(reblog), flowers, humor, photography

Capturing the Unexpected

While the juxtapositions collected by Mitch Teemley are all clever and funny, the ballerina/tulip photo is special.  Because their stems keep growing and tend to flop over, tulips are tricky in flower arrangements.  It’s one of life’s (littler) lemons.  The ballerina/tulip photo makes lemonade.
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Mitch Teemley

Coincidence? I Think Not.

Life, as mentioned in the first Capturing the Unexpected post, is sometimes horrible, sometimes beautiful, and always just a little bit weird. Why is that? (Lean in close and I’ll tell you.) It’s because we’re weird! We find comedy in calamity, meaning in meaninglessness, truth in absurdity. Coincidence? Nope. We’re wired that way. Don’t you love it when someone captures proof?

(Click on any image to enlarge it, or to begin slide show)

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fiction, humor, serendipity

Time Warp in 2019

A little of the best from the past will come back in the near future, aided by the release of the second annual volume of “The Rabbit Hole” (an anthology of weird stories).
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For several years before and after 1960, I watched many episodes of the TV shows The Twilight Zone and Alfred Hitchcock Presents.  The best of them were imaginative and well-crafted, not just weird or scary.  Some episodes had ironic twists or clever ways of conveying hints about how to cope with a nasty world.  Some endure on YouTube.

Memories of those old shows resurfaced when I read some of the shorter stories in The Rabbit Hole, Volume 2.  (Will wait until I have the ink-on-paper version of RH-2 before reading the whole thing.)  The ambiance and a few details in two stories were strong triggers: … Puppet Theater … for The Twilight Zone and Carpaccio for Alfred Hitchcock Presents.

Various kinds of humor often appeared in those old shows, and RH-2 continues that tradition.  The humor in RH-2 can be cynical (as in A Towering Tale), dark (as in The Service Call), or light (as in The Apple Cosmos and Entanglements).  In old shows and new book, the humor is more than just giggles at pratfalls.

Click here to find out how to preorder RH-2 at a discount from Amazon.  (For other retailers, click on the image below.)  Don’t worry if U miss the discount.  Both the e-book and the printed book will still be quite affordable after the release on 2019-10-01, and there are plenty of other things to worry about.

Rabbit Hole Vol Two cover

Serendipity in 2019: I got this post’s image for The Twilight Zone from the web page announcing the show’s revival with streaming technology.  But I settled for a discontinued tee shirt design that approximates my vague memory of the logo for Alfred Hitchcock Presents.  Whatever works.

Buddhism, fiction, humor, language

Live in the present.  Write there too.

The ancient advice is still good.  Live mostly in the present, with enough dwelling on the past to serve specific purposes like learning from mistakes.  Also good is the much more recent advice to write fiction in the present tense, unless there is a specific reason to use the past tense.

Zen lore includes some stories with endings of the form

At that moment, __________ attained enlightenment.

Fill in the blank with the name of somebody who studied Zen for some time and finally saw the light when his teacher said or did something outrageously weird.

While my story Satori from a Consulting Gig does not presuppose any knowledge of Zen lore, it does have a surprise ending (partly inspired by those Zen stories) with my own way to fill in the blank.  Using the past tense in my story’s last sentence helps make the allusion to Zen lore clear to those who might care about it.

Did I choose to write my story in the past tense because I planned to end it that way?  Not consciously.  I just set out to write a short story.  I’ll write some fiction.  I’ll use the customary past tense.  Doesn’t everybody?

Not quite.  I got over 16 million hits when I googled

present tense vs past tense fiction

much later, in preparation for writing this post.  Before discussing some pros and cons that are out there (and some that may be new), there is a little more to be said about my story’s tense situation.

Rope fraying

© S. Silver | 123RF Stock Photo

My story was written for an anthology whose editors asked the contributors to supply blurbs.  I wrote a blurb in the same tense as the story, then noticed that other contributors wrote blurbs in the present tense for stories in the past tense.  Why?  I found the inconsistency troubling.

