Beautiful Ways to Die

            As some of you know, I am afraid of the moving pictures.  Well, they move too fast for one thing, and they all FLASH FLASH FLASH, and I’m afraid I’ll have a seizure, and they have destroyed our attention span, and the next thing you know there’s a FLASH and you’re seeing something you never meant to see and you can’t just erase it; it’s there permanently and you’re doomed to a life of regret.  I can’t honestly remember the last time I entered a movie theater.  Also there are other people there, and I don’t want any part of that.

            Additionally, I don’t watch television because by-and-large it is venal and not to be endured.  If I even touch the on/off button on my television it’s so my toddler can watch The Aristocats, which is fine because it involves lovely cats in Paris in 1910.  A very fine time in Paris, if you ask me.  Plus there are jazz-playing strays living in a house that looks oh-so-suspiciously like Storyville in New Orleans, a favorite lost artifact of mine.

            At this point you must be thinking, “How tragical is this woman, with nothing but books about Whitehead, and little nubs of carpenters’ pencils.”  True enough, until my friend who-shall-remain-nameless (Scott), convinced me to watch The Sopranos. 


WHAT?!?  The Quaker girl?  Oh-ho, indeed.  In fact, between the beginning of January and the end of February (or March – I have no sense of time) I watched all 86 hours, and when I reached the finale I sobbed for three days.  My friend Christopher took me by the hand and said, “Honey?  Millions of people saw that finale.  Some thought it was genius, some were disappointed.  But NO ONE sobbed for three days.  I think we need a little bit of professional help here.”  Which only goes to show he has no heart.

            And perhaps things were slightly askew in my psyche, because in an e-mail exchange between three friends I was asked to name off the top of my head (seriously!  think fast!) how I would choose to die if I only had twenty-four hours.  What would I do, spend my last day hysterical over my motherless children?  Try to see the Seven or Ten or Eight Wonders of the World?  God, no.  I answered as honestly as humanly possible.  I said, “I would want to spend 24 hours with Tony Soprano and then I would want him to shoot me in the heart.”  In cyber-space there was much of being appalled.  In fact, all over the physical word, appalled-ness did preside.  But NOT WITH MY FRIEND SUZANNE FINNAMORE COOPER.  She said, “The only way to get your heart blown to smithereens is to choose the psychopath.”

            I shall keep this short, because I have dissertations on the cultural phenomenon which was Tony Soprano, but I would just like to end with this photograph.  If I were 13, 16, 21, 16, 32, 38, or even 40, I would have this tattooed on my regions.  After spending hours studying the sublime image, please feel free to talk amongst yourselves about your last twenty-four hours.  And remember:  I am the last person to judge. 

Published in: on July 31, 2008 at 11:45 pm  Comments (22)  

Against Exercise: A Cosmology

            People often express surprise when they find out how old I am.  I’m 62.  (Ed. note:  Haven is not 62.)  There are a number of ways of explaining this confusion, such as genetics, a life spent nearly sun-free, or general clean living.  Alas, none of those apply to me, so I have had to turn to Einstein’s Relativity Theory – Special or General, either one is fine. 

            Pretend I have a twin, and my twin is on an aircraft we call “Addicted To Exercise.”  I am on a ship called “Sedentary.”  We embark on our respective journeys at the same time, let’s say in childhood.  Haven II bikes every morning, loves to hike in places where she might become food, and pounds away at the resistant machinery in a place called the ‘gymnasium.’  Haven I, on the other hand, does – quite simply – none of those things.  If you can name it, she is not doing it. 

            Addicted to Exercise has been traveling at the speed of light; I have been traveling at the speed of resting.  Sixty-two years pass.  (Ed. note:  Haven I is still not 62.)  We touch down and reconcile.  What does Relativity tell us?  Haven II won’t shut up about being old, that’s what, because her knees are shot, she’s about to step on her bladder, her hips are brittle, her spine is compressed, and she has nearly used up the allotment of heartbeats given to her at birth.  In star-time she is 62,000 light years old.  How is Haven I?  Just fine thank you, as I have been taking it easy, while my poor, theoretical alter ego burned up her life force like a hamster on a wheel.  I have moved so little and so slowly time stopped for my skeleton at about age 22.  My knees only know how old they are if I tell them. 

