Monday, March 02, 2015

Today in talk-back.

I've spent the day reading discussion posts and job applications. Commenting and scoring, occasionally out loud. Chatting with the occasional other human, but mostly: commenting and scoring, occasionally out loud.

one of the humans with whom I chatted. (with
fancy Google Hangout Drawing Action.)


When I got home, I noted that this was on my counter:

oh how I love a fresh box of raisins!

Can you read that? Kind of blurry, I guess. Apparently Sun-Maid sees itself as a servant of American families...and the world.

And the world.

By purveying raisins and other dried fruits, I guess? and also, its "century of experience answers all your questions on raisins and dried fruits--their unique characteristics, their history, and how they are grown processed, marketed, and enjoyed throughout the world." Because there's an ebook, you guys. A 100th Anniversary eBook (don't forget those capital letters!). I kind of want to get this eBook, while I'm simultaneously laughing about it.

Let me just say, to be clear, that I am pro-raisin. Particularly pro-golden raisin. They are among the royalty of raisinry (the Sultana is perhaps the King? But also that Trader Joe Gargantuan Raisin Medley is just the best--it is an argument for the whole American way, maybe?). And I'm not even going to make the turn you're predicting--"but this Anniversary eBook with gratuitous capital letters is a BRIDGE TOO FAR!" (speaking of gratuitous capital letters.) Nope.

But I will say that a raisin purveyor as a servant of American THAT is straight up pompous. I would rather they just said, "Our raisins are the best." Nothing else. Think of the marketing--if they said it that way, the letters would be enormous. HUGE. And thus memorable, in the way of all huge things, such as The Hulk, Andre the Giant, Godzilla, King Kong, and those Trader Joe Gargantuan Raisins in the Medley. So good, you guys.


I am similarly pro-doughnut, as readers of this blog are already aware. But let me tell you that when you, and perhaps your son who is shopping with you, buy a dozen doughnuts that come in a plastic box, such as this one, at a grocery store:

twelve of these, and they are not everything they could
be, I'm sorry to say.
you can pretty much count on the fact that they are not going to be full of Bakery Fresh Goodness,


no matter what the label says.

Sunday, March 01, 2015

Short notes.

Dear thought that pulled me by the ears out of almost-sleep at 1:45 a.m.,

I know: it's true, in the digital-virtual-internet world, there is not just one public, there are many publics--fractional publics, even intimate publics--and therefore, when we talk about publishing, we are talking about multiple forms of publishing, and this, this makes all the difference.

And yes: maybe I should write a series of essays about this. And maybe it should, maybe, be the first monograph that the Publication Center publishes. As a collaborative effort, because everyone will totally be on board with this.

Even so, stray thought that pulled me by the ears out of almost-sleep at 1:45 a.m., I just have to say one thing: 1:45 a.m. is so harsh a time to be having thoughts that aren't dreams. Even if you did, in fact, get me out of bed and writing it down. Oh yeah, I wrote it down.

But seriously: Kairos, dude. Think about it.



Dear the weekend,

As I flailed and outlasted the workweek--one of the more challenging ones so far, but not the most challenging, I'm betting, of this Infinity-of-Labors Semester--it was so good to realize that there you were, the weekend, right there in my pocket.

And did you ever feel good in the palm of my hand, when I woke up without an alarm on Saturday, and ate pancakes after working out, when I wrote letters to Scotland and mailed them, when I sent out a draft to my coworkers. When we went to the strangest movie, when we poked around in funny shops, and ate a delicious dinner at a new restaurant--the weekend, you were like an amulet, making things better. More cheerful, with better conversation and more relish. More laughter.

Tomorrow's Monday, but I won't forget you, the weekend, twinkling on the horizon,



Dear people making videos with your cell phones at a concert,

No it is not okay, not even remotely, to walk around the concert venue with your cameras video-ing away, getting closer and closer to the pianist, whilst recording for who knows what reason, for minutes on end. It's not okay! The pianist's being blind makes it worse, because it's as if you're saying, it's okay! she's blind, I'm not disturbing her. 

