Wednesday, August 19, 2015

I've Been Busy…

Denver has a new bookstore.

          K has always wanted to have his own business.

          Now he does.

          He and his youngest, B, opened a bookstore and coffee shop in Denver's LoDo late last year. You should stop in. The coffee is delicious and local, from Corvus Coffee, the pastries are delicious and local, from Cake Crumbs, the sodas are delicious and local, from Backyard Soda, and the books are delicious (some of them are local, too).

          Here's the vital information: City Stacks Books & Coffee, 1743 Wazee St., Denver, CO 80202. Phone is 303.297.1440. Website is You can like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter, Instagram, and Google+

Plenty of good stuff to read.

Have a cuppa while you read a great book.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

I Am Charlie

    If you haven't heard, ten journalists and two police officers were murdered today in the Paris offices of Charlie Hebdo, a satirical weekly newspaper. (For the New York Times coverage, click here.)

     The people who were killed left behind families, friends, and colleagues who have had their lives torn apart because there are some in this world of woe who think committing murder is an acceptable response to having been offended. By cartoons.

     Hate is not an emotion I find useful, so I will say only this about the murderers: If you have to kill someone who draws pictures because those pictures offend you, you are admitting that the pictures won. You are admitting that your beliefs are so fragile that they cannot withstand the force of even a halfhearted snicker. You are telling the world that you are so weak that the existence of a few pen lines on paper will break you.

     Today, people were killed for drawing cartoons. This story is old enough now that I have read various statements along the lines of, "Well, yes, it's terrible to kill people, but Charlie Hebdo was tasteless and provocative and offensive." The implied conclusion is that if your work is tasteless and provocative and offensive, perhaps you deserve to be killed.

     Here's my problem with that reasoning: I draw things, too. I write essays that sometimes make fun of things in the name of providing some small entertainment to my readers. I don't believe my work is tasteless, provocative, or offensive—but where is that line to be drawn? Does the cat fancier who objects to my simplified depiction of felines get to open fire on me because my drawings are not photo-realistic? Does TSA, of whom I adore to make fun because they engage in satire-worthy behavior every single time I have the distinct displeasure of standing in an airport security line, get to pull me out of said security line and execute me merely because I have pointed out that banning pocket knives in the wake of a bombing is faulty logic?

     Let's establish a ground rule here, kids: We don't kill people who offend us.

     It is rude and uncivilized.

     It is also ineffective. How many people had heard of Charlie Hebdo yesterday? Its circulation is about 45,000, I assume mostly in France. Numbers of demonstrators are hard to come by, but demonstrations in support of Charlie Hebdo have been held in France, Europe, North and South America—even Egypt. (Click here for a map of demonstrations worldwide). I'd say that thousands more people know about Charlie Hebdo today, showing that the people who committed murder in cold blood because some cartoons offended them actually spread those "offensive" cartoons farther and wider than Charlie Hebdo ever could have. Well done, terrorist dudes!

     Today, Je suis Charlie. I am Charlie. Tomorrow I will be Charlie. And the day after, and the day after that. I will continue to make the art that I make without stopping to worry that someone somewhere, will be offended by it. I will continue to notice humor where it is, even though it might be tasteless to say so. I will continue to believe that being provocative should not be a death sentence.

     I will also be offended by many things as I go along, because there are oh so many things in the world to be offended by. But here is the important bit: I will not murder anybody about it.

     Charlie Hebdo published a cover a couple of years ago in another context. Typically, it is a bit crude. It pushes the envelope. It also says the single most important thing I can think of to say now, or any time. "Love: Stronger Than Hate."


Thursday, July 17, 2014

Make a Difference

This handsome fellow is made of scavenged lumber,
chicken wire, and Tyvek. He is the work of Katherine Settle,
a gifted artist and writer.

          My goal for this blog has always been simply to write essays that entertain people.

          However, today I'm going to do something that is pretty much the definition of the opposite of entertaining.

          I'm going to ask you for money.

          I have a friend—Katherine Settle, the artist who made the buffalo above—who works hard, is a great artist as well as a wonderful writer, and is unfailingly generous and kind. She's taught me to be a better writer and a better person. She is also divorced, with a kid, in rural Kansas, and she's struggling financially.