            I made the decision not to seek out unnecessary exercise many years ago, after hearing a report on NPR about the effect of excessive glucocorticoid production on the brain.  Glucocoritcoids, as many of you know, are a class of steroids naturally produced by the adrenal gland, and they do all manner of things and we would not want to be deficient in their production.  One thing they do is flood the brain when we are facing danger, say on a hike in an area where there are grizzly bears, and we see an actual grizzly bear, and we are between a male grizzly and female grizzly during mating season with our tape recorder running.  They help trigger the fight-or-flight response.  Sadly, neither will help us here.  The example is meant to be instructive, but turns out to be academic.

            But what happens if you survive that particular tangle – and you would not, but let’s say for a moment that you did – while recognizing that it is best to never, ever encounter a grizzly bear ever, particularly in the manner described above – and live another day?  And what if your brain is repeatedly flooded by the fight-or-flight mechanism?  The researchers turned to primates, in particular a group, or pod, that had been studied for multiple generations.  They were of this variety, the Pan paniscus aberdeen angus, here photographed in its native habitat and employing night-vision camera goggles:


Here is the water-dwelling cousin, Aqua pan paniscus aberdeen angus:


            The paniscus angus pod is led by an alpha male, who is responsible for protecting the other members while enjoying the usual privileges.  The alphas spend a lot of time fighting other alphas, and thus live a life of bounty and gratification, along with high blood pressure, heart disease, and strokes (also known as the Antonius Sopranus Syndrome).  They are also subjected to the flood of glucocorticoids on a regular basis, which, it turns out, carve channels in their neuropathways, i.e., they are brain-damaged, regardless of how they die.           

            The lesser males, especially the ones quite low on the totem pole, live nearly twice as long as their alpha counterparts.  To paraphrase one of the researchers, “If you want to live a long and happy life, stay at home with the women and children.”  Slow your theoretical jets, as it were. 

            We run as if something were chasing us.  The more affluent we become and the farther from any real danger, the faster we go, when the beauty of civilization might be our ability to slow our heart rates down. 

            I decided to see what Alfred North Whitehead has to say on this subject, as I have built my life around his philosophy, and therefore hope he is correct in addition to being authoritative and convincing.  As I may have mentioned before, the book I hold in highest esteem is Process and Reality, A Cosmology.  P&R is a speculative philosophy, which is to say it seeks to cover the whole of reality, using a mathematical, logical, and theological framework.  Reading it from beginning to end is a bit like childbirth:  one accomplishes it only by means of self-convincement that one will never have to do it again.  Some time passes and one says, “But look, I was greatly changed for the better, and I produced a new person,” and so embarks on it again, etc. 

            I have recently read it for the third or fourth time.  (Ed. note:  Haven skips the chapters in Part IV, The Theory of Extension:  Coordinate Division, Extensive Connection, Flat Loci, Strains, and Measurement.  These are geometric, rather than Aquinian, proofs.)  I finally found what I was looking for in Part IV, the Flat Loci section.  (Ed. note:  My mistake.)

            “In general, consciousness is negligible; and even the approach to it in vivid propositional feelings has failed to attain importance.  Blind physical purposes reign.  It is now obvious that blind prehensions, physical and mental, are the ultimate bricks of the physical universe.”  (470)

            Of course, 469 pages precede this and his analyses of the nature of God follow it, so what I have given you is a bit of a circumscribed, Stupid Sandwich.  But it seems that he’s saying:  If you are a system that blossoms, like the yellow daisies in my backyard, you will come into Being and you will have a period of concrescence.  You will even be beautiful, as all things have the possibility of harmoniously resolving contrasts, such as the daisy in the asphalt, the daisy in the soil, the daisy with a pan paniscus crouched beneath it.  And each moment of your life, each unit of time, will be immortalized in the mind of God.  If you are a very sophisticated system, as people believe they are, you will think you are in control of your Being – you will dictate your period of concrescence, or believe it so.  You will even wish to author your immortality, perhaps by living sweetly, or surrounded by objects, or looking out through your toned musculature.  Whatever you choose, you will wilt, you will be run across by dogs and mowers, you will face your grizzly and lose. 

            Go ahead and run, if you want to.  I’ll still be sitting here, at least until my ship gives up and falls apart.  By that time my twin will be home from the gym, ropy and exhausted and older than I’ll ever be.*


*Whitehead didn’t suggest the last paragraph in anything he wrote, as far as I can tell.

Published in: on July 23, 2008 at 11:25 pm  Comments (23)  

Bob Loblaw’s Law Blog: Are The Quakers Amish?

As you may know, I am currently at work on a book on Quakerism.  It’s a mess.  I mean, I’ll fix it, but right now – whew.  Have mercy.  There are days I want to pack up my taxidermy and take to the open road. 

