Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Question Clarisse Asks Montag

“But everyone I know is either shouting or dancing around like wild or beating up one another. Do you notice how people hurt each other nowadays?”

“You sound so very old.”

“Sometimes I’m ancient. I’m afraid of children my own age. They kill each other. Did it always use to be that way? My uncle says no. Six of my friends have been shot in the last year alone. Ten of them died in car wrecks. I’m afraid of them and they don’t like me because I’m afraid. My uncle says his grandfather remembers when children didn’t kill each other. But that was a long time ago when they had things different.”

Ray Bradbury
from Fahrenheit 451
imagining the future in 1953

In Oscar Wilde’s book, “The Picture of Dorian Gray,”
Dorian, the immortal beauty, murders Basil,
the painter who created the portrait that changes
instead of Dorian, that ages, becomes corrupt.

But what drives Dorian’s hatred in the murder scene?

Is Dorian furious at his external soul,
the painting that is punished for his own transgressions,
and does he kill Basil for the part that Basil played
in his immortality, his endless awareness
of what he is and his terror that others might see?

Or when Basil begs Dorian to repent, to pray,
to undo the connection to the magic picture,
does Dorian panic thinking Basil might succeed?

Many years later, I mean later than Oscar Wilde,
Andrew Wyeth created a series of paintings
that would become famous known as the Helga paintings.

So far as I know, nobody killed anybody
as a consequence, as a sequel, to those paintings.

Wilde wrote in England. Wyeth painted in New England.

Now it is many years later, I mean later than
the Helga paintings, and I wonder if New England
has aged, or is endless and aware like old England?

I’ve known beautiful women. I’ve wanted to paint them.

In something like awareness of something like panic,
my temptation is to keep my desires to myself.

Monday, January 30, 2012

A Mystery: Paintings Never Painted

In Michelangelo Antonioni’s 1966 film “Blow-Up,” a photographer suspects a picture he took almost randomly in a park may have unwittingly captured an image of a crime or the aftermath of a crime. But the details in the background of the photo are too small to see clearly. In his darkroom the photographer creates larger and ever larger prints from his negative. Eventually he creates a print that is so large the image depicts the random grain particles of the film negative as much as it does the scene from the park. The photographer’s neighbor comes in and, unaware of what the photographer is doing, looks at the large print and observes, casually, that the image looks just like one of the abstract paintings her boyfriend paints.

For me that moment would be my pick for one of the most incredible moments in all cinema.

Earlier in the film when we see her boyfriend’s abstract paintings, they are hardly worth a second look. They seem to depict nothing, just random shapes.

Later, when we know the photograph contains the image of a crime, the enlarged grain particles from the negative present the appearance of being random but we know they contain critical information. We can almost see it.

The blow-up print from the film negative becomes a kind of backward comment on abstract art—Does abstract art contain critical information as well, just above or below our threshold of perception?

Although the film is ostensibly a mystery story, by the end it has become a comment on the nature of reality, or at least the nature of our perception of reality.


This weekend I had intended to do some painting but I never did. I’ve got some heavy card stock that can stand up to being properly prepared with gesso and I’ve got some modern, high-tech water soluble oil paints. But I’ve never even taken the plastic wrap off the paints.


You can mix many pretty types of gray
if you start with four high-chroma colors.

Red mixed with green right from the tubes make gray.

Red mixed with blue will create a purple
and that purple mixed with yellow make gray.

Red and yellow mixed together make orange
and that orange mixed with blue will make a gray
that doesn’t look quite the same as the gray
made with the same paints starting with purple.

Yellow and blue isn’t quite the same green
as green from the tube and when mixed with red
it is still another version of gray.

And of course black and white straight from the tubes
make gray with almost no color bias
although it always will be warm or cool.

But if you never unwrap the plastic
and take the tubes of paint out of the box
you don’t get any shade of gray at all.

I talked to a pretty woman about
politics over the weekend. She said
talking politics gave her a headache
but she’s the one who brought up the subject
when I was talking about cameras.

Talking politics gave her a headache,
she said, and then she told me all about
why she supports the Occupy movement.

I’d rather have talked about cameras
but I listened because she was pretty.

I should have stayed home and unwrapped my paints.

I should have stayed home and mixed up some grays.

It’s a mystery to me. I mean paint
wrapped in plastic. Paintings never painted.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Songs For Hippies Don’t Scare The Pigeons

Don’t scare the pigeons
I just put out some bread
Look at them eating
That’s what it’s like inside my head

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

I wrote that little melody and bit of verse
this afternoon. To play it I split my keyboard
and play chords with my left hand and flute with my right.
I like to experiment with the harmony.
Sometimes I support the flute with a piano,
other times with a guitar or synthesizer.
And I change chord voicings, change bass and treble notes.

Getting technology to work doesn’t scare me.
I’m not scared by theory, or practicing technique.

For me that stuff is like throwing bread to the birds.

People scare me. And I wish I could fly away
the way pigeons fly away when people scare them.

That’s what it’s like inside my head. And some people
scare pigeons for fun. They think: They’re just stupid birds.

That’s what it’s like inside my head. I remember
a guy laughing at me because I was shopping
wearing a sport coat. I wanted to fly away.

That’s what it’s like inside my head. Just stupid birds,
and some people run through just to send them flying.

I like pigeons. There’s wilderness around cities
and pigeons could fly away if they wanted to
but they stay with us even though we frighten them.
I guess they like the people who don’t frighten them
enough that they put up with the other people.

Hippie girls used to put flowers in rifle barrels.
That was brave. And it didn’t frighten any birds.

Even the Time magazine hippies who just danced
were in it for the dancing, not to frighten birds.

Songs for hippies. That’s what it’s like inside my head.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Pigeon That Laughed At Hemingway

Kilimanjaro is a snow covered mountain 19,710 feet high, and is said to be the highest mountain in Africa. Its western summit is called the Masai “Ngaje Ngai,” the House of God. Close to the western summit there is the dried and frozen carcass of a pigeon. No one has explained what the pigeon was seeking at that altitude.

