Tuesday, August 23, 2011

It Could Be a Nice Park

But it's not.

Instead, it seems like the place where the surrounding churches might do their ritual sacrifices. Isn't that what churches do? Anja said it smelled like livestock. Obvs. lambs.

Photo by happy-dee-dooo.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Titles of Books That Should Never Be Written

I am working on a list of titles of books that, if written, would be stinkers. So far I have:

The Abandoned Quonset Hut.Quonset 2, north of Dickinson Bayou at Hwy 146, Texas 0404091454Quonset 2, north of Dickinson Bayou at Hwy 146, Texas 0404091454, by accent on eclectic

I imagine this as a thriller, perhaps in the vein of The Thing. Or it could be a cosy catastrophe, with military survivors or something. I definitely think it should take place above 60 degrees latitude, I don't know why, nor does it matter because it would suck.

The Suicidal Chipmunk
Don't jump pal!Don't jump pal!, by Cleber Mori

This could be a morality tale à la James Thurber's Fables for Our Times, but not like David Sedaris' more recent animal stories, which I don't like. Though, since this is a book that should never be written, maybe the Sedaris stories are the model. I don't see how this book could be anything but terrible.

Aerial Application

The title refers to the fancy way of saying "crop dusting," a mode of expression with which I became familiar in childhood from driving past a school for it in LaSalle, Colorado. But I think the book would be about a fraught romance between two trapeze artists. And it would be unspeakably foul.

Sunday, July 03, 2011


What is travel for?

Martha Gellhorn, in "What Bores Whom?", travels to Israel in 1971 when she is in her 60s. This woman traveled all over alone, and reported on wars and conflicts, starting with the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s. She was also, fairly briefly, married to Ernest Hemingway, which must have been a war and conflict in itself.

Gary Cooper, Martha Gellhorn, Sandra Shaw, and Ernest Hemingway

In Israel, she goes to a Red Sea resort town, and ends up surrounded by hash-smoking hippies hanging out in an abandoned water tank. She writes of them: "In their view, the were traveling to find themselves, rather as if oneself were a missing cufflink or earring that had rolled under the bed. They admired those among them who meditated in the lotus position for a fixed period of time each day. Like I mean he's really into meditation. The meditators were closer to finding themselves. I couldn't imagine any of them ten years hence, having never known such shapeless people."

Breathe. Photo by Beny Shlevich

I like her description, because I have always thought that travel is overrated in its ability to be life-changing. Some people are capable of extreme change, but most are not. Their selves are not "lost" so much as eternally absent, and no amount of travel will help them "find" anything. People who can change can generally change without going anywhere.

It reminds me of the constant misinterpretation of Robert Frost's "The Road Not Taken." Almost everyone reads this poem as the narrator having done something brave and taken "the road less traveled by," but I would argue that Frost does not mean that at all. Here is the poem:

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood
and sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
and looked down one as far as I could
to where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
and having perhaps the better claim
because it was grassy and wanted wear;
though as for that, the passing there
had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
in leaves no feet had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I --
I took the one less traveled by,
and that has made all the difference.

In describing the two roads, he first says that "the other" had a better claim "because it was grassy and wanted wear." From this description, we get the idea that the second path is less traveled. However, the narrator admits that this perception is not really true: "though as for that, the passing there/ had worn them really about the same." Then, "And both that morning equally lay/ in leaves no feet had trodden black" [emphasis mine]. The paths are identical, they lay "equally," and neither has been "trodden black." There is no difference in the two paths, so the narrator's choice is arbitrary, not brave.

The "turn" of the poem (like a turn in a sonnet) comes in the last stanza, where the narrator envisions a future time when he or she will be telling the story of choosing a path. In this imagined future narration, the narrator will "sigh" and then, in an act of self-aggrandizement, say "Two roads diverged in a wood, and I --/ I took the one less traveled by,/ and that has made all the difference." The repetition of "I--I" emphasizes the future narrative egoism that the narrator envisions.

In the moment of choice between two equal paths, the narrator knows that, at some point in the future, he or she will want to tell the story of the choice in such a way so that the listener will be impressed. Saying, "Yeah, I chose one path for no real reason" is less exciting than saying "I took the one less traveled by" and then claiming that this choice has been the turning point for the formation of the narrator's life. The act of retrospective importance is not to be sneezed at, but I would argue that the vital point the poem makes is that we must realize that the importance is retrospective, not actual, not present. Only in the future does the path taken become "different."

