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Tuesday, September 8, 2009



With Jr in the bed asleep or drifting 23 hours a day, that gives me a whole lot of time to not make any noise. I could, but I'd prefer he sleep when he's able. I don't even listen to what I want to play on radio show because I don't want to disturb his rest. All he does is rest, but that's because he needs it. His energy level is such that it is difficult for him to lift his head off the pillow. It's equally difficult to focus attention when spoken to. I'm learning to use key words with him. Whatever I say to him, he says, What? I have to tell it 3 or 4 times, each time I reduce it to a simpler element. By the time he gets it, I've pared it down to the noun and the verb.

Minimalism. I like the minimal in art, and art is reality. Now I'm learning the minimal language of key words, like googling. I have to think up key words for each of these entries for the box, Labels for this post. It's not very long since 'key words' entered the vocabulary, like icon to mean something besides portraits of Eastern Orthodox saints as soon as computers come along. Now we don't even know the word icon has a history. Just another goofy computer word thought up by California whiz guys. It took me awhile to catch on to the new use of the word and its frequency. Somebody would say something like so and so is an icon, and I look inside my head at a Greek Orthodox icon of some saint with a colorful halo and his name on it in Greek.

This happened several times. I began to wonder why is it all of a sudden people are using the word icon, people I know do not know about Russian or Greek Orthodox icons. It wasn't computing. Then I got it. When an awful lot of people are saying something at around the same time, television is where it came from. A few times at people's houses with tv on I hear the word icon about somebody being an icon, like that's a big deal. Television is the answer. But why that word? It's what those little logo images on the computer screen are called, icons. The early California computer geeks brought the word into everyday use with a long list of others.

In the course of a day, I have a lot of time to read. Just recently I found a Chinese writer who lives in California, got out of China somehow. Her name is Anchee Min. I suspect she's reversed it like Chinese do outside mainland China, so Min is her last name, that in China would be first, Min Anchee. Today I finished my second of her novels, The Last Empress. First was Empress Orchid. The first one is her life up to the time she becomes Empress and the 2nd her life from there to the end. Beautiful story. Beautifully written. Told in first person like an autobiography. And she wrote it in English. It was not translated from the Chinese. She knows her English very well for a second language. The life of Orchid is quite a story. Her reign was through the last half of the 19th Century. The story's context is seeing the old dynastic way come to its fizzle-out end.

Most interesting for me was seeing China crumble due to the British introduction of opium, internal corruption, and China's reluctance to join the industrial world, which, like a pack of wolves attacked and took great chunks of China for their own. Everything broke down from within, they had nothing to fight with, Japan was bearing down on them, the British, Germans, French, USA, moved in and took what they wanted. The Empress does all she can to keep China whole, and nothing works. I suppose it could be called historical fiction, but it seems to me like just a good story well told. I can't imagine the research she did. It's written as visually as a movie.

I enjoy Anchee Min's writing so much, I've started another of hers, Becoming Madame Mao. Mao's wife's story. She went down with the Gang of Four. Started it today and can tell I'll read it with the same zeal as these others. Very different character. Very different time. Only a quarter century later. Reading about Empress Orchid, seeing how China came to its own end because the old ways didn't function any more, I was looking back from a time when Beijing is a major international metropolis. Then it was poor as Albania.
It helped to see Mao in a new way for me. I tend to see him a megalomaniac despot. But, that's Chinese tradition. It took harsh measures to pull together a way overpopulated mass living in wretched poverty, sometimes so bad parents exchanged children so when the child starved to death the rest of the family wouldn't have to eat their own child. That's bad. Needs changing. Mao changed it. He used extreme, despotic means to make China function and put people to work. Big undertaking. They'd had such bad experience with foreigners, they kept the rest of the world out of their internal changes. The Bamboo Curtain it was called. A journalism key word.

Now that China is opening up, I'm reading as much as I can find that's coming out of mainland China. Also what's being written by exiles, dissidents, writers living all over the world. Throughout my lifetime China was like a boiling stew. The Tienanmen Square incident is, again, Chinese tradition. The East has a despotic tradition that goes all the way back. We don't have it in the Western tradition. Westerners wouldn't stand for it. Chinese despotism is shocking to us, but it's how they do governance.
From a country that meant the worst poverty in the world when I was a kid (eat everything on your plate--think of the starving children in China) to the world power it is now took place in my lifetime. It's looking like the 21st Century will be China's like the 20th Century was American.
I don't think much of what they're doing in Tibet, but to them it's an internal issue, and no business of mine. I'm glad I don't live there. But some interesting art, writing and film are coming out of China now.
This is the sort of thing I think about during the day while Jr is resting quietly. It's why I can do what I'm doing, staying in the house all day and night, on watch. Getting a lot of good reading done and assisting my friend at the same time.

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