Wrinkles in Time


“Chaos resolves into a pattern if viewed from the right distance.”
The Book of Rhino

I recently read The Caine Mutiny by Herman Wouk. About halfway through, I decided that Captain Queeg and Donald Trump were remarkably similar in their behavior. I wondered how Herman Wouk could so accurately paint a portrait of the current president. Did he somehow get on board a time machine and travel to 2016? A more realistic possibility is that Wouk met or knew of someone like Donald Trump and used him for the character of Captain Queeg; perhaps Queegs and Trumps pop up in every generation.

(Note to self: If that is the case, then I think our current ship of state will make it to safe harbor.)

The Caine Mutiny won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1952. I wonder what the members of the Pulitzer committee saw in the novel. Did one or two of them encounter their own versions of Captain Queeg and so awarded Wouk for his accurate depiction of American life? It’s possible. After all, the novels that achieve greatness are not about people we don’t know but about people that we do.

Novelists who write about their own time periods reveal the culture of their world in a way that history books do not. For example, one of the fascinating aspects of The Age of Innocence and Bonfire of the Vanities is the culture they both reveal about New York City and its society. It runs like a connecting thread through the transient tastes in style, language, and status. Even though the novels are set roughly one hundred years apart, Edith Wharton and Tom Wolfe knew the same types of people.

The fictional works of authors who write contemporary novels bridge the gap in time for later generations of readers, enabling them to trace patterns in human behavior. These books are “wrinkles in time.” It’s no wonder that all my favorite authors are dead! In their novels, I can travel through time—not as a voyeur who is merely nosy about the past—but as an Observer and a mathematician who is always searching for patterns. Patterns help me make sense of real world phenomena, including human relationships. In a world of reactive effects, patterns help me see causes. Novels of the past smooth out the wrinkles of the present.

Daily Post WOTD:Wrinkle


Mencken’s Worst Trade

H.L. Mencken

I love H. L. Mencken. He is intelligent, witty, and a prolific writer. I use the present tense because, even though he is technically dead, the words he left behind are still alive. They speak to the present moment. Here is an example:

Why do men and women take to literary endeavor? The answer must be another question: Why does a hen lay eggs? The impulse to say something to make people sit up and take notice is universal to humankind. The ego craves attention almost as violently as it craves life. Well, who can think of an easier, safer, and more effective way to give it what it wants than by writing? Alone in his gloomy cage, the writer addresses, at least potentially, the whole human race, not only of the living generation but also of the generations to come.

“The life of a man of letters,” said Gustave Flaubert, ” is a dog’s life, but the only one worth living.” His judgment was probably sound on both counts. Rewards of the author at their best are stupendous—and every one knows they are. His troubles are easily forgotten.

I have tried in these paragraphs to set forth a few of them. If I printed the whole list, the readers of this magazine would drown the nation with their tears and many would curse the day they learned to read and write.
H. L. Mencken ~ The Worst Trade of Them All

Thank goodness, I am not a writer; I am merely an observer who writes.


Captivating Pajama Bottoms


Pajama bottoms are the gremlins of the clothing world.

Their appearance is delightful in the store.
Pajamas are soft and cute in the store. They come in a variety of designs and colors and sizes. They are made to appeal to everyone. Who doesn’t want to own a cuddly pair of pajamas? They are captivating.

Their attitude is demure in the drawer.
Once you have them home, pajama bottoms behave themselves. They stay neatly folded in the dresser drawer and do not harass the other clothes. They are platonic friends with pajama tops and keep their hands to themselves. Who would suspect the darkness that hides inside? Pajama bottoms do not come with a proper warning.

Their action is dreadful in the washer.
When pajama bottoms get wet, they change into gremlins. They wrap themselves around the other clothes and do not let go. Any effort to disentangle them from other articles of clothing ends in disaster; their wet tentacles drag socks, panties, and tops, down to the floor with them. And as for pajama tops? All that pretended “platonism” goes down the drain once pajama bottoms are in the washer. They glom onto the pajama tops in a most disrespectful manner. In this way, pajama bottoms are truly captivating.

