this is the title

This is the process of describing a thrice-daily perambulation along a specific grid-like configuration of streets and alleyways. It’s the beginning and the end all at once with the middle excised for brevity’s sake. Words are fit together to form a compelling narrative designed to exaggerate the significance of this chain of events. Through the use of a complex algorithm, details from thousands of similar perambulations have been extracted and connected to form a generic description suitable to represent the ongoing series.

Turning a corner there appears a panoramic view of downtown. One day there will be two more buildings on this block instead of a field, obscuring the view and evicting the red-winged blackbirds whose raucous calls now punctuate this observation. No more will the barn swallows arc with precision above the grass, soaring overhead and below knees. The city is a gaping mouth fitted with concrete teeth and asphalt tongue. All open space is in flux, available for negotiation by any wealthy interested parties.

Navigate another leftward right angle turn to complete the rectangular route. Arrive at the correct set of concrete steps leading up. Note the foul mess at the nest box opening left by the fledged house wren brood. Ants move in to investigate. In the garden coneflower blooms open. On the arched trellis coral honeysuckle buds battle to stay ahead of the aphids. Manual removal of the latter seems to be aiding the fight. Along the second level railing the gold dust plant exhibits the lush results of another vigorous growth spurt. Looking around, all appears to be in the usual foliar disarray. Now climb the steps, open the door, shut and lock it.

This is the conclusion of what was begun in the first paragraph. It serves to tie up any loose ends and bring the narrative to a satisfactory close. No new information is introduced so as to avoid confusing the reader, thus preventing any lingering uncertainty as to the nature of what has been heretofore presented. Thus, to be accurate, the true ending occurred with the period following the phrase ‘lock it,’ meaning one could actually stop reading there and not suffer any ill effects.

scoop loses his way

Scoop had lost all passion for reporting the kind of news that his employer, the venerable Jonestown Gazette, saw fit to print. Over time, his supervisor, an aging aardvark named Burt, had grown increasingly vexed at the nature of the stories he was turning in. Take this one, for example:


Plastic Milk Crate Castle Still Stands

(Jonestown, USA) – Since January, an overgrown empty lot in blighted South Jonestown has been the site of a castle constructed from plastic milk crates. Someone took great pains to build this castle, but to what end. As a shelter, it is inadequate. As an art object, it is of marginal appeal. Attempts by this reporter to find the architect of this mysterious structure by canvassing the neighborhood have failed. Many residents were in fact unaware of the castle’s existence. Others refused to even open their doors to answer a few simple questions. Why, the nerve of those [REDACTED]


Burt appeared at Scoop’s desk gripping a printout of the story in his hoof-like claw, disgust plastered across his long, drooping face. He took a deep breath.

“Scoop, you know I can’t print this. I don’t even know what to call it, ah, but it’s certainly not news.”

Scoop shrugged. He no longer cared what was considered “news” and what wasn’t. The classification seemed largely arbitrary to him.

“Well, do you have anything to say?” Burt asked.

Scoop was a solitudinarian (an actual word), which sometimes made it difficult to understand what people wanted from him. As a last resort, he kept a splendid array of exit strategies honed and ready to deploy at a moment’s notice.

“Burt, you’ve figured me out. I can’t do this anymore. I quit.”

Burt stared at the slumped shadow that used to be his all-star newshound.

“What are you going to do, Scoop? You’re a total mess.”

“Thanks for the ego boost, boss. I guess I’ll figure things out once I walk out that door.”

As Scoop cleaned out his desk, he mulled over his loss of interest in investigative reporting.  At one time, he had routinely worked three or more stories concurrently, chasing leads all day and sleeping only a few hours each night. But then one day, it all disappeared. His curiosity withered to dust with no advance warning. All that remained was a ring of distance between himself and everyone and everything around him.

Scoop picked up his small box of belongings and walked toward the door. The next day anything could happen or nothing could happen. He could spend the day lying on his side, staring out the window as the winter wind whistled its secrets to those willing to listen. Or he could look for a new job. Neither option held much appeal.

Burt waved at him as he passed by the old newsman’s office. Scoop nodded back. Burt was not a bad guy, he thought. Just not the type to understand the sort of crisis Scoop felt burning within him.

