February 28, 2007

Dream Journal: Dead Woody

Turning on the TV, I catch the end of a news story that recaps the career of Woody Allen in glowing, valedictory terms. I jump to the conclusion that Woody Allen has died. I rush to tell my wife and my brother, and we keep the news on to see whether Woody is really dead. But, flipping channels back and forth, we don’t find any more mention of him.

In this dream, I had just awakened from dreaming of the death of a different famous comedian. So although the idea of Woody’s death made me choke up with tears, I very much wanted it to be true, because then my dream would turn out to be prophetic: I would be proven right.

The atmosphere of this dream was intense with nostalgia, anxiety for the future, and love of art and beauty. The news footage of Woody’s career glowed reddish gold. I woke up breathing hard, not with fear but with excitement over the dream’s richness, and took a long time to settle down. As I write this I’m still in the afterglow of dreaming.

Both in the dream and in reality, I surprised myself by being so moved by the death of Woody Allen. He’s someone whose early work, which came out in my early adulthood, I loved, but I haven’t liked any of his movies since the late 1970s. My weeping tells me to recognize the things I really love, not to reject them.

The half-remembered dream within the dream: the ungraspable nature of reality; the endless levels of interpretation. The different famous comedian I dreamed of, whose name was forgotten: me.

“Woody” is of course slang for an erection. I don’t think I’ve ever used that term in waking life, but, well, it’s there…

“The dream’s richness”: the dream’s me-ness. In real life I identify with Woody Allen (Jewish, witty, smart, small, brown-haired, sexual without machismo), but envy his success. His death: the death of my old self. The uncertainty of his death: a resurrection into a new self, as yet unknown.

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February 26, 2007

Ithaca: Reality and Dream

Don't wait around for any gritty, hard-hitting dramatic series about the Ithaca police department any time soon. This cute little yellow Beetle, with its rear windshield slogan "Cops, Kids, and Toys," is on special duty at the downtown Commons to persuade kids to stay off drugs -- although the lingering influence of 1960s psychedelia is not undiscernible on the car itself. The department also has normal cruisers, you'll be relieved to know; there was one parked in the Beetle's place later that night, with wet flurries speckling it.

Ithaca turns out to be a cute, old college town about the size of downtown Madison, with grand stone churches and brown-red brick homes. It's surprisingly hilly, but unlike San Francisco which has hill after hill after hill, here there's one immense main climb, with Cornell University at the top and the downtown area at the bottom, so if you're a student who lives downwtown you get great exercise walking to and from campus every day. Most students live at the collegiate top of the hill, though, and rarely go downtown because then they'd have to walk back uphill drunk at three every Saturday morning, punctually punching the ol' bar-crawl clock as they do. In both areas there are a lot of rundown student apartments -- one can only imagine how much profit the landlords, who have owned those houses forever, are making, considering the minimal amount of repair they seem to do.

Ithaca is the only city in my experience in which, if you're waiting to cross a street at a trafic light and you press the Walk button, you can see an immediate, direct, causal relationship between pushing the button and the light changing to green. Because of this, Ithacans go around happily pressing the Walk light button at every opportunity and waiting a split second for the light to change, even if there's no traffic in sight. Not only that, but at major intersections a woman's voice comes on, floatging thrugh the air to tell you things like, "Begin crossing Oak Avenue..." and five seconds later, "Do not begin to cross Oak Avenue if you are not already in the crosswalk." Then a little birdie cheeps twice.

The restaurant/cafe scene is rather thin; if a student brings his visiting parents to dinner, there are only a handful of choices, as in Madison circa 1980, and so at every place we stopped last night we ran into my son John's fellow law students. The places we did find were good, though. The coffeehouses, Stella's and Gimme! Coffee, both had dark reddish walls with little artworks and mirrors, creating an old-fashioned atmosphere (more so at Stella's because of its solid, dark wood booths) where you could linger and imagine yourself drinking absinthe and writing French poetry. For dinner we went to Za Za's, a family-style Italian restaurant in a big, 1950s-swank room with white tablecloths and chairs, an arched, padded ceiling, and a wonderful, completely unused Art Deco bar with a big hourglass-shaped lamp and a sky ceiling, dark blue with pinprick stars. If I lived in Ithaca I would hang out there and sip gibsons and make it a hip discovery amng my (imaginary) in-crowd. (But what kind of restaurant wwebsite requires Macromedia Flash? If you're searching for a restaurant online, you have to have that software on your computer in order to figure out whether to eat there.)

