All Your Database Are Belong To Us

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Remember All Your Base Are Belong to Us?

It was the basis of my subject heading when I alerted the staff to a new database document. I turned it into “All Your Database Are Belong to Us.” On both ethical and biological grounds, it is impossible for me to write a document that doesn’t have an element of humor (or attempted humor, at least). My body is hard-wired for puns. Ya know how, when you drink too much, you lose your inhibitions and your real self comes out? When I drink too much, the puns come out. When you consider how much I pun while sober, it is a frightening prospect.

I’ve worked on databases a lot this month. It’s time to decide which subscriptions we’re going to maintain, which we’re going to add, and—here’s the bloodthirsty part—which we’re going to drop. Personally, I’d like to send LitFinder to the gallows. LitFinder is great in theory: it has the fulltext of poems and short stories and other short bits of literature. Problem is, I can never find what I’m looking for on it. F’example, a lady this week was trying to find the text of a Langston Hughes poem. She knew the first two lines. With that info, it took me somewhat less than a second to find the full text and title with google. But just for kicks I tried the same test with LitFinder and got nothing.

At a staff meeting later this week, Persepolis is going to try to defend the honor of LitFinder. I’m arguing for the death penalty. Alternately, we could skip the court trial and fight it out, woman to woman, in a duel. Let God pick the victor.

Speaking of God and Persepolis, we discussed Mark Salzman’s Lying Awake at our staff book club today. Persepolis led the discussion and fed us this divine spinach artichoke cheese stuff.

I was extraordinarily impressed with Salzman’s writing style. The man does lovely, terse, atmosphere-building things with words. He reminded me of Jean Rhys, the best underappreciated author of the twentieth century. Rhys has the same gift with language. The sentences seem simple and straightforward, but by the time you’ve read a few chapters you realize you’re in over your head. The thing to remember with Rhys is that she writes dark, bleak, oppressive fiction. Her writing will suck you in, but it’s not always a safe place to go. Only attempt Rhys if you have a loving, supportive family.

So. Salzman is reminiscent of Rhys. That’s about the highest compliment I can give anyone.

However.

Lying Awake is Literary Fiction. LiFi is a genre characterized by A) pretentious prose, B) no plot, and C) my aversion to it. I’ve said this before, but I’ll say it again: Literary Fiction suffers from a disheartening lack of vampires, aliens, ticking bombs, and murders that happened in locked rooms. Sure, you can write fiction without those things, but… but why? Life’s too short.

That I liked Lying Awake at all says quite a lot for it.

Lying Awake raises questions about faith, inspiration, and religion. It also raised a fine book discussion this afternoon. I bit my tongue a lot of times. I disagreed with, oh, nearly everything Bookish Jet said, but I know she and I will be able to discuss things at great length over dinner, so I tabled most of that for later. Also, I didn’t want to hog the discussion. I dominate conversations if I don’t check myself. Happened all the time in college, but I’m not apologizing. I only hogged the conversation when no one else had read the book.

The only thing I’ll say here regarding today’s discussion is that God can be neither proved nor disproved, not by human means. I suppose if I were to witness a bona fide miracle I’d have proof, but it would have to be something supernatural. The miracles of thunderstorms and birth, for instance, have natural causes, i.e. storm clouds and whoops-I-forgot-the-condom-baby-but-don’t-worry-I-can-handle-it.  

But though we can’t prove God in a laboratory, we can’t disprove her, either. (Or him. Or His Noodly Appendage. Whatever floats your boat.) That’s why I’m skeptical of people who claim to know that God does or does not exist. Believe whatever you want, but you can’t prove it either way.

Though I have mixed feelings about Lying Awake (would it have killed him to throw in a werewolf? Just one?), it was a fabulous discussion with other members of the intelligentsia. That’s my idea of a social interaction. In a perfect world there would have been wine, and consequently more puns, but otherwise it was brilliant.

As I was driving home, I had NPR playing. It’s been my source of news this week. Normally I get my news through Bloglines, but for the past week I haven’t even checked it. Sometimes I get overwhelmed by all the information out there, so I ignore the news and hide with my books in the evening. If something very important happens, I figure other people will tell me.

Aside: Indeed, Bookish Jet told me about Falwell’s death. It is tactless, undignified, and unworthy to rejoice over anyone’s death, so I’m not gonna. Let me just say that I’m glad his particular brand of poison will no longer be coming from him.

