July 31, 2006

Daily Photos

When I want to see what Austin, Texas looks like, I can step outside my door -- or if it's too hot to do that, I can simply click to Austin Daily Photo, a site run by Alice of Like a Tea-Tray in the Sky. Alice is an Englishwoman who somehow found herself here, and like so many of us transplants, she loves it. Her photos contain a lot of her obsession -- overhead wires -- and lots of sunlight glaring off of buildings and cars. It's hard to show visually what's so wonderfully special about Austin, since it's not a particularly pretty town. But there's a wacky, eclectic, welcoming spirit here that's not found in many other places. You can feel it even just driving along. Many times I drive down South Congress Avenue or even the Mo-Pac Expressway and think, "God, I'm lucky to live here."

A very nice thing about having discovered Austin Daily Photo is that I've discovered all the world's Daily Photo sites at once, on a sidebar. You can click city after city from Accra, Ghana to Zaltbommel, Netherlands and see what's going on. London, Los Angeles, Barcelona, Chicago, Paris, Tokyo, Venice, Blomfontein, Brasov, Doha, Seguin...

And what's the most thrilling, unpredictable, exotic, psychotic of the cities on the city blog list? You guessed it. Nowhere else comes close. Just looking at New York Daily Photo and Joe's NYC I can hear it, smell it, touch it, be seized by it, the fever, the ferocity, the desperate wishing and prowling, the mingling and mangling, the hallucinatory grime and gleam. Good God what a place. Every few steps in that city you could take a photo and capture a phenomenon you wouldn't find anywhere else. What it must have been like to grow up there, to live there for a quarter-century or so. What luck.

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July 28, 2006

Ask the Cards

One of the aunts has brought a tarot deck, and after the dinner things are cleared away everyone stays at the table—they’ve come from separate, distant parts of the country for an elder’s birthday—to take turns getting readings. You silently ask the cards a question, and then—well, it’s not fortunetelling, but it gives you a snapshot of the psychic moment, the synchronic netting you’re webbed in, the archetypal currents by which your future will be pulled. And she always gives good readings. She doesn’t go for scaring her clients or forcing them to face unpleasant possibilities. With her, a crisis is always the forerunner of growth, and death is merely a symbol for change.

So they take their turns, and as they move their lips or blink their lowered eyes you can tell what general area their questions come from. This one is asking whether her newest lover is going to stay, and that one is asking whether his career will take an upturn, and that one is asking for a prognosis.

A nine year old boy is at the table too, his eyes lighting up with each turn of a card. He believes in every kind of magic. Rather than sitting in his seat, he’s squatting on top of it like a catcher, bouncing up and down, leaning out across the table towards the cards, his sleeve dipping into a bowl of melted peach ice cream that someone thought they were still eating. He’s commenting on every card, biting his lip, groaning and laughing, crossing his fingers against any chance that any of his relatives won’t end up completely safe and happy.

“My turn!” he calls, above the white noise of wishful strained interpretation after the last grownup is done. He grabs the cards and shoves them into something like a pack: some of them splash away when he tries to shuffle, and his aunt patiently returns them. Now, she explains, you ask the cards a question.

“My question is—“

“No no no!” the grownups rush in, as if pulling him out of the path of a car, or perhaps imagining their own questions revealed aloud. “Don’t tell us. Just ask it to yourself.”

“But can’t I say it if I want to?”

The tarot-reading aunt shrugs: well, it’s not against the rules…

Okay. He jumps down from his chair, clamps his hands down onto the table edge. Okay, cards, his eyes are saying; tell me, tell me…

“What’s my life going to be like?”

And someone at the table takes in a breath. Someone else looks downward, hotly blushing. Someone bites a lip and turns away. Someone holds back a smile and reaches for a drink.

All of them would give anything to be able to ask that question again.


July 26, 2006

Books Whose Titles Say It All

This morning Ambivablog has a post about Iraq, a post I'm linking to not because of Iraq but because of an offhand remark about "books whose titles say volumes," in this case Peter Galbraith's The End of Iraq: How American Incompetence Created a War Without End and Thomas Ricks' Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq. It made me think about the fact that there are certain books whose titles are so pithy and illuminating that they obviate reading the book. The titles say it all and the rest of three hundred pages of padding with examples. Often these are outstanding books with worthwhile, even important, ideas, but why spend twenty bucks and a couple of weeks when you can understand the whole message from a four-word phrase?

My favorite is Amusing Ourselves to Death by Neil Postman. That's right, Neil, we Americans are slowly destroying our civilization from within by spending all our time watching television, obsessing about celebrities, foaming at the mouth about spectator sports, getting stoned at rock concerts, and masturbating in front of our computers. Now leave me alone while I go watch VH1's Celebrity Fit Camp.

Next candidate...?

The Denial of Death by Ernest Becker. True, very true, Ernest (who died so soon after finishing your book you received a posthumous Pulitzer). All of civilization is a massive project of self-deception, of whistling in the dark, trying to persuade ourselves that our lives have importance when we're just going to short out at any moment and leave not a spark behind; and yet we, who have been placed here for so short a time for such unknowable reasons if any, must strive heroically in the face of fate to blah blah blah...

Small is Beautiful by E. F. Schumacher. Yes, yes, unrestrained growth is a cancer on our society, and therefore I'll keep this observation short.

A Room of One's Own by Virginia Woolf. Ah, how well you knew, Virginia, that each of us, male or female but especially female for some reason, needs solitude and space and leisure time in order to fulfill our creative potential. So don't distract me any further; let me engage my own mind, free from the elevated chatter of trendy classic authors.

