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Going Number Two.

Stickers have been going up on signs on bus stops around the city. Apparently the Number 2 route isn’t the only one going down, and that’s a sad thing. Since riding the bus for me is a convenience it’s easy for me to complain, but what about the people who depend on the bus to get around? Whenever I see a route being eliminated I remember the Number 13 route that I once accidentally got on, back when the buses didn’t have signs with their route number and bus drivers sometimes forgot what route they were on. The Number 13 went down Murphy Road, an side street that curves around through the Sylvan Park neighborhood. Along it you’ll find a vegan bakery, a bagel place, an organic grocery, and the McCabe golf course where, in high school, I made a dismal attempt at joining the golf team, but that’s another story.
I still wonder who rode the Number 13–that one day I accidentally got on the bus was packed–and how they had to change their schedules. Parts of the Number 13 overlap with another route, and getting from that other route to Murphy Road is walkable, for those who can walk a mile or more.
The Number 2 partly overlaps with the Number 7, which I rode as part of my plan to ride every one of Nashville’s bus routes–so far I’ve fallen short, and yet it still bothers me that there’s now at least one less route to ride. The Number 7 goes through the heart of Hillsboro Village, an area that gets so much traffic it could use more buses, not less. The Number 2 goes around a side street, past the entrance to the area’s YMCA. Hey, don’t people who ride the bus also go to the gym? If you look at the schedule you’ll see it’s kind of an odd route that starts running at 5:34 in the morning then stops at 9:28, and only starts up again at 2:15 in the afternoon and stops at 6:49, so it’s mainly aimed at people who work the day shift.
I hope the people who used to ride it can walk.

Play On, MacDuff.

So I happened to be passing by and noticed that someone had stuck a bunch of mostly red plastic cups in a fence, and of course I had to stop and take pictures of it because I’m weird, although probably not as weird as someone who’d stick a bunch of mostly red plastic cups in a fence and not even try to put them in some kind of order or pattern. Or maybe the original person did make some kind of pattern, reminiscent of the Lite Brite toy many of us had as kids, and then someone else came along and rearranged the cups so it was just random and looked stupid, also reminiscent of the Lite Brite toy many of us had as a kid, and it would be even more reminiscent of the Lite Brite I had as a kid if one of my friends had come by and rearranged it to say DICKS.

Some might think it’s a stretch to call this art—and some might think this is a terrible waste of red plastic cups which are more often a common symbol for “YES I AM DRINKING CHEAP ALCOHOL”, but that’s another story. Consider, though, that toys have an aesthetic design which isn’t usually thought of as art for the same reason that most other mass-produced objects aren’t thought of as art.

Speaking of toys and art consider this:

Source: MOMA.orgThat’s The Palace At 4 AM, a 1932 sculpture by Alberto Giacometti. It looks like a pared-down dollhouse, doesn’t it? It also kind of reminds me of the Scottish play, specifically Act V, scene 1, but that may be getting too high-falutin’ for, um, play. Giacometti even made some other sculptures that were meant to be played with as toys, but because they were made out of plaster and fairly fragile and because Giacometti went on to become a famous sculptor whose works are now worth millions those “toys” can’t be touched anymore, which ruins the purpose.

Also consider that all art—and all science, too, since science also requires creativity—begins with play. Art and science begin with us learning to play with the world around us, because play is a way of shaping the world and understanding its rules and limits. And that’s why I’ll leave you with this final thought from none other than Captain James T. Kirk:

“The more complex the mind, the greater the need for the simplicity of play.”

Dear Emily.

Source: Emily Dickinson Museum

Dear Emily,

I went out with someone and we had a great time. I thought we had a great time, anyway: we had a nice dinner, we laughed a lot. We played miniature golf. I haven’t done that since I was a kid. I didn’t even know there were still courses around but he suggested it and I was enthusiastic. He seemed a little competitive about it but I was okay with that. Mostly we just had a lot of fun. The evening ended nicely, and I was certain we’d see each other again. Now, though, he won’t return my calls, texts, or emails. None of my friends can find any hint that I might have done anything wrong. If I did something wrong how am I supposed to know if he won’t answer?

