Seven in Seven

Where are we going? Life, the timeless, mysterious gift, is still evolving. What wonders, or terrors, does evolution hold in store for us in the next ten thousand years? In a million? In six million? Perhaps the answer lies in this old house in this old and misty valley…
—-Control Voice, The Outer Limits, The Sixth Finger

Oblique Strategy: Use Fewer Notes

I am not a fan of internet memes, challenges, viral videos, cat images, or Rick Ashtley.

However, when I was invited to do the “Seven ‘Days, Seven Black and White Photos” on Facebook, I decided to do the thing.

Because I wanted to.

Day 1

Day 2

Day 3

Day 4

Day 5

Day 6

Day 7

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That Student’s Letter As A Precious Treasure

“The poor girl ws keeping that student’s letter as a precious treasure, and had run to fetch it, her only treasure, because she did not want me to go away without knowing that she, too, was honestly and genuinely loved; that she, too, was addressed respectfully. No doubt that letter was destined to lie in her box and lead to nothing. But none the less, I am certain that she would keep it all her life as a precious treasure, as her pride and justification, and now at such a minute she had thought of that letter and brought it with naive pride to raise herself in my eyes that I might see, that I, too, might think well of her.”
― Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Notes from Underground

Woman writing in a Moleskine Notebook, Wichita, Kansas

Woman writing in a notebook, Wichita, Kansas

Woman writing in a Moleskine Notebook, Wichita, Kansas

Woman writing in a notebook, Wichita, Kansas

Woman writing in a Moleskine Notebook, Wichita, Kansas

Woman writing in a notebook, Wichita, Kansas

I have a stack of Moleskine notebooks, going back years. In the times I didn’t have a blog – I wrote in them every day. Now, it’s more hit and miss – collections of thoughts, ideas, and stuff I want to remember. Some snippets of truth and more of lies.

It’s the slightly oily cover, the cream paper and the way that fountain pen ink feathers. A permanent part of a person’s mind – converted into reality and held there for posterity. Writing in a Moleskine notebook is a calming thing – maybe because of the way it holds the relentless advance of time at bay for a little while.

Sound of Schoolkids

The other weekend we had another Writing Marathon. We met in Klyde Warren Park and walked across to the Dallas Museum of Art. The idea was to use the paintings as inspiration.

I’ve done that in the past… writing some fiction while sitting and looking at works of art. So I did it again – started a piece of fiction using objects and themes from a handful of painting that spoke to me that day. After pages of furious scribbling I came to a stopping place, the well had run dry.

So I switched to a bit of non-fiction, writing about what I saw, felt, and heard right then… as a little bit of writerly palette cleaning, a way to keep the pen moving, and to help remember the day.

This is what I’ve typed up out of my Moleskine:

There is a sound of a group of schoolkids moving through the gallery. The chatter, the echoing around the corners, the occasional squeak of a plastic sole scraped across polished wood.

An art museum is a place designed for the eyes, but it is a unique sound collection. Close your eyes and listen for the ping of the elevator door, a distant infant cry echoing through the labyrinth, a close jingle of keys.

The guards have rubber soled leather working shoes – silent as death and strong enough to stand in all day. I imagine their feet are sore and tired when they go home at the end of their shift.
Close your eyes and you can still feel the power of the art. There is so much time trapped in the layers of oil and pigment, drowned in the waves of brushmarks.

Open your eyes and look at the color. That blue robe is over four hundred years old – still as bright as the day it was layered down.

Nicolas Mignard  French 1606-1668 - The Shepherd Faustulus Bringing Romulus and Remus to His Wife - 1654

Nicolas Mignard, French 1606-1668 – The Shepherd Faustulus Bringing Romulus and Remus to His Wife – 1654 (detail)

Stand in front and extend your hand (not too close!) and feel yourself standing in the spot and position of the artist – though he had no electric light, no air conditioning. Next to the painting, on a little card, is a plaque with a number… Five Hundred (let’s say).

