Ten favorite blog posts of 2009

In chronological order. Links all taken from the Smorgasblog archives.

1. Alpaca Koolaid (Feathers of Hope)

I found myself in this funky yarn store in Woodland with a scary McCain truck outside and plastic lining on the windows looking for bulky cashmere for my mother’s birthday scarf but all they had was baby alpaca so I took it and ran away but the color wasn’t quite right so remembering you could dye yarn with Koolaid I dove into Safeway where I never go and where I won’t be recognized buying koolaid for god’s sake but I don’t even know what aisle it would be on is it with spices or sodas or even controlled substances…

2. The day the world changed (Real Live Preacher)

Suddenly I felt a spasm of raw emotion. My eyes filled with tears and my chest heaved. I managed to keep from bawling, but it felt like I was trying to swallow something the size of a golf ball. These girls were just like my daughters. This woman was like my wife. I play with the children at my church just like this monk plays with these children. My own life was presented to me in the forms of another culture by a smiling God who convicted me, tore me up inside, and forgave me all at the same time.

How can joy and sorrow be melded together in such a powerful way? I could hear the voice of God speaking to me, straight and direct, but also with love.

“You look a little shook up, Gordon. It hurts, doesn’t it, when you see the faces of the people you have been so quick to condemn? And yet, is it not also wonderful to see my other children, your brothers and sisters?”

3. Darwin Day (thinkBuddha.org)

How will I be celebrating Darwin Day? Not with diatribes against the willful and darkly strange obsessions of the Biblical literalists, nor with polemics or arguments. But by leaving my desk, and going outside where I can (now that I turn my mind to it) hear the wood-pigeon calling on the roof of the house opposite, and a dog barking some way off, so that I may experience that wonder of being here at all, amongst so many of my kin.

4. Odd Corners at the Opera House (box elder)

Of quite recent years I’ve acquired a charming nephew-in-law who has a gift with anything sparkly. This talent being recognised, he has recently come into the job of his dreams at the Royal Opera House in London, in the lighting department. He very kindly gave us a tour. I’d never been there before, and I was astonished how big it was, and how much he knew about it, after really quite a short time of working there.

He took us from top to bottom. We saw the Flying Dutchman’s ship being built, and a great room full of young dancers, long-eyed boys like fauns and slender girls like wood-nymphs, and much more besides.

We saw the stage being prepared for that evening’s performance. Something about watching, from above as an outsider, the stagehands going about their purpose in pools of light, while the decontextualised translated surtitles for the opera hung in the dark above them, was unsettlingly, mysteriously beautiful.

5. Vernophobia (Paula’s House of Toast)

I know what’s coming. Green will rish up through the thawed loam, through the leafmould, and surge through the limbs of trees, preparing to erupt. Then the wee fuzzy things, downy infant life, will crowd out the stiff, withered, gone-to-ground or toppling-over debris. Then look out for the throngs of humans — in shirtsleeves, shorts, convertibles; on rollerblades, bicycles, skateboards; wearing shades, billed caps, jogging shoes; and worse: in their new bathing suits. In their oiled skin. With their suntans. Playing volleyball. Frisbee. Tennis. The world becomes a beer ad, a Satyricon of inebriation and copulation. There is no place in such a world for an old woman muttering

I take pictures of weeds. Dead weeds.

6. Thirty Thoughts in Thirty Minutes (the cassandra pages)

My ancestors read poems: Tennyson, Longfellow, Sandburg, Frost; committed them to memory.

At twelve my great aunt gave me a blue-bound book of favourite poems she had written out by hand: a treasure.

Civil war poems, fairies in glens, Victorian love poems written out by a spinster school teacher who loved history, art, reading.

Have I done them justice, these gentle souls who taught me to think and look at a world slowly passing?

When I think of them, time almost holds still for us.

7. Of salt, in gray (Somewhere in NJ)

Today I thought about salt and how my life could be clean and simple if I reduce it all to salt; how I’ll be able to talk to someone without going from pure joy to silence. And touch someone without going from truth to concealment. Salt is the only thing that lasts here at the shore. It gets into everything, your hair, eyes, clothes.

8. Yates County (Coyote Crossing)

The car’s engine noise died off a quarter-mile down the road. The wind picked up a bit. Something odd flicked back and forth in a clump of teasel: a shed snake skin, tan and translucent, belly scale covers lenses magnifying the teasel stems.

