Monthly Archives: July 2012
Actually, this should be entitled, “Things I Didn’t Know But That I Know Now and Was Surprised to Learn,” but that’s too long and not as catchy as the actual title. Anyhow, on to the things.
The scientific name of the American bison is Bison Bison. You’d think that with all the scientific names out there that they could come up with two different ones, but they didn’t. Must have been vacation week at the scientific names office. I have a suggestion, though: Bison Burger. That name would remind everyone of the great herds of buffalo that roamed the plains and also of how delicious they are served on a bun with your favorite condiments. I offer this suggestion freely without any expectation of profit or recompense.
Stil, in the animal kingdom, polar bears are not white. Their fur is clear and looks white because of the way it refracts light. It would be strange if they appeared to be clear (would we call them glass bears then?), but that would help them hide from predators, if there are any predators willing to take on a polar bear. I know I am not. They appear to be peaceful creatures, and I hope their environment doesn’t melt. And come to think of it, appearing to be white works against the ice floes. That much is clear (ha ha).
Next, I learned recently that there was a proposal to add the likeness of Susan B. Anthony to Mount Rushmore. It didn’t happen because they didn’t have the money to complete the sculpture. So they put her on a dollar coin instead. Which is better? I can’t decide.
It is actually possible to see the minute hand move on a floor-sized grandfather clock. Ours moves 1/32 of an inch around the dial with each tick of the pendulum. Hours of fun to watch!
The last thing I learned that I didn’t know before is a point of maritime law. When someone dives on a shipwreck to recover its cargo, the salvager must first sue the shipwreck to obtain legal rights to the contents of the wreck. It would seem bad enough to be a shipwreck, but being sued by a salvager would seem to be adding insult to injury. However, that’s the law, so please don’t go taking stuff from a shipwreck without filing suit first. I just know you will.
That’s about all for this time. I’ll revisit the topic when I learn some more things I don’t know. Since there’s a lot I don’t know, this series could go on for a long time. In the meantime, you can come up with some things you don’t know. Good luck!
Before we get to our regularly scheduled shameless poetry post, we here at the Biscuit City Studios want to welcome Bill Mustin of Signarama in Woodbridge as sponsor of the glass enclosed Observation Post. Welcome Bill! Readers may check out his website at Bill@signarama-Woodbridge/VA.com. Bill and his company made up the new Write by the Rails banner. Look for it at a book event near you! And now to our poem!
Back Here on Earth
The moon is a white-hot crescent
Tangled in black reticulated terminal tree limbs
As I walk barefoot down the stone cold driveway
To retrieve the paper in its plastic bag.
All around in a panoramic aural display
Unseen birds are calling, filling
These nether regions with their song.
Gordon Lightfoot has a old song that I don’t care too much for. It’s “The Minstrel of the Dawn” where he goes on about being a minstrel. I think he doesn’t need to sing about it since he is obviously a singer and writer of mainly good songs (“Knotty Pine” is another song I don’t like. Sample lyric: “She’s my knotty pine; she bleeds turpentine…” My reaction is, dude, get your gf to the ER pronto!). But anyhow, one of the lyrics to “Minstrel of the Dawn” is “Listen to the pictures flow and follow the fingers where they go.”
I was thinking of these words as I was working on my novel this week. I understood the lyrics because my fingers are just following what the characters do. I have heard writers say that the characters take on a life of their own and that the world of the novel becomes as real as this world. And they do.
Stephen King relates that he receives requests from people on death row and people with terminal illnesses that he tell them what is in the Dark Tower of that series. He says he does not know what is in the Tower and will not until the story gets to that point.
That makes sense to me.
The protagonist of my novel, Otto Kerchner, sometimes does not do what I expect him to. In one chapter, he is bullied at lunch by a big guy. I thought Otto was going to sit there and take it. Unexpectedly, he goads the other boy into taking a swing at him (by insulting his momma) and when he does, Otto pops him in the nose. That earns him a trip to the principal’s office, but I think it was worth it. I had students like Otto who finally stood up to bullies and the school and world are better for their courage.
So, fellow writers, “follow the fingers where they go.” You may be surprised where you end up.
We are not what anyone would call early adopters. We are what most anyone would call, well, thrifty. So, we buy used cars and runs them until they fall apart. The classic example is the 1978 Impala we bought when Amy was four months old. She learned to drive on the car and I think we gave it to someone when she was in college. Becky drives a 1999 Avalon with 105,000 miles on it. Just getting broken in.
As a result of this thriftiness, our cars lag behind the technological curve. Yes, they have self-starters, but power door locks were a revelation to us when they came on the Impala. The Avalon unlocks all four doors from the front door lock if you turn the key clockwise once or twice. I thought this was the coolest thing I had ever seen until I got two cars with key fobs. I just press a button and the doors open. I love this so much I try to open Becky’s car with one of the fobs. I even try to open our front door with the car key fobs. They don’t work, but I can always hope.
