Thursday, September 30, 2010

Not So Much a Dolphin, As a Carp

I remember when I had gills.

Not, like, literally.
If I actually had gills, I'd be in a museum somewhere.

I grew up across the street from a public swimming pool, and spent many hours of many summers swimming, diving, and generally trying to impersonate the Man from Atlantis. (bonus points if you can name the star of that show without looking it up.)

After several levels of swimming lessons, I'd had enough training to work as a pseudo-lifeguard, and spent a few hours (very few) in the chair one summer. If I would've been more serious about it and taken a few Red Cross classes, I could have bought a tube of zinc oxide and a whistle and tried out for a role on Baywatch.

Point being, I've been comfortable around water for more than 75 percent of my life. However, I haven't swum since...well, since before Baywatch went off the air.

Sure, I've splashed around a little, dove into a couple of Great Lakes, partied by an inland lake and become an official Polar Bear. But I haven't really swum.

My new gym has a pool.
Which is a ginormous reason I switched.

Tonight I was reminded that swimming lessons and lifeguard-ish training and summers spent living underwater occurred years...nay, decades...ago.

I still love the water. But I no longer have gills. I still have a decent freestyle stroke, but can't sustain it nearly as long as I once could. And I used to be able to swim two full lengths of a standard swimming pool underwater. (is that 100 feet? I think so...not sure.) Next time I attempt an underwater swim, I'll be thrilled if I make one length.

If I try for two, I may never return to this blog. (unless the Baywatch babes rescue me in time.)

I realize one's early 40s are perhaps slightly different than one's teens, but I'm (slowly) working my way back into shape (take about 50 pounds off of those Polar Bear photos, thankyouverymuch).

I have no desire at my age to become a lifeguard...

...but it'll be much more manageable battling the winter blahs with laps in a swimming pool.

"Only when the tide goes out do you
discover who's been swimming naked."
—Warren Buffett

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

New Perspective

My surroundings have changed.

Tonight I moved my writing station from a long-term temporary location (aka the dining table with a view of the driveway...and the television), to a more semi-permanent (if you will) space-saving desk, with a view of trees out of one window, and the street going past my house out of another.

I'm writing this at my new ladder desk, named such because it has basically two stilts going up the sides for legs, a flat workspace for my laptop, and two small shelves above, which are currently empty. If it were a bit more sturdy, I might be able to climb each "rung," and escape from this last-minute blog post.

It's fun to change the scenery once in a while, and people like to show off their work spaces. When mine becomes more organized with favorite creativity tchotchkes, I'll post a photo. We may spend a good chunk of our weekend shifting desks and categorizing our substantial library of books. (seriously. it's gonna be a hoot. I promise.)

And after this daily blogging exercise ends tomorrow, I shall return to this new space with the hopes that my writing takes...a step up.

(ouch. that one even hurt to write. I can imagine how it was to read.)

"First, I do not sit down at my desk to put into verse
something that is already clear in my mind. If it were
clear in my mind, I should have no incentive or need
to write about it. We do not write in order to be
understood. We write in order to understand."
—Robert Cecil Day-Lewis

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

High-Class Words

high-class words

blue-collar writers
have rights to white-collar words
like declivitous

"Reporters used to be blue-collar;
at the Globe now, it's practically
required that you have a trust fund."
—Howie Carr

This haiku inspired by Michael Perry,
a blue-collar writer who uses all
of the right blue- and white-collar words.

Monday, September 27, 2010

As American As Apple Pie...and Haiku

Recently, I was introduced to a new poetic form called American Sentences, which are haiku-length poems created by Allen Ginsberg.

Instead of seventeen syllables spaced out over three lines, American Sentences are simply that...sentences. Ginsberg chose to distinguish from the vertical Japanese text by instead going across, linear.

Unlike an authentic haiku, American Sentences do not require a seasonal reference, but are mere snapshots of a moment. Although...many of the haiku I've written don't qualify as authentic, as I don't always focus on nature or the seasons.

The creator of the American Sentences website wrote one sentence every day for several years, prompting me to consider launching a 100 American Sentences in 100 Days campaign in the near future.

But for tonight, a couple of examples:

Tapping the keyboard so close to midnight leads to next-day crankiness.

The brown carpet stripes don't compare to the Atlantic City boardwalk.

"Poetry is the one place where people
can speak their original human mind.
It is the outlet for people to say in public
what is known in private."
—Allen Ginsberg

Sunday, September 26, 2010

I'm Gonna Let It Shine

I love gospel music.

Grin if you will, stop reading if you must, but...
...I love it.

I've written about it here before, but continue to return to the topic because some days are simply gospel music days. Doesn't matter if you believe what they're singing or to whom they're singing it. The voices, the rhythms, the enthusiasm, the soul with which the songs are sung...all make for an infectious, uplifting style of music.

