Glass Ceilings

From time to time [1] I write about the aspect of ratings, and there are few sports where ratings are more important than in college football.  Part of that is due to the way the game is organized.  In most games, performance is settled on the field of play.  Either through standings tables that are determined by results on the field or through tournaments where winners are identified through victory, most sports have a certain degree of legitimacy to their rankings.  You can grouse about how low you are ranked on a power ranking for football, for example, but that power ranking has no determination on how one will actually do.  That is, unfortunately, not the case for college football.  Even college basketball, which has pretty wacky ratings and obvious inequalities, makes it clear that even the most maligned conference will get its winner into the tournament, even if they have to play in a “first four” game before everyone else gets started.  In college football, even that opportunity is neglected.

College football, for a variety of reasons, lacks this obvious legitimacy.  The most important reason why is that there are too many college football teams (roughly 120 or so in the Football Bowl Division) and too few games (at most fourteen or so) to definitively settle a champion.  Right now, as I write this, there is a four-team playoff that uses two of the bowls, which rotate from year to year, as the feeder for a national championship game.  But, as one might imagine, competition for those spots is intense, and there are some obvious advantages that some conferences have above others.  So far we have four years of records of the teams and conferences that have made it to the college football playoff, and the following teams and conferences have been represented.  First, the teams:  Alabama (4), Clemson (3), Ohio State (2), Oklahoma (2), Oregon (1), Florida State (1), Washington (1), Michigan State (1), and Georgia (1).  And now, the conferences:  SEC (5), ACC (4), Big 10 (3), Big 12 (2), and PAC-12 (2).  Not coincidentally, the only five conferences to have ever been represented are the “Big Five” conferences that dominate the big money bowls as a whole along with Notre Dame.  No team, no matter how good, from the group of five college football conferences have ever made it to the playoff.  During these years there are some teams that could have qualified–UCF went unbeaten in 2017, Western Michigan went unbeaten in the regular season in 2016, Houston went 13-1 in 2015, and Marshall went 12-1 in 2014 and didn’t even manage to be ranked.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the same thing can be seen this year.  This year, 7-0 UCF sits behind a few one-loss teams from power conferences, and 7-0 USF sits behind a handful of two-loss teams, one of which leap-frogged it after a win against Illinois, a team that USF beat earlier in the season.  To be sure, as long as both of those teams keep winning, both of them are likely to continue to be ranked, but both of them appear to have a pretty strong glass ceiling because of perceived “strength of schedule,” even if the top of the AAC is a strong conference with numerous powerful teams like Cincinnati and Temple.  It’s not as if USF has won based on a purely cupcake diet, having won at Illinois, and UCF has beaten Pitt and would have beaten North Carolina, likely, had a hurricane not prevented the game from being played.  Yet such teams have an obvious peak as to how high they can be ranked no matter how much they win because the people who vote on rankings don’t want to give them too much credit or put them above mid-tier schools from conferences like the SEC and Big 10 that have their champions make the football playoff nearly every year.  Even if a team like USF or UCF played all of its non-conference games against elite competition, it would likely face an uphill challenge to be rewarded for it in terms of rankings, assuming that an elite school would be willing to have a home-and-home series with either of those two teams in light of scheduling cupcake non-conference opponents of its own, like Alabama’s non-conference slate that includes games against The Citidel and Arkansas State, which does not penalize its own perceived strength of schedule in the least.

It is unclear what can be done about this so long as subjectivity reigns in college football, and it is unclear of how subjectivity can be avoided in college football so long as there are 120 teams and only four playoff spots and another half-dozen or so New Year’s Day bowl slots that matter, only one of which is guaranteed to fully half of the conferences in football.  In the NCAA basketball tournament, nearly half of the spots are guaranteed to conference winners, many of whom come from small conferences.  If there was a 16-team college football playoff, for example, here is how it would look at present if the season ended today:  1. Alabama (SEC), 2. Clemson (ACC), 3. Notre-Dame (At-Large), 4. LSU (At-large), 5. Michigan (Big 10), 6. Texas (Big 12), 7. Georgia (At-Large), 8. Oklahoma (At-Large), 9. Florida (At-Large), 10. UCF (AAC), 11. Ohio State (At-Large), 12. Washington State (Pac-12), 13. Appalachian State (Sun Belt) 14. Fresno State/Utah State (MWC), 15. UAB (C-USA), 16. Buffalo (MAC).  It is unlikely that most of the lesser conferences would win a game, but there’s certainly a chance that a team like Notre Dame would struggle against a Mountain West champion when it barely beat Pitt, or that LSU might be surprised by a motivated Appalachian State or that Washington State could beat Michigan in what has been a down year for the Pac-12, or that UCF could club an overrated Georgia squad.  But as is always the case in life, you can’t win until you get a chance to play, and that is the first struggle one has to face.