Poison, you say? Here’s my favorite Falwell quote, from September 13, 2001: “I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People for the American Way — all of them who have tried to secularize America — I point the finger in their face and say, ‘You helped this happen.’”

Like I was saying, I was listening to NPR on the drive home, but instead of news it was playing classical. Usually this makes me happy, because I get to play Name That Tune. First I try to guess the era (Pre-Baroque, Baroque, Classical, Romantic, Modern), then the composer, and then the piece. Guessing the piece is not always as hard as it sounds. Unless the composer gets creative (“Pines of the Apian Way” or “Entry March of the Boyars,”) it’s likely to be “Sonata in A-flat” or “Adagio” or “Second Movement.”

I didn’t feel like playing, though, because the tune was this prissy piano thingy and I just wasn’t in the mood for it. Fortunately there’s a new classical station out of Wilhelmsplatz, so I flipped over to it.

It was playing a prissy piano thingy.

I flipped back. Prissy piano.

Flipped back again. Prissy piano… good grief, was it the same piece?

Flip. Same meter.

Flip. Same key.

Flip. Same rhythm.

Flip. Same damn tune. Of all the classical music ever composed in the Western ever-lovin’ hemisphere, my two stations have to pick the same one to play at the same time. Beethoven’s Piano Sonata number 25, it was. (I had guessed Schubert.) It’s prissy.

Got home and changed shoes. I had been wearing the sexiest pair of heels ever. “Fuck Me” heels, they’re sometimes called, though I assure you, the vernacular is misleading. Got several compliments on them today, including some from patrons. I made myself proud by not twisting my ankle, not once. Also managed to negotiate the gas pedal, the brake, and the clutch. I do object to high heels for practical reasons (they’re hell on the back) and feminist reasons (patriarchy blows), but gosh, they’re gorgeous.

Had to change shoes for my walk over to the thrift store. The recent hot weather has made me realize that I don’t own any clothes. Sure, I have two closets full, but none of them fit right a
nd they’re all ugly and I hate them.

Wound up with three shirts, a skirt that doesn’t quite fit but if I eat salads for a week it will, and a ceramic chicken for mom. (Mom, pretend you didn’t just read that.)

Then—here is the most exciting part of my day—on the walk back, I saw a brown furry animal on the other side of the guard rail.

“Beaver!” I said. It looked at me.

“Um… Groundhoggy?” It disappeared under some weeds.

Thrilling, isn’t it? I saw a wild animal! In the wild! I am a regular Crocodile Hunter!

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5 responses »

  1. Your post is prompting me to clarify the thoughts/beliefs/feelings I tried to express yesterday in the book group, but it may take me a while to be able to put them into words. I was struggling to express what was going on in my head while reading Lying Awake without spending the whole time we had to discuss the book on my own personal beliefs. Since everyone has their own idea of what "God" is (or isn’t), or what religion is, or how the Catholic Church influences them, or what abbeys or monasteries contribute to the community (or don’t, or harm it), I found the book very interesting to discuss. Discussing it by ten people in one hour required a bit of shorthand. I felt it was important for me to explain what was going on in the back of my head while reading it, since the nagging thoughts I had about what the nuns apparently believed about God, the Church, prayer, abstinence (from many different "worldly" experiences), and other things religious influenced what I was getting from the book.I’ve got to get to work now, but I think it’ll be good for me to write out what it is I don’t believe. I think it’ll be easier to explain what I don’t believe than what I do, since I certainly have no clear idea about what this incredible thing we call life is all about. My estimate of not believing what about 95% of the population believe in when they say they believe in God (or whatever term they use for a separate-from-us, human-like entity that can be prayed to) is probably low. Being in such a small minority, I do kind of feel the need to explain. The broad "atheist" label can be just as misleading as the broad "Christian" label.

    Reply
  2. Wow, stream-of-consciousness hits Bloglands! Film at 11.I think <i>Lying Awake</i> is one of those books that you read once, think you’ve got it all, then keep coming back to the ideas and scenes and marveling at how Salzman both created and conveyed them. He said that initially he’d written a sorta romance in which Sister John falls in love with her doctor, then pitched the whole thing. Personally, I think discarding the easy plot is what makes "LiFi" – which (much like Jet’s nontheism) I haven’t sat down and written a manifesto for – but how do you define what is the easy plot? Salzman makes the evolution flow so smoothly that the story feels organic, but another author (Andrew Greeley, ha ha ha) could take the same situation and write a bestseller in which the nun does leave her vows for the doctor. All this is a long way of saying that like obscenity and ‘fuck me heels’, I know LiFi when I see it. (I didn’t see the shoes by the way, so no comment.)

