How Winter, Spring and Superlatives Fall

The coldest winter? The snowiest winter . . . polar vortices . . . superlatives were abundantly overflowing this winter. Cold winters in New York are not unusual; mild ones are not anomalies either. One winter colder than another is unavoidable; but we do get ourselves worked up over the superlative degree: yes, the coldest, the windiest, the lowest, the most frigid. We love the superlative degree. For some of us, there’s a minor excitement in saying anything superlatively.

Whether it scares us or draws us nearer, we love to say something in the superlative degree, the best, the biggest, the lowest, the highest, the most of anything we might want to compare, but insist on there being no comparison. It is easier for us to handle thinking in the superlative degree. Comparatives require more articulation; superlatives suppress articulation. When we compare, we have to show contrast as well as what might be similar or even the same, but the distinction has to be drawn. It is not as if superlatives do not require support; it is merely the convention we have allowed to persist in the use of them.

We do not have to think–or we assume we do not have to think when we state something superlatively. We can allow ourselves simply to feel. So, what is there to say about this winter that I did not say about last winter? Cold, colder, coldest . . .was this winter the coldest . . . last winter? Colder than we remember, of course. Colder than recent memory? Surely. Yet, what was the coldest winter in New York City history?

I recall my father telling me about frigid winters in the early 1930s. I have checked the record of record lows and noted some winters at the turn of the twentieth century made the list, in fact, a few of the coldest temperatures for January or February, let’s say from among the top ten lowest temperatures for the City of New York, are from winters at the turn of the twentieth century. I myself recall a very frigid January in 1977, nearly two weeks of below freezing temperatures. Boston has just had its snowiest winter since records of snowfall have been kept. How long is that exactly, though? I keep recalling, the 1870s.

Yet, for all the superlatives we used this winter, the kind of winter we had this year and last are not anomalies in the pattern of weather for our region–no, not really–even though hyperbole and sensationalism reign on TV weather news, and it seems our thirst for the sensational drives our need for using the superlative degree instead of the comparative. But the temperatures were extreme, and extremes of any kind tend to pull us in the direction of the superlative. The temperatures were not so extreme that I did not recall similar or equal temperatures in the past, and I have a personal distaste for the superlative, so I have the tendency to draw anything expressed with the superlative degree back into one or another comparative. I have seen the Hudson frozen between Manhattan and Hoboken; one January–the frigid January above–I was in Hoboken, and while I was there, we were in the middle of ten days in a row when the weather did not go above freezing . . . was it ten days or was it more? The latter that pull toward the superlative I mentioned above.

Am I recollecting this correctly? Is there a correct or incorrect for memories about weather, memories about anything; memory having as much to do with fiction as it does with documentary. Even documentary has about it, something made. There is always a frame, always a context, always a choice, always some imposition in the representation. Re-presentation is not in itself presentation; presentation in itself not the thing or the event in itself.

I do recall wind-chill recordings around fifty below zero Fahrenheit one winter when the temperatures were around zero and the winds gusting over forty miles per hour; I think I can see the vacant streets in my neighborhood as I went out that night bundled as I imagine I have never been, not even for minus 16 Fahrenheit when I went into my Aunt Anna Mae’s backyard in Pittsfield Massachusetts in the Berkshires one winter when I was a small boy. From then I think I can see me in my snow suit, the one piece thermal suit my mother had bought for me to play in the snow. What then does this do for our discussion here about our most recent winter–here the superlative appropriately restricts the discussion.

Every several decades we get a string of years that are extremely frigid, or we get a string that is simply unseasonably low in temperatures, although not nearly as frigid as some of the days we had this winter. We occasionally get a string of years of a lot of snow fall and other strings where we get no snow, no rain–virtually nothing. We sometimes get a string of years where it is wet although mild, but with not much rain. There are other strings where we get a lot of rain as if it were summer; I recall one Christmas sweating in a wool suit as it poured nearly biblically. Also periodically, we have years in a row of mild or nearing more than mild, downright unseasonably very warm temperatures. I do recall weather sixty degrees Fahrenheit and above in January. We did play softball on New Year’s day I think in 1975, or am I mistaken about the year? I do not think so. Do you even care what I think?

