Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Circles and Doctor Who

Headnote: His life? In the doctor’s own words: 
“The story of a daft old man who stole a magic box and ran away.”

Hello Reader,
Got memory?

Circles. My planet circles the sun and my life circles time. We meet people again, but we don’t always remember them.

In Canada, I abruptly left home after finishing grade 11. In mid-autumn, I wandered into a community centre and met someone I hadn’t seen since grade three. That’s a lot of circles past. Of course from childhood to adulthood our bodies had changed, but we still recognized each other—how cool to meet in a big city, miles away from our rural elementary school. She was selling hippie crafts, while her longhaired boy friend mutely glared at me.

I went away feeling that something significant had happened—but who could I tell? Who, on these mean streets of the naked city? Easy: I found a notebook, started a journal. 

Circles. It was Joni Mitchel who sang, back then, how we are all caught up in the circle game. “And the seasons, they go round and round…” Last month a lady new to my Free Fall Friday group, Suzanne, wrote of celebrating her wedding anniversary by hiking where she had hiked 30 years before. There were the same red rocks. Of course she remembered them: It had been a magical time.

And me, I had a magical time at university. There I was, in same world so many of my book heroes had known. Engineers in jungle outposts, or officers on boring route marches, would remind each other of science, quote poetry at each other, and refer to literature. “Do you remember your Milton, Captain?” (“Better so reign in hell than to serve in heaven”) I just loved it when my chaplain, on being asked to report during at a university meeting, quoted Bartleby Scrivener. 

Over 30 circles ago, when Suzanne was named Sue, and all of our campus acquaintances were single, I had known her. You may wonder: How could I still remember her, many circles later, when she appeared one morning at Free Fall Friday? Easy: From my journal. Not by re-reading it, but from having written in the first place. You see, back in the 19th century Abraham Lincoln had told his law partner, Herndon, that by writing and reading out loud, thereby engaging his senses: visual, auditory and physical, he could inscribe memories into his brain. As Abe put it, “like etching on a steel plate.”  Just so. As for me, it helps that university was a marvellous place where I walked in daily gratitude. Just like Sue walking past red rocks, when she was first married. (No, she doesn’t remember me, and yes, I have my precious degree)

Circles. The planet Earth revolves, we are all circling around time, and meanwhile, on the planet Gallifrey, the Time Lords have a system of writing that is not like wedges of cuneiform, but like circles. Coincidence? I think not. 

Eh? You’ve missed the references? Cuneiform was the writing of Mesopotamia, on clay tablets, before they imported Egyptian papyrus from the marshes of the Nile. Gallifrey is in my computer spell checker, as is that time machine called the Tardis, that blue telephone box owned by the mad man on the BBC’s Doctor Who. Unlike Gallifrey, the Tardis is also in my Oxford dictionary as a proper noun. As for “blue box,” that’s searchable on the Internet.  Cool, eh?

As we all circle through time you might well ask, “What is the meaning of life?” I don’t know, but I can say that Paul Graham, a web-essayist and computer-millionaire, says he spends his money on experiences rather than material possessions. Makes sense. I keep a journal to etch in my experiences. Call me a nerd, but I’d rather experience watching  Doctor Who on TV than own a widget. I’m so glad I experienced going to London… and going on a Doctor Who walking tour.

Two folks from Saskatchewan, who had been to the same prairie conventions as I, were on the tour. On a bridge over the Thames they had me use their camera while they held up a green Roughriders flag. Of course they held up their sonic screwdrivers, too.

A week later I went on a walking tour for Jack the Ripper. As three of us gathered for the tour—the other two were from Leeds and Birmingham—we talked; we discovered we were all “Whovians”: fans of “the doctor.” And when our guide showed up, a fun young blond with a little child at home, you can imagine our delight when she arrived wearing blue Tardis earrings! 

