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I'd've eaten at Grubmeyer's

When he was born in Germany, future one-stop shopping mogul Fred Meyer was named Fred Grubmeyer. His family moved to the U.S. when he was a toddler; he lived and worked in such places as New York City, Nome, Alaska, and Seattle; and after settling in Portland he started the downtown shops (selling groceries, canned goods, pharmaceuticals and more) that would grow into the major Northwest chain Fred Meyer. He was an early adopter of the concept of store brands, like My-Te-Fine canned goods and Fifth Avenue Candies. Also early on in his store career, he changed his name to Fred G. Meyer, for reasons that no one is entirely clear on anymore.

Meyer aggressively expanded and made his stores larger and more convenient, with more to offer customers, including in-store eateries. Fred Meyer's early sit-down restaurants, as I gathered from his recent biography, weren't all that good, until Meyer assigned his wife Eva to run them. He also sort of named the restaurants after her, calling them Eve's Buffet restaurants. Eve's Buffets were around for decades, part of Northwesterners' daily lives, though they were before my time. (Modern Freddy's stores do have deli sections, with seating. I've eaten in those.)

Learning about both this and his original name made me wonder what would have happened if Meyer had been ambitious another way and had also started opening diners, stand-alone eateries, maybe in Freddy's parking lots or on their own. Because he could have adapted his original name as a diner name, and, come on, Grubmeyer's could have been an awesome name for a diner. A diner chain could have used the same supply lines Meyer had for the stores, and could have been another way to get his brands out there. Maybe he would have resisted going back to the name "Grubmeyer" because maybe it'd dilute brand-name recognition; maybe instead call the diners "Meyer Grub"? I don't like that as much as Grubmeyer's but I'm not the hugely successful businessman.

I think about eateries a lot, I guess is what I'm saying.
This is probably a coincidence, but now that I've read both novels, I like that both Dracula, Bram Stoker's 1897 novel, and Ben-Hur: a Tale of the Christ, Lew Wallace's 1880 novel, share the line "Unclean, unclean!"

Two Ben-Hur characters, imprisoned for years in a leprosy-infected prison cell so that they become lepers, say it, and it's such a habit that one of them still says "unclean, unclean!" after Jesus Christ (in all Christ's Christness) has cured them of it. And later, in Dracula, Mina Harker feels a burn when Van Helsing tries to perform a religious ceremony with her, the burn a result of Dracula having touched Mina earlier.

Again, it's probably a coincidence, though I'm guessing there is a chance that Stoker had read Wallace's book, which had been a huge hit. But the line "unclean, unclean!" is nicely, appropriately, melodramatic.

So much 19th-century English-language writing was melodramatic.

I wouldn't write that way, but I can appreciate others who do.


January 26, 2018, and on my mind is this:


...yeah, sometimes my mind gets like this when I try writing.


All about timing

I don't write enough in the morning.

This doesn't count.

Lately, like this past month or so, I've written most of my blog entries at night or in the evening, only sometimes in the afternoon, and almost never early in the day. This hasn't been true for most of the time I've kept a blog. Would my writing come out differently early? If I were blogging, or writing a poem, in the morning instead of late? Would it turn out to be a better time for me to write, or would I find that no, my writing really is better if I do it in other parts of the day?

All writers figure out the Better, Good, and Not As Good times for them to write. Plenty of them focus on new writing in the mornings; plenty flat-out turn off Internet access (or at least access to, say, news, Facebook and Twitter) while they get x number of words or x number of pages done before looking out at the rest of the world. It's a job, and we look for the best ways to do it.

Maybe it'll turn out that I shouldn't write in the morning. Or maybe it'll turn out I should. BUT I AM REMINDED I CAN.

Help with palindromes

"Pa's a sap" is a palindrome.

"Pause ASAP" isn't.

Ursula K. Le Guin

Rest In Peace, Ursula K. Le Guin. One of the best authors to work from Oregon; relentless in how precise she was in her writing; prickly, with a damn well-honed bullshit detector; and (when she wanted to be) hilarious. 88 years is a hell of a run; I still wish she'd gotten more.

I have copies of Le Guin's The Dispossessed and The Left Hand of Darkness; I'll likely read those soon. I've so far read three of her books: an essay collection, her YA novel Gifts, and The Lathe of Heaven.

I heard her speak once, at Portland's Wordstock literary festival. By then she'd retired from fiction and was writing more poetry, often political, often hilarious. One poem she shared that time, reading it with a sardonic smile on her face, was called "Loud Cows." She could do that. She also could influence writers all over the place. I've been reading lots of remembrances of her today. Here's Mary Robinette Kowal's.

