I've always wanted to become a life member of something. Not just anything--something with a magazine, something with an otherwise-annual subscription. I suppose I'm a permanent member on LJ, which, as I read the terms of service, indicate that I am a member permanently, unless, for some reason, it transpires that I am not a member. But I like the idea of a life membership in some club or group, complete with magazine privileges and a card that says "Life Member".
I'm very impressed with actuaries. Actuaries are those folks who figure out probabilities and statistical things in insurance settings. I like that in order to price a lifetime subscription, you have to have a life actuary run projections of the anticipated costs, the anticipated life spans, and the anticipated time value of money. The wonderful thing about people is that the actuarial tables, barring the catastrophic, work as wonderful predictors en masse.
I remember a very early Robert Heinlein story about such things, back during his period writing great pulp stories and before his "mature" stories (which, coincidentally, read rather more like juvenalia in some ways). In the story, a fellow had invented a machine which tells the inquirer the date of his/her death. Actuarial science isn't like that at all. It's virtually no use for figuring out when one will play Twister with Death. It's more useful to tell one how long, if 100,000 of one are about, those 100,000 will on average live. As such, it's remarkably successful. This is why life insurance is frighteningly easy to price, because it's so easy to predict. It's also why a life membership need not be quite the risk that one would imagine that it would otherwise be. It's a grand thing--to be a member for life, with lifetime magazine privileges, or so I imagine.
Holidays like Easter and Christmas have for me that pleasing lifetime subscription sensation. Unlike with the United States Chess Federation, you don't have to mail in one thousand dollars to celebrate them for life. Like a United States Chess Federation membership, though, if you move away, then the magazine goes to the wrong address.
This year I did not have a chocolate bunny for Easter, nor a basket lined with plastic straw. I did not attend a sunrise service, nor dye an egg otherwise innocent of any crime, nor read the concluding chapters of the Gospel of Mark. Yet today I felt a renewed subscription, as if the magazine keeps coming even though I don't always send in the dues.
My 13 year old nephew and I played blitz chess today, after playing a game of slow chess and then realizing we are all about fun, not taking it so seriously. We played game after game, with pieces flying and clock buttons clicking and flags falling and kibitz-talk kibitzing. Chess is something I have been doing since I was only a little younger than he is now. It's like a thirty year subscription to this wonderful magazine in which intricate portions of my life play out among 32 pieces on 64 squares. The kind man who teaches university English at a little rural place and bought my chess poem book on eBay last week wrote me to say that though it is, as advertised, bad poetry, it is actually fun verse. That's just how I feel about my chess, this boisterous thing. I once had a postal chess opponent named Alwyn C. Buckland, who lived in New Orleans. Al and I played chess by mail, this curious way of playing in which one laboriously mails one move at a time to one another. Al and I soon deviated from the usual postcards, though, and began writing long letters. He'd go over my games for me, and give me constructive comments. This was when I was 17, and he was probably in his thirties or forties.
I had just played in my first two rated chess tournaments, winning prizes in each but not playing particularly inspired chess. I share with Sinead O'Connor and Rickie Lee Jones that my first serious work was by far my finest, as I finished in 7th place at my very first state championship. Al kindly showed me games of his and went over games of mine. I suspect he's retired someplace now, and I should look him up. How many Al Bucklands can there be in New Orleans?
I think that friendships like this are like lifetime subscriptions, too. It's not that they don't end, because they lapse and addresses change. But sometimes you make a friend who is just your friend, not your family nor your lover nor your business associate nor your schoolmate nor embroiled with you in any of the ways of petty politics and acquisition. Just your friend--maybe a friend you've never met.
You know with such people that you can advise of your change of address, and reconnect.
I'm a big believer in traditions. I love the traditional holidays, the traditional courtesies, and even the little accoutrements which go with rural barbecue. I like that people play "The Cuckoo" on mountain dulcimer, and wear jeans with bell bottoms and even long for the days when they played "find the cheese" on a Commodore 64. I love Christmas trees and leather jackets and the sight of an old-fashioned kite on a wayward windstream.