That of course is not the epigraph
Hemingway wrote for
The Snows of Kilimanjaro.”
In Hemingway’s version, it is the carcass of a leopard.

A pigeon isn’t a carnivore,
it doesn’t run fast and kill gazelles.

A pigeon isn’t solitary,
it doesn’t sit on a branch at night
watching the savannah, eyes glowing
in light from the Moon or just the stars.

A pigeon isn’t a distant thing,
it doesn’t live here only in zoos
where a synthetic environment
pretends to be someplace far away.

A pigeon isn’t literary,
it doesn’t flesh-out a metaphor
of a dying writer bickering
with Helen, a woman photographed
by Town and Country though they never
featured her breasts in their photo-spreads.

A pigeon isn’t love found and lost,
it doesn’t embrace, swoon, kiss or slap,
it isn’t decorated, fake, rich,
tough, martyred, sexy, drunk, impotent,
nostalgic, cynical or remote,
and pigeons usually don’t sit
in front of a typewriter bleeding
or typing or not typing at all.

A pigeon isn’t skillful with words,
it doesn’t craft thoughts into phrases
people repeat over drinks in bars,
but sometimes when a pigeon makes sounds
its coo-cooing vocalizations
could be mistaken for soft laughter.

A pigeon isn’t a carnivore,
it doesn’t run fast and kill gazelles,
but sometimes it sounds like it’s laughing
so Hemingway went with a leopard.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Pigeon In Science And Romance

So last Saturday I drove over to pick up Jennifer.

When I got there she asked if instead of going out to dinner could we stay in, and could I help her daughters with a school science project? I said sure, and the next thing I knew Jenny and the girls were whispering something in Latin and there was a flash of light and a puff of smoke and they transformed me into a pigeon and stuck me into a little high-tech cage with flashing lights and levers and bells and one of the damn levers electrified the floor, but only sometimes, depending on which light was flashing.

Damn punk kids today with their witchcraft and science!

Look, Jennifer snapped a pic:

(Okay, I admit that account is fictionalized, just a little bit. But it’s true to the spirit of many of my nights out. And that picture isn’t really Jenny’s girls, but rather is from the Wikipedia entry about Skinner boxes, what kids today call operant conditioning chambers.)


Pigeons can make sounds but cannot say words
at least real wild pigeons cannot say words
but after scientists get done with them
and they’re not real wild pigeons any more
they might be able to say exactly
what happened what scientists did to them.

Of course they might not want to talk to us.

I mean pigeons won’t want to talk to us.

Scientists almost always want to talk.

Maybe the pigeons will talk to witches
and tell the witches what scientists did.

Kids might pretend to be both scientists
and witches but what do their notebooks say?

Isn’t growing up a bifurcation
at this point at this particular point
for those who are both? Don’t they always choose
consciously to stop or else to not stop
calculating means and deviations
and all manner of other statistics
derived from thousands of mortalities
of animals in their experiments?

The pigeons might not want to talk to us.

Mice, probably, will be out for our blood.

Maybe witches will put in a good word
for the people who tried to separate
statistics from science in their thinking.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Synthetic Pigeons, Liminal Entities And Scripts

The Pigeon As A Gadget

There’s no city here
but the pigeon switches on
my city thinking.

There are no paintings here but if someone
painted a pigeon—I mean an image
of a pigeon not a pigeon itself
although these days I suppose an artist
would be more inclined to find special paint
and carefully paint a pigeon’s feathers
then turn loose the bright colorful pigeon
to mix with a flock of standard gray birds
where a crowd of people at lunch could see
the painted bird flying with the others
while the artist captured people’s faces
reacting to the colorful pigeon
with a high-definition camcorder
hoping probably to sell the project
to a corporation to advertise
how their products and customers stand out—
I’d like to see that painting and I hope
it would be carefully crafted in oil
because acrylic paint is just plastic
and I’d like to compare an oil painting
of a pigeon to a real wild pigeon
because I wonder if real wild pigeons
are as real and wild as an oil painting
or have pigeons become as synthetic
and plastic as an acrylic painting.

I would carefully study the painting.

Through a window behind me in the street
a car would be visible driving past.

Driving the car visible behind me
would be a beautiful woman talking
on her cell phone to somebody not there.

The Pigeons Of Atlantis

Brave birds. They stay gray
when everything around them
is a bright color.

Monday, January 23, 2012

‘A Pigeon On A Rock’ And Other Stories

A Pigeon In The Sand

The woman reading
doesn’t notice the pigeon
standing by her feet.

The Pigeon As A Gadget

There’s no city here
but the pigeon switches on
my city thinking.

A Pigeon On A Rock

A pigeon watches
from one rock. A wave crashes
against another.

The Pigeon As A Shore Bird

As the Sun goes down
I ask, “Where do beach pigeons
go when it’s dark out?”

“Well, Holden Caulfield”—
she calls me Holden Caulfield
but that’s not my name—

“we’re lucky we know
where to go when it’s dark out.”
She thinks we’re lucky.

The Pigeons Of Atlantis

Brave birds. They stay gray
when everything around them
is a bright color.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

A Perfect Day For Love And Squalor

Red Bull, Hershey’s And A Woman Yawning

The Ax Ismail/Holden Caulfield Connection

Der Gelbe Hai

“Questi Cazzi Di Piccione”

A Fun Offering To The World Gadget

Friday, January 20, 2012

Thinking About Arranging “Layla”

Over at Wikifonia you can get an arrangement of Clapton’s “Layla” for free. I wouldn’t call it a great arrangement, but it’s free and anyone can re-arrange it. It’s pretty straightforward music, once you get the hang of the key change:

And this, of course, is the real deal, this is Layla herself, Pattie Boyd. I link to her biography in my post The Good Old Days—Umm, Yeah.... Whenever I use a phrase about ‘hippie girls’ I am almost always picturing Pattie Boyd as the archetype. I suppose—although I guess it doesn’t matter in the cosmic scheme of things—I suppose I think of Pattie Boyd as the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen. More accurately, I guess, I suppose I think of Pattie Boyd as the most beautiful woman I can imagine.