So, change is hard to get used to, but once you’re used to it, it’s hard to go back.
Gee, I didn’t have as much to say about that as I thought I would.
It has happened again.
A deranged young man has gone into a public place, a theater in Colorado this time, and started shooting. Dozens of people died or were wounded. Hundreds of family members and friends are left to mourn.
I was shocked and sad. I had a sense of deja vu. It’s all too familiar. The initial reports, the continuing news coverage, the search for reasons, the profiles of those who died, the discussions about how to prevent such incidents from happening again.
And yet they keep happening.
In the meantime, a community is left to mourn, to pick up the pieces, to find a way forward.
I wanted to spend this weekend in quiet reflection. We decided to go to a local production of Man of La Mancha done by a theater group from the local Catholic church. Our Chorale accompanist was in it, as was his wife. They are both incredible musicians and singers.
It was just what I needed. The production had no weak elements. Everything was exceptionally well done, from the set to the staging, the acting and singing, costumes, lighting, direction, and orchestra. One hundred-twenty-nine members of the community gave us a gift, and it was just what we needed this sad weekend.
The message of the musical could not have been more appropriate. The Cervantes/ Don Quixote character remarks that he is on a quest “to bring some measure of grace to the world.” And indeed the message of the place is that grace, idealism and love can transform the worst of circumstances.
And so, thank you and congratulations to the Upper Room Theater Ministry of All Saints Catholic Church.
In a theater in Aurora, Colorado this past Friday, a single individual tore the heart our of a community.
In a gym transformed into a theater not a mile from where I sit, a group of talented people gave of themselves to bring something of grace and beauty to their community.
My prayer is that the same grace and love this community experienced recently may help in the healing of the community in Colorado.
Last week, I was looking with writer friend at a draft of a story she had written. It was typical of her writing–complex, deep and beautifully crafted, but she wanted me to cast my English teacher eye over it and see what I could find. I couldn’t find much, but her use of “needle in a haystack” immediately struck me as out of keeping with beauty and grace of the piece.
I knew what had happened. She was writing along and needed some figure of speech to convey finding something rare,something that was difficult to come by. Still, the metaphor stuck out like a sore thumb (ha ha) (I know, that was a simile. Close enough.) and did not suit the warm and organic subject and tone, which was about nature and our place in it. The writing also had a motif of gold running through it.
To my way of thinking, metaphors need to be as original as we can make them, consonant with the tone of the writing and possessing a certain resonance. The needle didn’t work on all three counts.
Later on, I thought of the Pearl of Great Price from the New Testament parable as a less used metaphor and one that carried forward the motif of treasure, but I didn’t like the hardness of the pearl, and the color didn’t go with anything else. I emailed my friend anyhow, and she replied, writing that she had settled on a four-leaf clover as the right figure of speech, and it was. It was original, fit the warm and organic tone and resonated with the treasure and nature motif. It was a winner.
All this seems like a lot of angst over a phrase, but I would suggest that such attention to a word or phrase or sentence is what makes our writing sing. In this case, two experienced writers wrestled with coming up with exactly the right figure, and it paid off.
Although technology fascinates me, and especially its role in changing society, I am what is called a “late adopter,” i.e., I hang on to forms of technology long after everyone else has moved on. I do eventually get around to adopting the new forms, but it takes me a while. I want to see a scene in a movie last week, and found I had it on videotape. Then I was too lazy to fast forward it to the pertinent scene, and then realized I could probably find it on You Tube. I did, and everything turned out well. It’s probably sloth that drives me to change. Not exactly the classic protestant ethic, but it works for me.
I had been taking sermon notes in a notebook with a pen. I switched to a note pad for a while but I can’t keyboard fast enough for notes–I’m a bad typist anyhow, and the keyboard on the note pad is 80% normal size, which lead to more mistakes. Then I took the laptop to take notes. I’m in choir and I look funny dragging a laptop into the choir loft. That and it is something else to carry. I’m also clumsy, so I tend to smack it into one of my fellow tenors, who are gracious but who could probably do without being assaulted by a Toshiba Satellite. So I went back to the notebook and pen.
This past Sunday, I was sitting in the pew before the service and took out my iPhone to silence the ringer. Then it occurred to me that I could take notes on the notepad app of the iPhone. It worked like a charm! The virtual keyboard is small, but it has auto-correct (making for many amusing nearly correct words) and has gotten easier to type on with practice. Plus I don’t have to lug around a laptop or netbook, thereby complying with the general principle of technological change engendered by sloth. I put the phone in one of my many pockets (attired for Sunday in a suit I have nine pockets and sometimes misplace sunglasses for months in one of them).
I was going to write about car fobs and how they have changed my life, but I seemed to have gotten sidetracked. Imagine that. So, car fobs next week, maybe, unless I get distracted again. Stay tuned.