Monday, September 28, 2009

Color, and How It Makes Us Feel

Can you see this? I can — and how lovely it is! Enjoy the colors of every season.


Not a color I've wanted to wear—too
innocently girlish, and I'm not innocent,
not a girl. But today the gnarled cherry trees
along Alabama Street are decked out
like bridesmaids—garlands in their hair,
nosegays in their hands—extravagant,

finally the big spring wedding to splurge,
and hang the cost. Each really wants to be
the bride so she can toss her bouquet until,
unaccustomed, the gutters choke
with pink confetti that flies up and whirls
in the wake of cars going west,

flirting shamelessly with teenage boys on
the crosswalks. The pale twisters,
the drifts of petals, call out to me, "Let go;
it's OK to be giddy, enchanted, flighty,
intoxicated with color. Drive straight
to the mall and buy yourself a pink Tee."

by Luci Shaw

from What the Light Was Like. © WordFarm, 2006.

courtesy The Writer’s Almanac

Thursday, September 24, 2009

How Do You Celebrate National Punctuation Day?

David and I were talking about punctuation just last night.

He asked me if he needed to use a colon or semi-colon. I was glad to tell him what to do. (It happens so seldom.)

I just discovered there is an entire day dedicated to the use of punctuation. September 24 is National Punctuation Day. The NPD Web site offers a recipe for the Official Meatloaf of the Day. (David would make mine with ground fake meat.) Make it in the shape of your favorite punctuation.

The Web site also offers suggestion on how to celebrate the day. A few ideas:
  • Take a leisurely stroll, paying close attention to store signs with incorrectly punctuated words.
  • Stop in those stores to correct the owners.
  • If the owners are not there, leave notes.

My family is well aware of my obsession with grammar and punctuation. There is a restaurant in Utah that will forever be remembered as "the one with the incorrect use of an apostrophe on the sign." (It also will be remembered for "very slow service from a perfectly nice waitress.") For the record, I did not leave a note or point it out to the manager. It was Mother's Day and he had many other pressing issues, like feeding all of the mothers in the room. I cannot speak to whether Valerie might have taken the matter into her own hands after our departure.

I cannot say the same about the note in the ladies room at the local movie theater.

Feel free to visit the Web site and see some of the punctuation errors caught on film and posted for all to see. Laugh with them — only because you might cry at the egregious errors.

And remember: you can do it! Punctuation is not rocket science. It's communication, and that's even more important. (Without communication, how could you learn about rocket science?) It is something we all can understand and use correctly so our communication is clear.

Now, go out and do your part: punctuate well!

Monday, September 21, 2009

Martians, H.G. Wells and Poetry

Google is celebrating the birthday of H.G. Wells with a special illustration, shown above (and below!), on its home page.

We will celebrate with Martian Poetry, an English poetry movement from the late 1970s and early 1980s. By looking at things with an "alien" eye, the poet can capture a particular perception of an item or idea, almost like describing something without using its name.

Here is one of the most well-known poems of the Martian Movement:

A Martian Sends a Postcard Home

Caxtons are mechanical birds with many wings

and some are treasured for their markings -

they cause the eyes to melt

or the body to shriek without pain.

I have never seen one fly, but

sometimes they perch on the hand.

Mist is when the sky is tired of flight

and rests its soft machine on ground:

then the world is dim and bookish

like engravings under tissue paper.

Rain is when the earth is television.

It has the property of making colours darker.

Model T is a room with the lock inside —

a key is turned to free the world

for movement, so quick there is a film

to watch for anything missed.

But time is tied to the wrist

or kept in a box, ticking with impatience.

In homes, a haunted apparatus sleeps,

that snores when you pick it up.

If the ghost cries, they carry it

to their lips and soothe it to sleep

with sounds. And yet they wake it up

deliberately, by tickling with a finger.

Only the young are allowed to suffer

openly. Adults go to a punishment room

with water but nothing to eat.

They lock the door and suffer the noises

alone. No one is exempt

and everyone's pain has a different smell.

At night when all the colours die,

they hide in pairs

and read about themselves —

in colour, with their eyelids shut.

by Craig Raine

published in the Christmas 1977 issue of New Statesman

(with thanks to Rice University's Computer Science Department)

And thanks to Google:

Monday, September 14, 2009


Proof that poetry geeks have a sense of humor.

Note from Dave (of Little — Horror):

James McTeigue, director of "V for Vendetta" and the upcoming "Ninja Assassin," will direct "The Raven," a fictionalized account of the final five days of Edgar Allan Poe's life which sees Poe join the hunt for a serial killer whose murders are inspired by his stories.

So, since we know the film is fiction, what was Poe actually doing for the last days of his life?

The Top 9 Things Poe Was Doing in His Final Days

9.Three words: Time-traveling Goth chicks.

8. Hid a clock under his nosy landlady's floorboards and enjoyed the show.

7. Lying in the cellar, passed out in a puddle of amontillado.

6. Trying desperately to remember how he ended up in the back of the stables, sans trousers.

5. Composed an ode to a football franchise of the future.

4. Bricked up his neighbor behind a wall, just for old time's sake.

3. Let's just say that if PETA ever finds out what he did to that raven, there's gonna be trouble!

2. Drafting a legal memo justifying pendulum-blade-lowering and live burial as "outside the strict definition of torture."

and the Number 1 Thing Poe Was Doing in His Final Day...

1. Filling in for cartoonist Bil Keane during a particularly dark week of Family Circus.

(Now, go check out the Little Fiver lists available! There might be one with your name on it.)

Copyright 2009 by Chris White, courtesy Top Five

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Classics, Past and Future

I have been devouring junk food for a while, and that's fine. I can gorge on chocolate as easily as Brussels sprouts, so consuming Stephenie Meyer's novels was very easy.