And I can't help adding: I Married Adventure by Osa Johnson. Just my little joke, folks.

Anybody else have any suggestions for the list? And any fiction? I can't think of any novels that meet the standard of having titles so fully explanatory that they make reading the book unnecessary.

July 24, 2006

True Ancestor in Israel

My good friend True Ancestor was in Israel recently on a trip with his wife, and has been posting a series of retrospective reports on the mood in that country and the relations between Arabs and Jews who live next to one another in a state of permanent distrust and suspicion -- all of it situated amid thrilling natural beauty and decorated with tour buses full of addled American teenagers. Some of his glancing observations are more revealing than news articles. I recommend the most recent post, City of David -- then browse backward. The first in the series was posted July 13. It's all well-written and insightful, seen through the consciousness of an American Jew who loves both Israel and peace.

And that's it from me for today!

July 22, 2006

I'm a Reserved Artist, Who Are You?

You see, this is why I'm less active at blogging than I used to be. I woke up this morning with an inspired idea for a whole new direction to take in my writing, and then I get sidetracked reading the latest posts by the always-fascinating Ambivablog, who claims to have found the best personality test ever. I took the test and she's right. There I am, revealed in all my glorious imperfection, a reserved artist, high in openness and spontaneity but low in confidence, slightly high in femininity and slightly low in masculinity, very imaginative and aestheticism, very low in authoritarianism. (At least that's how I think of myself, have always thought of myself -- but come to think of it, is that who I really am?)

Anyway, take the darn thing and find out who you are. There's a good long discussion of people's results on Amba's post, so I recommend you comment there rather than here.

And now I've spent an hour and a half online and haven't had one more thought about my writing. Which may be no loss, because Amba also has a post about how terrible the sales of books are.

July 18, 2006

Dream Journal: The Giant Eye

I’m sitting in a long line of people on the steps of a city plaza, waiting Godot-like for some kind of vehicle of transport to take me to a place of fulfillment, a heavenly kind of place. Everyone is silent so I decide to sing: “Sugar Magnolia,” a sweet old love song by the Grateful Dead, a song of admiration for a woman. A young man sitting near me, listening, turns out also to be a Dead freak and he joins in, singing tentative harmony. But it seems he has a deformed eye: his left eye is normal, but the right eye is so large that it takes up most of that side of his face. It’s disgusting, and he tries, not very successfully, to hide it by turning away, but I overcome my shock and revulsion and we enjoy singing.

This seems to me to be a dream about my Jungian shadow. The harmony singer is the side of me I’m ashamed of and wish to hide, who’s deformed by egotism (enlarged eye/I). My chance for happiness comes from accepting my shadow as my backup singer, and filling the present moment with loving creativity and companionship as we wait for whatever comes.


July 14, 2006

It's Me

“Hi, it’s me,” they always used to say—
No question who it was. Could talk an hour
About a friend’s love life and what movie
To rent. And liked the same movies most times.
They’d call from home to office, or office
To office, leaping toward the time when they’d
Be in the same room and could touch—hair, hand—
And not worry someone would overhear.
Now they call from house to house about
The kids, or visits, or the check, and when
She says, “Hi, it’s me,” he thinks, “Me? Who?
Am I supposed to recognize your voice?”


July 13, 2006

Bumper Sticker Patrol, Installment #6


He likes his people servile, groveling, and gratefully obedient. Good luck to his wife and kids.


And an oldie, seen again recently...


Imagine what those bumper stickers will do for them if they're ever really pulled over for drunken driving, or really hit a pedestrian. A prosecutor's dream.

July 10, 2006


He paints tiny enamel figures with brushes as fine as cat whiskers, paints mountains and rivers the size of fingernails. Signs his name in letters so small he has to look through a microscope to write them. Collectors visit his little studio, a cottage between two high-rises, cluttered with inch-long paper sketches and thimble-sized jars of paint.

“Do you ever do anything bigger? I have a wall I need to cover.”

“This is my metier. I love small things. If you look closely, you’ll find as much here as in any wall-wide canvas. Why should I waste the extra materials?”

They sigh, and understand.

He goes home to his one-room apartment, stares at himself in the mirror. “Small. Everything you do is small. Puny, lightweight, feeble. No scope, no breadth, no depth, no stature. Insignificant, invisible, shrunken, cringing, trivial.”

He goes to the pantry, pours a big glass of rum, turns on the stereo full blast, sings as loud as he can, and wakes the whole neighborhood.


July 07, 2006

When the Fever Breaks

With the top sheet waist-high, and the quilt whose pattern they know in the dark, they lie listening to the rain. Not talking. They have said so much these weeks, these months, and so much of it wrong.

The rain like a cold pack on the forehead of the house. Never wanting it to stop. He remembers the warning pock of rain on a tent in the north woods when they were first together. She thinks of her environmental CD, how it sounds so much like real rain but doesn’t smell like it through the open windows.

Not talking, except only, “I’m going to get a glass of water.”

“Get me one too?”


Gulping cold water in the dark. Reaching for the night table, putting the glass on it blindly. Feeling for wet spots on the sheet before they move together.

Hands locking lightly, at kiss level. He thinks of animals nesting under a mound of leaves, warming each other as they sink into sleep. She thinks of pioneers in a log house far from any neighbor. A private waterdance on the roof, just for them.

They remember each other’s smell from long ago. Noses buried in each other’s hair. Breathing. The pattering on the roof louder, softer. His finger strokes the rim of her ear, not knowing whether she’s asleep or awake. He will stay awake admiring how well she sleeps. Trying to touch her as much as possible without waking her. His ear on the pillow hearing his heart beat fast. Listening through the minutes as it slows down.