Something Agricultural

There’s a slight chance some of you might not have seen this terrific parody by Greg Peterson and his brothers already, but even if you have, it’s worth enjoying again:

 Janie and I saw these young men being interviewed on a morning TV program yesterday.  Neither of us knew the original song (since one of us is nine, I’m calling that a win), but I don’t think it’s necessary.

Random Thursday: Library, Second Edition

Keith Richards, Librarian?

From firstmausi, comes a link to a article showing off the home libraries of twenty celebrities, including Mr. Richards who would make, pun intended, a rocking librarian.

Click here to be amazed and envious.

All of these spaces are gorgeous, but I prefer the ones where it looks like their owners use them for reading as well as photo ops.

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Perks to Being a Children’s Librarian


It takes a special person to be a Youth Services librarian, someone with infinite patience, kindness, shoestring-budget creativity, puppets, and a certain resistance to stress- based anuerysms.

Which is why, and I’m speaking from experience, I’m not one of them.

But you do get to do amazingly cool programs:

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Funny Pictures - Happycat Library Sign
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A Librarian’s Rainbow-Colored Nightmare

I’ll admit that when a patron asks me for “that one green book,” I can occasionally figure out which one is meant without any other information—seven out of ten, it’s the Township Atlas—and when I can’t leave the desk, I’ve directed people to the shelf  “under that set of blue books right there.”

 But seriously?  Color is not a good basis for classifying books, even in a small, personalsingle-subject library.

Case in point:

My FIL, who was a professor of mathematics, had huge textbook-stuffed bookcases lining his university office.  The books and papers were organized by subject and class and a personal  system of organized disorganization that had worked for him for years.  He could reach out and snag whatever book he needed, almost without looking.

Once during a family gathering, I overheard him telling my Dad about the time he came back from a week-long conference to find that one of his grad students—an English major, it should be noted—had rearranged all his books by color and size.

According to my FIL, he sat down in his chair for a moment and when he had recovered his powers of speech, he looked at the young man and said, “All right. Very funny.  Now put them all back where they were.”

He said the look on the kid’s face was almost worth it . . . but not quite.

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How to Pass a Tax Levy

Do the ends justify the means?  Hell, yeah.

(Thanks, Mike!)

Poetry Wednesday: Sherlockian Serendipity

It’s no secret that I adore Sherlock Holmes.  Well before Benedict Cumberbatch’s cheekbones, Robert Downey Jr.’s intensity, Martin Freeman’s steadfast smile, and Jude Law’s . . . everything . . .I devoured the stories, diving head first into the Victorian age and trying so hard to figure out whodunnit and how.  And now that I know perfectly well what the speckled band is and why the red-headed league isn’t, I read them for inspiration and comfort.

Lifelong fan, me, with a small tattoo, perhaps, to prove it.

It stands to reason, if not ratiocination, that I’m also a bit of an Arthur Conan Doyle fan as well.  I find it fascinating that he was a doctor, a ship’s surgeon, and, for many years, a struggling writer—he was more Watson than Holmes, which I think puts a special spin on things.*

A lot of people don’t seem to know that he wrote a lot of stuff—successful stuff—thatdidn’t feature a consulting detective, including The Lost World, a story that did for dinosaurs what Holmes did for mysteries, and The Exploits of Brigadier Gerard, which features an insufferable main character and proved that a vain, self-centered, infuriating hero can be fascinating to read.

So why am I telling you all this on a Wednesday?

Because a few days ago, this showed up in my inbox—a late birthday present from a friend who kindly thought I already knew:

A Parable
(Arthur Conan Doyle)

The cheese-mites asked how the cheese got there,
    And warmly debated the matter;
The Orthodox said that it came from the air,
    And the Heretics said from the platter.
They argued it long and they argued it strong,
    And I hear they are arguing now;
But of all the choice spirits who lived in the cheese,
    Not one of them thought of a cow.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote poetry, y’all.

Not a lot, apparently, and to be honest—and completely subjective—this is the best of them.  “A Parable” tickles me because it shows the same biting humor I enjoy from his prose, but most of his poems are Victorian standards about God and England—not that I’m knocking either subject, but I don’t find his verses particularly remarkable, much as I respect the man.**

But he did write it, amid all the other stuff he did, and that’s awesome.  I think it’s even better that it wasn’t that great.

This does make for a shorter post than usual, but don’t breathe a sigh of relief just yet, because I would be remiss in my duties as a Doyle fan if I didn’t mention another Doyle fan who happened to be a fantastic poet.

