Monday, August 22, 2011

A Shift of Metaphysics

A Shift of Metaphysics

By Bobby Neal Winters
Before I was old enough to go to school, I used to sit on the floor and watch the old TV show Dark Shadows while my mother did housework in the background and we waited for the bus to bring my brother home from school.
Mom always joked that I had to explain it to her.  She meant this as a compliment to my intelligence, but I think it’s actually a commentary on the level of writing in that show.  It was actually written so that a four-year-old could understand it.
That having been said, Dark Shadows was my introduction to Barnabas Collins and the world of vampires.  Let me say at the onset that I am not an expert on vampires.  I’ve never read Bram Stoker’s Dracula nor much else beyond Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire. Any knowledge I’ve gained I’ve done so through popular sources on TV and at the movies.  The things I know are this:
  1. Vampires feed on blood.
  2. Vampires cannot come out in the daylight;
  3. Vampires cannot see their reflection;
  4. Vampires flee from the Cross;
  5. Vampires can only be killed by special means which vary from source to source; a wooden stake through the heart will usually do the trick;
  6. Vampirism is contagious;
  7. There is a connection with bats.

Apparently, the Vampire Myth goes way back in history into the pre-scientific age, but I’ve seen articles in popular science magazines which have attempted to explain the Myth in scientific terms.  It may have been no less than Isaac Asimov who attempted to connect the Vampire Myth with rabies.  It’s not a bad case either.
This connection by Asimov and others grows out of the modern age.  We cannot tolerate mysteries.  We must have solid, scientific explanations.
But the purpose of a myth is not to be explained away with science.  The purpose of a myth is to teach.
What the Vampire Myth teaches is important because there are vampires.
Okay, you have to take a shift into metaphor to see what I am saying, but bear with me for a moment.  Haven’t you ever been around someone who sucks the life out of you?  Who when you see them for what they are, their power over you disappears? Who cannot recognize the flaws in themselves? Who have no desire for redemption?  Who are terribly hard  to deal with?
Often these folks can be charismatic individuals--until you see them for who they are--and they can convert others to their cause while sucking the life out of them at the same time.
I’ve got everything in there but the connection with bats.
My point is that the Vampire Myth is a spiritual thing. It is based in the supernatural, the unnatural.
But in addition to the efforts by Asimov and others on the scientific front,  the popular media has shifted as well.  Vampirism is viewed in many, if not most, of the popular media on the subject, as a disease.  Movies like I am Legend and Daybreakers view vampires as suffering from a disease that one might attempt to sure. It’s caused by a virus just like a cold or the flu.   
It’s an extension of the arrogance of modernism into the realm of the undead.  If there is a problem we can fix it.  If their is a disease we can cure it.
As movies, I am Legend was better than Daybreakers. Though, as I will expand on momentarily, Daybreakers did a good job in capturing many of the spiritual insights the Vampire Myth offers us, it lacked the umami  to bring those ingredients together.  
Let me now expand.  Sunlight kills vampires.  It destroys them utterly.  They are left as nothing but ashes.  In Daybreakers, there was a cure found. The first man cured of vampirism had been caught on fire by the daylight but plunged himself into water to put out the flames.  From there he was cured.  I am reminded here of the purifying flames of purgatory or the  Uncreated Light that was with God at the beginning of the world which burns away all that is impure in us.
There were also those among the vampires who didn’t want to be cured.  Because of their fear of death, they were willing to subject themselves--and everyone else--to a life of eternal darkness.
So Daybreakers does capture the spiritual message of the Vampire Myth.  What it does is buy into the scientific-materialist notion of mechanism for vampirism.
Bear with me while I tell a story.  There is a man of my acquaintance who has some challenges in dealing with reality.  One of these is that he could go months without paying his rent even though he had the money.
His landlord was a wealthy man who didn’t become wealthy by letting people go months without paying their rent.  Why did he allow this man that option?  The landlord’s father knew the renter’s father.  The renter’s father had been an abusive man whose abuse had led to the renter’s challenged condition.
The scientific-materialist would say the reason the landlord let him go was because of the chemicals in his brain rewarded him for this act of altruism.  The real reason is that his father taught him pity.
Science has some need to try to take over everything.  It’s like kudzu.  It has its uses, but one must be alert lest it get out of its proper place and succeed in taking over everything.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Three little words

My Grandpa Byrd, my mother’s father, had been married in Mississippi to a woman who was part Choctaw. She died in the Spanish Influenza leaving him with two boys, Clyde and Joe, both of whom were handsome and charming but each of whom got into trouble in the way it is easy for handsome and charming young men to do.

My Grandma Byrd, mother’s mother, had been married in Alabama to a soldier who, as near as I can recall, had been stationed at Ft. Leavenworth where he died of the Spanish Influenza. They’d had a baby together who’d also died of the flu.

