Jump! Grab! Swing hips up!
Nimble ninja hogs the seeds.
Birds have a long wait.
Jump! Grab! Swing hips up!
Nimble ninja hogs the seeds.
Birds have a long wait.
Ant with wings staggers,
then dies. Did I see him smirk?
Had he banged a queen?
One day in 2015, I happened to arrange my lunch veggies so as to look a little like a dragonfly, with snow peas as wings. Hmmm. Maybe I could pull more veggies from the fridge and make an arrangement that looks a lot like a dragonfly to me. (No real dragonfly would be fooled.) This little project reminded me that a dragonfly is the enemy of my enemy, and thus my friend.
What’s for Lunch?
Mosquitoes in flight
are seen as meat on the hoof
by a dragonfly.
When they called for weird stories to be submitted for Volume 2 of The Rabbit Hole, the editors suggested science and/or weather and/or entertainment as themes. While the suggestion was not a requirement, many of the writers who responded did use those themes. In particular, You’re Not Late has great synergy between weather and an aspect of science other than weather forecasting. Maybe there are other great synergies; it will take me a while to read all the stories in RH-2.
Modern scientific theories are also stories, of a special kind. Tho hard to read w/o wrangling equations, they are gloriously predictive and useful. (U don’t need hard copy to read this post.) They are also weird. As the editors remark in the preface:
Back in 1935, the physicist Erwin Schrödinger told a story to illustrate the weirdness of quantum theory. The story eventually became a celebrated meme, and here is yet another celebration:
Ode to Schrödinger’s Cat
is both skinny and fat;
both dead and alive
(past age seventy five);
both purring and hissing
(while measurement’s missing);
both mewing and yowling
(while Einstein is howling).
but his cat carries on
with a Cheshire cat grin
at the pickle we’re in.
Hmmm. Saying that the cat is “both dead and alive” is a common (and admittedly oversimplified) shorthand for the statistical limbo called “superposition of states” in quantum theory. Here is a closer approximation to what the theory actually says:
Despite having a deterministic philosophy, Einstein had no qualms about common-sense probabilities:
Is the clash between quantum theory and common sense just something for novice philosophers to argue about? Nope. To see why, we don’t need the nasty gadgets in Schrödinger’s story. We need two kittens from the same litter, in separate boxes some distance apart. We also — ah — ah — ACHOO! The cat dander is ticking off my allergy.
Never mind. There is a short humorous allegory about this stuff in my story Entanglements, with petting but no pets. Spoiler alert: quantum theory wins.
Getting You’re Not Late and Entanglements and 27 other stories is easy. Just buy RH-2. To consider buying it from Amazon as either a printed book at $11.50 or an e-book at $2.99, click here. To consider buying an e-book from other retailers at $2.99, click on the rabbit.
To see the Disney version of the Cheshire cat do its thing, U can get to a video on Facebook by clicking on the cat’s image here. Clicking twice on the cat’s image there will start the video, but only buying RH-2 will get U to the 29 weird stories.
“Buy me!” says the wonderfully colored gourd. I refuse:
“No, I’ve already bought what I need for this year’s fall decorations. There’s no room for another gourd.”
“But I’m new and special. Look at the feathering between my greens.”
I put the gourd in the cart, check out, and drive home. As I unpack the groceries, I happen to set the new gourd down in a way that is vaguely reminiscent of a reclining nude. Then I recall a milestone in photographic history.
Edward Weston’s meticulous closeup photos of scores of common objects (notably bell peppers) are marvels of imagination and ingenuity. They also prompt one critic to remark that Weston’s peppers look like nudes while his nudes look like peppers.
Weston works in grayscale (aka “black and white”). The color of a pepper would only be a distraction anyway. While people have various skin colors, nobody’s skin is red or green.
“Buy us!” say 3 colorful gourds. I refuse:
“No, I’ve already bought an extra gourd that I will use to salute Edward Weston.”
“Last year, U bought a total of 10. We’ll just bring it up to 8.”
“Last year’s gourds were smaller and came in bags of 5.”
“Weston bought more than 30 peppers.”
“But he could eat them when he was done shooting.”
