An Intriguing Lack of Illumination

Illumination. I love that word. It feels good to say it. Illumination.

This is a post about limited illumination. You might also say it is a post about dim light. In fact, I almost did opt for the latter phrase, because as I writer I find that fewer syllables are usually better. But dim light just doesn’t sound as good.

I don’t remember where I took this photo, nor what it portrays. It failed to capture whatever I had intended to capture. The light was so poor that what was there worked overtime, streaking and bending, struggling to be seen – and in the process, creating a mystery image, full of intrigue. I don’t know what it is but I like it:

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(The Weekly Photo Challenge topic is Refraction.)

Oh, To Be Wrong As Dazzlingly As Chandler!

$_35Don’t ask me what book I would have if I could only have one book. I hate that. Choose one book-record-movie-food. Perhaps I approach the game with an excess of realism. I imagine being stuck on the obligatory desert island, reading the same book while eating blueberries, over and over and. No matter how long or wonderful the piece, at some point my adoration must sour and someday I’ll come down with hives.

I can say that Raymond Chandler is my favorite author. I’ve re-read his seven novels multiple times and each time my appreciation grows. I don’t know why it has taken me so long to get around to reading The Selected Letters of Raymond Chandler by Frank MacShane, which I have owned for many years. Maybe I’ve been afraid to learn too much about Chandler the man. I like having heroes and that typically requires blinders to the person behind the artist.

Alternatively, I could evolve to the point where I don’t need to pretend my heroes are perfect. But that’s another post – and maybe another person – entirely.

Another hardboiled noir masterpiece that is among my favorite books is Double Indemnity, by James M. Cain, for very different reasons. I usually need characters to root for, and there are none in Double Indemnity. But the writing is remarkably evocative, in part because it is so spare. Every word is the right one, and every word is required. I’ve encountered very few novels like that – so these qualities are not essential to greatness, but are impressive.

A predecessor of Chandler and Cain’s was Dashiell Hammett, who many people revere as a founder of the hardboiled detective genre. Hammett always leaves me flat, although I keep coming back to his books, in part because Chandler so admired him.

Turns out that Chandler didn’t think much of Cain. In fact, here is what he wrote in a letter to his publisher, Knopf, in 1942, at a time when he was unhappy about the quality of his recently-completed third novel. That novel, The High Window, is one of my favorites! Chandler was a messy and reassuring mix of self-confidence and self-doubt.

I do hope the next one will be better and that one of these days I shall turn one out that will have that fresh and sudden touch that will click. Most of all perhaps, in my rather sensitive mind, I hope the day will come when I won’t have to ride around on Hammett and James Cain, like an organ-grinder’s monkey. Hammett is all right. I give him everything. There were a lot of things he could not do, but what he did he did superbly. But James Cain – faugh! Everything he touches smells like a billygoat. He is every kind of writer I detest, a faux naif, a Proust in greasy overalls, a dirty little boy with a piece of chalk and a board fence and nobody looking. Such people are the offal of literature, not because they write about dirty things, but because they do it in a dirty way. Nothing hard and clean and cold and ventilated. A brothel with a smell of cheap scent in the front parlor and a bucket of slops at the back door. Do I, for God’s sake, sound like that? Hemingway with his eternal sleeping bag got to be pretty damn tiresome, but at least Hemingway sees it all, not just the flies on the garbage can.

Heigho. I think I’ll write an English detective story, one about Superintendent Jones and the two elderly sisters in the thatched cottage, something with Latin in it and music and period furniture and a gentleman’s gentleman: above all one of those books where everybody goes for nice long walks.

Yours most sincerely,

Raymond Chandler

Oh yeah. He didn’t like Agatha Christie much, either.

All of which reminds me that my favorite speech in the movie of Double Indemnity was a Chandler addition. He adapted the novel to the screen for director Billy Wilder. Now that is one of my favorite movies, although it would not be on a loop in my screening room on the desert island. I didn’t know that Fred MacMurray was a great actor until I saw Double Indemnity. But that is a digression within a digression. (Nested digressions!) Anyhow, the added dialog was in the opening confession: “Yes, I killed him. I killed him for money and for a woman. I didn’t get the money and I didn’t get the woman.”

 

An Adoration of Pelicans

A gaggle of geese. A leap of leopards. A covey of quail. My vet has a poster with line after line of phrases that describe collections of critters, in ever-odder terms. A dule of doves. A charm of finches. A deceit of lapwings. An unkindness of ravens. Perhaps my favorite is a siege of herons. (Surely the crawfish in a local pond see herons that way, even though there is only one heron that plagues them. No, wait, plague would be locusts.) Have all these phrases truly been used? Maybe not – but for a richer language, let’s start today! (To get us started, I include more of the phrases at the bottom of this post.)

