Silent cinema in three quick glances: Emily Brownbangs at the conception of guile.

This is not what my train looks like – unless you’re a toddler.Photo by: Tejvan Pettinger

A Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Willie story

Sunday, May 8, 2016 – Mother’s Day

I want to tell you another train story, but this is a sad one – a little girl’s discovery of evil. I haven’t known what to do about sad train stories, to say the truth, but the sad truth is, they’re there. There are no monsters at the mall, or none that I’ve met, but still there is tragedy – the kind that lasts a lifetime.

So this is a tragedy about religion and silent cinema.

Every story I have to tell about my time driving the choo-choo train at the mall is a story about religion, ultimately, because the train itself is the first idol in the lives of the children who idolize it.

And a whole lot of train stories are silent cinema because, in the din of the mall, with the clamor of the train, if we’re not standing face to face or speaking mouth to ear, there is no point in anyone talking. To drive the train is to communicate by signalling – by hand gestures and facial expressions.

And I see your part of the story whether or not you’re aware of me, and I see more than most people do in the first place, and I see the same silent movies over and over again – different players, same scenes. And that makes it easy to spot the things I’ve never seen before.

So: A taxonomy: Infants, babies, toddlers, children. Infants bawl and sleep. Babies bubble and coo. Toddlers babble in words used as signals. Children converse – in abstract conceptual language. Infants, babies and toddlers are mammals graduating into their potential humanity. Children are short, inexperienced human beings.

To infants, the train is a loud distraction, at best, and a reliable nap-disturber. To babies, it is the wondrous other, vast and thrilling and incomprehensible. My choo-choo is a benevolent dragon to toddlers, a true super-hero, a great and powerful presence who is nevertheless perfectly reliable – unlike, perhaps, some other could-be-heroes (more…)

Posted in Splendor! | Leave a comment

A canticle for Kathleen Sullivan.

From the Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Willie Christmas story collection, available at

From the Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Willie Christmas story collection, available at

A Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Willie story

I got to the hospital after visiting hours, but the nurse led me to the room anyway. “There hasn’t been anyone,” she confided.

I pursed my lips in grim acknowledgment. “That’s why I’m here.”

Inside the room the patient looked like purple death. It was a critical-care room, bright and white and cheerfully clinical. The bed was surrounded by apparatus, with lines and leads and probes and IV tubes running to him. The only unbruised part of him that I could see were his eyes, and his eyes were more deeply wounded than anything.

I’ll tell you his story, but I won’t tell you his name. His name is yours. His name is mine. His name is legion…

I pulled up a chair and got as close to the bed as I could. I wanted to see his eyes. I wanted him to see mine. His jaw was wired and he was breathing though a plastic tube mounted in his throat, which makes for a fairly one-sided conversation.

“I just came from the funeral,” I said. “Biggest one I’ve ever seen. The procession must have been two miles long. Kathleen Sullivan, mother of six, grandmother of two, with two more on the way, loving wife of Brian Sullivan – in the newspaper it’s just something that’s there, like the basketball scores or the stock tables. People die every day. People are born every day. It doesn’t seem to matter very much.”

I shrugged. “I think it does. I’ll tell you a story: About six months ago there was a woman driving down Endicott Avenue. Driving very safely, five miles an hour below the speed limit, doing everything just exactly right. There were some schoolboys riding their bikes on the sidewalk beside her, and, all at once, one of the boys decided to dart out into the street, right in front of her car. She stood on the brake pedal, but it was already too late. Screech, crunch, tragedy. The boy was killed instantly.

“She saw it, of course. His little (more…)

Posted in Poetry and fiction, Splendor! | 4 Comments

Graduated Sociopathy: Why there are no villains.

We give a little to get a lot.

Photo by: Barry Davis

I can show you where all monstrous behavior comes from – starting with your own.

That would be church, Lurch. More on the non-existence of villains here. Much more from me on monsters in Nine Empathies.

Posted in Splendor! | Leave a comment

How to fight with your relatives over the Thanksgiving Dinner table.