What is an average temperature anyway for a city or a region, anywhere where people live . . . and over how many years is an average really normal. Usual and unusual? Within what time frame is what is important to note. Just how long have we been keeping weather records anyway? More than a hundred years, I know; nearing one-hundred and fifty? Yes, I think we have been keeping these records since the 1870s? Questions following questions–I could just check; I could go on the internet and look, but no . . .

I’d rather do what most of us do about the past–speculate or try to remember which is a kind of recollecting. They are not exactly the same, these synonyms, to remember, to recall, to recollect. I will not venture how to separate them; that would be another essay, another story,one kin d of telling or another and another creeping as I have said before in one type of petty pace, petty pace . . . you know that neither you nor I should ask for whom that bell is tolling, I hear it today, Saint Finbar’s is not that far, and church’s do not have real bells anymore, they do not ring real bells anymore, no bell ringers like Quasimodo, no.

What is normal for the earth in the matter of weather patterns is not necessarily the same for our current lifetime, for anyone’s lifetime. How long have you lived where you are living, and just what do you recollect about the weather in your time there? This is what I mean about articulating what we have had, what we have experienced, what we have recorded.

How long has the earth been having weather? Valid question. Since it has had an atmosphere, of course. How long has it had an atmosphere–Venus has an atmosphere comprised of quite a bit of ammonia and methane; it rains sulphuric acid on Venus. I prefer our last winter every winter to a winter of acid snow? Do you know that there have been centuries in the geologic record where it is evident that the average temperature of the earth had risen as much as nine degrees? It’s true. What then must we do with our hyperbole about climate and weather?

What I am saying is just what are we saying when we say what we do about the earth and about our weather patterns?But when will spring arrive is on many of our lips. It’s on mine. It has been several times this week. I know many people from Viet Nam or Burma or Syria or Egypt for whom winter is their favorite season. Many have never seen snow; many of them say they prefer snow to rain. I want spring to come; fall is really my favorite season, but not every fall here in New York. I love New England fall, fall in the Berkshires where my mother’s family is from; my mother’s mother’s family having come here as one of the famine Irish in the mid 1840s. Just what my family’s experience with New England weather is, I would like to know. I wish I had journals from their passage, from their early time in New England, from whomever must have served in the Union Army during the Civil War. I know that Pittsfield would feed our desire for superlatives about winter weather, and that is whether or not there were actual superlatives about temperature or snow. I do know that the average snow fall for Pittsfield is greater than Moscow’s. There is a comparative. There is, of course, the snowiest place on earth, as there is the windiest, the hottest, the rainiest, that is, the wettest, what else have we in the way weather and climate gets recorded?

Yes, when will spring arrive? I want to know when? I’m tired of this lingering winter. It was in the sixties a few days ago, and tonight it is dropping into the low thirties. Up and down; up and down. I just remembered today that three of New York’s biggest snow storms were in April. Yes, all three of them were in my lifetime, a lifetime of weather when in that very same month of April we have had beautiful warm and sunny Easters with lilies not wilting from frost. More to look forward to? Why do we waste hope on the weather, unless it’s the first vacation we have taken in decades and might not get another in our life and we hope it doesn’t rain on our only vacation; but then this is why I like to go to cities where there is something to do, somewhere to go, something to see rain or shine.

Advertisements

Author and Authority

Every writer is an author whether he is published or not.

Being published does not give you authority over your text. Your hand holding the pen does that. [I still hold pens.]

You do not need the Library of Congress to grant you copyright. The Library of Congress granting copyright only makes your legal claim stronger in the case of another writer trying to steal authority over your authorship.

Publishing is a means to divest writers of their authority, making them writers without authority.

A writers authorship is a pseudo authority, a kind of mask of authority over the text. Editors and publishers are always trying to usurp the authority of the author–mostly because author is in itself something that asserts authority irrespective of being published.

