Friday, December 31, 2010

Analemma 2010



What goes around, comes around.

A picture of the sun taken at exactly 9 a.m. 36 times throughout the last year (the foreground was superimposed; the neighborhood in Hungary from where the pix were taken). The bottom-most image was taken on the December 21 solstice, the top-most taken on the June 21 solstice. The middle bits: on the equinoxes, March 20 and September 23.

Have a very merry New Year's Eve. Drive safe. Make exactly as much of a fool of yourself as you choose. See you in the New Year.

Thamks to APOD for the pic.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

С Новым Годом



Not sure if it's Santa or Father Time (his watch says midnight, which points to the latter). Either way, С Новым Годом to you all.

The pic is a Soviet era Christmas card, reprinted by Roscomos, the Russian space agency. I learned about them from always excellent Space Gizmo. More cards are here.

I'll post in the new year. I really will.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Horse Latitudes

I was in a parade last week. For Thanksgiving I cooked a turkey, dressing, gravy, which le Huque pronounced to be "a poem." Fixed a toilet. Weather-stripped a door.

Beyond that, not much else.

My Mom died in September, something many of you reading this already know. If not, well, she did, and now you know. Consequently, the wind has left my sails.

With Thanksgiving behind me, I can feel the mighty suck of the Christmas vortex, so in the coming couple weeks I'll be busy with all that hoopla. Lights. Tree. Presents. I enjoy that stuff, I really do. So that will, very soon, pull me out of these horse latitudes (allegedly that part of the ocean where the wind goes dead, and the sailors must throw horses overboard to lighten the load; almost certainly an apocryphal etymology, from what I've read this morning, as they would have eaten the horses rather than drowned them).

I'll spend what little down time I can find with a blanket and a comfortable chair and China Mieville.

Have a happy holiday.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Though Space Worms Would Be Cool



No. Not bacteria. Not a herd of space worms. This a field of sand dunes in Proctor Crater on Mars. The dark bits are the dunes, blowing over the lighter rock beneath. Each one is about a football field wide.

For more cool, geeky details, go to the Astronomy Picture of the Day.

And have a pleasant Thanksgiving. If you are reading this, you must have access to a computer. And electricity. Alotta people don't. So be thankful, dammit.

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Bipolar Galactic Wind



When I was a kid I read somewhere that there were bubbles of anti-matter above and below the galactic plane. I thought about that for years, conjured up the image in my head when I was bored, or when stargazing. I don't think anyone believes there is anti-matter there anymore. No matter. The image remained.

And then last week there on the internet was a replica of that very image I've been carrying for decades, as if they had crept into my dreams and stolen it from the folds of my brain. An X-ray map of the sky revealed giant bubbles of plasma in the exact same spots my anti-matter bubbles were, coming from the poles of a black hole in the center of the galaxy. Perhaps scientists are more humble than they used to be, as they now freely admit they have no idea what it is. They have named it, though. They're calling it a "Bipolar Galactic Wind." What a gloriously evocative phrase.

Right there with Io Plasma Torus. Fun to say. Go ahead. Say it. I'll wait.

The Io Plasma Torus is, sadly, a doughnut of plasma, not a bubble. But still pretty cool.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Get Well Soon

Cassini, the hardest working probe in show business, is sick. It went into safe mode last week just before it was to do a close fly-by of Saturn's moon Titan, the second largest moon in the solar system, and the only one with an atmosphere. There are supposed to be lakes of liquid methane down there, and maybe critters as well (the conspiracy buffs on Coast to Coast believe Cassini isn't broken at all, but rather the scapegoat in a massive cover-up).

Not to worry. Cassini has gone into safe mode six times before, and came out fine each time. Plus, 53 other fly-bys of Titan scheduled.

The JPL says, "The spacecraft is very tolerant of error. It'd be hard to break it."

Menwhile, here's a gorgeous picture of Saturn and the rings Cassini took in healthier days, a tumble of light and shadow, spheres and rings. The triangular slab of shadow is the shadow of Saturn itself, so the sun must be off to the lower left, well out of the frame.

Thanks to Bad Astronomy for the pic.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

It's a Hard World for Little Things

There's a great article in Slate today about one of my favorite movies of all time, "Night of the Hunter." If you've seen it, you remember it. Robert Mitchum as "Preacher." HATE tattooed on the knuckles of one hand, LOVE tattooed on the knuckes of the other. He's come to town hunting for $10,000 in stolen loot.



The only movie Charles Laughton ever directed. Pauline Kael called it "one of the most frightening films ever made." I love the scene below; if the Preacher sees the world as a battle between good and evil, then think of this scene as a duet between the dueling natures of Christianity.

That's Lillian Gish in the chair, holding the shotgun. Make sure and watch the end, with the owl and the bunny, and that killer last line.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Scary


Nothing says "well-adjusted" like a chalk drawing of a dead girl with X's for eyes and the words "You're going to die" right next to it.


Except, of course, this. A positive role model for the girls.


Scary.


Our front door. Note the cardboard tombstone. And the skulls and bones drawn on the steps.

The family that flays together, stays together.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Halloween and the Decline of Democracy

There are fewer trick-or-treaters every year, and have been since I was a child and the apocryphal razor-blade-in-the-apple story began making the rounds. Jump cut to the present and our fear-based media cycle (terrorists! pedophiles! immigrants! flesh-eating bacteria! gay marriage! socialist president!) and you've got parents driving their kids to the mall for pre-wrapped candies and exhortations to consume! consume! consume! before being driven home and ushered into the house through the garage door so they don't ever have to meet the neighbors.

The result: the decline of community, the decline of democracy, a landscape where we stay in our homes, our children locked indoors, listening to the news on television telling us how scary it is out there.

Look outside. No kids in the park. No one riding bikes. No hide and seek til the streetlights come on. No pick-up wiffle-ball games.

Look in the paper. Voters driven to the polls by fear and anger. No one interested in dialogue, community. Us versus them. Throw the bastards out. Arrest the immigrants. Keep your hands off my paycheck.

See a connection?

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Proof

We have fake spiderwebs over the front door, grinning stuffed spiders hanging from the silk, and six pumpkins in varying degrees of scariness lining the steps (I was worried Halloween would bring up some disturbing imagery to the girls so soon after their Grandma's recent death, but it turns out the holiday is much too cartoonish to summon anything emotionally real). We have candy. We have costumes. We have roasted pumpkin seeds.

Adding to the flavor of the season: every kid in the neighborhood is convinced our house is haunted. I am not. I'm open to the idea of ghosts, though I've never seen one (with possibly one exception, but that's another post). But our house feels too sane, too safe, too comfortable. I will admit to visualizing a ghostly woman at the end of the hallway late at night, some nights, but I have a laughably active imagination.

The girls, blessed/cursed with similar imaginations, both say they've seen a woman walking past their bedroom doorways, in the same hallway where I imagine my own apparition.

Still, I am unconvinced. Bolstering my beliefs is the fact that ghost hunters actually investigated our house the year before we moved in. I say ghost hunters; they are a group of stoner kids that work at the Loaf N Jug down the street. But they've got ambitions, they've fashioned themselves into a team of ghostbusters, and so brought in video cameras and sound recorders, searched the house, found nothing.

No matter. Our house is 117 years old, it looks haunted. Add in the dusty attic, the Hannibal Lecter-ready basement. Who need proof? Not our kids, or our neighbor's kids. They have something much more powerful: belief.

Monday, October 25, 2010

The Future of American Fiction

I helped with the spelling - note curious is spelled "cireis" in the illustration - but all words and pictures are K's.



