Monday, November 26, 2007

MIcrosqueeze and My Day as an Atheist

If you remember yesterday's post, well good. Here's the deal:

Microsquish is using Vista as a new OS to make all your old programs obsolete and not transferable--which means, if you buy a computer with Vista already loaded, that you will have to pay all over again for Word, Norton, whatever programs you have purchased in the past.

This is their dastardly approach.

Bill needs the money for his malaria vaccine, apparently.


Do not buy a computer loaded with Vista unless you're wealthy and willing to fool around for a long time with your software.

I shall take my new computer back, for which, being out of the box, Circuit City will likely charge me close to $200. Yes, Matilda, I put it back in the box--but the box was unsealed! Woe is me.


Yesterday I did a thought experiment and decided to spend the day as an atheist. Nothing really happened except that I didn't pray to give thanks; I just felt grateful for certain things.

The hope of heaven and fear of hell don't work on me in any case. As I say, I believe because I can't convince myself it's not true. The best result of the day was that I felt less guilty, not so quick to condemn myself as a one falling short of the spirituality I once hoped to achieve. Also, there's freedom: If there is no God, it's up to me to decide how I'm doing. And for a manic-depressive in chronic pain I think I'm doing pretty damn well. I have love and work that I love. I gather delicious wild mushrooms whether they evolved or some great hand was behind them. Who cares?

I should say that even as a Christian I believe in a type of evolution. One argument for that position is the poor design of the human spine, especially the lumbar spine. It didn't change enough when we went from four legs to upright, and I could design a better back very easily and reduce the chances of chronic pain and millions of work days lost to back problems. This fact argues that God just let the process go and learned from it, that perfection is a process of perfecting without achieving perfection.

If we imagine there could be no sin except among angels prior to our appearance on the globe, biological life reflects a trial and error approach. God is omniscient as to what is, but I doubt he is capable of predicting, prior to the union of sperm and egg, what kind of human being will result. And there are many more areas for his ignorance, which makes me believe in limited omniscience--why God had to become Christ in order to have an experiential knowledge of human nature.

If God exists, he spent 500 million years, minimum, trying to come up with consciousness from matter.

Recently the fossil of a sea scorpion over eight feet long was discovered; imagine, an insect bigger than man! Did God hope at one time that the insects would be the dominant species? Or fish? Or birds? No one can say. Going back in time I certainly wouldn't bet on wimpy primates without claws, physically weak, prey to leopards and snakes and man-eating birds.

Man's greatest achievement is agriculture. God's greatest achievement, according to dogma, is when a new heavens and earth will be created--made possible by Christ's incarnation, of course. Good thing earth is still included. I can't imagine a paradise without trees and trout.


Historically, if Christ rose from the dead and performed the miracles, it behooves us to pay attention. I'm convinced the history is accurate for the most part. Many early Christians died rather than admit that Christ didn't rise from the dead.

As for my loved ones, like my recently deceased daughter, Rachel, it is enough to carry her memory in my head and think fondly of her. That she and I will only be dust for centuries to come makes no difference in my feelings toward her. I don't love her or any of my children or sibs or wife any less for not believing in God. So what is the advantage of faith beyond a comprehensive world view? "He makes the sun to shine on the just and the unjust."

The one dividing line is when we are truly in need, what I call "fox hole faith." That is, it's said there are no atheists in a fox hole. Under severe stress we regress to infancy and want some Mommy figure to intervene, to make it all better, issuing in "prayer" while an atheist in a fox hole calculates his chances and uses his intelligence for survival. Perhaps his deliberations might actually be harmed by prayer; perhaps reliance on some supernatural being might also undermine self-reliance and consequent escape. The fear that the atheist would shoot his fellow for food in a pinch I find laughable. Friendship, a worldly thing, would prevent that, not to mention the army code and the human code which does not depend on the Bible for us to know, as Confucious and others have laid it out very well. And Kant says morality is in effect hard-wired; there's no way to avoid it.

