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In Full Flower.

Source: Wikipedia

The first art history class I ever took, which I mainly took because I was interested in art but also because it was held at the same time as another class which had ended the semester before leaving me with an hour to fill in my schedule and which I thought would be an easy A, which it was, started with the Impressionists. I’m not sure why the teacher decided to skip right over approximately thirty-thousand years of global art history, or even just several thousand years of European art history, but, hey, if it ain’t Baroque don’t fix it, and if it ain’t Rococo your mind may be Roman, and something something Gothic, but that’s another story.

The teacher also had video quizzes we’d watch and we’d have to guess which artist painted what, and the video quizzes started with a group of Impressionists. Maybe that was because, in spite of a general similarity—the Impressionists were really the first artists to see the invention of photography, and most adopted looser brushwork, painted outside, and were interested in the effect of light—they were fairly easy to distinguish. We were even given some helpful mnemonics: Mary Cassatt mainly painted mothers and children, and Degas painted (and sculpted) ballet dancers and that’s all I can remember. Manet and Monet were easy to distinguish because one painted people in bars and one painted buildings and water lilies, and the only trouble there was remembering which was A and which was O. And it’s interesting to me that some artists are so distinctive you can tell their work right away. In some cases it’s their general style and in others it’s their specific subject matter, or maybe even both.

What got me thinking about this is one of the first graffiti pictures I took—a work I’d actually seen years earlier and helped give me the idea to start writing about graffiti:

And then there was this that I saw a few days ago:

The style and technique have evolved and changed slightly but it’s definitely the same artist. I can tell. I’ve studied art history.

Rejected Again.

Dear Mr. Waldrop,

Thank you for your submission. Unfortunately it doesn’t fit our needs at this time.

Best,

Terry Wilkins, PLM Review

Dear Mr. Waldrop,

Thank you for your recent submission. This time we’ll have to give it a pass.

Regards,

Adrien Kösz, Catchall Quarterly

Dear Mr. Waldrop,

Thanks for the submission. It’s not quite what we’re looking for. Try reading some back issues.

Sincerely,

Finley Paldies, Rubbertree

Dear Mr. Waldrop,

Thank you for your submission. It’s a good idea but reads too much like a first draft. Thanks for considering us.

Best wishes,

Davis Evental, The Palanquin

Dear Mr. Waldrop,

Thank you for submitting to the sixth annual Lawn Chair Short Story Contest. We’re pleased to announce you were one of the semifinalists and qualify for a discounted subscription. Click the link below for information on how to order.

Congratulations!

Editors-Lawn Chair

Dear Mr. Waldrop,

Thank you for your submission letter. I think you forgot to include the attachment.

Cordially,

Andy Kerrem, Happy Hour

Dear Mr. Waldrop

Thank you for your submission but this isn’t the sort of thing we publish. Perhaps you have us confused with another publication.

Sincerely,

Morgan Darrenton, Assistant Editor, The Huxley Biological Journal

Dear Mr. Waldrop,

Thanks for sending this. We all liked it a lot but I’m sorry it’s just not what we’re looking for. Good luck and thanks again!

-Evelyn Watkins, publisher, Bass Fisherman

Dear Mr. Waldrop,

Thank you for the manuscript. It was only out of morbid curiosity that I opened this package. According to our records you have, so far, sent us The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald with all instances and variations of the word “young” replaced with the word “xeriscape”, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket by Edgar Allan Poe with all instances of the word “boat” replaced by “badass motorcycle”, and what appears to be a “Mad Libs” version of William Blake’s The Marriage Of Heaven And Hell with all the blanks filled with a crudely handwritten “and Jerry Mathers as The Beaver”.

However your submission of Hamlet rewritten in contemporary speech with characters’ names randomly changed is, I believe, your crowning achievement. I only recognized the source material because it fell open to a random page where I read, “Hey, this is from that guy Yorick. I knew him, Dingo Jingleberries.”

Please stop sending things to me.