This is Pattie Boyd more recently, from a 2005 photography exhibit. I posted one of her photos in Equally And As Hopelessly Lost. She’s still beautiful. But, to be honest, she kind of frightens me. I wouldn’t want to meet her in real life. I don’t mean she frightens me because she’s beautiful. I’ve known, somehow, some beautiful women. I mean Pattie Boyd frightens me because there seems to be no connection at all between her beauty and her character. She doesn’t seem to have a bad character, just something completely disconnected from her phenomenal beauty. I’ve come to realize this isn’t entirely unusual. But it is one of those simple facts of life that is very hard for me to come to grips with in any practical way, and I’m afraid I still make a fool out of myself when I meet a woman and I jump to conclusions about her based on her looks.

When I play and sing Clapton’s “Layla”
I arrange it and imagine it
as a duet, where a woman sings
the verses and a man the chorus.

I change some words here and there. Instead
of looking to ease my worried mind,
I sing, “Won’t you heal my broken mind.”

Some people used to believe music
could change the world. Rearrange the world.

Or they pretended to believe it.

But even if today people laugh
or don’t even waste their breath laughing
because they’ve read, say, Pattie Boyd’s book
or they’ve read, say, Eric Clapton’s book,
and they know nothing was what it seemed,
Pattie Boyd did look like Pattie Boyd
and Eric Clapton did write “Layla.”

I’m trying to re-arrange my mind.

It’s broken and the pieces don’t work.

But if I move the pieces around
I’m hoping I can find some order
that works enough for me to pretend.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

“Layla” at Wikipedia

“Wonderful Tonight” at Amazon

“Clapton: The Autobiography” at Amazon


Aberrant Forms

My “Year Of The Cat” Fantasy

“I like songs that are ‘story’ songs. ...”

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Distracted By Suspicions Of A Harmony

There’s tennis going on in Australia right now. It’s the first Grand Slam tournament of the year. In her match yesterday, Maria Sharapova beat an almost unknown American girl 6-0, 6-1. It took just barely over an hour.

The post-match interview started out like this:

PRESS: Do you draw a lot of satisfaction from a match like that?

SHARAPOVA: As opposed to what?

If I knew Maria Sharapova
I suspect I’d have to repurpose her.

I mean, she’s very pretty. I’d enjoy
drawing her, trying to capture her look.

But if I were writing, say, a story
about a man involved with a woman
and he comes to suspect she is a witch
with hidden motives and hidden passions
and I also wanted to illustrate
the story, a woman as beautiful
as Maria would be a great model,
but hidden motives and hidden passions
can only be hidden things if something
gets between them and the rest of the world—
visible motives, visible passions.

As opposed to what? I’ve always wondered
that very question. But every time
I try to focus and work out something
I get distracted thinking of witches
or maybe scientists or musicians
or painters. So I never get too far
figuring out the “As opposed to what?”

That’s fine. I’ve got a lot of energy.

A harmony parallel to nature
should be expected, I guess, to require
some heavy lifting and shoving around
to get things lined up right and parallel.

The purpose of the visible motives
and passions is to conceal the hidden
motives and passions—just in case someone
has a reason for looking for such things.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Name “Gillian”

Born Walter Llewelyn Hughes, he was educated at Dudley Grammar School and Wolverhampton College and lived most of his life in Bilston. He ran his own furniture store, Walter Hughes Ltd in Bradley and became Managing Director of Brasteds Ltd (a contraction of Bradley Bedsteads). In 1931 he married Doris Higgins; they had two children. He was a member of the British Interplanetary Society and British Astronomical Association, and became president of Bilston Rotary Club, and High Chief Ranger of the Ancient Order of Foresters. He was also a member of Bilston Tennis Club, was elected a member of Bilston Borough Council and was in due course was appointed a magistrate.


In 1955 he was asked to talk at Bilston Rotary Club when the scheduled speaker cancelled. He spoke on space and astronomy, and as a result was asked to speak at nearby Coseley library during Science Fiction week. In preparation he read a large number of science fiction books, was not impressed, and thought he could do better. At the age of 47 he wrote his first book in secret under the pseudonym of Hugh Walters. He later said: "As I was also a magistrate and a local councillor, I felt [that writing science fiction] left me open to ridicule. People tend to treat science fiction as a bit of a joke, so I juggled with my name and came up with Hugh Walters."

Of his writing Walters said: "I believe a good SF story should (1) entertain, (2) educate painlessly, and (3) inspire the young people of today to be the scientists and technicians of tomorrow"

His first novels mostly dealt with the exploration of other planets in our solar system. Written for a juvenile audience, they had a scientific foundation, anticipating such advances as ion engines. Walters turned to writing novels concerning alien visits after all the planets had been explored.

The main characters in his novels were two British astronauts, an American, and a Russian. Their names were Chris Godfrey, Tony Hale, Morrey Kant and Serge Smyslov, respectively. Later missions used a pair of telepathic twins, Gill and Gail Patrick, for communication.

The covers of the first 14 books had cover illustrations by the Faber and Faber illustrator Leslie Wood.

His books are still present on the Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society recommended reading list for children and young adults.

Two sisters, Gillian and Gail Patrick,
were twins and telepathic. One of them
traveled to the outer solar system
on adventures with young astronaut friends
and although nobody understood why
not even engineers or scientists
the telepathic link required no time
for thoughts to bridge the distance between Earth
and the planets of the outer system
although radio communications
might take, for instance, four hours to travel
one way from Earth to a craft at Neptune.

Gillian Patrick was fiction, of course.

And maybe telepathy isn’t real,
or maybe it is, no one knows for sure.

But thoughts can travel from here to Neptune
something close to instantaneously.

This was a different world. And it is.

I like the name Gillian. And I like
that different world—of adventures, friends,
and distances thoughts bridge in an instant.

The real outer planets are still out there.

Is the real Gillian still out there, too?

