I’ll be your candle on the water

I like to sing this for SarahB every once in a while, usually during a quiet moment of reflection on the bus. I find it delightful and also hope via subtle mind control to convince her to see me as her own personal, non-romantic, non-life-partner lighthouse keeper. Although I believe this is a job that no longer exists, the dream beats on in my heart, and in “Pete’s Dragon.” Obviously. 

In the original film the actual lighthouse keeper is a drunk, played by Mickey Rooney, who Wikipedia tells me operates under the nom de guerre “Lampie.” This is one of those “facts” that feels inconsequential when you first hear it yet could pay real dividends during any number of future emergencies, so today I am bequeathing it unto you. Give thanks!

The web of then

We were still years away from Snapchat and Facebook and Twitter and ubiquitous comments sections and instant opinions. Young and bored and creative, we spent our free time (so much free time!) writing, for ourselves, for each other, to each other. That type of free time seems so long ago, now, between our jobs and boring adult problems and the ways the internet mutated to steal more of our time and become a slicker, faster, more anonymous and sometimes crueler place. But until we—and the internet—grew up, we spilled words on a virtual page, clicking “send” because it was faster and cheaper and more instantly gratifying than sending a letter yet, looking back, more quaint and thoughtful and relatively time-consuming compared to the way most of us communicate now.
— Claire Zulkey

I like Snapchat, actually. FYI. The rest can burn in hell.

Source: http://zulkey.com/2016/07/my-long-speech-a...

Yesterday and tomorrow

July 27, 2016 - Philadelphia, PA.

I want to mark this here, just once, just today, because it's a monumental thing that's happening in my lifetime, and I don't quite have the words to describe what it means to me. I've been so discouraged and angry these past few weeks. Part of this is just my usual Summer S*A*D, that time o' year when right on schedule my patience and tolerance and sense of humor drop to near-historic lows. But there is so much about the mood of the world lately that I don't recognize, and during the president's speech last night I realized I had been looking in the wrong places, and listening to the wrong voices. Regardless of what happens in November, I'll try to hold on to the spirit and the promise of this, of good people moving the world forward.

The rule of three

Apart from crafting exquisite run-on sentences, finding the rule of three in a piece of writing is probably my favorite pastime—like a free treasure hunt for nerds. It's a simple building block device driven by rhythm, symmetry, and surprise—and once you're aware of it, you start to notice it everywhere. 

In Michelle Obama's speech on Monday:

"How we urged them to ignore those who question their father’s citizenship or faith. How we insist that the hateful language they hear from public figures on TV does not represent the true spirit of this country. How we explain that when someone is cruel or acts like a bully, you don’t stoop to their level."

Here's Roy Peter Clark at Poynter detailing the writing lessons in that speech (which was tremendously well written, and one of the best I've ever seen delivered):

Lesson four: Unleash the power of three. Notice how often the speaker relies upon a pattern of three to make her point. This is one of the oldest tricks in the orator’s book. In literature, three is always the largest number. "Of the people, by the people, for the people." Four examples or 40 become an inventory. Three encompasses the world, creating the illusion we know everything we need to know.

Here's the rationale behind it, from Copyblogger:

It all comes down to the way we humans process information. We have become proficient at pattern recognition by necessity, and three is the smallest number of elements required to create a pattern.

& on its use in comedy:

The Rule of Three fits the classic joke structure of set-up, anticipation, and punchline. The three-part grouping also allows for tension to build and then be released thanks to the surprise and absurdity contained in the third element.

& from SNL circa 2008: Tina Fey and Steve Martin:

Tina Fey: [ smiles ] I think I CAN do it!
[ Steve slaps Tina across the face a second time ]
Tina Fey: What was that one for?
Steve Martin: That one was just for fun!
[ Steve slaps Tina across the face a third time ]
Tina Fey: Was that one for fun, too?
Steve Martin: No, that's the Comedy Rule of Three.

+ bonus: more from Ken Levine, TV Tropes, and Forbes (!)

The power of bliss

You must have a room, or a certain hour or so a day, where you don’t know what was in the newspapers that morning, you don’t know who your friends are, you don’t know what you owe anybody, you don’t know what anybody owes to you. This is a place where you can simply experience and bring forth what you are and what you might be. This is the place of creative incubation. At first you may find that nothing happens there. But if you have a sacred place and use it, something eventually will happen.
— Joseph Campbell
Source: http://austinkleon.com/2016/07/21/the-blis...

Watching: The Leftovers

I started watching "The Leftovers" again last week with plans to go through it more slowly than I did the first time, when I binged almost the entire series over Thanksgiving break last year (there are only 20 episodes, so this is no Olympics-level achievement, but still. It left scars.). 

No TV show has ever disturbed me to the same degree or haunted me on quite the same level as this one, and the prospect of experiencing it again requires me to pull up all my nerve. It's a dark, dark show. "Bleak" is close to an understatement, and one I would also apply to "Battlestar Galactica," which is what it most reminds me of—both series dealing with the aftermath of apocalyptic events, one on a planet we recognize and one in an outer space filled with manmade killer robots—yet both are redeeming in much the same way. Both ask terrible questions about our past and our future that can only be answered with "humanity." What is the cause of all our suffering? What is the cure?

