Friday, April 30, 2004

Totally useless piece of trivia:

Google reports "about" the following number of hits for:

red: 99,700,000
blue: 81,300,000
green: 67,000,000
yellow: 45,000,000
orange: 29,800,000
pink: 21,700,000
purple: 11,500,000
beige: 4,480,000

Totally useless analysis:

Orange was not helped much by being both a color and a fruit.

"We were always singing in the fields. Not real singing, you know, just hollerin', but we made up our songs about things that was happening to us at the time, and I think that's where the Blues started."
-- Son House

Recommended movie: City of Lost Children, or if the title hasn't been translated, La Cité des Enfants Perdus (1995)

One adjective you will not end up using to describe it: unoriginal.

A word on sub-titled films. If you have never given them a chance, you should. You are likely to be a little bit distracted initially, but used to it enough by the end that you've forgotten you are reading. There is the added bonus of listening to the sounds and rhythms of a different language.

To me it doesn't make much sense that the set of people who will not watch sub-titled movies is larger than the set of people who either will not read or will not watch movies. Is it possible that we isolate mediums too much? That the experience of a book and the experience of a movie are so different that they cannot be brought together? I suspect that some movie-watchers consider sub-titles too much work--my answer to that would be that an enjoyment so passive that it requires no effort, might not be worth much.

That answer might sound like the parental, cooked-vegetables-being-good-for-you speech, but I've never found it to be so. The more I find things worthy of sustained attention and learn about them, the greater my capacity for enjoyment. While I can't prove it, I would maintain that the level of enjoyment that an Ace Ventura fan receives when watching one in the series is lesser than the enjoyment that a fan of Wings of Desire or Children of Paradise receives.

Robert Frost meets Dr. Seuss.

Thursday, April 29, 2004

Topic for discussion: the following statement.

Societal expectations that all relationships fall into set categories and follow set conventions is perhaps the greatest limitation to connecting with others than any other factor.

Weigh in.

In my town, a city worker regularly opens the hyrdrants one-by-one to flush the water system. Always at night.

Night is a good time to open a hydrant. Whenver I've discovered one, there are no other cars around. Only that high, raging stream of water, like a horizontal waterfall.

Sometimes I go around because it looks like my car will be washed away. Other times, I drive through smiling.

The problem with amateur poets--and I'm still including myself here, since I recently launched a poem that included such poignant words as "magical" and "dream"--are twofold

First, there's not enough sense to be embarrassed over first drafts.

Second, there's not enough discipline to turn first drafts into second, third, tenth drafts.

These problems are only compounded by the internet, and the democratization of voice. Now that everyone has a printing press (if not an audience), the results are pages and pages of news, art, and writing of dubious value. What used to go through an editor, can now be published instantly.

The argument could be made that audience will determine value, but I still think it would mean that the average level of writing quality will go down. While acquisition editors make mistakes, they at least insist that the writing pass some basic level of quality, or be shaped to do so. An audience does not always make that distinction.

Wednesday, April 28, 2004

Truffaut films are the antidote to Bergman films.

Bergman films are the antidote to American commercialism.

Amateur poets should be lined up against a wall and shot.

But only in the foot, to serve as a lesson.

To be lost on some foreign street,
    maybe in Europe, Morocco, Peru.
Like a childhood, story-time dream
of elsewhere--a magical Other not found
in the realm of chores and routine, the familiar.
    To be lost among birds, salt-water air and changing tides.
    Or jungles, searing heat, a canopy of green.

I am too bound by what I know,
     the blinders of local custom.
Only in my mind do I imagine some other realm
carrying with it a word of hope.
Friction at work has led to some escapist and romantic poetry. My apologies...

I may yank the result. Too Hallmark.

4 (of 4). There’s one primary reason that I don’t watch much television, especially plot-based television.

I went without it for three or four years, and found I couldn’t go back. It’s a worthwhile experiment to try, but people can’t, won’t. Most people could go for six weeks without alcohol, without movies, without books. But who can go without television for even three weeks? We’re addicted. Calvin of Calvin and Hobbes was right to make a religious sacrifice to the appliance. It is our babysitter and best friend. We want something we can do without moving, absorb without thinking, and possess without getting. People watch it more because it is in the most comfortable, centrally-located spot in the house and they’re just home from work and tired than that they’ve picked it over a dozen other, greater enjoyments.

