Thursday, September 30, 2010

Liliputian World

When you walk in a forest it is fun to imagine yourself as being taller than the trees and able to see over all the silvi-clutter and able to take in the topography, just as you would flying or ballooning. Of course you could shrink instead of elongate. What a jungle the grassland would be to a Liliputian.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Gadget Paradise Postponed

Or, Requiem for a Lightweight

A few weeks ago the requiem was written for smartbooks. These were meant to be similar to netbooks (with a keyboard and a clamshell design) based on ARM's microprocessors instead of Intel's, and on Google's Android operating system instead of obsolete Microsoft Windows. The lower power would have meant that you could leave them on all the time, like your cellphone, which is also based on an ARM microprocessor.

You can see why this would have been appealing. I was hoping to use one instead of a WINTEL notebook to do the usual things, such as surfing the web, editing photos, and printing. Was that really asking so much from the computer world?

Apparently it was. Why would the computer industry want to cannibalize the sale of $800 notebooks with $250 smartbooks? The losers would have been WINTEL, Apple, HP, Dell, Toshiba, etc. Fortunately for the computer industry, Apple found a solution to this conundrum: it assassinated the smartbook with the Tablet; instead of replacing $800 notebooks, it created a whole new category or gadget that every modern home must have. It doesn't have the same functionality as a notebook; it is merely an iTunes media vending machine. Thus the lucky consumer has more money to spend, rather than less. Who woulda guessed?

In the press recently, there was a glimmer of hope about reviving the smartbook idea. The novelty of tablets might wear off. The Android operating might mature enough to be able to handle a netbook-like device, rather than just a glorified smartphone. And fickle consumers might be in the mood for a buzz over a new type of gadget. The companies that have the most to gain from smartbooks are Google through its Android operating system and, they hope, a stranglehold on advertising income; also there are the makers of ARM microprocessors, such as Qualcomm, Texas Instruments, Freescale, and Samsung. Microsoft, Intel, and AMD would be the big losers.

But there's a gap in the supply chain. Who would make the overall smartbook device? Presumably smartphone manufacturers or netbook manufacturers might take responsibility. They have something to gain by poaching on the turf of more established computer companies. 

A Day in the Life of...

Oh no, here comes that damned fool of a dog. Get ready for a lot of noise:

Just look at her down there, carrying on so! I'm embarrassed for her. Nobody will ever convince me that dogs are real predators.

I guess she thinks if she barks some more, I'll come down and let her eat me:

I can't take any more of this. Besides I'm just encouraging her. Enough:

Monday, September 27, 2010

Grasshopper Season

There are some very colorful grasshoppers in the field these days. This one wasn't too colorful but I thought it was right handsome, especially that pharaonic neck collar.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Real Football

It almost seems unfair that a season like autumn, which already has so many good things about it, should also have the football season. I sighed with pleasure about the football season to a non-football fan, the other day. I had her/him stereotyped as the kind of person who would turn up their nose and say, "There's already a perfectly good game that the rest of the world calls football. What's good about stupid American football?" They were referring of course to the deadly dull "world-sport" of soccer.

Was there any point in trying to explain one of the finer things of life to a big, overgrown, NPR-listening, college sophomore? Probably not, but she did ask the question. With my best effort at being understandable and non-condescending, I started with the premise that Sports are mock-War. She agreed to play along with that, and suddenly my cause appeared hopeful.

The rectangular field of football fits the TV screen well, but the same is true for soccer, hockey, and basketball. But it's only football that has a well-defined Front between the two Armies. There are pauses in the War that help you appreciate the military situation. The Front moves toward the Enemy's heartland, and as it does so, the suspense builds. In sports like soccer or hockey the "ball" moves back and forth, almost at random, and if you blink at the wrong moment, you miss the goal.

Football has Infantry (the front line grunts), Panzer tanks or cavalry (the running back), and an active Air War when the quarterback (the general) throws it. Soccer excludes the upper body; isn't that ridiculous? After the Conquest is made, football has the Occupation, the extra-point kick.