Like you're little mice and not grown women, tiptoeing around in full view of the entire audience and the rest of the band, making a video as if you're Albert Maysles and this is the Rolling Stones at Altamont. But no: it's a little jazz concert, a little jazz trio, and everyone can see you, and it's distracting and rude.

Really, if I hadn't been on the verge of starvation and therefore in grave need of rushing out of the concert as soon as it was over, I might have grabbed you by the, whatever, flowy cardigan, and said how rude how rude how rude!

But I was too hungry, and also probably not chutzpah'd up enough, but people with your cell phones at a concert, listen up: sit down! listen with your ears! and DO NOT SIDLE UP WITH YOUR CELL PHONE BEHIND THE PIANO PLAYER, be she blind, be she sighted, to make a video.

Because it is just beyond, and you ought to know better,


Saturday, February 28, 2015

What Bruiser thought.

We're returning from our nightly walk. It has been raining and lightly snowing. The walks are on their way to icy. Up the steps:

The Historian: There you go, Bruiser. What'd you think of that?

Friday, February 27, 2015

Today in sandwiches.

Today, I ordered a sandwich that turned out to potentially be in the running for the longest-to-make sandwich in the history of sandwiches. I'm pretty serious that it might have set some kind of record. I don't know who keeps track of these things, but I'd like to submit the following for the Committee's (there has to be a committee, no?) consideration:

LOCATION: Food court, at my place of employ.
TIME: 11:15 a.m.

I walked into the food court. The Mexican place? closed. Chinese place? too much dubious gelatinous biz. (Actually, I didn't even check the Chinese place--I relied on previous intel.) Pizza? looked heat-lamp scorched and otherwise unattractive. That left the cold case (too much empty shelves of nothing), the grill (#deepfatfried), and the sandwich place. So I decided to order a sandwich.

"Is this where you order?" I asked the young counter worker. Wordlessly, she slid a laminated order card and a grease pencil toward me.

I ordered a sandwich with the following specs:

  • half
  • wheat bread
  • toasted
  • pesto mayo
  • BLT with
  • cucumbers and pickles
Also: a bag of barbecue potato chips, in homage to the days when, in junior high, I used to start to salivate like Pavlov's dog in contemplation of the 
  • white grease paper wrapped hamburger with 
  • pickles on it, which happened to be hot,
  • chocolate shake (oh! chocolate shake as a beverage, what halcyon days!), and
  • bag of BBQ potato chips,
which remains one of the Platonic ideals of a lunch for me. For everyone, probably, I'm thinking.

Back to my sandwich: and then I paid, and I stood back to wait. Bag of barbecue potato chips in hand. I happened to note a guy who was studying his cell phone with grave intent. He had been waiting since before I stepped up to the ordering place. Why didn't I bring *my* cell phone?

I opened my bag of barbecue potato chips. The sandwich maker seemed to be approaching his work with a certain spaciousness. Spaciness, really. He'd study the laminated order card. Then he'd look up, as if perhaps someone were surveilling him. As, I suppose, in fact I was. Then he'd look down and--I'm not joking--look at the order card again. Maybe he'd put a little scoop of tuna salad on a slice of marble rye. Look up, check out the surveillance team (me, cell phone guy), and put some lettuce and maybe a couple slices of tomato on a small piece of white paper. 

This very leisurely pace of work caused me to reflect. I had not gathered, from the perfectly unbusy sandwich place, that there might have been an unmade sandwich pileup happening. Cell phone guy and me, I thought. But no. After about seven minutes of rather desultory sandwich making, the tuna sandwich was leveled into a plastic container and out of nowhere, another guy slid over to the end of the bar and picked it up. As if he had been waiting elsewhere. Probably in a "While You Wait for Your Sandwich Lounge," available exclusively to an A-List of which I was clearly not a part. Not the cell phone guy, either. 

I thought to myself, I can be calm. I can be patient. Which I was, for three more minutes. Then, I walked over to the counter and said, calm as all hell, "So what's the situation here? How are things coming?" As if, somehow, it would have been rude to say, MAY I HAVE MY SANDWICH PLEASE? 

Well, that would have been rude, surely. The young woman looked at the small row of order cards. She looked back at me. She pointed to the one second to her left (my right), and said, "Yours is next after that one."