[1] See, for example:

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Book Review: The Church And The Community

The Church And The Community, by Jonathan Dade

[Note:  This book was provided free of charge by BookCrash.  All thoughts and opinions are my own.]

I found this book to be structured in a very interesting way.  The author has written a personal memoir that is deeply vulnerable and also addresses matters of racism and the struggles of Messianic Judaism [1].  In many ways, I found the author to be highly Nathanish, and I could identify with at least some of his struggles to a high degree, making this book and its author easy to relate to.  As the author is upfront about his struggle with depression and anxiety and his difficulties in serving his country and finding a position that best matched according to his strengths, the author seems to encourage others to be like this themselves.  The author even had the struggle of having an easy time with friendship but some deep struggles with relationships and intimacy with women, and there are definitely some cringeworthy aspects to this book.  While it was difficult for me to relate to some of the racial aspects of this book–which were pretty overwhelming, the author’s upbringing in a Jewish Christian background with concerns over authoritarian cults is definitely something I was able to relate to.

This book is a bit more than 200 pages and is organized in an interesting way, around various life lessons with flashbacks and flashforwards between the author’s childhood and young adulthood and his experiences as a religious leader for various messianic congregations.  To be sure, the author’s lessons are rather heavy-handed at times, as when he criticized his father for not protecting his property from his younger siblings when he went off to college, and when he sought to deflect the blame for an emotional affair he had with a coworker who had been going through marriage problems.  Some aspects of the author’s life, like his courtship and marriage, are delayed until fairly late, and the author’s struggles with various physical and mental health woes are sometimes painful to read, as is the author’s discussion of dealing with false accusations and outright racism.  Overall, though, this book is a compelling warts-and-all presentation of a life devoted to God but lived by a fallible person with a large variety of struggles in his life that he manages to overcome with the help of God and other people.

In reading this book, I wondered what the author was trying to get out of it.  If he was looking for some measure of personal healing and the ability to reach out to others with similar experiences, there is likely a lot to be found here.  In reading this book, I could not help but wonder if the author had dealt with some experience with sexual abuse of some kind that he was not interested in writing about, as it makes a lot more of the subtext of this book, including the author’s heightened femininity, a lot easier to understand and grasp.  It is unclear, though, if the author had any interest in presenting a view that would necessarily give him popularity or support.  Not all of what is discussed here makes the author look good, and the author’s ambivalent relationships with some of the girls he grew up with and attended college with would run afoul of contemporary gender politics in the #MeToo era where the women’s side of such stories is far easier to believe.  In some aspects of his life, the author appears deeply unwise, in others far too easily combative, but although this book does not serve to make the author necessarily easy to agree with, his honesty makes him easy to relate to, as most of the author’s mistakes are ones that others have dealt with as well, especially among those of us who were born in the time and religious situation that both the author and I share.

[1] See, for example:

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Book Review: The End Times Survival Guide

The End Times Survival Guide:  Ten Biblical Strategies For Faith And Hope In These Uncertain Times, by Mark Hitchcock


[Note:  This book was provided free of charge by Tyndale House Publishers.  All thoughts and opinions are my own.]

This book is a classic example of material that I think to be timely and relevant and advice that I would agree with and view as sensible with regards to issues of prophecy, without having found the author to be particularly likable.  More to the point, the author’s somewhat strident and harsh tone about the material led me to think (accurately as it turned out) that the author was a Calvinist, albeit of the 4.5 point variety, and the fact that the author had himself attempted to cash in on the Blood Moons craze lowered him several steps in my estimation.  Despite all of that, though, if you can overlook or forgive the author’s immensely harsh and critical approach and simply take his advice for what it is, and view the book as a moderate and sensible approach to dealing with anxieties and concerns over prophetic matters, this book has a lot to offer.  At least the author does not engage in the sort of fear-mongering that is common in this sort of work, and that is well worth appreciating [1].

