Friday, January 30, 2015

Honeymoon Suite

   "Today's goal: bliss, or the pursuit of same."

   Mary's comment came out of the blue as Mary and Sean were heading Southeast on Iowa 76. Sean was driving.

   "Our mission impossible?" said Sean.

   "When stated as a postulate, it sounds kind of insane. What is undifferentiated pleasure?" Mary said, "Is it a state achievable to a discerning mind, or does bliss require the loss of mind; the loss of self?"

   "Some people think of love as a losing of one's mind." replied Sean. "Which begs the question, if 'love' was ruled by the head and not the 'heart', would humanity become extinct?"

   "Some cultures already are headed that way. But there is no shortage of new people. Animal instincts can only be overcome by intense civilization." Mary said, "My animal instincts are insisting that we stop. I have to pee."

   "There's a National Monument ahead; it has a visitor center. Can civilization dominate your animal instincts for a few more minutes?" Sean said. "The place has the evocative name of Effigy Mounds."

   "That would be fine. I could use a little stroll among the effigies."

   The visitor headquarters was nearly empty. While Mary used the facilities, Sean browsed the exhibits. When Mary returned they paid the fee and began to walk the path to where the mounds had been constructed over a thousand years ago.  It was a challenging hike, taking more than a half an hour to reach the top of the hill. The mounds were low and not very large, formed in the approximate shapes of animals and birds.

   "Sensing anything here?" asked Sean.

   "Only echoes." said Mary. "This is an old place. I am picking up on a sense of community, of people working together—as if this was the setting for an ancient mystery play.  Perhaps, when I've finished my 'initiation', I'll be able to fully comprehend the experience. It's a peaceful place, though. I don't sense any underlying sadness." After a few minutes of wandering between the mounds she said, "I've seen enough, let's go back to the car."

   Once they entered Wisconsin the land opened up and the scenery was, at times, spectacular. Mary was quiet—enthralled—during the rest of the trip.

   "We've arrived. Our secret honeymoon destination." said Sean. It was after five by the time they entered the town of Mineral Point, and Sean had pulled up in front of The Brewery Creek Inn.

   "A brewpub?" Mary said, giving Sean a quizzical look. "I'm not doing much drinking these days."

   "This is where we check in, not where we'll be staying." said Sean. "Are you ready to begin your weekend of martial bliss?"

   "The premarital bliss has worked out OK so far, I'm in." said Mary, "Put your ring on."

  Inside, the Pub was filling up, but the bartender took a break from serving to sign them in; exchanging the usual pleasantries with the couple:

   "First time in Mineral Point?"

   "I'm picking up a weird vibe from this guy," thought Mary, "Keep it impersonal."

   "Yes." said Sean.

   "You've booked The Miner's Cabin. Continental Breakfast, the fridge is stocked, let me know if there's anything you need." The bartender eyed Mary surreptitiously.  You'll be here Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, right?"

   "Yes. That sounds great." Sean said.

   "Checkout is at 11. There is a parking spot on the north side of the cabin. It's unlocked. The keys are on the kitchen counter."

   Back in the car, Sean exchanged thoughts with Mary.

   "Did you figure out where that guy was coming from?" thought Sean.

   "It might have been a little repressed racism." thought Mary.

   "Or he was jealous of me. You don't need a ring to see your 'aura'. Pregnancy suits you." thought Sean.

   "Tell me about my aura when I'm puking." thought Mary. "But thanks for the complement."

   "The cabin is a coupe of blocks away." thought Sean. "I'm taking off the ring. Distracted driving, y'know. Worse than texting."

   "What kind of place is this?" said Mary, as she gazed at the stone facades of the old buildings which lining the street..

   "This was a mining 'boom town' in the 1830s." said Sean. "We'll be staying in one of the oldest houses."

   The Miners cabin was deceptively small. From the street, it appeared to be the size of a single car garage, the front room was comfortably furnished with overstuffed chairs and a sofa. A pair of filled bookshelves flanked a fireplace and the whole room was tastefully decorated with what appeared to be original art.  An open doorway led to a series of additions: a kitchen, a bedroom, a small bath. The kitchen had a fireplace as well. On one of its walls was a mysterious black door, flanked by two carved kitchen chairs.

   "That door and those chairs look like a metaphor for our marriage: one chair is you, one is me, and the black door symbolizes what lies ahead for us." said Mary.

   "I can see that." said Sean. "Shall I open the door?"

   "Do you think that wise?" said Mary, smiling, "I think the bedroom door holds the key to our immediate future."

   "Of course." said Sean. "Rings on or off?"

   Mary stared deeply into Sean's eyes.

   "On." she said.


