Number 12: Jar: An Apostrophe

Stevens, Wallace, rearranged

In Tennessee, like nothing else,
Of neither bird nor bush you gave.
Bare and grey you were.
Dominion, you took everywhere.

Of a port in air, and tall,
And round upon the ground you were.
No longer wild, sprawled around,
The wilderness rose up to you:

A hill, surrounded by wilderness
Made slovenly by you.
Upon that hill you were round.
In Tennessee I placed you.

I’m taking part in National Blog Posting Month, which means I’m posting on this blog every day throughout November. You can follow along and see who else is posting this month by following these hashtags on Twitter: #NetPositiveBlog and #NaBloPoMo

Number 11: Apostrophe to a Jar

A rearrangement of Wallace Stevens

Like nothing else in Tennessee,
You did not give of bird or bush.
You were grey and bare.
You took dominion everywhere.

Tall, and of a port in air,
You were round upon the ground.
No longer wild, the wilderness
Rose up to you and sprawled around.

You made the slovenly wilderness
Surround that hill.
Round you were upon a hill.
I placed you there in Tennessee.

I’m taking part in National Blog Posting Month, which means I’m posting on this blog every day throughout November. You can follow along and see who else is posting this month by following these hashtags on Twitter: #NetPositiveBlog and #NaBloPoMo

Number Six: Run

Once upon a time I thought that owning a decent camera would open the floodgates to a world of glamour and riches.

And you know what? I was right, if you substitute “glamour” and “riches” with “getting lots of requests to do volunteer photography” and “getting lots of requests to do volunteer photography”. But here’s a secret: professional photographers may be in the game to make money, but first and foremost they love photography. Also, the prosthetic eye of the camera is the only way for them to have an authentic relationship with the world. Hah hah, we’re broken! But we will show up to shoot at your event.

For example: I volunteered at the 2018 CIBC Run for the Cure this year.

There were dogs in cute costumes.

There were people in pink. So much pink that I had trouble controlling the skin tones in some of my photos.

Darth Maul showed up for some reason. Obviously breast cancer is bad for his criminal empire on Dathomir, so he came to Earth to run for the cure. Or maybe he has a heart to go with his horns.

But the best part of the day came when I stationed myself at the finish line and caught people as they passed through a phalanx of high-fivers and well-wishers. Friends, partners, families and survivors all grinning and hugging as they slapped hands, a wheel of joy being spun and spun again.

Technical notes for the curious: I shot these images on my Fujifilm X-T3, using a mix of lenses. Crowd and group shots were taken with either the 35mm f2 or the 16mm f1.4. Photos of people at the finish line were all taken with my 56mm f1.2 lens, generally at apertures between f1.2 and 2.0. Most of these are jpegs shot in Fujifilm’s Classic Chrome profile and edited slightly in Lightroom, mostly to lift the shadows a bit (Classic Chrome crushes shadows a bit more than I like). This was my first outing with the X-T3 and I was really pleased with the autofocus and image quality. Keeping the camera in high performance mode with continuous focus and burst shooting delivers great results but sucks up batteries like tapioca balls through bubble tea. I probably got about 500-600 shots per battery, which is not bad for a mirrorless camera, but if you’re a DSLR user you’re in for a surprise.

I’m taking part in National Blog Posting Month, which means I’m posting on this blog every day throughout November. You can follow along and see who else is posting this month by following these hashtags on Twitter: #NetPositiveBlog and #NaBloPoMo.

Number Four: Ink

The following image will tell you I’m into ink:

 That’s too much, man.

That’s too much, man.

That’s thirty or so strips of chromatography paper with, I am embarrased to say, a fraction of the inks I’ve collected over the last while. I’ve used fountain pens and bottled inks for most of my life, but over the last couple of years my collection of pen and ink has spun up into an escape velocity of ridiculousness (and we’re not even talking about my notebooks, and my ridiculously specific tastes in paper). I find myself writing constantly just to work through the bottles of ink I’ve bought.

I started chromatography as a way to look more carefully and completely at my ink. A drop of water pulls the dyes apart, drags particles across the paper and reveals something of the ink maker’s mind. Occasionally there are surprises.

