the descriptive passages
came most readily
Back in 2019 I was spending, on average, two hours a day in my car, commuting to and from downtown Atlanta, Georgia.
I began this week day trek in 2009.
In my car, I was surrounded.
Surrounded by words.
There were the words on the radio.
Sports talk radio.
Whatever station might be in range.
Then there words to the songs I might be listening to on the radio.
Or the songs on my phone that I played in my car.
The words in the books on tape I listened to by the carload.
Then there the words along the way.
The words on billboards.
The words on cars and trucks.
The words spray painted on walls.
And finally the words that I could make up from the letters on cars license plates.
I would play a game I called FREEWAY SLOT MACHINE.
I liked the middle lanes.
In Atlanta, I usually had my pick of 5.
I liked the one to the inside of the far left.
With the HOV/Peach Pass lane, that means the 3rd lane from the left.
I felt that in case of an accident, I could go left or right.
To play FREEWAY SLOT MACHINE, I would watch the lane in front of me and the lanes to my immediate left and right.
I watched for the make of a car or license plates by state.
Anytime I got three across, three FORDS or three HONDAs or three cars from Florida, I won.
Drove my wife nuts if I tried to play when I rode with her.
She couldn’t understand how I could concentrate on something like that when I should be driving.
The Atlanta commute WAS and IS awful but it is not demanding.
I found that, for the most part, the commute was made up of people who had resigned themselves to getting to work best they could.
It was closer to being in line at the DMV than the opening of Walmart on Black Friday.
It was … deadly dull.
I had grown up driving on freeways in Detroit and Chicago.
In those places, people still thought that how you drove and how fast you drove, could make a difference on when you got places.
In Atlanta, you got in line and waited your turn.
Too be sure, there were still the occasion driver, either a newbie or an Ausländer, and if they saw 30 feet of empty freeway, the got in and accelerated to close up the gap and looked for the next gap to take.
There folks would be all over the road and boy oh boy, did they stand out.
And because they stood out, you remembered their car.
You would see their car up by Pleasent Hill Road where the traffic started to pile up.
And you would see them when you saw it, still next to you, as you exited at Armour Drive in downtown ATL.
You could see it because in the back and forth of traffic, in all the different lanes, it never made much difference as everyone slowly made their way into the city.
Surrounded by words and bored to death I became to assemble words into nonsense sentences.
Occasionally one of these sentences would stick in my mind and I would yell it out loud over and over and over again.
Something like ‘Two Men and Trucks under Saddebrook Road called Injury Lawyers asked how is my driving call 1-800’.
I would sing these sentences out loud until they became even more meaningless.
It was mental activity along the line of zoochosis, like a wild animal stuck in a cage at some roadside attraction.
At this same time, out of my office in ATL, I was working with a TV station in Knoxville, Tennessee.
A reporter at that station was famous for writing election day Haiku and at election planning meetings she would be called on to recite her haiku which became the station meme (tho no one called it that) for that election.
Over the years, this reporter and I began exchanging haiku about elections and then random events.
Then came the day when one of my goofy word sentences fell into the traditional 5 – 7 – 5 syllable pattern of a haiku.
Then it happened again the next day.
I wrote those down at the time, though now I cannot remember what ones they were or if I saved them.
This became part of my day.
Through out that day, when ever someone came in my office or if I ran into someone in the hall, instead of a greeting I would recite my haiku.
Everyone loved it.
Or at least that’s what it seemed to me.
I did not ask of course, but I knew.
I knew when one day, I greeted my friend, Dave Myer, with
making shoes for dead people
who no longer walk
Dave smiled and kept walking, then turned around and says, ‘okay, that was pretty good.’
And that’s how all this started.
Most often these haiku caught the mood of my commute or the mood of my brain at that moment as influenced by all the words that surrounded me.
I never put much thought into them.
I never put much thought into what there were.
Until I started writing them down.
Until I started writing them down and putting them online.
After writing them down, I often felt the creative process behind the words could use a little explanation.
Sometime these explanations were like turning on a faucet in my brain and words, sometimes very random words, and thoughts, sometimes very random thoughts, just poured out.
And this lasted until March, 2020.
Then that process came to a halt.
I worked from home.
No more commute.
Then I was downsized.
No more Atlanta.
I landed on my feet on the Atlantic Coast.
Instead of being surrounded by words I am surrounded by the visuals of living near the ocean in the south.
Blue herons, egrets and ibises.
Stunning visual overload instead of words surrounded me.
Instead of assembling words into 17 syllable strings, I turned to translating what I saw into words in 17 syllable strings.
If you know the history of digital TV, the folks who created digital TV took a cable with an existing analog TV signal on it and plugged it into a computer.
The computer screen displayed all sorts of seemingly random characters.
The programmers, just like in Edgar Allen Poe’s The Gold Bug, set to decoding what the saw.
As in the Gold Bug, the hero thinks the letter E shows up the most often so the most reoccurring character in the coded message must be an E, the programmers identified the most reoccurring character in what they saw and told the computer that when this character showed, the monitor should display a white pixel and then so on and so on (yep, your TV today is still IF THEN DO LOOP) until finally all the characters were identified and we watch Digital TV.
Sometimes the stream is delayed and you see odd little squares on your TV where there was no code to decode.
The point is that these incredible scenes are coming into my brain through my eyes, and I try to turn that view, to decode what I see, into words.
Recently I read this passage in the book The Art of Travel.
I began word painting.
That phrase stuck with me.
I like it.
I began word painting.
I began word painting because such a factual description seemed of little help to me in pinning down why I found the scene so impressive.
Add that I try to do this in 17 syllables.
Are my word paintings accuate?
I don’t know.
Maybe it is not for me to say.
They might be nonsense.
I am not planning on writing anything profound.
I am really not planning on writing anything.
I am not planning on anyone reading what I write.
Just a goofy creative outlet.
Maybe some form of personal therapy.
On the other hand.
They might be stranger and more dubitable than daylight had allowed us to think.
The haiku for today is adapted from the book, The Art of Travel (2002, Vintage Books) by Alain de Botton, and the passage:
I began word-painting.
Descriptive passages came most readily: the offices were tall; the top of one tower was like a pyramid; it had ruby-red lights on its side; the sky was not black but an orangey-yellow.
But because such a factual description seemed of little help to me in pinning down why I found the scene so impressive, I attempted to analyse its beauty in more psychological terms.
The power of the scene appeared to be located in the effect of the night and of the fog on the towers.
Night drew attention to facets of the offices that were submerged in the day.
Lit by the sun, the offices could seem normal, repelling questions as effectively as their windows repelled glances.
But night upset this claim to normality, it allowed one to see inside and wonder at how strange, frightening and admirable they were.
The offices embodied order and cooperation among thousands, and at the same time regimentation and tedium.
A bureaucratic vision of seriousness was undermined, or at least questioned, by the night.
One wondered in the darkness what the flipcharts and office terminals were for: not that they were redundant, just that they might be stranger and more dubitable than daylight had allowed us to think.
The Art of Travel (2002, Vintage Books) by Alain de Botton.
According to the website, GOOD READS, Any Baedeker will tell us where we ought to travel, but only Alain de Botton will tell us how and why.
As I said in the section on Architecture , what I find irresistible in reading Mr. de Botton is his use of language.
I get the feeling that if you made a spread sheet of all the words, adverbs and adjectives used by Mr. de Botton, you just might find that he used each word just once.
As I said about most of his work, neat trick in writing a book.
If I knew how to do that, hey, I would.