-Ghosted In Gainesville

Dear Ghosted,

A narrow Fellow in the Grass

Occasionally rides –

You may have met him? Did you not

His notice instant is –

 

The Grass divides as with a Comb,

A spotted Shaft is seen,

And then it closes at your Feet

And opens further on –

 

He likes a Boggy Acre –

A Floor too cool for Corn –

But when a Boy and Barefoot

I more than once at Noon

 

Have passed I thought a Whip Lash

Unbraiding in the Sun

When stooping to secure it

It wrinkled And was gone –

 

Several of Nature’s People

I know, and they know me

I feel for them a transport

Of Cordiality

 

But never met this Fellow

Attended or alone

Without a tighter Breathing

And Zero at the Bone.

 

Dear Emily,

I have a coworker who’s needlessly critical. It’s nothing to do with work that she’s critical of. She criticizes my hair, the outfits I choose to wear to work. I brought in a jar I made in a pottery class and put it on the main table for pencils and pens. She didn’t know it was mine but loudly said it didn’t fit with the office “look” and put it on a shelf in the storage room. She does this to other people too. It’s not something the managers or HR can or should respond to but is there a way to deal with this?

-Fed Up In Phoenix

Dear Phoenix,

A Man may make a Remark –

In itself – a quiet thing

That may furnish the Fuse unto a Spark

In dormant nature – lain –

 

Let us divide – with skill –

Let us discourse – with care –

Powder exists in Charcoal –

Before it exists in Fire –

 

Dear Emily,

Our child’s teacher is terrible. He assigns much more homework than I think is appropriate (our child is in third grade), and one afternoon when I took my child back after school to pick up a book I found the previous day’s homework in the trashcan unmarked, like he didn’t even look at it. From what our child has said he’s also unnecessarily harsh and leaves them in the classroom unsupervised a lot. We’re going to move our child to another class but would it be overreaching to report some of this to the school board too?

-Educating In Edmonton

Dear Educating,

There’s a certain Slant of light,

Winter Afternoons –

That oppresses, like the Heft

Of Cathedral Tunes –

 

Heavenly Hurt, it gives us –

We can find no scar,

But internal difference –

Where the Meanings, are –

 

None may teach it – Any –

‘Tis the seal Despair –

An imperial affliction

Sent us of the Air –

 

When it comes, the Landscape listens –

Shadows – hold their breath –

When it goes, ’tis like the Distance

On the look of Death –

Dear Emily,

I’ve been struggling for several years as a writer. I’ve had some encouraging results, but mostly I just seem to be hitting a wall. It also occurs to me that I’m never going to be able to make a living at writing; at best it’ll be a major hobby. That leaves me feeling frustrated and sad. Should I just quit trying and move on with my life, to see if focusing on my day job really makes me happier?

-Pondering In Poughkeepsie

Dear Pondering,

Because I could not stop for Death –

He kindly stopped for me –

And who am I kidding? If you like it keep doing it. Writing isn’t a bad hobby and it’s cheaper than tropical fish and safer than skydiving. Who knows? You might get lucky and someday smartass high schoolers will go around singing your poems to the tune of “The Yellow Rose Of Texas”.

 

Front To Back.

