Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Anna Nicole Smith’s Dead Body, Jokes 1, 2 and 3

- - - - - - - - - - 1 - - - - - - - - - -

Why did the chicken cross the road?

It wanted to see how badly decomposed the body of Anna Nicole Smith has become waiting to get buried.

- - - - - - - - - - 2 - - - - - - - - - -

How many dead bodies of Anna Nicole Smith does it take to change a light bulb?

Don’t even worry about light bulbs, the camera crews bring their own spotlights.

- - - - - - - - - - 3 - - - - - - - - - -

Knock, knock.

Who’s there?

The dead, decomposing body of Anna Nicole Smith.

The-dead-decomposing-body-of-Anna-Nicole-Smith who?

— If I may interject here, my client, the-dead-decomposing-body-of-Anna-Nicole-Smith, cannot comment on that at this time because it is the subject of pending litigation in three courts in two countries, thank you.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

A Mischa Barton Loose End

Mischa Barton is one of my two favorite pop icons.

Anna Kournikova is my favorite pop icon for magical prettiness. Mischa Barton is my favorite pop icon for magical beauty.

I’ve written about Mischa a couple of times. I wrote about her directly in Mischa Barton, Mischa Barton. And, as I wrote there, I used to know a young woman who looked very much like Mischa Barton and that amazing, high-fashion kind of magical beauty was on my mind when I wrote the Loch Ness monster story, Ashley And The Green Sweater (Part One), Ashley And The Green Sweater (Part Two) and Ashley And The Green Sweater (Part Three).

Last month, January 24th, was Mischa Barton’s birthday. She’s now twenty years old. It bothers me that I missed it, but better late than never.

Belated HAPPY BIRTHDAY Mischa Barton!

(Of course, I won’t forget next year, because next year Mischa will be able to buy me a drink . . .)

Monday, February 26, 2007

In The Realms Of The Unreal Right Here

This morning I walked to a local grocery store to buy the daily paper and a lottery ticket. Susan, the woman from the service desk at the grocery store, took my dollar fifty and handed me a lottery ticket. “Everything rolled over again,” Susan said. “The small lottery is five hundred thousand and the big one is two hundred and sixteen million.”

“Wow,” I said, “if I win one of those I can retire to Evanston.” I was making a little joke. Evanston, Illinois, is not normally thought of as a retirement destination.

But it wasn’t much of a joke, even for a little joke, and Susan asked me if I was talking about the big lottery or the small one.

Walking home, I wondered to myself why I’d picked Evanston as an ‘ironic’ retirement destination. Actually, I think I’d enjoy retiring to Evanston. It’s a college town. Lots of young people. Northwestern isn’t exactly a party school—there isn’t a lot of that kind of energy—but there are midnight movies and clubs and people with enough energy to stay up all night to watch the sun rising above Lake Michigan.

I’m not terrified of growing old. I’m not terrified of age per se. Everyone gets old. I’m not even afraid of dying. Everyone dies. I am terrified, however—terrified beyond words—of becoming out-of-touch and irrelevant. (Even as I type that I’m correcting myself in my mind to say I terrified of becoming more out-of-touch and more irrelevant.)

But, then, even as I think that I remember the case of Henry Darger.

It’s difficult to imagine anybody more out-of-touch and irrelevant that Henry Darger. Yet the images and writings Darger created are a kind of magic that now inspires millions of people all around the world. And, in fact, if Darger had been more in-touch and relevant the things he created might have been bogged down by reality—transformed into things not magical but, well, crazy in a bad sort of way.

So, maybe I shouldn’t be terrified of becoming out-of-touch and irrelevant. (Or more out-of-touch and more irrelevant.) I think the only real danger in life is letting anything—the presence of the world or its absence—mess up your work.

That having been said, however, of course it’s much easier being afraid of aging badly. You can see that happening. It’s much harder to look at stuff you create and try to figure out if it’s good or bad, idiosyncratic or pedestrian, magically weird or just sadly insane . . .

Henry Darger’s Wiki Page

Friday, February 23, 2007

No Zen Here

I’ve never been a Dharma Bum.

