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Monday
Mar092015

The Man-Hatter

Flood

Over the past year, I have written forty-two essays under the sweeping title of “The Ambler.” In these essays, I sought to comment on what I saw and experienced. I sought to prove man needs neither mountain nor sea to observe beauty; I sought to prove the common truths of life could be observed in the mundane, the typical; I sought to prove a mere amble down the lane can be as adventurous as a hike up a mountain, one only need view himself as an ant. Whether I turned out to be a successful Ambler, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, you, dear reader, must decide.

Those who have read the Ambler know that, while it concerned local places, events, and people, it remained, for the most part, an anonymous series. As I gaze out into the future, and observe my writing, I realize this must change. While I aspire to continue composing an essay a week (here the reader groans!), I will forego anonymity. And my series will be on Manhattan.

About six months ago, I approached the local newspaper with a column idea. The idea was to write one short essay a week on some overlooked aspect of Manhattan; the idea was, in short, to show that Manhattan was more than Aggieville and Fake Patty’s Day, the most wretched day of the year. The idea was rejected, but it was not murdered. It resides here, in the following weekly posts. In these posts I will, much like the Amblers, reflect on some obscure local place or phenomenon and promote it.

I will seek to accomplish the same thing my Amblers sought, but from a different vantage point. Instead of commenting on the amble, I wish to comment on the ambler; instead of commenting on the musings and philosophies within the ambler, I wish to comment on the ground underneath the ambler. Instead of showing how a mere amble down the lane is an adventure, I wish to show how the lane and the light post have their own peculiarities. And by promoting my own town, I hope I promote your own.

*****

Now, some readers may be wondering how such a series could possibly be interesting; others may wonder why anyone would care. For this I give two reasons.

First, my generation lives too globally. We are too concerned about what happens across the sea and neglect what happens across the street. We spend our days shaking our fists at presidents and prime ministers, and we cannot name mayors. We gather around to watch teams from different cities we will never visit, and never think twice to support our own. We will rather pay a little more and support mainstream restaurants and retail stores and never experience the local pubs and shops. We live this way, and then before we know it, we leave.

Lest I be misunderstood, we should not live in such a way that is ignorant of the world. There is certainly nothing wrong with being aware of global news or shopping at mainstream shops. There is something wrong with being globally aware and not inwardly reflective. A man should read the news not to show up his neighbors with his knowledge about the president; he should read the news, and he should decide that the very last thing he wants is for his neighbor to be like the president. We ought to see globally in order to change our world locally.

But the sad fact is that our world is becoming more global. Every year Manhattan, Kansas has their “local” Fake Patty’s Day, which will take place next Saturday. This day probably starts with good intentions; it ends in disaster. People travel from distances to this lovely town to drink beer they could just as easily get at their own local shops. They drink Bud Light or Keystone Light all day, and then the travel back from whence they came (would they stay and never return!). It’s a pathetic day where pathetic undergrads drink pathetic beer. If every person came to this town to drink the local Tallgrass brew, it would make sense. If every person came to experience Manhattan, there would be a point in coming to Manhattan.

And that to me is a shame. When I was a child, I wanted to eat at McDonalds when I went on vacation. Now that I have some sense, I want to eat at the local spots and drink the local brew. I now see that traveling is utterly pointless if one does not try to experience the town as the locals experience it. You do not truly know a town until you have lived in it, and if traveling is only an attempt to “see what their McDonalds are like,” a man may as well sit at home and watch T.V.

*****

And this leads to my second reason for writing on Manhattan. It seems that after seven years, I will be leaving Kansas. In the past fourteen years, I have yet to live in a town consecutively for more than three years. In this, I have learned a couple of things.

You mainly remember the good in a town after you leave it. I did not enjoy my two years in Clarksville, Iowa; yet I cannot seem to reflect on the town with much negativity. I certainly won’t forget my last week, when the Shell Rock River overflowed and Ely St. was underwater. I won’t forget how the town of 1400 came together to help out families who lost most of their possessions. We ate as a town in the school cafeteria. My room was underwater, and as I left for a trip to Africa, with a small portmanteau by my side, I said goodbye to the town, not thinking it would afford such memories.

In five months I will likely be moving to Las Vegas, though there is a very slight chance I will move to Toronto. The hope in the following months is to live more locally that I ever have. The hope is to drink nothing but local Kansas or Kansas City beer; the hope is to eat at local restaurants and support local business.

There is always the temptation for the transient to live too much in the future. The temptation is to be excited and ready for the adventures that await. Man should not be a pessimist about the future; he ought to be an optimist. Yet man should not be so optimistic that he forgets his current place in life. He should not neglect this life simply because a better one awaits him after death.

The following posts in the next five months will seek to inform my readers on some aspect of Manhattan or Kansas. Like Zebulon Pike and John C. Fremont, I hope to see Manhattan in the final five months as I did in the first five months, making discoveries of things I’ve already discovered. Las Vegas may have its bright lights and shows; it will not have Chef’s Diner or Tuttle Creek. I certainly will not be drinking Tallgrass there, for I suspect whether they even have grass in the desert.

