Wednesday, April 26, 2017

At Random.

“When something or someone you love troubles your conscience–when your everyday relationships are political acts–do you try to be a moderating force, or are you obligated to make a break entirely?”  (Lauren Collins, “Secrets in the Sauce: The Politics of Barbecue and the Legacy of a White Supremacist,” The New Yorker, April 24, 2017)

In the latter choice above, especially when we try the former option and it doesn’t work,  we choose the greater love, the love and respect for self.

I poured salt and pepper into bowls from their shakers so that I could wash the shakers.  I had not noticed salt and pepper in bowls before.  The pepper, a color of dark brown and black, made the air smell pungent and good.

I did not feel well, and so I slept.  A day planned  for cleaning the house became a day of rest and reading.

Decades ago a friend told me that she thought that colored neon lights were ugly.  I’ve been more aware of neon lights since then,, trying to see ugliness.  I don’t.  I like them.

I like westerns: movies, short stories, novels.  When friends find out, they are sometimes surprised and ask “Why?”  A better question is, “What do you like about them?”  I’ve not thought about it, but I will begin to do so.

Wall colors to consider.  Green: frosted pine, sage pond, pine forest green.  Blue: polar sky, under the big top, Hudson Bay.  Yellow:  Pernod, hay stack, Viking yellow.  To my sight “Gentleman’s gray” looks dark blue.  Is the name a joke on the idea that men don’t see colors well?  Who makes up these names?

Notes on Reading.  Fiction.  Ernest Hemingway, Winner Take Nothing (1933).  Scribner.

Most of these fourteen short stories lack plot.  They are slice-of-life depictions of characters in precarious or mundane situations.

I particularly liked “The Gambler, the Nun, and the Radio” because I realized that the characters are those which Steinbeck would use, but the setting and writing style are not.  It would be interesting to take the characters and re-write the story using a Steinbeck setting and style.  Will I do so?  No.

Three other stories are of note.  “A Natural History of the Dead” is a catalogue of the horrors of war.  “A Day’s Wait,” one of my favorite stories, depicts nine-year-old Schatz as a typical Hemingway hero, exemplifying the famous descriptor, “grace under pressure.”  The masterpiece “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” is in this collection, with the famous existential viewpoint represented in the prayer, “Our nada who are in nada, nada be thy name they kingdom nada they will be nada in nada as it is in nada . . . Hail nothing full of nothing, nothing is with thee.”

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Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Hyperboles I Heard as a Child, Before I Knew They Were Hyperboles

“Lord, Estelle, you’ve cooked enough to feed Pharaoh’s Army,” my mom said when we visited her for Sunday dinner.

“If you boys don’t quit drinking so much before bedtime, you’re going to flood the Creation,” said Della almost every time I spent the night at her house.

“My nose is about to itch off,” my mom often said during meals.

“If I eat any more, I’ll be as big as the side of the house,” said Aunt Ada, as she refused dessert.

The mockingbird that has claimed my place as part of his territory has had consort with a parakeet.  I am amused at how the mockingbird incorporates the sounds of the parakeet in its fifteen-to-twenty-minute recital.  Sometimes it’s at the beginning, sometimes at the middle, and often at the end.

Late one afternoon, after I had finished yard work and was relaxing on the patio with a glass of Perrier,  the mocking bird perched at the top of the apple tree to sing.  I became involved in the music.  I was startled by the silence when it left.  I felt like the speaker of Keats’s “Ode to a Nightingale.”  “Fled is that music: –Do I wake or sleep?”

Notes on Reading.  Nonfiction.  Daniel C. Dennett and Linda LaScola, Caught in the Pulpit: Leaving Belief Behind.  Pitchstone, 2015.

This is a sociological study of men and women of religious vocations who have become atheists or agnostics and how their private and professional lives have changed.  The book consists of interviews, comments, and summaries by the authors.  Although I generally do not like to read such studies, I enjoyed how some participants felt blessings and freedom when facing their disbeliefs and acting on them.  Dennett, a proud atheist, present challenges for those involved in organized religions and for religions as institutions.