Of course I would have gone to the Who Shop anyways, but our Jack the Ripper guide said to be sure not to miss it, as there is a BBC props museum concealed in the back. For charity. You enter through the Tardis, with the inside walls filled with circles, of course, and you discover, of course, that “it’s bigger on the inside.” I’m happy to say I had my picture taken using a key to the Tardis, and then stepping through the door. The donated props included three Daleks, and the costume worn by Vincent Van Gogh. Later I picked up Van Gogh stuff in the National Gallery at Trafalgar Square. 

I regret to say that two items I had crossed the wide Atlantic to find were NOT, alas, in the Who Shop, (Nor at Forbidden Planet) but at least I could buy some T-shirts and CDs. My wall space at home is all filled up, so I didn’t buy a black and white portrait of a young Victorian lady over the caption, “Run, you clever boy, and remember me.” Of her line, if you know the scene, you could say: “It was beautiful, and it was sad.” 

As for T-shirts: Alas, a French T-shirt of the soufflĂ© girl in her red dress, “C’est fille impossible,” was one size too big for me. I deeply sympathize with how she courageously held off all those Daleks, for so long, all alone. If it were me, I would go mad.

And now, as I am circling through the void, what keeps me sane are the shows I watch, the people I see and the folks I touch through my blog.

Sean Crawford
Cherishing my experiences 

In Ian Brown’s (journalist, married, with children) recent memoir-diary of the year he was age sixty, he notes that he had somehow lost track of two decades, although he wasn’t quite sure which two. I can relate. 

As a partial remedy for “lost decades” I like the Simplicity Journal. It comes with a ribbon bookmark, and a pen loop, complete with pen. Each two page spread includes a quarter page with lines for writing: Something that touched my heart; Something Good; Something Funny; Lesson Learned; Challenges; and Thoughts for the day.

Music of Doctor Who
Fans of the doctor make Youtube clips of TV scenes with music. 

In a song, the purpose of a chorus is like having a TV news anchor: To have the comfort of returning to something known. When I’m shaving, I like to hear the following (linked) three videos, in succession. Maybe for you these repetitive songs, without any chorus, would seem awfully boring. But not to me, not when I am deeply moved by the episodes the songs are from.

* “Abigail’s Song” by Welsh singer Katherine Jenkins, live stage version. She played Abigail in a Christmas episode. It’s actually NOT the version I play, but for mine the fan video clips might reveal too much plot to you.

* “The Long Song” with still photos from the episode where religious people sing. Their song had been constantly sung for generations to keep a mighty god asleep… but in the end they sing to wake the god up! The sad, defiant words at the end were by the doctor, about his long, lonely life as the last of his kind. He often tries to have human companions with him so he doesn’t go mad… (also to make sure he doesn’t become emotionally closed off and dead to the universe) 

*In Latin, here’s the song the gentle Ood sing for the tenth doctor to honour and comfort him at the end of his story.

…bonus Youtube: If you don’t mind stills that reveal the episode, then here is the sympathetic song “Chances,” performed by Athlete, with lyrics, from the episode where they give some aide and comfort to the greatest painter who ever lived. Don’t worry, the episode doesn’t show Vincent’s untimely death, but commenters who have seen the episode say they cry.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

A Little Humour

Hello Reader,
Got Humour?

I thought today I would attempt a humour piece, because I need the practise.

… At work and leisure I try to do the Right Thing, like everybody in those books says to do. 

Well, one time I was a young man, with no job, just a poor kid from the farm, off in the big city. How to get work? Well, of course, all the self-help books say the Right Thing is obvious: Just have Enthusiasm and really Believe In Myself. Oh, and have a marketing gimmick.

What could I do for work? Being from the farm I knew how to shovel manure, and how to have a strong back, but that was about all. So naturally, I went off to that clunky office building at the zoo. Once there, I suppose I should have gone to “Human Resources.” Actually, back on the farm, we called it “Personnel.” But hey, the books said to believe in myself, so bypassing Personnel I went down a little hallway to see the “Admin-istrative Ass-istant,” what we farmers call the “secretary,” because she had a desk right outside the door of the president himself: El Prezidente. The big cheese.

