June 29, 2006


As a general rule, one should be alarmed when he feels a tugging on his trouser leg.

A downward glance reveals a small dachsund chewing morosely on the leg of my jeans. I rapidly scan my memory for past conversations I've had with this dog. I'm fairly certain I've repeatedly made it clear to him that trouser legs are verboten for recreational chewing.

When he catches me looking at him he slinks away and crouches under the table, feigning penitence. A frayed pant cuff testifies to his guilt.

As I stare at him he morphs, right in front of my very eyes. In a haze of fawn-colored fur and floppy ears I watch his long low-rider profile slowly transfigure into something more...oval shaped. I blink a couple times, but the transmogrification hasn't dissipated. There he is, more compact and pointed at both ends, looking strangely like...a football. It's interesting, I notice, that he is the same color as a football. He, of course, is covered by glossy fur rather than pebble-grained leather, but with a little imagination one can easily see the resemblance.

I pause for a moment, awaiting some sort of explanation from a member of the spirit world, but nothing happens. The dog sits there, reborn as a football. And what does one do with a football, I wonder...

Now I don't want to get all weird here, but it was at that point that I did receive visitation from the spirit world. I kid you not, it was just like in the cartoons where you get a little GI-Joe sized devil on one shoulder and another action-figure angel on the other. On my honor.

The little devil guy whispered something about indulging myself, while the angel spouted some oblique aphorism about the dangers of confusing housepets with sporting gear.

Quite a dilemma, you can imagine.

In the hazy distance a goal post emerges, beaming rays of light. I reach down and pick the pigskin/dachsund up. He feels strangely inviting, just the right size for the average adult male hand, and so perfectly aerodynamic. I wasn't wearing my cleats, but that just didn't seem to matter right now.

I knew right there I had to make a decision. And the only right thing to do was to

Posted by jonsligh at 10:28 AM | Comments (7)

June 27, 2006


I have been called a people-watcher.

One main difference between people-watchers and stalkers is that the people-watchers have shorter attention spans. They don't get fixated on one person; they watch all of them. (Another difference, for the record, is that people-watchers usually are emotionally and psychologically sound.) They follow the conversations of many people instead of one, and can't be bothered to actually get up from their park benches and follow someone to find out more about them.

In school I often found it hard to eat with someone in the dining hall, since all I wanted to do was observe those around me and try to reconstruct their entire life stories. I think iit's some kind of obsessive/compulsive disorder. I suppose it's a bit rude to eat with someone and spend the whole meal trying to figure out whether the couple next to us are seriously dating.

No ring on her finger, but she stares into his eyes while he speaks, a big cheesy smile on her face. So probably dating. Wait...now they've moved into the cow-eyed stare while still talking--definitely dating. But that was a really stupid joke he told, and she laughed as if she were genuinely entertained by his lame puns, so they must still be in the early stages. When she's sure they're serious then maybe she'll let on that his jokes are inane. She, like any of us, can put up with stupid jokes if it keeps her from solitude. Anything to stave off the loneliness. Now, as for the...

And then my thoughts get interrupted by the conversation I've been carrying on with the person across from me. I turn my body sideways a little, away from the couple, so I can concentrate on the acquaintance who so kindly agreed to accompany me for dinner. Directly behind him is a shabbily-dressed young male, sitting along, reading.

Can see author--James Joyce--but not title. He shifts in his seat--title is Ul...--must be Ulysses. Is book a coverup, I wonder--he wants to make it look as if he could have found friends to eat with but instead wanted to eat alone? Is he pulling the age-old "I'm-so-smart-I-spend-meals-alone-contemplating-classic-works-that-are-difficult-for-the-average-Joe-but-are-brain-candy-for-literary-types-like-me" trick? Hmmm...looks like he's not really reading the book. Just staring blankly at the page and hasn't turned the page for a long while. Yep, it's a coverup. Huh? Oh, uh, yeah, I got a C. Yeah, she is a difficult teacher.

And that's how the coversations would go, nosy observation of complete strangers punctuated by occasional discourse with those friends who put up with my shenanigans.

I'm not entirely what I look for in my obsessive people-watching. Perhaps it's just a thirst for knowledge, any kind of knowledge. (I am, after all, obsessive/compulsive about the acquisition of random bits of knowledge, having spent many, many hours of my life leafing the encyclopedia and dictionary.) Maybe there's more to it, though.

