Tuesday, March 26, 2013


DEAR MR. EGGLESTON by Greg Bottoms

"I bet you take photographs—of a light bulb in a red ceiling, a dinner table just before people sit down to eat, an old man sitting on a bed . . . . To say This is, this right here is absolutely real in space and time, irreducible and ineluctable, and I witnessed it and I captured it; I lived deeply inside of this particular now.

And when I hold your photograph, as I am doing now, I’m looking at our car in the Sears parking lot in 1976, and time has collapsed, there is no now and then, only this transitive, shifting place of memory, and life and representation and what it can mean get mixed up, and everything is a little more real than real, and you’re helping me to hold my dead father’s hand, and I’m holding it tightly, holding it now, and he’s just let one rip, and it still hangs in the air in sound and smell, and our moment of heightened awareness crumbles into laughing, laughing until tears come, and this laughing, because of a fart, is the purest expression of our love I know, captured, transformed, transferred through time, sparked into a memory, and re-imagined into new life. I was there. You made a photograph. And I was there again. What magic is worth believing in if not that, Mr. Eggleston?"

[Cover of William Eggleston's book 2 1/2. "Born and raised in Mississippi and Tennessee, William Eggleston began taking pictures during the 1960s after seeing Henri Cartier-Bresson's The Decisive Moment. In 1966 he changed from black and white to color film, perhaps to make the medium more his own and less that of his esteemed predecessors. John Sarkowski, when he was curator of photography at the Museum of Modern Art, called Eggleston the "first color photographer," and certainly the world in which we consider a color photograph as art has changed because of Eggleston."]

Two of my favorites

From the Symphony of Science series (sorry about the stupid ad):

Wish I could tattoo this on my forehead

“One thing those of you who had secure or happy childhoods should understand about those of us who did not: we who control our feelings, who avoid conflicts at all costs or seem to seek them, who are hyper-sensitive, self-critical, compulsive, workaholic, and above all survivors – we’re not that way from perversity, and cannot just relax and let it go. We’ve learned to cope in ways you never had to,” – Piers Anthony.

Monday, February 18, 2013

This stuff makes me nuts

I did, in fact, like the movie Lincoln very much. I'm not a historian - I don't think I could qualify even as an "amateur historian," but I have been finding reading and listening to American history the past few years both exciting and rewarding. It started with Battle Cry of Freedom and the Civil War remains the part of our history that I keep returning to - it still seems to me the time that defines us. So I was a little sad to think of all of the important parts of the story that got left out, but the thing about movies is that they are very limited. Limited time means limits on what can be shown. But seriously, wtf? Is there any reason at all to actually falsify the historical record when that record is unambiguous?
Joe Courtney, a Democratic congressman from Connecticut, recently wrote to Steven Spielberg to complain that “Lincoln” falsely showed two of Connecticut’s House members voting “Nay” against the 13th Amendment for the abolition of slavery . . .

Courtney is pushing for Spielberg to acknowledge the falsity in the DVD, a quest that takes on more urgency now that Spielberg has agreed to provide a DVD to every middle and high school that requests it.

Tony Kushner . . . completely rejects the idea that he has defamed Connecticut, or the real lawmakers who voted “Aye.” He said that in historical movies, as opposed to history books where you go for “a blow-by-blow account,” it is completely acceptable to “manipulate a small detail in the service of a greater historical truth. History doesn’t always organize itself according to the rules of drama. It’s ridiculous . . .

Spielberg’s production people called the National Archives in 2011 to get a copy of the original voting roll and to plumb deeply into the details of the vote on one of America’s most searing moral battles, even asking whether the vote was recorded in a bound volume or on loose ledger forms. That roll shows that the first two votes cast were “Nays” by Democratic congressmen from Illinois, Lincoln’s own state. Wasn’t that enough to show the tension? . . .

Harold Holzer, a Lincoln historian attached to the film, pointed out the mistake to Spielberg and Kushner . . . But Kushner said the director left the scene unchanged because it gave the audience “place holders,” and it was “a rhythmic device” that was easier to follow than “a sea of names.” They gave fake names to the Connecticut legislators, who were, he said, “not significant players.”