After Za Za's we walked through wet snowfall (a sign of the unusually warm winter in upstate New York this year) to Felicia's Atomic Lounge, a likably grungy hangout with an unobtrusively sapphic vibe, tin squares on the bar wall, and a Leo Kottke-imitating singer-guitarist who was impressive and enjoyable when he fingerpicked his acoustic, and obnoxious when he plugged in and sang his magnum opus denouncing the sexual promiscuity of Paris Hilton, recruiting three young women from the audience as backups to sing a chorus of the crudest, most misogynistic insults.

Well, what do you expect in one of our leading university communities?

Earlier, Ann had been with us as we stalked the downtown area in search of things to quip about. Ann's got a good post about that part of the day, culminating in a YouTube video in which she, John, and I riff off each other about the window display in a used record store. Unfortunately, most of my witty remarks are scarcely audible, the microphone having been at a distance. Listening, I remember the riff extending over seventeen years (including my relative inaudibility), covering every passing phenomenon that intruded into our fields of vision, and ranging in tone from full symbiosis to raging hostility.

As I reach a certain point in life, it seems in retrospect impossible to tell reality from illusion. What did one really feel, what was one convincing oneself to feel, what was one convinced by others to feel, why doesn't one feel it anymore, what happened to change it, was the change positive or negative? I'm not just referring to a specific marriage but to any kind of love, any attraction or repulsion, including my current satisfaction with solitary life. Yet more than any time in the past twenty years or so, I want to touch once again my memories of long-gone people and places, to try to reclaim who I was and what resemblance remains to who I am now. To reclaim all of myself, past present future. Otherwise it's like breathing thin air. Deep companionship is bleached to casual acquaintanceship overnight; I visit someone I've spent the past almost two decades with and think, "What a beautiful woman, I'd like to meet her." (Notice I'm conflating two marriages here. That's part of the illusion-building process. Sometimes I don't know which I'm remembering.)

Maybe the mystery of changing identity explains the dream I had early this morning: I was visiting Ithaca New York, but it looked like a Greek island, with rocky cliffs to which I sailed on a little ferry. The natives were old-style New Yorkers, cordially rude Italians and Jews, and they worked and shopped in big underground caves that looked like subway stations, and I was baffled and worried but as I stayed and found my way I began to understand.

Snow flurries again this morning. This afternoon I fly to Austin via Detroit. The scenery keeps shifting.

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February 24, 2007

Take a Load Off

It was so windy in Ithaca last night, even hardened Wisconsites were squealing, "It's too cold!" So we slipped into restaurants and lounges and drank brandy and port and laughed about things we'd done, until people at the next table wanted to hear the story too and I told them, "It's too embarrassing!"

This morning I wake to this view:

Unlike those who might wake up to this view.

So after a trip to the complimentary continental breakfast bar and a dash outside to sample the air, I retreat to my room and take a look at something pretty:

Later, a country drive, assorted cafes, and a night of music from talented students.

h/t: Amba the Revelator

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February 23, 2007

Strait is the Gate

Which way am I supposed to go, I wonder?

I expect I'll see a similar sign at the entrance to the Pearly Gates.

Meanwhile, though, I'm sitting in a major airport hub, waiting for my traveling companion. I expect she's blogging away somewhere in the concourse, maybe even at the gate, but a glance at her site shows she has not yet posted about her travels. It's 15 minutes till boarding, and I wasn't sure I was going to figure out how to get the photo from my borrowed camera into my computer and onto blogger in time -- but I have, I have! That makes it worth the $8/day internet service at DTW.

The first airplane flight I ever took landed at this airport, in 1969 when it was called Detroit Metro Airport. Looking out the big windows, I recognize the flat land, the thin snow, the bright blue, still, winter sky. The airport itself is much expanded and improved, but this time I'm not paying $24 dollars for student standby ($48 full fare), and this time we had to wait standing in the air of the tiny plane so that the short-handed airline could track down an employee, somewhere, anywhere, any employee, to connect the jet bridge to the plane. Moddin times, mon.

