april 16/BIKERUN

bike: 16 minutes
run: 2.3 miles
outside: 54 degrees / rain, wind

Before I started writing this but after my workout, I got up from my chair and my right kneecap missed the groove and slipped out hard. So hard that I uncontrollably yelled, “God Dammit!” No pain and it went right back in, or I was able to pop it back in. But it was shocking — mentally and physically. My LCL or meniscus seem as reticent to walk as my brain does — a strange sentence to write: can you imagine ligaments feeling something independent of the brain? Now I’m nervous about when this might happen again. As is usually the case, I had absolutely no warning. I didn’t do anything abrupt or dramatic; I just stood up and turned. I’ll get over it in a few minutes and stop imagining different scenarios in my head when the kneecap suddenly slides and it hurts and I can’t get it back into place. For now, I’ll breathe and attempt to remember how happy I was to work out before my subluxation.

It’s raining today, and there’s a wind advisory. Decided to go to the basement and do a bike run combo. After pumping up the air in my tire — it is still leaking air even though I got new tires last spring — I found the SuperLeague e-tri championships. I’ve been watching SuperLeague while biking in the basement since it started — when? 2018? Then I ran for 22.5 minutes while I listened to a “If Books Could Kill” podcast and then a playlist.

I don’t remember thinking about much except for that I had to go to the bathroom. Scott and I have new euphemism for it: unfinished business. Anything else? I recall looking straight ahead at the water heater and I remember feeling like a badass when I increased my cadence to try and match the bikers I was watching.

Here’s a victory: I didn’t think at all about the text exchange I had with FWA about what “fun” or “interesting” or “non-music” classes he could take to fill up his pretty bare schedule for senior year. No double major or minors for him. Just music, which he’s very good at, but still . . . . I’m trying to let him figure out his own way, but it’s so hard to watch him make choices that seem foolish or short-sighted. Sigh. Parenting is hard; backing off is hard; trusting is hard. When I worry too much, I’ll go back and watch his recital from Sunday and remember how proud I am of him and that he can (and is) creating an exciting future for himself.

update: I didn’t need to worry; he figured out some great classes on his own: Japanese!, Environmental Geography, and Criminology.

before the bike and run

Yesterday was the poet, Tomas Tranströmer’s birthday. He would have been 92. I’ve posted a few poems from him on here before. While looking for “air” poems, I found this one. It’s an ekphrastic! Those ekphrastic poems keep appearing. Are they trying to encourage me to keep working on my ekphrastic project? I’d like to believe so. Anyway, here’s the Tranströmer poem I found:

Vermeer / Tomas Tranströmer

translated by Robert Bly

It’s not a sheltered world. The noise begins over there, on the other side of the wall
where the alehouse is
with its laughter and quarrels, its rows of teeth, its tears, its chiming of clocks,
and the psychotic brother-in-law, the murderer, in whose presence
everyone feels fear.

The huge explosion and the emergency crew arriving late,
boats showing off on the canals, money slipping down into pockets
— the wrong man’s —
ultimatum piled on the ultimatum,
widemouthed red flowers who sweat reminds us of approaching war.

And then straight through the wall — from there — straight into the airy studio
in the seconds that have got permission to live for centuries.
Paintings that choose the name: “The Music Lesson”
or ” A Woman in Blue Reading a Letter.”
She is eight months pregnant, two hearts beating inside her.
The wall behind her holds a crinkly map of Terra Incognita.

Just breathe. An unidentifiable blue fabric has been tacked to the chairs.
Gold-headed tacks flew in with astronomical speed
and stopped smack there
as if there had always been stillness and nothing else.

The ears experience a buzz, perhaps it’s depth or perhaps height.
It’s the pressure from the other side of the wall,
the pressure that makes each fact float
and makes the brushstroke firm.

Passing through walls hurts human beings, they get sick from it,
but we have no choice.
It’s all one world. Now to the walls.
The walls are a part of you.
One either knows that, or one doesn’t; but it’s the same for everyone
except for small children. There aren’t any walls for them.

The airy sky has taken its place leaning against the wall.
It is like a prayer to what is empty.
And what is empty turns its face to us
and whispers:
“I am not empty, I am open.”

I love this poem and how it imagines the world outside of the painting and its relationship to the world inside of it. Starting with the first line: It’s not a sheltered world. The noise begins over there, on the other side of the wall . . . . That alehouse, that psychotic brother-in-law. The explosion, the money being dropped into the wrong man’s pocket. Then the airy studio and the seconds that have got permission to live for centuries — the differences between what we notice and try to remember and what we ignore or try to forget — what is worthy of attention, a painting, and what is not.

What is worth noticing in a poem describing a painting, and what is not? The Vermeer painting the poem is titled, “Woman in Blue Reading a Letter,” but there’s no mention of the letter or the woman’s expression, and the blue described by Tranströmer is the blue fabric on the chair, not of the woman’s jacket.

This poem is about the wall, the other side of the wall, the pressure that the other side creates, pressing in on us. The wall between our interior and the exterior world. The edge of the void, the abyss. All of this is kind of, almost, not quite making sense to me. I should spend some more time rereading Tom Sleigh’sToo Much of the Air: Tomas Tranströmer“.

I’m struck by the last lines:

The airy sky has taken its place leaning against the wall.
It is like a prayer to what is empty.
And what is empty turns its face to us
and whispers:
‘I am not empty, I am open.’

I’m thinking of the gorge here and the limestone walls that contain it and how it is both empty of land/rock and filled with air and openness. To think of the void — the unknowable, unsayable, mystery — as both frightening (emptiness, nothingness) and inviting (openness, possibility).

Yesterday I talked about believing in the unseen. Today I’m thinking about what it could mean to be believe in the unseeable. Unseen could mean, not-yet-seen or unnoticed, but unseeable suggests that seeing is never possible.

