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Thursday, January 28, 2010

Before the President Spoke

On Wednesday afternoon I baked bread, and then we had an early dinner before walking to the bridge for sunset, which was as lovely in the east (see above) as in the west. Back at the house, with two and a half hours before the president’s State of the Union address, I picked up a book bought at Sunday’s flea market in Homosassa Springs. The woman bookseller had cast a charming spell on me when first I entered her large, roomy store and saw her sitting at the counter, pencil in hand, drawing a picture (“I’m trying to teach myself to draw,” she said),

but the book, The Extremists: Gadflies of American Society, by Jules Archer, had an appeal of its own. Published in 1969, it covers “extremism,” whether from the Right, from the Left, from unruly mobs, Congress, the courts or the White House, in all of American history from Puritan times through the 1960’s. I couldn’t resist.

I’m always fascinated when I hear anyone say, “Our nation has never been as divided as it is today” or “Civility has disappeared from ‘civil society’ in this country.” When I hear a remark about Americans being more divided today than ever before—or even “more than I’ve ever seen in my lifetime”—I immediately think of the Vietnam War era. More now than then? More, say, in 2008 than in 1968? I don’t know how to compare “now” with “then,” having been so very much younger then. As for the feelings of people in this country before my lifetime or a century or two before, there’s a real mystery. We’ve all studied the politics and the wars of our nation’s history, but what went on between Americans who disagreed? That’s the subject of Jules Archer’s book.

Roger Williams, who challenged the Puritans’ laws obligating support for and attendance in their church, is my new historical American hero. Williams established the colony of Rhode Island, where “Colonists of any persuasion were welcomed—Protestants, Catholics, Quakers, Jews and atheists,” but not before he was threatened with deportation back to England by the Puritan Fathers. Williams also took both England and American colonists to task for stealing land from the Native Americans. He was an “extremist,” according to Archer, but so, Archer says, were the Puritans. “Time and history prove many extremist groups to be wrong in their ideas or tactics or both,” he notes. “But others become esteemed....”

The wrangles between supporters of Samuel Adams versus Thomas Jefferson foreshadow, for me, struggles that are still part of American society, with Jefferson as the liberal, the believer in democracy and opponent of the Jay Treaty and the Alien and Sedition Acts (the “Patriot Act” of the 18th century) and Adams looking to strengthen the federal government, protect it from spies and a French-style Reign of Terror by setting up harsh penalties at home and a newly forged alliance with England. Political fears were so heightened at this period that when Jefferson was elected president, an extremist conspiracy was formed to set up a separate nation under new government, the “Northern Confederacy of New England and New York.” It didn’t get far, but when was the last time we worried that part of our country was going to break away and declare its independence?

Unpopular wars are nothing new. The War of 1812 was rammed through Congress by “War Hawks” who hoped that by defeating England a second time, the United States could expand its territory, but two states refused to send members of their state militia to fight in the war, Federalist merchants wouldn’t buy war bonds, and a mob in Boston actually killed an American general. The war was brought to a spluttering close when New England threatened secession if it went on. Another threat of secession and a general dead at the hands of a mob!

People worry about party crashers at the White House, but how about Andrew Jackson’s inaugural ball, where crashers numbered in the thousands?
Standing on costly damask-covered chairs with muddy boots, they cheered their hero wildly. Many rushed forward to pump his hand, elbowing the rich and fashionable to one side. People shoved, scrambled, fought, romped. Women fainted, men got bloody noses; clothing was torn; expensive glass and china went splintering against walls and floors. A dazed Daniel Webster stammered, “I never saw anything like it before!”

The mob had to be lured out to the White House lawn with punch (presumably alcoholic) enough for 20,000 people.

And so it goes, on and on, decade after decade. The rich get richer, and the poor get pissed. Attempts are made to correct abuses of power, and those in power panic and clutch more tightly at the reins. One religious group or another tries to impose its views on the whole country, or times get tough economically and a religious group or race or group of immigrants (any of these may be plural rather than singular) is targeted as the scapegoat. Whatever the divisive issues, voices are raised, fists shaken, families at odds with each other, angry letters to the editor written and published, and sometimes there are fatalities, as lines separating friend and enemy are drawn, erased and redrawn. Still, like contestants in a “three-legged” race, we struggle to go forward together, because so much is at stake and forward is the only direction possible.