That first flight could be a post in itself: a waiting area full of New York college kids on their way to Michigan, getting to know each other on the fly, asking what dorms we were in, orming spontaneous groups to hunt down refreshments... I was waiting with my father, who'd driver me from the Bronx to LaGuardia, and when someone invited me to join a group prowling the airport, I first said, "No, I have to stay here with my father," but when I looked to check with Dad, he told me it was my choice; and I chose to go with the peer group, and that was the beginning of leaving home.

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February 22, 2007

To the North Country Fair

Tomorrow morning I’ll be flying to snow country to see one of my grown offspring at an academic occasion. I’ll be taking my computer and hoping to get in a couple of posts here and there, spurred on by the presence of a fellow blogger, who I know always brings her blogging paraphernalia.

I envision us sitting opposite each other at a café table, hunched behind our barricades -– I mean our computers – peeking out suspiciously while simulblogging each other’s quirks.

By sheer chance, we’ll be on the same plane from the hub airport to the destination, and on the way back. We won’t be at the same hotel though, because she always stays at the best place in whatever city she’s in, while I tend to choose…a different point on the spectrum.

I’m hoping it’ll be a lot of fun, and I’d like to take some photos if my hands don’t freeze off while pressing the shutter. I’m not used to that kind of thing anymore.

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February 21, 2007

Pennies, Nickels, Dimes, and Quarters

One of those strange little things just happened to me. Last Saturday I attended a Chinese New Year celebration at which all the guests received a red envelope with gold calligraphy, containing a dime and eight pennies. A traditional good-luck gift, I was told.

Well, I figured, what do I need eighteen cents for? So I decided to throw them on the ground somewhere where someone, maybe a child or a homeless person, would find them. This afternoon I did that, picking a nice green place on a walking path. I added all the small change that was in my pocket at the time, so it might have totaled sixty or seventy-five cents.

Tonight, on leaving tai chi class, I went to my parked car and, looking down in the dark, saw four quarters shining on the ground beneath the driver’s door. Prudent about such discoveries, I picked them up and put them in my pocket.

Good luck had circled back to me.

I know I didn’t have any change in my pants this evenings, so the quarters had not dropped from my own pocket. And I’m pretty sure they weren’t on the ground when I first parked in that space and shut the door.

Coincidence? Of course. But what else was it?

I’m looking at a rocking-chair moon as I think about this. I’m thinking I want to keep it going: give away a little bit more.

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Ash Wednesday

I'm giving up agnosticism for Lent.

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Your Friend Free Will

When I choose one thing rather than another, there may be many reasons, some of which I am conscious of -– and others which I don’t know about and, properly, don’t care about. If you like you can say that all these determine my choice and so, in an absolute sense, there is no “free” will. But who holds the curious idea that there could be any phenomenon in the universe that is totally independent of the rest of the universe? It’s the old “problem” of mind versus body, or soul versus material world….

If I “drink my mead with a will,” to paraphrase an Icelandic saga, it is sufficient that there is a will, be it more or less free. The philosophical confusion arises because “free” is defined as unbounded, limitless freedom from causal and material phenomena, corresponding to the belief that consciousness, mind or soul are phenomena separated from matter…

That’s Bjarne Hellemann in a letter to New Scientist, Feb. 10, 2007, p. 19, responding to John Searle’s recent (subscription required) article on free will. (A google search reveals Hellemann to be a clinical psychologist in private practice in Arhus, Denmark –- which is nice work if you can get it: all those chain-smoking Danes, stuffed with bread and butter and herring in wine sauce and akvavit, complaining that they’re sad in winter.) Hellemann puts cogently an idea I’ve had too: that current scientists’ and philosophers’ denial of free will comes from a misunderstanding of what free will looks like.

Free will as seen in real life is not an existential choice made in opposition to, or rejection of, chance and necessity. It is not a question of closing one’s eyes to external causes in order to select some pure, detached alternative (sort of like refusing to ask for directions when one is lost). That kind of “free” choice would actually be a random choice made by one’s inner roulette wheel; and ultimately it would be a predetermined choice based on the physics of the wheel. You might as well toss a coin as make that kind of isolated, uncontingent choice. It would be a choice based in ignorance, a blind freedom, a meaningless gesture of counterfeit free will. You can’t freely choose between two paths unless you have some idea (accurate or not) of what to expect on them.