I've seen a gospel group from Milwaukee come up and rock a small church in Reedsville, and I've driven down to Summerfest for an afternoon of gospel music.

I've also seen the Grammy-winning Soweto Gospel Choir a couple of years ago in Appleton, which I wrote more about after the concert.

Not sure what put me in a Soweto mood today...perhaps the quickly approaching Monday. If you need a boost to propel yourself through the start of your week, might I suggest clicking on the video below?

"Rock 'n' roll came from the slaves singing gospel in the fields.
Their lives were hell and they used music to lift out of it,
to take them away. That's what rock 'n' roll should do—
take you to a better place."
—Meat Loaf

Saturday, September 25, 2010

You Do The Math

Simple math tells us that if A is greater than B, and B is greater than C, then A is greater than C.

One could use foods as the variables: if pizza is greater than pot pie, which is greater than cabbage, then always order carry-out before making kimchi.

Or sports teams. [Note: the Detroit Lions are always...always...the C in this equation.]

This math does not, however, apply to people.

I am not greater than you, and we are not greater than them, and they are not greater than us.

We are all...equal.
The simplest math of all.

— • — • —

My entry in the 100 Words Challenge, with the prompt, "greater."

Friday, September 24, 2010



is it too meta
wasting lines whining about
counting syllables

"Well we really meant you to visit Paris in May,
but the rhythm required two syllables."
—Vernon Duke

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Small Town, Big Laughs

Did I tell you we saw Michael Perry last month?

(Of course I didn't. I wasn't writing much on here last month.)

We saw Michael Perry last month.

Jessica's a big fan, and has read all of his books, and taught a couple of them in her English classes. I've read parts of one she loaned to me months ago...enough to recognize he's a great storyteller with a diverse background and a killer vocabulary.

If you read his books, you will laugh.
If you see him in person, you will laugh even harder.

In his writing, as well as in person, he always has the right word. His stories are tight, descriptive, heart-warming, and funny as hell.

He spoke at Stage North in Washburn, Wisconsin, and we bought tickets online the day of the show, a spur-of-the-moment decision during our late-summer getaway to Bayfield and the shores of Lake Superior.

We planned our day's activities and the drive down to Washburn with time to spare, hoping to secure a third- or fourth-row seat and optimal vantage point.

Turns out Stage North holds only about 130 people, so while we did, in fact, get our third-row seating, there were only eight rows total. How we found tickets the day of the event is still a mystery to me, after the night we were treated to.

Perry walked on stage in a T-shirt, jeans, and work boots, with a few pages of leader notes taped to the floor at his feet from which to jog his memory, and told stories for an hour before taking a break, and then came back 15 minutes later for another 45. Nearly two hours of "The Clodhopper Monologues," as they were titled, described as "country standup."

He talked about life on a farm in a very small Wisconsin town (and whether the word is pronounced "manoo-er" or "ma-nerr"), his job as a volunteer firefighter and registered nurse, his writing process and ties to New York City, involving agents, editors and publishers.

Aside from his three books, he's written for The New York Times Magazine, Esquire,, Men's Health and others. While he may have some big-time connections, he remains genuinely and sincerely small-town.

But always, always...big-time funny.

I'm reading "Population: 485" right now. Give it a read. And if you find one of his speaking engagements within 100 miles...


"And for the love of Pete, don't moo at the cows.
This is the habit of outsiders."
—Michael Perry

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Harvest Moon

Tonight, we were supposed to watch the Super Harvest Moon rise, but heavy cloud cover prevented the gigantic orange moon from appearing, and instead all we saw were sporadic hazy glimpses of a smallish white moon.


So we celebrated the beginning of autumn with candy corn.

Now here's some Neil Young...

"And Fall, with her yeller harvest moon
and the hills growin' brown and golden
under a sinkin' sun."
—Roy Bean

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Inspiration, Art, and Grilled Cheese

I spend time...sometimes much of my time...searching for inspiration.

Writing inspiration.
Life inspiration.
Inspiration to become inspired to find writing and life inspiration.

I find it in the wheelbarrows of writing books I own.

Or listening to a published author discuss writing process.

Or the moon. And the stars. And the sun.

Or a good grilled cheese sandwich.

I find inspiration in the quotes I post at the bottom of these blog entries. Sometimes, that's my favorite part of blogging, and writing my column, is searching for a quote that ties in, however tangentially, with what I've written.

Tonight I opened the book, Page After Page, by Heather Sellers, and found a little inspiration. Or at least encouragement that I may actually be what I sometimes don't believe I am: an artist.

Sellers writes, "The qualities that make me an artist are the ability to obsess on minutiae and the ability to feel intensely. These qualities also make me prone to being swamped by a mood and getting sidetracked by obsessive worrying."