The Admin Ass was older than my mother, looking like an frowning dried up crab apple. All pumped up with enthusiasm, I shouted, “I’m here for a job!” She seemed unimpressed at the news, looked at me over her glasses, and asked,
“Have you a degree in marine biology?
“In land biology?”
“In microbiology?”
“Then we can’t use you. No openings. Sorry.”
“Oh…” Then I summoned my enthusiasm: “Well, can-I-see-the-president?”

I could see his door, marked “President.” I was looking right at it, like a pointer hunting dog. The secretary noticed the direction of my gaze, and repeated, “No.” But I remembered the books said to be persistent, so I narrowed my eyes and leaned forward, just like the best pointer would. As I had hoped, the secretary noticed. Too bad she added, “I said ‘no.’” I was leaning still further, about to fall over, when the presidential door opened, and the Man himself walked out. 

I thought to myself, ‘Quick, what would Horatio Alger do?’ Obvious the lad would show his pluck by following Mr. Big down the hall… so I did, right at the man’s heels. It was a short dead end hall with a small door at the end. No time to use my marketing gimmick. Quick—What would Alger say?

“Sir, if you give me a chance, you will never regret it!… I-would-be-proud to-be-a-member of-the-zoo!” The great man never stopped walking—he seemed in a hurry—but said over his shoulder, “Can you do marine biology?
“Land biology?”
“Uh… umm…” I thought for a second. “No.”
“Then young man,” he said now at the end of the hall, reaching for the door handle, “I can’t help you.” I would have followed him through the door, but the room inside was only about the size of an outhouse, complete with toilet seat. I jammed my foot in the door!

“Sir,” I shouted desperately, “I have a strong back!”
He grimaced. “You’re hired! Now get-your-foot-out-of-the-door.”
When I went back down the hall and told the secretary my good news, I saw her show expression for the first time.

*** *** ***

Many weeks of happy employment went by, with me using my strong back. Have you seen those nice big rocks lining the path to the Safari restaurant? Those are mine. Pretty good, eh?

One day I was putting rocks along the path to the gorilla cage —I mean, “enclosure—” and I was kneeling and tamping a stone into place —that’s a zoo word, “tamping—” when I looked up, and standing over me was the president. He was holding out a square cream-coloured envelope. “Young man, I have something for you.” His envelope was the wrong size for holding money, but still, I just knew it was something special. He grimaced and said, “We have to have diversity on our board, so I’m inviting you and your partner to our board’s supper-meeting. Dress is formal.”

Wow! So after work I ran straight home to tell my dear wife. Ran down the sidewalk, that is, right along the river, as we lived in walking distance of the zoo. “Gosh!” I said, “isn’t this swell?” 

…Days later, on a fine summer evening, we walked down to the Safari room, she wearing her formal black dress, me wearing my Sunday-go-to-meeting clothes. First person we saw, outside the dinning hall, was a stranger in a nice business suit, rather like mine. I whispered to the wife, “Everybody’s dressed up, like us.” But I was wrong. Turned out the man was a waiter. We entered the big dinning room, with the big long table, and—Oh my Lord! The ladies all had black dresses, like my wife, but the men—they all had tuxedos. Drat! Foo-ey! Blast! I’m always the last to know.

We found our name plates and took our seats. I kind of sank down into mine, feeling small, and let my wife do all the talking. The lady next to her was a microbiologist, the fellow across from us said he was a marine biologist. The man next to me was busy talking to his neighbour, but I think I overheard he was a land biologist. I just sank still further into my seat. If anybody asked, maybe I could say I was a geologist, with a specialty in tamping. 

During the supper I couldn’t remember to do any Right Things from all those self-help books on How To Socialize. I just sank down still further into my seat, and avoided eye contact. My wife was fine, I could hear her and the lady beside her: They were comparing their tattoos.

During the business part, the coffee was keeping me awake, …suddenly I didn’t need any coffee anymore. —Suddenly the president was looking right at me. “You’re from a local farm. Maybe the zoo should have an exhibit of the local ecology, eh? Stand up, and take a minute or two, to give us your thoughts on what we could include.” So I stood, said ‘gulp!’ and ‘erk!’ …and I tried to do the Right Thing. The rest of the evening was a blur. Things only came back into focus when at last my wife and I were walking home.

