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Seen in passing

Curious sight this morning, at Union Station. As I was leaving the north concourse, headed toward the Great Hall, I walked past an electronic board that features (presumably for Amtrak tourists) information on local attractions. An African-American railroad worker, with a grizzled beard, hardhat and reflective safety vest, was tapping the touch screen, presumably to help an Asian man who looked on with a slightly bewildered look. This wasn't unusual in itself - railroad, security and station workers are helping tourists with directions all the time - but after I left the station and walked a few blocks, I saw the two men again. They were standing on Adams Street, just east of Jefferson Street, and the railroad worker was pointing toward Old St. Patrick's Church, as if showing the other man exactly where he needed to go. I walked past them, and glancing back, I saw them warmly shaking hands as the railroad worker turned back toward the station.

Helping a tourist at the station, when it's not actually part of your job, isn't that big of a deal - a few moments taken from a long workday - but to walk with that tourist for two blocks, on a cold day, to show him where he needs to go, just seems like a really thoughtful, generous gesture. Thinking about it is still giving me a smile.

November 28, 2016 in Chicago Observations | Permalink | Comments (0)

"...giving a boundary to all of that..."

From Ursula K. Le Guin's The Left Hand of Darkness:

How does one hate a country, or love one? Tibe talks about it; I lack the trick of it. I know people, I know towns, farms, hills and rivers and rocks, I know how the sun at sunset in autumn falls on the side of a certain plowland in the hills; but what is the sense of giving a boundary to all that, of giving it a name and ceasing to love where the name ceases to apply? What is love of one’s country; is it hate of one’s uncountry? Then it’s not a good thing. 

I admire Le Guin's thoughts on the arbitrariness of borders and states (and, in this woeful election season, legislative districts). I also just finished her The Lathe of Heaven. Fascinating premise, and thought-provoking throughout. I've read very little sci-fi or fantasy during my long reading life (much to Julie's disbelief), but Le Guin is one writer I think I could take to. 

(Via Austin Kleon.) 

November 25, 2016 in Books, Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)


"It was never in my stars to be doing the same thing for ever." - Johnny Marr

November 20, 2016 in Books, Music | Permalink | Comments (0)

"...tons of rock and gravel, tons of water running..."

Vivid sense of place here, from The Lathe of Heaven, as Ursula K. Le Guin describes a vaguely dystopic Portland, Oregon, and a commuter train which is passing through a tunnel beneath the Willamette River:

Above the heads of those now riding the GPRT train in the Broadway Tunnel were tons of rock and gravel, tons of water running, the wharves and the keels of ocean-going ships, the huge concrete supports of elevated freeway bridges and approaches, a convoy of steamer trucks laden with frozen battery-produced chickens, one jet plane at 34,000 feet, the stars at 4.3+ light-years. George Orr, pale in the flickering fluorescent glare of the train car in the infrafluvial dark, swayed as he stood holding a swaying steel handle on a strap among a thousand other souls. He felt the heaviness upon him, the weight bearing down endlessly.

I really like how the focus rises upward, all the way to the distant stars, and then sharply back to the protagonist, George Orr. And I'd love to know what a battery-produced chicken is, though I suspect it's a little throwaway detail that Le Guin won't be returning to.

November 18, 2016 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

"There’s too much at stake now to pretend that everything is okay."

Dan Piepenbring, at The Paris Review:

If you aspire to write, put aside all the niceties and sureties about what art should be and write something that makes the scales fall from our eyes. Forget the tired axioms about showing and telling, about sense of place—any possible obstruction—and write to destroy complacency, to rattle people, to help people, first and foremost yourself. Lodge your ideas like glass shards in the minds of everyone who would have you believe there’s no hope. And read, as often and as violently as you can.

Come to think of it, I was probably most productive as a writer during the Bush Administration, especially the second term when times seemed at their darkest. Creative ferment, or something like that.

November 10, 2016 in Books, Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (1)

"Let the mind take its photograph..."

This is perfect for these last quiet, crisp days before winter. R.S. Thomas, "A Day in Autumn":

It will not always be like this,
The air windless, a few last
Leaves adding their decoration
To the trees’ shoulders, braiding the cuffs
Of the boughs with gold; a bird preening

In the lawn’s mirror. Having looked up
From the day’s chores, pause a minute,
Let the mind take its photograph 
Of the bright scene, something to wear
Against the heart in the long cold.

(Via Nige.)

November 5, 2016 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

"...one of the best contained dramas that American sports have ever told..."

The Guardian's Jonathan Bernhart on the Cubs, Aroldis Chapman and that dramatic, almost literary conclusion to Game 7.

This might sound like it’s intended as some form of either absolution or comeuppance for the domestic violence incident involving Chapman last December. It’s not and it never could be, but there’s a reason it sounds that way: a man with extraordinary abilities being humbled by hubris in a moment of triumph is a very, very old story. In the fictional version, the hubris would be the some moral imperfection on the pitcher’s part, and his fall would be delivered not by a bolt of lightning from the gods but through the pitcher’s manager, who over-relied on him and sapped his tremendous gifts when they were needed most. That fall is intensely personal – his team-mates go on to win the game and their place in history – and he is left with the symbolic scar of his “win” in the history books. This is a story of justice and punishment, and it feels right because everyone more or less got what the story thought they deserved in the end. And in that specific sense, the story of Chapman resolved in the best way possible.

November 4, 2016 in Books, Sports | Permalink | Comments (0)