I think people-watching accomplishes the same end as literature or film or poetry. It reminds us we're not alone, it uncovers the quiet desperation most live their lives in, it bares the soul of humanity.

Art is, basically, people-watching. At least that's one of the main facets of art.

To quote Richard Altick: "Literature preserves for us...the spiritual chiaroscuro of wasteland and earthly paradise, the bewildering series of shocks and discoveries, to which modern society has been subjected in the last two centuries.... [It] then is an eloquent artistic document, infintely varied, of mankind's journey: the autobiography of the race's soul."

I'm hammering out my thoughts on the purpose and the value of the arts. This is sort of the beginning of the formal statement of my theory. [Being profoundly lazy, I doubt I'll ever actually think up an actual formal statement of my theory.] I think that phrase, "The autobiography of the race's soul," pretty much sums up what I think re: the purpose and the value.


Posted by jonsligh at 11:53 AM | Comments (9)

June 24, 2006

Mini Book Reviews

And when I say Mini I mean it.

Recent reads or current reads.

Me Talk Pretty One Day, David Sedaris. Simultaneously poignant and hilarious, Sedaris recounts his stories with a profound sensitivity and a superb ability to articulate himself. Some guy or another said that we read to be reminded we're not alone. If you're reading my blog, you are probably not like Sedaris, unless you just so happen to be a Greek-American homosexual yuppie who can tell stories about speed-popping and performance art pieces at the Art Institute of Chicago. But you're really not all that different from him. He is (and you are too, I presume), completely human. He shapes the formless void of past experience into something beautiful and meaningful, revealing himself to be utterly unique (sorry, you're just not as funny as him), yet representative of humanity. (because we're really all alike). He's just another normal imago dei creature shouting into the infinite void, making his voice heard. Except he's better at it than the rest of us.


The Bluest Eye, Toni Morrison. I am a student of human nature. Well, at least it sounds cool to say that. I do not claim to be a good student. Morrison is. A decent writer who just so happens to posses X-ray goggles with which she stares right into the soul of humanity. Excellent character studies, remarkable insight into what it is that makes us tick. As a discourse on our culture's obsession with beauty (specifically, Caucasian beauty), the work is pretty good. As an investigation into the nature of human depravity and degradation, the work is stellar. You will wipe your eyes, scratch your head, and pound the desk with your fist. The book is beautiful and it is, in parts, very very disturbing... (Caveat emptor. Or would that be caveat lector?)


Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything, Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner. Taking your kid to the library every week doesn't make him smarter. Crack dealers still live with their mothers. Capital punishment is no crime deterrent. Schoolteachers and sumo wrestlers have a lot in common. Why? Read the book. You see the word "Economics" on the cover and think you've found the cure for your insomnia. Wrong. The book is very interesting. Scout's honor. If you want to know the world works the way it does or find yourself skeptical of common wisdom, read it.


Traveling Mercies, Anne Lamott. Lamott can invoke a veritable emotions through her masterful storytelling. It's hard to tell what exactly Lamott believes on just about any Christian doctrine, but she at least gives you plenty of food for thought.


The Abolition of Man, C.S. Lewis. Not finished with this second time around. So far, so good (very good), but I have a bone to pick with Clive. Christianity works. It makes us into nice, noble, wholesome people. Lewis seems to see that as proof that it's therefore true. Is that a safe assumption to make?

Posted by jonsligh at 01:19 AM | Comments (9)

June 23, 2006


I think my bros are pretty cool.

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Posted by jonsligh at 10:15 AM | Comments (10)

June 21, 2006

curses, foiled again

I've been wanting to write on a recent film, The New World, but it looks like Will beat me to it. Impatient blackguard, always jumping the gun and hurriedly writing reviews before I can get to it. The film is, methinks, aesthetically complete--restrained, poetic, and visually stunning.

Posted by jonsligh at 01:29 AM | Comments (6)

June 17, 2006

a moment of weakenss.

My father would be so ashamed. He used the old "if everyone was jumping off a cliff, would you?" rhetorical question to teach me to buck peer pressure, and it worked. But now, now I have caved in. I'm nothing but a sheep now. A spineless follower. Because I got a MySpace account.

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June 16, 2006

happy bloomsday

I'm sure that all you faithful readers have June 16 marked on your calendar. It's Bloomsday!