I’ve thought for years about writing a Thanksgiving story — a feast-become-food-fight of ideas over the dinner table — but I’ve never done it. Too much too close for comfort perhaps. Meanwhile, I will give you something to be thankful for, this Thanksgiving and every day, that no one else is likely to mention:

Be grateful for your own fundamental solitude.

You are in this all alone. You were born alone and you will die alone, and the truth of the uniquely human life is that you spend every moment of your life alone. You share what you can with those you love, but when you keep your own counsel, you do it all alone. When you assert your truth in defiance of the mob, you do it all alone. When you bite your tongue to keep the peace, you do it all alone.

Your self — your self-abstracted idea of your life — is the cardinal value of your life, the one that endures as all other values come and go. You are sovereign and indomitable, the sole champion of your triumphs and the sole author of your errors.

You can’t fix your relatives. Alike unto you, they are sovereign and indomitable. I like to say that we get to be who we are, but the truth of the matter is still more stark: Each one of us is going to be who he or she is, no matter what.

You can try to persuade other people of the truth of your ideas, but this is a slow process, one fraught with frequent failures. The only immediate change you can make to other people is to change them from alive to dead — a lesson our statist overlords never tire of teaching us. That unhappy fact suggests a simple strategy for post-prandial political debates — and for casual conflicts of all types: If it’s not something you would fight about to the death, it’s probably not worth fighting about at all.

My attitude always: Cultivate indifference. I will not make the world more beautiful by making my own soul ugly. If I don’t care for the (more…)

Posted in Splendor! | 8 Comments

What’s the egoist, atheist, anarchist take on abortion? Don’t fight it. Breed – and creed – it away.

Facts are facts. You cannot possibly have the “freedom” to cancel the past.

Photo by: Ⅿeagan

I’ve been bitching about abortion for 16 months now, and no one is more amazed by that fact that I am. It’s always been a deal for us, but never a big deal. Learning to see abortion in self-adorationist terms was hugely useful, but that was a matter of filling out the map. The issue only got interesting to me as I watched Yaron Brook, the Ayn Rand Institute and all of organized libertarianism-writ-large evade the Planned Parenthood videos.

We are a civilization of cannibals. We seek to prosper by devouring our own young. Church this week is what you can and should do instead – how you can work now to terminate abortion:

Posted in Splendor! | Leave a comment

So long, Leonard Cohen: An elegy from The Tower of Song.

“I’ll be singing to you sweetly from my window in the Tower of Song.”Photo by: marc cornelis

“I’ll be singing to you sweetly from my window in the Tower of Song.”

Photo by: marc cornelis

Just in time to spotlight Bob Dylan’s disgrace, Leonard Cohen sings sweetly from beyond the grave:

Art is an emergent phenomenon. It happens only when the work works its wiles on its victim – that would be you.

Good art changes you forever. Bad art changes nothing, except your ability and willingness to confront better art.

We lost an actual artist last week. This week’s Church of Splendor homily explores why that matters:

I cite a number of songs in the video, and here are some good representations of those compositions:

Tower of Song

Sisters of Mercy

Tonight Will Be Fine

Posted in Splendor! | Leave a comment

DISC is a universal shaling for the universe each one of us will perfect.

What am I running from? Every race I didn’t win.

Photo by: Tsutomu Takasu

Now that’s an opaque headline. I’m pretty sure the only person on earth who pays close attention to the things I say is me. That might be a definition of madness just by itself, but that doesn’t make the statement false. To the contrary, if I am the only person learning from me, at least I’m learning a lot.

Witness: Just now, this morning:

The objective of the empathy strategy each one of us is deploying in his DISC profile is TheUniverseWhereIFitIn or TheUniverseThatFitsMePerfectly.

There is no alternative to the existential, obviously, and yet we each one of us continuously insists that the universe will only make sense when it conforms to our expectations.

The DISC behavior is shaling, the persistent propitiation of that universe, the one that works properly at last.

This is madness, of course, life-long habituated madness – and each one of us is doing it all the time!

Among other interesting corollaries, that is what makes horse races.

I’ll have more in due course. At least one of us will learn from my efforts.

Posted in Splendor! | Leave a comment