A Mind That Suits
What doesn't kill me, makes me laugh... usually.
Thursday, January 08, 2004 :::
It's been a while, sports fans. The need to walk down the block to Kinko's kind of takes the blush off of the blogging habit, as does the press of business. A Mind That Suits has entered "go back home" mode, so the amount of work is levelling off, and the need to write presents itself.
The wind has been blowing fair here in the rainiest paradise in the contiguous states. A promised soggy day today did not appear, and the ground was a delightful patchwork of shadow and bright sunshine as the clouds passed overhead. We used to call it "thick blood" in the days when A Mind That Suits was but a lad, and it's good to have. Everyone was crowded inside the delightful little cafe at the Alumni Center, so a certain pudgy, bespectacled writer enjoyed the outdoor seating all to himself.
And has been enjoying 8 days now of the company of his beloved Uncle Al. "Allen Drury finds it hard to be dull" wrote one early, Canadian reviewer, and it remains true. Even his polite brushoffs to fans usually hold some interest, and sometimes they are revealing, as when he decided to list all the authors that had the deepest influence on him. Conrad loomed larger than at least one of his nephews suspected, and Dickens rather less so. Live and learn.
Some final comments on what is so obviously different.
If readers scan back to early June, and see the lament of A Mind That Suits for the demise of the Great Lunchtime Free-for-All at White Plaza, they will understand what he means when he now says that he must generalize that. The construction of truly vast swaths of student housing both South and West has spread the campus out so broadly that at no point, even between classes, do you feel the presence of a large number of human beings. This is actually too bad, as the presence of other humans means life, but it does mean that Stanford University is even more like a pedestrian-friendly version of the suburbs from which most of the students hail.
You see lots of people running here, at all hours, but they almost never have to, which would make it the opposite of DC. People here run to relax.
The ladies, too, all seem to have practical hair, but they actually have the time to have it done if they want. Again, that makes it the opposite of DC, land of women squeezing in appointments at expensive hair establishments.
And on to the news:
You know what makes Wesley Clark an unlikely contender? That furrowed brow. A general, and a president, should look decisive, not as if the decisions pained him. But then rumors are rife that he got canned from his last command, and may he not ascend to a higher one.
Linking is off, but hitthee to National Review Online and read the latest column from the master, William F. Buckley, Jr, on why the obvious trainwreck that is the Howard Dean campaign is not good for the nation, not because he is likely to win, but because he appears likely to win the nomination and then go down in the most spectacular flames. Two strong parties are a good thing, averreth the sage of Sharon, and he is right, as usual.
In the "Mamas, don't let your babies grow up to be childstars" category, one notes the continued over the top behavior of Britney or however you spell it. Her spontaneous marriage/annulment to a childhood friend--both, er, husband and wife being barely out of childhood themselves--was arrogantly young, but it has apparently also left her ex-husband in something of a funk and her hometown Louisianna posse going, "what up?" She has been rumored to be on the edge for quite some time, the typical consequences of making it when you are 17, and she has made it about as big as any childstar of recent memory. On the basis of genuine talent and hard work, one must add. Slow down, dear.
And speaking of people that Britney has made it with, isn't it typically savvy of the former Ms. Ciccone to attach her fadiing star to the brightest one in the firmament? The joint Britney/Madonna video is a bit of fluff--lesbian tinged fluff--, but it displays the difference between real talent plus hard work and an indeterminantly smaller amount of talent plus 25 years of really hard work plus a perfectionist streak. Madonna, the greatest pair of left feet to transform herself into a real dancer, displays moves that most 43 year olds could never dream off, and, on that score, more power to her. But leave the Britney kissing to the boys.
Speaking of whom--boys who kissed Britney, that is--the equally talented Justin Timberlake has by and large seemed to be less afflicted with child-star-itis, but now that he has reached a man's estate, the accounts of his spending are utterly remarkable, accompanied with photos of a Justin who is indisputable bloated and red-faced. The numbers do not add up, unless he has income that is not reported. Slow, down, son.