By Professor Batty

Comments: 0 

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Too Many Steves

   1950 was the year that the boy's name Steven, Stephen or Steve reached its highest popularity in the US. Eighteen years later, out of 189 total boys names, my high school graduating class had a total of 18 Steves ! It was common to have three or more Steves in a single classroom, it would be rare if there wasn't at least one.  IRL I'm a Stephen; I used to obsess about it, mentally linking my name to famous Stephens, now it hardly matters. Another Steve from my high school class runs what I call "The A.V. Club": an every-other-month meeting where six to 10 of us get together and conduct elevated discourses on The Great Ideas of Western Civilization, or something to that effect. There have been as many as four Steves at that table; an astounding ratio. We joke that there has to be at least two to make a quorum. The Steve who organizes the club meetings also runs the class reunions and keeps tab of vital statistics. Whenever a classmate passes away he sends out emails with a link to the obit. A Steve showed up in one of these communications the other day, we lost one in college, and another a couple of years ago. Not so many Steves now—I should be thankful, it could have been me..

   The surviving Steve's could chip in a few bucks and buy some appropriate Steve related memorabilia, last Steve standing takes all—a comedy record by Steve Allen, the biography of Steve Jobs, a travel DVD from Rick Steves and, dare I say, a Stevie Nicks solo album?

By Professor Batty

Comments: 1 

Monday, January 26, 2015

Reading Between the Lines

   Dear M—,

   I read your eloquent post today, the one explaining your recent hiatus. I've always admired your site and how you kept it fresh for so many years. It has been a continued inspiration. I can't count the number of posts I've made emulating the style and content of yours. Your other work, your short stories and your novel, have inspired me even further. They were the nudge which turned the Flippist "Key" enough to open the door to my own long-form writing; something I've wanted to do since I was a child.

   When you stopped posting last fall, I knew there were reasons behind it. I'm beginning to think that there are infinite reasons for stopping a blog but not many rational ones for continuing one. That said, emotions and the longings of the heart are never rational. It's the 'real-life' storyteller's dilemma: always trying to relate a narrative which one only sees a part of, with an ever-changing plot line, told to a world of indifference and incomprehension. In your post you crystallized the only real reason to continue: it is a calling.
"…sometimes you are called to do something that you may not even enjoy all the time, but that compels you in both internal and external ways to take part in…"
   I couldn't have said it any better myself. You mentioned that you had receded from all forms of social media, that I can understand. The 'noise' you referred to is the flip side of being interconnected. Not an malevolent force but a dumb colossus: roaming the web, crushing subtlety and beauty under its mass of inanity and commerce.

   Of course, it is different now, different than the time you started you endeavor. I can't imagine living the way you must, among a throng of strangers, in great numbers, overwhelming what is basically a mid-sized city. My early visits to your town, in the off-season, were to a place that has now changed in many ways. But the moments I remember and cherish most were those of quiet and gentle interactions with the people, the people who have always made your city such a special place. I may not return, but those days and nights I spent there will never leave me, as long as my memory persists.

By Professor Batty

Comments: 2 

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Sunday Matinee #4

Street Buskers on Pike Place, 2014

By Professor Batty

Comments: 0 

Friday, January 23, 2015

Edwin's Story

   The group returned to Tina's farm. Mary thought that Edwin seemed apprehensive, hiding his feelings behind a forced smile. However she was somewhat surprised at Tina's cheerful disposition,  After they were all in the house Mary excused herself to change clothes while Tina went into the kitchen to make some coffee.

   "Tina said you worked a lot with my grand uncle Henry." said Sean. "Let's go out to his workshop, you could tell me about working with him when you were young."

   Edwin brightened at the suggestion of leaving the house. "Ya, that's a good idea."

   "We'll be out in Henry's workshop!" Sean yelled to Tina.

   The workshop was in the south end of the barn. The tools were covered with dust, there were even some of Henry's work clothes still hanging on nails.

   "It's just junk now… " said Edwin, as he looked around the room, "… nobody wants rusty old tools. Decorators used to buy this kind of stuff—in the seventies. I sold a lot of it to people from Chicago, but not so much anymore. Young people don't want to look at old things." He picked up a large clamp with wooden jaws. The worm gear was a mass of rust, the wood had turned gray and split. "If this was in decent shape it might fetch forty dollars: might not. I've had a couple of nice ones in my shop for more than ten years: no takers."

   "Henry was Emily's brother.  Did they get along?" said Sean.

   "Oh, Henry would get mad sometimes, mad at the way Emily would come home and then leave again. But he didn't stay mad. He didn't exactly understand what Emily was going through but he said that she got her wildness from their mother. Her mother was from gypsy stock, from what I've heard. His father had met her in New York, in the eighteen nineties. Brought her, and her mother, out here, out to Iowa. Henry told me once that he took after his father while Emily was a lot like her mother."

   "What do you think happened to Emily?"

   "I… " Edwin stopped talking and shook his head.

   "There you two are." said Mary, who had just walked into the barn. "I hope I'm not interrupting."

