Sunday, February 19, 2017

A Certain Logic

INTERSTELLAR (Revised).

ACT ONE, SCENE ONE. FRONT PORCH OF THE COOPER FARMHOUSE.

STRANGER: Mr. Cooper?

COOPER: Uh, yeah?

STRANGER: We're a poly-dimensional human being from your distant future, and we have an equation for Murph.

COOPER: ...What?!?

STRANGER: Murph, your daughter. This equation will give humans a new paradigm for gravity, and save the species. We've written this down on paper; please give it to her.

COOPER: This paper here?

STRANGER: It's a primitive medium, we know, but much better than our first idea. We were going to have you spell out the equation via morse code, by manipulating the second hand on a wrist watch.

COOPER: That is the most half-assed thing I've ever heard.

STRANGER: We know! It's hard to say what prompted us to be so foolish. After all, we're poly-dimensional; we can do pretty much anything. Paper's easy.

COOPER: But... why give it to Murph? She's a kid. Smart n'all, but still....

STRANGER: Because Murph will understand this equation in 20 years.

COOPER: Why not give it to someone who can understand it now?

STRANGER: Oh. We hadn't thought of that. We must have been blinded by our concept of love as a universal force that can transcend space and time.

COOPER: And that is the newest most half-assed thing I've ever heard.

MURPH: [Arriving at the front door]: Wait! If you're poly-dimensional, then time has no meaning for you, right?

STRANGER: Well... it had no meaning until we started this conversation.

MURPH: So why give the equation to somebody now? Why not give it to someone in the past, someone who can change their future and prevent this environmental crisis?

STRANGER: There is a certain logic to that, yes.

MURPH: Go back to the 1920s, and give it to Planck, or Einstein, or Niels Bohr. Give it to all of them!

STRANGER: Done! [Vanishes.]

COOPER: What the hell just happened, here?

MURPH: Dad, for a NASA pilot, you're pretty damned clueless.

COOPER: Clueless or not, I gotta do the chores.

MURPH: No, dad, don't leave me! Don't leave!

COOPER: Murph --

MURPH: If you leave me now, I'll resent you for the rest of my life.

COOPER: I'm only goin' to the barn.

MURPH: Don't even dream of it!

THE END.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

I Have to Know

One of the great advantages of life in Qu├ębec is that English is a minority language.

It is never the language you expect to hear automatically in stores or in hospitals, on buses or at protests, at voting centres or at police stations. Few of your neighbours can speak it well; many can hardly understand it.

As a result, in the places where you live and work and play, English can seem foreign.

For me, the beauty of this arrangement is that I, too, began to think of English as something that I hardly understood, and something I could barely use with competence. I began to see with clear eyes all the limitations, all the clumsiness, all the imprecision of my writing, and I realized that I would have to sit down and study the language I had once taken for granted.

I realized, too, that English is more than just a way to speak and read; English is a heritage. English is a gift that you can cherish or neglect, respect or abuse. If I neglect basic usage and grammar, if I speak without clarity, none of my neighbours will point this out, because none of my neighbours will know.

For that reason, I have to know. I have to learn. And I have to value what was given to me, because what I was given is not valued here.

-- Notes to myself, November 29, 2013.

Friday, October 28, 2016

A Blot of Parenthetic Night

ORAZIO: Sweet, did you like the feast?

ARMIDA: Methought, 'twas gay enough.

ORAZIO: Now, I did not.
'Twas dull: all men spoke slow and emptily.
Strange things were said by accident. Their tongues
Uttered wrong words: one fellow drank my death,
Meaning my health; another called for poison,
Instead of wine; and, as they spoke together,
Voices were heard, most loud, which no man owned:
There were more shadows too than there were men;
And all the air more dark and thick than night
Was heavy, as 'twere made of something more
Than living breaths. --

ARMIDA: Nay, you are ill, my lord:
'Tis merely melancholy.

ORAZIO: There were deep hollows
And pauses in their talk; and then, again,
On tale, and song, and jest, and laughter rang,
Like a fiend's gallop. By my ghost, 'tis strange.

======================

ORAZIO: I'll speak again:
This rocky wall's great silence frightens me,
Like a dead giant's.
Methought I heard a sound: but all is still.
This empty silence is so deadly low,
The very stir and winging of my thoughts
Make audible my being: every sense
Aches from its depth with hunger.
The pulse of time is stopped, and night's blind sun
Sheds its black light, the ashes of noon's beams,
On this forgotten tower, whose ugly round,
Amid the fluency of brilliant morn,
Hoops in a blot of parenthetic night,
Like ink upon the crystal page of day,
Crossing its joy! But now some lamp awakes,
And, with the venom of a basilisk's wink,
Burns the dark winds. Who comes?

-- From "The Second Brother," in The Poetical Works of Thomas Lovell Beddoes, Vol II. J. M. Dent and Co. London, 1890.

Friday, October 21, 2016

What the Years Have Made

When I was child, I had friends my age, but I still preferred the company of adults. I recall visits where the children went off to play games, but I stayed at the dining room table or in the kitchen to hear what the adults had to say. And inevitably, at some point in the evening, what they had to say would trouble me.

Environmental catastophes. The terminal stupidity of domestic and foreign policy. Nuclear melt-downs -- remember Three Mile Island? Wars, wars, wars. The thermonuclear suicide of the human species. These adults discussed the topics as if they were discussing private matters that no one else around them seemed willing to mention, and I can recall the shift in mood, the hushed voices, that always preceded these frightening conversations.

Decades later, I have become such an adult.

Monday, October 17, 2016

What's New?

Nothing is old-fashioned if we meet it with a young perspective. A Jacobean tragedy, a Parnassian poem, a silent film, a late-Romantic symphony: for the right sort of mind, these are living discoveries, and they can often say more to us, in our midnight moods, than the voices of today.