Thursday, January 28, 2010

A polar bear in my frigidaire

When I was 11, which isn't so very small, I was given some poetry anthologies and I came across a series of poems I really liked but then later lost the books and never found them again.

The poet is Shel Silverstein and reading this made me smile. Doesn't it happen to us all? Reading an old book again or finding a lost poem is like meeting an old friend; it lights our present moment up with the peculiar yellowing light of nostalgia and for a moment, that familiar smile is enough.

The poem posted below isn't one of the ones I read when I was little, but thought it apropos, given my blog url :)It was lovely re-discovering Shel Silverstein; he's such a quirky funny old soul who didn't take life - or critics - too seriously.So much talent though! Poet, musician AND illustrator - goodness - most people wear just the one hat but he has to have three!


Bear In There

There's a Polar Bear
In our Frigidaire--
He likes it 'cause it's cold in there.
With his seat in the meat
And his face in the fish
And his big hairy paws
In the buttery dish,
He's nibbling the noodles,
He's munching the rice,
He's slurping the soda,
He's licking the ice.
And he lets out a roar
If you open the door.
And it gives me a scare
To know he's in there--
That Polary Bear
In our Fridgitydaire.



Last night, while I lay thinking here,
some Whatifs crawled inside my ear
and pranced and partied all night long
and sang their same old Whatif song:
Whatif I'm dumb in school?
Whatif they've closed the swimming pool?
Whatif I get beat up?
Whatif there's poison in my cup?
Whatif I start to cry?
Whatif I get sick and die?
Whatif I flunk that test?
Whatif green hair grows on my chest?
Whatif nobody likes me?
Whatif a bolt of lightning strikes me?
Whatif I don't grow talle?
Whatif my head starts getting smaller?
Whatif the fish won't bite?
Whatif the wind tears up my kite?
Whatif they start a war?
Whatif my parents get divorced?
Whatif the bus is late?
Whatif my teeth don't grow in straight?
Whatif I tear my pants?
Whatif I never learn to dance?
Everything seems well, and then
the nighttime Whatifs strike again!


The Little Boy and the Old Man

Said the little boy, "Sometimes I drop my spoon."
Said the old man, "I do that too."
The little boy whispered, "I wet my pants."
"I do that too," laughed the little old man.
Said the little boy, "I often cry."
The old man nodded, "So do I."
"But worst of all," said the boy, "it seems
Grown-ups don't pay attention to me."
And he felt the warmth of a wrinkled old hand.
"I know what you mean," said the little old man.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Last Train from Hiroshima

There are things so horrific, the mind shies away from addressing them in any kind of detail.One wonders then, how the author of The Last Train from Hiroshima could have withstood setting out - in excruciating slow motion - the millisecond by millisecond replay of the impact of the atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

In the crucible of war, the human potential for heroism and horror is revealed - a paradox exhaustively explored in book and film. Pellegrino's account attempts to elide the morality of the complex issues surrounding the atom bombs but coolly presents the horrors of the fallout and in writing about the science behind the atom bombs, grants the reader a gift - the poetry of science:

"Each of the uranium-235 atoms at the bomb's core had been forged more than 4.6 billion years earlier, in the hearts of supernovae. The core was assembled from the ash of stars that had lived and died long before the oldest mountains of the moon were born. Mined and refined to better than 83 percent purity, and brought together in precisely the right geometry, the primordial remnant of Creation was coerced to echo, after ages of quiescence, the last shriek of an imploding star. In all its barest quantum essentials, what happened above Hiroshima that morning — and three days later in Nagasaki, in a separate, plutonium cauldron, filled with the by-products of a uranium reactor — signified the brief reincarnations of distant suns. None of the men who worked this strange alchemy understood yet that the carbon flowing within their veins was, like uranium, the dust of the stars. Nor did they know that the nuclei of carbon and uranium could possibly conceal anything much smaller than the diameter of a proton...."

NYT review is here and the excerpt from the book is here.

