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Potpourri, June 18th (2017 edition)

Image: circa 1952, JES + Dad[Latest in the apparently annual June 18 tradition, of commenting about whatever the heck I want to…]

I damned near forgot what day it was… or, at any rate, that I typically do a blog post for the occasion! (The photo at the right was taken circa 1952, and celebrates another occasion — Father’s Day in the US.) I’m in a much better frame of mind this year than last (with the multiple-hard-drive disaster I’d been grappling with for months).

To get this rolling, here’s today’s strangely apropos poem of the day, from The Writer’s Almanac:

There Comes the Strangest Moment

There comes the strangest moment in your life,
when everything you thought before breaks free—
what you relied upon, as ground-rule and as rite
looks upside down from how it used to be.

Skin’s gone pale, your brain is shedding cells;
you question every tenet you set down;
obedient thoughts have turned to infidels
and every verb desires to be a noun.

I want—my want. I love—my love. I’ll stay
with you. I thought transitions were the best,
but I want what’s here to never go away.
I’ll make my peace, my bed, and kiss this breast…

Your heart’s in retrograde. You simply have no choice.
Things people told you turn out to be true.
You have to hold that body, hear that voice.
You’d have sworn no one knew you more than you.

How many people thought you’d never change?
But here you have. It’s beautiful. It’s strange.

(Kate Light)

I’m so glad that although Garrison Keillor no longer hosts Prairie Home Companion, he’s maintained his curation of the Almanac. I know at some point he’ll have to surrender that, too, and I know that he himself does not personally compile each issue; he delegates that to his staff. But for now, he still does the audio reading of each daily entry. Here’s today’s, read in full:

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Book Review: The Blue Jar, by Marta Pelrine-Bacon

Cover: 'The Blue Jar,' by Marta Pelrine-Bacon (electronic edition)[Note: please be sure to read the disclosure at the foot of this review.]

Marta Pelrine-Bacon is a fan of the old Twin Peaks TV series; she has actually named one of her several online abodes Searching for Agent Dale Cooper (the FBI agent in the series, played by Kyle Maclachlan). In the promotional copy for her debut novel, The Blue Jar, her publisher says:

Fans of the quirky and off-beat will love this atmospheric, psychological tale of revenge and obsession with its unexpected twists and turns. Lake Belle, reminiscent of Twin Peaks set in the deep American South, provides the atmospheric setting for this thrilling psycho-drama with its underlying theme of weird justice.  Is it magic? Or is something else at work?

All of which pretty much lays it out there for anyone else familiar with the program — or its reputation, for that matter: expect the off-center.

So, how off-center is it? Let’s see…

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The Only One of Us with the Coordinates for This Destination and Its Hardware Is You

Surely I’ve said so before, here and elsewhere, but just in case it’s fallen through the cracks: I really, really like being friends with — just knowing — smart people. I could cite any number of reasons for this (better reading and music suggestions, better jokes, and so on). One perhaps not so obvious (and if they knew, they might prefer otherwise): better quirks.

Consider the case of a woman I’ve known for, oh, ten years or more, but have never met-met. (Our first encounter took place via email while she was doing some tech work for my computer-books agent’s site.) She seems quite level-headed and nice, and also (importantly) smart as heck. She’s published books on a couple of topics — including an excellent reference on using Google, back in the days when almost no one knew all the ins and out. And she also publishes a several-times-weekly e-newsletter of Web-research and -data tips. In all of these venues she’s exhibited an excellent, modestly skewed sense of humor.

Anyhow, on Facebook yesterday she posted the following non-technical status, which I frankly believe too good to keep to myself. (I checked with her before including this verbatim here on RAMH, by the way.)

I dreamed that a job applicant mentioned he had won $2000 solving King Friday’s Rubric. I was curious so I ordered a copy to see what it was.

It showed up as a large printed list, 1,000 large file cards and a hanging cloth, printed with a grid, the size of a shower curtain (in the dream we used shower curtain rings to hang it up.)

The list was a list of saints. The file cards were clues about the saints that you had to match to the list. The clues were in logic format. (“This saint was kind to birds and lived to be exactly 20 years older than the saint who is celebrated in March.”)

