans' Day holiday, but thankful I wasn't more literally than figuratively under the weather down South. Bad tornadoes there. But, alas, this morning I chanced to awaken to some winds of our own, gale winds howling and blowing in from the Pacific as they do in November, across a well-named Gale Street fronting my house — one built two years after the big Columbus Day storm of 1962. When I'd bought the place in 1986, I'd asked the seller about the rafters: "Oh," he replied, "they're doubly strong; just look." This morning, I'm afraid, I heard them creak.

In any event, I hope you're not feeling either figuratively or literally "under the weather" today, and here to express my hopes — summer-style, on the bright side of dark — I thought to excerpt a famous passage from Mark Twain. Though its plot-significance in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is tragically sad, at least for anyone who can ignore the unfolding story, the style is also in some ways descriptively pleasing, even comically so. Tragi-comic, let's call it, weather-style.*

Pretty soon it darkened up, and begun to thunder and lighten [Huck writes in Chapter IX]; so the birds was right about it. Directly it begun to rain, and it rained like all fury, too, and I never see the wind blow so. It was one of these regular summer storms. It would get so dark that it looked all blue-black outside, and lovely; and the rain would thrash along by so thick that the trees off a little ways looked dim and spider-webby; and here would come a blast of wind that would bend the trees down and turn up the pale underside of the leaves; and then a perfect ripper of a gust would follow along and set the branches to tossing their arms as if they was just wild; and next, when it was just about the bluest and blackest — FST! it was as bright as glory, and you'd have a little glimpse of tree-tops a-plunging about away off yonder in the storm, hundreds of yards further than you could see before; dark as sin again in a second, and now you'd hear the thunder let go with an awful crash, and then go rumbling, grumbling, tumbling, down the sky towards the under side of the world, like rolling empty barrels down stairs — where it's long stairs and they bounce a good deal, you know.

*N. B. In quoting Huck in · You Got Style · know that I'm not fully satisfied with anybody's glib word about rafters. You never know when, "down the sky toward the under side of the world," a storm might turn your holiday into a Columbus Day or a Veterans' Day whether you like it or not.

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· For \ Four \ Fore! Philosophical Explanations ·

Obviously, I'm stuck in a rut, if only trivially so, or should I say titularly? I'm referring to my recent titles, Metaphors \ Methods \ Models, I \ Eye \ Aye, and, now, For \ Four \ Fore! Each one is, I suppose, trivially warning me to keep alert to the matter of redundant form — or even reiterative function. In any event, I think I'll soon desist.

Meanwhile, I've a story to tell about the late philosopher Robert Nozick (dead last January 23rd) whose 1981 tome Philosophical Explanations fits my title nearly. Nozick's story is this.

 · Robert Nozick ·

Partly by way of his wife Gjertrud Schnackenberg, the accomplished American poet, Nozick was in 1981 invited to give the Walter C. Schnackenberg Memorial Lecture at Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, Washington. As I had known Dr. Schnackenberg and had just read Nozick's new book, I thought to drive the eighty miles from home to Tacoma to attend it. As I recall, just before the lecture began, we two chanced to eye one another in the lavatory as philosophers even must, and, with so apt an opportunity — both of us standing at the urinals relieving ourselves — I tentatively began:

"Er, I was wondering if you might care to say something — you know — about the footnote at the bottom of page 557."

He laughed — breaking into a broad smile — "Oh, that's an academic joke."

"Aye, that's," I said, "just what I thought."

So you're asking, what's the joke or the larger point? Well, since philosophy is mostly, as Alfred North Whitehead claims, "a footnote to Plato," I've thought to indicate its Platonic essence representationally — though you're of course free to doubt it. Robert Nozick, Philosophical Explanations: Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1982, 555-57.

In his previous two pages of Philosophical Explanations, Nozick had outlined an impressive fivefold scheme of broad ethical theory — nihilism, realism, idealism, romanticism, and realizationism (roughly his own position) — when, with an ironic grin, he happily drew one conclusion: "Unlike Lewis Carroll's cheshire cat, which disappeared leaving its smile, this disappearance of [realist] values did not even leave behind its (salient) value." Then, I'm happy to report, he added his footnote:

The listing of five possibilities about our relationship to value, as well as the further responses to the decline of realism, forswears one frequently traveled route to intellectual influence: devising a classification of three character types, via which people could puzzle over where they and their mates fit, categorize their friends, understand different social interactions, and play parlor games. Thus we have had Freud's oral, anal, and genital; Sheldon's mesomorph, endomorph, and ectomorph; Reisman, Glazer and Denny's inner-directed, other-directed, and autonomous; Reich's Consciousness I, II, and III. Dyadic classifications (such as introvert, extrovert) have less interest, while quadratic ones apparently are too complicated for most people to keep fully in mind, which is why there is no holy Quadrinity.

