The subtitle to Roman Mars and Kurt Kohlstedt’s The 99 % Invisible City says a lot about what to expect from within its pages: “A Field Guide to the Hidden World of Everyday Design.”
Inspired by their 99 % Invisible podcast, the authors here explore a menagerie of ideas about urban spaces that are intriguing, interesting and make you want to open your eyes and really see the world as you wander your nearest city (including the one you might live in). The use of “design” as a lens is really helpful, too.
I appreciated the scope of the short pieces here and how they are grouped under general themes like “Conspicuous” and “Architecture” and “Urbanism” and then broken further into ideas like “Identity” and “Liminal” and “Interventions.” Taken together, the book lives up to its claim of helping us notice the things we either take for granted or fail to notice because they are so visible.
So, we learn about fire escapes, and traffic signals, grassroots gardening and viral signage, sidewalk markings and emergency exits. Seriously, the topics are wide-reaching and yet, ordinary on the surface — only to be revealed as interestingly complex just below.
You won’t see the city streets the same way again, and that’s a good thing.
Recently, I reviewedThe Cabinet of Calm, a collection of rare words that was perfectly tuned to these times. I shared out then that I had been using the rare words from the book for poetry prompts for a few months. This slideshow gathers those poems together in one place.
(This is for the Slice of Life challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write on Tuesdays about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)
I was pretty successful in my attempt to not think too much about the new school year throughout the month of July (we ended our year at the end of June). Now things are creeping back into my head, day and into the night, and I am beginning to feel that anxiety increase again.
Someone on Twitter dug up this comic of mine from last year, a comic that seems appropriate again this year, as the Delta variant upends the plans for the start of the new school year.
To be fair, I don’t even know how Delta will affect our school opening in a few weeks. I live in a state with high vaccination rates and the Covid numbers are still fairly moderate. But any elementary school, where kids are too young to be vaccinated, is sure to be a place of concern for families and staff, and students.
And I noticed our public libraries and spaces are shifting back to mask mandates for everyone. More people are masking up in grocery stores. And my high school son remarked that he just can’t even think about starting a year in remote. My wife, a school librarian, and I are having more conversations about Covid, again.
Suddenly, the return to school is back to the forefront of our lives, and ‘normal’ still remains a distant memory.
On a family summer vacation to the coast of Maine, I tried to use what I was seeing and experiencing for composing haiku poems early each morning, over a cup of coffee and a beautiful view of some marshlands. My writing was often interrupted – and just as often, inspired – by birds, deer and other wildlife, as well as just the beauty of the moments.
Some of the context behind the poems might be more for me than for the reader, but I think the reader can still enjoy the poems as is.
As sun slept, water
rippled, resting in moonlight:
Night tides fill all spaces
Between moments of
winds wrestling another,
we deep breathe the calm
Using tide as brush,
landscape as canvas, oceans
turn worlds beautiful
Paddles push silence
through high tide and pathways,
buoyant as the birds
Wake the day with fog,
blanket of obscurity:
oceans heard, unseen
Sometimes, you find a book. Sometimes, the book finds you. The Cabinet of Calm (Soothing Words for Troubled Times) by Paul Anthony Jones is one of those books. I can’t even recall when or where I first saw it mentioned but since buying it in January, it has been a constant, regular reading text for the last seven months.
I don’t think I’ve ever read a book so slowly, over so many months. It’s unlike me. But with each chapter, arranged alphabetically, focused on a single word — some lost to time, some whose meanings have changed — about surfacing through hardship or finding a path forward or becoming inspired, I didn’t want to rush the book.
So I didn’t.
Instead, I wrote small poems after reading nearly every chapter on nearly ever word from January through July. I found Jones’ explorations of words inspiring, and with my starting of the reading of the book in the depths of the Pandemic (January) and moving through the possibility of better and more normal times (vaccines), I kept returning to the book, finding new ways to think about how words and language can give us some comfort.
This back and forth between reading and then writing became a ritual of sorts, although I didn’t do it every day and sometimes, the book was just sitting on my counter, untouched, for stretches of time. Paul Anthony Jones has the ability to sift through language, and cultural meanings, and his curation of these words in this bound “cabinet” is something I intend to come back to when I need to.
Another day, I will share out my entire collection of poems inspired by The Cabinet of Calm. Until then … read on, and find your own ways to comfort the anxieties and inner voices of the Modern Age. Maybe a word inside the cabinet might help you, too.
I took part in a 100-word microfiction contest as a whim through NYC Midnight. I learned this morning that I didn’t make it out of the first round. That’s OK. I enjoyed the challenge of being given a genre (horror) and some key words and phrases that had to be used, and constrained by 100 words.
This was my submission:
A Game Of The Knight
Marina wiped blood off the face of the King. The card smeared with a streak across the eyes. She shuffled the cards and dealt out hands, ignoring the Knight’s chatter. It was getting more difficult for her to hold her cards as the darkness wore on. The Knight had won one hand and remained unscathed. She glanced at her cards, holding them close as wind rippled over the edge of the mountain. Marina played the King, feigning confidence, calculating how the game might proceed even as she slowly lost more of herself to the Knight.