Prophet Housing

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12/18/07 04:56:38 AM

So our new lives in our new apartment have started. I took Chandler to meet Aneka at 46th Street on the seven train. We were there so early Chandler has renegotiated for an extra 10 minutes of sleep today. I was a work by 7:30 and If I continue to do this I’ll have time to go to the gym in morning. Apparently Lennox and Mason’s drop off also went well. Linda and I went to Costco to buy a TV, which I think we’ve put off in the hopes that we can buy the kids more of what they want this “holiday” season. Funny thing about that ironic use of quotation marked holiday.

I found a copy of Khalil Ghibran’s The Prophet (that I had bought on telegraph avenue used) and in it was a bookmark. The page it marked was the Prophet’s response to the Mason. “’Ironic,’ thought I, it is addressed to my son.” But the opening line is “Then a [M]ason came forth and said speak to us of Houses” (34). So, since I spent the evening unpacking my seemingly endless supply of things and assembling them I was intrigued by the synchronicity of the bookmarking.1 This is the electronics (and modern) version of feathering my nest. We’ve got to get all of the twigs and grass just right so that the chicks and their parents will all fit comfortably. I imagine a bird’s nest of wires, surge protectors, USB cables and transformer power lines in which we comfortably cuddle together. (God, how I digress.)

The first few “stanzas” were pure anti-city, and I’ll include a bit here as an illustration: “Would the valleys your streets and the green paths your alleys… [and] In their fear your forefathers gathered you too near together” (35). These nods to the bucolic piss me off. Besides the fact that the human condition is social, and there would be no wilderness if we spread people out like that, even in 1922, I just want to dissent a bit further on this romanticization of the bucolic.

(Digression Alert) I remember one week when Scott and I lived on Maui. This was before we got food stamps, in deed it might be why I got food stamps. We had “no visible means of support” and we had alienated those off of whom we could beg. But there was a mango tree and an avocado tree that were in season near where we were camping. We could fill ourselves nicely on these huge trees for the cost of a climb. Guavas, I think were also ripe in a pasture a couple of miles away. Before seven days had passed I was crazy and hungry though my stomach never went empty. There is a reason that we are a social and agrarian species. The hunter gatherer thing is too much work. (I think it is also why we are omnivores, but that is another rant.)

Then the prophet gets to why I am writing this now:

Tell me have you [peace, remembrances and beauty] in your houses?

Or have you only comfort, and the lust for comfort, that stealthy thing that enters the house as a guest, and becomes a host, and then a master?

Ay, it becomes a tamer, and with hook and scourge makes puppets of your larger desires.

Though its hands are silken, its hear is of iron.

It lulls you to sleep only to stand by your bed and jeers at the dignity of the flesh.

It makes mock of your sound senses, and lays them in thistledown like fragile vessels.2

Verily the lust for comfort murders the the passion of the soul, and then walks grinning in the funeral.

But you, children o space, you restless in rest, you shall not be trapped nor tamed.

Your house shall be not an anchor but a mast. (36)

I am sure that were the Internet up and running here I would have been able to just cut and paste the quote above, but since I just spent 20 minutes typing and formatting it I have a new, better appreciation for the passage. When I read this passage last night it struck me as a purse and simple condemnation of the bourgeois values espoused by the Martha Stewart, the Cooking Chanel (Sorry Steve) and the rest of the purveyors of home as commodity. But truthfully as I think about my dreams for this house I have to say if I did half the things that they do on FOODNETWORK and MARTHASTEWARTINC I’d be very happy. I love to cook and I can’t wait until we get the rest (or more) of the boxes put away so that we can make some more of our x-mas cards that have become a tradition.

Another Mea Culpa digression: we started making those cards after Linda came back from 4th street in Berkeley with some painfully cute cards for us to send out. I said (in a fit of ‘you paid what for them?’ cheapness) “Chandler and Mason can make better cards than those.” I proceeded to cut a potato in half, carve a x-mas tree in one and a mogen david on the other and have pre-school chandler and toddler two-year-old mason stamp green trees and blue stars on some typing paper which we sent off. They were a hit, and Chandler keeps us at it even when it is inconvenient. But it is important to remember that it started as a criticism of Linda taking care of our social niceties.

