Pieces of my brain #2

My interesting problem

I’m only just writing a blog now, not a column, so I don’t have any outside pressure. No pressure! I’m free! And yet, I spent the last 50 years working to a deadline. It’s what I did for a living. Now, all of a sudden, only crickets.

Also, retirement is fun. You can read quality periodicals on the window seat and listen to the cat complain about his feeding schedule. Plus, you can get really involved in Euro Cup soccer. Iceland! Who knew?

(Soccer, I’ve belatedly discovered, is a lot like like baseball. Both feature long stretches in which nothing seems to happen, interspersed with moments of rising tension, with the athletes looking like athletes and lot of running and concentration on a single area — the goal mouth, home plate — and then, And Then…usually, nothing. Like baseball, soccer is a game of failure. Most plans go awry, most activities are fruitless. In this way it resembles life.)

So the question is: How do I replace the motivation of the deadline with some other kind of creative impulse? This post is late, even though I really don’t have a schedule. I fret. Shall I put on my cardigan and go sit in the park and watch pigeons convulse? Shall I play in the sand next to the five-year-olds? Shall I drool?

Or should I write a bunch of stuff? Writing is hard. Writers rarely enjoy writing, except when they’re really humming and the prose flows like melted butter. That’s fun, but it’s unpredictable. Seek it, and it will dart away.

So what I’m saying is: I’m sorry that this blog post is late, even though it isn’t.

Taking a break from the rigors of blogging


Tl; dr

Old people are perfectly splendid people. Really. My wife is old, and she is generally acknowledged to be an awesome human being. Even my “young friends” are in their fifties, which means in Biblical times they’d already be dead.

But have you noticed how old people own the English language? As a kid, I remember hearing that an infinitive should never be split, that “like” should never be used before a verb (“You look like you’re angry” is wrong wrong wrong; better, “you look in a way that’s similar to the way a person looks when he or she is angry”), that “because” should never be used to start a sentence.

Lately, old people have been complaining that texting is destroying the English language. The English language has been killed many times before, and yet it has a zombie-like ability to not die. Texting is bad because it makes up opaque acronyms, because it uses little punctuation, because it misspells words with abandon and glee.

Now old people are focused on emojis. They’re not words at all; they’re pictures.  They are imprecise. They lack grammar. They’re, well…what are they?

I’m going to contend that they’re a new language being born. We’re going back to pictographs, the oldest form of written communication known. It’s perfect for our globalized world; we may not know Chinese, but we know what an eggplant is. (It’s a penis). I don’t speak it and you don’t speak it, but I can see long strings of emojis that seem to convey a complex idea. I know they look like weird clip-art clutter, but I think they’re much more.

And the fact that you don’t speak it is part of the point. What kid hasn’t wanted a secret language for hide-in-plain-sight peer-to-peer communication? Old people don’t like it because it breaks all the definitions we learned so carefully, but you know, so what? I bet you still like landlines and newspapers. Well, me too, but we’re like Sumerians waving our copies of Gilgamesh.

Relax, old people; it ain’t your world anymore. You’re free; think of all the good you can do.

Not an emoji


Encounters with art

The Aurora Theater has been hitting the ball out of the park, which is hard to do on a tiny stage where actors must often exit into the lobby, making an interesting spectacle for patrons. This time they have Fugard’s “Master Harold…and the Boys.” That play features the astonishing L. Peter Callender, who brings the electricity to a play that needs that sort of energy to work. The whole thing is yummy — and, of course, sobering and cruel.

The other Really Good thing I saw was Mahler’s Second Symphony as performed by the San Francisco Symphony; Michael Tilson Thomas conducting. Hearing Mahler live is a little like having a peak artistic experience and a little like standing in front of a moving freight train.

You know those symphonies where the percussionists basically play cards and eat a ham sandwich until the climax, when they get out their mallets and bang about for 30 seconds? This is not one of those. There are four kettledrum guys, and some snare drums, and chimes — and a choir. When they really get going, you feel you’re in danger of being lifted out of your seat and hurled against the back wall.

Which is a good thing.


This will one day turn into spinach

Wet work

Hello, California, you’re in a drought. I know it just rained and rained and rained all winter, and all the little plants in your garden or pots expressed gratitude by pushing out green shoots and flowers, and perhaps you cut back a little on your conservation efforts. Got a little careless. Took a long yummy shower and didn’t feel guilty about it. Planted tropical shrubs. Offered a nice glass of water to passing joggers.