Back in the days when somebody looking at me or listening to me might have mistaken me for one, I was actually of a more Tibetan frame of mind. I didn’t read Kerouac or worry about mountains or motorcycles. I read “Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism,” meditated with pleasant people in a loft above a bar and listened to and discussed cassette tapes of lectures by a man named Rinpoche.

After a great deal of time devoted to this, after listening to and discussing many lectures, we listened to one particularly long lecture about the nature of existence. When the lecture concluded and someone switched off the cassette player, someone else looked over at me and asked, “Mark, do you understand that?”

I took a breath, slowly, and thought about it. Not just the question, but also the people looking at me and waiting for an answer, the previous lectures and discussions we all shared, the notion that for thousands of years people just like us had engaged in similar behavior and thought about similar things.

Nobody rushed me. Nobody hurried to fill the silence with their own voice while I considered my response.

Then I selected my words very carefully and said, “I understand it exactly as well as I understand everything else we’ve listened to and discussed.”

And everyone burst out laughing. Everybody laughed, everyone nodded and a couple of people tapped their knuckles on the tabletop. The guy who had been working the cassette player leaned over and rubbed my shoulder.

A Dharma Bum might not have spoken the word satori to describe the moment we all shared, but a Dharma Bum would have been thinking it was a satori moment.

Those of us of a more Tibetan mindset regarded it simply as a good moment to boil some water and take a tea break.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Why I Almost Never Use Rhyme

This has been almost one of my favorite poems ever since I first read it when I was twelve or thirteen. This poem, along with Frost’s “The Bonfire,” shaped how I write and how I think about content and narrative. But even when I was just a kid dreaming of a life in letters, I understood that how you say something often is as important as what you say. And even as a kid I tripped over the construction at the end of line fifty of this poem (that’s the one that ends the stanza that starts with the woman far away in “black alder”). Now, thirty years later, even though I know about something academic writers might describe as “meta purpose” I still trip over the construction at the end of line fifty.

(Her Word)

One ought not to have to care
So much as you and I
Care when the birds come round the house
To seem to say good-bye;

Or care so much when they come back
With whatever it is they sing;
The truth being we are as much
Too glad for the one thing

As we are too sad for the other here—
With birds that fill their breasts
But with each other and themselves
And their built or driven nests.


Always—I tell you this they learned—
Always at night when they returned
To the lonely house from far away,
To lamps unlighted and fire gone gray,
They learned to rattle the lock and key
To give whatever might chance to be
Warning and time to be off in flight:
And preferring the out- to the in-door night,
They learned to leave the house-door wide
Until they had lit the lamp inside.


She had no saying dark enough
For the dark pine that kept
Forever trying the window-latch
Of the room where they slept.

The tireless but ineffectual hands
That with every futile pass
Made the great tree seem as a little bird
Before the mystery of glass!

It never had been inside the room,
And only one of the two
Was afraid in an oft-repeated dream
Of what the tree might do.


It was too lonely for her there,
And too wild,
And since there were but two of them,
And no child,

And work was little in the house,
She was free,
And followed where he furrowed field,
Or felled tree.

She rested on a log and tossed
The fresh chips,
With a song only to herself
On her lips.

And once she went to break a bough
Of black alder.
She strayed so far she scarcely heard
When he called her—

And didn’t answer—didn’t speak—
Or return.
She stood, and then she ran and hid
In the fern.

He never found her, though he looked
And he asked at her mother’s house
Was she there.

Sudden and swift and light as that
The ties gave,
And he learned of finalities
Besides the grave.

Robert Frost
The Hill Wife

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Winona Ryder Redux

"I was producing a movie called Square Dance in Texas. It was a starring part for Winona Ryder, who was fourteen or fifteen.

She said, "Aren't the Monkees gonna play in Arlington?" which was just up the road from where we were filming. I said, "Yeah." And she said, "Do you think you could get me tickets?" And I said, "Well, yeah, I probably could." And she said, "I'd really like to go -- would you take me?" And I said "No, I won't take you. I can't possibly do that." She said, "Why not?" I said, "Nonie, I am one of the Monkees. I can't show up in the crowd with you going to a Monkees concert." She said, "Well, I really want you to take me. That would be really fun for me."

