Survival Manual

I was walking in Mt Tabor Park the other day, on a path rarely taken, steep on the south side, affording views of the college campus, its low buildings in the shade of the giant trees, the wide swath of grass between Gray and the cafe green but empty. I paused to reflect, praying peace, happiness, and lightness of spirit might fall like gentle rain onto my old colleagues and former students, and just before I moved on, I spied a small blue pocket notebook, partially buried in the brush under a bush. I pulled it out and dusted it off.

On the cover was handwritten, in a swirling cursive style, “Survival Manual.” I paged through the little notebook, about the size of a hand, about 40 pages or so, unlined, filled with handwritten notes, instructions, recipes, doodles, lists – places to go, things to do, people to see, books to read, movies liked or disliked, and short poems with simple drawings, every page crammed full of such stuff until, like a Jackson Pollock painting, there seemed not a single space left for another drip or word. There being no place nearby to sit comfortably and study the notebook further, I stuck it into my back pocket and walked on, wondering what catastrophe, big or small, might have resulted in the notebook’s author having lost it.

Home from the walk, I tossed the Survival Manual, not feeling, perhaps naively, mortally threatened at the moment, onto my desk in the dining room, already askew with bad reading and writing habits, books with bookmarks stuck in the middle, notebooks covered with dust still full of the promise of empty pages. “Write in me!” someone had finger-written in the dust of one. Magazines and journals weeks, months, quarters old. Before long, “Survival Manual” was buried beneath more pressing, unfinished projects.

A few weeks drifted by, catastrophes here and there, near and far, sudden, usually unexpected turns throwing people overboard whatever ship they happened to be sailing at the time. Still, I lacked the necessary closeness at hand to bring me to my senses and recognize the plight of our planet includes, indeed, all of us, including me. I mean to say, I’m aware of our current risks, dangers, follies and what ifs, but what really am I proactively doing to come to the aid of our planet? I mean to say, is showering only every third day or so and recycling properly, enough? Then came, locally, yet another heat wave record, and finding that I was confined by the heat outdoors to the house, even in the evening, when the sun had gone down, I decided to direct an electric fan toward my dining room desk and clear the clutter. If I had to be so hot, I would at least be neat about it. The fan, of course, produces heat as an unnoticed but negative side effect, as does the laptop on which I’m now typing these notes, bringing to you, too, dear reader of the Toads, a mere suggestion from the “Survival Manual.”

I uncovered the survival manual, immediately set aside my goal for a clean desk, and sat down in front of the fan with the manual in hand to take a closer look. I decided the notebook to be the work of a genius or madman. Of course, now that we are old and among the awakened ones, we realize the two are often one and the same. The survival manual author, who I will now refer to as SMA, wrote in a kind of shorthand style, skipping superfluous parts of speech, using fragments ignoring subject or predicate, adding icon doodles to illustrate ideas, inventions. SMA apparently possessed an ironic kind of sense of humor, too. A few of the drawings were captioned with hopeless and unexpected explanations: “Planet Senile”; “Moving to the Moon – what to take along”; “Breaststroke for polluted waters”; “How to recycle the non-recyclable.”

I paused at a page titled “Under Extreme [Heat].” Rather than describe it, I’ve attached a pic taken with my cell, to wit: 20180729_113151

It suddenly dawned on me that “Survival Manual” is a book of cartoons.

 

Some Comics Explained

Words were never so simple as we were taught to believe. Tricksters of the trade make things look like all the chess moves were preordained. And if we are reading second hand, through the prism of translation, so much the better for our lack of understanding!

and I quote
“You said, ‘”and I quote…'”

Words are not to understand, but to experience, to share, the ordinary daily world we work so hard at from being cornered.

smiles
The face prepared to meet the faces.

Do we understand the invisible string of musical notes? What do they mean? Already heard and gone, and where did they go, these industrial sounds?

apartment house
Tenement

Words work within their industry, economy, structures.

performance
Performance

Dust particles, falling, drifting, piling up, the tongue the only rule, the teeth, lips, mouth.

moon sea creature
The moon looked like a banana.

The poem is an old thing, some kind of tool, maybe, an implement, but what was it used for?

eye floater
Eye floater.

