Thursday, March 26, 2015

Poetics of Keeping Three Wishes Ready

The other morning it was a touch below freezing, and despite small patches of snow far off to the side, there was no snow beside the sidewalk, only frosty grass. It felt like the world was young and I was on a fresh morning walk to elementary school. (Of 1¼ miles or 2 kilometers) It felt like back when I memorized the start of that fairy wishes poem. Today I “search engined” for it, finding a most delightful blog posting (footnote) where two friends have experienced posting wishes on their refrigerator—with two different results.

As for my own wishes—
Today I wish to do my every-25-posts summing up…

Why? Because today the time has come around: My administrator’s page of 25 essay titles has filled up again. What have I learned? Maybe a bit about human nature. I have previously found out several times, always by accident, that I’ve been translated into several languages. That’s fine. Yet I don’t think I’ve been translated at all ever since I put into my About Me sidebar a request for translators to leave me a comment. (I believe one of my translations was into Turkish, but I can’t tell for sure) Maybe it could be easier for humans to not translate if this must involve the effort of typing in a couple lines to say, “Hello Sean, I’m translating from Xanadu for the benefit of my fairy ring…”

I imagine my site as a modest blog with modest readership, one where I might have to close one eye to the blog statistics, to avoid discouragement, saying to myself “Maybe some day it will get more readers.” Sometimes I click to see the titles of my “top ten” posts for “all time.” It’s nice to look… but I find no guidance for what makes a hit.

Well, the other day I finally thought to click on the “overview” graph for “all time.” Surprise: I have really increased my stats over the years—sweet. I guess I have been mislead by the ongoing hit counts. Due to technical reasons, the experts at Google, who run Blogger, can never register the hit counts for my latest essay: They can’t count home page hits. Don’t you wish there was an app for that? I suppose I could whip up a home page, (it’s easy) and then have people click through it onto my latest essay, and then count the essay hits, but no—I’m not quite so egotistical that I need stats. Not if it means an extra click-through for people. Not for a modest blog.

When it comes to blogs, some folks would say a blog is a requirement for everyone in the public eye. Then again, folks used to say that everybody should get a citizen band (CB) radio. My brother had one at home. The CB craze long ago died down, and I don’t miss it. Similarly, I suspect the public’s passion for blogging has begun to decline. …By the way, (BTW) Paul Brant, who remade the CB song Convoy, is a local. My client, as a patient, met him when Paul was working at the children’s hospital. …By “in the public eye” I am not thinking of singers and realtors and such, but of my fellow writers.

For various reasons, beyond the scope of this essay, writers are now being very strongly advised by agents and editors to have a blog as their “platform.”—I might not agree with this new wisdom. In the publishing trade, a platform is what implies a certain number of sales you could hope for, from your blog readers, as opposed to you putting a book out there as a complete unknown. My favorite platform was the one proposed by Chuck Norris, for his excellent book, which is not about fighting, entitled The Secret of My Inner Strength: My Story. As Chuck explains, when the skeptical publisher asked if there was any proof anyone would buy any copies, Chuck said he’d just won the championship for Karate-do. And so if all the practitioners of karate bought his book, well, that would be a lot of people.

In his book, Norris comes across as modest, like me and my writer friends. It must have been complete strangers who began making T-shirts showing his silhouette over slogans like, “The dark is afraid of Chuck Norris.”

As for me, let’s be clear: My blog is not my platform, because I am well aware there is almost no market for books of essays. To know that, I don’t have to seek out the teensy weensy essay section in a giant bookstore or big central library—it’s enough to say aloud, “I have a hobby of writing essays…” and then watch people’s eyes glaze over. For me, my blog is my chance to seek self-mastery… like attending Chuck’s dojo.

If I’m mentioning writers today it’s because writers are on my mind. Last week, for the first time in my life, I found out I’m on someone’s home page blog roll—wow—and wouldn’t you know, it’s a blog by a local fellow writer. Here’s the link.

And here’s the first verse of the poem, written in 1932:
I Keep Three Wishes Ready
by Annette Wynne

I keep three wishes ready,
Lest I should chance to meet
Any day a fairy,
Coming down the street.

Here’s the whole poem, on that delightful blog.

Sean Crawford
~For those who skimmed fast, here’s that blog again.

~Myself, I disagree with skimming.

~I’m still not saying I agree with blog platforms—but if you’re thinking of one, for any form of art, there’s an exciting New York Times best seller called Show Your Work! By Austin Kleon, subtitled 10 ways to share your creativity and get discovered.

