Sunday, August 17

oil and water


Thursday, August 14

answerless

puzzles make very neat metaphors. much like black boxes, the concept could be hiding almost anywhere. and like so, so many other words (wave, pencil, etc.) it is both a noun and a verb.

you don't exactly puzzle a puzzle though. you solve it, if you can.

most of the time we puzzle over other stuff: puzzling, bewildering things that may or not literally be puzzles.

this week I am puzzling over the syllabus I'm supposed to be polishing up and the worthiness of owning this or that sort of gas-powered vehicle.

literal puzzles are more fun. they have such low stakes and predetermined answers. the crossword kind might be my favourite. mm.
Crossword
{ photo via this kind soul on flickr. }

I think words are more interesting than paintings... but jigsaws can be just the thing if you've got the space and a few uninterrupted weekends with family.

so many kinds of puzzles, there are. once upon a time ten years ago friend Wilson introduced me to this infamously most difficult of all internet riddles. I didn't finish it.

a few days ago I ran across this maddening puzzle via twitter. I spent a few stop-and-go days getting up to level 31. I have been there for ages now. please, if anyone gets past this one... tell me the secret.
it must be solvable. I just can't figure it out yet.

regular life is not a jigsaw or a game, I don't think. definitely not one with neat, pre-cut, smooth-edged pieces. no... life is more like this image from a poem I read recently:
When the wind comes, and the snow repeats us,
 / how like our warped lives it is,
Melting objects, disappearing sounds,
Like lichen on gnarled rocks.
For we have lived in the wind, and loosened ourselves like ice
 / melt.
Nothing can hold us, I've come to know. 
it's from "My Old Clinch Mountain Home" by Charles Wright. his book Caribou was on the new books shelf (how I love new books shelves) at the library and I brought it home, not expecting much. I like it though. I didn't get the line spacing quite right in my excerpt, but hopefully the language conjures something poignant for you anyway. as I was thinking about puzzles and their solutions, this poem countered with its un-polished un-clear scenery. wind and water melting and eating away at everything, transforming and being transformed. all of that seems very, very beyond a puzzle.

we like puzzles so much because they have answers and we can hold those answers in our heads and hands and figure them out. this Vsauce video on games gets at this idea, comparing/contrasting life and play. we can win at Poker or Chess or Tennis... but how can we tell if anyone ever wins at Justice or Teenagerhood or Making A Difference? games and life don't work the same. unless they do...

unless it's only that nobody's figured out exactly how yet.

Sunday, August 10

sheep metaphors


when I asked the people sitting next to me what I should draw, friend Sam (he has a blog too) said to draw Jesus.

I tried.

Friday, August 8

hey you

wave is both a noun and a verb. the verb came first, it seems
I was thinking about when and why waving (particularly the happy, smiling, hey-you kind of waving) happens. all the possible contexts for waving won't fit in my head. I know the happy kind isn't the only kind. you could wave as a warning, as either hello or goodbye, or as a call for help, or a directional gesture.

but my thinking was mostly about happy, hey-you waving and strangers.

it seems a rare thing to wave happily and inconsequentially at strangers. a rare thing to wave and nothing more--no subsequent greeting or gathering or inquiry or discussion. only waving.
first, this kind of waving requires and responds to a certain amount of distance. to wave wordlessly without seeming creepily, stalkingly silent and strange needs an excuse of several meters. you must be far enough away to make shouting either ineffective or impolite, if not both.

movement seems necessary, also. to simply wave at strangers while otherwise motionless would need some other excuse, or perhaps even greater or loftier distances. at least one party involved in this exchange of waving should be on their way from somewhere to elsewhere.

are those the only two most basic requirements? or are there others? perhaps certain forms of transportation warrant random waving more than others. trains and boats come to mind more fittingly than skateboards or airplanes, definitely. perhaps the weather or the time of day might also make some difference. I'm not sure.

but whatever the perfect mix of circumstances is, sometimes there are moments for this waving-at-strangers: fleeting little isolated situations where there is no need for anything else. maybe no need to wave, either, really. but why not?

to wave with no reason other than the sake of human solidarity. it seems nice. maybe even an instinct...

it felt sort of like an instinct, at least, on our boat trip to the Isle of May a few weeks ago. it was our penultimate day in Scotland. we waved as we pulled away from the dock in Anstruther. we waved to passengers on a small speedboat, too. we waved to the National Nature Reserve volunteers when we left the island that afternoon. and we waved to a passing fishing boat on our way back.

everyone waved back.

