Author Archive: Christopher Waldrop

Working At Least One Muscle Group.

We have a wooden fence in the backyard and sometimes when I sit by it I feel like it’s watching me. I know it’s just pareidolia, that tendency to see patterns, usually faces, in random assortments of things. I’ve experienced it all my life but I wasn’t really conscious of it until I learned the term and then I realized how often it happens. But that’s no big deal because we all do it, right? Not everyone paints or draws but our ability to look at a work of art and see it as representing something, not just dabs of paint on fabric, is pareidolia. There’s really no such thing as truly “abstract” art because our brains will always perceive some kind of pattern or meaning in anything. Even the visually impaired perceive patterns in what they perceive. Pareidolia isn’t just visual–it can also be auditory. It makes evolutionary sense: camouflage is part of the arms race between predators and prey and being able to distinguish something hiding in the bushes is good for survival. Even if it turns out the bushes just look like there’s a jaguar in them at least we’re on alert. So we all experience it, right?

Then I read this article about how experiencing pareidolia is a sign of creativity and it’s made me really anxious. It says this:

Scientists are now exploring the connection between pareidolia and creativity; several recent studies have found that creative people are more apt to see pareidolias in the world around them than are less creative people. Assessing individuals’ capacity to recognize such patterns has even been proposed as a way to measure relative levels of creativity.

Am I experiencing pareidolia enough to legitimately call myself “creative”? What if I stop? Creativity is really important to me and always has been. I remember being told I was creative a lot as a kid. One example from second grade really stands out in my memory. My teacher, Mrs. Knight, had some kind of toy model kit in her classroom. It was like a Tinker Toy set but it combined hard pieces with colored flexible tubes. I found it one day and made an alien creature I called Boka. Boka was sort of a cross between a jellyfish and a giraffe, and I was marching it around the table when Mrs. Knight saw it and got really excited. She was always encouraging us to be creative—she was a great teacher—but Boka, this thing I’d just put together without much thought, seemed really imaginative to her. And that kind of recognition felt really good. Being creative felt like a superpower. Of course as my favorite superhero is famous for saying, With great power comes great responsibility. I felt pressure, all of it internal, to continue to be creative, to keep chasing that feeling. I also had, I think for the first time, a feeling that’s probably experienced by every person for whom creativity is important. What if this is the last thing I do? I couldn’t just keep copying Boka but what if I never created anything else that reached the same creative level, never elicited the same response? And that feeling never goes away. I get something published, or win a contest, and it feels great but I can never escape that thought of, what do I do next? What if this is my last success? In college a friend and I once talked about Van Gogh’s suicide–always a cheerful topic–and she said, “I believe he shot himself because he’d completely run out of ideas.” I thought, oh, if that were true I’d shoot myself at least three times a week.

Something else I think about, though, is that knowing what pareidolia is, and seeing examples of it, has probably caused me to see it even more. Creativity can actually feed off itself, and even if I didn’t come up with something on my own I can be inspired by the ideas of others. The article even says, “spending time looking at ambiguous figures ‘primes’ a creative mindset, inducing people to think with more fluency, flexibility, and originality.” Creativity is like a muscle. It can be strengthened through use.

The wooden fence in our backyard is really old and the knots are starting to wear down and disappear so to get that picture I had to look really hard for some that still look like eyes. So anyway there’s my workout for the day.

Useless Information.

Spring is a transitional time which may be why I suddenly started thinking about middle school where, in addition to the standard subjects of English, math, science, and social studies we had four “creative” subjects that we cycled through, spending half a semester in each: art, home economics, music, and industrial arts. I guess it was the school’s way of giving us a sample platter of subjects we could take as electives in high school.

Art was the first one for my class—different classes started with different courses so the teachers in each one would be occupied all the time–and was a pretty fun class. We painted with watercolors—one assignment was to do a landscape using shades of just one color, and also bleach on construction paper, making negative pictures. We also made wax candles, copperplate prints, and, toward the end of our time in the class, got to use an airbrush to decorate t-shirts, I guess because we were too young to own vans we could have painted wizards or dragons or guitars on. Also one kid sliced his finger open with an X-acto knife and it was the only time I ever heard anyone swear that much in front of a teacher and not get in trouble for it. Although I didn’t pursue a career in art I can honestly say I still use some of the things I learned in that class.

