Peculiar Planet

Back in the day, and by that I mean less than a month ago, I was in a position where I had a fair amount of “dead” time on my hands. And, somehow, I honestly don’t recall how, I stumbled upon this zany little website that is now my official recommendation for a time killer: “Amusing Planet,” or www.amusingplanet.com.

Best described by its Twitter bio, “Amazing Places, Wonderful People, Weird Stuff,” this offbeat website is a collection of blog style posts, accompanied by plenty of full-color photographs, detailing the bizarre, extraordinary quirks of planet earth, both natural and manmade. From “rocks that give birth” to decorative Japanese manhole covers, it’s all here.

You can simply scroll down the list of articles, or you can browse by sections: Natural Wonders, Historical Oddities, and Art, and you can view posts by country too, if that floats your boat. As I might write in a work email, “please see below” for a list of just four of of my favorites, aka the ones I remembered without too much effort and could find easily without exerting a ton of patience:

Whether an internet tourist looking for something diverting, or an actual tourist looking for sightseeing inspiration, there’s sure to be an article for you. While today I am the former, perhaps, one day, I’ll visit the Museum of Bad Art myself.

Advertisements

Little Carolina Wren

Cuter than a chickadee, you have

Ample shares of character.  You hop

Round my porch clutching a leaf that is

Old, withered, and bigger than you are.

Little wren, every happy hop

Is full of lively energy.  Please

Never stop your cheery chirping that

Always brightens up my day with smiles.

 

Wiser birds I could find, but I would

Rather your tiny company to

Enjoy than that of less silly or

Nobler birds, my Carolina wren.

A Pleasure Remembered

Life is much like a story -a series of relationships and events that interconnect and develop into something much bigger than the sum of its parts. Similarly, the pleasures of life are not insular -they do not exist as merely singular points within a human life but are rather best appreciated and understood through memory.

At least, that is what C.S. Lewis is saying through a conversation in his book Out of the Silent Planet. Although not a theme by any stretch, in fact it only consists of about a paragraph’s worth of text, the idea hit a major chord with me. During the back and forth between the protagonist Ransom and a hross (ie ‘alien’), Ransom questions why the hrossa, if they find the begetting of children pleasurable, would not seek to beget lots of children, and the hross’s response is quite interesting:

“A pleasure is fully grown only when it is remembered […] What you [human] call remembering is the last part of the pleasure […] When you and I met, the meeting was over very shortly, it was nothing. Now it is growing something as we remember it. But still we know very little about it. What it will be when I remember it as I lie down to die, what it makes in me all my days till then -that is the real meeting. The other is only the beginning of it.” (Ch. 12, p. 74)

Here Lewis is painting a story-driven worldview through his characters. Denying the popular stance that life is largely a random collection of circumstances, and pleasure in its various forms is to be the ultimate pursuit, he posits rather that pleasure is most accurately found in the memories of the life/lives shaped by the event.

However, this idea is not original to Lewis, but rather an expression of his underlying Christo-centric worldview. A divine author over all things means that there CAN be a larger narrative, and seeing Him as sovereign over all supports the idea that the happenings and relationships of day to day life have a much greater long-term impact than the individual events themselves. No doubt Abraham took great pleasure in the birth of his son Isaac. How much greater, though, is the pleasure he has from seeing the faithfulness of God in the lineage that continued from Isaac to Jesus of Nazareth, and thereon to two thousand years of the gospel being proclaimed to Jew and Gentile? The Bible is full of examples of this, as are all of our lives. Let us remember the pleasures we have been given and be thankful for how much more beautiful they are over a life’s time as God has used them.

Frank’s Social Experiment: Music

The following took place later in Frank’s life. You’ll be happy to know that he did indeed find a new job, and a friend, and that he kept bicycling with his bicycle group and had numerous adventures with them. But these are all parts of his story I’m not ready to tell, yet. Eventually, Frank decided he wanted a new hobby.

