Friday, September 6, 2013

It's Just Not Like Music

This well-dressed gentleman on the left greeted visitors to the Martha's Vineyard Agricultural Fair this summer. Who would have thought the grim reaper would go in for a strapless dress?

The summer was moderately hot, but our local power company recently informed us that we are far more efficient than our neighbors, and it’s only right to thank Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Ever since reading this passage from Love in the Time of Cholera -

“…in the end they were convinced of the merits of the Roman strategy against heat, which consists of closing houses during the lethargy of August in order to keep out the burning air from the street, and then opening them up completely to the night breezes.”

- we have been using the technique at home. 

In the past few weeks, I spoke with various experts about cryptography, neutrinos, viruses, and the process by which bread, rolls, and other freshly baked goods move from ovens to delivery trucks. Surprisingly fascinating. In fact I’m embarrassed to confess that I found the baking supply chain stuff more interesting than the secret sharing. Perhaps this was due to degree of difficulty.

Recently we took our kids fishing for the first time, and in doing some reading beforehand I came across this line from the nature writer Ellington White:

“I have never yet caught a fish on a first cast, nor have I ever made a first cast without thinking I would catch a fish.”

The kids were surprisingly patient and eventually pulled a few snappers out of the bay. Here’s a very different quote, from a physicist I recently spoke with about the challenges of communicating science to the public:

“The language and the concepts are built on so many layers. It's just not like music. You can know nothing about music and still appreciate the song. Science is much harder that way.”

One of our neighbors recently had their house painted. The painters posted a sign with the following words outside: "Led Paint. No Drinking! No eating!"

When I noticed this misspelling - LED is the acronym for light-emitting diode, a cool and bright little light source – en route to work, it set me thinking about a paint filled with these little lights, and what would happen if you were to ingest it. Would your stomach shine? Would bright light rush out from your nostrils, mouth, and ears? After a moment or two spent imagining that, I started wondering why the painters felt the need for that sign. Had some desperately thirsty neighborhood flaneur drank their paint before? Had he or she mistaken it for a container of almond milk, perhaps?

Here’s a good quote from the dog in those movies with Charles Grodin:

"Don't only practice your art. Force your way into its secrets."

Speaking of art, there has been progress on the art side of the soda bottle book. I hope to have more updates soon. 

And, finally, a correction, and a writing lesson. In my first children’s novel, Fish, the main character tries goat milk for the first time and describes the flavor as somewhat grassy. We are all different, and I suppose someone could draw that conclusion from a sip of the stuff, but I recently bought a pint and tried it with my kids. We concluded that it is actually quite creamy, with a more tangy ring to it than regular milk. I don’t know that my uninformed description in Fish damaged the book substantially – Saul Bellow wrote a novel about Africa without setting foot on the continent! – but given all my prognosticating about the importance of becoming an expert, I feel it’s only right to admit my error.

Maybe in a Fish sequel I’ll have him revise his assessment.

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