Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Geography

For what it's worth
I'm told the earth
Is not really flat
Like a big welcome mat.
But in the Midwest
It's what I'd've guessed.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Bizarre Sentence Of The Day

"I mean, look, I don’t mean to be rude, but most of the reason I went gay is so I didn’t have to deal with nutty broads." It's from an old "Milo" article on Breitbart about the future of "sexbots".

I hate to try to think about a statement like this. But, he's got me doing it.

"I don't mean to be rude"... actually, of course, it's hard to imagine how a careful writer can refer to "nutty broads" without "meaning to be rude". There might be good reasons to be rude, but, let's face it, "nutty broads" is a tilt to the rude side of the force. It's a little ruder than "crazy females" and a lot ruder than "emotionally disturbed women".

Next... he "went gay". Well, from where? Maybe from "bisexual" or from some custom category like: "I think of myself as straight, and I find women attractive, but I also find men attractive".

As an aside, I have the impression that women who date gay guys often do experience emotional distress.

Finally I ask
What man will want to bask
In the admiring glance
Of a robot without pants?

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Ancestral Voices

23andMe now claims
I have Sardinian genes.
I must admit, I cannot say
Exactly what this means.
But tell me please, might it explain
Why I like sardines?

Thursday, July 20, 2017

My Unending Fascination With Placebos Continues

Usually when we think of placebos, we think of pills, but sham surgery has actually been studied a fair amount - it is used to create a control group for studies that try to determine how well real surgery works. That is, you are able to answer the question: does a sham version of this surgery work as well as a real version?

"A pill can provoke a placebo effect, but an injection produces an even stronger one. Cutting into someone appears to be more powerful still."

As for me, I'm hopin'
Not to get cut open.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Reviews of All Mixed Up NYC

We received a simply lovely review from Rachel Rocano at Drama Queens Reviews: Fresh Fruit Fest births “All Mixed Up”

"The script was both funny and poignant with messages evident and for the coffee shop discussion later."

"Ensemble cast was superb"
Ah, what a lovely blurb!
"Really enjoyable piece"
Please, go on, do not cease!

We also received a very thoughtful and enthusiastic review from Walter Donway:

"Romantic comedies are not tragedies, which this situation seemed to be becoming; they are entanglements of frustration, rage, maddening personalities, and even danger from which the characters somehow emerge and find love or some reconciliation with life. John Enright's brilliance is that the audience hardly could ever believe that this contemporary ambush of innocence in the equivalent of a PC firefight would end well."

On Facebook, my wife posted a photo of me with my hands clasped together in front of me, at a restaurant table, as if in prayer. It was taken on Sunday afternoon, before our last performance. Someone asked if I was saying grace, but I replied that I was praying to Dionysus for big audiences and good reviews.

For what I have received,
I would not dare complain,
God of theater.

I wrote with spirit cleaved,
But prizes after pain
Taste much sweeter.

T-rex Specs

Some scientists are now saying that T-rex couldn't really run fast. They're saying that the average human could outrun one of them - if only humans had coexisted with the mighty dinosaur carnivore.

Of course, it's all speculation. What we need is genetic reincarnation, along the lines of Jurassic Park.

Once we bring them back
We can bring them to the track.
I have to admit, just seeing that face
Would motivate my feet to race.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Jayden K. Smith

A Facebook friend sent me an urgent warning about Jayden K. Smith, a hacker who, if you let him become your Facebook friend, will take over your computer.

I'm not sure how that's supposed t work. And some apparently responsible reporters are saying that the warning is itself a hoax:

"There is no evidence of any account with the name Jayden K Smith going on sprees of adding users, and even if there were, they would not be able to hack into an account just by becoming a friend."

But I prefer to believe my friend.

Jayden K. Smith!
Not sure who he's with,
But all the best hackers
Have government backers.
I blame a cabal
From out of Nepal.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Closing Time

After three days of genial madness,
The show has closed. We had fun.
It all went well, but still some sadness
Comes when the fun is done.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

We Opened

We had a good New York premiere
And one of the major factors
Which you can glimpse right here
Is a gaggle of gifted actors.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Program Panic

I had an adventure getting the theater programs designed on Fiverr.com. I wanted bi-fold 8.5 x 11, to slip inside the general "festival program".

I had 2 different people work on it. And both did something odd about the paper.

One designed it for 11 x 17. And the other designed for the right paper size but designed it to fold the long way, not the short way, even though the example of "how we did it last time" clearly folded the short way.

I'm sure I could have been more specific, blah, blah.

Anyway, got a working version, much better than I could have done, took it to a local printer, and the programs look great.

When time is so tight
Trial and error
Gives me a fright,
A slight touch of terror.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Plus Or Minus

Negative thinking
Can be powerful too
But it's not the kind
You hope comes true.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Tick Tock

My time machine,
Even at full power,
Only moves forward
At sixty minutes per hour.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Porcine Terpsichorean

If a pig
Had a gig
To dance a fine jig,
Would he snort
And cavort
In ecstatic transport?

Sunday, July 09, 2017

Visit

Our grandson came to stay with us
But now he has gone back.
He made us chase around too much,
But now we feel his lack.

Saturday, July 08, 2017

Scientists Investigate Why Monkeys Refuse To Talk

The Washington Post reports on scientific efforts to figure out why monkeys and apes don't make noises that sound like human speech. "Scientists figured there were two likely sticking points. Either the brain was not wired for speech in nonhuman primates, or their windpipes were shaped the wrong way."

Quick-skim spoiler alert: Seems like it's more of a brain issue.

Why can't monkeys generate speech?
Somehow the stuff stays out of their reach.

Parrots, of course, at least make the sounds,
But full understanding is out of bounds.

Problematic Pragmatic Truths

This "Russia hacked the election" meme seems to be dying down, since apparently they didn't, and since Trump doesn't seem to be leaning especially pro-Russian.

People just seemed to leap at this meme, which never had a lot of evidence. It recalls the pragmatic theory of truth, which is that truth is that which works, often understood to mean that truth is whatever works right now, tomorrow be damned.

The trouble is,
Tomorrow will come,
And made-up truths
Will look kind of dumb.

Thursday, July 06, 2017

GOP

They promised to repeal and replace,
But never said with what.
They never thought they'd win that race!
Now egg goes splatter on the face.
They stutter: but, but, but...

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

Interview

Charming actors have things to say
About the New York production of my play.


Monday, July 03, 2017

Virtual Travels

The New Yorker has an article: An Agoraphobic Photographer’s Virtual Travels, on Google Street View

That's one way to enjoy the view.
And it's a whole lot cheaper, too.

Sunday, July 02, 2017

Orwell Your Orwell

I heard David Ramsay Steele talking about his new book, Orwell Your Orwell: A Worldview on the Slab. I bought a copy, too, but have just read the preface so far.

This was a real labor of love for Ramsay Steele, who has been working on this book, off and on, for twenty years. It sounds like it's the most careful delineation of what Orwell actually thought and believed. Of course, his political views changed over time. At least once, in the case of whether it was a good idea to go to war with the NAZIs, they changed overnight.

Ramsay Steele thinks that Orwell ws never really controversial, as such, in the sense that Orwell's views generally mapped to views that were held by a large part of the British Left, at any given time. He's not saying that Orwell always followed the majority views of the British Left, but that his views were at least in line, at any given time, with some substantial minority.

He thinks Orwell's lasting legacy is his attack on totalitarianism, which had a real impact over time.

Orwell, himself, remained a socialist, but an anti-totalitarian. He thought the government should own everything, but that there should be freedom throughout the land. I know, somehow that never seems to work out compatibly.

Ramsay Steele aims to dissect
Orwell's worldly views
Which did indeed change to reflect
Evolving world news.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Celebrity Pinnacle

His tweets are immature,
But I fear they will endure.
It's part of his routine,
To act like Mr. Mean.
After all, why would he stop?
This role has got him to the top.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Russian Philosophy

I finished Russian Philosophy by Copleston.

