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A World In A Grain Of Sand.

Back in 2009 the artist Kseniya Simonova won Ukrayina Maye Talant–or, in English, Ukraine’s Got Talent with a dynamic sand painting. Here’s a description of it from The Guardian:

Here, she recounts Germany conquering Ukraine in the second world war. She brings calm, then conflict. A couple on a bench become a woman’s face; a peaceful walkway becomes a conflagration; a weeping widow morphs into an obelisk for an unknown soldier. Simonova looks like some vengeful Old Testament deity as she destroys then recreates her scenes – with deft strokes, sprinkles and sweeps she keeps the narrative going. She moves the judges to tears as she subtitles the final scene “you are always near”.

There’s nothing I can add to that, really, except to say that it’s tragic that Simonova, like more than a million other Ukrainians, has probably been forced to flee because of a senseless, brutal attack on her country. But here’s another of her works from February 2022, and her description:

This sand story is about men, it’s called «Heroes» and tells a simple thing: heroes not only fight or are on war… heroes are among us, in everyday life. They heal, build, save, repair, cook, draw, create…. and not only. Real heroes are those who can help. For example, a husband who helps his wife at home, in the kitchen. Or plays with kids. The one who shares love. The one with alive heart and soul.

Marching On.

March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb, but sometimes…

March comes in like a lamb and then starts tearing up the place like a lion and who knows when it’s getting out of here?

March comes in mad as a hare and goes out like a sleeping dormouse.

March comes in like a mushroom and goes out like a marshmallow.

March comes in like your boss with a really bad hangover and goes out like someone from Human Resources.

March comes running in to tell everyone the circus is coming and slinks out when it admits the circus won’t be here until June.

March comes in like the New York Marathon with everybody excited to get started and ends like the New York Marathon with only about a quarter of the people who started and they’re all exhausted and just glad it’s over.

March comes in like it forgot its keys and goes out like it really wants to know when the locksmith is going to get here.

March comes in like a crocodile and goes out like one of those frilled lizards that run around on their hind legs.

March comes in like the Superbowl and goes out like your kid’s soccer game.

March comes in like lava—something the movies you saw on TV when you were a kid made you think was going to be a much bigger concern when you were an adult—and goes out like quicksand—something else the movies you saw on TV when you were a kid made you think was going to be a much bigger concern when you were an adult.

March yells at you to get off its lawn, but why? You’re walking on the other side of the street.

March comes in and sets the curtains on fire but also does the dishes.

March comes in and everyone pretends to be really busy until it leaves.

March comes in like a Jackson Pollock painting and goes out like a clown painted on velvet.

March comes in like that guy in that movie that you recognize from that other thing but you just can’t remember his name and goes out like someone doing an ad for reverse mortgages.

March comes in like Chinese takeout and goes out like a pizza delivery.

March makes like a tree and leaves you with excruciating allergies.

March comes to your dinner party with a cheap bottle of wine and leaves with an expensive one.

March knew it came in here for a good reason but can’t remember what it was.

March comes in like a raccoon in your garbage can and goes out like a possum under your porch.

March comes in like a string of expletives and goes out exegetically.

March punches you in the back of the neck then buys you a drink because it thought you were someone else.

March comes in like a Bruce Springsteen concert and goes out like an 8-track of Tom Jones’s greatest hits that someone just threw at you.

March comes in like a colonoscopy and goes out like getting your taxes done.

March comes in like Tyrannosaurus rex—really cool, but terrifying, and goes out like Pachycephalosaurus—really cool because it’s a dinosaur but, I don’t know, should we be scared of this one?

March is just a month.

Companion Dog.

While doing some cleanup after a bit of flooding we had in the basement last week I came across an information card for our dog Creed, whom we lost in 2018. All dogs are special and I hate to single any one out but Creed was very special in a lot of ways. He was our first liver Dalmatian, which got a lot of comments from people who would say things like, “He looks like a Dalmatian but his spots are brown!” They didn’t know Dalmatians usually either have black or liver spots, although they can also have brindle, blue, or yellow spots—black and liver just happen to be the only acceptable variants as far as the show ring goes, but that’s another story.

Creed was also excellent at raising puppies, knowing just how to handle them, and he absolutely loved toys. You knew he was your friend if he went and picked up a toy and brought it to you, and sometimes when I’d come home he’d run to the door and greet me then run to the den and come back a few seconds later with a ball or a stuffed duck or whatever he could find in his mouth. He didn’t want to play tug or fetch; he was just saying, “I have this!”

The information cards were something my wife came up with when we made our first cross-country trek to a big dog show. They were attached to each dog’s kennel and, well, as you can see from what I haven’t blocked out, they had basic information as well as my wife’s name, her phone number, and the phone numbers of people to contact if something happened to either one of us.