Another contributor (Sue Ranscht) kindly remarked that the present tense “creates a punchier tease” in blurbs than the past tense does.  Indeed.  Why not make the actual story (not just the blurb) be as vivid and engrossing as it can possibly be?  Unless there is a specific reason to use the past tense, why not write in the present tense?

§1: Perilous Present

Written in the present tense, my newer story Entanglements begins with

Squatting over the airport, a thunderstorm supercell demolishes …

Yes, the word demolishes might be misread as (a typo for) demolished.  Yes, the reader might be a little disoriented at first.  Worse, the reader might suspect that gimmicky writing is camoflage for weak content.  Such concerns loom large in a thoughtful page that recommends using the past tense by default and the present in some special cases.  We can agree on the bedrock principle that one size does not fit all, even as we disagree amicably on where to draw some lines and how strongly to weight some concerns.  That’s a respite from the train wreck of contemporary politics.

Dunno how 16 million hits in my Google search compares with how often the present tense has actually been used in good stuff.  As good uses accumulate, the prudential reasons for defaulting to the past tense will gradually weaken.  Of course, there will always be people who believe that the earth is flat, the moon landings were faked, and

Thou shalt write fiction in the past tense.

came down from Mount Sinai with Moses.

§2: Perilous Past

Readers (and writers!) may not be native speakers of English.  As with many other aspects of language, English is exuberantly irregular in how it forms the past tense.  People learn the past tense of a verb later (and less thoroughly?) than they learn the present tense.  Can U hear the rumble of an approaching storm?

When offline (or distrustful of Google Translate), Pierre consults his French/English dictionary.  How can he say prendre in English?  No problem.  Just say take.  But Pierre is writing in the customary past tense.  Neglecting to look up take in the other half of the dictionary, he says taked where he should say took.

Consider 3 common ways that verbs ending in -it can form their past tenses: hit/hit, pit/pitted, and sit/sat.  Quick now: knit/knit or knit/knitted?  Shit/shit or shit/shat?

There are a few verbs with 2 ways to form the past: an irregular usual way and a regular way for a special usage:

  • Starting a road trip, the team flew out to Chicago.
    Swinging at the first pitch, the batter flied out to left field.
  • The picture was hung in a prominent place.
    Nathan Hale was hanged as a spy on 1776-09-22.

This last nuance is subtle enough to trip up some native speakers.

§3: Perilous Past Perfect

Pierre is back.  The draft of his story has a short paragraph about some taking that happened at an earlier time.  Not fond of flashbacks, he has a good reason to put this paragraph as late as it is, not earlier in the narrative.

Sadder but wiser after being corrected by a ten-year old whose first language is English, Pierre refrains from writing had took for the past perfect for the verb take.  He looks up the actual past participle and writes had taken.

Pierre’s pluperfect paragraph is grammatical but clunky.  What to do?  Rewrite the main narrative in the present tense and the clunky paragraph in the past.  That will be a chore, but such a clear and distinct idea deserves the effort.  Descartes would approve.

§4: John and Jane Get Tense

John has been writing screenplays that often use flashbacks.  Now he wants to write a novel and still likes flashbacks.  He realizes that readers would be confused if nothing but a paragraph break separates what the characters do and experience “now” (from their viewpoint) from the start or end of a flashback.  There is a lot of sensible advice out there about things like narrative transitions to and from flashbacks, but John wants to stay closer to his cinematic roots.  He uses the present tense for the main content and the past tense for the flashbacks.  If he also switches to a noticeably different font for the flashbacks, that might be enough in most places (after narrative transitions for the first few flashbacks).

Jane has been writing historical fiction and using the past tense to make it look like history.  Now she wants to write fiction with a first-person narrator and package it as a rather one-sided conversation with an implicit listener.  She plans to keep the past tense for the main content and add some present-tense remarks, often in response to what the listener has presumably just said.  The present-tense remarks will be frequent and incongruous.  The narrator will tell a self-serving version of a sequence of events in the past tense while accidentally revealing the darker and/or funnier truth in the present tense.