And at the end of our lives, sadly, I can’t really name any good thing we’ll have gained from those 20 or 40 or 70 hours of watching [name your show].

We normally don't glimpse direct philosophical insights in Hemingway's fiction because of his pared-down, journalistic approach to fiction writing style.

The short story "A Clean, Well-Lighted Place is one exception, and his nihilism comes through forcefully:

"What did he fear? It was not fear or dread. It was a nothing that he knew too well. It was all a nothing and a man was nothing too....Our nada who art in nada, nada be thy name thy kingdom nada thy will be nada in nada as it is in nada. Give us this nada our daily nada and nada us our nada as we nada our nadas and nada us not into nada but deliver us from nada; pues nada. Hail nothing full of nothing, nothing is with thee."

Nada, of course, the Spanish for nothing. Some find this passage poignant, some find it offensive, some find it brilliant. As a human and a fan of Hemingway, I find it very sad.

Monday, April 26, 2004

I attended a writer's conference over the weekend, and during one of the breaks I was sitting outside enjoying the weather when an extremely large man sat down on the bench next to me. He must have noticed my name tag and the city/state information given, and we had the following brief exchange:

-You're from Ionia?
-Are there writers in Ionia?
-Yes, there are.
-I taught in Belding for awhile and--this might be un-Christian to say--my whole impression of that area of Michigan is that all the people are shallower than mud puddles.

I didn't say anything more than a neutral "hmm," because I wanted to see if he would qualify the statement, that maybe he blurted it out with no forethought and was embarrassed, or that he might at the very least say that he wasn't implying that I was shallower than a mud puddle. I thought perhaps he would ask a follow-up question to find out if I had the same impression, or if things had changed, or if I knew of a few who had ascended to mud puddle depth.

He didn't. I stand accused. Shallower than a Michigan mud puddle.

Thursday, April 22, 2004

Are milder forms of depression a comforting thing?

No one can take depression away from us, and it's a quiet, familiar friend.

If we are in tune with ourselves and the world around us, there has to be a range of emotions that descends as low as depression.

I am inexplicably depressed right now, and what seems stranger, it seemed to come on in a moment, but I cannot trace the impetus or source. But it's a gentle depression, and seems almost its own entity, and is giving some sense of security, which I also cannot explain.
I quoted what I believe to be the shortest Ezra Pound poem a few entries down.

I was going to just give the title (which I didn't do originally) but now discover that memory has not served me well. Interestingly enough, I like my change to the second line better than the original--I like the rhythm better and feel it makes the image more vivid. Maybe that's arrogant to say. Feel free to submit a vote one way or the other.

I don't normally do rewrites of other writers. This instance, as mentioned, was inadvertent.

       In a Station of the Metro

       The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
       Petals on a wet, black bough.

My memory-distorted second line:

Pink petals on a wet, black bough.

3 (of 4). Broadly targeted. Television aims at the broadest possible demographic to secure the best chances of a full season run, so for most of us, it’s on a lower intellectual, emotional, or artistic level than we are. Sounds like regression.

There are niche audiences for books and movies, but regular network television needs every viewer they can grab, and so they seek the lowest common denominator.

Wednesday, April 21, 2004


2 (of 4). Interrupted.

Imagine a symphony where partway through a piece, those who paid the most money get to stand up and shout, sing or dance anything they want to.

Now I’m not against commercialism altogether, or anti-capitalist, but I’d rather see Cheetohs before a movie or on the side of a bus than in the middle of something I’m intent on enjoying.

Tuesday, April 20, 2004

I need my own palliative tonight. I am a technical writer, and went to a Society of Technical Writers meeting where "vision" was discussed. Although some of the people that attend are quite fascinating to me, and although I almost always enjoy the nights when there is a guest lecturer, I found tonight's meeting as profoundly depressing as if I had watched some black-and-white Bergman film.

It was too sharp a confirmation that Technical Writing is not the field I most want to be in. Most days I enjoy my job a fair amount, but in the future I will have to stay away from the whole idea of vision as it relates to vocation.

Okay, I really need to get some perspective. I've done much worse. I've worked in some factories, some complete hell-holes, that make my present work seem like pound cake.

