The Last Canyon


We were headed home from a week in southern Utah where we had spent many hours hiking and ohing and ahing at many canyons and formations.  We stopped to get gas and to grab a quick lunch at a sub and pizza shop.  As we were starting to eat, an unusual looking man came in and went to the counter to place his order.


Don’t look.

I’ve already seen it and I’m trying not to.


Oh, no. Now what’s he doing?

Jeez, how gross.

Has he finished ordering yet?

Now what?

He’s filling out a contest form?

Oh, ick. Hurry up. Can’t you write faster?

Oh good.  Here comes a cop. Maybe he’ll say something to him.

I can’t believe it.  He hasn’t said a thing to him. If that’s not indecent exposure….

He’s not going to do anything.  Probably doesn’t want to do the paperwork.

Or he doesn’t think anything of it.

Gross. Pull up your pants.


I don’t care if he hears me.  He’s the one who should be embarrassed.

Why do they do that? It can’t be comfortable having your ass hanging out like that. I can’t imagine a woman doing that and not caring.  Ever heard of working woman’s crack?

Yeah, they call it cleavage.

Oh, yeah. And guys break their necks to get a better view.  Can you imagine wanting a better view of that?


Oh, good.  He’s sitting down.


Can you imagine showing off your cleavage if it was covered with pimples and sprouting pubic hairs?

Please.  I’m trying to eat.

If cleavages looked like that, sexual harassment would come to a screeching halt.

No joke.

Well, I can tell you this.  I hope that’s the last canyon like that I see for a good long time.

Me too.

You finished?

Yeah, let’s go.




Though I wrote this piece several years ago, I think the questions are still timely.


            In an issue of the  New York Times, Fred Bernstein wrote about structural problems with one of the most recognizable buildings in this country, a house called Fallingwater. Built in 1936 by architect Frank Lloyd Wright, this structure does indeed perch over a water fall.  Surprisingly, both the house and water are enhanced by the placement, just as Wright intended.  Cantilevers thrust the house into space echoing the water as it changes levels over the rocks.  The effect is stunning.  The effect may end soon.

The house is in danger of succumbing to gravity and tumbling down the cliff just as the water does because of the shortsightedness of one of this century’s great visionaries. Wright’s prickly personality was well known. He hated to be told what to do to the point of being a contrarian. As a result of this sort of hubris, his masterpiece is in danger of becoming a pile of broken concrete at the bottom of the cliff it now leans over.  When the contractor who was building the house suggested that there was not enough steel in the structure to support the weight of the concrete, Wright had one of his artistic snits and threatened to quit.  Wright eventually got his way, or so he thought. Now nature is having hers, even though when Wright wasn’t around, the contractor sneaked twice as much steel into the structure as Wright called for.  Despite this secret shoring,  the concrete, which usually stabilizes in a year, continues to bend.  The cantilevers droop lower and lower.  Without buttressing the layers of flying concrete will eventually no longer be able to support themselves.

It is a temptation to consider the possibility that it was Wright’s plan that art imitate nature to the ultimate degree at Fallingwater.  That the structure would eventually follow the water as it seeks a lower level.  Such thinking requires a stretch, a large stretch.  A stretch which would have to account for other Wright design flaws like flat roofs that leak and furniture that is striking in situ, but horrible to sit upon.

As I read Bernstien’s article, I smirked at one comment a visitor made about Wright.  He said, “It’s surprising that as good an architect as Wright screwed up.” I thought to myself, “Humph, this guy expects him to be perfect.”  Yet, in thinking about Wright and composing this exercise, that’s exactly what I caught myself doing.  While I’m interested in Wright and his work, it is the problems with Fallingwater which caught and held my attention.

Like all those we admire and label “Great” or “Genius”, when we strip away the cloak of their achievements, we very likely find the inconsistencies and paradoxes the rest of us labor under. Why then, do we expect perfection in all aspects of their lives?  Why then do we gloat when we find their humanity? Perhaps the difference is that those whose achievements and lives rise above the rest, manage to disentangle themselves enough from the mundane to soar. Their genius is risk that succeeded.