That, as near as I can figure it, was the first time I noticed it happening. Whatever it was I’d been upset about was gone. A shed skin stuck in the weeds and I was rapt. An unexpected joy makes predictable annoyance fade in importance.

9. direct experience (slow reads)

Sammy was also genial — a slim, middle-aged man whose gait pointed up his feet and knees and elbows — but our conversations with him were equally limited. I remember only his responses to my aunt’s directives, remarks like, “Yessum, I’ll have that done by supper,” or “Yessum, over against the shed.” My youngest cousin, a bit younger than my brother and I, would always address Sammy as “Sammy-boy,” picking the habit up, I guess, from my uncle, and it didn’t seem to bother Sammy, or my uncle, one bit. I grew up addressing all adults by their title and surnames, but I never learned Sammy’s or Floe’s last names. I don’t think I addressed them as anything.

Besides his responses to my aunt, I remember only Sammy’s laughter. He’d laugh at most anything anyone said, laughing even when most people would have responded with words. His good-natured laughter seemed as deep as an empty well.

10. Paris: there will be no miracles here (Creature of the Shade)

It’s just an outdoor hallway, really. In one direction the explosion of light at the end blinds all else — a slice of a vast display on the walls of the Police headquarters across the Seine, 30-foot high images of happy police offiers in all their earnest diversity.

But the walls of the street itself are rich with artistic claims, some not even signed, like this clownish face claiming “La rue est à nous” — the street is ours. Unsure if this nous includes me, I can feel embraced and rejected in the same gesture, a consummate Parisian sensation.

13 Replies to “Ten favorite blog posts of 2009”

  1. That does it. I gotta start smorgasblogging too. But how on earth did you choose?

    Most of these, I remembered in the first sentence. Oh yeah! That one! :-)

    1. Let’s just say it was extremely subjective (though obviously not entirely subjective, if you remembered most of these too). The Smorgasblog archives did make it easier than it otherwise would’ve been, though, and I’m reasonably sure that if I did this again on a different day in a different mood, at least seven out of ten would be the same. One thing that made it simpler was restricting it to nonfiction posts, which I did in part because so many of the poems I’ve included in the Smorgasblog have now been removed or password-protected.

  2. Have you ever written about how you do the smorgasblog? I mean, your criteria for how often you do it and what you include and so forth? It feels very orderly to me, like you have a protocol you follow. I doubt I could be that orderly, but I’d be interested in it. (tho I understand not wanting to show people everything under the hood. That’s legit too.)

    1. It’s actually very haphazard, based on when I take time to catch up in Google Reader — and sometimes I never do entirely catch up, so I’m sure I miss lots of great stuff. Anything that makes me go “wow” is eligible, unless it’s too short to excerpt without including the whole post (which is part of the reason why I started Open Micro). I try not to include the same blog more than once every ten posts, which is how many appear in the sidebar at one time. This can make things difficult since bloggers often get on a roll and produce a string of good posts all at once — you are particularly good at that.

  3. Gosh, Dave… thanks for including me here. I feel like I haven’t been much “on a roll” of late, but the chance for a mention in your Smorgasblog is always something to shoot for.


    It’s a great feature, btw… I enjoy so many of the blogs you highlight there; ones I can’t follow as closely as I’d like to be able to.

    1. Oh, I’m glad to know you’re using it! I worry sometimes that I do the linked bloggers a disservice by not including Smorgasblog posts in the main column and in the main RSS feed, but I know if I did I’d lose readers — I tend not to keep up with blogs that publish more than once a day myself.

  4. A great collection of favorite posts, Dave. I enjoy following the excerpts on Smorgasblog too. Usually, I don’t have time to follow more than a handful of blogs, so it’s a joy to be able to click through and read the many terrific posts that appear in your sidebar.

    1. That’s good to hear! One of the best things about it of course is that it represents almost no additional work; I’m reading blogs anyway. I don’t know why more bloggers with the time to read fairly extensively don’t do something similar; it can be as easy as embedding a Google Reader clip or a Delicio.us feed.

  5. Smorgasblog is how I discover at least half of the new blogs I find. Because I’ve been so busy lately, it also serves as my feed reader — a very slow one, yes, but fast enough for my infrequent online presence. (I do poke around favorite sites without a reader, too, of course.) And Smorgasblog’s quality!

    My respect for your taste as well as the breadth of your online reading made me blush when I saw my post in your top ten.

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