Monthly Archives: January 2010

Life or death

A recent post on Mike Durrall’s blog keeps haunting me. Mike quotes William Easum’s The Church Growth Handbook:

“Churches grow when they intentionally reach out to people instead of concentrating on institutional needs. Churches die when they concentrate on their own needs. This is the basic Law of Congregational Life.”

Churches die when they concentrate on their own needs — that about sums it up.

The next state of being

Carol came home, made a sandwich, told me about her day, then said, “Did you hear J. D. Salinger died?”

“Finally,” I said.

“What do you mean?” she said.

Twenty years ago, Salinger was one of my literary idols, and news of his death would have sent me into a tizzy. But since then I’ve grown tired of the way Salinger courted publicity by claiming to be a recluse; any time his book sales began to decline, he sued someone to get back in the news. Twenty years ago, I wanted to know what happened to his fictional family, the Glasses, after the events in the story “Franny and Zooey.” But now I’m bored by the preciousness of his characters’ dialogue, bored by Salinger’s half-baked mysticism, bored by his stories in which nothing much happens.

A year or so ago, I met one of Salinger’s neighbors, and this person knew Salinger about as well as a long-time neighbor in a small town could know someone. This neighbor described a man who was deaf as a post, with a long-suffering wife; someone who was cranky and mean but worthy of his neighbor’s amused affection. He was just what you’d expect of an outsider who had moved to a backwater hill town in New England and had tried to imitate an eccentric New Englander; he was not some immortal writer, he was just an ordinary nutty old man.

“Now that he’s dead,” I said to Carol, “maybe this will put an end to all the speculation about what he’s been writing for the past forty years.”

Given that Salinger’s last published story, “Hapworth 16, 1924,” was unreadable crap, you can feel pretty sure he wrote nothing of value after that. But I don’t think Salinger will be allowed to rest in peace. His literary executors will be tempted to follow the path blazed by J. R. R. Tolkien’s son, and cobble together scraps of left-over writing into bad books that will sell tens of thousands of copies. Right now, I’m praying that someone will burn all Salinger’s unpublished manuscripts before they are inflicted on the public. Let the old crank die a decent death.

Significantly, Salinger’s literary agents released a statement in which they stated there won’t be a funeral or memorial service. There are those who want no final end to his life. There are those who hope to turn J. D. Salinger into a zombie, neither alive nor dead, putrescent but tottering forward into a century in which he does not belong.

Random memory

Somehow I had gotten left off the attendance list for study hall in my freshman year of high school. I took to leaving school during that hour, and slipping off to the public library. But by late winter, a small group of my friends had somehow gotten permission to attend study hall in an unused classroom up on the third floor of our building, with little or no adult supervision. I would slip in and hang out with them. G—— was creating a literary magazine he called “Zeitgeist.” B——, on the other hand, liked making illegal things. He brought in a hash pipe he had made from brass tubing, and from that I learned about taps and dies and how to use them. He brought in a ballpoint pen from which he had removed the spring and the ink reservoir, replacing them with gunpowder; the button at one end was linked to a firing pin inside the pen. B—— clipped the pen bomb to a paper airplane, which he flew out the window. The plane hit the brick wall across the way and the pen bomb exploded, leaving a shower of tiny bits of paper. The janitor walking three stories below looked up in surprise.

Mindlessness as a spiritual practice

I had enough of a cold today that I went around in a kind of haze all day. It’s not that I’m particularly ill; I just feel tired and slow. Did it rain today? I’m sure it did; I do remember having to turn on my windshield wipers as I drove to work; but I can’t remember if it rained later in the day.

But am I feeling hazy just because of the cold, or am I usually this oblivious to what’s going on in the wider world? The Buddhists talk about the spiritual practice of mindfulness; that has never been one of my spiritual practices. Instead of mindfulness, I try to practice mindlessness.

“Because plastic is a sad, strong material that is charming to rodents”

What are today’s household gods? A few days ago, the New York Slime published Gary Snyder’s paean to his Macintosh computer, titled “why I Take Good Care of My Macintosh.” There are several good lines in the poem, and here are two of them:

Because whole worlds of writing can be boldly laid out and then highlighted and vanish in a flash at “delete,” so it teaches of impermanence and pain;

And because my computer and me are both brief in this world, both foolish, and we have earthly fates…

The Roman household gods, the Lares, were less brief and not made of plastic. Yet many of today’s households have small altars devoted to personal computers, we give them offerings of electricity and our attention, and many of us pay obeisance to them on a regular basis; so I’d say at the moment personal computers sometimes fill the role once filled by Lares.

Crab season

Carol and I both noticed the sign in Trag’s supermarket: cooked and cracked Dungeness crabs at $4.99 a pound; winter is crab season in the Bay area. We asked the man behind the counter how big a crab to get, and he said, “Sounds like you haven’t bought a crab before.” We said we had just moved from the Massachusetts coast. “Oh yeah, lobster and all that,” he said. He picked out a crab, cracked the legs, and wrapped it up for us. We took it home and ate it right away…

Carol had never had Dungeness crab before; I’d only had it once in a restaurant. We ate the whole crab in one sitting. It’s better than lobster, with a lighter, more delicate flavor (and no icky green stuff in the guts that you have to decide whether eat or throw away).