Much to my surprise she really appeared to be listening to me and appreciating these arguments. Of course there is more to War than killing the Enemy: there's also Raping and Pillaging.

Unlike soccer games in Europe, American football features beautiful, half-nude cheerleaders, which connects male fans with the primal satisfaction of the warrior: ravishing (degrading) the women in a country that you've just conquered. This was always part of the "pay package" for the traditional warrior.

As for Pillaging, well, tearing the goal post down is a start. But think of the Euro-snob's objection to the endless corporate ads that interrupt a football game. These ads are actually a positive thing: they suggest imposing your corporate culture, banking, and political system on a defeated enemy. When you think about it, that's best illustration of all in a Sport being mock-War.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Breaking the Internet Slump

As expected I broke my internet slump by going to the library and walking down an aisle at random. Years ago I had a prejudice against rereading books, but now it seems like the option most likely to succeed. So I grabbed "The Education of Henry Adams." Yes, the famous Adams of Boston and Quincy. The young fellow at the circulation desk astounded me by actually knowing of this classic book.

Young Henry served as his father's assistant when the latter was the Yankee minister to Britain during the War of Southern Independence. After the war Henry started thinking about his own career and thought of being an editor at a newspaper or magazine. He said that, "Any man who was fit for nothing else could write an editorial or a criticism."

Hey wait a minute...

The World Passes Us By

The other day a friend and I were discussing how hard it is to understand the lingo of youngsters who have grown up in MTV culture. He said it is indeed strange how the world passes us by. That was one of those statements that really sticks with you; it only happens once in a great while.

Recently I rewatched Billy Wilder's classic movie "Sunset Boulevard." Gloria Swanson and her butler had turned away from the "real," outside world while living in an aging hulk of a Hollywood mansion. Bill Holden's narration said that they didn't want to look outside and be reminded of what has-beens they were.

It's quite an issue for an old fogey to wrestle with. Recently I have found myself telling stories to young people; stories that didn't fit in all that well with the rest of the discussion. Oh no! Am I going to become one of those old men who hears some buzzword in a conversation and then launches into an interminable story about something that happened to him, him, him decades ago?

Then again, is the world of young folks more genuinely real? Their world is so ephemeral and superficial; it has no Past or Future, only a Present full of hurly burly and random motion. Say, that reminds me of a story...

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Dew Chandelier

We can all agree that the last thing this blog needs is another photograph of curved bill thrashers, red tailed hawks, or grassland texture. But I can't help it; I'm obsessed with the perfect photograph of certain things, and dew-chandeliers are one of them.

Besides, sweet obsessions are one of the under-rated pleasures of life.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Internet Slump

When an internet junkie is having a slump, nothing rubs salt into the wound more than a rainy day. When a stick-and-brick house dweller asks me how I could live in a small RV, I just roll my eyes at them, because it is quite easy. But in rainy weather the difficulty goes up a factor of 5-10. If he is a dog owner, it goes up another factor of 5-10. 

How do you handle an internet slump? The book reader who is slumping can walk into a new bookstore, or down a different aisle in the library. And it works (!) more times than not. But when that computer screen stares back at you, it can intimidate you how much information is on the other side of that screen. You become frozen with inaction. You are tired of wading through all the crap, the linkbait.

In theory you should be able to branch out by going to the links listed in the websites that you have read in the past. Either that doesn't work as well as it should or I haven't tried it with enough persistence.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010


For extra credit, identify the movie where the guy said, "Oh, and Stockel, let's see some real flying." In case you can't get that one, at least help me with this bird. I was sure it was a turkey vulture from its magnificent, playful, flying style, but there was no red, featherless head. When the sun catches the underwing at the right angle, you can get deceptive iridescence, but still, white underwings?