Their appearance is deceitful in the dryer.
The chief issue with pajama bottoms is that they are soft, warm, and cuddly after they are dry. One is hard-pressed to believe that the slimy monsters he or she removed from the washer are the same garment when taken from the dryer. In good faith, the unsuspecting pajama bottom owner folds them neatly and puts them away in the drawer. There they stay until the next wash day. The interval of time between drawer and dryer is too long for people to remember this important fact: Pajama bottoms turn into gremlins when wet.

Daily Prompt WOTD:Captivating

Into the Woods

The following is a sequel to a story posted by The Ceaseless Reader. It’s titled Sick Day. I recommend you check out other posts from his blog.

The dim light of a gray dawn failed to elevate my mood as I locked my door then turned toward my car, and a sudden cloudburst doused what little cheer I had begun trying to muster.

As I exited the highway and turned onto the treacherous county road winding through the rocky hills on my final approach to work, I found myself once again bemused by how I’d arrived there.  The drive had become so routine that my mind disengages, and muscle memory takes over.

But when a sudden, stentorian ripping sound drew my eyes skyward as I approached the tunnel bored through Crummer’s Knob, and I saw an enormous, hairy arm begin to emerge from the slit in the torn clouds, I was instantly present.  Heart pounding and coated in a sheen of chill sweat, I entered the tunnel, pulled to the side, killed the ignition, and reached for my phone.  “B-Boss,”  I stammered, “I don’t think I’m gonna make it in today.”

My Sequel:

In my rearview mirror, I watched the arm crash to the ground. Silence. Then I heard a faint whimpering sound.

Oh, no, I thought, that giant arm has landed on someone. I have to check it out.

“Er, Boss, I might not make it in at all.” Like forever.

I eased out of the car and crept to the edge of the tunnel. The whimpering grew louder; it was coming from the direction of the arm. I looked around and MY CRIMINY! That arm was just an arm! I mean, that was all there was to it! No body attached to it! OH, MY OTHER CRIMINY! It was the arm that was crying!

Now I’m telling you, if you have never heard an arm cry, the sound is downright heartbreaking. I tiptoed closer until I was near the hand.

“Er, Mr. Arm,” I began; then I noticed the fingernails.

“Er, Ms. Arm,” I said, “are you alright?”

The hand started horribly at the sound of my voice and began to shake.

“Hey, hey, it’s okay,” I said. “I’m here to help.”

Oh boy, I thought, how do you help a disembodied arm? And a very large one at that!


Truth vs. Fact

The following is an excerpt from The Book of Rhino ~ The Reckoning. It is based on the Daily Press WOTD Fact


Master Altman surveyed the view from the window of his room. He intended to spend one more night at the inn in order to tour the village and put his thoughts in order. He appreciated the inn’s tranquility and the sense of peace that pervaded the atmosphere. It was a perfect environment for reflection and writing.

I could spend a year just thinking about what Brother Simon told me. What I wouldn’t give to travel with him! He is such a good man for a Christian. I wonder how he has survived church doctrine all these years. I wonder if there are others like him. I wonder what that knocking is…

“Oh…I beg your pardon.

Master Altman came out of his reverie and looked at Virgil, who was standing in the doorway with a pitcher of water and a towel.

“I apologize for the intrusion, but you did bid me enter,” said Virgil, who deposited the pitcher and towel on a small table. Master Altman laughed.

“I am quite certain I did, but I have no memory of it, “ he said. “I do go on sometimes. It was always a great mystery to my students that I could say one thing and be thinking another. I could say the number sixteen and write the number forty-seven. I was so involved in thinking about whether the facts I know are the truth that the fact of your knocking at the door did not register.”

Virgil nodded.

“I understand.”

“Do you?” asked Master Altman. “For the relationship between fact and truth has long been a puzzle for me. For example, yesterday I arrived at the inn at sunset. That is an unchangeable fact. If I then state that I arrived at the inn at sunset, then I have spoken the truth about the fact. If I state I arrived at the inn before sunset, then I have not spoken the truth; yet the fact exists that proves otherwise.”

“And what do you find so puzzling about that?”

“Just this: A fact can exist whether or not it is used truthfully. And there are those that ignore or discount a fact if it does not support what they want to believe. Moreover, people will fight and die for what they believe is true whether or not it is factual. Such an intriguing facet of human nature—I could spend weeks just thinking about it. But forgive me; I digress. Thank you for seeing to my comfort.”