Before writing this, I was reviewing an old log entry from April 16, 2022. In it, I discuss Elisa Gabbert’s article about poetry and the Void.

They [poets] write in the line, in the company of the void. That changes how you write — and more profoundly, how you think, and even how you are, your mode of being. When you write in the line, there is always an awareness of the mystery, of what is left out. This is why, I suppose, poems can be so confounding. Empty space on the page, that absence of language, provides no clues. But it doesn’t communicate nothing — rather, it communicates nothing. It speaks void, it telegraphs mystery.

By “mystery” I don’t mean metaphor or disguise. Poetry doesn’t, or shouldn’t, achieve mystery only by hiding the known, or translating the known into other, less familiar language. The mystery is unknowing, the unknown — as in Jennifer Huang’s “Departure”: “The things I don’t know have stayed/In this home.” The mystery is the missing mountain in Shane McCrae’s “The Butterflies the Mountain and the Lake”:

the / Butterflies monarch butterflies huge swarms they
Migrate and as they migrate south as they
Cross Lake Superior instead of flying

South straight across they fly
South over the water then fly east
still over the water then fly south again / And now
biologists believe they turn to avoid a mountain
That disappeared millennia ago.

The missing mountain is still there.

The Shape of a Void / Elisa Gabbert

This past weekend, Scott and I watched the 2 part documentary about Steve Martin, STEVE! I really enjoyed it. I remember responding to this idea offered by one of Steve Martin’s artist friends:

How to close the void. I think that’s the nature and the drive in art, it comes from that deep awareness of that void.

STEVE! — 53:30, part 2

I agree with the second part of that statement, about the deep awareness of the void, but not the first — at least how it’s worded. It’s not to close the void, but to navigate it, develop a relationship to it, engage with it, learn how to live with it. I mentioned this to Scott and he argued that the void in this quotation is not the unknown or mystery, but something else. Maybe lack or longing? A desire to be whole? To have/feel meaning? I still don’t like the word close. Can you ever close the void? Tranströmer doesn’t think so; it’s always on the other side of that wall. Even with a wall between you and it, you feel its pressure in your ears. And it’s this pressure that drives/shapes/enables your art — that makes each fact float/and makes the brushstroke firm.

A final (for now) word on this ekphrastic poem: I like how Tranströmer is responding to the work of art in this poem, how we uses the image to reflect on the abyss/void, history, interior/exterior, and why we make art. I want to think about it some more and try to write something for my “How to See” project inspired by his approach.

march 27/BIKERUN

bike: 4 minutes
run: 3.5 miles
outside: feels like 13

Snow and ice on the ground. Wind. Feels like 13. Inside today. I would have done more on the bike, but my calf started to feel a little strange — tightening, but no pain.

The run was good — a few flares, then my heel made some noise at the end, again, no pain, just tight, I think. I locked into a steady, slow pace and listened to the latest episode of Nobody Asked Us. Des told a story about her recent NY 1/2 marathon and how she should have woken up 30 minutes earlier in order for the coffee to do its job — iykyk. The story was funny — I laughed several times — and also fascinating. She talked about how she couldn’t push the pace because if she tried, it would have been a big mess. She was able to control it by managing her effort and working with her body, not against it.

Later, giving a pep talk to Kara for her upcoming race she said something like, You’ll be running along and then suddenly someone in a banana costume will pass you and you’ll say, “hell no, that ridiculous thing can’t beat me!” and you’ll speed up. Thinking about our encounter with the fast banana in our 10k race I wonder, are bananas a thing in races now? Will I see more bananas next month?

before the run

Yesterday I mentioned that it was Robert Frost’s 150th birthday, but I forgot to mention 2 things.

First, when I told FWA about it, he said, And I took the road less travelled and that has made all the difference — or something like that. A few minutes later, as we were walking to the garage to leave for the airport he called out, Mom, look — then walked off the sidewalk into the grass, looped around a bush, then returned to sidewalk and said, See, the road less travelled. Wow.

Second, in honor of Frost’s birthday Poetry Foundation posted his poem, Acquainted with the Night, which I recall first reading through Edward Hirsch’s essay, “The Pace Provokes My Thought.” Acquainted. Another word for familiar with, know of or known to, on friendly terms. I want to add this word to my list of alternatives to know/ing, along with ED’s accustomed, as in We grow accustomed to the Dark. I like the friendliness of acquainted, which is slightly different than the “getting used to” of ED’s accustomed. I also like that it’s friendly, but not too friendly; there’s still some distance from whatever it is that you are acquainted with — an acquaintance not an old friend.

Now I’m thinking about the word familiar. Two immediate thoughts. First, an idea from Alice Oswald that I revisited the other day:

citing Zizek: we can’t connect, be one with nature. It’s extraordinary, alien. It’s this terrifying otherness of nature that we need to grasp hold of and be more courageous in our ways of living with it and seeing it.

Landscape and Literature Podcast: Alice Oswald on the Dart River

So, familiar is bad for poetry? We need to make the familiar strange, fresh.

Second — I just spent 15 or 20 minutes attempting to find the log entry and poem that made think of this second thing and couldn’t, so I am very reluctantly giving up on it. — thinking about poems and how they can also take the strange and make it familiar, or take strangers and make them friends. I recall reading a poem — I think it was something about ROBINS! — I’m keeping this strange sentence in as evidence of my mind at work. After I gave up on finding and just tried to remember what I said, suddenly I recalled what the poem I was searching for was about and how reading it connected me to a stranger: robins. So I searched back through my posts for “robins” and finally found it. Hooray!