At one shop I worked in, it seemed the very air was toxic. The workers there were geographically removed from any decent job prospects, so they felt tied to their work and the miserable routine. I'm not sure if I even picture the place correctly--if the physical aspects of it were as grim as the mental or if it only seems that way now looking back.

No--it comes back to me--it was as grim physically as mentally. Manufactured fibers floated through the air and so coated a person that at the end of a shift workers would blast themselves with air compressor hoses. I had the additional rare luck of being allergic to the fibers, and so I managed to stay awake on the ride home by scratching my entire body. I also worked second shift, so by the time I went home there was no daylight left.

It was assumed by the foreman that you needed the work badly. He once came up to me while I was sweeping my area prior to the final Go Home bell-- I did all clean-up prior to the final Go Home bell, because that only made sense. He explained to me that, "If you really want to get hired here, you're going to have to save clean-up until after the bell rings." In other words, sweeping is volunteer work.

The smallest things seem huge in hell-hole shops. Bells become sacred--both to management and to the workers. Pace also becomes sacred, but only to management.

But I heard my foreman say these things to me about sweeping and bells, and the words didn't process well. I had been temporarily laid off at my prior shop job (a lesser torment on a parallel with the higher levels of Dante's purgatory) and was marking time at this place while waiting to be called back. I had taken a pay cut, which placed me at minimum wage, but the foreman was not privy to this information. To be hired full-time at this lower hell-hole would still be a pay cut from where I would soon return.

I usually don't have it in me to be mean, and I didn't care enough about the words coming out of that man's mouth to have a discernible reaction. I think I just stared at him. Some rare level of absurdity had been reached that made rational or even vengeful answers less enjoyable than staring.

The foreman seemed to love his rank in the hell-hole, and from knowing him I came up with the lines, "Kings on thrones, however small the kingdom. That's what we are, that's what we want."

There was one person there I remember with fondness. He drove the forklift, and seemed completely impervious to the toxic environment. I loved him dearly for that. The feeling may have been somewhat mutual--at least, he always used to ask me when I went out for lunch break: Are you going to come back? I had never said anything about not coming back, but he sensed it. I loved that he asked me that question.

On my final day there, I was working a hot press. Sheets of some kind of soft fiber board that make up the trunk liner of the car you drive were sprayed with water and then placed into the damn hot press and molded into rigidity. Cracks in the finished product had to be squirted with Krazy Glue, which has an exquisitely pungent smell when applied to hot fiber board. My forearms had been burned slightly, but in order to keep pace I did not, could not, concern myself with slight burns or the care needed to avoid them. And I was having an allergy attack due to the dust mites who must have been having full-fledged orgies within those fibers, but a dust mask had to be worn, so imagine a Kleenex fastened to the face with a rubber band.

The night was only half over, and when I saw my foreman, I explained my problems. I don't think I used the exact words "This press has become my cross to bear," but the sentiment was undoubtedly obvious by my facial expression and the dust mask, which I imagine I had pushed up to the top of my head in order to talk and was now wearing as a small white hat.

Maybe some profound level of absurdity had been reached for him by my role at the press, and the complaint I was lodging, though I find it hard to believe that my foreman had a capacity for appreciating the absurd. And yet he responded no less forcefully--he stared at me and said nothing. And then walked away.

That sapped any perseverance and jolly-good productivity I had left. I purposefully took the next floppy piece of dust-mite-partying fibers, and set it on the press. I took off my hands-free Kleenex/silly white hat, and placed it on top of the piece, and pushed the double-buttons--a safety precaution, lest you should in a fit of desperation try to mold your head into the shape of a trunk liner. The press ran its damn hot cycle, which pressed the dust mask into a now nicely formed automobile part. Check your car, you might have it; I'll buy it from you. I took it off the press, placed it 7 or 8 down in the stack, and waited for the sacred Lunch Bell.

When it rang, I headed outside, got in my car, drove away, and just kept on driving. I have only one regret. I wish I could have been there to see the face of the forklift driver when he realized that today, I wasn't coming back.
Please go out and read Nabakov's Lolita right now. Have the love/hate relationship with it that I did when I read it several years ago. Be tormented by a character who could be so beastly, yet who could express himself so poignantly. Be tormented by a Russian who had to learn English, yet who could write like this after doing so.

