The Weekly Essay

It’s Another Story.

Looking Up.

Source: SkyView app

This morning on my way to the car I stopped to look up at the sky, because I stop to look up at the sky on a regular basis and if I didn’t stop I’d probably trip over something and end up looking at the ground and maybe some sharp object would pierce my eye and then I’d be looking at everything with no depth perception. The bright side of that—since I can find a bright side to everything—is that it wouldn’t affect my stargazing. Celestial objects are so distant they all look like they’re on a flat field. Anyway I noticed a bright red object directly overhead and thought it might be a star but, after checking, found it’s actually Mars, hanging out with the Moon in the constellation Gemini.

I’ve always thought Mars has an unfairly bad reputation because of its association with the Greek and Roman gods of war and science fiction’s long history of imagining hostile invaders from Mars. Historically we’ve fired more objects at Mars than it’s sent our way, although as a result we’ve learned that Mars is cold and barren but still holds the promise of life—it’s just like Toledo.

What we see when we look to the skies says a lot about what we see in ourselves, and seeing Mars as hostile and a harbinger of war doesn’t say much for us. Then again the more we’ve learned about Mars the more it’s captured our imaginations in a very different way: it’s the first planet other than our own that we may be able to reach and explore, and a potential stepping stone into the universe beyond.

And on the third hand it occurs to me that when I look up at the skies one of the things I see is incomprehensible distances and vast emptiness, which doesn’t say much for what’s going on in my own head so sometimes I need to keep my eyes on the ground. Anyway there’s a pretty long history of humans seeing Mars as a welcoming place as well. Here are the final lines of Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles:

They reached the canal. It was long and straight and cool and wet and reflective in the night. ‘I’ve always wanted to see a Martian,’said Michael. ‘Where are they, Dad? You promised.’ ‘There they are,’ said Dad, and he shifted Michael on his shoulder and pointed straight down. The Martians were there. Timothy began to shiver. The Martians were there – in the canal – reflected in the water. Timothy and Michael and Robert and Mom and Dad. The Martians stared back at them for a long, long silent time from the rippling water…

You’ve Been Mooned.

Source: Wikipedia

Harvest moon-The full moon closest to the autumnal equinox, occurring any time within two weeks of the event. It’s also known as the “barley moon” or “full corn moon” and is believed to have signaled the time for harvesting most fall crops. For 2022 the Harvest moon was on September 10th.


Hunter’s moon-The first full moon after the harvest moon and marks the beginning of the traditional hunting season in preparation for winter. For 2022 the hunter’s moon will be on October 9th.


Beaver moon-The first full moon of November, also known as a “frost moon” or “turkey moon”, the name derives from Native American and early European settlers using this time to trap beavers for their fur in preparation for winter.


The Long Night’s Moon-Also known as the “cold moon” this is the full moon closest to the winter solstice. For 2022 it will be on December 7th.


Wolf moon-The first, or only, full moon of January. It’s also known as the Hard moon, Severe moon, and Canada goose moon.


Blue moon-The second full moon in a month, or the third of four full moons in a season. The origin for this is unknown, although the moon can appear bluish at times, such as after a volcanic eruption or when viewed by Corey Hart.


Green moon-A rare occurrence when cirrus clouds cross the moon so it appears to have a cheesy smile.


Pink moon-The first full moon in April. The name derives from the fact that April is usually the time when the phlox flower, native to eastern North America, blooms.


Sturgeon moon-The first full moon in August. The name comes from Native Americans in the Great Lakes regions finding the fish easier to catch at this time of year.


New moon-A completely dark moon. The Romans originally used new moons to mark the beginning of each month. It was also a time when rent was traditionally due and also easily avoided since it was really dark out.


Gibbous moon-A three-quarter moon. The term is included in this list because “full” and “crescent” moons are pretty much self-explanatory and even “new” makes sense if you think about it but no one really knows what “gibbous” means since it never gets used for anything except the moon anymore.


Super moon-A full or new moon appearing when the moon is at or close to perigee—its closest approach to the Earth, which makes it the ideal time to blow up the moon.

Source: Make a gif

Rule Follower.