For a reflection on “extremism” in a recent controversy, see Benjamin Busch’s remarks for National Public Radio. I wrote about Busch’s essay “Growth Rings” (on books and trees, not politics) in this blog earlier in the month. A friend of his found the post and forwarded a link to Ben, who got in touch with me last week, and it was delightful to hear from him. I was also happy to learn that he and his family live not all that far from Traverse City, over in Reed City in the middle of Michigan, and that Ben is willing to come to Northport to do a reading at Dog Ears Books in the spring. Another event to anticipate back home in Michigan!

Future of bookselling? Future of our country? Onward and upward, my friends! But in the picture below, don't look for the moon in the sky. See it reflected in the water?

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Mostly Pictures: Together Again!

Not many words today. Not needed. The day was Saturday, the subject is dogs, the event “Bark Island,” and the highlight a reunion of two good pals.
Look, it's Digby!!!

Sarah would have enjoyed running on the beach even without the presence of Digby, her dog park friend of last year, but playing with him again made the morning extra-special.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Surrounded by Words

I learned so much reading Temple Grandin’s Animals in Translation that I only hope I can remember some of it. I’ll easily remember the parts that were already familiar to me, such as the idea that humans and dogs co-evolved or Grandin’s contention (something I’ve suspected myself) that pain and suffering are two different experiences. What I’d like to remember are the things she says that I’ve never suspected or read or thought or been taught before. I found it fascinating, for example, that researchers now look differently at animal experiments in which the subjects self-stimulated a particular region of their brains. Remember those studies? Remember the so-called “pleasure center” of the brain? Like Grandin, “I thought the ESB animals must be experiencing something like a permanent orgasm.” Well, evidence now says what the rats were stimulating circuits in the brains having to do with curiosity, interest and anticipation, not satisfaction per se.
That’s not as surprising as it sounds when you think about it. At the most basic level, animals and humans are wired to enjoy hunting for food. That’s why hunters like to hunt even if they’re not going to eat what they kill: they like the hunting part in and of itself. Depending on their personalities and interests, humans enjoy any kind of hunt: they like hunting through flea markets for hidden finds; they like hunting for answers to medical problems on the Internet; they like hunting for the ultimate meaning of life in church or in a philosophy seminar. All of those activities come out of the same [“seeking”] system in the brain.

Has someone been watching David and me on a hidden camera? No, we are just typical animals, rejoicing in the thrill of the hunt at bookstores, libraries, thrift shops, flea markets and roadside produce stands.

A more alarming section of Grandin’s book is a section titled “Words Get in the Way,” dealing with a phenomenon called “verbal overshadowing.” Let’s say you witness an event, subsequently engage in an unrelated activity, and then you are asked to write down what you remember of the event. “For example, in one study people watched a short videotape of a bank robbery...,.” Their viewing was followed by 20 minutes of unrelated activity, and after the 20 minutes the viewers were divided into two groups, one asked to write down what they remembered about the robber’s face in the video, the other assigned an “unrelated task.” Finally, both groups were tested to see if they could recognize the robber’s face.
Two thirds of the people who wrote nothing down and did unrelated tasks could identify a photograph of the robber, while only one third of the people who wrote verbal descriptions could pick him out. This is a well-established effect; many studies have found exactly the same thing, and some studies have extended the effect to auditory memory as well. People who write down a description of a voice are less able to pick it out from other voices than people who didn’t describe the voice in words.

How counter-intuitive and shocking is this? “Write it down so you’ll remember it,” we typically say, but now it turns out we might remember better if we didn’t write it down! Are witnesses to real crimes, asked to repeat their testimony over and over, less likely to get the story right or be able to identify suspects correctly? Is describing what you saw in speech different from describing it in writing, or is describing in speech subject to the memory problems? And what about writers who keep journals? Are they chipping away at their memories rather than anchoring experiences in place? And is it only identification of faces and voices that is more difficult after writing a description, or are all kinds of recall adversely affected? There is some comfort to be had in the finding that visual memories are not erased, only suppressed, by written descriptions, but what it takes to recall the nonverbal memories is not necessarily what a court witness or memoir writer would automatically do, so the questions, for me, remain.