I was madly in love with her -- she was such a wonderful, young girl. There's a certain age at which young women blossom; they have a puppy quality about them, very fetching. She was right at that age. I just couldn't say no to her.

I said, "Let me see what I can do."

I wrangled a couple of tickets, and they were real ordinary tickets. I didn't want box seats or anything. From the costume department I got a fat pad, and I grayed my hair and my beard. I put on a pair of old man's glasses and a baseball hat, and I took her to the show.

We sat there with 25,000 people, after a ball game. They came out, and I was in the middle of the crowd, watching a Monkees concert. ... I think Nonie liked it."

Mike Nesmith
Hey, Hey, We're the Monkees

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

My Britney Shaves Her Head Theory

I think it was just a publicity ploy spurred on by the weird media shills in Vince McMahon’s wrestling empire.

Before Britney split with KFed, he appeared quite a few times on McMahon’s televised wrestling shows. So we know the Britney Spears “people” have contacts with McMahon’s.

Before Britney shaved her head, McMahon had started a convoluted storyline on his wrestling shows involving Donald Trump. This story line was building to a climax—announced before Britney shaved her head—in which either Trump or McMahon would have to shave their head on a wrestling pay-per-view as the result of losing a bet.

On last night’s Raw—02/19—McMahon even used photos of Britney to illustrate how bizarre people look with a shaved head.

My belief, now, is that Britney shaved her head just to pump up the buzz about shaved heads in general and contribute to setting the stage for McMahon’s bet with Trump. All these people have extensive contacts in the media, and all these people are experts at getting publicity and exploiting it.


I first began doubting “news” stories back when Winona Ryder was put on trial for stealing from Saks Fifth Avenue. It occurred to me that Saks got more publicity from the trial then they could have purchased with commercials. And the fact that a star as well-loved and lusted after as Ryder would want to steal from Saks really pumped up the Saks buzz. I believe the whole shoplifting incident was pre-planned—more carefully scripted than many modern movies—and played itself out perfectly. Saks got publicity and nothing bad of any substance happened to Ryder. Everyone’s happy.

And I think the Winona Ryder “trial” really set the stage for subsequent news “management”—where media types script “real life” events so that the events can become part of the cultural buzz around some on-going campaign.

Call me cynical.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Why Catching A Cold Makes Some People Cuter

I have a cold.

I don’t catch colds often. Having this cold now has reminded me of an old theory of mine about how colds change the way people behave. I’m not a doctor or biologist so this theory has no authority behind it. However, the final piece of my thinking was contributed by a fancy, East Coast type biology professor when I reviewed my theory with him on CompuServe.

Many people have noticed that if we see a cute stranger who has a cold—red nose, sniffling, puffy eyes—we often think, Oh, poor sweat baby, let me help you with that! On the other hand, if someone close to us—a family member or boyfriend or girlfriend—has a cold and they ask for a favor we often react with a shrug, thinking something like, Hey, tough it out, you just have a cold.

Similarly, many people notice that if they have a cold strangers treat them differently than close associates. Strangers will smile and get all solicitous. On the other hand if a person with a cold asks a girlfriend or boyfriend to fix lunch, the girlfriend or boyfriend might say something like, “Hey, the last time you sneezed did you break a leg or something? Fix it yourself.”

I saw this so often that I wondered if there was some physical, biological mechanism at work. It turns there might be. Although I didn’t understand how the mechanism could account for strangers acting differently than close associates, a biologist I talked to immediately pointed out why that would be so.

The mechanism I have in mind is pheromones.

Pheromones are chemicals that organisms emit to modify the behavior of other organisms. All organisms are thought to use pheromones—plants, insects, animals and humans. There hasn’t been a confirmed, peer-reviewed study of human pheromones yet, but many doctors and biologists assume such studies will appear over time. The fact that a cold makes strangers respond differently than close associates is intriguing indirect evidence that pheromones are at work.

A person with a cold would emit pheromones. Pheromones are chemical triggers which interact with nearby people. In nearby people, the pheromones would settle on receptor sites. The action of the pheromone settling on the receptor site would trigger a chemical reaction—the release of hormones, for instance, which affect a person’s thinking and/or mood—and that person may then become solicitous toward the sick person. It’s a survival mechanism which helps sick people work through their illness.

