poems, etc.

help me track down a story/parable?

There's this little story/parable that I half remember. Can anyone identify the source? It goes something like this: "You know how you drive a fish insane? You pick him up and hold him just above the water, just for a few seconds, until you see a look of surprise on his face, and then you drop him back in. Then he goes up to all his fish friends and says, 'This is water! We're swimming in water! I've seen it!' And all the other fish say, 'Poor fellow. Ever since that accident he's been going on and on about this "water" nonsense.'"

Googling "how to drive fish crazy" mostly turns up fishing websites. The closest thing I've found is a very short variant in a David Foster Wallace speech, but that's not quite it.

Though that speech is very, very good:

Zelda's Inferno exercise: "nostalgia for things that never were"

Zelda's Inferno exercise: "Texas Hold 'em" style with Nicole's word deck: we picked four words (I initially read the first one wrong) to share, then each picked three more, for a total of seven.

shared: contemplation/completion innocence messages nostalgia

my hand: competition love journey

pick 5 and go write a poem with them...

nostalgia for things that never were
nostalgia for a love I never knew
nostalgia for an innocence we never had

looking for messages from the fates in the pattern of my life
looking for messages in random things seen along the journey

liberation and the imagination

(This is a long one, and wanders all over the place, but I still think there's a good idea or two in here...)

For the past few days I've been re-reading Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson's Illuminatus! Trilogy. It's a psychedelic romp chock-full of quotable bits, but there's one in particular that's echoed in my head:

"Freedom won't come through Love, and it won't come through Force. It will come through the Imagination."

This seems to me an important enough idea that it ought to have a name. So I hereby dub it the "First Law of Political-Artistic Liberation" -- FLOPAL, to give it a snappy (?) acronym.

What is the argument for the validity of the FLOPAL? Shea and Wilson explain a little later on in the book, in a discussion between the characters Hagbard Celine and Simon Moon, as they wait for the cops and the tear gas in Chicago in 1968:

"Chairman Mao didn't say half of it," Hagbard replied holding a handkerchief to his own face. His words came through muffled: "It isn't only political power that grows out of the barrel of a gun. So does a whole definition of reality. A set. And the action that has to happen on that particular set and on none other."

"Don't be so bloody patronizing," I objected, looking around a corner in time and realizing this was the night I would be Maced. "That's just Marx: the ideology of the ruling class becomes the ideology of the whole society."

"Not the ideology. The Reality." He lowered his handkerchief. "This was a public park until they changed the definition. Now, the guns have changed the Reality. It isn't a public park. There's more than one kind of magic."

"Just like the Enclosure Acts," I said hollowly. "One day the land belonged to the people. The next day it belonged to the landlords."

"And like the Narcotics Acts," he added. "A hundred thousand harmless junkies became criminals overnight, by Act of Congress, in nineteen twenty-seven. Ten years later, in thirty-seven, all the pot-heads in the country became criminals overnight, by Act of Congress. And they really were criminals, when the papers were signed. The guns prove it. Walk away from those guns, waving a joint, and refuse to halt when they tell you. Their Imagination will become your Reality in a second."

Much of the "Reality" of human experience is created by Authority. And not just the social and legal aspects -- a few hundred years ago, the physical "Reality" that the Earth was the center of the Universe was enforced by putting Galileo under arrest. Eighty-five years ago, the Tennessee legislature and courts used the guns and clubs and cages at their disposal to create the biological "Reality" that Homo sapiens was not related to apes. And just a few years ago, the Bush II administration used its Authority to create a geophysical "Reality" in which human activity is not affecting the climate.

Even though all these Authorities are gone, substantial numbers of people still dwell in the Realities they created.

Authority is hard-wired into the human brain. We are a pack species, programmed to respond to the alphas. As the famous Milgram experiment showed, our natural submission to Authority will get otherwise sane and ordinary people to commit acts of torture. Or consider how in over 70 cases, a telephone caller posing as a cop was able to use his bogus aura of authority manipulate managers and employees of fast food restaurants into performing strip searches and other abusive acts. Authority, like gravity, warps space around it: and like gravity, when concentrated to the extreme, will form a black hole that tears up everything in reach.

What can fight Authority? What can break its Realities, disperse its warp?

