Wednesday, May 31, 2017

My Take on the Campus Takeover at The Evergreen State College

Last week saw the beginning of a surprisingly well-documented takeover of The Evergreen State College by an angry mob of students. After interrupting a faculty member in the middle of teaching and shouting him down with accusations of sending racist emails, the students effectively shut down the campus by taking the president of the college hostage and insisting that he and his fellow administrators respond to a wide-ranging list of demands. Students occupied the administration building, chanted various slogans ("Hey, hey! Ho, ho! These racist teachers have got to go!" was a popular refrain), and corralled various college employees into a series of meetings, some of which consisted of little more than students shouting at and humiliating those employees. They even had to physically escort the president, Dr. George Bridges, just to go to the bathroom.

If that sounds far-fetched, it's actually more bizarre than you probably think. Granted, the students accomplished this without weapons or throwing punches. Whether the students threatened actual violence is somewhat unclear. However, the terms of the takeover were quite evident: Listen to our grievances and do what we say or be branded as bigots.

The most shocking thing of all to me is that the college administration, namely Dr. Bridges, completely capitulated to the mob, even directing the campus police to stand down while the students called the shots. In meeting after meeting (again, video documented) he takes heaps of profanity-laden abuse without rebuke, affirms every complaint without critical inquiry, and basically gives total legitimacy to the entire proceedings.

Here's the thing. After watching and listening to hours of video on YouTube, I have no idea as an outside observer whether any of the students' complaints have any real merit. The students of the occupying coalition, predominantly led by black and brown-skinned students, say they don't feel safe on campus. They say they are frustrated that blatantly racist employees have not gotten fired from their jobs. Some say, quite generally, that the entire institution of Evergreen is racist.

To refute one's feelings of safety is not an easy thing to do, and it would be wrong simply to dismiss the expression of those feelings. After all, even if a person only has the perception of being unsafe, that perception is still a real lived experienced. I doubt there is any college administrator who would feel comfortable knowing that a group of students lives under a constant burden of fear.

Unfortunately, it is hard to take these grievances seriously when you examine the very incident that set these recent student actions into motion. I mentioned that the campus takeover began when students confronted a professor, an evolutionary biologist named Bret Weinstein, about a series of supposedly racist emails. I use the word "supposedly" because I've read these emails myself and can personally say with absolute conviction that there was nothing racist in the contents of his messages.

The subject of those emails was his response to a campus-wide event called the Day of Absence / Day of Presence. It is an annual event at Evergreen that reportedly dates back more than three decades. What would happen during past events is that students, staff, and faculty of color who chose to participate would voluntarily absent themselves from the campus for a day in order to raise awareness of the vital—perhaps overlooked—contributions they bring to the community. The format of that event changed in 2017 when it was decided by event organizers to effectively switch roles. White community members were asked to leave the campus, and the community members of color were invited to stay.

Weinstein's crime was to publicly voice his concerns over the new format of the event, arguing that the philosophical implications of voluntary absence versus coercive dismissal are quite different. Basically, he argued, no member of the campus community should be asked to leave or be silenced based on their skin color.

At worst Weinstein could be accused of grandstanding. After all, he could have simply kept his opinions to himself and refused to participate without making a fuss about his reasons. Alternatively, you could disagree with his choice of language when he essentially characterizes the new format of the Day of Absence as an "act of oppression."

But therein lies the rub, does it not? Isn't it an academic's job to inquire and to engage in an ongoing dialogue that leads to shared enlightenment? Isn't the free exchange and testing of ideas a central (if not the central) function of academia? Isn't that what's at stake here?

What we've learned from the postmodern movement and its many offshoots that have spread across college campuses is that white supremacy is considered the norm. Any coalition that subscribes to these ideologies will routinely say that people from marginalized groups have had their voices suppressed for far too long and deserve to be given the floor. If a white person is attending a meeting where intersectionality is taken as fact, they very well might be told that they are expected to listen and not to speak, not to counter or question the ideas and expressions of the people of marginalized identities. To challenge the views of the oppressed is not merely insensitive, it's considered an act of violence and an attempt to prop up the racist systems that pervade society. People are coerced into silence.