*** *** ***

…Now, of course, not just at work but in my leisure time too, I try to do things right. As leisure, my wife and I both attend a weekly toastmasters club to learn public speaking. In fact, this includes impromptu “one to two minute” speeches after being given a surprise topic. For this we always had an “evaluator:” a person supposed to give us, and the rest of the listening club, feedback on how we had just done with our “gestures,” our “vocal variety” and other things too. Was “supposed to.” And sometimes, a listener in the club would get as angry as a witch, (rhymes with b-itch) angry: “because the evaluator “merely” retold what the speaker just said!”

That evening, as we walked home, with my brain all blanked out, it was a no-brainer to ask my wife for her evaluation of my talk. I spoke up as soon as we were clear of the zoo. “Dear,” I said, “forget the vocal variety, forget the gestures. All I want to know is: What the heck did I say? Did I sound like an idiot?” 

She said I did fine, really fine. I relaxed. And then she cheered me up by asking me to do my special marketing thing: So I did—We walked home along the river with me singing to her, in my very special opera voice…

The end

Sean Crawford
At the zoo,
Which is indeed by the river,
Where I have a membership,
Which gives me free parking,
Winter, 2017

~No, I don’t sing opera. In fact, at work, if I’m around others, I would purposely sing like a kid. But then I was “outed.” Someone was hiding behind a tree to smoke. She heard me pushing someone’s wheelchair while singing like Bing Crosby, and then she told everyone I have “the voice of an angel.”

~Horatio Alger is like Pollyanna: If you read many self help books you soon learn those names. I haven’t read any novels about Alger yet, but I sure enjoyed Pollyanna. To me her story was just as good as Sarah Crew’s, and better than Ann’s. (of Green Gables) 

~Speaking of formal suppers, sometimes a medieval feast would include peacock as a delicacy. Last week when the zoo guys were moving the peacocks to their winter digs, once of them adventurously flew right over the wall of the lion’s enclosure. That day some lion ate better than I did.

~Here on the prairies we see gophers everywhere, such as along the town railroad tracks and underneath multi-lane pedestrian overpasses. Maybe that’s why there’s none on exhibit at the zoo. But at the London Zoo, they have something children like: Gopher tunnels you can crawl through! Complete with a few rainproof little domes where you can pop up and look around, just like a real gopher.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Abuse Science

I must confess the stress and dangers of the times have left an abiding sense of doubt and insecurity in my mind.
H. G. Wells, at the conclusion of The War of the Worlds.

… and I started seeing therapists when I was 18,19, and it wasn’t until I was in my mid-30s that someone used the word abuse to describe what had happened. So, once it was named everything shifted.
From a CBC radio transcript regarding sibling abuse. (see footnote)

Hello Reader,
Got abuse knowledge?

Sometimes you don’t need to know the theory for you to be practical. Our ancestors thought electricity was like a water current. It’s not, it’s electrons, but that didn’t stop them from lighting up their cities, and making frog legs kick.

They thought human nerve tissue was like solid electrical wires. Actually, the nerves have numerous gaps where particles are released and go across. But that didn’t stop good medical work.

Sometimes you don’t even need science theories. Hey, would you like to abuse your cult followers, so you become a millionaire? Science has studied some cults, and come up with practical observations of how they work. (Such as deprivation of protein and sleep) But the first cult leaders had no science

Out on the mean streets, to my knowledge, there are no learned texts on how to abuse a stable of women in order to make them controllable… but pimps seem to be doing quite well without any science. 

One morning my housemate came down the hall telling me she must have gotten a black eye in her sleep. A lie. She was “abused into thinking” that being struck by her boyfriend-pimp was OK, even if this was also something to be hidden from me. She later became a streetwalker. I remember her crying while saying she didn’t understand, just didn’t know how she had been manipulated by her boyfriend into turning her first trick, but somehow it happened. Then more tricks. Eventually, “we lost her” because her pimp transferred her to a distant city, to have her far away from any emotional support from we who knew her. This is standard practise, but not something a vulnerable girl is going to find out from her local library.

