Late Tomatoes

Ah… the garden tomato. Poets have sung their praises for eons. Kings have founded dynasties on the geography of their happiness. The gods bend low to share their glory with us when the ripe fruit kisses our tongues.

Well maybe not really. But it seems that way. And they should.

This summer was brutal for my tomato crop. We managed to grab a handful of those tasty red beauties in June before the blaze of summer put an end to it. I had decided to grow some different heirloom varieties, leaving my usual “Early Girl” out of the mix. Well THAT proved to be a costly mistake. In Western Kentucky you need to get that first crop out of the garden and into the BLT before the blast of high heat slams the door.

In July I checked almost daily for those little green pearls to appear in the blossoms. Only later did I learn from a fellow tomatista that the high temperature was putting the k-bosh to the whole process. “They just won’t set at all once it gets above 95,” he announced. A fruitless search indeed.

Maybe the bees get lethargic. July and August simmer down here somewhere just shy of the boiling point and everything… the river, the clouds, the air, yes even time itself melts into a haze that perfectly matches my mental acuity. Somewhere long about September the cool air draws me out of that languid dreamless sleep and I come alive again.

Its early October and I’ve been reasonably conscious for several weeks now. My memory is alive. The flavor returns of that one, single Black Krum heirloom tomato we harvested before both my tomato plants and I went off to the nether regions of heat related delirium. Stefanie and I once shared that tomato in all its transcendent deliciousness. The desire to relive that experience sharpens as I wait on the plump green fruit hanging from my re-energized tomato plants to show signs of transforming. I search for a blush in the green as I begin to reckon on the frost.

As the days shorten the heat I once cursed for abusing all that is vivacious becomes a precious resource for turning my fat green tomatoes red. Please! Allow me just ten more toasty days so that I may kiss the glory once more! For hark! I see the long winter parade of mediocre tomatoes emerging from Kroger on their resolute path towards me.

Book it

Who knew. I love books. I read approximately a book a week and count myself deprived if I come up short on access to a book, even for a day. Much of the credit goes to the McCracken Public Library in Paducah, a place that doles out a burbling stream of titles for me to peruse and bring home for free. Well, sort of. Because truth be told they are also on the receiving end of frequent late fees owing to the fact that I never seem to be able to toe the line on the three-week limit. But I’m pleased to pay up since this library service, free of charge to those less time challenged, seems altogether too good to be true. What a world… anyone can walk into this lovely air-conditioned space, sign up for a card, and gain the right to take any book in the building home to read. No charge.

The library is my shrine. Because of the books that are there and because of the abject liberty of their access. But also because its a community place where the congregation gathers around ideas. We can’t do without this resource. It offers sustenance for the culturally deprived brain. For free. Its a place where we borrow and return. It has internet. It has a quiet room. It has air conditioning.

We live in a different time now as someone told me. Yes, I noticed. Snippet time frame. Get it now and keep it short. Tweet or die. Attention deficit disorder as the new social norm. I’ve got to be honest with you.. I’ll take the long form any day. A place where a few choice sentences string together enjoyably enough to make entertaining paragraphs, culminating in well rounded chapters that actually go somewhere. Even quite possibly adding up to a book that actually means something.

And oh, a book! Excuse me Kindle and pardon my Ipad (I’ll certainly be getting around to owning you later…) but to hold a book in your hands and turn the pages. Ah… here is tactile sensuality. The cover art. The weight. Subtle pleasures. As in… gauging the portent of a new book from the way it feels. The inside cover giving you the teaser. The typeface do-or-die; right size, right feel, balanced against potential reward on the content. The first read on the opening paragraph. How does it “read”?

Then there’s the assessment of a book after its finished. I’ve had the experience with certain books of valuing their content so dearly that just holding them after finishing the last page provided me with a sensation that must be similar to what a medieval mystic would feel holding an icon of the faith. I’ve held books that hummed.

But now (as mentioned earlier) we live at a time where books are being called out. The paperless future beckons and the Kindle calls. As printed matter diminishes and electronic type ascends we will soon be at the point (are we there yet?) where the printed artifact becomes truly precious. Then we will revisit the days before mass produced editions. Strangely, this future may be much like days before the Gutenberg press, when hand-copied books were rare and incredibly valuable. In the not too distant future we may have a book in our hands that will be really worth something. If the book is any good, that is.

The Smell of Fresh Donuts

There are two types of people in this world, those who think there are two types of people and those who don’t. Well I think there are two types, except I also think that sometimes we are one and sometimes we are the other.

If you don’t agree with me, you might want to read something by someone who thinks there is only one type of person in this world. Go read an article written by someone who thinks everyone in the world likes french fries. He would argue that those fries elicit a positive response from a set of receptors found in virtually every human subject. They are located in the brain’s “Fried Food” region. That region is mapped to the same spot in every human brain, with a neural connection the size of a T1 cable to both the salivary and the “Get in the car and go” regions.

I’m suddenly having a difficult time concentrating on the point I’m trying to make about there being two types of people. By stating the opposing view using the best possible argument I’m trying to remain true to the Socratic Method. But there’s a problem. My counter argument happens to involve something so distracting, so crisp and irresistible. So yummy!