Here are some of the blues. And I don’t even particularly like blue ink.

ink strips 2.jpg

Number Three: The Sauce and the Soul

There will be no fancy photos today, no exegesis of horror, no thoughts on the collision between genre and style in A Star Is Born (a classic melodrama filmed in the loose handheld style of a documentary? What could Bradley Cooper be up to by cloaking cornball in cinema verite? Whaaat). Just the raw searing truth of the day. The raw seared truth. Take the truth and allow it come to room temperature, then sear it on all sides in a very hot pan. A tasty skin with a cool red centre. Very palatable truth.

No, there’s not even truth. Just pasta sauce, which I made according to a recipe in Samin Nosrat’s Salt Fat Acid Heat. It turned out her recipe for pasta all’amatriciana required me to make pomarola sauce first as a base. I’ve never had to make a sauce as a first step to making sauce. The whole thing took two or three hours (all recipes in my hands seem to take two-three hours) and turned the kitchen into some kind of tomato murder scene. By the end I felt hollowed out and obscurely damaged. Some part of me struggled to understand what had happened. Does a good pasta sauce secretly require part of your soul? Do we store up our treasures not in heaven but in a fiery arrabiata? Is it harder to strain tomatoes through the eye of a needle than it is for a camel to eat a plate of spaghetti?

Speaking of which, I stopped by the butcher the other day and noticed ground camel meat in their fridge. Is that camel meat I asked the cashier, as if she’d say No, it’s hamburger meat and we’re liars. Instead she said Yes it’s camel meat.

What’s it like? I asked. I’ve heard it’s like moose meat, she said.

You know what, camel-meat vending cashier woman, that’s not helpful.

Number Two: The Haunted Camera

Yesterday (or “yees-tah-dye,” as the guy from New Zealand who made out with my girlfriend in high school would say) I was throwing a few tweets back and forth with a film critic about the differences between Argento and Guadagnino’s versions of Suspiria:

suspiria tweet.jpg

I realize that this is not a careful critique so much as a quick take that requires a mountain of qualification. Plenty of horror is made by highly competent fimmakers at the peak of their craft, and a given film’s deficiencies may have as much to do with the conditions of their production (budget, time, studio interference) as anything else. But I think I’m onto something when I say that certain horror seems to possess its makers (people who know the first thing about academic criticism of horror films, tell me what I should be reading and what degree of shame I should feel for not having read it before throwing my thoughts at this blog), producing something that seems somehow out of control, spilling like bright pink blood from the edges of the work.

There’s more to say on this, but I have no time if I want to keep up with this NaBloPoMo business. More tomorrow, from Ballet Mechanique to grindhouse to Carnival of Souls and beyond.

Golden Man

Hot on the heels of the weekend's yellow beer encounter, a man bathed in golden light or possibly made of pure gold, a golden golem inscribed into life by the municipal works department, showed up outside our window last night to clean the bugs from the streetlamp.

Presumably the helmet covers up the animating mark on his forehead.

One more instance of gold this week and I'm going to take it as a sign. Like I'll be hit in the head with a gold brick or something.

Helpful resources:

What are sodium vapor lamps anyway?

What are golems and (unrelated) why did I want to make of my own back in 2005?

Yellow beer

I no longer drink beer (pretty much), so I'm not sure when they added lemon yellow to the beer hue roster. Back when I drank beer by the bucketful, we were satisfied with pale yellow, light gold, reddish amber, toffee brown, burnt caramel and an inky, violet-black stout that tasted of grapefruit and the intolerable weight of history. We didn't go for this liquid sun nonsense.

"How did we get to this point in our collective culture that we're drinking golden beer on a Friday afternoon?"

I miss beer sometimes.

Category errors

Yesterday my boss walked into the lunch room as I was looking at a container of cookies and asked me how I was doing.

I said, "Choosing a cookie," which I now realize was a description of what I was doing, not how.

Still, I don't feel that I answered incorrectly. If you're in a state of mind in which choosing a cookie is your main concern, you're doing pretty well.

Here's the truth, though: I wasn't choosing a cookie. I was staring at a jumbled pile of identical heart-shaped shortbread cookies, wondering what possible impact my choice could have on my life. With at least two dozen identical possibilities, the very notion of choice evaporates. In that situation, the only available choice is whether or not to select a cookie. Which I had already done. So I had been caught in a post-choice moment, what the academics like to call a liminal space.