Freedom of the will doesn’t mean denial of causation -– just the opposite. To be genuinely free, a choice must be aware of its causes. Only then does the actor have a basis on which to act. If I’m choosing whether to eat Mexican or barbecue (the two perennial choices in Austin, Texas), I must know what Mexican and barbecue taste like, and how I’ve enjoyed them in the past, and how recently I’ve eaten each, and which restaurants I’m considering, and how much money I want to spend, and how far I’ll have to drive, and how hungry I am, and where my companions want to go. Then I can choose intelligently.

But I don’t just plug all the factors into my cranial computer and wait to see what comes out. I, the participating consciousness, affect the calculation both before and after it’s made, and, having received the cranial computer’s answer, can accept or reject it on the basis of additional, sometimes capricious factors, such as whether I feel like heeding the cranial computer or not, or what the wind tells me, or what memories pass through my mind as I’m driving, and how compelled or uncompelled I feel by those memories. I could crank through all the input and then decide to take a different course of action just because I’m in the mood to do the unexpected –- and the extent to which I do the unexpected is by definition unexpected.

Some of those inputs may be random; others may be determined; others might be flighty and trivial but arising from my wishes; and others may spring from the deep core of my personality.

The choice of Mexican or barbecue is a particular type of binary choice that dominates discussions of free will: Door A or Door B? The lady or the tiger? The terms of the choice are externally imposed, as if in a psych experiment. But I wonder whether that’s really the dominant kind of choice we face in life. In my experience, the terms of choices are often subjectively created, and not only is there an indistinct and often shifting number of choices – options flickering into view and winking out almost before we have time to consider them -- but there is no necessity to choose at all unless the subject wants to.

Suppose I set out to write a story. It’s not a question of asking, Should I write a story or not? Should I write Story A or Story B? I don’t need to write stories at all; I could easily stop, and have done so for sustained periods in the past. I get ideas for stories frequently, and write only a small percentage of them, but I have no established criteria for choosing which stories to write; it’s entirely a matter of feel. Once I start writing a story, I have a certain amount of conscious control over its outcome: I can shape the characters this way or that way, I can make this or that event happen. My control isn’t complete –- sometimes the groundwork I have laid for the story urges me down one path or another -- but I can go back and redo the groundwork if I choose; I can tear up three-quarters of the story and make it a new story instead of the one I first planned.

The most obvious element of decisionmaking in this process is the decision of whether to use one word or another. But although it’s sometimes a simple matter of choosing Synonym A or Synonym B, in most cases the issue goes further than that. There is not a predetermined number of words from which to choose: if I don’t like any of the synonyms the dictionary and thesaurus offer, I can always step back and decide to describe the scene in a different way, avoiding that specific word-choice. Meanwhile, when I do choose a given word, I often end up rewording other passages because the nuances and sound of the chosen word don’t fit in with the surrounding words. These choices are nonforced but nonrandom. They are literally endless. There is no point at which I need to stop the fiddling process and declare the story finished. The directing force is my own self-trained, continually re-self-training, intuition. You might call it informed stochastics.

The whole thing only exists in my imagination, anyway. The people have no reality, the story can be any length, I can discard it at any time along the way, and the combinations of possible words are infinite. I can get up in the middle of a paragraph to make a cup of tea Where could one pinpoint a specific choice that depended on the getting up for tea in the middle of a paragraph? There is no measurable set of choices that must be made or of times when they need to be made; any choice can be avoided entirely; and yet every moment is an occasion when a choice is possible. The determination of which choices are to be made is up to the chooser. The binary choice is irrelevant at every level.

So many choices are involved in writing one little story that mapping them out would take far more space than the story itself. A mechanism is needed in order to make the choices efficient, and the mechanism is that of a deciding consciousness –- which explains why stories are so imperfect. A story written according to rules of chance and necessity would be a bizarro story, or to put it another way, a computer-written story. And if such a story fooled some people into thinking it was a human-written story, that would only mean that either they didn’t know enough about stories, or that the stories they were comparing it to weren’t good enough.

The absence of a necessity to make the choice at all, and to make it at a particular time, and to make just one choice out of a limited number, keeps the options always fluid, and this makes free will advantageous, even adaptive. Free will creates room for invention. Free will discovered fire. The causal chain that led Homo erectus to notice how fire works was a chain of contingency, not necessity; they could just as well have noticed fire by chance, shrugged it off, and gone extinct. It is plausible to speculate that fire was discovered by one band and ignored by other bands, who then, not through their own free will, were wiped out by the fire-users.