At 200 pages and ten chapters, this book’s material is not a particularly difficult or lengthy read.  The author introduces his topic with a reference to the popular craze for Survivor and prepper-related entertainment.  After that the author recommends the 46 defense, a reference to the anti-anxiety point of Philippians 4:6 (1) as well as the need to run the Christian race seriously, as if one’s life depends on it, because it does (2).  The author then talks about the need to make connections with other believers (3) as part of a community of faith and the need to put on the armor of God (4).  Then there is advice to keep pushing (5) and to do the best things in the worst times (6).  The author then talks about the need to have a safe “fraidy hole” in God (7) and remain under the influence of the Holy Spirit (8).  Finally, the author urges readers to tune in to heaven’s frequency (9) and to wake up and be alert, but to not be overly panicky about contemporary conditions (10).  The book then closes with some notes from other related books and some information about the author.

Ultimately, this book has a lot to offer.  The author shares a lot of stories from books, from popular culture, and from his own life.  The author comes off as someone who is aware of world conditions and also aware of the fact that Jesus Christ could come at any time–whether that means the return of His Kingdom or the death of believers and the end of our own race with God.  Those readers who have at least some interest in the context of prophetic focus within the contemporary Church will find something to appreciate here and welcome words to the wise, and those who have a higher fondness for tough-minded and heavily critical Calvinist approaches may even find much to enjoy in poking fun of the end times madness of others.  To be sure, my own dislike of the author’s negativity and my own wariness of the author’s own efforts to cash in on the recent craze about blood moons makes me a bit more than usually skeptical about the author’s efforts here, but if you take the book as it is without any sort of outside knowledge or concern about the author’s body of work as a whole, this is definitely a very excellent book to read about eschatology.

[1] See, for example:

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Walls Of Separation

A bit more than a decade ago, I visited Turkey for the Feast of Tabernacles.  During that Feast, we spent the first few days in Istanbul, and one memorable afternoon a group of us took a trip to a museum.  This particular museum had one artifact in particular that was of deep interest to me, and that was a stone from the ruins of the Second Temple that warned Gentiles in no uncertain terms that their life was forfeit if they passed beyond the line where that stone was.  Seeing a stone like that which sought to preserve some space where others were simply not permitted to go was as shocking to me as it would have been to be sent back into time to view a sign that said that this restaurant or this water fountain was for white people only and not for any colored people.  Although I have long forgotten most of what I have seen in Turkey, that stone still remains fresh in my memory as a chilling example of the sort of way that people make barriers to others and seek to enforce it.

It so happens that our pastor went over Ephesians 2 and 3 yesterday during his sermon message, and included in that was a discussion about Ephesians 2:14-22, which reads as follows:  “For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation, having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace, and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity.  And He came and preached peace to you who were afar off and to those who were near.  For through Him we both have access by one Spirit to the Father.  Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.”

There is a lot to unpackage here, and to be sure, I will not be able to discuss all of its layers today, but I would at least like to comment a little bit about the walls of separation and the enmity that result from them.  Walls of separation can be varied and complex in  their existence.  At times, the walls may be literal.   A nation may build a wall or consider doing so against neighboring states it views as threatening and dangerous–such as was the case of China and hostile nomads to the north, Israel and the threat of Palestinian terrorism in Gaza and the West Bank, and in the case of the United States and Mexico to the south.  Whether or not we agree with this policy, it may be clearly seen that even to discuss the construction of such a wall is a demonstration of considerable enmity between two nations.  Neighbors build fences to protect and define their own property lines.  Peoples are divided from others through gates, or via linguistic or religious barriers that make it clear what side of the line one comes from, whether it be languages or jargon that one gains through professional or personal knowledge.  In all these cases walls and boundaries exist that demonstrate the lack of harmony that exists from people and those around them.

