In Which the Scribbler Sorts Through Some Odds and Ends

Tonight is, barring something weird happening, President Obama’s penultimate State of the Union address.  If you’re a fan of American politics, this is a great event every year.  It’s not the Super Bowl or anything–the equivalent of that would be the Presidential election–but it’s a good show.  Call it the equivalent of the NBA All-Star game; nothing gets decided, but both sides get to show off their platforms and snipe at each other, and it’s full of ceremony and tradition.  Plus, you occasionally get moments like this

rubio

We pretty much know how it’s going to happen tonight: the President will lay out his plans, and then Senator Ernst will tell us why those plans are going to lead to the destruction of the country.  And Kobe Bryant will score seventy-five points.

Still, though, it’s an important opportunity for those who don’t normally follow what’s going on in Washington to get updated.  There will be much talk about the middle class, about income inequality, about immigration and community colleges and so on.  And there will be the delicious tension of wondering whether Rep. Joe Barton will shout anything in the middle of the speech.

I haven’t blogged for a while, so this post is kind of my State of the Union address.  Nothing of vital importance will be broached, I don’t have any rhetorical goals, but there are some things I’d like to talk about.

First (as is usually the case), books.  I’m reading three books concurrently, which is how I roll.  In the bathroom I’ve got THE PORTABLE ATHEIST, a collection of essays and excerpts collected by and with commentary from the late Christopher Hitchens.

Hitch

I’m kind of skipping around the book.  Started with the Lovecraft letter, went back to the Lucretius and the Shelley, then forward to Sagan and Penn Jillette.  It’s everything a good bathroom book should be–filled with pieces short and long (so that one can tailor one’s reading choice to the estimated time of residence) and the subject matter is weighty enough that you feel you’re improving yourself during what would otherwise be dead time.

I’m also finishing up FATAL REVENANT, the eighth book in Stephen R. Donaldson’s CHRONICLES OF THOMAS COVENANT series.  I’ve been reading this series since seventh grade, when my teacher gave me a copy of the first book, LORD FOUL’S BANE.  I’ve mentioned before that she was taking a kind of risk, there; the book’s protagonist is a modern American man who, through some horrible fluke, contracts leprosy.  He becomes very unpleasant (and stays unpleasant throughout the series), and when he gets transported to the magical realm of the Land and finds himself healed of his affliction, basically the first thing he does is rape the girl who’s been helping him.

Edgy stuff for a twelve-year old reader whose previous fantasy experiences had all been of the Dungeons & Dragons variety, where good and evil were pretty clearly delineated and no one raped anyone else.  Beheaded, sure.  Got pincushioned by Orcish arrows, absolutely.  But you just don’t imagine rape in Middle Earth or Xanth.  MAYBE in Cimmeria, and then there’s Gor, but those books were still in my future.

Gor

Anyhow, I’m on the eighth book now.  It took me this long to get to it because I was waiting for the author to finish writing all of them.  I don’t mind open-ended series of books (like, say, the Spenser novels of Robert B. Parker, or the Harry Dresden books by Jim Butcher) where each volume is a stand-alone story, but when it comes to long, epic fantasy series, I will wait until I’m sure the writer is going to finish before I get invested in them.  When Robert Jordan died before completing his WHEEL OF TIME series, the estate hired someone else to finish it, but that seems wrong; had (god forbid) Stephen King died of the injuries he received when that drunk jackass ran over him, I’m pretty sure his wife Tabitha wouldn’t have let anyone else complete THE DARK TOWER.

The third book I’m working on is a re-read:  Daniel Woodrell’s WINTER’S BONE.  I always come back to the masterpieces, and this is definitely one of them.  I’d put it, without hesitation, into the list of best books I’ve ever read; it’s so good that it makes me sad, because I know I’LL never be that good.  Here’s a little taste for you all:

“Clouds looked to be splitting on distant peaks, dark rolling bolts torn around the mountaintops to patch the blue sky with grim.  Frosty wet began to fall, not as flakes nor rain but as tiny white wads that burst as drops landing and froze a sudden glaze atop the snow.”

The man’s an alien, obviously.  Humans don’t write that well.

winter's bone

*********

The weather has been spectacular lately. Right now I have my windows open, and sunlight and breeze is spilling in. Two days ago we had heavy rain all day, making lakes of clogged storm drains, saturating the soil so that you could pull shrubs out by hand, roots and all, but right now it feels like spring. The Demon Cat is curled up on my bed in a patch of sun lazily licking her forepaw. This is not your typical January.

Also atypical is my state of mind recently. I’ve had tumultuous times, and getting through the holidays was a bit more difficult this year than most. I don’t know whether it’s some kind of mid-life crisis, or whether it’s just one of those patches we all occasionally bottom out in, but for a couple of months I was in sorry shape. This blog isn’t a confessional, and I’m not going to bore or burden my readers with any ‘what I had for breakfast’ or ‘what kind of bowel movement it was’ details, so I’ll keep it vague, but for a period of time I felt like a failure at being a grown-up.

I’m on the upswing now. My mood, like the weather, is sunny and breezy. I am by nature a fairly happy person, and though the demons sometimes come and poke me, and though I’m also by nature a fairly CYNICAL person, I always end up optimistic and grateful. This IS a wonderful world, and no matter how low I get, the wonder eventually seeps back in, reminds me that life is a miracle. Typically in Portland January is gray and soggy and seems endless, but this January is different, for all sorts of reasons. And I want to thank all of you–you care about me, you like me, you help me. Of all the bounties of the world, friendship and love are possibly the most important, and I’m rich in both. And it’s good to be back on the blog!

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One comment

  1. Glad things are on the upswing, John.

    About the SOTU address – I haven’t watched one of those in years. By the time an address has gone through first draft, staffing, rewrites, blessings, and rehearsal, it’s not really statecraft – it’s a performance, interrupted by applause lines as annoying as the laugh track on a sitcom. I’m an Obama supporter and a liberal. What would really tickle me is to see the down and dirty that takes place at staff meetings as policies are hammered out. THAT’S where governance is.

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