I do not mean to disparage Twilight, New Moon and Eclipse, all of which I devoured this past weekend. I loved every moment of these books. These novels are second to none in heart-beating romance. I shan't wax on about them now, but suffice it to say that I enjoyed them.

Then I stumbled across a quote from Madame Bovary and skipped over to Wikipedia for a reliable link to the novel. My, oh my, I do believe it could give Twilight a run for its money.

Gustave Flaubert's novel was known as scandalous in its time. When the story originally was published in 1856 (serialized in a magazine), it was put on trial for obscenity. Of course, that guaranteed its bestseller status the following year when it was published as a novel.

In 2007, contemporary authors cited Madame Bovary as one of the two greatest novels ever written.

The greatest novel, according to contemporary authors? Anna Karenina.

I don't know if I can agree because I'm ashamed to admit I have not read Tolstoy's masterpiece, and I am sure Madame Bovary was one of the novels I gave myself permission to skip as an undergraduate.

So, to cleanse my palate before reaching for Breaking Dawn, I will read one of these novels.

Or Janet Evanovich. I haven't decided which.

Hey, if 1800s popular culture can be considered among the best novels of all time, who's to say Stephanie Plum isn't destined to be a romantic heroine in the future?

By the way, Bella Swan's reading of Wuthering Heights in Eclipse apparently has stimulated teen interest in the classic. I am glad to see that good stories never lose their luster.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Do You Know Your Neighbors?

I know mine, and I rather adore them. Here's a poem dedicated to good neighbors.

Real Estate

How odd to look across the way and note
the Hymans, neighbors for a generation,
are gone. Strange not to see a glimmer of light
in any window as I pass by, or Ida, bent and wiry,
climbing her stoop with a bag of groceries,
or tending the doctor, neatly dressed, asleep in his chair
on the porch, his light dimmed by a succession of strokes.

I was shocked when Ida called to say she sold
the building: two stories high, smooth gray brick,
solid as a bank. Then, one day, the big truck came,
Thirty years gone. Just like that.

by Mark Perlberg
from Waiting for the Alchemist
© Louisiana State University Press

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Ice Cream: My #1 Source of Calcium

I have decided that my calcium intake will include daily servings of ice cream.

Oh, I could go the pious middle-aged woman route and eat nonfat yogurt. Don't get me wrong: I like yogurt -- though, as a vegetarian, I have to carefully peruse ingredient labels for the wicked and terribly mis-named "kosher gelatin." (Who knew milk products could be so perilous?)

I could turn to spinach or dandelions, which have more calcium than milk, plus the all-important Vitamin K. (I think they're making it up, this Vitamin "K" — we all know vitamins stop at E.)

I could do a lot more wholesome things.

However, I won't. I like ice cream. I like eating it, and I like having an excuse even better.

Not that I need an excuse, mind you. It’s okay to do things just because they’re fun.

I saw a PostSecret postcard that inquired, "When did it stop being fun to jump on the bed?" I realized it hasn’t stopped being fun, but somewhere along the way it fell the by wayside, became less acceptable. We're too big, we might break the bed, we might hit our heads, we have to set a good example for children.

Oh, there are plenty of excuses, and none of them I’ve thought of so far really are good enough.

I've already corrupted my cats by showing them how to climb on the kitchen counter. Apparently, the idea hadn't yet occurred to them by the tender age of six months, and as I reached for the light bulb I was changing by standing on the counter, I watched the lights go on in their little brains and realized I probably ruined it for myself. (Not really, I later discovered, because they weren’t following my example, but that of their elder statescat Mao, who taught them what not to scratch, where to walk and what was delicious.)

So, when did ice cream stop being the "adult" way to get milk products?

Maybe it was when our metabolism matured and suddenly we couldn't skip lunch and lose that extra couple of pounds like we could in college.

More and more of my associates are asking for tiny slivers of birthday cake and "only a little" ice cream, or skipping dessert altogether. I have been known to be among them, but only when it's not good or not my favorite. I have met only a few desserts I didn't like, and only once did I taste a chocolate cake that wasn't good. (It was wedding cake, which was criminal.)

I'm neither obese nor malnourished. My physicians never have had cause to scold me too soundly for my eating habits — although I can go for a week without eating and not waste away. (I tested that theory last year under doctor's orders. I’m not if I should be proud or disturbed.) I don't glom on to too much unhealthy food. I have donuts once or twice a month at work. I drink diet soda only once a week or so.

But I'm not above the sweet-or-greasy, either: I can eat Fritos with the best of 'em, and cookies are not safe in my house. French fries are a staple for me, as are burgers (of the veggie kind). Chocolate is a major food group. So, while I don’t eat horrible food all the time, I give myself permission to eat what I want — within reason.

Thankfully, my exposure to "junk" food is limited because most convenience food is made with meat, which I do not eat. Oh, there are plenty of non-meat options at fast-food take-out joints, but I don't eat there. Most snack foods in the frozen food aisle are of the meat variety, which are easy to skip. I can find enough to get myself in trouble, though, and I have never met a cheese stick I didn't like.

I never want to be like one of the women I know who lost about 30 pounds on the Atkins diet — and spoke of bread with such sweet longing that I was embarrassed and thought maybe I should leave her alone with her memories of that decadent, delicious baked good. She denied herself one of the items in her life that gave her pleasure.

I don’t want to be the person waxing nostalgic about the food I love but “can’t” have. I doubt any of us at the end of our lives will sadly reflect that we didn’t eat enough kale. We might, however, regret skipping that last piece of birthday cake — and how sad would that be.

Be the person who finds a way to have what you want in a way that’s healthy and nutritious, or at least fun.

Be the person who jumps on the bed.