Monday, July 06, 2015

boys and gulls

To my ears, those who speak with a certain shade of British accent pronounce "girls" so that the word sounds like "gulls." But that's just me. So, the other day two seagulls were on the roof, on the roof of an attic window, above and beyond my apartment. I had never seen these two gulls before, not that I recall. They were squawking and strutting. It seemed they were arguing or posturing. As those things go, I assume they were two male birds fighting for territory or mating rights or ornithological semantics.

Saturday, July 04, 2015

fireworks vs. firecrackers

I guess I can understand fireworks, with their pyrotechnical bombast (like this sentence), luminosity in the night, concussive heart-thumping, high-decibel drama, and aesthetic symmetry -- not to mention their evocation of adult and youthful oohs and ahs. I consider fireworks a communal and celebratory ode to military use of ordnance in accord with ancient traditions. We can debate the demerits or merits of corporate or municipal fireworks, but not here, not now.

Firecrackers are something else altogether. I think of firecrackers as one-offs for personal use. I don't get them or their use. What's the point? Especially M-80s, or whatever the hideously loud ones are called. I might even get it if, in America, firecrackers were ignited simultaneously, making a common statement (what sort of statement, I honestly can't say for sure) at an opportune time, such as the stroke of midnight on New Year's Eve (apparently this was a huge thing in Berlin, at least several years ago). 

But a random firecracker in the middle of the night? What's the point? Is it some sort of audible chest thumping? A provocation, a spit-at-you-all, a testosterone rant, a protest, a type of trash-talking? 

Perhaps my opposition to firecrackers derives from memories of my boyhood, when neighborhood kids would insert a firecracker or two under the turtle's shell. Just to watch him die, to borrow from a Johnny Cash tune. (I can't be making this memory up.) I was not immune to lighting the little firecrackers that looked like birthday candles. We also had a habit of breaking one in half and then stomping on it. Smart. 

On this Fourth of July I'd gladly forgo hearing one more firecracker, though it is merely 1:23 a.m. The holiday is just beginning.But it's beyond me what this has to do with independence, freedom, and all that.

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

'if you see something, say something'

Actually, the Department of Homeland Security has trademarked the slogan, so it is displayed as "If you see something, say somethingTM." Which may mean the U.S. government is encouraging its citizens and noncitizens alike to practice Transcendental Meditation (which is a proprietary name and is followed by a TM; maybe even TM TM, for an abbreviation followed by a trademark declaration).

If you see something, say something.

If you see injustice (verbal, physical, social, economic), say it is wrong.

If you see justice, say it is right.

If you see lies (in print, on TV, online), say something truthful.

If you see intolerance, say something tolerant.

If you see error, say something factual.

If you see something banal, say something provocative.

If you see something grammatically naked, say something syntactically dressed up with every place to go, with gerunds, participles, prepositions, ablative absolutes, infinitives, adjectives, adverbs, articles, conjunctions, auxiliary verbs, pronouns, synonymous nouns, and parenthetical asides.

If you don't see something, don't say something.

If you don't see anything, say anything but nothing.

If you see some things but not others, say something to yourself to discern why.

If you see nothing, say nothing. (But say it eloquently.)

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

comma sense

The billboard, for local baseball, declared:


Whoa! I may've been speeding on the intrastate as I spied the sign, but I nevertheless feel my recollection is accurate.

Why those commas, copywriter dude or dudette?

I recognize that some folks believe punctuation is wedded to sound. It is. To a point. Punctuation choices (e.g., employing or not employing commas) certainly can be influenced by desires related to cadence and rhythm. Subjective considerations along those lines might turn out to be important, especially in poetry or in a speech.


Punctuation also conforms to rules of structure and logic. In the example above, logic is defied as to why commas are employed. In fact, the commas nearly make me laugh.

Granted, one could argue that copywriters readily use periods for dramatic effect, to slow the reader down. As in: AFFORDABLE. FAMILY. FUN. That might be mighty fine except in this case the lack of parallelism is jarring. We have different parts of speech. It throws the train off the tracks.

Commas matter.

And no commas matter, too. 

Monday, June 22, 2015

maybe words don't matter

I'm often declaring that words matter. "Words matter" is the tagline on a promotional piece for my business. I make a living flirting, fondling, and fussing with words, as is evidenced in this space. But how and when words matter circumscribes a shifting landscape of context, complexion, and atmosphere. 