Verbing and Nouning



I recently watched a New Yorker video featuring one of their copy editors, Mary Norris, who is also known as the Comma Queen.  She talked about the verbing of nouns a term which in itself breaks the rule of not using nouns as verbs.  This rule or dictum is enforced by the New Yorker in the case of some nouns such as impact.  She states that the New Yorker will not allow its authors to use impact as a verb. For example, I found this dictum about not verbing impacted my writing.

I’ve thought about the verbing of nouns some and have written about it some on other occasions.  My conclusion is that I don’t like it, but occasionally find myself using the bastard words.

I am all in favor of keeping the English language alive, but I see little need to take the lazy way out which is what I think much verbing is.

Let’s look at one of the examples Mary uses:  She suggests that writing something impacted you is a less satisfactory way of saying something had an impact on you.  I agree.  Verbed nouns grate on my ears much as the word “moist” does on other ears.  Accessorize, prioritize, federalize, incentivize.  Ewww.

I’m trying to think of an example of an acceptable mutation.  Hmm, I wonder if mutate is a verbing of mutation.  There, maybe I thought of one word that might be acceptable,  since to mutate is to make a specific kind of change.

Uh oh.

I looked both words up.  Turns out mutation is the nouning of the verb, mutate.  Oh no.   whole new group of words to examine for okayness.  This is going to keep me busy for quite a while.


I’ve come to the conclusion that if we didn’t noun verbs, our language would become cumbersome, indeed.  For example, a runner is a person who runs.  It’s a lot easier just to noun that verb rather than affix the clause, “a person who…” does whatever,” ad inifinitum.

While this usage seems perfectly acceptable to me, I still cringe at the verbing of nouns.

As Whitman wrote, “Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.” $133.42




Sometimes events converge the way I would plan them. This year my iris bloomed on Mother’s Day.  I cut a big bunch and took them up to put on my mother’s grave.

My mother was a passive woman.  She fought very few open battles against my father, as he from the patriarchal seat of absolute authority issued the orders with which he ruled our family life.  However, there was one battle Mother waged and won.  The battle was over two bushel baskets of iris bulbs.

In the summer of 1951 my father changed jobs.  Our family was transplanted from Alabama to Idaho.  My parents purchased a tract house, one of a row that had been plopped down on the bare spots created when bulldozers scraped off the layer of sparse vegetation which grew in that high, dry latitude. Going from lush Alabama to the near desert of Pocatello was horticultural shock of a kind my mother did not intend to tolerate for long.  Iris were her favorite flowers.  She determined to take two bushels of bulbs along with us to plant despite my father’s hard habit of throwing out anything for which he could not see an immediate and pressing need.  He declared that taking those bulbs was ridiculous.  It was stupid, a waste of space in the moving van.  She didn’t even know if they would grow in Idaho.  He scowled his most frightening scowl.  The thunderheads of anger at having his will thwarted loomed over our family.  We all took cover except for Mother, who for once, held her ground.  We were amazed when she won.  The bulbs went to Idaho where they flourished in a thick braid the length of the back of our house.  We children delighted in them, too.  They were a sign that some battles against our father’s intransigence could be won.

It seemed that there were iris each place we moved after that.  It was taken for granted there would be.  If there were none growing when we came, then some were planted.  They were tacit reminders of her victory, like flags taken in battle.

I have continued her custom of planting iris wherever I live.  I have done it because I like them and because they remind me of her.  Here in Kansas, I learned, iris are often called flags.  Here in Kansas, I have fought my own battles.

I felt a smug immunity when I turned forty.  There would be no mid-life crisis for me, then I stumbled over my hubris and began a free fall into despair.  During the four years it took me to climb out of that dark pit, I sought help.  Twice I came away no better.  I hoped the third time would be different.  I had interviewed a therapist over the phone.  I told her my situation.  She said she thought she could help.  I had my doubts, but I got in my car and drove the 100 miles to her office to give her a try.  She met me at the front desk after I had filled out the forms.  We chatted as we walked down the long, carpeted halls to her office.  I follow her in and looked around.  “You like iris,” I said.

“Yes,” she laughed.  For, you see, iris where everywhere.  Her office was a veritable garden of things with iris on them. There were pictures and pillows, plaques and a throw. Small sculptures and ornaments covered the tables.  There were iris on things I’d never thought of putting flowers on.

Surrounded by these battle flags, I knew this time would be different.