shot black and white

As many of you doubtless know, there is one of these chain-letter things going around on social media called the black and white challenge. You are supposed to shoot one black and white picture for seven days and each day nominate someone else to do it. I hate these things, but Tracey Dillon tapped me (I blame her!) and so I'm doing it with one exception. Not passing it along—so that all of my friends who don't like homework assignments won't get mad at me. So far I have learned one thing from the exercise, which is that no matter how classic b/w looks, I prefer color.

Vote now! Vote often!


chaos theory

 I am branching out. Magazines may be dead, but advertorial magazines appear to be thriving. This essay appears in a title called "Ideas of Order" put out by California Closets. Thoughtful stories, classy layout, great production, nice paper. I am not sure how or to whom it's being distributed, but you can see the full issue here. I reproduce my text below. Please note the prescient mention of natural disasters!

Tidying up: The Dialectics of Order

The world is too big. We can’t wrap our little minds around it, so we frame it, contain it. Stack it. Sort it. Strap it. Pat it. Prune it. Slice and dice it. We stereotype and generalize, categorize and organize. Because it’s all Too Much Information.  We can’t even.
   The eye imports the unintelligible jumble, and the brain sorts it, color codes it, tries to break it down to recognizable images and make sense of it. A photographer picks one frame from the torrent of input in his or her field of vision and simplifies, looking for some intrinsic logic. In that one selected frame, a picture can capture harmony and meaning. Outside the frame is—well, all that other stuff. Three hundred and sixty degrees of relentless reality.

So make the world smaller. Pull the camera back, a spaceshot away from the chaotic mess of humankind, and experience the music of the spheres as they whirl in orderly circles. Get closer and there are our gridlike cities and parking lots, the meticulous rows of corn and terraces of rice we have imprinted on the landscape. Rivers snake and mountains erupt according to their own natures, and still we try to groom and manicure the very earth itself.
    Or get very close to a photographic frame and examine the pixels. The word comes from “picture elements,” a human construct that makes an image into a pointillist grid of dots or squares, a Seurat or Chuck Close writ exceeding small. Get closer still, with an electron microscope, and it’s the natural order again: tiny solar systems of atoms. 

The world is too dangerous. People need patterns to cope. Is that dappling the effect of the sun shining through leaves—or the spots of a leopard? You have to decide quickly, and the more deeply encoded the patterns, the faster your brain can process. Sometimes it’s good to be on autopilot. Decision-making is exhausting. Friend or enemy? Here or there? This or that? Stash or trash? What goes with what? What to put in, what to leave out.

So make the world safer. Make it more predictable. Standardize. If you can’t find patterns, construct them. Make big box stores with identical layouts. Stand in the place where you live and think about directions. Invent numbers to mark street and highway signs. Create emojis. Make symbols—a picture of a mortar and pestle for an apothecary’s shop or letters to brand a chain drug store—so you know what to expect when you walk through the door. People like familiar packaging. Pattern recognition. 

The world is out of control. Floods, hurricanes, wildfires. Deserts blooming. Tropical fish straying into northerly waters. The strange migrations of birds.  We’ve never been able to control the weather, but it seems crazier than ever. And then there’s the everyday stuff we can’t control— delays, malfunctions, our children, appetites, our tempers. No wonder we have control issues.

So control your own chaotic world. We get a little OCD.  We make our immediate environment more manageable by cutting it into byte-sized pieces. A two-year-old sorts her shoes into pairs and places them in a careful circle around her feet.  A wage slave squares his laptop and makes a flurry of decisions about where to file each piece of paper floating around the office.  A housekeeper arranges cushions symmetrically on the couch. Human beings crave symmetry. In a face, it is perceived as beauty; in our surroundings, it is perceived as clarity. Clear the decks. Clear the desk. Clear the mind.

But the world is too big.  Something always messes with our neatnik framework, an inner Oscar to our inner Felix. Perfect order is the impossible dream. We can organize into pixels and fractals and pterodactyls, but the next thing you know—kablam! All bets are off. There is no final cut. Fifty-two pickup. Toss all the cards in the air, and they fall in a new pattern. Synchronicity? Maybe.
   Chaos theory posits that new patterns are jumpstarted by tiny initial actions, that a butterfly’s wing or a swimmer’s flutter kick can cause a concatenation of events that result in a tornado in Kansas. So, Dorothy, here’s to new beginnings.  Embrace the process. Chaos is creative. This is the pleasure and the paradox. A tabula rasa. We get to start over, creating order and serenity from chaos. In that inchoate mess are so many possibilities. Because the world is so big, and so very beautiful.


by the sea

 They were surfcasting yesterday and surfing some days before. People hock me because I haven't been to the beach since I got back, but I'm happy just to hear the sea and see the sea. I never get tired of the waves and the sky and the way the horizon divides the two.


sunset with architectural elements

Epic sunsets. Wouldn't know about the sunrises, though I've heard they're nice too.
    The exterminator, Correna ("I'm your girl"), was here today. It's a pleasure to meet someone so excited about her work, even though it does involve bugs, rats, mice and—her nemesis—acrobat ants! That's what I have.  "They're eating your house! This whole island is sand!" As yet no termites have migrated to the island, but she suspects they will one day. She swears her spray will not harm animals or people. I sign on the dotted line.


then and now

 Four years ago this itty bitty baby and his big sister visited Block Island on Columbus Day weekend. Some things haven't changed. But some things have!


full moon empty boat

I know, I know. I haven't posted for a few days. But I've been booking the houses and spending enough time on the computer. Hopefully better after the weekend!


scenic block island

 You never know. One day it's summer weather, the next day stormy weather. But you can count on the skies being extreme.
  In other news, the linen service has come up with most of my vanished towels. So I'm a happy renter.


both sides now

 Above is the view from my driveway. Below is the view of my driveway. Some garage they're building, huh? Almost as big as my house! Ah well, it will provide a barricade of sorts from the full-on view of their porch.


a rant about renters

I am all riled up. My house is a wreck. And so, apparently are the houses of a lot of other people on Block Island.  One real estate agent told me that she has never seen such a sense of entitlement among renters. So I am venting here with the letter I would LIKE to write, but will not to my tenants.

