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Rants


I ended my last post with: I began this post because I came across something called the Voynich Manuscript. This thing has captivated me…

But before I get to it here, I need to post a little moment that surprised even me, when you take into account my love for books.

I once asked a student teacher to go photocopy some pages from a new translation of The Odyssey. It was during my AP Lit and Comp class. She said, “How do I do that without pressing it flat and breaking the binding?”

Okay, for full disclosure here, she was perhaps the most difficult student teacher I had over twelve years. She really wasn’t cut out to teach and the kids terrified her, so I was a little raw with our coddling interactions. But I also took the moment to teach a lesson…I think.

I took the book and slammed the binding three or four times against my desk until the spine split perpendicularly—remember this is The Odyssey, so the thing is huge. She, naturally, jumped back in terrified horror. I had also gotten my students’ attention. I then turned to the first leaf that I wanted copied. I put the spine along the desk and bent it over until it popped. Then I pressed the crease between each leaf that I wanted photocopied, closed it back up and held it out to her trembling hand.

“It’s not a Fabergé egg,” I said. “The cover means nothing. The spine, the pages. It’s only the words that count, and even those mean nothing unless you read them and think about them. If I could understand books from eating every page with hot sauce I would do it.”

Then I turned to the class. “Sometimes we have to destroy part or all of something to truly understand it. We have to, in effect, deconstruct it.”

They were all pretty wide-eyed. I turned back to the student teacher. She looked as though she were holding her dead long-beloved cat. She looked up at me.

I said, nonchalantly, “Do you need the copy code?”

She shook her head.

“Cool,” I said.” Thirty two copies, please.” I turned back and began my class lecture.

Thank god nobody did such a reckless thing to the Folios or the Lindisfarne, or the Voynich.

I still don’t know if it was a good impression or a bad impression. It seemed a bit self-indulgent and dramatic. But it got my point across to her. She was gone within a week.

I love old books. By old, I don’t mean Catcher in the Rye. By old I mean that if they were printed on paper that it’s probably too new. That’s not entirely true, but you get the meaning. I’m talking leather and vellum.

I remember almost the exact moment it happened. I was in my first day of Medieval Art: the lecture. I was excited, but I thought it was going to all be Brueghel and buttresses. No Brueghel, it turned out: he was just a smidge later. [I was disappointed because I was hoping for some butt-sniffing demons. Oh well.] There were a lot of buttresses, to be sure, but there were a ton of more interesting things.

Illuminated manuscripts. My god, they absolutely seduced me. And there was so much more to it than just beautiful, strange, intricate illustrations. It could have taken ten years to produce…just this single book. A team of scribes spending untold hours bent over benches, their ink freezing in the winter. The unbelievable focus it must have taken. The idea of taking over from a dead or dying scribe, or worse an illustrator. And 1000 sheep or calves to make the paper. It’s just beyond my comprehension, especially in the world of on-demand printing.

Anyway, Lindisfarne sealed my undergraduate fate. I ended up with an English degree with a concentration in Medieval Literature. That’s marketable.

I remember when I was gearing up to direct Macbeth. I had heard that the University of Iowa held a second edition of the First Folio, the book that put together most of Shakespeare’s plays. I went to see it. I had been in the special collections room untold times for other research, but I never knew they had this thing. Probably a good thing too. It was spellbinding. The history that this thing held—history that I didn’t know, surely, but still, this book had been held, read, words underlined, pages removed, turned by saliva-slicked fingers. Somebody who lived in 1632 London had held this and read this and, perhaps, loved Shakespeare more than I. Captivating.

I began this post because I came across something called the Voynich Manuscript. This thing has captivated me and, if I had more time, I would totally dive into it. Alas, I have reached my word quota.

On to another day.

 

If you know me, you know how much I love learning stuff. I would probably be a full-time-for-life student if I could afford it.

A dear friend of mine hooked me onto Zite, a personalized web-article aggregate, and I am addicted. I certainly don’t read everything —who has the time— and I mostly read the headlines, first paragraph then move on.

But it has taught me that, relative to the possible knowledge of the world, I am dumb enough to be considered ignorant.