Daniel Lackham, Assistant Editor, Farrington Books

Dear Mr. Waldrop,

Thank you for your message. I think you sent it to the wrong address though.

Angela Stewart

Human Resources Department

Warrenton Finance

Fire Signs.

The other night I noticed a fuzzy yellow object up in the sky and even without checking I knew what it was, since Jupiter is the fourth brightest object in the sky, after the sun, the moon, and Venus. The last time I spotted Jupiter—or rather the last time I wrote a blog post about Jupiter since I didn’t actually see it in broad daylight, I just knew it was there with the SkyView app, although it’s so bright you can sometimes see Jupiter during the day—it was also in, or near, the constellation Scorpius. That got me wondering if Jupiter always hangs out near the scorpion. That seems unlikely—planets move, after all, and after a bit of checking I found that Jupiter has been near Scorpius since some time in late 2018 and by January 2020 will move through Sagittarius, then Capricornus in January 2021, and into Aquarius in January 2022, which still seems unusually regular for a planet.

And even though I’m not really into astrology—which I know is so typical of a Sagittarius—I know Scorpios are supposed to be pretty intense characters, and if you don’t believe that a Scorpio is likely to ask if you want to make something of it, but that’s another story. The mythical Jupiter himself was a pretty intense character too, if you catch my drift. He, and his Greek predecessor, were known as “the father of the gods” for a reason. The planet has seventy-nine known moons, all of them named after lovers or children of the mythical Jupiter, and there were so many.

I would wonder if Jupiter’s presence were adding a little extra sting to Scorpios and if it would have an influence on the other constellations as it moves through the others—if I were into astrology. I’d even look forward to January 2020, but I’ll probably have completely forgotten this by then. You know how short the attention span of a Sagittarius is.

 

 

Drinking Driver.

Recently a law went into effect in Tennessee that requires drivers to keep their hands on the wheel at all times, since the state is the highest in the country when it comes to distracted driving deaths, one of those things where you really don’t want to be ranked number one although I guess statistically someone has to be. It’s mainly aimed at people using their phones—any kind of hands-free communication is still legal, although I’m one of those people who can’t talk without using my hands, so if you ride with me while I’m ever in the driver’s seat please excuse my silence—but applies to anything. I didn’t even think about the implications until one morning when I was in the elevator and a woman next to me was talking on her phone and said, “Well, you’d better not be talking on your phone while you’re driving anyway.” She got quiet for a minute then said, “What do you mean I can’t drink my drink?” Yes, it applies to eating and drinking too, which reminds me of a joke Paul Reiser made about how the only time you enjoy sitting in traffic is when you’re trying to eat something, but that’s another story.

And I realized that rule must apply to bus drivers too, which might be a little bit of a problem for a bus driver who used to be on my route. Every day she’d stop at a certain fast food place on the route and get a cup of water. I understand bus drivers need breaks just like everybody else and at least she didn’t linger but got her water and came right back out, but from her conversations with riders I learned that it was always her first run of the day. She was also always running late. She blamed this on the driver before her and yet whenever there was a different driver on the route, which happened at least once a week, they’d be on time. Once she was so far behind schedule that when she stopped at the fast food place someone in the back yelled, “Can you please wait to get water?”

She ignored this request and spent an unusually long time in the fast food place.

It may be purely a coincidence—bus drivers change routes all the time—but I stopped seeing her on my route not long after that.

Anyway I wonder how bus drivers will cope with having to keep their hands on the wheel while driving. I have an idea, but it involves a really long straw.

Getting There.


It’s very hard for me to define art. Every definition I come up with always seems to exclude something that, when I think about it, could also be art. For instance if I conclude that art has to be something people make I then think about, say, a spider’s web, which I can find just as beautiful and moving and meaningful as any work of art. It doesn’t even have to be a picture of a spider’s web, which I think most people would say qualifies as art—it can be a spider’s web itself. I tend to have these prolonged arguments with myself that never go anywhere, and I’m not sure if I had the argument with someone else they’d go anywhere either, which reminds me of a story about the art critic David Sylvester. He was still a young man, although already establishing himself as a writer, and was hired as a part-time secretary by the artist Henry Moore, but they spent so much time arguing about art that Moore fired him, although I think any artist should know better than to hire a critic.