Let's be clear. This kind of behavior is not healthy for anyone. It breeds paranoia. It is anti-enlightening. Coalitions based on a hierarchy of historical oppression will always be in danger of devouring their own members. People need to respect one another based on the content of their character, not on their immutable characteristics.

What is the result of this type of thinking run rampant? The Evergreen fiasco is just one example, and to describe it simply as a student takeover would be inaccurate. The students are supported by a contingency of faculty members who for years have advanced these ideologies in the classroom. At least some of the students, I assume, truly believe they are fighting for a noble cause, that they are actively working to counter violence.

Again, that's not how it appears to an outside observer like myself. It looks to me like they are trying to shut down ideas with which they disagree, to denounce any views that do not conform to their particular narrative of how the world works.

If there are issues of campus safety at Evergreen, I sincerely hope they are improved upon. If there are problems with police brutality or racial profiling, I hope they are rooted out. And in any places where there is an unequal distribution of opportunity, I do hope there are fair methods by which to identify and correct those gaps.

But it is a huge problem when a group like the one at Evergreen is incapable of differentiating between its legitimate grievances and its baseless accusations. When a decent man like Bret Weinstein (a self-described progressive, no less) gets caught in the crosshairs of an angry mob, it casts a huge cloud of suspicion over the entire movement. He didn't deserve to be targeted, but now he'll have to go through the rest of his professional career with the stigma of racism potentially hanging over him. Where's the justice in that?

As much as I empathize with Dr. Bridges for the difficult hand he's been dealt, he has proven himself unfit to lead the college. Not only has his unwavering capitulation to mob behavior likely demoralized a huge portion of the college faculty and administration, it's tarnished the public reputation of the entire school. A college president has many people to answer to—the students of the college not the least among them. But there is a right way to do that and a wrong way to do that. Negotiating under threat of violence or even hinted violence (also known as intimidation) belongs firmly in the latter category.


Let's take a look at just a few brief clips from last week and see what we can see. For a huge playlist of videos from the campus, I steer you toward this channel.

Here's a video in which an Evergreen faculty member publicly castigates her fellow teachers (begins at 6:15), telling them they need to go attend an impromptu meeting (which you can watch here) where the student mob will end up doing pretty much the same thing to the entire college staff.

I think the most jaw-dropping part of the video happens at about the 11:00 mark. There is a professor who is asking for assurances from the students who are guarding the building that she will be allowed to leave early for a family obligation (keep in mind there is only one entrance/exit to this large meeting room). Listen to what the red-haired student minion tells this clearly nervous woman (11:40).

First time I watched this, I couldn't believe what I was hearing (neither, I'm sure, could the poor woman). I quote: "Ya'all can leave and no harm will be done to you. I can guarantee that. But by leaving it's sort of showing the school that you don't care about the black and brown lives here. And that's harmful to the environment here. And I don't think that's OK. If you want to leave, go ahead. But you should not under any circumstances leave this environment. It is ya'alls job to stand up for the students. It's ya'alls job to be here and represent the students. And by representing the students I mean all of them, including the black and brown students. And I think it is irresponsible for you guys to leave. But if you do choose to leave, no harm will be done to you."

Did you ever see that episode of The Simpsons where the town of Springfield is being taken over by a wacky cult, the Movementarians? The new inductees are invited to watch a free informational movie about the religion and repeatedly told: "You're free to leave at any time, but would you mind telling us why?"

I'd like to think that if I were in that woman's position I would have the guts to tell that student straight to her face: "You do not dictate the terms of my personal safety. You cannot dictate or manipulate the bearings of my conscience. I do not abide by your intimidation tactics. And I am not setting foot in that room based purely on what you have just said."

Where is a single adult, Bret Weinstein aside, who will stand up to this nonsense?


There are too many examples to choose from of Dr. George Bridges being steamrolled by the insults of the student mob. This example, however, is a particularly illustrative moment.