By now it should be patently obvious that there are two types of people, those who stopped reading this to go to McDonald’s to get some french fries and those who didn’t. But why didn’t you? And why didn’t I stop writing? Well my reason is that I…must…continue…this blog. Those who left to go out for that universally scrumptious fast food did so because they became engaged with the image of “golden fries in that familiar red-box” that leapt off the page at the mere mention, and by now have followed it to its natural conclusion at the local franchise. The expectation of that predictably delicious experience in deep-fried comfort food was just too darn tempting to leave alone as unfulfilled temptation.

Okay, who’s left here? We few, we superior few. We are the ones who have not given in to gratifying the signals from our brain’s fried food region. So we must be looking for something else. And here I’d like to talk about a slightly different area of the brain: the area identified by leading scientists at a major university as “art receptors.” These areas turn on or off within seconds of encountering a new piece of art and result in either “Like it” or “Don’t like so much.” And though its possible to adjust this initial response through familiarity, or by providing background information on the artist’s intent, it remains exceedingly difficult to reverse that first impression. And I would argue that in the current era, this area of the brain has formed a major neural pathway to the fried food region.

This is not a man thinking about donuts. What were you thinking about?
This is not a man thinking about donuts. What were you thinking about?

So the art theory that makes the most sense to me is this: the art that I make should have something about it that is the equivalent of a fresh donut. Something irresistible. Not that the process should involve actually making donuts since that would entail developing a separate business plan. And not that the work should really be in any sense a meal of empty calories. This is about providing a certain initial attractive element, akin to the smell of fresh donuts.

And now the corollary to Dave’s Theory of Art: the smell of fresh donuts must be, in the end, false advertising. Once you’ve got people’s attention, once their noses are fully engaged with the idea that a good thing awaits, something else should be ready to emerge. That irresistible smell of fresh donuts must be the hook that grabs our curiosity. But that “something else” should be a real idea. That idea can start somewhere familiar and inviting… but it should also invite us to go off at some point, somewhere strange and surprising.

So there are certainly at least two types of people. But the real difference comes when you think about those types; there are those who think we are always only one of them, fixed and permanent. And there are those (like me) who think about what it might be like to be both of them.

Glories in the Air

My little garden experiment came crashing down last week. I rigged up an arch over our back steps to support some Morning Glory vines. The vines took readily to it and grew across the arch, vigorous and abundant. I was so proud. The entire materials cost was something like ten bucks. By July we had to duck under them if we meant to exit the house in that particular direction. Then an early fall rain shower brought the whole contraption down. Apparently some flaw in my weight-to-structural-integrity-ratio sort of thing was going on there.

Anyway, I made an attempt to rescue it using a kind of rope as guy-wire approach but soon realized all was lost and tore up the vines and tossed them out back in a pile. The weird thing is that now for the last week they’ve continued to blossom every morning.

Its been a rainy week and that’s probably the real reason that those Morning Glory flowers keep popping open every day, transcendently blue as always and cheerful. But seriously, I ask myself, would other flowers do the same? The pile of zinnias I pulled up at the same time turned brown as expected with nary a trace of further florescence. I can only conclude that these Morning Glories are a phenomenon; miracle flowers with no roots in this earth. Here’s an afterglow of summer marking the sacred point when life moves out of the earth and into the air.

Morning Glories bloom on
Morning Glories bloom on

Drawing the Line

Artists draw a lot of lines. Lines are stories. Lines travel. And if its true what they say that happiness lies not in the destination but in the journey then lines might just be happiness. Lines can connect.

Lines also delineate. They can close in on themselves to suggest shapes. They can form borders. Inside/Outside. This/That. Here/There. But if you leave the line open around a shape then inside gets out, outside comes in. If you turn the border between shapes ninety degrees then the slash becomes the hyphen; This-That (this is that), Here-There (here is there).

Popular song shows us how we use the word to say all kinds of things:
“There’s a thin line between love and hate.” (similarity)
“Send me a postcard. Drop me a line.” (a message)
“The Witchita lineman is still on the line.” (the wait)
“Don’t hand me no lines and keep your hands to yourself.” (the pretty lie)
“Because you’re mine, I walk the line” (fidelity)

Lines can be regimental. Everybody line up. Fall in line. The line shows us the norm. And that’s all you’ve got until you learn to draw your own. If you can draw you’re own line then you are an artist, whether it’s a piece of art you make or a piece of your own life.

Well you’ve got to draw the line somewhere, right? Seems almost arbitrary. Might as well be here, I guess. Like you should have drawn it earlier but now you’ve let it go and you’d better draw it now before things really get out of hand. Like you’ve got no choice but to draw the line. Why can’t you just NOT draw the line?

Not an option I guess. The artist in me just has to draw his own line. The line describes me, leads me, becomes me. I draw it, or it draws itself, depending on my view of the event at any particular moment.

Life has a way of becoming fragmented and diffuse but when that happens it helps to start drawing lines between things. Sometimes those lines need to delineate, make shapes, create borders, add clarity. Sometimes those lines make connections, suggest relationship, show us the unity of the parts.

All in how you draw the line.