This entry is part 1 of 7 in the series Self-Portraits


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My second entry in the self-portrait marathon

“Microsoft: Zombies most prevalent Windows threat,” says the headline. Zombies? O.K., I’ll bite.

Many Windows PCs have been turned into zombies, but rootkits are not yet widespread, according to a Microsoft security report slated for release Monday.

More than 60 percent of compromised Windows PCs scanned by Microsoft’s Windows Malicious Software Removal Tool between January 2005 and March 2006 were found to be running malicious bot software, the company said. The tool removed at least one version of the remote-control software from about 3.5 million PCs, it added. That’s compared with an overall 5.7 million machines with infections overall.

“Backdoor Trojans”are a significant and tangible threat to Windows users,” Microsoft said in the report.

Let me be your backdoor Trojan, baby.

Man on the street

This entry is part 2 of 7 in the series Self-Portraits


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My fourth entry in the self-portrait marathon

I’m personally against seeing my pictures and statues in the streets — but it’s what the people want.

Never read about the Turkmenbashi right before going to bed. While I slept, a bland, doughy face came looking in the window.

Tink. Tink. Tink. Water dripping on a steel roof in the prison yard.

The golden statue revolves on top of its pedestal not in order to follow the sun, as malicious outsiders claim, but in order to keep from falling into shadow. A positive attitude is a powerful potion, chant the people’s deputies.

Tink, tink, tink: spoons on glasses in the golden-domed palace. The blandest of smiles, announcing the abolition of the death penalty. Across the boulevard at the U.S. embassy, it’s like a group orgasm as cellphones in pants pockets all begin to vibrate at once.

I am a bystander in my own dream. Who are all these blue horsemen flourishing their sabers so cinematically? They gallop into the forest in a large, public park just as some demonstrators — Young Turkmens, I guess — lead a mob of military police into the same forest from the other side.

Is it that I have no stomach for gore, or that, fed on a diet of bloodless history, I lack the mental imagery? The trees hide everything. I hear shots and screams, and the winnying of horses.

Half of the horsemen come out, but none of the police. The voice of the omniscient narrator hesitates, then tells the truth. The horsemen were patriotic defenders of Turkmenistan; the police were vile enemies of the people. There will be democratic elections. Tink, tink, tink.

Now I am there in person, and so are you. We bloggers have chosen Ashgabat as our next gathering spot — it’s centrally located, we say. The elections were a smashing success; they have democracy now. The Turkmenbashi’s head smiles blandly from the top of a revolving stake.

The former secret police have new jobs as pimps and pickpockets, thugs and drug runners. They follow us everywhere. Four of them rob us at knifepoint in a crowded restaurant.

Our shouts for help arouse nothing but studied disinterest from the other diners. Then I get an idea. Tap your spoons against your wineglasses, I urge my companions.

Tink. Tink. Tink.

In the hallway of the ancestors

This entry is part 4 of 7 in the series Self-Portraits


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My seventh entry in the self-portrait marathon

My mother’s people gaze across at my father’s people in the narrow upstairs hallway of my parents’ house. It all seems amicable enough. Some were rich, some were poor, but most were somewhere in the middle. Both sides are dominated by people of German, English, and Dutch ancestry, with a little French Canadian and Irish thrown in. A discouragingly large number on both sides were teetotaling Methodists, but for all that, they don’t look any more sober than decorum required.

Aside from genealogists, most Americans don’t spend much time thinking about their ancestors. After all, we are descended from the disinherited and the violently dispossessed — or at the least, from people who believed in leaving the past behind. And we’re still that way, aren’t we? We think of our ancestors as forebears only, and believe them quite irretrievably dead and gone — perhaps to a better place from which they might occasionally cast a fond glance in our direction, but that’s all. They’re not expected to take an active interest in the affairs of their descendents, much less transmigrate back into the clan. Sometimes one of them might come back as a ghost, but that’s about it.