I don’t know of any scientific proof or medical explanation for how abuse could conceivably, possibly, have any lasting effects whatsoever—but maybe I don’t need to know. What prompted this blog essay was a man writing in the essay collection This I Believe that his father (whom he went fishing with weekly) would strike him in the face, and that he lacked self confidence… but he didn’t draw a bold connecting line between those two points. I was angry, not at him but at his surrounding society, our society where people don’t want to connect the dots. 

Although I am here using “abuse” in the context of human against human, while noting the lack of applicable scientific theories, it is instructive to consider “alcohol abuse.” The highly trained medical establishment, back when my parents were children, had barely made a start in creating knowledge for curing the scourge of alcoholism… and then some untrained stockbroker created the program of 12—Steps of recovery. The 12—Steps worked much better than the efforts of doctors with Ph.Ds, despite the fact that nobody knew why. Some years ago my university chaplain said to me, speaking theoretically, as neither one of us were an alcoholic, “You know the problem with university guys like us? We want to know why, know exactly how the program works, before we are willing to get started.”

As I see it, our society doesn’t “get it”: doesn’t realize “why” abuse has consequences, and doesn’t even realize how little it knows about the gruesome, monstrous effects of abuse. Lacking a scientific theory, not knowing how abuse works, we use our alleged “common sense.” If only walls could talk I might hear talk about a boy or girl:  “Abuse doesn’t mean anything.” … “She shouldn’t be affected.” … “It never happened, and anyways, she deserved it.”

Without science we may believe, or pretend to ourselves we believe, “Once she grows up and leaves our Abusive home she should instantly snap out of it, and be a fine credit to our family.” Actually, I’m making that up: Because a family wouldn’t use the “A-word.” No, it seems to me that a father, mother or sibling who is weak enough to abuse, is also too weak to admit the effects of abuse, and too weak to feel guilt or shame: Easier to blame the victim. A family voice that sounds falsely strong from expressing anger and scorn may conceal a pathetic weakness. “My wife is so stupid, she makes me so mad, that I have to hit her.” In other words, blaming and thinking “she is so stupid” can happen after the first abuse, not before.

Decades ago, society made a huge breakthrough with a phrase for raising consciousness: “blaming the victim.” That sure opened a lot of windows! My concern is when victims of abuse blame themselves. My concern is when, without science, they come to minimize, to think “nothing very bad” happened: Thinking that, in fact, they should instantaneously be as fully functional as anyone who was never abused. And then feel guilty. I say: “Come on, get serious. Don’t you think recovery will take at least a day or two? A week or two? Seasons? Years?” 

I can’t scientifically prove it, but this I believe: It is natural for an abuse victim to lack confidence in the world, and to lack confidence in other people, too. 

Society, as embodied in that “mythical successful businessman,” might claim that phrases like “self-esteem” and “recovery from abuse” and “positive thinking” is woo-woo southern California nonsense. Strange, then, how that same businessman will evaluate job candidates for self-esteem, and insist his salesforce have positive thinking. In other words, at some level, we all know. We might abuse our children by saying, “If you don’t stop crying, I’ll give you something to cry about!” but we know. When we bully, we know. We just don’t want to admit it. I’m amazed at the ten-year high school reunion where a grown adult didn’t think his high school victim would still remember, let alone have any hard feelings— and I’m disgusted

I’m not going to wait for stupid scientists to finally do their research. No. I think it’s quite practical right now to “act as if” verbal, emotional and physical abuse—three separate things—are like a blow against a person, just as much as the onrushing blow of concussion from artillery. 