“It is my pleasure,” said Virgil. “Is there anything else you require?”

Master Altman nodded.

“Yes!” he said. “What is the ‘why’ of Albion?”

Virgil coughed and looked disconcerted.

“Ah…well,” he began. “I am not quite sure what you mean.”

Master Altman sighed.

“It’s all right,” he said. “Truth is wiser than me and will reveal itself at the appropriate time. Sometimes I think it is my ordained task in life to ask ‘why’ as an exercise in patience. So I must allow patience to have its perfect work. In the meantime, if you could point me in the best direction from which to explore your village, I would be most appreciative. I am up for an adventure this morning.”

Man must have just enough faith in himself to have adventures,
and just enough doubt of himself to enjoy them.
G. K. Chesterton, The Eternal Revolution

Safe Havens


“I am not going to tell a lie. I am just looking for a way to tell the truth.”
The Book of Rhino

Not everyone is a safe haven for truth. Robert Levine, professor emeritus of psychology at California State University, Fresno, recently wrote:

“Study after study has shown that the moment people take a strong position it activates psychological forces that drive them to prove they are right.

“It plays out in many ways. We enthusiastically discuss the topic with like-minded people but avoid it like the flu with dissenters. We find ourselves scanning for news, movies, TV shows and, especially, niches in social media that cheer us on.”

Having experienced the wintry blasts of unlike-minded people, I am cautious about telling the truth. If someone asks me a question, I will not answer with a lie, but it may take me a while to respond. I am searching for that safe haven–also I am a slow thinker.

(Note to self: Remember what Erik Larson wrote In The Garden of Beasts? It was something about a head movement that Berliners made during Nazi Germany. It was a reflexive response they developed because they did not know whom to trust when they met people on the street. I wish I could remember where I wrote it down. It had a German name. Darn! Where is that?)

On Knowing That You Know (Or Not)


In the sun born over and over
I ran my heedless ways…
Nothing I cared in the lamb white days, that time would take me
Up to the swallow thronged loft by the shadow of my hand,
In the moon that is always rising,
Nor that riding to sleep
I should hear him fly with the high fields
And wake to the farm forever fled from the childless land.
Dylan Thomas ~ Fern Hill

 When does one know and know that one knows? When does one know that he or she does not know? The transition into knowledge is as mysterious to me as it is beautiful. One day a child runs her heedless ways, and the next she knows her ways were heedless. Like a universe observed, the heedless ways vanish once they are acknowledged. But they can be remembered.

All children deserve their heedless ways.
I recently realized why I did not finish Thomas Wolfe’s novel Look Homeward, Angel. I did not like the fact that he did not allow his character, Eugene Gant, to be heedless. From the moment of his birth, Eugene was born with a headful of heed. He knew. Who wants to give a child that kind of knowledge? What is he going to do with it? It was depressing. (The novel is considered to be autobiographical; if so, I pity Wolfe.)

All children deserve the lamb white days.
One of the reasons I love The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman is that he allows his character Lyra her share of lamb white days. She prowls around Oxford with her friends, playing games, making war, and telling tales. One of the themes of Pullman’s His Dark Materials is the transition into knowledge, but he honors the innocence that precedes it.

“All children deserve a strong name.” Bill Martin
The reason I chose the name Amalia for one of my characters is because it fits the name of Mole; Mole is Amalia’s childhood name. Mole is the evidence that Amalia was allowed to run her heedless ways before she makes the transition into knowledge. However, I wonder if I gave her enough heedless ways, enough lamb white days.

All children deserve the high hills.
The great thing about creating characters is you can give them wonderful things. I can write about Amalia between the lines. I can give her any number of high hills in which to prowl with her friends. I can allow her to run her heedless ways. It will be easy because I remember.

For me the high hills did not forever flee the childless land; they merely took a break. Now they are running around, playing games, making war, and telling tales. I just have to ask them to come in and sit with me a while. I can take their tall tales and spin them into stories about Amalia and Skandar and Rhino. It will be great because, once in while, even we adults deserve our heedless ways.