Jacques-Louis David, French, 1748-1825, Apollo and Diana Attacking the Children of Niobe, 1772

Jacques-Louis David, French, 1748-1825, Apollo and Diana Attacking the Children of Niobe, 1772

Pull out your phone, go to the indicated website (the museum has free WiFi, of course) and type in the number. (The museum posts this web address, dma.mobi – that contains so much information in a mobile interface… this is truly the best of all possible worlds). There, in your palm, appears a portrait of the artist – the tiny tinny speakers (forgot your earbuds again, didn’t you) speaks to you – a famous art historian lectures on those ancient times.

The glowing screen in your palm now changes every few seconds with a new image – a series of paintings by the same artist. This is too much. You can’t help but wonder what those ancient geniuses with their candles and oil paints would think of the tiny glowing screens. Sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

Mojo Nola

Banjo Player on Royal Street in the French Quarter, New Orleans

(Click for a larger and more detailed image on Flickr)

I only had a dollar left
and I gave it to the
Beautiful Girl
Playing the Banjo
on Royal and singing a simple sweet country tune.

My little dollar joined the sparse cluster of crumpled green in her banjo case on the sidewalk
– I saw there was a kazoo in there too
What else is there to spend your last dollar on?
Except for bus fare home. So it looks like a long walk on some sore and tired feet.
I wanted to take her picture and I didn’t want to do that without leaving at least a dollar.

I would have left more, but, like I said, that was my last. I wonder if it would mean anything to her – the banjo playing girl – if she knew it was my last dollar?

In the St. Louis Cemetery #1 there is a vault that was donated and is dedicated to the musicians of New Orleans that can’t afford to pay for their own burial.

Banjo Player on Royal Street, French Quarter, New Orleans

(Click for a larger and more detailed version on Flickr)

Writing in my Moleskine Journal outside the Mojo Lounge, Decatur Street, French Quarter, New Orleans

(Click for a larger and more detailed version on Flickr)

Plaque on the Musician’s Tomb, Saint Louis Cemetery #1, New Orleans.

Got Pupusa?

It was Thursday and time for the second of the Patio Sessions down at Sammons Park in front of the Winspear Opera House. Last week I took a lot of photographs (here, here, and here) and didn’t feel like doing that again. Viewing life through a viewfinder is not the best way to see things.

I did take my camera, just in case, but I loaded my Kindle, Moleskine, and selected a vacuum filler Parker “51” with a fine nib and Parker Quink black ink (my best note-taking combination – the “51” has an amazingly smooth fine nib, perfect for the Moleskine) and decided ahead of time I’d get something to eat from a food truck, commandeer a table, and relax – read and write a little.

I left work and caught the DART train downtown from the station near my office. The weather was cloudy and windy, but overall not too bad for Texas. I was happy when I saw they had a food truck that, not only had I never eaten at before – but it was also one I had wanted to check out. I was glad I at least brought my camera… have to get photos of food trucks.

It was Dos Paisano’s – a fairly new truck that promised Salvadorian fare. I’m a big fan because it is food that is similar to what I ate in High School in Nicaragua (I love banana-wrapped tamals)… plus pupusas.

Jacob Metcalf opened with a mellow acoustic set. The sound system is such that the music can be heard clearly from anywhere under the massive Winspear sunscreen so I went ahead and bought a pupusa plate and a bottle of water and settled down on a table, listening to the music and reading, just as I had planned. The food was very good. Now I need to track that truck down and try their plantains, yucca, and tamals.

The second musical act was The O’s – a neo-country duo singing upbeat folksy music using a banjo, a slide guitar, a foot pounded bass drum, and a bit of a goofy-corny sense of humor. I enjoyed them a lot though they had to deal with the pealing church bells, just like last week.

The crowd was quite a bit bigger than last week and the concert was sort of impaired by a large group of little kids that kept running around the reflecting pool, yelling and splashing. I know I shouldn’t complain – my kids were as big a pain as anyone’s – but I know how it works. To a parent there is nothing as attractive as their own children and nothing as amusing as their antics. You could see the proud mothers and fathers smiling broadly at the edges of the reflecting pool, out for an evening with their blankets, plastic wine glasses, and massive strollers. What is tough to do is to constantly remind yourself that not everybody thinks the way you do – as a matter of fact, nobody else thinks your kids are cute. You’re the only ones.