She continues, "When an artist has a mood, it's always a Big Deal. This is how the work gets done. This is also how the work doesn't get done."

Those paragraphs clinch it: I'm an artist!

Don't have to hand me a paintbrush or stick of charcoal to prove it.
Or even a pen or a keyboard.

Just give me something to obsess over.
Then I'm more artistic than Pablo Picasso.

"We should be taught not to wait for inspiration
to start a thing. Action always generates inspiration.
Inspiration seldom generates action."
—Frank Tibolt

Monday, September 20, 2010

In The Spotlight

In The Spotlight

golden orange orb
propped low in the evening sky
a backlit drive home

"Nobody of any real culture, for instance, talks nowadays
about the beauty of sunset. Sunsets are quite old fashioned.
To admire them is a distinct sign of provincialism
of temperament. Upon the other hand they go on."
—Oscar Wilde

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Just Sit Down and Write!...Anywhere.

And platform.

As long as I've been a blogger, I've often paid more attention to one of the above than the other. (I'll let you click through my blog to determine which.)

I search through Blogger, Wordpress, Tumblr. I play around with templates, sidebars, colors, gadgets, widgets.

And then I wonder why I'm up until 3am, and my blog still hasn't been updated.

That tends to be my M.O. when it comes to any type of writing. I'd rather read books about writing or compare books about writing or browse writing forums or discuss writing than know...write. These other activities make me feel like I'm committing to the craft, but they don't fill notebooks or Word docs, do they?

Same with blogging. Dozens of times, I've considered switching to Wordpress, but have become frustrated when trying to set up some of its more advanced features. After reading a couple of articles about how hip and cool Tumblr is becoming (perhaps by the founders or stockholders?), I perused that site as well.

While texting with a tech geek buddy of mine, I explained my goals to update the look of this blog, or start a new blog or...

...and he shot back with, "Content is more important than platform."

I hate it when he's so correct. And so succinct.

The exercise of this month is bringing content back to this blog. Perhaps sooner than later, some of it may actually be good content.

And maybe someday it'll move to Wordpress.

But for now...content.

"The Republicans have a me too candidate
running on a yes but platform,
advised by a has been staff."
—Adlai Stevenson

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Nature Makes Insomniacs

The howling wind in the trees jars him awake every night at 3am, scraggly, leafless branches scratching against the windows and walls of his dirty attic room.

Damn wind! he mutters as he lies on the lumpy, twin mattress, staring up at the ceiling for the third week. Night after night! He envisions a tiny adobe hut in the middle of the desert, the nearest tree miles away in downtown Scottsdale. Sleeeep. I need sleep. He smashes the pillow against his face and waits for sunrise.


The coyotes howling at the moon jar him awake every night at 3am...

— • — • —

My entry in the 100 Words Challenge, with the prompt, "jars."

Friday, September 17, 2010



some days blogs and words
wait in line behind pizza
laundry and the laze

"Among my most prized possessions
are words that I have never spoken."
—Orson Scott Card

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Bessie Was A Looker Back In High School

Do cows have social status?

I'm not asking if they amble back to the barn after milking and spend their free time updating their Facebook and Twitter, but...

...are there cool cows, and uncool cows?

Driving past a muddy, fenced-in field earlier this week, I saw two cows sitting together in the slop, barely a couple of feet from each other, while another stood in front of them, also huddled close. Several other cows trudged elsewhere in the one-acre pen near the barn, and there were at least two more sitting alone.

How do these cows decide who to hang with when they're not having their udders yanked?

Are there cliques like there were back in high school? Are there nerd cows and jock cows and brain cows and party cows and goody four-shoes cows? Do some cows stay home every night chewing their cud while others stay out until...well, until they come home?...just in time for their 4am milking?

All of these thoughts flashed through my head in the five seconds it took to drive past a farm in Kiel. And after reading this, I hope they flash through yours the next time you see a herd (gang...clique...whatever) of cows.

I need to remove myself from the rural, I think.

"Single-mindedness is all very well in cows or baboons;
in an animal claiming to belong to the same species
as Shakespeare it is simply disgraceful."
—Aldous Huxley

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Go, Packer(s), Go!

OK, Packers fans, listen up! This blog post is for you.

It's also for Niners fans, Lions fans, Ravens fans...Lakers fans, Spurs fans...and on and on.

This post is for airing English language pet peeves (but just a few, because if I aired them all, I'd never finish this post by midnight), and first on the list tonight is the "s" on the end of many sports teams.

If you're a fan of the Green Bay Packers, you're a Packers fan. Not...a Packer fan. It might sound a little clumsy, but the "s" is correct.

I run into this often when designing ads at the newspaper I work for. When bars have drink specials listed in their ads, I word them as "Packers Specials," or "Packers Drink Specials"...always writing Packers as plural.

