A Ten-Bird Guide to Time 2010 Wall Calendar

Telluride Daily Planet,  Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The winter solstice has teetered, a new year is on its way, and that means palettes of shrink-wrapped calendars will soon be handed out like Bingo cards to all of us, the day-trippers of time.

There must be other people out there like me, yearning for something completely different: Imagine a calendar that shoves us off, sails us through 2010, spinnakers full, with all our space-time continuum needs met. Isn’t that what a calendar is supposed to do — connect alarm clocks to stars and then back to pineal glands so that we can reflect on what another sunrise means in this part of the galaxy? This was my understanding.

Not exactly how we do it, though, on the third planet from the Sun.… Here, it’s more like a game of categories slapped on a second grade template, deboned of all celestial reference. And oh the places the boneless categories go! From heavy hitters like cats, word-a-days and swimsuits to back porches, teapots, shells, purses, covered bridges, cocktails, cockatiels, weird mushrooms (Weird Mushrooms 2010), Go Vegan, Hannah Montana, the Hubble Telescope, Donny Osmond, Ed Rosenthal’s Big Buds, Woodland Faeries, Kama Sutra, and the Beer Pong Wall Calendar. Thousands of calendars. Thousands of ways to tick off the days until blackout Bingo is unanimously achieved. But what’s achieved?

In a time capsule of 21st Century Earth calendars, how will other life forms cipher what lighthouses, beaches and black-and-white photos of Yosemite had to do with our orbit around the sun? Did Doodle-a-day help connect our hands to our diurnal segments? Were the Twelve Poodles of 2010 keepers of the secret? Were Nuns Having Fun whirling dervishes, a mystery school of time, space and beyond?

You’re probably thinking, So what would you propose, Little Miss Better-Than-Bingo? What’s so bad about x’s in boxes, countdown, appointments, Big Days? We need calendars to file events in time. The categories are simply phyla and sub-phyla of our culture. It’s how we DO it. I suppose you’re opposed to watches, too…

No, I’m not opposed to anything. I don’t know! At first I thought, just stick to Bingo, but with better categories. The Stephen Hawking 2010 Calendar, Page-a-Day Time Quotes by Super Smart People. Poetry About the Quantum Field Desk Calendar. Whispers of String Theory Oversized Wall Calendar. What Emily Dickinson Had to Say About Time Mini Calendar. But it’s all still Bingo.

Now I’m thinking a calendar has to be ground breaking. Revolutionary. And idiosyncratic. Like a bird calendar, since birds are mysterious, have secrets, and we see them everyday. (There are some quirky bird calendars already out there — Birds in the Garden 2010 Linen Towel Calendar, Loon Magic with Sound 2010 Wall Calendar; but they still don’t send me skidding across the space-time linoleum.)

My calendar is about winged creatures that have flown into my life in the past year. And since I’ve collected only ten important bird moments this year, I’m simply re-dividing the calendar into ten months of 36 days — with a five-day party at the very end. I’m not renaming any months but I am leaving out April and November, just this once, and putting April Fool’s on my birthday (March 31). Thanksgiving I’m shoving in with Halloween. April and November birthdays will all be celebrated at the summer solstice with giant bonfires and punch.

In terms of weeks, I’m going to six days instead of seven, for an even six weeks per month. And I’m leaving out Monday, for obvious reasons. All lunar and planetary information will be noted in sidebars with little thumbnails of deep space. And the Bingo grid? No grid. Circles spiraling outward from the center of the page in a Fibonacci spiral and right off the page. Can’t play Bingo on that.

The text? Obviously, the hard part. How to impart time, space, poetry and human emotion in three or four narrative sentences? But October, for instance, would feature the bird I met hiking up a steep trail as the last leaves fell to the ground. I’m breathing hard in the still air when suddenly I hear a Camp Robber swoosh past and up and then land in a tree. Admiring its grace, its perch, and without thinking I say “Hi,” and keep marching. Six or seven steps later, I hear “Hi” repeated back, same inflection, same tone. I peel around just as is its wings have begun to flap. In a flash it’s gone. I feel my place on the planet, frozen as things whirl around me.