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

A Note From The Synthetic Wilderness

“Dave and I felt like such freaks making our first record,” Welch recalled in a phone conversation from Vancouver this past summer, early in the North American tour to support the release of The Harrow and the Harvest. “I could not have felt more like a Martian back then. In the studio next to us is Céline Dion, and she’s cutting the vocal for the song for Titanic. That’s what was around us in the music world. But I’m really happy now. I feel like we have so many more comrades out here in the acoustic wilderness, and I’m so flattered and honored that a bunch of these people point to us and say that we’ve been inspirational to them.”

Last night, sometime in the middle of the night, there were two large explosions near here. Both explosions started with a very bright flash of light, bright enough to illuminate my bedroom even through the closed blinds, followed immediately by a very loud bang—not a deep, rolling bang like thunder, but a sharp report, like a large caliber gun firing. Last night I thought a couple of electrical transformers exploded on power lines. But our power wasn’t interrupted.

This morning there were five big Commonwealth Edison utility trucks parked by the end of the block, so I guess it was a couple of transformers blowing up.

I didn’t get a chance to ask any of the technicians what happened. When I was around, even though there were five trucks parked on the block, there were no technicians working anywhere nearby. (There is a donut shop within easy walking distance, so it might not be too big of a mystery where the work crews had disappeared to.)

Last night when the explosions happened I was sitting on my bed playing guitar. Although I don’t own an acoustic guitar, my electric guitar was plugged into a battery-powered gadget so even if power had failed, I still could have wrapped up my practice session.

Anyway, that bit of electrical excitement got me thinking about the current issue of Acoustic Guitar Magazine. They have a cover story about Gillian Welch.

I have mixed feeling about Gillian Welch. Back when I did my post “The Point Of A Pin” I embedded a YouTube clip of hers, where she and her partner perform an acoustic arrangement of the Jimi Hendrix song, “Manic Depression.” That was a very cool performance, but someone complained and got the video removed from YouTube. Hmmm.

I’m not really sure if Gillian is what I’d call an “acoustic holdout.” Certainly she is famous for performing acoustically. But after her first brush with fame when some of her music appeared in a movie, the very first thing she did was grab an electric guitar and plug in. On her Wikipedia page for everyone to see—if that site isn’t trying to blackmail people into supporting their politics by shutting down—there’s even a picture of her with an electric guitar, and some quotes about how she tried to write songs that were more up-beat.

For the 2003 release, Soul Journey, Welch and Rawlings explored new territory. Welch said: "I wanted to make it a happier record. Out of our four records, I thought this might be the one where you're driving down the road listening to it on a sunny summer day." Rawlings again produced the record. The album also reflected a change in the typically sparse instrumentation: Welch and Rawlings introduced a dobro, violin, electric bass and drums, and Welch later said, "Everything's not supposed to sound the same, you want it to reflect change and growth."

Now, I don’t have any dislike for electric instruments. And I actively dislike depressing songs. But I like principles and I like people who formulate their own principles and stick to those principles. But I know, too, it’s the twenty-first century and everyone’s got to eat.

So I just don’t know about Gillian Welch.

I mean, maybe Gillian Welch is an acoustic holdout. But—not to be cynical here—maybe she is just another folk singer who failed as a pop crossover act who now has returned to folk because those are the only promoters who will pay her.

I don’t know. The issue of Acoustic Guitar doesn’t raise any serious questions at all, rather it just lets her promote her current folk album. Around here it’s (usually) hard to find the magazine in real life, but her interview is available at their website at the link above.


I like the name Gillian
but I’m an electric man
and I’m a digital man
and if I could I’d convert
the motion of my guitar’s
metal strings as they vibrate
within a magnetic field
to a discrete midi stream
to drive a synthesizer
outputting a guitar sound
made from synthetic waveforms.

I like the name Gillian
but we—I mean men, women—
are what we make of ourselves
how we synthesize ourselves
not where the day takes us or
how the hands at night shape us
and I don’t believe a song
is noise or tone or image
but it is synthesized too
and synthesizers are things
and synthesizers are us.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

See Monsters?

“The Primitive And What Came After”

Wild Dogs As Acoustic Holdouts

Wild Dogs As Acoustic Holdouts (Redux)

Quasi Una Zombie Fantasia

No Lights In My Kitchen (Or Anywhere Else)

The Thunderous Glamour Of Batteries

The Thunderous Tragedy Of Batteries

And yes I know Roland has a
special pickup guitar synthesizer
available now, and I know
Sonuus makes a monophonic
gadget, but I’m
holding out
for a kind of combination
of the two things—a simple
gadget for standard guitars
that works polyphonically.
Someday it will happen.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Hen Politics, And Passages Between Worlds

If you’re feeling supportive and constructive about hen politics you can:


And if you’re feeling contrary and destructive about hen politics you can:


With the same set of letters you can be for or against something.

It’s not really about hen politics, of course. Both phrases are anagrams for “Beethoven.”


So Beethoven walks into a bar and the bartender notices that Beethoven has a chicken on his head.

The bartender says, “Do you have a chicken on your head?”

And the chicken says, “No, I have a composer growing out of my ass.”


On Sunday night I walked to the grocery store. Walking back home, I noticed that the sky was pretty clear. The stars of Orion were bright in the south. I looked just little to the east of Orion and right above the ground clutter on the horizon the star Sirius was even brighter. I looked a little farther east and a bit higher up in the sky and I could see the stars Castor and Pollux in the zodiac constellation Gemini.

I wasn’t really thinking about Beethoven or anagrams or old jokes when I left the house.

I was thinking about notebooks and journals and blogs, and a couple of quotes from J. K. Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter books. I haven’t read the books, but I’ve read a little about them at Wikipedia. Early on, the villain of the saga uses magic to put a piece of his soul into an enchanted diary. Later, when a young woman finds the diary and thinks it’s a blank book, she starts writing in it. The piece of the villain’s soul then is able to take possession of her. (Harry Potter eventually saves her and destroys that piece of the villain’s soul. The girl becomes Harry Potter’s girl friend, then, in the saga.)

