inessential by Brent Simmons


Sheila's got the scoop on her birthday weekend.

It looks like DonorLink IT, from Seattle-based Frontier developers Social Ecology, is live.

Mira's writing about speed and America's addiction to speed. I can add to this by adding counter-examples.

Baseball -- sometimes called the nation's past-time, sometimes compared to watching paint dry. A slow game, pastoral, 19th century. Even in the year 2000 it has a mass appeal. Americans will think nothing of spending three (plus) hours watching grown men stand around on the grass.

Baseball is one of the few major team sports -- perhaps the only one -- that isn't timed. In football, soccer, basketball, hockey, there's always the ticking of the clock. Baseball stands outside of time. And baseball is quintessentially American.

Another piece of Americana: the phrase "hanging out." Whatcha doin'? Hanging out. Can I come over and hang out with you? Yup.

Or take John Wayne and similar heroes: slow talkin', slow ponderin', slow ridin'. "Well. I. Reckon. The. Sun's. Gonna. Set. Pardner."

Slowness. America is a 19th century nation. We understand slowness at a core level. (We also understand quickness.)

Some of Us Had Been Threatening Our Friend Colby by Donald Barthelme is one of my favorite stories. I went to see if it had been reprinted on the web -- sure enough, and by a fellow Seattle-based weblogger, Jessamyn.

"Some of us had been threatening our friend Colby for a long time, because of the way he had been behaving. And now he'd gone too far, so we decided to hang him. Colby argued that just because he had gone too far (he did not deny that he had gone too far) did not mean that he should be subjected to hanging. Going too far, he said, was something everybody did sometimes. We didn't pay much attention to this argument. We asked him what sort of music he would like played at the hanging.... Colby said he'd always been fond of Ives's Fourth Symphony. Howard said that this was a 'delaying tactic' and that everybody knew that the Ives was almost impossible to perform and would involve weeks of rehearsal, and that the size of the orchestra and chorus would put us way over the music budget. 'Be reasonable,' he said to Colby."

The story reminds me of good advice I got from one of the few teachers I had in high school who had both brains and a sensitivity to the poetic current that runs through everyday life. There's no such thing as going too far, she told us at the start of the year. If you think you're about to go too far -- either in your work for this class or in life -- go farther.

She was my AP English teacher and one of the very few teachers to suggest that writing was something other than a species of etiquette. Learning to write isn't like learning to use the salad fork at the right time, learning not to drink from the fingerbowl.

I didn't then, and don't now, think she was advocating extremism for extremism's sake -- she was letting us know that if you have an idea, you should pursue it and not let up, go past the point where you think it's getting weird or that other people might laugh or want to hang you.

I'm paraphrasing, as I don't remember her exact words. Go way too far, she said; go so far beyond too far that you can't even see the line anymore. Then you're getting somewhere worth going.