Open Post-It Note to Nosy Strangers

Dear _____________, 

I am from the Midwest. Not the UK. My “accent” is a result of clear enunciation. 

Please stop staring. 




(There, now I’ve said it to the internet, everyone will know, right? I won’t have to give people at the mall/ in cabs/ at the checkout line any more funny looks. I won’t have to try to find a polite way to say I’ve lived in Wisconsin for 20 years, just like they have? Please, internet, make the awkward go away.)

Calling Captain Obvious

Sometimes I amaze myself with my inability to recognize the obvious.

Last week I walked to the library, keeping a steady pace for the two and a half miles there.  Sure, I hadn’t changed shoes for the outing, but shoes are made for walking, right?  Curious, then, that my heels should hurt so badly. Must have developed a blister, I thought, which turned out to be true enough.  In fact the blisters were so thoroughly developed that they reached the peak of blister civilization before a most dramatic and painful decline, which is to say that I arrived home and peeled off my socks to find them bloodied.  Ah.  Guess that explains why reading Cavafy the whole way home wasn’t enough to distract me from my feet hurting.  Good job, genius.

Then there was the afternoon I ate a bowl of French onion soup and was surprised on finishing it that I felt so warm all of a sudden.

Or the day when I set up one of the three floor lamps I bought a couple years back and was surprised and delighted by the fact that my room was suddenly better-lit, as though I had not once already grown impatient with a dim living space and acquired a remedy.  Somehow I let a year pass without realizing that it was in my power to make the day seem longer and the room warmer and my very self more lively.

The worse by far was my weeks and weeks of failure to recognize that cutting oneself off from the Creator of all beauty was not a very effective way to find anything beautiful or worthwhile – not in myself, nor in anything or anyone else.

Moments like this make my mom sing "She's a SCHULTZ MAN" to the tune of "Soul Man"Has anyone else had this sort of moment?  What is it that wakes us to recognize the thing right in front of our face?

An Experiment in Art Criticism

A couple weeks ago (gosh, is it already that far past?), Thalia and the Brilliant Scrupulously Exact Physicist came to visit.  Having but limited time together, and the Scrupulously Exact Physicist having nixed the suggestion that we go busking with a plaid hat and a repertoire of hymns, we took ourselves down to the museum in town.

You know the one.  The one with a weird bit of iron out in front, and a weird bit of carved wood out back, and oddness in between.

We determined that it would be diverting to level our most withering wit at the works within, provided we were suitably fortified; Thalia had the further brainwave that we might tell the truth slant – in fact, not merely slant, but actually perpendicular to our normal mode of discourse.  All of which is to say that we gathered up our pens, notebooks, and a flask of bourbon, and rhapsodized in the blankest verse we could muster.

(Dear sweet teetotalers: surely even you understand the importance of fortification against the utter lack of metanarrative in postpostmodern art?  Have you not read your Walker Percy? Do you not know that “post-painterly abstraction” is an honest term used by an art critic to distinguish from earlier abstract expressionism?  Read this whole page  and tell me you don’t want a drink by the end of it.)

(N.B. that we were, at least, covert in our potation.  The Scrupulously Exact Physicist whose pockets guarded the flask ended up quaffing the lion’s share, which is to say, maybe an ounce or two more than the rest of us.)

So without further ado, here are the fruits of our labors.

First, the piece the Scrupulously Exact Physicist wrote on:  Smoke Rings, by Donald Sultan

Smoke Rings

“Thunderstorm in Purple No. 6”*

inspiration drawn,
flames of unity,
darkness spills through it.

A phoenix is promised to ignite from the ashes
its crimson mane flowing,
as the firefox turns
and peace is dislodged

How many times?
will an elder rise or fall?
a leaf
falling Adonis
Cut from the top
in a swirl of cloud.