Free will isn’t instead of chance or necessity, it’s on top of them. We’re riding the probability wave into the future. If we don’t take account of the wave’s chance fluctuations and its irresistible path, we’ll wipe out; but we’ll also wipe out if we can’t decide where and when to turn. And if we don’t know we have that power, we’re doomed.

Chance and history are only the materials that the deciding mind works with. The extent to which an overseeing ego exists is debatable, but whatever form or formlessness “I” consist of, I’m deeper and subtler than the cranial computer.

Free will bends to outside forces, but it does not surrender to them; it participates in directing them. I suspect that this is a Godelian proposition: true but unprovable.

Nor do we need to exercise free will in every situation, or in most situations, in order for it to exist and for it to be divinely important. A single instance of free will during a lifetime will do; and that single instance might well be the most important decision of a lifetime.


February 20, 2007

Ann, NYT Columnist

I thought today was going to be Ann's first day as guest columnist for the Times, but on waking this morning and clicking open the online paper, I found that she'd actually begun on Saturday. Anyway, for the dozen or so of you who don't already know about it, my first wife Ann Althouse is appearing in the Times on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays till the end of February. She's on Times Select, ironically (she's always expressed disapproval of that service), which means I can't see the piece online, and probably neither can you. I'll be dragging myself to the convenience store shortly for the rare purchase of a physical newspaper.

The first column was on judicial pay. Here's a link to it in syndicated form in the Milwaukee Sentinel-Journal.

The second column is on molding law tudents' minds, a livelier topic. Here's the link to Times Select if you can use that service.

Ann has achieved success entirely on her own merits, a rarity nowadays. I'm bursting with pride, with no irony.

February 18, 2007

Poetic Gestures

She’s going to write a poem about these blueberries, which she’s transferring from the grocery aisle to a pondside in Michigan. (She makes a note to read up in her books of Great Lakes flora and geology; she comes from there but it’s been a long time.) Out into the parking lot and the exit driveway she’s in lost in fields of memory: she has to brake suddenly, waking, to keep from rear-ending the Nissan in front of her at the stop sign. The first lines are already forming up in her mind, at about the level of the rearview mirror. By the time she brings the grocery bags through the side door she’s so excited she leaves everything on the counter, even the frozen food.

Then the words, the lines, oh, she has to find words again, that’s all she ever does, and you’d think she’d know them all by now and only have to choose the best-looking ones, like picking the bluest fruit from the display. But no, when she settles for that, the words are withered and juiceless; what she needs to do, every time, is invent the language anew, and that’s impossible.

The difficulty of achieving anything at all makes her impatient with herself, so in response she sits –- she’s learned how –- patiently, patiently, at this same desk year after year, and gradually the syllables brighten with sun, the words hang ripe and blue in the slash of northern light, and one by one she picks them into her dear old heirloom basket. But some of them turn out to be sour to her tongue; she tosses them away; and then there are passages where everything tastes wrong, it’s torture by berrypicking.

But conditioned reflex comes to the rescue. She knows how to write a poem. She knows how to trawl for a metaphor, how to stitch lines together with assonance and consonance (and the occasional alliteration, not too much), she knows how to intertwine nature images with love-memories and transcendent ideas. So here is Listen, the first word, followed by a colon, herding the reader with an authoritative bark. Here is wind in the next line, another short-i sound, and then lent to tie the l’s and n’s and short e’s through three lines. Here is blue forgiving the encroaching purple, forgiveness is always good, and linen-clad dandelions whisper together, with that l- n-short-vowel combo again, and personifying nature’s voice is a reliable tactic. She makes the gesture of a surprising epithet; she makes the gesture of a truncated line; she pays witty homage to a better-known colleague’s best-known poem.

There’s a comfort in conventional gestures, a feeling of arriving early. The phrases are in place, there’s a reassuring familiarity to the alternation of print and white space of the page. She has heard the longed-for click at the back of her skull, and she can rest. In a few days, when she’s sure, she’ll send it to editors who are themselves poets, who know the struggle, who recognize what you sometimes have to do to make the form work out. One of them will take it. Then the shock of seeing it exposed and beyond help, revealed but half-hidden, among accidental companions with a disquieting family resemblance, all of them, no matter what words they use, moaning of the same lonely labor.