Lately I’ve been reading a lot about how poetry makes the familiar strange, but I think poetry can also make the strange familiar. Give us a door into the unfamiliar so we can get to know someone else and their experiences. The door in for me with this poem was all the robins. This past week, I saw so many fat robins on my crab apple tree, swaying and bobbing and getting drunk off the shriveled up apples. 

log from 14 jan 2023

Here’s the line from the poem that helped me get acquainted with its author, David Eye:

Cousin–When a dozen robins blew into the yard yesterday–
I’d never seen so many–I watched them hop, cock their heads,
grab the thaw’s first worms. Such a pleasure, those yam-
colored breast feathers.
(from Letter from the Catskills/ David Eye)

And now I’m thinking about the different ways that poetry has helped make the strange familiar to me, especially in terms of my vision. Since I rediscovered poetry in 2017, I’ve been reading, studying, and writing it as a way to better navigate my strange and uncertain and difficult experiences of slowly losing my cone cells. I’m building a new world and a new way to be that’s heavily populated with poetic lines, ideas, methods.

Last year, I wrote a cento in which I gathered lines from poets invoking color. The original title of it was, “When Poetry Replaces Dead Cone Cells, a cento”

The world mostly gone/ Sara Lynne Puotinen

The world mostly gone,
I make it what I want.

I empty my mind. I stuff it with grass.
I’m green, I repeat. I grow in green,

burst up in bonfires of green, whirl and hurl
my green over the rocks of this imaginary life.

Meanwhile the wild geese, high
in the clean blue air, are heading home

again. (Isn’t sky-blue brighter than any sky
you really see? Canned sky, Crayola blue.)

The sun is the yellowest squash. More yellow,
I think, of course more yellow.

A shiny switch plate in the otherwise ongoing green
flickers like a match held to a dry branch

and the whole world goes up in orange. Orange
as pumpkins in a field humming.

I write a line about orange.
Pretty soon it is a whole page

of words, not lines. Then another page.
And that orange, it makes me so happy.

march 24/BIKERUN

bike: 15 minutes
run; 1 mile
outside: snowing

A big storm, just starting, but not quite. Now, light snow. We’re expecting 5-9 inches. I wasn’t sure how icy the sidewalks were or how ready my calf was to run, so I decided to work out in the basement.

calf update, for future Sara (and maybe her physical therapist?): during the race yesterday, my calf felt a little strange a few times — a slight tightening? no pain — but was otherwise fine. After the race: some soreness and tightness. today during the bike: a few more flares, an occasional twinge with a little pain. during the run: started feeling sore about 8 minutes, then a little strange. It’s so hard to know what the right thing to do is — stop running? ignore it as nothing, or as a calf that cramped and is now recovering? schedule a pt appointment? If I can get an appointment, I’d like to see a pt. Even if the calf is nothing, it would great to be checked out before serious marathon training begins.

Watched the women’s road race (cycling) from Tokyo while I biked. When the silver medalist, Annemiek Van Vleuten, crossed the line, she thought she had won gold; she didn’t realize that someone in the breakaway had stayed away. background: A. Van Vleuten had been about to win the gold in Rio but had a horrific crash into a cement barricade. She put off retiring for another 5 years just to try and win the gold in Tokyo. Wow. How do you recover from that disappointment? I’m always amazed at the resilience of athletes.

While I ran, I listened to a winter playlist. Other than my calf, I felt good.

Earlier today, I found an article about James Schuyler and this wonderful poem, which I may have read before, but was delighted by today:

The Bluet/ James Schuyler

And is it stamina
that unseasonably freaks
forth a bluet, a
Quaker lady, by
the lake? So small,
a drop of sky that
splashed and held,
four-petaled, creamy
in its throat. The woods
around were brown,
the air crisp as a
Carr’s table water
biscuit and smelt of
cider. There were frost
apples on the trees in
the field below the house.
The pond was still, then
broke into a ripple.
The hills, the leaves that
have not yet fallen
are deep and oriental
rug colors. Brown leaves
in the woods set off
gray trunks of trees.
But that bluet was
the focus of it all: last
spring, next spring, what
does it matter? Unexpected
as a tear when someone
reads a poem you wrote
for him: “It’s this line
here.” That bluet breaks
me up, tiny spring flower
late, late in dour October.

The analysis in this essay is all helpful to me, but I was particularly struck by this bit:

. . . Schuyler’s description of the flower transforms it into art, and that this kind of transformation is his signature poetic activity; it happens again and again in his poems: he describes what he sees before him as if it were a painting so that observation of the natural world becomes ekphrasis. That’s why—to skip down a little—the leaves are likened to a rug, crossing outside and inside, nature and culture, and those leaves “set off” the gray the way a painter or sharp dresser uses one color to set off or complement another, why the air is like a made thing, too, if one you eat, and why the bluet is called “the focus,” the way art critics say something is “the focus of the composition.” Schuyler’s words are paintbrushes, what he describes becomes a painting (though he treats it as already painted)—paint, a medium that splashes and then holds. There are examples of this everywhere in his books. In “Evenings in Vermont,” for instance, a rug again mediates between inside and outside, art and nature: “I study / the pattern in a red rug, arabesques / and squares, and one red streak / lies in the west, over the ridge.” In “Scarlet Tanager,” the bird in the tree provides “the red touch green / cries out for.” In “A Gray Thought,” “a dark thick green” is “laid in layers on / the spruce …” And so on. Touches, layerings: color as paint, natural phenomena perceived as art.  

It’s This Line / Here” : Happy Belated to Birthday James Schuyler

This idea of natural phenomena as art and of Schuyler as describing flowers with painting terms and of him doing ekphrastic poems might be a way into my “How I See” ekphrasis project!

march 18/BIKE

30 minutes

A 10k run yesterday on a recovering calf means no running today. Decided to bike in the basement just so I could move a little. I should have watched Dickinson, but I watched an old Ironman instead.

All day, I’ve been reading my old Haunts notes, trying to pick one thing to write about. Am I getting somewhere? Maybe. Maybe not.

Here’s a beautiful poem I just discovered from Terrain. Wow!