A few weeks ago I wrote about Chucky, the kid who sat at the back of the school bus, and it got me thinking about the city buses I ride where I usually sit at the back. It’s where the engine is so in the winter it’s the warmest seat on the bus which is great, and in the summer it’s the warmest seat in the bus which isn’t so great, but I can sit off to the side. I’m not sure why I always go to the back of the bus. Unlike Chucky, who drew attention to himself by sitting at the back, I do it to be small and unobtrusive. I don’t go dancing down the aisle greeting everyone, although that would be kind of fun to do and get some laughs. And I go to the back to leave seats for other people at the front of the bus. The wheelchair seating is at the front of the bus, and there’s more space for people with kids in strollers up at the front too.
Something I really hadn’t thought about, though, is that, unlike school buses, city buses don’t have an emergency door in the back. I’ve also heard stories of kids who had a tradition of opening the emergency door at the back of the bus and jumping out, which makes me feel like I missed out. We never even practiced going out of the emergency door. My school thought it was good enough to show us a filmstrip about how to get out of the bus in the event of an emergency so if we’d ever needed to get out we might have been stuck there waiting for the beep so we could advance to the next frame, but that’s another story.
What I realized is that, while the city bus does have a side door halfway down the bus, there are also emergency “doors” in the ceiling, one at the front and one at the back, and it’s one of those things that’s strangely unnerving. Sitting in the back does suddenly seem like a better idea, even if it’s in the hot seat, because the back of the bus is elevated, so those like me who are short in stature will have an easier time reaching the ceiling. Supposedly there’s an emergency door in the ceiling of elevators and that’s always bothered me because, first of all, I’ve never seen one, and, second, I’ve never been in an elevator where I could reach the ceiling. That also means that tall people need to sit closer to the front of the bus, and it makes me wonder if there’s a certain height requirement for bus drivers. Sure, they need to be able to reach the pedals, but the seats are adjustable, so has anyone stopped to think about whether the driver could reach the ceiling? And I wonder what kind of emergency would block both bus doors forcing us to go out onto the roof. Whatever it is would probably have the bus surrounded so I hope it’s something like water and not lava or acid or raw sewage. I do, however, feel strangely reassured that the bus company has never given us instructions on how to use the emergency escape hatches via a filmstrip so if there’s an emergency we won’t stand around waiting for the beep.

Raise It Up.

Back in the ‘80’s when I first saw a documentary on New York graffiti I was surprised that some people went to jail for tagging subway cars or walls. I’m not sure why that surprised me, although I still think that if someone gets busted for graffiti it would make more sense to put their talents to good use doing some community service or something than it would to throw them in jail, which could just make the problem worse. Back in the ‘80’s I also heard a joke that’s stayed with me: a cop tells a kid, “A night in the slammer will teach you a lesson,” and the kid says, “Yeah, if I want to learn to be a junkie, hooker, or thief,” but that’s another story.

Every time I see graffiti, something that isn’t obviously there legally, I think about the risks the artist took, especially the risk of getting caught. And then I see something like the tag MENAS left and I’m even more impressed. This was going to eleven. I had to go by there at least a dozen times before I could get the picture above, and I could only get it from a moving car while my wife was driving. It shows up on Google Maps so here’s a picture that gives you an idea of its placement and how difficult that must have been.

Embiggen for the full effect. And here’s an aerial shot, also from Google Maps, although the red circle is mine, that also gives an idea of how difficult placing this tag must have been.

There’s also something to be said for the sharp, clean lines. Whoever Menas is they’ve clearly shown some skills, and a willingness to take some risks. Do they really deserve to go to jail for that?

Piece Of Pie.

Even though summer’s almost over there are still some warm days left and a chance to revisit one of childhood’s simple pleasures: making a mud pie. The following is excerpted from the recipe book Get Baked: The High Art Of All Forms Of Pastry by Eunice Phelan.

How To: Make A Mud Pie.

Locally sourced mud pies are best but this may not be possible if you live in a coastal area or in parts of the American southwest where the soil is too sandy to adhere properly, creating more of a sludge than bona fide mud. In these areas, or if you live in a city and don’t have easy access to topsoil, try commercial potting soil. Its dark color and perlite can give your mud pie a nice chocolate cookie quality similar to Oreo or Hydrox. Commercial potting soil tends toward dryness, though, so check on local water restrictions.

For added appeal you can blend commercial potting soil with lighter brown soil, if you can find it. This blending is a very advanced technique that requires more patience, skill, and practice than most mud pie makers are going to have, but the results are worth it.

In much of the southeast you’ll find a dense clay-rich soil that’s a perfect mud pie base. Add enough water to give it a consistency that’s easy to shape but not too soft. You can always add more water but it can take hours or even days for any excess water to evaporate. Mud pies always benefit from being served right away and can be spoiled if it rains or if you just forget about them.