I sort of have 2 reasons for reading it.

My first reason is that I'm aiming to plow through Copleston's complete history of philosophy, of which this is one of the volumes, but one of the volumes which isn't included in the big monster-set I have of it. I think because it came later. Wikipedia lists the component volumes like this:

Volume 1: Greece and Rome
Volume 2: Augustine to Scotus
Volume 3: Ockham to Suarez
Volume 4: Descartes to Leibniz
Volume 5: Hobbes to Hume
Volume 6: Wolff to Kant
Volume 7: Fichte to Nietzsche
Volume 8: Bentham to Russell
Volume 9: Maine de Biran to Sartre
Volume 10: Russian Philosophy
Volume 11: Logical Positivism and Existentialism

In this scheme, I've only done 1 & 10.

But, hey,
That's two elevenths out of the way!

My second reason is that I'm planning to re-read Sciabarra's book, Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical. And I figured I should actually do a little homework so I had some context when Sciabarra starts talking about the philosophical traditions Rand would have been exposed to most in her formative years.

So that's why, having finished volume 1, I jumped ahead to 10. I have to admit, that I know enough of this stuff so that the Copleston material is mostly not really fresh to me. He's a good writer, so it's not actually boring, but it's a fairly fast read as philosophy goes. Thank goodness he writes so clearly!

Philosophical history
Doesn't need to be a mystery.

Lullaby

I sang the babe a silly sort of song,
A tune to soothe his agitated breast,
With syllables serene. It wasn't long
Before he shut his eyes in easeful rest.

An infant listens steadily to streams
Of language that he cannot comprehend.
It is a strange procedure, but it seems
To overcome the challenge in the end.

The human ear seeks out the human voice.
We dream it when in fact it is not there.
In solitude the hermit will rejoice
At whispering winds that visit his lone lair.

In silence we can hear our beating hearts.
But soon our craving for some lyrics starts.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Sort Of

It's a question that's
Always being debated:
Are domestic cats
Truly domesticated?

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Words

Free speech may lead you to curse,
But censorship turns out worse.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

More Than Anyone Wants To Know

Old notes I came across today, oddly tying in with yesterday's post about my father's birthday party:

I don't expect that many people will be interested in my development, particularly my early development, as a poet. But it interests me, so I am writing it down because I am curious about it myself, and believe I might get a better grip on it by committing it to words.

I grew up in a household where one of my role models periodically wrote humorous, clever, well-rhymed verse. This was my father. I would listen at the dinner table, reciting and sometimes discussing the technical mechanics of verse making. As I recall the form of the Limerick came under particular discussion. I listened closely.

My great Aunt Vera, on my mother's side, was also a writer of verses. As I recall hers ranged more toward the heartfelt and sentimental. So I thought of poetry writing as a noteworthy activity that some normal people engaged in.

I mentioned that I listened closely to my father's thoughts on versification, so perhaps this is a good place to insert some mention of the fact that I had trouble talking as a young child, a trouble that was rooted, at least in part, in having trouble distinguishing some routine English phonemes. I can remember not being able, for instance, to distinguish the sound of This from Dis. This was not because everyone around me said "dis" although perhaps some did. Here's another, different example of my problem. I could not pronounce the word YES properly. I had some problem with the Y and some problem with the S as well. I remember it as extremely frustrating and embarrassing. As the years wore on, I mastered these phonemes, but at a self conscious level that involved really listening to how people spoke.

I think this made me more focused on the sound of words at a conscious level than most kids usually are. In later grade school I was actually better at phonetic analysis than my peers. I imagine it was a form of overcompensation for whatever was "off" in my original linguistic capabilities. I suspect that this overcompensation is one of the factors that drove me to writing and to poetry in particular.

The first poems I remember writing was a fourth grade school assignment. Our teacher wrote a single line on the blackboard: Do you like the sun?

We were supposed to take that as a starting line and write a poem.

Do you like the sun
And the stars that it passes?
....
And its fiery hot gases?

That's all I remember - 3 lines from the first quatrain. It went on for several quatrains more, exploring various facets of the solar system.

Two of us were chose for special acclaim by the teacher. The other student had taken a totally different approach.

Do you like the sun
Or do you like the moon?

He went on to compare the virtues of day and night.

This contrast of approaches - equally valid interpretations of the first line - struck me profoundly. I began to glimpse how a simple line of poetry can go off in very different directions. It's hard to say why this was experienced as such an epiphany, but it was.

The next poem I remember is one I wrote in my freshman year of high school. It was written to make fun of our elderly theology teacher, Father Lauer. It was written for the amusement of my classmates and included a lot of in-joke references to some of the peculiarities of his teachings. I recall the first quatrain.

God is syllogism.
Religion's diagrams.
Support the Lauer schism.
Pray in traffic jams.

I also remember the last 2 lines;

Just cheat, cheat, cheat,cheat, cheat
And you will get an A.

I wouldn't expect that to mean anything to anyone now, but it was wildly popular with my classmates, one of whom reproduced the poem and spread it around. It did fall into the hands of at least one other teacher who gave us a talking to, and who learned in the process that I was the satirist.

That same year, my freshman year in high school, I began looking seriously at modern, free verse poetry for the first time and puzzling over what it was about, and in particular puzzling over what made it different than prose. Were they really poems at all? I asked. One poem baffled me even more, Grasshopper by e.e. cummings, which just seemed to involve the letters of the word GRASSHOPPER arranged around the page in unpronounceable configurations that visually suggested a grasshopper hopping around. Our English teacher told us something like it was really a poem but we weren't ready to understand it. This bothered me no end.

I recall being puzzled also by our high school literary magazine, which was loaded with free-verse stream-of-consciousness stuff.

I studied the content of these poems, and wrote a poem on their model. It was a poem about drifting of to sleep, and I wrote it in a breathless style of successive drifting thoughts. It was not accepted for publication, but I heard later that the editors had wondered whether it was a parody. I suppose, in retrospect, they might have thought my "falling asleep" theme was a commentary on my level of interest in their poetry.

I think it was that summer that I read the book that really got me interested in poetic analysis. This book was The Design Of Poetry, which I found at the public library. I found the book riveting. The author did line by line analysis of a variety of poems. Specifically, I recall Because I Could Not Stop For Death, by Emily Dickinson, Ozymandias, by Shelley, and that poem about eating plums by William Carlos Williams.

The author was lined up, more or less, with the New Criticism school of interpretation, so he was quite keen on finding ironies and ambiguities in the text. I was quite taken with the analysis, particularly with the very close reading and very close analysis of metaphor and simile. It really was one of those books that changed my life.

The author had a theory about what made something poetry, something like writing designed for no purpose but its own contemplation. This easily included free verse. Later I decided it was an inadequate, over-inclusive definition, but for now it sufficed. I also started reading more poetry as an independent habit. I recall being most struck by 2 poets: Emily Dickinson, and Kenneth Patchen. Among moderns, I was partial to the Beat poets: Patchen, Ginsberg, Ferlinghetti, Corso. As an individual poet, I was impressed with Lenore Kandel, who published a single book of poems. Among classics, aside from Dickinson, I liked Blake for his short lyrics.

The Beats appealed to me in part because their meaning was manifest and strongly emotional.

I began writing free verse poems, continued writing rhymed poems, and also wrote some poems that combined the 2 modes.

By my Junior year, I was on the high school literary magazine, which had a new faculty advisor, a young Jesuit who was a big fan of Dylan Thomas. He did not care for free verse, said it didn't sound like anything in particular. I argued the other side of this case, but didn't feel I had that great a case, and wondered if I was wrong.

This brings me, roughly, to the development of my interest in Ayn Rand's philosophy. This had an immediate effect on my poetry writing in several ways.