I guess what I’ve finally concluded about art is that I know it when I see it, and, yes, that’s also the definition of pornography given by United States Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, and, yes, I think even pornography can be art, although I’ve never been much of a fan of Jeff Koons, but that’s another story.

Anyway I’ve realized in these lengthy debates that art isn’t even necessarily something that’s created, at least not intentionally. Whoever left a door in a frame standing next to the road probably didn’t put it there are any kind of artistic statement—it was on a stretch of road that was about to be closed for several months for maintenance and I think the road crew put it there to hang notes on, or maybe they were planning to build a temporary office around it. From that perspective it’s just an ordinary door, but it’s how you see it that makes all the difference. The wardrobe in C.S. Lewis’s first Narnia book seems to be just an ordinary wardrobe until Lucy steps into it, eventually followed by her siblings, and two books later Lucy, Edmund, and their cousin Eustace are transported to Narnia by a painting. Recently the Orangutan Librarian—the blogger, not the one who works at Unseen University, although I think they’re both equally well-read—compiled a list titled Favourite Fantasy Worlds I’d Love to go on Holiday To… which is part of what sparked my thinking about that door out by the road, and doors in general, as well as windows, paintings, and books as portals to other worlds. We were, if not debating, at least in conversation, even if one of us was unaware of it. Anyway that brings me around to the conclusion that the one defining characteristic of art, the one thing I can be absolutely certain of, is that it takes you somewhere.

A Shot In The Dark.

One of the ongoing joys of life after cancer is that I get to have my blood regularly drawn. Fortunately I have plenty to spare and, having recently celebrated five years since my initial diagnosis, I only have to give up a sample every six months or so before regular checkups with my oncologist. And usually it’s so quick and easy it doesn’t feel like they’re drawing blood so much as making a quick sketch of it. It’s a different nurse every time, although they all always tell me, “You’re going to feel a little stick,” I also get to make the same joke. When they slide the needle in and all I feel is a slight pinch I exhale and say, “I can tell you’ve done this before.” I mean it as a compliment and it always makes the nurses laugh, and of course making the medical team laugh is my top priority even though it should probably be my health. I also wish just once a nurse would tell me “You’re going to feel a little prick” so I could say, “You could at least take me out to dinner and a movie first,” but that’s another story.

Anyway the other day I went in to give up a blood sample and instead of the usual routine I said to the nurse, “So, first day on the job?” because it felt like I’d just had a piece of lead pipe jammed into my arm. Then I said, “Boy, that’s gonna leave a mark.” The nurse kept on with what she was doing so I said, “Are you using the whole fist?” None of this made any impression on the nurse, but she did ask, “Do you have any plans for this Fourth of July?”

“Well,” I said, as flashes of pain popped in front of my eyes, “I have just gotten a preview of the fireworks.”

Not All The News.