Zelda's Inferno exercise: distanced from the game

Zelda's Inferno exercise: pick one (or more) of the following phrases:

but I had saved her
disorganized thrift bin
distanced from the game
it's all owned internally
everything was being replenished
cloudy purple juice runs free

and run with it

walking the dog over by the school on a
fine spring Sunday afternoon
people playing softball on one of the diamonds
adults not kids and so
I remember my father's softball league

my brother and I running around the
other side of the park
while he played his games

watching these people now
their kids running around
as they play their game

but I am distanced from the game
for good or ill
no kids, no family
distanced from the game of marriage/kids/neighborhood politics
distanced from the game
that most are playing
not sure if I feel left out
like being picked last by the pick-up team
or above it
like walking by a tic-tac-toe tournament

and I suppose that
the final answer depends
on who I can find to play with...

for I can dream of one
with whom playing nothing but tic-tac-toe
would be enough

Zelda's Inferno exercise: "just pickle me in single malt scotch"

Zelda's Inferno exercise: write a poem centering around the two randomly chosen words: "scotch" and "pickle"

just pickle me in single malt scotch
when my time has come don't bury me in the ground
or put on a pyre
just pickle my corpus in some fine whisky
to protect my flesh against decay
no cheap rotgut, please
have some respect
no rail whisky
ain't I worth the good stuff?

doesn't have to be single-malt scotch, really
some top-line bourbon would be fine
or a nice Irish, make my grandmother's spirit happy
or a quality vodka, for the Polish side of the family --
would sake work? I don't know the chemisty

I just ask for respect and for preservation
for some simple memorial
to live a life worthy of leaving a memento behind

Zelda's Inferno exercise: a spring triolet

Zelda's Inferno exercise: write about spring, in a triolet form: (ABaAabAB pattern)

the grass was brown but now is turning green
each passing day the sunlight shines longer
on trees the buds of blossoms can be seen
the grass was brown but now is turning green
open the window, let air through the screen
now the pulse of life is growing stronger
the grass was brown but now is turning green
each passing day the sunlight shines longer

_The Hobbit_ to start filming in July

The BBC reports that The Hobbit -- "prequel" to The Lord of the Rings -- start filming in July. Guillermo del Toro will direct, Peter Jackson will produce, and Sir Ian McKellen reprises his Lord of the Rings role as Gandalf the Grey.

There's also a planned sequel, not based on a Tolkien novel, that will cover the period between The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.

Expect these films when you see them.

not an happy camper

This came up in a Slashdot thread, and I thought I might as well post it here. Today's pet peeve: misuse of "an" before words starting with a voiced "h".

Most of us understand that when a noun starts with a vowel sound, you use "an" before it: "an apple". And most of us get that this includes words that start with a silent consonant: "an hour".

There are a few words, like "homage", that can be pronounced with the "h" either silent or not. It's silent in the preferred pronunciation, so "an homage", just like "an hour"; but if you're using some dialect where the "h" is pronounced, "a homage" would be correct. So either "a" or "an" could be okay there.

But there's a common misusage with some "h" words. I have a strong urge to punch people who say "an historic occasion" or "an hallucination". These are just wrong, unless you are a British aitch-dropper. ("An 'istoric occasion, guvnor!")

I'm not a big grammar stickler but this one grates on the ear. It does not leave me an happy camper.

The rule is simple: "an" before vowel sounds, "a" before consonants. The "n" in "an" is exactly there to hold vowels apart; if you don't have adjacent vowels (sounds, not symbols) in your phrase, it's redundant.

Because the rule is about sounds, not symbols, you also get cases where "a" rather "an" should be used before a word whose spelling starts with a vowel: "a union" or "a unicorn". If it helps, think of how you could spell these as "a (you)n-yin" or "a you-ni-corn".

And there there's acronyms: "a USB port", but "an MBA". ("A you-ess-bee port, an em-bee-ay".)

If we could all get this right, it would really cut down on my urges to punch people, and I'm sure there are others who feel the same way. So work for world peace: use the proper article. Thanks.

Zelda's Inferno exercise: "there's potency in pears"

Zelda's Inferno exercise: freewrite around the phrase "there's potency in pears"

the apple gets all the press
Adam and Eve and the apple
apple of my eye
Apple Records, Apple Computers, Apple Ford
apple for the teacher
Johnny Appleseed

but we who study the subtle and hidden know
there is potency in pears

the crows and squirrels come into my yard
to feast on the sickle pears
that fall from my tree like hail in late spring
the sweet white flesh of the fruit
the potency of the seeds within

each ready to create a whole new tree out of nothing but soil and water and light

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