Any level of hatred for Humbert is at least lessened at the end. This is not a man who relished what he did. One of the thoughts he leaves us with is:

"Unless it can be proven to me--to me as I am now, today, with my heart and my beard, and my putrefaction -- that in the infinite run it does not matter a jot that a North American girl-child named Dolores Haze had been deprived of her childhood by a maniac, unless this can be proven (and if it can, then life is a joke), I see nothing for the treatment of my misery but the melancholy and very local palliative of articulate art."

I wanted to weep when I read this. Who hasn't seen at least glimpses of a similar ugliness within their own self?
Blender rates 50 worst songs.

#3: Wang Chung's "Everybody Have Fun Tonight."

"If this song was a party, you'd lock yourself in a bathroom and cry."

Nice quote. Although, I don't know--locking yourself in a room and weeping can be under-rated.

I also object that it is:

1 (of 4). Serial.

It needs a formula that can be repeated on a frequent and regular basis.

Why are sequels almost without exception worse than their older sibling? Perhaps it is because a story can only be told once.

There is a narrative arc, and a character-development arc, and at the end of these arcs, nothing more is needed.

In a serial medium, arcs are self-destructive to the medium. A character seen on a journey of development is slowly hanging himself. It’s not the path to syndication. That’s why Season 1 Episode 1 Chandler is the same stage prop as Season 7 Episode 6 Chandler, except maybe with a different haircut and girlfriend.

…and thus its primary accomplishment is killing time.

Monday, April 19, 2004

My primary objection to television is that it almost always leaves us in the same place we were before we started watching, like a Twinkie for the brain…

Friday, April 16, 2004

Not receiving placement on the list below is Courtney Love. I caught her and backup harpies singing on Leno last night, and it was truly cacaphonic. And this is coming from a man who just gave runner-up vocal credit to Juice Newton. That said, I wouldn't mind seeing her in concert some day, just because it can be perversely interesting to see someone so out of control, but still able to hang on, and who is on display for public consumption.

Maybe Love's album is better. I will have to say that I find Hole's song "Awful" enjoyable. And that last sentence works with or without the quotes, or with "song" and "awful" swapped.

I have "Motherland" running through my head now. It is an impressively gorgeous song.

Thursday, April 15, 2004

In keeping with the music topic, here are my votes for most interesting female voice, in order. The ratings of this list are on vocal character only, and may not be a reflection of overall quality of the singer's music. Examples that highlight their win indicated in parentheses.

1. Natalie Merchant ("Motherland")
2. Susan Tedeschi ("Mama, He Treats Your Daughter Mean," "It Hurt So Bad," "Voodoo Woman")
3. Sinead O' Connor ("Sacrifice," "Nothing Compares...," all the covers on Am I Not Your Girl)
4. Cher ("The Shoop Shoop Song")
5. Steve Nicks ("Gypsy")
6. Julie Miller (specific examples pending)

And in the runner-up category, the Also Ran goes to Bonnie Tyler/Juice Newton/Kim Carnes, who science may prove one day are in reality just three variations of the same person.

If you feel I've neglected worthy competitors, feel free to offer suggestions to the judging panel.

Worst song lyrics of the day:

He looked at me with knowing eyes,
An' took a canvas from a bag there by his side.
Picked up a brush an' said to me:
"Son, just where in this picture would you like to be?"
"Well, I said if there's any way you can,
Could you paint me back into her arms again?"

This is from the song Paint Me a Birmingham, by Tracy Lawrence, which I heard on the radio this morning.

Tuesday, April 13, 2004

Credo: I believe in words. I don't believe it is incidental to who we are that we communicate using language. I believe that words, when put in the right order, accomplish more than who we vote for or what has been invented. I believe that there is a combination of words, that when launched into the world, could change it forever.

The writer's job is to find that combination.
With spring--real spring, not the dripping, gusty lingering of winter too long--everything is new again. How does spring do that to us every year, even after so many years?

The warm air, the cool breeze, comfortable cotton clothes, and the passions they all awake--somehow this experience goes away annually somewhere remote, so that it is ever new, yet still familiar, every spring.

Monday, April 12, 2004

I once refused a cortisone shot targeted for the bottom of my foot. The notion sure gave me the heeby-jeebies. There's just some places needles shouldn't go, unless as a chaser to something relaxing. At times things that take place in the doctor's office seem a little like: The man with all the goodies wants you to feel pain. But that's coming from someone who finds many side effects pleasing and most medical procedures psychologically disturbing.
I caught just the side of her as she glided through her doorway, and my heart said, Ah.