I’m a pushover. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Remember when cameras used analog film, color darkroom work was sorcery, and color prints faded under museum lighting? Artistic photographers had to work in grayscale. Viewers did not pine for color in the masters’ photos.
Sadly, some photographers mistook a temporary necessity for a permanent virtue. Wanna create a colorful image? Buy some tubes of paint. Stick with grayscale for artistic photography.
The sweeping general assertion of grayscale’s intrinsic superiority was a gross insult to Eliot Porter (and to all who hiked the trails he blazed in color photography).
Some photos do look better in grayscale than in color. Maybe something with interesting contours and textures happens to have distracting colors. Grayscale is great for Weston’s peppers.
Sometimes progress replaces an old thing with a new one that is all-around better, as in the transition from analog film to digital pixels. The transition from obligatory grayscale to color (in varying degress of saturation) is a subtler kind of progress that adds choices. Lots of choices.
Photo editing software supports having some color classes or parts of an image be more saturated than others. Done casually and obtrusively, it can be gimmicky. Done carefully and subtly, it can work with other edits to greatly improve a photo. One of the contemporary photographers I admire steps thru instructive examples:
If U choose to desaturate a photo (either partially or all the way to grayscale), I may disagree with that choice. I will still respect it, but only as a specific choice. What I won’t respect is a blanket assertion that photos “should” be in grayscale. Or in color. Or have shallow depth of focus. Or have everything in focus. Or whatever.
Here is one blanket pronouncement that I do respect, in photography and beyond:
Don’t hide behind sweeping generalities.
Own your choices.
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.(BTW, the [Menu] button atop the vertical black bar reveals the widgets.)
(Click on any image to enlarge it, or to begin slide show)
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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:
This last nuance is subtle enough to trip up some native speakers.
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.
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.
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.
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 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).
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.
© 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.
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.
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.
While pondering “the meaning of food” is rare, pondering “the meaning of life” is common. Deservedly? Buckle up and enjoy the ride.
Meanings are tricky. Colors provide a simpler way to explore some of the relevant ideas.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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:
If the following excerpt from a call for submissions sounds interesting, please don’t lament having missed the deadline in 2019. The intrepid editors plan to put out an anthology of weird stories (or poems) each year. (Previously published work is OK if the author retained the rights.) This post ends with a few visual hints about ways to be weirdly funny.
The Writers’ Co-op invites submissions of short stories (and poems) for the second edition of our yearly anthology, The Rabbit Hole. Volume one was released in November last year, volume two is scheduled for September 2019.
This year, we are looking for weird stories dealing with the following themes: entertainment, weather or science. (If you want to combine all three, we’re very open to stories about a group of scientists on their way to the theatre when they’re caught in a freak snowstorm.) However, there will also be a section Weird At Large for stories that don’t fit the specific themes suggested.
• • •
The deadline is 31st March 2019. Submissions should be sent in an attached file to curtis.bausse(at)outlook.com with the subject ‘Co-op submission’. They may have been previously published on personal websites (or elsewhere) but authors must have full rights to them when submitting. Authors will retain said rights after the story or poem is published in the Writers’ Co-op anthology.
The call for submissions describes the many kinds of weirdness suitable for the anthology. While definitely not required, humor is encouraged. For visual hints about ways to be weirdly funny (and sometimes thought-provoking), those whose memories of works like the classic Far Side cartoons by Gary Larson have faded can look at some of the Bizarro cartoons by Dan Piraro. The following images are also links to the pages where they appear and are discussed:
As Susie left home to start a new life with Dale, her mother watched and wondered. Would the mixed marriage work?
Aware that sharing her worries would be unwelcome and unheeded, Mama let her words of warning remain unspoken and unheard.
Wisely, Mama kept silent despite having words to say. Unwisely, some people run afoul of Wittgenstein’s Laws by breaking silence despite not having any sensible words to say.
No, this cow did not lose an argument with a bucket of white paint. Belted Galway cattle are bright white in the middle, with either brown or black fore and aft. The white is usually in a neat band, much like the rust-colored band on a woolly bear caterpillar. Maybe this cow’s sloppy band comes from too much time in a certain pub.
What the World Needs
More silliness from
those who know they are silly;
less from the others.