~I wonder if my essays are being read by avid readers and writers, because for the past month my most popular essay, by hit count, is Not to Be Robert Heinlein, analyzing the reputation of the dean of science fiction writers, archived October 2014. If that essay keeps getting so many hits, then it will soon become one of my top ten posts.  

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Poetics of Puritans and The Pobble Who Has No Toes

This week’s poem is a lengthy fun piece. It makes sense to pair it with a short sober piece on our Puritan heritage. I like Puritans—you know, like the smiling man on the package of Quaker Oats. In fact, during my precious two-week holiday in London I invested time in attending a Quaker meeting—and I wish I’d paid a second visit.

I must admit that our Puritan heritage is a mixed blessing: We can use it either way. For instance, for the sexual revolution of my childhood, we could be anti-Puritan, repudiating that side of our culture, and getting our menfolk out of those hideous long plain bathing trunks. For the counter revolution, we could invoke the Puritans again to justify getting men and boys out of striped jockey style bathing suits and back to the old style, a style made new again by adding some color and a new youthful label: surf-board shorts. How the wheel of time turns. Revolves. Like a revolution.

Incidentally, today you can still wear nice comfy jockey style—provided you’re willing to wear speedos. The other brands are lost in time.

The only puritan thing I want to address today is the guilt thing. I don’t mean modesty-guilt, but task-guilt. In colonial times Benjamin Franklin said, “Be always ashamed to catch thyself idle.” We have, I think, some shame if we are idle with a long-term project still not done… Well of course it’s not done—It’s long term!

I can’t remember the name of the professor or the title of his book—the cover was green—called something or other. Time management? Anyways, he studied graduate students. As you know, grad school is for folks who already have a degree, but they want more education. They have to do a thesis, one that gets bound into a nice fine permanent volume placed in the University archives, there to gather nice fine dust. Many students, Puritan-style, would feel wrong having fun if their work wasn’t done. The prof learned he could divide the students into two groups: Those who felt guilty, and those who didn’t. But a thesis takes years.

The guilty ones finished no sooner than the others, and, in fact, I think they finished later. In their case, guilt was truly a waste of time.

The trick to success, according to the prof, was “an unschedule.” Besides scheduling your time everyday, as would a sensible Puritan, also take care, everyday, to “unschedule” something fun to do. As a Scottish clown once sang, to get us to indulge in fast food, “You deserve a break today…”

I used to do the prof’s trick. Then, as with all tricks of wisdom... I forgot to keep doing it. Or, then again, maybe I came to unschedule unconsciously. Yes, maybe so—that’s a happier thought.

Here’s this week’s unenlightening, un-self improving poem—A poem that years ago I unscheduled time to memorize.

The Pobble Who has No Toes
by Edward Lear

The Pobble who has no toes
Had once as many as we;
When they said, “Some day you may lose them all;”
He replied, “Fish fiddle-dee-dee!”
And his Aunt Jobiska made him drink
Lavender water tinged with pink,
For she said, “The World in general knows
There’s nothing so good for a Pobble’s toes!”

The Pobble who has no toes
            Swam across the Bristol Channel;
But before he set out he wrapped his nose
            In a piece of scarlet flannel.
For his Aunt Jabiska said, “No harm
Can come to his toes if his nose is warm;
And it’s perfectly known that a Pobble’s toes
Are safe, — provided he minds his nose.”

The Pobble swam fast and well,
            And when boats or ships came near him,
He tinkledy-binkledy-winkled a bell,
            So that all the world could hear him.
And all the Sailors and Admirals cried,
When they saw him nearing the further side, —
“He has gone to fish, for his Aunt Jobiska’s
Runcible Cat with crimson whiskers!”

But before he touched the shore, —
            The shore of the Bristol Channel’ —
A sea-green Porpoise carried away
            His wrapper of scarlet flannel.
And when he came to observe his feet,
Formely garnished with toes so neat,
His face at once became forlorn
On perceiving that all his toes were gone!

And nobody ever knew,
            From that dark day to the present,
Whoso had taken the Pobble’s toes,
            In a manner so far from pleasant.
Whether the shrimps or crawfish gray,
Or crafty Mermaids stole them away —
Nobody knew; and nobody knows
How the Pobble was robbed of his twice five toes!

The Pobble who has no toes
            Was placed in a friendly Bark,
And they rowed back, and carried him up
            To his Aunt Jobiska’s Park.
And she made him a feast, at his earnest wish,
Of eggs and buttercups fried with fish;
And she said, “The whole world knows,
That Pobbles are happier without their toes.”

Sean Crawford