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


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


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.


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.