Publishers are leeches as are most editors–not all–who are in themselves frustrated men of writing without authority, without even authorship.

Web Log IX

The blog portion of this Review is committed to being literary–and I insist on calling this website a review, that is, a literary review. It is important to do so. The latter notion of literary is used with all the connotations many of you might suspect are elitist. It is always elitist when literary is used as the moulding force behind the writing, when this guiding force is managed. Elitist can always be assumed when the word ‘literary’ is used. I have to say that everything literary is necessarily elitist. It cannot ever be made democratic–not that we have a clue what democratic means either. But the fact that there are so many blogs to read might point to a larger democratizing effect on the internet? This is a tangent . . . and now let me continue on this line that intersects with the perimeter of the circle literary blog. I am with Al Smith in the latter’s assertion that the only answer for the ills of democracy is more democracy . . . more blogs unfettered by interference by the government. I don’t see how Democrats like Obama cannot make you as ill and nauseous as George W. I’m tired–as evidenced by the editorializing in this blog–of the political and rhetorical ping ping played by Democrats and republicans using the same ball and the same paddles and the same table of play . . . it’s really as horrid as the hop-scotch they both play with Truth.

Good-enough is Never

Government-management and state-education-department control over ESOL across the country have delivered to ESOL teachers the kind of protocols that do not necessitate educating or learning, nor do they necessitate quality or experience be present in those who are hired. Teachers are pitted against one another in program after program across America as management reminds teachers that their jobs are not secure. Good-enough will replace good which certainly has replaced great; less-than-good-enough will soon replace good-enough, we only have to change the name to shift our ideas and responses. Saying something makes it so in advertising, and advertising has control over our ethics and our psychology. We fear words because we do believe that names can harm us and that saying something does make it so . . .

Web Log VIII

Who in this world of looking on line, combing pages, or superficially skimming one site after another with little more effort spent on reading what is within the confines of the sites barely penetrated . . . what then happens with this ever mounting pile of words, rubbish, trash, gems . . . how to appraise them is not as difficult as we like to make out that it is. We have the ability to refine our acumen for literature, for the literary, for higher and higher elections in advanced literacy. There is little to do in these pages about alphabetics, the ability to negotiate the alphabet, which enables the achiever in this to negotiate the alphabet, which allows him to spell his name correctly, fill out appropriately and correctly the bureaucracy’s mounting demands for forms and applications, or read the tabloid press and assume he is informed–this negotiating the alphabet instead of achieving a higher election in literacy is part of most state programs of control and for control. Alphabetics  is better suited for the dissemination f propaganda than is literacy, literacy allowed to climb higher in the scale of achievement.

Who are You to Imagine Being in Philadelphia is Better than Being Dead?

A man talks of a trip to Philadelphia, but not the view of Camden across the Delaware River from his hotel room, nor the view of the Charles River as he crosses on the Alewife Bound Red Line from Boston South Station to Cambridge, Harvard Square . . . what more, no more, to say or to write, I need to change my mask . . . telling everyone how everyone should visit Philadelphia at least once in his life, he says, but why he says it, he does not imagine should need an extensive defense; I mean, would you think it was necessary to explain in any detail why you imagined someone should go to Philadelphia at least once in his life, or if not why one should do so, at least why you are saying that one should do so, not exactly the same thing, unless you see this completely differently than I do or can or will . . . but this visit would be advisable, even if only to walk around the old city and see the colonial sites, he says, and visit the National Constitution Center, he says, and the Betsy Ross House and Museum, he says, her grave in the front courtyard, he says.

He pauses.