To Rowling, a diary is a very scary object, having said in an interview: "The temptation particularly for a young girl, is to pour out her heart to a diary." Rowling's little sister Diane was prone to this, and her great fear was that someone would read her diary. This gave Rowling the idea to have a diary that is, in itself, against the confider.

My sister used to commit her innermost thoughts to her diary. Her great fear was that someone would read it. That's how the idea came to me of a diary that is itself against you. You would be confiding everything to pages that aren't inanimate.

Now, the diary to me is a very scary object, a really, really frightening object. This manipulative little book, the temptation particularly for a young girl to pour out her heart to a diary, which is never something I was prone to, but my sister was. The power of something that answers you back, and at the time that I wrote that I'd never been in an Internet chat room. But I've since thought "Well it's very similar." Just typing your deepest thoughts into the ether and getting answers back, and you don't know who is answering you. And so that was always a very scary image to me, in the book, and I thought it worked very well in the film. You could understand when he started writing to see these things coming back to him, and the power of that, that secret friend in your pocket.

So I went shopping and saw some stars and when I got home and put the food away I randomly starting jotting down some thoughts and it just occurred to me that Beethoven’s name contained some interesting letters and, almost immediately, the VOTE BE HEN anagram suggested itself. Then because that sounded like a joke to me I wondered if I could think of any other Beethoven jokes that involved chickens and that variation of the head/butt thing occurred to me.

I can’t say a magical diary took possession of me and inserted the thoughts into my brain.

But I did think for a moment that it was as if my walk under the stars was a walk through a passage between worlds—I started in a world where I didn’t know anagrams for Beethoven, where I didn’t know a joke about Beethoven with a chicken on his head, and I walked under the stars through a passage between worlds into a world where I did know those things.

It’s a passage to a pretty silly and trivial different world, as different worlds go, I guess.

But it’s good to go places. And, anyway, down in my deepest secret soul I enjoy chicken jokes more than stories about evil witches.

So that’s how my week is starting.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

An Unclear Story About Walking To Mars

Pamela At The Doorway To Atlantis

Passages Between Worlds

Friday, January 13, 2012

Not A Premise Beyond Belief

I know that people would say that I exploited her and then cast her aside. That would hurt me even more than when they criticize my pictures. Contrary to what everyone thinks, I am not greatly interested in what is said about art, mine or anyone else’s. But if I have to give an opinion on what is good, I would put it this way: everything that has a sense of humanity, a sense of modernity, is interesting. Everything that lacks these qualities is worthless. Humanity and modernity.

That is a fictional inner monologue
Edouard Manet thinking
about Victorine Meurent,
A Woman With No Clothes On
by V. R. Main

I am still preparing for today’s session and she does not assume the full pose straight away. Using soft soap, I wash off the woman’s face that I painted yesterday. The hard, thick lumps of paint I have to scrape off with a palette knife. Victorine sits with the elbow of her visible arm propped against her knee and the hand holding her chin. She is waiting and thinking. Her head is in profile.

“Please do not move from this position. Just turn your head towards me.” She does as I ask. And there I have it. Here is a thinking woman, rather than just a nude posing in the company of two men engaged in a discussion. A thinking woman. A woman of modernity.

That’s also from “A Woman With No Clothes On”
but comes earlier in the book than the first quote

The book “A Woman With No Clothes On” is a fictionalized account of the relationship between Edouard Manet and Victorine Meurent. The premise of the book is that Meurent, a reasonably skilled painter herself, conceived of the idea for the famous painting ‘The Luncheon on the Grass’ and executed a rough painted sketch. Manet fell in love with the idea of the painting and convinced Meurent to allow him to over-paint her sketched idea using his more polished technique.

The author of the book, V. R. Main, is an accomplished female writer with a background in academia and the arts. The book is a work of fiction. However, Morisot, for instance, has written of how Manet would sometimes ‘correct’ her paintings for her, sometimes extensively re-working large areas. The premise of the book is not a premise beyond belief.

The book begins with a series of real quotes, including an actual quote from Edouard Manet, although it does not note where the quote was taken from: “Those who live in the next century will see better.”

Manet, of course, lived and worked in the 19th century. I spent some time in that ‘next’ century he was looking forward to, the 20th century, and I don’t know if Edouard would have felt we lived up to his prediction.


A thinking woman as an image
of modernity. It’s like a dream.
Now there are TVs and orgasms
and what can anyone think about?
Money, for more relaxed orgasms?
Money, for TVs with bigger screens?

A thinking woman as an image
of modernity. Some years later,
I mean later than Edouard Manet,
Georges Seurat created a painting
of the Eiffel Tower. Metal arches
that cars drive through. A spire for tourists.

A thinking woman as an image
of modernity. It’s like a dream.
My grandmother’s sister was the first
woman in our family to drive.
My mother thought her aunt Harriet
was wild and fun. And very modern.

A thinking woman as an image
of modernity. Some years later,
I mean later than aunt Harriet,
my friend Joanne bought a new sports car.
“Pretty sexy, huh?” she said. “Get in.
Buckle up. I’ll take you for a ride.”


The book “A Woman With No Clothes On” begins with a series of real quotes, including an actual quote from Adolf Tabarant, a biographer of Edouard Manet, speaking about Victorine Meurent: “We will probably never hear the last word on this strange girl of so many different faces.”

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Candle Questions

Blow out a candle
and make a wish. It can’t hurt.
But what if it could?

What if the candle
doesn’t want to be blown out,
wants to keep its flame?

If you tell your wish
to a candle you’ve made mad
will it wreck your wish?

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

“It Wasn’t A Temple But A School”

A while ago I looked up a title in a library’s computerized card catalogue. This is what came up:

I was at the “Palos Hghts” library so I was looking for “Y.A. G.N. MOR pb.” which I guessed meant the book was on a shelf in the area for “Young Adult paperback Graphic Novels alphabetically by MORrison.”

I wrote down the title, author and call letters on a piece of note paper.

Different libraries put graphic novels in different areas and as I was trudging up the stairs to the kids’ area I was getting all grumpy at the thought of trying to figure out which sub-section of the kids’ area I’d have to look in for the graphic novel.