“Okay, so you play B – good. Then E, A, D, G, C, F. Now comes the tricky part! You’re going to Repeat those – but flat this time. B flat, E flat, D, G – and then start the circle over. This is the circle of fourths.”

600px-Circle_of_fifths_deluxe_4.svg

It didn’t make total sense. It didn’t even make partial sense. But it was a logical picture set before Frank—the musical notes, sitting in a circle, related to each other via some voodoo magic or 12-pointed mystical diagram.

There was an order to the notes, Frank was noticing however—some notes sounded good together, like a sentence formed with a pleasing structure. It rolled off the tongue, or in this case, out of Frank’s guitar as he twanged an artless melody.

“Good job, Frank,” said Mr. Hebert, Frank’s teacher. He was a broad shouldered, burly man with a cigarette dangling from one corner of his mouth, observing Frank’s playing from behind his slightly drooped, puffy eyelids.

“You’re getting it. Now, you’ll have to practice that a bunch more times. But see now—any time you’re playing in a key, you’ve got your tonic note, right?”

Frank nodded. Tonic—the home base. “Doe.” The center where songs often began and rested most easily.

“And you’ve also got your dominant and subdominant notes, right? So if you’re in the key of G major, there are a couple major chords that are gonna fit with a tonic of G, right?”

“Right,” said Frank. He wasn’t sure what else to say.

“Right—so the cool thing is, with the circle of fourths I just showed you, the dominant and subdominant notes are always gonna be right next to whatever the tonic is. Okay, so what’s the order again?” Mr. Hebert twisted his colorfully beaded necklace as a hint.

“B – E – A – D,” said Frank, before being interrupted.

“That’s enough,” said Mr. Hebert. “Okay, so A—based on what you just said, what notes are on either side of it in the circle?”

“Um, well. E. And D, I guess,” said Frank.

“Exactly!” said Mr. Hebert, “The dominant and subdominant notes! His eyes glinting through the cigarette smoke. “So anytime you can’t remember, just think about your circle.”

Mr. Hebert tapped off the ash from his cigarette, took a final pull from the stub, and then smothered it in an ashtray sitting on the window sill of his screened back porch.

Frank sat patiently. He didn’t know what was next. Birds chattered in the backyard, a well-kept lawn mixed with a small garden and flowerbeds. A cardinal—one of the few birds Frank could recognize—flew by.

Mr. Hebert was gazing thoughtfully towards his backyard. “Frank,” he said, finally. “There’s something you need to understand about music. There’s a lot to it. You’ll never get to the bottom of it, but there’s one thing that I have found to be true: music is meant to be shared.”

Mr. Hebert paused. It was a theatrical affectation, perhaps, but Frank didn’t mind.

“You hear that bird?” said Mr. Hebert. “That’s a tufted titmouse. You can tell because they go ‘Peter-peter-peter.’ Well, just like they share their music, we humans have to share ours too. When we don’t, we lose interest–we become discouraged.”

“So,” said Mr. Hebert, concluding his speech, “This has been a one-time lesson. You want to come again, fine. You want to go it alone and learn through YouTube or whatever kids these days are using….that’ s fine too. Just make sure if you aren’t sharing your music with me, that you’re sharing it with someone. Find a place to play, a person to play for. That way, you’ll stick with it.”

Frank nodded. Behind the cigarette smoke and beer breath, he had heard something true, he thought.

“Now that’ll be forty bucks. And get out of here,” said Mr. Hebert with a chuckle.

In Memoriam (Parts of Our Time Together)

Danielle “What is wrong with you?” Phillips has passed on to a new job opportunity unexpectedly at the age of 24. Danielle leaves behind six team members, some of whom are admittedly more beloved than others, as well as approximately 350 other coworkers.

Danielle was adept at speedily accomplishing whatever tasks were thrown her way, sometimes fielding as many as five to six complicated “high priority” requests in a single morning. However, her duties and accomplishments are not all that interesting to talk about, comparatively, for despite Danielle’s high level of professional performance, she was, quite frankly, a weird individual. She loved nothing more than regaling her coworkers with strange statements and stories, only some of which were slightly exaggerated, and always tried to make up for whatever oddness she had put everyone through in the last week by bribing key players with chocolate every Friday.