Sometimes they'll call to correct the ad. "Take that 's' off of Packers," they'll say, sometimes with a tone of superiority as if they've caught a serious error.

I've stopped trying to explain to most advertisers that the "s" belongs there, and instead repeat to myself the old business maxim that the customer is always right. Even when they're very...very...wrong. (Hey, I'm not the one paying for the ad!)

Many of you reading this are not Packer're Packers fans.

My buddy isn't a Charger fan, he's a Chargers fan.

I'm not a Lion fan...I'm a glutton for punishment.

Got it?

— • — • —

Sticking with the bar theme, a supper club ran an ad several months ago, advertising a specific drink that, if you don't live in Wisconsin, you may not have heard of.

The bar owner advertised Old-Fashioneds (which are delicious, by the way; I recommend it with Southern Comfort and sour). When the ad appeared in our paper, a few bar patrons pointed out the error we'd made in the ad, which caused the owner to call and alert us to our mistake.

Several customers laughed at my spelling, certain that the drink is an Old Fashion.

It is not.

I prefer to hyphenate my Old-Fashioneds, but I've seen it just as often without the hyphen. Unfortunately, I've also seen it advertised dozens of times in other newspapers as an Old Fashion. (what is that, like bell bottom jeans?!?)

Regardless, you'll never catch me sipping an Old Fashion, watching the Packer game.

Got it?

— • — • —

Another nit to pick in this post is the difference between back yard (n.), and backyard (adj.).

Associated Press style defines the terms as above...the noun is two words, the adjective is one word. (unless my Stylebook is out of date and they've updated this entry.)

"My back yard will soon be filled with billions of snowflakes, and I plan to hibernate through the winter. Before summer bids its final farewell, however, we should have one last backyard barbecue."

These examples are correct to me, although in Mitch Albom's latest column, he uses "backyards" as a noun. I've heard from more than one source that you should consistently use "backyard" in all instances. I haven't yet adopted that thought, but am open to persuasion.

— • — • —

One more tiny peeve down here, and I'll start making a new list for the next English language entry I write.

When referring to someone with a title, I capitalize every word only if the full title is used:
"We've got to address our budget issues," said Stony Brook High School Principal James Bruckmeier.

But I don't agree with the example: "The board voted to send school Principal Thomas Stenson to the weekend seminar." I prefer, "school principal Thomas Stenson."

The capital P in principal looks out of place in that instance, but I have found in the AP Stylebook an example that reads, " Chancellor Thomas Stenson," and others have disagreed with me as well. But I've also found an ally or two.

— • — • —

This is the kind of stuff I ponder for fun. I'm a total grammar geek, word nerd, punctuation dork. Sometimes I find a reliable source to back me up...other times I argue my case solely because it feels right to me. But I'm not perfect by any means.

Maybe I'll write my own book, and then I'll be correct 100 percent of the time.

Gregg's Stylebook, by Gregg (who has so much style...especially when sipping an Old-Fashioned.)

"I never made a mistake in grammar but one
in my life and as soon as I done it I seen it."
—Carl Sandburg

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

500 Words...Go! (Aren't You Finished Yet?!?)

I've been taking inventory of all of the Web 2.0 writing projects I've participated in...or at least seriously considered, even if I didn't pull on the water wings and jump into the deep end. And they all seem to have a general theme attached to them: Write your ass off!

Don't feel like writing?
Write, anyway!
Not feeling inspired on a particular day?
Make something up, and write it down!

The most obvious one is the one you're reading: write a blog entry every day for a month. All month long. If you miss a day? Looooser! Thanks for playing, try again next month. It even has a fancy name to make it sound more official...NaBloPoMo, National Blog Posting Month. (sounds like a banquet you should wear a tie to, no?)

NaBloPoMo was inspired by NaNoWriMo, which is National Novel Writing Month, in which you write a 50,000-word novel during the 30 days of November. This is the deep end I haven't jumped or dove into yet...I've only dipped my toes. My best effort crashed and burned before I reached 10,000 words.

One year I'll write a a month. That's 1,667 words a day to cross the finish line, and if you don't do it, you're someone who's attempted a novel in a month, not written a novel in a month. Harsh.

Another writing exercise is one I mentioned a few days ago: 100 haiku in 100 days. If the day is drawing to a close and you haven't written that day's haiku, you better stare at an oak tree until you're struck with 17 syllables of poetic revelation!

These writing processes focus solely on getting words down...not necessarily good words. Just words. The idea is that out of the piles of rubble, you might pull a sentence or paragraph or theme that can be dusted off and polished. (I'm lucky if I find the occasional serviceable prepositional phrase...but I keep plugging away.)