Home economics was the next one my class went to. Some adults were surprised when I told them that and would say, “The boys at your school take home ec?” Yeah, we didn’t have a choice, but it was also a fun class. We baked cookies and learned about nutrition, and also watched some really outdated film strips about dating etiquette. I still remember one of the things I learned about dating is that, at the restaurant, the guy should recommend something to his date that’s within his price range as a subtle way of telling her what he can afford. So “The chicken Caesar salad is good here” is the guy’s way of saying, “Please don’t order the surf ‘n’ turf or I’ll have to wash dishes and you’ll end up walking home.” Also, according to the filmstrip, the guy should look like Johnny Unitas. Like I said that part was really outdated but I can honestly say I still use some of the things I learned in that class.

In the music course I learned the basics of how to read music, play a little bit on the synthesizers in the back of the class and also participate in a bell chorus, as well as watching Oklahoma!, The Music Man, and a documentary about the making of Michael Jackson’s Thriller—the video and the album. I wasn’t really interested in playing music at the time and when it came to singing couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket but I still liked the course and can honestly say I still use some of the things I learned in that class.

Industrial arts was, of course, the only one that started with a safety lecture because of course nothing goes together better than a bunch of hormone-flooded teenagers and a room full of industrial woodcutting equipment. The teacher proudly told us he still had ten fingers, most of them original, and swigged linseed oil directly from a jug he kept on his desk. I made a Plexiglas pen holder and a wooden pinball machine. Both are long gone and I don’t do a lot of woodworking these days but I can honestly say I still use some of the things I learned in that class.

My second year of middle school each of the courses was shortened by a week and they added a fifth one, computers. One of the science teachers got moved to a room full of shiny new Apple computers and we each got a floppy disk to store our assignments—part of them, anyway. Most of our classwork was written down in our notebooks because we couldn’t take the computers with us and most of us didn’t have computers of our own. We learned the basics of programming in BASIC, and how to create graphics on monochrome monitors. And the funny thing is I can honestly say there’s not a single thing from that class I’ve ever used.

Go Fly A Kite.

While I was walking through a local park I saw a couple of people trying to fly a kite. It was a pretty cool looking kite—octagonal, I think, and bright red. So basically a paper stop sign, but with long red streamers. I stopped for a couple of minutes to watch but they never could get it aloft, probably because there wasn’t enough room to run. The park’s walking trail goes around  a golf course and there’s only a narrow strip of open grass for non-golfers and that’s where the couple was trying to fly their kite. Maybe it’s just as well they didn’t get it up in the air. Chances are it would come down in the middle of the golf course, maybe on the head of some angry golfer.

When I was in fifth grade my class did a special project on kites in March. And by “special project” I mean if we brought kites to school we’d be given a special time to fly them on the playground. I’m not sure why this was different from any other year—March can always get pretty windy, but I think our teacher was very conscious of how much we’d been kept inside that winter and thought kites would be a good way to get us to go outside and really run around. That’s why any kid who didn’t have a kite was also allowed to go too and assist. My parents also thought it would be fun and took me out to buy a kite. Before we left I went through my saved allowance and found two dollars, which I figured would be enough for a kite, and I was right. My parents were looking at some elaborate and more expensive kites but I found one I liked that was just two dollars. My parents thought this was funny–they thought I was being cheap and were offering to buy one of the slightly more expensive kites, but it was a point of pride to me to buy my own kite. I also really liked the cheap one. It was black with red and yellow eyes—rather disturbing, really, but I’d just seen Godzilla vs. Hedorah and I liked that it looked a bit like the smog monster.

It also had fifty-foot long streamers which, at the time, seemed impossibly long, but on the playground with a friend helping me I got Hedorah high up into the air.

It was a lot of fun and has me thinking about how it would be fun to get a kite now. The hard part is finding a place to fly one where it won’t run the risk of descending on the head of an angry golfer, but on the bright side there are a lot of kites that aren’t much more expensive than they were when I was a kid, and anyway I have more than two dollars.