I’m kind of a stickler for traffic rules: stop signs, speed limits, signaling, at least putting pants on before I get in the car even though we don’t have leather seats so I wouldn’t stick to them, wearing my seatbelt—you get the idea. Sometimes I know the rules don’t have to be strictly followed. There are times when I can see enough of an intersection from a distance that I know I don’t have to stop because there aren’t any cars coming the other way. I do it anyway because I worry that if I get in the habit of breezing through the intersection one of these days I won’t look when there is another car coming. I even have some history with this. Riding my bike as a kid I got in the habit of not stopping at intersections because there were so few cars around, and then I almost got hit by a driver who also didn’t stop.

In my neighborhood, and in neighborhoods generally, I’m especially careful about the speed limit and usually try to stay a mile or two under it because I never know when I’m going to go around a curve or over a hill and find someone walking along the street or a kid on their bike. Hitting someone can, at the very least, cause significant delays.

Most drivers who end up behind me don’t seem to have a problem with this, but the other day a guy was following me so closely I could see his nose hair in my rearview mirror. This was a case where “riding my bumper” wasn’t just an expression. I think he was making actual contact. When I stopped at a stop sign he revved his engine hard and I could see him waving his arms and yelling and then he just followed me through the intersection. A few times he swerved trying to get around me, on a two-lane street, but then had to get back in line because of cars coming the other way.

Here’s the deal: I try not to be judgmental. Maybe he was trying to get to a hospital or he had some other emergency and that’s why he was in such a hurry. Fortunately a turn was coming up and I hoped I could get out of his way. I put on my turn signal and stopped.

Here’s the other deal: he pulled around, blocking me so I couldn’t turn, and spent at least thirty seconds giving me the finger and screaming at me through the closed window of his car. Now I could be judgmental. If it had been a real emergency he wouldn’t have time for that. Or if it was a real emergency he was making it worse.

He then sped off, still in the wrong lane, and when he went over the hill was probably going fifty in a 25MPH zone.

I just hope he didn’t hit anyone.

Leveling Up.

I used to play an online fantasy game that, being a cheap knockoff of World of Warcraft, which I’ve never played, had most of the usual trappings: castles, goblins, various other monsters that I’d go out and kill even though most of them hadn’t done anything to me personally, swords, magic spells, and meandering landscapes I-or rather my avatar-would traverse in search of adventure and various tasks. I felt a little guilty about it, feeling I was wasting my time, mostly because I was wasting my time. Not that there’s anything wrong with video games–I have plenty of friends who enjoy them and get a lot out of them; it’s just the way I felt about my own experience.

Like most games it allowed my avatar to level up once certain tasks were performed and I couldn’t help thinking how, up to a certain point, that was like real life. Learning a new skill, or improving on something you already know, requires practice-or, if you want to call it what it really is, repetition. But, like I said, the game only imitated life up to a certain point. I could shut down the game and walk away from it for a week or a month or longer and when I came back, if I came back, if I could remember my username and password, all my skill levels would still be where they’d been when I left. In real life skills atrophy without practice. No matter what the skill is, no matter how good you are at it, if you walk away from it for a month or more, or less-the time may vary-you’re at least going to need some time when you get back to it to get back in the groove. Depending on what’s happened to you in the interim you may never be able to get back to where you once were, or maybe your approach will have changed fundamentally.

I remember when I first learned to ride a bicycle. It took me a while to get the hang of it but once I did I spent a lot of time riding around, although mostly on family vacations to Florida where everything was flat and I could stay away from streets with heavy traffic. I’d never qualify for the Tour de France, but I was good enough to get from one point to another and if there’d been a Tour de Terrain de Stationnement I’m pretty sure I could get into that, but that’s another story.

My life took me in different directions, though, and it was at least twenty years before I got on a bike again and whoever came up with the phrase “it’s just like riding a bike” to mean something you never forget how to do had no clue what they were talking about. It was probably the same person who came up with “underwater basket weaving” as a task anybody could do. I’ve woven baskets. It wasn’t hard but it required some skill and practice and patience that I doubt would be ameliorated by adding scuba certification. And back in the bike saddle I was able to make a reasonable spin around the parking lot where I was practicing but it still took me a little time to warm up and I wasn’t going to qualify for any kind of competition.

The other way the game didn’t reflect real life is that leveling up didn’t require any real challenge. One of the skills in the game was mining. An entry-level player could mine clay and it didn’t take to acquire a few levels to mine copper and, yeah, that is kind of like life–a lot of skills have that initial acceleration where you go from not knowing anything to feeling so confident you think you can do everything, until your ability plateaus. As a player advanced they could mine iron, gold, mithril, and so on, each one granting more skill points, but at the same time more and more points were needed to reach the next level. Again this is how a lot of skills we learn in real life work. However in the game a player could, theoretically, reach the maximum level just by mining clay over and over and over, depending on their tolerance for tedium and carpal tunnel syndrome. And anybody, regardless of base ability, could level up.