Well then, next, having read Grandin’s book, I picked up again Andrei Codrescu’s The Disappearance of Outside with (or through) a whole new frame (or grid) of reference. This book is an example of the very “professor” sort of literature the author rails against in chapter after chapter. a long, long, long series of polemical statements, one after another. The author never has questions, he never wonders, he never doubts or thinks maybe there’s another way to look at matters or says “It seems to me” or “perhaps.” No, the text reads like this: “This, I say, is true. This, I say, is true. This, I say is true.” It’s mentally exhausting, like being punched in the head over and over and over and over. To make matters worse, almost every one of his pontifical declarative sentences is abstract in nature. It’s never “The sun was shining” but always some abstract Take-my-word-for-it truth claim--and often metaphorical, to boot. Not that I have any general problem with figurative language (we would not have poetry without it), but if it’s possible to abuse metaphor, this author has done it.

My suspicions were already considerably aroused before I reached the end of Part Four, entitled “Living with Amnesia,” and found myself (having been thinking a lot lately about words and images) reading the last sentences of that section over and over again:
Unlike words, images do not overthrow each other: they join up. To get beyond them we need to know how to disrupt their joining. We become flatter as they become more multidimensional: each trick of perspective that we dispose of, they take up. Eventually we may become mere images, trapped like shadows in some collective hell, the United Fascist States of Utopia. In another generation, people raised by images will not be able to imagine escape. The walls of Plato’s prison-cave will be animated.

Strange notion, isn’t it, that images will kill imagination? Here’s my one-sentence summary of the passage above: Images are ganging up on us and will take our place, if we’re not vigilant. (When my university students complained that John Locke was too difficult to understand, I had them reduce each paragraph in the Second Treatise on Government to a single sentence. It wasn’t easy, but they could do it, and it’s a good way to figure out what a difficult writer is saying.) Well, if I’d grown up under Stalinism I might find this kind of hyperbole convincing, but as it happens I attended graduate school in philosophy before post-structuralism had been laid to rest (I’m told it that only pockets of it survive today), and so I am as skeptical about scholarly obfuscation as Codrescu is about political propaganda. Also, having spent years picking apart arguments I don’t adopt conclusions too easily, whether my own or someone else’s. So after reading the excerpt above several times over, I went back to the beginning of the long paragraph of which these sentences are the end, and here’s how it begins: “All images want to become one image, the Sacred Image, the Icon.” And I asked myself, “Do I believe that?” And I answered in the negative. I don’t believe it. I don’t believe images want anything, and I don’t even believe that there is a tendency for images to collapse into one another, reducing to a singularity. Quite, I would say, the opposite. The immediacy of the visual world is such that we cannot, unless in some state of psychic shock, avoid a succession of perceptions, or images, and opening our eyes to them, really looking, trying to see, can be an antidote to the often misleading abstractions of words. At least, I find it so.

Is it easier to break an image’s spell with words than it is to break a verbal spell with an image? I don’t think so. Words can be used to overthrow each other, but they can also be used to reinforce, to confuse, to silence, and they have often been so used.

I wrote the other day that David usually sees much more than I do and has a much better visual memory and can describe people better than I can. We left a shop recently, and I asked David if he had noticed the clerk’s tattoo. He hadn’t. It was on her forearm, I told him, indicating its size on my own arm and describing it to him. He was as delighted as I was that my eyes had been open to what was in front of me.

Seeing! What a delight! Shall I shut up now?

Friday, January 22, 2010

Off the Main Road

Far south of the Panhandle and north of Tampa Bay, Hernando and Pasco Counties are sawgrass coast. Near where we are staying there are four man-made recreation beaches, but the natural shore is deeply permeable, with tides rising and falling daily through sawgrass and mangroves. Aripeka (“little Aripeka,” people say fondly) straddles the county line. Its post office, once in Hernando County, is now south of the South Fork of Hammock Creek in Pasco. Except for the bridges, Aripeka’s elevation above sea level is about three feet, and heavy overnight rain turns the narrow two-lane highway into a series of temporary small lakes.