And she will still wait, patient past belief, wait to be granted the only wish she has ever had: to write the real thing.

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February 15, 2007

Agents of Metaphor

We’re in Din Ho Chinese Barbecue -– barbecued pork, sizzling beef with black pepper, clay-pot-baked eggplant in garlic sauce, vegetable lo mein – when it occurs to Agent 97 to ask me to remind him what a metaphor is.

“Well, do you know what a simile is?”

“Yeah.” He seems mildly offended -– he’s in fourth grade, after all. So I explain that a metaphor is like a simile except you take out the like or as. We start thinking of metaphors and similes: the lake of sauce in the serving dish, the strands of noodle are like Agent 97’s hair, and so on and so forth.

“I’ve always thought that similes are pretty childish,” Agent 95 puts in.

“Well, er, um,” I stammer, trying to grasp at justifications for my use of similes over the eons. All I can come up with is that a simile sometimes sounds better than its equivalent metaphor. It’s true, similes are on the whole less sophisticated than metaphors.

Scary. It’s like being perfectly happy with your clothes and then being told they're so twenty years ago.

I’m becoming concerned that Agent 95 has taken his first steps down the road to perdition. He saw my copy of the coffee table book The Writer’s Desk, which shows various famous writers pretending to work (looking out their garden windows thoughtfully, abstractedly petting their dogs, etc.) the other day, and lunged for it and yearningly asked if he could have it. Yes, of course. So I had to start explaining to him who Richard Ford and Eudora Welty were. God knows where it will end. I feel like Fagin in Oliver Twist, teaching an 11-year-old to be a pickpocket.

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February 14, 2007

A Valentine from Richard 6.0

Belatedly, in my 50s, I find that I have all the problems of a gifted child. Transitions and big moments are hard for me. Holidays, vacations, house moves, big purchases — I’m liable to ruin them by sulking or retreating or throwing a tantrum. I don’t know what’s expected of me, and I get angry at those who expect something. When a good time is ending, I’m likely to say something that ruins it, perhaps because I don’t know how to say I’m sad it’s ending.

Valentine’s Day has often been a bad day for me, and thus for those who’ve loved me. I have a big romantic streak but I’ve mostly hidden it, out of embarrassment. I never quite believed that I was supposed to murmur endearments, declare my devotion in impassioned phrases, let myself be swept off my feet; stranger still, I never quite believed that others wanted that from me. (“It never entered my mind,” as Sinatra is singing while I type this.) Only in the past few years have I learned to show my romantic self, and I’ve loved it. And I’ve learned that the best thing to do on a special occasion may be precisely the clichéd, corny thing I always looked down. Buy the flowers, buy the candy, light the candles, dim the lights. You don’t have to feel bad because you’re not chartering a jet to fly her to Paris. Or because you’re not as above it all as you thought.

The saving grace amid my ignorance and immaturity has been that I’m able to learn, and to teach myself when no one else will. There’s a saying, “When you lose, don’t lose the lesson,” one of the many adages, mottos, and slogans with which I cement the rough-hewn stones of my personality.

So I keep fixing the bugs and glitches. I calculate that I’ve gone through at least five versions of the Richard software and have just launched the sixth:

1.0: childhood (a naïve, enthusiastic startup)
2.0: adolescence (a huge flop – almost sank the company)
3.0: first marriage (brought me back a long way)
4.0: bachelorhood (this version didn’t stay on the market long, but earned big profits)
5.0: second marriage (I thought this would be a perennial)
6.0: ?

Whoever gets version 6.0 is going to get the benefit of a lot of trial and error, late-night sessions and working breakfasts. But during the upgrade, I don’t have a valentine.

I’m planning to spend it like any other day. Wednesdays are my busiest evenings, come to think of it: group therapy and tai chi. The tai chi attendance will be light, and those of us who make it will throw each other bouquets of wry half-smiles.

Who will be my next valentine? And when? A year from now, five years, ten? I can handle any of those answers. I have good things to learn from being alone, giving myself time for reading, writing, solo walks, and long, recklessly confessional emails. Evenings and weekends of stepping out the door without a plan, but with a smile.

There are special pleasures, though, in observing forms. So I need to ask someone to be my valentine.