The two of them, Grandma and Grandpa, had married afterward. I know nothing of any love story between them. I do know that she referred to him as “Byrd,” which is not the greatest sign of Romantic love. Together, in addition to Clyde and Joe, they had Jack, Faye, Ona, and Tommy

My Grampa Sam and my Grandma Lora got married when he was 22 and she was 15. She lied about her age on the marriage license; I’ve got a copy of it. If a 22-year-old ran off with a 15-year-old daughter of mine, I’d have him put in prison. Seriously.


But were it not for these circumstances, tragedies included, lining up, I would not exist.

I am the product of lies and tragedy.

I meditate on this in particular because as I grow older I am becoming judgmental and grumpy. I have certain dearly held beliefs. You shouldn’t lie on your marriage license to get married. You should get your inoculations against the flu. Delay gratification. Spend the interest; invest the principal. Buy low; sell high. Keep right except to pass. Always be specific when you lie.

If you’ve got a rule, I am ready to follow it.

But the rules get broken all the time. The people we love die before their time. People let hearts (or other organs) overrule their heads. Tragedy befalls us either randomly, through design, or through our own bad judgment.

Life goes on. Three little words. I prefer “I love you,” but these three will do.

Monday, August 01, 2011

Weed eaters, sex, and batteries

Weed eaters, sex, and batteries

By Bobby Neal Winters

As some of you may have guessed, some of the little details of life that make the world that much more beautiful aren’t really all that important to me. I have now evolved enough in my development to appreciate this level of detail, to realize that some consider it to be very important, but, as of yet, I’ve not set attaining this level of detail in my own work to be an immediate, high priority.

Take for example lawn care. I mow my lawn on a regular basis. My family, who got into the detail thing even less than I do, gave me a high value on mowing when I was a child. We mowed the lawn for the snakes. This had a double effect, as Aquinas might say. The first of these was to keep the snakes away, as snakes prefer tall grass and will eschew mowed areas in favor of cover. The second is that if a snake were to come into the mowed area he would be rendered easier to find and kill.

It’s a practical thing: life and death.

A detail like weed eating, i.e. trimming and edging does not come into this. Mowing is for safety; trimming and edging is cosmetic.

But, as I am continually reminded, I am no longer a country boy. I live in town. A lot of town folks take what was once just an activity done for personal safety and turn it into a sport. It is a sport in the sense that they practice it themselves and observe--and criticise--the efforts of others.

While I like to think of myself as immune to peer pressure because I never did drugs (didn’t inhale because I’ve never even been in the room with a joint) and never drank a beer until the day after my oldest daughter was born (a St. Pauli Girl: you never forget your first girl), the peer pressure of weed eating has taken root.

I suppose this is because there is a certain amount of cool-looking equipment involved. Weed eaters extend our powers. One could say they are phallic to a certain degree. There are the electric ones, but with them you are tethered to the nearest electrical outlet and require electricity as an outside power source. It totally mutes the feeling of independence.

A gasoline powered machine makes you free. The gas-powered ones also require a special petroleum product to be mixed with the gasoline because of the 2-cycle engines. I find this to be an activity that separates the sexes.

To explain this, I have to be very careful. Women certainly are capable of creating the special mixture of gasoline required for 2-cycle engines. Indeed, as they have some much practice mixing up stuff for cakes and other women-stuff like that, one would suspect they would be far more adept at this than the male of the species. My point is they don’t choose to do it. It could be they leave it to us because “men ought to be good for something.” In any case, it seeming to be a male-only activity makes it more attractive; kind of like writing our names in the snow.

The trouble with gas-powered weed eaters is that they are incredibly tedious. Most only work well the first time they are used. The rest work well for a season. There is a tiny minority that work well for more than a season. These are the few who are lucky enough to be owned by men who know how to take care of things.

My father-in-law was such a man. He preached to me the gospel of draining gasoline from engines over the winter. He was a good man. He left me a well-taken-care-of Homelite weed eater. It always started on the first pull. It always ran as long as you needed it.

He then passed-away and I inherited it. It lasted one season with me. I left the gas in it over the winter, and it wouldn’t start this season. After I’d pulled on it long enough to give a convincing impression of a man having a heart attack, I began to hear his voice. It was gentle, with a touch of humor.

“Didn’t drain the gas over the winter, did you?”

“No,” heave, heave, cough, cough, sweat, sweat, “I didn’t.”

“Having trouble starting it, aren’t you?”

“Yes,” gasp, gasp, drip, drip, “I am.”

“Maybe if you drained the gas now, made up a new batch, and put a new spark plug in it would help.”

I rested for three days and tried this. The weed eater started but couldn’t sustain. I thought about my earlier analogy and all those Cialis commercials that are on, but I decided there was such a thing a pushing a metaphor too far. I also tried fixing my Weedeater brand weed eater, but to no avail.

While I was at Home Depot getting my new spark plug, I noticed something new. It was a battery-powered Ryobi weed eater. It didn’t cost all that much and it combined the freedom of the gasoline version with the ease of use of the electric one.

It’s an eight-teen volt machine. It starts every time.

Having written that just now, it strikes me that maybe, having removed my last excuse for not weed eating that I’ve out-smarted myself.

Such is life.