A Careful Decoding of the Obvious

'Now This One Shouldn't Be Too Hard to Locate!,' by user 'whatsthatpicture' on Flickr.com

[Image: “Now this one shouldn’t be too hard to locate!,” by Photos of the Past — a/k/a user “whatsthatpicture” — on Flickr.com. (Used here under a Creative Commons license; thank you!) This is one of a so-called “photo pool” by this Flickr user and others; the series consists of over 5,000 old photos taken in what are (obviously or less so) specific locations. The modern-day user then attempts to locate that setting in our own time frame, via Google Street View. If you read the comments at the Flickr page for this specific photo, you can see what the process is. In this case, it included, ultimately, transferring the image to the Google Street View “overlay” site called Historypin: there, a little slider gizmo at the top of the Street View lets you fade out the old photo, and fade it back in, in order to see how its subject fits into the latter-day scene.]

From whiskey river:

The fact that we live at the bottom of a deep gravity well, on the surface of a gas covered planet going around a nuclear fireball 90 million miles away, and think this to be normal, is obviously some indication of how skewed our perspective tends to be.

(Douglas Adams [source])


Death Again

Let’s not get romantic or dismal about death.
Indeed it’s our most unique act along with birth.
We must think of it as cooking breakfast,
it’s that ordinary. Break two eggs into a bowl
or break a bowl into two eggs. Slip into a coffin
after the fluids have been drained, or better yet,
slide into the fire. Of course it’s a little hard
to accept your last kiss, your last drink,
your last meal about which the condemned
can be quite particular as if there could be
a cheeseburger sent by God. A few lovers
sweep by the inner eye, but it’s mostly a placid
lake at dawn, mist rising, a solitary loon
call, and staring into the still, opaque water.
We’ll know as children again all that we are
destined to know, that the water is cold
and deep, and the sun penetrates only so far.

(Jim Harrison [source])



My life is an open book. It lies here
on a glass tabletop, its pages shamelessly exposed,
outspread like a bird with hundreds of thin paper wings.

It is a biography, needless to say,
and I am reading and writing it simultaneously
in a language troublesome and private.
Every reader must be a translator with a thick lexicon.

No one has read the whole thing but me.
Most dip into the middle for a few paragraphs,
then move on to other shelves, other libraries.
Some have time only for the illustrations.

I love to feel the daily turning of the pages,
the sentences unwinding like string,
and when something really important happens,
I walk out to the edge of the page
and, always the student,
make an asterisk, a little star, in the margin.

(Billy Collins [source])

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Just Enough World, Just Enough Time

'Boro'd Time (We have all the Time in the World),' by Lucy Portsmouth (user magpieslaundry on Flickr.com)

[Image: “Boro’d Time (We have all the Time in the World),” textile art by Lucy Portsmouth (magpieslaundry), found at Flickr.com. (Used under a Creative Commons license; click image to enlarge.)]

First, something a little different for a Friday here: a musical intro…

I’ve always liked Gustav Mahler’s “Titan” Symphony, No. 1 in D Major. The first movement drew me right in the first time I heard it, and for decades it’s been one of my favorite accompaniments during writing sessions. The title of that movement is Wie ein Naturlaut, that is, like a sound of nature. Mahler felt so strongly about how this should be played that he wrote to conductor Franz Schalk, “The introduction to the first movement sounds of nature, not music!” I love that instruction.

From whiskey river:

The world is a thing of utter inordinate complexity and richness and strangeness that is absolutely awesome. I mean the idea that such complexity can arise not only out of such simplicity, but probably absolutely out of nothing, is the most fabulous extraordinary idea. And once you get some kind of inkling of how that might have happened, it’s just wonderful. And… the opportunity to spend 70 or 80 years of your life in such a universe is time well spent as far as I am concerned.

(Douglas Adams [source])


Trees seem to do their feats so effortlessly. Every year a given tree creates absolutely from scratch ninety-nine percent of its living parts. Water lifting up tree trunks can climb one hundred and fifty feet an hour; in full summer a tree can, and does, heave a ton of water every day. A big elm in a single season might make as many as six million leaves, wholly intricate, without budging an inch; I couldn’t make one. A tree stands there, accumulating deadwood, mute and rigid as an obelisk, but secretly it seethes, it splits, sucks and stretches; it heaves up tons and hurls them out in a green, fringed fling. No person taps this free power; the dynamo in the tulip tree pumps out even more tulip tree, and it runs on rain and air.