I think it’s important to remember how odd this belief about our ancestors makes us, how much of an exception to the general run of societies around the world. Combine that with our astonishing ignorance of history — even quite recent history — and I think it’s safe to say that we Americans are almost uniquely alienated from our roots. It goes along with our alienation from nature, I believe, and in some respects probably helps license the on-going commodification of what used to be thought of as Creation. In pre-modern Europe, the dead were buried in the churchyard at the center of the village, and had their day on the calendar (All Souls Day). Ancestor reverence formed a minor part of a complex system of traditional observances — including local saints’ days, rogations, feasts and fasts — which all together told people who they were and where they came from. Carnival rites linked bodily symbolism, both sacred and profane, with the cosmic drama of changing seasons and renewed fertility.

The Protestant Reformation did away with most of that, and the Industrial Revolution finished it off. The 19th-century bourgeois novel and 20th-century psychology invented the isolated, narrowly sexual and generally neurotic individual, and the Great Awakening and subsequent religious movements stressed a personal relationship with God or Jesus above all else. My Methodist ancestors seem, on the whole, content with this arrangement. They knew how to compose themselves for a photograph, wearing their Sunday best and meditating on eternity, or something else completely apart from daily life, for as long as it took the man with the box and the flash to capture their likenesses. They rest easy in their frames, smiling sardonically — if at all — at the thought that some lonely fool might someday long to re-enter those frozen moments.

Night unto night

This entry is part 5 of 7 in the series Self-Portraits


ice ear

Seated between the quietly humming computer and the cold-air return vent for the furnace, I begin to hear voices. It’s not the stirring of a crowd united in passion for some cause or spectacle, nor the whispers of a moss colony buried by snow, but a simple and pleasing cacophony — the kind that grows from any gathering in which many conversations blend and merge. Picture yourself in some cave-like station or terminal where every other person is speaking animatedly into a cell phone. They might as well each be talking to God, except that, from time to time, they pause to listen. That’s what this pause is like. I’m tired and I’ve run out of things to say, so I give listening a try. The furnace stops, and a moment later the refrigerator shudders into silence. I power down the computer; the voices merely rise in pitch, till they are thin as the hairs on a fly. Call it sensory deprivation if you want. It’s past midnight, the full moon is hidden by clouds and I’m sitting in the dark, accompanied by the white noise of angels in which I do not believe.

Self-portrait in proverbs

This entry is part 6 of 7 in the series Self-Portraits


frost hand
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A footprint is a sign; a handprint is a message.

This one says: I choose transparency because that’s the best way to hide.

Solitude is a salt lake with five inlets.

Sand can return to stone, but can glass ever return to sand?

My hand was so thick, I couldn’t see the fog in front of me.


tree face


Ice is a form of immobility that doesn’t keep. By the time I got my photos of the ice storm home & took them out of my camera, they had already lost almost all their glitter.

When the sky falls, it clings to everything. Trees snap with the weight of it. Beauty is best kept at arm’s length.

If it weren’t for wonder, I might have to go make something of myself.

Trees in the winter aren’t sleeping; they’re procrastinating.

Always remember that nature is out to kill you.


Inspired by the posts at the communal self-portrait site Autography (tagline: “Self-Portrait as Story”).

Self-portrait with new blue socks

This entry is part 7 of 7 in the series Self-Portraits


blue socks

Yes, it’s cool enough here for wool socks (and today, long underwear).

This is my favorite self-portrait to date, I think. The blues make me happy. “ASUS” is one letter away from “ASS,” which I often am. It shows my front porch at mid-morning, which is where and when I feel most at home in the universe. And I like the comic inversion here and the suggestion of asinine ears. The only way this could’ve been improved, I think, would’ve been if I’d thought to take my shirt off and use a compact digital camera, as if this were a “sexting” shot.

The photo was both planned and unplanned. Rachel had asked me several weeks ago for front-porch photos of both pairs of socks she’s knitted for me so far. (The other and far more glorious pair can be seen on Flickr.) The light conditions yesterday morning were perfect, and since I was wearing the blue socks already, I was inspired to grab the camera and snap some pictures. But then I set the camera down and picked up the laptop… You can imagine the rest. Curiously, when I went to upload the photos to my laptop for processing, I discovered that the initial two or three shots of just my feet in the blue socks were missing, I’m not sure how or why. So I was forced to take seriously a photo I’d shot as a joke, on a whim.