Contents copyright 1997 by Thomas G. Digby, with a liberal definition of "fair use". In other words, feel free to quote excerpts elsewhere (with proper attribution), post the entire zine (verbatim, including this notice) on other boards that don't charge specifically for reading the zine, link my Web page, and so on, but if something from here forms a substantial part of something you make money from, it's only fair that I get a cut of the profits.
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Recently I was at a little get-together with friends, and someone decided to introduce us to a game. We were sitting around a table in the back yard going through an introductory hand when it started to sprinkle. Opinions differed on what to do. It was getting dark enough that we'd almost certainly want to go inside for the next hand, but should we get damp finishing this one where we were or should we rush inside NOW, in the midst of play? The hand was nearly done, and it was only sprinkling a little, so getting wet might be less hassle than interrupting play while trying to remember whose turn it was and who had what. But then, what was falling from the sky was that stuff you're supposed to have enough sense to come in out of, so why aren't we coming in out of it?
This reminded me of something from a couple of years ago. I was reading a book of anecdotes written by a psychologist ("The Taboo Scarf" by George Weinberg). At one point the author was walking across the grounds of a mental hospital and noticed a woman sitting out in the rain. He suggested she go inside, whereupon she replied "I'm waterproof!". He used that incident as a springboard for a discussion of the difficulty he had accepting that people really believed their delusions: He just couldn't, deep in his heart, really believe that the woman really thought she was waterproof.
The thing that struck me about this was not that he had trouble believing the woman believed what she'd said, but that he did not present one shred of evidence to indicate that the woman WASN'T waterproof. If she'd been about to dissolve like the Wicked Witch in the Oz movie, why wasn't there a great hullabaloo of orderlies being summoned to throw tarps over her until she could be carried to shelter? Perhaps the reason was that, on some level, he agreed that she was indeed water-resistant if not waterproof.
Almost everyone in this culture agrees that rain is something to come in out of, but why? I can think of several reasons: (1) In the climates of our cultural ancestry, most rain is cold. If your clothing gets soaked you'll lose heat at a rate most people consider unacceptable. There is also a widespread belief (not borne out by most scientific evidence) that getting wet and chilled leads to disease. (2) People are not accustomed to wearing wet clothing, and most clothing (other than swim suits) is not designed to be comfortable when wet. (3) Much "good" clothing in past years would be easily damaged by water. Colorfast dyes and machine-washable fabrics were not always the norm. (4) If you're wearing glasses, raindrops on the lenses will hinder vision. (5) Water soaking into one's hair and running down into one's eyes is uncomfortable (which is why people wipe sweat from their brows instead of just letting it drip off). (6) In a severe storm there may be danger from lightning, hail, and wind-blown objects. (7) Reason aside, we are programmed to think of rain as something to come in out of.
But if you look at the above list, most of the reasons would seem to apply only sometimes, or in other times and places than here and now. So why not consider the decision rationally rather than just rushing inside because we're programmed to? Does anyone know what other cultures' attitudes toward coming in out of the rain are?
Free-association on analogies to the old adage about everything looking like a nail if your only tool is a hammer brought up a silly memory. There was this corrugated iron building across an alley behind a place I used to work at, and it got torn down. They took it down by more or less conventional means. But I recall wondering how long it would take to get rid of it with only a small rat-tail file. Squeepa, squeepa, squeepa, filing away for months, years, decades? Squeepa, squeepa, squeepa. Pick one corner of the metal roof, and start filing. Squeepa, squeepa, squeepa. Years and decades of squeepa, squeepa, squeepa.
Say 500 square meters of corrugated iron, the "tin" of so-called "tin" roofs and buildings. If it's a millimeter thick, that's half a cubic meter. And maybe an equal amount of steel in beams and girders, etc. Say a cubic meter total.
Squeepa, squeepa, squeepa. Maybe a tenth of a cubic millimeter per stroke, squeepa, squeepa, squeepa, for a whole cubic meter. That's 10 to the tenth strokes. Say 1.5 strokes per second average, 31 million seconds per year, about 50 million strokes a year. That's roughly two hundred years. Two hundred years of squeepa, squeepa, squeepa.