The door shut behind him for the last time as he exited onto the street, where people moved from place to place like chess pieces, slow and deliberate, braced against the early winter’s cold. This particular section of town reflected the burgeoning trend of an immediate post-Halloween retail transition to the commercial smorgasbord known as Christmas.

“Whatever happened to Thanksgiving,” Scoop muttered. He had to admit, though, that the twinkling lights in every window held a certain appeal. Yes, indeed, an extra few weeks of festive lighting might just help smooth off the sharpest edges of his seasonal depression.

He tossed his box of stuff into the bed of his truck and climbed in the cab. Cranking the heat up, he tuned in the old-time bluegrass station on the radio and sat for a few minutes, staring out the windshield at the chess pieces moving about the board.

I never liked chess, he thought.

Sample questions for discussion

  1. What will happen to Scoop?
  2. Will he find another job?
  3. Will he change his name?
  4. Will he ever learn to love chess?
  5. Is he going to disappear just like the ghost did?
  6. Does anyone care? [I’m on the fence myself-ed.]
  7. Why is an aardvark working at a newspaper?
  8. Do aardvarks live in burrows or what?
  9. Why does this story end so abruptly?
  10. Does this question serve only to make an even 10?

more data in the imaginary spreadsheet

Yesterday cigar-smoking man was again observed sitting in his chair and smoking. He had a bike with him, though a different bike from his original bike. Meanwhile, someone wrote the word ‘WEED’ in multicolored chalk on the brick promenade. There are now many tourists, both of the large and confused varieties. They approach anyone around them with desperate pleas for directions to destinations that tourists frequent, such as restaurants where they can attempt for a time to assuage their unending hunger. They walk around talking about when to eat, concerned that a late lunch will push dinner back too far. Managing one’s meals whilst vacationing is difficult. It requires careful planning and continuous discussion.

The fake pirate ship drifts into view and executes a tight 90-degree turn in the channel, as the few customers on board respond with halfhearted movements to the ‘deckhands’ capering to the awful pulsing reggae music.  It may be an elaborate game of musical chairs, but the distance is too great to permit an accurate, detailed report.

A police helicopter incessantly buzzes overhead, an unusual occurrence in this sanitized sector of the city. Perhaps it makes the tourists feel protected.

One-sided exchange overheard between two restaurant employees who were setting up outdoor seating:


“No, I would say I’m spiritual, but I don’t believe in organized religion.”

On a certain bridge, someone scrawled ‘It feels so good to do it’ with spray paint. After a while, the graffiti clean-up squad covered it up with neutral paint. Several weeks or months later, the same scrawl appeared but this time it said, ‘It feels so good to do it again’. The clean-up squad covered that one much quicker, only for the scrawl to reappear a few days later as ‘It feels so good to do it again and again’. No one will win this war.

In Winterreise, Nagl has moved on from thinking his life is still lying ahead of him:

‘Now that life is no longer ahead of me, now that it’s really started, there’s nothing else but senseless thoughts. I’ve done everything almost automatically. I made it a point of honor to have everything I did look as if I wanted it. In reality, it just happened.’

Is it the beginning of the end or the end of the beginning.

spring sprang sprung

With the year’s first sighting of cigar-smoking man (scroll to the bottom of that page for full enlightenment), we solemnly herald the official arrival of the so-called warm season (so-called by me, that is). Cigar-smoking man (or cigar-smoking guy, as he is also sometimes known) appears to be growing a beard. He was not in the company of his lady friend. I wonder if they are still an item, as they say (the other, more generic they, that is).

Warm season brings a slow shedding of clothing. An increase in flesh exposed to the sun’s rays. Perhaps even corporate nudity. Certainly tourists.  And what I fear most of all: mosquito death squads. It’s all too much.

What will I write about this warm season without sounding highly repetitive.

Wait, don’t read those other posts…it will all soon become painfully familiar.

the musicality of everyday life

Day two of rain on my face. Harder rain, colder rain. Less enthused about it. Wednesday’s unraveling of the week’s semblance of sanity. Sameness shakes through the bones. What is today from yesterday and next week. Listen to epic chanting bands as blood pools in useless sitting legs. Message light on phone appears without phone ringing. It’s a mystery I don’t want to solve. Remember to stand and walk around. Vacate vocation. Evoke smoke. Dream a little longer in the morning, don’t let time thieves tear it away. Afternoons of fast guitar picking on taut strings of sudden tendons stretched and longing. I wouldn’t believe it if I didn’t hear it. There is nothing here anymore.

repetition is a theme

Buried in slog of post-contest photo caption editing. It is satisfying in a maddening way.