Posted by jonsligh at 03:20 PM | Comments (4)

June 10, 2006

recent read

Literature allows you the luxury of digging deep into the lives of others without getting your hands dirty. It lets you vicariously experience events of the past, the lives of others far removed from yourself, while keeping a safe distance from the risks of actual emotional involvement. It's a one-way mirror that lets you peer unguardedly at a person, study him, gawk at him, emphathize with him, hate him, feel with him.

Jonathan Safran Foer, in his novel, Everything is Illuminated, breaks the one way mirror in his tale of life in a Ukrainian Jewish shtetl, and the end of all that life. He robs you of your right to experience the atrocities from a distance. You can't coolly view the plight of the characters, far removed from their lives. You're right there, shell-shocked. You're forced to gaze disbelieving at the raw brutality of a world where entire towns can be wiped off the map.

Fiction, or at least good fiction, is reality compressed. You get what is sometimes sometimes a lifetime's worth of illumination put into one work and see some aspect man in general, of a man in particular, of yourself in particular, or of the world in which you live. You in turn are illuminated, you understand what you didn't before. (Chances are, you probably won't get that with the pulp novels they sell at WalMart.)

Foer paints his portrait of reality in detail that is simultaneously raw, painful, lovely, insane, hilarious, and dirty. He takes you by the back of the neck and shoves your face right into his painting, forcing you to behold the world's chiaroscuro of unfathomable beauty and raw evil.

The story, a mixture of creative fiction and autiobiography, unfolds as Foer treks across Ukraine in search of the woman who helped save his Jewish grandfather from the Nazis. He is accompanied by a linguistically inept translator, a grouchy and profane old driver, and a flatulent deranged dog named Sammy Davis Junior, Junior.

The plot is revealed in letters between Foer and his translator, each of whom is also writing a separate narrative. Foer's freewheeling history is at once imaginative and mimetic, a mixture of fantasy and photographic realism. Be sure that you keep handy a box of tissues and a punching bag.

Now for some reviews by others:

Philadelphia Inquirer : "A rambunctious tour de force of inventive and intelligent storytelling . . . Foer can place his reader's hand on the heart of human experience, the transcendent beauty of human connections. Read, you can feel the life beating."

Kirkus Reviews: "Comedy and pathos are braided together with extraordinary skill in a haunting debut. . .riveting intensity and originality."

Time Magazine: "A certified wunderkind at 25 . . .a funny, moving...deeply felt novel about the dangers of confronting the past and the redemption that comes with laughing at it, even when that seems all but impossible."

Posted by jonsligh at 09:14 PM | Comments (8)

June 07, 2006

book review

Two new things happened today.

First, I just quit reading a Kurt Vonnegut novel. Second, I wrote a book review of a book that I didn't actually finish. I dig Vonnegut, and seeing Vonnegut struggle with this is similar to the embarassed feeling you get when you watch your good friend trip and fall down a flight of stairs. The book is Deadeye Dick, about the fateful chain of events that ensues after an adolescent boy accidentally shoots and kills a pregnant woman.

The book is the usual Vonnegut fare. The plot is, of course, guided by Chance, that old malevolent prankster. The characters are humorous and pathetic, like all of Vonnegut's people are (aren't we all a tad pathetic?). Vonnegut follows his normal style, which is at once witty, disjointed, dismally and hilariously cynical, and entirely random. In this work Vonnegut builds on his observation that very often the great things in life are booby-trapped. Love, family, fame, and acceptance all carry certain risks. Live long enough and all those things will burn you. That's the normal Vonnegut pessimism, skeptical of pretty much anything.

Vonnegut, in my opinions, personifies the skepticism inherent in postmodernism. Man is continually coming up with ways to keep himself sane. New systems of thought, new organizations, art, they all are human constructs designed to keep us from throwing our hands up in the air out of frustration toward the pain and chaos that are woven into the fabric of the universe. They're the Novocaine that numb the unbearable ache of being. Smart-alecky, iconoclastic old KV will have none of it. Anaesthetics are for pansies.

And maybe it's not a bad thing that Vonnegut is skeptical. Because, as one blogger put it, we do not want our homesickness to lead to false front houses.

Heartache and brokenness--themes like that can make for some great art. So why'd Vonnegut have to go and make the book so boring?

Not that I'll ever ask him. If I ever get to meet Vonnegut I'll tell him I loved it.

But behind his back, I give it a 2 out of 5.

Posted by jonsligh at 10:44 PM | Comments (3)