Beware Of The Flowers.

It’s spring which means boxes of Venus flytraps are springing up in the garden sections and next to the checkouts at hardware stores everywhere. I took that picture just a couple of days ago at a certain big box hardware store—blue or orange, take your pick—and I was pretty surprised that the plants looked like they were in good shape. And this is right after I read about two people charged with stealing nearly six-hundred Venus flytraps from the wild, which, for so many reasons, is a really stupid crime to commit. About the only smart thing they did was pick the time of year when Venus flytraps typically put up flowers which makes them easy to spot. Now let me get to just some of the reasons I can think of why stealing plants from the wild is a boneheaded thing to do:

-Venus flytraps are cheap. The small boxes in the picture above were five dollars. The large boxes were seven. I’m not sure why there was a difference since you’re getting the same plant either way. Of course a major retailer is going to buy plants for a lot less than that so once you figure the costs of getting to the plants, carrying them out, packaging them, then trying to unload them at a hardware store or nursery I don’t see how they could make a profit. Or how showing up at a garden center with a truckload of plants isn’t going to prompt as many questions as someone walking into a pawn shop with a box of brand new Rolexes.

-Venus flytraps are easy to propagate if you know what you’re doing. There are lots of plant sellers that specialize in carnivorous plants—California Carnivores is one of my favorites—and none of them sell wild-harvested Venus flytraps. For one thing it’s a felony to take the plants out of the wild. For another professionals have mastered cultivating the plants and have even produced cool varieties like the dark ‘Red Dragon’ so there’s no need to take plants out of the wild. Besides…

-Venus flytraps are really popular but they aren’t that easy to grow. They need a winter dormancy, they need extremely pure water, and they like a lot of sunlight. A cultivated plant grown in a nursery, though, is going to be hardier and better adapted to being grown on a windowsill or in a home garden. Wild plants, on the other hand, are more likely to die when transplanted. This is true of almost any wild plant. Even if you’re a professional chances are you’ll have a lot of trouble recreating the exact conditions it’s used to. If you’re some amateur who goes and digs up a wild plant in a protected area all you’ve done is destroyed someone else’s chances of seeing a natural wonder. Congratulations, asshole.

So there’s my annual public service announcement: leave the wilderness as it is and if you want a Venus flytrap buy one from an established nursery. Or go with the original.

Source: Medium

A Spring In Their Step.

Famous Literary Rabbits

Bugs Bunny-The greatest of all Leporidae Bugs was originally based on Groucho Marx—hence the carrot which replaced the cigar, but his trademark phrase, “What’s up, doc?” and all his wit are purely original. Bugs isn’t just the pinnacle of rabbits; he just might be the best cartoon character ever.

Source: Tenor

Rabbit-For all of A.A. Milne’s imagination in adapting his son’s stuffed animals into the characters of The Hundred Acre Wood you’d think he could have come up with a more original name than “Rabbit” for Winnie The Pooh’s Neighbor. A bit crotchety and eccentric he should have been “Reginald” or even “Herbert”.

Peter Rabbit-Few writers understood rabbits as well as Beatrix Potter. Peter isn’t nearly as wayward as his cousin Benjamin Bunny and, let’s face it, while his siblings get blackberries and milk for supper Peter gets to spend all day stuffing his face in Mr. McGregor’s garden, which has to be a lot better, and was also a convenient way to get rid of the jacket he never really wanted in the first place.

Thumper-A lot of children were traumatized by Disney’s film Bambi but somehow I avoided it by finding Thumper a lot more interesting as a character, and also he was the one whose mother didn’t get killed.

The Velveteen Rabbit-While not really a rabbit until the end of the story but Margery Williams’s hero still deserves special recognition for goodness and endurance.

The March Hare-No one really knows what a “hare” is, and by “no one” I mean the average person like me who hears the term and thinks, What is the difference between hares and rabbits? I should look that up only to completely forget about it ten seconds later. Anyway, hares are larger, have forty-eight chromosomes compared to forty-four for rabbits, and have never been domesticated. And now the number of people who know the difference between hares and rabbits is slightly smaller so Lewis Carrol’s character belongs on this list. Also, unlike the White Rabbit, who serves the King and Queen of Hearts, the March Hare is his own boss.