Now, I am intelli-vain enough that if someone were to call me ignorant to my face I would have a difficult time not executing Monkey Steals the Peach, if you know what I mean (and if you don’t, click here). I consider myself relatively knowledgeable, at least knowledgeable enough to know when to shut up at a cocktail party. And with today’s American attitudes I feel that sets me apart from your average Kardashianite.

None-the-less, Zite makes me feel utterly stupid. There is so much I simply do not know, so much I want to know, and no time to merge those two.

This morning I read an article on the brain science involved in understanding how to write compelling narrative. Then there was a brief history of the mystery of curry and what it really means. Then how about the bizarre mosaic lines in the desert of Gansu Sheng, China? They appeared in 2004, can be seen from space, and no one knows what they are. Or how about a simple change in Arabic typeface as a way to promote literacy in the Middle East?

And that’s just the stuff I don’t know about in a ten minute reading jag over coffee.

Perhaps ignorance is bliss. The old cliché, “the more you know, the more you know you don’t know,” is true. And lately, that knowledge has been mocking me, belittling me.

Sometimes I think it would be awesome to spend a week in a monastery with a stack of books. It’s the prayer and gruel that would get old.

I guess I should be happy just getting to know myself better, which is certainly something having children does for you. Self-reflection is a kind of knowledge, and I have that in almost debilitating volume. And I guess that’s more important than knowing the history of curry anyway. It just doesn’t seem as exciting.

First of all, say the title out loud. It is an absolute joy to have spilling from your mouth. Debunk the Bunk. It’s just fun to say.

Okay, that’s out of the way.

I read an article from Reuters Online that the British royal family has a new website with a page that is wholly used to debunk various swirling and titillating myths about Prince Charles. Apparently the Prince of Wales does not consume seven eggs for breakfast every day. Tragic.

It got me wondering what it must be like to feel the need to produce a document that is solely meant to debunk fallacious beliefs about one’s self, beliefs held by a body of humans you have never and probably will never meet. I find that utterly fascinating.

It brought to mind a quotation from Jake Tapper’s devastating book The Outpost. This is a paraphrase, but he wrote that it was disheartening to the troops in Afghanistan that the American public was more interested in the daily life of Britney Spears than in the life and death struggles of the young American warriors so far from home.

I don’t understand the fascination with famous people. Especially if that fascination is showered on semi-despicable and seemingly shallow publicity gigolos (I used the term “gigolos” here because I didn’t want you to think that I lumped Britney into that milieu. Her music is transcendent. Call me.)

I think I might put up a new page on my website that is totally devoted to debunking myths about me.

I don’t really know of any myths about me.

The five of you who read this blog may have heard something. I doubt it, but the world is a strange and magical place where nearly anything can happen. See the Britney Spears comment above (call me).

I think my first debunked myth might be this: It is categorically untrue that JASON ALBERTY has ever taken peyote within the continental United States.

Or: While Mr. Alberty (I like that better) has performed the roles of women on stage for multiple productions it is untrue that he performed those roles wearing thongs. Mr. Alberty eschews all forms of undergarments.

Or: It is true that Mr. Alberty freezes over-ripe bananas. However they are used almost exclusively for the Yonana.

Hmm…yes, this web page might have legs. And no, Frank, I don’t shave mine any more.

Perhaps a web page like this might fuel the public interest in the mysterious and fascinating personality that is Jason Tiberius Alberty. Perhaps if the right person reads such a web page they might want to contact J-Tib about a lucrative writing contact. Or a reality show—Gettin’ Glib with the J-Tib on VH2.

Tasty. The possibilities this world holds within the mind of a single man… I feel my fifteen minutes formulating in the ether right now. I need to call a publicist…any publicist.

And, look people, my middle name is not Tiberius. I wish you would stop spreading such scurrilous and ridiculous rumors. Do a little research before you interview me, would you.

Christmas has come but not yet gone. It tends to linger with me for a couple of days after the event.

I begin listening —almost exclusively— to Christmas music on my drive back home after Thanksgiving with my parents and in-laws. Each year I purchase a new Christmas album, which is often a risky move. Last year I busted totally with Celtic Thunder Christmas.

I know, I know. You’re wondering, “How could something called Celtic Thunder Christmas be bad?” I’m sure that’s your question. Well, it’s essentially an Up with People Christmas on a vat of testosterone. You can tell they are singing through beefy bearded smiles.