It’s a quiet place to wake up on a misty January morning. Do you see the two dogs? The black one is Weiser, the tan one Ida. Sarah's playmates in Aripeka, here they are freeloading at Carl Norfleet's general store.

Hernando Beach north of here and Hudson a few miles south were “developed” when speculators discovered this stretch of coast. Canals were dug and narrow mobile home lots laid out in Hudson, larger home lots (later) in Hernando Beach. Hammock Creek has always been too shallow for deep-draft boats, and development tends to occur where wider rivers empty into the Gulf, so Aripeka has remained a sleepy place, a pocket of old Florida. There are a few big, expensive houses but no condos. The atmosphere would change radically if the huge Sun West property were to be developed, but real estate isn’t what it used to be in Florida, so that might not happen for a long time, if ever. Smaller controversies erupt over the possibility of less radical change: so far, all the big box stores are out on Hwy. 19, the highway and the little fishing village maintaining up to now their very distinct characters.

As for my reading, I'm about three-quarters of the way through the Temple Grandin book and learning so much I feel almost dizzy. Too much to say about that to get into today, however. Next time! Also just started into a book on watercolor painting, not because I plan to get into that but because it's so charmingly written and some of it, I'm sure, will carry over into drawing.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Words and Pictures

Kathy up in the Keewanaw wrote not long ago about being a verbal rather than a visual person, and her post touched a chord with me, as I have lived under the spell—and sometimes under the tyranny—of words all my life. Of encounters with new people, I retain impressions rather than pictures, which frustrates my very visual artist husband, who wants me to describe the person I’m telling him about: How old? How tall? Weight? Glasses? Beard? Hair color? I want to get on with my story, and he wants me to describe the character before getting into dialogue or action, and often we both end up frustrated. It isn’t that I wasn’t paying attention to the person I just met, either. I can tell David about the conversation and whether I felt I’d met a kind person, a roaring egotist, a sensitive soul or whatever, and I can back up my tentative conclusion with reference to specific phrases or behaviors or mannerisms. But describe visual details? I’m hopeless, unless something very specific connects to something important in my memory. “She had that delicate, translucent skin with faint freckles like my old boyfriend, You-know-who,” I might say.

Many years ago when I held a series of jobs in which I performed well but without any joy whatsoever (it was clerical work, and I always felt like a prisoner in an office, tied to the telephone like a junkyard dog chained to a fence), I bought my first 35mm camera. It was a used Nikon and came with a couple of good used lenses. What a revelation! What an escape! Concentrating on the ratio of exposure length to aperture diameter—a wordless balancing act--delighted me. Though I have always loved words and always will, what I loved then and still now love about photography is that it involves no words whatsoever; in fact, my mind’s focus on the visual field frees it from words, which automatically removes anxiety, resentment, planning and strategizing, worry and all manner of “squirrel-caging.” There is also the fact that the camera “sees” everything, not just what my eyes and mind are noticing, and while sometimes the result is more wonderful than anything I might have planned, other times it’s a disaster, and I have to make an effort to see what is in front of me, not what I expected to see.

I’ve written before about the books of Frederick Frank and how important his Zen approach to drawing was in giving me courage to pick up a pencil to try to record rather than describe a visual scene. Then one Christmas David gave me a sketchbook, artist’s pencils and gentle, undemanding encouragement. It was one of the winters we came to Florida, where I let myself be lost in looking and seeing. So Kathy, I was not born a visual person, either, but learning to see is a lifetime assignment I have given myself.

Franck said in one of his books, apropos drawing portraits, that no one can draw a portrait without loving the subject because to draw it is necessary to see, and to see truly one must put self and selfish concerns aside. The subject/object dichotomy must vanish. So one of my impossible dreams is to put sworn enemies in a room together (okay, maybe separated by bullet-proof glass) and not let them out until they produce decent portraits of each other. No talking allowed. Peace in the Middle East and an end to terrorism!