I guess I don't know for certain that these strangers had no acquaintance on board the May Princess that day, but it didn't seem likely. the chances of anyone on a boatful of tourists actually knowing anyone outside of that boat in the middle of the gaping mouth of the Forth River can't be very much.

yet it seemed so nice to wave, in transit as we were that day, to the island and back.

that wave is both a verb and a noun reminds me of the event-ness of all objects, and of paradoxes. both noun waves and verb waves imply a back and forthness, or up and downness... an instability and yet a repeating, measurable frequency... movement, but usually in patterns. are there reasons for the patterns? is there meaning in this merry-go-round of back and forth and up and down? will we come, someday, to an explanation?

maybe no. but maybe we only need the waves themselves. maybe the fact that we can see the pattern at all is enough for reassuring ourselves of some worthwhile slivers of human solidarity underneath it.

Sunday, August 3

old new space


Tuesday, July 29

places to keep

traveling is a thing I very much love, and I've been pretty lucky to find a million excuses for indulging in it, so I am not surprised that the list of places where I've spent time is getting a bit long.

the length of the list does surprise some people though. Canada? and Budapest? and the UK three times now? Paris too? I don't think I mean to sound boastful about it all. everyone has their priorities, and moving around in the world seems to be one of mine.

a more noteworthy and thoroughly more surprising thing, I think, would be to find someone who has never moved around. someone who has lived in one place and soaked up everything of it over years and years and years. wouldn't that be something to boast of? keeping to one, neat, consistent, contained set of spaces?

a few weekends back I stayed in Oxford with the lovely Nicola, and got to see lots of old nooks and corners and pubs and museums and parks. one such museum was the Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology (can we start spelling archeology like that all the time, eh?), where there were displays from almost every corner and time period of the world.

I found myself drawn to the pottery. so different on the surface, all these bowls and urns and cups and vases. but they were all made for a pretty similar purpose: to keep stuff in. for holding water, or preserving food, or arranging flowers in.

there were cabinets full of vases from Greece, Egypt, China, Japan. little plaques listed out the distinctive markings, the stylistic marks and the contexts that give them archaeological significance. I did not read all the descriptions--it would've taken so long. and besides, museums are not only educational. this one is not only for archaeology, but also for art.

Greece, Egypt, China, and Japan are place I haven't been to yet. looking at artifacts could never count as visiting. I might someday find excuses for visiting the middle east and the orient and other far-away realms. I might not. I might have used up my life's traveling quota too soon, too euro-centrically. I hope not.

the day after our stroll through the Ashmolean, Nicola and I saw this exhibit on the Great War at the Bodleian Library. there weren't urns and vases on display there, not this time. the cabinets were mostly full of paper and ink: stories from soldiers and politicians and workers from the first of that infamous pair of long-ago (but not as long ago as some) wars. reading them was eye-opening on several levels.
this war is one I've learned about in school, of course. there are dates and holidays and all that in my head somewhere. but mainly this first world war is framed for US citizens as a prelude to the second, and World War II takes up more space in our cultural memory, for some reason. Pearl Harbor, perhaps, ties us more closely and corporeally to the tragedies of that conflict.

seeing the Great War through a British lens or two or three was so different than seeing it through the lens I'd always seen it through before. I'm not sure I can explain well enough how it was different, but if you think for a moment, you might be able to imagine for yourselves. I don't need to explain that Britain was touched by this war much more deeply and brutally than my own country was. nobody needed to explain that to me, exactly... yet I hadn't thought about it, not really, before. all these manuscripts, bound up for holding memories, preserving moments, arranging experiences in--they made those differences real.

my final night in the UK this year, I got to see Henry V (second time this summer). the Glasgow acting company who's been performing it framed their performance with a 1915 end-of-year school festival, complete with songs of Flanders Fields and letters of condolence filling the silence during simple costume changes. the juxtaposition of the great Battle of Agincourt with all the battles of the Great War, so many on the same French soil, prodded my thoughts further in the direction of war, duty, bravery, and the value of sacrifices. it ended so sadly--Elizabethan armor transformed to early twentieth-century uniforms, the desperate enemies of English and French soldiers transformed to allied casualties.

