Latest Posts

The Only Constant Is Change.

Several years ago a friend of mine was visiting Nashville and, unable to find another place to park, we stopped next to a parking meter on a sidewalk. It wasn’t an ideal spot with cars zipping by, but my friend avoided the risk by slipping out the passenger side door and then we stood together and dug into our pockets for change. The parking meter was still the old style, with an oddly shaped head on a metal pole, but instead of the old pointer that showed how much time you had left it had a digital display that was blinking. We pondered how long we thought lunch might take, adding in the fact that where we were planning to go was about six blocks away, and then started shoving quarters into the slot.

We’d put in about thirty-seven quarters, including one I found on the ground, but hadn’t turned the handle yet so the display was still flashing. We were speculating about whether that was enough or if maybe we should also throw in some of the nickels and dimes we had when someone walked by and said, “Hey, don’t you know the parking here is free on Saturdays?”

In retrospect I could have been a smart-ass and said, “If we knew that do you think we’d be putting all this change in the meter?” Instead we both laughed at how ridiculous we looked.

And as I walked away I said I hoped the next person to use that meter appreciated the fact that we’d probably just paid for a day and a half of free parking.

The new parking meters seem much more advanced, as well as much more expensive, but I was surprised they still take change. So far I haven’t seen any cars parked at one of them but just in case I’m carrying around about thirty-seven quarters. I just really like helping out anyone who’s had so much trouble finding a place to park.

Making A Scene.

When I photograph street art I never think of myself as making art; I think I’m merely documenting someone else’s work. I know it’s much more complicated than that. After all I’m choosing how to frame the work I’m photographing, choosing the camera, even if it is just my phone, the distance between me and the work. Sometimes I crop the image, and if altering a picture isn’t an artistic process I don’t know what is. There are also other factors like the ambient lighting that I can’t control—or that I could partially control by choosing to come back at another time. Nature photographers sometimes try to capture their subjects either at sunrise or sunset, considering the lighting optimal at those times.

So I recognize that the pictures I take of other people’s art are, themselves, art, but I try not to think of them that way. After all I’m looking at the art critically—not in a negative sense, but I’m trying to understand what the artist was trying to convey. Because it’s street art I have no way to talk to the artists. It’s their work that speaks for itself, and I like it that way. Some artists are happy to describe their work, the inspiration, what they meant by it, but I enjoy it when an artist just puts the work out there and leaves it up to us to understand it, to decide what it means.

I’m breaking my own rule a bit here, though. I found this red balloon when I was out for a walk and decided to put it next to the red building, among the green plants, next to the red No Parking sign. I made this little scene—sort of. The balloon was out on the street. I have no idea where it came from, and the red building—Gilda’s Club—just happened to be near where I found it, as did the sign and the plants. All that got me thinking about how much art is a result of coincidences. I know some artists dismiss or downplay inspiration. They talk about how much time they spend learning skills, honing their craft, all of it so they can be ready when inspiration strikes to make the most of it. I haven’t really studied photography but I’ve spent a lot of time looking at art and studying things like composition and I feel like all that was preparation that allowed me to take advantage of this confluence of events to make a picture.

As for what it means I leave that up to you.

Spam, Spam, Spam.

Internet spam, not to be confused with the pork product, has been something I’ve dealt with almost as long as I’ve had an email account, and I think everyone else has had the same problem. I don’t remember when exactly I first got the first forwarded message warning me that the post office was going to start charging people two cents for every email sent—how they’d do this or how it would be applied outside the United States was never clear—but it was forwarded and re-forwarded to me so many times I think of it as an early example of spam. The same is true of warnings about the “Good Times” virus—supposedly a virus that would be sent via email and if you clicked the subject line it would erase your hard drive, melt your computer, send an endless stream of “Yo momma’s so fat” joke to your boss, clean out your refrigerator, and dress your pets in provocative outfits. So many warnings got sent to me and others about it that finally someone I know said, “The warning itself is the virus!” And people kept on spreading it.

Lately I’ve noticed some interesting spam sent to my blog. It’s actually nice, even flattering. Here’s an example:

I’m truly enjoying the design and layout here. It’s a very easy on the eyes which makes it much more enjoyable for me to come here and visit more often.

Here’s another one:

Usually I do not read  blogs however I would like to say that this writing very compelled me to take a look at and do it Your writing style has been amazed me Thank you very nice article

And this one:

I would claim that a true assistance is involved in writing excellent posts. This my first time visiting your website, and I’m amazed at how much research you did to produce such  fantastic articles.