The most frequent target of Danielle’s bizarreness was her team member Anna, who bore with Danielle’s fits of manic energy (often precipitated by boredom) and subsequent harassment about as well as could reasonably be expected. Danielle’s plethora of only-funny-to-her-jokes, pretence of not understanding certain common words and phrases, and propensity for random, piercing stares were standard issue. One-time “projects” included spending an entire day devoted to utilizing the expression “How do you like them apples?” as often as possible (“Do you like sauce? How about them apple sauce?”), convincing Anna that different colored M&Ms were different flavors and that you could ripen fruit by throwing it against a wall, and an extended monologue concerning the elements of “Fresting” season, a (as Anna eventually learned, completely made up) time when birds go around pecking various objects in order to determine whether or not they are a tree. Anna endured all this and more with only a near-perpetual frown on her face, numerous whimpers, and frequent usage of the phrase: “Don’t talk to me for the rest of the day.”

Likewise, Tom finally realized that Danielle had no real end goal when she asked him to describe in detail every meal he was having – she just liked food and was curious how much of his time she could waste. Danielle was also the reason Justin, a soul whose vacancy was often mistaken for congeniality, once exclaimed “Enough with the cookies!” in a fiercer tone than the team had ever heard him use.

Danielle’s other accomplishments include forging Tom’s business cards, to prove she could, composing a sci-fi-esque theme song for the company’s social media team, to prove she could, and using an empty paper ream box to construct a southwestern diorama, complete with circling vultures, to prove she could. She was the receiver of approximately four Coca-Colas as the result of winning a variety of bets, one of which consisted of sneaking the phrase “Engage with Zorp” (an expression from the hit NBC sitcom, Parks & Recreation) into [redacted]. Other pastimes included roaming the hallways and identifying every security camera in the building, even the camouflaged ones in the break rooms, and searching for whichever vending machine contained the last bag of coveted white cheddar popcorn.

Danielle’s proudest accomplishment in her time at her now former employer was personally throwing out the decaying and musty-smelling fake flowers in the women’s restroom, after the responsibility for doing so was passed back and forth and back and forth between so many official individuals that she decided to just take matters into her own hands. However, contrary to popular rumor, Danielle did not “once eat a banana peel out of the garbage.” Rather, she once took about a dozen overripe bananas that were in a box in the third floor trash can, and made banana bread out of them, and it was delicious, allegedly.

Please take time commemorate Danielle and all her hard work by making one of her favorite noises: a high-pitched shriek reminiscent of a velociraptor, a loud call resembling a cross between a goat and a bagpipe, or the morbid moo of a morose whale.

The Desperate Adventures of Zeno and Alya

Sunday morning means banana-nut muffins, so why has Dr. Agard broken the routine?  Why did he decide to take a nap on the floor?  Why doesn’t he praise his parrot Zeno’s accomplishments like usual?  The professor’s African grey parrot grows impatient, noisy, and destructive as he tries to wake his “servant.”  When the professor’s assistant and men in blue arrive and take Dr. Agard away, Zeno decides to fly out the front door and find a new “servant” and banana-nut muffins for himself.

Zeno and Alya

Accustomed to a life of muffins, Greek philosophy, and praise, how will Zeno survive in the wilds of Brooklyn, New York?  Though well-versed in 127 words and 64 sounds, Zeno is ignorant of such things as home, friendship, and basic survival.  He is puffed up with pride in his own beauty and brilliance, and his favorite words are “Zeno wants!”  Everything begins to change, however, after Zeno’s blunderings and muffin-cravings lead him to the bedroom window of a girl recovering from leukemia.