All too often, this enmity exists between people who should be close.  A few years ago I found it deeply ironic that a group of people wished to appeal to the message of unity in Ephesians 4 [1] in order to engage in what was a decrease of unity of those brethren and those of us with whom they had previously attended.  As is often the case in such church splits, a lot of light and heat, including verbal arguments at church, unpleasant arguments online, and even divided families, was generated by what was essentially a political argument about what sort of people were best fit to run an organization and where the headquarters of that organization should be, along with some trumped up accusations that doctrinal integrity was at stake.  Although by no means unfamiliar with disunity and hostility, nor an innocent when it comes to matters of harsh rhetoric in disagreements, I always found something deeply melancholy about the hypocrisy that is involved by seizing upon biblical injunctions as to unity and common purpose and to spiritual aspects of our lives that join us together–including the shared presence of the Holy Spirit and the shared nature of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ that delivers us all from slavery to sin and brings us all together into the Family of God, but it is a comfort at least to know that the tension between the divisions among us that have always existed and the unity that we truly have–even if we have problems showing it–is by no means a new problem.

It is one thing to wish for unity within our selves among the tensions of the facets of our existence, or to wish for unity with members of our physical and spiritual families, or even for greater unity among our communities and societies and among humanity as a whole and the enjoyment of that unity.  To long for something is far different from possessing something, or even knowing how to bring what one desires into existence.  Even knowing that the death of Jesus Christ as our Passover lamb removed the veil of separation between God and mankind that had existed from the beginning of human history, and that simultaneously this sacrifice made all people at least potentially brothers and sisters with Jesus Christ and with each other does not mean that we know how to bring this peace into existence so that we may know and experience it in our own lives, or even that we are aware of what it would cost us in terms of forgiving others and putting away the enmity that exists in our own hearts to those who have hurt us, excluded us, and wronged us in our lives.  But someday that unity will be present, and our choice will be merely whether we want to have a part in it or not.

[1] See, for example:


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Book Review: Jackstraws: Poems

Jackstraws:  Poems, by Charles Simic

I must admit that I had to look up the meaning of the title of this book.  I suppose my age may be a part of it, but I was not familiar with the game jackstraws when I read this book.  There are many games like it that I remember playing as a kid, games where one built some kind of structure out of blocks or related materials and then tried to remove parts of it while keeping the whole tower standing, until someone moved a critical piece that caused everything to fall down.  If one is as pessimist about the state of the world and the fragility of civilization, and it is clear that the author is pessimistic about such matters, it is not hard to see contemporary existence as being like a giant and very dangerous game of jackstraws where one pulls away one support after another in the hope that what is left can hold the full burden of our hopes and aspirations, until everything falls apart [1].  Admittedly, this is not a cheerful matter, but if one is familiar with the author’s work as a whole, it is easy to realize that there is little cheer to be found in the author’s melancholy reflections.

This particular volume of poetry is divided into three parts and is less than 100 pages in total, a fairly familiar structure and size among the author’s body of work.  As one might expect, the author dwells on some familiar themes here, as there are poems about a “non-stop war with bugs,” as well as poetry relating to the night and insomnia and bad dreams and the horrors of existence.  None of these themes is likely to be unfamiliar with readers of the author’s work in general.  A bit more unusually, the poet seems to be focusing on medieval matters with references to medieval miniature, a barber’s college, the myth of St. George and the dragon, as well as occult and esoteric philosophy.  There are also a couple of poems here that relate to marriage, of the soul as well as of ambiguity, and the author focuses on ancient deities and things that are vacant or invisible.  While none of these represent a dramatic shift, they are certainly a characteristic focus of this particular book, and make for a thoughtful if somewhat gloomy reading experience.

One wonders about the placement of the poetry and the theme of the work as a whole.  Is the author trying to imply that occult philosophy and various mystical means like fortune telling and astrology help in propping up civilization, or is it rather that they are among the desperate measures taken by people who are aware that they live in fragile times and are trying to seek assistance and insight wherever they can.  As is often the case with poetry–and particularly the author’s poetry–the matter is left ambiguous.  We are left with short poems and sketch-like observations without getting any sort of commentary that would allow the reader to see the author’s viewpoint.  But perhaps the author does not wish to provide this viewpoint, but would rather leave his work ambiguous and capable of being enjoyed by many instead of making his own worldview and perspective plain and thus alienate (potentially) a large number of his readers, as is often the case in such matters.  The particular relationship between these dark and reflective poems and the fragility of our own contemporary world is something that must be left to the reader to ponder over and reflect upon in light of our own experiences and perspective.

