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

“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, 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’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:

[] 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.

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.

Mike Tends His Vines

Beads of sweat collected at the ends of Mike’s shaggy hair as humid breath escaped in quick gasps from his red face. Although the day was young -after all, it was only 9 in the morning -the sun was beating down with a hot 89 degrees.

The vines on the fence behind Mike’s house had grown exponentially over the past month. After an abnormally long winter, the green parasites had celebrated the final arrival of spring with an explosion of conquest -entwining themselves all throughout the chain-link fence, on the tree, and even inside the shrubs that had resided docilely for the entire past year. Finally, the strangling encroachment had begun to bother even Mike, the sole occupant of the house, who normally took little notice or interest to the outside appearance of his property.

Chop.Clack.Snip.Chop. Slowly but surely, Mike’s clippers severed one tendril after another, leaving the once vivaciously rampant vines as a mass of severed stalks poking up from the dark rich soil. Behind him, the yard displayed a massive pile of leaves, thorns, and other signs of his conquest as a suburban agronomist.

Wiping sweaty palms on a stained and over-sized shirt, Mike looked on his handiwork with relish -he felt alive, the heat of the day and manual labor exciting his ‘manly’ instincts. This was a good day – “I could do this every day”, he thought to himself. Fantasies of maintaining the best lawn on his street quickly arose like epic stories before his imagination. With his newly found energy and inspiration, Mike began collecting the carnage caused by his work – vigorously raking and bagging the large quantities of green growth so recently cut in pieces.

After all the collecting was done, he began the laborious process of hauling every one of his black 30 gallon trash bags to the street. When the last bag of clippings sagged onto the curb, Mike sank down next to it. His already shaggy hair was now a solid wet mop, and his shirt and pants were three shades darker than whenever he had started. He was hot and uncomfortable -and even his earlier optimism and romanticism of ‘manliness’ could do little to counteract the headache that was coming on. Too much time had passed since he had walked the paths of his homeland: the air conditioned room and Doritos covered sofa called his name with the sweet siren song of careless ease. With a groan he stiffly arose off the curb and began trudging back around the house.

As he passed around his house on the way to the back door, the tiny stalks poking up from the ground along the fence caught his tired eye -they were the last roots of his adversary. Plucking these up would render him the final victor -the entangling and choking vines never to grow and thrive again in his lawn. For a long pause there was only the pounding of his head, the stickiness of his dirty and wet clothes, and the aches in his hands – “Ah, well,” he thought, “there is always tomorrow”, and he almost turned to walk into the dark cold door of his house. However, a nagging in his mind caused him to draw up short, he just felt wrong for not seeing what he had set out to do to completion -or as his favorite TV show character Ron Swanson had so eloquently quipped: “Never half-ass two things, whole-ass one thing”. In spite of the complaints of his sore body, Mike resolved to refresh himself with water and attack the rooted mess after a trip to the hardware store for more effective weapons.

The End.

Frank’s Social Experiment: Chapter 4

It was a disgruntling sort of day. Weddings, Moving days, those rare family holidays – anything that happened outside of Frank’s apartment, involved social interaction, or waking up early, or was simply unexpected. Frank had an internal running list of these disgruntling days:

  • his high school prom
  • his first day at his job
  • the time his company had sent him on a business trip to meet a client
  • his cousin’s wedding
  • graduation from college
  • being in the hospital only recently, and then coming home

And now, as Frank’s alarm buzzed angrily at 6AM and he groggily fished for a light switch, he thought to himself, Today will be a new Disgruntled Day.

With the leg cast off for a couple weeks, Frank had been taking it easy. At first, he had continued to use the crutches—his leg was atrophied from its inactivity and still hurt when carrying his weight. So Frank’s orthopedist had recommended bicycling as a low-impact way to regain muscle tone. To Frank, this suggestion conceptually made sense, but there were few things he would less rather do than bicycle.

“This riding group – it’s a swell bunch of people!” the tall, lanky orthopedist said in his booming, matter-of-fact voice. Frank thought it was dumb the way the surgeon said “swell.” He imagined that when the surgeon got irritated with something he would also say, “This drives me bonkers!” But this was only speculation, no doubt brought on by Frank’s aversity to groups of people enjoying exercise together.

Frank’s father, however, upon hearing the news, thought it was an excellent idea. So, one trip to the store later, Frank was unpacking his very own Raleigh Grand Sport bicycle.

Up to this point in the story, we have not given a detailed description of Claughton (pronounced Clafton), the city where Frank lived. It was a southern town, complete with its own quaint buildings—trappings of faux Americana crossed with some genuine historicity; Claughton also had a nocturnal downtown area, several steepled churches, booming bells to mark the time, and otherwise all the ordinary marks of a medium riverside city.

Normally, Frank drove everywhere he needed to go, but this particular morning he had decided to ride his bike to meet the cycling group. Charting the route out on his phone, he figured out and mentally rehearsed the directions, then set off. The world was duskily alight at this time in the morning, and as he rode, the street lamps began flickering as the sunlight began to glow around the horizon.

Frank pedaled onto Front Street, and the street beneath him changed to cobblestone—the nature of the downtown area mandated brick instead of concrete to maintain Cloughton’s historic authenticity. All along the riverfront, the shops were opening up, neon “Open”s lighting up. Frank headed down a small berm that led to a paved trail along the riverbank.

Several people from the bicycling group had already assembled. Stifling the nervous fluttering that always accompanied meeting new faces, Frank pedaled up to the rear of the group and then stopped to catch his breath—a whole 30 minutes of this was going to be a challenge!

“Hey,” said a lean, gristled man with a boxy crew cut. “New guy: what’s your name?”

“Uh, Frank,”

“You got a last name too?” said the man.

Gosh, was this guy an interrogator in the military? Thought Frank to himself.

“Frank Cockburn,” he replied. Then, in a fit of inspiration. “Would you like my mother’s maiden name or my social security number as well?”

This sarcastic comment was designed to elicit a laugh, but instead the man just gave Frank an appraising, then slightly pitying look.

“My name is Darius,” said the man, but Frank had already decided to call him Mr. Military Buzzkill Man, or Mr. BK, for short.

He was also, apparently, the leader of the small group. “Are we waiting on anyone?” he said. “Keith, Emily, Larry, Kierra…anyone seen Wylla?”

“Here!” yelled a voice, as a slender woman zoomed down the trail on a green bicycle. “Sorry I’m late, Mr. Darius.” she said, “I have a test this morning and pulled an all-nighter and just got through studying!”

Mr. Buzzkill Man shook his head, “Well, at least you’re here. All right, gang, we’re doing 7 miles today, so let’s get going!”

The ride was sweaty, breathy, and painful for Frank. By mile 3, he was heaving big gulps of air and trailing towards the back of the group, and his lower back had begun aching from holding an unnatural position for such a long time.

Finally, Frank motioned to the rest of the group, and between giant breaths, said, “I’ve. Got to Stop. For today. See y’all on. Wednesday.”

Mr. BK gave Frank a nod, “Good work. See you then.”

Back home, Frank got himself a leftover slice of pizza out of the fridge, sat down on his couch, and opened up his laptop to begin work. Logging into his email, Frank had 6 emails, but one in particular caught his eye. The subject was “An Important Message from Human Resources.”

Dear Frank,

We regret to inform you that you are being laid off. Due to a recent lack of funding for this project and the slowness of the industry to adopt our product, we have to make adjustments…