Contrast that with life where I could sit down at a piano and play “Chopsticks” over and over for the ten-thousand hours that’s alleged to be the time needed to master a skill. At the end of it I’d be pretty good at playing “Chopsticks” but I wouldn’t be any closer to playing Rachmaninoff than when I’d started and, honestly, even with practice and training I doubt I’d ever be all that great as a piano player. I might be pretty good–although if my school music classes are any indication it would take a lot of practice–and I suspect I’d plateau well below concert performance level. At some point to mastering a skill, or even going beyond proficiency, requires more than just repetition. Otherwise it’s, er, just repetition. Not everyone can manage that.

And that’s okay. Some people are wired to be concert pianists while some are wired to cycle around France, and maybe some can do both and make the rest of us look bad. 

The point here, which I hope I’ll be able to successfully get to if I put in enough practice putting one word after another, is that life is complicated and there’s no straight line or even completely level ground to anything. Mastery is also an illusion. Samuel Beckett said, “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” Which I take to mean you can sit around waiting or you can giddy up and Godot.

At least that’s one possible takeaway. As with everything your mileage may vary. Another is that it’s back to school season which has me thinking that I need to find some aspect of my own life to level up, in some way I won’t feel was a waste of time, in some way I won’t feel guilty about.

All’s Will That Ends Will.

Source: Wikipedia

The Nashville Shakespeare Festival is putting on one of The Bard’s lesser known plays as part of their annual Shakespeare In The Park, but then they’ve been going since 1988 and, well, there are only so many ways to put on the same half dozen comedies and a couple of tragedies.

It’s also important when putting on a Shakespeare play to find ways to make it relevant to contemporary audiences, which is why I now offer Shakespeare’s Plays As Episodes Of Friends.


  1. The One On The Island


  1. The One With All That King’s Big Speeches


  1. The One That Happens In The Trojan War


  1. The One Where A Guy Is Exiled From Rome And Of Course Murdered When He Comes Back Because It’s A Tragedy


5.  The One That Goes All Over Italy


  1. The One Where Two Dudes Almost Get Married, And That Old Dude Comes Back


  1. The One Where One Woman Stands In For Another Except She’s Lying Down


  1. The One With A Boatload Of Twins, Literally


  1. The Other One With The Twins And Also The Obnoxious Butler


  1. The One With The Lady Pretending To Be A Statue And A Bear Attack


  1. The First One Of The Three Parters About That King


  1. The Second One Of The Three Parters About That King


  1. The Third One Of The Three Partners About That King


  1. The One Where A Greek Guy Finds A Bunch Of Gold And Dies


  1. The First One With The Prince And That Old Dude


  1. The Second One With Even More Of That Old Dude


  1. The One That’s Not Famous Where Everybody Dies


  1. The One That Is Famous Where Everybody Dies


  1. The One With The Suicidal Teens


  1. The One Where Two People Who Hate Each Other Get Married And No One Dies


  1. The One With Four Guys Who Quit Dating


  1. The One Where Everybody Gets Married After A Night In The Woods


  1. The One Where A Jewish Guy Loses Everything, But It’s A Comedy


  1. The One Where Some Get Married And Some Get Religion After A Night In The Woods


  1. The One With The Two Daughters Who Have To Get Married


  1. The One With The Riddle That Means Marriage Or Death, But It’s A Comedy


  1. The One With Three Queens That Convince A King To Go To War, But It’s A Comedy


  1. The One That Doesn’t Mention Either The Magna Carta Or Robin Hood


  1. The One Where The Roman Leader Falls In Love With Egypt’s Queen And They Both Die


  1. The One With The Tournament


  1. The One With The Hunchbacked King Without A Horse


  1. The One About The King With All The Wives


  1. The One Where The King Goes To France


  1. The One That’s In Scotland—You Know, The One We Can’t Say


  1. The One Where The Salad Guy Is Murdered


  1. The One With The Crazy King Who Dies Along With His Faithful Daughter Because It’s A Tragedy


  1. The One With A Black Guy Who’s Tricked By A White Guy And Dies Because It’s A Tragedy


  1. The One Where A Girl Is In Love With A Guy Who Doesn’t Like Her But It All Works Out In The End


  1. The One That Ends With A Big Feast But Maybe It’s A Tragedy?



More Than 30-You are a retired English professor and you have tweed pajamas that are older than “Friends”

20-29-Stratford-On-Avon tour guides know you by name

15-19-You’ve acted in Shakespeare In The Park productions several years in a row

10-14-You’ve Been To Stratford-On-Avon once and asked a tour guide, “How you doin’?”