At the top of the stairs the first thing I saw was that the librarian on duty was one of the prettiest librarians I’ve ever seen in any library anywhere. So I instantly stopped being grumpy and I walked over to the librarian and held out my note paper with the call letters on it. I said, “Excuse me, can you help me find this book? The call numbers are just a long string of letters that look like a foreign language.”

I think she knew I was faking because she smiled as she took the paper from me even before she looked at it. But she was nice and translated the letters for me—I had guessed correctly—and then stood up and walked with me to the correct area. She found the book on a bottom shelf and handed it to me, still smiling.

Turns out I didn’t enjoy reading the book at all. I didn’t like the writing, didn’t like the art, didn’t like the whole idea of the book.

The best part of my experience with that book was talking for a few minutes with the pretty librarian while she located the book for me.


I was thinking about this recently because I’ve still got that business of the neighborhood hobby shop closing down on my mind.

I’m going to miss having those people to talk to.

And also recently I bought myself a new gadget as a kind of combination birthday present and Christmas present. I didn’t go to a store, didn’t talk to any sales people. Nobody had to help me. I just ordered it from Amazon and Amazon shipped it out.

For me, lots of times the best part of some experience is talking to people I meet along the way.

But nowadays many things are either so automated often there is no reason to talk to anyone at all, or the people you talk to are just bored clerks pressing buttons who don’t really want to talk to anyone anyway.

And, of course, being me, I would think of something like this, too:

“My God,” Elliot said. “They trained them.”

Munro nodded. “Trained them as guards to watch over the mines. An animal elite, ruthless and incorruptible. Not a bad idea when you think about it.”

Ross looked at the building around her again, realizing it wasn’t a temple but a school. An objection occurred to her: these pictures were hundreds of years old, the trainers long gone. Yet the gorillas were still here. “Who teaches them now?”

“They do,” Elliot said. “They teach each other.”

“Is that possible?”

“Perfectly possible. Conspecific teaching occurs among primates.”

This had been a longstanding question among researchers. But Washoe, the first primate in history to learn sign language, taught ASL to her offspring. Language-skilled primates freely taught other animals in captivity; for that matter, they would teach people, signing slowly and repeatedly until the stupid uneducated human person got the point.

So it was possible for a primate tradition of language and behavior to be carried on for generations.

from “Congo”
by Michael Crichton

Using language, talking to each other, we are constantly teaching each other. Teaching each other, at least, about ourselves, and, really more importantly, talking to each other is how we teach each other what our culture is around us, and how we ourselves learn what our culture is around us.

But what happens when people don’t get to talk to each other?

Or when they talk but it is only trivial interaction patterned after some badly produced TV show, or a badly written book, or a badly illustrated comic?

Then our “primate tradition of language and behavior” gets all screwed up.


Three of us—Matt, Linda and I—got to a door at exactly the same time. I stepped aside and looked at Linda. “After you,” I said. “Ladies first.”

Matt stepped aside, too.

Linda smiled and started to walk between us, but then she stopped. She looked from Matt to me and asked, “Is this sexist? I mean, it’s the twenty-first century. Why do guys still say ‘ladies first’?”

I pointed downwards. “We still say ‘ladies first’,” I said, “because we still like to look at your butt when you’re walking in front of us.”

Linda smiled and pointed down, too. “It’s the twenty-first century,” she said. “Maybe I want to look at your butts. You guys go first. Go ahead. Men first.”

So Matt and I walked through the door first and Linda came in after us.

“Very nice,” Linda said, walking behind us.

“I don’t know,” I said, “is this something like sexual harassment now?”

Matt just exhaled a long sigh. “It probably is,” he said, “but I wouldn’t know which one of you to write up. I’m just going to pretend I didn’t see or hear any of this.”


“Conspecific teaching occurs among primates.”

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Is This A Junkyard Church

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

An Up-To-Date Vicki Inventory

“I forgot you took these pictures,” she said.
“Look how young and energetic I look!”

“They’re from last year,” I said. “Or less than that.
You were the same age then that you are now.”

She said, “It has been a long, umm, ten months.
And have you done anything with these yet?”

I shook my head. “I have trouble drawing
from photos,” I said. “I used to like it.
But now for some reason I never feel
any energy working from photos.”

She said, again, “It’s been a long ten months.”

I said, “If I could forget the ten months
the way you forgot I took the pictures,
maybe I would forget I have trouble
working from photographs. I could finish
this project and go on to something new.”

She looked at me and her eyes got narrow.
“If you forgot,” she said, “the last ten months
then you wouldn’t remember me, would you?”

“Well,” I said, “I would have the photographs.
And then maybe I would have drawings, too.”

“But you wouldn’t,” she said, “remember me!”

She looked at me and gasped. Her eyes got big.
“You would forget me, wouldn’t you?” she asked.
“You’d forget me if it would help you draw!”

I said, again, “I’d have your photographs.
And then maybe I would have drawings, too.”

So now, just to take an inventory,
I have her photographs but no drawings,
I can still remember the last ten months,
and where she punched me on my upper arm
there’s a big black and blue mark that still hurts.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Repurposing Vicki

The Best Reason To Study Astrophysics

Dinosaurs And Robots And Vicki’s Smile

Monday, January 09, 2012

Sun (And Moon) Over Scarborough Fair

Tell her to make me a cambric shirt
Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme
Without any seam, without needlework
Then she’ll be a true love of mine

Tell him to buy me an acre of land
Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme
Between the salt water and the sea sand
Then he’ll be a true love of mine

Two verses from
“Scarborough Fair”

The Father of Gods and Men consented at once to all that Cupid asked . . . Then he called a full assembly of the gods, and announced to all, including Venus, that Cupid and Psyche were formally married, and that he proposed to bestow immortality upon the bride. Mercury brought Psyche into the palace of the gods, and Jupiter himself gave her the ambrosia to taste which made her immortal. This, or course, completely changed the situation. Venus could not object to a goddess for her daughter-in-law; the alliance had become eminently suitable. No doubt she reflected also that Psyche, living up in heaven with a husband and children to care for, could not be much on the earth to turn men’s heads and interfere with her own worship. So all came to a most happy end. Love and the Soul (for that is what Psyche means) had sought and, after sore trials, found each other; and that union could never be broken.

from Edith Hamilton’s account
of the impossible trials Venus
gave Psyche in

Over the weekend I spent a lot of time playing the traditional ballad, “Scarborough Fair” on guitar and keyboard. Not the Simon and Garfunkel version (which I hate) but the traditional version, in an arrangement I made myself. I’m using the song to learn alternate voicings of chords on keyboard.