          She works as a university Teaching Assistant, a job which pays a little above the minimum wage. She sells her art work in a local gallery. She prioritizes the emergencies that seem to visit people with little money so very regularly. She scrambles to make it all work. But, as anyone knows who has ever tried to make a slender paycheck stretch all the way to the end of the month, those emergencies keep happening, and she's tapped out.

          She needs our help. Please, go to her page and make a donation.

          If you love the arts and want to make a real difference in an artist's life, please make a donation to Katherine.
          If you looked at the buffalo pictured above and said to yourself, "Wowza, what a great buffalo!" please make a donation to Katherine.
          If you're an avid reader, and want to make sure that the voice of a wonderful writer is heard, please make a donation to Katherine.
          If you remember the days when you struggled to make ends meet, please make a donation to Katherine.
          If you've been a single parent, please make a donation to Katherine.
          If you've ever had to forgo medical care because you couldn't afford it, please make a donation to Katherine.
          If you've had to jerry-rig a house repair because you couldn't afford it, please make a donation to Katherine.
          If you've ever looked at your elderly car and prayed, "Please don't die today," please make a donation to Katherine.
          If you've ever had a student loan to pay off, please make a donation to Katherine.
          If you've ever been the recipient of an act of kindness you weren't expecting, please make a donation to Katherine.
          If you've ever wanted to make a difference right here right now, please make a donation to Katherine.
          If you've ever enjoyed something I've written on this blog, please make a donation to Katherine.

          Thank you for making a difference in the life of my friend.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Summer Fun, According to K

          K's idea of a fun family project is anything that requires Digging Holes* and Lifting Heavy Things. Thus, last week's Fun family Project was a five-foot-tall Maximum Security Compost Bin that was, in K's opinion, both refreshingly heavy to lift and deliciously awkward to move into place. Unfortunately, no digging was required.

There is no escape for you now, compost!

          K rectified that tragic oversight with this week's Fun Family Project: a brick pad next to the back gate for the compost tumblers (we love our compost chez BanksWrites). Not only were there heavy things to lift (bricks! sand!), but there was also a hole to be dug in clay soil.

Precision digging skills were required.

          I discovered, while shifting bags of sand to their final destination**, that I can still hoist 50 pounds and carry it around. This surprised me, since I have long since given up the sport of my youth—throwing a 50-lb. sack of chicken feed on my shoulder and walking it up the hill to the chicken coop—for more sensible activities, none of which require horsing around 50-lb. bags of anything.***

          At a certain point in the laying of the brick, it became clear that this project was going to require the application of power tools.

          Now in both K's and my minds, the one thing that can turn a Fun Family Project into a Fabulous Family Project is the application of power tools. (It was how K lured me into helping him build the Maximum Security Compost Bin. "You can use the circular saw, Nancy!" he told me. "And the cordless drill! And the electric staple gun!" I was putty in his hands.)

          "We need to cut some bricks into smaller pieces for the edges," K told me. "It's too bad we don't have a tile saw."

          "Oh, but we do have a tile saw," I said. Several years ago, during the kitchen remodel on our previous house, I'd seen one of the crew use a portable tile saw and had become convinced that no well-managed household or art studio should be without one. And so I hied me to Home Depot and acquired one.

          K was awe-struck by my prescience. (This does not happen as often as I believe it should.) We located the tile saw, fired it up, and in no time at all the Fabulous Family Project was a Finished Family Project.

A perfect project—the finished brick pad does just exactly what it's supposed to do.
And power tools were required to make it.
*Preferably in heavy clay or stony soil.
**Filling the precision-dug hole so we could set the brick in it.
**Back in the day, I had not yet read the memo discussing the invention of an exciting new device—the wheel—and outlining its usefulness in the shifting of heavy items over long distances.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

In Memoriam, Telephone Version

          K's older brother, C, is a man of sentiment who has put no little effort into cultivating an irascible persona in order to prevent anyone from knowing what a softy he is. He's a gooey caramel center, if you will, wrapped in 40-grit sandpaper.*

          C still misses his parents, who died several years ago. So much so, that he has turned every mundane household item that he and his wife took when K and his brothers cleaned out their parents' house into a memorial. There are memorial dishes, memorial furniture, memorial cocktail glasses, and so on. None of these items are in any way rare or valuable, but for C, they resonate with memories of his parents.

          Perhaps the oddest memorial item C and his long-suffering wife have, though, is the Memorial Telephone Number.

          C transferred his parents' old land-line phone number into his name.