The Cat
written by Kaylene Wood
illustrated by Kaylene Wood



I once had a kitten named Blake. I named my kitten Blake because he was a blake cat. And was very curious.



After that he accidentally ate dog food and got sick because he ate dog food.



He was very tired and so he dropped on the carpet.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Zombies in Space

The Damned Thing just won't die.

The Galaxy 15 C-band telecommunications satellite went off orbit and out of control in April. It can't be repositioned, it can't be turned off, and interference from it is disrupting signals from other satellites.

Admittedly, the reason this is in the news at all is likely because someone nicknamed it a "zombie satellite." To my mind that is somewhat of a misnomer, as a true zombie satellite would not only kill other satellites but turn them into other zombie satellites as well. The glitch would go viral. Sadly, all the Damned Thing does is temporarily disrupt signals.

Still, scientists predicted it would die in August, after all its power was drained (the different orbit means its solar panels are not pointed directly at the sun anymore). What they didn't count on was that the satellite is able to save energy during periods it is in the Earth's shadow. No one expected that to happen. So it's still alive, still kicking, still spreading its zombie goodness throughout the solar system.

They have had to change the orbits of 6 satellites so far to avoid the zombie, and expect to have to change the orbits of 7 more between now and December. By then, the experts say it should die.

I'm hoping otherwise.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Democracy

Hux and I took the girls and my Dad to the Gubernatorial debate downtown last night. John Hickenlooper, Don Maes, and Tom Tancrado. My proudest moment was when eldest pointed to the stage and said "which one is crazy as a loon?" The answer, of course, being Tom Tancrado.

Our kids were only two kids in the audience, it turned out. And they behaved very well, though youngest and I went out to the lobby a couple times to get her wiggles out, and watched much of the debate from the back of the room. It turned out to be a good vantage point: TV cameras, reporters, lotsa folks typing on laptops, lotsa aides running around.

Tancredo got my vote as the guy I'd most want to have a beer with, though I disagreed with virtually everything that came out of his mouth. It's odd to say something like "there is no money in green energy" in a small, job-hungry town where a wind turbine plant is creating employment for hundreds of people. My pick - Hickenloooper - did not do particularly well. He's not well spoken. But he'll make a good governor, I think. Made an excellent mayor of Denver. Socially liberal, fiscally conservative. My kinda guy.

Democracy is being driven close to the breaking point by an over-reliance on television ads, as opposed to actual public discourse, and the ensuing huge sums of money those TV ads entail. It's become a game for billionaires. So it was refreshing to see a full auditorium where people applauded and booed and shouted questions at three flesh and blood human beings who were asking for our vote. And after it was over, we all walked out into the cool autumn evening, toward our cars and bikes, towards home, where the debate likely continued, in kitchens and bedrooms and bars. No celebrities telling us how to vote. No attack ads with foreboding music and lurid claims. Just real people, discussing real issues. Democracy.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Whatever’s here is just here.

Burial Rites
by Philip Levine

Everyone comes back here to die
as I will soon. The place feels right
since it’s half dead to begin with.
Even on a rare morning of rain,
like this morning, with the low sky
hoarding its riches except for
a few mock tears, the hard ground
accepts nothing. Six years ago
I buried my mother’s ashes
beside a young lilac that’s now
taller than I, and stuck the stub
of a rosebush into her dirt,
where like everything else not
human it thrives. The small blossoms
never unfurl; whatever they know
they keep to themselves until
a morning rain or a night wind
pares the petals down to nothing.
Even the neighbor cat who shits
daily on the paths and then hides
deep in the jungle of the weeds
refuses to purr. Whatever’s here
is just here, and nowhere else,
so it’s right to end up beside
the woman who bore me, to shovel
into the dirt whatever’s left
and leave only a name for some-
one who wants it. Think of it,
my name, no longer a portion
of me, no longer inflated
or bruised, no longer stewing
in a rich compost of memory
or the simpler one of bone shards,
dirt, kitty litter, wood ashes,
the roots of the eucalyptus
I planted in ’73,
a tiny me taking nothing,
giving nothing, and free at last.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Just Married



My Mom and Dad, 19 years old. Just married (Dad wasn't sure until he spied the wedding ring on his finger). It looks to me like Mom is pulling Dad's hand up to somewhere more appropriate, but Dad's theory is that the photographer just made a risque remark.

They sure look happy. Off in their own little world.

After my mom graduated from high school in Idabel, Oklahoma, she hung around town for a couple weeks, helping around the house. One morning she helped her Mom pick blackberries, went to her brother John to borrow 8 dollars, and left town. Took the next bus to Dallas, where she stayed with an aunt, and waited for my Dad to return home from the Korean War. It was a leap of faith into an unknown world.

She died last month, on September 21. She was 78 years old. A life is so much more than just memories, but memories are what remain. She lived a long and courageous life. She will be missed, and always loved.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Jiffy Pop Effect



Got a new story up at Fiction@Work. Baby Teeth. An early version of it appeared on this blog. It's a little cleaner now. I'm fond of it.




The novel rewrite is going well. About a quarter of the way through. Two chapters cut, one major character cut, and another seriously downsized.

What's making me feel good is how the surviving chapters are plumping up (I think of this as the Jiffy Pop effect; do they even make Jiffy Pop anymore?), even as I cut large chunks of the novel away. Stories, regardless of length, kinda harden after awhile. They turn brittle. You pick apart a sentence and realize your changes affect three other sentences later on. It's been too long, there's too much distance. Happily, the novel is still alive, still reacting to changes, still capable of surprising me. New character details, new plot points, more dialogue. At one point two characters just started talking to each other at the end of a chapter. I let them. I'm glad I did. I learned from them.

A concession I am making to the marketplace is to give the couple in the novel a more traditional love story. I'd strenuously avoided that during the first two drafts, as I felt it was important thematically for the two lovers not to communicate well, to show their interactions as stumbling and incomplete. I realize that's not a very satisfying experience for the reader.

Now I'm beginning to see how to approach the theme of disconnection from the other side, by showing those rare and meaningful moments when they do connect as a contrast.




The Copenhagen Suborbitals attempted manned space flight last weekend was a scrub, but they vow to continue, and launch next year. They designed their own rocket, their own submarine, their own floating launch platform. They'll figure it out.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Life Imitating Photoshop



This looks like a badly Photoshopped picture, but it's real, and required a half an hour of Hubble telescope time to get enough light to resolve the image. It looks like a ghost of a dead galaxy. Sadly, it is not. It's the result of the death throes of a carbon star, throwing off material, and because it's orbiting another star the ejected material comes out in a spiral. Think of a rotating sprinkler head to visualize the effect.

What I like about the picture is that it looks like this, another example of life imitating bad Photoshop. But this spiral was caused by entirely different circumstances: a missile launch gone bad, spewing fuel in an exact spiral. I love the recurrence of certain basic shapes and patterns in nature. Spheres and discs, spiral arms. The golden mean. Fibonacci numbers.

Thanks to APOD for the pic.




We went to a campground with Tolstoy and the boys this weekend. We have a recent habit of arbitrarily choosing Colorado campgrounds, showing up, seeing what it's like. This time the campground was maybe 300 yards from the Interstate. You could see a McDonald's sign and three different motels from the tent. You could hear the dull throb of traffic day and night.