I've thought before that almost everything we humans ever touch becomes a place for us to keep things. we build shelters and tombs for our bodies, shelves and closets for our things. we use pottery for holding water and poetry for holding feelings. and then we bind books, build museums, raise up theatres, and dedicate monuments to hold those things that do so much holding for us. we can look at all the layers of containment and be grateful, awe-inspired at the combined beauty and utility of them, glad that they do so well at keeping our places as we move through time towards an end we can't quite see past. some shapes and some structures are better for keeping certain kinds of stuff. some museums are less art and more archaeology, or vice versa. plenty of this pottery is different on the outside, but the general purpose seems close enough. these are our necessities, collected and revered, filled to their brims with stories.

Sunday, July 27

over matter

Saturday, July 26

time travel


let the process of untangling myself from the cosy embrace of the Greenwich timezone (as friend Chris marvelously put it yesterday) begin....

Sunday, July 20

Wednesday, July 16

reflexibly

what would you say was the prime of your life? the time when you were happiest, on top of the world?

somebody asked me this question the other day. it's one I hadn't thought about before, so it wasn't easy to answer. I love collecting questions and inquiries like this, though, to aid in conversational-scuba-diving efforts. for example:

-if you had a plant growing out of the top of your head, which kind of plant would you prefer?

-name your life's greatest ambition.

-what color would you most like to paint your ceiling and why?

-when or if you have children, would you rather they be dazzlingly clever and generally miserable or hopelessly unintelligent but generally happy?

-which food would you choose to be the only thing you ever ate from now on, every day, for ever?

the responses to these are usually less like answers and more like explorations of reasons and motives and priorities and hypotheticals of all kinds. much better than talking about whether it might rain tomorrow.

lately, on my travels, I've been noticing reflections. puddles. train windows. lakes. shopfronts. such surfaces make crazy collages of here and there, above and beneath, inside and outside, forward and backward. the photographs flatten a lot of that deep, shifting, photo-overlay feeling into an only slightly disorienting double-exposure feeling... but until I get around to figuring out proper gif-making, these static juxtapositions of image-within-non-image-within-image are what I have.

I once asked my physicist sister whether the reflections of cars' taillights in dark, wet streets look infinitely long, extending infinitely deep because those cars are moving, or because the car I'm in is moving, or what. she wasn't sure how to explain the optics of it all to me. I'm still wondering, a bit, how that works. maybe I should ask this guy.

of course the feeling of infinitely long, red taillight streaks and/or of a whole world upside-down in the canal water is an illusion. the look of all that space is a trick. but maybe so is everything. human eyes are complicated. optics and light are complicated.

on the wall of an Indian restaurant we visited the other day for lunch, I noticed a wallpaper pattern of the following quotation, all slanted in elegant script: "Illusion is the first of all pleasures." what does that mean? maybe I'll add it to my collection in the the form of a philosophical challenge-- does all enjoyment predicate itself upon a false sense of security, permanence, or desert? hmm.

on slaughterhouse 90210 the other day
 I saw this excerpt from Catherine Lacey's Nobody Is Ever Missing:
“We don’t get to stay in moments and that should not be news to you. We are both familiar with the concept of time, the awful math of it, how our history always gets larger, less understandable, overweight, overworked, over and over, and memories get misfiled and complicate feelings for no good reason and some people seem more able to deal with this, to keep their histories clean and well ordered but I still don’t understand why we came unstuck from those moments we wanted to stay and why the moments we wanted to forget still haunt us.” 
I've mentioned Slaughterhouse 90201 before, eh? tumblr is a strange universe, but it is great for thought-provoking snippets like the above paired with television stills. this quote goes pretty interestingly with the question I began with. what period would you say was the prime of your life? the time when you were happiest, on top of the world? out of all the moments and seasons in your ever-deepening history, which are the very best?

while I pondered what answer I would give the questioner, she told me that most people do say right now, or at least include right now in the span of time that counts as their most happy, confident time.

I wonder if that's because everything else seems either haunting and heavy or lost forever. unreachable like the sky, or mere reflection like the sky's image. in comparison with the all-encompasing now, the past and future look like tricks of the light.