Stylistically, the element of her thought that had the biggest effect was her withering analysis of the modernist revolution in art. She actually had only a few passing remarks about poetry. But I began to think that maybe free verse was in a class with non-representational painting and plotless novels. So I channeled my efforts into verse with more form to it.

A second stylistic impact came from her emphasis on clarity. I had been taught that good poetry was ambiguous. Now I was working with the idea that good poetry should be clear.

Shortly before getting really interested in Rand, I had been started on a study of William Butler Yeats. I was very impressed and he came to be another influential favorite for me.

----------------

This brings us to the start of my high school senior year.
It's already too much stuff, I fear,
But fortunately, it does end here.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Ninety

My father turned 90 yesterday. We had a big party today. His cake had just one candle. I read this poem. At his law firm, when there was a ceremonial event calling for the writing of humorous verse, they always asked him to write a "limerick" for the occasion. Yes, that's how this talent came to me.

In the firm where he once practiced law
It is clear that his partners all saw
That this man could coerce
English words into verse
With a humor that left them in awe.

I learned lots of things while in school
But none quite so well as the rule
That the third and fourth line
In a limerick's design
Must be short, or you sound like a fool.

He supported us all with his earning
And tried to pass on his vast learning,
So let's give a cheer
To this great dad, right here
Today while his candle is burning.

Art of Acting

It is a magic moment. Actors speak,
And what were merely words upon a page,
Bare characters that lay there, listless, weak,
Leap forth with sudden strength upon the stage.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Front Yard



Mama and baby bunny
Under the cherry tree.
When I got closer - it's funny -
They ran away from me.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

NYC

Flew into NYC around 4pm, got to a 5pm meet-and-greet read-through of my play, All Mixed Up, which is playing at the Fresh Fruit Festival July 14-16th. I'm currently booked on 2 delayed flights out of LaGuardia and I'm taking whichever leaves first.

Despite the rigors of travel
I have not yet begun to unravel.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Portrait in Yellow



Patiently waiting for a walk.
She'd tell me so if she could talk.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Format Follies

I've been puzzling over an invoice I got in an email, with an invoice date of 3/6/2017 and a due date of 10/6/2017.

Why, in June, would a company send me an invoice dated March, that isn't owed until October?

Figured it out today, when I got an overdue notice. It's obvious if you don't live in the U.S., I suppose. Those are June dates - it's that foreign date format!

I was taken in, I fear
by the dreaded day/month/year!

Old Phrase

Why does the Department of the Interior
Mostly deal with stuff that's out of doors?
I ponder but my brain is growing wearier.
It's a mystery that the media ignores!

Thursday, June 08, 2017

Parodying T. S. Eliot

I shall wear red and white striped trousers
And walk along the beach.
I have heard the journalists calling each to each:
"Comey scanned his browsers
And has enough to impeach!"
But after testimony,
That promise seems to be phony.
The story ends with a whimper, not a screech.

- from the Trump Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

Translation

One dog word for humans
Means "wise monkey"
But another one translates
As "poop pick up flunky".

Tuesday, June 06, 2017

The McKinley Mansion, As We Called It

My father's house is empty. He has moved into a retirement village place, and is selling the house. Family members took a lot of stuff from the house, a big 3-story Victorian. Then we had an estate sale. Then we had people fill up a dumpster. And a second dumpster is on order. But, right now, the house is empty. All the furniture, all the stuff, gone. It reminds me, very much, of the first time I saw the house, when we were moving in, in 1966.

My father's house is empty - vacant halls
Echoing with my mother's vanished calls

Monday, June 05, 2017

Back to New York

My play, All Mixed Up, which ran in Fall 2016 in Chicago, is set to be included in the Fresh Fruit Festival in NYC in July 2017.

It's still a bit in flux, but I signed and mailed the contract today.
So I guess once again I'm on my way
To Gotham to put on a play.

Sunday, June 04, 2017

Playwright Reception

This charming theater festival in Heartland had a playwright reception, which gave the six attending playwrights a chance to interact a bit with the evening's audience. That was new for me. Playwrights, as a group, aren't the most sociable people. Writers tend to be introverts - extroverts aren't so interested in sitting alone and making up stuff in their heads.

A frequent audience question is where do you get your ideas?

I wish I knew
The how and where
But some arrive
From thin air.

That can't be true
But how in fact
They really do...
Is inexact.

Escape from New York

I attended a play festival in Bloomington-Normal, Illinois last night, basically because I had a ten-minute play in the festival.

I was struck by the high percentage of people there who had lived in Queens.

Me, of course. I lived in Kew Gardens for a while in the seventies. An audience member near me, the mother of another playwright, was originally from Jackson Heights, although she now lives in the North Carolina. And Vicky Snyder, an actress in my play, was originally from Jackson Heights, although she now lives in the Bloomington-Normal area.

So, basically, just overhearing things, I found 2 other former Queens residents. Is it just a quirky coincidence?

It occurred to me that New York is a very strong theater town, and that early habits die hard, so that maybe you can expect to find ex-New Yorkers in disproportionate concentrations in the world of American small-city theater.

It occurred to me that people flee New York. People swarm in there, people swarm out there - there's a lot of churn.

Lots of people from Queens.
I'm not sure what it means.
You can give my theories a glance
But probably it's just chance.

Saturday, June 03, 2017

Spooky Sound

My Labrador lets out a howl
Whenever a siren goes by.
It's one long continuous vowel,
Sung out with the throat lifted high.

128 Miles

Drove to Normal, Illinois.
Are you a fan of flat?
I'll tell you, boy oh boy,
We've got a lot of that.

Thursday, June 01, 2017

Sign of the Times


Apparently the sign painters did half the job, and took a break. Reportedly they played this same prank 20 years ago.

Really, it's pointless fuss,
But next time start with SUSS.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Ridge Run Results

Well, today's 10k + 5k local extravaganza hasn't posted official online results yet, and I know I got thoroughly beat because there were a lot of fast people there. It was a "CARA Circuit" race, which attracts the city's speedy set. But I had a good time, and good times, for me.

After the an earlier forecast of off-and-o rain, we got nothing but sunshine for a beautiful day in the neighborhood. When I was done running, I actually joined the Memorial Day Parade down Longwood Drive, stepping in with the contingent from Council Oak Montessori, an institution dear to my heart.

There were speakers at the park, emphasizing the historical meaning of the day - honoring the war dead. I've noticed a drift away from remembering that - even though the holiday's name means remembering.

Fighters who died for the USA,
I bow my head for you today.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Cutting Branches

The funny thing about using the chainsaw is that I am always reluctant to start, because the thing scares me, but once I start I enjoy the activity. It does keep me very focused.

A quote from Donald Hamilton kept floating through my mind: "Don't monkey with the buzz saw when it's busy cutting wood."

Now that I've googled it, I see that it's some kind of old saying, at least the first clause is.

Think before you stick your paw
Anywhere near a buzzing saw.

Friday, May 26, 2017

The One And The Many

I'm almost done with the first volume in Copleston's History of Philosophy, the one on Greece and Rome. Copleston pauses, before the index appears, to look back at the world of ancient philosophy, and he mentions the issue of "the one and the many" as a key theme.

In the middle ages it became the "problem of universals".

The problem, the issue, is that we deal in particulars, but we perceive generalities. How can that be? You can say that we are pattern-recognizing beings. As are lots of animals. But we carry it to extremes. And we've even gotten to the point where we can build machines that mimic, in some ways, our ability to pick out patterns.

So we recognize them, but why are they there to be recognized? Why is reality such that patterns always emerge when you look for them? Granted, it's hard to imagine an unpatterned reality - a reality without rules, without regularity, a reality consisting of nothing but chaos.

In a reality without rules
The wisest would be fools.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Ridge Run at Forty

There's a local 10k that's celebrating its 40th anniversary. I've been running it since 1983. I missed it one year since then. It's the first road race I ever did, so I kind of keep time by it - it's a fixture in my life, a ceremonial start of summer since it occurs on Memorial Day. Doing the math, I see that I have run this race 32 times so far - half the years of my life.