Still, it's hard to be unhappy while camping. We had several ponds and a rubber raft to play with. We saw an egret, a HUGE heron, several killdeer. The campground was formerly a series of gravel pits that were filled with water and turned into a wildlife refuge. Traffic noise notwithstanding, it's hard to argue with the result. And a gorgeous Saturday night sky, despite the lights: Jupiter anchoring one end, Venus and a thin crescent moon anchoring the other, and Cassiopeia, Pegasus, Sagittarius and Scorpio spread out on the canvas between them.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Forge of Memory, pt. 2

Memories rarely stick when you think they will. You can't make them stay. They do or they don't; you aren't allowed into the decision. They're ornery that way. It's a neural hat trick, which events stay embedded in the folds of the brain, which get discarded. It's alchemy.

I remember few Christmas mornings. You're supposed to, of course, that's where the emphasis goes, what all the commercials point to as the most important moment. It's what everyone prepares for, when everyone takes out the camera. Why some families spend hundreds of dollars on presents and decorations: to make a perfect family memory. But it doesn't work, not very often. You can't force a memory. They do what they wanna do. Like I said: ornery.

My Christmas memories are of being on the roof putting up Christmas lights in the weeks beforehand, of playing with Play-doh in the languor of the days after. Of wondering what the giant present hidden in the closet is. Of watching my sister open wrapping paper with the cat's claw so she can see what the present is, yet preserve deniability by blaming the cat.

Toys breaking, I remember. Arguments, I remember.

Several years ago, the girls and I were putting up Christmas lights, and a deer wandered onto our block, elegant, unhurried, strolling from one lawn to the next. I called the little Hux out to watch. Then boom!, a backyard dog began to bark, the deer vanished in a series of leaps, pogo-ing away, all four legs pumping at the same time.

It's a reindeer, said the eldest. It's flying!

That, we've all remembered.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The Forge of Memory



The State Fair dominated the week, beginning with the parade on Saturday morning, ending with the way-past-bedtime stroll through the midway Friday night. I grew up going to the Iowa State Fair (as well as various county fairs), and now, decades later, the best bits are pretty much unchanged. The Tilt-A-Whirl (the girls ran to hux afterward yelling "Daddy didn't puke!" which would make an excellent tee shirt). Six separate rides on the bumper cars. Corn dogs and funnel cakes. Sheep and cows and roosters and petting zoos, yada, yada, yada.



The memorable piece came at the very end, and was memorable primarily for what did not happen. Friday night was packed, and the line for the bungee jump was long, so we saved it for the very end. Took over an hour to get to the front, and you'd expect that to be a recipe for full tilt whining and are-we-there-yet level boredom. And yet. The bungee jump itself was almost an afterthought. Three girls were in front of us, and our girls talked and played with them the entire time. It helped that the eldest was fourteen, making her a Rock Star in the eyes of our own girls. Helpful as well was the summer night, the hint of the coming fall in the air, the bright lights of the midway, the flirting teenagers, the smell of the corn dogs and the funnel cakes, the clamor of the sideshows and the crowd and the creaking machinery. They all conspired to push the moment out of the ordinary, into the bright alchemical forge of memory.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Copenhagen Suborbitals

Copenhagen Suborbitals is trying to put a man into space this weekend, by launching their very own rocket on Saturday. It'd being launched from a floating platform also of their own design. The floating platform is being towed into place by the Nautilus, a submarine also designed by these guys. So, to recap: their own rocket, floating launch platform and submarine. Clearly, a creative bunch. Nemo would be proud.



Copenhagen Suborbitals is a non-profit group, entirely funded by donations. Go visit their site. You can give them some money, or at least buy a very cool t shirt, like I did.

My favorite aspect of this is that they named the rocket Tycho Brahe, one of my favorite astronomers ever. Tycho had a silver nose, as his actual nose was cut off in a duel. He made incredibly accurate measurements of the stars and planets, and their positions in the night sky, but never concluded the Earth revolved around the sun, choosing to instead cling to his own theory that the Earth was the center of things, and the movements of the planets could be explained by "epicycles," or circles within the orbits. After his death his assistant, Johann Kepler, took Brahe's results and pretty much nailed down the heliocentric solar system model, by deducing the heartbreakingly elegant three laws of planetary motion from the data.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Zombie Ants

I'm not sure how trustworthy this site is, but Ms. Dancehall sent me an article from there entitled "Zombie Ants Controlled by Fungus." How can you not love that headline?

The gist: a fungus in Thailand infects the brains of carpenter ants and gets them to climb down from the comfy tree canopies they prefer to hang out in. They descend into the low leaves, and then clamp down hard on the leaf stem right before they die. Why? Because it's the perfect spot for the fungus to grow.

After the ant dies, the fungus continues to grow inside it. By dissecting victims, Hughes and colleagues found that the parasite converts the ant's innards into sugars that help the fungus grow. But it leaves the muscles controlling the mandibles intact to make sure the ant keeps its death grip on the leaf.


I, for one, welcome our new fungal overlords.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Smile, dammit



My sister micromanages my facial expression inside a photo booth at Woolworth's in Otummwa, Iowa, in the mid-sixties.

Happy (belated) birthday, Jennifer.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Pg Up

I mentioned in my last post that it took me 2 hours to get through 6 pages of a rewrite of the Novel. Didn't write Tuesday, as full tilt first-full-day-of-school craziness took over the household. Hilarity ensued.

Last night, I didn't feel like writing. Dead tired. And yet. I made myself do it, and got through the second half of the first chapter, and the entire second chapter. In addition to the feeling of accomplishment, I'm beginning to see a path where dumbing down the novel might make it a better novel. More focused. Leaner.




My Page Up button quit working yesterday. This morning I pried the little plastic key off, blew off a bit of something that had been trapped underneath the key (I'm guessing a Cheetos crumb; I'm a pig). I've been struggling ever since with getting the little plastic key reattached to the keyboard. It is consuming my workday. Your tax dollars at work.




Snail news. Since I last reported on the miraculous reappearance of the snail, it has disappeared and reappeared and disappeared again. And just yesterday, it reappeared yet again! It's back in a jar of moist peat moss and rocks and an errant baseball card. It is no longer named Prince and Princess, however. It is now named Pedro Martinez. After the baseball card.




More Cassini: this picture is of an unnamed moon causing ripples inside Saturn's A ring. A movie is here. Notice there are ripples on either side, traveling in opposite directions. Cool, huh?

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Crawling Bats, Flying Turtles

Back to school yesterday. During the weekend we bough school supplies and new shoes, instituted wildly unpopular earlier bedtimes. About 10 p.m. on Sunday the girls ran into the hallway screaming. Bat! Bat! We saw a bat in our rooms!

Hux and I were at first dismissive (it's just a bad dream, go back to bed), but there were so adamant about it, and we did have a bat sighting several weeks back (crawling along the carpet of the dining room no less, a seriously trippy sight to see). So. Hux and the girls dragged their blankets and pillows downstairs into the living room, and slept huddled around the couch til morning.




Started the third rewrite of the New Novel on Monday as well. Getting rid of a major character, big changes to another one. Smoothing out the abrupt shifts in tense and point of view I was so proud of when writing it. Yes, I'm dumbing it down a tad. Yes, I'm hungry to get it published.

The results of my first day of rewrites? Two hours to get through the first 6 pages. Yikes.




New school year, new draft of the novel, and who better to guide us through these new beginnings, these challenging straits than Gamera, friend to all children, protector of boy scouts. In the original Japanese, with English subtitles. Come on, Space Monsters, bring it on! Let's cut and poke!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Have fun. Do your best.

I've been coaching my daughter's tee ball team this summer. Yesterday was the last game. I will miss it.

The rules? Score keeping is not allowed. Everyone gets to bat, every inning. You swing til you hit the ball. Even if you're out, you stay on base. So, some innings have no outs. Some have five or six.