Perhaps the most telling moment was the bizarrely saccharine yet maudlin “Christmas 1915,” which really could be a good song despite the line —sung sweetly and tenderly— “…and I killed the boy that sang in no man’s land.” Nice. Merry Christmas, everyone!

I’m pretty sure that the entirety of Celtic Thunder sings on this song, like some steroidal over-duplicated Three Tenors, each one overreaching the drama of the previous soloist. Oy ve!

But this year I purchased Colbie Caillat’s Christmas in the Sand. It was a nice album. Not anything that created that numinous floating that makes for a transcendent Christmas song, but there was nothing aesthetically offensive, which is really the only mark of a pleasant Christmas album these days, isn’t it?

My favorite Christmas album purchase of the last few years —and for this I give full credit to my wife— is the Pink Martini album, Joy to the World. It is, holistically, a good album. Some songs, like “Little Drummer Boy” and “Schedryk” really do send me into that numinous hypnotic nostalgia that I love about good Christmas music. I know the idea of “Little Drummer Boy” being transcendent is probably difficult to grasp. I honestly think that song is one of the least appealing of the vast Christmas canon. However, Pink Martini turns it into some hooka-smoke Moroccan jazzy thing á la “Scheherazade.”

They have two other songs that I quite like, one, “Congratulations (Happy New Year)” in Chinese, the other “Ocho Kandelikas” which is, I think, a Portuguese Chanukah song. Go figure. But awesome.

I guess music, although not the root of my Christmas aesthetic, is certainly the trunk. And while watching my boys’ joy and wonder are the greatest moments of the holiday, it’s music that presses the button on those memories.

I have entered the Twitterverse.

I have eschewed it so far. It smacks of ego to me, and I try very hard to separate myself from that sort of thing.

Tangent! My wife has never smoked. Anything. She has dreams of smoking and has had those dreams for a long time. She knows that if she ever took a drag that she would be hooked.

That’s how I feel about ego-trips. I’m afraid that if I allowed myself to buy into hype and kudos that I would be one midnight bonfire dance away from Mr. Kurtz. So I’m pretty good at keeping things in check. My wife and kids help me with that too.

I do a couple of things pretty well, but it’s in an industry that openly promotes recognition. So, if people like you or what you do you hear about it, sometimes a lot. And I’ve seen people with both great and mediocre talent buy into that hype and appreciation. They end up being difficult to work with.

Anyway Twitter has always just seemed like another way to buy into your own hype. But then I started sending out query letters for my first novel. I began researching agents and general info about the industry. I learned about the author’s platform. Ahhhhh, the platform. Welcome to the digital age.

Apparently, there are those —some agents and industry others— that look for new authors with an already vibrant platform. This means that an author already has a digital presence. That means, web site, blog, Facebook page, and Twitter presence.

Look, I want this thing. I want my book published. I want the next two published. I want people talking about the world I have created for them. I want publishers fighting to print my name on their covers —how’s that for ego? So I am going to do what I can.

So I set up my account, and guess what? “JasonAlberty” is taken. That’s right. My name is already taken. He’s my name doppelganger from Omaha. There is another Jason Alberty in Detroit, I think. Anyway, the Omaha Jason Alberty, a Facebook friend of mine, beat me to the Twitterverse. So I originally decided on “Galadahnian” because of my novel.

My wife suggested that I could have picked something harder to spell and a bit more difficult to understand. I told her “BootyHunk” was already taken —which, sadly, is not true, it’s available.

Nonetheless, I have changed my Twitter name to AlbertyBlahBlah. Hopefully that will make it easier for the three people who are interested in my daily blathering, including the very popular “3 year old acid trip” quotes.

Viva L’Ego!

Yup, you read the title of this post correctly. I just read in The Guardian online that the unfortunate next “new thing” is called, I shit you not, “body fragrancing functional candy.” It’s exactly what you fear it might be. And I have added links to prove it.

You can now eat candy that, through your very pores, excretes the smell of potpourri. Apparently discovered by the Japanese —who else— this candy uses the idea of geraniol, “a naturally occurring compound found in plants such as roses, lavender and vanilla.” It works like garlic, apparently. And asparagus. And most of us know how well asparagus works.

The Japanese created a chewing gum a couple of years ago called Otoko Kaoru, which means “man scent.” Unfortunately the man scent they chose was rose, and, for some reason, few men decided to use it and it folded.