Time is the present, nothing behind, nothing in front. It is a window on eternity, which we cannot grasp. It is deep rather than long, folds over itself like a burrito, bends in the light, slips through our fingers but lodges itself in our cells, our minds, our time-traveling souls. That is what the Camp Robber told me.

For other bird secrets, see me — the calendar isn’t available yet.

Holiday Shenanigans

Telluride Daily Planet, Monday, December 7, 2009

Dear Santa,

I’m worried, favorite superhero of mine. Because yesterday when I flashed on your face — which I do quite often during the holidays — my mind’s eye went directly to your mustache, and sure, it was white all right, but in place of those infamous soft whiskers was a handle-bar polycarbonate swirl from pre-Pixar days. It was plastic!

And as the mind’s-eye cam panned, the rest of you came into focus, and it was all red, white and black polymers as well, and some of the belly paint was chipping off revealing a bare-bulb light source (?!) beneath. That was when I realized you’d become one of those three-foot light-up Santas, a front yard escapee, dragging a cord and power strip behind you.

What kind of mixed metaphor would you call that, when Santa (you), who looks a lot like Freud (or vice-versa), wanders off dragging his disconnected source of power behind him? Well. Anyway. Even though it’s been about 42 years since my last letter to the now melting polar ice cap, I’m compelled, at this point, to write. Make you real again. In my mind’s eye.

Let’s see, where to begin. Well, first of all, I mean, wow, you’re a survivor. I think part of the reason you really are a superhero and not just quasi is that you’ve endured all manner of brutish assaults on your dignity, identity, and place in history. You’ve been in beer commercials and flamingo parades and cast as countless drunks in red fat suits. You’ve even survived being a character in actual superhero comic books, which you probably even had to drag down chimneys and deliver at some point — which must have felt like being in an Escher drawing or a Borges short story. By the way, do you read fiction or nonfiction, or is there no distinction where you’re from?

I guess one could argue at least we haven’t forgotten you, however perverted our focus. You continue to spawn novelties year after year after year, from mugs, acrylic sweaters, and doormats to corn-syrup confections, screen savers, and giant light contraptions hoisted onto house fronts. I mean, you name it. Personally I think it should be your face on a brand new nickel: you’ve influenced more people than any buffalo, and you seem to be just as much in danger of extinction.

Hey, remember my father? Resolutely opposed to anything remotely smacking of what he felt was the willful suspension of disbelief? Remember that spindly seven-foot Christmas tree we bought every year for $1.99 — that he’d immediately cart to his workshop and reconfigure by drilling holes into the trunk and sticking other branches into until the illusion was one of perfection? Do you remember me lying under that tree, staring up at the little gazebo-shaped ornaments with propellers that twirled if you placed them directly above the old-fashioned lights? Can you feel me lying there, willing you into my heart?

Though superhero historians might lump you in with the Rider archetype (mounted upon either powerful vehicle or animal, or, in your case, both), I continue to see you more as a Mentalist, gifted also with superpsychic empathy. Deconstructionists might continue to argue that you are the anthropomorphized version of the amanita muscaria mushroom, the polka dot red and white one that humans ingest in order to see men and reindeer fly across the dark void. But we both know — obviously, right? — that children see this (you) without chemical alteration of any kind.

A couple of years ago, I saw something that made me feel like you made me feel long ago. I was in our little Town Park, schussing along quietly on my cross-country skis, on one the outer loops, not far from the river. I looked up and saw a lynx and her two cubs about 20 feet away. Luxuriant white-furred bodies, long legs, and fringed feet. They were punching through the deep snow silently, calmly, utterly at peace with their surroundings and my presence, which did not disturb one fiber of the quantum field. They stopped and we all stood there, deep inside the magic and beauty of the world. So in the spirit of this letter, I’m asking for the lynx metaphor this year. That feeling. The same one from under the tree.

In parting, I’d like to thank you for tirelessly saving humankind year after year, even amidst all our ruthless consumer shenanigans. People don’t realize how important it is that that children grow up believing in belief. We forget that children are holding the world up and that you are one of the pantheon of spirits in turn holding them up.

Thanks for doing all that. Here’s what I promise to do in return: I’m going to turn Sigmund Freud’s mustache to plastic — in my mind’s eye — and you back to jolly old flesh and blood. Should be good for both of us.