    Reply
  3. the lesbrarian

    Anyushka: it may please you to know that I can’t figure out who you are (and I’ve had three different opportunities now).Sometimes I’m not clear on which books are LiFi. Let’s take a LiFi author I do like, Cormac McCarthy. (We know he’s LiFi cuz all the critics say so.) But what if I want to read Blood Meridian as a Western? What if I want to read The Road as Science Fiction? What do you call LiFi when it has genre elements?

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  4. Well, it’ll take a while for me to write out my beliefs (if you’re interested in reading them), but one thing I want to try to clarify was my comment during the book group about my "knowing" that there is no god. I was (am) trying to express the certainty I *feel* about there not being a god. I’ve spent years politely saying, in company, that I was an agnostic, implying that I had doubts. But in my mind, there are no doubts. There just is no god-feeling or god-believing, or god-wondering in me. At all. I just cannot possibly believe in a god (as god is portrayed as an entity that is separate from life on earth — humans, eagles, bacteria, slime molds, gerbils, mollusks, etc.) However, I can’t say for sure that that means I have a direct line to the knowledge of the universe. I don’t know what life is. I know it’s spectacular and beautiful (yeah, even when falcons plunge to earth and eat up little bunnies and hyenas attack and kill zebras). But I can’t believe in this god thing anymore easily than I can believe that the earth is flat or that it’s built on the back of a turtle or that woman was created from a rib of a man. It just does not make any sense to me at all. And an alternative explanation for the widespread belief in a God (as a separate entity, etc.) makes more sense to me. The beliefs — and people’s ability to believe without proof — can be/are used as psychological tools to manipulate the behaviors of others.This does not mean I don’t believe that there is "something else," something not (yet?) scientifically measured and explained, that explains what life is, because I have no clue what it is and how it got here. It’s a pretty darn cool thing and I would love to know how it came to be, but all the explanations I’ve heard so far just don’t make any sense to me, and it’d be deceitful for me to pretend that I haven’t rejected the notions of a god (as portrayed, etc.) long ago. Someone in the group said she sometimes envies those who believe whole-heartedly in a certain kind of God because life would be easier. Sure, it would be less painful at times, but if you can’t believe, you can’t believe.

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  5. A couple comments. First, I saw a groundhog yesterday too! It was in the historic area and acting very strange. It was missing a lot of fur on its back, as if it escaped from some laboratory where it was involved in experimental testing. Needless to say, I took a wide berth around it.As for believing or disbelieving in God, you are correct that one cannot truly know one way or the other or prove one way or another with absolute certainty. If there was evidence, one would be definitively proven wrong. Of course, there is no evidence. In logic terms, you cannot prove a negative, so the absence of evidence is not evidence in and of itself. However, I think the burden of proof should be on those making the claim of a god. In the B.C.E. period, Apollo was just as believable as Yaweh, the Judeao-Christian god. Extraordinary claims need extraordinary evidence and religion isn’t holding up its end.I like to think of it this way: If you hypothesize God and cannot prove it, that’s reason enough not to believe in one. I find believing in something without evidence to be a fool’s paradise. Faith without evidence is not a virtue, but an invitation to deception or delusion (my personal opinion). One can invent a religion tomorrow and it could gain as much legitimacy as another mainstream religion. Look at Smith or L. Ron Hubbard. Scientology is still a cult today, but in a hundred years it could be like mormonism which also started as a cult but is now the fastest growing religion in America. I’m an atheist because I grew up as a Christian fundamentalist and eventually realized there was no factual basis for what I believed. The more I studied, the more I came to believe that all gods are imaginary friends. I read everything from Wesley to Luther to Augustine to the Gnostic texts. Conclusion? It’s no different from the Iliad or Odyssey. It’s a nice work of fictional literature. The majority of the Jesus narrative in the gospels is plagiarized from other deities from the time period. Virgin births, Lazaruses, and even riding into town on a Donkey in a Kingly fashion were all the rage in mystic religions back then. Alas, I remain an athiest until evidence surfaces to prove me wrong.In truth, deism is the only theistic belief I respect. Why? Because it’s the only internally consistent religious belief compatible with what science tells us about the nature of the universe. If I did choose to believe in a god (which I likely never will), I would be a deist. I also have respect for agnostics, because they acknowledge the evidence problem and settle on doubt. That’s cool.Cheers!

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