Another writing tool is Write or Die, by Dr. Wicked. (makes writing sound even scarier than it already is, doesn't it?) This program makes you set a goal (1,000 words) and a time limit (14 nanoseconds). If you don't meet your goal in the allotted time,, or something. (I'll find out when I download the desktop version. If my blogging comes to a sudden halt (not that that's ever happened on this blog before), you can assume I've gambled and lost at Write or Die. Yikes.) At the very least you lose your gym membership, or they come and take away your pet for a week. I dunno.

[side note: isn't a parenthetical nested inside of another parenthetical one of the most gorgeous visuals on the written page? I digress.]

The goal is the same. Write words. Good words, bad words, misspelled words. Just...words.

Writing a blog entry every day...whether it's an essay, or a three-line poem, or a photo-laden post...leaves little time for editing. Some days you pull up a blog screen, scribble down your thoughts and hit Publish. And then you come back and read it a few days later, cringing at how loose and rambling some (or all) of your ideas are. (This may be a perfect example of such an entry.)

I believe in the benefits of writing every day, even though I've rarely kept such a schedule.

And I believe in the benefits of all of the writing exercises I've listed above, which is why I continue to attempt some of them. The community of other writers attempting the same thing can be a great motivator.

I've been a NaBloPoMo loser a handful of times...but I've also been a winner a few times, too. Sometimes life gets in the way, and the best you can be is a 28 or 29 out of 30.

The secret is to get back in front of your computer or pick up that pen and, as Goldberg always says...

...just write, just write, just write.

Tomorrow's blog post will be much shorter (and hopefully more coherent) than this one. Goodnight.

"Being a writer is like having homework
every night for the rest of your life."
—Lawrence Kasdan

Monday, September 13, 2010

Over The Falls In A Barrel

During our late summer escape to Bayfield, Wis., about a month ago, one of the sights Jessica and I had on our list of must-sees was Copper Falls State Park, which was recommended by two friends.

Blanketed by gray, dreary skies on the drive up on Thursday, we postponed the visit until Sunday, assuming we'd make a brief stop, stare at some water falling down into a pool of other water, ooh and ahh a little, snap a few photos, and continue our drive home.

Inside the park, we discovered a scenic, hilly, mile-and-a-half trail that contained several falls, a section of cascades, and more nature than perhaps we were ready to explore at the end of a long weekend. But it was a gorgeous hike on an impeccably maintained trail, and we're both eager to return.

If you're driving up Highway 13 in Ashland County next summer, I recommend a couple-hour visit. I promise the views are more spectacular than my photos.

"Many a calm river begins as a turbulent waterfall,
yet none hurtles and foams all the way to the sea."
—Mikhail Lermontov

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Three Feet Plus One Butt Plus Two Hands
Equals A Touchdown. Or At Least It Should.

Waking up on the first Sunday of the NFL regular season is akin to waking up on Christmas morning. For some of us, it's even better.

I'd been looking forward to this morning for most of the pre-season, because while we've been inundated for months with news of holdouts and injuries and trades and predictions, there's a different feel when the regular season gets under way. The blemishes on a team's record stay with them all season. Don't screw up, or you might not be playing past the first Sunday in January.

As a Detroit Lions fan for the past 20 years, I've seen more screwing up than one fan should have to endure, with the majority of the team's off-seasons beginning immediately after the last second ticks away from their final regular season game.

This year, I'm more optimistic. Not necessarily about a playoff run, mind you. I'm more of a realist than that. The Lions are at least a couple (hundred) years away from being a playoff team.

But they drafted well and were active in free agency, and I expected them to win a few more than the two or three (or, games they'd won in recent seasons.

My Christmas Day of football was marred very early, however, by a couple of huge boulders of coal in my athletic sweat sock.

Near the end of the first half, the Lions' young quarterback and only hope to make that offense click, Matthew Stafford, was planted on his shoulder by a Bears linebacker, and could potentially be out several weeks with an injury.

Lump No. 1.

Late in the game, after allowing the Bears to climb out of an 11-point hole and take a five-point lead, Detroit still had a chance to win, and a pass from backup quarterback Shaun Hill found superstar receiver Calvin Johnson in the back of the end zone, who outjumped the defender, grabbed it with both hands, landed in bounds, sat down, rolled over, let the ball go, and stood up to celebrate.

Touchdown, right?
Wrong. The refs called it a touchdown, then huddled up and reversed the call to an incomplete pass. After several minutes of review, it was confirmed that it was indeed an incomplete pass, according to the rules—the stupid, stupid rules—of the NFL.

Lump No. 2...delivered with a sledgehammer.

The rule states that the receiver has to maintain possession of the ball "through the entire process of the catch."

The entire process, eh? When exactly does the process end? Before the team's first practice on Tuesday?? Does Johnson have to shower with the ball after the game to show he still has possession?