But why would close associates respond differently?

Many chemical reactions in the human body function by this process of chemicals interacting with receptor sites. Receptor sites are molecular structures shaped to respond to only a particular molecule. Sometimes receptor sites are compared to locks and the particular molecules that join on to them are compared to keys. One complication seen often in human metabolism is called receptor site saturation. For any particular reaction there are a finite number of receptor sites. When the molecules they are geared for settle onto them, that triggers further chemical reactions within the body. But after a receptor site has been filled and responded, that particular site will become inactive until the molecular key has fallen away. When all receptor sites for a particular function have been filled, the body will completely stop reacting to whatever molecule is associated with those particular receptor sites.

The most well known example of receptor site saturation is insulin resistance. Insulin is a chemical released within the body which lands on receptor sites which then trigger the processing of nutrients in the blood stream. If a person eats too many carbohydrates, especially sugars, a body can generate so much insulin that all receptor sites will become full and the body will stop processing nutrients in the blood. Nutrients, especially sugars, will then stay in the blood and not transfer into the tissues which need the nutrients to function and all manner of bad things can result.

I believe pheromone interaction with receptor sites is what’s happening when a person catches a cold and interacts with other people.

The sick person is emitting pheromones. Strangers with ready receptor sites react to the pheromones with an internal cascade of various hormones leading to something like, Poor sweet baby, let me help you with that! But close associates have their receptor sites saturated by the pheromones and the pheromone density prohibits the molecules at the receptor sites from dropping away so close associates are unaffected by the pheromones, experience no internal hormonal cascade, and react with, Hey, get real, it’s just a cold, do it yourself.

The next time you catch a cold, or notice somebody around you with a cold, introspect on your feelings. There may be evolutionary rainstorms going on around you and inside you buffeting your thinking.

Pheromone Wiki Page

Friday, February 16, 2007

Mycelium And Aurora Borealis

It has been raining for several days now, and it can surely rain in the Highlands in the autumn. For one or two days it was windy as well, bringing boiling black storm clouds from the Atlantic Ocean to rush eastwards across the Highlands. Today, however, a gentle rain splashes intently on the surface of the loch, the woods are damp and sodden and a smell of moist earth pervades the lochside. But everywhere there is a riot of new colours. Fungi of all sizes, shapes and colours have suddenly appeared around the loch and in the woodland. There are red ones with white spots, small yellow ones, sticky brown ones, tall graceful inkcaps, round puffballs and large mushroom-shaped boletus. The names are also lovely: blushers and blewits, inkcaps and deathcaps, lawyers’ wigs and stinkhorns, and very many more the Latin names. Some years are better than others for fungi and the relative proponderance of different species also fluctuates from year to year. Where has this fairytale landscape erupted from, if not by the magic wand of the raingods? Of course, the real body, or mycelium, of the fungi has been growing away all year in the soil or in rotted branches of fallen trees and many other places; but now the fruiting bodies appear as familiar toadstools and mushrooms, throwing out millions of spores to ensure future generations of fungal beauty.


Last night, 1 February, there was the most spectacular display of northern lights or aurora borealis. On these nights, the whole northern sky can be lit up by flashing, changing bands of green or blue or white or red lights in the sky. The northern lights this time started at about 7 p.m. It was a quiet night, quite cold, crystal clear, with sounds carrying for miles. Looking upwards, there were patterns of shadowy curtains moving across the sky, greenish, glowing and eerie. They sort of crackled, or at least you felt they crackled, as they changed direction, rather like searchlights in the night sky. As I watched, a red glow started to appear above me; in fact, as the evening progressed, it was like being inside a great dome of the deepest red or magenta, illuminated with green bands in the northern sky. These displays at times are absolutely stunning; little wonder that they are also called the ‘Merry Dancers.’

Sadly, nowadays most people miss them, because they live in towns and cities where the all-pervading orange glow of streetlights makes it impossible even to see the stars, let alone the ghostly dancers of the northern lights. These last couple of winters have been particularly good for them, but only on a few nights are they really spectacular. I am told this has to do with sun-spot activity and that the best displays occur at regular intervals of every eleven years or so. On a few occasions in the last two winters I have witnessed and enjoyed this spectacular celestial phenomenon.