[1] See, for example:

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Book Review: My Noiseless Entourage: Poems

My Noiseless Entourage:  Poems, by Charles Simic

When one becomes familiar with an author through reading a large quantity of his or her works, one gets a very strong sense of who they are as an author.  There are some authors who grow in one’s estimation over time as one gets a sense of their depth and profundity.  There are other authors who may seem entertaining at first but become cloying and irritating after a while.  I find that Simic does not fall into either of those camps, but rather he is someone who reveals himself pretty openly in any book of his poetry you happen to read, and then remains consistent throughout, emphasizing different aspects of his approach in different volumes but largely remaining consistent as an author.  If you like the author’s approach and find his mordant view of the world appealing, you will likely find any of his books appealing.  If you are not won over by the author’s descriptions of his own struggles with the infinite and divine, then you are not likely to enjoy much of his reading at all.  Either way, his approach has been consistent in all the books I have read of his so far [1] (most of whom have their reviews forthcoming).

Divided into four parts, this book, like many others within its author’s oeuvre, is under 100 pages in length and presents no difficulties to reading, aside from coming to terms with the author’s approach to life and writing, which is a pretty consistent challenge present in all of his works.  As is often the case, the reader may wonder about the relationship between the title of the book and its emphasis within the author’s characteristic concerns.  Here, as in many of the author’s works, there are reflections about morning, insomnia, dreams and intrusive memories, death, mysticism, and related subjects.  But here too the author makes his approach to used clothing and used books an issue, along with an explicit appreciation of the tragic view of history, confession, and the futility as well as chancy aspects of life.  These do not amount to a change in the author’s perspective, but rather suggest that when the author wrote these poems there were certain preoccupations on his mind, and here the author appears to be aiming at a more sordid part of life where cockroaches dwell and where people go to thrift shops and used book stores to look for bargains.

This is not a world I am unfamiliar with, nor is it a world I have failed to explore in my own writing, but it is intriguing to think that a well-known and world-famous author like this one would aim his writings in such a direction.  Is he reflecting on the ghosts of history, or is it really that even well-known poets are simply not as well off as we might assume.  The author, like many people, travels through life burdened by the ghosts of the past who continue to haunt him even if they are unrecognized by others, but that troubled spirit appears to make him lose track of time and examine a part of the world that seems to attract little attention by many poets–how many poets write about talk radio, for example?  As is often the case, the author draws a sense of sympathy even if much of what he talks about is pretty disturbing.  That complexity, in that the author is sympathetic even if much of his writing is not particularly written with sympathy in mind, is one of the more notable aspects of the writer’s approach, and something well worth keeping in mind as one reads his works.

[1] See, for example:

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You Are The Last One Of Your Kind

In the contemporary world, there is a great deal of interest among many people or companies in having the first of some kind.  Cell phone providers brag about having the first new generation phone or next generation data network, and so on and so forth.  Often, though, this initial advantage can be chimerical because other people can simply copy and improve what an innovator has done and quickly destroy any advantage that a first mover has.  Once an innovation has proven itself to be worthwhile, there is only a little bit of time for one to profit off of it, assuming one cannot patent an advantage like in medical research and development, before someone else copies what is worthwhile and negates the advantage and therefore evening the score.  Perhaps this search for a reputation as an innovator comes because of the reputation one gains as a creative and innovative person, even if advantages in technological innovation are often ephemeral rather than lasting and permanent.

Far more interesting, at least to me, are those companies or products that gain a reputation for being the last one of their kind.  Admittedly, I am a bit of a plodder myself, rather than being someone who is quick to adopt new trends, and so I feel somewhat honor bound to defend those things which appear to be hopelessly declassè and out of date [1].  Today I would like to talk about one of those things, something that I spend a great deal of time with but have not written about at any particular length, and that is NCAA Football 2014, a video game that I have never owned and never played.  Now, it should be somewhat clear that I am very fond of reading and writing about and viewing college football, and my love for the game came about because as a child my great-grandfather and I would often spend time drinking root beer and watching games on television while he would smoke Cuban cigars and engage in mildly humorous but deeply offensive anti-Catholic rants about Notre Dame.  From early in life, therefore, I paid a great deal of attention to bowl matchups and conference strengths and the vagaries of college football rankings.