The Patio Sessions are not too long, at seven thirty everything was over. I gathered up my stuff and caught the train back home.

I have been working through this huge ebook of noir short stories, The Best American Noir of the Century. I kept reading on the train, coursing through a fascinating bit of fiction by Harlan Ellison called Mefisto in Onyx. Even with Ellison’s occasional overwrought chunk of prose here and there it’s a crackerjack story and sucked me in enough to have me look up and realize I had gone a stop too far. I had to get off the train and wait for another southbound to get me back to where my car was. I don’t like waiting around on a dark train station platform that I’m not familiar with… but there was some illumination from a streetlight and at least I was able to finish the harrowing story.

And it was very good.

The Dos Paisano's Salvadorian/Mexican fusion food truck. Look for it in your neighborhood.

Got Pupusa?

Ordering food from the Dos Paisano's Truck.

My pupusa order with a lot of red and (spicy) green sauce.

Also in the photo is my Kindle and its custom made case.

The top half of the Dos Paisano's Menu.

The bottom half of the menu. I'm going to have to go back.

I like that this song mentions Tietze Park – a Dallas sort of place. My bus drove by there on the way to work for years. I would look for its signature bent over tree  (I think it’s a “kneeling” bois d’ arc )every day. It was voted the best place to break up in the city. There’s even a song about it  by the band Elkhart- video performed at the Belmont, of course.

The amazing view of Downtown Dallas from the Belmont.

Sunday Snippets

I always carry a notebook and a selection of fountain pens around with me. I would fill Moleskines up too fast, and could not afford them, so I carry Staples Bagasse composition books that I buy by the stack when they are on sale.

A writing teacher once said that ideas float around in the air like little feathers. If you don’t grab it and write it down right away, it will float away on the breeze. Somebody else will catch your idea. That makes sense – many times I’ve recognized something in print that had floated through my head untouched sometime in the recent past. My idea had escaped and been captured, pinned down on paper, by somebody else. He also said not to safe your ideas – don’t be cheap with them – but go ahead and use them as soon as you can. No matter how brilliant you think they are, there will be more to take their place – and these will be better.

So I work hard at grabbing whatever is at hand, usually my notebook, when the ideas come to me and scribble away. These can take a lot of forms – but today I’m talking about little scenes, what I call snippets. These are not fully formed stories or even coherent scenes, but little pieces of story, culled from experience, memory, and mysterious imagination – all mixed together.

These appear in my head, I write them down, and maybe I’ll use them in a story someday. But, for no reason at all, I think I’ll type a few of them down here.

Keep in mind these are completely raw first drafts – they should not be read by the public, not yet, but it is what it is.

Today, I have four. Two each started by two single objects – shopping carts and bamboo.

First, Bamboo

Men with a hacksaw

I am not generally afraid, even in the big city, and I have spent a lot of time running on the Crosstown Trail without any real fear. But there was that one day, cold and drizzly, with a thick fog rolling in, when I was out there by myself and I began to get a little worried. I came around that bend, you know where it is, where it runs through all that thick brush. It’s like a green tunnel and even though it’s in the middle of the city, it is so quiet and dark it feels like you are out in the middle of nowhere. That’s why I like it so much. But that day…

There were these two guys walking along. They were young and fit, muscular, and menacing. I immediately saw them, luckily before they saw me. They were walking off the trail and when I saw them they were looking into the woods and gesturing. They were looking intently, like they were seeking something or someone. But what really caught my eye is that one of them was carrying a hacksaw – a big, heavy one. It looked like an odd but effective weapon and I realized they were going after something they had spotted in the brush.

