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To see the un-see-able

Slowly, I'm reading the fantasy novel The King of Elfland's Daughter, a 1924 work by Lord Dunsany. He was one of those writers who influenced a lot of writers we know: C.S. Lewis, Lovecraft, Arthur C. Clarke, and more recently Neil Gaiman, who wrote the introduction for the edition I'm reading. (I feel lucky I found this, as I first thought the only edition my library had was some badly laid-out "publish your own books" piece from an automated press.) It's a rich, lovely work, about a human man from England and a magical princess from Elfland who fall in love and have a child. Their marriage affects the relationship between our world and Elfland, with people and creatures from across the border between worlds crossing that border (or trying to, but sometimes the Elf King prevents that). There's clever stuff, for instance, about a troll who visits England and returns telling other trolls about the so-cool stuff Earth has, like goats and cows.

Elfland looks and feels different from our world. As Dunsany says in Chapter III, when the English man who will one day love and marry the magical princess enters that realm,

And all of a sudden he came from the gloom of the wood to the emerald glory of the Elf King's lawns. Again, we have hints of such things here. Imagine lawns of ours just emerging from night, flashing early lights from their dewdrops when all the stars have gone; bordered with flowers that just begin to appear, their gentle colours all coming back after night; untrodden by any feet except the tiniest and wildest; shut off from the wind and the world by trees in whose fronds is still darkness: picture these waiting for the birds to sing; there is almost a hint there sometimes of the glow of the lawns of Elfland; but then it passes so quickly that we can never be sure. More beautiful than aught our wonder guesses, more than our hearts have hoped, were the dewdrop lights and twilights in which these lawns glowed and shone. And we have another thing by which to hint of them, those seaweeds or sea-mosses that drape Mediterranean rocks and shine out of blue-green water for gazers from dizzy cliffs: more like sea-floors were these lawns than like any land of ours, for the air of Elfland is thus deep and blue.

It's easy to do this sort of writing trick badly. You can really only hint at describing the indescribable; Dunsany, smartly, tries to make us feel it more than see it. Douglas Adams would have done a joke, like saying in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy how the Vogon ships preparing to destroy Earth "hung in the air in precisely the same way that bricks don't." That's valid in its own way.

Meanwhile, still, I try to picture it. And this is the best I've done so far:

I got thinking of the fires the Pacific Northwest had in 2017 and 2018, fires I still have to hope we avoid repeating this year, crisping too many of our trees and weakening the slopes they're rooted in and adding a heavy filter of ash and dust that choked our skies, causing almost-bright-but-dingy colors I rarely see when looking up. What if something like that was happening — but, good?

It's a bass-ackwards way to look at that. It's counterintuitive. It's also the best I can do to picture the unreality of the unreal place Lord Dunsany described.

Anyway: vivid, this book.


So. It wasn't perfect.

I try to be helpful. Plenty of times, I am. Sometimes I'm helpful enough — maybe not completely, but at least partially.

It's just that today at least twice while at work, I did what I thought would be helpful and the result was...awkward, instead.

Maybe I guessed wrong about what would be helpful. Maybe (more likely, in fact) my timing just sucked.

There's a headline I got thinking of today, because of this. The newspaper I used to write for, after I'd quit and before my editor got fired by the new corporate bosses* who'd bought the paper, had an article about a town's program that had had unintended, frustrating consequences. My former editor's headline: GOOD DEED GOES PUNISHED. I think my former editor had wanted an excuse for that headline for years.

Luckily, today for me was...not that punishing. Just sometimes awkward.

And I was helpful, successfully, at other times.

* That paper, the Hermiston Herald, was bought by literally our competitor, the East Oregonian, based in Pendleton. The EO moved the Herald out of its longtime office into what had been the EO's Hermiston, Oregon office and got rid of quite a few people. I felt bad for my editor for that; he'd hoped to retire as a newspaper editor.


LJ Idol, Week 2: In My Head, Rent-Free

Double-meaning, "dwell": you can live in a place, you can think and think and think (...and think) about something, about someone, that you'd rather not keep thinking about. Who you'd rather not think about.