One should go see Christ Church and the Christ Church Cemetery (in two different locations several blocks from one another; the cemetery has Franklin’s grave), he goes on, and says more, as he always seems to want to say more, sometimes others he knows saying enough, that they’ve had enough, that he should stop, but he rarely does because he does know that they do need to hear more even if they think otherwise, which might seem to you as if he really does not care what others think or want and that he imagines he knows better which of course would be easy to call arrogant, unless you had another way to see it, understand it, know it as some know otherwise from what you could conclude otherwise by choosing another way to think about it . . . whatever that could mean to someone I cannot imagine would be concerned for this, or think this, concluding this would not be what I would do, but then there were far too many people who concluded otherwise to the purpose of Swift’s essay,. “A Modest Proposal,” which was the intention, to cause the outrage it caused through successive misreadings.

Yes, Carpenter’s Hall would be a place you should visit, the site of the first Continental Congress in 1774; Independence Hall; as well as the Philosophical Society started by Ben Franklin, The Franklin House and the Franklin Museum next door to one another; the Liberty Bell. What more do you need to hear from me, he says; from him . . .what then must you conclude from reading what I have written here, am writing here, to write or not to write, how, the choices in the writing, the many, many choices for a writer to make for his audience, knowing them being one of them to make, choose.

Of course, you should also go to the Rodin Museum–this last time we blew it and went the day before we were leaving on the day it was closed. The Rodin Museum houses the largest collection of Rodin statues outside of France . . . and we went to the Rodin Museum in Paris the last time we were there, one February—who goes to Paris in the winter, you might ask, I did, not exactly while we were there, it was interesting how much Paris in some parts had come to look like parts of New York, parts of Barcelona, parts of Montreal, Toronto, Boston, everywhere f-in’ else . . . yes, no, perhaps, how would maybe be different? He asks. Everything in the present tense; remember, tense is not time; tense orders time in thoughts, in speech, in writing, I say as I tell you what he says.

It was damn windy there in March, anyone could say, does say. I like Philly; every time I have ever been to Philly, I have had a really good time, enjoyed the city, the Philadelphia Museum of Art is one of my favorite museums in the world.  He adds that the Philadelphia Museum of Art is a great museum with an impressive collection and an equally impressive exterior; a glorious building, I have some great photos of it . . . and of Elfreth’s Alley in the Old City, and other like streets in Society Hill . . . glimpses back into our colonial past the likes of which you are not going to see in a place like New York (only too late in its respect for the city’s heritage). Only Boston might rival or even surpass Philadelphia for its preservation of our colonial past . . . Proclaim Liberty throughout the land and to all the inhabitants thereof . . . I add to what he has said here,what he says as he does through me to you.

Please visit Philadelphia and Boston, he says. Why he says please visit I am not going to speculate. Idiolect is what it is; the unique way each person has of expressing himself in his language. You can make them both part of the same vacation, if you will, he would say.

Fly to Boston, stay a while; take the train to Philadelphia, stay a while; then leave by plane from Philadelphia, I suggest . . . suggestions being what they are, minor pleas for friendship, be like me and like what I like . . . alone I am come into this world, alone I go from it? I slept at my father’s feet the night before the morning he went, the sun braking through the snow clouds from the night before,. a beam through onto the wall above his head, it was time, and I asked for them to resuscitate not knowing why I asked, I don’t play over and over in my head that I should have stayed. In a few minutes the doctor came out and said I am sorry. I sometimes do not believe that they even tried to resuscitate him; other times when I do, I cannot get to a place where I say they should have.

What? 

I think I hear someone ask, a disembodied voice, I say, not his, no, not him. He does not say this, either the “What?” or the “I hear someone ask.”

 