Regardless of whether a blow is physical or figurative, it still happens. To quote a former soldier, now back in civilian life:
“… I felt horrible… I lost my self-confidence and stopped believing in myself. I also constantly panicked during conversations, and afterwards I always felt guilty.” (p. 208)

“My goal for the future is to get better and to became a “better person,” not to feel guilty anymore, to be calmer and relaxed.” (p. 213)

(As reported in When the War Never Ends
The voices of military members with ptsd and their families
By Leah Wizelman)

Well soldier, me too. …I’m much better now…

Sean Crawford
On the lone prairie,

Someone asks me: How do I know if was abused, or if, these days, I am being abusive to others?
Easy: Anything that is not nurturing is abusive.
“Ya but Sean, isn’t there a vast middle ground?”
Sean: “No.” 

~The adult former bully is quoted in my essay of innocence, Saving Tomorrow Land archived August 2015

~H.G. Wells is quoted in my PTSD essay, Poetics of H.G.Wells, archived November 2015

~The soldier is quoted in my book announcement, posted as Voices of PTSD, archived June 2012

~That first trick? My housemate and her boyfriend had visited a prairie city three hours away, across the cold barren plains, and then the boyfriend told her they needed cash for the fare home.

~Here’s a link where someone turned abuse and complex PTSD into a science fiction novel. If the cover looks a little ugly, well, it’s an ugly topic.

~What I loved about my self-help group, where we mainly looked normal and had jobs and marriages, was how we could tell each other stories society would never believe, and we would believe each other. …Otherwise I might still feel like poor lonely Sarah Connor in the scene where she jumps over the desk screaming, “It happens!”

~Not sibling rivalry, not just bullying, but abuse: Here’s a link for a CBC radio program, with transcript, about the horror of sibling abuse. It happens.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Cheap Hotels are Fun

Hello Reader,
Got a hotel with character?

Recently we were tossing back some drinks, and, between other stories, people liked hearing me talk about “cheap hotels I have known, in cities right here in Alberta.” To me, here on the great plains, a town is a “city” if it has a liberal arts college or a public transit system.

Come to think of it, I did once stay in a cheap hotel right here in my home town. I wasn’t exactly a student myself, while I was volunteering with our university student newspaper, the Gauntlet, but I was an eager reporter. We were hosting a Canadian University Press conference for student journalists of western Canada. Turns out the Bowness Hotel was the cheapest conference hotel our business manager could find. When you came in out of the wind, into the hall next to the door into the bar, you faced a prominent sign: No helmets or colours. Surely to keep rival biker gangs from smashing each other with their lids. 

I was sure the sign meant biker colours, not street gangs wearing bandanas. As a volunteer active journalist, I would have known if we had those neighbourhood gangs like on TV. My editor and I were mystified, the next year, when a young survivor of a bear attack, who wore a bandana as a head scarf to cover up his scars, was denied admission to a bar. (For wearing “colours,” like in Los Angeles.)

As for my typical student hijinks, I remember, that weekend, two of us climbing onto the roof and changing the lettering on a sign. Meanwhile, other students were angry at a big sign in the hallway with a long detailed list of fines for an exotic dancer, fines for every little thing, such being late for waiting to go on stage. The manager tried to tell us they were “low lifes" who needed such fines, but we were not convinced. As things turned out, years later I was to live with a dancer: She was not a low life; she helped me until I got back on my feet. (A lady in my Toastmasters club was once a dancer, too) 

Visiting Lethbridge, I wanted to fork out the big bucks, I swear. Because the longest railway bridge in the British Commonwealth goes along the Oldman River coulee (canyon) right past two big side-by-side high-rise hotels. How could I resist a chance to see the train come in, during a rosy dawn, through my window? But when I got to the lobby of the closest high rise, I found the place was full of people in nice Sunday-go-to-meeting clothes, all wearing big name tags. Hoping against hope, I tried next door. Nope. I didn’t bother to ask which religion, I just cursed all churches equally. By the way, my strongest curse, here in the prairie bible belt, between gritted teeth is, “Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Deuteronomy.” 