Alya used to be active and outgoing, used to play sports and climb monkey bars, used to have a laugh that outshone a whisper.  Now, though, she lies still in her bedroom, engulfed by a hospital bed.  She is too weak to climb the house stairs, too dispirited to try.  Her mother, father, her brother Parker, and her friends Kiki and Liza try to cheer her up, but they never know what to say or how to help.  That’s why, when hungry Zeno taps at her window, asks for her banana-nut muffins, and urges her to “try!” to get them for him, Alya doesn’t forget the parrot.  After Alya’s mother Mrs. Logan sends the parrot packing, Alya still remembers Zeno’s exhortation and realizes that she has lost the power to “try” and wants to regain it.  Maybe Zeno can help, if she can ever find him again.

Soon the main characters of The Desperate Adventures of Zeno and Alya by Jane Kelley are caught up in difficulties which will teach them about home, friendship, strength, and themselves – and which will hopefully teach their audience as well.


banana nut muffinP.S. I wanted to share this yummy banana-nut muffin recipe I enjoyed just this past weekend.  Zeno would undoubtedly relish it.  Check it out here at Crafty Cooking Mama.

P.P.S. If you’re interested in learning more about one of this book’s references to ancient philosophy, read Francis Bacon’s essay “Of Friendship.”  The final paragraph of the essay relates to a concept which I first encountered in The Desperate Adventures of Zeno and Alya about a friend being “another I.”  I think Bacon expounds quite well on what this can mean.  This connection between something I learned in a children’s book and from a 17th century English philosopher is another reason why I enjoyed Zeno and Alya and why I love reading widely.

FSE Ch. 5: Avoidance Patterns

Frank had been in an avoidance pattern for much of the day; he needed to complete another job application, but the thought of poring over encyclopedic questionnaires, double and triple and quadruple checking his cover letter and resume for typos, and looking up references, made the thought of having a tooth pulled seem pleasant.

But, fortunately for Frank, there were many other really important things to be done during the day. Though Frank had not cleaned his house in over 6 months, he decided that today was the day for this: it had started with vacuuming his living room, but after this, the clean, perked-up carpet felt so good under his toes that he decided, as long as he was vacuuming, he might as well vacuum his whole house. So he did this. While vacuuming under the edge of his bed, Frank discovered several boxes of action figures and college class notes socked away under his bed–those would need to be organized. And while vacuuming the bathroom, Frank found dust and stuck-on spots on the floor. So after vacuuming, he got out his swiffer and began to mop the bathroom, scrubbing the problem spots furiously.

In a way, it was therapeutic. Feeling satisfaction at seeing a gleamy shine on the white-and-green tile. Frank leaned for a minute on the swiffer, resting his leg–he had been limping less, but his leg became tired easily and still hurt occasionally. Just then, his cell phone rang.

“Hi Dad,” said Frank.

“Hey, sport,” said Bruce’s beaming voice. “How are you doing today?”

“Okay,” said Frank. “Well, great!–actually. I’ve been cleaning my apartment today. Vacuumed, mopped, organized–just finishing now.”

“Ah. Nice, son. How’s the leg?”

“Doing better,” said Frank.

“Great. Oh, how are those job applications going? Applied to that Reliant Solutions position yet?”

“No, not yet,” said Frank, feeling shame at the admission.

There was a pause on the other end of the phone. Frank’s dad was never one to tell Frank what he was thinking, but Frank knew the pause and what he must do: it was time to fill out some more applications.

Sitting down at his computer, Frank resisted the urge to head immediately to Reddit or YouTube to watch videos. Joblessness had had a deleterious effect on his self-discipline, but he knew that, eventually, he would burn through his savings, and then – BOOM – his vacation would be over.

Job. He needed a job. 5 applications in 5 hours. Could such a heroic feat be possible? Frank thought to himself. He was about to find out.

It’s Only the Best Day of the Year

By my calculations – and by that I mean my physical counting, and I did lose count a couple of times – I have missed approximately 115 National Days in the last month alone. Upon discovering this, the Type-A Calendar-Keeper inside me became full of self-loathing. Why, on June 1st I missed National Nail Polish Day (never mind that I don’t ever wear it myself) as well as National Leave the Office Early Day (although, in my defense, my workplace did not observe this)!