Once you have the right consistency place your mud base in a pan. I find a round 9-inch metal baking pan works best. Metal is prone to rust, especially if left outside, but holds its shape better than plastic. I find mud pies in metal pans also dry faster.

Once your pan is filled add finishing touches like a crimped edge and vertical cuts in the center. Garnish with leaves for color.

Serves 6-8.

 

Thank You.

Every time I get off the bus I tell the driver “Thank you.” I never leave through the side door, even if it’s closer to where I’m sitting when the bus stops, and if the side door is closer I hurry to the front so I don’t hold up anybody just so I can offer a nice parting word to the driver. It’s Labor Day today which got me thinking about that, and about bus drivers I’ve known.
If you rode a bus to school do you remember your first day? I distinctly remember that a few blocks from my house a kid came running out into his yard. I’d seen this kid around the neighborhood–he looked like a miniature Harpo Marx, minus the trench coat and the horn, and I never heard him talk either. I just knew he was younger than me. The driver stopped opened the door just as Harpo Jr.’s mother ran out to grab him.
“Does he ride this bus?” the driver asked.
His mother shook his head and we drove on.
That bus driver was Ms. Owens, who always wore sunglasses and a bright pink shirt and jeans, and who had a frizzy mane of bright red hair. You’d think this would make her stand out but there was at least one other driver who looked just like her, which is why, that first week of school, I got on the wrong bus. One by one, or sometimes in clusters, other kids got off until I was the last one and the poor bus driver had to drive around asking people if they knew where I lived until we passed my mother who was driving around the neighborhood asking people if they’d seen me. I don’t think I ever thanked that driver; I still appreciate all her effort and I don’t mind that she kept insisting I was a girl, but that’s another story.
A few years later Mrs. Owens was still my regular bus driver when a major snowstorm hit and she did her best to get us all home, creeping along through snow and darkness at inches per hour at times. She made all of us give her our home phone numbers as we got off and once she got home she called every one of our parents to make sure we’d gotten home safely.
In high school my regular bus driver was a funny little gnome named Russ who could barely see over the steering wheel and who I’m pretty sure had checked out the school library’s copy of Moby Dick so he could sit on it. We always said “Thanks, Russ” when we got off the bus, and he always said, “Y’all have a nice day.” He never said anything else. We even made a game of trying to get him to say something different, because we were teenagers and therefore jerks.
“Thanks for the ride, Russ.”
“Y’all have a nice day.”
“Have a nice day, Russ.”
“Y’all have a nice day.”
“Have they found the white whale yet, Russ?”
“Y’all have a nice day.”
Even now I thank bus drivers, even when it’s the only thing I say to them, although it’s the chatty ones I remember. There was the older woman who liked talking to passengers, and who one day asked me what my name was. Then she told me I’d never forget her name: “Loretta Lynn.” She was right, and I thanked her for also recording Coal Miner’s Daughter.
There was also the driver who I saw every day for a couple of weeks, then my schedule changed so I took a different bus for about a week, and then it changed back, and the first day as I was getting on the driver grinned and said, “Where you been?” It was nice to know someone was looking out for me.
I even thank the bus drivers who annoy me, like the one who kept pulling over every few blocks, frequently between stops, to check his phone, even though bus drivers are supposed to put their phones in a box while they’re driving. As frustrating as it was I know I shouldn’t make hasty judgments about people, and I had plenty of time to make a slow judgment about him. Maybe someone in his family was having a baby, or major surgery, and he couldn’t get someone else to take his shift so he had to keep checking his phone for news. Maybe there was something else big going on in his life, like an offer for a different job.
Anyway I’ve got the day off from work today so I won’t be riding the bus, but tomorrow if I do I’ll thank the driver.

Enough Isn’t Enough.

Minimalism was an art movement that rose to prominence in the 1960’s and ‘70’s, probably because, if there are two decades that absolutely screamed excess, it would be the 1960’s and ‘70’s. If the recent fiftieth anniversary of Woodstock should remind us of everything it’s how weird it was that Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and Sha Na Na all performed on the same stage. Not at the same time, and, yeah, okay, maybe it wasn’t that weird, but still if that’s not excess I don’t know what is.

