Off the Top of My Head

May 31. This has been the longest month on record. Not just because of all the virus, but because the weather has been uniformly bleah–cloudy skies and temperatures below normal, but my usual markers for the progression of time are not functioning–the one or two weekly appointments I had that are gone. It's odd to see on my calendar, under Next Event, something occurring on June 13.

On the plus side, I have heard that u-pick-em strawberry fields in the area have extended their season because of the weather changes. Not that I'll be going or anything, but it's nice to know.

Good News!

I had a poem (On Writing) accepted. by Unique Poetry. a good new magazine you should check out.     top


picture from Hubble

I was going back through old newsletters in my inbox, hoping to reduce the clutter there. Of course, I had to check the contents, which led to following some of the enclosed links. One from Big Think had a teaser about a meditation inspired by the vastness of space. There was the obligatory picture taken from the Hubble space observatory accompanying it.

(Spoiler alert: thinking ahead ahead.) That got me thinking. It seems anything vaguely related to thinking, meditating, or deep breathing has a picture that features something that's as far away from people, crowds, and urban life as possible. Deep space is good, forests are good, mountains are good, crashing surf is good, sunrises and sunsets are good, and other pretty, natural things are good. If there's a picture of a city, it's usually an aerial scene from a distance, with no evidence of people.

So if it's good for brain and soul calming, shouldn't we be trying to put more of that sort of thing into our everyday life? I could see a couple of minutes (to start) set aside to calming pictures on the evening news. Or take the endless repetition in home repair shows (to review, you purchased the house for $65,000, renovations costs $23,000, it was built in 1913, and has 1,900 square feet) that follows every commercial break. Or replacing the repeating the last three minutes from before the commercial break in case the 'weak link' watcher forgot segment with pictures taken from the Hubble. It's OK, guys, it's only been five minutes. We remember.

Blast from the past: At one point in my life, I had an aquarium to fulfill this exact purpose. Of an evening, I would turn on the aquarium light, turn on some soothing music, turn off the other lights, and lie back and watch. That didn't last long, as the primary activity seemed to be the fifty-cent fish chasing the five-dollar fish around the tank. Not calming for me or the fish.     top

John Milton

Part of the problem with a drawn-out formal education is the little bits and pieces that get stuck in your head (or wherever they reside) and randomly appear to mess up your day. Mostly, it comes when you know a phrase but have no idea where it came from.

So it was this morning, when I had They also serve who only stand and wait stuck in my head. I thought this would be a great line to use in praise of those who have hunkered down, sheltered in place, self-isolated or self-quarantined, whatever we're calling it, and I was surprised that nobody had been using it. Off to DuckDuckGo I go (a duck-duck-go-go).

Turns out it was from John Milton's Sonnet 19, which I have kindly reproduced below (wait: why is kindly in quotation marks? Ah. Yes. In this case, kindly is a synonym for share my pain.). I can only speculate why the line is not quoted more, but I'll bet the answer is ilikely: 1) Our educational system has abandoned the teaching of John Milton's sonnets. 2) Nobody could navigate the first 13 lines to get to the money line. 3) nobody included it in a song about how wonderful we are for standing up to COVID-19 and so it's not in mainstream consciousness; 4) all the above.

(Aside: I recently wrote a poem [not yet out in the wild] in which I made a passing [and somewhat disparaging] comment about Milton. Turns out it was a good call.) That drawn-out education mentioned above was mostly spent in English lit classrooms, so I should be able to perform a public service and translate it, right? Yeah, right. It's Monday morning–pain time. So best (and probably incorrect) guess: "I'm going blind but still a young stud. If I'm blind, how can I write poetry, which is my sweet spot? When it's my time to 'fess, I'm going to tell God why I fell down–I didn't have the tools, but He's going to say, Did I have you on the clock? You don't have to be doing all the time. Live with the pain, dude. Just hang–that's all I want."

Sonnet 19: When I consider how my light is spent

When I consider how my light is spent,

Ere half my days, in this dark world and wide,

And that one Talent which is death to hide

Lodged with me useless, though my Soul more bent

To serve therewith my Maker, and present

My true account, lest he returning chide;

“Doth God exact day-labour, light denied?”

I fondly ask. But patience, to prevent

That murmur, soon replies, "God doth not need

Either man’s work or his own gifts; who best

Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best. His state

Is Kingly. Thousands at his bidding speed

And post o’er Land and Ocean without rest:

They also serve who only stand and wait.”


Getting There.

A couple of weeks ago, I listed some conditions for when I knew it was safe to go outside again. I am pleased to announce that two have been met: the first fifteen minutes of last night's news were devoted to something other than the pandemic; and my grocery store has had toilet paper in stock for the last two visits. So maybe, but I'm thinking that I still may not want to–the library reopening hasn't happened yet, and that's sort of the key to pushing me outside.     top

So Quaint.

Speaking of language from the past, there's a whole subcategory of words and phrases that we still use even though the technology that inspired them has changed radically, if not disappeared. So we still dial phones, even though dial phones disappeared in 1985; ditto hanging up; from radios we turn the dial, and crank the volume; and there are no records to spin, or to listen to, unless you're an audiophile with a turntable.

Totally unrelated, but brain models also follow technology. Starting about 1800, with the growth of the Industrial Revolution, the brain was described in mechanical terms (wheels turning and gears meshing), followed by an electrical model (ideas were like electrical currents flowing along wires), and now computer (a binary model, with the brain being in two potential states). Of course, the brain is none of these things. It's just a convenient way to break it down so we can understand. A myth for our times.     top

Hearing it.