I wrote on something by Richard Diebenkorn.  It might not have looked exactly like this, but it was…similar:


Re: un tarde de Julio…

an envelope not yet trimmed or folded
rain has worn down the lines
of division,
jagged door opening
revealing naught but beige beyond.
Three figures sit at the bottom of it,
soon to be cropped out
by demands of time,
the folds pulling upward and away.
That bleeding paper
(such it might be)
bled not from any meaningful word,
any knife of truth.
All is quiet

All is empty.
something wrong:
assayed beauty via truth
as assured by Keats of unity
and believing truth
simple to see
simple to sign

a veil drawn over drawn truths
or a wash over half-depicted figures

not sad empty hopeless being,
nor vacant past plains:
a slightly yellowed page
awaiting drawing of the future.

Lastly, Thalia peered up at Helen Frankenthaler’s Sunset Corner, wrote a while, then carefully removed a number of connecting words and threw a brick at her punctuation.  Seems apt. Sunset Corner

Venetian Earthquake by Candlelight*

Lofty Depth.
Sundered plain
(Cower, blood – Dry)
murk, jagged; lurk, snagged –
Possess, weigh, measure, despair
Ache,  bile, blotch
Central – corrosive
Control, Knot, Vomit.
A template ?
Abrupt, the hope
Hence therefore; hell.

*Credit must be given to our friend, the Doctrix M. Harrison, for pointing out that such poetic assays must be titled appropriately, and for her endeavor to find something appropriate.

The Consolation of Mediocrity

Sometimes, it’s overwhelming to look at the mountains which other authors, past and present, have scaled.  There are heights of prose I will never reach, beautiful stories which I did not write, and twists of thought my mind would never formulate.

What is perhaps the best response is the difficult one: to read more, to write often, to practice the craft, to risk saying something that will upset others, to confess what will tear at my own heart.

But the easy response is to find someone who wasn’t necessarily very good at composition, and kept doing it anyway, and console myself that so long as I do write, I can’t possibly be worse.

With that in mind, let me present William Topaz McGonagall.  He was a Scottish weaver, born in 1825 or thereabouts, who at age 52 felt led to begin writing poems.  Some he recited as entertainment for his friends; some were published on handbills or in books; some got him thrown out of a pub for their quality.  William McGonagallHis slavery to masculine rhyme, repetitious vocabulary, wretchedly wrenched syntax, and terrible rhythm contribute to the extreme badness (I wish I had a stronger word!) of his verse, and all this does not take into account the themes he favored: disasters, deaths and funerals, temperance, moral tales, and the like.

I’m a bit surprised he hasn’t been mentioned before here at the Club, as Thalia first introduced me to his work, and his 200 Poetic Gems remain as entertaining now as they were to contemporary audiences.  See McGonagall Online for further information, if you like, or just try reading the following aloud with a straight face:

Women’s Suffrage

Fellow men! why should the lords try to despise
And prohibit women from having the benefit of the parliamentary Franchise ?
When they pay the same taxes as you and me,
I consider they ought to have the same liberty.

And I consider if they are not allowed the same liberty,
From taxation every one of them should be set free;
And if they are not, it is really very unfair,
And an act of injustice I most solemnly declare.

Women, farmers, have no protection as the law now stands;
And many of them have lost their property and lands,
And have been turned out of their beautiful farms
By the unjust laws of the land and the sheriffs’ alarms.

And in my opinion, such treatment is very cruel;
And fair play, ’tis said, is a precious jewel;
But such treatment causes women to fret and to dote,
Because they are deprived of the parliamentary Franchise vote.

In my opinion, what a man pays for he certainly should get;
And if he does not, he will certainly fret;
And why wouldn’t women do the very same?
Therefore, to demand the parliamentary Franchise they are not to blame.

Therefore let them gather, and demand the parliamentary Franchise;
And I’m sure no reasonable man will their actions despise,
For trying to obtain the privileges most unjustly withheld from them;
Which Mr. Gladstone will certainly encourage and never condemn.

And as for the working women, many are driven to the point of starvation,
All through the tendency of the legislation;
Besides, upon members of parliament they have no claim
As a deputation, which is a very great shame.