Ursula Le Guin said, "There have been great societies that did not use the wheel, but there have been no societies that did not tell stories."


These things, I believed

• When I was a kid and heard the radio ads for Stripes, I thought the marching troops yelled "That's a bad check!" (They yelled "That's a fact, Jack!")
• I thought mulch was quicksand. Made me very careful in people's yards.
• Somehow, for my first few years as a "Weird Al" Yankovic fan, I could not grasp that anyone else could do (or was allowed to do, I guess) song parodies. Meant that when a Virginia Beach musician parodied "Electric Ave." to be about Atlantic Ave., I was convinced it had to really be Al.
• I worried after seeing The Goonies that people would assume stuff about me because my last name, like Sean Astin and Josh Brolin's family in that, is Walsh.
• I was sure that I could get lead poisoning from newsprint. (This was before I became a regular reader of newspapers.) My third grade teacher had to tell me, while I was crying in school, that no, I can't get poisoned by that.
• Before I started learning to wash dishes, I'd think Licking plates clean is enough, right?
• I thought, when I visited certain places, that north was south and east was west. I got turned around very easily.
• I thought Congressional term limits were a good idea, and I voted for them in 1992, my first election. It's my one big vote I'd take back.
• I thought I'd hate nuts. Didn't eat them until I was dating Alicia and her mom would have a bowl of pistachios at the house. Luckily, I have no nut allergies. (I'd thought I'd dislike notes mainly because I was never a big fan of peanut butter. I'd eat it, but without much pleasure.)
• I once seriously thought I'd, briefly, levitated.

...I can learn better. I can change my mind.

These things, I believe

• Most of us can walk farther than we think.
• It helps to try and make people around you more comfortable.
• A good way to drive out songs that have earwormed you? Listen to James Bond themes.
• Here's why I want to say "technically" less: that word often is a fancier "actually," and I've mostly stopped saying "actually" (as well as "Well, actually...").
• Most on-Facebook attempts at humor are lame. And I think it's more than a Sturgeon's Law thing: it's like the format flattens out attempted jokes. BE FUNNIER, PEOPLE.
• Nasal strips at night. Really helpful. Seriously.
• "Tyrannosaurus Rex" is a much, much cooler name than "T. Rex." I don't care that "T. Rex" is easier to say. (Oh, yeah, I've never been a big fan of the Jurassic Park films.)
• Laughing helps.
• A good diner is a source of comfort.
• Saying what you mean and meaning what you say: a good habit. And, like telling the truth, makes it easier to keep track of what you've said.
• It's worth it, trying to walk more.
"Does Epcot allow singing 'America, Fuck Yeah'? Because maybe it should."

An NFL post

So close, Jacksonville Jaguars. So close.

Until, that is, the Patriots came back in the fourth quarter of the AFC Championship game, after a really strong Jackaonville performance (defensive and offensive). Two more scores in less than 10 minutes was all the Pats needed. At one point a possible Jaguars win hinged on them pulling off a 4th and 14, which would have been kind of beautiful but...oh, well. Jacksonville making it to the Super Bowl would've been nice, especially for the one Jaguars fan I know, but again, oh well.

When the Vikings-Eagles NFC championship game was waiting to happen and Pats-Jaguars was still happening, I was planning to pull for Philadelphia, but once New England clinched it I changed my rooting interest in Vikings-Eagles to "as well-played a game as they can play." (I do get superstitious about sports rooting; did my rooting for Jacksonville this time doom them? Thoughts like that.) The NFC game was at first almost well-behaved: low on penalties, relatively cleanly played (no stumbles or fumbles), but soon the Eagles were pulling away; this game really was decided by halftime, to be honest. So I didn't get what I want then, either, but hey, it's sports: sports helps you learn to with disappointment and/or pain.

I have friends in, and connections to, Philadelphia, and I do not like the Pats (like fellow LJer George R.R. Martin!), so I'm glad to root for the Eagles in the Super Bowl. That the Eagles no longer have the dog abuser Michael Vick makes this easier; when Vick was on the team, I did my best not to watch the Eagles at all. The two teams I'd been most rooting for this season didn't make it, the Seattle Seahawks and (really) the Oakland Raiders. I want the Raiders to have at least one more great season in Oakland before they move to Las Vegas (a move I still think is weird and ill-advised); I'll hope next season is a great one.

The Super Bowl is still spectacle, and I'll watch it for that. It's not Seahawks-Raiders this year, but next year...