Being a good Boy Scout, I just happened to “Be Prepared” with a list of hotels and motels from the tourist information centre from as I came up the scenic cliff drive into the city—(Note: The centre’s been removed) Luckily the hotel desk manager slid the telephone across the counter to me: Because I didn’t have enough payphone quarters to go down the list. So I phoned and phoned, and finally I found a place across town along the equivalent of Calgary’s Macleod Trail— the Mayor McGrath Trail. 

It’s queer: Unlike Calgary’s trail, in Lethbridge you can calibrate your speedometer by their multi-lane commercial road: Everybody obeys the speed limit. How refreshing. But to get there, as I was to driving through downtown, I noticed—“Hey! A hotel!” One too cheap to be included on my tourist map! But with ample parking, from past glory days, no doubt for patrons of the hotel bar: My cheap one in Edmonton had a huge bar too, but no parking lot. So I drove around the block and headed on in. 

The hotel manager gave me a tour. “As you can see, a sink in every room, toilets down the hall… and here Charlie’s taking a bath.” Charlie and the manager exchanged hello’s, and Charlie welcomed me. Such a friendly place. The bathtub room had just the one tub. Some showers were down the hall too. 

In times to come I would always stay there, and the manager got to know me, enough to remember to have my bill waiting for me in the cold dawn. Maybe I was memorable because I was the only one who would check out so early in the morning. How early? The bar hadn’t even opened yet. The place would always feel like a ghost town when I left, at a time when the only ladies on the street were earnest fresh scrubbed women without makeup. There was another hotel further up the block, but that one only rented by the month. 

It was so nice to experience the city, just like a real Lethbridge-er would. One evening downtown, around midnight, I noticed some youth standing around a street corner. Fleeting thought: “I don’t get it. Surely they’ve missed the last bus home.” Then I lifted my eyes: In just a few blocks the bungalows started. I remembered what writer David Gerrold retorted when I mentioned “downtown” in the university town of Missoula, Montana. “Missoula doesn’t have a downtown.” It all looks so different when you come from a giant-sized city. 

That Lethbridge hotel, the Alec Arms, has since become a government men’s hostel, so now I can’t stay there. Drat.

Sean Crawford
Keeping myself amused,
stuck in a fuselage,
Somewhere over the arctic,
Autumn of 2017

~Should I do a Part Two?
~Here's a link to David Gerrold's website
Defensive note:
~Yes, I know Red Deer has a college too, and should therefore be included. Well, I’ve also left out two more: Bordertown and the Capital. To reduce length. Those prairie cities can be left for a Part Two, someday.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Fonts and Chickens

“I’m not so smart. I just capitalize the first letter of every sentence so that I seem that way.” :)
Danial Godwin on his blog New Perspectives.

Hello Reader,
Got fonts for good UI, user interface?

I  once felt a deep anger, back when the World Wide Web first appeared. Do you remember? 

Back when a friend owned a book called The Mac is not a Typewriter I felt hot frustration at struggling to understand my computer’s word processing features. That feeling has faded. Meanwhile, my anger at the creators of the WWW dimly remains: Those nerds! They neglected to have each new paragraph indent. 

At the time, a new practice of not indenting, while not used for personal letters, had become normal for business correspondence, since it saved the secretaries from having to pound their typewriter space bar three times. But if you opened any real book or magazine, you could easily imagine how unattractive this practice would be to read for any length of time. What were the nerds thinking?

Did they think the Net was to be used only for short business memorandums, by folks with no attention span, by folks who—God knows why— preferred skimming to reading? For folks who don’t value a page being user friendly? I simmered and boiled: “Do they expect us all to be computer nerds?”  And no, I can’t merely do the “space bar thing” to indent, because my Word Processing function translates differently on different devices. (I’ve given up on trying to type an ampersand to show “and.”)

Another thing: The only reason our computers offer us a choice of different fonts was explained by Apple C.E.O. Steve Jobs, during his commence address at California’s Stanford University. He explained that back in his university days he had taken a calligraphy class, and so he introduced various fonts to Apple computers. And then, he said, the other computer companies had to follow Apple’s lead! —Whew, close call!