Tools for Monday survival kit:  Zeni Geva, The Voyeurs, Peanut Chews, Coffee

every morning

[click image to read]

© 2012 S. D. Stewart Erased from Chapter XIII of Nerves and Common Sense (1925) by Annie Payson Call

mystery of the annes

Question. Do all the Annes mean something? For many years now, I’ve been adding Annes to my favored author list. It all started with Annie Proulx (AP) and her novel The Shipping News. I moved on from that novel to reading most of her other fiction, both short and long. AP is primarily a Western writer, and her characters are often fringe types, loners, roamers, outsiders. I read her novel That Old Ace in the Hole when I lived only a few hours from the Texas Panhandle region where it was set. I read a lot of her fiction when I lived out there in North Texas and it helped me a little bit to understand my own place as a loner in what I saw at the time as an unforgiving open land.

When I moved here to Baltimore, I started reading Anne Tyler (AT) novels on a sporadic basis. I’ve probably read about 10 of them by now. I wanted to read AT because her books are usually set in Baltimore. I’d never lived anywhere before that also happened to be the specific setting for a writer’s books. It added a special extra thrill to the reading. AT’s characters, much like AP’s, are often loners and oddballs. Often in her books these loner oddballs find other loner oddballs to be with, although not without encountering much difficulty along the way. Reading her books always puts me in a strange headspace, yet one that also seems familiar because of all the Baltimore references. I enjoy this.

The third literary Anne to enter my life was Annie Dillard (AD). I fell in love with her writing immediately. I began a mass consumption project. I’ve read most of her books by now, although I’m saving a few for the future, mostly because AD has alluded to the probability that she won’t write another book (too much reading to do, says she). The ones I’m saving are her memoir and her two books of poetry. I started the memoir once but it didn’t click. The same thing happened with her first novel, The Living. I tried hard to get through it but eventually realized I was bored and didn’t care what happened to the characters. That’s always a sign for me that the book isn’t working and it’s time to put it down. I thought maybe AD’s fiction just wasn’t for me, but then The Maytrees came out and proved me wrong. Still, it is her nonfiction that captivates me most. I know I will be rereading much of it, despite my general tendency not to reread books.

Now along comes Anne Sexton (AS) and Anne Carson (AC). I’ve read more of AC than AS at this point, and I can say that I’m already enthralled with the former while still plumbing the depths of the latter. What I like most about AC is her mixing of genres. A book of hers can contain poems, essays, opera librettos, screenplays, and various bits of unclassified text. I get the sense that she does not force herself into formats that her thoughts don’t want to go. As the writing flows, it begins to take form. None of this, I’m going to sit down and write a poem now. Despite the intimidation I feel at her stunning intellectual prowess, her writing still feels liberating and accessible to me. It feels like reading an academic treatise but without the formal constraints that usually come with such writing. She pulls from so many disparate sources and ties it all together so it makes perfect sense, although often only if I read it closely.

So what is it about the Annes?

Other inputs: My sister was born an Anne and now goes by Annie. She reads a lot. When I first moved to this city my best friend was dating an Anne. I had never seen him so happy. I thought they might make it. But sadly they did not.

Anne is the French form of Anna, which is a form of Channah (or Hannah), a name used in the Latin and Greek Old Testament. In Hebrew the name Channah means ‘favor’ or ‘grace,’ or more specifically, ‘He (God) favors me’. The Book of Luke, in the New Testament, mentions a prophetess Hannah who recognized the child Jesus as the Messiah. Anna became a popular Western Christian name during the Middle Ages because of Saint Anna, the mother of the Virgin Mary. Anne is still a popular name in France. In England it is also commonly spelled Ann. Various forms of the name appear in most Western and Eastern European nations, as well as Russia.

My aunt’s name is spelled Ann, and she is the daughter of Irish immigrants.

I’m sure we all recognize patterns in our lives. I try not to ignore them. Sometimes they are ones yawning behind me I want to avoid in the future so I try to learn from them. Sometimes they are merely part of life’s effluence. And sometimes they appear to be mystical messages encrypted and in need of decoding. I feel like I am in constant search of a decoder ring.

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