Two winters ago, we had a heifer who was due to calf. In the evening she looked as though she was very close, so at 9 p.m. I went out with a torch to check progress; it was obvious that she was about to give birth to her first calf. My wife and I stood in the field and, as the newborn calf struggled to its feet for the first time, above us was the most fantastic display of the white and green shadowy curtains of the northern lights. We will always remember that special night, for we named the calf Aurora and she is still with us as part of our herd on the farm.

Roy Dennis
The Loch: A Year In The Life Of A Scottish Loch

Thursday, February 15, 2007


There are two people fishing today on the loch in a small boat and the ducks are keeping a good distance from them. The wildfowl like people arriving with food and will come very close to the bank, but people in boats waving fishing rods are another matter and they keep well clear. They will spend an hour or two trying to catch trout, although at times the rain showers are so heavy that I believe they will give up unless the fishing is good. In summer the lochs are well visited by fishermen; in fact, a day at the trout in a remote loch, miles from the road, is the very best of sport. People have always been associated with water; in the past it was more often used for transport and further back still people lived in close harmony with Highland lochs. Islands in some lochs have been shown to be artificial and made of wood and rock. They are called ‘crannogs’ and were used for habitation in times when life was far more hazardous and a water barrier was important for safety.

Roy Dennis
The Loch: A Year In The Life Of A Scottish Loch

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Toadspawn Is Quite Unlike Frogspawn

The frogs are quite difficult to see in the loch, because it is mostly dark and deep, but in one of the shallower bays is a whole group leaping and splashing about. You have to be very quiet as you walk towards them because they are surprisingly alert and if they are alarmed then all you see are ripples on the water as they dive to hide in the mud and vegetation below the surface. But if I walk very quietly and sit gently on the bank above this particular place, I soon see the frogs swimming in the cloudy water. Slowly they return and carry on with the business of display. Some are giving their mating calls, their throats blowing up to produce beautiful croaking calls which carry a long distance. I remember once hiking in the mountains when I heard frogs calling at an altitude of nearly 3,000 feet. I tracked them to a small hill loch nearly a mile away. They were in full mating frenzy in the shallows while the other end of the loch was still imprisoned in ice.

Back in the warmer water of our loch the successful males are holding tightly on to their mates, the forelegs clasped across the female’s back. Some females have already laid their eggs, with masses of frogspawn floating in the water. This is a particularly good place for the frogs to spawn because soon there will be plenty of algae in the water for the young tadpoles to eat. There are also plenty of places for them to hide and room in the whole loch for them to grow up until they become real frogs and leave the water in the summertime. I often think that frogs are either incredibly careless or very skilled at taking advantage of every opportunity, for on my walks through forests and fields I sometimes come across frogspawn in tiny pools of water which have formed in the tracks of a large vehicle that passed during the winter. It is wet and well flooded in March, but later in spring I find it dried up and the frogspawn dead. There are advantages for the frogs in using shallow pools, because the water is warmed more quickly by the sun and the young frogs hatch earlier.

Toads breed in the loch, but they tend to keep to themselves in a different part of the water. They also seem to be more careful, because I never see toadspawn lying around in temporary pools, although in general they prefer to lay their eggs in cooler water. Toadspawn is quite unlike frogspawn: it is laid in long chains hanging in the underwater vegetation rather than in great big masses.

Roy Dennis
The Loch: A Year In The Life Of A Scottish Loch

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

A Woodland Path Encircles The Loch

A woodland path encircles the loch. In some places it is close to the water’s edge and in others it meanders into the woodland. From a wildlife point of view, I’m not keen on paths which go right around lochs, for this gives no hiding places for sensitive birds and mammals to live and breed. Fortunately, our loch has secure bushy islands as a sanctuary. In several places alders and willows grow densely beside the water, so in the summer the loch is screened from the path. There’s a choice of either walking to the right along the north side of the loch by way of a young pine wood or to the left along a wooded bank overlooking the loch. It’s funny, but I nearly always go left and walk round the loch in a clockwise direction, or rather in the same direction as the sun. I wonder if that tendency is inherent in my genes from far-distant ancestors, to whom such things mattered. Two years ago, I was trekking in a remote region of Mongolia and I was struck that our guides walked diligently in a clockwise direction round the various religious sites that we passed on horseback. I was told it was unlucky to travel against the sun.