T.S. Eliot was such a fan of Sherlock Holmes that he supposedly memorized great long passages from the stories and bet a friend that he could remembered every single character Doyle put into his stories.***

Which asks the question: can a minor character created for the sole purpose of killing off a main character in a set of popular magazine stories really influence a poet of Mr. Eliot’s caliber?

Macavity—The Mystery Cat
(T. S. Eliot)

Macavity’s a Mystery Cat: he’s called the Hidden Paw—
For he’s the master criminal who can defy the Law.
He’s the bafflement of Scotland Yard, the Flying Squad’s despair:
For when they reach the scene of crime—Macavity’s not there!

Macavity, Macavity, there’s no on like Macavity,
He’s broken every human law, he breaks the law of gravity.
His powers of levitation would make a fakir stare,
And when you reach the scene of crime—Macavity’s not there!
You may seek him in the basement, you may look up in the air–
But I tell you once and once again, Macavity’s not there!

Macavity’s a ginger cat, he’s very tall and thin;
You would know him if you saw him, for his eyes are sunken in.
His brow is deeply lined with thought, his head is highly doomed;
His coat is dusty from neglect, his whiskers are uncombed.
He sways his head from side to side, with movements like a snake;
And when you think he’s half asleep, he’s always wide awake.

Macavity, Macavity, there’s no one like Macavity,
For he’s a fiend in feline shape, a monster of depravity.
You may meet him in a by-street, you may see him in the square—
But when a crime’s discovered, then Macavity’s not there!

He’s outwardly respectable. (They say he cheats at cards.)
And his footprints are not found in any file of Scotland Yard’s.
And when the larder’s looted, or the jewel-case is rifled,
Or when the milk is missing, or another Peke’s been stifled,
Or the greenhouse glass is broken, and the trellis past repair–
Ay, there’s the wonder of the thing! Macavity’s not there!

And when the Foreign Office finds a Treaty’s gone astray,
Or the Admiralty lose some plans and drawings by the way,
There may be a scap of paper in the hall or on the stair—
But it’s useless of investigate—Macavity’s not there!
And when the loss has been disclosed, the Secret Service say:
“It must have been Macavity!”—but he’s a mile away.
You’ll be sure to find him resting, or a-licking of his thumbs,
Or engaged in doing complicated long division sums.

Macavity, Macavity, there’s no one like Macacity,
There never was a Cat of such deceitfulness and suavity.
He always has an alibi, or one or two to spare:
And whatever time the deed took place—MACAVITY WASN’T THERE!
And they say that all the Cats whose wicked deeds are widely known
(I might mention Mungojerrie, I might mention Griddlebone)
Are nothing more than agents for the Cat who all the time
Just controls their operations: the Napoleon of Crime!

I really couldn’t say.^

It’s no mystery (see what I did there?) that Edgar Allen Poe’s three, brilliant stories about C. Auguste Dupin—narrated by the associate of the genius Frenchman, who used deductive reasoning to solve crimes— had a terrific influence on Doyle.  So, for the sake of this post and my own curiosity, I searched long and hard for a Poe poem that celebrated the logic of the mind—but with the exception of Dupin, Poe really, seriously, gothically, wasn’t into that.

So I’m rounding this post off with a poem that directly celebrates Sherlock Holmes and John Watson, and also the kind of characters and stories that for whatever reason are so loved that they become more than themselves.

Vincent Starrett was a member of the Beacon Society—part of the Baker Street Irregulars, which is dedicated to introducing young people to Sherlock Holmes.  His poem was written in 1942, when the world had turned dangerous and home no longer meant a safe refuge.

221B
(Vincent Starrett)

Here dwell together still two men of note
Who never lived and so can never die:
How very near they seem, yet how remote
That age before the world went all awry.
But still the game’s afoot for those with ears
Attuned to catch the distant view-halloo:
England is England yet, for all our fears—
Only those things the heart believes are true.

A yellow fog swirls past the window-pane
As night descends upon this fabled street:
A lonely hansom splashes through the rain,
The ghostly gas lamps fail at twenty feet.
Here, though the world explode, these two survive,
And it is always eighteen ninety-five.

I know Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wasn’t always happy that Sherlock Holmes overshadowed his other work, and I don’t know if that included his poetry . . . but I’ll bet he wouldn’t have minded a bit that his stories inspired poetry in others.

And I’m certain Sherlock wouldn’t have.

___________

*We shall not speak of fairies, thank you, though if anyone earned the right to believe in them, he did, and who cares?

