February 26, 2006
Train in Vain

As E. has noted, this week marked the closing of our local el stop, as part of a four-year reconstruction project. Construction has started and the station will be torn down and, ostensibly, rebuilt to be better than before. Although not much of an inconvenience to us, the closing has meant a certain amount of change in the neighborhod already, as routes to work are switched, trains hover above our window on the closed part of the track, and strangers in CTA vests wander through the alleys. Oh, the fun has just begun! Here are a few pictures of our old stop...we miss it already.

Here, a neighborhood group gathers for one last train ride, prompting a security guard to materialize from nowhere and tell us off for taking pictures.

Getting ready for one final ride.

Posted at 11:09 AM
February 23, 2006
DTP Redux

File under "things I didn't know anyone else but me thought about": This debate in the AIGA Journal over whether DIY desktop publishing is killing graphic design. While this is not a new debate--I was a rookie editor compelled to do my own graphic design as early as 1990--I tend to side with the view that "visual literacy is good for design: when people experience the power of typography and images first-hand, they can better understand design that is produced at the highest level." But the converse of the argument--that "by making our work so easy to do, we are devaluing our profession"--seems better articulated here, possibly because it is usually more compelling to make the alarmist argument in any given debate. Similar conversations are going on in journalism circles, much more stridently. (See one of many discussions of "citizen journalism," for example.

Posted at 07:12 PM
February 22, 2006
Good Reading

It's a long time until summer, but this might make it seem shorter: "Once More to the Lake" by E.B. White--your good reading fix of the day!

One summer, along about 1904, my father rented a camp on a lake in Maine and took us all there for the month of August. ... I have since become a salt-water man, but sometimes in summer there are days when the restlessness of the tides and the fearful cold of the sea water and the incessant wind which blows across the afternoon and into the evening make me wish for the placidity of a lake in the woods. A few weeks ago this feeling got so strong I bought myself a couple of bass hooks and a spinner and returned to the lake where we used to go, for a week's fishing and to revisit old haunts.

Posted at 07:10 PM
February 19, 2006
Wool Gathering

My dad likes to tell the story about how he had a pet chicken as a child in Northern Ohio. The story does not have a happy ending; the pet came to an untimely end in the service of the kitchen, of course. But the story fascinated me growing up in suburbia, because nobody I knew had a chicken (or even a pony). It's perhaps unnecesary to add that I was (still am) a city girl and proud of it.

Thus I wonder if I need to take my own temperature and perhaps lie down for a while when I find myself daydreaming about moving back to KJ South and raising sheep at Squatter's Inn (see Dr. Surly's new photos of the place here).

Yes, you read that correctly. Easy now.

I'd be willing to start with just a few sheep, really. It seems such a refreshing change from desk jockeying, conference calls, and pushing bits and bytes--a life laden with Anglophilia, full of Wellingtons, sweaters, and wooly animals. I wouldn't even mind "mucking" the barn, whatever that means, if I could have lots of hand sanitizer afterward. Oh, and a herding dog, to run around and herd the sheep and me when I got tired.

Don't get me wrong; I know nothing about livestock and less than nothing about animal husbandry, as E. likes to gleefully point out. (These conversations usually end with me saying "You have to do what? Ewwww!" and making "The Worried Face (TM)".) I also realize that this plan does nothing for that pesky making-a-living problem, unless I learn some useful skill, like knitting and making cheese. Underneath it all I am aware that a) farming is hard work; b) possibly against the zoning laws; c) smelly, no doubt; and d) expensive; sheep must be fed, etc.

But who hasn't wanted to shed their skin (or, in this case, their wool) and walk into a totally different life? A good first step, I suppose, would be to meet a sheep in person, so to speak. Thus I would come full circle, back to where I began with the story of dad and his chicken, with the literal and figurative understanding that when it comes to livestock or lifestyles, the things you love have a good chance of ending up on the table.

The Brits apparently feel the same way according to this news report, which finds, "About 40 percent of all farmland is now sold to 'lifestyle buyers' rather than the dwindling number of traditional farmers, according to the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors." In addition, it quotes a food writer: "It may be the mark of the next stage of civilization that we rediscover the desirability of being a peasant." Yikes.

Life at a Vermont Icelandic sheep farm.

Awww! Some cute photos of sheep here.

DIY: Article about fleece production.

Hobby Farms magazine.

This writer looks at the term "hobby farm" and, not surprisingly, opines that no one takes "hobby farmers" very seriously. He proposes "amateur farmer" instead.