What I should have said is, "Having chosen to eat a cookie but not yet taken one, I'm delaying the moment of action by pretending to have a further choice of which cookie to eat, when it's obvious that my final pick doesn't matter. I can only conclude that I'm looking at these cookies to develop a narrative about my life in which cookie selection becomes an existentially meaningful act. Within that narrative I'm rolling in novelistic detail, endlessly confirming my existence on the plain of the quasi-real, arguably the only place where humans truly exist. We rise, we revise, and fall back once more, but we fall into a richer and stranger world. So yeah, I'm doing great. Would you like a cookie?"

In the end I picked a cookie with white sugar sprinkles instead of pink, because that seemed a little more authentic.

Picture Radio

Picture Radio is a band. A music band! And like so many music bands these days, they occupy physical space and reflect frequencies of light - which makes them great subjects for photography. After a series of fairly standard band photos, we pulled out some ancient exercise bikes. It turns out that Picture Radio is not clear on stationary bicycling, but they're really good at being photographed.

And here a few that still need a quick cleanup to get rid of some streaks and blobs of light in the window. I sort of like the umbrella reflection, though. 

Technical gobbledygook: All images taken with the Fujifilm X100T at f4.0 1/250 ISO 200. Flash set up camera left with a deep umbrella (very visible in some of the photos) set at - well, I'm not sure, because at some point the connection between the wireless trigger became dicey and I couldn't set the power remotely. It's probably at 1/8 power? I started using the built-in 3-stop ND filter on the camera to control the exposure. All black and white images processed in Lightroom with a tweaked version of the VSCO Agfa Scala 200 preset and further fumbled with in Photoshop. Alcohol being consumed by subjects is Bacardi rum.


Bad dreams

A few nights ago I experienced a dream in which I was describing a recurring nightmare that consisted of me running through a house, opening door after door, each one promising to lead me outside but only opening onto another part of the house, another hallway, another stairwell, another landing or vestibule, each passageway shorter and smaller than the last, until I came to a door with a bright yellow doorjamb and daylight spilling in from outside, but as I pushed on it the door refused to open more than inch or two, and with that refusal a bolt of terror went through me and I woke up.

Some bad dreams dissolve within a few minutes, even if you're riding a wave of panic into consciousness, but this one left me with a sticky film of anxiety that I knew would be with me all day (I was right about that - it wasn't until six in the evening, as a cab took me down a rain-drenched Broad Street to a meeting of condominium board members, that I felt it finally lift). What I found odd was that the nightmare I was describing is not my actual recurring nightmare, which also takes place in an endless house but does not involve attempts at escape.

Instead I often find myself in a room somewhere around the attic, a room with a small door that leads to a small empty room, and as I open that door and inspect the emptiness a horror comes over me with such strength that my nightmare persists even after I awake, as if whatever was in that room has hitched a ride with me. Shadows throb, shapes shift and every object is infused with my terror, as if the dream has turned me inside out and I'm waking into my my own mind.

Anyway. Enjoy your day.

Seven Bird Facts

  1. Birds have hard pointy mouths. Scientists should have come up with a name for bird mouths months (or even years!) ago. The fact that they haven't is only one of the reasons I gave up on "science" as a teen.
  2. Bird hands are invisible (I guess) or covered up by that incredibly coarse bird fur. I never see birds bother to pick anything up, which leads me to think they're lazy, but they do put a lot of effort into flapping their arms. Maybe their hands are sort of stuck and they're trying to shake them loose?
  3. The popular theory that birds flap their arms to "fly" (move through the air) is obviously untrue. Try flapping your arms around and see how high you get. Real flight can only be achieved with engines (see planes for an example). Bird "flight" is an optical illusion caused by atmospheric refraction. I'll believe in bird flight when someone actually gets on a bird and rides around on one.
  4. The legs. What the hell is going on with those tiny legs and feet? It's called dignity, birds. Look it up.
  5. The class Birda (birds) is marked by its denizens' ability to produce the atmospheric refraction that sustains the illusion of flight (possibly through specialized glands).
  6. Ostriches and penguins (the so-called "flightless" birds) are not birds at all. The penguin is a kind of capybara with a pointy mouth adapted for spearing fish/fish biting. The ostrich is a normal capybara being attacked by giant worms.
  7. Birds are most closely related to vests. More distant relatives of the bird include paper towels, car manuals and Wikipedia.