But you’re not the only only one. California’s top water agencies have set conservation targets at zero. That is, they have no plans at all to cut back water usage. This policy will be in effect until 2017. Which is OK, legally, because the state government  currently has no restrictions on water use at all, except the usual stuff about not watering your driveway. None. Even though we’re in a drought.

And we will be in a drought forever. Climate change is real; rainfall estimates based on historic data will be wrong. Also, we’ve screwed up the groundwater badly, and aquifers take generations to resupply themselves. There are more people every year, and those people will want water to bathe in and cook with, and they will want eat food grown with water. Every organism on earth depends on water (even viruses — I checked), and we ain’t got enough. Period.

So why have the restrictions been lifted? Here’s a theory: Agricultural interests hate water restrictions. No water restrictions mean they can do the same stuff they have been doing all along. And agricultural interests spend a lot of money on lobbyists. Farm lobbies have good luck in Washington; they have no better friend than Dianne Feinstein. Correlation is not causation, of course. But it’s undeniably true that farm lobbies have muscle. Water conservationists only have moral authority, which is worth…well, try buying a sandwich with moral authority.

The next dry winter will be worse than the last one. You as an  individual can do little, but it might be nice to live in reality. Americans are not good at that, but it’s worth a shot.


For the sake of clarity…

My last blog post got a lot of reaction on social media and in the (always wonderful) comments section. (You can read it right here).  There were all sorts of criticisms; I tried to respond to them, but I also thought about them. My comments section is as yet unvisited by trolls, so it’s safe to go in and poke around.  How long that will last, God knows.

I don’t want to defend the post anymore, but I want to share one observation: I criticized Hillary Clinton’s foreign policy stance, and a lot of people heard Bernie Bernie Bernie. It was probably a mistake to mention him at all, but I only did so in passing. (I also speculated that he would have been a pretty lousy executive; I don’t think he really wants to run the country).

But the primary season was more troubling to Hillary supporters than I had realized. The inherent misogyny of too many of the Sanders supporters was troubling, even dangerous. So people took any criticism of her as a continuation of the Sanders campaign. One person called the post “Hillary-bashing.”

Hmmm. I didn’t mention the so-called scandal over her emails on a private server. I didn’t talk about Benghazi; I didn’t reference Monica Lewinsky or Vince Foster or the Rose Law Firm. I consider all of those matters to be bogus or irrelevant or both. But criticizing is not “bashing” — or it better not be, because then we couldn’t ever disagree with Clinton on policy issues.

I think people are afraid that any criticism of Hillary is a point for Donald Trump. But are we supposed to muzzle ourselves politely because she’s in a campaign? Gosh, I hope not.

untitledTests September 08, 2011-37
Bucket, a cat: Because cats are good


Photography by Tracy Johnston

Advice and counsel by Michelle Mizera

43 thoughts on “Pieces of my brain #2

  1. Language is between them as understands each other.

    I remember old language because that is the one I learned.

    With some developed skill, it was possible to explore nuance and implication.

    The “new” stuff seems course and simple, like the “music.”

    Fresh Air had to bleep unintelligible lyrics today on a 15 second sample one of the interviewees’ ouvres.

    Write what comes to mind, Jon.

    We all like that which is why we follow you here.

    Consider our thirst for your stimulation as reason and “deadline.”

    We clamor politely.

    We are old and running out of time so we must cling together to speak our language before it dies and becomes emojious.

    Liked by 4 people

  2. I know that, at some point, I will get with the program. But for the moment I text using my best spelling, punctuation, and proper use of upper and lower case. But then, I’m old.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Does Bucket have a people list?