It so happens that NCAA Football 2014 was the last of a series of games created by EA Sports that marketed to the audience that was fond of playing college football.  For whatever reason, and there are likely to be a lot of reasons, no sequel or follow-up to this game has ever been released.  It can only be played on the PS3 and not any of the current “next-gen” video game systems.  By virtue of having been released more than five years ago at this point the game has to be updated to current rosters with painfully slow manual roster updates that fans of the game engage in, and several times recently there have been threats by the game’s designer to no longer support player versus player online gaming for this venerable title.  To be sure, the game lacks some of the new bells and whistles that later games in, for example, the Madden NFL Football series have shown, and the graphics of the game are a bit staid as well.  This is a game that looks its age, but it should be noted that the game is still played by a loyal and very active community of YouTubers whom I happen to regularly watch, who both create new colleges and bring them to glory (the University of Alaska, University of Georgia-Fairburn, and Ozark State among the ones I watch) and also bring sometimes obscure colleges like Florida Atlantic and Army-West Point to glory by showing how they can become national title contenders through able recruiting, training, and play.

There are many ways in which I find the gameplay of this title to be appealing.  The various YouTubers show a great deal of their own personality by simply playing the game and making sometimes humorous commentary over the gameplay.  We can hear them curse and complain about forced passes that turn into interceptions or drops by their defensive backs or wide receivers.  Some video creators use humorous filters to show some personality and add sound affects to make big hits seem even bigger.  At times one can even see behind the game to the real life unimportance of what is going on, as the gamer behind the UGF Pandas took a visit to mundane and rather ordinary Fairburn, Georgia and showed the real-life counterparts to the skilled imaginary video game football players that regularly appeared on his videos.  As someone who likes sports and humorous commentary as well as imagination that allows unheralded and unknown schools to become national powerhouses–something that I wish would be the case for my beloved USF Bulls or Norwich Cadets–there is  lot to enjoy about this game, even if I have never owned it nor ever even played it myself.

Even if one is not a fan of college football or video games, there is much of interest here.  There can be a great deal of worth in being the last one of your kind.  Videos about imaginary football powerhouses by people who are obscure regularly get tens or even hundreds of thousands of views.  Clearly an audience this large is something that could be catered to, as at least a large portion of those who loyally watch these imaginary college football games would buy a game and play dynasties for themselves.  Is it licensing with the NCAA itself that has proven to be so problematic that neither EA nor the NCAA has been able to find a way for both sides to make a great deal of money in a game that has lasting appeal?  NCAA Football 14 would not be nearly the sort of nostalgic game it is in the absence of future updates, but even in the absence of this, there are people who consider this game itself to be worth buying a PS3 in order to play, and that is loyalty that deserves to be rewarded, especially since the game is not backwards compatible with the PS4.  The fact that all of the players I have been familiar with in the series are men is something of interest as well for the gender studies writer in me, who wonders why it is that no women have made Wellesley or Smith College football powerhouses yet, something that would be absolutely hilarious to see.  Who said that video games were completely devoid of depth or poignancy, for all of the way that they are frequently abused in contemporary discourse?  There is something deeply poignant about a video game being the last one of its kind yet still soldiering on with loyal players and compelling content.

[1] See, for example:

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Book Review: Walking The Black Cat: Poems

Walking The Black Cat:  Poems, by Charles Simic

When beginning this book, I already knew that I would like it because quite a few of its poems, including the incomparable “Have You Met Miss Jones,” were in a previous compilation of the poet’s that I had read.  Even so, the rest of the poems in this collection, if they do not quite reach the level of that poem, at least are close enough to it in quality that the book is an immensely worthwhile one in the Simic canon [1].  That is not to say that these poems vary a great deal in terms of the themes that they deal with, as Simic is one of the more consistent writers around and his themes are pretty consistent.  When you pick up one of his books of poetry, you know you are going to get mostly short poems of mostly dark subjects, mixed in with meditations on creation that often end up being less rhapsodic than the poetry one tends to get about such subjects, and that is what you get here.  If the poems here tend towards reflections on fortune and misfortune of various kinds, they certainly move within the general vein of the author’s poetic work as a whole.