Errors are so common there is no stigma. Making a play correctly is met with joy and disbelief (did I really just catch the ball?). And the look on a kid's face when they do the job well is quietly eloquent. That sense of accomplishment is something that will follow through to writing, to music, to math homework, to preparing and presenting a good meal.


I end every game by asking them, what are the two rules of tee ball? The answer: have fun, do your best.




I fed the girls their first barbecued ribs a couple weeks back. At first they couldn't figure out how to eat them. Once they did, they were hooked. Like crack for carnivores. Youngest said, and this is verbatim: I just had a minute of heaven.




Hilary has been kind enough to give my post on the tenacity of weeds a Post of the Week award. Hil, you are too kind. Go visit her here. She's really nice.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Three Cool Things



My favorite citizen of the solar system, Saturn's moon Enceledus (the moons that switch orbits every four years are a close second and third*).

Three cool things about this picture.

One: that tiny flare of light coming from the bottom of the moon is caused by ice geysers, spewing ice hundreds of miles out into space. Carbon particles have been found in the ice. Water, carbon, and a heat source that causes the geysers. Sounds like Arthur C. Clarke's monolith is at work deep under the ice. It's full of staaaars....

Two: that faint line behind Enceledus is Saturn's E ring, composed almost entirely of ice particles form those crazy geysers, settling into orbit.

Three: look at the pattern of light and shadow on Enceledus. The bright crescent of light on the left, the dark bit, and then another bright section. There are two light sources! The bright crescent on the left is caused by sunlight. The light on the right is Saturnlight, the glow from the planet 150,000 miles away.

Thanks to Cassini, NASA, and Bad Astronomy for the pix and the info.




*the mysterious clump of particles orbiting Saturn that may or may not be a black hole is a distant fourth.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Pas de Cinq


It keeps getting better. Saw three of the four planets low on the horizon yesterday just after dusk. Venus was very bright, Mars and Saturn less so. Mercury was hiding in the glare of the setting sun. I'll look again tonight.

For the next few days they'll be joined by a sliver of a crescent moon, technically marking the beginning of Ramadan (more commonly it's marked by the new moon, but some say you have to actually SEE the crescent following the new moon). And the gravy: Venus and the crescent moon form a facsimile of the Islamic flag.

Actually, the flag is more accurately the facsimile of the actual thing. But you get the drift. Assalamu alaikum.

MORE GRAVY: as Artsparker points out, the Perseid meteor shower peaks tonight! Wait til after midnight, when you're on that part of the Earth that is plowing directly into the comet dust. Set your alarm.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Hedwig and the Happy Meal

Had a wonderful blogger meet-up this weekend: Hux and I went to a play with Irrelephant, Mrs. Phant, Dancehall and Tolstoy. Sans kids! Went to see a very good production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch. I won't say great, as I had a few quibbles with the production - the music is kinda forgettable - but the brilliant long monologue that weaves between the songs and the pure theatrical power of the guy doing the monologue (Nick Sugar) more than made up for it. Good dinner beforehand, conversation and laughs and cigars in the backyard afterward (I was only a spectator during the cigar bit, fearful the tobacco would reawaken my long dormant cigarette habit).

I love theater. It's hand-made, not focus group tested and mass-produced, with merchandising tie-ins at McDonald's (though if they threw little Hedwig action figures into Happy Meals I'd buy one). It's intimate; you're right there in the room with them, you can look each other in the eye. Each production is different, and each night within an individual production is unique as well. No two shows are exactly alike.

If all the movie theaters burned down tomorrow, people would come together in garages and living rooms and act out stories. And sure, they'd churn out a few Diehards and Pretty Womans - hey, I liked Diehard too - but I'm guessing it's far more likely people would tell stories of their lives, the lives of the people they loved, stories of the world around them, the sky above.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The Unlikely Tenacity of Weeds

Backyard existentialism.




The Unlikely Tenacity of Weeds

I rarely mow my lawn. No need to. The relentless sun, the lack of rain. The weeds have an easier time of it than the grass, dandelions, bull thistle, henbit, they grow faster, are more hearty. No bother, the weeds are easy to control, and colorful. I do not use poisons or herbicides. I pluck them by the roots, or ask my daughters to pick them, a penny a stem. I feel no need to eradicate them. I like bio-diversity. We maintain a cautious truce.

I fight a losing battle with the junk trees, the alley trees, the ones that go by the giddily euphemistic term “paradise tree.” They are voracious, predatory, tenacious. Nothing can be done to eradicate them, and only with great effort can they be fought to a stalemate. So. I fight. Weekly. If I do not they will take over the front yard. I stoop to pull them out by their shallow roots, foot by foot, limb by limb, I stoop until my back cries in pain, stoop knowing they will be back in one more week, only to be battled again.

I rented a roto-tiller and plowed under a large section of yard this spring, in order to plant a garden at the side of the house, and pulled out a large swath of the tree’s root system, the roots shallow, misshapen, bulbous as fetuses. I piled them in a unlikely tangle on the sidewalk; they look like something found in a carnival sideshow bell jar. I wondered at the time, and continue to wonder often, why weeds have not taken over the world, with their efficiency, their unstoppable energy. It is a wonder there is room for other life to thrive. But other life does thrive, I only have to look around me to see it to see the improbable flowers mixed in the weeds, the wild roses, the tulips, the day lilies. Most I do not know the names of. This house is over a hundred years old, with perhaps a dozen owners, each with their own garden, their own floral tastes, the seeds now mixing through one century and into the next, intermingling, hopelessly tangled, a history told in a confusion of perennials.

I finish plucking trees from the front yard, I turn the wheelbarrow of treelets around and head for the compost heap. So much wasted energy, but the trees make for good compost fodder, so perhaps it is not wasted at all. Perhaps nothing is wasted. My hands smell of the sap, an unpleasant cloying scent that will not easily leave the skin. It is hot. I am irritable. My back hurts. I stop at the garden by the side of the house to turn on the faucet, pull the hose toward the dry cracked garden earth, it catches on an errant stump, I flip the hose and watch the wave travel the length of it, leap lightly over the stump to freedom. In some way this small victory me feel better, as does the feel of cool water on my hands, my feet my shins. I move to the clutter of the back yard. Naked muddy abandoned dolls. Sports equipment, water toys. Scooters. And yes, this is a family of four, but we have seven bikes, seven, four current bikes, two outgrown but still used by neighbor kids or when one of the main bikes gets a flat, one still too large but bought to be grown into, like shoes, like clothes, like college funds. I disentangle the wheels and handlebars and kickstands, put them away behind the shed one by one. The dolls I leave in a disturbing heap by the back door for my daughters to pick through. So much broken, so much left behind. I lug all the sports equipment, the water toys into the shed, bats and balls and rings and racquets, pools and tubes and wiggly water worms. Bats are bent, balls discolored and lopsided, the tubes and pools leaking air the moment they are filled with air.

I pick my way out to the compost heap. At our previous house I built a compost bin that was over-full mere weeks after building it, and so built the one in this house extra large so as to accommodate us and still find it is nearly full. So much waste, so much discarded, so much left behind, and yet so much remains, we are overfull. Shoes, clothes, college funds. I dump the trees into the heap, then shovel the bottom of the heap toward the top, cycling the trees in with the leaves, the weeds, the eggshells, the coffee grounds, all of this will go into the garden next Spring; some will cycle back into the heap as leaves and vines and the chopped ends of withered vegetables. Perhaps nothing is wasted. I look back across the back yard, the lawn, the side garden, bursting with life. Eggshells, baseball bats, discarded dolls, tangled bikes. Overfull. So much discarded yet so much remains, too much, this stubborn gift of life, this refusal to hew to boundaries, this ridiculous prodigal giving, the unlikely tenacity of weeds.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Magic In the Science

On Sunday morning the youngest covered a piece of construction paper with glitter glue, then asked me to put my hand on it. When I lifted my hand, and the paper stuck, she began laughing and jumping up and down, screaming "it's magic in the science, it's magic in the science!" This was her mantra for the next 20 minutes or so, after which it was forgotten, and never mentioned again.