I dwell. I've known I can, for much of my 45 years of life. I almost want to say it's a skill, but really it's a tendency. It's something I'm too used to. (I'm working to stay as vague as possible. Too specific and I might make myself uncomfortable. Or maybe even get myself in trouble.)

It's an effort to break it. Okay, I can't do a thing about [x], [x] is not going to change due to anything I do, so, don't worry. I try. Again, an effort.

I want to give silly examples. There are two buildings along I-5 in Northwestern Oregon, one just south of Portland's Terwilliger Curves, one in Salem about an hour farther south —


— and those buildings used to bother me. Really bother me. They are, I think, ugly. I've driven past them a lot, ever since the early Nineties when I'd be going between family homes in Portland and college down in Eugene. I've tried not looking at them as I pass, but of course the mental effort (don't think of puce-colored rollerblading Great Danes) meant I was Thinking About Them.

I don't remember what I did to stop being so focused on those two particular ugly (to me) buildings. But I really had an issue with them. And that affected me at times.

See? Silly. Because this topic hits close to home otherwise.

A less-silly example: a former housemate of mine. We lived in the two bedrooms in the basement of a three-story house shared by a bunch of people: up to six of us, though it varied from four to six during my time. I lived there January 2001 to mid-August 2002, when I moved into a studio where I lived for the next 12 years. And sometime around 2004, it hit me: it had felt like I'd lived so much longer in the house, because there'd been so much drama in the house. Drama caused by that former housemate of mine who was also in the basement. Drama I got away from.

I felt weird about that drama, how it lingered. I dwelled on it. But, I then dwelled on it less. Then less. The weirdness of that time still comes back to me (remember, that time also included 9/11), but being Away From The Drama, likely, helped me to dwell less.

Somehow, I've stopped. Somehow, I can stop. All part of self-improvement.


The word "grief" sounds like what it describes.

As short as it is, it is a loaded, ragged word. It's raw. It looks, when written down, like it should be a comforting word, with the rounded "g" at the front and "f" at the end almost like gentle padding, but: no.

I've felt grief. I've felt it in the Eighties, the Nineties, the Aughts, and this decade. I don't think I did in the Seventies, when I was zero years old to 6 years old, because at those ages you usually, simply can't understand things enough to really feel grief. You can feel sad, but maybe not that level of sad.

(I may be talking out my ass about that age. Child psychologists know far more about how very young children react to the world and sad events that happen in it. I do know I'm lucky to have had a relatively calm, relatively safe childhood; plenty of people, sadly and unfortunately, didn't.)

Grief often stays with you. Maybe it should stay with you, though not at the crushing levels that grief has at the start. My mom once told me that one major event in my youth changed me a lot: the loss of the space shuttle Challenger. I saw that, live, on a day at home (Fairfax County, Virginia schools were closed for teacher workdays). I was 12, an owner of the book The Space Shuttle Operator's Manual and who'd happily been to Cape Canaveral on my family's Florida trip in spring 1984 and who loved to visit the Smithsonian's National Air & Space Museum. As Mom saw, I wasn't really the same kid after that. I'd seen loss, and I had to start living with it. Ignoring it doesn't help; denying it doesn't help. Dealing with it can.

I've had more a little experience with grief. I'm lucky to have experienced a lot of joy as well, a lot of good, but: loss is on my mind.

Stating the obvious

There is a lot I do not say.

Even after 15 years of blogging: I'm definitely not saying everything I could.

May my inner editor always stay sharp so that I don't simply go on and on and on and on and on like if Steve Perry got stuck while singing "Don't Stop Believin'."

A decent day at work today

Today went decently. Reasonably productively, and with a variety of stuff accomplished.

I almost began the day with a bad decision, though: I almost headed to work without my coat, but changed my mind, which is good because the drizzle started less than two blocks from the house. It also got cold, and stayed cold: this was the first day since last spring where Portland's temperature didn't even get to 50° F. I might not be really ready for fall weather, but okay, I guess I'll have to...