Monday, September 20, 2010

The House-sitter, Home Alone

Full time RVers occasionally house-sit for friends or relatives who live in the normal world, the world of sticks and bricks, lawns and driveways. It's been so many years since I've spent a few days in such a structure that the experience seemed exotic and adventurous.

This isn't as whimsical as it might at first seem. For one thing the typical suburban house is dangerous. I've never had a close call when hiking near 1000-foot-high cliffs, but I've come quite close to slipping in those bath tubs found in most houses. That never happens in my travel trailer's shower stall, where heat, pressure, and vibration have solidified desert dust into gritty, metamorphic layers.

We have fewer pieces of seldom-used junk than the house-bound, but we can actually find the useful stuff. I was looking for a simple spoon the other night during my house-sitting gig. My arm actually wearied opening drawer after drawer in the kitchen, while I stared at every kitchen gadget ever invented. I didn't even know the names of most of them. Perhaps they get used once or twice per year.

Since no tea kettle could be found, I was forced to use one of those silly microwave ovens. I remembered downsizing (read, donating) the microwave in my trailer during my freshman year. The house-bound don't see how life could exist without microwave ovens. Indeed, it is harder to warm up expensive snack foods without one. Finally, after a good deal of improvisation and experimentation, I did manage to make some tea in the microwave. For awhile it seemed like I would need one of those remote controls to use the microwave.

Thankfully the menagerie of remote-controls was in the living room, usually under one of the couch cushions. It took three of those blasted things just to watch one of my DVD movies. In my trailer I could watch DVDs just by popping them into a 10 inch portable player, and popping a couple buttons on the machine. No remote control was needed.

The picture was fantastic on that expensive, giant, LCD screen. It was the size of a medium-sized RV slideout. But the thrill wore off pretty quickly when I realized that the programming hadn't gotten any better just because the screen was larger. That illustrates Thoreau's comment:

" with a hundred "modern improvements"; there is an illusion about them; there is not always a positive advance...
Our inventions are wont to be pretty toys, which distract our attention from serious things. They are but improved means to an unimproved end, an end which it was already but too easy to arrive at; as railroads lead to Boston or New York. We are in great haste to construct a magnetic telegraph from Maine to Texas; but Maine and Texas, it may be, have nothing important to communicate."
Nothing to communicate, indeed. Nothing but special-effects violence, crying, car chases, and half-dressed models wiggling their booty in front of the camera. I found myself watching the Weather Channel.

There is a moment that a long-time RVer dreads most: using the house's toilet. I wasn't actually worried about being injured, as in the shower, but I feared the most embarrassing overflow accident. Just think how large and expensive the typical American house is. Couldn't they have spent a little less on granite counter-tops and a little more on a toilet that actually flushes, and then stops?! These problems never happen with an RV toilet.

But I don't want to be accused of being one-sided. It is true that much of the progress in houses is over-rated, most of all, the increased space. But it was sweet to do laundry without reading Spanish or looking for a handful of quarters.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Slavery of Elections

The world is so full of praise for Beauty that it drowns itself out. The Uses of Ugliness is a theme that seems under-rated to me. And speaking of Ugliness, we have another election season coming. There should be an alternative to the usual choices of watching Media coverage with sour disdain or with numb toleration.

There is a point when Ugliness attacks an irreducible center of human dignity. We simply must defend ourselves in order to live. Here is something that works for me: there have been a few books written over the centuries that say something worthwhile about politics. We have all heard these classics praised, and we say that we probably should read that book someday...

That is the beauty and use of Ugliness. Ugliness can be a sharp sensation felt right now, not just someday. It impels us to action; quite an accomplishment for a "negative" thing.

So instead of following the electoral horse-race on the boob toob I will be rereading Alexis de Tocqueville's "Democracy in America." Written in the 1830's, it seems prescient at times and oddly contemporary at other times. He was not a theorist's theorist or the sort of metaphysician who constructs mental cobwebs that lead nowhere. He was a reflective and thoughtful observer who wrote with well-chosen concreteness. 