Yes, the Home Secretary of the present day,
Against working women’s deputations, has always said- nay;
Because they haven’t got the parliamentary Franchise-,
That is the reason why he does them despise.

And that, in my opinion, is really very unjust;
But the time is not far distant, I most earnestly trust,
When women will have a parliamentary vote,
And many of them, I hope, will wear a better petticoat.

And I hope that God will aid them in this enterprise,
And enable them to obtain the parliamentary Franchise;
And rally together, and make a bold stand,
And demand the parliamentary Franchise throughout Scotland.

And do not rest day nor night-
Because your demands are only right
In the eyes of reasonable men, and God’s eyesight;
And Heaven, I’m sure, will defend the right.

Therefore go on brave women! and never fear,
Although your case may seem dark and drear,
And put your trust in God, for He is strong;
And ye will gain the parliamentary Franchise before very long.

Mouth Music

While we are on the subject of a capella music, I would like to point out that saying “making music with your mouth” is fairly redundant.

A few coworkers and I recently went to see the movie “Pitch Perfect”. Or “Perfect Pitch” . . .  I can never get that name straight. And throughout the movie, the peppy girls kept running around describing their a capella group by saying, “We make music . . . with our mouths!”

It drove me bonkers!

Um, all types of singing are making music with your mouths. Also, about a third of  types  of the instruments in existence require the use of mouths to make music.

What they really mean, is that the parts of the music usually performed the instruments is done with the voice.

Which actually is pretty cool.

So, I would like to share some of my favorite Mouth Music with you. Where not only has the performer played all the parts of the intstruments, but has also fitted words to the music!



And, of course, The Doctor Who version.



And of course

Yesteryear: The Spittoon

It’s a touch peculiar to long for devices of times gone by, when one has no experience of their use.  One never knows what downsides or health risks one may overlook, and students of history may justly criticize breezy whitewashing of the same.

And yet, here I am, craving the return of the spittoon.

I’ll be frank: I don’t yearn for the gilded age of the spittoon because I look back with fond nostalgia to a time when people stuck chewing tobacco between their cheek and gums, ruminated until the nicotine was consumed, then spat the whole foul lot into a receptacle set aside for it.  Though I hate the sight of a parking lot or sidewalk caked with blackened spots of chewing gum, I think it’s a better chaw, on the whole, than tobacco.

Nothing like a substance that leaves your pavement resembling a Dalmatian.

Nor do I necessarily crave the company of other present-day cuspidor users: the dental patient beside the spitting sink, the wine taster who would not pass the point of hilarity, or the folks who still buy wintergreen Skoal and main street gas.
Dental Cuspidor

It might be argued that I wish more spittoons were around so they could crop up in conversation; try having pronounce it for you and it rapidly ascends to Joke Word status.  But that is not the chief reason for my current cupidity.

No, mostly I wish we’d kept spittoons because at the moment I’ve got a cold.

It’s been lingering over a week.  My throat gets a bit better, then grows more inflamed again.  Efforts to stay hydrated doubtless improve the general situation, but there’s no escaping the vexation of a productive cough.  Avail oneself of Kleenex?  Ahh, summer’s lease hath all too short a date, and a 500-count box hath all too small a count, particularly when one soggy tissue soils whatever pocket or purse it must be stuffed into.  Forgive my excessive candor, but there are times when one cannot do anything but spit.

Mayhaps they needn’t come back into general fashion (seems there may have been some tuberculosis passed about last time around), but please: someone bring me a spittoon!


I try not to blog about the stupidity that passes for entertainment in our culture.

Not out of any desire to be virtuous or good, mind you. Just out of a darkly perverse refusal to grant the stupidity any more attention.

I do same thing with anything that is really, really, REALLY popular. Things that are so popular that they could not possibly need or want my attention anyway.

So I virtually ignore them.

(Or, more exactly, I ignore them virtually.)