I also managed to leave early enough to get an earlier bus to work, and thus an earlier MAX train, and avoid the issue of the Sunday bus that sometimes takes too long and makes me miss my train to the airport and be late. That meant I got to work early enough that I had time to just sit, rest, read, and mentally prepare for the day and the week.

Work happened. And then when it was time for lunch, I indulged something I couldn't do before and got lunch on the concourse, on the other side of security. First time I've done that (I've eaten back there after work before). I got a grab-and-go bay shrimp salad from the PDX Mo's, an Oregon clam chowder chain, and ate in a table area underneath a large kinetic indoor windmill.

Then more work happened. Don't worry, I work.

It's been a relaxing night since then. Time soon for sleep.


As for the past week...

...yeah. No updates for almost a week. Life and work kept me busy enough not to blog. On the other hand, when I've gone to sleep I've been sleeping deeply...

Pacing myself: latest revision

Latest film I've finally seen on a big screen: David Lynch's 1986 work Blue Velvet. The Academy, where I saw his Dune last year, is showing it Friday through next Thursday.

It's a film that doesn't work quite as well on video, the way I saw it in the early Nineties at college. Lynch at key moments shoots from a little more than middle distance but not quite long distance, just at a noticeable remove. Add cropping for TV on top of that, and this gorgeous widescreen movie sometimes just looks odd. But yes, on the big screen it works like gangbusters. And is disturbing, as in horror-film levels of disturbing, something I didn't really or fully get the first time I saw it.

Next month, another Portland theater will show another David Lynch film on the big screen, which is the really preferable way to watch his stuff. The theater: 5th Avenue Cinema at Portland State University. The film: Eraserhead. Which, again, I've seen but on video. But which screams to be seen on a big screen with an audience, for a more full impact to how disturbing it is.

I haven't been to 5th Avenue Cinema for over a decade. I've only been there once, for a revival screening of Highlander. And I'm tempted, for Eraserhead.

And if I do so, I should probably put off, still, my eventual viewing of David Lynch's Twin Peaks: The Return. I have the DVD; I have an honest-to-God plan for watching it — binge the first four episodes, then watch the rest with some days or maybe a full week between episodes — but...

...I don't want to feel like I'm burning through his work. I can, of course, only watch a David Lynch film or show for the first time once. And I should vary the diet. I mean, the next film I'll watch is probably The Devil Wears Prada, which I've borrowed on DVD from the library. THERE ARE OTHER FILMS. AND SHOWS. MANY OF WHICH I'LL LIKE.

RESOLVED: LJ Idol Week 1, Resolution

Can I do good?

Be a helper, a benefit, someone who makes things easier for others?

Can I do well?

Be productive, be useful, be nicely compensated for what I've done?

Can I be clear?

Be sharp, crisp, easy to see and to get ? The High-Definition of understood and understandable?

...this is like if I'd joined Debate in high school and debated myself.


Hmm, Dream-Me

Interesting (to me at least) image from my dream last night. The plot I remember from it was that I was at an event in a store with special guest Mark Hamill, and I talked to him briefly, hoping to make him laugh. I started telling him my Frank Darabont anecdote (the one I recounted at the end of this entry from 2010), but we got interrupted.

That's not where the image came in. It came in after, when I left the store to walk through the parking lot in front of the store. More of the event was happening in that lot: many people out there. The lot had a decorative planter, with very tall grass-like plants, like four feet tall or so, around it.

From where Dream-Me stood, in the planter was a hole. A big one. A seemingly bottomless one. It was well-obscured by the tall grass but was definitely there. And people were, blindly, jumping across the hole. They couldn't see it from their side of the planter, but they knew it was there. Think about it: what if they hadn't known?

There's the concept of the Missing Stair, the idea that some people are trouble and do troubling things but the others around them adapt, working around them instead of confronting what that someone does that is troubling. This feels kind of like that, in a less elegant way.


Changes of plans

Today I was possibly going to do overtime at work, then I was more likely to do OT, then I was less likely, then I was more likely again, then I actually was on the clock 45 minutes past my usual time before a supervisor decided nope, they didn't need me for OT today.