Notes on Reading.  Fiction.  Kent Haruff, Plainsong.  Knopf, 1999.

Set in a small town and the surrounding rural areas of the high plains of eastern Colorado, this novel centers on several characters: a high school teacher, his severely depressed wife and two sons (aged 9 and 10), a pregnant, unwed teenaged girl, and two elderly bachelor brother ranchers.  There are minor roles of a lonely, grieving woman, an out-of-control teenaged boy, a loving and giving woman teacher.  The book gives insight into characters and their situations, especially in the growing awareness of the young boys.  There is quiet humor in the situation of the two bachelor ranchers when the pregnant teenager comes to live with them.  The title is reflected in the writing style: simple, unadorned.  There is no use of quotations marks with the dialogue.  I read in the book in 1999, and I enjoyed and admired it even more on this re-reading.

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Wednesday, April 12, 2017

From the Past.  When I was in my twenties, I developed three ideas which enabled me to have courage to face challenges.  Just this week I reviewed them before undertaking a project.  There are three rules and one corollary, named for a friend who often told said it.   Ollie’s Three Rules:  (1) There’s nothing to it but to do it.  (2) Admit ignorance; yell for help.  (3) When in doubt, leave it out.  Frankie’s Corollary:  You don’t have to like it.

This week at a documentary film, I chatted with the man sitting next to me.  He was ten years my senior.  He said that he majored in philosophy at my alma mater.  Three hours later, I was talking with a young woman decades my junior at a New Age shop.  She was the owner and a practicing shaman.  She told me that she majored in philosophy at my alma mater.  In three hours I met two philosophy major from my alma mater.  Coincidence?  A wink from God?

In a drawing by Amy Hwang in The New Yorker, April 10, 2016, a doctor tells a patient, “You will live a long and healthy life if you abstain from anything that brings you joy.”  The caption causes pause.  There are many things in life that are unhealthy for us but which bring us joy.  Should we eliminate them from our lives?  Can we find things which are healthful for us that can provide us joy?  A couple of weeks ago, I was looking for foods low in carbohydrates.  I found strawberries.  Now strawberries bring me joy at breakfast almost every day.

Notes on Reading.  Fiction.  Six mystery stories by Edgar Allan Poe:  “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” “The Mystery of Marie Roget,” “The Purloined Letter,” “The Gold Bug,” “‘Thou Art the Man,'” and “The Man in the Crowd” in The Complete Tales and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe, Modern Library.

The Edgar Award, named for Poe, is given to the best mystery story of the year.  Poe invented the detective story.  I had never read all of the original stories.  I got the names of the six stories from an internet source, and enjoyed re-reading the three I had read and reading for the first time the three I had not read (“The Mystery of Marie Roget,” “‘Thou Art the Man’,” and “The Man of the Crowd”).

Details in these stories provide the conventions of modern detective fiction, conventions about which you can read in the given internet source.  Dupin, Poe’s detective, narrators, and character William LeGrand amaze the reader at their understanding of physical clues and human nature.  My favorite story: “‘Thou Art the Man.'”  The tone is uncharacteristically genial and the ending optimistic.

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Wednesday, April 5, 2017When

Heaven.  Two middle-aged, sincere women, Jehovah’s Witnesses, showed me a 90-second video about the happiness and fulfillment that Heaven will provide, thanks to the savior Jesus Christ.  They invited me to church.  I thanked them for their time and testimony.

That night I read an essay, “Queer Theorem” by Samantha Hunt, in Latham’s Quarterly, Spring, 2017.  Hunt’s comment about Heaven:  “A promised ideal of perfection in a removed heaven is hard to swallow when faced with the crystallization of snowflakes, the decomposition of dead leaves to humus, dead people to dirt, and the birth of our universe. . . . Distant heavens are a terrible threat granting permission to destroy the heaven we already have here.”

At a city park there are models of several kinds of dinosaurs in a kiddy play area.  I wonder what my child imagination might have made of a playground inhabited by dinosaurs.  Would I befriend them?  Deafeat them?  Tame them?