Yet The Wall Street Journal noted, “The actual Connecticut representatives at the time braved political attacks and personal hardships to support the 13th Amendment.” One, the New London Republican Augustus Brandegee, was a respected abolitionist and a friend of Lincoln. The other, the New Haven Democrat James English, considered slavery “a monstrous injustice” and left his ill wife to vote. When he said “Aye,” applause began and the tide turned . . . .

I think Spielberg should refilm the scene or dub in “Illinois” for “Connecticut” before he sends out his DVDs and leaves students everywhere thinking the Nutmeg State is nutty.

Kushner says that won’t happen, because this is a “made-up issue” and a matter of “principle.” But as Congressman Courtney notes: “It was Lincoln who said. ‘Truth is generally the best vindication against slander.’ ”
The part that makes me nuts is, why do we teach our children lies about American history? Why do we teach our children lies about anything, actually? I'm a strong believer that children, depending on their age, are better off with some things simply not discussed until they are older, but flat out lying to them? Nope. A parent commenting on this column said it best,
My son started junior high in the autumn of 1999. For the first time, he studied history in some depth. He'd long had a keen interest in history. In the Spring of 2000, he asked, "Were New Englanders in history really so heroic?

The momentous Vermont Civil Unions debate was unfolding. Rutland Herald was one of the few newspapers on-line at the time. My son liked going to my office when I taught night classes, complete his homework, and surf the web. I showed him the Rutland Herald, told him to watch the story develop, think about the risks pro-vote legislators took, and they'd answer his question for him. Three times a week we talked about it on the drive home. Then the bill passed and Gov. Dean signed it.

He also knew about the threat of the mob to democracy and read how Terry Randall's attempt at mob bullying was thwarted when the Vermont hearings limited testimony to Vermont residents. My son talked about the threats to vote out of office those who voted yes.

In November of 2000, after the Bush theater, I looked up how many Vermont legislators lost their seats. It was 30+. After my son read that, I asked if he understood why New Englanders are considered heroic. He said it was like watching the courage in the Revolutionary War time.

That's what Spielberg and Kushner are stealing with their lazy dishonesty - the courage of a region's culture and the real courage of two Americans - and stealing from each child's parents the lesson that honesty is a foremost value. - Liam Jumper, South Carolina

Sunday, February 17, 2013

The best Superbowl ad ever

I loved this one so much that the year it ran I brought the videotape (!) of the game to school and showed it to all my classes. More than once. The repeats were by popular demand.

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Sunday, January 06, 2013


April 28, 1964


To increase the sentimental value of this card, I hereby discourse –

My poet friend, my goodest buddy – I hope that our friendship will never cease to exist, or that the ideals, "opinions," and beliefs that we now share may never falter, and allow us to become prudes.

for posterity, may we always retain our love for God in beauty.

Anita Anderson

on the occasion of receiving these holy cards from Chicago!

Hiccups, LSD, migraines

When I was little my grandmother taught me how to get rid of the hiccups. You hold your breath and say (silently, in your head, because you're holding your breath) "Hiccups, stickups, straightups. Nine sips of water will cure my hiccups." Then, still holding that same breath, you take nine separate sips of water. The separate thing is key, You can't just go glugglugglugglugglugglugglugglugglugglug. You have to sip, move the glass away from your mouth, swallow, then sip, etc. Always worked for me.


But sometime after I got grown I learned another trick. I learned how to feel that first little spasm of the diaphragm, that beginning of something deep in my throat right before the first hiccup. And then, that if I did something I can't really describe with breathing and swallowing just so, that the first hiccup never happened. Hiccup program aborted.


When I was a teenager, I started getting killer migraines. I mean the throwing up, beat your head against the cinder block walls because then the pain on the outside of your head will distract you from the pain on the inside of your head, which is worse, type migraines. There was nothing to be done except curl up into a fetal position in a bed in a dark room and wait it out. Which, of course, seemed to take eons.

So I spent a lot of time like that. Being very still in the dark, thinking about pain, while experiencing pain. And I found, eventually, that when I stopped fighting the pain, raging at the pain, and instead said to the pain, okay Pain, do your worst. I'm just going to fucking feel you, pain. I'm going to go where you are, all the way there, and feel the most pain I can. And if I really concentrated, if I totally immersed myself in pain . . . the pain was . . . suspended. Out there somewhere. I didn't really feel it any more. If my attention wandered, the pain slammed back. But as long as I could hold the focus, no pain. My goal became to hold that focus long enough to fall asleep, which worked, most of the time, once I figured out how to do it.