I remembered, though. I feel that way all the time.



Ran across this quote in the Sunday paper: "The past that has not been tamed with words is not memory, only a sort of spying." It's from Laura Restrepo's novel, "No Place for Heroes." Love the quote, even though I disagree. Taming the past with words alters it, sculpts it into a shape that fits your personal narrative better than the actual events. Some aspects emphasized, others left in shadow. Though perhaps that's Ms. Restrepo's point: that the personal mythology is more important than accuracy. That the altered memory is in some important sense more "true" than a bald retelling.



While we're on the subject of memory, Fresca has posted pictures of the depression era Band Box Diner, where I worked the graveyard shift, 11 p.m.-7 a.m., as a short order cook for several years. I waited tables, cooked the food, served the food, washed the dishes, all by myself (it helped that the place held 14 people tops) Paid $5 a hour, under the table. One of my favorite jobs ever.

Thirty years later, my breakfast making skills are still a wonder to behold. Hash browns, bacon, eggs over easy.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Pas de Quatre

Nice twilight sky this weekend. A four planet dance.

Step outside. Feel the cool air on your skin, listen to the crickets. Look up.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Faces

There is a face plant challenge going on at Artspark Theatre. Make a face, post it by August 2, let her know via a comment. I assume found objects are part of the aesthetic, but these free spirited visual artists aren't too keen on rules, so do whatever you want.



Random beach toys laying around our cluttered back yard. Had to scoot these around with my foot a bit to make the face, but they were all within a five foot radius of where I was standing.



Scary gargoyle face from youngest's pottery. Gotta dig those ears.



Salt dough beards. Youngest in the middle, two neighbor girls on the sides (we call them the tutus because, well, they are always wearing tutus). I believe that's Dora they're holding. She's got a beard too.



A homemade kite, created by the eldest. Look closely and you can see a bit of the beach toy face peeking out from behind.



A pottery "fairy house" made by the eldest. The face? Look at the fairy perched on the roof. She's smiling at you.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Angular Banjos*

Me and the hux, the little clowncars, Tolstoy and the boyos, and even Nancy D. for a day. Thirty-six-ish hours of music in three days. The music mostly functions as background, a soundtrack as you play in the water, doze in the hammock, play catch, hang a pinata, tube the river, paint rocks in the art tent, hula hoop. There are alotta different flavors of bluegrass, and when you find one particularly matching your tastes you crowd up to the stage, dance like a blissed-out hippie, return to the water. Or the hammock. Or the beer tent.

Maybe a third of the attendees are families, so there are lots of little kids around. They run in herds. The adults there function as a collective family. You see a kid skin a knee, you give them a bandaid. You see a kid trying to learn to hula hoop, you teach them how. Yeah, there's a little weed, lotsa beer, but you rarely see someone out of control. It's a three day safe zone. In an over-policed society where our kids are cocooned in living rooms and bedrooms with cellphones and televisions, where they are told not to talk to strangers, where they are driven home from school and enter the house from the garage so they don't have to set foot outside or encounter anyone they've never met before, it's a welcome respite.

Anyway. Rant concluded. I believe I have a new favorite band. The Horse Flies. They played the last set, Saturday night. The kids, usually unable to stay still for more the five minutes at a time, were rapt. So was I. Watch the video. At least until the chick with the violin cuts loose. Trust me.



If you want to hear more of them, they have individual songs and entire concerts available for free download. Someone should really tell them they'll never make any money that way.




*a reference to Aja. Steely Dan. I've used it before.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

More Saturnian Weirdness

Curiouser and curiouser.

In this week's headlines: Saturn's moon Prometheus is creating giant snowballs in the wake of it's gravitational field. It pulls the material off the F ring, and the gathered material creates enough gravity on its own to clump together into snowballs, following Prometheus around like ducklings. Prometheus also creates these weird "fans" in the F ring:

More curious still are "mysterious tumbling objects" that go ricocheting back-and-forth across the F ring before vanishing from sight. Sometimes they have comet-like tails, and their orbits can't be tracked. Note that UFO abductees are not reporting this, NASA's Cassini probe is. These things are real. There is such tumbling chaos in Saturn's rings, billions of tiny particles in orbit, pulling and colliding, but from out of this chaos spins rings and moons and ripples and spokes and fans and propellers. So much stunning complexity, born from Kepler's three simple, elegant laws of planetary motion. The idea that these structures form out of the infinite permutations of a few simple laws of physics fills me with more awe, more childlike wonder, than the notion they were created by a God.




Going to Rockygrass this weekend. Three days of bluegrass and hula hoops and friends and beer and camping and dozing in the hammock and playing in the water. Big Fun. Summer revolves around Rockygrass in the same way winter revolves around Christmas. It lies in the sweet spot, at the center of the season.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Hearing Voices

This item has been languishing in my bookmarks since January: Many children 'hear voices'; most aren't bothered.

The gist is that 15-ish percent of kids hear imaginary voices, and that the majority of the time, the voices don't interfere with their thinking or cause them much distress*. The voices aren't linked to schizophrenia, violent behavior, or any real ill effects. It's part of their lives. Part of how they think.

What struck me at the time is how much of my own thinking could be framed as "hearing voices." Don't worry, the neighbor's dog isn't telling me to kill, aliens aren't informing me of imminent planetary destruction. But I often think in a babble of voices: friends, family, voices from books and movies. Often it's a dialogue between me and the other voice. When I'm writing I hear character's voices talking. Sometimes I talk to a younger version of myself (usually asking him "what the f@ck were you thinking?"). And while I can't speak for the inside of anyone's brain but my own, I'd wager most other people are the same way. Linear, orderly, point A to point B thinking occurs in bad novels and Psych 101 classrooms. Which is why I don't like most interior monologues in fiction. Easy. False.

The unpredictable, wandering minds of real people, engaged in real life, is more subtle, more fractured, and much messier.

I like messy. I trust messy.


* an interesting footnote: "Although urban children were less likely to hear voices, they were more troubled by them."

Thursday, July 15, 2010

News of the Weird

One of the weirder headlines of the week: Giant Propellers Discovered In Saturn's Rings. It's a tad misleading. They don't spin or anything. And as far as I can make out, they aren't even really solid. The center is a brand new class of moon, one that is mid-size and embedded in the rings, and (I think) there is material streaming out thousands of miles in both directions, held in place by gravity and resonance, a concept I must admit I don't entirely understand.

As opposed to gravity, which no one understands. There was an article in the NY Times yesterday about a theory that gravity doesn't even exist, but is rather a byproduct of thermodynamics. I didn't entirely understand that either.

I digress. These space propellers are several miles wide, several thousand miles long. Their orbits are thus far unpredictable; they've been photographed before, but no one is sure when and where one of the Damned Things will turn up next. A picture of one is below. Unlike the propeller, the red arrow is not actually embedded in the rings. That would be weird.