    From: Jon Carroll Prose To: modspeed@sbcglobal.net Sent: Friday, July 1, 2016 3:07 PM Subject: [New post] Pieces of my brain #2 #yiv3660179143 a:hover {color:red;}#yiv3660179143 a {text-decoration:none;color:#0088cc;}#yiv3660179143 a.yiv3660179143primaryactionlink:link, #yiv3660179143 a.yiv3660179143primaryactionlink:visited {background-color:#2585B2;color:#fff;}#yiv3660179143 a.yiv3660179143primaryactionlink:hover, #yiv3660179143 a.yiv3660179143primaryactionlink:active {background-color:#11729E;color:#fff;}#yiv3660179143 WordPress.com | joncarrollprose posted: “My interesting problemI’m only just writing a blog now, not a column, so I don’t have any outside pressure. No pressure! I’m free! And yet, I spent the last 50 years working to a deadline. It’s what I did for a living. Now, all of a sudden, only crickets” | |

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I agree the Aurora is doing good work. “The How and the Why” (Ms Treem, the playwright, writes for House of Cards) was exceptional. In the audience for Master Herald I saw someone who looked very much like the thumbnail Jon Carroll, but in truth I was more impressed with the service poodle in the front row. Her flawless theatrical sensibilities and intense concentration (even in the fight scenes) set an example for us all.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Your blog often feels to me like a little loop of amber worry beads. Semi-precious organic materials. Carefully crafted. Each sentence polished. Each thought meditative. Often funny. Sometimes sad. Almost always comforting anyway, in their humanity. The accompanying photos are always evocative. Thanks! Oh, here is one more thing you should do in retirement, if you haven’t already discovered it: get to know Simon’s Cat. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w0ffwDYo00Q

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I’m an old person. I use punctuation and correct spelling when I text. I don’t use emojis, but for the most part, they don’t bother me. The one that does irritate me is the smiley face, to denote sarcasm, a joke, or bon mot. A joke is no good if you have to say, “Just kidding, it’s a joke!,” or, “Get it?”
    My attempts at humor and sarcasm work, maybe 20 percent of the time. So I’m tempted to start throwing in eggplant, tomato, or other nightshade vegetable images.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Bucket! Not at all the way I imagined him. As to deadlines: Any time you want to write, I want to read what you write. As to the deterioration of the language: We live in a post-literate society. Not much we can do about it except to help the kids with their essays and resumés.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. I don’t have time to read long, involved and probably really good for me (like eat your spinach) novels, such as works like Proust and Tolstoy, because I’m old. And have little attention span. Your blog comes the closest to a nice deep dive into delicious prose, after days of journalistic jingoism. How’s that for a blast from the Agnewish past?


  9. Soccer, or futbol inother parts of the world is great fun to follow on the international scale. The euro 2016 is great with Iceland and Wales today. They will beat Portugal. Much like baseball,as you said, and far the better sport than head-wrecking football as practiced in the U.S.
    I never expected Bucket was like that. A cat lying on its back washing. Why I never1

    Liked by 1 person

  10. So thrilled to see a picture of Bucket! You look pretty cool there taking a little siesta, but can you lick your own chest?
    Even though I would fall into your “young” friends slot, I still can’t bring myself to give up the newspaper or my landline.
    Love your blog!

    Liked by 2 people

  11. Jon, I’ve either forgotten or you never told us how Bucket got his name. Bucket looks very much like our Siamese, Gigi, who is so named because she was found one April at the bottom of our big green plastic garbage container attempting to rip into a bag of chicken bones — a veritable garbage gatto (“cat” in Italian), thus GG or Gigi. Yes, I know Gigi is supposedly a French name, but our Gigi is a very dainty and feminine damsel who could care less because she’s neither Italian nor French.

    Keeping with the sort of Italian theme, I also once named an orange tabby Figaro not only because of his operatic yowls, but also because “The Barber of Seville” brought to mind Seville oranges. Tautology as nomenclature or somesuch, I suppose. Then there’s my grey and white feline sweetie, Minnie, who’s a polydactyl with far too many toes on each foot. We’ve toyed with the idea of calling her Velcro, for the noise she makes on our Berber carpet with each step, but Minnie fits better.

    I’ll be 77 next month, and I’m proud to say that I don’t Facebook or tweet or Google (Plus or Minus) or Facetime or any of that narcissistic and quasi-literate stuff. Heck, I don’t even text, as a matter of give-me-some-peace-and-quiet-I’m-retired principle.

    However, I first discovered the joys of a computer keyboard as a writer back in the early 1980s, and I just love to send emails and leave replies like this online.