Roy Dennis
The Loch: A Year In The Life Of A Scottish Loch

Monday, February 12, 2007

There Is Only One Lake In Scotland

There is only one lake in Scotland: The Lake of Menteith north of Glasgow; the rest are lochs, with smaller ones being called lochans or dubh lochs. Around the coast, some marine inlets are called sea lochs; in fact, some of them are like small Norwegian fjords. This book, however, is about freshwater lochs. Scottish lochs vary tremendously in character, from the great, deep, foreboding waters, like Loch Ness and Loch Morar with their huge depths and stories of monsters, through open, fertile lochs set among rolling farmland, to the tiny hill lochans of remote peatlands and the high mountains. The variation is so great from west to east, from north to south, that our story is centered on the lochs of the eastern part of the Highland region, in particular those that are in the catchment of the Moray Firth and especially the lochs that are on the coastal plain or close to it.

Our loch is just an ordinary loch in many ways. The birds, mammals, fish, amphibians, insects and plants found there are to be seen on many lochs throughout the Highlands. Some of the wildlife found on other lochs is never seen here because the conditions are not right, while some creatures I see here will not be observed on other lochs in the district. This is a rich, busy loch, surrounded by lush vegetation and sheltered by fringing woodland of birches and pines. It has marshy islands covered with lichen-encrusted willow bushes and surrounded by sedges and bulrushes; this makes a great difference to wildlife.

There are similar lochs dotted throughout the lowlands surrounding Moray Firth, often set in hollows left by the action of the ice-age glaciers and fringed by woodland and farms. They are usually productive lochs with a rich growth of reeds, sedges, bulrushes and flowering plants such as water lilies and bogbean. Often farm fields may run to the water’s edge and human presence is frequent through fishing, walking and sometimes through water sports. The wildlife is often centered around wildfowl and waders, but nowadays these lochs are also frequented by hunting ospreys as well as ranging otters.

There are two large lochs in this district. Loch Ness is a dramatic loch set between the mountains of the Great Glen. It is steep sided and was formed by the movement of the earth’s tectonic plates. It is 24 miles long and plunges nearly 900 feet in depth. This loch never freezes because of its depth; in fact, the inherent heat of the loch also provides a microclimate around the lochside and often the roads close to the loch remain ice free when most other roads are icy. Because of its steep sides it is rather poor for wildlife, with the exception of its alleged most famous inhabitant. The other large loch is much, much smaller and is very shallow compared to Loch Ness. It is only 1 1/2 miles long and half a mile wide, but Loch Eye is a haven for wildlife, especially in winter, when thousands of ducks, geese and swans use its water for feeding and roosting.

In the lower hills and glens, often set among forests of pines and birch woodlands, are a range of medium to small lochs; some are the most beautiful, picturesque lochs in majestic surroundings. The lochs nearest to my home nestle in the ancient Caledonian pine forest. They were created during the ice age by lumps of ice that slowly melted in situ during the glacial drift; they are called kettle-hole lochs. These lochs are not as productive as the low-ground lochs on the richer soils, as they tend to be more acid and peaty coloured, often with water the color of whisky. But they are favoured haunts of some rare species, such as black-throated divers, Slavonian grebes and goldeneye ducks. In winter, they are often choice roosts for wildfowl and gulls during the night, affording the birds security and safety from scavenging foxes.

Finally, there are the high-level lochs and lochans nestling in the wide, bare moorlands and in the high mountains looking down on the Moray plain. Some are peaty pools fringed with red and green sphagnum mosses, with water so black that you can hardly see your hand through the freezing water. These pools are the nesting sites for red-throated divers and washing places for the plaintive golden plover of the heathery moors. The high mountain lochs are often crystal clear on a granite bed, almost devoid of plantlife. They are not wildlife lochs, but they add considerably to the beauty of wild places.

