Three Little Graves

gravesLast Memorial Day, my family and I were in a cemetery in Utah. I like cemeteries–they tend to be clean and quiet, and one can find clues about scores of great lives hinted at on the markers these thousands of strangers left behind.

On that particular weekend, all the markers that indicated that the deceased was a veteran were decorated with small flags, which made that visit even better.

But I stopped cold at this site and didn’t know what to feel besides sorrow. I had to take this picture.

The poor Krueger couple had three children, all of whom died in infancy. I can’t imagine a heartbreak like that.

And looking around that or any other cemetery, who knows how many more tragedies lie there, silently sleeping after a lifetime of toil and travail?

And those tragedies are part of lives that must have also had amazing triumphs, moments of sublime transcendence, all completely unknown to me, one visitor at random many years later.

Things like this keep me humble and grateful. It’s good to wrestle with the infinite size and scope of human life.

But let’s say a prayer for the lost Kruegers of the world. There is room in our hearts to have sympathy for the dead.

 

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Notes on Best American Short Stories of the Century

I cleared 50 old books off my shelves last week, including this one, which I was really just keeping because of these notes I’d made.

Digitization is the declutterer’s best friend.

The most important thing is the mark next to each title. It’s the classic, simple teacher cheat: a check minus means I didn’t like it, a check plus means I loved it, a mere check means it was average.

It’s hard to read my scribbled reaction to each story, but that’s OK–it was hard to read them in the actual book, as well.

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Free Frosty Fail

I went through my bookshelves last week and cleared out a lot of clutter. One book had this coupon stuck in it as a bookmark. I found it and was excited to get a free frosty. But I guess I had forgotten about this book and hadn’t picked it up in a while. As you can see from the dates at the bottom, the coupon expired eleven years ago :(

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Cute Coincidence On Today’s Puzzle Page

The syndicated New York Times crossword today is from July 4 (hence the theme, if you see it), but what really struck me was this odd bit of synchronicity: what are the odds that the crossword and one of the cartoons next to it would both use the word “sauté?”

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My mistake at 37 across is because the clue “Country singer Tillis” initially made me think of 90s star Pam, she of “Maybe It Was Memphis.” But this made the answers going through it wrong, so I had to look it up. Turns out her father, Mel, was also a country singer. So I learned something today!

Some Quotes From Orwell’s 1984

Evergreen insights into the nature of the Left, labelled with current concerns.

 

ON MILLENNIAL SOCIAL JUSTICE WARRIORS:

With those children, he thought, that wretched woman must lead a life of terror. Another year, two years, and they would be watching her night and day for symptoms of unorthodoxy. Nearly all children nowadays were horrible. What was worst of all was that by means of such organizations as the Spies they were systematically turned into ungovernable little savages, and yet this produced in them no tendency whatever to rebel against the discipline of the Party. On the contrary, they adored the Party and everything connected with it. The songs, the processions, the banners, the hiking, the drilling with dummy rifles, the yelling of slogans, the worship of Big Brother — it was all a sort of glorious game to them. All their ferocity was turned outwards, against the enemies of the State, against foreigners, traitors, saboteurs, thought-criminals. It was almost normal for people over thirty to be frightened of their own children.

–Part I, chapter 2

 

ON THE UNCRITICAL WORSHIP OF EDGY INNOVATION

Anything old, and for that matter anything beautiful, was always vaguely suspect.

–Part I, chapter 8

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My Favorite Light

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On the way to take my wife to see a movie tonight, we waited at a red light and I had to get a quick shot of this impending sunset. It’s not a great picture, and it’s far from a gorgeous sunset, for that matter, but this is actually a good example of my favorite kind of light: the kind that streaks across the sky and creates sharp silhouettes.

There are lots of small mountains to the west of Las Vegas, but they usually appear to be just a drab, uniform row of jagged rocks. But, at the right time of day, at the right time of the year, the sun sets at an angle just right for sending its rays through the gaps between them, reminding us that they’re actually layered silently and dozens of miles apart.

In the picture above, starting in the middle and looking left, there are four distinct mountains visible, each highlighted by a unique brilliance of sideways light; a different quality of sunlight slides down diagonally through the spaces separating them.

Light shows us the size of the empty space that was invisible before, while giving each of the pieces of mountain stacked side by side over there its own personality.

Quote About Reading Great Books, From a Great Book I Once Read

Winston stopped reading for a moment. Somewhere in remote distance a rocket bomb thundered. The blissful feeling of being alone with the forbidden book, in a room with no telescreen, had not worn off. Solitude and safety were physical sensations, mixed up somehow with the tiredness of his body, the softness of the chair, the touch of the faint breeze from the window that played upon his cheek. The book fascinated him, or more exactly it reassured him. In a sense it told him nothing that was new, but that was part of the attraction. It said what he would have said, if it had been possible for him to set his scattered thoughts in order. It was the product of a mind similar to his own, but enormously more powerful, more systematic, less fear-ridden. The best books, he perceived, are those that tell you what you know already.

–George Orwell, 1984, Part II, chapter 9

 

Selling Kia-stine

Only at the very end, when I was selling my dumpy old Kia after 12 years of use and abuse, did I come up with that pun–that I should have called that car Kia-stine. Old school Stephen King fans will get the joke.

Speaking of jokes, when I was selling it, I put up the following ad on Craigslist–I just messed around with it because I didn’t think anyone would really want it. The ad got a lot of positive feedback: one person texted and said, “I don’t want to buy the car, but great ad!” After some yahoos jerked us around about it, though, so I just ended up giving the car to the Make a Wish Foundation.

Anyway, preserved now for all eternity, is the Craigslist ad:

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“2004 Kia Optima LX In Truly Awful Condition”

Listen, folks, I’m not gonna lie here. This car is falling apart. It actually used to be a great car, and was for many years, but I ran it into the ground with minimal maintenance. I’m asking for only half of the “fair” listing in KBB.

PROS: It always starts and runs. Never a problem there.

Battery and tires are strong with plenty of life left in them.

V6 engine.

Has never exploded, caught on fire, divided by zero, committed a felony, or watched an Adam Sandler movie.

Radio gets some good stations to help distract you from all the cons.

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Donald Trump As a Book of Mormon Villain

Perhaps you’ve noticed that I hardly write much about politics anymore. That’s because I’m so deeply disheartened at where every side is at in our country now, and I’m not sure I even have anything useful worth saying about any of it. But there’s at least this one thing.

I continue to be surprised and scared by Donald Trump’s popularity on the right.

Six months ago, I would have said that if anything good were to come out of this new administration, it might be a real focus on media bias, which is pervasive and truly dangerous (it almost certainly contributed to the shooting of Congressman Steve Scalise, for example), and which Trump has actively highlighted.

covfefeBut now it’s clear that, if he’s done anything at all, he’s set back the issue at least twenty years. Consider his infamous “covfefe” tweet. Everybody laughed at the weird typo (which he said was caused by typing at night while getting tired), but the real story was ignored: the president of the United States, in bed at night, felt sorry for himself and wanted to garner sympathy by lashing out at domestic critics, but he was so sleepy that he screwed it up.

And he’s in charge of defending the free world.

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Strategies For Reading and Relationships

In relationships, never give up on people. Stick it out, make it work.

In reading…just the opposite. A book should always be a perfect ten. If your connection to a book ever cools off, feel free to kick it to the curb and find another one. Plenty of fish in the sea, plenty of books in the library. Life is short and you deserve the best.

Just don’t get these two ideas confused. Your life will be fun for others to watch, but frustrating for you.