It was surprising how much of volume 1 is dedicated to explaining the plight of Indian tribes and Negro slaves. My personal favorite is chapter 15 on the Tyranny of the Majority.
"In my opinion the main evil of the present democratic institutions of the United States does not arise, as is often asserted in Europe, from their weakness, but from their overpowering strength.

The authority of a king is purely physical, and it controls the actions of the subject without subduing his private will; but the majority possesses a power which is physical and moral at the same time; it acts upon the will as well as upon the actions of men, and it represses not only all contest, but all controversy.

I know no country in which there is so little true independence of mind and freedom of discussion as in America.

In America... within these barriers an author may write whatever he pleases, but he will repent if he ever step beyond them. Not that he is exposed to the terrors of an auto-de-fe, but he is tormented by the slights and persecutions of daily obloquy.

Under the absolute sway of an individual despot, the body was attacked in order to subdue the soul...but such is not the course adopted by tyranny in democratic republics; there the body is left free, and the soul is enslaved.

No writer, whatever his eminence, can escape from this tribute of adulation to his fellow citizens. The majority lives in the perpetual practice of self-applause.

If great writers have not at present existed in America, the reason is very simply given in these facts; there can be no literary genius without freedom of opinion, and freedom of opinion does not exist in America.

The Inquisition has never been able to prevent a vast number of anti-religious books from circulating in Spain. The empire of the majority succeeds much better in the United States, since it actually removes the wish of publishing them."

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Home to Papa?


For a so-called cattle dog Coffee Girl has quite a hankering for flying birds. It's a bit like watching a roadrunner and Wile E. Coyote episode. She "tree-ed" a red-tailed hawk on one of the power poles. The hawk stared down at her, with a look of bemused astonishment, while Coffee Girl had her forepaws on the pole, and howled back, as if she was a hound who had just tree-ed a raccoon. The hawk flew off and then took a dive at the dog; not enough to be scary, just enough to piss her off.

At the next pole, the hawk's mate was waiting. The harried hawk would be over there in three seconds or so, so I had to move fast. Bingo!

Friday, September 17, 2010

A Real Pickup Truck

One of my favorite things about downtown in the Little Pueblo is the funky, hand-crafted motor vehicles. In order for something like this to be practical you need to live in the hippie district downtown. In the 'burbs they drive the usual monster-trucks to the grocery store to pick up one small bag of groceries.

Dewy Spider Web

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Laboratories of Politics

With elections coming up, it is fun to step back from the hackneyed slogans of day-to-day vote-buying and think about the big picture. Ancient Greece was supposed to be a laboratory of political science, with democracies, oligarchies, and tyrannies just a few miles away from each other. Like a modern Aristotle cataloging the various constitutions, we can observe and compare many little societies, such as churches, lodges, civic organizations, etc. In my case it was bicycle clubs.

Bicycle clubs do indeed span the political spectrum. One such club was helpful and considerate almost to a fault: they would always wait at the top of a hill for the slowpokes to catch up. If anybody had a flat tire, the whole group would stop and assist. They shared meals together. Great folks, it seemed.

But over a summer the starting time would slip because they simply lacked the guts to leave anyone. Many of the flat tires were caused by people running on old rubber. Their obsession with safety became nanny-ish and nagging. They charged cyclists a small fee at every ride, and sent it to their central office in Washington, DC. They stopped too long at meals and ate too much. Nobody ever progressed in their riding performance.

On the other extreme I have ridden with low-end racers. They never asked for, or gave, quarter. It was Social Darwinism of the wheel. A wolf pack of testosterone-crazed animals. Only serious injury would cause them to interrupt their rampage.

I saw pro's and con's with these two opposites and spent a long time deciding which one I preferred, or rather, disliked least. There was something debilitating and sickening about the helplessness that the first group's policies engendered. 

One autumn when evening daylight was evaporating, the bike group had to decide whether to start earlier. One of the riders (a woman, naturally) said, "No, that won't be fair to those who can't make it that early."