I warned Jane that readers (especially impatient thick-headed guys like me) may just take the narrator to be ditzy and bail out early.  But Jane is game to try.  If she does make it work, I know a good place to submit her story.

§5: Recurring Rabbit

Rabbit-Hole_Worried-Rabbit
The Rabbit Hole is a series of anthologies of weird stories, with a troika of editors.  Volume 1 came out in 2018, Volume 2 is scheduled to come out on 2019-10-01, and the editors hope to continue annually.  Maybe Jane can contribute to Volume 3.

My story Satori from a Consulting Gig in Volume 1 is just 2 pages long, so even those who dislike it may still be glad they bought the book for $2.99 as an e-book or $12.50 as an ink-on-paper book.

While every extended narrative in Volume 1 uses the customary past tense, Volume 2 will have at least two stories told in the present tense.  No, the editors’ fondness for weird stories does not extend to a fondness for weird writing.  As originally submitted for Volume 2, my story Entanglements did have some weird writing at the end that seemed unavoidable to me.  One of the editors (Curtis Bausse) suggested a strategy for avoiding the unwanted weirdness, and the strategy worked.  There was no fuss at all about my use of the present tense.  That is as it should be.

haiku, humor, philosophy, politics

Vampire Bunny at a Haiku Party

Follow tradition or push the envelope?  Normal or weird?  (Normalcy spiked with weirdness?)  Haiku or senryu?  This crowd does not fret about simplistic dichotomies.  Let’s get some saké and join the party.
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Haiku poems often want (and sometimes need) to interact with images or prose, as in haiga or haibun.  Here is a gathering of ten haiku that could stand alone if they had to.  (Some would rather not.)  They have been invited to come here and interact with just each other, while enjoying some good saké (or whatever).

momokawa_crop_vampire-bunny_840x684

Overlay © Incognito – Russian Federation | 123RF Stock Photo

A haiku inspired by an image may or may not speak to readers who have not seen the image.  It’s hard for the writer to make this call objectively.  That’s OK.  As Stephen Jay Gould often told readers of his articles in Natural History, perfect objectivity is a myth anyway.  (The path from my raw data to “facts” that matter to me depends on my cultural baggage and personal experience.)  Rather than pretend that my judgement calls are objective, I try to compensate for my biases.  In particular, some of my haiku were not invited to the party because they might be too dependent on their inspirations to stand alone.  That’s OK too.  Unlike me, they are not compulsively self-reliant.

Like some of the other guests, October was originally posted in a haiga or haibun context.  That’s why the title it wears as a name tag is also a link.  (When a pale yellow background indicates that several such guests arrived together from the same place, only one of them has a link.)  Click on a link to see the guest(s) interact with an image or some prose that adds to the experience of the haiku.

Seen in Spring
|Kelly green moss on
|rocks near the clear quiet stream
|with water striders
 
|October
|Bright sun and cool air;
|azure skies and pumpkin pies.
|Leaves fall in glory.
 


Who Miscounted?
|This so-called “haiku”
|ignores five-seven-five, so
|it’s not a haiku.

 
|Deciduous
|Lifeless?  No, leafless.
|Trees hold their breath all winter,
|exhale leaves in spring.
 


This is Not Apollo 13
|Is failure an option?
|No, it is a given.
|But we will still try.
 
|No Pots of Gold
|Seek ends of rainbows.
|You will not find them? Okay.
|The quest is enough.
 


Fiscal Responsibility
|Debts rise; incomes fall.
|Hard times demand bold action:
|tax cuts for the rich!
 
|Seize the Breeze
|Helicopter seeds
|fall from maples and travel
|far enough, this once.
 