I don't actually believe the apocalypse is upon us, despite what seems lately like some pretty damning evidence to the contrary, and yet... I'm having trouble finding my footing these days. As someone who tends to overdramatize and internalize things and who spends a lot of her time alone, I have a hard time shutting out the noise and the rage (and I'm not 100% sure that I should?), so I end up talking myself off of existential ledges on an almost daily basis. Yet it's true, too, that I live inside a self-imposed, tremendously privileged filter bubble that makes it easy to turn away, to soothe myself with pretty platitudes about decent people with different views of the world ultimately finding common ground. That's a story I have to believe in order to get up out of bed every morning and go out into the world. That's a story I have to lean into just to face the day. But at some point I have to acknowledge it could also very well be a lie.

Author Tom Perrotta, who wrote the book that the first season of "The Leftovers" is based on, tags this explicitly in a post on the show's blog

If you’re a contemporary middle-class American, you’ve lived your life in unparalleled comfort. Maybe without any religious faith at all. There’s a kind of inertia through your life. This story places characters in situations where they’re no longer able to have that comfortable passivity in terms of these questions. So it is a philosophical show in that sense, but these characters are living that philosophical question, not just pondering it.  

I like pondering those situations, I guess, while trusting I'll never have to live them (although I might!). I also like the security that comes with watching a show that feels like a plausible dry run and raises questions I hope I never have to answer (pro tip: there is no answer!). But I find hope, too, in the way it bulldozes every character's life yet leaves them the smallest of threads to cling to, the way they find their own faith not in mystics or religion or even nihilistic cults, but just by turning to each other and building a home.

“Modern usage has loosened up”

I'll say! Grammar lessons from the Comma Queen in the Rockaways:

p.s., unrelated: The Comma Queen (Mary Norris) tells a story in her book Between You and Me about writing a letter to James Salter (my James Salter!) querying four suspicious comma instances in Light Years (my Light Years!), to which he responded:

"I sometimes ignore the rules about commas although generally I follow convention and adhere to the advice in Strunk and White. Punctuation is for clarity and also emphasis, but I also feel that, if the writing warrants it, punctuation can contribute to the music and rhythm of the sentences. You don't get permission for this, of course; you take the liberty."

Today: if I could go back in time

Today if I could go back in time I'd visit my grandparents in their tidy two-story house on Dicke Avenue in S____ F_____ in the mid-1970s when I was in my mid-00s and my brothers all still lived at home. The whole time I knew that house it had the ugliest shag carpet you've ever seen, wall-to-wall deep-pile strands of olive green twisted with yellow and black. Whole alien civilizations were lost in that carpet. The sofa was a sort of brownish-olive green, as well, more a hard platform with the hint of a cushion than an actual sofa, and on the opposite side of the room was an enormous TV and a wide-body chair that matched the look and feel of the non-sofa, and there was a side table with a lamp and an ashtray next to it, although I don't remember anybody ever smoking.

Against the far wall sat the hi-fi console with the turntable where my grandma would spin Johnny Cash's "Ring of Fire" at top volume on Sunday mornings to wake us all up, before she'd head for the kitchen and start frying bacon. Before I ever knew who Johnny Cash was, I associated his bottomless rumble with my sweet, 4’10” grandma, and later in life when I watched her give my father the finger across the table during a heated game of sheepshead, I understood. My dad has always been a sore winner and loved to rile her up, but I think there was a little Johnny Cash in my grandmother, too, or at least whatever part of her it was that ran hot enough to say screw you to her own son over a card game. She was a real pip, as my mother would say. She could laugh with her whole body and never make a sound.

When we visited for the weekend I would spend most of my time sitting on the stairs between the first and second floor reading a book while everybody else watched TV in the living room, watching what seemed back then like one endless episode of Lawrence Welk morphing into one endless game of football. I loved those carpeted stairs, although as I mentioned the carpet was spectacularly ugly and also scratchy, and I loved the perch I had there, where I could see out the side window onto the driveway and into the street and also had a good view of myself in the hallway mirror. I liked being apart from everyone else but still close enough to hear. I liked observing without actually being involved, watching the sun set and the world outside go dark while I sat warm and safe and exactly where I was supposed to be. 

The idea of having a second floor seemed exotic to me then, and so did the door at the top that led out to the cramped little landing that I understand now would have been their second means of egress in the event of disaster. I didn't know about building codes at the age of seven so it never occurred to me what that landing was for or how it could be used, but I remember my dad telling us his younger brother Gary fell from it once, trying to shinny down one of the pillars the way he'd watched my father and his friends do it. I think this is a true story. I don't believe I made it up. I always imagined him getting halfway down and then looking up and letting go or losing his grip and dropping fast and hard onto the cement below. He died last spring, my uncle Gary, of a heart attack, just as he was getting ready to retire. Life is a real fucker, but you probably know that already.

The house has been remodeled since my grandpa died, but I remember the doors there all had heavy beveled glass knobs and keyholes, and my room I stayed in was my aunt Nancy's old room, and just the right size for a small girl, narrow and cozy, with two tall windows and long gauzy white curtains and one twin bed against the wall. The wallpaper was dark gray with pink roses...I don't think I'm making that up either. I used to read in there for hours at a time and later, when I was older, I would listen to my Walkman and think about boys and school and soap operas and how exciting it would be when I married Huey Lewis or the News. I probably wrote some terrible poems in that room while I waited for my future to start—it was one of those formative places, one of those magical rooms—and now here I am 30 years later, dreaming of what it would be like to go back.

Flickr Friday

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The #1 best thing about the internet is that it allows me to horde everything, and it's time I once again started sharing that everything with you. Be excited that flickr still exists! And it's all free!