When I was a child, my friend Bernard and I had no need of a city park.  We had two backyards, a line of shrubbery, a few trees, and a swing set.  Our swings were rockets that took us to strange places.  We rode the swings high and fast and waited for them to slow to let us jump out safely and begin explorations of a new place.  Sometimes, though, something happened to the rockets so that we had to bail out at high and fast arcs, hitting the ground, sometimes hard, and tumbling.  We took advice from the Guild Woman, the picture of the elegant, bejeweled woman on the cigar box Mutt gave us and which we kept hidden in the hedge.  With a broken flashlight as a ray gun and whatever sticks or limbs we picked up in the yard, we were Flash Gordons conquering the Universe!

On a walk in a fashionable neighborhood I encountered two young women wearing sundresses and sitting on a low wall.  One was strumming a guitar; the other held a desiccated hydrangea flower.  They looked up and smiled at me as I passed.  It’s spring!  Why such sad music?  Why a dead flower?

Signs.  On a five-block stretch of a street in a neighborhood where I walk, several neighbors have signs on their lawns.  There are three houses with pre-election Clinton/Kaine signs.  One sign, in three of the yards, is in three languages, English, Spanish, and Arabic:  “No matter where you come from, we’re glad you are our neighbor.”  In other yards is this sign:  “In this House we believe. . . Love is Love, Black Lives Matter, Science is Real, Women’s Rights are Human Rights, No Human is illegal, Water is Life…and Kindness is EVERYTHING!”

I like this street.

Notes on Reading.  Nonfiction.  Carl Sandburg, Always the Young Strangers (1953).  Harcourt Brace Javanovich, 1991.

Each time I returned to this book, I smiled in anticipating the enjoyment of reading.  Sandburg’s autobiography of his years growing up in Galesburg, Illinois, gives insights into his early love of languages, mathematics, storytelling, biography, politics, and observing and writing.  There are excellent character sketches of all types of people who lived in Galesburg, comments on slang, recounting of games, especially baseball, and descriptions of childhood antics.  I especially liked the accounts of Sandburg’s time as a hobo and as a soldier in the Spanish-American War.  Here are the geneses of The People, Yes; The American Songbag; and the Lincoln biographies.

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Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Just this week I noticed for the first time small carpets of bluets, magenta flowers of redbud trees, and orange-red tulips!

Three sentences from old grammar books occur to me from time to time.  They were sentences for analysis in an early twentieth century grammar book, which I read but did not teach.  The three sentences:  (1) The sea is salt.   (2) Great is Diana of the Ephesians.   (3) The raw winds of March blew hard.

That’s right !  “The first day of spring is one thing, and the first spring day is another.”  (Henry Van Dyke) quotation on Monday, March 20, 2016 page, “The Old Farmer’s Alamanac Calendar.”

Notes on Reading.  Nonfiction.  Florence Williams, The Nature Fix: Why Nature Makes Us Happier, Healthier, and More Creative.  W.W. Norton & Company, 2017.

Williams documents and discusses current physiological and psychological studies that show positive effects that Nature provides us.  She traveled to several countries undertaking the research, such as South Korea, Japan, Scotland, Singapore, Finland, and the United States.  Through interviews with scientists and subjects and personal participation and observations, she presents us engaging and enlightening experiences for us to consider and act upon.  Especially compelling was work with troubled teenagers and an all-women’s group of veterans in the United States.  It is an entertaining and hopeful book.

Notes on Reading.  Fiction.  Henry Hurt, Stories from the Road Not Taken.  Shadetree Rare Books, 2016.

These six short stories, set in rural southern Virginia, are populated by stereotypical Southern types:  a tough-talking, ineffectual sheriff; hard-drinking, mean-spirited farmers; degenerate inbreeds; a nefarious deacon and his reprehensible preacher.  The well-crafted stories are intriguing and entertaining.  Three of note:  “Mr. Karewski’s Dancing Bear” is the story of a young teenager’s harrowing encounter with evil.  “Blood Sports” gives insight into a boy’s love for his dog, forced to fight with a raccoon for sport.  “The Bright Leaf Waltz” shows the charm and appeal of Southern eccentricity and Southerners’ love for the past, enjoyment of storytelling, and appreciation of the significance of family.  It is a warm and humorous story.