However, this does not prevent me from verbally ranting to my friends about such things.

And one of my pet peeves is . . . . .  song lyrics!

Bad song lyrics.

Annoying lyrics.

Illogical lyrics.

Lyrics that are founded upon corrupt philosophical paradigms.

Lyrics that are so dumb no musical brilliance can save them.

Earlier this year I was certain that the lyrics to a Certain Overplayed Song were the Worst Lyric in the Universe.

They went something like this:

I’d catch a grenade for YAH.
Throw my hand on a blade for YAH.
I’d jump in front of a train for YAH.
You know I’d do anything for YAH
I would go through all this pain
Take a bullet straight through my brain
Yes, I would die for you, baby
But you won’t do the same.


Leaving aside the fact that the music had a rang of about three notes, the lyrics are just fundamentally UNSOUND!

Butthen, someone introduced me to Justine Bieber’s latest hit, “Boyfriend”.

. . . I . . . I . . .  um . . .  no words.

No words can ever describe the idiocy of this . . . thing.

It is not a song.

It a collection of words and noted all jumbled together.

I would accuse the kid of da-da-isms in both lyrical and musical attempts.

But that that would be crediting him too much intelligence.

You should not ever torture yourself with the song.


So imagine my horror when I learned that my students, at the tender age of 10, adore Bieber.

On second though, don’t inflict that on yourself.


But then, Liam Neeson did  dramatic reading of the . . . thing.

I giggle.

Thankfully, the “music” is not included. And even Neeson’s Voice o’ Velvet cannot salvage the nonsense.

But it is funny.

Have a gander, and let me know what you think of the “lyrics” being fed our youth.


The Hobbit Read-Along: A Warm Welcome

Hot food, comfortable clothes, soft beds, and happy cheers.

It seems that Thorin & Co have finally reached a safe stage in their travels. Even, dare we say it, a peaceful stage. A nice chapter.

It sets my teeth on edge.

This entire chapter is eerily unsettling to me.

I feel much more at home in the Mirkwood chapter, even though that is rife with deprivation and danger. As Jubilare points out, there is something in that perilous umbra that appeals to our aesthetic sense.

But somehow the juicy comforts this chapter echo the unease of Riddles in the Dark.

Although the chapter opens with the awkward position of barrel-riding, it seems that thing are getting better: the day is getting warmer, it becomes clear that the adventurers could never have traveled by any other way, and we the readers are given the privileged information that Gandalf is heading back.

But all that is very quickly – in the second paragraph! – is overshadowed by the Lonely Mountain. Both actually and metaphorically. Just as the solitary dominates the landscape, it start to dominate the atmosphere of the story.

Both Bilbo and the narrator (ahem! *cough cough*) seem to feel that something is  . . . not well. The sleek present town squats in the remnants of the rotting “greater” town. The lore of ancient days does live, “but this pleasant legend did not much effect their  daily business”.

And so our first encounter with Men finds them sadly prosaic.

The newly released dwarves seek and find a warm welcome in the town. At least, from the common people. The good Master of the town is dubious, but indulgent.

Thus far, all the untruths that our heroes tell have been fairly excusable. Sympathetic, even. What good would telling Gollum the truth do?

And when the people of the Laketown assume that the legends will come true literally, it does seem a waste of breath to correct them. But when the more practical townsfolk assume that part of the recovered treasure will belong to the town, the dwarves shuffle their feet and look the other way.

This is an omission that promises, at the very best, a very uncomfortable return journey.

And then, the dwarves continue to take advantage of the hospitality of these people. This is something that they would never have dared done with Beorn.

This marks what seems to be a change in the dwarvish attitude, and the first indication that Thorin’s pride might be something more dangerous than simple haughtiness.

So, helped along by the equably false Master, they depart on the last leg of the journey. They are sent away with provisions and songs, and only little Bilbo is “thoroughly unhappy”.

Not just, I believe, at the prospect of  facing a dragon, but also false hopes arisen from this “warm welcome”.