Listening to some Beatles oldies has driven this home ("Baby, you can drive my deconstructionist car...") Several years ago, I was driving around. "Maxwell's Silver Hammer," from Abbey Road, was playing. My youngest child was in the car; maybe a young teenager at the time, or younger. I was bopping along to the relentlessly cheery and bubbly tune. My daughter said something like, "Dad, are you listening to these lyrics?" Well, I had many times listened to the song's gleeful depictions of MURDER, but never gave it any mind. The narrative was indefensible, if you were to take the lyrics seriously, that is. But who did? I never did. But a new generation of listeners perhaps took away an utterly different message. This has become a family joke, especially if we listen to "Maxwell's Silver Hammer" in the car.

I recently slipped in the CD for Rubber Soul. (I am really bothered that Capitol released the British version; it totally messes with my boyhood memory of listening to the LP; different songs, different sequence.) "Run for Your Life" has John Lennon, or more accurately the character in a song, threatening death to a girlfriend (maybe it's an ex-girlfriend) owing to the narrator's jealous rage. As a teenager, these lyrics never fazed me (perhaps because I was such a late bloomer and had no actual 3D girlfriend at the time of the song's release). I don't recall the song causing the slightest controversy. It likely caused less stir than "Under My Thumb" by the Rolling Stones. (Was preconceived prejudice a factor? After all, the Stones traded on their outlaw appeal.)

Would any of these lyrics cause a ripple today?

These reflections have forced me to evaluate some of my easy-access hostility to pop or hiphop lyrics that strike me as patently offensive (though, I don't have ready examples except the obscenities or verbal brickbats hurled from car speakers whose drivers are pleased to give the finger to society as if to shout, "you got a problem with that?").

And it's not just words alone, is it? In music, the lyrics coexist with the melody, whether we like it or not. It has been said that the tune for "Yesterday" started off with "scrambled eggs" as a holding pattern, a place holder, for the immortal lyrics eventually wedded to the musical notes. Imagine if "Yesterday," perhaps the most covered song in history, with its haunting and heartbreaking melody and lyrics, had silly or indecipherable or obscene lyrics. It would not endure.  At all.

So, I'll come full circle and say that words do matter. But how and when and why are tricky concepts to delineate. 

Just as in life.

Friday, June 19, 2015

letting go vs. holding on

A friend recently introduced me to the saying "let go or be dragged." (Or was it the variant "let go or get dragged"?) It is said to be a Zen proverb, but who can say for sure what the origin is for these slogans. And the origin doesn't much matter to me. For the record, I don't recall reading "Letting Go" by Philip Roth. However, I did read "Letting Go of the Words" by Ginny Redish, and it helped me immensely in writing web content. 

Letting go.

It evokes the question, "Letting go means letting go of what?" Without much forethought, this parade of notions involving "letting go" marches before me: life, death, love, hate, attachment, detachment, fear, expectation, attainment, nonattainment, and notions themselves.

Being dragged.

What question does "being dragged" elicit?  The smart-aleck, rice-bowl-upside-the-head answer would have me repeat verbatim the list italicized above. I don't know; help me out. I guess being dragged translates to holding on, possessing, owning, expecting, anticipating, projecting, reimagining, rehearsing, past, future, notions. 

Being dragged conveys the suffering of not letting go.

Is this mike working? I feel like a comedian who is bombing. (But that's because I am being dragged by preconceived notions I have not let go of.)

I am on the verge of deleting this post or shuttling it off to a bin labeled "draft."

Words, words, words.

“If you let go a little, you will have a little peace. If you let go a lot, you will have a lot of peace.” ~Ajahn Chah

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

life lessons

You know the type. He or she is going to teach you a lesson. What sort of lesson? Often, a lesson related to traffic, as in demonstrating by position or speed that pedestrians or other drivers should exercise more care in turning, or in moving, or stopping, or slowing, or speeding, or hogging the road, or not signaling, or not walking on the sidewalk, or littering. Et cetera.

That type is me.

Mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.

(What's my penance after this confession?)

(Naturally, such "life lessons" never result in the desired changed behavior, right?)

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

beauteous Bloomsday blogaversary

Me started this blather storm of laden words in 2006 on Bloomsday, so carry on, keep calm or be qualmed, knickers in pocket, knickknack paddywhack, give the dog a bone.

