Lines and Squares 2: Curved

Pattern of pale gray square tiles. Text: Something for Sunday; October 13, 2019; Lines and Squares , Part 2: CurvedBecky B runs a photo challenge four times a year for a whole month. In the Squares Challenge, people post an image for each day that meet two criteria; they are based on the month’s prompt, and their format is square. This October, the prompt is Lines. I’ve chosen to bundle my images into four batches and post one batch each Sunday in October.

This batch of images features curved lines. Click an image to navigate through the gallery. Enjoy!


My Fling With Spring: Some Recent Images

I love spring. Where I live, in Western New York, the winters and long and cold and gray. To get through them I hunker down and hang on, waiting for spring. Suddenly, in May, the world is waking up, bursting with life, and sometimes just plain showing off. I feel like my lungs can expand for the first time in months.

This post has no deep meaning or complex message. It’s just a collection of photos I’ve snapped in the last week, celebrating signs of spring around me. You can click through the images to see the whole gallery. Enjoy!

Careful! #photochallenge


Can’t you just hear him thinking that?

I took this photo about 30 years ago to document my son’s first haircut. It was one of the thousands of photos we took of him in his first few years. It reminds me of how careful we were with his tiny, tender life. He was our first child, one who came along after several years of trying and crying and medical interventions, and there was nothing, NOTHING, more important than his safety.

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The Lost Lamp: Life Gets in the Way #photochallenge

LampThe post lamp out by our front walk is drowning in plants.I had to take this shot from the second story just so it was visible at all. And you know what? The guiding light that’s been driving my writing is similarly buried in the thriving plants of the rest of my life. Here’s why this is okay for now, and how I plan to get back on the creative path.

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What the Creepy Faucet Face Tells Us About Ourselves #photochallenge

FaucetFaceDo you see the creepy face here? With its malevolent slanting eyebrows and its ominous pursed mouth? I’ll bet you do. And that’s something called pareidolia: the tendency to see patterns, especially faces, where the stimulus is random or accidental.

This tendency is behind all kinds of things, from the imaginary face on Mars to the toasted-cheese Virgin Mary. As a cognitive scientist, I’ve been fascinated by pareidolia for years, and have a personal collection of over 200 images with accidental faces in them, including this faucet photo I took last weekend in a public restroom. Why do we see images so easily, and why are faces the most common? How does this tendency help and hinder us in our daily lives?

Humans are great pattern detectors. It’s one of the things we do best: we notice patterns in what we see, hear, feel, or experience in any way. You could say that our pattern detectors are cranked up to 11. We are especially good at spotting faces, starting from the first few days of life. As soon as babies get any control over their eyes, they seek out faces, and, according to this Stanford research, by the age of four months their brains are processing faces at nearly adult levels while they still have a hard time telling other basic shapes apart. It’s kind of like that Facebook photo process that outlines faces and asks you to tag them. It’s always scanning images for faces, just like we do, which can lead to some pretty hilarious examples of artificial pareidolia. There’s good evidence that there’s a specific part of the brain in the temporal lobe that’s specialized for recognizing faces, called the fusiform face area. So, yeah, when we say we’re wired to see faces, it’s really true.

How does this tendency help or hurt us? One theory is that it is an evolutionary advantage to note that the play of the light, the movement of the grasses, and the sounds in the dark are similar to what I noticed when a tiger took out my buddy last week, so let’s get out of here. If the similarity detector is cranked up too high I might think there’s a tiger when there isn’t one, but that’s the safe mistake to make, much better than not recognizing tiger signs when it’s really there. If we see archers and bears in the random arrangement of stars in the night sky, what harm does that do? It’s the same talent that allows us to see the nearly-invisible tracks that lead us to our prey. The problems happen when we become too invested in the reality of imaginary patterns. No, the Martians did not carve a mountain into the semblance of a human face, and no, the three people on my street who all had different forms of cancer doesn’t prove that there’s a serious environmental disaster here. Children get lots of (extremely valuable) vaccinations in their first few years, and sometimes they get sick. We see a pattern there, and people may cling to belief in that pattern even when it’s not real. (No, people, vaccinations do not cause autism.) It’s just a case of seeing a pattern that’s not there, a creepy face in a bathroom faucet. Pareidolia

I didn’t think this post had anything to do with writing, but of course it does. Readers will find any pattern that’s even hinted at (pareidolia!) and then feel cheated if the pattern isn’t fulfilled. The main character just paid for his latte with exact change? Hmmm, wonder what that’s about. Oh, look, he also had the right change for the parking meter. Maybe it’s a sign that he’s an overly-compulsive planner who made sure before he left the house he had exactly the change he would need. Or perhaps he has a magic purse that provides just the money he reaches for. The reader is now investing energy in tracking that pattern to fruition. This can be considered a corollary to the law of Chekhov’s gun; nothing should ever be inserted in fiction that isn’t needed. Unnecessary bits and pieces just spark patterns that leave readers frustrated when they don’t pan out.

Pareidolia. Love it. Respect it. Use it. Beware of it. Learn from it. And when you see a face in the clouds, just enjoy what it’s telling you about your amazing pattern-recognizing brain.

In response to The Daily Post’s weekly photo challenge: “Creepy.”

How Does Your Garden Grow?


In response to The Daily Post’s weekly photo challenge: “ROY G. BIV.”

RoyGBivThe photo challenge this week was to post a photo that contains all the colors of the rainbow. Here’s my own ironic contribution.

Of course, a rainbow actually includes all possible colors of visible light, but traditionally they are divided into seven colors (just because seven is a mystical number), and named Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, and Violet (Roy G. Biv). So the challenge is to post a photo containing all the colors, or a collage with one photo representing each color. That’s the option I chose.

Why is this image so ironic? I am a terrible gardener. None of these plants are actually mine. There are no live plants in my house, because they would be doomed moments after I bring them home. The landscaping outside is all hardy perennials that survive being ignored: I don’t spray, I don’t lift or replant or even deadhead flowers. I pay someone once a year to come weed the beds, put down mulch, and prune. The rest of the time, they’re on their own.

It used to bother me that I’m so bad at this. Other people talk about how much satisfaction they get from gardening, and their beautiful gardens show it. Why can’t I do that? But I’ve come to accept that it’s just not my gift. I have helped to raise two healthy, happy kids. I help make music that brings joy to others. I can create and deliver awesome college courses. I can post things on this blog. And, if I keep to my plan (I will! I will!), I will create an entire novel that people want to read.

So, from a cheerful flower image to something more important we all should remember. Don’t worry about what you can’t do. Focus on what you can do, and do that. To quote Edward Everett Hale: I am only one, but I am one. I can’t do everything, but I can do something.