Tuesday, January 6, 2015


I'm relocating. I got a new place uptown at ryanbeggar.wordpress.com.

Come visit!

Monday, January 5, 2015

Coming in 2015: Who Are These Miserable Persons?

My move around the country and my busy and flighty nature have delayed any new posts on the blog. That is the way of blogs. I'm very busy reading, writing, working, and spending time with my children. That's as should be.

However I update today for two important reasons. One, to post this image from Alan Lee of Frodo and Gandalf. I'm partial to this image- I've had it tattooed on my arm since 1999. When I tell people today it's Frodo I brace for the inevitable Elijah Wood comment. But I don't mind. This is how Frodo will always appear in my mind's eye and on my arm's triceps brachii.

The second reason is to announce an upcoming podcast with my friend and frequent conspirator The Mighty Hercules. He blogs with wonderful regularity on a variety of topics as only The Wise can, including a wonderful Lord of the Rings blog.

We'll be making an informal, conversational podcast about Tolkien in general, focusing on Middle Earth and especially the Lord of the Rings called The Miserable Persons Podcast. When more information is forthcoming I'll post it.

I'm excited for a wonderful 2015. 2014 was tumultuous but not really bad. It was very busy but not really overwhelming. I hope 2015 will be better.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Aspirational Heroes and Super-People Stories

I think a lot about Superman. The big guy. The classic cape.

Superman is a great image. He's really difficult to get a handle on, while being remarkably simple.

Superman, famously created by two small, awkward, and Jewish young men. Superman, who has been decried for decades for being dull, "goody goody," and one-dimensional. 

I was one of those people. I devoured comics with a voracious appetite for my entire childhood, but I never owned a single Superman comic until my 30s. I just didn't care. He didn't seem to have the depth and humanity that I wanted from my super-people, and I ignored him. My childhood especially was the age of gritty, "real" characters. Even super campy and absurd Batman became dark and serious. I loved the X-men, Spider-Man, the Marvel heroes who seemed so like me. Only, you know... superhuman and powerful and stuff. But otherwise!

Sadly, I didn't get Superman. Because Superman's appeal is exactly that he isn't normal. He's a classic aspirational hero, someone who you look up to and wish to emulate. He's not someone who has relatable flaws and weaknesses- though he sometimes does. He's distanced from humanity by the fact of his nature, but he's an ideal to strive for nonetheless. He's our collective wish that we grow better, that we become great. He's that imagined self inside of us that walks to the ledge to help the sick girl. 

I avoided superhero comics for many years. The male power fantasy irritated me. The characters I loved were still shallow, simple caricatures of real people. Actual human problems were occurring, making me ashamed of the ludicrous problems playing out on paneled pages. 

But I forgot one thing, and that one thing drew me back to comics as an adult- The stories reflect our human stories. They are out-sized, silly or absurd. But they're humanity writ large. They're our aspirations and dreams. They're our fears and pains in our heads that force us to the edge, and the heroes in our hearts that pull us back. 

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Back to the Ithaca

I'm back in Ithaca, preparing to move into our new house. It's been an insane year, but a fun one. I can't wait to get rolling in our upstate NY life once again. Once I'm settled, this sporadic blog will return. Perhaps to be less sporadic for a short time!

On an unrelated note, today is Charles Reznikoff's birthday. Enjoy his poem!

Now that black ground and bushes——
saplings, trees,
each twig and limb——are suddenly white with snow,
and earth becomes brighter than the sky,

that intricate shrub
of nerves, veins, arteries——
its knotted leaves
to the shining air.

Upon this wooded hillside,
pied with snow, I hear
only the melting snow
drop from the twigs.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Poets Wha Hae

Rabbie Burns looking dandy and Scots
Poets don't stand much of a chance in the 21st century. The art of poetry has been supplanted by other mediums, and poetry itself is relegated to either ancient history or teens scrawling in margins. Sadly... because poetry is a living art, and should stay alive. Poetry is the spirit of language, and language is a fundamentally human endeavor.  In fact, I would argue that poetry is the logic of the heart. 

Let me explain!

In the days of my friend Robert Burns, poetry was living language. He communicated politics, love, national sentiment, revolutionary fervor, and much more in poems. Poetry was alive in a way that seems quaint to us but was very much a continuation of what words had been for millenia. From ancient sagas to pamphlets, poetry moved through human existence, informing and enlightening. Somewhere along the line, sometime during the 20th century, poetry ossified. The logic of the Word, the power of Logos itself, ceased. We needed to rely on a colder, more precise logic to communicate. We became newspaper men and trivia experts, and moved away from the truth of the poem. 

Logic as a formal discipline is important, don't get me wrong. Understanding mathematical logic is a great task, and I enjoy a good discourse on deductive, abductive and inductive logics as much as the next person. But poetry is a logic of words. 