Sam Snow, theficklefarce.com
Written at The Ole Midshipman,
March 1, 2015

Painting: "A Flood in South Street, Worthing."
Unknown Artist,
Oil on canvas, 1877

Saturday
Mar072015

The Main Event

THE MAIN EVENT

If you've ever seen Rocky, you'll know
what a pile of student papers does
to the psyche. Piled manila folders,
each with its own jutting tab
displaying a name. They don't strike
in a bludgeoning fury, a looping hook,
a compact, straight right to the chin,
not like Tyson or Foreman. Each feels
flipped out into the face, like those jabs
flashed out of Creed's arm, a constant mash
of fist and fitted glove to eyes, lips, nose,
or even past the exterior, in the skull,
jostling the brain's spongy pink. A reminder,
like dripped plinks from a faucet, a valve
you can't turn off.

My trainer wrapped my hands though, with benchmarks
and a rubric, hanged a grammar speed bag
in my office, drafted other TAs
for calibration spars. These documents drop
by attrition, pummel a gradual slouch
over the desk, a loosening of the pencil
from its primed, cocked position in the thumb's bend.
Seasoned fighters will tell you—how to go
not fifteen rounds, but forty-four,
thirty minutes each. They'll suggest
you use the ropes: Save the A students for last.
Sometimes I wish I could stumble

into my corner, flop down
on a stool, towel around my neck
to soak up the blood, the sweat, the ink,
my critical eye swollen shut. With luck,
Mick will be there, razor blade in hand.
He'll draw a horizontal grade
across my lid, fluid draining down my face,
and I'll see, I'll stand again.

Bryn Homuth
Composed on a half-remembered night
While combatting the dark of an instructor's fright.
2013

Image:
"Boxers"
Oil on Canvas - Date Unknown
Jadwiga Umi?ska 

Wednesday
Mar042015

A Better Way to Text (An Example)

Over a year ago, two of my friends and I solemnly resolved to text each other only in rhyming couplets in order to make the mundane task of texting more lively, thoughtful, creative, and edifying. You can find an early chronicle of our efforts here but certainly not here.

We have kept our solemn oath for a year and will continue to keep it. We, in our turn, have been richly rewarded with texts we actually enjoy returning to and reading. I now provide an example below of a conversation—lightly edited—between Bryn Homuth and myself just a few weeks ago to show the superiority of limiting one's texts to a set form. 

The gray bubbles are Bryn's. The blue bubbles are mine.

R. Eric Tippin
"The Catacombs," Kansas State University
March 4, 2015 

Tuesday
Feb102015

Ambler, No. 42 [On Tripping]

He who thus ordereth the Purposes of this Life, will never be far from the next; and is in some manner already in it, by an happy Conformity, and close Apprehension of it. — Sir Thomas Browne

NT; (c) Stourhead; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

The sun, with its rosy fingers, sank and spread across the horizon, as I walked a wood path with my companion. A multi-colored hue shot out behind leafless trees, as we spotted herons, perched like mighty emperors on rocks jutting out across the pond. Geese could be heard squawking and increasing in volume as that shiny orb descended, and I imagined the herons growing in annoyance at the sound. And we walked out of trees and into the open, then seeing two others, a woman and large man, traversing in the opposite direction, toward the woods. Then, everything happened at once. The lady dawned a big smile and seemed about to say something when my phone rang. As I fumbled with the device, I noticed the large man begin to slowly stumble, and with the grace of a man who is inexperienced in falling, he tumbled with hands outward, losing hat and sandals in the process. His fall seemed to last three minutes, but I was too distracted with my call to pay too much attention, and by the time I hung up, my companion and I parted ways with the humbled man who had tripped over a root.

*****

When a man sits beside a pond with dying fire, the only other lights those of the heavens, he imagines the stars never appeared so close as at that moment. The constellations seem almost three-dimensional when no other lights impede our ability to view them. My companion and I recognized this, sitting by fire, smoking tobacco, and drinking local ale. Nothing was said for nigh ten minutes. Both men, boys when they stared at the sky, smoked and watched the embers of the fire give way, but said nothing. For nothing need be said. When two men, after making fire and eating food, sit to enjoy the labor of their hands, it is unnecessary to spoil the moment with words. Silence is often much louder than noise.

Geese could still be heard, growing in volume. Flocks flew in, over our heads, some from the direct north, others from northeast. And their squawking, and the flapping of their wings was all that could be heard. But like the fire, their noise split like the wood and was snuffed out until eventually only a few geese could be heard. Then shortly after the geese had gone to bed, our conversation resumed.

Having emptied our smoking-bowls, we stood up with our ales and stared out across the pond. A noise was heard within the trees, and my companion quickly flashed light in the direction. Silence. Then the ruffling again. Something was there. We waited, and again, the thing moved. But it never showed itself to us, and we returned to our log-benches.