Had I done overtime, I might still have been at work at this time. (Swing shift ends at 11:30.)

To prepare for the possibility of overtime, I'd driven to work (turning around 12 blocks from home when I realized I'd forgotten my parking pass. Glad I didn't realize that 100 blocks from home), so with most of the evening and a car available to me, I went first to Bridge City Comics for my latest batch of comics then to the North Portland landmark Jubitz for dinner. Jubitz is a damn good truck stop with a really good 24-hour diner called Cascade Grill. Open-faced roast beef, mashed potatoes, and onion rings plus a glass of sweet tea are all in me. Thumbs up. Plus my server was glad to see I was reading Carrie Fisher (Surrender the Pink); "I love her," she said.

So I treated myself. Good idea, usually.

For Dana, and for those who miss Dana.

It's ready to be posted.

A poem for Dana

You are
To look

* * * * *

Foot-fall, foot-fall, foot-fall,
Trod, trod, trod,
Move, move, move:
We move because we have to.
The whole functioning-in-society thing.
Some of us, of you,
In Portland and Kansas City and elsewhere,
Have been the walking wounded,
Flattened by the loss.
For hundreds or thousands of us,
We try to see how we are now.
What's different? What layers are in the difference?
What about a Dana-less world will hit you out of the blue?
How will it find new ways to hurt?

* * * * *

There can be, as you grieve,
A seeming extra weight to the very sky,
A weight forced on you.
Life seems heavier.
You can feel squeezed,
And not by one of Dana's hugs.
Maybe you think of that sky
Then of her and the so many others
Who no longer get to see it.
Yes: unfair.
We're reminded and reminded and reminded.
It's the price of thinking.
That sky, unthinking, doesn't know, doesn't feel:
It just is,
A part of the Still-Is.
As we are.

* * * * *

And you are
To look

* * * * *

Your hurt heart needs time, yes; but it still gets air,
As life prefers to keep living.
Breath, needed, happens:
An in-and-out, an in-and-out, another.
And as you do, you remember:
-----Dana's voice.
-----Her songs.
-----Her talents.
-----Her point-of-view.
-----Her finely-tuned bullshit detector.
-----Her support of her friends,
-----Of her colleagues.
Maybe you recall in bits and pieces,
A slice of a slice of a life
Until you're stronger and can remember
A slice of a life.
(We never can grasp the whole of a life.)
This, as you heal, gets easier,
Though never easy.

* * * * *

You are
To look

* * * * *

We function within the unfairness;
We can't halt.
We can't irrevocably stop:
We pause, we re-gather, we focus
And we move.
We can rebuild our strength,
Rebuild around the wound,
Learn to live with it.
Re-learn, in a way, how to live.
How to move.
How to have it hurt less to remember.

Dana's remembered.
This won't feel like enough.
She didn't get the amount of life she deserved.
She didn't get enough —
(What is "enough life"?)
— And we can be mad on her behalf.
We can/will miss her.
But, still, even still,
We can keep our memories remembering,
Finding and holding the joy and love
Dana's memory can bring.
Love can lighten the world.
And with love lifting the weight,
You (and you) (and you) (and you)
Are allowed
To look

(By Christopher Walsh. Begun July 27, 2019, on the way to Dana Thompson's memorial at Woodlawn Park, Portland. Finished August 30, 2019. Finalized and posted September 18, 2019.)

© Christopher Walsh, 2019.


LJ Idol, Week 0: Hello

Words. I try to get along with them.

I've blogged for 15 years; this month is the anniversary, in fact, of me starting this LJ. Before that, from 1997 to 2000, I got paid to write, as a writer-reporter for a weekly small town newspaper. Words and I got along well enough for that.

Thing is. Words. I try to get along with them. They seem not to mind me. Let's see if they don't mind me during LJ Idol.

My life is honestly pretty quiet. Mainly I work, wander around Portland (by foot, bus, light rail train, or car), read, work on poetry, and try to get enough water. And think of what I can write.