I went home and slept on it. Indeed it was unfortunate that some people would have to give up the ride immediately and start doing whatever they did in the winter. But was it also unfair? How did it help them to let the early sunset ruin the ride for everybody? The next morning I woke up free of the cant with which I had been brainwashed in college: I was no longer willing to ruin something equally for everybody in order to be "fair."

It is easy to believe just about anything on an abstract level, as long as it's a pretty slogan. That's what keeps philosophers, preachers, and politicians in business, after all. But when wrestling with more tangible things--things that we personally know something about--we are more hardheaded.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Ultimate Camping Machine?

Do you think I'm just looking at this sexy little beast through a romantic haze? At long last, a cargo van built on a car platform, rather than a heavy truck platform, so that it gets good mileage. Perhaps a version of the Ford TransitConnect is available without those useless windows. A cargo van should possess a rugged and manly minimalism. There are sliding doors on both sides. A six-footer can walk through, if he bends over a little. If only the tires or wheel wells were bigger, for higher clearance!

These vans have only been available in the US for a year or two, so it'll be awhile before many exist on the used marketplace. (Ford makes them in Turkey, primarily for non-US customers.)

Neglecting the wimpy ground clearance, these guys have a lot of potential as the ultimate camping machines for the short term boondocker.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

You Belong in New Mexico if...'re turned on by old junk like this. I added a spur to one of my coffee shop-anchored bicycle routes in order to visit an old mining area. There is nothing spectacular, but there are twenty old wrecks that make me feel satisfied.

Satisfaction: it doesn't sound very exciting, does it? When I converted from a full time, traveling RVer to a townie I had to relearn certain habits of adulthood: satisfaction is more reliable and sustainable than the titillation of novelty. (Channel surfing with gasoline.)

Monday, September 13, 2010

the Boonie and the Moonbeam

A newbie in town and I had lunch together the other day. Perhaps it could be called a "date," but I'm so far out of it that I don't even know the technical, legal definition of a date anymore. She was from a college town in Oregon, so I was suspicious, but tried to keep an open mind.

Several times she introduced key buzzwords into the conversation: organic, Asia, yoga class, and whether there might be trace amounts of meat in the chili; then she appeared to wait for me to take the topic up. With each succeeding blow, my shoulders slumped a little further. Finally she mentioned "vibrations." I'm happy to report that I did not audibly groan, nor did my face fall into the plate as a sign of final surrender. Maybe I sighed a little.

Well who ya gonna blame? I moved to a town full of aged hippie-dippies and New Agers, and then complain when they act like it. Actually they are only 10% of the town, and are concentrated in the hippie district. Oddly enough, it seems like any cultural stereotype adds something to a town as long as there aren't too many of them. In fact the only towns that I have actively disliked are the ones dominated by one sector, say, students, pickup-driving rednecks, panhandlers, lah-dee-dahs, LDS, or Mexicans.

You might remember that scene in Woody Allen's "Annie Hall" when the liberal Democratic Jewish woman said that she loved being reduced to a cultural stereotype. I sometimes wonder what label applies to me after a first meeting.

Is it really such a crime to stereotype people? For one thing it creates an opportunity for a delightful surprise. If there aren't any surprises, the sin is theirs.

People seem most alive and genuine and interesting when they are deviating from their own stereotype. Recently I was watching an interview of Peter Ustinov, asking him to reminisce about the making of "Spartacus." He made a point how important it is in movies to have three-dimensional characters with internal contradictions.

Bent Venetian Blinds?

The bird was caught alighting from the dead cholla stalk. Its head is to the right, I think. The angle of the wing is more downward than I would have expected.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Migration Tactics

The Arkansas River Valley, Colorado, a couple years ago. Most people yearn for a long, lingering autumn, full of crisp mornings and warm afternoons, of apple festivals and glorious colors. A season without snow, rain, humidity or bugs. Many autumns don't quite live up to this dream, because it gets rainy and blowy just when the colors get going. Down go those beautiful leaves, down into the first of the winter mud.

