Alfred Nobel’s Postbox

Alfred Nobel's Postbox The inventor of dynamite and the founder of the Nobel prizes, Alfred Nobel (1833-1896) was the holder of over 300 patents. During his lifetime, he wrote hundreds of letters to friends and associates. Through letters with friends, he came to the decision to include a peace prize among those prizes provided in his will. Most of his letters are held within the Nobel Institute in Stockholm, however, his postbox was left in the care of the SHUSH Museum.

As is typical of postboxes from Sweden, there’s the Germanic posthorn, as well as the royal emblem of the Swedish crown.

Thursdays are Hard

Thursday. Again.

I had many plans to have plenty of time to write. I even had this afternoon off, and thought I’d get it done in leisurely fashion.

Plans don’t often go the way I think they will.

I took the day off to help my sister clean out her car, which got totalled. (Accident when she wasn’t even in the car.) She is currently sick, but, it had to be done soon. Also, I am listed on the title because I was the co-signer on her loan, so, I had to also sign the title over to the insurance.  Our “leisurely” afternoon consisted of a visit to the clinic for blood work, going to the auto body place to clear out the 14 years of crap in her vehicle, packing that into mom’s car, going to the insurance office, taking the check to the bank, and running to get antibiotics. Then, a stop at the grocery store and preparing and eating dinner. As the silverware clattered to the empty dinner plates, I looked at the clock and it’s time to go to bed. Already.

That’s when I said, ” *expletive.* It’s Thursday.” I thought about ignoring it, and I even was about to go to bed, when I managed to get myself into the chair by promising I would make it a brief post.

In other news, my mom’s company went out of business, so, she who hasn’t gone back to work from her hip surgery is unemployed. The uncertainty is not my favorite bedtime cocktail, but, right now, that’s what is being served. And, I am tired.

Celebrating Generosity Day

Antique (Public Domain old) Valentine. Caption reads "To My Valentine"

I am well-known to be averse to VD. I’m sure you are too. In my case, I mean both the health issue and the holiday. If you had missed that quirk of my personality and didn’t click on the link, then this sentence will have to suffice as background for the next few paragraphs.

I had been proud of that piece of poisonous prose, and while I patted myself on the back for my wit and use of indelible imagery, I passed it along to many who were not regular subscribers to this column, thinking that they would be unable to resist signing up for it the minute they read that spectacularly awesome indictment of the holiday of 50 Shades of Red.

I was wrong.

Of the 15-20 people I had shared it with, *ZERO* signed up. More telling to me was that one of them had the courage to tell me her thoughts. She is not one to mince words. She simply said: “It was not worthy of you.”

Inside my head, InsecureFraud38 shouted “See? Everything you write is worthless! You are a fool to try and pretend you are talented enough to impose your barely literate ramblings on an unsuspecting public!

OffendedArtist12 jumped into the onslaught of self-doubt with its twist: How dare she say that horrible things about me and my art! She cannot comprehend the brilliance of my tortured soul!

About this point, InsecureFrauds 1-38 ganged up on OffendedArtist12, and the results were spectacularly horrific. Suffice it to say, there are only 11 these days.

I managed to say something, I probably even thanked her for crushing my soul and unleashing the specters of self-doubt and loathing, but then BrutallyHonest numbers 1-20 told me that she was right. I had taken the easy way out, and relied on the Crutches of Snark and Sarcasm. I could do better. I put in a request that the nicer parts of my psyche go visit with the brutally honest parts, and maybe teach them to be a bit more gentle in their delivery. Then I realized I didn’t really want any more sugar coating, because I really should cut down on my sugar intake.

About that time, I learned about “Generosity Day.” It was a way to reclaim the day of commercialized love with all its superficiality and fill it authenticity and kindness. Something not confined to couples, and lacking the burden of obligation.

Perhaps, just by sharing this idea with you, I’m losing my “street cred,” but, BrutallyHonest4 tells me I never really had any in the first place. Maybe, I’m simply getting weak in my advancing age. Or perhaps I’m just remembering the gift of honesty from a friend that I got last Generosity Day.