(Annie Dillard [source])


Day follows day in endless succession, and the years vanish, and we walk sightless among miracles.

(Chaim Stern [source])

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Infinitely More Than Meets the Eye

Infinity Mirror Room, by ®DS on Flickr

[Image: “Infinity Mirror Room,” by user ®DS on Flickr. If you’ve got a fast Internet connection, you’ll want to click on it to see the full-scale panorama — it’s 4.6MB in size. (Right-click and open it in a new window for best results.) For more information, see the note at the foot of this post.]

From whiskey river (answer to #4):

The universe—some information to help you live in it.

  1. AREA: Infinite.
    The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy offers this definition of the word “Infinite.”
    Infinite: Bigger than the biggest thing ever and then some. Much bigger than that in fact, really amazingly immense, a totally stunning size, real “wow, that’s big,” time. Infinity is just so big that by comparison, bigness itself looks really titchy. Gigantic multiplied by colossal multiplied by staggeringly huge is the sort of concept we’re trying to get across here.
  2. IMPORTS: None.
    It is impossible to import things into an infinite area, there being no outside to import things in from.
  3. EXPORTS: None.
    See Imports.
  4. POPULATION: None.
    It is known that there are an infinite number of worlds, simply because there is an infinite amount of space for them to be in. However, not every one is inhabited. Therefore, there must be a finite number of inhabited worlds. Any finite number divided by infinity is as near to nothing as makes no odds, so the average population of all the planets in the Universe can be said to be zero. From this it follows that the population of the whole Universe is also zero, and that any people you may meet from time to time are merely the products of a deranged imagination.
    In fact, there are three freely convertible currencies in the universe, but the Altairian Dollar has recently collapsed, the Flainian Pobble Bead is only exchangeable for other Flainian Pobble Beads, and the Triganic Pu has its own special problems. Its exchange rate of eight Ningis to one Pu is simple enough, but since a Ningi is a triangular rubber coin six thousand eight hundred miles along each side, no one has ever collected enough to own one Pu. Niginis are not negotiable currency, because the Galactibanks refuse to deal in fiddling small change. From this basic premise it is very simple to prove that the Galactibanks are also the products of a deranged imagination.

(Douglas Adams [source])



The room was suddenly rich and the great bay-window was
Spawning snow and pink roses against it
Soundlessly collateral and incompatible:
World is suddener than we fancy it.

World is crazier and more of it than we think,
Incorrigibly plural. I peel and portion
A tangerine and spit the pips and feel
The drunkenness of things being various.

And the fire flames with a bubbling sound for world
Is more spiteful and gay than one supposes —
On the tongue on the eyes on the ears in the palms of one’s hands —
There is more than glass between the snow and the huge roses.

(Louis MacNeice [source])

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Something Happened (or Threatened to (or Didn’t))

[Image: untitled photograph by David Solomons, from his 2009 book (and gallery show) Happenstance.]

From whiskey river:

The next suitable person you’re in a light conversation with, stop suddenly in the middle of the conversation and look at the person closely and say, “What’s wrong?” You say it in a concerned way. He’ll say, “What do you mean?” You say, “Something’s wrong. I can tell. What is it?” And he’ll look stunned and say, “How did you know?” He doesn’t realize something’s always wrong, with everybody. Often more than one thing. He doesn’t know everybody’s always going around all the time with something wrong and believing they’re exerting great willpower and control to keep other people, for whom they think nothing’s ever wrong, from seeing it.

(David Foster Wallace [source])


Three Times My Life Has Opened

Three times my life has opened.
Once, into darkness and rain.
Once, into what the body carries at all times within it and starts
to remember each time it enters the act of love.
Once, to the fire that holds all.
These three were not different.
You will recognize what I am saying or you will not.

But outside my window all day a maple has stepped from her leaves
like a woman in love with winter, dropping the colored silks.
Neither are we different in what we know.
There is a door. It opens. Then it is closed. But a slip of light
stays, like a scrap of unreadable paper left on the floor,
or the one red leaf the snow releases in March.

(Jane Hirshfield [source])

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Caught by Surprise

[Image: a key (and classic) moment in Fritz Lang’s 1931 thriller, M: the murderer, played by Peter Lorre, learns he’s a (literally) marked man.]

From whiskey river:

We can never know what to want, because, living only one life, we can neither compare it with our previous lives nor perfect it in our lives to come.