Being an atheist doesn't turn one into a sociopath. But it may increase the appreciation one has for life and friends and love, knowing that they are evanescent, knowing that there is no future but now, a damn good reason to dandle your grandchild on your knee for an extra half hour.

So here is my challenge: Convince me how life would be worse, especially my life, in real time if I deconvert to atheism, because I'm stumped. I thought it would be horrible, that life would be bereft of meaning. It's not. In fact, atheism could help my career, as I would be more aggressive in promoting my writing in the hope of having a reputation that might outlast my life.

So, for you who have finished this first-draft ramble, I'm curious as to your opinions. I have met many agnostics more charitable than Christians. That doesn't make Christianity untrue; it only implies that becoming a Christian, in my experience, does not necessarily make you a better person. Often believers become more obsessed with salvation than good works. Christ's ultimate judgment between the sheep and goats depends on their works. "I was in prison and you visited me."

If an agnostic performs the above, according to Ct his works won't save him and being a better person is only relative. I tend to disagree. I prefer an unbeliever who acts in a Christian way to a Christian who doesn't any day of the week. "I was hungry and you fed me."

Not that agnostics and atheists are so great as a group: "I was in prison and you spent all your money on a new Volvo and a trip to Hawaii."

Enough. Or not enough.


Craig Erick

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Of Presumption in Consumption

I didn't believe in Black Friday. I thought only lemmings did what the papers say we'll do. So I drove to Circuit City in the early afternoon to buy a computer I picked out weeks ahead, though the significant outlay may render our Christmas commercially skimpy; call it a "Victoria's Secret" Christmas.

When I arrived at Circuit City what did I find but a parking lot full of mad lemmings! I went down a parking aisle; two cars stopped in front of me, three locked in behind me, and we began to wait for some blue hair in a Cadillac to back out of her space. I freaked. "I can't do this!" As soon as could, I extricated myself from that consumer madhouse to breathe freely again on the blessed freeway. I did not go near a store entrance.

Afterwards I said to my sister: "I can't believe that people actually behave the way retailers want them to, like sheep to fodder!" She stared at me as if I were a Kindergartner. Hey, I was never very good with practical reality. Like most fools I assumed others were like me. No. Others were in line at Best Buy by 4 AM.

Later, driving home from the Bay Area, I stopped at the Circuit City in Santa Rosa in the late afternoon. No rush, no hassle, instant service, they had it in stock, I got my $105 rebate--it went like clockwork. Until I got my new Acer Aspire 5520 5912 home--only to discover it had Vista but no Word program! All my former documents were now useless! The ecstasy of my new purchase had been plunged into the agony of its uselessness. Mr. Gates wants $265 for Microsoft Office and I can't spend any more right now. So keep those cards and bootlegs coming.

What's funny is that I did not discover the fact until I was deep into the information transfer protocol. Talk about stupid! Why won't my documents open? Word Pad, which was included, did open them but lost all their formatting. I plead stupid. To buy a computer loaded with Vista but not Word never occurred to this little trout brain of mine. I should have bought a new brain.

Kathleen had also purchased new sheets at a Costco nearby, but while drying them somehow a pen burst and spotted everything, including my stepson's clothes. Now I call him "Dalmation Boy." (Perhaps "spotted dog," that famous greasy English pudding of the O'Brien novels, might suit him better.)

Kathleen also purchased another layer of memory foam to add to our present layer. Unfortunately the increased foam makes us sink towards the middle of the bed even faster--the very thing she sought to prevent. It's simple physics. I weigh 270, she weighs at least 100 lbs. less. I make a deeper hole in the memory foam, she rolls into it. "He who digs a pit will fall into it," wrote Solomon. He should have added: "And his bedmate, too." What a pisser! New sheets stained, new mattress addition worthless, new computer impossible to use.

No matter. There's a super low tide for abalone picking today and Kathleen also wants me to gather wild mushrooms for her pot roast, which I am more than happy to do. To obtain mushrooms for a pot roast is much more tangibly satisfying than fooling with software. And mushrooms are fungible whereas computer files are not.

Another perfect day!