*****

At some point during the evening, I took light and headed into the trees to gather kindle for the fire. As I left, I heard the knocking of a hatchet against wood, for my companion was splitting larger logs for the fire to feed on. The night was utterly dark, and I brought light. My light could either produce a small, focused beam, or, if one finagled with it, a large, round beam. I used the latter so to not miss potential kindle.

Again, few sounds could be heard. The night was darkening quickly, and only the geese and the leaves under my feet were audible, for I was away from the crackling fire. I found some limbs, and broke them free. Then I turned back, finding more adequate kindle, and breaking these, I listened to the “snap-snap” of the dead-wood. Then during the snapping, I heard a loud “Pop” followed by another in the distance. The noise was loud, like that of a gun-shot, and I quickly freed the limb I was working on and flashed my light in the direction of my companion who stood away from the fire that blazed as high as I had seen it that evening. Indeed, it was the fire that popped loudly enough to send the hairs on the back of my neck on end. But I was proud we had made such unruly fire.

*****

Dinner consisted of brats on bread with ketchup and dill pickles. The brat-grease fueled the fire, popping and sending sparks our way as we roasted them on small sticks. We ate greedily, as two men famished from exploration. And after the feast, I looked for water but found none.

“I must have left it in the car,” I explained.

And I headed back, with my light. At this moment, prior to my hunt for kindle, I had forgotten that my light could produce a large, round beam, and so I ventured, unwittingly using the smaller beam. I walked with no small difficulty along the shore, and I cut through vines when the bank grew too steep, getting my legs caught more than once. Then I was free. The road lay ahead of my light, and my car lay parked an the opposite side. Shining my light both west and then east, I crossed the road and neared the vehicle.

No water-bottle was in the car, for I searched the front, back, and trunk in vain. Dismayed, I then realized I may have lost it on a previous mis-adventure. And I began making apologies, for it was not my water-bottle but my companion’s.

With low-spirits I left the car, flashing the little light I had toward the road. Checking the east and west, I crossed. Then, I saw an object lying on the ground. The small beam my light created, perhaps two to three feet wide, fatefully—for I had no purpose in where I sent this light—fell on a small water-bottle. Indeed, it was my own. Grabbing it, I ventured back to the fire with joy.

*****

Shortly after we had watched the large man tumble and I concluded my phone call, we decided to make fire. We walked to the car to get supplies, and then headed toward the shore. Previously that evening, we had drunk local ale out on an island of sorts, and I left my companion momentarily to discard the cans properly, for man ought to clean up after himself.* With pack and stick, I ambled a ways off toward the garbage can where three or four young men stared at me in no small wonder as they got into a vehicle. As they drove off, I placed the cans in the trash, and feeling good and holy, I proceeded back the direction I had come.

I perceived the young men had been staring at me for my walking stick. And as I walked, I took pride in being so different from my tasteless generation. With chest puffed, I walked the walk of an explorer, gazing out at the sunset and the birds. I was dismayed to see the herons had flown off, for I had not time to get a good view with binoculars. But I was happy to see so many seagulls and geese. With no breeze hindering my way and warm air against my face, I embraced the serene setting and, though hungry, felt altogether jolly.

Then I neared the very spot where later I would discover my water-bottle. Currently, that bottle sat in a mesh, side pocket of my pack, but, like Gollum’s ring it would leave me.

Man does not perceive some things in life until after they happen. My face was in the ground, my hands were scraped, my stick was no help, my pride was broken, my water-bottle went flying, my head was bewildered. But I quickly arose, with help of my stick, and I walked as if nothing had happened. And as I walked I contemplated my state. Then I perceived that I had taken a fall, and I imagined the young men in the vehicle viewing such a fall. And feeling foolish, I slowly realized what small object had caused my fall and temporarily ended my grand amble. Indeed, it was a tiny root.

THE END

Sam Snow, theficklefarce.com
Written at The Ole Midshipman,
While listening to the morning birds,
Manhattan, KS
Sunday, February 8, 2014

Painting: "Campfire Scene by Moonlight"
By William Smith, 
Oil on canvas, 1750

____________________________

*For the record, I find it highly unclassy to drink beer out of a can. But this rule is thrown out when you are in the wilderness, and our local brew does not use bottles.

Friday
Feb062015

Nightcap


NIGHTCAP

I've invited Sleep out for a drink,
but here I am sitting alone at the bar,
looking at my watch, and I see
that Sleep is late, as usual,
whenever we make plans.
Always an advocate
for the spontaneous,
Sleep has no problem
making impromptu visits,
but something about the plan,
the careful selection of time,
puts him off. Tonight
I wish he and I had arrived together,
finishing our tall beers
at the same time—his light, mine dark
(I'm forever asking Sleep to try something dark),
gathering the tab in his fist
before I can even think about paying—
a practice to which I've grown accustomed.

Bryn Homuth
Manhattan, KS 2013 

Image:
"Automat"
Oil on Canvas - 1927
Edward Hopper