Living on wheels would seem to be the perfect solution. Just imagine a gradual migration, surfing the wave-crest of colors southward! That is what I expected out of my first fall migration, many equinoxes ago. Much to my surprise, when the October weather collapse happened up north, it quickly went south. There was no six-week-long autumn like I had fantasized, even when migrating from northern Michigan to the Texas Hill Country. The moral of the story is that latitude is over-rated.

Moving to the western states, latitude proved to be even more over-rated, compared to altitude or distance from the Pacific. Some years I would linger as long as possible in the Northwest. When the October weather collapse happened I migrated through the high desert of eastern Oregon and Nevada. It got colder as I went south. This killed any desire to explore the area. Good old Mt. Shasta or Jackpot NV -- it was always snowing. It was only near Lone Pine CA or Las Vegas or St. George UT that a thousand miles of driving produced noticeable warming.

Now I stay in the Southwest all year. This permits an autumn descent of the Colorado, Arkansas, Rio Grande or Pecos river systems in order to move south and become warmer. I actually started descending the Arkansas River several weeks ago, in early August. It is almost too easy and logical. I miss those floundering falls of RV newbie-hood.

This morning we had our first frost in Buena Vista and the first advection fog. Well, it's bedtime for Byoonie until next year. We're hitchin' up.

Friday, September 10, 2010

The Modern Village Atheist

No matter how thick a book is or how well you might like it, isn't it true that you only remember a few scenes? Why that scene and not some other?

Sinclair Lewis's Elmer Gantry brushed off the village atheist one day. That book was written in 1927. I wondered if people even use that term any more. Village atheist, town drunk, slut, gossip, or do-gooder -- how do they matter to an America that doesn't live in villages anymore? America is a hollowed-out country, a coast-to-coast archipelago of monstrous conurbations. People sat out on porches and kept an eye on each other on Lewis's Main Street. Today we experience our neighbor in the 'burbs only in seeing his garage door open up, a car with tinted windows emerges, it heads off to work or to a fast food drive-through, and then the garage door closes.

The Village Atheist used to be portrayed unsympathetically. If he was jolly enough, he might have been tolerated as the licensed lunatic, but usually he was seen as sour, arrogant, and maladjusted.

Camping with someone in Mormon country once, I recommended that he see some of the Mormon movies that Utah's small film-industry was putting out. They were good. The camper asked if these films proselytized. Actually they did, but you might not notice it at first. Typically the movie would have young guys on their missionary gig. The leading character was a likable young man who had his share of angst over being an ineffective missionary, or being lousy at meeting girls, or uncertain about how to make a living. He was usually paired up with a guy who was more vocal about his doubts in the Faith; this second guy was smart-assed and cynical. The message was that this second guy's doubts aren't worth discussing in a serious way because they really were nothing more than manifestations of a negative personality.

Of course in the modern world, politics has replaced theology as the center of the universe. There is no physical church that worships government, but there is a type of conventional piety. The devout guard the purity of their minds by only getting news from NPR or the BBC.

If you were to point out the fundamental conflict-of-interest in government running a news source, conventional piety of the modern type might think you're joking or being distastefully cynical. If they personally like you, you will be given a condescending and sympathetic smile. After all, there is no point in taking your arguments at face value and getting miffed about them: they know you have a few personality quirks and are just projecting those onto the issue.

Late Monsoon Season

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Western Kingbird in its Native Habitat

In the field you do have to struggle to see the yellow breast of some birds, which Bobbie and Dixxe helped me identify as a western kingbird. Soon the migrating birds, of both wing and wheel, will start coming through. I hope the performance is as much fun as last year. Northern flickers were the first invaders.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Old Rocks

In the Southwest a few years ago. 'Love at first sight' is a principle that doesn't seem to apply to geologic layers, at least for me. It fails in both directions. When I saw red-rock Utah for the first time I drooled over it like anyone would. But once the brain has seen red rock and admitted it as a possibility, it ceases to be interesting. And yet I know RVers who make a big deal of it, long term. Red sandstone cliffs decompose into loose red sand which is impassable to a mountain bike.