You should appreciate the pleasure I took that evening and, indeed, take again tonight, recalling (this All Saints' Day) the ever-so-very-ideal nimbleness of Nozick's witty-wise mind. Perhaps even the Triune God is enlarging the Plurality of Divine Being tonight, saying, "For, Four, Fore! Robert," as they consider other matters avocationally in still greener pastures of the Great Beyond.

In any case, you might see that Nozick's footnote is more than a psychological-sociological-cultural-ethical-philosophical matter of mere style. It might just possess Real Substance.

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· I \ Eye \ Aye ·

 · My God!  It's Halloween! ·

Last night I made a quick run to the store to get Halloween treats.

Alas, a resulting sugar high prompts today's announcements:

I did my Halloween trick three days ago.

Eye Candy (Eye Candy One and All!) at Right.

Aye, I'm not a toad or daisy yet in Marianne's Garden.

Now I can happily await All Saints' Day.

Cheers (and Boo) from your Nordic Logger.

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· T. G. I. Friday's Mourning ·

The sentimental fastidiousness of Wednesday's Midweek Sunday Morning — where a few words framed an "Osgood" scene emotionally moving but ironically mute — puts me in mind today, as Wendell Berry might say, of something more messy, poetry.

Today's title marks it as Friday's work, the work of mourning, I like to think, not of morning, of darkness, not sunshine, trouble, not peace. Thank God I have time today to consider it here.

I have in mind a particular poem written to acknowledge the loss by miscarriage last winter of a relative's child — Wren Marie — a girl who will never spread wings westward from Minnesota to see the rugged Washington Coast nor eastward ever to visit her grandparents in Rockville, Maryland, where, recently in the news, we have all mourned deaths even more terrible still.

"Flight Song for Wren Marie" is my daughter-in-law's poem, and when I wrote her last winter to mark its pointed achievement, I knew — as you should now — that it came from a woman whose own father took flight when she was just thirteen. As Yeats knew ("a terrible beauty is born"), poetry lives at the hard edges of experience, and people do too:

Hard surfaces handily softened by such warm consideration. You tread lightly, dive deeply, soar hopefully, alert to new songs of spring this winter. I'm reminded here of Frost's "Never Again Would Birds' Song Be The Same." Like Frost's Eve, you find, even amid mortal loss, a songbird's gift of life to share.

Flight Song for Wren Marie

Winter wren, you've left my fields too early
These days only lengthen in
your absence, shadows long
across the stubble, dry grass rustling, stirred
by my blindly seeking hands
(no answers in the frozen earth)

You do not flit
from root to root along the icy stream bank
(no answers in the frozen water,
burbles hushed to silence) yet

Sweet warbler, your trills
are high on the January wind
I hear each spiraling, sweeping song burst
with unencumbered joy

Still I keen my lullaby, chase each
departing echo, while spring remains
a fickle promise.

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· Gardening and Writing the Point-Defiance Way ·

A drive to a local nursery plopped a fall bargain into my backseat yesterday — a Point-Defiance Rhody now awaiting planting in the garden. Naturally, its name resonanted with me, suggesting nominally at least — though not adjectivally — possibilities for literary growth. Point Defiance! How happily appealing, like elliding, or sliding through (or squeezing by) the Rules, easily — the Northwest POINT-DEFIANCE WAY.

 · Point Defiance ·

I needed some instruction, of course, and, as fortune would have it, my wife wisely suggested as a witty and, I might add, beautiful model — both literary and natural — the Northwest gardening author Marianne Binetti. Now Marianne Binetti is Northwest all the way, living in Enumclaw just a bit east of Tacoma, Washington, not too far geographically from the real Point Defiance — the peninsula jutting northward into Puget Sound there. Last spring, she happened to visit our own more westerly Olympic Peninsula, leaving an autographed copy of her third book, Easy Answers for Great Gardens: 500 Tips, Techniques, & Outlandish Ideas, with my wife. "Go Easy," she wrote. (She has, I might add, very nice handwriting.)