Spoons from the Last Supper

Spoons from the Last Supper. 13 spoons, hanging on a wall

The story of The Last Supper is well-known. As Jesus entered the Jerusalem, he sent his disciples to find a man carrying a jar of water, and that man would take them to a house where they would spend the Passover. When they arrived at the house, all was prepared at the table for the meal.

This would include the utensils for the soup served as the first course. While most of the meal would be eaten with the hands alone, soup is more challenging to consume with hands alone. After the dinner, the group went to the Mount of Olives where Jesus would be arrested.

The spoons were collected by the house servants, and upon hearing that the teacher that had been their guest of honor the previous evening had been arrested, the spoons were separated from the normal household goods. Within a few days, after the guest of honor had been convicted of crimes and executed, members of the house reported that those who held one of the spoons were filled with a sense of great peace and well-being.

As the notoriety of the teacher spread, stories emerged that the man had been raised from the dead, and that he had been seen by hundreds of people, who were telling the story of this miracle. And people would come to the place where this man had taken his Last Supper, and they would hold the spoons, and experience that miracle.

The legend of the Miracle of the Spoons persisted over the decades, and eventually the set was passed down within the family of those that hosted the Passover meal. Centuries passed, and the family’s descendants, no longer believing in the legend, and needing cash, sold the set to a member of SHUSH.

Purchase Postcards of this item.

A few more baby steps…

I started working on the YA time travel series this week.

This doesn’t sound so very earth shattering, but, it’s probably been on my mind for more than a decade, and I decided to stop waiting for the characters to drop into life, or plot to magically plant itself in my head, no, I would actually *work* on it. Actively.

I wrote a few pages, and then decided on a radical “venue” change, and re-wrote them.  It has sparked a few other things into motion, and I think that maybe it’s a sign that this is what I should be working on? I don’t know. What most people don’t know is that there is actually a connection between this series and the SHUSH Museum, which probably sounds absurd, and in a way, it is. I’m not going to say more about that right now. It’s part of how I’m building them all to come together, and I mostly feel like as cool as I think it will be, the amount of work it will take to pull off will not translate into any sort of return on the investment, and no one will give a flying frack about it.

There is part of me that is looking at the amount of work involved to make the whole plan I envision for this thing, and know that I have very often poured tons of effort into things that didn’t do me any good. In fact, most of the things I’ve poured tons of effort into have done me no good.  And, while there is a decent chunk of my hesitation that is wrapped up in the normal fears of creative sorts that work very hard to keep us locked in our heads and not creating, there’s also the fact that none of the things I have managed to create have been particularly successful in finding an audience. It doesn’t help me fight off those fears if they’ve been RIGHT at every step. Maybe it’s just insanity to continue to pour effort into things that really ARE doomed to fail? Why do I keep doing this? Because, I will tell you, writing is hard. Marketing is harder. I don’t really like doing any of these things.

This is when I’m supposed to wax poetic about the urge to create, and how that is supposed to sustain us through these periods of doubt. Except, I’m not entirely sure I am feeling that urge. I feel like I’m doing the only thing I know how to do, to keep trying to do what exactly? To somehow turn these things into a product? To actually, FINALLY make consistent money on the crap that comes out of my head? Am I completely delusional? Who would pay for these things? *I* would not pay for these things. I am not even convinced that the small audience I do have would bother to plunk their money down for products. That is, while they’re loyal and engaged and the best and I love them, would they actually feel the content was worth spending money on? Even more so, I’m not sure that the content I am planning on building for sale actually matches the audience I am building. In other words, the people who read this are the people who would be interested in what I have to sell, as it’s different from the content they know. Am I wasting my time building the “wrong” audience for the stuff I hope to sell?

But, I’m trying to not think about the money part of this equation, even though, it’s taking a bigger and bigger part of my attention as I can’t seem to improve my income by the usual routes. I have tried. More than once. And after trying dozens of the usual routes multiple times? I’m feeling fairly confident in my assessment that an increase in my income is not coming from those routes.