We exist as creatures of narrative reality. Our stories, our words, inform the world as much as anything else we consider objective and infallible. Ideas like integrity, honor and chivalry are communicated through poetic logics, the Logos. The ability, through words and speech, to make what was unclear clear. We are stories, as much as we are anything. Humanity exists in that realm, and tells stories to frame what we are for the present and the future people. If we lose poetry as an art, or diminish it to some academic and linguistic ghetto, we diminish ourselves. 

Burns died at 37, like so many fascinating figures of history have. At 37 now myself, I think of what I can communicate and leave to my children, my students, my peers. Certainly not a Burnsian body of work, or a linguistic and cultural revival on his level. But a few words. A step in the direction of humanity, of real logos as a meaningful discourse in the world. A verse of the narrative that moves and defines us, humble though it is. 

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Crisp June Evenings and a Slight Wavering Towards Home.

Miller at Big Sur
Henry Miller spoke of the word home with venomous hatred. He saw home as an oppressive, stifling concept. While I don't necessarily share his passion, I do tend to agree with the sentiment. Home in an American context is a dull, harsh and sterile place. While Japanese people have tiny sweltering apartments filled with laughter and joy; and the Italians live in run down buildings with two simple pieces of furniture and smile through a shared meal. We sit and brood and compare in giant cavernous mansions filled with every convenience and luxury. Or we pine in noisy, cramped apartments for that same luxury we see in manufactured images of home. We find it unbearable or untenable to share any space at all, and we yell and scream and drive off others. Americans are the chattering birds of public squares.

I'm not excluding myself here, by any means. I'm as incapable of living with people as any other American. My spaces are as filled with gee-gaws and wasteful practices as any suburban American. And I'm certainly not making a moral judgment. Unlike Miller, who was disdainful of the American, I'm more baffled. I've lived in other places. I see how societies can work. I see the appeal of what my wife calls "intact societies." Not in a utopian sense- these societies are flawed as well, from top to bottom- but in a functional sense of being cohesive, relevant to human issues... well, intact.

All that is in my mind as I return to my new home. My place that is suited to me, ridiculousness and all. I'm settled, for as long as my children live here, in Ithaca, New York. The New York that isn't New York. It's a fine place- I may lament in my romantic weakness for a Prague in which to cross bridges... I pine in a bizarre academic sense for structured Berlin... I even long to round a spiritual corner in a Kyoto park. But Ithaca is a fine place. We have a lovely little house, the kids are thriving and growing. My own wanderlust is tied securely to nonsense I need to purge, and Ithaca is the place to do it.

And best of all, perhaps, Ithaca is filled with people who would understand completely what Miller means by home as an oppressive concept. Without malice or anger, they could listen and hear. They could, as Miller himself would say, talk without just heaving facts at one another. I can get into that. I will get into that. If a small part of me pines or laments from time to time, hey... I'm only American. Only human.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Some Certain Amount of Ado about Something

Much Ado About Nothing is far from the greatest of Shakespeare's works. I don't often see it referenced in scholarly works about the Bard. It's certainly not his best writing, though it does have some interesting commentary on the human condition that still resonates with me.

It's a bizarre, farcical comedy about marriage and friendship. Shakespeare himself probably had a pretty low opinion of marriage as in institution- he certainly wasn't terribly fond of his own- but Much Ado looks at it in a bizarre but favorable light. He manages a few jabs. (Forcing someone to marry the cousin of the girl you've murdered with slander? Do they make a card for that? What's an appropriate gift to give?)

Mostly it's a cute and odd little play about honesty, trust, and how illogical and stupid love can be. I still think one of the things that draws me to Jaime is her Beatrice like disdain for the common trappings of relationships. Not that I can spar with her on the level of Benedict. It's more like Beatrice and Claudio. But I do try.

I think what makes me love this play beyond all reason is that love itself is a ridiculous concept. Romance is strange and wonderful, and the play captures this perfectly. One of my favorite scenes is when they are trying to figure out what to do with Beatrice, and she goes on about how she needs someone more than a youth, yet not more than a youth... She admits the ridiculousness of the entire endeavor. It's such a nice scene, because she's fully aware that she sounds absurd, but doesn't care. The entire situation is absurd!

Ultimately what makes it work out for everyone is admitting we're lost and confused. We admit it's insane and we just have to try our best to be there for one another. It's marvelously human, like Shakespeare could be at his best.

I do still wonder if Hero doesn't bring it up from time to time when Claudio annoys her.

"Oh you don't seem to be enjoying your dinner. Remember when you were such an ass to me that I almost died?!"

"No honey that's okay I don't need a new dress. Oh hey remember when you turned my wedding into a slut shaming party? And you got my dad to tell everyone he wished I were dead?"