Posted at 04:33 PM
February 16, 2006
Flash Back

Hey, remember the flash mob ? These days, the term is as moldy as last month's cheese. Heartening to know the good folks in SF are carrying on:

Roughly 1,000 people drawn by internet postings and word-of-mouth converged near San Francisco's Ferry Building on Tuesday night for a half-hour pillow fight.

I've still never seen one of these events, although apparently at least one was scheduled here in August 2003. Did anything happen? Who knows? At the time, I appreciated the mobs' Dadaist quality, particularly when they interrupted snooty retail establishments. But back when the buzz was new, they were so well publicized that their goal of startling innocent bystanders seemed to recede forever in front of them. But despite the "pillow pandemonium" it's hard to put the violent overtones of more recent mobs, as seen in Paris last year and in the Mideast and Europe currently, out of mind. Perhaps a new name is needed? I'll get right to work on that.

Posted at 07:01 PM
February 15, 2006
"The Ground Will Get Disgusted Enough to Just Walk Away"

when we were here together in a place we did not know, nor one

We are five years in to the 21st century and the world doesn't seem any better organized than it ever was. Is the time right to revisit poet, painter, and pacifist Kenneth Patchen? I think maybe it is.

I haven't read enough to make a really good critical study, but here are a few places to start:

This literary essay calls him the "other Kenneth."
An appreciation of his book, "Sleepers Awake"
Actual poems can be found here.
In 1996 (well after his death) apparently there was a calendar of his paintings.

Patchen is interesting not just for what he has to say, but for what others had to say about him. For instance, the words Kenneth Rexroth (the "cranky beat"?) wrote in 1959 about Patchen and his life and times could still apply today:

As the years go on, fewer and fewer protests are heard. The spokesmen, the intellects of the world, have blackmailed themselves and are silent. The common man dreams of security. Every day life grows more insecure, and, outside America, more nasty, brutish, and short. The lights that went out over Europe were never relit. Now the darkness is absolute. In the blackness, well-fed, cultured, carefully shaven gentlemen sit before microphones at mahogany tables and push the planet inch by inch towards extinction. We have come to the generation of revolutionary hopelessness.

Men throw themselves under the wheels of the monsters, Russia and America, out of despair, for identical reasons.

With almost no exceptions, the silentiaries of American literature pretend that such a state of affairs does not exist. In fact, most of them do not need to pretend. They have ceased to be able to tell good from evil. One of the few exceptions is Kenneth Patchen. His voice is the voice of a conscience which is forgotten. He speaks from the moral viewpoint of the new century, the century of assured hope, before the dawn of the world-in-concentration-camp. But he speaks of the world as it is. Imagine if suddenly the men of 1900 . H.G. Wells, Bernard Shaw, Peter Kropotkin, Romain Rolland, Martin Nexo, Maxim Gorky, Jack London . had been caught up, unprepared and uncompromised, fifty years into the terrible future. Patchen speaks as they would have spoken, in terms of unqualified horror and rejection.

Norbert Blei had a similar reaction in the 1980s:
The politically incensed Patchen, the poet who put his heart in painted words, came back to me in the 1980.s like an angry prophet. Reagan was steering the Ship of State. The economy was trickling down. Sabers were rattling. Happy Days were here again. And American policy was all about profit and power--once again. I picked up a Patchen book one night--and I could see him turning over in his grave, hear him shouting to an unconscionable world in picture-poster-poem-protest: THE BEST HOPE IS THAT ONE OF THESE DAYS THE GROUND WILL GET DISGUSTED ENOUGH TO JUST WALK AWAY, LEAVING PEOPLE WITH NOTHING MORE TO STAND ON THAT WHAT THEY HAVE BLOODY WELL STOOD FOR UP TO NOW.

Resonance? Yes, I think so.

Posted at 06:41 PM
February 04, 2006
Public Service Announcement

Do Not Panic, now up at KJ Gardens.

Posted at 10:49 AM
February 01, 2006
Bears Repeating

Bears on Text is back in its latest incarnation (and Mike has already noted this and added a footnote) and thus a small-circulation early '90s zine resurrects itself and enters the 21st century. Looks like a nice blog format and we dig the artwork. I am not involved in this go-round, but several of the original posse are. In future, they tell me they would like to reprint the B&W version of its history, which I wrote in a fit of nostalgia in 2003 and which can be found here:

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Part 6

We wish them well!

Posted at 07:32 PM