Prayer of a Nonbeliever/ Tim Raphael

Cathartes aura—purifying breeze—
is one name for a turkey vulture,
and what if prayer is like that—
praise song for a scavenger?
What if prayer is like this walk,
the same one every day,
a mantra of footsteps on mesa rock,
raptors in the wind?
What if it begins as a hint
on the piñon stippled hills,
unfurls like a scent the dogs sense
with raised snouts?
I suspect there’s prayer in the primrose
come into flower,
flake-white blossoms
blanketing the path,
in the rhythm of my quickened pulse
on the climb.
And if prayer takes its time on ridgelines,
in scant shade,
if it lingers by a petroglyph picked
into basalt—two figures with hands on hips
as if ready to dance—
then perhaps I am learning to pray.
Today, another friend’s diagnosis,
and who am I to scoff at believers?
I too like the idea of prayer as a stand-in
for clumsy words like hope,
wonder and love—for this green
green valley slaked on spring runoff,
for the whorl of dihedral wings
and the uneven heat of rising air.

that turn — another friend’s diagnosis — wow, those 3 words recalibrating the poem! I’d like to do something like that with my poems about the gorge!

feb 16/BIKERUN

bike: 15 min warm-up
run: 1.5 miles

Finished the 2nd episode of season 1 of Dickinson, started the 3rd while biking. I’m really appreciating the audio descriptions. So much easier to watch shows! I’m also surprised at how normal/natural/not disruptive the audio descriptions are. Is it that way for people with good vision? I’ll have to ask Scott after we watch something with AD turned on.

Listened to a winter playlist while I ran. Just a short run to burn off some restlessness, to rest my eyes from reading/writing, and to add to my weekly total of miles.

Before the run, I worked on another image for my “how I see”project. Maybe I should take the 3 I’ve already done and do more with them?

 My view from above the gorge: bare limbed trees, all trunk and thin branches. A few trunks are thick — like the one near the center of the image or the one leaning on the left side — but most are thin, creating a transparent screen between runner (me) and river.
8 feb 2024

original description: My view from above the gorge: bare limbed trees, all trunk and thin branches. A few trunks are thick — like the one near the center of the image or the one leaning on the left side — but most are thin, creating a transparent screen between runner (me) and river. The ground, in the bottom third of the picture, is mostly dead, curled-up brown leaves. Sometimes, this is what I see even when there aren’t thin, bare branches everywhere — my view slightly obscured by something in the way — dead cone cells, I think — creating fuzz or static or a slight pulsing or wavering of lines. Also, if this picture were in black and white I wouldn’t be able to tell the difference. Often I have to ask Scott: is this in color or black and white?

5 nouns/ 5 adjectives / 5 verbs

nouns: tree, trunks, leaves, river, twigs, bank, bramble, sky, veil, net, screen
adjectives: brown, thin, thick, pale, blue, gray, soft. cluttered, tangled, obscured, disoriented
verbs: blocking, concealing, decaying, settled, crowding (out), decomposing, swirling

one sentence about the most important thing in image: This cluttered view of bare trunks and thin branches creates a screen between runner (me) and river and resembles what I sometimes see even when there aren’t thin, bare branches everywhere — my view obscured by something in the way, that I can’t move, that keeps the real (focused, clear, open) view just out of reach.

a second sentence about the second most important thing: The image is only of swirling forms — tree, leaf, river — as my eye struggles (and fails) to land on solid lines, instead bouncing from branch to trunk to leafy floor to river to sky to branch again. (This cramped, thickly tangled space overwhelms my eyes and my brain.)

a third sentence about the third most important thing: With its bare ground and dead leaves, it looks like this picture should be of the gorge in November or April, but it was taken in one of the first Februarys without at least 1/2 foot of snow on the ground. 

The most important thing about this image is how the branches create a net which mimics how my vision often works — I can almost see what’s there, but not quite. Secondary, but connected, is the feeling of being disoriented, off, almost but not quite, untethered, which comes from swirling forms and the climate crisis — there’s almost always snow on the ground here in February. Where are my Minnesota winters?

feb 15/BIKERUN

bike: warm-up
run: 3 miles
outside: 4 inches of snow

Snow! Finally. My first real shovel session of the winter. Thought briefly about running outside on the trail, but when Scott told me he had heard the city hadn’t plowed the bike path, I decided against it. I watched more of the first episode of Dickinson with the audio description on while I biked. Listened to my winter playlist while I ran. I blocked the display panel, so I wouldn’t know the time. When I finally checked, I thought it would be 15 minutes at the most. It was 25. Wow.

Watching/listening to the audio description, it was interesting to notice when/how they chose to describe something and when they didn’t. An example: In one scene, Sue is sitting in the parlor. We see her looking and pointing, then we see a basket with a letter in it hanging outside of the window. Sue says, Austin. Look. At this point, the audio description (AD) says, Sue points to a hanging basket. Austin opens the basket and removes a small envelope addressed to Sue. I was struck by the AD choice to wait to describe Sue’s pointing until after the action was over. Something — poetic whimsy? — was lost in not describing Sue’s strange pointing — it seemed, at least to me, almost comical. Should it have been described? I’m not sure; I mention it to highlight how ADs involve choices of what to include or not include, often for clarity or brevity.

I must have still been thinking about this choice to not immediately describe the pointing while I was running because I suddenly had an idea about the significance of what my image descriptions leave out. I wanted to remember my thought so I pulled out my phone to record it, but the audio is messed up and I can’t understand what I’m saying. Bummer. My descriptions will be explicitly subjective. I want to emphasize how we always make choices when describing what we’re seeing — what’s important and what’s not. Our brains do this too when we’re seeing — it’s called filtering.

before the run

While rereading an entry from this day (15 feb) in 2022, I discovered that past Sara had been thinking about alt-text as poetry. I mentioned wanting to create alt-text for my beloved mannequin photos and posted some links:

I’ve already started using the first link. Just now, I read through the twitter thread. Very helpful! Here are some highlights — BTW, putting together these notes has used up a lot of my visual “spoons” for the day.