Similarly with travel. Outside of the exceptional person capable of profound change, travel is generally not formative. But in our recollection of the past, we often point to important trips as "moments" when everything changed. We want to remember travel for its alleged formative nature; we do not want to acknowledge its lack of actual formative influence.

Our lives change incrementally. Travel is not in and of itself transformative. The road was not less-traveled.

Thursday, January 20, 2011


Me: "Do you really think that asthma is entirely psychosomatic?"

Damian: "Mostly. Everyone knows it. It's really well-documented. When they look at other countries that are less developed, they don't have those problems. So, it's psychosomatic."

*small pause*

"Either that or it's an allergy to money."

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Rain Falls

The only good thing to come out of Saturday's shootings in Tucson happened today, when I heard Bill Clinton say that demonizing political language "falls on the unhinged and the hinged alike." I was delighted by the word "hinged." It reminds me of such contructions as "ept" or "gusted" and I must incorporated it into my vocabulary: "Yeah, overall, despite his troubles, I think in this case he's acting pretty hinged."

I would like to collect other adaptations of the "falls on the just and the unjust alike" idiom, but I don't know how to frame a google search for them. Did you hear that? I don't know how to frame a google search.

I did find this: "Prayer is of no avail. The lightning falls on the just and the unjust in accordance with natural laws." —Robert Ingersoll, nineteenth-century orator

In a different vein, in what seems to be a Christmas letter from the pastor of a church in Canada, whilst talking about A Charlie Brown Christmas, the writer says, "In Canada, God also causes it to snow on the just and the unjust alike, and so we can all have a white Christmas, regardless of our morality; for it's not our morality that's the issue—but it’s our holiness that will be called into account!"

I don't understand religion.

Continuing (oddly enough) with the Charlie Brown theme, there's this:

And, finally, Cormac McCarthy's take on it is that:

"The rain falls upon the just
And also on the unjust fellas
But mostly it falls upon the just
Cause the unjust have the just's umbrellas"

Saturday, January 08, 2011

Cryptic Tonsil

According to the radio, today is National Clean Off Your Desk Day. I, however, am choosing to exercise my god-given American right to celebrate every day as National Don't Tell Me What the Hell to Do Day.

So, I have a sore throat, which almost never happens. In fact, last time I had a cold was over two years ago. I was so appalled by the Terrible Betrayal that I actually took a flashlight this morning and looked at my throat in the mirror, and found one of my tonsils all swole up. Like Doubting Thomas, I had to touch it, and it has the size and approximate consistency of a shooter marble. It almost reaches my uvula (which I have always looked upon as the body part most nearly like those hangy-downy things that for unknown reasons obscenely caress the top of your luggage when it goes into the x-ray machine at the airport).

This just in: don't try to gargle with seasoned rice vinegar in warm water. Its failure as a therapeutic vinegar is second only to that of balsamic.

Added: I kind of suck at gargling.

So, anyway, I drove Mom and Dad and Anja up to the de Young in San Francisco to see the Impressionist exhibit. It was refreshingly not full of the paintings-I'm-ready-to-set-on-fire-because-I-have-seen-them-on-pretty-much-every-calendar-and-"inspirational"-wall poster-ever category, though, really, dude, I don't think even fat women need to be painted as though their torsos look like the bodies of annular worms.

To wit:

According to an article in Smithsonian Magazine from February, 2010, "As long ago as 1913, the American Impressionist Mary Cassatt wrote a friend that Renoir was painting abominable pictures 'of enormously fat red women with very small heads.'" I'm not sure I would agree with "enormously," though nor would I agree with L.A. County Museum of Art's Claudia Einecke, who claims, “He’s using the body for expressive purposes. Hopefully, nowadays, we understand that beauty or the body comes in many different shapes. People can stop saying, 'Oh yuck, these are ugly, fat women.'" I don't care that the women are fat, but that they LOOK LIKE ANNULAR WORMS. Maybe that was your impression, Renoir, but in this case I will say your impression was dumb.

Oh, and I don't have cryptic tonsils, I just really like the phrase.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

What They'll Do

There were all of these news items on the radio today about the Republicans taking over the House of Representatives, and between bouts of just Turning Off the Radio, I kept yelling answers to the question, "What will the Republicans do now?"

My answers included:

Screw over the poor.

Institute REAL death panels, just like in Arizona!

Deny climate change.

Start tattooing immigrants.

Be totally stupid.


All in all, not the most productive news-listening day for me. Luckily, I wasn't in the car that much, and thus only listened to the radio sporadically.