The Stream, a River, a Torrent, This Puddle, the Sea

'Jimmy's Fairy Tale,' by Woodford Yang on Flickr

[Image: “Jimmy’s Fairy Tale,” by Woodford Yang. Found it on Flickr (used here under a Creative Commons license). The artist/photographer — the user who posted it, anyhow — offers absolutely no context for it: where it was taken, what it depicts, who “Jimmy” might be/have been… nothing at all. (The user profile indicates that he is based in Taipei, and I found numerous references to that exact name around the Web; but I really have no details to offer.) Whatever it “means,” I like that the train’s label — referring to van Gogh’s painting, presumably, or to the Don McLean song about it — echoes (or is echoed in) those softly glowing overhead lights.]

From whiskey river (italicized portion):

Critics who treat adult as a term of approval, instead of as a merely descriptive term, cannot be adult themselves. To be concerned about being grown up, to admire the grown up because it is grown up, to blush at the suspicion of being childish; these things are the marks of childhood and adolescence. And in childhood and adolescence they are, in moderation, healthy symptoms. Young things ought to want to grow. But to carry on into middle life or even into early manhood this concern about being adult is a mark of really arrested development. When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up…

A critic not long ago said in praise of a very serious fairy tale that the author’s tongue “never once got into his cheek.” But why on earth should it?—unless he had been eating a seed-cake. Nothing seems to me more fatal, for this art, than an idea that whatever we share with children is, in the privative sense, “childish” and that whatever is childish is somehow comic. We must meet children as equals in that area of our nature where we are their equals. Our superiority consists partly in commanding other areas, and partly (which is more relevant) in the fact that we are better at telling stories than they are. The child as reader is neither to be patronized nor idolized: we talk to him as man to man. But the worst attitude of all would be the professional attitude which regards children in the lump as a sort of raw material which we have to handle.

(C. S. Lewis [source])

[Read more…]

Send to Kindle

Midweek Music Break: Earworms of a 1950s Childhood

When The Boy was a boy*, he did not know that nursery rhymes and fairy tales and folk songs had already lived lives stretching back centuries. When The Boy was a boy, he imagined that each story, verse, and tune had been crafted just for him and for people like him, all within the last few years. To honor such generous gifts of craftsmanship and art, he took them in, absorbed them, never forgot them. And he did the same with other stories and songs he learned then, because he did not know the difference between a profound message from the deep past and a superficial message from yesterday.

When The Boy was no longer a boy, he knew these things. But by then it was too late; he had memorized them all, equally, the new with the old and the silly with the deep. And long after The Boy was a boy, they would chew their way out of the recesses of his mind, laying claim to his awareness when he really needed to be thinking of other things…

[Below, click Play button to begin The Teddy Bears’ Picnic. While audio is playing, volume control appears at left — a row of little vertical bars. This clip is 2:41 long.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

When The Boy was a boy, true, he sometimes wondered about the songs they learned in music class. As printed in the music books, these songs featured black-and-white cross-hatched woodcut drawings taken from ancient sources, perhaps as far back as the eighteenth century. One drawing in particular entranced him: it depicted a raucous sort of restaurant — perhaps something like a diner, furnished in oak instead of chrome — were many people were eating and laughing; they poured huge mugs of something into their mouths, and one arm of each man encircled the waist of a wench…

[Below, click Play button to begin There Is a Tavern in the Town. While audio is playing, volume control appears at left — a row of little vertical bars. This clip is 1:23 long.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Many, many songs and stories came to The Boy, when he was a boy, through the small, glowing gray screen in the living room. Many of these songs and stories were brief, lasting either thirty or sixty seconds — exactly — but some were a little longer. They showed up in venues like the beginning and end of each program. And they showed up within some of the programs themselves, like… Captain Kangaroo.

(When The Boy was no longer a boy, he came to believe that the first time he heard that song must have been the moment his politics became set for life. Good old Captain.)


* Hat tip to Peter Handke’s poem “Song of Childhood,” featured in the marvelously hypnotic voiceover for Wings of Desire. Here’s Rutger Hauer’s voice reading the English translation, over a short film crafted especially to capture the poem’s essence:

Send to Kindle

Trouble Hearing

[Image: Toothpaste for Dinner, June 3, 2007]

From whiskey river:

People write letters
to me from heaven, but I’m not listening.
The hermit said: “Because the world is mad,
the only way through the world is to learn
the arts and double the madness.” Are you listening?

(Robert Bly, “Listening”1)

and (italicized portion):

We like to think that we are finely evolved creatures, in suit-and-tie or pantyhose-and-chemise, who live many millennia and mental detours away from the cave, but that’s not something our bodies are convinced of. We may have the luxury of being at the top of the food chain, but our adrenaline still rushes when we encounter real or imaginary predators. We even restage that primal fright by going to monster movies. We still stake out or mark our territories, though sometimes now it is with the sound of radios. We still jockey for position and power. We still create works of art to enhance our senses and add even more sensations to the brimming world, so that we can utterly luxuriate in the spectacles of life. We still ache fiercely with love, lust, loyalty, and passion. And we still perceive the world, in all its gushing beauty and terror, right on our pulses. There is no other way. To begin to understand the gorgeous fever that is consciousness, we must try to understand the senses — how they evolved, how they can be extended, what their limits are, to which ones we have attached taboos, and what they can tell us about the ravishing world we have the privilege to inhabit.

(Diane Ackerman, from A Natural History of the Senses)

[Read more…]

Send to Kindle