Making these cards, like cooking good food is important to me, but I resent it when I am told that I should do it by the one eyed monster in the room.

It is time to start making lunches and get ready for the day.

12/19/07 04:07:50 AM

So the way I feel about many of my obligations is that they are niceties that have become rote gestures. I try to be a good citizen, but I cannot seem to live up to the expectations of society. That is why I think that this passage is particularly apt.

Or have you only comfort, and the lust for comfort, that stealthy thing that enters the house as a guest, and becomes a host, and then a master?

The pleasantries that I want to share, to make people feel better, to help spread the bonding cement of human kindness and social niceness. Now if I don’t come up with cards for everyone then it is a huge brouhaha if I send them to X and cannot sent ‘em to Mr Y.

(Latest Digression: This is like Ice T’s “Shut Up: Be Happy!” which says “the comforts you’ve demanded are now mandatory.”)

And don’t even get me started about the need for “all the cash and prizes.” We have three TVs and the new flat has made them all look small. We are now about 6 feet further from the wall in our bedroom so the tv we bought in the old place looks tiny by comparison. Of course that set is bigger than the tv we had growing up (well bigger and smaller because it is a 20” flat panel set). But we feel the inexorable desire for bigger and crisper sets. This desire poses as a need every time we talk about it (we need a bigger set for the living room because the couch is now x feet further away).

It is odd how a early 20th century writer could so accurately describe the problem of early 21st century American acquisitiveness. We see that we can afford things so we “need” to run out and get them. And, truthfully we can afford them because we paid off our credit cards some years ago, though to pay for the beautiful wood floors that we’ve installed we got a home depot credit card and I am nervous just holding it.

I think of this lust for stuff as a byproduct of the era of globalization where we can afford so many of these trinkets. I realize that as a middle aged man I am also a bigger earner than I was as a young man (factoring in the change of profession from bike messenger to college professor). Here in America we have so much stuff. Even poor people, people in public housing or basement flats subdivided into dormitories there are DVD players. In fact it costs so little that I often see in the trash outside of humble or crappy homes consumer electronics that I, myself, have coveted. Here in America even the poor have DVD players and flat-screen tvs.

But is this lust for stuff a sign that our comforts have become masters? Should family X forgo the temporary comfort of a DVD player and the latest movie on flat screen tv to save the money to go to college or the local health food store for whole-grain-goodness? Would it make a difference if under class New York’s “little Tiny Tim” got the goose, medical care, and a gee-whiz wooden toy (or better, a book) instead of a few hours watching a pirated shoot-em-up movie? I have to say that the escape of watching a movie or TV, for me, is often a welcome escape from my harsh reality. Who am I to judge others for their escapism?

Truthfully though I wish that I was more productive. After I watch the latest Hollywood offering I rarely feel like I’d got much more than two hours of “release time” from my life. Once in a while a movie is good and I feel like I’ve gained some personal “cultural literacy;” but that is rare.

This entry in my journal, that I thought was going to be my next great blog post has digressed into a rambling blahblahblah of hyper personal rantings that make little sense even to me. I know that there is a point here, but I’ve lost it.

I just went back and read what I wrote yesterday and further digressed by at least 100 words, but I think that I want to just post this because it is, in some way, an important explanation of how I feel today.

I have to do my grades today and Linda and I have got to do some serious power shopping since Elena just emailed and we’ll be taking the kids out of school on Friday so that they can see the last dress rehearsal of Hansel and Gretel at the Met. As phobic of opera as I am I think that this is a good opportunity to broaden the kids’ horizons.

1My job last night was the bedroom TV and its constellation of components and the computer I am now writing on. These were assembled in anticipation of the cable guy, whom the three kings are also coming to visit.

2Is this like organic packing material? Is this what the movers in the days of yore used to keep the amphorae safe from fracture? I was kind of right with that guess, though I thought of it as a tangle of dried thistle it is actually more like the fluff from a dandelion. Thistledown then is another feather the nest metaphor that supports my whole anti-bourgeois critique.

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