Although this book is a collection of poetry under 100 pages and thus presents no difficulties to readers who are equipped to deal with poetry, unlike many of the works of the author, this one is not divided into parts, for whatever reason.  The author reflects on pain and misfortune in clever ways, including by taking the point of view of an abused dog on a sagging porch looking for deliverance from a cruel master but being denied.  One wonders if the author felt that way about his Lord and Master.  Whether we are looking at roach motels or gypsy fortune tellers to the author’s grandmother, the author keeps a consistently dark theme of misfortune here.  Death, insomnia, late night phone calls and nightmares, and suffering all make up a large part of the Simic oeuvre and they find their way here as well as the author sorts out what it means to be alive in dark and evil ages, and what toll that takes on the sensitive and poetic spirit.  Intriguingly enough, several of the poems reference pastors and clergy, which suggests that at least part of the author’s misfortune and suffering is not being able to come up with a sufficient theodicy that would allow him to sleep better at night.

This is not an isolated problem.  Theodicy is a serious problem and it is unsurprising that the author struggles with it to such a great degree.  Many people do, after all, and the author’s willingness to explore various strains of mysticism (more obvious in other books by the author than this one) as well as self-medication suggest that the problem is of the utmost seriousness for him.  Not being able to comfort himself from his sorrows and memories and horrors with a benign view of divine providence, the author writes poetry that is reflective both of his struggle to find peace and of the reality of his feeling of being abandoned and left behind in a cruel world.  These are consistent enough problems with the author that one is faced with the choice of being compassionate to a soul in obvious suffering or wishing that he would just move on and get over it already.  While I have chosen the former solution instead of the latter, I can understand if some readers approach his work with a sense of exasperation that he plows the same ground over and over again and never appears to move on.  Some of us are that way as writers.

[1] See, for example:

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Book Review: Hotel Insomnia: Poems

Hotel Insomnia:  Poems, by Charles Simic

Having read about half a dozen or so of the author’s books before getting to this one, it was little surprise that this book would deal so heavily in one of the topics that is characteristic of his literature and mine [1], namely, insomnia and what keeps one from sleeping well.  One hesitates to speculate exactly on what is keeping the author from sleeping well here or in many of his other volumes of similarly dark and melancholy poetry, but it is no surprise given the material of this poem that the author appears to have an overactive imagination.  If one looks at the material of this poem and thinks of the sort of mind that is required to create that sort of material, it follows that such a mind is not particularly conducive to sleep.  Whether or not that is the kindest way to interpret such issues or not is somewhat irrelevant when one considers the fact that the lack or disturbance of sleep is so large a matter in the author’s work that one has to figure that it influences his work in a major way.  This is not to say that it is a bad thing, because if one does not sleep, at least one can write, but it is certainly distinctive of the author’s work.

Like the author’s work in general, this book is less than 100 pages and is divided into three parts.  Some of the poems I was familiar with from one of the best-of compilations of his writings when he was named as poet laureate of the United States, but his poems in general struck me as pretty solid and easy to appreciate, as they generally do.  Of course, the author struggles with dreams, with memory, with the visions of dark city streets and dark doings, of the infinite and its implications.  One is tempted to say in reading this or any other of the author’s work that a great deal of the author’s struggle with sleep and his evident spiritual warfare is an inability to trust God.  How much that springs from the author’s childhood in WWII Yugoslavia is hard to say, but that probably plays at least some role in the author’s intense and continuing suffering on the spiritual and mental and emotional levels of existence.  Indeed, in one of the poems of this collection the author reflects on himself and his family being among the casualties of war printed in advance, which suggests that for him World War II was not the glorious experience it is to many Americans.

Even so, for the most part this book is a collection of poems that follows the author’s usual preoccupations even as it provides insight into the author and his imagination.  Even the title of this work suggests that he is aware that his own struggle for peace and quiet and gentle sleep is not his alone, but rather that he is the inhabitant of one room of a larger hotel of people who sleep poorly, for some of the reasons included in this work and likely a good deal more.  Part of the popularity of the author’s work, at least as far as the unpopular genre of contemporary poetry goes, is likely due to the fact that the author deals with subjects of general relevance.  The struggle with the infinite, the curse of nightmares and intrusive traumatic memories and the experience of horror that one cannot unsee are all matters of general interest to people, especially the sort of sensitive people who are drawn naturally to poetry, both to read it and write it.  At this stage of his poetry career, Simic seems aware that he is writing not only for himself but also for and to a larger audience who shares his concerns and does not mind a deep examination into it through beautiful if gloomy poetry.