   "We were talking about Emily." said Sean, as he put his hand into his pocket and slipped the wedding ring on his finger. "I asked what it was he thought had happened to Emily, he doesn't want to talk about it." thought Sean.

   "Let me talk to him, alone," thought Mary. "and let me have your ring." she thought, taking it from his finger.

   "I'll see how Tina's doing with the coffee." said Sean as he turned to go.

   Mary could see that Edwin was agitated. "I'm sorry, it was my idea to ask you about Emily. Sean didn't mean to upset you."

   "No, it's OK, I'm alright." said Edwin. "I will tell you what I saw, what I saw through Emily's foresight."

   "With the rings?" asked Mary, "You used the rings with Emily?"

   "Yes. We used them. She wanted to let me know what she could see, so that her secrets wouldn't be lost. That's why when you came into the shop for the first time I gave you the book.  I had seen you before, you see, in Emily's visions. She gave me the rings and the book because she already knew that she wouldn't come back. She had seen her own death."

   "Edwin, would you put this ring on?" said Mary, handing him Sean's band. "I want to know, I think it might be easier this way."

   "No. I'm too old. It takes a lot out of a person. I won't do it again." Edwin said. "It's yours to use with Sean. It's good that you're married. It will bind you together, but be careful how you use it."

   "Did you ever go too far, when using the ring, with Emily?"

   "When we made love. That was going too far." he said, "It spoiled me, my relations with women that is. How could I date the silly girls around here when I had been with Em?"

   Edwin's candor took Mary by surprise. There was an awkward pause until Mary spoke:

   "Thank you for talking about this, Edwin. I appreciate it. I'm just trying to understand all this. Let's go inside, the coffee is ready."


  The foursome sat around the kitchen table drinking coffee. Edwin had settled down, and was even exchanging words with Tina: asking her about her moving sale, and how she'd take to living in the assisted living facility.

   "I'm sick of living alone." said Tina, "I could use some assisting."

   "I've thought about giving up the shop, too." said Edwin, "I should sell the building and dump all the junk I've collected."

   "I would bet that a dealer would be glad to take your stock." said Sean, "All your things are much better than the usual stuff you see in antique stores."

   "That may well be." said Edwin. "I could really use a change in scenery as well."

   "Edwin, you don't have to be a stranger, you know." said Tina, "We could get together for coffee sometimes."

   "Sean, will you come up stairs, I want some help in packing." Mary said as she gave him a little kick under the table.

   "Tina, Edwin, would you excuse us?" said Sean. "We'll be down in a little while and can take you back into town when we leave."

   "Take your time, children." said Tina. "Take your time."


By Professor Batty

Comments: 3 

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Sofia's World

   I've been on a bit of a film jag lately, I've used the time to fill in my knowledge of one of the most unique (and somewhat controversial) modern film directors, Sofia Coppola. Her 1999 debut feature, The Virgin Suicides, was celebrated, her next film, Lost in Translation won an Oscar for her original screenplay. Her later films were not as well received, in 2006 Marie Antoinette had mixed reviews. I thought that Jason Schwartzman was miscast as Louis XVI and the modern soundtrack was disconnected from the sumptuous visuals.

   These early films share a theme of young women trying to find their own place in the world, a world which would rather define it for them. There are never any easy answers in Sofia's films and some people feel that there aren't any endings either. This was especially true in her 2010 feature Somewhere, in which a bored and dissolute B-list celebrity halfheartedly tries to connect with his teen-aged daughter. It is probably Sofia's most personal film, reflecting she experienced growing up in the shadow of her father, Francis Ford Coppola.

   In 2013 The Bling Ring was quite a different film. Based on the true story of a group of teens who would burglarize celebrities' homes by using social and entertainment media to figure out when they could break-in. Extremely well done, with a great performance by Emma Watson, but the emptiness of the characters may leave the viewer with a bitter aftertaste.

   I enjoyed all of these films, but be aware they are not plot-driven. If you need a strong story arc and a satisfying resolution you will find these movies to be boring and dull. But  Sofia's vision is consistent, and all will spur further discussion. 

By Professor Batty

Comments: 0 

Monday, January 19, 2015

Annie on the Radio

   My favorite Welsh/Irish/Icelandic graphic designer, Annie Atkins, is back in the news again, this time for her part in the Oscar nominated films The Grand Budapest Hotel and  The Box Trolls. Her brief stay at Flippist World Headquarters touched the lives of all who met her. At the time of her visit she was between jobs, trying to make a career move. One might say that being the lead graphic designer on a film with nine Academy award nominations means that she has definitely accomplished that.

  Here's the link to a recent radio interview which was aired on Ireland's RTE Radio One. Her segment starts at the 00:19:18  mark. It's about ten minutes long, stick with it to the end and you'll discover what her latest mind-blowing project is. Way to go Annie!

By Professor Batty

Comments: 1