All those miles
Under my feet,
Sometimes bitter
Often sweet.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

States of Direction

The Carolinas are South and North.
What's more, the Dakotas are much the same.
Why must the Virginias sally forth
With just one direction attached to their name?

Let's call one East Virginia - we ought!
Pattern it after the one we call West,
Which now sounds too much like an afterthought.
Balance in naming would be for the best.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Indoor Tri Report

I had fun doing the indoor triathlon this morning at the West Loop Athletic Club. I was BY FAR the oldest participant. It was mostly club members in the club's triathlon training program, I think.

I checked my personal race log afterward, and it looks like the last time I did an indoor tri was in 1996.

Well, that was a while back.
I need to pick up the slack!

Why They Are Called Sea Lions

There's some very vivid video of this at the link, scary but with a happy ending.

Some people were throwing food to a sea lion from a pier.

"But when the girl sits at the edge of the harbor to get an even closer look, the animal springs up grabs a hold of her dress and forcefully yanks her backward into the water as onlookers scream in horror."

A man jumped in immediately and lifted her out of the water.

Girl was scared but fine.
Think twice before you cross the line
Of enticing critters with food.
Predators can be rude.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Indoor Tri Signup

I'm signed up for an indoor triathlon tomorrow. We will be competing to see who can go the farthest, while, really, we're mostly exercising in place.

You see, we will swim laps for 10 minutes in a pool, spin pedals for 15 minutes on stationary bikes, and then gallop 15 minutes on treadmills.

The winner is whoever goes the farthest, measured in miles I think, trusting the electronics on the bikes and treadmills to give you virtual miles, and adding in the actual distance covered in the lap swimming.

But your whole time exercising is limited to 40 minutes, which is why I recommend this to anyone who wants to try triathlon but who is worried that they will simply not be able to complete one of the three legs. Most often it's the swim they're worried about. The beauty of this format is that you are practically guaranteed to finish. So you slow down on the swim - so you stop and stand up in the pool to catch your breath - so what? You're still going to finish in just 10 minutes total time, just like everybody else.

Also - there are no temptations to spend big bucks in this format. Expensive wetsuit? Not allowed! Expensive bicycle? Nope. Use the same stationary bike everyone else does!

And the weather? No worries about thunderstorms or heat!

Triathlons always involve some stress,
The indoor format involves much less.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

The Dogs File A Report

We saw no raccoons
Tonight on our walk.
Smell them, we did,
And did eagerly stalk
Their traces across
The grass of the lawn
Their stealthy claws
Had crept upon.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

The Psychopath Not Taken

Fairly interesting article entitled "When Your Child Is a Psychopath" from the Atlantic.

This doesn't do the article justice, but here is what came to me by way of partial summarization:

If your kid was born this way
Punishment won't work
To train the murderous jerk -
At least that's what these experts say.
Reward, they claim, works fine,
At getting the heartless to toe the line.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Not Affected So Far This Time

I do not care
For ransom ware.
It makes me want
To rant and swear.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Friday, May 12, 2017

What Else Is New?

I fear that many puritans
Have a hypocritical streak.
They're good at preaching sermons,
But they find their flesh is weak.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

OPEC Problem

CNN Money headline: OPEC to U.S.: Please don't pump so much oil!

I would say that my heart bleeds for them, but would sound snarky, wouldn't it?

When a big producer
Won't join a cartel
The price-fixing doesn't
Function so well.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Stand Up Guy

They fired my homie,
Director Comey!
(Everyone wanted to end him,
So I decided to friend him.)

Monday, May 08, 2017

Cis-Het Et Cetera

Cis-het is contemporary academic slang for cisgender heterosexual, and cisgender itself is contemporary academic usage for non-transgender.

In Latin, I'm told, the opposite of trans is cis. Well, in some contexts, anyway.

When I was in college, the polite term was transsexual. But that's rude or worse now.

For some reason, most people turn out cis-het.
They'll continue to do so. At least that's my bet.

I do expect these terms to change again.
I guess it's safe to use them until then.

Sunday, May 07, 2017

Against Translation

I'm working on a theory that translation
Promotes cultural appropriation
And is therefore as problematic
As an old hula doll in your grandma's attic.

It may be that translation is protected by some amendment, possibly the first,
But of all forms of appropriation, cultural is the worst,
So I propose to discourage it, by keeping each and every foreign word
Away from American children- let no bon mots be heard!

Saturday, May 06, 2017

Trek for Tech 5k

I ran a 5k this morning, one that was put on by a Catholic parish school, The Infant Jesus of Prague, in Flossmoor, Illinois. Very nice people. It's a small 5k. I had looked up results from some prior year, and I had seen that NO ONE had run in the 60-69 male age bracket. So I figured I would be alone in my bracket. But when I got there I noticed another white haired guy, and he took off ahead of me, and stayed ahead of me, even though I was actually running pretty well. Basically, I was running nines, and he was running eights. So I thought I had probably taken second place, and thought I would get a medal for that.

Well, it's a small race, and they were only giving medals out for first place in these age bands that could span 20 years. But then it turned out that the other white haired guy was in the 40-59 age band.

So I did take first place in the male sixties group. I thought to myself, well, you were the only guy in the group, you were number one in a group of one. But later I got the online results, and I was number one in a group of five, two of whom were pretty close behind me. The second place guy was running at a pace I often race at. But I was a bit faster than usual today, and so I just stayed ahead of him, without even knowing it, without making any particular effort to beat him.

I did lots of wrongful assuming.
Luckily, I was zooming.

Friday, May 05, 2017

Another Shot




Another shot from Tuesday's opening show.
You've four more chances, if you want to go.

Once again, that's Whitney Pipes and Kate Moss, playing a couple of police detectives with a lot to talk about. The conversation only goes on for ten minutes, but it doesn't work out so well for one of them.

I know there's a more famous Kate Moss, who's a model or something, but this is Kate Moss the ACTRESS, from Chicago.

If and when she becomes an international star,
I hope they don't change her name to something bizarre.

Photos from Fellow Officers















Fellow Officers discuss a cold case,
In a lock-up, face to face.

Thursday, May 04, 2017

Move!

Just now, while waiting for the train, there was a little backender on the road at the crossing. And the car sort of sat there as the bells were ringing and the gates were coming down and the train was blowing its horn.

I assume the driver was sort of stunned and unsure what to do.

The people at the station were yelling and waving to the driver to pull off the track. And the train, still approaching, was continuing to sound its horn, and finally the car moved out of the way.

I think the train was far enough away that it still had time to stop.

When you're on the tracks and the train is coming, move!
Your odds for life will improve.

Wednesday, May 03, 2017

Empathy Festival

The festival opened last night. It consists of nine pieces by nine different writers so it's the sort of situation where you are likely to like some and be less appreciative of others. The performances were strong.

Performances begin at nine o'clock.

It's nine by nine at nine,
Which sounds kind of late but it worked out fine!

Monday, May 01, 2017

After Rain


Colors streak the sky.
Wavelength dispersal is why.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Hiss

While running on the trail today
I met a snake along the way,
And watched while he stuck out his licker
And made it flicker.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Aloft

You sit on a plane at thirty thousand feet, seemingly suspended motionless over a field of cotton candy clouds, that stretch to the blue horizon. You examine the engine just outside your window, and you can't make out any movement there at all. The sun is shining brightly and it looks warm enough to the eye. But you press your skin to the window and it's definitely cool to the touch. You can almost imagine climbing out the window and riding legs astraddle on the engine. But you know that the "wind" would knock you right off, and you know that your fall would not end on the cushiony cotton candy, but would instead continue straight through that foggy gauze to the hard ground further below.

And so you decide
To refrain
From climbing outside
The plane.