I have noticed, however, that I am asked the SAME questions by people who find out I am a lifelong Quaker, particularly when they find out I’m writing a book on the subject.  A look passes over the person’s face as if I had said I am writing a book about fine-wire mesh, or the history of pipes.  I shall attempt to answer those questions now, and save many of you a good deal of time.


Q:  Didn’t the Quakers become extinct 100 years ago?

A:  Those of us who survived were nursed by a domestic housecat who had just given birth and took pity on us. 


Q:  Where would one find a real Quaker?

A:  There are very very few Quakers left in America, and indeed an extinction date for British Quakerism has been given by Pink Dandelion.  (2023.)  American Quakers are found primarily in Pennsylvania, the East Coast, Indiana, and North Carolina.  There are various sects all over the world practicing something they allude to Friends’ Worship, but it is unrecognizably so, if one knows the history of the Religious Society of Friends.  In that way, there is no real Quaker, as there is no such thing as a pit bull.  We recognize certain tendencies in a dog and say, “It has tremendous jaw strength, tenacity, heart.  Its musculature is dense and it is deep-chested.  Because of these characteristics, it is a Quaker.”


Q:  Are the Quakers the same as the Amish?

A:  Although the Amish were founded by a Dutch Anabaptist during the Protestant Reformation, Jakob Ammann, and thus were considered an order of the Swiss Mennonites; and although they speak German (or Pennsylvania Dutch); and although they keep themselves entirely separate from the ‘world,’ or the apostate; have no electricity or phones, and drive horse-drawn buggies on the open road, and the Quakers were founded by George Fox and Margaret Fell during the English Reformation, and spoke English; and although Quakers take it as a directive to change the world through acts of philanthropy and social justice, such as The American Friends Service Committee (which won the Nobel Peace Prize); and although we drive cars and I am typing this on a laptop plugged into a surge protector in an electrical outlet, YES, we are the same as the Amish.  We are, essentially, the Amish.


Q:  Do Quakers really have no ministers, and do they really worship in silence?

A:  Real ones do.  (Don’t you EVEN come after me, you Evangelicals and Programmed Friends.  You know very well I carry a whip in my buggy and I am not afraid to use it, and this includes YOU, Mom.*)


Q:  Did the Quakers invent oatmeal, and is that a real Quaker on the box?

A:  Yes, Quakers invented the oat, and that is a real Quaker on the box.  You can tell by his wig and his Amish hat.**


Q:  Do you still wear bonnets and dresses that cover every part of your body?

A:  Yes, I do.  I am wearing a bonnet now.


Q:  Are Quakers allowed to wear makeup or jewelry or listen to secular music or dance or read fiction or keep a blog?

A:  No, we are not allowed to do any of those things.


Q:  Are there restrictions for men, as well?

A:  Yes, everyone is bonneted for safe-keeping.


* I would never flog my mother, who is a Quaker minister. 

**My friend Dean says that the man on the oatmeal box is actually his grandmother, who was Jewish.

Published in: on July 18, 2008 at 9:06 pm  Comments (60)  

Happy Birthday, Uncle Tiresias!

I hope you’ll all join me in wishing big birthday love to my Uncle Tiresias, lately of the intersection of Clothesline and Trashpile.  No one knows his real age (but we have some ideas*) and those ideas involve a long, long youth. 

Uncle Ti hasn’t always had an easy life.  He’s blind, for one thing, and a treatment given to him as a child to try to undo certain chemical** damage to his retinas made him able to understand the speech of birds.  He stayed blind, though.  I asked him what birds say, and he told me it generally goes like this:

BIRD #1:  Whatta ya doin whatta ya doin whatta ya doin.

BIRD #2:  CAT.

BIRD #3:  I know I left the iron on.  I just know it.  I know I left the . . . CAT.

BIRD #1:  Whatta ya doing whatta ya doin whatta ya doin.

BIRD #2:  CAT.

He calls this a ‘bird meeting.’  When I ask him what they accomplish at these meetings?  He says they form committees, hold elections, and consider applying for grants but never do.  Often Uncle Ti owns a bird or two and keeps them in an old wooden cage.  I was going to use a photograph of him holding his birdcage, which he likes to take out for air, but I was afraid he would discover AGAIN that the birds were gone because half of the cage has got the powder beetles.  He hasn’t had a bird last longer than 45 seconds in there for years now, and I just keep replacing them.