As David and I were driving south this year, I thought a lot about drawing and photography, the ways in which they are similar and the ways in which they differ, and one thing that came to my mind is the difference between additive and subtractive sculpture. I’m not sure I have the terms right—this is not my field—but basically, working in clay the artist adds material to build a work to completion, while working in stone material is subtracted until what is left is the finished work. I am not an artist and never will be, but I begin a drawing on a blank piece of paper, whereas, focusing on a world that is already there, with my camera I am selecting and excluding. Also, while color and light are my preoccupations in photography, with drawing I am trying to obtain a dimension of depth despite the flatness of my drawing paper, and so again what is “already there” for my camera must be achieved by my eye and pencil.

Why do I draw? It is not anything I consider my “work,” as I do writing, but it is the only form of meditation I have found that works for me, meditation that empties my mind of chatter and anchors me solidly in the present. In presence.

We went to the library the other day, where I renewed my annual visitor membership, and one of the books I brought home (hard to believe I haven’t read this yet) is Temple Grandin’s Animals in Translation: Using the Mysteries of Autism to Decode Animal Behavior. Her discussion of the similarities between animals and autistic human beings and between autistic people and visual people fascinates me. It helps me understand David better, too. Slightly dyslexic, strongly visual, David can be bothered by small visual and auditory details. Like another dyslexic friend of mine, however, he is often soothed by loud music or omnipresent radio or television sound that drives me crazy. We’re not from different planets. He tells me I have a “good eye,” and I appreciate his insights into character, ethics and politics. We are neither one of us strictly visual or verbal. But we are different.

Autistic people, Grandin says, like animals, see the world in front of their eyes, where “normal” people see their ideas of the world. Autistics and animals see details. “Normal” people generalize and abstract and see what they expect to see rather than what’s there. She speculates that abstraction is “one of the reasons there is so much partisan fighting inside government.” Yes, it’s true. People who can come to an agreement on concrete action when it’s clear that something concrete has to be done, say in a crisis situation, are paralyzed in opposition year after year if they remain focused on abstract principles.

Plato can have his eternal Forms! Give me the appearances of this world—sights, sounds, smells, tastes and textures. But leave me language, too, for the return to conversation, so I can share where I have been and commit it to memory.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Disorientation Days

After our last night on the road in Monticello, Florida, just over the state line, we set out south again on Friday, stopping briefly for a visit with friends in Suwannee. It was a sunny day. Later, as we approached Weeki Wachee, a large fire was burning at the Chassahowitzka Wildlife Refuge. Intentionally set? Accidental? Other? I haven’t been able to find out yet. There was daylight left when we arrived in Aripeka. [Note added after the fact: the fire was intentional and controlled.]

More confusing sometimes than travel is having arrived, with the intention of staying for a long time. Being on the road has its own rhythm and is its own reason; settling into a place requires new rhythms and routines, as well as adjusting to staying still again after being on the move. Neither home nor traveling, one must make a temporary home, and so we spent the first evening unpacking the car, cleaning and organizing our things, and moving furniture to accommodate the way we will live here. The next day involved, of necessity, serious grocery shopping.

After all this we rewarded ourselves with coffee and treats at Paesano’s “to celebrate our arrival,” as David said, each of us reminding the other that such luxuries will not be a daily feature of the winter. Last year’s Florida winter frugality must be honed this year to a fine edge: such are the conditions of our getaway. A visit to Paesano’s for coffee alone is a treat, however: as I did on my first visit to Paris, here in Spring Hill too I can always take in the fare with eyes and nose and be well rewarded.

And yet the “Where am I?” sensation persists. Away from home, I buy more newspapers and feel more connected to the world beyond my skin and my door. Our frugal life is unthinkable luxury compared to life in Haiti, even before the recent tragedy! One of my 2010 financial goals is a secure enough income to let me subscribe again on a regular basis to Save the Children. Donating only at the end of the year does not feel like enough of a commitment, not integral enough to my life. Frugality will help. So will an increase of bookstore business, and I have plans for that, too.

By coincidence (I'm still thinking about Haiti), one of the books we’re reading takes place in the Caribbean. Writing 80 years ago, the young author’s language is unconsciously racist (so unconscious he would surely have denied it if charged) and the book difficult to stay with on that account, but the cover tells us he stays several years on the small island, and I am hoping his perspective will shift along the way.