In this clip the students have already occupied the president's office for more than an hour (I believe). It's been pure anger and chaos. Dr. Bridges has continuously thanked the students and reaffirmed his agreement to not leave the room until he has responded to the group's list of demands. But he also needs to get to work, so he politely asks the students for some space to work. There's a woman at 0:41 mark who tells him (in a very condescending tone) that students of color have to work in threatening environments every day, so get to work! At 1:26 Dr. Bridges finally resorts to the one thing that might connect with the students by claiming, exasperatedly: "I have claustrophobia!"

Not a shred of sympathy from the students. Instead, they mock and ridicule. Everything, it seems, is a double standard.

We have the right to insult you.  |  You must never raise your voice to us.
We demand protection from all that oppresses us.  |  We reject any of your own claims of oppression.

These students are clearly angry. They have a right to speak, and they deserve to be heard. But they also deserve to be held to the same rules and standards of behavior as their peers. We have to find a way to communicate in a manner that strives for mutual benefit and understanding. This is not how we get there.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Top 5 Worst Led Zeppelin Songs (1969 - 1975)

People seem to put a lot of stock in the best-of list, not so much in its opposite. My idea for this list came about when I was looking over my digital Led Zeppelin discography (which is limited to the dates outlined above) and realizing how many great songs there were. What would a worst-of Zeppelin list look like?

I initially tried to compile a top 10, but that proved nearly impossible. Say what you will about the band. Their ideas weren't always original, but their executions always became the standard. Here was a band with talent, range, and tight trousers, who over the course of six albums put forth some of the most timeless pop music of all time.

These were the low points. 

5.) "The Crunge"

Houses of the Holy might be my least favorite Zeppelin album from this period (this one or the debut LP). I can't really hold it against the band for attempting something of a departure from the masterpiece of their definitive fourth album. After all, what else were the world's greatest pop musicians to do next other than immediately rebel against that perceived definition? Think of U2's 1987 masterpiece The Joshua Tree. What came next? It was 1988's divisive Rattle and Hum. With Houses of the Holy, Led Zeppelin certainly proved their versatility, as well as their willingness and ability to adapt to other genres of rock music. “The Rain Song” proved the band could craft a moving ballad (even if Jones's Mellotron anchored the song inescapably in a kind of smooth-rock 1970s time capsule). “D'yer Mak'er” used reggae for the basis of what became a fine Zeppelin staple.

I think I have less enthusiasm for “The Crunge,” which was the band's three-minute take on James Brown funk. Yes, Led Zeppelin could even do funk.

My reservations have nothing to do with the band's talent—clearly. It's more a matter of authenticity. In other words, why listen to the tribute when you can listen to the real thing? There's a similar reason why I don't really care for Rattle and Hum's take on Harlem blues, nor its gospel reinterpretation of U2's own “I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For.” Houses of the Holy is a better followup album than U2's, but this closing track of its first half comes off as its most purely imitational.

4.) "Thank You"

There's nothing wrong with love. Really. There's also nothing wrong with Robert Plant singing about it—and, no, I'm not talking about “The Lemon Song.”

“Thank You” is a song that evokes the timelessness of love—love as a force that can withstand mountains crumbling to the sea. And while Otis Redding and Ben E. King may have used the same imagery to better effect years earlier, “Thank You” at least demonstrated the band had more to offer than machismo and innuendo.

The real reason this one makes the list has more to do with an unfortunate tendency for me to associate John Paul Jones' delicate organ playing with English fantasy, which I don't think is too much of a stretch given the allusion to J.R.R. Tolkein in other Zeppelin songs. The song could pretty easily have ended at the 3:00 mark. Instead it continues on for almost an extra two minutes with that delicate little organ music. And suddenly my mind drifts to a magical land beyond time, where elves and fairies flitter through the woods and fields. Worse still is my mental association with the movie This is Spinal Tap—itself a parody of the rockstar mythos pioneered by the likes of Led Zeppelin—as I picture a miniature Stone Henge lowering slowly toward the stage.