He started off so serious, as if he were out to save something, someone. But first he had to persuade there was some danger. These comics, by the way, these unsophisticated, small-scale drawings, are made with fingers on the simplest of phone apps, with just a few basic colors, and no tricks.

But mostly at night, in the middle of the night, when sleeplessness becomes comical.

Doodles with Titles

Recently added to the Moleskine archive:

 

A Lot Ado About Nothing

The Myth of Syllabus

I once spent a lot of time going to a lot of meetings where I took a lot of notes but also doodled a lot. Sometimes my neighbors showed an interest in my doodles, but not often. Over time I developed a disregard for the term a lot. A lot is used a lot as support for an argument, but a lot of the time a lot is too imprecise to properly fund a decision. Nevertheless, a lot of people got away with using the term a lot a lot.

Apart from its imprecision, a lot is unpalatable. A lot lifts off the tongue but cuts itself short, unlike alas, aloof, or aloft, which all seem more complete and satisfying. A lot carries no drift.

A lot of people think a lot is one word: alot. What’s a word? Speech flows, a syllable stream, often alotadoo about nothing. Punctuation helps, but punctuation is a kind of stop animation. A lot of the time, punctuation can only approximate the real speed of speech. Writing is divorced from speech. We are taught from a young age to separate our tongues from our eyes, the quicker to read. Poems often use stop animation technique to slow readers down, to get the reader to mouth the words, to taste the words, chew them. Words become salt water taffy in the poet’s mouth. A lot of poets suffer bad teeth, yet poetry is not fast food. A lot of poets are poor.

A lot tells an amount, but how much is it? Lots and lots. Compared to what? A lot of the time a lot is used with the time: a lot of the time. There seems to be some connection between a lot and time. A lot of the time the meaning of a lot is understood from context. It rains a lot in Portland, but still, there are a lot of different kinds of rain. A lot of the time, I think it’s raining, but it’s not wet outside. Those are good days to get a lot of yard work done.

What’s the opposite of a lot? Is there an antonym for alot? Alittle. In “Silence,” John Cage’s book that I come back to a lot, there’s a little story about a couple who live in Alaska. Someone asks them if it was very cold last winter. Not too cold, they respond, only a couple of days, they explain, did they have to stay in bed all day to keep warm.

Then again, a lot of the time, memories go awry, amiss, askew. While I read a lot in “Silence,” I had not recently read the little story about how cold the winter was, so I thought I’d better look it up. I glanced through “Silence” a few times, but I couldn’t find it. I then thought it might be in John Cage’s book “A Year From Monday,” and it is, on page 138, but there’s no mention of Alaska, and there’s no couple, just “a woman who lived in the country,” and there were more than a couple of days, “three or four days,” she says, but she does say “we had to stay in bed all day to keep warm,” so maybe that’s where I got the idea there was a couple. It’s a very short story: 44 words total.

Not a lot, but sometimes (maybe that’s the antonym) a lot is allot, as in allotment. I’ve reached the number of words allotted for this post. Not a lot.

On the Doodle

Is doodling an art form? The true doodle only appears when the doodler is preoccupied, listening to a lecture, sitting in a staff meeting, caged, drawing absent-mindedly. While the doodler is distracted, the doodles escape. But, as John Cage said, music occurs whether we intend it or not, and when we turn our attention to that music we do not intend, it is a pleasure. And Basho said, whatever we may be doing at any given moment, it has a bearing on our everlasting life (physicists are in the process of proving this as we doodle on, on the doodle). Here are some doodles for your mid-week doodle viewing pleasure:

Some might argue this last piece may not qualify as a doodle. “This guy’s trying to do art, and failing.” But yeah, it’s a doodle. The critics said to Picasso, of his painting titled “Woman Sitting in a Chair”: “We don’t get it: no woman, no chair.” Picasso replied that it is a painting of what it feels like to be a woman sitting in a chair. That last doodle appears to be a drawing of what it feels like to doodle, to watch the doodles escaping.

John Cage, Basho, Picasso, Delmore Schwartz…now here’s some doodling post. Some might argue that blogging is like doodling. In doodles begin responsibilities.