Archive for February of 2010

February 18, 2010
Love is Like the Summer

Summer is the most beautiful season -- I think so, as many people do, but not everyone agrees. Summer is liberating and exhilarating, a time of warmth and long days, when all of nature is alive and welcoming, freeing us from the shelter of our homes and from thick bundles of sweaters and jackets and boots. It's a time of green grass and blue skies, days at the beach and nights under the stars, sensual and passionate, the heat on our skin felt all the way into our hearts.

Summer days can be blazing, blinding, overwhelming. It's prudent to protect yourself, with screen for the skin, a cover for your head, shade for the eyes, and maybe an extra layer of clothing after all. Sometimes it's necessary to seek out the shade, and some days you're better off just staying inside, avoiding the unbearable light and heat altogether.

Some summers can kill you.

Once in a while, a summer is a an extraordinary gift, with months of perfect days that never seem to end, lasting longer than anyone expected. Other summers are mediocre, and a few of them are frustrating disappointments, filled up with days of rain and overcast skies and mild temperatures, and too few redeeming days of sunshine scattered between them, ending abruptly when the chill of autumn arrives much too soon, so that we are left wondering whether the season was ever really there at all.

Summer is transient. We see the signs of its inevitable passing slowly but surely building up around us, the coolness in the air, the shortening days, nature's gradual retreat into dormancy. We bulk up and brace ourselves for the long season of darkness and cold. Winter is more oppressive and harder to survive. But it has its own kind of beauty, the quiet elegance of stillness and solitude.

Not everything about love is like the summer. The seasons are predictable -- we never know exactly when they will begin and end, but we know that they come and go once every year.

February 12, 2010
Cease, Desist and Cut That Out

People are always talking about cease and desist letters, but why do these things go to all the trouble to demand that you cease AND desist? What if you cease, but decline to desist? Could you get in trouble if you desist, but pass up on the ceasing?

By way of contrast, it makes perfect sense to tell someone not to "fold, spindle or mutilate" something. Folding is not the same as spindling, nor is it the same as mutilating; and you can spindle a thing without mutilating it, just as you could mutilate it without spindling it. Folding, spindling and mutilating are three different things, so if you don't want someone to do any of them, you have to tell them not to do all three.

A demand to both cease and desist implies that they're two different things, and you're demanding them not to do either one (ask your friendly neighborhood linguist about the Gricean maxim of quantity). Otherwise it's just a waste of words. To be sure, it only takes a second to say "cease and desist", but think of all the accumulated loss of productivity in all of the lawyer's offices all over the world, dictating and typing more than is necessary. Think of all the printer toner wasted printing out three words, when one would have been enough. In these difficult economic times, every little bit of extra efficiency makes a difference.

I'm troubled by the thought that I could get one of these things, and sincerely attempt to comply, but unwittingly fail because of some unfathomably subtle legal distinction between ceasing and desisting. A Kafkaesque nightmare scenario comes to mind -- cops and lawyers hammering on the door, the cops slapping on the cuffs while the lawyer cackles, "You CEASED but you didn't DESIST, SUCKAH!"

February 10, 2010
Gifts from Chucky P

It was back in September 2007 when I got an electrifying message from SureShot -- Chuck Palahniuk, author of the novel Fight Club, which is best known for the film with Brad Pitt, Edward Norton, Helena Bonham Carter and Meat Loaf, would be appearing at Uebel & Gefährlich for a reading of his book Rant (which was just coming out at the time).

Count me among the legions of fans who think of "Fight Club" as a life-changer, high on my list of favorite films of all time. I have a standing challenge to SureShot that he hit me as hard as he can -- so far, we've both been too chicken to go through with it, but one of these days, if I manage to get him pissed off enough ... And like many other fans, I was turned on to Chuck's writing by the film. There was no way I was going to miss the reading, this would be a brush with greatness.

The reading featured a man and a woman reading excerpts of the German translation of "Rant", and Chuck himself read a chapter in his native Upper Northwest accent. The best part of the evening, though, was the Q&A session -- all you had to do was get him going with a good question, and he would run with it, telling fantastic, hilarious stories. He wanted to encourage questions -- audiences in Hamburg tend to be very reserved -- so he promised that anyone who spoke up would get an envelope with an address, which you could send in, and he would send you a little something sometime later. He didn't elaborate. But that was good enough for me, I thrusted up my arm like an eager Arnold Horshack.

"Rant" is structured as a fictional oral history, told as quotations from various characters, and some of the quotations are attributed to the "Field Notes of Green Taylor Simms", which was not explained at the reading. So I asked Chuck what that was all about, hoping I would get him started on another good story. But it seemed that the question bored him; he gave a flat, matter-of-fact answer, and that was that. I was a little chastened, but I got the envelope, which was addressed to his agency in New York. I stuck in a note, saying that if I could wish for anything, it would be for an autograph with the dedication "Dear Geoff, I want you to hit me as hard as you can, Chuck", and mailed it in the next day.

The week after Christmas, a package arrived, and what a box of surprises I found inside.

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