So . . . I guess I said he was blind but also – this was TOTALLY out of the blue – ten years ago he announced to his WIFE that really he had been a WOMAN INSIDE SINCE HE WAS BORN.  He couldn’t live the lie anymore, and I felt awful for Aunt Wanda but mostly I had a grizzly feeling in my stomach about where my favorite Victoria’s Secret Control Tops had been going.  I’m going to skip the details but eventually he went through the whole process:  he lived as a woman for a year, he took hormones, he went to therapy, and then dagnabbit if we didn’t all get in the truck and drive to Mexico and get it done.

Aunt Tyrese was sweet as a peach, and she and Wanda got on like a house a’fire.  They joined a bowling league through the GLBTI community, they played softball, they got a couple goats and made cheese, they talked about adopting from a foreign country.  I don’t know what they put in that surgery, but those two never fought again over the remote control, the dishes, the toilet seat, or the Super Bowl.  It was like a miracle.  Then seven years after the surgery, Aunt Tyrese announces that she has always been a man, since she was born.  And we were all like for the sake of sense, Ty.  But we loaded up the truck and I put some frozen birds in the bird cage and set it in the back and wouldn’t you know, THEY BLEW OUT, and we went on to Mexico, and the doctors went flip flip roll, basically they just went backwards and we left and Uncle Tiresias was back.

He couldn’t get his job back at the co-op so he became a prostitute, and that put a little strain on him and Wanda, but the money was pretty good, and then he began to feel the multiply-gendered regret strain, because SADLY it turns out that women experience ten times the amount of  . . . .  pleasure as men which had he known it he might have not made the flip and roll, forgive me.  He got kicked off the bowling league, the softball team.  He was shunned at Ultimate Frisbee.  Well, then he got it in his mind to handle snakes, and I was like, “Uncle Ti?  You may be a man again but you are still BLIND.” 

I just took his birthday picture and I told him I’d brought two of his favorite king snakes with us.  I said they were right there, right by his feet!  He asked if I’d remembered the birds and I said that the last two were at a meeting.  “A meeting,” he said, nodding.  “Were they the little yellow pro-lifers or the blue jays who are calling for the genocide of all other creatures?”  I told him it was the pro-lifers because FOR THE LOVE OF GOD DOES IT MATTER ANYMORE, UNCLE TIRESIAS?  GOD!  HAPPY BIRTHDAY!   DRESS LIKE A HOBO MUCH?  IS THAT MY WONDERBRA?!

*He has had extensive cosmetic surgery, but he swears only behind his knees.

**Leaded gasoline, which he likes to believe is a ‘chemical,’ when really it’s just a liquid.

Published in: on July 11, 2008 at 1:15 pm  Comments (7)  

Let Us Now Praise An Honorable Man

You may have heard that former North Carolina senator Jesse Helms died this week.  I woke up to a couple e-mails from people informing me of his death and I was shocked to learn he had been yet alive.  Indeed, as I said to my daughter, I thought he was born dead.  One of the finest descriptions of Helms I ever read was in one of Dave Barry’s yearly recaps, when our fine senator had done something thoroughly humiliating once again, and Barry described him thusly:  “Senator Jesse Helms (R–Hell).”

But this man, one L.F. Eason III, was fired from the only job he’s ever had, a 29-year veteran of the State Department of Agriculture, for refusing to lower the state and American flags to half-mast in honor of Helm’s senate service and death.  Eason did so for the following reason:

As reported in the News & Observer, “He told his staff that he did not think it was appropriate to honor Helms because of his ‘doctrine of negativity, hate, and prejudice’ and his opposition to civil rights bills and the federal Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.”  After much wrangling with his supervisor, who insisted on the state directive, Mr. Eason was told he could either have his staff lower the flags or retire.  Mr. Eason is only 51, but he chose to retire. 

Now as a Quaker there is little in this world that means less to me than a flag, or iconography of any kind.  I have no relationship to the country I live in represented by cloth or a pin or a snowglobe or a hand-painted cat.  (People paint cats, it’s very interesting.)  I wouldn’t have cared if Mr. Eason had lowered the flag, raised it, put twinkle lights on it, or set it on fire.  But instead he took the state at its word:  you say this symbol is of such grave importance you would ruin the life of a man who has given his adult life to his job, in the name of a man who was once quoted as calling the University of North Carolina “the University of Niggers and Communists.”  The list of Helms’s crimes against the good will have to be compiled by someone else, someone with the stomach and ink cartridges for it.  But the list of people who stood up to him, even in death, can add one more name, and I thank this man and I hold him and his family in the Light, for discerning what is true and acting on it to his own peril. 

Published in: on July 10, 2008 at 2:24 am  Comments (13)