Except, of course, I must remind myself that these supposed “national days” are really just random days someone sometime decided to name something. According to Marketplace (you know, the NPR show?):

…the more extensive resource is the website nationaldaycalendar.com.

“There’s a couple ways it can happen,” says the site’s co-founder, Marlo Anderson. “Of course, a company or an individual can just declare it, and a lot of people do.”

Point being, really anyone can make up a national day, and there’s no accreditation process or government agency. Though Anderson says they don’t approve just any old day that comes across their desk.

“In the last year we’ve received over 10,000 requests for national days,” he says.

Out of the 10,000, he says they typically take about 20 to 25 days each year.

Per that nationaldaycalendar.com, there are now over 1,500 national days. Yes, that is more days than there are in a year. Thus, June 2nd is both National Black Bear Day and National Rotisserie Chicken Day, among other things. And, yes, some of the national days are just as matter of fact as they sound: “On the first Saturday in June, National Black Bear Day recognizes the most commonly found bear in North America.” National Old Maid’s Day, June 4th, does, in fact, refer to the arguably derogatory term for an elderly single lady, and not the card game I hear exists. However, National Name Your Poison Day, June 8th, is not as much fun as it sounds.

Actually, as the Marketplace article points out, national days really are made for the internet age, with many of nationaldaycalendar.com’s “How to Observe” instructions consisting of something like: “Use #UpsyDaisyDay to post on social media.” And really, truly celebrating even half of these would be exhausting. To cherry pick a few, there’s National Moonshine Day on June 5th, which I’d be willing to bet a certain friend of mine did observe. June 6th, as well as being D-Day, is also National Applesauce Cake Day. (I did make applesauce bread, well, muffins, sometime this month, but they weren’t very good, needing more sugar and leaving me with a sneaking suspicion I used a healthy recipe.) National Ballpoint Pen Day, June 10th, I wouldn’t have observed anyway, as I explicitly asked for “non-ballpoint pens” for the last office supply order. June 13th, being National Kitchen Klutzes of America Day, is the day I likely should have commemorated that time I splattered an entire giant jar of canned garlic all over my kitchen. June 16th has the rare distinction of having only one honorific, National Fudge Day, and I fully agree that this is a thing worthy of having a day devoted to it. In fact, according to Marketplace:

[nationaldaycalendar.com] focus[es] on iconic items over brands — say, National Coffee Day as opposed to National Starbucks Day (which, as far as we know, hasn’t been declared). And they look for things everyone can enjoy or be a part of.

Fudge I can agree with, but June 29th is National Almond Buttercrunch Day, and I have never had one of those in my life. But it turns out I did unintentionally observe National Hike with a Geek Day, June 20th, as I went on a nice little hike that evening with me, myself, and I. Although, looking at the entry, it appears I may have gotten the definitions of “geek” vs. “nerd” mixed up. I can confirm, however, that June 21st, National Day of the Gong, is exactly what it sounds like. At any rate, the following disqualification for most national day requests did make me smile:

The most common request they say no to?

“You know, it’s my girlfriend of three months and she’s changed my life forever, can I have National Heather Day … that’s a very very popular thing,” Anderson says.

In the end, if you, like Leslie Knope, do go for this sort of national day thing, you should be pleased to know that today, June 26th, is only two national days: National Beautician’s Day, and National Chocolate Pudding Day. However, if you are, like me, a fan of Doctor Who, you will be disappointed to know that the “T” in National OOTD Day (June 30th) is actually very important, and the day has nothing to do with the Oods of that TV show, most unfortunately.


https://www.marketplace.org/2015/06/01/business/ive-always-wondered/just-how-do-national-days-get-calendar

https://nationaldaycalendar.com

Finding Vivian Maier

I wrote this film response for my photography class this past spring.  My analysis of the documentary Finding Vivian Maier does contain some spoilers, but the true jewel of the movie is the photographs, so I do not think my spoilers will affect your enjoyment of the documentary too much.