Odd headline #2: Frustrating Zombie Satellite Still Adrift In Space. Apparently it is out of its intended orbit and can't be controlled, but is still sending out signals, and signal interference could kill other satellites. Following the zombie analogy, those satellites it kills would then turn into zombie satellites, causing all sorts of mayhem up there, but I think I may be stretching the analogy too far.

Photo by NASA's ever-fascinating Cassini probe.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Sleight of Shell

The girls are in an awesome Art Camp this summer, and a couple weeks back, in addition to the weekly armloads of pottery and puppets, they brought home snails (it was Slime Week). Big ones too, maybe two and a half inches when stretched out and in motion. They put the things in jars, from which they promptly escaped. We have three cats, I assumed they would dine on escargot that evening.

Last week youngest found a shell stuck to one of the table legs, almost a foot off the ground. I plucked it off, put it on the table, figuring it was dead. Minutes later, youngest squealed and pointed; the snail was out of the shell and extended, speeding across the table on a trail of slime.

I read up online how to care for snails, made it a cozy little tupperware home: peat moss, rocks, water, lettuce. They live up to ten years, I figured we should take it more seriously this time around. I named it Booger (because of the mucus trail it slides on), but the girls would have none of that and renamed it Princess. I told them snails were hermaphrodites, explained they had both boy and girl parts and could make babies all by themselves. They re-renamed it Prince-and-Princess.

We sprayed it and fed it for two days. Snails are fun to watch (particularly those weird little antennas), and more active than you would think. One morning it was gone again. The lid had been put on loosely and it slipped out (another factoid I learned on the net: snails are strong, and can lift 10 times their weight).

So. Prince-and-Princess is on the loose again in the wilds of our house. He/she's a survivor, for weeks now, so we're keeping out eyes peeled for that tell-tale shell. Or for a smug canary smile on the face of one of the cats.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Independence

My fiction writing has been dark of late. Not sure why.

Well, that's not entirely true. Anyway.

Much of this one is simply straight reportage.




Independence

Hot and humid 4th of July in Houston, gunmetal stratus clouds scudding low overhead. By late afternoon my brother-in-law’s kitchen table had a large mound of fireworks on it, as people stopped by to drop them off. The beer and liquor were left on the floor next to the table.

The party started around dusk. We drank and smoked and played pool in the rec room above the garage, and at surprisingly regular and increasingly joyless intervals the party would spill out onto the end of the driveway, where we set off fireworks, using cigarettes to light them. I had quit smoking months earlier and found the cigarette moving up to my lips unbidden, every time I held one. As the night wore on, and people got progressively drunker, the fireworks went farther afield, and when a bottle rocket hit the picture window of the house across the street the old people who lived there threatened to call the cops, but never did. Or if they did, the cops had better things to do. There was a fight on the lawn around ten, though it didn’t last long. Around one a.m. an M80 blew up in some guy’s hand, and in the stunned silence after the blast they got a dishrag around his hand and pushed him into the backseat of the car and drove weaving down the road toward the hospital.

It rained in the night. The next morning I woke up late, hungover and exhausted, to the loud cold buzz of the air conditioner and a vicious argument between my sister and her husband downstairs. I looked out the second floor window to the front lawn, littered with beer cans and cigarette butts, the spent firework casings below blackened, crushed, sodden, like dead birds.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Your Mind's Eye

Took my big, dumb telescope out to a state park early this week for a very satisfying stroll around Sagittarius and Scorpio. This is right where the center of the Milky Way galaxy is, which is part of the allure of that bit of the sky: a black hole millions of times the size of the sun is hiding behind all that dust. You can't see it (and there's a metaphor there I won't bother exploring about the most massive thing in the galaxy being utterly invisible to the human eye). But because you're looking toward the center of things, it's more dense, there's more stuff to see.

Like this.

It's the Omega Nebula. It didn't look nearly as defined in my own scope; I could only see the inner bit that looks like a sitting duck (this is also called the Swan Nebula, for that reason). But that's much of the joy of amateur astronomy, so much of it happens in your head, sketching in the details, seeing it in your mind's eye.

Here's another critter I saw that night. The Triffid Nebula, which brings to mind the great John Wyndham novel Day of the Triffids.

It didn't look quite this clear in my own scope either, though I could just make out the dust lanes. But there is a wealth of activity going on in there, stars in their first birth throes, flinging out tremendous amounts of gas and dust, forming spheres, pillars, small dark knots called Bok Globules (love that term). A detail of this nebula, taken by the Hubble:

So yeah, what you're seeing in your eye is a smudge of white and gray, with a few discernible dark lanes inside it, the barest hint of color. But in your mind you know there is so much more lurking deep in there, waiting for your inner vision to discover it.

For those of you keeping score at home, I also found M22 (a globular cluster, very pretty, picture below), M25 and M28 (open clusters, and disappointing), and the gorgeous Lagoon nebula. My electronic starfinder has been broken for a year, so I found these all the good old fashioned way, pointing it up at the sky and poking around til I found what I was looking for.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Crazy Eyeballs

I have another flash up at Everyday Weirdness: Feral. I like this one. Kinda Twilight Zone-y. In a good way.

Started a long short story this weekend, so no more flash fiction for awhile. May be the start of something longer.




We went to the city fireworks this weekend. The music was some pleasantly bland new-age-y thing, and while I prefer old school marches, the fireworks themselves more than made up for it. Several kinds I'd never seen before. Very delicate, less over-the-top bombastic than what I'm used to. Which might explain the musical choice.

When we got back home we lit our own fireworks with a few of the neighborhood kids. Sparklers and small fireworks we bought at a tent earlier in the day (my favorite is something called Crazy Eyeballs). Hux and I lit them, with five kids dancing and screaming in the noise and light and smoke. A small perfect moment. You could almost feel the folds of your brain storing the memory.

Six years ago, on July 2nd, the girls came to our house. Being so close to the 4th, there were loud fireworks in the dark that night, and the next several nights. I cannot fully imagine how frightening that must have been, a strange new house, with strange new parents, and loud noises outside the windows as they slept. They cried. Of course they cried. Wouldn't you?

Things are better now, but shadows of those fears remain. After the front yard fireworks our youngest had an angry meltdown, no doubt from all the excitement of the long day. She had to be calmed down and consoled before we put her to bed. It's alright. We held her, sang her a few songs. 500 Miles. Blowing in the Wind. I carried her up the stairs. We tucked her into bed. Good night.

Friday, July 2, 2010

that dirt we call earth

Grabbed this off of larabee's and liza site. Starts outs so simply, grows quietly luminous by the end.

The Simple Truth (by Philip Levine)

I bought a dollar and a half's worth of small red potatoes,
took them home, boiled them in their jackets
and ate them for dinner with a little butter and salt.
Then I walked through the dried fields
on the edge of town. In middle June the light
hung on in the dark furrows at my feet,
and in the mountain oaks overhead the birds
were gathering for the night, the jays and mockers
squawking back and forth, the finches still darting
into the dusty light. The woman who sold me
the potatoes was from Poland; she was someone
out of my childhood in a pink spangled sweater and sunglasses
praising the perfection of all her fruits and vegetables
at the road-side stand and urging me to taste
even the pale, raw sweet corn trucked all the way,
she swore, from New Jersey. "Eat, eat" she said,
"Even if you don't I'll say you did."
Some things
you know all your life. They are so simple and true
they must be said without elegance, meter and rhyme,
they must be laid on the table beside the salt shaker,
the glass of water, the absence of light gathering
in the shadows of picture frames, they must be
naked and alone, they must stand for themselves.
My friend Henri and I arrived at this together in 1965
before I went away, before he began to kill himself,
and the two of us to betray our love. Can you taste
what I'm saying? It is onions or potatoes, a pinch
of simple salt, the wealth of melting butter, it is obvious,
it stays in the back of your throat like a truth
you never uttered because the time was always wrong,
it stays there for the rest of your life, unspoken,
made of that dirt we call earth, the metal we call salt,
in a form we have no words for, and you live on it.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Easily Amused

Got two new toys to play with this week. Took my first ever surf onto the wonder and glory that is eBay and bought a USB microscope for $30 from some guy in Hong Kong. Results are below. In order: a wasp's nest, eldest's tongue, a chrysalis, youngest's hair, a dead wasp, my gross nose hairs (adjective supplied by the girls), and an insect wing. Cicada, perhaps?