And that also reminded me that we used to have a picture of one of our other dogs in the window of our smaller car, sort of always traveling with us. After all Dalmatians are traveling dogs—they used to trot alongside carriages, acting as guards and companions, which is how they became firehouse dogs. Anyway one day when I was driving home from work I stopped at a red light and looked over and there was a guy at a bus stop motioning for me to roll down the window. He was old enough that he was making a circular motion and I was old enough that I knew what he meant even though car windows all operate by button now. I rolled down the window which I know was a stupid thing to do, but he just smiled and yelled, “You got a Dalmatian?”

“Yes,” I said back.

“I had one when I was a kid. They’re great dogs, ain’t they?”

“Yes.” I smiled and laughed. “Yes they are.”

Then the light changed and I went on. I hate to single anyone out but there was something very special about that guy.

Get Back.

Source: WebCanvas

So a friend sent me a link to WebCanvas saying, “You’ll like this. It’s like graffiti but online.” Well, okay, but isn’t that sort of what the whole internet is? We take it for granted now and social media sites have homogenized a lot of our online interactions—which can be added to the long list of reasons they’re terrible—but even from its earliest days the internet has been a space, albeit one bound by certain technological limits, where people can express themselves creatively. I even remember when it was harder to use. Websites usually had some pictures and a lot of text and you could do a lot of scrolling. A 1999 article from The Onion, “Dean Cain Fanpage Last Updated 8/14/96” was funny and also reminded us that even if we had a website updating it could be a slow, tedious process.

I also remember when you could read articles on The Onion without being bombarded with ads, and also when certain websites would bombard you with pop-up ads, and when some sites had annoying “frames”, but that’s another story.

Then people started getting really excited about “the Web 2.0” that promised to be more open, more interactive. Blogging became a big thing, and suddenly, instead of being mostly static, websites were not only updated regularly but people could comment, share thoughts, get into conversations, get into fights. A 2015 article from The Onion, “Man Wistfully Looks Around Website He Hasn’t Visited For 30 Minutes”, was funny and reminded us how quickly things were changing.

WebCanvas, for reasons I can’t quite explain, seems like a throwback to the early days of the internet. I think a lot of it is the scrolling, and the MS Paint quality of a lot of the artwork. I thought it would be fun to add something of my own to it. You can post over other peoples’ work but I purposely moved around to what seemed to be an empty space. Then I created an account and, well, went to MS Paint and did a quick picture of my own.

This is the mostly empty space but I liked the neighborhood.

And this is my picture. Done in MS Paint, of course.

And my login failed. I tried a dozen times or so to get in, tried resetting my password, and even tried creating a new account. All of it failed. And that was the biggest flashback to the old internet yet: it’s hard, if not impossible, to get in and update it.

Anyway here’s another flashback.

It’s Enough To Keep You Up At Night.

Source: From Old Books

Congratulations on buying a Scanton Super Snooz Mattress! The Super Snooz Mattress is specially designed to provide full body support and temperature control while you sleep. It’s guaranteed to provide comfort and rest, ensuring you will be fully rested when you wake ready to face each new day.

You ever wonder if dogs get songs stuck in their heads?

The Super Snooz Mattress is made with a proprietary foam developed by scientists for use by astronauts and soldiers. As we’ve demonstrated in our commercials you can balance a full wine glass on one side of the bed and drop bowling balls on the other and the wine glass will remain perfectly upright. However we don’t recommend dropping bowling balls on the mattress while someone is sleeping on it.

Hey, whatever happened to Vic Tayback?

The proprietary foam the Super Snooz Mattress is made with is a special compound that is made to be fire-resistant. However it can and will burn if exposed to an open flame or other heat source.

So apparently “segmented sleep”, where some people go to sleep at, like, ten o’clock at night, then wake up at around 1 in the morning, do some stuff when it’s quiet and no one else is up, then go back to bed is a thing. About thirty percent of the population does it. Who knew? Well, about a third of the population apparently.

The Super Snooz Mattress has been clinically tested to give you the most complete night’s sleep possible, providing uninterrupted rest.

Supposedly you get weird dreams if you eat Stilton cheese before going to bed. Didn’t work for me. I mean I tried it a couple of times and all I dreamed was that I was at work and then I was annoyed when the alarm went off and I had to get up and actually go to work.

The Super Snooz Mattress is hypo-allergenic and made with sustainable fair-trade materials, and manufactured entirely in the United States of America.

Once at an entire jar of expired olives before bed and dreamed my stomach came up out of my body and we went to my old high school and watched my class put on a production of “Oh! Calcutta!”

Sleep and dreams remain mysterious even to scientists but we at Scanton, makers of the Super Snooz Mattress, continue to look for new ways to give you the best night’s rest possible.

Hey, you ever wonder who invented the pillow? Someone should look into that.