Anyway it’s a principle in art as well as physics that every movement has an equal and opposite movement. Well, maybe not really opposite, and not necessarily even equal—a counter-movement may always be as popular as the movement that inspired it. Such is the case with Maximalism, although it can be hard to define. In art how much is too much? A friend of mine says that certain films, like 1974’s Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia, “make excess into a virtue”, which is a phrase I love, but it’s hard to define, and kind of like that famous definition of pornography: you only really know it when you see it.

Maybe that’s why Maximalism is a term that mainly gets applied to things like David Foster Wallace’s sprawling novel Infinite Jest, or Taylor Mac’s A 24-Decade History of Popular Music that he performs non-stop over twenty-four hours, which has gotta take a toll not just on him but the audience too.

And then there’s this that I found stuck to a wall of an industrial building.

From a distance it looked so small, but the colors got my attention, and the closer I got the more the depth of the design made it look bigger and bigger and bigger. Within its own small space it really stretched to excess.

Punctuate The Positive.

Review Of Punctuation Marks

.

Period -This simple dot was the first punctuation mark invented. It was created accidentally by medieval monks who tapped their pens on the parchment when afflicted with writer’s block, then eventually gave up. In British grammar this punctuation mark is known as the “full stop” because the British still communicate by telegram.

,

Comma-A dot with a tail dangling below the line of text the comma is used to divide sentence clauses, items in lists, and occasionally exhausted boxers.

:

Colon-Two vertical dots. The colon is the punctuation mark commonly used to both divide and indicate connections between two items or clauses, as in the case of analogies, and is also the punctuation mark most likely to invade an undeveloped territory and claim its resources.

;

Semicolon-A dot placed vertically over a comma. The semicolon is frequently used to divide sentences of clauses of the same or similar value. Although serving a slightly lesser function than the colon the semicolon prefers fair trade practices, and both punctuation marks should be checked regularly in texts aged fifty years and older.

?

Question mark-A curved line with a straight section pointing downward over a period the question mark indicates an interrogative even in the absence of words such as “Why?” or “Where?” An upside down and backward-facing question mark is placed at the beginning of interrogatives in Spanish because it’s a polite language that doesn’t want to spring a question on you when you’re not expecting it.

!

Exclamation point-This straight line over a period is used to indicate excitement, surprise, or emphasis. In British grammar this punctuation mark is known as “the boingy dance stick”.

or

Quotation marks-Essentially commas, but placed at the top of the text line, quotation marks may be either straight or inverted to indicate speech or conversation within a text. In British grammar only one quotation mark is used at the beginning and end of a statement, but in American grammar two quotation marks placed together are used, because Americans are twice as loud.

( )

Parentheses-Curved lines used to close off a section of text. The beginning of the parenthetical is indicated by a line curving outward to the left while the closure is indicated by a line curving outward to the right. Text within parentheses should be treated carefully and may be poisonous.

[ ]

Square brackets-parenthesis made of straight lines, also known as hard brackets or crotchets, square brackets are used in mathematical equations and parentheticals inserted by a computer.

{ }

Curly brackets-also known as moustache brackets these are for parentheticals written in cursive.

#

Pound sign-While traceable back to Roman times for a measure of weight this became a popular symbol for the British pound in the 19th century, although some computer keyboards recognized Shift-3 as £. Now popularly known as a “hashtag” it’s served with eggs and bacon.

&

Ampersand-This punctuation mark is used as a substitute by people who are too lazy to write out the word “and” but still have the energy to say “ampersand”.

*

Asterisk-This star-shaped punctuation mark is commonly used to draw attention to a footnote.

Dagger-This punctuation mark is for secondary footnotes and used to stab people who don’t read the first footnote.

Ü

Umlaut-Two dots placed vertically over a letter, the letter U in this example. The umlaut is the only punctuation mark that does not have a grammatical or phonic use; its sole function is to indicate Scandinavian death metal.

 

 

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