What’s for Lunch?
|Mosquitoes in flight
|are seen as meat on the hoof
|by a dragonfly.
 
|Vampire Bunny
|With coprophagy
|as the alternative,
|you might suck blood too.
 

haiku, humor, love, serendipity

What Lovers Watch

The prose and poetry below respond to a CDHK challenge about love in summer.  At 50 words in total (not counting boilerplate), they could have responded to an earlier challenge in the same series but were not ready in time.  Can’t rush love (or barbecue).
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red-rocket

© Betty Shelton | 123RF Stock Photo

Lovers joined the crowd on the beach last night, watching fireworks shot from a barge.  Now they watch the sunset.

lovers+at+sunset

© Dan Hahn

Sunset on the Next Day
|The clouds burn yellow,
|smolder red, and fade to gray.
|The love keeps burning.
|Rockets lit the sky last night;
|more fireworks in bed tonight.

Carpe Diem #1696 Beach Love

Carpe Diem #2019 Summer Love … extreme haibun

 

history, politics

Independence Day, 2019

It’s a pardonable oversimplification: celebrating “the” day the Continental Congress held some truths to be self-evident.  Yes, they were all privileged white males.  Yes, some lived off the toil of slaves.  But their concept of public service was not based on pandering to bigotry and whoring for campaign contributions.
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Knowingly or not, the signers of the Declaration of Independence started something big, still far from finished, and now critically endangered.  They started the long hard slog to build a nation with liberty and justice for all.

336541 - flag and fireworks,

© Scott David Patterson | 123RF Stock Photo

Happy July 4th!

flowers, haiku, photography

Lavender Elegy

My lavender rhododendron contributes a visual elegy to the Memorial Day observances in 2019.  Memorial Day is a time for sadness, along with the pride and gratitude that the same plant helped visualize in 2018.
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lavender-memorial_840x483

flag-rhodo-1_840x1062

Memorial Colors
|Lavender salutes
|red, white, and blue of our flag.
|Pride and gratitude.

haiku, humor, language, oversimplify, photography

Red-y or Not …

Some short color words are spread thin in common usage.  Words like “red” are pinned on many things that are slightly reddish.  If plant breeders ever develop a cabbage that is actually red, they will find that the name “red cabbage” has been usurped.  Chaos in the produce aisle!  Hope spinach stays green.
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Red ~ Pic and a Word Challenge #187

salad_obrem_y-10_669x208

Salad Paradox
|Red peppers are red.
|Red cabbage is purple but
|is said to be red.
(reblog), haiku, photography

Emptiness Revisited

Empty talk and empty bowls elicit different responses.
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Carpe Diem Weekend Meditation #81
Poetry Archive (5) loneliness or emptiness

Choose a haiku, tanka or other form of Japanese poetry from your archive and share it with us all.  Tell us why you have chosen that poem … and create a new poem inspired on your choice.

A short sequence of 3-5-3 haiku dealt with emptiness for a challenge in another series.  I like the way the first haiku sets up the second one, so the whole sequence is my archive choice.  Can I write a new poem for the current challenge?  Yes, and there is a reason to put it before the archive choice.  The new poem is a 5-7-5 haiku:

Not Alone
|Lonely in the crowd
|and weary of empty talk,
|I seek solitude.

cartoon people in the crowd

© Igor Zakowski | 123RF Stock Photo
(Image has been cropped.)

Here and There in 3-5-3

empty-bowl_840x704

Emptiness Here
|Empty bowl
|atop microwave,
|just for looks.
Emptiness There
|Empty bowl,
|heavy with nothing.
|Hunger pangs.

I give to several charities that help hungry people in many places with a mix of short-term and long-term efforts.  In particular, my next gift to CARE will be matched 5X.  The matching grant offer on CARE.org/match will expire 2019-05-25.  (A popup on CARE.org has another match that expires sooner, on 04-30.)  If U can give more than whatever U may have already given to charities like CARE this year, now is a good time.

(reblog), haiku, photography

Clams in the Clouds

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The cloud images in this post were in an earlier post (for a photography challenge) that emphasized synergy between pastel pink and green.  Now I am responding to a haiku challenge with emphasis on synergy between poem and image in a modern haiga (with a photo as the image).  Haiku #2 uses the modern kigo abalone.