The Super Snooz Mattress is only available at specially authorized retailers or you can take advantage of our special installment plan and and have a Super Snooz Mattress specially delivered to your house and installed by our friendly professionals. However you purchase your Super Snooz Mattress it will be covered under our three-year unlimited warranty. If you’re unsatisfied with your Super Snooz Mattress for any reason you can return it for a full refund.

So I was on this website reading stuff about sleep and there was a link to an article called “Ever Tried Giving Yourself Nightmares?” And I thought, well, okay, maybe I could give it a try. I clicked the link and got “Page not found” and I don’t know if it was removed or if somebody was jerking me around.

Oh yeah, and you know that tag on the mattress that says “Do not remove under penalty of law”? You can remove it from your Super Snooz Mattress. Seriously. We won’t tell.

Playing Hooky.

My old stomping grounds. Source: Google Maps

One of the downsides of working from home is there’s no way to get away from it. If I take a break, or even a vacation, my work desk is right there in the spare bedroom snickering at me. In fact it’s understood that from now on, even when we all go back to the office and resume whatever normal is, if there’s bad weather in the forecast or the office will have to be closed for any reason we’ll just take our laptops home.

I was feeling unusually nostalgic the other day and on my lunch break decided to look up my old primary school—the one I went to from kindergarten through sixth grade, and as I was looking at it on Google Maps I discovered there’s a public park that I never knew about right next to the school. And it opened in 1979. How did I never hear about this? There was a long fence that ran all around the school so we wouldn’t wander out into the street in front of the school but behind the school there were trees. It looked like a dense forest that went on forever, and I wanted so badly to explore that forest, to see how far it went and what secrets it held.

Well, apparently its biggest secret was that it only goes back about fifty feet before it opens up into a public park with a playground.

The funny thing is there was one day when I was in fourth grade that a couple of my friends tried to convince me to play hooky after lunch. And, sure, The Little Rascals made it seem appealing, but I couldn’t figure out what the point would be for us. First of all I didn’t think we could get away with it. Our class was in one of the long trailers called “portables” that stood between the main school building and the playground. It was long but narrow and I’m pretty sure the sudden disappearance of three of us would be noticed immediately. Also the school was, and still is, in the middle of a suburban neighborhood. There wasn’t anything within walking distance and even if there were none of us had any money. And even if we did go anywhere how were we supposed to get back home?

I realize now we could have slipped past the fence and gone over to Granbery Park. I’d have finally gotten the chance to explore those woods which would take up, well, about five minutes, and instead of playing on our regular school playground we could play on the park’s slightly different playground, which would have taken up another ten minutes. And I seriously doubt we could slip back into class without being noticed.

At least now I know and one of these days I’m going to take a day off from work and go over there to see what I missed. It’ll be an official vacation day. I mean, I could play hooky, but what would be the point?

Putting It Off.

Source: Facebook, Library Displays

So I’m really bad about procrastinating. Or, depending on how you look at it, really good at procrastinating, if you ever get around to looking at it. And I’m pretty sure the last two years have made my tendency to procrastinate even worse. Work goes along just fine–maybe because there’s always some new problem coming in, but sometimes when I sit down to write…well, in the process of writing this paragraph I’ve washed dishes, taken dogs out, and folded a load of laundry.

Maybe I shouldn’t even be writing about this. Once in a creative writing class I got an assignment to describe a place. It could be any place, but sometimes the brain can be the most annoyingly contrary organ. Any other time I doubt I’d have trouble thinking up a place and describing it, maybe even making it interesting, but, given the assignment, I flailed. And feared I’d fail. Finally I went to the library and shut myself in one of the study rooms and went through every idea I could think of. That took all of two seconds. I sat down and tried just writing, letting the words flow, getting everything down, and two hours later…

Source: Make A Gif

I ended up describing the study room but also all the trouble I was having coming up with something to write and when I got the paper back the teacher had written on it, “Writing about writing is the most boring thing imaginable and I couldn’t even finish this.” Yeah, I understand–I could barely finish it myself, although I’m not sure reading about it was half as bad as living it. And what made it even worse is that just a few days before I’d been saying that having a deadline was a great way to inspire creativity, at least for me. Other assignments I’d start writing as soon as I got them–if not on paper then in my head. Sometimes I’d have the first several paragraphs and a conclusion mentally composed by the time I left the building. I’d just made the mistake of saying that out loud and my brain snickered and said, “Yeah, that’s what you think.”

On the bright side while I was putting off this I went and checked and it turns out there’s Fight Procrastination Day which is September 6th each year, so I’m well ahead of schedule to be ready for that, although there’s also National Procrastination Week which is the first two weeks of March, which is making me kind of panic because that’s coming up soon, although it also says “or when it’s convenient”. So I’ll celebrate that when I get around to it.