Hasn't happened yet...

...but it could.

My 19 years living in Portland, as opposed to the visiting I did for many years before I moved here, I've had a car while also walking and bussing to many of the places I go to. Options, I has them. Portland's a good city for walking places (it has relatively short blocks) and TriMet, with its buses, MAX light rail trains and streetcars, covers a lot of ground. All of the multi-month or multi-year jobs I've had here, and some of my brief one-day or one-week temp assignments (though fewer, percentage-wise), have been easily reachable by bus. But sometimes, a car's more convenient.

Here's my worry, though: that some day I'll drive to work, do my day of work, then forget I'd driven to work, ride TriMet home, and not realize I'd done this wrong until I get home to...no car.

I've never done this. But I've reminded myself surprisingly often of this possibility, of maybe it happening. I did today. I drove to work. (Luckily, I'd already considered driving today, and then this morning I overslept. Without driving, unless I'd really scrambled, I'd've been late. And with my Sunday commuting issues, even scrambling like that wouldn't have guaranteed me getting there on time.) Later, while in the terminal on a break and headed back to the Valet booth we operate out of, I looked down the escalators to the lower level where the Employee Shuttle unloads and loads and thought Remember, go THAT way tonight after clocking out, not THAT way towards MAX.

Of course, the punchline would be that the very next time I drive, I have a brain fart and do just that, but I will really really try not to.


(Well, sort of.)

I was grocery shopping tonight at WinCo, in the ice cream aisle. A fifty-something guy was looking at the many options and talking to a passing other fifty- (or maybe sixty-) something guy about what ice cream was good, and he said "Moose tracks! Sounds good, but, where have those moose been?" The passing guy chuckled and walked away; I and a few other people were still near the jokingly-wondering-about-ice-cream-cleanliness guh. Who said almost the same line again. Okay, guy wants an audience. I can handle that.

I praised the variety of ice cream you can get nowadays, and decided to get the WinCo-brand Sea Salt Caramel. The guy said "You don't know where sea salt's been, either! Was it with the seaweed?"

I replied, "Hey, fiber."

He chuckled.

I have no idea if I even said truth, but it's what I came up with in the moment. But a lesson* I got once: sometimes even something non-funny seems funny in the moment, if you phrase it well. I did! Well enough.

* Here's the lesson! I was listening to Howard Stern interview Norm MacDonald, who was talking about the very funny Don Rickles. MacDonald quoted Rickles from a talk show appearance, where he'd said something that literally made no sense, but which he made funny. The audience and the host, in the moment, laughed, but it wasn't a joke. MacDonald added "You can't really improvise a joke in the moment: there's no craft to that. You can just make it sound funny." Obviously Don Rickles could craft true jokes, but even nonsense can be funny, too.

Ell. Jay. Idol.

Twice before, I have written for the glorious madness that is LJ Idol (therealljidol).

I am doing so again.

'Nuff said. ...wait, this is the opposite of "'Nuff said," as LJ Idol involves writing blog entries based on prompts and YOU'D BETTER FIND SOMETHING WORTH SAYING, so that people vote to let you stay in the game. Right on! (And write on!)

Anyway, I'm playing.


I can go to more of the airport now.

At my job we're training for A Thing, and tied into this, I may need to go to parts of the airport on the other side of security. More simply: I have a pass and a PIN, and these give me limited access to the concourses.

This afternoon, right after work, I visited the PDX concourses for the first time since my most recent flight in 2010 (my trip to San Diego ComiCon). It took some work to figure out how to use my badge to go through the employee entrances — "I have dumb questions about this," I said to someone who works in the PDX Badging Office before I did so — but! It worked and it works.

So I took a quick look around Concourses A, B, and C, on the south side of the terminal. I went there because Concourse A will go away soon due to airport renovations, and I wanted to see its current state. (I think I flew through Concourse A in that 2010 flight; I definitely flew through it earlier, at Thanksgiving 1997 when I flew a very small passenger plane from Northeast Oregon to Portland.) Concourse B is literally just three gates, then Concourse C is, of course, several times bigger. It's big and open, and it was bustling.