But the song is very interesting, just as a traditional song. The lyrics tell of impossible trials a man gives a woman before she can be his true love (again?) and equally impossible trials a woman gives a man before he can be her true love (again?).

First of all, the business of “impossible” tasks is a very ancient plot device. Fairy lore is rich with such accounts, and even Greek mythology has many. One of my favorites is when Psyche is in love with Cupid but Venus is trying to prevent the romance. So Venus gives Psyche endless tasks which she, Venus, thinks will be impossible but fate (or Fate) always intervenes and Psyche somehow accomplishes every task (more or less).

I’ve always thought it was interesting that almost everyone knows about, for instance, the tales of Hercules or Jason and the Golden Fleece, but very few people know about the adventures of Psyche. I’m guessing it is some kind of stupid gender bias, but you never know. There could be some kind of even deeper meaning.

I believe in such things.

Anyway, the song “Scarborough Fair” doesn’t really have a happy ending. It doesn’t really have an ending at all. It just recounts a man and a woman asking someone to pass along their notions of impossible tasks for an old lover to accomplish before the old love can be rekindled.

But there might be more to it than that.

Nobody really knows what the chorus means, the “Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme” business. But I guess most historians point out that during the Middle Ages those were aromatic herbs used to ward off the awful smells associated with death from the Plague.

So some people believe “Scarborough Fair” contains allusions to death. Perhaps the impossible tasks refer to one lover being down in death and singing that when the other lover also has left the material world—when tasks impossible for a mortal become possible for them—then the two lovers can be reunited.

So far as I know, there is no accepted “definitive” reading to “Scarborough Fair,” but all the elements are very interesting to speculate about and to me that makes playing and singing the song much more fun than if the lyrics were straightforward.

It’s interesting that in the chorus about “Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme” there is an accidental. Many (most?) folk melodies are drawn from what we today call the major scale and use accepted intervals. “Scarborough Fair” includes a slightly dissonant interval, just the one, and it is in the chorus about the aromatic herbs associated with death.

That’s a pretty interesting little element.


This might sound strange, but one of the reasons I’ve been thinking about this kind of stuff is because a little neighborhood hobby shop here in this suburb recently closed down. I’m guessing they couldn’t compete with the giant craft stores that sell some hobby supplies, and with online places like Amazon and others.

It’s too bad, because at the neighborhood hobby shop the people who worked there actually used most of the things they sold so you could always talk to them and get advice for how to use whatever you were buying. At the big craft stores the clerk are just, well, clerks.

Anyway, across the alley from the building where the neighborhood hobby shop used to be, one of the homes has wide, decorative posts driven into the ground next to their yard. In the summer, on sunny hot days, I’ve often seen snakes coiled up on top of those posts basking.

In my whole life, that’s the only place I’ve ever seen snakes basking in the Sun.

So because of the snakes, and one or two other reasons, I’ve always considered that location, around where the neighborhood hobby shop used to be, to be kind of a special place.

I don’t really know what that means, exactly—a “special place.” But some places are special in one way or another.

I believe in such things, too.


So, anyway, that’s what I was doing over the weekend. Learning different chord voicings on keyboard and practicing them by making up harmony arrangements for the traditional folk ballad, “Scarborough Fair.”

And thinking about all the possible things the odd lyrics of that song might mean.

And thinking about, too, this odd location in the suburb where one of the last really cool stores used to be, and where snakes bask in the summer Sun.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Two Notes (later):

1) In typical arrangements, the “Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme” line would begin on the second beat of the measure and not need ties, but I wanted to call attention to the accidental. And it is possible, of course, to do an arrangement that features the line “Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme” by starting it on the first beat and harmonizing the accidental itself. Why would you want to do that? Well—

2) A reading for “Scarborough Fair” that I’ve never heard but which is interesting is that the singer, a man or woman, is actually the dead person and they are addressing Death itself, asking Death if He is going to Scarborough Fair and asking Death to tell, comfort, the one He is going for, that when they leave the mortal world they will be able to do impossible things and lost loves will be reunited. (The song can be sung as a kind of ode: “Are YOU going to Scarborough Fair, Parsley-sage-rosemary-and-thyme?” The ‘you’ would be “parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme,” i.e., Death itself. The song, read that way, can be thought of as a kind of centuries-old folk version of “Don’t Fear The Reaper”!)

Friday, January 06, 2012

Exotic Snows And An Ink Drawing Of Plants

U.S. scientists say instruments aboard the Hubble Space Telescope have found evidence of complex molecules on the surface of Pluto.

The Cosmic Origins Spectrograph aboard Hubble has discovered a strong ultraviolet-wavelength absorber on Pluto's surface, pointing to the possibility of complex hydrocarbon molecules lying on the surface, researchers said.

Scientists at the Southwest Research Institute and Nebraska Wesleyan University said such molecules can be produced by the interaction of sunlight or cosmic rays with Pluto's known surface ices, including methane, carbon monoxide and nitrogen.

"This is an exciting finding because complex Plutonian hydrocarbons and other molecules that could be responsible for the ultraviolet spectral features we found with Hubble may, among other things, be responsible for giving Pluto its ruddy color," researcher Alan Stern said in an SRI release Tuesday.

Short wavelengths of light from the Sun
and energetic cosmic rays
that come from someplace no one knows
interact with exotic snows
far away on Pluto’s surface
adding energy and changing
atoms and simple molecules
into complex hydrocarbons.

