13 January 2011

They sell crayons in the hotel lobby

They sell crayons in the hotel lobby. Just a 16-pack, but that's something, anyway.

Robert Krulwich said tonight in his Science Online 2011 keynote (this about Radio Lab and radio in general), "When I give you the words, you get the brush." That is the "magic of radio" — words are actually richer without pictures; everyone gets to paint his or her own story.

If I were at home, I'd have the watercolors and crayons out and the BIG sheet of paper across on the kitchen table. Ready.

Actually, I'd probably "paint" with torn up scraps of paper and magazines, because that's my way. But the point is...

I am trying to express what I got out of tonight's keynote talk. A sense of bubbling over. Of playfulness. A desire to paint with words, knowing I will never, ever get them on the canvas right. When I level my brush at the blank canvas, the words jumble and hang askew.

No, I did not have any of the fancy bourbon at the reception tonight. I had PEOPLE and WORDS. Engaging discussions, a fantastic lecture. People as interested (or more so) as I am in the topic at hand.

Suffice for now that I tack down a few of notes:

Krulwich spoke about the music, the sound, of life, of our lives, kind of in a generational way. What sounds surrounded you when you were young, growing, and now older (whatever age that means)? From thirteen on for me is the sound of my powder-blue portable Smith Corona typewriter. Clack - stick - clack clack - stick - more clacks - ping! Zing.... back to the start of the next line. I typed and typed and typed - I loved the feel of the keys, the sound, the way words came out onto the paper. I so wanted to BE A WRITER.

What other sounds surrounded me? Whirr.... ten-speed, twelve-speed, 18-speed narrow bike tires against the road, Verdi's Four Seasons in my head as a racked up the miles.

Purr purring amplified against my ear. Flick flash. My mother lighting a cigarette with her plastic Bic lighter. Metallic crumpling - smash, skitter, smash - against the cement floor of the garage - my little brother flattening aluminum cans to trade in at the grocery store. Silence, silence, holding my own breath in so I could hear — because hearing somehow made the dreaded awfulness somehow safer? I'm holding my breath right now.

Whoosh! The gas heater coming on in the middle of the night, the whispers of my brothers and me talking about "what to do" as we sat in our pajamas in front of it.

Clank - reverb - the sound of a locker slamming shut and swinging open again. The barely imperceptible swish of paper falling, swaying, drifting to the ground. I can almost hear the scratch of my mother's pen on the legal pad, the sound of her ripping three letters *snap* from the tablet, one for each of us. I crumpled it. I threw it away.

Sigh. Reel it in - back to some happy sounds, shall we? My first record player - Petula Clark! Then came disco... Disco Inferno. And YES. Yes.

Seong Min playing Chopin's Scherzo #3. The scratch swish of my jeans against the dusty church floor underneath the grand piano where she played. Sneaking in - the push and pop of the lever-release door handle.

Mother singing "Oh what a beautiful morning," and "I feel pretty, oh so pretty..."

Scott telling stories, always making me laugh. Robbie and the plinky sorting and clicking of Legos.

The sound of a whip just before it hits you...

Hearing your little brother cry but not remembering whether you did too.

Oh, here we go again.

Let's bring it to the present day. Santana. India Arie AND Santana. Nothing more to say here.

(And this, friends, is the essence of "Dragonfly Wars" as I tried to explain to Steve Silberman tonight. Please see my first post...)


  1. Laughter, I remember my dad's laughter after the numerous practical jokes. My boyhood dog,panting, while waiting for me to throw 'the BALL'. The din of my mom's talking...on telephone or to family/friend at the dining room table. The sound of a 'real' lighter opening and the flick sound just before it lit. The "thump, whirrr, thump, whirrr, thump" sound of the tires hitting the expansion joints in the numerous concrete highways.

    The buzz of Polistes paper wasps just before the inevitable stings..


  2. Hey, thanks for this comment. I like the bit about the tires on the highways.