Monday, June 15, 2015

follow the money

You walk up to the ATM. You prepare to make a withdrawal. You see that the previous customer (or the one before that, or even before that; who knows?) has left a receipt in the ATM. The half-spit-out receipt is sticking out its paper tongue. You extract the thin piece of printed paper. You are curious, in a financially voyeuristic way. You quickly notice that the receipt almost shouts:

ACCT BAL  $140,193.48
AVL    BAL  $140,193.48

You wonder who has ready access to this amount of cash. The receipt noted a $100.00 CASH WITHDRA FROM CK1. You have never possessed a sum even approaching this magnitude; no, not even after selling a house (since you have never owned a house on your own anyway). (We are referring to the ACCT BAL / AVL BAL sum, naturally.) You experience a hybrid of delight, envy, resentment, curiosity, remorse, greed, smugness, satisfaction, preachiness, whimsy. Did anyone want this receipt? Evidently not.

You save the receipt.

Saturday, June 13, 2015


Yesterday I walked a labyrinth. What does it mean today?

The quick answer is, "I don't know." The longer answer is: "I don't know, but I will share here with you my succinct next-day postlabyrinth reflections."

The labyrinth in this case was at Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, in the rolling, emerald, June, cumulus-shadowed hills of the Berkshires. "Kripalu: explore the power of you." It is a winding path bedecked on its sides by swaying or bobbing flowers, the path consisting of wood chips. It is not a maze with false dead ends and blind alleys and false starts and false finishes. It is a winding path that in a sense you cannot stray from. At its end is a statue of Buddha and a statue of an angel with evidence of previous pilgrims: folded notes, (presumably) petitions, and queries. Coins (pennies, nickels), apples and other fruit, candles, burnt incense. The detritus of spiritual search.

I was instructed that before entering the labyrinth, one can pose a question or riddle or quandary. Pose to whom? I don't know. The universe, the inner self, the labyrinth. I posed no specific question, query, quandary, or any other word beginning with Q. Perhaps I was afraid of the weight of such a proposition. I was also told to breathe in and out, a certain number of prescribed inhalations and exhalation, before embarking. I tried some of that but lost count. My labyrinthine companion posed a question or item of some sort to the cosmos before walking the labyrinth. The topic? That's between her and the air.

Although I was not alone on the labyrinthine path, I was alone. And so it must be. Only I can walk my path.

I wanted to know the names of flowers, those aside from the obvious daisies (day's eyes), with their unnameable hues, fragrances, and textures. Why? The are fine without names. They are there, naked and real.

I saw two bees, gathering pollen. Busy as you-know-whats. I stopped. I watched. I delighted in them. I was not afraid of being stung. As I began again on the path, one of the bees swirled toward me. I thought it might sting me. It did not. But if it did, so what.

I walked barefoot for a while.

I closed my eyes at times.

I opened my ears, the birds, the breeze, the rustling branches.

At the end, after the end point with the statues, the end point becomes the starting point for walking back. It was an altogether different path. The same path was not the same path. It was now a path stained by me and my own just-traversed path experience.

The walk back (a relative term) seemed easier. I wanted to hurry.

You know how people say, "God has a plan for me?" I often have trouble with the marionette aspects of that phrase. But as for labyrinths, I felt this afterward, about this labyrinth: we each have a path; it might even be the exact same path for each of us. But it is infinitely different for each of us. (Reminds me a bit of "Labyrinths," or maybe "Ficciones," by Jorge Luis Borges, a favorite of mine in my youth.)

As it should be.

The Online Etymology Dictionary adds this for you to chew on:

labyrinth (n.) Look up labyrinth at
c. 1400, laberynthe (late 14c. in Latinate form laborintus) "labyrinth, maze," figuratively "bewildering arguments," from Latin labyrinthus, from Greek labyrinthos "maze, large building with intricate passages," especially the structure built by Daedelus to hold the Minotaur near Knossos in Crete, from a pre-Greek language; perhaps related to Lydian labrys "double-edged axe," symbol of royal power, which fits with the theory that the labyrinth was originally the royal Minoan palace on Crete and meant "palace of the double-axe." Used in English for "maze" early 15c., and in figurative sense of "confusing state of affairs" (1540s).