It was a lousy call, one that generated plenty of comments on the social sides of the Interwebs. Cris Carter from ESPN said he knew as soon as they signaled a touchdown that it wasn't really a touchdown because the receiver didn't stand up with the ball in his possession, able to hand it to the official.

So, perhaps a correct call...but a lousy rule. I don't know all the tiny details buried in the rulebook.

But I do know the Lions are 0-1 instead of 1-0, a position in which they've grown to feel quite comfortable.

But this particular fan...on this particular football Sunday...hasn't.

"The rule is perfect: in all matters of opinion
our adversaries are insane."
—Mark Twain
(inspiration for post title via...and of course, John Madden)

Saturday, September 11, 2010

True Colors Painted Over

Condescending and self-absorbed, reducing his own mistakes to microscopic missteps while magnifying others’ with the Hubble telescope, he was a rotten person. He passed blame better than a professional quarterback.

All the grunts at the mill knew it, but if he knew it himself, he never let on. He’d worn a flimsy façade of superiority for so many years, he probably wouldn’t recognize his true self if he searched for days in the mirror. The only person he’d fooled was the bumbling, introverted, moderately talented hack buried beneath the act.

Rotten and clueless. What a way to stumble through life.

— • — • —

My entry in the 100 Words Challenge, with the prompt, "rotten."

Friday, September 10, 2010

The Haves and Have-Nots

The light changed and he stepped off of the curb, crossing in front of four lanes of cars rushing home from work on Friday evening.

He wore a faded, frayed, rumpled, red jacket to shield himself from the early fall chill, and geometrical print shorts that were once probably bright yellow, but were now only a loud fashion statement. A crooked baseball cap covered spriggy, unkempt hair, and white socks rose to mid-calf from his black shoes.

As he shuffled across the intersection, his right arm hung limp at his side, while the left swayed with his step, propelling him toward the other curb.

One of the drivers eyed the pedestrian’s every step, noticing the effort exerted by his spindly white legs.

The driver looked down at his own blue jeans, baggy shirt, name-brand tennis shoes, lively music spilling out of his car speakers to signal the beginning of the weekend.

Maybe...maybe I don’t have it so bad after all, he thought.

"Nowadays people can be divided into
three classes: the haves, the have-nots
and the have-not-paid-for-what-they-haves."
—Earl Wilson

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Seventeen Syllables...Give or Take

Do you haiku?
If you don't, you should.

I'm kind of hooked on haiku. Or at least I was. I haven't written many lately, save for the one on this blog a few days ago.

It doesn't take long...usually. They're only 17 syllables, after all...three little lines, of five syllables, seven syllables and five again. That's the traditional format, but many poets break that rule, and loosely define a haiku as a poem consisting of three short lines, often about nature, but sometimes...not. (strict, aren't they?)

Last winter, I participated in a haiku challenge, writing 100 haiku in 100 days. If you skipped the 23rd day, for example, you started over at No. 1 until you wrote for 100 consecutive days.

Sometimes they came easily, appearing in my head almost fully formed after a single glance out the window for inspiration. Other came down to the last minute of the day, and I hastily scribbled terms like "pleasant pachyderm" as my third line...only because it had five syllables, not because I have an affinity for elephants.

A couple of other poets and I completed the 100 days (I may have tripped up three weeks into it and had to start over at syllable one), and I plan to publish the 300 haiku in a compilation. Hopefully we'll attempt another 100 soon.

A couple of examples among my 100 haiku include:

feeling old these days
scrape across and shave away
salt and pepper scruff

— • — • —

one winter drawback
snow fluttering softly down
my car has dandruff

When Jessica was in Paris in spring, she bought a book for me from Shakespeare and Co., called Book of Haikus, by Jack Kerouac. He rarely followed the 5—7—5 format, but it's fascinating to read these brief glimpses into his thoughts:

Terraces of fern
in the dripping
Redwood shade

— • — • —

mayonnaise comes in cans
Down the river

— • — • —

Here comes the nightly
moth, to his nightly
Death, at my lamp

If you've never written a haiku before, I recommend you find your best (or any) 17 syllables, and leave them in the comments section. And if you have written a haiku before...might I suggest 100 in 100 days?

"Above all, a haiku must be very simple
and free of all poetic trickery and make
a little picture and yet be as airy and
graceful as a Vivaldi pastorella."
—Jack Kerouac

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

The Magic of a Bluesky Mountain

For the last 15 years, I've been planning a trip.

By "planning," I mean "dreaming about," because if I'd really been planning it, I'm sure I would have gone by now. Over the years, however, other vacations have leapfrogged this particular trip, such as three trips to Vegas in the past seven years.