Those are slightly rewritten—I’m not copying the original spam verbatim in case whatever’s generating them is looking for the text or replies. Anyway they seem really nice, even flattering, in spite of the fact that seeing at least half a dozen copies of the same message on as many different, sometimes much older, posts, was a giveaway that these weren’t real. I’m not even sure they were written by real people; they may have been generated by a program that generates somewhat human-sounding text and posts it to any blog it can find. It doesn’t help that several of these messages also included linked ads to treatments for hair loss, erectile dysfunction, acne, depression, the flu, overeating, ingrown toenails, and spontaneous decapitation, which isn’t flattering because I don’t suffer from at least three of those problems.

It’s really sad to me that we’ve created this wonderful thing, the internet, and also managed to undermine everything good about it by flooding it with garbage. I would say that in spite of that I believe people are better than that, but it would really be more accurate to say that I know there are people who are better than that—who are still trying to contribute good things. Also I get spam that, for some reason, possibly because it’s pulled from digitized texts, is in Latin, like this:

 In nova fert animus mutatas dicere formas
corpora; di, coeptis (nam vos mutastis et illas)
adspirate meis primaque ab origine mundi
ad mea perpetuum deducite tempora carmen.

I’m weirdly flattered by that—it’s as though it’s telling me that, even though I was a miserable failure all through three years of high school Latin and two more years of it in college, someone out there thinks I can actually translate Ovid.

Not So Manic Monday.

It’s another Monday. For a moment it felt like my work weeks had become routine until I started thinking about what this time last week was like. It was cloudy with a threat of thunderstorms later in the day, and warm enough that it almost felt like summer. Because of the threat of rain I parked in a lower level of the parking garage and hoped I’d remember which one it was in the afternoon. This week the morning temperature was close to freezing, even as I seemed to be driving right into the sun. I parked on the roof of the parking garage and I hope I’ll remember that this afternoon.

Between last Monday and today I’ve gotten either allergies or a mild cold. I’m allergic to very few things that I know of, none of them plants, but our bodies change over time. Maybe there’s something in the air that’s got me sneezing and coughing. To be on the safe side I took both an allergy medication and a cold remedy and let them sort it out. That worked though I’m no closer to solving the mystery of what I have, and there’s enough overlap between the symptoms the two drugs treat that further testing hasn’t cleared things up even if it’s mostly cleared up my nasal congestion.

Last Monday I rode the elevator up to my office alone, which isn’t unusual. Most people who work here, I think, arrive later, when the building has automatically unlocked, so they don’t have to deal with the extra step of scanning their ID card to get in. This morning, though, when I got in there were five other people already in the elevator, and one of them motioned for me to come on in so I didn’t feel I could wait for the next one. I stepped in and hoped I wasn’t crowding the others with my backpack with my laptop, my folio bag, my lunch, and my ukulele. I said, “I know I’ve got a lot of baggage but I’m seeing a therapist.”

I thought this might at least get a chuckle instead of the uncomfortable shifting and one person murmuring affirmatively, but maybe next week I’ll have a chance to try it on a different group.

How’d That Art Get In Here?

An employee of a German museum has been fired for smuggling his own artwork in and hanging it on the walls. I haven’t seen the artwork but I can already say I like his style. Yes, I understand that museums can’t let in just any artwork by anyone—there always has to be a certain amount of gatekeeping and at least some basic philosophy or statement of purpose, but it was a gallery of contemporary art. You can’t get any more contemporary than someone who currently works for the museum. Also it’s not as though he broke in or that he wasn’t authorized to be there. The museum’s being very circumspect about his specifics but he worked in Technical Services. I worked in Technical Services for a library, which was a catchall term for everything from the mailroom to paying invoices and assisting with collection decisions.

And why, instead of turning it into a criminal matter, couldn’t the museum take the opportunity to have a community discussion about what qualifies as museum-worthy art, who gets to decide, and why? I cringe when I hear the term “outsider artist”, which usually refers to self-taught artists, but why is that term never applied to Francis Bacon (the 20th century painter, not the 15th century philosopher)? Mostly because he was established decades before the term “outsider artist” was coined, but he also had connections to upper class British patrons and was friends with prominent art critics, which made him very much an insider. But he was still self-taught, as are many artists.

For that matter why is it that when Banksy sneaks his works into museums it’s considered an art stunt, if not a form of art in itself, but when someone who works in a museum does the same thing it’s a crime?