Fear-ring.

Source: Atlas Obscura

A friend told me her son was getting his ear pierced, which surprised me. Earrings seem to be passé now, at least among guys, or maybe I just haven’t been paying attention. It’s not as though I have anything against guys, or anyone, really, getting earrings. For what it’s worth I think earrings are cool and I admire anyone who wears one or two or more. A young man getting an earring just seems to be a throwback to when I was a teenager and guys getting earrings was an act of rebellion. In fact it became such a popular rebellious act that the entire football team at my high school got earrings, and you know you can’t get more anti-establishment than institutionalized sports. Yes, they were really sticking it to The Man–specifically sticking it right through his earlobe with a stud of gold, silver, or perhaps a gemstone if they were feeling especially rebellious.

I remember when my friend Trav got his ear pierced. We went to one of those places at the mall because if you’re going to do something rebellious why not throw a chance of tetanus into the mix? Anyway Trav sat down in the chair and the young woman who’d probably been a senior when Trav and I were freshmen assured him it might sting a little but it would be over quickly. And while she was prepping the equipment a mother with her little boy, who might have bene eight or nine, came in. The little boy looked terrified and his mother kept saying to him, “Are you sure you want to do this?” And the darling little rebel, wide-eyed, slightly slack-jawed, would nod his head. He wasn’t going to wait for his teen years to show what a non-conformist he was. He was going to be the youngest anarchist on the block. With his mother’s approval, of course.

So the young woman who did the piercing poked Trav’s ear he grabbed the side of his head and screamed bloody murder. Our pint-sized provocateur took off running. I assume his mother caught him eventually, but I was too busy laughing to even see where they went. Trav would continue to stir up trouble, including, his senior year, joining every single school club so he could appear in every single yearbook photo, and even donning an eyepatch for his shot with the chess club where he was named as “Pirate Trav”, which is the sort of thing you can get away with when you’re also on the yearbook editorial staff.

He also caused a bit of trouble for me. My father was not impressed with Trav’s earring and told me I’d better not get one myself. All I could say was that I’d never planned to. He might as well have said, “Whatever you do don’t go out and get run over by a steamroller.”

As I said I think earrings are cool, which is exactly why I can never get one. I’ll never be cool enough to wear an earring. It takes a certain level of confidence, poise, even swagger to wear an earring, or, failing that, you can get the rest of the football team to get one. It’s just not a look I can pull off—and if I tried I should pull it out. And also Trav’s reaction kind of terrified me. 

We Gotta Get Into This Place.

It’s been a while since I’ve been out on my own to do something fun. There were the holidays, of course, but those involved other people, and sometimes I just need to get away and be by myself, and for months I’ve either been at home or running errands, and those don’t count because even if I’m running errands by myself it’s, well, like work. So anyway I decided to go to Radnor Lake. Even in normal times Radnor is my go-to getaway—it’s nearby, it’s got beautiful scenery, and it’s nice to just get out and walk. And there’s always something slightly different about it each time. I’m sure I’ve been to Radnor in the winter before but I can’t remember ever being there when most of the leaves had fallen and the trees were so stark and bare. There are places where you can be less than a hundred feet from the lake and, most of the year, can’t see it, but as I walked around the lake I never lost sight of it it.  Somehow I’d also never realized before how much leaves muffle sound. I was on one side of the lake and could hear people laughing and dogs barking on the other side, and every footstep seemed exceptionally loud, probably because I was walking on so many leaves.

We’d also had some serious rain lately—in fact it was the rain that made me decide I need to get out. Last Thursday I sat at my desk working away when we had a sudden and highly localized hurricane that turned the entire backyard into, well, a small lake, and flooded our basement. When I went to Radnor I could see the aftereffects. Otter Creek, which feeds the lake, is normally a trickle. It was a rushing cataract and the sound was intensified.

I also saw new signs about the bald eagles which are now nesting around Radnor Lake. There have been bald eagles spotted there before, but this is the first time ever recorded that they’ve taken up residence.

So I made it there and made the walk around the lake, but the hard part was getting there in the first place, because everyone had the same idea I did. The parking lot for Radnor is long and narrow and it doesn’t take many people to fill it, and, well, I did feel bad for taking up an entire car by myself, but see the aforementioned need to get away. Luckily I only had to circle the parking lot for half an hour before I found a spot.

And it was crowded, but one of the nice things about a wooded park is even with a lot of people there we all tend to spread out.

Then, as I was walking back to my car, a woman who had apparently also been circling the parking lot for a while, pulled up next to me.

“Please tell me you’re leaving,” she said.

I smiled and told her I was, and I was happy to let her have my spot. I could tell she needed to get away too.

And of course the eagles brought to mind this old bit that I reminisced with a friend about when I got home.

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