    Somewhere in the pre-dawn of desktop publishing I was about to quit journalism because writing and editing had devolved into an arcane process of using a Selectric typewriter with Courier 12 element and a very precise procedure designed to feed ideas to an optical scanner that produced holes in a paper tape that was fed into a typesetter the size of a VW bus. A special type of white paper with multiple carbons was required, with triple spacing between every line so that deletions could be made properly with a black felt tip pen and editing corrections could be made with blue felt tip pen notations and then entered by typing the new text between pairs of forward slashes. And the whole thing had to be coded with typesetting commands that could be read by an optical scanner and ultimately turned into galleys of type that then were trimmed, waxed and mounted on a layout board by a horde of “pasteup artists.”

    I was the managing editor of a magazine, but I also wrote articles and did the copy editing for all the other staff members. Imagine spending a day or so making precise paper and carbon sandwiches, and then rolling them into and out of a typewriter while editing in order to not offend the Scanner god, and you’ll get the idea. The drudgery was not without its bright moments, particularly when the Scanner sucked pages through in the wrong order, and lazy proofreaders in Production failed to catch the jumbled text. One of my food editors got so frustrated that she inserted the instruction to “wrap the chicken breasts in a grey sweater until ready to roast” in the middle of a recipe for a chicken dish. Luckily, that gem never made it onto the presses.

    Then we got a big mainframe terminal and an Atex front end system with smart terminals, and all that went away. At the same time, I discovered the joys of sending and receiving electronic messages (a sort of in-house email), knowing that a “message pending” would be waiting for me the next time I or my co-workers logged on to our terminals. Bye-bye, pink message slips. Best of all, every word in the publication was generated simply by typing on a keyboard, entering a few simple codes, then pushing the “Send” button. Voila! Type came spitting out of the typesetter almost miraculously. In later years, things got even simpler as I was able to put my words into the column space available to each article right in the page template on my computer screen.

    But I digress. Hmmm. Sorry, maybe I should start my own blog. Anyway, keep writing, Jon. Your sanity and ours depends on it.

    Liked by 3 people

      1. It was Tracy’s turn to name the cat. ( I did Archie). She came up with Bucket. She says she has no idea where it come from. Once, we had a person at the vets scold us because it wasn’t a proper name for a cat.

        Liked by 1 person

  12. I liked almost all of the June 22 rant. You described the political situation succinctly and outlined the dangers. I agree that Bernie might not be the best executive, though he has done a heroic service as a provocateur. No plausible candidate is going to turn the US into Denmark. Hillary is no Sir Galahad, but she understands what it means to govern. I believe she means well, and she is not evil, as some as saying with little or not evidence. I too am an old guy, and judging from the photo, I even look remarkably like you. People should pay more attention to us! David Lamb in Seatle


  13. Lots of “old guys” here. I’m one myself. I think the sign that one has hit the slippery slope is the first time you catch yourself saying “Well, thank goodness I won’t be around when THAT happens.”

    And, on another subject, I’m fairly technically minded and I manage to email, text, do Facebook and get around some on the Internet. My bugaboo is passwords. I don’t know what good they do, hackers seem to hack right through them, they appear to be nothing but a nuisance. I have given up things I was doing in the middle because there was one more demand for a damn password. I’ve got a list of them as long as your arm, and I try to reuse the same one as much as possible so I can remember it. But recently Apple very snippily demanded that I choose another one when setting up an ap because I’d already used the first one I entered. I made up an obscene one specialy for the occasion. I have since found that my old Navy serial number, preceded – as it frequently was in life – with “Sir!” makes a good one (“Sir!” satisfies the demand for a capital and a non-letter character – and I’m old, when I was in the military the service number was different from your Social Security number, not true any more.) Whatever happened in boot camp stuck, I usually can’t remember numbers – I’ll forget the second part of a phone number while dialing the first, and that’s not age unless senility starts at 18 – but that 6-digit string is embossed on my brain somewhere. That, and the corect way to fold and stow underwear and socks.

    Liked by 2 people

  14. Fun fact: California imports almost 1/3 of all its electricity from guess where? Arizona – nuclear – funny how that’s never mentioned.

    Liked by 2 people

  15. If every criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic, every criticism of Hillary Clinton is misogynistic.


  16. Bucket reclines on Tracy’s desk. Copies of “Shooting the Boh” accompany her cleaning.


  17. Our social culture has become so tense and fractious that it seems we live in a constant state of “launch on warning” — the old Cold War doctrine of instant and overwhelming nuclear response to any perceived threat from the Soviet Union. I feel it too, and must constantly remind myself to take my finger off the hair-trigger response of personal and political outrage. It’s so easy to assume the worst and fire back in anger at an opinion that smacks of brainless, myopic, ideological stupidity… and so hard to reply in a measured, controlled manner — or not reply at all.