I was charmed by her style. Here's good Northwest gardening advice, Binetti-style:

Adding all this organic stuff to the soil and making compost seems like a lot of work. Is it really necessary?

Nope. You could keep your lousy soil and have fewer choices of plants you can grow.

Do I have to dig all this organic matter into the soil?

No. Digging is work. The easy answer is to just lay the compost, manure, or soil amendments on top of the soil . . . and let the earthworms do the work.

Do I have to use fertilize[r]?

Nope. There are plenty of plants that do well without fertilizer.

What is the best type of fertilizer for the lazy gardener?

There's no easy answer here. It depends on the gardener and the plants. Marianne Binetti, Easy Answers for Great Gardens: 500 Tips, Techniques, & Outlandish Ideas, Seattle: Sasquatch Books, 2000, 3-11.

You get the picture. No-nonsense Marianne — smack, in-your-face, charming, and beautiful. I wish we writing teachers would get the hang of her particular genius. Perhaps then we'd have Tips-'N-Tricks texts better suited to postmodern student needs:

Adding all this punctuation stuff to writing seems like a lot of work. Is it really necessary?

Nope. You could keep your lousy sentences and have fewer choices of good ideas to share.

Do I really have to dig ideas up by myself?

Hardly. Digging is work. The easy answer is to lay in some half-digested quotes and let readers do the work.

Do I have to use citation[s]?

Are you kidding? There are plenty of them growing electrically in the digital dirt nearby.

What is the best type of idea for the lazy composer?

There's no safe easy answer here. It depends, frankly, on the writer, the reader, and the topic. Would that there were such texts; methinks publishers would earn some profits.

My literary fantasy does, I admit, have its own obvious limitations, since gardening and writing aren't exact analogues. They're not really quite fit. Whereas we might Go Easy with rhodys, we'd Go Wrong, alas, with "Composing Too Easily" — though I wish my students could today hear the straight, point-defiant, correct answer to:

Must I really avoid the first-person?

No way! We'd all quite clearly be lost without it, you and I.

In any event, thanks Marianne. And by the way, is it true that Point Defiance is a clone of Lem's Walloper? I'd really like to know.

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· St. Augustine Reading — Silently ·

 · Credo ut Intelligam, Intelligo ut Credam ·

My last entry on punctuation has prompted a related thought on reading. The image at right is not, however, its immediate occasion.

Indeed, Bennozo Gozolli's St. Augustine Reading the Epistle of St. Paul — the tenth of seventeen famous frescoes in Sant' Agostino Church in San Gimignano, Italy, 1465 — is not here properly its apt expression or, better, visualization. Neither, for that matter, are Gozolli's depicted characters — St. Augustine and his intellectual friend Alypius — even the immediate subjects of my thought. Rather, they are Alberto Manguel and Stylish (my wife and intellectual friend), who, some years back in an extended review of Manguel's A History of Reading, wrote this intriguing paragraph:

We also take for granted that most adults read silently. But imagine seeing for the first time someone reading silently rather than orally. That is what Saint Augustine describes in his Confessions when he sees his master, Saint Ambrose of Milan, reading silently. According to Manguel, Augustine's description is the first definite instance recorded in Western literature. Augustine, a professor of Latin rhetoric, found himself — reportedly in 384 A.D. — unable to ask Ambrose the questions about matters of faith that were troubling him, because, as Augustine explains, when Ambrose was not eating a frugal meal or entertaining one of his many admirers, he was alone in his cell, reading. Augustine describes the strange observation: "When he read, his eyes scanned the page and his heart sought out the meaning, but his voice was silent and his tongue was still." Manguel explains that not until the tenth century does silent reading become usual in the West.

My thought is simply this: just as we learned in the West gradually to mark words with visible writing spaces, so gradually we learned (as in the two scenes "depicted" and "described" above) to observe related reading silences. Both, of course, may just be twin aspects of a definition of style, appointed spaces and appointed times — marked, we might say, for reflection. I don't quite know what to make of them, save perhaps to recall E. B. White's famous dictum on writing: "Writing is an act of faith," he said, "not a trick of grammar." I think old St. Augustine would agree. So you're looking for the source, too? I sadly mislaid my old copy of Strunk & White! Just take his words on faith.

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