3.) "Black Country Woman"

I might be tempted to consider Physical Graffiti a sort of ripe tree for selecting the bad fruits of the Zeppelin discography. It's a good album, sure, but it's a double album, and one that got stuffed with plenty of holdover tracks that hadn't fit on the previous releases.

Like any Zeppelin album, this one has its gems, the sprawling “In My Time of Dying” that felt like a logical evolution or matured reinventing of the 60's psychedelia first explored in “Dazed and Confused.” It had “Boogie With Stu,” which sounds to me like a saloon stomp version of the fourth album's “Rock and Roll”—its whisky-drunk country cousin perhaps (listen to them both in sequence and tell me if you disagree).

“Black Country Woman” is the song that immediately follows “Boogie,” and it's the penultimate track of the album. As its namesake implies, it continues the country vibe as a simple little acoustic jam, only in this case John Bonham comes in at about a quarter of the way through to lay down a no-frills rock beat.

I think part of the problem for me is that opening “Hey, hey, mama” line, which gets repeated with some variation through the rest of the song. We already have a Zeppelin song that begins with “Hey, hey, mama,” whose song title also starts with the word “black” but is a much better song. “Black Country Woman” strikes me as what happens when a bunch of rock legends get together just looking to record something off the cuff. Hell, they even left the airplane on the track. But it's bread and butter from a band who we know can give us prime rib in heaps.

2.) "I Can't Quit You Baby"

As a debut album, Led Zeppelin did what it needed to do, which was to showcase the chops of England's newest rock supergroup. It did this almost entirely by recycling (if not ripping off) songs from other artists, primarily Jimmy Page's former supergroup, The Yardbirds. The inclusion of this song on the list was almost a tossup with the album's third track, “You Shook Me.” Both of them are pretty standard blues ballads. And, to be perfectly fair, both are pretty good. But by the time “I Can't Quit You Baby” arrives on the album, it feels like we've already heard it. And when you hear the two songs side by side, “You Shook Me” is decidedly the superior track. For one, it cements the Page-Plant dynamic as they match each other note for note. But it also showcases everyone's talents, with a sweet organ solo from Jones, followed by some excellent Plant harmonica and a Page guitar solo that climaxes to great effect at about the 4:18 mark, complimented by one of the first great Bonham drum fills. And then the track transitions perfectly into “Dazed and Confused.”

“I Can't Quit You Baby” feels more like the Page and Bonham show. The true giant that Led Zeppelin would become had yet to awaken. Their trademark brand of rock and roll was in chrysalis, with Page at the epicenter of that cocoon running laps around those blues scales, feeding his power. “I Can't Quit You Baby” makes the list because even when the band later returned to this same sort of improvisational blues with III's “Since I've Been Loving You,” everything was so much more amplified by comparison. The instrumentation was denser, grittier, with a pathos as crippling and tangible as Atlas under the weight of a planet.

1. "Babe I'm Gonna Leave You"

This singer can't make up his mind. He's gonna leave you, woman. For reals. He can't take it anymore. Dude's a dude, and he's gotta ramble. Then again … he ain't never gonna leave you.

Maybe the song is just too repetitive. I like how it begins with Page's finger-picking folk riff, his reworking of a Joan Baez tune. It's got a nice movement to it. It kind of goes up and down, back and forth—like Plant's lyrics. And then the song gets hard. The listener realizes all the tension brewing underneath the surface wasn't necessarily a bluff. Or was it?

The song falls back to the soft part. Then it goes back to heavy. It's a dynamic, but not a terribly interesting one—not for such a long song. All the while, Plant's vocal delivery begins to really grate, particularly at the 4:30 mark when Plant belts out the most maudlin lyric of the entire Zeppelin discography: “We're gonna go walkin' through the park every day!” It seems so off kilter, almost ad-lib. Maybe it was. But did he really just say that? Who is this pansy? And there you have it, the worst Led Zeppelin song.

Am I right? Am I way off? Leave a comment.