2 kilobunnies,


Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Black Friday and the Kingdom of Craig

Tonight we voyage down to the Bay Area to have Thanksgiving with my sister. It's become a yearly tradition, God bless her, and I like traditions--we have too few.

She pointed out to me that "Black Friday" (so named for putting businesses in back in the black) coincides this year with our father's suicide, 11/23/87.
Twenty years.

He was a shrewd consumer.

Mom tumored out on us 17 years ago, exactly how long we've all been orphans playing at Christmas and Thanksgiving. It's a bitch being in charge. Thank God for women, truly.

If I were my parents I'd be grateful my children were still talking to each other.

Notice the date he chose. He meant it to be before Thanksgiving, the poor bastard couldn't face the bird, the Pteranadon of darkness.

He wanted there to be something there more than chemicals. There is, but in this realm it still involves chemicals as one parallel incarnation.

He didn't believe psychiatrists were real doctors, perhaps because they locked him up in the Air Force for a month for a manic episode and gave him a medical discharge. The shame of it, for him, was too painful to acknowledge. He always said "it was for pneumonia."

My psychiatrist told me today that I had negatively biased information selection, the cognitive-behavioral equivalent of a melancholy temperament. The words change, the disease doesn't. Of course I am much more likely to remember sad, mad and bad things about Dad than rad and glad things about him.

My melancholy temperament makes me want to weep over my daughters in ballet outfits as young girls, though sometimes it curls my lips upward.

It's my memory of me in those pictures that most makes me sad. Why do I feel lost? My wife loves me unconditionally; my spirit can't actually receive it though my body believes it. How great it would be to look at the grain and not the chaff.

In the Kingdom of Craig there are no sad thoughts, no mad thoughts and no bad thoughts.

Yearbooks make me sad. Even old photographs of my children can, Rachel's death notwithstanding.

My back hurts. I don't want to type any more.

In the Kingdom of Craig there is no pain.

My back is the chief reason I receive disability. Manic-depression is just frosting. Did you really need to know that?

Ah, but you love me. Because in the Kingdom of Craig, what?

There are no sad thoughts and no mad thoughts and no bad thoughts.

Love and thanks to all,


Monday, November 19, 2007

Is This Normal?

Tell me if this is normal background worry:

A vague recrimination about your hoping to be dead before the planet goes to hell; a guilty wish to be protected from people you don't like; dread at answering the phone; being afraid to speak my real feelings for fear of hurting other people's feelings. I take my anger out on little issues like; "Why didn't you tell you were going to take my effin cell phone!"

Or maybe that violation is justifiably anger-provoking.

How would I know? It's been so long since I've been normal, if ever I was.

I'm taking all my medications but not feeling particularly sanguine. I wonder if I am within the normal range of feelings.

Normality requires a kind of blindness to things, a protective tunnel vision constructed around concrete reality. I get so bored with that.

I have great ambivalence toward my visiting stepson whom I recently sprang from Mexico in a act of mad forgiveness, but I can't go into detail, I might hurt someone's feelings.

What about my feelings? Is my polite subjugation to others' needs really polite or just subjugation? Am I a man or a mouse?

Why can't I be my own co-dependent?

I have enough voices in my head for a complete AA meeting.

I'm not psychotic. I'm not depressed. I'm stressed and slightly melancholy.

3 new beings in my environment in less than 3 weeks! I was silly to go along with it. It's a wonder I haven't lost my mind.

Now Kathleen and the cats and Derek gang up on me . I'm a stranger in my own home and I pay the rent.

I do like the cats.

Soon the stress of Thanksgiving.

Even joy is stressful.

At 1 Kilorat,


Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Car Parts and a New Cat

Greetings, Earthlings!

I went online to order a passenger side headlight assembly for our ’99 Plymouth Voyager super beater. Did you know that the passenger side headlight assembly costs twice as much as the driver’s side assembly? Must be that more drivers are creaming their left headlight is all I can figure. Still, $265? Discount warehouse, yeah! The prices for many car parts are outrageous. Why can’t they have more chop shops online?

