Sunday, January 27, 2008

Monkey, Monk, Samaritan

A clash of cultures appeared in my little world today, a contrast concerning the aftermath of a life on earth, whether the actions, good or evil, of a human being, have an effect on an afterlife. The contrast came as a result of my getting up early this morning and reading some of the classic Chinese novel Journey to the West, or Monkey, followed by attending morning services. In the novel, on display is the Buddhist philosophy of reincarnation and a life of works that will lead to a better next life. Monkey and his troupe struggle with the concept of doing good for others, saving a king from a wrongful death, for example. They are selfish and mean, but with effort they can gather their will to do right for others. When they do right, it’s not clear why they do it. Monkey does some good works for fame, Pigsy does them for treasure. But why does the monk take on these challenges? That’s a tricky question, in part because he’s got Monkey and Pigsy (and Sandy) to do his good deeds for him. But well understood among them all is the importance of acting for others; it’s just not easy or desirable always to do.

With this concept in mind of the importance of a life of self-sacrificing acts leading to an improved state in the afterlife, with the possibility of reaching perfection, I then went to services which included a hymn that pointed to the falseness of such teaching. The hymn stated emphatically that works don’t count in salvation, that only faith matters. For my poor whiplashed mind, it was a clash, something I wonder about and something religions clash over. In your teaching, how do you make it clear that the Samaritan should stop? So it says in Luke 10: "Teacher," he asked, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?" "What is written in the Law?" he replied. "How do you read it?" He answered: " 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind'; and, 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'" The idea here is the struggle, “What must I do?”

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Sometimes It's Cold

There's no denying the cold sometimes. It could be colder, yes, but it's damned cold now. The wind isn't blowing, so that's something.
I wish the wood stove were in.

Mary Oliver: Maybe what cold is, is the time
we measure the love we have always had, secretly,
for our own bones, the hard knife-edged love
for the warm river of the I, beyond all else . . .

From Mary Oliver's "Cold Poem."

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Following the Monkey King

At the beginning of my World Literature class, second semester, we begin with the story of the Monkey King, or Monkey, or Journey to the West. It's a crazy mixture of Buddhist philosophy and action/adventure, a great story that just begs to be told and retold--and is. I've been gathering images for a photo slideshow to use in my class, and it's impressive what there is available, from images of a TV show (stills and video) to pictures of toys, exercise equipment, cartoons, movies, and comic books, among others. The reader follows the adventure of Monkey as he assists Tripitaka who travels west to India. The two are accompanied by Pigsy and Sandy, a pig and a dragon.

What's really amazing is that although millions of people recognize Monkey and his crown, people in the West are largely unaware of the story. Most do enjoy the encounter, however late it comes.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Walter's Whiplash Imitation

Walter's usually game for trying something with a little coaxing, so he got to be the first to try the little horse I salvaged from the burn pile and got ready for a little young'un that was having his first birthday party Sunday. Little W. seems uncomfortable, since the toy is built for a creature with thumbs.

Progress Report

It's been some busy days lately, some good times, some work, some travel. You can see here the results of the day's work on the fireplace project. The new header is in, the back wall is up, the interior wall for the alcove is in. With some prodding I took down the old back wall with the doors to the closet and built the new wall all the way to the ceiling. In the last photo all the closets were still intact, but they're gone entirely. We'll have some kind of cabinet behind the wall you see to the right.
In the process we've discovered that the big doorway, the header to which you can see outlined by the light paint in the photo here, was probably framed by a short wall/cabinet that came up about two feet or so, then probably a column coming up from that to the header. Too bad that's gone. You could see the short wall outlined on the floor and on the back of the wall to the right. I just finally quit on the project for the day. It's too late for more.
Things are going well. The header had me worried since I had to decide finally how high to go. It may still change, but I'll just space it out--easy enough.
The worst part of today was trimming back the plaster and lath on the left wall; it was a dust cloud to end all dust clouds, even with the wife holding the shop-vac tube right at the saw blade.
We also discovered the dining room floor we thought was in pretty good shape there has got a light coat of glue. I imagine it will sand down okay if it comes to that.
Enough. Thanks for checking in. I might need encouragement, so drop me a line!

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Replacing the Fireplace

We've been busy at our house with yet another remodel project, replacing the fireplace with a good, solid wood stove that will provide some relief from the sudden rise in home heating costs. In the meantime it's a bit of a mess. But Anica, our new foreign-exchange student from Germany, has already proven herself to be helpful as we try to make this improvement. Keep a watch here for progress!

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Abstract Dryer Painting, or Pen and Ink?

The wife tried her hand at some abstract painting and sent me some images of her work, which she has since destroyed. I'm not generally one to criticize, but using the dryer (which we use on a regular basis for laundry) seems a little impractical, and employing an entire load of blue jeans to apply the ink to the inside of the dryer also seems extravagant. If the effect here appeals to you, though, it's a relatively simple procedure to try for similar effects, though your results will vary. You'll need a dryer, several pairs of blue jeans (the wife used a mix of work and good jeans, but work jeans will probably work fine, and cleanup is easier), and a good, full rollerball pen. The wife used a brand new one the dentist gave me for Christmas. (It's best to ask, or use your own).
As a side benefit, when you do decide to edit or erase the painting you've created, the fingernail polish remover generates some powerful mind-altering effects when you apply it in the dryer drum and put your head in.
If you want more tips, contact her directly. I don't care to relate the questions; she seems a little touchy about the procedure.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

My Kingdom for a Crown II

Each time I go to the dentist it seems as though they want to crown me, and not to bestow jewels on me (not like my cool faculty crown), but to lay on me a new tooth, a fake one in place of a real but faulty one. So they were busy with drills and buffers and goop getting me ready for another crown to replace one that popped off. Too bad the old one's not worth much; it sure cost me a pretty penny when they put it in there.
Of course, there's an upside. The wife and I just suck our TV channels freely out of the public air, but it's slim pickings, so the dentist chair is one of the few places I get to wield a remote that commands more than three channels. This morning I was there about long enough to watch Peter Lorre in Mad Love, where he plays wacko surgeon Dr. Gogol, who loves a woman (played by Frances Drake) married to a pianist, whose hands get crushed. When the wife asks Gogol to save her husband's hands, he grafts a murderer's hands on him secretly. The hands take on a life of their own, but the end of the movie only shows Gogol getting a knife in the back, not what happens to the pianist/murderer and his lovely wife.
Then I got to see just the beginning of Lorre in The Beast with Five Fingers, another pianist, another hand problem.
Leaving the dentist's office, my mind wanders into what implications there are to having a manufactured tooth, if the tooth might influence me like it did the pianist, rendering me more machine than I was before, perhaps leaving me less genuine, less earth-friendly. Who knows.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

New Year Frost

The new year in Madison dawned cold and clear, -2 degrees by our thermometer, with the wind blowing to make it colder yet. The little pooch danced in the cold snow to do his morning business, and frost etched this white backdrop for the celebratory corkscrews in our kitchen window.