I stepped back with the cell phone guy. I leaned up against a pillar and ate some barbecue potato chips like it was my job, or more realistically, like they were my lunch, which, in fact they were, at least until my sandwich came into being.

I watched the guy in the cap--sandwich guy--slap some heaven-knows-what on a slice of bread, then lay that bread on a griddle. Ah, "toasted." Young counterwoman assembled the lettuce-tomato-pickle etc. combo on a small piece of white paper. Another sandwich got made in a very leisurely and squirrelly fashion (to wit: young man performed one sandwich-related operation, looked up, checked out the surveillance, adjusted his cap, resumed the next sandwich-related operation). A few minutes or a half hour later, who could tell when time moves this slowly? the young man placed this sandwich in a plastic container and said, "Cell phone guy?"

Cell phone guy stepped forward and took his sandwich with no air of surprise or drama or sigh of complaint. None whatsoever. It was like this was how things were, and always had been and no doubt always would be, here in Sandwich-ville, the slowest place on earth. I resumed my lean against the pillar and ate some more barbecue potato chips.

It will not surprise you, the people, to know that my barbecue potato chips were long gone by the time my sandwich finally made it into its plastic coffin. "Megastore?" the sandwich guy said.

I stepped forward and he looked up at me with the friendliest smile ever. It became clear: he was a sandwich artist, this was obvious, and not some bread-slapping, pickle-mongering hack, and art cannot be rushed nor robotized. 

"Would you like some broccoli salad?" he asked, politely, pointing to several petite plastic containers.

Reader, I took some broccoli salad, and walked the sandwich back to my office where I ate it with relish, and where it perfumed my work for the rest of the afternoon. I should have taken a picture, but I really couldn't--I was starving, and I had a sandwich to eat. And it was damned good.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Tiny everyday treasure hunt.

Today I was preparing to read, with my students, Muriel Rukeyser's sequence The Book of the Dead, which was based on the Hawks Nest Tunnel disaster, in which hundreds of miners were sickened and died due to silicosis. As I was preparing, I looked up, to remind myself, the ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead, which (you may already know this--I didn't, or had forgotten--) in Egyptian probably meant, literally, something more like the book of emerging forth into the light or book of coming forth by day. This book was composed by many priests over the course of a millennium, and was, in fact, not really a book so much as a series of texts that, over time, comprised a whole funerary tradition, texts and spells taken into the sarcophagus with the dead to guide them on their passage through the underworld.

While I was reading this, scanning and scrolling, I happened upon this fact: the text was written in both hieroglyphic and hieratic script. Hieratic script? I said to myself, because (a) I happened to know the meaning of this word, or at least I thought I did--I used it in a poem once, and at that point I knew what it meant--and (b) I did not know it was a form of writing.

It turns out that--among other things--hieratic writing was generally priestly, and also more cursive than hieroglyphs. To wit:

from Ancient Scripts

The top row is the hieratic--the bottom is the hieroglyphic.

Cursiveness is the degree of joined-ness or connected-ness in the elements of the script. The more connected, the more cursive. Cursive is by definition quicker than print, and hieratic was quicker to write than hieroglyphics, although it's clear that the hieratic signs still referred strongly to the hieroglyphs.

One time I saw an exhibit of Japanese calligraphic works in the Ando Gallery at the Chicago Art Institute. I love this space. I've been there a number of times. It's cool and dark and quiet, ideally anyway--often enough, for a public space like a museum.

The ink strokes on some of the pieces were so thick and bold, there was barely a lightening or lifting of the the brush. The characters connected by joints or tendrils of ink.

I was surprised then, too, to discover that there was such a thing as a cursive style of calligraphic Japanese writing. Similarly, the pages from the books of Persian schoolboys, who practiced their slanting strokes in row upon row, just as I practiced the loops above and below the line on my school girl's paper:

I loved these Persian practice pages so much (I've looked, but can't find the images that I saw back then) that I wrote a poem about then, a poem about cursive writing, a few years ago. I recently took this poem out of my newest manuscript, but now, I'm thinking I'm going to work on it some more. I think it might still have something to say to me--something about writing itself, the ways that these scripts are spells for the journey.


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