Reader, how about you?

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February 11, 2007

The Adagio Kid

Gunslinger pushes through the doors of the saloon. Glares around at the shudder that rises among the barflies, the gamblers, the piano man. Pushes away the dance hall girl who sidles up against his shoulder, orders her to wait for him upstairs.

“I’m a’lookin’ fer th’ Adagio Kid. Hear tell he frequents these parts. Hear tell he c’n be found here of an evenin’.”

Throats clear, and everyone looks away from the dark rear corner of the room, which is exactly where the newcomer turns his gaze. Where a chair scrapes on the splintery, bullet-gouged floor; where a lean man stretches up from his seat like a cobra uncoiling.

“You’d be looking for me, then. What is it you want?”

The gunslinger’s nostrils flare, snorting one after the other. “Hear tell you mean to slow down time. Hear tell the world’s too fast fer yeh. Mean to bring it back to a sane pace. Back to long books and unmiked music, back to movies ‘bout people’s lives, back to softly swingin’ songs. Back to talkin’ ‘stead a shoutin’, back to sayin’ what yeh mean. Well, I’m a’gonna show yeh who’s too fast fer yeh.”

Lightning quick, the stranger’s hand goes to his gun and brings it out blazing. The Adagio Kid smiles. He sees the bullets streaming toward him through air, slow as Zeno’s tortoise. He picks one out of the air with his fingertips, flicks it over his shoulder. He blows another out of his path. Just for fun, he lets some of them close in on him, closer, closer, and moves a millimeter out of their paths at the last instant.

The interloper’s Colt hangs empty, his jaw hangs slack.

“If one person slows down, it slows the whole world. Now get going, mister—pronto.”

With a deceptively languid gesture, the Adagio Kid darts a caught bullet straight at the gunman’s chest. Watching it spin toward him, the gunfighter gapes, and runs out of the barroom and races through the street, agitating the dust.

A grin forms gradually on the Adagio Kid’s face. He wraps a leisurely arm around the dance hall girl. “Come on, Sad Eyes, let’s mosey on up.” And with all the time in the world, they climb the stairs thoughtfully, step by deliberate step, as the piano player starts the Mozart K. 540.

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Attend Our Grand Re-Opening!!

Well, I’m probably the only one who’s surprised that this is happening. In my delusion, I thought I’d hung up my spurs for good, but the other day I opened my weekly sitemeter report by accident – I ordinarily delete it without a look, but this time my finger hit the wrong button. (Which, come to think of it, is likely to happen if one is not looking.) And I saw that I was getting 50 visits a day. Fifty a day, when I hadn’t posted in months? Even if 45 of them are bots, there’s still the other five to consider. They deserve something fresh.

So here’s my blog again, in a slightly revamped form. My blogname is now RLC, though my URL is still richardlawrencecohen@blogspot.com. My profile is longer, my blogroll is shorter, and you can give my face a quizzical glance or a doubting stare if ever the mood should strike.

And no sitemeter.

What am I going to write here? Well, it’ll have the kinds of good things I put in before, but I hope there’s been some growth, some scenic turnings on and off the main road. I hope to avoid current events completely this time and not be tempted by the fact that they draw readers. More than before, I’d like to make this a journal and a pillow book, a portrait-in-progress of my life-in-progress; but I’ll keep those who don’t want to be in it, out of it.

I’m out one more marriage since the last post, and I’m exceedingly interested to find out who I’ll turn into next.

I want to have more photos in the future, even if it means I’ll have to take the dreaded step of buying a camera and learning how to upload photos. (Oh, no, I’ve said it publicly, now I’ll have to do it…) I’m the furthest thing from a visual artist, so I expect that my photos will have mostly anecdotal or documentary interest; if I ever come up with an intriguing angle on a wrought iron gate or a sunlight-dappled tree, chalk it up to the caprices of a mocking muse. One thing I’d like is experiment with making up stories to go with snapshots that I take on my travels in Austin or elsewhere.

I’m a’gonna take it slow, just like the Adagio Kid. If I make one post a week, that’ll be just fine. Any more than that will be gravy. And having said that, I’ll immediately contradict it by posting two today.

I hope all my old blogfriends and lots of new ones will be stopping by and commenting, or just reading silently and coming back. I’ve missed you.

Does every love arrive by accident?