Conversely I was none too crazy about granite at first. It was crumbly and ignoble. Eventually though, the eroded hoodoos and gargoyles win you over.

Soon you appreciate the sure-footedness that you have while scrambling over granite rocks, but it's the dry washes that are the most fun. They are filled with granite decomposed into coarse sand. Granite sand can be sharp-edged; under the shearing pressure of your shoe it locks up and makes for easy walking.

My little poodle becomes years younger as he scampers up and down these granite dry washes. Ironic isn't it, that his fountain of youth is a billion-year-old metamorphic rock? On a recent mountain bike ride the granite went all the way to the top of a ridge. What a great surface for running! At the top of the mountain pass he was quite smug in his achievement and guarded the bike while I took photos.

Where we are currently camped there is a gully and dry wash every quarter mile. Fluidity is written in the streamlines everywhere you look, even in the roads. It is fun to look for quartz veins running through the granite.


Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Coen Brothers' Movies

The movies of the Coen Brothers, such as Fargo, Barton Fink, Raising Arizona, O Brother Where Art Thou, and Intolerable Cruelty, have given me a lot of kicks over the years. No doubt they will have other successes in the future. There is something they could do to ensure that, and it ties in with writing in general, not just movies.

Critics praise the scripts of Coen Brothers movies for being quirky, offbeat, or for breaking Hollywood formulas with surprises. But these things are both good and bad. A movie is interesting because the viewer is caught up in the dilemmas and conflicts of characters that the viewer cares about. If a speech or a plot twist becomes too offbeat, the viewer can no longer believe it. "Witty" dialogue can be so overdone that it seems contrived. Surprises become ends in themselves. The writing ceases to be about a character and becomes a character itself. 

In other words their scripts are examples of what Strunk and White, in the "Elements of Style," would call "overwriting." Point #1 in their Approach to Style, the last chapter, is for the author to put himself in the background. 

Self-consciousness can be a problem in many forms of communication. At a party you can always tell who is afflicted by this: he is standing alone in the corner. A self-conscious speaker causes the audience to squirm uncomfortably. Most painful of all is the stand-up comedian who is paralyzed by a need to seem funny. Mark Twain wrote an essay on how to tell a funny story; he warned the reader that looking like you were trying to be funny was the kiss of death.

Movies will sometimes sell themselves with the latest sexpot bombshell star of the moment; she tries so hard to be sexy that she succeeds only in boring the men in the audience, despite her perfect looks.

George Orwell wrote an essay, entitled "Why I Write." In it he claimed that no matter how egoistic a writer's motivation might be, nothing worth reading will result unless the author practices self-abnegation.

These authors are probably correct in believing that readers or viewers resent the egoistic intrusions of authors and scriptwriters. The audience feels most inspired when a story helps them connect with a Truth that exists widely and profoundly, yet is usually obscured by the clutter and trivialities of daily life. It is Reality and Truth, not the writer himself, who deserves top billing.

In case you're wondering, none of these strictures apply to blog-writers, at least to the unpaid ones. We have a right to be self-indulgent.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

"Pacin' the Cage"

Every now and then I listen to some Jimmy Buffett songs while taking a snooze. The song with the refrain about "pacin' the cage" made quite an impact. RVs started pulling out of this park early on Labor Day, headed back to the torrid, ghastly conurbation of lower Arizona. They did no harm and I really feel kind of bad about being so glad to see them go. Maybe they are just reminding me of missing the autumn migration, which usually started in September.

The autumn migration always seemed twice as dramatic as the spring. Maybe that's an ancestral grudge against winter. I used to study DeLorme and Benchmark atlases for weeks while anticipating it and feeling nervous about it.