A meta thought, tonight

calling attention
to themselves

...there. That seems like one good definition of poetry, to me.


"Sing your own lines! 'Whoa, don another layer!' 'Whoa, ride upon a mare!' 'Whoa, exeunt pursued by bear!' "

And now, a musical interlude

For the last Oingo Boingo studio album, 1994's Boingo, Danny Elfman wrote this fake "kids song."

I love that the song gets more disturbing the closer you pay attention to it.


One way I'm passive-aggressive

Portland's earned its reputation as a paggro (as I've heard it) city, it's true. I once saw a bumper sticker that said "Please keep Portland passive-aggressive (if you don't mind)."

I try to avoid being so myself, but if I stay honest I'll need to admit this one particular thing I do.

It's how I react to inattentive drivers when they don't see me.

I walk a lot, and I walk defensively, because some driver, eventually, is going to not notice me, or not react to me, or not allow me right-of-way. So, say, like tonight on SE Woodstock near 42nd, this happens:

• I'm about to cross to the north side of Woodstock at a crosswalk, with an island.
• No eastbound traffic, so I start walking.
• A westbound car's driver has enough time to see me and stop in a reasonable distance.
• That driver doesn't. So I stop next to the island.
• As the driver passes me, I wave my left hand wildly and yell "Hi!"

Maybe I was loud enough for the driver to hear me in the car, with rolled-up windows; maybe not. But my waving my arm in its yellow coat sleeve should be an attention-getter, right?

I'm obnoxious to do this. I know. (I've sort of scared at least one person by doing it. Remember, I can be loud.) Maybe one of these days a driver I do this to will stop, get out of the car, and yell at or punch me. More generally and crucially, are those drivers learning anything about Paying Better Fricking Attention to everyone else on the road when I do this? I don't and can't know.

But I also know I'd rather be obnoxious than hurt, or killed, because a driver wasn't paying attention. And I don't want other people hurt or killed by cars, either.

(Icon chosen because it's my yelling-est one.)

Here is an easy way to smile.

Think about something you like. That you like to do, that you're glad to do, that you're glad you get to do:

A nice swim. Hearing a favorite song. Cuddling with someone who likes your cuddles. Breathing a deep breath of freshened air. Treat food. Petting a pet who enjoys being petted. Having, as Parry in The Fisher King said, "One of those really satisfying bowel movements, you know, the ones that border on the mystical." Getting work done and done well. Watching a gripping book, film, show, play, or other piece of entertainment. Walking in comfortable weather and getting to that viewpoint you love looking from. Tumbling, if you have the ability to do it well. Dancing, even if you don't have the ability to do it well. Taking your shoes off and letting your feet, after a long day, relax. Banter with the cool clerk or barista at that place you like to go to. Successfully napping where you like to do so, under that favorite blanket of yours.

Something like that will make you smile when you do it, or even simply think of doing it.

I hope something like that is easy for you to find, to think about, and to do.

The lengths I'll go for wordplay

I come off as kind of a jerk in this story.

From 10th to 12th grade, at James Madison High School in Vienna, VA, I worked on my school's newspaper, the Hawk Talk. Senior year, 1991 to 1992, I edited the Entertainment section, including writing and editing reviews. (Here's what I said about Alien 3.)

That's when the Red Hot Chili Peppers released their album Blood Sugar Sex Magic, and one of our harsher writers reviewed it. He liked it a lot. Here's why I mentioned him being harsh: he'd use harsh phrasing. He jokingly predicted that because of its content and name the RHCP album would "be denounced by Reverend What's-His-Name at the New Unified Church of the Resurrected Holy Thing." My Journalism teacher, Mrs. Webb, asked if I wanted that in the review. She felt it was insulting. Me, who'd long been rather agnostic but not anti-religion, was allowed to make the call whether or not to use the phrase. I allowed it; I found it amusing. While we talked, Mrs. Webb suggested rewriting it to claim a specific religious leader was likely to denounce the album. I disagreed, feeling a) that would be putting words in someone's mouth and b) doing it Mrs. Webb's way wouldn't be funny; but I was letting the review play to a more general stereotype of people who use religion as an excuse to be busybodies. That represents very few of the people I know who are religious, then and now.

I was kind of a jerk to use that.

But I'm amused that I found a really apt way to refer to that line when it would come up in discussion. I called it "the irreverent Reverend reference."


I reached the last page of my poetry notebook.

That spiral notebook started out as one I used for work, at the most recent desk job at CLEAResult. When I left that temp assignment, I tore out the work-related pages and had more pages, blank, waiting. A day after I'd ended that job, I started filling the notebook with poems, plus poetry exercises because I later borrowed Stephen Fry's The Ode Less Traveled, his book on writing poetry.

