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The idea, now an adage, that a picture is worth a thousand words, seems to have come from early 20th Century advertising strategies. A picture might be worth more than a thousand words to an illiterate shopper, and advertising must be short and quick and hit hard enough to leave a brand image on the brain. The problem now for advertisers might be there are too many pictures. We are now uploading upwards of 2 billion photos daily to the Internet. If the early 1900’s advertising adage is true, that’s two trillion words, daily. It’s easy to see why a writer struggling to reach a goal of 500 words a day might resort to posting a pic or two. Or simply trade the blog in for an Instagram account. Digitized images are the algae of the Internet.
A perspicacious reader asked why I haven’t posted any pics from the road trip. I’m working on moving toward a new kind of blog, more like the one I started, back in December of 2007, which contained no pics, just short bursts of writing pleasure. I had in mind the kind of posts the venerable E. B. White wrote in the early New Yorker.
“From 1925 to 1976 he crafted more than eighteen hundred pieces for the magazine and established, in the words of editor William Shawn, “a new literary form.” That form was the magazine’s Comment essay—a personal essay that was, in White’s hands, light in style yet often weighty in substance. As White noted in a 1969 Paris Review interview, > I do feel a responsibility to society because of going into print: a writer has the duty to be good, not lousy; true, not false; lively, not dull; accurate, not full of error. He should tend to lift people up, not lower them down. Writers do not merely reflect and interpret life, they inform and shape life.“Eighty-Five from the Archive: E. B. White,” by Erin Overbey, The New Yorker, June 7, 2010.
Not that I ever achieved anything everyone might call, “not lousy.” In any case, I drifted away, or off, and into a kind of academic stream, where I imagined I might augment my adjunct work at the time. And I tried to bring some attention to the books I was working on, both reading and writing. Then I began to work-in more slant, though never totally “false,” and found the proverbial bottom of the barrel when I started putting up some poetry. And I recently considered retiring The Coming of the Toads, leaving it to sink to the bottom of the archive abyss of the Internet, where some future crab scuttling along might find a few morsels to criticize.
E. B. White’s idea of the short, personal essay (note the importance of that comma) has been replaced in many blogs by the personal pic essay, with and without words, the latter like Beckett’s short play, “Act Without Words.” And I suspect more reading is done on phones these days than when I started The Coming of the Toads on a desktop computer back in ’07, and the phone and other smaller size formats encourage changes in aspect ratios of screen, pics, and writing. And thinking about that, I decided to remove this blog’s header pic, begin writing with a minimum of pics altogether, returning to the short, personal note or comment type essay. I even thought of a new tagline for the title space: The Coming of the Toads: No links, No likes, No comments. I know that sounds a bit anti-social, but what I’m aiming for is clarity, simplicity – a clean, well-lighted blog.
Besides, I don’t get many comments or likes, and many that I do get appear to be from spam and bots, and I lost all the pics I took on our recent trip, mistakenly thinking I had backed up my phone photos to Google Photos when I had not, in the meantime deleting all the photos from my phone, then crashing my Instagram account trying to retrieve what I had at least saved there. Seems poetic justice for an anti-social attitude.
Having at this point already exceeded my target word limit, not to mention having probably lost my target audience, those interested in hearing more about the Road Trip, I give you this portfolio of road trip pics, all taken by my sister Barbara and Susan as I was trying on the lighthouse keeper’s uniform jacket at the Yaquina Head Lighthouse, north of Newport, trying to strike poses I imagined a lighthouse keeper might have aimed at were he the subject of a live, on the job photo shoot:
Note: Comments On for this post. Have fun!
A trip of plovers paused wading
in the wet sand of an ebb
tide each one after another
across the sloping beach
stopped and pecked and ran on.
Up on 101 a swarm of workers
on a wet sidewalk in winter
huddled at the bus stop waiting
and each one hopped aboard
and nipped and gripped.
They feed with their eyes
and only pretend to be
where they are,
but amusing, all the same.
For the first leg of my triathlon event yesterday, I boarded Line 15 and rode down to the river, disembarking at the east end of the Hawthorne Bridge. I sat in the last seat of the bus, in the left corner, with this week’s New Yorker fiction issue. I had read on the bus stop the Langston Hughes story, written around 1960 but only recently discovered. More about that in a subsequent post.
On the bus, an ad caught my attention, a woman in a red dress, orange hair, the copy: “Be More Brilliant.” The ad was up front, behind the driver’s seat, and I was too far away to read the smaller print. Note though that the imperative doesn’t suggest you are not brilliant. If you are not brilliant at all, you can’t be more brilliant. But why be “more brilliant”? Don’t I attract enough moths already? I thought of the two books I recently put out. Maybe my writing should be more brilliant. I took some pics from the bus of the south side of Belmont.
The afternoon was still overcast, and I felt a few drops of rain as I began the second leg of my triathlon, walking down the ramp from the bridge to the Eastbank Esplanade, a more brilliant name for the shared sidewalk with bike path that runs along the industrial, east side of the Willamette River.
I walked south along the river, a little under a mile, to Susan’s work, where I started the third leg of my triathlon, a short drive to Em’s place to visit the girls.
I didn’t get any pics while driving, driving a car these days multi-tasking enough as it is. The few pics I’d taken of the south side of Belmont, from the bus, came out blurry, not too brilliant. I tried to get a few murals, and a couple of the old buildings, the ones the developers, none too brilliantly some have been arguing, are in a hurry to tear down. We passed a typical east side tavern. I realized I have my shutter delay set too long. I had to anticipate where the bus would be when the shutter finally clicked. At the river I saw the lean-to boat setup again, and tried to get a contrast pic of the east side boat in the foreground with the west side yachts in the background. I paused at the OMSI sign to repeat Oṃ maṇi padme hūṃ a few times, feeling even less brilliant as I moved on. I never tire of the sign of Theory, and took yet another pic of it. The blue building was brilliant in the soft afternoon overcast light.
At Em’s, I snapped a pic of her copies of “Penina’s Letters” and “Coconut Oil,” sitting on the shelf next to her cookbooks, and I wondered if my covers were brilliant enough, or brilliant at all. I think so. But to some, brilliant might suggest shiny, and I went with a matte finish.
In Em’s yard, I took some pics of a flowering tree and a tricycle rained in rose petals. It’s almost dragonfly season here, and I thought how nature always seems sufficiently brilliant, yet also always seems to be becoming more brilliant. Nature is superlative, while we can only ever be comparative, until we remember that we are also part of nature, where we are most brilliant.
How are you? You are how
this is too easy
a still gift of photographs
almost like a real letter.
You like flowers, flowers like you, like
Peonies, purple green red yellow mopped hair
Marigolds, red orange bites
Red geraniums in a real clay pot
and those little white hanging threading flowers,
I don’t know their name, whispery white.
I am 1,000 characters
all so small you can’t see them
like tiny little squiggly bugs.
You are 1 bodacious character
like a lobster on the ocean floor under
blue waves under an orange sky,
or a swell cat, an orange tabby
with blue eyes,
who never scratches but purrs
and curls in your lap for a nice nap
on a hot sunny summer day,
a sleepy breeze cooling powdery sky.
Evening comes and a glass of white or red wine
and dinner and the sun goes down
and the moon comes up
up and up and up and up
so the path is lit.
But now is not summer
now is the beginning
of a long winter