I felt my heart skip and a knot pop into my belly and I immediately jumped off of the trail and slid down into this little ditch where they could not see me. Before I left the condo I had decided to leave my phone to charge and so I didn’t have it with me. I hugged the damp, cold earth on the side of the ditch, hoping the two men didn’t see where I was hiding.

I could hear them talking excitedly, but the fog damped the sound and I couldn’t understand. Then, I heard the sawing. It was loud and hollow sounding and my heart kept beating faster and faster. I didn’t hear any screams, so their victim must be dead already. My mind raced with horror as the awful sound kept going. There would be a pause every now and then, and I could hear the men babbling, then it would start back up.

I was about to go crazy with panic when the sawing finally stopped. But then, to my horror, I could hear the footsteps of the men as they walked off and I realized they were going down the trail right towards the spot where I was hidden. When they reached my location, they could look down into the ditch right at me.

As they approached I gathered my feet underneath myself and tried to brace my crouch. My only hope of escape if they saw me was to spring up onto the trail and bolt away as fast as I could. I am a strong runner and hopefully, with the element of surprise, I could escape.

The second I completed my preparations, they were upon me. Now that they were closer, I could understand what they were saying and as I tensed, I heard.

“Oh, these are just perfect.”

“Yes, we can coat them with urethane, not the glossy stuff, it’ll look cheap.”

“And they’ll support the shelves and will have just the look we want.”

I looked up and there the two were. One still had his saw and the other was carrying a load of bamboo under his arms. I remembered, there was a grove of bamboo around the corner… they were cutting bamboo for bookshelves.

There was a loud clatter as the bamboo hit the concrete trail. They had seen me. I was covered with mud and loose leaves from my slide down and must had scared the two men to death to find me crouched in the ditch like that.

There was nothing for me to do but to go on with my plan. I sprung out, stumbled a bit, then picked up speed. I could hear one man screaming as I ran as fast as I could. I looked over my shoulder and saw the other one sprinting to the blue-lighted emergency phone a few feet back down the trail. Why hadn’t I thought about that.

I doubled my speed. Now, instead of racing the two men with the saw, I was trying to get out of there before the cops arrived. I didn’t want to have to explain all that.

Hidden Grove

There is a grove of bamboo off to the side, across a narrow grassy lot, on Peter Scranton’s drive to work. He looked at that bamboo twice a day, about three hundred days a year for fifteen years. “That’s what, about nine thousand times,” Pete said to himself.

Pete had read a book about gardening and the author strongly discouraged planting bamboo because of its unstoppable fecundity and tendency to spread. Once it was in the ground, it was impossible to stop.

The stand that Pete saw would advance a little across the vacant lot, but then retreat. Pete would see bright yellow shoots sprout up with amazing speed. These would always disappear in a few days. Someone unseen was hacking the vegetation back.

One day his car blew a head gasket in a cold rain – rapidly clattering to a steaming stop. He was so discouraged he found himself abandoning the useless old wreck and striding across the little vacant lot. When he reached the familiar stand of bamboo he pushed the strong but yielding stalks apart and buried himself.

He watched his car being towed away and his wife and coworkers walking along the road as he peered out of the thick bamboo. After a day, nobody came by any more, though he saw someone he didn’t know stop and nail a poster with a photograph printed on it on a nearby wooden power pole. He supposed it was a picture of himself, though he didn’t recognize it.

When he was thirsty he found he could bent the bamboo stalks and get a little water to run into his mouth. After the first day he was hungry, but after three days the hunger left him. He watched the new shoots come up in the lot and when the workmen came to cut them back they spotted him lurching around back in the grove, making the bamboo sway, even though there was no breeze.

They had to cut most of the grove down to flush him out. They took Pete away for observation.

Within a season, the bamboo had grown back. You couldn’t tell that anything had happened there.

Next… Shopping Carts

Carts in the Pond

Sometimes, when the weather was warm, he liked to sit beside this little pond in a park near his house. The bank all around the pond was steep but there was a spot where a tree had died and left a flat area ringed by a rock wall that was a particularly comfortable place to sit.