I did my share of constant travel in an RV, but it never really seemed necessary or even desirable. It's probably lazy to fall back on the old buzzword, natural, but it does seem like snowbirding -- seasonal migration -- is more natural than the endless running around that some RVers do. Animal species and primitive human tribes have always been seasonal migrators. But constant travel is a rather new invention (and perversion) of 'carbon-based cavemen', as Jimmy Buffett's song called them.

The Chandeliers of September

Just imagine a guy like me running an art gallery of the photographic kind, especially in a high rent district like Sedona or Bisbee. I'd put a photograph like this on the wall and some well-heeled dowager or matron would look at it and say, "Huh? How does this make the wall in our new retirement McMansion look more upscale?" My art gallery would go broke in three months.

This is my favorite season, when monsoonal humidity meets cooler night air, and the result is torrential dew that decorates and honors the finely-textured grasses that I love. My eyes hunt for these dew-clusters, while my dog runs between them or sometimes through them, as she chases her varmints. She comes out of the field soaked and happy.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

An Amateur Photographer

When I'm out walking the dogs near sunset I walk by a patch of tall heliotropic sunflowers. Maybe butterflies hang out there at that time of the day, or maybe the low sun presents their wings to advantage. I must have looked silly chasing camera-shy butterflies around the patch, with a rather confused dog attached to me. They certainly are good at escaping just a second before you get a good photograph. The eye and brain flutter over the sunflowers as well as the butterflies, and at some point in the confusion, they all seem like the same species.

This is great fun, and I was lucky to get such a close-up. And yet it looks like a standard postcard or Olan Mills studio portrait of a butterfly. How dreadful it must be to be a professional photographer! The customer looks at his end result; the subjective experience of taking the photograph means nothing. How unfair: the experience was living. The end result of work is dead; it's what gets pinned to the page. But I guess any kind of work is like that. It's one of the reasons why work is over-rated.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Uses of Ugliness

Arkansas River Valley, Colorado, a couple summers ago. Believe it or not, I will say something nice about motor-crazed yahoos today. First off, should I use a new name, such as "motorsports enthusiasts?" Actually ATVs aren't that noisy and tend to be operated by responsible adults, which the dogs and I are friendly to, on the trail. But those young guys on their dirt bikes! Growl.

On Friday night they arrived in force, with all the usual commotion and anticipation. They have finished their drive from a population center and to celebrate the occasion they serenade the nearest square mile with ugly, raucous music. One of the cretins camped fifty yards away from me. The next day they buzzed around like insect pests. I kept to short hikes in the dry washes of decomposed granite so I wouldn't have to overlap with them. 

On Sunday morning I played a game with myself, guessing which group of louts would leave first. What a joy it is to see the ramps get put in place at the back of their gigantic toy haulers. Back to the rat race they go.

I had been feeling lazy and unappreciative of my present location before the yahoos showed up. Maybe everything was too nice: the weather, scenery, geology, and trails. After the yahoos left, my appreciation for the local land was rejuvenated. In that sense I owe them gratitude.

This experience reminded me of something else that happened the first couple years of full time RVing. We have all experienced a piece of music, which made chills go up and down the spine when new, become dull through repetition. What a pity.

When I parked my RV near some traffic and listened to the music, something interesting happened. I would lie down on the bed and listen to the music, while the traffic noise half-drowned it out. At first the traffic noise was
ugly and irritating. It partially drowned out the music, which forced me to fill in the gaps with my own memory. Then the traffic noise would relent briefly, letting me hear the music again. This happened several times, and each time it recalibrated my imagination. Eventually I lost track of whether I was actually hearing the music or imagining it. The tired old music was reborn. When it was new, I had only been listening to it; now it seemed like I was half-composing it.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010


This is my favorite time of year. The grasslands are turgid, full of seeds, and besotted with dew. I never really appreciated texture until the last couple years, and have no idea why it started.