We had a slug in captivity, but it escaped before we could video it.



Also, lil hucky responded quickly to my none too subtle hints and got me an early birthday present: a didgeridoo!

This whole deal got started because hux saw an article in the NY Times about sleep apnea, and showed it to me (I don't have apnea, but my ability to snore borders on the preternatural). Although only one sentence suggested didgeridoos are a cure for apnea, that was the sentence that caught my interest. And mere weeks later, here we are.

My goal is to get the circular breathing, continual drone thing down by Rockygrass. Hucky will no doubt argue that I already have the drone thing down pretty good, with my snoring. But the didge is more melodic.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Boom Boom Clap

Eldest had a birthday party last week, at the little red caboose in City Park. My back took the stain remarkably well. Tolstoy and his boyos spent the night, and after the kids went to sleep we tossed back a few cold malted beverages. Fun evening. Great cake.

Oh my God, was it great cake.

Eldest has a tendency towards the treasuring of material things, for reasons I will not go into now, so it is heartening to me that the birthday CD mix I give her every year is always among her favorite gifts. She keeps them all; if they break, she asks me to burn a new one.

This year, a new wrinkle. All her favorite songs up to now have been culled from the tastes of the lil hux and me: Dylan, the Beatles, Springsteen, Alanis Morissette, KT Turnstall. This year new influences are entering the mix, bubblegum tweener pop music, mostly Hannah Montana. It was a sweet moment to hear her (and boyo one, no less) sing along to it on the ride home. I could summon up some snark about Ms. Montana representing pre-packaged pop stars and the idolization of celebrity, but since I was singing Monkees tunes at about the same age of my own boyhood, it would ring false. I like the Monkees. And it is hard to get more pre-packaged than them.

And here's a confession I feel free to make since few of you know my real name: I have a sneaking fondness for Hannah Montana's "Hoedown" ("boom boom clap, boom de-clap-de-clap"). If you accuse me of this in my actual life I will of course deny it, and promptly delete this post. But I feel my secret is safe with you.

Don't let me down.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Horizontal

So.  Had a great time for the first 4 innings of the Father's Day baseball game Sunday.  I was at the concession stand getting hot dogs and beer, turned around to get some ketchup packets and snap!, a sharp pain in my back, like a knife.  It was hard to even breathe, let alone walk.  Took me several minutes to get my composure, then I made my slow and painful journey back to the seats.  Incredibly, I took the beer and dogs back with me.  No spills.

We stayed for the rest of the game.  I was relatively pain-free as long as I remained standing, supporting myself against the railing.  There are worse places to throw out your back than in the middle of a baseball game on a gorgeous summer afternoon.  And the Sky Sox beat the Las Vegas 51's, 13-4.  It was a fun day.  Got to play catch on the field with the girls before the game. They got free baseball gloves. And they're actually pretty good gloves!

Getting out of the stadium and into the car was pretty dicey (another reason we stayed: avoiding the crowd).  Out of the car and onto the downstairs couch (where I've been ever since) was similarly difficult.  And the first night was painful and spasm-riddled and not something I ever want to experience again.

Better now.  I can't get up or down from the couch without help, and pain.  Lying motionless I'm fine.  And I can lie on a couch motionless with the best of them.

So.  I'm reading undemanding fiction and watching whatever movie I can snag on the DVR.  Last night was Dreamcatcher.  Absolutely awful.  I rather enjoyed it, but that's just the muscle relaxants talking.  Tonight is Ride With the Devil, which is about a period of the Civil War I'm pretty familiar with.  Ang Lee directed it, which bodes well.  Jewel is in it,  which does not.



p.s.: Got another story published.  Baby Teeth, in fiction@work (an early draft is here).  Had to tussle with the editors about the last sentence.  I like tussling with editors.  It means they give a damn about the story.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

AAA

That new header image is of Ida and Dactyl, an asteroid with its very own tiny moon.  I've always loved the photo.  Reminds me of a parent and child, bonded by gravity, rotating around a common center.  Plus, I didn't know asteroids could have moons. 



A coupla cool comments about the photo in my last post (see below).  Margaret said it looked like a stellar semi-colon.  Laurita said her kid told her it looked like the moon was hanging by a thumbtack.  Nice.  I will never look at the Venus-moon pas de deux quite the same way again.



Woke up at 4 a.m. yesterday to drive out just east of town and look for Comet McNaught.  Didn't find it.  It was oddly enjoyable still; I parked on a country road and cracked open a beer and scanned the sky right around Perseus with binoculars til the beer was gone.  Went home, went back to bed.  I'll look for it next month, after it's passed around the sun and is heading back out to its home in the Oort Cloud.



The Mets have won 6 games straight.  A half a game outta first place.  Of course, this weekend we play the Evil Empire (the Yankees, for you uninitiated), so anything could happen.  We're also going to see a AAA ballgame on Sunday to celebrate Father's Day.  Free gloves to the first 1500 kids!  And we get to have a catch on the field before the game.  Big Fun.  Hot dogs will be involved. 

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Balm

Bad photo. Lovely sight.

My favorite night skyscape is the crescent moon and Venus hanging in an evening sky. I like the rhythm of it, the way it occurs in bunches, Venus and crescent together for two or three nights in a row, then gone for a month, then back. And after a few months Venus will go away for awhile, loiter as a morning star for as long as a year. But it always comes back. And the whole dance begins again.

Had a long, difficult day yesterday. Being greeted by this sight at the end of it all made me better.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Rambling (+ Zombies)

I cleaned and organized my shed this weekend.  I cannot overstate how much satisfaction this gave me.



Mets swept the hapless Orioles this weekend.  First to last to first to last to second place.  Like being on a pogo stick.

Do they make pogo sticks anymore?  Are they considered too dangerous for children, and gone the way of the lawn dart?

Because I'd really like one.

I'd also like a didgeridoo, and have asked the Hux for one for my birthday.  We shall see.



Enough rambling.  Here's some very dramatic video of the problem-plagued Japanese Hayabusa Asteroid explorer returning to Earth over Australia this morning.  The fireball is the probe burning up in the atmosphere; the little dot below and to the right is the hardened bit that contains asteroid samples.  It was recovered in the Australian outback this morning.

So, if things go all Andromeda Strain on us, and the zombie apocalypse begins, you'll know where it came from.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Baby Teeth

I wrote this as a 10,000-ish word novella some years back. It had its moments; overall it was a little misshapen, a little unwieldy. I condensed it to a paragraph last week, and like the result better. If I had simply done it this way in the first place I coulda saved myself a summer of writing.