The national holiday in memory of Martin Luther King, Jr., causes me to think back to last year, so close to the inauguration of President Obama, and all the celebratory and heart-lifting television programs we watched in motel rooms and at our friend’s house in Suwannee. World events in the memory of any individual are inevitably tied to personal life. Where were you, who were your companions of the moment, when you heard news of this or that unforgettable event? Whatever your answer, I’m sure the personal details are unforgettable, as well, linked forever in your memory to the event. I don’t know if this effect is stronger when one is away from home, but being away seems to add another dimension.

Earlier on Saturday morning as I drifted from sleep to wakefulness, the beginning of a short story was taking shape in my mind, so I got up right away to start the coffee and get the words down. “Mallory’s People” isn’t the kind of thing I usually write, and I may decide it isn’t even worth keeping, but it helped me ease into my Aripeka winter. Sunday morning began the same way, and by Monday morning I had 2300 words and called it done. It felt good to work, to fall into a productive morning routine.

David has arranged his studio space and cut panels on which to paint. We are getting into the rhythm. Sunday evening was our first walk to the bridge for sunset. I’ll close this post with a few separate moments of the view from South Fork of Hammock Creek at day’s end (Sunday).

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Books on the Road: Second Bookstore Visit and More Besides

Morning arrived still cold (hard frost) but bright and sunny, and we were giddy with anticipation, because Highway 19 would be our route for the whole day, and all sense of hurry had vanished. Rolling through Georgia on good road on a beautiful day--gracious pecan groves to admire, my first boiled peanuts since leaving the South last spring, visit to A Novel Experience (bookstore) in Zebulon, Georgia, light lunch at an old movie house cafe in Thomaston, visit to a nut house (!), and many, many sightings of the beautiful and very typical Georgia houses I wrote about and photographed last year.

Zebulon, county seat of Pike County, Georgia, was our first, long-anticipated destination of the day, and I practically cheered to see the bookstore, A Novel Experience, open for business as we pulled up in front at 10:15 a.m. by the courthouse clock. Chris and Susan, two of the three owners and the ones we’d met last year, were both on deck, but with Chris on her way out I had bookseller shop talk with Susan. She also encouraged me to read the novel Trinity, by Leon Uris, this winter, a book I’ve postponed reading for years. Okay, Susan, now I’m committed!

There was an exhibit of beautiful photographs called “Behind the Big House” on display at the bookstore. The photographer, Curtis Graves, has chronicled life on Evergreen Plantation, about 40 miles north of New Orleans, a place where his ancestors lived and died, both as slaves and as free men and women, for over 200 years. I wonder if a book of his work will result eventulally. As a bookseller, I can’t help hoping so. The work is certainly deserving.

Another flourishing bookstore is good news for our side!

On south to the next county seat. David and I had lunch last year at English’s Cafe in Thomaston and had a wonderful time, but today we tried a new place, the Ritz Cafe, on the very same courthouse square. It’s right next door to the old Ritz movie house, open for business and currently showing “The Bright Side.”

Display windows to the north of the theatre entrance feature old film memorabilia, and the cafe (to the south) also has an old movie theme, with posters and old reels on the wall and strips of film wound around pillars. The soups were delicious, the coffee perfection.

Books to soup to nuts kind of sums up our Georgia day’s highlights. On to the nuts--.

Coming from apple and cherry country, I’m accustomed to trees planted in rows and find beauty in the regularity of orchards but see in pecan groves, with much taller trees and more widely spaced rows, a different dimension altogether, almost that of large urban parkland. These groves look so gracious, so welcoming, similar to the gracious, welcoming charm of old Georgia houses.

Should I confess, though, that I wanted to stop at Ole Henry’s Nut House outside Camilla, Georgia, primarily to seek out mayhaw jelly?

But I did buy pecans and also local honey and something like peanut brittle but made with pecans and called crickle instead of brittle. And look at this case displaying varieties of pecans--whoever imagined there were so many ?

Or that a place called the “Nut House” would also house City Hall? Now that’s different!

Florida has been our ultimate destination all along, but it’s always bittersweet to me to cross the state line, leaving Georgia behind.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Books on the Road: What We Are Reading

I already confessed to two nights with Stephanie Plum in Joliet. My third night away from home (first night truly “on the road”) I took a deep breath and dove into Complications: A Surgeon’s Notes on an Imperfect Science, by Atul Gawande, while David relaxed with television. That reading gave me a lot of physical exercise—grimacing, wincing, recoiling, etc.! The operating room is not a place I want to be, in any capacity; reading about it, though, is fascinating (albeit graphic), not only for the medical details but also for Gawande’s thoughtfulness and candor, and so I wince and read on.