I am exhausted by the limits of thin margins. How much longer will things hold together? I don’t know. The only thing that seems to make sense is to keep going forward, even if it doesn’t really feel like a meaningful direction.  So I will celebrate a few pages of a start, and hope more pages follow.

Meeting the Demands of the Super Bowl

After weeks of anticipation and painstaking preparation, the most holy day of the US calendar is finally upon us.  Countless avocados have been mashed to a cheery green pulp, numerous buffalo have sacrificed their wings, and scores of bowls have been filled with highly salted carbohydrates.

The faithful take their places on comfy couches and squashy armchairs, arranged around the warm glow of the television to watch grown men crash into each other and fall down.  The less faithful anticipate the stream of talking babies, horses with large feet, and shiny automobile antics.

For those whose sole reason for watching the Bowl known as Super is the advertising, disappointment has become the regular feature. How can the gift of a clever advertisement be enjoyed if it’s been previewed on the morning news media weeks before the big day? This is like opening your Christmas presents on Thanksgiving. By the time you get to Christmas, all the paint has dulled under thousands of greasy fingerprints, and the initial delight has been replaced by a “seen-it-all cynicism.” There’s no longer anything special about it at all.

It’s sad that companies have lost the true meaning of the holiday. The one day when people watch a show live and don’t fast-forward through the commercials, and they take it all away from us. Why should we bother paying attention on the breaks if they’re only going to be running commercials we’ve all seen before? There’s simply no respect for the audience.

And despite the increasing disdain for their viewers, they still expect us to eat the required allotment of junk food. I have learned that the USDA has proclaimed that their normal dietary guidelines are suspended for this day*, and in their place, there is a strict, enforceable, snack food intake requirement. This is to insure that the purveyors of all things crunchy and of dubious nutritional value sell enough to put the industry into the black for the year.

Each person must eat a minimum of three servings from the fried food group, two from the salty group, five from the heavily seasoned, bite-sized meat group, three from the sugary and sticky group, four from the fermented and carbonated beverage group, and six from the dip group. I’ve had to pay expensive fines for not complying with the requirements, and this year I’m taking no chances. Now, not only am I going to be feeling exceptionally queasy on game day, I’m going to be eating leftover chips for months.

*This is not actually true, even if all the components of common party recipes mysteriously go on sale the week before the game, as do sugary beverages and macrobrew beers. The nation’s strategic snack reserve is perilously low around the first weeks of February, and, I’m certain it puts us in considerable danger on the world snack stage.

Mysterious Sea Cucumber

Mysterious Sea Cucumber

This specimen of echinoderm was contributed to the SHUSH in 1843. Since that date, no other examples of the species have been discovered. Superficially, it resembles the species Thelenota ananas, but the coloration is unique.

This mystery of this specimen goes beyond its coloration. The “creature” shows no evidence of any biological structures. It has no mouth, and no anus. It also has no exoskeleton, and seems to be made of cheap plant fibers and lacking in connective tissues or skin that would be congruent with an animal life.form.

Many experts have questioned whether this object could actually be described as a “sea cucumber,”  as it lacks any of the characteristics of a sea cucumber, beyond the superficial resemblance to the marine animals.

Want to send a postcard with a Mysterious Sea Cucumber picture? Visit the SHUSH store!

The Value of Fuzzy Photographs

A very blurry photo of a child(?) and a tree(?) indoors My parents were not good photographers. I say this with all the love and respect my entire being can manifest. But all that love and respect cannot change the fact that they have an exceptional chance of winning awards for excessively challenged photo taking skills.

As a child, I was innocently unaware of these simple truths. I figured it was more of a factor of the one camera we had in the house, which probably was considered an antique before I was born. It resembled Fred Flintstone’s model, and I suspect our failure to feed the chisel-wielding bird inside contributed to the poor quality of the images produced.

For you youngsters out there, cameras used to require carefully rolled containers of light-sensitive cellulose known as “film” to capture an image. The mechanical nature of a roll of film itself led to handfuls of photo horrors. If you didn’t advance the roll correctly, you got a handful of pictures where the image inhabitants are calmly ignorant of the black hole hovering just inches away from them, soon to consume not only their physical bodies but probably also their souls.