400 Grand

Retired politicians should take
Whatever Wall Street offers.
I'm sure they all need to make
Cash to replenish their coffers.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Dionysus Writes

I've been reading Dionysus Writes: The Invention of Theatre in Ancient Greece, by Jennifer Wise. Its standout thesis is that there's a reason why the Greeks didn't have theater until they had a working alphabet - namely, that you need popular literacy for the practice of theater to blossom.

The older Greek poetry was from a more purely oral tradition - the epics and the lyrics, Homer & Sappho & company. You just needed one performer for these things - one specialized virtuoso of memory. Storytelling is an art as old as humanity, and it includes some acting, but it doesn't involve actors exactly.

In theory you can imagine Prometheus Unbound being composed orally, and taught orally to actors. In theory. But the technology of an easily teachable alphabet made it much more feasible.

To get theater right
In practice you need
Playwrights who write
And actors who read.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Strange New First Amendment

Freedom of speech should be less
For folks who cause distress
By daring to disagree
With me.

Running the Muddy Trails


I ran a 5k in the woods yesterday. Some portions of the course were extended mud puddles, so my socks got a bit muddy.

The tough thing about a trail running is that it really is more hazardous than pavement running. You can slip in the mud, trip on a root, all that kind of thing.

The fun thing about trail running is the challenge and the sense of being out in the great natural unevenness of things.

They say running on uneven surfaces is good for your ankle strength - if you can keep from twisting them.

Here's my number one tip:
Try not to trip.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Free Will Microchips

Scott Adams has a blog post, "You Don’t Have Free Will – but You Might Get It Someday".

He claims we don't have free will, based on at least 2 different arguments. The first is "laws of physics" and the second is "we follow our strongest urge at any given moment". In his mind they run together as one. The laws of physics generate those urges and we obey.

But, he says, what if we could insert microchips to control our brains? Wouldn't we have more freedom then? We could use reason now to control urges later!

I thought of Odysseus, of course, who wanted to hear the sirens' call and survive, and who had himself tied to the mast of his ship, and had all his crew stuff their ears with wax.

I thought of Aquinas, of course, who warned men to avoid the "occasion of sin" - to structure their lives so that they were not led into temptation.

Rational people have always found ways to fight
The tyranny of appetite.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Bodies

I've been noticing a very annoying new usage, wandering in from the academic world, of referring to people as bodies. Live people. In all apparent seriousness. I have the vague idea this comes from Foucault, a French guy I haven't really read.

I mean, I might say "the room was packed with warm bodies". But that's being funny.

Here's a standout example:

"Many infertile bodies are bodies who, like Miller and myself, delayed childbearing..."

I assume it is intended to be jarring, to refer to oneself that way, some kind of in-your-face materialism.

I assume also that it is insider lingo to those in the know.

I think there's something cloddy
About calling a person a body.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Art Crisis Du Jour



The bull was there first, on Wall Street. Then someone threw the girl in, to make a combination set of figures. The combo is supposed to be about feminist aspirations. But I don't think that's how it actually "reads" if you just look at it with unbiased eyes.

To me, this scene looks scary.
It's fine to be brave, but be wary.
I'm fearful this kid will get gored.
Somebody give her a sword!

Monday, April 17, 2017

Fraternal Of Course

In the anonymously sourced news from Jackson, Mississippi:

This Married Couple Took a DNA Test and Discovered They Are Biological Twins

Both adopted...
Same date of birth...
Similar looking...
For what it's worth,
I really think
They might have guessed
Even without
That fertility test.

Thanks Merjet!

Oh, Snopes thinks it's fake...

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Blessed Pilate?

I was reading a nice Easter piece by Kevin Williamson, and I came across this:

"In the Ethiopian church, Pilate is revered as a saint..."

I had no idea, so that sent me off on an investigation online.

Anyway, it's a complicated story, but just tracking the Ethiopian Church, there's a text they seem to be following, The Martyrdom Of Pilate, which I don't recall hearing of, but which has Pilate becoming a Christian and getting crucified:

'The blessed Pilate began to pray while hanging on the cross, and said : " O my Lord, I have polluted your holy cross by the hanging of my body on it, because it is a pure wood and my body is an impure body..."'

In this variant story,
Pilate dies in glory.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Lois Lerner Again

You may recall that Lois Lerner, who used to work for the IRS, took the fifth in front of Congress when they asked her about the agency's treatment of would-be tax-exempt tea-party organizations.

For some reason, she's willing to testify now, in some civil case having to do with the same thing, but she wants to keep her testimony secret, on account of threats she has received:

'“Mss. Lerner and Paz have demonstrated that the public dissemination of their deposition testimony would expose them and their families to harassment and a credible risk of violence and physical harm,” they said in documents submitted by their lawyer to Judge Michael R. Barrett.'

I'm nosy, so I hope this all ends up in the open, but I'm very curious as to WHY she is willing to testify now, when she couldn't testify before, on account of maybe incriminating herself.

My problem is that I know just enough law, learned at the dinner table mostly, to be perennially curious about the peculiar workings of our legal system.

There's always an explanation of some sort
For all the strange things that go on in court.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Branding

Yoga is not nearly the pure Hindu thing a lot of people think it is, but if you attend enough classes you do tend to hear some Eastern spirituality stuff.

You might think that's fine...

"But at Benedictine College — a small and strongly Catholic liberal arts school in Atchison, Kan. — yoga classes per se will soon be yo-gone, out of apparent concern that use of the word “yoga” suggests advocacy for Hindu mysticism."

They're keeping the classes, but you might say they're rechristening them.

A pose by any other name
Will stretch your body just the same.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Short Plays Daze

I'm in the happy position of having three different ten-minute plays awaiting production for three different festivals.

And I'm not involved in the productions at all. That's very pleasant, insofar as I don't have to buy stuff, solve logistics problems, etc. But it's frustrating not to be watching rehearsals in advance of the show. I like rehearsals. It's where a lot of the creative side of acting takes place.

In rehearsal the actor designs
A plan for performing her lines.

Working The Bugs Out

Not a good day for this airline:

"The same day a passenger was infamously dragged off a United plane in Chicago, a man on a United flight from Houston to Calgary was allegedly stung by a scorpion."

The scorpion fell from an overhead bin
And stung somebody who touched him.
Alas, we must contact the bug's next of kin.
A flight attendant flushed him.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Doc Dragged Off Jet

I am entranced by the video of the doc being dragged, bloody and belly-exposed, off the United Jet.

It seems, to me
To hold a mystery.

To start with, why does he let out that strange wail as soon as the cop reaches for him? If it happened like that on stage, I would say it was unrealistic.

To middle with, how exactly does his face get bloody? Has the cop purposely banged his head, or was it some kind of stupid accident? There was a very early announcement from the Chicago Police Department that said the man had "fallen". But it turns out that wasn't an "official" announcement. And the cop in question works for the Aviation Department, not the Police Department. Anyway, we've heard nothing directly from the cop who pulled him out of the seat. He's on leave.

To end with, how does he end up on the plane again, after he has been dragged off, still bleeding, saying something about "Please kill me."?

I have no explanation. But I want one!

This strange airplane eviction,
In which his face got cracked,
Would not work well as fiction,
But there it is, in fact.

Monday, April 10, 2017

MCC and Me

I work near a bunch of federal buildings, but one in particular, the Chicago Metropolitan Correctional Center, attracted my eyes today.

First, at lunchtime:



Triangular correctional facility.
Escaping it requires some agility.

And, yes, it has been escaped. Twice!

Then, on my evening walk to the train station:



On trees outside the jail
The flowers do not fail
To recognize that Spring
Is now the thing.

Thursday, April 06, 2017

Wet Weather

We've got the lake in our backyard again.

Really it's just a few of inches of standing water. But when this happened last week, our neighbor's basement flooded with 4 inches of water. So I hope that doesn't happen again!

Four inches is enough
To ruin lots of stuff
That's sitting on the floor.
And cleaning's a soggy chore!