Not describing everything, but getting to why the image is there:

I think people who find providing alt text overwhelming think too much about describing every last detail in the image, when it’s more like, ok, why did YOU post it? …focus on why you’re posting the image or what it’s supposed to do or how other people would recognize it

Alt-text predates “accessibility”:

“alt” here is short for “alternate” and originates from HTML—back in Ye Olde Days if an image took 10 minutes to load or otherwise broke, you’d provide alt text that the browser would display in place of the image so you still knew what was going on

different than an image description, alt-text is only for necessary images, not decorative ones:

and alt text is different from image descriptions; alt text describes the purpose of the image and isn’t typically included if something is purely decorative—but do note that even a gif for example carries semantic meaning and is thus NOT purely decorative

intended to be brief

alt text is meant to be short, as it would get cut off by the image bounding edges otherwise

example of alt-text vs. image description

alt text for a chart: “Graph showing increase in alt text use on Twitter”
image description for a chart: “A graph titled ‘Increase in alt text use on Twitter.’ The y-axis shows percentage of images including alt text. The x-axis shows time in years from 2008–2022…”

craft it

don’t be afraid to put your personality into alt text or be funny or use alt text to extend your shitpost, like imagine using a screenreader & your entire TL is dry descriptions until “a dog so cute I screeched” appears

look to audio descriptions for good examples of image description and using brevity

I think there’s a lot to learn from audio descriptions too for how to provide alt text & image descriptions! try turning on audio descriptions on a show or movie and observe how to pack in detail, especially given the time constraints—you only have a few seconds to describe smtg — boba fett’s audio descriptions are amazing, they’re wonderfully evocative while also including details I wouldn’t have known, not being a star wars fan (like they note that the palace is jabba’s and name which character’s helmet he picks up)

it’s subjective

accessibility is a fluid concept that depends a lot on audience; there’s no one “best” way to write alt text or an image description, because fundamentally it’s about what details other people care about, and that will change across topics and groups

an extended example of using alt-text to further/enhance the story

I am DYING, here is an incredible example of alt text augmenting the experience for someone using accessibility features—it calls out only the visual features that are important (’90s aesthetic, scalloped border) and provides the context that makes this reply hilarious

Katherine Crighton

Screencapture of a Denny’s tumblr ad. Of key interest, aside from its very 1990s aesthetic, is the scalloped border around the ad–at the time, it was intended by Tumblr’s parent company to denote to casual readers that the contents within the border were a paid advertisement. Specifically, only those who had paid for space would be granted the scalloped border. Denny’s, the restaurant chain and purveyor of surreal humor on social media, demonstrated with this ad that while the intent was to monetize this border, in actuality all one had to do was take a screencap, drop in your own ad, and then post the resulting image via the normal, non-monetized process– it would then appear the same way to the end-user, whether or not Tumblr’s owner recieved a dime. This method of deriving ad income was dropped shortly after the Denny’s “ad” pointed out this flaw.

Some very helpful ideas in this thread —

the why/purpose is the focus. In my “how I see” images, I’m not interested in describing everything in the image — I probably can’t because of my limited vision, but the ways it serves as an example of “how I see.” I’m also interested in bringing some elements of ekphrasis into this — what are those? I need to spend more time thinking about that!

the idea of brevity. I’d like to make these descriptions short. I think it might be helpful for my creative process to pick a meaningful number of characters or words or syllables. I’ll think about that some more.

listening to audio descriptions for guidance — I think I’ll bike this morning and watch/listen to a Dickinson episode! I did!

a ramble of thoughts:

thought one: Recently, I’ve started proof-reading my poems by listening as the screen reader reads them. I noticed that the speaker (mine is Fred — according to system preferences on my mac) can do enjambments (a sentence split up over multiple lines) when the sentence is at the beginning of the line. But when the sentence begins in the middle of a line, Fred pauses at the end of that line and reads the next line as a new sentence. Enjambment is much more a visual device. My alt-text poems should not use visual devices, but rely on aural ones. What are these? I know rhyme, meter, alliteration, assonance. Time to study! I’ll start with my Mary Oliver poetry handbook!

thought two: I’m just remembering a great line from June Jordan in her guidelines for critiquing a poem:

Punctuation (Punctuation is not word choice. Poems fly or falter according to the words composing them. Therefore, omit punctuation and concentrate on every single word. E.g., if you think you need a question mark then you need to rewrite so that your syntax makes clear the interrogative nature of your thoughts. And as for commas and dashes and dots? Leave them out!)

So, try writing my descriptions without punctuation. BUT, I’m also thinking of Dickinson and how important punctuation (em dashes, for example) were for her. How could I use punctuation to shape how Fred speaks my words?

thought three (barely formed): One feature of many ekphrastic poems is a contentious/combative dialogue between word and image. What about twisting that to push at the conflicts between hearing a word versus seeing an image?

All these thoughts might be too much, and might not lead anywhere I want to go, but I’ll keep with them for a little bit longer. I was just telling Scott last night, or was it this morning?, that I appreciate how past Sara includes discussions of intended plans. Sometimes I don’t act on these plans — and maybe it seems like I have too many ideas or that I’m all over the place, or that I’m not following through — but it’s cool to be able to trace the origins of the projects that do happen. And the plans that I didn’t act upon? Maybe I just not ready for them yet.

a few hours later:

Here are some notes from Bojana Coklyat in Conversation with Shannon Finnegan:

we can get more out it alt-text than just compliance:

SF: Something that has always been a hope of mine with the project is that for people who aren’t as familiar with access, it introduces them to a way of thinking about access as creative and generative and collaborative and process-oriented, and that might also influence the way they think about access in other parts of their lives.