Baby Teeth

Her name is Betty Bowens, though all the neighborhood kids call her Betty Bones, and she lives in the old house at the end of the street with her three dead children. They are dead; she is not, merely old, very old. Her children died of different causes, at different times: hit-and-run, cancer, suicide. Two were adults when they died, the cancer and the suicide. Her boy Tristan, poor lovely Tristan, he was the hit-and-run, he died at five. But here in her house, in Betty Bones' house, they are all children again, all toddlers again, their trikes endlessly squeaking down the sidewalk, their food endlessly spilling down their bibs. They need comfort when thunderstorms loom, cold washcloths on their foreheads when they are hot with fever. They gather in the living room every Christmas morning. They blow out candles on birthdays. They are losing their baby teeth, over and over again, forever smiling at her with loopy gap-toothed grins. She finds the teeth in odd places. Tilting in the drain of the bathroom sink. Rolling in the backs of kitchen drawers. Curling in the gray tendrils of her hair as she combs it out at night. She keeps them all in a fragile teacup perched on her windowsill, the cup now filled to overflowing, tiny enamel pearls dropping to the porcelain saucer below like tears, bone white and shining.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Travelogue


Our first day at the Sand Dunes.  The water winding through the sand.  The beginnings of the first sand castle.  Our youngest, the Lil Booger.  The dunes behind her, the blue sky above.


After supper that night (steak and hot dogs!) we watched a hailstorm cross the plains towards us. We didn't know it was a hailstorm, saw the wall of rain, saw the dust getting kicked up on the land. Seconds before the thing hit, it became clear we should get inside. Called the kids, grabbed the food, ran inside, pelted the entire time. This is the sunset that followed.


The second sand castle. Two seaports, irrigated fields, towers for the royalty and the rich, small mounds for the commoners. I asked the girls to name it, they had no interest.  We'll call it Clowncarnia.


The Hux and I at the base of Zapata Falls. Nice and cool up there. The water is melt-off from mountain snow, it makes its way down and around the dunes we played in all weekend.  When we got back home, it was 102 degrees. Yikes.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Church

I was raised Southern Baptist, back in a day when the Southern Baptist Church was not nearly as conservative as it is now (it made a hard right wing turn in the early 80s). We'd go to church Sunday mornings, Sunday evenings, and Wednesday nights. I enjoyed it, though I am not involved in the church now. I remember them as nice people. I also remember being hopelessly bored, sitting in the pew, as the preacher spoke.

I thought I remembered resenting having to go to church on Wednesday nights because it meant having to miss Star Trek, but I just checked the Wiki and found Star Trek aired on Thursdays. Weird how memory intersects with reality.

One of my favorite memories about Sunday evenings is this: after the service, as the adults did whatever they did inside the church, the kids would gather in the deepening shadows at the back of the church with the pastor's son, Randy Nail (his nickname was "Rusty") and tell ghost stories. He told most of the stories, though I think anyone who wanted could take a turn. But the job of the littler kids like me was to listen, and listen in deep awe. I don't remember many of the stories. One was about people bowling with human heads. One was about a ghost in a river, a woman crying for her drowned child. I think most of the stories were made up on the spot. In retrospect it seems very much like an attempt to construct our own metaphysics, a religion designed for kids, one that made more sense to us than abstractions about original sin, heaven and hell, the vengeful Old Testament God vs. the New Testament turn-the-other-cheek leanings (although Revelations did have a Jason and the Argonauts flair I found appealing). Our metaphysics was built on stuff we understood, stuff that scared us, blood and skeletons, witches and vampire bats, bits we could stack and build and piece together like Lego bricks.

It's a life-long process, the architecture of belief, regardless of your faith, or lack of faith. Forever incomplete. I suppose Catholics would see the resultant structure as a soaring cathedral, all stained glass and basilicas. I see a modest wood and brick building that Midwestern Protestants inevitably produced, built on a human scale, low to the ground and sensible, surrounded by a well kept lawn, green and soft and free of weeds, beckoning us to play.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Manhattan-henge

Went to the drive-in this weekend to see Shrek (not that good, but as I've said before, and recently, the movie is secondary to the experience).  The interesting bit: at the time we showed up the lot for Shrek was just over half full.  The lot for Sex and the City 2 had exactly two cars in it.  Two.  Clearly, not alotta demographic overlap between folks who want to see Sex and the City and folks who go to drive ins.  Not too many Manolo Blahniks at the concession stand.



Couldn't get to sleep when we got home, so tuned into Coast-to-Coast, who had an actual astrophysicist on (Neil deGrasse Tyson!), as opposed to the usual parade of alien abductees and ghost whisperers. He discussed, among many, many other things, Manhattan-henge.  On May 28 and June 12 the sun lines up directly with the grid of the city streets in NYC and sets right at the vanishing point between the canyons of buildings, in the center of the street.  Every city with a flat grid of streets and an unobstructed horizon (e.g. no mountains) has two "-henges" a year. The exact dates depends on the orientation of the streets.

The most interesting he said about it was that centuries from now, when anthropologists dig up the ruins of New York City (a simultaneously pessimistic and optimistic prediction; NYC will be in ruins, yet the human race will still be around), they'll conclude we were a race of sun-worshipers, and built the entire city to celebrate two dates: May 28 and June 12. Or, Memorial Day and the All Star Break. They're belivve our two greatest religious holidays honored War and Baseball.

As NYC grew to become the capitol of the world in the heyday of the 40s and 50s, during the post-WWII boom and the great baseball troika of the Giants, Yankees, and Dodgers, that doesn't strike too far off the mark.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The World As It Is

Artsparker has a gift for connections: verbal, visual, artistic, personal. She pointed me toward a startlingly lovely poem at the Larabee and Liza site a couple days back to read Carolyn Miller's poem, copied below. There are "no ladders, no descending angels" in my worldview, so it had some resonance with me, in particular the comfort found in sideways Orion, trembling Venus, firefly Jupiter. Or, to use John Prine's more plain language, "to believe in this living is just a hard way to go."

The World as It is

No ladders, no descending angels, no voice
out of the whirlwind, no rending
of the veil, or chariot in the sky—only
water rising and falling in breathing springs
and seeping up through limestone, aquifers filling
and flowing over, russet stands of prairie grass
and dark pupils of black-eyed Susans. Only
the fixed and wandering stars: Orion rising sideways,
Jupiter traversing the southwest like a great firefly,
Venus trembling and faceted in the west—and the moon,
appearing suddenly over your shoulder, brimming
and ovoid, ripe with light, lifting slowly, deliberately,
wobbling slightly, while far below, the faithful sea
rises up and follows.

-Carolyn Miller

Thank you Susan. Thank you Laura. Thank you Carolyn.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Ol' Shorty

My Dad told me last week that his grand-dad, Papa, referred to death as "shaking hands with ol' Shorty."  I've been turning this delightful bit of information around in my head ever since, looking at it from different angles.  It is unclear whether ol' Shorty is God, Jesus, or Satan, though my Dad's money is on God.  I'm less certain.

Papa would occasionally go into town in a horse and wagon and get drunk.  When he fell into the wagon and passed out, his horses knew to take him back home.  His wife would lead him out of the wagon, put him to bed, sometimes read to him - old western novels, by the light of a coal lamp - til he fell asleep.

My Dad had some of his memories of growing up in Oklahoma published in a magazine called Oklahoma Edge.  Here's a short bit on Papa:
"Quite often when we left church on Sunday we would go by and get Papa out of jail. One night he came into the church and sat quietly on the back row. Someone from the church called the police and they came and arrested him. I always thought this was hypocritical on the part of the church people. I thought at the time, and still do, that Jesus would not have done that."
You can get the entire two-part series from Oklahoma Edge here - order the March and April 09 back issues.  Or just come back to the blog, I'll be posting excerpts on a regular basis.  It's a great read.  He's a good writer.