** Though there is one about a yew bow (and God and England) that’s fun.  I suspect it was written as a drinking song either for or in remembrance of his years aboard a whaler and an exploration ship before returning to England.  I may be wrong . . . but I hope not.

***Apparently he couldn’t, quite, but we’ll forgive him because he admitted it, laughed at himself, and he was, after all, T.S. Eliot.

^But I will say that fanfiction isn’t new, people, and there are diamonds amid the dross.

___________

The ownership of all poems are retained by their respective estates. 

Images are courtesy of Microsoft and other creative commons sources.

Mumbling Merry Music in the Moonlight (and writing, too)

funny dog pictures - I Has A Hotdog: I'm skipping merrily along

I had my second singing lesson yesterday.

I think it went well.  I’m still practicing “O Waly Waly,”* which is not a particularly happy song,** but I do have a new vocal exercise about many mumbling mice that should keep my loving and supportive offspring in hysterics.***

And I’ve learned a lot already.  I didn’t go in utterly ignorant— I can read music^ and haven’t completely lost my breath control—but I’m an instrumentalist who hasn’t sung solo anywhere but in the car or the shower since elementary school.^^

There aren’t any keys to press or holes to cover to get the right notes and no reeds to shave to get the right pitch.  There’s just me, my vocal cords, and a pair of ears that aren’t used to judging sounds from the inside.

Does that sound vaguely familiar to anyone else?

Because as I was driving home, wondering how many sit-ups are the equivalent to forty-five minutes of diaphragmatic breathing,^^^ and thinking about what else I can do, short of a frontal lobe enema, to get the next scene of my round robin writing project out of my imagination, where it has been stuck for three days, I glanced at the orange post-it stuck on the front of my practice music—Many mumbling mice are making merry music in the moonlight—mighty nice.°

Something clicked.

My voice teacher had reassured me that vocal exercises are always weird and often embarrassing, but all those mice and goofy syllables will help me when I sing more serious stuff—and unless I brought one with me, there were no cameras around and she wasn’t going to post anything to YouTube.

I thought, silly exercises . . . and imagined my main character—who has to rescue a hostage from a room full of bad guys, thanks so very much, Ann—losing his temper, charging in like a bull, and accidentally knocking all the bad guys over in a sort of accidental domino effect so the only two people standing are himself and the hostage.

Stupid?  Yeah.  Did it work?  No.  Am I ever going to share it with anyone else, beyond the above?  No.  But by the time I sat down to write, I had a couple ideas about what actually might work and one of those yielded about 600 workable words.

Not bad.  And if that bit of wisdom translated, maybe more will.

Here are the rest of my notes. °°  Sub write for sing, words for notes, studio for editing process, and so forth, and see what you think:°°°

Forget what you think you can’t do.

I walked into that studio thinking I had an octave and a half tenor range.  Turns out, I have quite a few more notes in there.  They aren’t all good, yet—and in fact might only be detectable to dogs and voice teachers—but I’ve got ’em and I can get better at ’em, with practice.

Just throw the notes up there and see what happens.

You won’t hit every note right the first time, but you won’t get ’em right at all if you stop throwing and you’ll never know what you can or truly can’t do.

Loosen up and get out of your own way.

Over-controlling tightens a singer up from nose to navel and a tight singer loses most of what they can do.  Most of singing is being confident enough to let singing happen.

Concentrate on your consonants, too, not just the vowels. 

Consonants aren’t as showy or dramatic or fun, but they support the vowels so people know what you’re singing.

There is no perfect singing.

Studios adjust tones, add beats, get rid of mistakes and static, and even stick a couple of different takes together to make a ‘perfect’ performance.

Breathe through your bellybutton and use your stomach muscles like a bagpipe to support the sound.

Okay, maybe not that one. . .  Though breathing is always a good thing.

 Some of this may seem basic, sure, but basics are sometimes forgotten and a new perspective can be really helpful.

Don’t know about you, but it seems to me like I’m getting a two-for-one with these lessons—plus a blog post.  Can’t beat that.

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go mumble some mice . . .

___________

*The water is wiiiiide, I can-not cross o’er.

** O love is handsome and love is kind / Bright as a jewel when first it’s new / but love grows old and waxes cold / And fades away like the morning dew.    I know it’s a good starter song, but, you know, if I’m gonna sing the blues, I’d like some rhythm to it.

***Sharper than a serpent’s tooth is a child who, when Mommy reaches beyond the upper limits of her comfortable range, sticks her fingers in her ears and says, “Oww!  Mom!  Stop!  I’ll tell you anything you want to know!  Please, ow!  I give up!”  Much more of that and she’s out of the will—my vintage collection of Star Trek paperbacks (foxed, dog-eared, badgered, wolverined, and read in a series of bathtubs and a shower or two) will go to her sister, who will appreciate them, once she learns how to read.