Rather boring, if you ask me. But that's just my view from the midst of the hurly-burly of life. Taking a building down like that with just a rat-tail file is the kind of work that puts one into a meditative state. Squeepa, squeepa, squeepa. And all that meditation may lead to development of yoga-like powers so I wouldn't need to stop and rest or sleep or eat or die or anything like that. I could just keep filing away, squeepa, squeepa, squeepa, paying little heed to the passing parade of humanity, pausing only to now and then retrieve a new rat-tale file from the alms bowl as the old rat-tile file wears out. Squeepa, squeepa, squeepa.
As time pase I finished, squeepa, squeepa, squeepa, near the dawn of the twenty-third century, squeepa, squeepa, SQRRRK----, there may not even be such a thing as clothing any more.
But alas, the building is already gone, torn down by conventional workers using conventional equipment. So the world has lost its chance to see a crazy old man doing two hundred years of squeepa, squeepa, squeepa.
There's a bookstore not too far away that has Friday night poetry readings. And this year (1995) National Limerick Day (May 12), which for some reason happens to coincide with Edward Lear's birthday (May 12), falls on a Friday. So for this Friday's reading they'd like people to read limericks.
What I'd been thinking I might read is not the usual five-liner about the young or old man or woman from Fort This or Saint That. No. Instead of that, I was thinking I might read War and Peace. Problem is, there's a sort f time limit of around five to ten minutes per person, and War and Peace is almost certain to run over. Way over. So they'd probably grump at me for running overtime, even if I read it in English rather than Russian.
But if they tried to grump at me on the grounds that War and Peace wasn't a limerick, I'd have this as an answer:
The limerick is unique among types of verse in that it can depart from the standard form provided it contains an excuse for doing so. If a supposed sonnet has the wrong number of lines and the meter varies wildly and it doesn't rhyme, you have good grounds for saying it's not a sonnet. If something purporting to be a sestina has no repeated words, then it's not a sestina. But a limerick can still be a limerick even if it doesn't have exactly five lines in the traditional limerick meter rhyming A,A,B,B,A.
Consider: A young meter-reader named Peter While looking around for a meter By a leak struck a light, Then he rose out of sight. And as anyone who knows anything about poetry can plainly see, the explosion also destroyed the meter. Or A certain young man from St. Louis At rhyming was no good at all. He tried and he tried But he had to give up 'Cause this was the best he could do. Or There was a young man from Ft. Bend Whose limericks tended to end Suddenly.
These are all generally accepted as limericks, even though each breaks at least one rule of the form.
Why does the limerick have this privilege? I suspect it's a sort of comedic license, since the limerick traditionally deals with humorous subjects. If breaking the rules is part of the gag, then it's OK for a limerick to break the rules.
Let me close with three more examples of variant forms, partly drawn from my memory of something from Scientific American some years back.
First the antepenultimate: There was a young man from St. Loo Whose limericks would end with line two. Then the penultimate: There was a young man from Verdun.
Of those three, my favorite is the rare and elusive Zen Limerick about the unfortunate writer from Vero.
As it turned out, I read this treatise on non-standard limericks instead of War and Peace. But National Limerick Day will be a Friday again in just five years. That's plenty of time to learn enough Russian to read War and Peace in that language. If I do that, people may grump at me for running over the time limit. But they won't be able to grump at me on grounds that War and Peace isn't a limerick.
Only a few lines to go, and nothing. Will I never finish, and when they come to see why I didn't show up at the party and also never showed up for anything else ever again nor paid any bills for months and months and months, will they find my bones piled in front of this computer from having starved to death sitting here trying to think of something to say? And if so, what will they do? Will they shove the bones aside and sit down and add the last few lines I'd need to finish this? And then will they not be able to think of anything either, so the next batch of people who come by wondering what happened to the first batch will find all the bones of the first batch of people piled in front of this computer? And so on, until the piles of bones get too big for the house and there's no room for anybody else to sit down and get stuck not being able to think of anything to say?
Or maybe I should just stop right here and claim to have finished, and
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