BC: Alt text is so often approached through the lens of compliance, like, Okay, let’s just get this done. But when you’re paying attention to the language you’re using and how you’re putting it together, that’s already changing things. That’s already shifting things.

space and symbolism

BC: I was talking to Chancey Fleet, who works at the Andrew Heiskell Braille and Talking Book Library in New York, and Chancey said something to me and I was just like, Whoa, I have to really think about that. She said, “Is it that we really live in such a visual culture? Is the most important thing visual, or is it space and symbolism?”

I was thinking about that all day yesterday. And going back to this exhibit I went to yesterday, there was a metal piece that kind of looked like scaffolding or architecture. And then we had the chance to walk through it, and it was like, Yeah, this is the experience. It’s walking through it and understanding the space of it. It’s not necessarily, OK, this part’s five feet tall, it’s metal, and it intersects with this piece that’s metal. It was so much more about walking through it, navigating it, and even navigating it with someone.

I think that might be something I’ll start to think about more with alt text: symbolism and space and how those fit in when you’re describing something.

SF: I love that idea of thinking about symbolism. I often find that in descriptions, when someone uses a metaphor or a comparison, it really helps me understand what the subject of the description is really like, and that feels really related to this idea of symbolism. It’s like: What are your associations with this thing, rather than just with how 

jan 19/BIKERUN

bike: 10 minute warm-up
run: 4 miles
treadmill, basement
outside: 6 degrees, feels like -7

Because I was sick earlier this week, I’m being cautious and not running outside when the feels like temp is below 0. Running on the treadmill isn’t as interesting, but it is helping me to keep my heart rate down.

Watched a Hot Ones while I biked, listened to the audiobook for The Woman in the Window (in honor of windows month!) for almost 3 miles, then my winter playlist for the last mile.

The run felt easy and not too tedious. I looked over at my shadow — a giant head swaying. I think I saw the shadow of my ponytail swinging a few times. When I looked again, I lost my balance a little and stepped off the side briefly. Oops.

In The Woman in the Window, Anna is agoraphobic and has been stuck in her fancy house for 10, or was it 11?, months. She keeps her windows shut tight and spies/watches/looks at her neighbors through them (with the help of a high-powered camera lens). In the chapter I just heard (18), a woman she is watching, Jane Russell, looks back and waves, which freaks Anna out. She realizes that just as she watches others, they could be watching her.

side note: I know very little about this story other than that someone is murdered, Anna sees it, and no one believes her. Listening to this chapter and being introduced to Jane Russell, I’m guessing she’s the one getting murdered. I’m also getting the feeling that not only will people not believe that Anna saw the murder, they won’t believe that Jane Russell is real. She’s just Anna’s drunk/over-drugged hallucination. Am I right, or have I seen The Lady Vanishes too many times (thanks 1980s HBO!) Continuing with Lady Vanishes vibes, I’m wondering if the small portrait Jane sketched of Anna that she hastily shoved in her drawer will be proof (if to no one else, at least to herself) that she’s not making it up! Jane does/did exist! In The Lady Vanishes it’s the message written in the fog on the window, or the sugar packet that proves the little old lady who vanished actually exists — am I remembering that right? I think I’m conflating the 1938 original with the 80s remake here. Anyway, I’m probably wrong about Jane not being real. She has a son who can verify her existence. It was the random moment when Jane sketches Anna that made me think of this scenario. Future Sara, let me know after you’ve finished the book!

update from feb 1st Sara: A lot of what I thought was right, but not quite. Lots of slight twists. For example, everyone believes Anna exists, but she’s someone else. The portrait does come up and does reinvigorate Anna’s flagging belief in what she thinks she saw, but it doesn’t serve as an a-ha moment or matter much to others. And all the stuff with the son? I probably shouldn’t have been, but it surprised me.

In addition to the actual windows in her house, there’s also the window of the computer screen. After she waves back at Anna, Jane comes over and they talk. Jane asks Anna what she does in the house all day. Anna describes the chatroom she participates on and the french lessons she takes online. Then Jane calls the computer, “her window to the world.” The window as Windows (mircrosoft) has come up in my exploration of windows and their meanings alreadyearlier today even, when I was reading the Part 2 article I mention a few paragraphs below.

Magritte and windows

(written before the run) On the 15th, while rereading entries from that day in past years (thanks to Scott’s “On This Day” plug-in!), I encountered a great vision poem that I had read before, but not that closely, I guess, because I missed how much it spoke to me and my experience with vision loss. The poem: Ekphrasis as Eye Test/ Jane Zwart. And the verse that particularly spoke to me was this:

Other losses begin in the middle of the field:
redacting the kiss at a picture’s center–
wrapping lovers’ heads in pillow slips; hovering doves
at eye level anywhere hatted men stand.
They could be anyone, the strangers Magritte painted
almost as their mothers, maculas wasted, would see them.

  • the kiss, lovers’ heads in pillow slips: The Lovers
  • the dove and the hatted man: Man in a Bowler Hat
  • Magritte’s mother killed herself by jumping off a bridge when he was 13. When her body was found days later, her nightgown was wrapped around her head (I can’t remember where I read that — found it!)

When I read these lines, I didn’t immediately get the references I mentioned above, but I did recognize the featureless faces and wasted maculas in my own vision. I recall liking Magritte exhibit when I was kid — I had a poster of the business men floating in the sky — but I hadn’t thought about him much since.

I inherited my mom’s copy of a 1992 exhibition she saw at the Art Institute of Chicago, but I hadn’t looked through it much, if at all. I picked it up and saw the cover — his painting with a train emerging from a fireplace — and thought: Charles Bonet Syndrome! CBS happens to some people as they lose their central vision; it often involves strange hallucinations. I read about people seeing waterfalls coming out of skyscrapers, old carriages coming down the street, and a dozen cooked eggs on a fireplace mantel. A train emerging from a fireplace seems to fit in these.