As my life goes on, though,I realize how many traditions we create and renew for ourselves. Many of us find love in our families, jnear and extended, but we must work each week to make that love real and alive. We adults start chess clubs, and buy poetry to read, and gather in groups to play instruments, to keep traditions alive. Sometimes we invent our own traditions, which become traditions merely because we do them for year upon year. Yet they are not truly our own traditions, because we did them upon getting the idea from something or someone else.
We host our doo dah parades, and light incense on those curious wooden sticks and dress in suits and ties, all with our own flair, and yet it is the flair of those who came before. We don't so much start schools of music, art and poetry, as bathe in the waters of the schools which swam before us. The sun, having grown bored, shines languidly on our petty repetition, but the traditions we practice make us smile anyway.
I am a believer in order, but also a believer in the Second Law of Thermodynamics. Entropy moves things towards a greater chaos. Our traditions keep us alive and vital and well-ordered. We have to lose more than a few traditions. West Texas should never have a "rattlesnake hunt" again, and would-be rockstars should stop trying to prove that they are the exception to the rule that you can't do heroin in moderation. But we all, each of us, can save what is around us by investing it all with meanings we discover or create. This is the "living tradition" to me--to imbue things with meaning. To taste the meaning, and let it roll around on your tongue. This is the Word, living for you. It is the beginning, and the end, and the only true salvation from chaos. Swallow it whole, and drink it in like blood.
I read some years ago one of those catty book reviews that only professors of inessential things at eastern universities can truly and fully write. The review was of a book which "exposed" some truths about the practitioners of certain earth religions. The author of the book--and the review, trumpeted that a certain mystical rite was not part of an Old Religion, but was instead a rough paraphrase of a game found in the 1912 Girl Scout handbook. The reviewer took great pride in this, with a predictably condescending tidbit about how the earth religions were merely watered-down and revved up Christianity for, in her words, "suburban women".
Apparently, neither reviewer nor author understand the way in which Girl Scout cookies and other invented traditions are a wafer not of watered-down living, but of the fabric of life itself. On the one hand, I think it would be cool to own a 1912 scout manual. But further, it's so important to appreciate that each day we live we are all co-creators of our own living traditions. The lesson, perhaps, is that we don't need the trappings of Old Religions or upstate universities to soak in our self-created traditions. We can find our grace in our own commonplace rituals.
My favorite hiking trail is less than fifteen years old. My neighborhood park is less than five years old. The "old fishing lake" of my childhood is barely post-WWII, and the town I live in was largely a whistle stop for the railroad for decades on end. The chess club I played in while in Los Angeles only existed a couple of years before I joined it, and lasted only a few years after I left it. Things change, and grow, and die, and get sold off.
That's why the renewal of subscriptions takes place with each individual. You pick out the clippings to which you want to send your five dollars. For one person, it's drone music. For another, it's scone of the month. For a third, it's a week in retreat in a Buddhist monastery near the bristlecone pines, trees so old that they find even the storms and fire banal. We're all guppies, flickering brightly, tails wagging, colors emerging and fading with the generations. But we choose the things we love, and the things we do.
I like to cast off the thinking that there were good old days, or safe days, or even past picturesque days. We have before us the days we help create--not with magic or metaphysical thought, but with the living of them and the inner process. We grow our own jonquils, though the red clay soil and the March sun help.
I saw the first bluebonnets on the Texas roadways yesterday. But the bluebonnets did not get there by chance. Someone planted them. I want to plant bluebonnets, and orange Indian paintbrush, and pink primrose. I'll subscribe to the wild seeds, and throw them in the familiar places, and watch them grow.
The triumph over death is living. The next generation can figure out how to plant the seeds again, and again.
My nephew and I sat in the 3-6-9 BBQ Chinese restaurant on Legacy Drive tonight. Everyone in the restaurant but us were huge Chinese-American families, twelve or fifteen to a huge round table. My nephew said "it looks like everyone brings their whole family here", and the place had a feeling of long-standing tradition and interconnection. But the restaurant is new-ish, and the suburb, for that matter, was cow pasture forty years ago. The people made a new tradition, and we sat, amid a Hallelujah Chorus of beef with broccoli and BBQ duck, and listened to the silent choral swell.