Once you matched up the saints to the clues, you had to use the letters on the back of the cards and arrange them on a grid in something that was kind of like Sudoku, only for letters of the alphabet.

I have no idea.

King Friday’s Rubric. I got that far and practically swooned. (Who dreams in words like rubric?!) And it testifies, indirectly, to her Web-research influence that I immediately had to look that up. King Friday, as it happens, is the name of one of the puppet characters in Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood — specifically Friday XIII, don’t you know — but rubric? Maybe it didn’t mean what I thought it meant… [Calm down, self: yes, it does.] It certainly doesn’t seem to be something in need of a solution, let alone a solution someone would pay for… a solution involving shower curtain rings? A Sudoku grid using letters instead of digits?

I have no idea, either. But is that a great dream or what?


Rosenfield and CooperAbout the post title: This is a quotation from Twin Peaks. The speaker, FBI forensic examiner Albert Rosenfield (played by Miguel Ferrer), is responding to some characteristically off-center pronouncement by Special Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan). In full:

Cooper. In observation, I don’t know where this is headed. But the only one of us with the coordinates for this destination and its hardware is you. Go on whatever vision quest you require. Stand on the rim of a volcano, stand alone and do your dance. Just find this beast before he takes another bite.

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It’s Right in Front of You

[Image: unretouched photograph of an anamorphically-painted building interior, by French artist George Rousse; I found it here. As suggested at that site, be sure to see the video about Rousse’s “Durham (NC) project.” And while you’re at it, check out the similar but sometimes entire city-sized work of Swiss artist Felice Varini. I couldn’t decide which artist’s work to feature here and finally flipped a coin.]

From whiskey river:


I had been worrying once again
about sad lives
and almost perfect art, Van Gogh,

Kafka, so when that voice on the radio
sang about drinking
a toast to those who most survive

the lives they’ve led, I drank that toast
in the prayerless
sanctum of my room, I said it

out loud in a hush. Then I thought
of Dr. Williams
who toward the end apologized

to his wife for doing everything
he had loved to do.
He was speaking of course to death,

not to her, though death instructed him
how valuable she was.
I thought of a lamp the neighbor’s child

had broken, then pieced back together
with wires and glue.
And my friend, the good husband,

kissing the scars his wife brought home
after the mastectomy.
I drank that toast again, though silently.

The radio was playing something old
and bad
I once thought was good.

Flaws. Suddenly the act of trying
to say how it feels
to live a life, to say it flawlessly,

seemed more immense than ever. Then
I remembered
those Persian rug makers built them in,

the flaws, because only Allah was perfect.
What arrogance to think
that otherwise they wouldn’t be there!

I allowed myself to wonder
about the ethics
of repair, but just for a while.

Sleep, too, was on my mind
and I knew
the difficulty that lay ahead:

how hard I’d try when I couldn’t,
how it would come
if only I could find a way

to enter and drift without concern
for what it is.

(Stephen Dunn [source])


I keep following this sort of hidden river of my life, you know, whatever the topic or impulse which comes, I follow it along trustingly. And I don’t have any sense of its coming to a kind of crescendo, or of its petering out either. It is just going steadily along.

(William Stafford [source])

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Useful Typos, and the Voice of the Muse

[Video: the “Red Room” scene from the last episode of Twin Peaks. I’ve adjusted the starting point to begin at what’s relevant to this post; if you don’t want to watch the whole thing, you can stop it at about 2:04.]

I have zero training as a typist, but type pretty fast anyhow just from, well, practice. No doubt someone with real experience would look over my shoulder and wonder why I use my pinkies (or whatever) so seldom, why I make my fingers reeeeeach so much, and so on. It all works out pretty good for the most part… except when I’m sort of flying along, tappy-tappy-tappy, and looking at some source material rather than at the screen, and one or more fingers drift just a littttttle bit to one side. What results looks vaguely like English, and if I check the keyboard I can trace it back to see, Oh yes, the left hand got out of sync there, or just the index finger or thumb.

I had one of those moments earlier today. The word I was typing in a comment box: manuscripts. What actually came out: nabyscruots.