We still get a newspaper, an actual, physical, paper-and-ink newspaper, although just on the weekends–I have so many other things to read that the Friday, Saturday, and Sunday editions are about all I can keep up with, and even then I mostly pull out the Arts section and recycle the rest. A few times I’ve seen the guy who makes the deliveries, driving slowly through neighborhoods some time after dawn, his emergency lights blinking. He has excellent aim. He always manages to hit the ditch next to the driveway. Our neighbor gets a paper too, but I wonder how many homes still get a newspaper. It’s a dying business. I don’t want to wax nostalgic about the bygone era of kids on bicycles throwing a morning newspaper onto the porch of every home just as the residents were starting to stir but I also want to wax nostalgic about the bygone, or nearly gone, era of regular newspaper delivery. Not that I ever had a paper route, or even knew anyone who did before I went to college.
I met Jeff early in my sophomore year at a small gathering at his place. Maybe it was a party but I don’t know if you can call four people a party, and anyway his room–part of a row of student apartments next to the fraternity houses, so that it was both off-campus and technically part of the campus–while bigger than a dorm room was still pretty small. We drank and talked through the night. He played Fleetwood Mac’s “Tusk”. At some point early on I quit drinking, but Jeff didn’t, and at around three o’clock in the morning he said, “I need to deliver papers. Can you drive?”
Well, sort of. I didn’t have a license and it had been a few years since driver’s ed, but I decided driving a car is like riding a bicycle; you’re just less likely to fall off. It had been a few years since I’d last ridden a bicycle too. Following Jeff’s directions I drove to a warehouse downtown where we picked up a stack of newspapers, then through the neighborhoods of straight streets where all I had to do was hold the steering wheel while he bagged and threw newspapers.
I rode along with him a few more times after that, and one day we even took a half hour road trip to a bigger town. He was looking for a book at a bookstore that turned out to be closed when we got there. A few days later I went by his place and knocked. There was no answer. I couldn’t find him the next day either. The day after that a girl I knew told me Jeff had been reported for smoking pot in his room, maybe by one of the fraternity guys who would have recognized the smell from one of their own parties. The details were obscure but at the time any drug use was dealt with swiftly and harshly. Jeff was expelled and left without telling anyone. The abruptness of it has stayed with me even as the newspaper delivery business slowly fades away.

The Flag.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots that for many mark the start of the modern LGBT rights movement. It also marks the 41st anniversary of the rainbow flag as a symbol of LGBT movement. It was designed by artist Gilbert Baker and flown at the San Francisco Gay Freedom Day Parade on June 25th, 1978. It supplanted the pink triangle as a symbol of gay rights, which reminds me of the time I started to go into a pub but then hesitated because there was a pink triangle in the window. It was off to the side, in the corner of a window, and so small I might have missed it, but I saw it anyway and thought it meant it was a gay pub then wondered why that would be a problem because I just wanted to get a pint like everyone else in there, so I went in and had a pint. And while I can’t say whether anyone in there was gay–there were men and women at the bar engaged in local talk but it seemed to be a place that welcomed everybody–I realized the pink triangle in the window was a Bass ale logo that had faded in the sun. Anyway to get back to the rainbow flag, ten years ago the radio program/podcast Studio 360 asked listeners to submit ideas to redesign the rainbow flag and asked fashion designer Isaac Mizrahi to judge. He picked this redesign of the United States flag with only seven stars:

Source: Core77

The stars represented the only states that allowed same-sex marriage at the time: Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, Maine, New Hampshire, New Jersey, and New York. Vermont would be added later that same year, other states would follow, and with the Supreme Court’s Obergefell decision in 2015 same-sex marriage became the law nationwide, so the flag that Mizrahi picked six years earlier effectively had fifty stars. The flag Mizrahi picked made a statement that was quickly outdated, and limited to the United States, but LGBT people are everywhere.

For what it’s worth the design I would have picked is this one, since I think it’s a truer representation of the human spectrum:

Source: WNYC

There have also been variations of the rainbow flag almost from the beginning. Originally the flag’s stripes were hot pink, red, orange, yellow, green, turquoise, indigo, and violet. Pink and turquoise were removed in 1979 and replaced with blue. Later there was a variation that included a black stripe as a memorial to AIDS victims, a tragedy that, like Stonewall, galvanized and propelled the LGBT rights movement.

I think the rainbow flag persists and has become so popular because it’s an inclusive symbol. A few years ago I was in a small town and went to a coffee shop and, as I was going in, I noticed a rainbow sticker. It was off to the side in the window and so small I might have missed it, but I didn’t hesitate to go in because I knew the coffee shop was a welcoming place.