But as he went on to describe - in heart stopping detail - the vaporizing effect of the bomb, the obliteration of the city, the way in which survivors were known only by the ghostly shadow imprints they left on walls, my mind recoiled.

As regards the literature of war, the need to explore the themes of courage, redemption, horror and cruelty in war is understandable, even commendable. There is moral and pedagogical dimension to this: That we can and must learn from the bloody battles of the past and remember them, so that the future may be free from the same.

But war aside, there are depths to human depravity and the human capacity for horror that the mind shies away from and the desire the plumb these depths - even vicariously - is no more than pure voyeuristic depravity.

But one wonders at people who intentionally soak themselves in the literature and film of debauchery, cruelty, violence and depravity: Are they really so naive as to think that they will not be affected - morally or psychologically - by the depictions of such corruption? This is particularly so in film - once said to be a form of virtual reality - how many stories have we heard of people having nightmares after watching horror films or young children attempting to perform impossible stunts from movies and breaking bones, incurring permanent injuries in the process?

We attempt to protect children's minds with the ratings system, determining when and at what age they should be capable of digesting horror, sex, violence and corruption. The rationale behind this is that as we age, we gain an understanding that what is seen on film is "not real" and maturity (or cynicism) will enable us to deal with the other moral issues enfolded in films rated to have highly sexual content or to be violent.

This logic must be recognized as being unrealistic (pardon the pun) and fallacious. To be blunt, it just doesn't make sense. Unfortunately, as with the best fallacies, it has enough truth embedded in it to deceive.But there must be a recognition that at best, this logic is a rough estimation of the human ability to develope discernment (by age 21!) and at the worst, a completely unrealistic view of the workings of the human psyche.

It is accepted that we are affected by the friends we make, the social milieu in which we circulate. It is accepted that our moods, the amount we eat, the length of time we stay in a restaurant can be swayed by even the colours and lights around us. Psychological studies, the endless data collected by marketing experts tells us that fast food restaurants are decorated and lit in such a way as to encourage people to feel safe but eat quickly. Studies tell us that one's probability of becoming a smoker, a college graduate, developing obesity rise or fall depending on the crowd around us.

It doesn't make sense for us to turn and say that after age 21, we will somehow become impervious to being steeped for 120 minutes at a time, in images that are morally and ethically degrading. If we are so sensitive to other influences, how much more so to thousands of images, coloured by depravity flashing in front of our eyes? Even for the literature of war, lines must be drawn; surely there comes a point when overly graphic descriptions and film productions of blood and violence are unnecessary?

We are learning, to be more careful about the things we eat, whether they are grown organically, whether they contain caffeine, trans fat, gluten, chemicals etc. But the practice of discernment must be extended to our intellectual fodder as well. It is a truism, that one can tell a man by the friends he keeps. But it is also true, that one can tell a man from the things he loves, where he chooses to spend his time, the books and movies that he chooses to consume.

The Last Train to Hiroshima is beautifully written, a clearly told tale of the horrors that followed the decision to drop the atom bombs on two Japanese cities, a paean to the lost of both Nagasaki and Hiroshima. But I am unsure if I will be buying or reading it in full, especially when the 5 page NYT excerpt left me drained, gasping for air. This post is more a reminder note to myself than anything else - I have a fondness for war movies/stories - to continue to practice discernment, wisdom in my choice of reading material.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Sunset over the lake

Tarmac wears out

but light

carves roads in eternity,

writ in water,

renewed daily.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Bits and pieces

From The West Wing:-

President: Sweden has a 100% literacy rate! A hundred percent! How did they do that?

Leo: Well, maybe they don’t and they also can’t count…


At a gathering:

A: Ooooh, how did X and Y get together? They didn't talk much when we were all in uni.

B: Oh they both walk to Jurong East MRT station to go to work and just kept bumping into each other....

A*nodding sagely*: I knew it! Geographical compatibility works!


C: So what's the book of Deuteronomy in Chinese?

D (Who goes to a Chinese church): Oh it's called 申 命 記.

WM (Who clearly doesn't...): What?! You mean it isn't called 第五本? That's what I always thought!