Black is Black, I Want My Identity Back

The subtlest way African-Amricans have endured racism  has been in the traditionally and inescapably framed identification of the people by race and only race, color, if we will, although everyone knows that neither black nor white are colors. Negro, colored, black; all of them preferable to using the term nigger, unless one were a Klansman, then the latter would always be preferable. Calling oneself African-American and not black is an attempt to side step the marker of race, thus asserting an ethnic identification in its place and as the principal means of identifying the people we used to call black. Black is a term of color, a racial marker. All markers and markings have too much to do with stigmas; the connotation we give to the word ‘stigma’ herein applies. The practice of branding slaves might come too mind, probably always remains residual in all talk about the blackness of black people. African-American, like Italian-American, is an ethnic identifier. Yes, the term African-Aemrican is an ethnic identification as would be Irish-American or Swedish-American. The fore mentioned identities of Italian-American and Irish-American are identities for me to claim, each in variation on the nationality theme, mine principally being American, at least in my home, the way I was raised to identify with my native land more than with the lands of my ancestors. The idea that I was white was something that could only have sustained itself in racist dialogue; in fact, there was very little discussion of whiteness where I grew up that didn’t have something to do with a general or more traditionally framed racist conversation. The sociology of whiteness in America had little to do with who was caucasian, something we understood as having validity paleontologically, even if it has lost the credibility it once had in academic discourse. This has everything to do with how endemically racist we were, are, continue to be–even to the point that most dialogue from African American communities also cannot escape the endemically racist rhetoric American underbellies have been famous for.

Whiteness was not the principal way I identified myself–even at a time of heightened race consciousness. The principal way I identified myself was through ethnicity, any one or all of the ethinicites, as we identify them in America, being part of what I called myself–what are you? I’, Italian, Irish, French and Swiss. Nationality in America’s bureaucratic systematization is a synonym with ethnicity, although we know that these are often not the same. Nonetheless, Ashkenazi from the former republics of the Soviet Union are called Russians, as are many of the non-Russian Russian speakers, no matter how badly they speak Russian. In my place of work, any non-Russian speaker is called a Russian, and for years this has included many Ukranians, some of whom might actually be ethnic Russians. An African-American most likely identified himself within the notions of blackness he grew up with, unable to escape the markings of race, whether they be of stereotypical blackness, or of the racist’s definitions of blackness, or of how these racistly drawn stereotypes of negative blackness were extrapolated through theme and variation interplay by African-Americans themselves, or how blackness might be positively asserted as in the black franco-phone socio-political idea of Negritude [please reference Aimee Cesaire]. Blackness also took upon itself a growing militant flavor in the late sixties; this sense of black power was more assertive, more aggressive, more beligerent, even; these themselves typically American in our more overtly aggressive and violent social nature, that is, interactively among ourselves. However blackness was defined, identifying oneself racially was significantly other than defining oneself ethnically. The categories were understood as mutually exclusive.

The categorical distinction of African American has likeness with that of Italian American and all other ethno-centric, nationality rooted variations in being American. This idea that a people can manage how racist dialogue affects them by changing the name we use to reference them is not a naive one. It’s not that prejudices cannot arise for or about ethnicity, or that a conflation of racist rhetoric and hatred can not happen to an ethnicity; what is important to note is that by asserting ethnicity as the chief identifying marker, African Americans are mutually identified in a way white people principally identify themselves, lessening the otherness of racial identity either when placed against the traditionally mutually exclusive whiteness or when the ethnic identities of Europeans are placed against, as in counter-distinction with, a mutually exclusive category of blackness.

It is integral to understand that the term African-American is a rhetorical attempt to side-step the rhetoric of racism; in managing the rhetoric of race and racism in such a subtle yet effective way, the psychology of racism is also addressed positively and proactively. The effects on psychology based on language use and choice is tangible and definable. It is true that the only people who focus on the whiteness of white people are themselves racists, or are either overtly or inadvertently engaging in racist dialogue. In fact, no one has ever referred to me as white except white people entering or nearing racist argument or African-Americans, who themselves might not see ethnicity before they see color, that is, race. African-Americans, hoping to side step dialogues or diatribes caught in the vice of race–and yes, race is a vice, if you will–refuse to call themselves black. Naming themselves black, if not in carefully orchestrated contexts of communication, puts African-Americans in a diametric position with whiteness, which is always in one way or another racistly drawn. Among the many ethnic groups in America, African-Americans are one. Race just might become incidental; if incidental, then it cannot be overarching, either in negative or positive stereotyping, neither of which handles the reality of the simple separate African-American very well.