To those who have not seen many nacreous clouds, the poems’ metaphors might seem far-fetched.  Presenting the photos along with the poems they inspired may reassure readers willing to trust that the photographers refrained from deceptive editing.  I took the calm photo; Sue Ranscht took the dramatic one.

IMG_2199_CSTC_less-blue_800x414

elliot-275a-s-t-ranscht_800x403

© Sue Ranscht | Space, Time, and Raspberries

Clams in the Clouds #1
|Serene clouds
|give mother-of-pearl
|to old eyes.
Clams in the Clouds #2
|Molten pewter clouds:
|some are tinted pink or green.
|Abalone shell.

haiku, music, photography

See and Hear the Start of Spring

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As the year pivots from winter to spring, crocus plants bloom and little frogs croak.  We celebrate with a photo and a tanka.

crocus-bee_crop_sharp_840x628

Wordless Oratorio
|Singing silent songs
|of long warm days returning,
|bee and bloom duet.
|In vernal pools near bare trees,
|spring peepers chant the chorus.
growing old, haiku, photography

Early Spring Snow Shower

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Friendly Friday Photo Challenge – Feelings of Spring

snow-melts-on-blacktop_840x1146

Ground Already Warm
|Falling thru cold air,
|oblivious snow flakes will
|melt on the blacktop.

[2019-03-22]  Bummer.  I want to photograph the inspiration for my haiku, but my old hands cannot go more than a few seconds w/o thick gloves in cold weather.

Hmmm.  Tho unheated, my garage gets some warmth leaking from the furnace.  I put on a pair of thin gloves that can be worn while doing some things that previously required bare hands.  I open the garage door and look outside while standing just inside the garage.  Maybe I can work enough of the camera’s buttons while wearing the thin gloves.

The lens zooms too quickly for fine control.  I cannot move forward or backward to compensate for zooming too far out or in.  Oh well, I can crop the image later to compensate for zooming too far out.  Is there a serviceable view in some direction from where I can stand w/o getting too cold?  Hmmm.  I try five views and go with the last one.

While it does illustrate my haiku, my photo is admittedly not of standalone quality.  I can live with that.  Any partial workaround for growing old is a small triumph to savor.

 

politics

Yard Sign Defies Winter

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I bought a “Warren 2020” yard sign from PCCC with the intention of putting it out after snow season.  Then I went outside the box.

yard-sign-sunny-closeup_840x625

yard-sign-wire_300x221

yard-sign-shade_300x578

I do not recall why I bought a spool of electric fence wire decades ago.  (Half a mile of the stuff is more than a lifetime supply for me.)  Like duct tape, the wire has many other uses.  For example, it makes rugged rustproof twist ties.

The sign’s stand is lashed to a fence corner (well away from any driveway) with several short lengths of electric fence wire.  The bottom of the sign is 4 feet above the ground, safe from plows as well as snow throwers.  The sign is easily read from cars going in both directions on my street.  While the sign won’t convince anybody that Elizabeth Warren should be the next POTUS, it has good graphics and might spark some interest.

The list of candidates for the Dems’ 2020 presidential nomination is long and growing.  The Dems may not nominate my first (or second or third or …) choice, but I will not sulk.  However flawed (s)he may be, the nominee will be a patriotic adult.  Unlike the incumbent.

haiku, photography

Beneath the Surface

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Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge: Texture

Stack of Textures
|Under the glassy smooth surface,
|roughness grabs the eye.

vase-rough_840x647

While haiku usually have 3 lines, some haiku do have just 2 lines.  For example, Santoka Taneda (1882-1940) wrote a number of 2-line haiku.

After writing my first 2-line haiku, I reworked it to be a 3-line haiku that I preferred.  I posted both and found that a few readers preferred the original 2-line version.

The haiku in this post is my second 2-line haiku, reworked from one with 3 lines.  It is probably safe to say that it will stay at 2 lines, but don’t place a heavy bet.

haiku, humor, language

Innocence Lost & Mischief Found

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Tweaking a wistful response to an earlier challenge in a different series yields a response to

that defers to Canada’s retention of British spelling.  (One of the tweaks was to replace color by colour.)  Being deferential does not suit me, so I revert to US spelling in some new mischief at the end.

