This is where 'everything else' goes.

The Culture Shock of Culture

Filed under: Life — Tags: , — Wigi @ 10:00 pm April 28, 2008

I read. A lot. Mostly I read newspapers, essays, journals and other non-fiction items. Of course, a lot of it is online, but you have to admit, the selection online is rather good.

I generally don’t have the time to sit down with a book… When I travel, I generally make a stop at the bookstore, and pick something up, and tear into it on my flight, often finishing the book before I arrive at my destination. But when I am around the house, I can’t really make the time commitment to a book, when it is so much easier to read a news magazine or newspaper online.

Since I am not that close to books, libraries are not someplace that I am often found. For some reason, I’ve often felt a little uneasy at the library. I am not library people.

I used to work at a library. In fact, you might actually say that I lived in a library in college – I was the computer operator on for the statewide computer system that handled the bibliographic database for all of the libraries in the state. One semester I had a bit of a run-in with some roommates, and ended up sleeping in my office for a few months. But even though I worked in a library (and slept in a library), I never really became a library person.

The last time I went to the library, I was out of town, on a fishing trip, and I needed to log into the wi-fi there to get some work done. So it wasn’t my local library, but it didn’t matter. In this respect, all libraries are the same.

They give me the heebie-jeebies.

I wasn’t all that sure I knew why they creep me out, but I think I am getting a better idea. For one, a lot of library science people are kinda weird. Politically/philosophically, they’re probably pretty close to me… but a lot of them seem to be the alfalfa-sprout-and-chamomile-tea-types. Don’t get me wrong… I like my salads, and I like my tea, but, you know, there’s a limit.

Libraries are wholesome, in an “It Takes A Village” sort of way. I am not wholesome. I don’t really know all that many wholesome people. Heck, I am a bit of a pervert. Not in the creepy way, but, you know… not exactly mainstream.

And therein lies the rub: who wants to see a pervert at the library?

I had to go to the library today, to buy a bus pass for one of the kids. I had to stand in line at the circulation desk. There were moms pushing strollers and carrying Dr. Seuss books. There were kids carrying backpacks, bursting with their third grade spelling tests and social studies projects. There were women in their golden years doing their weekly volunteer work.

There’s not a chance in hell that I’ve ever met any one of them – and for good reason!

It’s not that there aren’t people of all types at the library… I know firsthand that there are some, lets say, colorful people that frequent the library. When I worked at the university library, my boss was a frequent patron of the local strip clubs. And in my late-night wanderings around the library after a glass of water or two, I discovered that more than one of the men’s rooms had glory holes. You gotta admit, it would be a little unsettling to use the stalls. Anyway, as it turns out, library people are not as pure as the driven snow. But nonetheless, there’s a certain institutional aura that libraries have… that it is OK to let your kids run free in the library (as long as they’re quiet and considerate)… But I know some of the secrets of the library, and they’re not what they appear.

So as I stood in line at the circulation desk, I imagined that every eye was on me. There was a woman across the way, and I imagined that she was thinking she’d better keep her daughter a safe distance away. I imagined that people were sizing me up… wondering if I was one of ‘them’, because, as I know from experience, ‘they’ hang out at libraries.

I got the bus pass. I hurried back into the sunshine, and got in the car, and drove into the evening traffic, and back to the America that I know and love.

The America of the garden-variety pervert.

Cross-Cultural Man-Dog Revelations

Filed under: Life — Tags: , , , — Wigi @ 10:07 pm April 17, 2008

A man says to his dog, “There are some things that I understand about dogs, but it seems to me that it isn’t enough just to know the facts… For example, I know that for each human year, it is the same as seven years for a dog… but the idea of a year and the idea of a day are not the same… so I was wondering, does that mean that one human day is the same as seven dog days?”

The dog says, “Yes… that is true. One human day is the same as seven dog days.”

The man says, “Wow, that’s great to know. I feel like I understand you better. Is there anything you want to ask me?”

The dog says, “Yes, there is. Why is it you only feed me once a week?”

Experiencing Beauty

Filed under: Life — Tags: , , , , , — Wigi @ 10:12 pm April 15, 2008

Back in my early college days, I had a number of majors, including physics and computer science. Imagine my dismay when I found that there was no way of avoiding the art classes on the way to getting my degree. The art class was actually an epiphany for me, opening me up to a new way of thinking about the world — and eventually turning me away from the deterministic scientific method, and sending me into the more qualitative and subjective world.

One of the professors made the point that in drawing, you don’t ever want to erase things… that the errant strokes of your drawing add to the character of your subject. She made the point that if you really need a literal representation of your subject, you should take up photography… but in drawing, the flaws were as much an integral part of the final piece as the strokes that were ‘right’.

The point was not lost on me. If everything were perfect, whether in art or in life, it would all be so boring. Mother nature understands this all too well… even the most homely sprig of grass, as it pokes through the cracks of the sidewalk, reveals the beautiful greens of spring, and takes on a form that only that plant can have, determined both by its genetics and the environment. We’ll often comment at how unsightly the grass is, but what we really mean is that the setting is unsightly. If we really stop to look at the grass, we see it’s beauty revealed.

There are two lessons there… the first is that beauty is often hidden right before our eyes, and the second is that it is not the perfection that makes something beautiful, but rather, the flaws. In fact, it hardly makes sense to call those things flaws, when really they are the source of the beauty and wonder in the first place.

This past weekend I actually took some time to stop and really look at things. I made a concerted effort to set aside expectation and to just experience the things around me. I went to a little restaurant in a small town, and enjoyed the local fare. I watched birds as they wandered through the woods, setting up housekeeping for the spring. I wandered around in the rain, gathering dandelion greens to put in a soup. I went to a sports bar and visited with some new friends. I spent three hours driving down the interstate, starting in the center of one of America’s premier cities, and ending in the seemingly flat and featureless heartland of the midwest. I hung out with a friend.

I thought I knew what I would find, but I was surprised, anyway. There was beauty and wonder in every moment of my weekend… and it was in places and forms I never could have anticipated.

What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger… and coincidentally, more beautiful.