I remember, as a child in first grade, our class being led up a long staircase to the “old school” (built immediately postwar) for the first time. There we were to read a new-to-us softcover textbook the teacher was putting up on an overhead projector: The adventures of Dick and Jane. She explained to us the funny “g’s” were the same as the normal plain “g’s” we were accustomed to for our hardcover book about John and Janet. This was my first introduction to different fonts, for different purposes. 

I think the two important font words for you to know are “serif” and “sans serif.” Serif is good, like that funny g. Serif letter lines, such as the italics on this (Times New Roman) page, vary in width. You will recall from French, and from Shakespeare, (sans teeth, sans eyes) that sans means “without.” Sans serif, then, is like writing with a stick in the sand. Sans serif is O.K. for big sand writing, brief reading, and headlines, but not for long-term real reading. Serif fonts are much easier on the eyes.

How queer: Just as there’s two main typefaces, just so are there two main types of people: The types who don’t care about fonts, and the types like Steve Jobs who care very much. Hence books will often expend a page at the back solely to explain the font: Somebody at the publishing house cares. I respect that.

As for respect, there was a man who greatly admired his wife Alice. She died. He wrote a thin loving book about her. That man was Calvin Trillin, a writer for The New Yorker magazine. He wrote About Alice.

At the back of that book is the usual page headlined ABOUT THE TYPE

“This book was set in Walbaum, a typeface designed in 1810, by German punch cutter J.E. Walbaum. Walbaum’s type is more French that German in appearance. Like Bodoni, it is a classical typeface, yet its openness and slight irregularities give it a human, romantic quality.”

For a book about dear Alice, I am sure a romantic typeface was picked with care.

As for caring, I care about this blog for posting my essays. One of my joys in life is putting two subjects in the headline, separated by “and,” then writing about each, and then subtly showing how they are connected. My original inspiration for this was the old essay by Hugh MacLennan, The Shadow of Captain Bligh, that starts out with him in an easy chair hearing pretty classical music, while reading about the ugly Mutiny on the Bounty, and then suddenly realizing that both things, pretty and ugly, were going on at the same time in history. His essay braids these two topics, then MacLennan explicitly connects them at the end to suggest why we don’t have classical composers today.

My second topic is a guest fiction I think you’ll like, where the writer challenged herself to stick to 50 words. 

I call it fiction because it may have been written “in character,” or as the “real” Cindy on a cloudy day, or as showing the “everyday” Cindy. You can’t tell, and I won’t tell. You may know Cindy’s name from her comments on my blog; I know her personally as a fellow fiction writer here in Alberta. For the font I chose Helvetica, because it resembles chicken tracks.

I Don’t Give a Shit About No Chicken!
Cindy Webb Morris

The label read “humanely treated”. 
I had no wish to harm a chicken. 
But a boy’s body on a beach and a group of girls captured for sex left me with little sympathy for the chicken. 
When humans treat humans humanely and children range free, maybe I’ll change my mind.

Sean Crawford

~As regards the “user interface” of “page” users, researchers using “(geographically) split ads” for mailing coupons have shown that people respond better (mail more coupons) to ads where the paragraphs are indented. …And they especially like when you can drop a big starting letter, like in a medieval manuscript.

~Needless to say, kids are taught by their English teachers to have only one topic in their essay, with a topic sentence placed right up front, but that is because kids are kids: They need the discipline. …Later, as adults, there may be time to learn about a delayed topic sentence, inductive writing where the thesis comes last, and terms like braided and montage essays.

~I have to wonder about people who skim as a “lifestyle choice”: Do they even read the liner notes that come with their music albums? 

~If people can’t slow down to “get into” the lyrics for a song, does that mean they can’t bear to read a poem? Is that why people so seldom put — “wow, look what I found!” — a poem onto the Internet?

~My fellow writer, Rudyard Kipling, saw poetry as being such a natural part of life, that when he wrote a short story he just naturally tacked on a poem for his readers too.
I’m trying to imagine how some rich, brainy computer nerds could go years without a single poem…It does not compute.