I understand the museum couldn’t just let this stand but, in addition to using it as an opportunity for discussion, couldn’t they have just docked the artist’s pay, made him responsible for fixing the holes in the wall? They don’t want to encourage copycats—fair enough, but one way to do that could be to provide staff an outlet—or inlet, giving them a chance to be more than just workers. Most people are drawn to work in museums because they have an interest in art. Why not tap into that?

This also reminds me of the time I was talking to librarian who worked in a music library. I said to him that it was cool he played so many instruments. He smirked and said, “You know everybody who works here is a musician, right?” I didn’t know that, and I wonder why.

Back In Blue.

Only seven months after being rear-ended we finally have our own car back. I’ve been driving the rental car since December and, in a funny coincidence, got a notice that it needed to be returned because it was being recalled shortly before I was due to return it because the repairs on our CRV were finally done. And it was a relief because I was in a cold sweat every time I had to drive the rental car anywhere. I was afraid any scratch, dent, or major collision would mean starting the whole process of dealing with insurance companies all over again. The company that covered the person who hit me back in September made that experience so frustrating and difficult I didn’t want a repeat of it.

Dealing with the car rental place, on the other hand, couldn’t have been easier When I returned the Ford EcoSport there were three or four employees there at the time. The young woman who’d helped me back in December when I came to pick it up was still there and she asked me, “How did we do?” I said, “It’s been the nicest part of the whole experience.” And then I realized that might sound like damning with faint praise so I added that they’d been so nice and so helpful and I really appreciated how easy they’d made this one part of what was otherwise a terrible experience.

They all seemed surprised and really pleased by this feedback which surprised me. Of all the professions I’ve heard criticized throughout my entire life “car rental office employee” doesn’t even make the list. Aside from occasional inventory flubs—giving someone a compact when they’d asked for a pickup truck, maybe, or having to charge someone for returning a car with an almost empty gas tank—I’d guess most people find the car rental experience as enjoyable as I did. And in fact I had plenty of time to see that was the case. They told me Carl, their regular pickup-and-dropoff guy was out but that he’d be back soon to give me a ride to the car repair place. Then they asked me to take a seat in the waiting area and they went back to work.

Fifteen minutes went by. Half an hour. Forty-five minutes.

I started to feel taken for granted. Hadn’t I told them what a great job they’d done, just under an hour ago? But I wasn’t going to be the one to ruin their day and went to the desk and politely reminded them I was still there.

They all apologized and one of the guys said, “I’ll give you a ride.”

We climbed into a pickup truck and had a nice five minute conversation—honestly I could have walked to the car repair place in less time than I spent waiting. And we passed by Carl, headed back to the rental place.

Everything’s Local.

It’s a local shop for local people. There’s nothing for you here! Source: Tellyspotting

A friend of mine who’s from Chicago is really annoyed by a recent story about the best Chicago-style pizza—the deep dish stuff—being found in California. There are a few things to keep in mind here. The first is the ranking came from Yelp so there’s not exactly a lot of control. Another thing is that taste, especially in food, is really subjective and there are a lot of factors that influence it, including price, which is why you can pour cheap wine in an expensive bottle and wine snobs will love it. Also the best Chicago deep dish pizza I’ve ever had, which was the first time I had it, was in Chicago. A lot of things that had nothing to do with the pizza itself made it great: I was with good friends, we’d had a fun evening, and it was nine o’clock at night and we hadn’t eaten since a little before noon. I also mentioned that I’d never tried deep dish pizza and that’s all it took for us to decide we wanted some. We wandered down the street from our hotel and asked a nice cop where to go and she directed us to a place just one block over. It was a nice place with checkerboard floors and friendly staff.

There was also something special about having Chicago-style pizza in Chicago.

I get it: Chicagoans, like people in a lot of other places, take pride in things that make their city distinctive and when somewhere else lays claim to those things it can be annoying. It bugged me when KFC started selling “Nashville hot chicken”. I felt like something special that originated in Nashville, something people purposely go to when they come here, was being ruined by mass-production. It was losing its authenticity.

What’s authentic, though? I get defensive about Nashville hot chicken but I also love the fact that I don’t have to go more than a few miles to find restaurants that are Vietnamese, Korean, and Thai. I can get “certified” Neapolitan pizza, made with ingredients imported from Naples and baked in a special oven that’s been approved by a committee of Italian chefs. Across the street from the pizza place I can get sushi. Could I get similar sushi in Tokyo? Maybe, depending on where I went, but having it in Tokyo would feel different. Maybe it would even be better—or at least it would seem that way, even if it were made with the same ingredients.

