There Are Some Cures for Pre-Summertime Blues

Wanted to draw your attention to a couple of recent donations to the “life is complex and frustrating, so let’s go have some fun!” cause.

First, you can generally look to the Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast blog for a pick-me-up. (And before breakfast, say researchers, is when 99% of the populace most needs picking up. (The other 1% need it most while they’re sitting on barstools and fantasizing about Mr. or Ms. Right, as the case may be.))

But today’s post, “Some Cartoons for You,” just made me grin from ear to ear. (It might even have made the grin wrap around to the back of my neck — an alarming sight, no doubt, for the people behind me in the elevator this morning.) As is usually the case at 7-Imp, the focus is on children’s books and illustrators — specifically, in this case, illustrators who favor a cartoon-like style of art.

It’s pretty darned hard for me to look at this without smiling, and it’s not even the whole image (from “Mr.” [Tom] Warburton’s 1000 Times No — see a reproduction of the entire page at the 7-Imp site):

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SheePong, Inter Alia

Just when you thought your dog is just, like, the smartest little thing ever because she’s learning not to pee on the carpet…

(Hat tip to rm preston. In a comment at the Seven Impossible Things… blog’s weekly “7-Kicks” extravaganza yesterday, rm listed this as one of the highlights of her previous seven days. It would’ve been one of mine, too!)

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Let’s pretend you have never, but never (ridiculous, I know, but bear with me) wandered through the Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast blog which I often mention here. Consequently, you don’t know anything about their structured interviews with (mostly) children’s-book illustrators and authors.

Maybe even further, even more basically, you don’t know that the blog’s title alludes to Lewis Carroll. (In which case, go here* and scroll down a bit.)

Imagine now that you’re an author or illustrator who doesn’t know any of that stuff, and you’ve been approached for a 7-Imp online interview. So when you run into the very first sentence of the request, you’re immediately baffled. Mind you, now, I’ve no idea how the first sentence actually reads, but let’s suppose the request opens something like this:

Dear You,

We would like to feature you in an upcoming interview for the Seven Impossible Things blog…

What runs through your head then?

Right. As it apparently ran through the great Ed Young’s head when invited to his recent interview there (#79!). Born in Tientsin, China, grown up in Shanghai, a survivor of the Japanese occupation in WW2, he is drawn to questions of philosophy. So his first response — even before Yes or No — is a simple question, but it comes out weighted with unintended significance:

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The Eloquent Silence of Two Hands Flapping

Yesterday’s post about languages which lack one or more tenses brought a couple of interesting comments from Jules (of the Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast blog). Among the other talents and skills and enthusiasms on ample display at the “7 Imp” site, Jules has worked as what she sometimes refers to in terms like a “hand-flapper”: a signer, an interpreter of ASL.

Despite my own hearing impairment, I’ve never learned any form of sign language. So it fascinated me to read Jules’s description of what she called “simultaneous communication”:

There’s the sign for “day,” and there’s the sign for “three.” You can make the three handshape with one hand while, at the same time, signing day with the same hand to indicate “3 days.” Same for weeks, months, years, many other things. You can also use what are called classifiers in ASL […], which show the movement, location, and appearance of a thing. After a signer indicates a person or thing, a classifier can be used in its place to show where and how it moves, what it looks like, and where it is located. So, the classifier for “car” can be signed, and you can show the car swerving, swerving while driving quickly, while simultaneously showing the driver falling asleep….all of that, of course, indicating, say, someone falling asleep at the wheel and swerving from the road.

This leaves me dizzy, frankly. And it doesn’t begin to scrape the surface of the other notion which Jules introduced to me in her comments, to wit, “ABC stories” (or poems). Here’s how the term is defined at’s deafness site:

ABC stories use each letter of the sign alphabet to represent something. For example, the “A” handshape is used to “knock” on a door.

(For reference, that’s the “A” handshape in the image at the top left of this post. See? Knocking on a door.)

Now, you might think that this limits the ASL “speaker” of an ABC story or poem to 26 words, concepts, expressions. You would think wrong.

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Overwhelmed by Ursula Vernon

'Overwhelmed,' by Ursula VernonOkay, look — so I don’t have kids of my own, and my niece and nephews and stepkids are all grown and the next generation is still somewhere out on the misty horizon.

But I keep coming across these nominally “children’s” books which I then wish I had a non-adult excuse to read. Much of the credit (or blame) for this must be placed at the doorstep of the Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast blog, whose focus is principally (but not exclusively) on children’s and young-adult books. (The 7-Imp innkeepers, Eisha and Jules, are school librarians.)

Once a week, 7-Imp features the work of a single children’s-book illustrator. This week, the subject was one Ursula Vernon.