Dealing with depression was, for a long time, for me, about something outside of myself. Bad things are happening to me. Have happened to me. Life sucks. Lately I've been having better luck dealing with it by thinking of it as something like - someone slipped some LSD into my iced tea when I wasn't looking. And continues to do that at random, totally unpredictable intervals. When they do it seems to have no relation to what is actually happening in my life. It just happens for no apparent reason.

In my misspent youth when I did actual LSD, I spent most of those trips fascinated by how "reality" was changed by the introduction of a very small amount of a chemical into my brain. Because up until then, I had assumed that what I saw, heard, felt, etc was in fact, reality. LSD made it freakingly obvious that what I was calling reality was in fact my perception of reality. How my brain processed certain stimuli. And apply a little chemical to the neurons and my brain processed those stimuli in a different way. As the chemical slowly found its way to my brain and gradually started altering how I saw the world around me, when I was "coming on" as we used to say, as my awareness moved from sober to so stoned I couldn't talk or move (although sometimes I could laugh non-stop into total exhaustion) - that transition was the most interesting part. I thought.

Now if someone did, in fact, put some LSD in my tea without me knowing it, and if I'd never had the experience of a psychedelic drug, I could imagine that it would scare the crap out of me. To have the world gradually get very bizarre for no apparent reason. It would be hard to understand that the world hadn't actually changed, that I had changed. My brain had changed.


It was looking like we weren't going to have winter this year. I harvested my last tomatoes in mid-December before the first frost, more than a month after it should have come. No winter to speak of last year.

D.C. was cold. The temperatures were mostly in the 40's, at least one day in the 30's. Which wouldn't have been so bad except for the wind. Relentless wind. And rain - and cold, and wind - one day. Bundle up. Coat, scarf, hat, gloves. Brace yourself as you walk out the door. Walk quickly.

Since we got back, there has been winter, at least as Texans define it. This morning the sun rose into a sky so clear, so blue. The sunlight dazzled, the thin frost on the planks of the porch sparkling like glitter.

As much as I complain about how much I hate being cold - and I do - there's something I love about winter. I should say that I've never suffered through a real winter. I'm sure I would purely hate the endlessness of bone deep cold and wind and snow that piles up and just stays, lumpy and dirty, for days or weeks. I don't want to even think about having to spend an entire winter in Chicago or Ottawa.

But Texas winter, Pacific Northwest winter, that is something I can appreciate. When I lived out in the woods near Snohomish, Washington, my roommate and I lived in a vacation cabin with electric heat. Electricity was expensive, wood was cheap, so we bought a cord of wood so we could use the fireplace to stay warm. Melody told the guy we bought the wood from not to split it because she thought splitting wood would be "fun." Then she went back to Louisiana.

Where the cabin was

Every day I split wood. Probably not the way you're supposed to split wood. I'd balance the log on its end by smashing it into a puddle with a layer of ice on top of it. The ice and the mud would hold it upright while I swung the axe from overhead down onto it with a satisfying crash.

Every day I had a reason why I had to be outdoors, doing something, no matter how much I hate being cold. When I look back at those few months in the northwest woods, being outdoors in the cold, frozen puddles, sometimes an inch or two of snow, splitting wood under the towering Douglas firs are some of my best memories.

A few years later I was outside in the Texas hill country's winter cold, smashing wooden motorcycle crates apart for my wood stove. A golden field of winter's dead grasses stretching to the line of dark green cedars along the creekbed.

In recent years it's been dog walking that got me outside in the winter on a regular basis. It's always good to have a reason why I have to go out in the winter. Because I really do hate being cold, and I won't leave the warmth of indoors if I don't have to.

And if I don't go outside in the winter, there's so much I wouldn't see. The light is different in the winter. Sparkling crisp light like this morning's, or grey gloom other days, but always different from the light at any other time of year. Trees' bare limbs. Piles of brown leaves filling gardens. Squirrels and birds so easy to see in the leafless trees.

It's beauty I'd miss.

I love this movie. This scene . . . it's so hard to be so honest. It's hard to say something like this out loud for fear of being thought pretentious and sentimental. But we think these things, yes? The beauty of a plastic bag dancing in the wind  ". . . when it's minute away from snowing . . . ."