Yesterday we mailed my Eliot ms., a labor of four years, to the professor who will read it for Mellen Press. Keep your cyberfingers crossed for me; it would mean a lot to me if someone published this book. Still I won’t give up after a first rejection by any means.

As some of you know, except for this blog I have given up new writing for the nonce. I will embark on no new ventures until all my old ones are wrapped up and marketed to the best of my ability. The novel’s in good shape and so are two books of stories. The columns, which Kathleen believes in, I think are too anachronistic to be reprinted, as many of them concern current events such as 9/11 and elections.

So I’m doing a lot of donkey work. Yesterday I scanned about thirty different song lyrics in various states of disrepair onto my computer so that I can compile all the songs I’ve written and record them as well. I have many more songs to go. It is a slow process, scanning and correcting moldy old papers with some print on them. It might actually be easier to type them anew, but I like the whole process of reclaiming these old papers.

I used to write songs more often than poems. Certainly they are easier to remember, set to melody and all. I like things you can whistle.

Kathleen was named “Employee of the Quarter” in the charitable organization for which she labors, which included a nice bonus. And now, with the manager’s absence, she has been raised to temporary manager. Soon she’ll be fundraising in Manhattan with Yoko.

My baby brother is so obsessive that I hope he doesn’t read this. My baby brother is so obsessive that I hope he doesn’t read this. My baby brother is so obsessive that I hope he doesn’t read this. My baby brother is so obsessive that if he reads this he will think it’s about him, after which he will look for clues as to my real meaning. My real meaning is hidden in the hollows of the letters. What I have written there, too small for reproduction, is the secret of and cure for all his obsessions. My baby brother is so obsessive that I hope he doesn’t read this or he will be disappointed, Not enough to obsess about.

My baby brother is 6’7” and at least 350 lbs. Big baby brother! In the picture above he is the one on the right.

I think I’m going slowly deaf. I don’t know which ear is worse. Either that or Kathleen has taken to speaking more softly. As our vision and hearing goes we shall have to tap Morse on each other’s skulls to communicate. As for sex, I suppose grabbing will still do in a pinch.

We got another cat, Topaz. I promise pictures soon. Kathleen didn’t want Jo Jo to be lonely while we’re gone. Now Jo Jo’s not lonely, she’s pissed and hissing at Topaz, who is nonplussed by the larger cat. We call her “Topaz” because she has a beautiful rust-colored diamond in the middle of her forehead.

Kiloneutral with occasional glimpses into the abyss, but working hard and whistling past the graveyard,

Craig Erick

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Kiloneutral; The Great American Novel Race

I have been neglecting my blog because of an contest for a first novel, for which they are receiving 5000 entries. A friend told me about this, a friend who dedicated himself, though a realtor, to producing a novel in a matter of weeks for the contest. I haven’t checked back with him; I really don’t want to be asked to read his output, though I’m sure its genius is unrivaled. That’s a lot of Chutzpah on his part. There are people who can write well at that pace, like the prolific Joyce Carol Oates, but I don’t think life as a realtor is the best preparation.

If he wins I’ll kill myself.

So I got through a third draft and began a fourth draft (largely incomplete) of “The Abomination” before today, the day I must mail the ms. and a 5,000-word excerpt to Amazon. In the revision process the book has been cut from 120,000 words to 85,000, roughly 30%, which I take as a good sign. For sustaining interest the book relies heavily on character, although the plot includes four murders and some science fiction and religious mumbo-jumbo.

Meanwhile the Edwin Mellen Press has agreed to look at my T. S. Eliot ms.

Also, an editor from a paying magazine solicited poems from me and took two out of three. So things are looking up.

It’s hard for an artist to dissociate his self-esteem from his work, but I try. My psychological defense against “failure” is very primitive; I belittle my work and give it no chance to succeed. Thus I prevent disappointment by already being disappointed. Still I can’t help feeling my little heart go bumpety-bump to know some Oxford professor will be taking my Eliot ms. seriously.