Vernon apparently came to children’s books after first succeeding in the Web comics world, as the writer and artist behind Digger, which she describes thusly:

…it is a story about a particularly no-nonsense wombat who finds herself stuck on the wrong end of a one-way tunnel in a strange land where nonsense seems to be the specialty. Now with the help of a talking statue of a god, an outcast hyena, a shadow-being of undeterminate origin, and an oracular slug she seeks to find out where she is and how to go about getting back to her Warren.

That sounds rather… well, precious — right up until you hit the “outcast hyena/oracular slug” part. And indeed, despite her fascination with cute and furry creatures, Vernon does apparently have a knack for putting them in dire straits, depicting them as dangerous characters, and at the very least writing — and writing damn well — about them.

The picture at the top right, for example, is titled “Overwhelmed.” I discovered this and other outstanding bits of her work in her gallery at the DeviantArt site, where she says of “Overwhelmed,” briefly:

And once again, we prove that Ursula trying to do angst = hamsters.

Oh, well. At least they’re expressive little buggers.

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Bloghopping: Haven Kimmel on “The Sopranos”

Sometimes using the Web loses all its charm, because you’re too focused on problem-solving.

You need the answer to a question, say, about some damn thing or other that’s locking your computer up, and you don’t know if it’s Linux, or a video driver, or that cheese Danish which inadvertently fell from your mouth (of course it was inadvertent; you wouldn’t do something that stupid on purpose!) — where you’d parked it for a moment while swapping in the RAM upgrade, you just needed two hands for, like, three seconds — fell, as I was saying, into the guts of your computer, and when you went to scoop it up it just sort of schmeared across the surfaces and into the guts of what seems to be a satellite’s-eye view of two hundred silicon-and-plastic-and-steel skyscrapers waaaaay down at the end of a SimCity “game,” the boring part where you know you’re going to have to call down an earthquake or tornado or a major tax hike, inciting SimRevolution, just to keep from falling asleep with your hand on the mouse and dragging an entire suburb across the mountains.

At such moments, it’s easy to be overawed by the fact that Google actually returns close to 9,000 hits when you search on the words linux, video, driver, cheese, and danish (using The Missus’s computer, of course, since your own, at the moment, has as little to do with computing as it does with, say, dishwashing). It’s easy to be flat-out annoyed by that, in fact. Doesn’t Google know this is serious? You need an answer, damn it! An answer. An, as in one. You don’t need random attention-deficit Google-musings.

At such moments, congratulations, jerk: you’ve forgotten what the Web was like in, say, 1996. No Google. No MSN. No Yahoo. Very little, in fact, except the primo contribution of the Web to human communication: hyperlinks.

You’ve forgotten the unexpected pleasures you can get from simply hop-skip-jumping.

About a week ago, I stumbled across the blog known as “Seven Impossible Things to Do Before Breakfast.” (And I’d thought “Running After My Hat” was an ambitious blog name…) It didn’t take me long to add it to the Je Ne Sais Quoi… blogroll category, over there on the right. And one of these days I’ll do a post about it.

This post, though, is about a surprise I got from simply following a link — or rather, a couple of links: from the most recent 7-Imp entry, to a post on another blog by someone named Haven Kimmel. My curiosity was triggered simply by the phrase “The Sopranos.”

Now, I’ve almost lost my sense of surprise that wonderful New York Times bestselling writers have been doing their work for years, quite successfully, with no help at all from my wallet or even my admiration, let alone fanboyishness. Almost, but not quite. And so I can’t help asking the question: Where has Haven Kimmel been, where did she come from, and why haven’t I heard of her before?!?

Okay. I sorta understand. But now I’ve got some catching up to do (and you may, too).

In the meantime, I’ll refer you to an early post on her blog — or rather to its title, “Haven’s First Law: Never Quote A Better Writer Than Yourself.” Because I’m about to quote, very briefly, from her children’s book Orville: A Dog Story (2003):

Orville barked and barked against his chain. And right in the middle of a long summer day, when he had barked about how he was really a good dog in a bad mood, and how he missed that one-eyed doll, and how there was something so terrible about the feeling of a chain against a neck, everything changed, because a girl with cotton-candy hair moved into the little house across the road and Orville fell in love.

And then, just because I don’t trust you to follow the above link to her “Sopranos” post, there’s this:

…perhaps things were slightly askew in my psyche, because in an e-mail exchange between three friends I was asked to name off the top of my head (seriously! think fast!) how I would choose to die if I only had twenty-four hours. What would I do, spend my last day hysterical over my motherless children? Try to see the Seven or Ten or Eight Wonders of the World? God, no. I answered as honestly as humanly possible. I said, “I would want to spend 24 hours with Tony Soprano and then I would want him to shoot me in the heart.”


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