In fact there’s a place just a few blocks from me where I can get an authentic Chicago-style hot dog. I could really go for one of those right now.

Would someone please pass the ketchup?  

Source: Yarn

Feeling Sluggish.

April showers have brought out the slugs. Like a lot of common animals I have a history with slugs and it’s not all happy. When I was a kid my mother showed me how to kill slugs by pouring salt on them and I went up and down the sidewalk at night with a big container of the “when it rains it pours”, pouring it all over every slug I could find. The next morning I’d find shriveled leathery bodies like three-dimensional commas, an interrupted life sentence.

Why did I hate the slugs so much? I can’t explain it because I loved snails. I collected snails, built little terrariums for them in empty jars, and spent hours watching them. Slugs were just escargot liberated from the extra cargo of a shell. If anything they deserved more respect for daring to go bare, but I think it was the lack of a shell that bothered me. Snails are builders, architects. They make a refuge and carry it with them, and I could pick up a snail without getting slimed, although I also let them crawl up and down my arm. Slugs, I thought, lived up to their name: sluggish. Lazy. Fat. Stupid. Slugs are unstamped coins. Big, slow moving boats. Hit somebody hard enough and you say you slugged them. And according to the Oxford English Dictionary was an insulting term for people long before it was applied to the gastropod.

That’s imposing a lot on slugs, none of it true. Well, I don’t know about slug intelligence, but their bodies are all muscle, as some friends who decided to fry them up in garlic butter since it was cheaper than going to a French restaurant discovered, and slugs can move pretty quickly, although I guess they have enough natural defenses that most of the time they don’t need to. Most animals either know or, like my friends, discover that slugs aren’t that appetizing.

I’m sure I’d also feel differently if we lived on the west coast where banana slugs are found and are even a school mascot because they’re amazing. I’d probably feel the same way about them that I did about snails. And I’ve always found sea slugs fascinating, from when I first read about them in my Jacques Cousteau books to when, on a trip to Florida, I found some hanging onto a piece of driftwood. They had amber bodies and azure gills. I carried them to the house where we stayed in Florida in a bucket with some sand and rocks and seaweed and watched them for hours. They crawled all over their temporary plastic home, occasionally swimming by curling and uncurling until they floated up to the surface then drifted back down. The next day I took them back to the beach and released them to the sea, not wanting them to die in captivity.

They lived in salt, the same stuff I used to destroy their terrestrial cousins. I don’t know if that’s what changed my mind about the sidewalk slugs but after that I let them pass.

Everything Under The Sun.

Everything under the sun is in tune but the sun is eclipsed by the Moon. And was in 2017.

The eclipse sweeping over North America today is being described as “rare”, mostly, I think, by people who’ve forgotten that there was one just seven years ago. And I can think of two others that happened where I lived, although they were pretty long ago. One was when I was in second grade, though Tennessee wasn’t in the path of totality, and it was cloudy that morning so those of us who brought our shoebox viewers didn’t get to use them. The other was late in the spring when I was in seventh grade, and late in the afternoon, too, on a very clear day. Again we weren’t in the path of totality but it was a partial eclipse. My friends and I walked home through backyards and vacant lots that had become so familiar to us but suddenly seemed strange in the bluish light of the eclipse. We gathered around a puddle and, in just the right position, could see the disk of the sun with a great round piece cut out of one side. And then it passed.

It really depends on how you define “rare”, of course. In just the next six years there will be fifteen more solar eclipses, and just as many lunar eclipses, although whether they’ll be visible all depends on where you are in the world.

I do think eclipses are amazing things even if, in astronomical terms, they’re not that unusual, at least for us on Earth, which is unusual in being the only rocky planet in the inner solar system to have a large moon. For the one in 2017 my wife and I drove about an hour east to get a few extra minutes of totality, and for this one we’ll be driving about an hour west, though not far enough for full totality, and it looks like it’ll be cloudy anyway.

The important thing for me about an eclipse is that it’s a reminder that we’re in a universe that’s constantly in motion: the planet we’re on spins, the moon orbits around it, it orbits the sun along with a cluster of other planets, and we’re on a merry-go-round ride in an outer arm of a galaxy that’s also moving through space. An eclipse is one of those events that causes me to stop and consider our place in the vast universe—something I only do rarely.