I said I have limited access to the parts of the airport past security. Some of those limits: I can't go there on my days off, and of course if I used my employee pass to bypass TSA and get to a flight I would get so fired. More concretely, I can only go there up to two hours before the start of my work shift and stay over there for up to two hours after my work shift. I kept track, once thinking to myself 15 minutes down, one-and-three-quarters hours to go!; this time I was there for an hour. I treated myself to early dinner at Mod Pizza, a local pizza chain with a PDX branch. (They have breakfast pizza. SPECIALLY MADE BREAKFAST PIZZA.)

Anyway. I have a new privilege at work and I appreciate that. More chances to experience an airport...


The Simpsons started airing in 1987 as series of shorts on The Tracey Ullman Show, one of two programs Fox Television debuted with. The first half-hour episode of The Simpsons, the Christmas episode "Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire," aired in December 1989, coming up on 30 years ago. Its first season aired winter and spring 1990; it's been a fact of TV ever since, and is the longest-running animated prime time show ever, beating out The Flintstones and its run of 166 episodes (as of this post, there have been 662 Simpsons episodes).

High-school me immediately loved the show. I now realize how much of a privilege it was to get to watch it in college, with like-minded smartasses, during that unparalleled 1990s run of seasons. The Simpsons was so good, for so long.

And it evolved. Nothing on TV lasts that long without evolving, of course, and the show in its early seasons quickly became both weirder and more epic. That was a big influence of Conan O'Brien, who wrote and produced the show right before he got hired to host NBC's Late Night: his "Marge vs. the Monorail" was a) funny as hell and b) one of the stories to open up the world of The Simpsons. It can be a musical! It can have famous guest stars in on the joke! It can have impossible projects being built in Springfield like an escalator to nowhere!

But before, back in its second season of 1990-1991, The Simpsons did a segment that was intentionally light on gags and was much more an exercise in mood: the last segment of the original "Treehouse of Horror" episode, its own adaptation of "The Raven" by Edgar Allan Poe.

The poem was adapted into a Simpsons-friendly script by the late, great Sam Simon, previously a producer of the show Taxi; frequent Simpsons director David Silverman directed it; James Earl Jones narrated. The segment was a gamble; show creator Matt Groening worried that it might be genuinely bad, or that it might be really, really pretentious. But many critics at the time singled out "The Raven" for praise, and man and damn, it still works like gangbusters. The Homer reading (Forgotten Lore — Vol. II; heh) in the sketch and the Bird-Bart who torments him were versions of both characters the show hadn't done before, but fit both the segment and the overall show so well. That's a hell of a vocal performance by Dan Castellaneta; and Bart (then, as now, Nancy Cartwright) gets to still be a smartass even as a bird. And the music behind it all was the first episodic score Alf Clausen wrote for the show, beginning a 27-year run as The Simpsons's primary, mostly sole composer.

The above clip ends before the segment's end; Bart is dubious and not scared of the Poe poem, and while Lisa (Yeardley Smith) matter-of-factly admits that "maybe people were easier to scare" back when Poe wrote it, Homer, who'd been outside the treehouse listening, is spooked the hell out.

All this also reminds me: it's also a privilege that I get to hear Edgar Allan Poe's work in the language it was written for, with that dreamy-turned-nightmarish imagery and that regular, regular cadence and rhyme scheme. It's music to my ears.

An easier day than expected

I had plans. Actual plans, plural, for today, possibly including a decent-length car trip to see family out in Dundee, but first I had stuff I wanted to do in-town. Library stop: check. Beulahland stop: check. But then, my body started telling me, "Um, me, maybe TAKE IT EASY TODAY." Because I felt on the verge of getting sick.

More subdued than earlier, I curtailed my plans and headed home. Since then: crackers, Cream of Chicken Cup-A-Soup, broth, more crackers, water, and reading and resting. Haven't decided yet if I'll be ready for work tomorrow, so I'll see. The main goal at the moment is DON'T GET SICK, but if I do, deal with it...