Roy Dennis
The Loch: A Year In The Life Of A Scottish Loch

Friday, February 09, 2007

Jeanne Hébuterne — Art As A Grail

This is a photograph of Jeanne Hébuterne. It was taken around 1918 when she was twenty years old. A friend described her then as, “gentle, shy, quiet and delicate.”

This is a painting of Jeanne Hébuterne. It was painted also around 1918 by Amedeo Modigliani when Hébuterne was Modigliani’s model and muse. Two years later, when Modigliani died, Hébuterne was so grief-stricken at the loss of her lover she committed suicide.

A contemporary British artist named Quentin Blake gives this advice to aspiring artists: “When you’re drawing from life—from something sitting right there in front of you—there’s a problem with too much information. You are seeing more than you can ever possibly get down on paper. Putting pen to paper feels a bit like trying to catch a waterfall in a cup. A small sense of hopelessness sets in. But don’t despair. Drawings get better with time. Even yours. Afterwards, when the thing itself is gone from view, that little drawing will suddenly bloom; and you’ll discover for yourself how much of a waterfall actually does fit into a cup.”

Jeanne Hébuterne’s Wiki page

Amedeo Modigliani’s Wiki page

Quentin Blake’s web site

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Rocks In His Head

I think I’ve had some interesting experiences because I’ve ‘over-trained,’ in a sense, for some of these long, easy climbs that I do over and over again. I have these routes wired to such a degree that I don’t have to think about the climbing on a conscious level. I become so involved with the flow and the pattern of the climb that I lose touch with who I am and what I am and become part of the rock—I’ve actually felt at times as though I was weaving in and out of the rock.

John Gill
quoted in, “Eiger Dreams,” by Jon Krakauer

John Gill’s website

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

The Goblin Universe Sexuality Gedankenexperiment

Imagine yourself driving along a quiet, suburban street. It is a warm, sunny afternoon.

Up ahead, to the right, you see a beautiful young woman in cut-off jeans and a thin tee shirt washing her car. She is a curvaceous teenager getting all wet as she suds up and rinses off her car.

Up ahead, to the left, you see a handsome young man in tennis shorts and a thin tee shirt washing his car. He is a firmly-muscled teenager getting all wet as he suds up and rinses off his car.

Introspect on your reactions to this suburban scene.

We will now evaluate the experiment and derive our results. There are three possible conclusions.

One: If you find yourself looking to the right and thinking about the young woman, then you are probably attracted to women.

Two: If you find yourself looking to the left and thinking about the young man, then you are probably attracted to men.

Three: If you find yourself looking right and left and thinking to yourself, “Wow! A ’65 Shelby Mustang and a ’65 Corvette Stingray! Cool cars!” then you are probably Jay Leno.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

The Other Reason To Burn Witches

Anthropologists have observed that in societies that lack formal political processes, sorcery accusations are often an indication of other social and economic tensions and conflicts. They have analyzed the killing of accused sorcerers as a form of control through which antisocial people are eliminated and social cohesion is reinforced.


at HighBeam Encyclopedia

Monday, February 05, 2007

Talking To People Who Can’t Talk To You

For the nonspeaking children in Toronto, learning to communicate with symbols meant a whole new way of thinking and feeling. New ideas, new possibilities stirred in their minds. It was like waking up from a long dim daydream. Children who had felt like nonpersons, sitting like lumps in wheelchairs, discovered that they were somebody after all.

One little girl, when she had learned to use the symbols, “asked” her parents, “Why are you not speaking to me?”

The father, who loved his little girl, suddenly realized that, because she could not respond, he hardly ever did speak to her. Now he could see that she was lonely and needed people to talk to her even if she could not talk back.

Elizabeth S. Helfman
Blissymbolics: Speaking Without Speech

Blissymbolics Website

Friday, February 02, 2007

Micro Freudian Imperatives

So, one day Linda and I had a picnic lunch on the grass by the school of the Art Institute of Chicago.

This isn’t the same Linda I wrote about in Victoria’s Secret. But I did know this Linda at the same time as that Linda. I don’t know what it means, but the names “Linda” and “Joanne” play through my life, attached to different women, like melodic themes emerging and re-emerging in some complicated orchestral work.