Sunday, October 23, 2011


Captain Bryce Duncan wakes up at 5:14 a.m., approximately one minute before the alarm clock on his left-side nightstand is programmed to jolt him from his sleep. Taking advantage of the opportunity to spare his wife Julie the annoyance of having her own sleep interrupted more than two hours earlier than her own programmed alarm clock, Bryce disengages the alarm function and carefully extracts himself from his comfortable queen-size bed. Sneaking stealthily away from the bedroom, down the hallway to the tan-carpeted living room, Bryce performs fifty rapid but fully extended pushups in his underwear before going into the bathroom and grooming himself for work. After a light breakfast of Cheerios and milk, Bryce returns to the bedroom, puts on his uniform and kisses his wife on the cheek—who has been in and out of sleep ever since her husband moved out of bed. Bryce prays a silent prayer for his wife before kissing her once more and making his way to the garage, where he gets into the car that he will directly pilot forty-three miles across the desert to the Air Force base, where he will sit at an advanced computer station to indirectly pilot an armed aircraft over the desert skies of Afghanistan, or Iraq, or Pakistan, or Yemen, or—

Kevin Lintman wakes up at 6:50 a.m. to the sound of his mother’s stern voice and rapping knuckles on the other side of his bedroom door. He tries to ignore the disturbance and falls asleep for a further two-and-a-half minutes before his mother opens the door and commands him in an even sterner voice to remove his person from his comfortable twin bed. Kevin slowly extracts himself from the bed, his mind depressed with thinking of the monotony and social awkwardness he most assuredly will experience for the next six-and-a-half hours spent primarily at Grover Cleveland Middle School, located five blocks to the west of his home. With his mind processing remembered interactions from the previous day, meanwhile processing imagined interactions for the quickly approaching future, Kevin shuffles in his cotton pajamas down the hallway to the bathroom and perceives—amidst his simultaneously processing memories and imaginings—a physical dizziness more substantial than his typical morning drowsiness. Relaying this perception aloud to his mother, Mrs. Lintman hurries into the bathroom and proceeds to gauge her son’s temperature via thermometer. Having registered a body temperature of ninety-nine degrees Fahrenheit, Mrs. Lintman makes the executive decision to excuse Kevin from attending classes, in the hopes that a day of physical rest will cure the boy of his ailment. Mrs. Lintman prays a quick spoken prayer before kissing her son goodbye and leaving the house for a day of work while Kevin boots up his Xbox 360 and begins to play a military simulation game that has him pretending to shoot terrorist insurgents and bomb pixilated enemy targets over Afghanistan, and Russia, and Brazil, and—

Amir Mohamed wakes up at 11:13 p.m. to the sound of a MIDI ringtone blaring from the Motorola cell phone he shoved under his pillow before laying down to sleep a little less than an hour ago. Agitated and annoyed, he nevertheless scrambles to answer the call and talks briefly to his uncle Rahim who has been giving him some easy work on the side delivering packages to his business associates around and about the city. Heeding the urgent and near incomprehensible tone of his uncle’s voice through the receiver, Amir scrambles from his comfortable white-sheeted mattress and tiptoes down the hall past the opened bedroom of his father—a bricklayer by trade who employs his son and disapproves of his brother’s dealings with the boy. Stepping into the warm night air, Amir jogs around to the alley behind the house, where he jumps onto the motorcycle that he pilots about two miles to his uncle’s mansion on the outskirts of the city. Along the way, as he darts among the thoroughfares and side streets, past scores of shuttered storefronts and silent residences, his mind replays a scolding received from his father, ponders the mysterious brazenness of his uncle’s recent behavior and his increasingly erratic schedule. When Amir greets his uncle with an enthusiastic apology for his delayed arrival, his kind words are met with curses and sarcasm. Rahim supplies his nephew with a large envelope, an address and a stern warning not to entrust the package to anyone other than a man bearing a certain appearance that Rahim describes and reiterates three times before sending Amir on his way. About three blocks from his uncle’s house, Amir looks again at the address and remembers delivering a package to the same location weeks earlier. It was a farmhouse about three miles outside the city proper, where the man of the house had two gorgeous daughters who both laughed at Amir when he nervously jumped aside as a large, friendly goat ran up to inspect him. Amir drives and imagines marrying the elder daughter and learning from his wife how to raise goats and teaching his wife how to drive a motorcyle. He thinks about all of the things he has failed to understand and experience by living all of his life within a city instead of on a farm. As he leaves the city streets for the country road, Amir begins to worry about finding his way. He looks for landmarks on the sides of the road but sees only an expanse of darkness under a moonless night sky. He turns down a road, still uncertain of his bearings and turns down yet another road he thinks is the one that leads to the farmhouse. When he gets to the end of the road he smells smoke. A plume appears to be rising from the spot where a house should be. Amir looks around and moves closer. He can feels the ground sloping in front of him and realizes he is descending into a crater. He touches the ground, which feels neither hot nor cold. Amir, frightened, runs back to his bike, which he pilots back in the direction of the city. All along the way Amir tries to reach his uncle, who is not answering his phone. Amir finds his way back to the city and his father’s house, where he sleeps for the remainder of the night. In the morning he wakes up early and hurries outside to his motorcycle. Amir realizes, for the first time, he has lost his uncle’s package. It being a weekend, Amir gets on his motorcyle and drives to an Internet cafĂ© ten blocks away. In the hazy sub-basement building he sits at the computer station in the farthest corner of the room and scours the news for anything that might relate to his confusing experience. Mouse in hand, Amir follows link after link. He reads about current events in India, in Israel, in the United States. He gets distracted and searches for threads of information that lead to nowhere.