Sacre du Printemps

On Friday's The Writer's Almanac, Garrison Keillor mentioned that during the riot that took place during the premiere of Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring, audience members threw vegetables at the stage.

So why did people bring vegetables into a very respectable Paris theater? This wasn't some outdoor market, where they could grab some produce to fling. It indicates a) they were expecting trouble and a bad performance; b) it was an intermission snack that was repurposed; or c) it was a requirement for admission (Usher: may I see your rutabaga, sir? Oh, tomatoes! An excellent choice, sir).

To say feelings ran high is an understatement. Eleven years after that performance, an anonymous author posted this bit of doggerel in the Boston Herald:

Who wrote this fiendish Rite of Spring

What right had he to write the thing,

Against our helpless ears to fling

Its crash, clash, cling, clang, bing, bang, bing?

And then to call it Rite of Spring,

the season when on joyous wing

The birds melodious carols sing

And harmony's in everything!

He who could write the Rite of Spring,

If I be right, by right should swing!

With a message like that, and the threat at the end, a man for our times!<     top

On the Radio.

On Friday morning, my clock radio went off to some innocuous music on the local classical station WHRO. At its conclusion, Dwight Davis came on to announce that it was an unfinished symphony by Edward Elgar, and then said without missing a beat, I guess it will remain unfinished, without leaving even a second for that to sink in or let us laugh.

Classy. Professional. Funny.     top


On creativity

Fred the Flower

Hard to believe Fred's been around for nearly ten years.

Fred from August 2010.

Fortnightly T-Shirts

Sometimes it's a mug, sometimes a meme, sometimes it's funny. But the price is always right.

T-shirts you just can't buy.


Poetry Corner

Saturday Morning Poem

Number 16 in the series.


The good news is

that I have finally

started using

the right date

on checks

and forms

and other correspondence.




allergy season.

Big Think has some thought-provoking articles.

Newest comic I'm following is Eric Scott's 1 and done.

Shawn Girvan, memoirist. Girvanaca.

My brother-in-law Harvey's academic-politics cartoon: SNAF-U

My sister Mary Pat's blog: LaBrea Rambles.

Suzanne's blog: The Tabard Inn.

Austin Kleon's blog.

Gary Larson and The Far Side are back!

More quirky cartoons at The Oatmeal.

Last Week


May 24. It's odd to think that we're in a holiday weekend. If we were in a real world, we would have a real holiday. People would be trying to sell us cars and mattresses and other stuff. But now that each day has an astonishing sameness, we have to make an effort to remember Monday for what it is–a time to stop and remember the men and women who sacrificed their lives so that we could be free.

Although I bet people still try to sell us cars and furniture and stuff.

Good News!

I had a poem (On Writing) accepted. by Unique Poetry. a good new magazine you should check out.

Today's Prickly Question.

I was looking at .Jeff Goin's Blogthe other day, and he prompted a prickly question. First, he defined his life's mission: My work, as I understand it, is to encourage and empower creative people to share their art with the world. Impressive stuff. I know's he's helped move me toward sharing more of my writing (and for the snarky among you, no, it's not the good stuff, or at least it's no better than the stuff you see here), as you can see in the above post.

But that's not a one-and-done. We're all works in progress (which is why I follow the folks I follow–Goins, Kleon, Henry, Glei) who cheerfully admit they are a path towards and haven't perfected where they are yet. Jeff sums it up nicely:I myself totter along this path as an author, teacher, speaker, poet, and human, trying to figure it out.. And that's not a humblebrag. In fact, we all wear multiple hats. Just not all are as out in front as Jeff, but equally important.

And that's what prompted a question: What do I need as a human? I'm still trying to figure it out, but i never really asked the question that way. Feel kinda naked. There's the base question to consider, but also how do I make that happen? I immediately thought, I will need to ask permission. More accurately, I need togive myself peermission, convince myself that I own it, need to make it happen.

I wonder if the big push to reopen America and get back to normal is in part because a lot of people, in isolation, started nibbling at the edges of that question and found it way too prickly. Time to get back to the world of distraction.

Personally, I think I'll sit and play with that one for a while.

Just 'Cuz.

just 'cuz.


Customer Satisfaction

There's another survey out of how satisfied customers are with the cellphones. As usual, Apple leads the pack, but by an astonishing sli margin. Here are the results:

customer cellphone satisfaction

Wow, I thought, everybody seems to be very happy with their cellphones. I bet they're even happier than shown, because some complaints or unhappiness attributed to the phone are probably carrier problems. So. double wow.

But then I had one of those wait a minute moments. OK, so they got 80 percent satisfaction. That means that 1 in 5 customers are not completely satisfied. And another thing. The numbers are automatically skewed. Presumably, before the first purchase of a brand and model of cell phone, people did at least some research. Following purchase, even if they're unhappy, saying so would cast doubt on their powers of analysis, or at least on their taste. So many people are likely to say it's wonderful because they're wonderful. I think my iphone 5c is wonderful, even though the home button is broken, and it's so old the system software doesn't update any more. It's wonderful because it meets my needs. Plus, it's paid for. So put me on the list. I'm eighty percent satisfied.

I'm sure this makes people at Apple nervous (not really–they don't notice what an officially old guy does). They would like me to buy a new phone, but if I don't, well, there you go.

TomatoPlanet!! is a random collection of writing, cartoons, and things that strike my fancy. © 2003-2020, John McCarthy

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