5-9-You’ve heard of Stratford-On-Avon

1-4-You barely passed Freshman English

Answer Key:

  1. The Tempest
  2. Henry V
  3. Troilus And Cressida
  4. Coriolanus
  5. Two Gentlemen Of Verona
  6. The Merry Wives Of Windsor
  7. Measure For Measure
  8. The Comedy Of Errors
  9. Twelfth Night
  10. The Winter’s Tale
  11. Henry VI Part 1
  12. Henry VI Part 2
  13. Henry VI Part 3
  14. Timon Of Athens
  15. Henry IV, Part 1
  16. Henry IV, Part 2
  17. Titus Andronicus
  18. Hamlet
  19. Romeo And Juliet
  20. Much Ado About Nothing
  21. Loves Labour’s Lost
  22. A Midsummer Night’s Dream
  23. The Merchant Of Venice
  24. As You Like It
  25. The Taming Of The Shrew
  26. Pericles
  27. The Two Noble Kinsmen
  28. King John
  29. Antony And Cleopatra
  30. Richard II
  31. Richard III
  32. Henry VIII
  33. Edward III
  34. MacBeth
  35. Julius Caesar
  36. King Lear
  37. Othello
  38. All’s Well That Ends Well
  39. Cymbeline

Looking Up.


Source: Wikipedia

Wishing on a star is one of those ancient traditions that probably sprung up in multiple cultures over time. The same goes for wishing on the first star spotted in the evening–the author of “Star light, star bright, first star I see tonight, wish I may, wish I might have the wish I wish tonight” is anonymous and it seems like such a simple, straightforward combination of rhymes it seems possible it was coined by more than one person even without any of them knowing each other. Then there’s Jiminy Cricket who sang “When You Wish Upon A Star” in the Disney version of Pinocchio. I prefer Collodi’s original in which he’s merely a talking cricket who warns Pinocchio not to be lazy, gets smashed with a hammer, and comes back as a ghost, but that’s another story.

Wishing on a falling star seems like it would be even luckier, since they’re rarer, but I think it must also be lucky to wish on a planet. Jupiter and Venus shine more brightly than any star in the night sky and, being closer, seem more likely to grant a wish, or at least have some influence over our world, even if it’s only an occasional gravitational nudge or errant burst of radiation.

These are all thoughts that ran through my head the other night when, looking roughly north by northeast, I saw the first star of the evening, which just happened to be Arcturus. Of course it was Arcturus. It’s the brightest star, with the exception of the sun, visible in the northern hemisphere. It’s just under thirty-seven light years away which makes it a pretty close neighbor. That, combined with being a red giant, is what makes it so bright. It also might have a planetary system.

Could there be life around Arcturus? Let’s say yes. This isn’t science fiction so much as science speculation. We haven’t found life anywhere else in the universe yet but there are a lot of places we haven’t looked, and given the size of the universe it would be strange if our little planet really is alone. Still Arcturus isn’t exactly the best candidate. It’s at least a couple of billion years older than our sun, not to mention the fact that it’s a very different kind of star, all of which means whatever life is out there is likely very different from anything we’re used to. And even if we can communicate the distance means just exchanging a couple of friendly hellos would take almost seventy-four years. A lot can happen in that time.

I’m sure I saw Arcturus a lot when I was a kid. Thinking back to all the summer nights I checked the sky, and assuming it was in roughly the same position then, which it probably was since the stars are pretty regular, it’s very likely that first bright star I saw at night that managed to not be obscured by the streetlight at the end of our cul-de-sac. Arcturus could shine even through light pollution.

And that’s why I see it so often now. It’s annoying, really, that I’ll see a bright star in the evening sky and, checking an astronomy app, I’ll confirm that it’s Arcturus. Again. And I’ll think how nice it would be if it could move over and let something else shine, The next morning I went out and in roughly the same position, bright enough to be seen in the early dawn sky, was Jupiter.

Wish granted.

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