          This is not what I would call completely sensible behavior, frankly. Both my brother- and sister-in-law have cell phones with non-memorial numbers, which are their primary contact phones. Neither of them use the land line that carries the Memorial Telephone Number. No one places calls from the Memorial Telephone Number; no one answers the calls that come to the Memorial Telephone Number. A Memorial Answering Machine answers the Memorial Telephone when a robo-caller punches the sacred digits of the Memorial Telephone Number.

Hello? Is anybody there?

          There is a certain amount existential absurdity in a phone that no human answers taking calls that no human generates, and I pointed this out to my brother-in-law. No no, he told me; that is its exact function.

          It seems that my mother-in-law always told her children that if there were an afterlife, she would find some way to let them know. C is just making it easy for her to get in touch. She has only to dial her very own phone number and leave a message for him.

Assuming, of course, that the afterlife is provided with telephones.

*He also dislikes metaphor, so naturally I worked rather hard to build one for him so he will know I care enough to go out of my way to irritate him.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Magic Needle

          If I want to amaze and mystify my sons, all I have to do is mend an item for them. They can't get over the fact that I can snatch dustbin-bound items out of the waste stream and turn them useful again by the simple expedient of threading a needle and placing some stitches. It is magical to them that an article whose life was finished can be resurrected by someone skilled in the Dark Arts of darning.

Where the magic starts, according to my sons.
          I've been mending since I was old enough to steer a threaded needle through cloth, and this is the first time mending has ever been cool. I've always thought of it as one of those skills that helped make a well-ordered life, and I enjoy it as kind of a guilty pleasure, because frankly, tell someone you find a little hand-sewing of an evening relaxing and meditative, and they will forever after think of you as some sort of undercover Mennonite, and they will avoid you in all social situations, afraid that small talk will only encourage you to share your disturbing proclivities in technicolor detail.

Really, it's just a bit of simple stitching and needle-weaving. I promise I won't proselytize you
about it.
          But thank you growing interest in sustainability, and also thank you urban homesteading (even though I will not cease to mock you, because really—clotheslines?). You have made mending cool for the first time in the history of ever, and there is some very entertaining and thoughtful work (of both the mending and the writing sort) being done on this humble but necessary subject.

          I'm currently loving the blog posts and tweets from one Tom of Holland (AKA Tom van Deijnen), whose Visible Mending Programme is a way to subvert the usual idea of mending, which is patching something as invisibly as possible, and instead to bring the mend front and center, celebrating the act of mending, and turning the mend into something worthy of paying attention to.

A perfectly capable mend. In other days, I would have stopped here.

          I think this is a lovely idea, both in terms of bringing into focus an invisible yet important skill that few people (with the possible exception of my sons) think or care much about, and also because it amuses me deeply to take something necessary and useful and make it function also in a completely decorative manner. Architects, I've noticed, get paid very handsomely to do this.

A plain mend has turned into a cheerful sun, shining on the hem of my dish towel. It looks
a little like the pictographs you see in Native rock art, and this makes me very happy.

          My idea, of course, is that menders will eventually command great respect and a commensurate wage. I may have to wait a while for that to happen, but in the meantime, my mending basket waits.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Where I Went; What I Saw

          K and I were in New York City last week for Book Expo America, the book industry trade show. We went to seminars and learned stuff (I now have an "Essential Graphic Novels" reading list, even though I had previously suspected that the phrase was an oxymoron), walked a zillion miles on the trade show floor, talked to many different vendors, collected some keen freebies, and complained every evening about the sad state of our feet.

          We also learned what the Next Big Thing is going to be:

Food trucks? Meh. Book trucks? Too cool for school.

          We saw perplexing signage:

The sign in the school bus window says, "This vehicle has been checked for sleeping children."
Do crosstown commuters really care whether some child snoozes, forgotten, under the very last
seat of the school bus? Of course not. They're too busy honking at each others' questionable
driving skills.

             We ate exotic foods:

K's Scottish colleague with a plate of haggis (on the right), neeps (turnips), and tatties (potatoes).
Haggis, the Scottish national dish, consists of boiled chopped sheep innards mixed with oatmeal
and doused with scotch. This version was, to my great shock, completely edible.

          We took a ferry to Staten Island:

This is the view of the city you get as you're headed to Staten Island.

          And then we came back again:

And this is the view you get as you're headed back to the city from Staten Island after a lovely
dinner. Ferries are one of the best ways to travel.