I'd like to say I'm finished with Vegas for a while, but a few friends were there last weekend, and a latenight voicemail bragging about how much fun they were having at the Hard Rock caused me to feel the familiar tug, luring me back. Hopefully I've snipped those strings.

I'd also like to spend a long weekend in Key West, watching the sun dip into the Gulf of Mexico at day's end and perhaps finding writing inspiration from a gust of Hemingway in the air.

I digress.
Back to my trip, yes?

Someday, I'm going to hang in Taos, New Mexico, for a few days, or a week, or...I don't know how long.

Years ago in college, I was assigned writing guru Natalie Goldberg's book, Writing Down The Bones, in a creative writing class, and I was hooked. On writing...on Goldberg...all of the above. She lives and teaches in Taos, and in several of her books, she describes the bluest blues of the Taos sky, and the magic of Taos Mountain.

Taos Mountain (via)
Taos is a popular retreat for artists, writers and creative types, and it sounds like such a laid-back, barefoot kinda place. So someday...I'm going to pack my car with shorts, shirts, sandals (or not), several notebooks and a dozen pens, my laptop, my camera and a good supply of batteries and memory cards...and I'm going to take off.

Drive down through St.Louis and Oklahoma City and northern Texas, stopping when and where the urge strikes...and when I arrive in Taos, find a tiny adobe house with a view of the mountain, and stay until I'm feeling restored (which may take months). Then drive home through Denver, bringing a trunkful of that creative energy from Taos back to the Midwest.


Where are some of your dream destinations...near or far?

"Life is not orderly. No matter how we try
to make life so, right in the middle of it we die,
lose a leg, fall in love, drop a jar of applesauce."
—Natalie Goldberg

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

A Picasso or a Garfunkel...

Tonight's art-related topic is...
...Art Garfunkel.

(thanks for the nudge, Barenaked Ladies.)

I received tickets in May to see Art Garfunkel in concert in July...along with his more famous singing partner, Paul Simon, of course. Because...not to be mean, but who'd go see Garfunkel without Simon? (probably millions of people. I apologize.)

A couple of weeks after the tickets were purchased, the tour promoters sent out an e-mail, notifying eager concert-goers that the rest of the current Simon & Garfunkel tour had been postponed (read: canceled), because Art had come down with a throat condition with a fancy name that made it sound more serious than a sore throat.

Hard to sing without your best stuff, right? Simon. No Garfunkel. Just the sound...of silence. (that was too easy. feel free to boo for that one.)

Truth be told, I was never the biggest Simon & Garfunkel fan. I liked them, and I knew many of their hits. But I didn't own their music, and was never an over-the-top fan. Until...I knew I had tickets. And then learned that they'd been taken away. Then, for some reason, I wanted to hear Bridge Over Troubled Water more than any other song that had ever been written. (thank you for wading through the hyperbole. I hope it wasn't too messy.)

I hope Art is feeling better.
And I hope he and Paul hit the road again soon.

"I don't think that Simon & Garfunkel
as a live act compares to
Simon & Garfunkel as a studio act."
—Paul Simon

Monday, September 06, 2010

Artistic Vision or Spilled Paint Can?

In the movie L.A. Story (rent it, you'll laugh), Steve Martin's character accompanies several friends to an art gallery, and as they stand in front of a painting, the camera angle not revealing the painting to the viewer, Martin gives his interpretation:
"I like the relationships. I mean each character has his own story. The puppy is a bit too much but you have to overlook things like that in these kinds of paintings. But...the way he's holding her. It's almost...filthy. I mean he's...he's about to kiss her, and she's...pulling away. The way his leg's sort of smashed up against her. Look how he's painted the blouse sort of...translucent, you can just make out her...breast underneath, and it' know, sort of touching him It's really...pretty torrid, don't you think?
Then of course you have the...onlookers, peeking at them from behind the doorway, like they're all shocked...
...they wish!
Yeah, I must admit when I see a painting like this, I get, uh...emotionallyyy...erect."
The camera flashes to the painting on the wall, showing a four-by-eight-foot rectangular mass of red that could have been applied with a roller...a few subtle shadows barely visible, but nothing else of distinction to the painting.

When I visit an art gallery, which is...OK, never (rarely)...I always think of that scene, and wonder what I'm missing in the paintings that a seasoned art critic would see. For instance, what do you see here? I see something that's going to need a second bottle of Windex before it's clean.


"Abstract art: a product of the untalented
sold by the unprincipled to the utterly bewildered."
—Al Capp

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Flying, But Grounded

flying, but grounded

tethered by many and friends
until the strings snap

Kites Over Lake Michigan, at Neshotah Beach in Two Rivers, Wis.
What a great way to use a beach!

"Throw your dreams into space like a kite,
and you do not know what it will bring back,
a new life, a new friend, a new love, a new country."
—Anais Nin

Saturday, September 04, 2010

Monet On A Plate

Food is art.
Or at can be.

