Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Election Day of the Dead

number six

Sitting in a bar and watching the election on a holiday. There is nothing about this that turns out the way I want it to. 745 words.

[NC]—“Strange bedfellows” is an interesting term for the guy sitting next to you at the bar, but that is the sort of oddity that you are presented with on days like today. November second is always the Mexican Day of the Dead, where ancestors are fondly remembered and children indulge in cadaver-shaped yummies. This year it also happens to be the first Tuesday in November, and although I am not a young enough man to claim that this has never happened to me before, I do not remember a Presidential Super Tuesday colliding with El Dia de Los Muertos before.

Like most everyone I know, I voted earlier today; and like many, I spent the evening watching TV. Mexicans the world over spent the night before in a newly cleaned graveyard or around a special area of the house. Either would have been decorated with candles and photos and food that might present a reminiscence of their departed loved ones. Country houses smelled of the pan de muertos cooked since the end of October, corn flour, and a hearth fire. Children ran around and played with gifts. Homilies and offerings to the dead, and the living, spiced life—and decorated it as well. Since before the European conquest, indigenous people have believed in death as the beginning of a new existence and the entering of a new world. Thousands of years later, Mexicans still celebrate a holiday, synchronized with the Catholic All Souls-- and All Saints Days, wherein the dead are reported to return to the world for a visit with friends and family. Much like the roots of Halloween, the mischievous dead are warded away with salt, sugar and symbolism, while the welcome dead are treated to a dinner plate and little shrine. Graves are washed and candle-lit vigils are manned in quiet, but merry, gravesite gatherings.

This serves to uphold a tradition of acclimation with death, and the idea of death, that is near and dear to Mexican culture, and to my heart as well. Both the pre-colonial Americas and Catholicism tend to include images of death in popular iconography, and deathly themes in instructive stories. It is used in both cultures to wash away the fear of impending doom, so a citizen can live life without that particular shadow. Modern Mexico has more than loomed at this cultural crossroad, jovially churning out political cartoons, fine art, desserts, and games serving the triple purposes of enlivening, satirizing, and celebrating the lives of the dead, and death’s impact on the living. This goes on all year long, frankly, and evidence can be seen in a culture that cherishes its dead people. This is a culture that still occasionally photographs stillborn babies for the album, knows the names of great-great-grandparents, and feels no faux pas when alluding to the departed. These things all culminate, of course, on el Dia de los Muertos (though classically celebrated for an eve and two days), when attention is raptly paid to the predeceased.

I like this holiday. While I have grown out of the need to homogenize some relativity for my interests (in this case, I no longer attempt to parallel this pre-Colombian ancestor holiday with the Celtic harvest fest which engendered Halloween—although the synchronistic Catholic patina remains), this holiday represents a collusion between feelings mostly left unexpressed in my culture and edible decorations that excite me. This is a holiday I try to celebrate. Within the last several years, I have weathered the deaths of several people close to me, and always had a moment or two reserved for them on this day; in the form of a glass of something, maybe, or a night wandering in the cemetery remembering nice things.

This year, however, I spent my time in a bar, which is not uncommon, watching the map of the United States turn mostly red, and trading pith and consolation with a strange bedfellow in a hand decorated T-shirt reading “go donkeys.” I had a pretty good time, all things considered. In retrospect, I even feel that I was in the spirit of the holiday: lampooning the workings of the world, and hoisting one in the strange face of political whim with my T-shirted fellow. But looking back now, I think that maybe I missed my first opportunity to revel, along with the Mexicans, in the memories of the loved ones I have lost this year.

Maybe I have made up for that some here.

Quiet Reading Room

This is a quiet reading room. Often, I find it is uncomfortable to digest long tubes of columned text directly off a computer screen. This journal is dedicated to the collection, percolation, and ultimate integration of my personal experiences. Subjects that I want to examine and then talk about--sometimes talk a lot about--€”are presented here. This central content can tend to thousands of words, maybe millions. I was afraid that readers were leaving the presentation boggled, spinning, googly-eyed. Or perhaps when confronted with twenty-four inches, or yards, of monitor sprawl they were just giving up. I am not even certain that I have necessarily solved this inevitable content problem of modern information enjoyment, but here is what I have done.

After long and highly scientific routines manipulating double-blind control- and test-subjects, peer reviewed journal publications, and hours and hours of hands-on experimentation, I have crafted this quiet reading room. There is no scientific way to control the length of the articles I write, but careful handling can somewhat soothe the contextual presentation. In other words: I have dropped the traditional speculation about lexicon, and attacked the question of the matrix itself instead. Brilliant. After years of diligence what I eventually crafted is this reading room.

The walls are contoured to relax instead of constrain; the paper is made to soften instead of reflect. The light is dimmed--just so--€”to prevent strain, angled to prevent umbra, and color-coded to soften harsh red lights and deepen wimpy light reds. There is nothing I can do to control aural environment, but my recommendation is that it should be kept quiet. About ambient sound: these entries are probably best read as far as possible from emergency vehicles, preferably from beneath the muffler of a vintage fire fighter pilot's scarf, puffy old duvet, or snow that is still falling.

My theory is that the wide web world is filled with potent and material opportunities that are just too difficult to digest for many people to take part. Enjoyment of this stuff is regulated to the routines of crawlers and robots at the peril of humankind's peaceful future survival. In an attempt to delay this likely outcome: welcome to this quiet reading room. It is for people like you to relax, kick back, and hate my content for better reasons than the dizzying vertiginous specter of its lousy dpi presentation.

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