Sunday, April 02, 2017

Mysteries Solved

The X-ray revealed
Why his tummy was sore
And where he had lost
Those dentures he wore.

Saturday, April 01, 2017

No Fooling

April First in Massachusetts, so...
Of course there's snow.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Voluminous

A quart is so close to a liter,
Why don't we make them the same?
Conversions would be so much neater,
And we could get rid of one name!

Monday, March 27, 2017

Jones on Sweat

The Chicago Tribune has its theater critic, Chris Jones, reporting from New York on current offerings.

'"Sweat" is inarguably a schematic socialist drama — and hardly the first to play at Broadway prices to mostly upper-middle-class urbanites — that clearly decided in advance what it wanted to say about the state of the nation.'

I guess that I'm a member
Of the upper middle class
But if this play comes near me
I'm giving it a pass.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

English of All Things

The English language is a big collision
Of French and German all mixed up pell-mell.
So purists often view it with derision
But for some reason it has spread quite well.
It started on an island. The Atlantic
Surrounds the place and seemed to hem them in.
But then they took to ships. They seemed quite frantic,
And spread their babble everywhere they'd been.
So here we are today and this strange language
Will "get you by" in lands the world round.
Its spelling is a curse, its grammar anguish,
But everywhere you go, it can be found.
I feel some sympathy for those who spurn it,
But lots of babies seem to like to learn it.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Interrogations

Something I realized only yesterday:

These two ten-minute plays of mine - the ones I have coming up in festivals in May and June - have something conspicuous in common: each centers on an interrogation.

The methods of interrogation are actually quite opposite. The genres are deeply dissimilar - realistic police procedural vs. science fiction comedy. The themes of the two festivals are not related: "empathy" vs. "graduation party".

But somehow my under-brain wanted to write about interrogation, apparently. I have no idea why, offhand. I mean, it's a topic I'm interested in, but I don't recall any conscious fascination with it lately.

I let my writing gift me with a puzzle.
Better, I feel, than putting on a muzzle.
The Muse, to be seduced, must be obeyed.
Without her aid, the play does not get made.

Two Ten-Minute Play Festivals

I'm very happy to announce that I've got plays in two upcoming ten-minute play festivals.



The Empathy Festival, from Talif Productions, runs Tuesdays during May, here in Chicago. Facebook page here. Tickets will go on sale here. My play is contemporary, and based on a real incident. My version involves two female cops, engaged in a very tense discussion about a cold murder case. It's called "Fellow Officers". The theme of this festival is, indeed, empathy, and my story illustrates the way empathy can be used as a tool during an interrogation.



The Heartland 10-Minute Play Festival runs weekends during June, 2 hours from Chicago in Normal, Illinois. It's an annual festival, and this year's theme was "Graduation Party". My play is set in my comical science fiction future, when intelligent cats are roaming outer space, and is called "Space Cat Graduation".

I really like the 10-minute play form, which I think is sort of a new form, or sort of a newly popular form perhaps. When I say new, I mean maybe in the last 20 years. At least, a lot of ordinary people my age have never even heard of it. Anyway, the effect is kind of like a extra short story.

You string 8 or so of them together to make an evening's entertainment. Usually that's 8 of them by 8 different authors. And that's the overarching "10 minute play festival" format.

It's an evening of short stories
Through divergent territoties.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Translation

Enlightened but impoverished gentleman: woke broke bloke.

Tokyo to Chicago

Flying over Anchorage at night
Staring at a land piled high with snow
I saw the city's streetlights burning bright
And felt the urge to visit them below
To learn what sort of hardy souls reside
In coldness that I'd rather not abide.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Where the Day Starts

He thought the International Date Line
Was a phone number he could dial to call
To ask some foreign women out to dine.
But sad to say, that wasn't it at all.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

In Hong Kong Harbour

The helicopter, like a dragonfly
Buzzes above the water, black against the sky.
It races past our boat, we raise our heads
To watch this great contraption chop the air to shreds.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Kowloon

I'm in Kowloon, but sad to say,
No cows or loons are here today.

What I find really surprising
Is that no one has sued the place for false advertising.

Kowloon is a part of Hong Kong that's not on the island of Hong Kong. It's on the mainland geographically, but part of Hong Kong politically and economically.

As for crazy lawsuits -
Is that just in the USA?
It's full employment for lawyers -We keep them busy that way.







Saturday, March 18, 2017

Contrariwise

If you're angry with a friend
On their natal anniversary
Do make sure to send
Berated wishes, sharp and cursory.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

The Mysterious East



Now that I've read,
I'll try not to shed.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Escalation

We were walking through the government section of Tokyo, when my daughter was surprised to notice lots of green-with-a-sword Saudi flags flying. She surmised that some state visit must be happening. So I saw the front page of a newspaper this morning, and sure enough:

"Saudi King brings two golden escalators... for four day trip to Japan"

Apparently the escalators are for getting on and off his jet.

The Saudis sell Japan a lot of oil, but that business is not as profitable as it was, and they are hoping to sell other stuff to Japan. What other things they have to sell... I'm not clear on.

The Saudis are looking to diversify
Now that oil prices are not so high.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Nunchucks in Jpan

Weapons charges reversed:

"On March 8, Judge Kazuo Oizumi of the Hiroshima High Court reversed the weapon concealment conviction of a 48-year-old chiropractor. The previous conviction was handed down after a police officer discovered three pairs of nunchaku in the man's car while questioning him in the parking lot of a convenience store."

A chiropractor would know how to whack
Those wacky sticks all over your back.
I have to admit that the bones in my spine
Were so scared by this story, they jumped into line.

Yesterday In The Air

We fly toward the sunset
At thirty thousand feet.
It hasn't disappeared yet.
Jet travel's quite the feat.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Thursday, March 09, 2017

Never Laugh At An Ideograph

Over at Language Log:

"People often ask me questions like these: What's the easiest / hardest language you ever learned?"

Mandarin, he says, is both:
It's easy to learn to speak,
But mastering reading and writing
Will make your brain cells shriek.

Wednesday, March 08, 2017

Cardinal

I saw a very bright one, this morning.

Cardinal, how did you get so red,
From the tip of your tail to the top of your head?
I wonder, when you were learning to fly,
Did you happen to dive in a bucket of dye?

Tuesday, March 07, 2017

Turtle With A Taste For Cold Hard Cash

Change:

Turtle That Ate Nearly 1,000 Coins Recovering From Surgery In Thailand

It's a 25-year-old sea turtle whose life was threatened because it kept eating the coins that people were tossing into its pond "for luck".

It wasn't such good luck for the turtle, whose belly shell was starting to crack. Fortunately, a vet seems to have saved the day. Hopefully the turtle will make a full recovery.

The situation's funny
But don't give turtles money!

Monday, March 06, 2017

Entrance to a Tiki Bar

This is part of the decor as you walk down the stairs to Three Dots And A Dash, a Tiki Bar here in Chicago:



I can't explain,
I need to mull:
Outside my brain
There lives a skull.

Somehow or other, my body has grown
A jointed framework made of bone,
And here's a thing that's odder still -
This skeleton generally does my will.

Sunday, March 05, 2017

Crows

Today I saw what I believe were huge flocks of crows flying against the grey cotton-candy sky. I didn't get a chance to see any of them land, but they looked like crows, not gulls.

So, what's funny, is that there haven't been a lot of crows around here for years - not since the coming of the West Nile Virus, which was over a decade ago.

I'm guessing they were migrating. It's March. We've had some pretty nice weather. Maybe they think spring is here!

Vast crowd of crows,
Please pass this area by.
Virus-bearing mosquitoes
Here will make you die.

Thursday, March 02, 2017

Wednesday, March 01, 2017

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Lyrical vs. Ballad

Lyric poetry - Shakespeare's sonnets - is poetry that resembles songs, often devoted to expressing a feeling. Narrative poetry - Shakespeare's Venus and Adonis - is poetry that is focused on telling a story.