David and I took turns driving south yesterday, and since the beautiful prairie is (it cannot be denied) somewhat monotonous after a while, while one of us drove the other generously read aloud for many miles, David from Andrei Codrescu’s The Disappearance of the Outside and I, from the introduction, Inagua: An Island Sojourn, by Gilbert C. Klingel. From the repression of thought in Stalinist Russia to a storm-battered sailboat on the Atlantic in 1929, we took turns keeping whoever was driving in a state of high alert rather than succumbing to road fatigue.

When the book (whichever it was) was set aside, topics of conversation arose, and since it is now winter and we will soon be in Florida, the only time and place in my life where my sketchbook and pencils really come into their own, I have been thinking about drawing. As we crossed the frozen landscape, I told David that when I am using my camera—or even just thinking about taking photographs--I am concerned with line, color, light and composition, but when I think about drawing the color aspect drops out of consideration, its place taken by the solidity of objects, i.e., volume. How to show all the not-flat things of the world in their reality? David then suggested that the landscape we were traversing was excellent for thinking about perspective. I’ll say! I mentioned the lines of telephone or electric poles and wires angling off across the fields, growing smaller and smaller. Also, he pointed out, the difference between dark trees close to us and those farther away, seemingly lighter in value (is that the correct term?) across the intervening atmosphere. He described to me an exercise set for beginning drawing students. An egg is set on a table, lit from one side by a candle. The candle can be moved around the egg, lighting it from different sides, changing the look of the object to be drawn, and the candle is also burning lower all the time, effecting different changes. I pictured the egg and candle in my mind as he described the setup. Our surroundings, I should add, were far from a single-light-source exercise: cloud-covered sky and snow-covered ground made a kind of light sandwich--light being the pieces of bread, that is, not the sandwich filling. But it was the filling, too, wasn’t it? I need to reflect on this a bit more. Anyway, it's interesting the difference in concerns between photography and drawing. With drawing, one must endeavor to create an illusion rather than simply capturing a scene. With photography, on the other hand, one must be aware of what the camera is "seeing" that the eye could easily overlook, e.g., the phone pole or stop sign that could look to be growing out of a friend's head. What needs to be put in, what needs to be carefully excluded--different problems for different media.

I also read aloud to David the excellent, excellent piece by Jesse Jackson published Tuesday morning and clipped (with her permission) from my mother’s Chicago Sun-Times. Jackson has hit this one right on: it isn’t enough to bail out banks; they need to be reformed. Read the article and see if you don’t agree.

Weather has been very cold in the South this past week, and everywhere we looked in Kentucky we saw a frozen world. Small “waterfalls” we are accustomed to see spilling over limestone cuts were motionless stalactites. Ice-covered lakes and frozen creeks looked more like Michigan than Dixie, and snow on the ground continued, at least in patches, on into Tennessee.

Tonight in Georgia I saw two dandelions in bloom, as well as our first palmetto of the trip, but I’m unable to offer documentary evidence, for my camera batteries had run too low. That will be fixed by tomorrow, and we will be making our way down Hwy. 19 in a leisurely fashion. No more expressway—yea!!!

Oh, I must congratulate myself on an exemplary attitude having to do with that expressway travel business. Before we left home, I had resigned myself to the necessity of covering ground fast, minimizing meals on the road and nights in motels. (Like everyone else, we have our belts cinched tight this winter, which is part of our reason for heading to Florida in the first place.) But David knows how much I love two-lane travel and local food, and when we got off I-75 tonight and got settled in our motel, he found a fresh seafood take-out restaurant, where our catfish and shrimp—also French fries and hush puppies—were cooked while we waited. Now that’s what I call “road food”! The cases with all the different kinds of fish (whole, eyes in, and fillets), shrimp, scallops, alligator meat, etc., with fresh fruits and vegetables in boxes in front of the cases, are another scene I must leave to your imagination this evening.