Dear Guests,

Yes, I am booking already for next year! Even as the temps in BI have been in the heavenly seventies. Get ready for a rant, however. I left in June with everything in top form and got home in September to be shocked by the condition of our houses.

Word: Some of you have been stretching the capacity of my houses and septic systems by crowding people in. Hannah’s is meant to house eight; Claudia’s, six. That is code. I do not have bedding for more people (or fold-out couches) for a reason. I know your families have been growing—some I have seen grow up from candy to condom wrappers buried in the couch.
     This past season has been the worst ever. I have just gotten to the island and found unreported broken furniture, busted out screens, stuff moved (presumably to fit in more beds), holes chewed in sofas. I seem to have gained some wetsuits and aerobeds, but where are all my personal bath towels and the four twin contour sheets that were in the locked closet at Hannah’s? I regret being generous with my combination. And what of the wires jerked out of my recently repaired (at great cost) gas fireplace at Claudia’s? I expect some breakage—ok, I have to buy a lot of glassware— but not this much! My house is not a rental car to be abused.
    If you let me know what happened, I can get your insurance to cover it at no cost to you. But when I get home at the end of the season, I have no idea what happened when unless you tell me. Shall I guess and charge random people’s insurance?

FYI, we had an incident this summer when a scammer, known as a “scraper, “ advertised my houses on Craigslist using my VRBO copy, pictures and address. One poor family paid the pittance dude was asking  (Like $1800/wk) and moved in. They were very shocked when the actual tenants showed up. They were lucky that I was reachable to sort it out seeing as I was in Mexico with my dying mother. Be aware that I never advertise on Craigslist. One smart tenant alerted me to such an ad this summer, but other than flagging the ad  (if I can find it), notifying the Block Island Chamber of Commerce and the FBI, there is nothing I can do about it.

I am raising my prices. You may recollect that I lowered them last year because of the new taxes, but it’s not working for me. Costs have gone up amazingly, and so has damage. So I will be charging $200 more/wk during season. That means $5100 for Hannah’s and $5000 for Claudia’s. Off-season rates will remain the same: $4100 for Hannah’s, $4000 for Claudia’s.

These are our homes, not a timeshare. I will try to accommodate your preferences, as usual, based on longevity. Give me your top three preferred dates, and I will strive to make everyone happy. The alternative is to have you race to see who can pay first, like getting online concert tickets! Keep in mind that these houses are meant to be for single families, and rent a larger house if you need one. I want you to be happy and enjoy my oasis, but I want to enjoy it as well!


the difference a year makes

 Last year all of mom's descendants gathered in San Miguel for her 90th birthday. She loved it.
 Then, after a fall and a crack in her pelvis, she went into hospital. She hated the hospital, so as soon as was practical, Rosio and her doctors got her home. There she was reunited with Maximo, her dog, and her beautiful house, which she referred to as "the happy house." She lay in a hospital bed in the living room during August, and all of her children visited her. The last time I recorded her voice, she said, over and over, almost unintelligibly, "Wonderful world." I am not including this recording, because it is heartbreaking to hear her struggling for breath. Should you wish to hear it, let me know. The dog cowered under her bed, eventually refusing to eat, about when mom did.
 On September 21, 2017 she died. My sister Erin was there. And on her birthday today, Erin and Flip and "abuelita's" caregivers (from left Omar, Juanita, Dulce and Rosio, with Maximo) gathered in the spot where her hospital bed had been to celebrate her life.
And then this afternoon Rosio took Maximo to his new home—her home—where he tried to come to terms with Puppi, the dog of the household. We'll have to see how that goes. 


my white parents

This is how my mother looked during the 1950s
My parents were white as white: Mother from the Ku Klux Klan stronghold of southern Indiana, father from Alabama. But they were fiercely against segregation. I grew up in segregated Arkansas, where my mother worked to open day care centers for working mothers on the black side of town.
   On this day 60 years ago, in 1957, the 101st Airborne Division of the U.S. Army escorted The Little Rock Nine, a group of African-American students, to Central High. The school had been ordered to integrate; Arkansas Gov. Orval Faubus had blocked it. The NAACP brought suit, and the students were finally allowed entry, but it was not a happy year for those brave children.
   The year brought changes to my family as well. As a matter of principle, my father and a number of his University of Arkansas colleagues refused to submit a checklist of "subversive" organizations to which they belonged, among them NAACP. My parents were members.  Faubus's order required the document from all state employees, but my parents and their friends left the state rather than submit. And so at age 8, followed by my younger siblings, I entered school in the suburbs of  New York. The kids there were hostile to a southerner with a funny accent. But I can't even imagine what those other students encountered.


red sky at night

View from Katie's last night
 Not so sure about the sailor's delight thing. Yesterday some boats made it back and forth. They brought tenants to Hannah's, so I left and took up residence at Katie's. After the red sky last night, though, the winds picked up and the tenants at Claudia's were unable to go home—boats cancelled today. So here I am until tomorrow. There are worse places to hide out!
A boat makes it into harbor yesterday morning