The distinction showed up in my continued reading of Megashift from Plot to Character In American Short Fiction, although the terminology is slightly different. Here the author is talking about Washington Irving, the guy who wrote Rip Van Winkle and the Legend of Sleepy Hollow:

"Irving was fully conscious of the tension in the short story between the lyric impulse, with its stress on unity of emotion, and the ballad impulse, with its emphasis on a controlled unity of action." [p. 27]

So "ballad" here stands in for what I would call narrative. It's funny how slippery literary terms are. Different groups of writers just have different terms for talking about things. It makes discussions harder!

I mean, why talk about prose short stories in terms that refer more properly to poetry?

A dictionary of literary terms,
I'm sad to say, is like a bucket of worms:
You pick one out, and sure enough, it squirms.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Megashift from Plot to Character

I'm reading an interesting book, Megashift from Plot to Character In American Short Fiction : A Critical Study, 1900-1941

That's a mouthful of a title. Yes, it was a doctoral dissertation. The author is Qi Ye, and I don't know much about him, although he did earn his PhD here in Illinois.

Anyway, plot and character have both, always, been contributors to a good story, and the debate over which is more important goes back at least to Aristotle. But as Qi Ye sets out to document, there was a critical push against plot among the literary elite early in the 20th century.

Plot became a dirty word in such circles, and O. Henry, who had been so honored for his surprise endings, met with a surprise ending of his own: after his death, his surprise endings were held as a mark against him.

Of course, you should bear in mind
The reading public continued to find
His surprises delightful
And far from frightful.

Indeed, here he describes the inciting incident that led to the writing of this book:

'One surprising fact that caught my attention during my teaching of an introductory course in prose fiction at Illinois State University (Spring 1992) was that almost all the students reacted enthusiastically to O. Henry's "The Gift of the Magi," especially to the ending where it is revealed that Della and Jim have each sacrificed their most valuable possession to buy the other the best Christmas gift possible within their meager financial power, while the same students did not react so warmly to the surprise endings of William Faulkner's "A Rose for Emily" and Ernest Hemingway's "The Snows of Kilimanjaro," stories which are favored by critics.'

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Writing by Hand

I was looking at a site about learning Japanese. And came across the advice that there was no need to practice writing it.

"When's the last time you actually wrote something by hand? Probably the last time you had to sign your name on a receipt at a restaurant."

And... a few weeks ago, I was writing a ten-minute play in a notebook, and a young person asked me, with curiosity and surprise, if I was actually writing in cursive. Which I was. It's not how I usually write plays. But I didn't have a computer handy.

I have become a beast of yore,
A cursive-writing dinosaur!

Victimismo

I was translating... well, I had used an automated translation of an article by Maria Marty from Spanish to English... but I was going back through the result and fixing it up. And I came across the Spanish word: victimismo. And I knew that the parallel English word would be victimism. But is that a word? It turns out that it is, but it's rare.It seems to be less rare in Spanish.

Anyway, what does the Spanish word mean?

victimismo
tendency to see oneself as being victimized


So, it's not victimhood, or victimization, as such. It's more what we mean when we say "victim mentality". And if you google the rare English word "victimism", the first hit is to the Wikipedia article on "Victim mentality", which has this sentence:

"The term is also used in reference to the tendency for blaming one's misfortunes on somebody else's misdeeds, which is also referred to as victimism."

If we think of victimism as an ideological "ism", it might translate into normal English discourse as "the cult of victimhood", which is rather derogatory, of course, and is often a term used on the right, not the left. Partly because there is a left/right split on the "free will" issue, the left leans toward seeing people as tossed about by circumstance, and the right leans toward seeing people as responsible for their own circumstances.

Both your choices
And your chances
Help determine
Your circumstances.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Passing on the Gift of Prometheus

The NY Times had an article about a German program which teaches children how to safely start fires.

"Mr. Karawahn’s workshops aim to prevent tragedies caused by children playing with fire in secret. Young children who make a fire alone often won’t tell adults for fear of punishment. Even worse, they sometimes hide after setting a fire and end up dying from smoke inhalation."

I suspect teaching about it
Has to be sound.
No culture living without it
Has ever been found.

One Lonely Night

I reread the first chapter of Mickey Spillane's One Lonely Night the other day. I hadn't read it in decades. It's a very striking chapter in which the tough guy detective hero, Mike Hammer, struggles with a disturbance in his soul, a doubt as to whether he is actually a good guy or a bad guy. In the book, this has been brought on by a judge who has let him walk free, but who has righteously condemned him as a monster who lives just inside of the law.

This time, when I was reading, I thought - oh my, the detective's self-doubt is a stand-in for the writer's self doubt after being shredded by a chorus of self-righteous critics.

So, today I was at the library, and was looking at what somebody else wrote about Spillane in an introduction, and this guy, who knew Spillane personally, specifically put forth the same theory.

Spillane, back in the fifties, sold tons of books but was a lightning rod for criticism.

He rubbed the elite the wrong way
In the culture wars of his day.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

A Theater Company's Sudden Demise

It's funny, I just got a postcard advertising their upcoming production:

"Dead Writers Theater to Close in Wake of Harassment Allegations"

It all happened this week, very quickly. It started when the theater's artistic director threatened to derail the career of an actress, Megan Delay. In a public Facebook thread, he told her he could "easily smear" her.

"It was the tipping point that unleashed the Chicago theater community on social media in what some might well consider a mob-mentality takedown Tuesday afternoon."

I saw her last summer in their production of The Importance Of Being Earnest. I thought she was quite strong and funny. Here she is in a publicity shot from that production, with Jack Dryden:



What started the immediate ruckus? The actress bowed out of a role, 10 days before rehearsals were set to start. It is, of course, annoying to the producer and director when something like this happens. They have to scramble to refill the role. I know. I've been there. Last time it happened to me, it was 10 days before opening. I could hear the blood pounding in my ear when I got the news. But, you know, stuff happens, and sometimes you have to roll with it.

Someone bailing out of your production,
Is not a reason to threaten career destruction.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Results Oriented


I'm here to review
My lab work with you.

Please be patient while I retrieve it.
It's so good you won't believe it.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Pangolin

A pangolin
Has scaly skin
But can't play scales
On a mandolin.
Nor can he tango
In trade for a mango
No matter how jolly
A mood he's in.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Self Surveillance

If you want to brag about criminal acts,
Film them all to prove they are facts. 
Viewers will know they aren't being deceived, 
And you will be glad your behavior's believed. 
But should the police obtain the recording, 
You may find that crime is no longer rewarding.

Hunger in America

I remain puzzled about hunger in America. It's evidently a sort of shorthand phrase for insufficient food. I mean, I get hungry every day, which is why I eat, but that's not what they're talking about. So, who has insufficient food? We're not talking about eating-disorder people, or people on hunger strikes, so we must be talking about people who are low on money to buy food. These are the people for whom there are private and governmental food programs. But we also hear a lot about obesity among the poor, so these programs must be working pretty well overall, except that maybe they need to deliver more Lean Cuisine to the heavier recipients. And speaking of the heavy, that's a group of people who are hungry a lot, from what I've seen.

It's a verity
Then and now
Everybody
Needs to chow.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Dancing at Lughnasa

I finally saw my first Brian Friel play tonight, namely Dancing at Lughnasa. It's a charming play, with a very loosely structured plot, if plot is what you wish to call it, and an adult narrator who is remembering things that happened when he was seven. The core of the play is the household of 5 unmarried sisters, who are lovingly sketched.

I did not know what the title meant. I had assumed that Lughnasa was a place. But no, it is a time, a harvest festival.

"The festival itself is named after the god Lugh. It involved great gatherings that included religious ceremonies, ritual athletic contests (most notably the Tailteann Games), feasting, matchmaking and trading. There were also visits to holy wells... Lughnasadh customs persisted widely until the 20th century, with the event being variously named 'Garland Sunday', 'Bilberry Sunday', 'Mountain Sunday' and 'Crom Dubh Sunday'."