When colour computer displays came in, I was jolted to see that a yellowish green and an orangish red were now “primary” for RGB coordinates of coloured pixels.  I also had to use CMYK coordinates for coloured inks and pray to the graphics gods that printing software would translate from RGB to CMYK in a way that respected how something looked.  My prayers were seldom answered.  Eventually, I learned to put away childish things (like hard copy).

Before Colours Went RGB
|Red, yellow, and blue
|were “primary” when kids
|smeared paint on paper.

RYB-triangle_700x619

I am all too aware of several ways that Canada is more sensible than the USA.  I used one of the less important ones to balance a little mischief about one small way the USA is more sensible:

Color in 6 Letters
|Some folks spell it with a U.
|On my honor, they sure do.
|Hour and sour I can buy;
|misspelled humor makes me cry.
|You stayed loyal to the Crown?
|Gotta press that U key down!
|I’m a proud Yank but confess
|that our anthem is a mess,
|sung as if we never heard:
|yeh-et really ain’t a word.

humor, language, philosophy, photography

Don’t Sweat the Meaning of Life

Your life and mine are not arbitrary symbols used by a third party to communicate with a fourth party.  Don’t let sweating “the meaning of life” interfere with living.
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While pondering “the meaning of food” is rare, pondering “the meaning of life” is common.  Deservedly?  Buckle up and enjoy the ride.

§1: Colors

Meanings are tricky.  Colors provide a simpler way to explore some of the relevant ideas.

§1.1: What Color is the Number Six?

The question heading this subsection is nonsense.  Many different kinds of thing have colors, but numbers don’t.  Making sense is harder than just having sensible-looking syntax.

One of the ways that philosophy made substantial progress in the past century was the realization that some “deep” questions could be as nonsensical as the one heading of this subsection.  Determining which ones are really deep will take a while.  Nonsensical questions may sometimes be failed attempts to pose serious questions that would be more tractable with better wording, so some nonsense may deserve more sympathy than the heading of this subsection.

§1.2: What Color is the US Flag?

Flags do have colors, but the question heading this subsection is still nonsense.  The US flag is red, white, and blue.  While mostly red, the Chinese flag also has some yellow.  How many nations have flags of just one color?

Nobody is silly enough to speak of “the” color of a nation’s flag, but people often do fall into the trap of speaking of “the” thingamajig when there are in fact several relevant thingamajigs.  I posted 4 varied examples (and there are many more).

It does make sense to say that white is the color of the stars in the US flag, that green is the color of the fake foliage in my Xmas wreath, and so on.  But look at the ribbon on my wreath:

closer_crop_840x485

The color I see at any place on the ribbon is intricately context-dependent.  Where is the light coming from?  Where am I standing?  While the solid red ribbons on other wreaths are easier to describe, my iridescent ribbon is prettier to see.

§2: Words

Mole

© tunedin123 | 123RF Stock Photo
(Image has been cropped.)

The word mole has utterly different meanings in chemistry, dermatology, and espionage.  Even if we suppose it makes sense to attribute a meaning to life, pondering “the” meaning of life may still be like pondering “the” color of the US flag, “the” color of an iridescent ribbon, or “the” meaning of mole.

Like mathematical notations (and many hand gestures), words are arbitrary symbols with enough consensus about what they mean to support use in communication.  Who uses life to say what to whom?

I posted 4 imagined responses by an old Yankee to a novice philosopher’s bloviations; one of the responses is

Wehrds need meanings; life don’t.

§3: How to Live

Your life and mine are not arbitrary symbols used by a third party to communicate with a fourth party.  Maybe some concerns about “the meaning of life” are poorly worded concerns about how to live.  Preferring the workable to the grandiose, I go with a simple short list:

  • Try to have some fun.
  • Try to do more good than harm.
  • Don’t sweat “the meaning” of it all.