Judy Hopps-While Zootopia is a film and not adapted from any literary work Officer Hopps is  a solid character. Honest, hardworking, ambitious—she stands out for being pretty much the opposite of most rabbits, real and fictional.

Source: Tenor

Harvey-Another example who’s not really a rabbit Harvey’s still special for being Jimmy Stewart’s pal.

General Woundwort-Richard Adams’s Watership Down, the epic tale of rabbits escaping the destruction of their homes was adapted into an infamous 1978 animated film that’s been shown on TV a few times. Well-meaning adults have turned it on thinking, “Oh, it’s a cute cartoon about bunnies” and left their children alone to be traumatized by, among other things, the rabbit Woundwort fighting a pack of ravenous dogs in a scene so violent and bloody it’s a wonder the animators didn’t run out of red paint.

The Easter Bunny-While always second banana to Santa Claus the Easter Bunny—originally the Easter Hare among German Lutherans—once also had his own version of the “naughty and nice” list and still brings baskets of candy and eggs to children. Sometimes the eggs are hidden and children have to go on a hunt for them which is a problem if no one finds that one under the couch until July.

John Updike-Honorable mention.

Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun.

The first time I saw the sunrise was on a camping trip. I’d been up all night before but my bedroom faced west so I saw a lot of sunsets but in the mornings I’d only seen the sky lighten and get gradually brighter. It depends on your definition of “sunrise”, though—I suppose any time before it reaches its zenith you’re seeing the sun rise. I expected it to look like a sunset in reverse but was surprised by how different the light was, how the whole sky brightened even before the first bright sliver appeared over the horizon. I’d spent the night in a tent that was little more than a canvas draped over a pole so my sleeping bag was on the ground and during the night I woke up to find I’d moved around so much in my sleep my head was outside the tent. I was looking straight up into the stars and in my barely conscious state I had this vision that the stars weren’t points but long beams of light that spanned an unimaginable distance. I thought that, if I could move just enough so that I was no longer looking at them straight on, I’d see them like lines of a web stretched across space.

In school I’d just started reading Thoreau, and I remembered the line, “The light which puts out our eyes is darkness to us. Only that day dawns to which we are awake. There is more day to dawn. The sun is but a morning star.”

I thought about it this morning too while driving into work. For the first time in weeks I left the house in the dark, thanks to the time change. I know some people love Daylight Savings Time—they love the light lingering later in the afternoons, but the mornings, as far as I’m concerned, are for the birds. Or would be if the birds were even awake.

I drive east to work so I was headed straight into the sunrise. I passed joggers, dressed all in black for some reason, and even in the brightening sky could only see the lights of airplanes making very early flights.

Once I got to the parking garage and got out of the car the whole sky was azure except in the east where it was peach and seashell pink. The sun still wasn’t up though, and I didn’t wait around to see it. Getting up before dawn isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

Know Your Stuff.

Source: Reddit

Several years ago I was taking some pictures of graffiti and met a guy who was painting over some of it. I talked to him a little bit and he said, “I don’t know why they keep doing it, they just make me have to come out and paint over it again.” He seemed annoyed so I didn’t say anything snarky about how taggers were providing him with job security, or that it was on a temporary wall that was around a construction site so it was eventually going to be torn down anyway so it didn’t make sense that he felt a need to paint over a few scribbled tags.

A friend shared the “What kind of paint are you using to paint over this?” with me because he knew I’d find it funny. I like the cleverness of it and the understanding of materials. My wife paints some—mostly with watercolors—and when I go with her to the art store I just get overwhelmed by how many options there are just for painting. There’s watercolor, oils, latex, tempera, even encaustic paints, and probably other types I’m missing. It always makes me think about how the effect an artist wants to achieve often depends on the medium they’ve chosen.