If I were to add pelicans to the list of phrases, I would have to call them an adoration of pelicans. What a spectacular creature the pelican is. Sitting around a dock, it may look homely and awkward, but airborne, it rules the coast. Pelicans fly together in innovative formations, skim the waves fearlessly, dive with conviction – and always get their fish.

I’ve taken many pictures of pelicans. In most of them, the bird appears as a speck on my camera lens. Last weekend, two pelicans put on an amazing show as I walked the beach. For the first time, I saw two pelicans dive simultaneously and hit the water a few feet apart. But they were coy and whenever I raised my phone camera, they masqueraded as specks. This was the closest I got to a good picture, so you can imagine the others:

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But I’ve had better luck in the past. Here are some pelicans enjoying sunrise on both coasts of the U.S.:

Pelican at sunrise, East River, NYC.

Pelican at sunrise, East River, NYC.

Pelicans at sunrise, Carlsbad Beach, San Diego County, CA

Pelicans at sunrise, Carlsbad Beach, San Diego County, CA

And here is a particularly fine squadron, which always reminds me of that Far Side cartoon. You know the one, right? Birds of prey know they’re cool.

pelicansquadron

My best capture to date was this … er ….

HOLY FRIGGING — I’ve just spent what feels like a year scrolling through endless directories of unsorted photo files, in an unsuccessful search for one of my favorite shots. Ho-kay. Check back to this post later, I will add the photo when/if I find it. Perhaps it is finally time to attempt to organize my photos.

And in the meantime, enjoy some more critter phrases:

A crash of rhinoceroses.
A gang of elk.
A singular of boars.
A cast of woodpeckers.
A barren of moles.
A shrewdness of apes.
A smack of jellyfish.
A parliament of owls.

(This post is slightly in response to the recent WP photo challenge, “Split-Second Story”.)

I Had Better Get Busy

My “desert island” food is the blueberry. My “desert island” place is the ocean. Which proves convenient: I don’t have to bring my favorite place with me to the desert island, it will already surround me.

Desert island. Typing that phrase, I realize how comfortable I am using language when I don’t entirely know what it means. That must get me into trouble sometimes but apparently I don’t know when that happens.

Desert island. Somewhere remote and cut-off, I figure. Checking that infallible source of information, the internet, I learn that a desert island is an island that is not inhabited by humans.

(Sue’s first rule of blogging: start with a digression. Or four.)

Here’s the point: I love the ocean but I have only been to two of them.  Mostly the Pacific. Occasionally the Atlantic. Surely I need to see the others, and visit them from more than one location. Which means I had better get busy and travel faster.

Here is what the Atlantic Ocean looked like during my visit to a Florida beach:

The Atlantic Ocean from a beach in central Florida.

The Atlantic Ocean at sunset from a beach in central Florida.

At this beach it was not a good idea to walk while enjoying the view. There were dead jellyfish everywhere! I don’t know whether this was typical for this area. Perhaps I visited during a time of jellyfish affliction.

Dead jellyfish covered the beach like land mines.

It was a beach of dead jellyfish land mines.

(In response to this Weekly Photo Challenge.)

The Daily Prompt: Person of the Year – Philip Marlowe

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Marlowe was at his finest in this book.

Detective Philip Marlowe is the person of this or any year, but don’t give him the award. He’ll be a no show at the ceremony and not just because he’s a work of fiction.

Of all the characters I have met and loved in novels, Marlowe is my favorite. I recently re-read his seven novels and found them as fresh and relevant as they were when I last read them, decades ago.

Marlowe has an unswervable moral code. He makes mistakes, he has doubts, but he always knows what’s right and acts accordingly. His morality is personally customized. It may not jive with law or mores but when there’s a discrepancy, Marlowe’s right.

Marlowe despises phonies and looks out for underdogs. He’s smart but he mostly operates on instinct. He’s often alone and frequently lonely. He’ll never be rich and he doesn’t care because wealth costs honor. Not that he’d ever put it like that. He doesn’t go on about honor or loyalty or justice or dignity but he lives his life in ways that promote all four.

Weekly Photo Challenge: The Sign Says… Hmm. About That Cyclist…

I am not sure how to interpret this advisory sign:

hikers&cyclist

Beware of …?

Am I to understand that they lack cyclists there?

Or do they only care about one of the cyclists?

Should I watch out because one of the cyclists (and apparently all the hikers) are dangerous?

Or is the takeaway message if the hikers don’t get you, the cyclist will?

(Posted as part of the Weekly Photo Challenge.)