Strange Porch Blues: Opinion

You can't rely on Opinion.  Opinion doesn't care what you think.  The most important thing to Opinion is making sure he's first.  If you go drinking with Opinion, no need to wonder who is going to be dancing on the bar.  He'll ask you many questions, but only to hear his own answers.  Opinion has insomnia, up at night feeling bad.  He plays banjo, but only for his dog.

(listen @ a terminal case of whimsy)


Tea Time

a message from my daughter

The writer puts the tea kettle on and stands at the window waiting for the water to boil.

A bird flutters past and the writer remembers a correspondence she must reply to, so she climbs the stairs to her room.

One correspondence leads to another and to checking, because there is an endless supply of checking to do, checking on this thing and another - a link a friend has sent, the requirements for a submission, the details of the gossip she's heard about ________________.

The writer senses a smell, something odd and metallic, familiar yet too faint to register.  She has remembered another correspondence she must reply to and then something she needs to post, and a contract she hasn't yet signed.

But then the smell grows strong enough for her to leap from her chair and rush to the kitchen where the windows are fogged and the tea kettle sits, dry and crackling, cooking under the stove's flame.

She turns off the flame and swears.

Still she wants a cup of tea.  But the kettle is so hot that she doesn't want to put water in it.  She is afraid it might further damage the tea kettle or cause the house to fill with more smoke.  She stands at the window waiting for the kettle to cool down.

She gets bored even though it's snowing.  She wipes the counters and sweeps the floors and thinks about an unfinished project, wondering if it's worth finishing and then finds herself sitting by the fire.

She gets too warm and wanders into the study where she contemplates some videos that are overdue. She decides to watch a documentary about Man Ray.

She's hoping to think of something profound to write about Man Ray, but doesn't.*

She climbs the stairs and takes out the unfinished project.  She starts to work on it but almost immediately decides that it isn't worth finishing.

She dreads all the time she is wasting because there are so many meaningful things she could be doing.

But then she is afraid that maybe they aren't that meaningful after all.

Near the end of his life, an interviewer asked Man Ray what in life gave him the most satisfaction. After a pause he said, "Women."

The writer goes to the kitchen for a snack.  She remembers that she was going to have tea.  She fills the tea kettle and turns the flame to high.  She looks out the window and then glances at the clock.  It's already time to get the kids from school.

She turns off the stove and walks out the door.

*The detail from the documentary that most intrigues the writer: Man Ray's lover and student Lee Miller plucked from the trash a negative that Man Ray threw away.  She printed it, a photo of her long neck.  When Man Ray saw it, he signed it.  Lee Miller felt the credit belonged to her.  A major fight ensued that forever damaged their relationship.

Lee Miller


Are You Ready for the Improv 2020's? Guideline #5: Play Outside

I've always had this obsession with steel drums.  Where I hear them, I go running to see.  I'm the same way with bagpipes and didgeridoo and gamelan and anyone playing music of any kind outside including little kids with kazoos.  An early, powerful influence was this bit from Sesame Street:

I can recall every detail of its brilliance, how he explains to the kids that everything has rhythm, how the old white man is at his service, this very hip dude riding in the carriage playing steel drums to the beat of the horses' hooves.  How he smiles when he hears the water crashing.  How he rolls the notes along the wave.  Who this man is?  I'd like to thank him and whoever made this.

tad neuhaus: tom and cymbal
joanna dane: steel drums


Playing Cards, The Club Family

Long before I started this blog, I was pregnant with my first child.  Around that same time, my husband bought a scanner, the same one I use today.

Here is one of the very first things I scanned:

As a young child I was obsessed with cards.  One of the best gifts I ever received growing up was:

According to Hoyle

We were obsessed with proper rules and any impasse was solved by consulting Hoyle.

Who was Hoyle?  A single man or a composit of many?  Or some sort of God of Cards, Bunyon-like, using the Grand Mesa as his card table, smoking a rocket of a cigar?

After my son was born, I experienced a welling of creative energy that produced, among other things, a series of face cards.  I printed them out as greeting cards and brought them to a book store that had just opened in downtown Tucson.  The owner wore knee boots and a short skirt and the walls were lined with books to the high ceiling, the bright Tucson sun casting crisp shadows across the hardwood floor.  She said she'd take them if they were colored in.  But, she added, artists are so irresponsible that she was sure I would never get around to doing it.

So I went home and learned some very basic photoshop, and colored them all in.

The Queen of Clubs is a master mahjong player.

The King of Clubs spends most of his day alone in his library.

The Jack of Clubs often stays out all night, in disguise,
playing poker in country pubs.


Surprised when I came back the next week, the owner bought a couple of sets, and dumb ass that I am, I didn't even buy a book.  I had bought one last time I was in.  I thought that was good enough.

a book in which Michelangelo bribes
his way into the church's morgue
 to disset and draw cadavers
alone and by candle light
in the wee hours
of night

A couple of months after she bought my cards, the book store closed.

And not long after that, we moved.


Socrates Cafe*: What is a Real Musician?

Is a person who studies classical music a real musician?

If you practice every day, are you a real musician?

What if you practice once a month?

What if you can't read music?

Do you have to make money to be a real musician?

What if you play only one song, are you a real musician?

What if you play and no one ever hears?

What if you only improvise?

What about a person who tunelessly whistles?

Is a deaf person singing, a real musician?

What about a baby banging on a drum?

If you only play instruments you've never played before, are you a real musician?

If you only practice making crazy noises, are you a real musician?