Which, oddly, fit the context. That’s exactly what the damn things are sometimes. It’s not quite right, this nabyscruot. Maybe if I poke at it a little it’ll turn into a real manuscript.

It occurs to me now that this is actually the voice in which The Muse speaks: she doesn’t speak to artists and writers in our native languages, but in a sort of nasal, distended voice which sounds almost like gibberish unless we listen really, really hard*. Which would explain why it’s so difficult to answer the seemingly obvious question, “Where do you get your ideas?”… and so frustrating to try. If we answered honestly, our listener — many times, at least — would have to strain to “get it.” It’s so much easier to speak in metaphors and plainspoken shortcuts, the equivalent of the subtitles in the above video.

People ask me where I came up with the idea for the book I’m working on now. I tell them, “truthfully”:

  • I’d just finished writing a mystery. While working on that book, I’d read mysteries almost exclusively.
  • The first non-mystery I read afterward was Kingsley Amis’s The Old Devils.
  • Visiting a Borders store in New Jersey — the first Borders I ever went into (and it’s now one of the ones about to close, sigh) — I decided I wanted to follow The Old Devils with a classic which I’d never read.
  • Thinking, as I wandered into the back left corner of the store: Huh. There’s one. How come I never read Le Morte d’Arthur? Wonder if it’s at all like all the other King Arthur stuff I’ve ever seen? Wonder if it’s at all like that movie the Pythons did?
  • “The [first-draft] End”!

But that’s pretty misleading. In fact, I have no idea how I connected all the pieces (including not only The Old Devils and Le Morte d’Arthur, but ales, motor homes, archery, and the rest of it). I just listened, really, really hard.

But we can’t just say that, can we?


* Or think of the old Lassie TV show. The dog’s barking frantically, almost apoplectically, jumping up and down and falling over, and all the thickheaded human can say is, “What is it, girl? Did Timmy fall down the well? No? You hungry? You wanna go for a walk?”


P.S. Here’s the backwards-talking little man from that Twin Peaks episode, explaining how to talk backwards — before, of course, the sound and video editing crews step in to play your backwards-talking voice backwards. (Got that?)

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If You Can Believe It (or Even If You Can’t)

[Image: backglass from a new(ish) pinball game by Stern,
currently available from Premier Amusements]

From whiskey river‘s archive (a/k/a the commonplace book):

A physicist visits a colleague and notices a horseshoe hanging on the wall above the entrance.

“Do you really believe that a horseshoe brings luck?” he asks.

“No,” replies the colleague, “but I’ve been told that it works even if you don’t believe in it.”

(Niels Bohr)



A man and a woman happened to sit next to one another on a train. The woman took out a book and began reading. The train stopped at a half dozen stations, but she never looked up once.

The man watched her for awhile, then asked, “What are you reading?”

“It’s a ghost story,” she said. “It’s very good, very spooky.”

“Do you believe in ghosts?” he asked.

“Yes, I do,” she replied. “There are ghosts everywhere.”

“I don’t believe in them,” he said. “It’s just a lot of superstition. In all my years I’ve never seen a ghost, not one.”

“Haven’t you?” the woman said, and disappeared.

(Alvin Schwartz)

and (plus the last sentence):

“I see nobody on the road,” said Alice.

“I only wish I had such eyes,” the King remarked in a fretful tone. “To see Nobody! And at that distance too! Why, it’s as much as I can do to see real people, by this light!”

(Lewis Carroll [source])

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What’s in a Song: Begin the Beguine (2)

[This is another in an occasional series on popular songs with long histories. Part 1 — which focused on the song’s composition and lyrics — appeared on Wednesday.]

How many times and by which performers has “Begin the Beguine” been covered? It is to laugh.

The most comprehensive list I’ve seen was on the page of information at the WICN radio station’s site which I mentioned in Part (1) of this post. That list includes around 118 names “and many others” (I can’t swear to the count — I counted it once but am damned if I’ll put myself through that again :). Among those names — and aside from the dozens of Big Bands who jumped on the song following Artie Shaw’s success with it — were artists as varied as Chet Atkins, Liberace, Frankie Lyman & The Teenagers, Julio Iglesias, Django Reinhardt, Coleman Hawkins, Lalo Schifrin, Mario Lanza…

One thing you notice from many of these covers is how heavily their pacing and rhythm have been influenced by the Shaw swing-band version. But how close was that version to Cole Porter’s intentions?