Well, now it’s being sold in Europe and is poised to unleash itself on the American market as a product called Deo Perfume Candy. Deo. As in deodorant. And the packaging, if what they show on ConfectioneryNews.com is correct, makes it look like it should come flavored with vinegar and honey in an easy to use squirt bottle, if you know what I mean. Not the best packaging choice for me.

The best line on ConfectioneryNews.com is as follows:

… “a move to enable penetration into the market sooner.”

These dudes aren’t playing around.

And the effects are supposed to last for hours. And through multiple orifices.

Yes, we will all finally be able to say, “My shit don’t stink.”

I watched Felix Baumbartner’s record breaking skydive. It really was something to behold. For many reasons. But one of those reasons gave me more pause.

My wife and I live in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. We often go to Iowa City, which is about 25 miles away. It takes a little less than thirty minutes.

Yet, if I were to drive my car strait up for 25 miles I would nearly exit the stratosphere. I would run out of oxygen before three miles. Three miles. I could walk that far in an hour. So, if I took a leisurely walk straight up, I would be dead in an hour, if I didn’t freeze before then.

For some reason that just boggles my mind. I simply can’t reconcile horizontal distance with vertical distance.

If Cedar Rapids were the surface, satellites would only be in Chicago.

There is something lusciously invigorating about how insignificant that makes me feel. It renders my understanding of distance into the same category as time: nearly unfathomable.

I was stunned today at my local grocery store, a Hy-Vee grocery.

My son asked for alphabet soup the other afternoon. He has never asked for alphabet soup before, nor have we ever discussed it with him. I assumed it was something he came home with from his daycare, which is fine by me. I thought it was a great idea. I found a can in the Campbell’s wall at our SuperTarget.

He loved it. I loved it. The wife loved it. It was a blast.

So I decided to pick up a couple of cans on my next trip to Hy-Vee. On their vast wall of soup, the Campbell’s, the Progresso, even the Hy-Vee brand, not a single can of alphabet soup. Not even a space for alphabet soup. Let me type that again.

Not even a space for alphabet soup.

Not even a space for alphabet soup. One of America’s childhood food-staples. And not even a space.

I asked a stock clerk about it. She said that they don’t carry alphabet soup any more. That space was taken over by —I shit you not— Campbell’s Goldfish® Pasta Soup. Goldfish: as in the cheddar cheese-flavored cracker. Made into a soup. Supplanting alphabet soup.

I looked closer at the Campbell’s child section of the wall. Certainly no alphabet soup, but a lot of Disney/Pixar Toy Story™ Soup, and Disney/Pixar Cars™ Soup, and Phineas and Ferb™ Soup, and Disney® Princess Soup, and —God help me— Scooby Doo™ Soup.

I was embarrassingly indignant. I felt my face turn red. I mean I felt the blood flush up from my Adam’s apple. I might have even shaken with rage. It was, on the surface, in the middle, and at the bottom, a total over-reaction. Mostly.

But that wall to me was snapshot of America. And I was ashamed to be standing there.

I was out raking today. Every time, and I mean every time I go raking, I have one of my strongest sense memories. It’s an odd one, too. And I really can’t explain why it’s so strong, because there is really no emotion connected to it.

I have several sense memories, usually a couple a week that are strongly linked to emotions or important moments. There is a perfume that always makes me think of my ex-mother-in-law. The smell of bacon, smoke and the slight undercurrent of urine give me a strong memory of my paternal grandfather. It’s odd how often strange mix hits me. Often in restaurant restrooms. Weird.

Songs, places, scents, temperatures: there is a specific kind of day —September, October— just in the mid sixties, sunny, crisp breeze, a few leaves in the air, that make me want to put on some football pads and slip in my mind-flavored mouth guard. It makes my blood quicken and my mind slow down. Nostalgia on steroids.

But the raking… Whenever I rake I think of Bernard Cornwell’s Stonehenge. And without emotion. Just a strong sense of place and sound.

About five years ago, when we were living in our old house, I raked at least twice a week one autumn. And every time I listened to Stonehenge on my iPod. There was nothing special about the raking. I don’t think anything especially memorable about the book. I guess it’s just one of those odd things that made some sort of intrinsic and important connection whose cause might go unsolved forever.

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