Anyway I’ve noticed something interesting in the way the flag is often displayed. While it’s usually flown from a flagpole with its stripes oriented horizontally I’ve seen it more frequently hung in buildings and windows vertically. It’s a simple, and probably unintentional, redesign, one that puts the stripes side by side, so that all the colors are equal.

 

 

Falling With Style.

The swimming pool had two diving boards over the deep end. There was the low diving board that hung about three feet above the water. The only difference between jumping from the low diving board and jumping from the edge of the pool was that the low diving board put you a little farther out over the water. And it was kind of springy so you could bounce at the end of the board and it would propel you upward slightly. I liked to jump from the low board into the deep end and swim all the way to the bottom, twelve feet down, and look up. The watery surface overhead was like a shimmering screen, and the sun was like a sapphire. Then I’d have to come up. Or, on slow days when the pool wasn’t crowded, I could jump off the low board and swim all the way across the pool without surfacing. The first time I did that it was exhilarating. I felt like I’d really accomplished something, and what I accomplished was nearly hyperventilating at the edge of the pool because I was breathing so hard, which reminds me of the time I was at my grandparents’ house and my grandmother picked up the phone. She listened for a moment then said to my grandfather, “All I hear is heavy breathing.” My grandfather grabbed the phone and began sternly lecturing the person at the other end about decorum. Then he got quiet and listened and said to my grandmother, “Jim’s car broke down and he just pushed it two miles uphill to the service station.”

Anyway the high diving board, twelve feet high if I remember correctly although it seemed like it loomed a hundred feet overhead. It might as well have been that high. I wasn’t going up there. Well, I did. After all it was there, a mountain to be climbed, or rather a ladder to be climbed and jumped off of. I told myself that I was interested in swimming, not airing, and that if I really wanted to drop twelve feet I could by going from the surface of the pool to the bottom. It drew me, though. I had mastered everything else at the pool—not that there was much to master. After swimming from one end of the pool to the other without taking a breath about the only other thing that was left was talking the guy who ran the concession stand into letting me have a full cup of orange soda without ice so I got more orange soda and spent about half an hour sitting in a beach chair feeling bloated and miserable, but that’s another story.

The same summer I made the first swim from one end of the pool to the other I made up my mind I was going to jump from the high dive. The worst that could happen, I figured, was that I’d fall in the water.

It was about that time, on a slow, hot afternoon when there was hardly anyone around, when even the lifeguard was barely paying attention, that another kid walked out to the end of the high dive, bounced a couple of times, lost his balance, and fell sideways. He landed flat on his back on the concrete below. I didn’t see it happen. I just saw him stretched out as though sleeping, and the emergency team with the stretcher that took him away. He survived, and word got around that he recovered, but he never came back to the pool.

Later that summer, on a busy day when the pool was crowded, I got in line with all the other swimmers who were going off the high dive. I climbed the ladder, walked onto the board, and gripped the handrails. The handrails ended about halfway. Beyond them was just the board and open air. I stood up there holding the handrails for what seemed like an hour, then climbed back down. No one laughed or made fun of me. The next person in line, an older guy, just nodded at me, climbed the ladder, and did a spectacular dive off the board.

The next summer I watched a couple of my friends go off the high dive. Sometimes we’d do synchronized jumps, me going off the low dive and, of course, hitting the water much sooner, or I’d wait and try to time it so we’d hit the water at the same time. And finally one day I decided I was going to do it. I climbed the ladder. I gripped the handrails as I walked out toward the end of the board, then let go. I didn’t bounce and I walked slowly, and when I got to the end of the board I jumped, feet first. It wasn’t an impressive dive, or even a dive really, but I plunged into the water. That was all I wanted—to make that leap.

Twenty-six years ago, on June 27th, 1993 I married my wife. It wasn’t as frightening, probably because the justice of the peace who performed the ceremony looked so much like John Cleese that my only regret is that when he read the vows I didn’t say, “What was the thing in the middle?” It was really her by my side that assured me, though, and every day I look forward to a new leap.

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