(Milan Kundera [source])


When It Comes

Any time. Now. The next minute.
Years from today. You lean forward
and wait. You relax, but you don’t forget.

Someone plans an elaborate party
with a banquet, dancing, even fireworks
when feasting is over. You look at them:

All those years when you searched the world
like a ferret, these never happened — your marriage,
your family, prayers, curses. Only dreams.

A vacuum has opened everywhere. Cities,
armies, those chairs ranked in the great
hall for the audience — there isn’t anyone.

Like a shutter the sky opens and closes
and the show is over. The next act
will deny that anything ever happened.

Your hand falls open. It is empty. It never
held a knife, a flower, gold,
or love, or now. Lean closer—

Listen to me: there isn’t any hand.

(William Stafford [source])

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Touch and Enter

In a comment on yesterday’s Towel Day post, Marta said:

The miracle of the towel! The man who realized this was a man to be reckoned with indeed.

That got me thinking: how cool it would be to come up with a… a something — an in-joke, an idea, a catchphrase, a little fictional detail, an entire story — which lodges in readers’ minds, gets passed around even among people who never read the original, and becomes part of the culture’s stock of unchanging raw materials.

Like towels in Douglas Adams’s Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, say.

Or — to broaden the focus to the almost 100% universal (First World) level: The Wizard of Oz. Not the book, either (sorry, L. Frank Baum) — the movie.

  • “I’ll get you, my pretty.”
  • “…and your little dog, too!”
  • “I do believe in spooks. I do believe in spooks…”
  • “Professor Marvel never guesses; he knows!”
  • “Auntie Em! Uncle Henry!”
  • “Some, where—” (You almost don’t have to finish the phrase.)
  • “If I only had a brain”
  • “Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!”
  • “First they tore my legs off and threw them over there…”

(etc. etc. etc. — all of which I or other people have used in conversations in recent months.)

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Don’t Panic — But Happy Towel Day!

May 25, as of course you already know, is celebrated worldwide as Towel Day*. Whatever you do, do not forget your towel today. If you cannot be properly entoweled, you might consider alternatives… carrying somewhere on your person folded-up paper towels purloined from the restroom, say.

The point is, do not go about unprepared. Because, well, you never know.

Per Wikipedia, here’s the passage in Douglas Adams’s The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy encouraging towelage:

A towel, [The Hitchhiker’s Guide] says, is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have. Partly it has great practical value. You can wrap it around you for warmth as you bound across the cold moons of Jaglan Beta; you can lie on it on the brilliant marble-sanded beaches of Santraginus V, inhaling the heady sea vapors; you can sleep under it beneath the stars which shine so redly on the desert world of Kakrafoon; use it to sail a miniraft down the slow heavy River Moth; wet it for use in hand-to-hand-combat; wrap it round your head to ward off noxious fumes or avoid the gaze of the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal (such a mind-bogglingly stupid animal, it assumes that if you can’t see it, it can’t see you); you can wave your towel in emergencies as a distress signal, and of course dry yourself off with it if it still seems to be clean enough.

More importantly, a towel has immense psychological value. For some reason, if a strag (strag: non-hitch hiker) discovers that a hitch hiker has his towel with him, he will automatically assume that he is also in possession of a toothbrush, face flannel, soap, tin of biscuits, flask, compass, map, ball of string, gnat spray, wet weather gear, space suit etc., etc. Furthermore, the strag will then happily lend the hitch hiker any of these or a dozen other items that the hitch hiker might accidentally have “lost”. What the strag will think is that any man who can hitch the length and breadth of the galaxy, rough it, slum it, struggle against terrible odds, win through, and still knows where his towel is is clearly a man to be reckoned with.

Note: The image at the top of this post is but one of thousands of Flickr images tagged “towelday.” (Edit to add: …to say nothing of YouTube videos.) The photographer, one per_p, helpfully reminds us that inanimate objects, too, deserve protection. Especially sentient inanimate objects.


* Or, as it is known in Colombia, Dia de la Toalla.

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Unfinished Business

From whiskey river:

A Way to Look at Things

We have not yet made shoes that fit like sand
Nor clothes that fit like water
Nor thoughts that fit like air.
There is much to be done —
Works of nature are abstract.
They do not lean on other things for meanings.
The sea-gull is not like the sea
Nor the sun like the moon.
The sun draws water from the sea.
The clouds are not like either one —
They do not keep one form forever.
That the mountainside looks like a face is accidental.

(Arthur Dove [source])

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