Friday, November 28, 2008

House of Discovery

When I build a house, it will have many secret passageways that only a few people will know how to find. Doors hidden behind bookcases and narrow tunnels between bedrooms. There would be tiny compartments underneath the floorboards — covered by Venetian rugs — and in them I would keep exotic trinkets and artifacts from long forgotten civilizations.

I'd also incorporate dumbwaiters and various chutes where visiting children could whisk their toys into various other realms and dimensions.

Fires would burn in each of the parlors and living rooms. Warm-stoned mantles and a fluffy cat to sprawl in front of it — such would be a common sight in my house, never failing to influence a smile on the faces of all who peak inside the various upstairs rooms.

You could find me very often in my study, working diligently at my mahogany desk and always eager for the interruption of a long-missed visitor. You would come in and peruse the hard-bound folios of my personal library and ask me about my latest projects, the exploits of ongoing expeditions around the globe. I would invite you to the terrace where we would enjoy a cup of tea, all while admiring the peacocks traversing the lawn below — or the changing shades of yellow and green foliage on the distant mountains.

Before building the house, I would bless the ground, doing my best to calm the spirits of those who had settled and wandered there before me. I would welcome them to haunt the stairwells, to make funny faces at people as they gazed on the looking glass in the washing rooms.

And once I had journeyed on from this earthly station, I would hope to have my remains carried down to the glen below the ridge, left to bask in the open meadow where the sun hits at morning, resting in the matronly evening shadow of my former home.

The grandchildren would tell stories to their grandchildren of the benevolent lord who once took them on candlelit adventures through the network of hidden portals, an entire labyrinth — a second residence — within the walls of the hillside manor. Visitors and subsequent residents would be discovering new treasures and secrets for generations to come.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

My little sun chip

Hey, I've noticed you around. But, no, wait! Not in that creepy-vibe manner of speaking. Let me start over.

I like you.

You've got a real style about you that always makes me feel like a charmed, sly observer, admiring how you move about the different spaces you inhabit — rugged, urban, domestic or otherwise. I don't suppose you've ever really watched yourself in the third person. Has anyone ever described to you your sprightly gait (as I shall like to call it)?

There's a real bounce to your step, but very light. Mmmhhmmm (that means "yes?")? It's as if each step you take is an exuberant leap (in miniature, of course), followed by a gentle parachute landing (your cute little skirts come in handy). Repeat that several times in fast forward and you have an idea — maybe — of what I'm talking about.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Just visiting

This place has ambiance you can't deny. There are little details in the spacing and placement of things. To be honest, they don't all make a lot of sense when you think about it.