I've said it often these past two years: I'd missed writing poetry. I'm enjoying writing more of it. Last year, I decided that that Composition notebook (the same kind of notebook Patton Oswalt writes in) would be my next poetry notebook. More recently, I wondered what the last poem in the first one would be. It's "To Swim in Stars," which I finished and posted earlier. It seems like a good one to end on — I felt like any short poem I might put on that last page would seem silly right on the heels of the long one — so after I'd put up the poem, I drew a red line down the rest of that last page. Time to move on to the next. There's room for more words there.

Some of the words will be good ones. I am learning.


After all, they did tell us this:

(That clip? Not Safe For Work. So, so Not Safe For Work.)


To Swim in Stars
by Christopher Walsh, 1/01/2018-1/16/2018

Parts of the universe are thick with light.
Clusters of suns, gravity-bonded
And gravity-bonding,
Hold their swirling worlds and meteors and comets and unaffiliated dust
In what look like endless loops.
In places, planets form.
We finally confirmed that: science proved
That worlds are not an accident of our own sun.
The math of star-forming and planet-forming
Works, it seems, everywhere.
Someday, it may be surprising to find a place where it doesn't.
Rocks can turn to ground, gas can turn to air,
Accreting and coalescing
Into a place where life is possible.
The energy of just one small star
Was enough to create the foundation of Earth.
Conditions in star clusters have their own variables,
Gravity pulling from more close suns than what we have,
Complicating how anything else pulls together,
And yet, pull together, things might.
Look at Pleiades,
The knot of stars Sappho may have gazed at,
And picture a planet within it:
Far younger, millions of years old instead of billions,
Still a molten, rocky riot impossible to stand on
— So be near it, instead —
Look in all directions away from it:
Seems and feels like all the light,
Stark there,
Filtered through wisps of interstellar dust there,
Far older dust, left behind,
Which the cluster is simply passing through.
So much of the light blue-tinged:
More blue, too, than you think there could be,
Almost more blue than you can process,
As well as the all-black of the background beyond those nearest stars.
You see past and through the Pleiades.
You see more, beyond the nearest light.
Cosmically, in relative terms we can only partly understand,
The cluster won't be there long.
Gravity and tidal forces and simple movement and time
Will pull it apart.
We can understand enough of all this
Through math.
Math, in its way, is beautiful.
Stars end. Clusters end. Galaxies do.
That particular pool of light will end.
Any planets there may just keep going,
Turning rogue,
Growing near as cold as cold can get.
But much light will replace any such lost light.
The end of light will happen
On a near-unimaginable time scale.
The heat-death of the universe: a hell of a thing to think about.
For now, for then,
For future times,
We keep seeing the light:
From near (our sun)
From not far (the Pleiades)
From farther (Andromeda)
From so far we have trouble measuring except in time:
"This light started ten billion years ago," we can sometimes say.
Much of the far future will still be full of light,
Simply light which we'll never see.
The energy of the cosmos
Outlives us all.
Energy is as big as the universe.
And energy brings us light.


The importance of having an on-site editor

Douglas Adams got so far behind when writing So Long and Thanks for All the Fish, the fourth Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy novel, that his publisher moved Adams into a London hotel suite where he did nothing but write. Adams moved into the suite's small bedroom, his editor Sonny Mehta moved into the large bedroom (with a VCR so he could watch films), and for about three weeks Adams madly wrote, with breaks only to eat, sleep, and jog in Hyde Park. Mehta was there as on-site editor, so he got first look at pages as Adams finished them. Not an ideal way to write a novel, but necessary so that Douglas Adams would not blow the last deadline.

Now I wonder how on-site editing would have changed the plot of Stephen King's The Shining.

Jack Torrance sets up his office space and typewriter in the Overlook Hotel, and Wendy Torrance says "Jack, hon, you know...I'd have time to, you know, if you'd like, look over pages once you're done for the day, kind of keep track of the progress you're making, watch how things develop, it'd be good practice for me and it could help you..."

And Jack, only just about to start and not having had to gripe to her that her coming into his writing space breaks his concentration so that hasn't become an issue, considers her offer and says "That...that is not a bad idea."

Point is, Wendy Torrance would've spotted and flagged that whole "ALL WORK AND NO PLAY MAKES JACK A DULL BOY" business by the second time he'd written that. The story never would have gotten to here!


And that is why you always leave a note think about having an on-site editor.