The cover of Magritte book. At the center, a fireplace with a black train, steam coming out of the top, emerging from its center. On the mantel, a clock. And behind that, a big mirror. In the bottom right corner, the book title: Magritte
Magritte on my desk, next to Forrest Gander’s “Circumambulation of Mt. Tamalpas” under the glass

Of course, there are other meanings intended with this train, but I immediately saw it as CBS hallucination. Looking through the book at all the featureless faces and faces obscured by apples and doves, I recognized my own inability to see faces. Very cool.

This morning I decided to dig into Magritte a little more. I discovered (or maybe remembered) that one of his reoccurring themes was windows — fitting for this month’s theme! Fearing copyright issues (I’ve been burned before), I’m not posting any of the images here. Instead, go here for examples: Magritte windows.

In my brief research (googlin’), I found this: Part 2: Magritte’s Window Paintings. At the end of the post there’s an article on the symbolism of windows, with some useful descriptions:

This intimate relation between the window, seeing, and perception (cf. eye/gaze) has become part of everyday language: the eyes as windows to the soul (or heart, or mind) [1] point out the possibility of looking inside a person through the opening of his eyes, where an inner state is reflected.

note: 1 The notion of  the ‘eyes as the window to the psyche’ goes back at least to a text by the Skeptic philosopher Sextus Empiricus (2nd century A.D), who might be citing an even earlier text. Cf. Carla Gottlieb. The Window in Art. From the Window of God to the Vanity of Man. A Survey of Window Symbolism in Western Painting (New York: Abaris, 1981), pp.49f.

I’m always searching for references to this phrase as I interrogate the idea that we see each other’s souls, and their humanity, by looking into their eyes.

The window as an opening in a wall refers to an absence which can be filled – by a material (glass, wood, paper, stone), by that which is seen through it, or by something rather immaterial like light or air. If defined as an absence, the window becomes a frame for its variable content, a marker of difference between what is inside and outside.

I’ve been thinking and writing a lot about Nothing lately, so I’ll have to add this idea of absence/frame to my list of ways of understanding the word/concept. Maybe I’ll add it to the series of Nothing poems I’ve been working on, which have emerged from my stripping down and reimagining my Haunts poem.

jan 18/BIKERUN

bike: 10 minute warm-up
run: 3.65 miles
outside temp: 9 degrees / feels like -4

for future Sara: Tuesday night while sitting in the South High band room, listening to the community jazz band rehearse, I suddenly felt sick — a little like I might faint again, hot and tingling all over, very sensitive to loud sounds. Later on the way home in the ridiculously cold car, I had the chills and felt like I might throw up. Went home and straight to bed. Stayed in bed all the next morning. Not covid (I tested), but maybe the flu?

listening to my Window playlist: I Threw a Brick Through a Window/U2

I feel much better — almost normal — today. I’ve decided that I had the flu and the flu shot I got in November prevented it from being more severe (whew!). Of course this experience gave me some mild anxiety — was I sick, or was the faint-feeling signaling some bigger problem? How long would I be sick? At some point, would I have trouble breathing? Sigh — I dislike how much more I worry these days.

Tip Toe Thru’ the Tulips with Me/Annette Hanshaw

Since I felt pretty good today, I decided to try running on the treadmill. After my feet warmed-up in the cold basement, I felt great. Listened to my winter 2024 playlist and covered the panel displaying the time. I kept telling myself, one more song and I’ll check how much time I have left. When I finally checked, the time was at 31 minutes! Very cool; I thought maybe it would at 21 or 22 minutes. I like playing this game when I’m running on the treadmill; much better than staring down at the display.

Open a New Window/Mame Soundtrack

Noticed my shadow running alongside me. Stared at the water heater straight ahead of me: fuzzy and shifting very slightly. Also, the image had some static.

Look Through Any Window/The Hollies

As I write this, I’m making note of the window songs that are playing. It’s a bit difficult and I feel pressure to hurry up and write something before the next song comes on.

Nan You’re a Window Shopper/Lily Allen

In Nan, You’re a Window Shopper Allen complains — is she complaining or lamenting? — about her nan whose life is so constricted — taking a look, but you never buy/ and mad as fuck/only just alive

Window/Fiona Apple

Window/Daniel G. Hoffman

Is is no more than an eyehole
On the outside scene
Making everything
–The snow, the runaway dog,
The boys brawling and the car
Skidding against the tree–
Content to be contained
Within a reasonable frame?
Or could it be

A casement dividing
A real Observer from a view
Of untrammelled possibility,
Its pane connecting
A man in a room in
Steam heat and a battered chair
With his future
Which he could not see
Were it not there?

Window Shopping/Just Derrick

Perhaps it’s the lens that allows
Errant swifts and swallows
In a downward swoop
Of their tumbling flight
To glimpse the man waiting
For the future to happen–
While he’s caged in time
They’re free to look in,
And its gift is insight.

Junk/Paul McCartney

I noticed that Hoffman’s next poem is titled, Door. I’ll have to read that one when I study doors!

From Junk:

Buy, buy, says the sign in the shop window
Why, why? says the junk in the yard

Bust Your Windows/Jazmine Sullivan

I’ll bust the windows out your car
You know I did it ’cause I left my mark
Wrote my initials with a crowbar
And then I drove off into the dark

Maybe I’ll try experimenting with a themed playlist? I could listen and pick out a few lyrics from each song, then write about them, or turn them into a poem?

jan 15/BIKERUN

bike: 15 minute warm-up
run: 3.7 miles
outside: -1 degrees, feels like -18

When I checked the weather earlier the feels like temp was -22 and it has to be feels like -20 or warmer for me to go outside for a run. Would I have gone out there if I knew it had warmed up to feels like -18? Possibly. Oh well, the bike and run inside were fine. I listened to a new playlist I created while I ran and didn’t think about much except for my form — swinging my arms, lifting my hips, keeping my shoulders relaxed and my core sturdy.