Vivian Maier self-portrait pastiche
One of Vivian Maier’s self-portraits (left) and a pastiche I did of it (right) for one of my class assignments.  A pastiche is an imitation of art that pays homage to the original work.

When aspiring author John Maloof uncovers the work of an obscure photographer, his journey of discovery introduces the world to Vivian Maier and inspires the creation of the documentary Finding Vivian Maier.  Both artists and art can be quite controversial, and Vivian Maier and her photographs are no exception.  At the same time, though, this film’s cinematography, storytelling, and the work of Vivian Maier that it presents are often exceptional, intriguing, and even inspiring.

From the first second to the last, Finding Vivian Maier is full of cleverly-crafted shots.  The cinematography has an appealing aesthetic, and I like the way in which the filmmakers link together interview footage of experts and Maier’s acquaintances with Maier’s photographs and personal audio recordings.  Because of the film’s clean but creative cinematography, the storyline is easy to follow and interesting without the need for dramatization or actors.  Additionally, I think the framing of certain shots is appropriate and effective.  For instance, scenes where the film zooms out to show dozens of Maier’s photos laid out in a grid exemplify the photography compositional rule of patterns and repetition, and this is a powerful visual tool for emphasizing how prolific a photographer Maier was.  Finding Vivian Maier also includes examples of compositional rules such as the rule of thirds and the use of unusual perspectives, which are nice touches in a documentary about a photographer and add interest to what might otherwise be boring footage.  Thanks to the documentary’s high quality cinematography, black-and-white photos linked with interview scenes become a seamless story which draws in the audience.

street photography MaierWhile high quality cinematography is valuable, however, the storytelling in Finding Vivian Maier is another essential part of the film.  According to what the documentary reveals, Maier is a controversial person who is lonely, perhaps mentally ill, and can be alternately wonderful or abusive towards the children she nannies.  I appreciate that the movie maintains a relatively unbiased approach to the story.  The film is full of personal accounts from people who have known Maier and the opinions of art experts, and how the filmmakers tell the story presents different sides to Maier’s life, focusing on both her strengths and weaknesses.  In addition, the fact-based storytelling method and the frequent use of interviews to stitch the story together helps promote the film’s credibility.  One aspect of the storytelling that I do not understand is why the storywriters include the uplifting discovery that Maier attempted to have her work published in the middle of the film rather than at the end.  Following this exciting revelation, the documentary highlights Maier’s mysterious life and erratic personality and concludes on a sad note with her lonely death.  This arrangement of events strikes me as an odd storytelling decision, although I do think the story ends strong in the last scene with its audio clip of Maier and a shot of one of her self-portraits being developed.

photo by MaierThe storytelling and cinematography in Finding Vivian Maier help make the documentary interesting, but Maier’s photographs are the most inspiring and intriguing aspects of the film.  Maier’s photographs range from clever to stunning to disturbing.  Just like Maier, the photographs are often full of mystery and contrasting character.  She clearly had an excellent eye for photo composition and natural talents which she honed with constant practice, resulting in the thousands of images Maloof finds in his search.  I think Maier’s persistence and boldness in taking photographs teach the importance of practice and pushing outside one’s comfort zone to achieve success in photography.  No theories can replace hands on experience.  In particular, I like how Maier’s photos are often candid and raw; they show the world as it really is with all its beauty and flaws.  I think it is intriguing that Maier was so bold in her photography because, by all accounts, she was reclusive and sometimes even scared of strangers,

In spite of her secretive life, reclusive personality, and lifelong silence about her work, Vivian Maier now has posthumous recognition thanks to Finding Vivian Maier.  More importantly, though, Maier has found a voice in her photos that will continue to speak for her.  Through the pictures, audiences can meet strangers and gain a new perspective on life and the world around them.  These images communicate everyday experiences, emotions, and scenes and also reflect the creative but eccentric artist who shot them.  Maier’s story is another example of how some of the greatest artists have broken and lonely lives, yet despite—or perhaps because of—this, they are able to capture beauty and share it with the world.


Note: Finding Vivian Maier is currently available on Netflix Instant.