How do you say
The name of Lugh?
Simply enough:
It rhymes with Hugh.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Romantic Realism and Joseph Conrad

"Joseph Conrad also called himself a Romantic Realist." That's something Ayn Rand remarked in a Q&A. Was she right?

There's a 1922 book, Joseph Conrad: His Romantic-Realism, by Ruth Stauffer, which I have a copy of and the text of which is available online. The author argues that Conrad should be viewed, indeed, as a Romantic Realist. You might think that if Conrad had identified himself as such, that Stauffer would make a point of citing this self-identification. But, no.

Today I did a little more digging on this, looking into Conrad's preface to his novel, The Nigger of the Narcissus. Wikipedia says: "The author's preface to the novel, regarded as a manifesto of literary impressionism, is considered one of Conrad's most significant pieces of non-fiction writing." Anyway, in this preface, Conrad seems reluctant to accept literary labels:

"The enduring part of them - the truth which each only imperfectly veils - should abide with him as the most precious of his possessions, but they all: Realism, Romanticism, Naturalism, even the unofficial sentimentalism (which like the poor, is exceedingly difficult to get rid of), all these gods must, after a short period of fellowship, abandon him..."

Anyway, if I have to guess, Rand may have been misled about Conrad's exact views, perhaps because she ran into this book or its title somewhere, like on a public library shelf.

Literary schools
supply great bags of tools,
but the struggling writer, still,
is left with lots of pages to fill.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Relative Positions

I noticed recently, while walking home from the train, that Venus and Mars were very close to each other in the Western evening sky, but that Venus was rather bright and Mars was rather dim. I figured this meant that Venus was close and Mars was far, and that their "closeness" was just a matter of line-of-sight.

So, I found this nice snapshot of where all the planets are right now. Here's a cropped version:


As expected, Venus is near, and Mars is far, but if you are sitting on Earth they are in the same little piece of the sky.

I left Jupiter in, because when walking my dogs, I had noticed that Jupiter was visible, and quite bright, on the Eastern horizon, before midnight. And, somewhat logically, Jupiter is on the "opposite" side of Earth, and fairly close.

I'm not sure about the scaling in the snapshot diagram. But the relative positioning at least makes sense.

Where I live, the city's light
Is so darned bright
That it's hard to see stars at night.

Painting the Sky



Sun does a fine job of setting
Despite inadequate vetting.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Gimme Shelter

They were set up to film stuff downtown today on Van Buren street - with the shiny white trailers beloved by the film crews, at least around here. I don't know what show they were filming - I don't pay attention. But one of the white trailers had a sign on it that caught my eye:





We don't usually get tornadoes downtown. But if we did, you would not be heading for this trailer. You would be heading for an actual concrete and steel building, preferably toward the basement thereof.

So, maybe it's some kind of inside joke, some union humor about getting away from the director's mad orders.

So while the sign appears legit,
Maybe that's the joke of it.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

V Day

I hear it's a day for heart to heart,
A trying day to be apart,
And often a day that's hard as stone
For those who find themselves alone

Monday, February 13, 2017

Snow Day

I think the weather is rather pleasant, for winter, back in Chicago. But here in the Beantown area it has been snowing a lot, so our flight out, scheduled for today, was cancelled, and now we are here an extra day, enjoying the company of my son, his wife, and their child, in their roomy new house.

The company's good.
The house is warm.
Bemoaning the snow
Would be poor form.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Whitish

Snow in New England. 
Not exactly news. 
Sort of an incentive 
To stay inside and snooze.

Thursday, February 09, 2017

Chromatic Chaos

"HANAHAN, S.C. (AP) — No one seems to know why there's an orange alligator in a pond near Charleston."




"In a photo provided by Stephen Tatum, an orange alligator is seen near a pond in Hanahan, S.C. Photos show the 4- to 5-foot-long alligator on the banks of a retention pond at the Tanner Plantation neighborhood."

It's a sign of the times -
A gator that's orange!
But nothing quite rhymes
With that color.

Wednesday, February 08, 2017

Prez Name Coincidence

Trump and Truman both
Begin "T. R. U. M."
Maybe that's all that's common
Between the two of THEM!

Tuesday, February 07, 2017

APB

Watched the first episode of APB, a science fictionish cop show set in Chicago, where a tech billionaire outfits one district with a lot of cool high tech gizmos that mostly don't really exist yet, in neighborhoods that aren't quite realistic either.

If the series continues, I predict that eventually, to keep it from being too easy for our hero, a criminal mastermind will appear on an ongoing basis, who fights our good police tech with nasty criminal tech.

To maintain dramatic traction
Get an opposite reaction.

Sunday, February 05, 2017

Superb Owl LI

Finally score a touch down
And they blow the extra point.
The Patriots can't catch a break
In this bad luck joint.

Actually, the Patriots got very lucky right after that.

The birdwatchers who anticipated
A superb owl,
Felt their hopes deflated
And began to howl.

Wednesday, February 01, 2017

Feb 2

I'm gonna catch that groundhog
Put him in some groundhog stew.
Yeah I will catch that groundhog
Groundhog stew is what I'll do.
Cause I'm so sick of winter
Leaving me so cold and blue.

Putting Jurisprudence Aside

How could he pick a dude
With a hard-to-rhyme name like Gorsuch?
Really it's rather rude.
Don't nominate any more such!

Monday, January 30, 2017

Been Dumb So Long

Been reading fake news
Reading it since I began to crawl
If it wasn't for fake news
I wouldn't have no news at all.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

I Do Not Like A Green Card Ban

I hear they've reversed the peculiar ban on "green card holders" from re-entering the US from countries of concern.

Permanent residents
Welcome back.
Your current president
Cut you slack...
Or maybe realized
He'd overstepped.
Some promises really
Should be kept.

We've had some green card terrorists I believe. And citizen terrorists and every other kind of terrorist. But unless you've got a particular reason to ban particular people, it seems unfair to lock people out while they were on vacation or business trips.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Happy Opening

Cat opened well. We had a nice audience, 3 times the size of the sizable cast, and they laughed a lot, which meant their attention was held. Cat has a lot of humor in the script, but I fear it's not often found.

If you've never seen the show, but would like to, and you live in the area, I recommend it. It's a crisp production with a lot of strong performances.

Critical discussions of the play often focus on its tragic aspects, and it's a grim play in many many ways, but, on the other hand, it's a story about two hard-driving women who have married into a wealthy family who are competing to inherit and control that wealth. Hence, the cattiness. And the more sympathetic of the two unscrupulous women wins at the end. At least, this is the ending in our version! The situation has its comic aspect.

Anyway, slight change of topic, the play has been published in at least three versions, and I was comparing two of them at the library yesterday. I found that the Broadway version had some of "my" lines in the mouth of Big Mama:

"In my day they had what they call the Keeley cure for heavy drinkers. But now I understand they just take some kind of tablets."

In one way it makes sense for me to say this. I'm the doctor in the room. But on Broadway it was a little monologue by Big Mama, thinking about possible treatments for her heavy-drinking son.

There's a follow-up line, one I've written about before:

"They call them 'Annie-bust' tablets."

In the Broadway version, Big Mama said this. In the later version, her other son says this. 'Annie-bust' is a pun on Antabuse, a pun hardly any younger person is going to recognize nowadays, because Antabuse is no longer in favor as a treatment for drinking problems.

Moving dialog from mouth to mouth is something playwrights are given to doing in the process of revision. They want to get some lines into the play, and they're not sure who should say them. In narrative fiction, if you have something you just want to say, you can say it as the narrator. But in stage plays, usually you've got to give your words to a character.

Everyone is accustomed
To a narrator on the page
But he's just another character
When you put him on the stage.