And when I think about it, these chairs are uncomfortable. And that pizza isn't really settling well.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Another Veemas miracle!

I have seen the light. And it's iridescent.

I was nearing sleep, just last night, my thoughts a stone's throw from a wide chasm of nothingness. Numb. Defeated.

Turning in my bed, my closed eyes sensed the faintest of glowing, slowly intensifying like the nearing sunrise through a glass darkly. A pulsing energy emerged from within my hands and feet. But I dared not move, frozen suddenly and completely in a moment of suspicious fear.

My mind's eye drew the outline of a snowman, an image that soon grew in clarity and seemed to burn like a cattle brand on the inside of my eyelids.

The image, a mere outline in red, morphed a pair of red outlined eyes. And from the eyes there drew a nose, and from the nose a smiling mouth. And then the picture on my brain began to melt as if in sunlight, until all that remained was a smiling effigy. I chuckled.

I opened my eyes and saw a glowing from the crack between the closet doors at the other end of my room. My orbs widened like a child's as I watched a fantastic orgy of red, orange, yellow and green light that crept like swirling tendrils from behind the narrow opening. These tendrils stretched to the floor in front of my cluttered dresser, digging into the carpet like roots in soil. From there, almost immediately, an unshapely blueness began to sprout. It became like a translucent indigo pod. All the colors of the rainbow surged and boiled like water within this pod.

And then it spoke, addressing me in a new name (one I'm sure I had never heard but understood with a sense of recognition that I can only liken to instinct).

"Hello, (my name)," it said. "Happy Veemas."

The pod burst in a brilliant display of color from which I had to turn away. And there he was, Mr. Sneezlebums, legendary patron of Veemas, in all his purple glory.

Note: Veemas, or V-mas, occurs every year on June 25, half of X-mas, or Christmas, which (as you know) is recognized each year on December 25. Public schools discontinued teaching and celebrating the pagan holiday of Veemas mostly during the late 1960s. For more information, research the landmark 1966 Supreme Court case, Bailey v. the State of Indiana.

I tried to respond but found I could not speak. It was also then that I realized my arms were spread wide like wings, hands still surging with a foreign energy. My legs stretched out stiff, and my feet likewise pulsed.

For what seemed like a small eternity, Mr. Sneezlebums spoke to me in a language I do not recall. He was imparting to me three gifts:

1. Insight: We are more than our eyes can see, part of an existence more expansive than the seeming confines of space and time. The things we do ripple infinitely in a manner that disrupts and affects every living and non-living thing.

2. Purpose: Mr. Sneezlebums breathed on the tip of his cane and touched it gently, first to my feet, then to my two hands. Then he took his cane and traced a circle in the air, a portal. Within the portal was a destination I do not remember. The journey to that place was not a straight path in the physical sense but nevertheless represented a definitive culmination of actions and interactions that would ripple in such a way as to arrive at the image before me. He charged me to follow that path, and I said, "I will." It was the only thing I was able to speak.

3. Glory: But it was not my own.

I experienced rapture, and then blackness...

My alarm rang this morning, but I must have slept through it. I'd overslept by about a half hour. It had been a pleasant visitation, but my thoughts already were reverting to anxiety of the pressing labors before me. I approached my dresser to get ready for work and stepped on something cold and hard.

I looked down and saw a small lump of coal. The bottom of my left foot was smeared black. Mr. Sneezlebums, I thought, what happened?

The symbol puzzled me. Actually, it still does. A coal, after all, is like deadness, expended carbon.

But I thought more along the same train of thought. I thought of the coal as once burning. I thought of the fire that once consumed the black object. I thought of the transformation. That fire, that life, did not fizzle and die but emerged and transcended the object into an intangible but real energy that will ripple to infinite. I also thought that after a million or billion years of incredible pressure and time, what now is a lump of coal could become a diamond. I'm still not sure.

All I know for certain (and I think it's good enough) is that we are special. Happy Veemas to all and to all a good night.