It also reminds me of the time I tried painting and I decided to use oils because that was a traditional medium. I didn’t realize that oils take forever to dry, or that they require thinning—if you just squeeze them out of a tube onto your palette and start painting with them they’re thick and show the brushstrokes. That’s fine if it’s the look you want but it wasn’t what I was trying to achieve. What I ended up with was thick impasto works, very much a Van Gogh style without the talent, but I wanted a smoother look. Also pizza boxes are not a great canvas for oil painting. I ended up selling the oil paints to my roommate who, unlike me, was taking art classes and had a better idea of how to use oil paints.

Here’s another fun cover-up effort.

Source: imgur

Wild Onions.

The wild onions are popping up all over the yard, one of the first signs that spring is here. I once heard that wild onions are a sign that there will be no more frost, but unlike some other folk wisdom that doesn’t seem to be true, at least not around here. I’ve even seen them make a full recovery from a hard freeze. Right now they’re mostly fine as hair but once summer gets into full swing they’ll be thick and tall. The lawnmower will leave stands of white-rimmed tubes that look like they should sing like pan pipes when the wind blows over them. The ones that don’t get cut down will send up big clusters of purple seeds. I’m a little surprised to find out that they really are onions—closer to scallions, I guess, than the big Vidalia and Walla Walla varieties.

Whenever I see wild onions I think about a kid I knew named Tommy who lived in my neighborhood. He was a good guy, funny, and we were friends though we only played together occasionally, and I think he only wandered up to my house when none of the kids who lived closer to him were around. Maybe that’s why he came into my yard one spring afternoon when, for reasons that made perfect sense at the time even though I probably couldn’t have articulated them then, I was pulling up wild onions and stacking them below the rain gutter at the corner of the house.

“I love onions,” said Tommy, and he took one, put the dirt-covered bulb in his mouth, bit it off, and crunched.

It’s a lucky thing we weren’t west of the Mississippi where a plant that looks like wild onions but is aptly named “death camas” poses a risk to amateur foragers. Tommy wouldn’t suffer any ill effects even after stretching out on one of the lawn chairs on the deck and eating several more wild onions. He even took a big bunch of them home, telling me he was going to give them to his mother “for supper”. By comparison me pulling up the wild onions doesn’t seem so weird.

That was the last time I’d see Tommy, or at least spend any time with him, for a few years. I don’t think the onions had anything to do with it. While I wouldn’t be completely surprised if he did suffer some side effects of taking home a bunch of wild onions even if it was just being yelled at by his parents for eating weeds, maybe even for going so far from home to eat weeds. I don’t think I even enabled his onion-eating since he could have pulled them up in his own yard. I think it was just the way our lives went that kept us apart. We were in different sections of the same school, and in sixth grade when we were in the same section we were both older and had developed different circles of friends. Tommy had gotten tall and athletic and I hung out with more nerdy kids.

Junior high separated us even further, and I wouldn’t see him again until my sophomore year of high school when he stomped into my English class wearing ripped jeans and a leather jacket. He threw a slip of paper at the teacher who picked it up, looked at it, and said, “So you’re dropping out of this class.”

“Man, I’m droppin’ out of school,” said Tommy. And he grabbed the piece of paper and stomped out.

That would be the last time I’d see him. Wild onions, on the other hand, are everywhere. I don’t pull them up anymore, and I’m really not even tempted even now to eat them. After all look what they did to Tommy.

Buyer Aware.

There’s something nice about buying things the old fashioned way. Ordering something online may be convenient and at least the big retailers make returns easy if you what you get isn’t exactly what you were expecting. Facebook Marketplace is also a source of a lot of great, sometimes unintentional comedy. For those who like an adventure—who are looking for a deal on a used car or maybe just want to get stabbed in a dark parking lot—Craiglist is still going and has even added discussion forums to what it offers. There’s even one for writing which sounds really fun…oh no. After just a quick glance I’m never going there ever again.

Admittedly I’m not sure the best way to sell a bike is to chain it to a street sign, even on a really busy corner. The seller is asking $120 but might as well have added “Can also be yours for the price of a set of bolt cutters.” I respect, though, that what you see is what you get and I assume the seller is nearby—this is right next to a college campus so they probably live in one of the dorms. There’s also a Starbucks right across the street—no surprise, I know, but the seller might be there on a regular basis, making it even easier to arrange the transaction.

It’s a shame I’m not in the market for a bike.

Source: BlueSky