If you practice staying completely silent, are you a real musician?

Are birds and dolphins and bats real musicians?

What about a mentally disabled adult who plays her harmonica everywhere she goes?  Is she a real musician?


Thank you Joy Jordan for bringing Peter Bartman to the first, First Sunday Discussion Circle.

Thank you Peter Bartman for bringing Christopher Phillips' Socrates Cafe to my attention.

Thank you Christopher Phillips for sharing your questions.

Thank you Tom Preimesberg for showing me your What is Art? slide show.

Thank you Saul Steinberg for making masks for your friends to wear at your dinner parties.

And thank you Dad, for the question.


Random Selections from the Bookshelf: Material Revisited

It used to be that for a number of years I only read short stories, and I only bring this up (again) because it fascinates and somewhat disgusts me.  What was the meaning of that time, so focused on a form I forced my passions upon?

(Perhaps I should have stuck with the travel guide job, but that too, now that I think of it, was disastrous.  Each and every occupation has been a disaster, if I choose to look at it this way, which today, I do.)

Last night, everyone was out ice skating even though it was horribly cold.  I stayed by the fire and picked almost at random from the shelf: a thick Alice Munro anthology that fell open (at random?) to a story that felt vaguely familiar.  But since I forget the details of most everything I read (I don't know why, I just do, it's always been that way, making the discussion of literature embarrassing (at best)), I read on, not remembering if I had read it or not until I got to the description of a lamp ("a whorehouse lamp") and realized I most definitely had read it before because I quoted the description of the lamp on this blog, posted with a picture I drew.

A Whorehouse Lamp

Had I not posted about this lamp, I would have passed over it, skimming along, wondering, even at the end, if I had read the story before, or simply read a story that was similar.

Why that line and not some other?  Because the narrator (married to the famous writer) wants to be congratulated for the accuracy of her description?

Does Alice Munro empathize more with the writer husband, married three times, or the wife, who __________________________________________________________?

This morning, the details elude me.  It was, I know, a story about a writer (a character which, I hear, in graduate school, they ardently warn to avoid) a character I am always drawn to, for obvious reasons, the same way clowns, I suppose, enjoy reading stories about clowns.

What kind of lamp do you fancy?

Isaac Bashevis Singer is my favorite writer-as-character writer.  (And Woody Allen.)  Often in Singer's stories the writer appears as the innocent bystander, people tripping into him with their fantastical stories, hoping he will write them down.

A Story I Wrote when I was Obsessed with Isaac Bashevis Singer, the Title of Which I Stole from one of his Most Famous Works

(How much is the writer character true to the writer person?  How far does the truth need to be stretched until it becomes imagination?  And doesn't everything we experience become instantly infused with imagination as soon as we attach language to it, attempting to label, judge, categorize, compare, ruminate upon?)

While reading Old Love, I worked on a story based on my great grandpa's immigration to America.  I tried for Singer, but it came out all Fellini.

What happened was this:  I had read so many short stories and studied how to write them with such fervor that I was extremely tense trying to make it all happen correctly, and since I've never been too good at correctly, it tipped in a strange direction.

And then I got frustrated and edited it down to where it was very thin.

Every time I try to return to it (because there's something intriguing there) I suffocate under its strained intent.

Will these stories ever revive, or are they better left alone?


Tiny Song Forgotten

When you are dealing with tiny songs, it's easy to lose some:


For your very own tiny songs double album, 
please send a self-addressed stamped envelop to: 

Joanna Dane 
℅ The 602 Club
602 N. Lawe Street
Appleton, WI  54911


Are You Ready for the Improv 2020's? Guideline #3 - Get to Know Your Neighbors

I've been planning for a while to have Jim come talk to the Internet Artist class at the high school, and today is the today!  At first he said no, because Jim always says no because he used to always say yes and then he had a bad experience volunteering for something and after that made it his policy to always say no.  But I kept at him until I got a maybe, and though I never got a definitive yes, I made the plan and let him know about it, so by that time, he didn't really have a choice.

Last year, Jim's Kickstarter made big news with Barbie armor that he made on his 3D printer.  His video found here: faire-play-barbie-compatible-3d-printed-medieval-a is well worth one minute and seven seconds of your life.  Stay tuned to Jim's website. Kickstarter #2 is coming soon, and I have a feeling Barbie is going to be kicking some major ass.

Jim is one of our neighbors.  While out walking one day before it turned so unbearably cold, it came to me what I hope the students will get out of Jim's visit.  It's probably not the same thing Jim hopes the students will get out of the visit, but here's what I was thinking:


*A friend who follows this blog by email advised me to put (listen) whenever there is an audio track since the audio doesn't appear in the emails.  Most of the time, I forgot to do this.  So, if you follow by email and a post doesn't make sense or seems to be lacking something, maybe there is an audio track to go with the post, or maybe it just doesn't make sense to anyone by me, or maybe it is lacking.  In the email notification, you can click the title of the post to get to the audio, or you can listen to all the tracks here: Whimsy Audio.

Thank you for your patience.


The Writer is Wondering

The writer is wondering, is it enough to write a small thing now and again, to make an observation and put it to words and maybe draw a little picture to go with it?

James Thurber, considered by millions of people, the greatest American humorist since Mark Twain, thought himself a failure since he never was what he set out to be, a serious novelist like Henry James.

The writer is wondering, does it really matter what we make as long as we sustain a practice?  Does it matter if a writer has an audience?  What is this desire to be "known"?

Thurber Dreaming of Being James