Another photographic technique favored by my thrifty father, was to make sure to use both sides of the roll of film. These pictures embraced a certain flavor of absurdist avant garde, giving my baby sister the body of a cat, while she explored a living room jungle, complete with sofa waterfall and hanging lamp flowers, while the upside-down floating birthday cake hovered over the waterfall like curious moon.

The creepiest samples are the ones where something in the image was moving, or perhaps the picture taker moved the camera, resulting in ghostly heads appearing above more solid, but still fuzzy heads. And does that blobby thing(?) person(?) have two extra arms? Or are those tentacles?

As antiquated as the photo equipment in the house was, it seems unfair to blame it for loping off the heads of three of the 4 people in the picture or adding random, gigantic fuzzy digits onto the margins of every frame. Probably, it’s also unfair to blame it for filling three-quarters of an image with a spectacular lens flair.

There are times when I lament the headless and fuzzy photos created by the only Polarock camera to survive the Stone Age, and then I also realize how only two generations before, you could count the total number of photos of the entire family on fewer than five hands. And a generation before that, a single hand might do the trick.

These were taken in an age where you couldn’t instantly see the picture you’d just snapped. Each click was carefully considered, and deemed worthy of preservation. Every time the button was pressed, it was one more segment of precious film gone, with no certainty that it would come out at all. Thinking about it that way, all these photos, even the fuzzy ones, become priceless treasures.

Invisible Portait

Photo courtesy of
In 1897, using specially formulated inks on a specially treated canvas, Herbert Griffin painted this famous self portrait. The portrait, painted in typical Victorian portrait style, shows the artist dressed in fine clothing, with an ermine edged, deep-blue smoking jacket. The subject is seated in an over-stuffed chair, and on his lap is a cat. In the background are several tall shelves, filled with books and a fireplace, with a cozy fire.

Historians say that the picture is aspirational in nature, as Griffin was not a wealthy man, but that he was consumed with achieving power. In life, he as known as a recluse, and neighbors found him unfriendly. This portrait shows Griffin as he wished to be seen.

Purchase a postcard of this exhibit here.

Imperfections are Funnier

You are probably not terribly surprised to learn that I spend a good deal of time paying attention to the statistics of this mailing every week. I worry every time my “open” rate doesn’t hit my list average, and I obsess about every unsubscription. Not that there are very many of those, but, they bother me. How dare someone report my stunningly original content that isn’t even trying to sell something as being “spam?!” The nerve of those people!

Of course, I always wonder how much people like each piece, and, of course, if they still like me.

Over the years of reviewing this data every week, I wasn’t prepared to learn that the content I thought was the *best* content was often the content where the “open” rates were much lower than average, or that people seemed to be less than impressed with the content. Worse, the content that seemed to have the best reception was content I felt was not very good.

And then I realized why.

The stories I liked the best were always the ones where I was undoubtedly the hero, defeating the forces of darkness with my extreme cleverness and astonishing talents. They were tales where I was undoubtedly the master and in charge of the situation, and my awesome powers shined like a beacon of hope to all mankind.

And the stories that got the best reactions from you, my readers, were the stories where I was much less spectacular. The ones I really didn’t want to share because I was so unremarkable.

In short, these are the stories where I was vulnerable and so very disappointingly human.

I grew up learning that showing vulnerability meant that you became the limping wildebeest at the back of the herd, the one that the lions would spot immediately and target as the “easy prey.” And even if that particular wildebeest was much beloved by the herd for her quick wit and excellent cooking skills, that limp was going to get her killed. I learned to hide anything that might be interpreted as a limp.

I really hate showing my limp.

And yet, hiding the imperfections and showing only the good stuff means that I am only succeeding in surrendering to my own fear and preventing myself from doing the real work of connecting with people.

So, I’m going to try and do a better job of exploiting the vast catalog of my failures for your amusement. I figure it’s the least I can do.