Insert Important Words Here to Attract Attention

“Son. May I call you that? No? Complete stranger, they say ‘you must give it away to keep it,’ and while I do not know what they mean by ‘it’ or even who ‘they’ might be, I just know that they keep telling me this. Again and again and again. But what do I have to give away? Pray tell, what? My wisdom, that’s what. My easy-won wisdom. And my encouragement.

“They also tell me that life should be worn like a loose Garmin, which I do not pretend to understand. Is it loose on the dashboard? That might be dangerous. You have to keep your GPS on a mount of some kind. You should wear your life like a fully charged GPS or phone—don’t want to get too hung up on terms and technology, because it is the philosophy I am getting at here that is important—wear your life like a portable device that you keep charged up and then hide in the glove compartment when you leave your car in a public parking lot. So don’t wear it at all. Carry your life like an electronic device that requires a two-year contract for you to use it, one that you would consider purchasing a protection plan for, but you ultimately do not, and you chance it.
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The Story with a Twist, or, I’m a Frayed Knot

Every alcoholic in recovery has a collection of anecdotes that can be simultaneously heartbreaking, outrageous, and hilarious. Perhaps they are hilarious only to fellow alcoholics; perhaps they can not even be listened to by outsiders. For an outsider, most alcoholic anecdotes may as well conclude with the same punchline, an interchangeable rubber-stamped ending: “And then I got away with it again.” Or, “I didn’t die that time, either.” And then comes the next hair-raising—or eyebrow-raising—tale.

Every alcoholic in recovery is living a story with a twist ending, if they remain in recovery. It is that two-word pair there, “in recovery,” that provides the surprise, the twist, a period of life as surprising to behold as some of the antics, the many bizarre actions and activities and inactions and inactivities that were surprising for outsiders to watch unfold in the previous life.
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Breaking Things … Bad

One of my superpowers is breaking things. (I have others; they just have not yet been revealed to me.) I am not a physically strong individual. I just use what strength I possess ineptly.

Now, I know that anyone can break anything with enough gumption and/or strength. Give a man a big enough lever, and he can move the world, said Archimedes. Teach a man to swim and he can fish for a bicycle, said no one.

At best, my superpower is an inadvertent superpower; at worst, it is doom for the planet.
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Almost, Famous?

Noises Off” is one of the most popular comic plays of the last forty years. If you have ever seen it performed, you know it can be hilarious; the film version proved that there are some plays that can not be made into movies because they are so completely theatrical. This is a story about the original Broadway production and an apology from me to Victor Garber, who starred in it.
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Roland Barthes

The philosopher, semiotician, literary theorist—the writer—Roland Barthes died 35 years ago today.

Reading him (well, a good translation, usually by Annette Lavers or Richard Howard) as a teenager was one of my formative experiences; it was my first conscious experience of my brain expanding with the simple idea that everything is worth notice and consideration. Everything produced by a culture is a signifier of at least that culture itself. His most popular book, “Mythologies,” is about common aspects of civilization, the items and ideas that make up our modern mythology of ourselves: plastic, toys, striptease, cruises, soap and detergents. Other writers and cultural critics have followed Barthes; perhaps the fact that the job title “cultural critic” exists is attributable to Barthes’ work. Almost every television, music, and film reviewer owes Barthes a debt, but his studies went far deeper than the popular everyday items.

The act of writing itself fell under his steady gaze, as did photography. He studied the act of falling in love, as well as the act of mourning. All of these are public acts, even in their private aspects, when we publicly separate ourselves from the public into a private space. The culture in which we live dictates certain rituals, routines, and a particular rhetoric, even in how we fall in love. These he studied, without attempting to explain them from an historical perspective, but to find their deeper significance. When we fall in love, for instance, we “know” we are in love in part because society gives us something of an unofficial checklist of feelings that it thinks we ought to have and in part because we know we are in love with or without that checklist.

In his memoir, “Roland Barthes,” he studied himself and aspects of his life as if regarding a text; he then wrote a review of the book, perhaps merely to amuse himself in writing a review with the title, “‘ “Roland Barthes” by Roland Barthes’ by Roland Barthes.”

Barthes searches item after item for the precise moment at which and in which the item, an expression of the culture that produced it, becomes a “text.” Often, as with photography, it is not the point of focus that earns a viewer’s (his) focus; it is something off to the side.

In the photo below, I found myself looking again and again at Barthes’ scarf. That scarf directed where I placed the text. (I promptly screwed up the placement of the copyright statements; there that paragraph sits, jammed rudely on his lapel as if I am trying to get his posthumous attention.)

(In one of those coincidences that may not really be a coincidence but instead something spookier, the Daily Prompt‘s “assignment” is to take the third sentence from the third post from someone else’s WordPress web site and incorporate it. I do not usually comment on the Daily Prompt in my pieces here, even in the ones that are direct responses to the Prompt, because I am not in school and these are not assignments and I work on writing columns that are a bit wider ranging than a specific response to a specific question. But this was spooky, or not. Barthes on photography comes up as a topic and at that point I look at my WordPress feed and there is a web site by a photographer. “I’m a photographer not a botanist!” writes a photographer whose work I enjoy on WordPress underneath one nature photo, of palm fruit. This is his third sentence. I’m a reader, not a photographer or a botanist, and as per Barthes, I keep finding myself looking at the tree parts, the palm leaves, in the photo and not at the fruit that he featured. The palm leaves then make me think about certain religious ceremonies …)

In February 1980, Barthes attended a luncheon with future French President François Mitterrand and other intellectuals. Out on the street, he was struck by a laundry van and injured; he died in hospital a month later. In his posthumously published “Mourning Diary,” written while mourning the death of his mother, he wrote, “To whom can I put this question (with any hopes of an answer)? Does being able to live without someone you loved mean you loved her less than you thought … ?”


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The WordPress Daily Prompt for March 25 asks, “Head to ‘Blogs I Follow’ in the Reader. Scroll down to the third post in the list. Take the third sentence in the post, and work it into your own.”


Two Awards, Plus a Film Plug

About two years ago, before this blog was launched, an online publication presented without any introduction a short film that I could not stop watching. It was an insomniac night and I no longer remember the name of the publication that made the insomnia worthwhile. (Buzzfeed, perhaps?) I think the only thing the publication said about it was that it was “narrated by Siri,” the iPhone voice, and that it was weird.
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