In other news, the friend I recovered at Rachel’s memorial service has been plying me eloquently with the neglected news of Christians' contributions to art and civilization. He bragged that the Christian monasteries kept the classics alive for the Renaissance. I said why didn’t the dumb monks read the books and start a Renaissance? He's wonderful debater and writer and rhetorical cheat, and I’ve enjoyed our interchanges thoroughly, just as the resumption of our friendship has been the one good thing that came out of Rachel’s death for me. As daughter Sarah says, 18 (though already bitten by the Chaffin black humor bug), “And all I got was this car.”

Mushrooming season has started. The other night I smothered Kathleen’s pot roast in honey mushrooms, and the result was heavenly. Nothing like fresh mushrooms for delicate spicing and good gravy. One of these nights we’ll eat all wild: Abalone, wild mushrooms and a salad of local leaves. But I’ll have to add rice. I like rice or potatoes with nearly every dinner that isn't soup. And although I may be accused of blasphemy in the matter, I prize potatoes over macaroni and cheese as well as meatloaf as the ultimate comfort food. And there's no German or Irish in me.

I’m at kiloneutral today. I still don’t feel as if the ground is absolutely solid beneath my feet, but for someone who just endured a depression for a year-and-a-half, this is not surprising. I may never feel the ground is solid again. I know I can fall victim to bad chemicals at any time. Still, the background threat of “groundlessness,” as Buddhists call it, also increases my gratefulness for every moment I’m not depressed. Funny how that works.



Thursday, November 01, 2007

Stalking the Wild Abalone

One of the first questions I could answer when I emerged from my awful depression was: “What do you want for your birthday?” Without hesitation I said, “A guided abalone dive.”

This is a good test question for mental health. Healthy people usually want things and if they can get those things for free they should have no trouble remembering what those things are. If you’d asked me the same question over a month ago I would have been absolutely stumped.


Sunday I cashed in Kathleen’s gift and went stalking the wild abalone-- that terrifying mollusk of the deep! It was after 5 PM. The water was murky, the swell was picking up. Strands of bull kelp and sea grass clawed at my head like blackberry vines. Visibility perhaps 15 ft. Seawater in my snorkel, damn! They come….…

sliming, sliggering, slouching, suctioning forward on dirty tongues with the black ruffle around them, the army of angry mollusks pursue their ancient grudge against vertebrates: "The shell was it, man! Impregnable. And now you feast on me. I'm gonna go Pre-Cambrian on your ass.”

“That’s because you evolved far enough to survive and afterwards got lazy.”

"Beware, vertebrate!”

When the abalone attacked I was already fitted with 30 lbs. of weights (to counteract the flotation of my wetsuit), so that the weight of each additional abalone that grolloped on my bod would drag me further down to Davey Jones' Gym Locker no matter what manic counter-propulsion my fins attempted.

Here come the limpets on steroids! The Barry Bonds Barnacles!

"Belt first!" Their general cried.

I tried to release my belt but the damn clams wouldn’t let me get my hands on the buckle in time.

In ten-foot depths I clung to a large rock and hoped that my house—the one with a spine and real lungs--would not have its subprime jumbo shrimp bluff called.

On they came, sucking, seeking…

When my eyes dipped toward the waterline and I took my last breath, I realized that the mask and snorkel were of no use now—but before I tossed them a thought arrived: What if I were to blow air underneath the abalooneys with the snorkel! They use water cannons above ground, why not reverse the elements?

I began air-goosing every parasitic mollusk I could find clinging to my suit. Miraculously the damn clams ran from air like black from rice. Lightened, I rose to the surface; frightened, they twirled back to the bottom, licking their tongues and whining invertebrate excuses.

Despite these initial difficulties I managed three legal abalones in my first hour.

Afterwards I bought an abalone hammer and pounded the beasts into delicate strip-steaks of firm white flesh for my dear wife who had never tasted abalone. It lived up to its reputation; she said it was “to die for,” and indeed, every season five divers agree with her.

Sorry to leave you with the taste of death in your mouths.

Happy Halloween,

Craig Erick

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Unexpected Light
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