Perhaps a glop of day-old macaroni & cheese at the college dining hall doesn't qualify as art, but one can hardly argue that it isn't worthy of such labels as "abstract" or "impressionistic."

Truly artsy food is a dab here, a morsel there, a drizzle over both. With enough room left on the plate for a couple of slices of take-out pizza.

I've eaten at all points on the spectrum: from pizza on paper plates to pasty thick macaroni & cheese to appetizers and entrées with acres of pristine whiteness surrounding the tiny bites of food. And I like it all.

Trouble is, sometimes the artsy foods are served with a heavy dose of pretension, and that—coupled with the exorbitant price per ounce of the food you're sampling—can make for a thoroughly unenjoyable dining experience.

We recently dined at one of these restaurants, and as our server was explaining to us the contents of the barren plate, she remarked about the imported Maraschino cherries in one corner.

Uh...I believe she misspoke, and should have more correctly said Maraschino there was only one, sliced in half, sitting all by its lonesome self.

Gee. That didn't really fill me up. Could I maybe have half a grape, too, please? And how much extra will that cost?

One should enjoy all dining experiences, but at restaurants like those, it's best to be prepared to hoist your nose up in the air as high as your server, lest you not fit in.

Also...have the number of the nearest pizza joint handy, because you'll probably go home hungry.

"Too many people just eat to consume calories.
Try dining for a change."
—John Walters

Friday, September 03, 2010

Leaving Las Vegas

“Tink we can trust ’im, Boss?” the shifty-eyed punk asked his stocky superior. “A guy fingers his own bruddah, ain’t no tellin’ who he’s gonna bust next!”

Backed into a corner of the dank parking garage below the Strip, I noticed rats scurrying about...none bigger than me.

I’d arrived three years ago and the city immediately sunk its claws into me. Strung out on glitz, gambling, and girls, I’d done despicable things to people I loved.

As the thugs patted their Smith & Wesson bulges, I heard, “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.”

I Vegas.

— • — • —

My entry in the 100 Words Challenge, with the prompt, "fingers."

(The word count may appear to be a few words short, because of how ellipses affect the way the words are counted, but there are exactly 100 words me. And I know I overuse the ellipsis...almost to a fault.)

Thursday, September 02, 2010

A Starry Encore

Between songs on her live disc, "Miles of Aisles," Joni Mitchell explains to the crowd what she sees as the difference between the performing arts and the visual arts:
"That's one thing that's always like, uh...been a major difference between, like, the performing arts to me and being a painter, you know. Like a painter does a painting...and he does a painting, that's it, you know he's had the joy of creating it and he hangs it on some wall, somebody buys it...somebody buys it again, or maybe nobody buys it and it sits up in a loft somewhere till he dies. But he's never...nobody ever says to know, nobody ever said to Van Gogh...'Paint a Starry Night again, man!' You know? He painted it, that was it."
Vincent van Gogh's "Starry Night" (via)
Van Gogh probably never went on tour, or had to paint the same painting 250 nights a year.

"Moons and Junes and ferris wheels
the dizzy dancing way you feel
as ev'ry fairy tale comes real.
I've looked at love that way."
—Joni Mitchell, "Both Sides Now"

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

A Caricature of My Present Self

Everyone has a dream job, right?

Years ago, mine was—and probably still is, to a degree—to be an editorial cartoonist. Or the CCP (chief creative pencil) of a wildly popular comic strip. (Calvin and Hobbes immediately springs to mind. I miss those guys.)

I've written about it before, and continue to be fascinated by those who can turn a blank page into a panel or strip that's smart, funny, and creatively drawn.

Problem is...I'm not always smart, only occasionally funny, and...creative with a pencil? Rarely, if ever.

Last year at the Manitowoc library, we saw Joe Heller, a cartoonist based at the Green Bay Press Gazette, and syndicated in more than 350 newspapers. He shared the story of how his career grew over 30-plus years, and his process for creating award-winning cartoons.

He has a great job: every day he absorbs as much news and gossip as he can, and then scribbles down a drawing four times a week...very often thought-provoking, and very often funny.

Every so often he'll post an update on Facebook that says, "My latest cartoon was just picked up by the New York Times!" And my reaction is always, "Way to go, Joe!" Couldn't happen to a nicer guy.

As a young boy, I attempted to put pencil to paper, and I speak the truth when I say it's for the best that I'm sitting in front of this keyboard instead of an easel or drafting table.

What's your dream job?

"No one blames themselves if they don't understand a cartoon,
as they might with a painting or "real" art;
they simply think it's a bad cartoon."
—Chris Ware

— • — • —

The September theme for NaBloPoMo is "art."
I'm not promising or forecasting anything. I'm just sayin'.