[1] See, for example:

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A Game Of Cat And Mouse

One of the more intriguing phenomena of the Marvel Cinematic Universe in recent years has been the way in which the movies of the series like Captain America 3:  Civil War, Avengers:  Infinity War, and The Black Panther have made a significant part of the audience identify with those who are viewed as the villains of the movies.  Admittedly, I have not seen all of these movies so I cannot common in too great a length as to how this was done, but I did see Black Panther [1], and so I will comment on that.  There are a lot of people–either self-hating woke white Progressives or black power advocates, who would have a lot to agree with in the perspective of Black Panther’s rival, who views it as a shameful act for Wakanda to hide itself in security while the sons and daughters of Africa were being sold abroad to the Middle East and Atlantic world in slavery and oppressed by European imperial regimes.  Likewise, Thanos’ contention that the universe is in danger of overpopulation and needs to be culled of its excess inhabitants would find sympathy in those who peddle abortion on demand and euthenasia in the West or China’s brutal one-child policy, even if that comes with the potential of dislike for the methods involved.

Earlier today, I found that the IT department had sought to secure the computers at work and had, as is common, made a bit of a mess of it [2].  At first, I thought that I was the only one who had found his computer’s settings tampered with to an annoying and irritating degree, but lo and behold, through the course of the morning and early afternoon, I found that the rest of my department felt the same way.  We were all irritated that our internet settings had been tampered with in a way that made it more difficult for us all to do our jobs, download various reports, and so on.  I am not lacking in sympathy for our IT department and the difficulty of their job, and I am somewhat aware of the fact that my own desire to use the computer in certain ways is likely at cross-purposes with their own mission, and that in their attempts to protect against abuse, they make it more difficult to use computers in a legitimate fashion.  Just as it would be easy to make the IT department and its occasional bungling into villain tales with myself as the protagonist, I must concede as well that in the eyes of the IT department (and perhaps not only them), I too would be the villain of their own tales that show them as beleaguered defenders of corporate security wrestling with internal enemies.

Not being content simply to leave the matter there, I thought that this might be a more widespread issue.  One of the sources of the richness of our existence is the insights we gain from understanding or at least recognizing the multiplicity of perspective that exist.  A great deal of wisdom and understanding requires that we see things from other perspectives than our own.  While we may be able to justify our own behavior and our own perspective easily, it is a vastly more interesting and worthwhile matter to see how our behavior appears in the eyes of others.  Even if we do not agree with the interpretations that others give, knowing the repercussions of our behavior on others allows us to have a lot more empathy and understanding of why others respond to our behavior in the ways that they do, and allows us to see others (at least in our mind’s eye) as they see themselves, and to see ourselves as others see us.  If this is not always a pleasant matter, it is an important one, because it allows us to see the struggles that result from standing where we do, that are inherent to different power relationships and preoccupations, and that are not the result of mere wickedness or perversity.

When we think of ourselves as parts of stories, it is interesting to reflect on the fact that everyone tells their own stories.  Some of the best movies make as their central point the incommensurability of the perspectives of the people involved.  When we think of movies like Rashamon or Vantage Point, coming to grips with the variety of perspectives on the same event is a fascinating challenge.  When we add ourselves as aspects of this complexity, the challenge increases, not least because of our own strong tendency towards self-justification.  Ultimately, we have to realize that it is not our own view of reality but rather the judgment we receive from God that matters in our lives, but in the meantime we hone our own ability to judge accurately by taking into account the way we appear in the eyes of others as a way of seeing others, for all of their differences, as beings like ourselves, and of loving them as we (naturally) love ourselves, and of regarding them with proper respect and concern.

At times, we find ourselves engaged in a game of a cat and mouse.  As is the case with my department and our behavior with regards to our IT department, we are at cross-purposes.  Our attempts to get our reports and engage in our incidental use of computers including e-mail are contrary to the evident plans and efforts of IT.  Any workaround we find to their restrictions is likely to be met with sometimes drastic behavior, which may include the banning of various ip addresses, the disabling of extensions on our computers, or even our inability to use remote access.  Instead of feeling irritated about this dual of wits, I find it a great challenge for myself in increasing my own knowledge about how to use the computer more intelligently.  Whether or not the IT department views my own sense of humor about such matters with the same degree of equanimity is not for me to judge–we must all choose to respond to the challenges of our existence, including the responses of other people, as best as we are able.  And at times we must concede that we are villains in the tales of others, however heroic we are in our own stories.

[1] See, for example:

[2] See, for example:

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