A Mind That Suits spent a truly enjoyable lunchtime with his first ever boss, a Major Deal at the venerable Hoover Institution here at sometimes sunny Stanford U. He wisely got us to the Alumni Center cafe about 5 minutes before the lunchtime onslaught, and we left after it had emptied. In keeping with this writer's belief that prolonged exposure to really wonderful weather somehow works a powerful effect on the mind, said mentor suggested meeting inside because it would be a little warmer. After A Mind That Suits laughed him to scorn,he said, "all right, we'll meet on the steps." This writer got a little distracted, and hit the steps about 15 seconds late, to be greeted by the equally derisive scorn of said lifelong friend. "Of course you're warm: your dressed for a snow storm." A Mind That Suits was wearing a bomber jacket and a Stetson, wearing which attire would result in his death in a real snow storm, and besides, what friend Bill said, being translated, was, "of course you're wamr: you're properly dressed."
These folks are all crazy.
Ah, but friend Bill had a surprise up his sleeve. He was one of the first people in the US ever to read The Lord of the Rings, when it first came out, and has apparently never stopped.
He was also one of the first to write of the phenonomen it was becoming in the US among counterculture types. The article, from about 1969, was entitled "The Hobbit and the Hippies," and his point, an accurate one, was that the hairy kids sporting "Frodo Lives" buttons had no comprehension of what they were reading. (T-shirts had no slogans back then. That is a late Seventies thing. Buttons were the big deal.)
Lucky Bill to have lived so long with such a masterwork.
And yet--such is the protean majesty of the work--A Mind That Suits, on only his third reading, was able to point out a very significant scene to the lifelong fan. The fact that this writer shares some of the Catholic mystical tendencies of JRR Tolkein meant that he was actually looking for this kind of thing, so it may not jump out at others, but it is the clearest statement of the truth of Christian mysticism one could hope for.
In this scene, a chap named Eomer, a Rider of Rohan---if we are going to be specific--has been toiling long at the thankless task of protecting the borders of his land, suffering under the premonition that war is about to come, and fearing that the boss has gone bonkers, as so many of them seem to do. He comes across trespassers, whom he discovers are led by
1) Aragorn, long awaited heir to the kings of old,
who is bearing
2) The Sword That Was Broken, But Is Now Reforged (gotta read the book, sports fans),
and who is accompanied by
3) one elf, in equal parts pugnacious, fearless, and dangerous,
who is best friends with
4) one dwarf, equally pugnacious but fearless to the point of recklessness, making him infinitely more dangerous,
which dwarf has pledged eternal fealty to
5) the Lady of the Woods,
whom Eomer has heard may have an evil influence on her followers.
Problems really begin for Eomer when he blurts that last bit out, thereupon discovering the full force of points 3 and 4.
When he finds out that this odd band is in search of two representatives of a group he knew of only from children's stories--that would be the Hobbits, of course--the strain gets too much--as it would be for all of us, so don't get judgmental-- and he blurts out a question, to which Aragorn proffers an answer it will take noble Eomer a lifetime to understand.
Although he is but 100 pages or so past this particular scene, the lunchtime conversation forced A Mind That Suits to go back and look, and he discovered the scene also lays out the starkest truths of Christian morality as welll.
That's why conversations with good friends who really know things can be so rewarding, aside from the joy of renewing old friendships. You go back and rethink things.
Friend Bill pointed out the thankless role of the protectors of satisfied people who have no idea they are being protected, and no gratitude for it. It is a large point, well portrayed, and it coincides with the lifetime work of this friend, who has worked in the trenches against the forces in this society that dismiss the threats to our security, making friend Bill a kind of Intellecual Ranger himself. And it cannot be said that the satisfied people who have been protected by such Intellectual Rangers have showed sufficient gratitude. Just see how most "intellectuals" react when you say the words "Hoover Institution."
A Mind That Suits is not going to tell you where to find either his favorite bit or that of friend Bill. Start at page one, and search for yourself. Do so once a year, and you will find your own bits.
Have a good one.
::: posted by A Mind That Suits at 1:34 AM