Anyway, back at the lunch, Linda brought two chicken salad sandwiches she’d made that morning and wrapped in wax paper. I brought two bottles of ice tea that I’d picked up on the way to work.

It was a warm, sunny day. I don’t remember what we talked about. Probably, back then, I’d have talked about my theory that many of Vermeer’s mature paintings shouldn’t be viewed as stand-alone images, but rather as excerpts from a larger, now lost cycle of images that can best be interpreted as alchemical allegories.

What I do remember is that when lunch was over Linda wrapped her wax paper around her empty tea bottle. I crumpled up my wax paper and stuck it inside my empty tea bottle. Then I stood up and reached down to take Linda’s hand and help her up. As Linda stood up, I looked down at her other hand and my whole vision zoomed like a bizarre special effect in a music video.

Holding Linda’s hand, suddenly all I saw was her other hand with the wax paper wrapped around the empty tea bottle. My vision jerked over to my other hand with the wax paper crumpled inside the empty tea bottle.

“Wow!” I said. “Did you see what just happened?”

Linda let go of my hand and brushed off some grass from her skirt. “Yeah,” she said. “We stood up. Why, were we sitting in ants? Do I have bugs on me?”

“No, no, no,” I said. I pointed at her other hand. “Look,” I said. I held up my other hand. “And look at this.”

Linda took a breath. Her eyes narrowed. She knew me pretty well, and I could tell that she was bracing herself for a roller coaster ride. “Yeah,” she said, hesitantly. “It’s our garbage.”

“No,” I said, again. “Look at it.”

Smiling, Linda looked from her hand to my hand. “Yeah, so?”

“Look what we did” I said. “You wrapped your wax paper around your empty bottle. I crumpled up my wax paper and stuck it into my empty bottle.”

Linda’s lips were compressed into a tight smile. She knew I was going to say something and I knew she was going to think it was crazy, but it was one of those moments like a roller coaster just cresting the top of the first hill . . .

“You wrapped your wax paper around your empty bottle,” I said again. “I stuck my wax paper inside my empty bottle.” I struggled to think of acceptable words and phrases for what I was thinking. I failed, but since Linda was still smiling, I continued. “Look, pardon my French here, but think about it. Women have vaginas. Vaginas wrap around penises. Men have penises. Penises insert into vaginas. You—a woman—wrapped your wax paper around your bottle, I—a man—stuck my wax paper into my bottle. See?”

“Yeah,” Linda said, laughing, “I see you’ve completely lost your mind.”

“No, no, no,” I said. “Think about it. We’re sitting here—a man and a woman—having lunch. Neither one of us is talking about sex. Presumably neither one of us is even thinking about sex. Yet we both experience these . . . these micro Freudian imperatives in our minds that manifest themselves in macro behavior in the physical world. You wrap your wax paper around your empty bottle. I stick my wax paper into my empty bottle. See? Isn’t that weird?”

Linda struggled to get out words with her laughter. “Yeah, you know what’s weird? What’s weird is that I spend time with you without insisting you wear one of those white leather jackets that ties your arms behind your back!”

“Oh, Linda,” I said, “I didn’t make up this stuff! It’s emergent behavior. I just observed it.”

Linda took my hand again. “Yeah, and I observe that lunch is over. Come on.” She tugged me toward the sidewalk. “Lunch is over. Time to get back to the real world . . .”

Thursday, February 01, 2007

De Humani Corporis Fabrica

Historical evidence has it that when Andreas Vesalius began his monumental work on anatomy, De Humani Corporis Fabrica, some four hundreds years ago, he approached the great Venetian master Titian to produce the large number of plates required for the volume. The unrivaled artistry of these anatomical descriptions, executed by Titian and some of his students, has never been equaled in similar works. Now an intriguing problem comes up. Vesalius obviously knew a great deal more than Titian about internal medical anatomy. Vesalius, hailed as the Reformer of Anatomy, was in the process of making new discoveries in anatomical structure that Titian could not have learned beforehand. How did it happen that Titian, a master in art, knew better than Vesalius the visual description and correct delineation of anatomical human form?

Burne Hogarth
Dynamic Anatomy