Red ochre against gold ochre.

Patterns only the most advanced
telescopes in existence see.

Patterns that will randomly change
slowly, a season long and slow
almost beyond imagining,
as Pluto continues away
from the Sun before turning back
before coming back where the warmth
from all the wavelengths of the Sun
will melt and even vaporize
the exotic snows, returning
the patterns on Pluto’s surface
to the atmosphere there as gas.

Where do songs go when we sing them?

Can we throw away a drawing
by crumpling and throwing away
the paper the drawing is on?

If the most advanced telescopes
in existence can see colors
and shapes of colors on Pluto,
is there something somewhere somehow
listening to the songs we sing
looking at the drawings we draw
and making a science of us
if what we do is recorded,
cold patterns in exotic snows,
or tossed away, like rising steam?

One time I made an ink drawing
of some plants and gave the drawing
to someone and she said, “You know
some people make money from things
like that.”
I knew that. And I know
Pluto’s cold and getting colder
and its atmosphere is turning
into exotic snows falling
into patterns on its surface.

Patterns only the most advanced
telescopes in existence see.

I wonder: Are there telescopes
lost in the metonymy here
is there something somewhere somehow
that’s making a science of us?

A man named Charles Fort suspected
that we are property. Maybe
it’s not about science at all,
and it’s something somewhere somehow
like that observation, “You know
some people make money from things
like that.”
I know almost nothing.

And Pluto is moving away
from the Sun and getting colder.

But Pluto will come back closer
to the Sun and warm up again.

Thursday, January 05, 2012

A Small Magnifying Glass On A Mirror

See with what large letters I have written to you with my own hand!

Galatians 6:11

OPHELIA: My lord, I have remembrances of yours
That I have longèd long to re-deliver.
I pray you, now receive them.

HAMLET: No, not I,
I never gave you aught.

Hamlet, Act 3, Scene 1

Yesterday I was thinking about something
and while I was thinking I absently sketched
some objects in front of me on a book shelf,
a small magnifying glass on a mirror.

It looked like this photograph but less detailed.

I sketched with a plain mechanical pencil.

The finished drawing was very low contrast
but it looked like the objects in front of me
and creating the image gave me the chance
to think about something with a focused mind
even if the finished drawing was too light
to scan and function as an illustration
for whatever I might write about mirrors
and magnifying glasses and what they do.

When I finished I spent a little more time
comparing the very low contrast drawing
to the real magnifying glass and mirror
which in real life contained even more detail
than this photograph but even doing that
I was really thinking about something else
and the drawing and then the comparing stuff
just let me focus on something while thinking.

After a while I had other things to do
and since I knew I’d never use that drawing
to illustrate anything that I might write
I tore that page from my notebook and tossed it.

It was just a drawing I made while thinking.

Today I gathered up all my cheap pencils,
put them in an old box and stored them away.

I’ve got pens and even if I’m just thinking
whatever the hell that means—I’m “just” thinking?—
from now on I’m going to absently sketch
in ink that is dark and reproducible.

Tossing a drawing I made with my own hand
is too much Shakespearean madness for me.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Mischa Barton, Mischa Barton

This Woman From The Canals Of Mars

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Song Birds And Bird Songs And Songs

My new calendar has photos of song birds on it. But the publisher just used stock photos. So if the photographer for the photo house identified the bird, the calendar includes what kind of bird is shown. If the stock photo has no information, the calendar identifies the image just as “bird.”

This is January’s song bird, and it’s identified as a “bullfinch.”

I’ve never seen a bullfinch in real life. It’s very pretty, though. I like the color orange and I like birds, so an orange bird gets thumbs up from me.

I bought a calendar with song birds on it for a particular reason.

A few days ago in Another Look At Another Venus I mentioned that I haven’t listened to a lot of orchestral music. That’s true. One reason is that I like to learn about things by talking to people and, as luck would have it, every time I meet someone who’s interested in classical music they turn out to be someone I have a very hard time talking to. I don’t usually have a hard time talking to anyone, but by some twist of fate, the few classical music people I’ve known have been, for me, difficult.

But a few months ago I found a website that approached classical music from a very interesting angle. I also enjoy learning about things if I have a well-defined perspective to use when evaluating what I’m learning. So I’ve been planning on listening to more classical music this year, using this website I found as a jumping off place.

Here is a quote from the website:

The glorious melodies of songbirds have long been a source of inspiration for composers of music. Some composers imitate bird songs to reflect the seasons or nature, or to create a sense of comfort or lightness in their music, while others use them to give the impression of conversation. Birds are very chatty, social creatures, after all! Still others use a fragment of bird song as a theme for an entire piece of music, just for its beauty alone.

Composers have also used bird calls, rather than bird songs, in their music. Bird calls are different from bird songs—they are simpler, more repetitive, and have less variation. Calls are used to signal danger, hunger, a food discovery, aggressiveness, to call groups together (called flocking), or to harass a predator. While both male and female birds engage in bird calls, bird songs—with more pitch and rhythm changes—are primarily done by the males who sing to attract female mates, and to defend territory.

This is pretty cool. It’s an introduction to classical music from the perspective of bird songs! The website is:

How Tweet It Is: Bird Songs in Classical Music

Here is a chart of recommended composers and their pieces which contain music inspired by bird songs. If you click on the chart it will expand. But the chart is also at the website:

I’ve been meaning to get going on this for a while, and I bought the calendar to remind me. I have no particular idea where to start, but I may just pick one of the names I’ve never heard of—Respighi’s “The Birds”?—and get a CD or check iTunes or something.

I’m not making this a top priority, and my calendar lasts all year, so I’m just going to relax and enjoy slowly learning a little about classical music. Now that I have this post up, I can refer back to it for info.


Birds seem happier
with their bird songs than people
who say they enjoy

classical music.
Unless I’ve met a skewed set
of people. Or birds.

I’m going to trust
the birds I’ve met on this one.
They’re wild, but they sing.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Song As Eternal Monster Inside Sound

Street Lights And Slutty Bluetits

Quasi Una Flying Car Fantasia