He was sitting there looking across the pond where a sidewalk ran when he spotted a couple of teenagers pushing a shopping cart. There was a grocery store a block away and he could see a single shopping bag in the center of the cart. When they reached the middle of the part of the sidewalk that ran along the pond, one kid reached into the cart and pulled out the bag. The other simply turned the metal cart and pushed it down the steep bank where it hit the water and with a soft hiss, quickly sank beneath the surface. Once it was gone the two kids kept walking, now carrying the bag in their hands. It didn’t look very big.

He was upset at this. He knew the grocery store was losing money and would soon close. The neighborhood would be hurt by the lack of shopping and the image of the big empty box on the corner, the vacant parking lot. Those carts were expensive and those kids were one reason nothing good ever lasted any more.

He thought about yelling something, but they were too far away. He couldn’t even chase them. By the time he rounded the pond they would be long gone. They were too far away for him to even recognize who they were – if he saw them again, he wouldn’t even know it.

So he sat there for a little longer and then walked home. He never went back to the pond again, preferring to stay home and watch television.

Racing With the Wind

Roger and Annette had to rush to the van from the basketball court. Annette ran with her oldest daughter’s hand in her own while Roger carried their young son, barely more than a toddler, in his arms. A huge black angry cloud was building rapidly to the west and the boiling thunderstorm was beginning to kick up a cold fast wind.

As they piled into the van the humid heat of the Texas summer was shoved aside by a blast of cold storm outflow air. The second they settled in, locking the toddler into his car seat and making sure the girl had her belt fastened the wind rose to a howling gale. Dust and leaves rose in a shooting cloud and the van rocked from the power of the wind.

To watch their daughter’s game they had had to park across the street in the lot of a small shopping center. It was anchored by a big hardware store and the wind suddenly began grabbing the hundred shopping carts piled out front and sent them shooting across the lot like rockets, right toward Roger and Annette’s van.

They flew in a wheeled phalanx, upright and racing, some swerving a bit due to a wonky wheel, but most moving with amazing speed. Roger and Annette could do nothing but watch them come. Most were driving in rumbling mass to the south of the van, where they watched them pass, hit the curb, and then tumble out into the street.

A few veered to the left and came close to the van, but thanks to a lucky act of providence, none actually hit them, although some only missed by inches. Roger, Annette, and their daughter sat there helpless, and felt a great relief when the sudden windstorm died down and was replaced by fat, pelting rain. They felt very lucky they had not been hit, though it only would have been a little dent at the worst.

The toddler, of course, thought the whole thing was a blast and laughed as hard as he could as he watched the shopping carts fly by.

What I learned this week, March 16, 2012

From the “I really wish I had thought of that,” department. Of course, the music is the “American Beauty” theme – but the fabric looks better than a plastic bag.

When I watch this, I think of what I know about chaotic systems and boundary conditions and I wonder if a setup like this could be designed to be “stable” – in that the fabric would continue to move in a random way, but staying within the boundary of the circle of fans – for an indeterminate time… like years. Imagine a museum exhibit that simply did this, day after day, week after week, for a year. I like to think of it still thrashing around in the dark, after the museum has closed, still dancing in inanimate beauty with nobody watching. Or, even better, I imagine a lonely museum security guard, at four in the morning, sitting there, looking at it, dreaming his own personal unique dreams.

And two pieces of cloth, plus my favorite Sigur Ros tune.


Really cool new Moleskine product.

Moleskine Messages – postal notebooks.

How do you pronounce Moleskine anyway?

And the correct answer.


More Moleskine hacks – How to set up a mini Moleskine for maximum productivity.


8 million hits – so you might have already seen this…. but even if you did, trust me, it’s worth watching again.


I loved Hee-Haw in high school. It was on in Managua, dubbed into Spanish (except for the songs and music). Trust me, Hee-Haw does not translate well. Still, I’d forgotten how much I loved this little ditty until I stumbled across it on a blog the other day.




Leadbelly’s The Titanic


Ten Tips on Maintaining an Organized LIfe