Wednesday, April 07, 2004

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is easily one of the most amazing movies I've ever seen.

It asks such fascinating questions: What is memory, and is it tangible? Is every memory valuable, or only the less painful ones? What is its role in our lives? Would you go through a wonderful experience if you could retain no memory of it?

I'm sure it helped my reflection on the movie that when I came back outside afterwards, the world seemed like a memory--the parking lot was empty of people, the day was warm, and all I could hear were a couple of birds. I'm sure it helped that it was 5:30 but seemed like 3:00. I'm sure it helped that I'd had something to drink. I remember observing that if you could be stoned only once in your life, this would be the movie you would choose for that. Well, that or The Doors. Or maybe 2001: A Space Odyssey.

It's always nice when I can decide that I love a movie 15 minutes in, and know that I won't be disappointed.

The dialog was good, and included lines like, "Valentine's Day is a holiday invented by greeting card companies to make people feel like crap." But the very best part about it is the visual and aural representations of memory. I think Dali would have loved this movie.
No one here gets out alive, not the director, not the screenwriters (a phone book's worth), not the cast, and not the audience, who, a few dollars lighter and a few hours closer to death, get a chance to glimpse their own mortality reflected in the dead, shark-eyed glare of the bankruptcy of another big-budget prestige picture.
--From Walter Chaw's review of The Alamo

More Ezra Pound.

....I am homesick after mine own kind,
Oh I know that there are folk about me,
   friendly faces....
They reach me not—
touch some edge or that—
But reach me not...
       And I am homesick
       After mine own kind that know, and feel
       And have some breath for beauty and the arts.

       Aye, I am wistful for my kin of the spirit
       And have none about me save in the shadows...

(Ezra Pound, “In Durance,” 1907)

Monday, April 05, 2004

We cannot just confine ourselves to the sphere
of our own limited, local existence,
    within a certain city
    in a certain country
    in a certain year.

We have to track the course of time
in the aging of our friend's faces,
in the maturing of our feelings towards
    those friends,
and the progress of their lives towards an end goal.

We need more reference points for our place in the universe;
for we are neither so small, nor so large
    as we imagine.
Hi ho. Read Vonnegut's Slapstick sometime. It is gloriously mad, a grown up Alice's Wonderland. I have just quoted him in this paragraph.

Short words are nice words. Like hi ho. Like the Ezra Pound poem I like to carry in my head:
   These apparitions of faces in a crowd,
   pink petals on a wet black bough

Such a soft poem. Always available for mentally reciting, and picturing. Prose is great for reading. Poetry is great for having in your head.

Unfortunately, if brevity is the soul of wit, I am doomed to an eternity of redundancy. For me to start focusing my writing rather than just tossing it out would mean: Prune cut and clip. Pause, take a breath, enjoy the sunshine and then say 1/100 the words you intended. That's the restrained power some of the great writers have.

Oh, reader, whoever you are, be a muse to the people around you. The right ones will drink it up. Nothing you say will be wasted. The messages will bounce around and eventually find a home.

This is my wakeup call to the world, and to myself. Don’t stop doing whatever it is we do. Do it well. Be ferociously gentle. Clever but accessible. Impulsive but balanced. Enjoy emotions a shade grayer than bliss, those feelings that roll in with a foggy rainy day.

Friday, April 02, 2004

Libery University Code of Conduct

Lessons learned:

- You can have five cigarettes for the price of one beer.
- "Horseplay" is a formal offense, not just something your grandmother warned you about. 4 reprimands plus a written warning.
- If you're going to stay with two or more individuals of the opposite sex, make sure it's not in a motel room.
- If you do stay with two or more individuals of the opposite sex, lie about it. Deception is only 12 reprimands.
- You might be able to stay in school after participation in demonic activity. Not so with drug use. Min. two semesters out.
- Do not climb above the ceiling tiles. Ever. Kind of reminds me of The Breakfast Club.

I probably shouldn't be so cynical. It could be categorized as disrespect and get me 6 reprimands.

Thursday, April 01, 2004

If I always tried really hard, I could accomplish a lot, but most of the time I'm just trying hard to try hard.

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