I looked up and straight ahead at the water heater in front of me. It was fuzzy in the center. As I looked at it, I noticed my shadow — much bigger than me — off to the side.

Okay, now I remember one thing I thought about: the mouse/mice that live in our basement. Would I see one of them flit by? (nope.)

Looking out my window, I just saw someone run by on the sidewalk. So, someone is willing to run in this cold.

Another thought: before I ran I was thinking about a quote from Theodore Roethke that I posted on jan 15, 2020:

Today there’s no time for the
mistakes of a long and slow
development: dazzle or die.

I wrote about it in an “On this Day: January 15, 2020/2022” page this morning. I was wondering about the value of dazzling in a quick flash versus shimmering with a slow burn. Then these words/ideas popped into my head: flare, flame, a candle burning at both ends, a mushroom erupting and busting through the pavement, moss growing over rocks, fungi nets spreading underground.

I also thought about spending some time on the phrase “slow burn.” Just now I looked it up on Poetry Foundation (search: slow burn) and found a wonderful poem, Over Time by Martha Collins. Here’s one bit of it:

an excerpt from Over Time/ Martha Collins


Then gone and then to come:
all the time, except the split
second, except—

All the time in the world.

And out of this world?

Oh little heart on my wrist,
where are we going?

Oh little heart on my wrist! Yesterday I started listening to a podcast with Jenny Odell about her most recent book on time and I decided that when the book was ready (I requested it from the library), I would finally dedicate some time to clocks and time and other forms of time that don’t involve clocks. Very cool!

jan 13/BIKERUN

bike: 30 minutes
run: 1.15 miles
outside: 7 degrees / feels like -10

A short run today because I’ve run every day this week so far, and because it’s windy and snowy and cold outside. Watched the first 20 minutes of Jennifer Lawrence’s comedy, No Hard Feelings, while I biked. I like her and I’m finding this movie funny so far. I listened to Taylor Swift’s Reputation while I ran. Tried out my new bright yellow shoes for the first time. I like how they feel and how they look. Quite possibly they will be the shoes I wear when I run the marathon next October. I don’t remember thinking about much as I ran — I focused on my arm swing and staying relaxed and lifting my hips. We turned the treadmill the other way a few months ago so now I won’t see my inverted moon on the dark window anymore. What strange image will replace it? I don’t remember any today. But I’ll have to look for one the next time I run on the treadmill, which will probably be on Monday; it might be arctic hellscape cold then.

Emily Dickinson’s Windows

Here are some useful ideas from an article — Emily Dickinson’s Windows — I found yesterday, which seems to be an extended version of an article I read a few days ago:

  • creative freedom
  • architectural prop: By my Window, The Angle of a Landscape
  • her envelope poems resembled a window with curtains
  • a magic lens — the warped quality of 19th century windows: the world let loose, nature liquefied — her practice of looking/writing — up and out the window/down at the paper — descriptions as incremental fragments (A Slash of Blue! A Sweep of Gray!)
  • the window grid creates a pattern — 12 panes — reflected in the formal structure of her poems (degrees, steps, notches, plunges) — each word, line, or stanza is well-defined slot/pane that spotlights an image/emotional state/quality of experience — ’Tis this – invites – appalls – endows – Flits – glimmers – proves – dissolves – Returns – suggests – convicts – enchants Then – flings in Paradise – (Fr 285)
  • an act of undoing in each pane — nature loosening up (a neat frame in a formless center)
  • each pane a diagram of rapture
  • looking through/touching the glass, she connected with the artisans who made it, who left evidence of their labor –warps and striations that were once the artisan’s breath (windows made through glass blowing? wow)
  • glass blowing and imagery of fiery furnaces, metal flames, boiling, white heat
  • mid 19th century — glass consciousness
  • ED’s poems as her own form of glass blowing — creative process of transforming words into poems = making sand into glass into windows

the window grid creates a pattern — 12 panes — reflected in the formal structure of her poems (degrees, steps, notches, plunges) — ’Tis this – invites – appalls – endows – Flits – glimmers – proves – dissolves – Returns – suggests – convicts – enchants Then – flings in Paradise – (Fr 285)

I love this idea of how the windows influenced the form of her writing. Also, the combination of the orderliness/structure of the frame and the unruliness/undoing-ness of her words. It might be fun to use my windows — 2 sets with 2 panes each, a bar in-between the windows, one set in front, one to my right side — as the structure for a few experiments. As I write this, I’m thinking about Victoria Chang’s truck moving across each window frame and Wendell Berry’s black criss-crossed frame.

Here’s a wonderful ED poem that is mentioned in the article:

By my Window have I for Scenery (797) / Emily Dickinson

By my Window have I for Scenery
Just a Sea—with a Stem—
If the Bird and the Farmer—deem it a “Pine”—
The Opinion will serve—for them—

It has no Port, nor a “Line”—but the Jays—
That split their route to the Sky—
Or a Squirrel, whose giddy Peninsula
May be easier reached—this way—

For Inlands—the Earth is the under side—
And the upper side—is the Sun—
And its Commerce—if Commerce it have—
Of Spice—I infer from the Odors borne—

Of its Voice—to affirm—when the Wind is within—
Can the Dumb—define the Divine?
The Definition of Melody—is—
That Definition is none—

It—suggests to our Faith—
They—suggest to our Sight—
When the latter—is put away
I shall meet with Conviction I somewhere met
That Immortality—

Was the Pine at my Window a “Fellow
Of the Royal” Infinity?
Apprehensions—are God’s introductions—
To be hallowed—accordingly—

The pine tree as a sea with a stem? I love this idea!