    I had that happen recently while having lunch with an old friend, a guy I’ve known more than 40 years, when he admitted that he plans to vote for Trump. He’d had occasion to observe Hillary in an official capacity years ago when Bill was President, and the way she treated everyone else around at the time makes it impossible for him to vote for her now. Personally, I think it’s insane to vote for Trump, but since we were face to face rather than on the internet, my response was muted — because he’s a friend and a very good person, despite his wayward political leanings.

    Besides, he was a professional boxer when we met forty years ago, one good enough to fight for a world title a few years later — and I’m not dumb enough to trade “fighting words” with a man who could put me in a coma with one punch.

    In a recent interview on NPR, Sebastian Junger said something to this effect: “We live in a democracy, so it’s good to disagree and express our opinions — but when we feel contempt for those with whom we disagree, that spells real trouble for our society.”

    He’s right, but I don’t know how to fix this. Although “they” started it with Ronald Reagan’s sneering, snarling use of the word “liberal” — turning it into the political equivalent of the N-word from then on — “we” now do it too, hurling those verbal stones right back. And once the tit-for-tat fire gets burning, it’s very hard to put out.

    All I know is, no good can come of this…

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Oops — that was a wine-induced blunder. I meant to reply to “Zo,” and compliment her on her terrific blog, but ended up “liking” my own comment. A wayward click of the mouse is so easy. Sigh…

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Gotta turn off that tap-to-click “gesture” on a Mac, as the slightest tremor…and we got tremors, we olds.


  18. You can still have deadlines after retirement. Deadlines are all self-imposed anyway, aren’t they? We may obscure our complicity just to get through the day, but as with everything else connected to Work, we are controlling our own behavior. Nobody’s making us do anything. We’re in charge!

    But if you do still sorta wish for externally-set deadlines, even now that you don’t owe The Man diddly, we your present and slavishly devoted readers will set your damn deadlines.

    On behalf of Us, I hereby decree that you shall produce blog content and comment rejoinders on a regularly irregular basis. Your failure to meet these deadlines will result in our shameful rereadings of your past blog posts, the filing of stale comments on topics long dead, subpar thinking, identity drain, President Trump, wrongfulness and moping. Deal?


  19. Language. I once broke up with a woman who used the word “enormity” to mean really, really big. I was going to ask Ohio State to repo her PhD (in English, no less!), but dropped it.

    MTT and Mahler. God how I miss them. Not sure if they still do it, but when I lived in the city you could buy a seat to the symphony in the choir loft (for non-choral works of course) for matinee performances. Cheaper and you got to see MTT’s face while he conducted.

    Are you certain Bucket was not pronounced bou-Quet?

    Liked by 2 people

  20. Agree re your not needing to muzzle yourself. Re Hillary bashing, I thought this line was a little bash-ish though: “The lesser of two evils is still evil.” Bash away, but just sayin’.


  21. That cannot possibly be the same Bucket. Can it? As in the old days? When The Chronicle was a nice fat newspaper, delivered to one’s home?

    Now I will forcibly restrain self from quoting every funny JC-like line back at ya. As they say.

    p.s. Though why the giant bold text. We ask.


    1. I kinda like the big type. I can make it smaller, of course. But this way, it doesn’t look like all those other blogs.

      The late Bucket. She first appeared in the Chronicle in 2002 or so. Before that, it was all Archie all the time.

      Liked by 1 person

  22. As an afterthought, there is a new force modifying our written language –

    The “new” language is Autocorrect.

    We must be ever vigilant or “coarse” will become “course,” making the writer seem a fool.


  23. One suggestion and one criticism:

    1) As long as you are referring to your “last blog post” and this post is not on the same web page, it would be nice if the phrase “last blog post” were a *link* to that last blog post. Then people who may not have read that blog post could easily see what is being referred to.

    2) Sure, everyone is free to criticize anyone else, and it is absolutely *important* for good citizens to give feedback about our politicians.

    But at the moment, in my opinion, it is WAY. MORE. IMPORTANT. to make sure that Trump is not elected. It’s just about timing and priorities.


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