Blogger’s Holiday.  I will not post an entry next Wednesday, March 29.  I plan to write again on Wednesday, April 5.

Thank you for reading.

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Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Bon Appetit !

Time change to Daylight Savings Time gave me a late morning start.  I decided on brunch instead of breakfast:  fried slices of bologna (baloney) with blades of mustard and mayonnaise and a side of canned spinach with a drizzle of apple cider vinegar.  Life is good.

The feast reminded me of the time I made cuisine americaine avec 3 sauces:  boiled hot dogs with mustard, mayonnaise, and ketsup, served with pork and beans.  Yummers.

The Visitor.

Some mornings a bluebird flies up against my study window, pitches briefly, looks around and leaves.  What does it seek?  The former owner had a cat and three dogs.  Last spring they were here.  Later I saw a pair of bluebirds in the back yard.  All clear of pets?  Or does it have something to do with me?

Notes on Reading.  Fiction.  Wallace Stegner.  Crossing to Safety (1987).  Modern Library Paperback Edition, 2002.

Through the story of the friendship of two couples, from 1937-1974, the reader gains insights into the nature of friendship, love, marriage, suffering, and sympathy.  Through the characters and their situations, we gain understanding of the pleasures of life enhanced by literature, art, music, learning, and the awareness of the natural world.

In this edition are a perceptive introduction by Terry Tempest Williams and an interesting biographical sketch of Stegner by T.H. Watkins.  I don’t keep many books.  This one’s a keeper.

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Wednesday, March 8, 2017an


For some reason, during some Lent seasons, I feel an urge to bake pies.  I become Pie Man Bill.  This year I started with sweet potato pie.  I made three, since friends gave me a large bag of sweet potatoes.  Now I plan to make a chess pie, a coconut pie (my favorite), and a marriage pie.  I do not eat them.  There is enough mixture to fill a ramekin or two of pie filling to bake for me.  The pies are gifts.  Lenten offerings.

Backyard Plans.

Plans for spring and summertime in the back yard:  I will move the woodpile to the north area of the fence.  A small hill and a large apple tree divide the yard into quadrants.  In one I plan to place two hanging baskets for a curtain of green.  In another section I will place a birdbath.  In the others I will place clay pots of herbs (rosemary, thyme, and lavender) and flowers.  On the concrete area by the house, a patio of sorts, I may place a small table and two chairs.  Simple, easy to maintain.  Good.

Notes on Reading.  Mythology.  Neil Gaiman.  Norse Mythology.  W.W. Norton & Company, 2017.

In his introduction, Gaiman writes, “That’s the joy of myths.  The fun comes in telling them yourself–something I warmly encourage you to do, you person reading this.  Read the stories in this book, then make them your own, and on some dark and icy winter’s evening, or on a summer night when the sun will not set, tell your friends what happened when Thor’s hammer was stolen, or how Odin obtained the mead of poetry for the gods. . .”

It is obvious that Gaiman enjoyed telling these stories.  They are full of adventures: perilous actions, challenging voyages, battles, contests.  They are populated by gods, dwarves, ogres, and giants.  There are stories of intrigue and deception.  Gaiman relates them in high spirits and humor.  Example: a giant says, “I am grim of mind and wrathful of spirit and I have no desire to be nice to anyone.”  Gaiman presents a harrowing apocalypse, “Ragnarok: The Final Desity of the Gods” and stories about the creation.  He focuses on the gods Odin, Thor, and Loki, and the beautiful and independent-minded goddess Freya, and their doings.  We smile to see our strengths and foibles reflected in the characters of these entertaining  tales from a world of wonder.  Do yourself a favor.  Buy the book, read it slowly, and be enchanted.

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