^Not that it helps much, since I can’t sight-sing to save my life.  Knowing a dot on a line is a G doesn’t mean I hear it.  At all.

^^ Barring one painful verse of “Climb Every Mountain” that I was required to sing for Music Ed  in college before I changed my major to a completely different department.

^^^Ow, and I mean, ow.  Seriously, I feared for my caesarean scar there for a while.

°First one to tell me where that came from gets a brownie point and the admiration of all.

°°If you’re surprised that I’d take notes during a singing lesson—or during most activities, barring one or two—you must be new. Welcome!

°°°Not about my singing deficiencies, please, about the advice.

Gills like Fluttering Pages

I mentioned about halfway down Thursday’s post that I was planning to get my second tattoo the next day.   My mother appears to be the only person who’s interested in whether or not I did or what it looks like—which is just slightly disconcerting, let me tell you—but the rest of you are stuck because I need a post, so here we go.

My first tattoo was a response to a lot of things going on at the time.  While the text had long been planned and the font finally chosen, the decision to get it done right then and there was completely spontaneous.  And I have no regrets.

But this one . . . this one was meticulously, ridiculously planned to the point that any mention of it was starting to seriously irritate both my husband and Watson.*  Mostly I think because this tattoo I’ve been obsessing over is only one single word.

It is, however, a single word that I’ll be confusing people with at the asylum retirement home for years to come, which I think should’ve earned me a little slack—even if it turned out to be a very good thing that the artist** had to move the original appointment back a couple of weeks because I was changing my mind about the look and placement of the thing up until last Monday.

My decision held steady, though, so Watson—whom, as I’ve said, I highly recommend as a tattooing buddy—and I went with me Friday morning, armed with my laptop and a flash drive with the image of what I wanted.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t access the building’s WiFi, my flash wouldn’t work, and my laptop refused to acknowledge their printer.

But I did know which font I’d used in which proportions—yes, obsession has an upside—so the artist downloaded it from FontSpace, recreated what I wanted, and then we all checked the spelling several (dozen) times, because the tattoo might be one word, but that word is . . . different.

After all that, the tattooing itself was a bit anti-climactic.  But, when finished,  perfect:

For those of you blinking in confusion and thinking, O-kaaaay, this is where it started (click to read, unless your eyes are much better than mine):

See, I originally thought I was Beth in this scenario—Lord knows  my husband does—but then I realized that it went a little deeper than that:

Reading is as unconscious a reflex to me as breathing.  I once lost a $50 bet when I couldn’t go an hour without reading—I’d automatically snagged a book on the way to the bathroom and I was honestly confused when I was called on it.

Writing is as much a part of me as reading.  About fifteen years ago, I decided to quit cold turkey—fiction, non-fiction, all of it—because I wasn’t a writer, I was never going to be a writer, I was nothing but a sad wannabe, and I should stick to other people’s words.  I managed one month, maybe, before my husband brought me a legal pad and a pen and told me to “Write something.  Anything.  Please.”***  So I did.  And whatever happens, or doesn’t, I won’t ever quit again.

I’ve been comfortable in all kinds of libraries all my life, and now I spend most of my awake time in one, like a frog in a swamp, so I can take a quick dip when things get too dry.

And to be honest, I’m probably more functional while swimming underneath a wave of written words—mine or someone else’s—and I sincerely doubt that’s ever going to change.

Words—chained, woven, knitted, glued, hammered, scattered, sung—have always provided nourishment, excitement, direction, and purpose.  And escape, too, until it’s safe to come out again.

But I never had a word for what I was, before.

And now I do.

____________

*Though Watson is better at hiding it.  You would think my husband would have built up more tolerance for my unlimited ability to overthink everything, but it’s possible my immediate reaction to his marriage proposal fooled him.

**Whom I chose because I liked what I’d seen of her lettering, plus the place where she works has won several awards and has an excellent reputation.  They also have a couple wiseasses on staff, so I felt right at home.

***Yeah, he might be an enabler, but if I smoked, I’m absolutely certain he wouldn’t have bought me a pack of Camels and told me to light up—and if we asked him, he’d probably say it was more like bringing a Happy Meal to a stubborn toddler on a hunger strike.

_________________

Wondermark is the brainchild of the brilliant, handsome, and essentially non-litigious David Malki ! who deserves that exclamation point after his name.