Let’s refer again to Porter himself, who once wrote of the dance called the beguine (emphasis added): “I was very much taken by the rhythm of the dance, the rhythm was practically that of the already popular rumba but much faster.” Compare this with the writeup by the anonymous WICN writer (emphasis added): “It is similar to a rumba, but slower, with dance moves performed smoothly and deliberately. Like many Latin dances, the beguine emphasizes the ability to roll the hips to evoke sensuality while performing the steps.”

(Yeah — no wonder so many artists have covered “Beguine”: apparently there’s enough leeway for them to do whatever the heck they want with it.)

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Very Dead Things, and a Small Box of Chocolate Bunnies

If you’ve read my most recent Friday post, you’ve probably figured out that the early-1990s TV series Twin Peaks looms large in The Missus’s and my collective imagination.

(Actually, we have a habit of latching onto odd, off-center network series which don’t have a chance in hell of surviving past the first season or two — simply because of the confusion and venality of network executives. Don’t even get us started on American Gothic.)

When we met, online, in 1991, the show was in its first season. Prior to the premier, I’d read a review by — of all people — Pauline Kael, in The New Yorker, and it made up my mind that I just had to watch that episode, even if none of the later ones. I can’t find this review online anywhere (even though, with my subscriber’s credentials, I’ve got access to the magazine’s entire archives; maybe I read it somewhere else?). But Kael was nuts about the premier episode; she wrote of the first glimpse of Laura Palmer as something like “quite possibly the deadest thing you will ever see on network television.”

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Her Little Voice

[Above is the longer version of the Twin Peaks opening title sequence, including a fairly
complete cast listing (at least for the recurring characters). The “official” and higher-
version, with a truncated theme song and cast listing, is here.]

[Note: Comments disabled for this post, for what will eventually be obvious reasons. :)]

From whiskey river:

And then the kicker is this: in passing from the real to the imagined, in following that trail, you learn that both sides have a little of the other in each, that there are elements of the imagined inside your experience of the “real” world — rock, bone, wood, ice — and elements of the real — not the metaphorical, but the actual thing itself — inside stories and tales and dreams.

(Rick Bass)

Not from whiskey river:

your little voice
Over the wires came leaping
and i felt suddenly
With the jostling and shouting of merry flowers
wee skipping high-heeled flames
courtesied before my eyes
or twinkling over to my side
Looked up
with impertinently exquisite faces
floating hands were laid upon me
I was whirled and tossed into delicious dancing
with the pale important
stars and the Humorous
dear girl
How i was crazy how i cried when i heard
over time
and tide and death
your voice

(E.E. Cummings)


Love one another, but make not a bond of love
Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls.
Fill each other’s cup but drink not from one cup.
Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf.
Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you
be alone,
Even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with
the same music.

(Kahlil Gibran)

And finally, who could argue with this?

One woman can make you fly like an eagle, another can give you the strength of a lion, but only one in the Cycle Of Life can fill your heart with wonder and the wisdom that you have known a singular joy.

(Deputy Tommy “Hawk” Hill, Twin Peaks)

…Okay, I said “finally” up there but, heck, as long as we’re on the theme we may as well go for broke:

[Below, click Play button to begin. While audio is playing, volume control appears at left — a row of little vertical bars. This clip is about 5½ minutes 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.

(lyrics by David Lynch; music by Angelo Badalamenti;
performance by Julee Cruise)

Don’t let yourself be hurt this time.
Don’t let yourself be hurt this time.

Then I saw your face
Then I saw your smile

The sky is still blue
The clouds come and go
Yet something is different
Are we falling in love?

Don’t let yourself be hurt this time.
Don’t let yourself be hurt this time.

Then your kiss so soft
Then your touch so warm

The stars still shine bright
The mountains still high
Yet something is different
Are we falling in love?


Are we falling in love?

Happy anniversary, Baby.

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