Snowy, bright and cold this final day of 2013. I wish all my tumblr friends a great 2014, full of luck and health and goodness! Cheers!

To really understand how things are now you have to go back to how they were then. Before the rains came. Before the little kid jumped off the back roof thinking he could fly. Before any of the little spiders invaded the general store. No, it wasn’t some golden age of innocence, but it did have some things going for it: The little kid who slipped off the roof was still alive. There were no spiders in the general store. And, of course, it didn’t rain.

Shirley Rodgers. Shirley. Rodgers. That’s the gal who changed it all. And quite a gal she was. Tall brown hair, reddish face, the kind you could set your watch to. Not at all like the lady-folk today, the ones who can barely tune a pitch fork.

Anyway, this Shirley comes to town toting a barrel full of mud, which even for back then was unusual. She sets up in the middle of the town, right smack dab in the middle of the town square, and puts a sign on that great big bucket: “Mud. 50 cents a scoop.” Now I don’t have to tell you that 50 cents was a lot of money back then, especially for something which it seemed we all had in abundance, but you have to remember that this was before the rains and all.

It doesn’t take long before some people start asking Shirley questions, the firstmost being, of course,  Why should we buy mud from you at 50 cents a pop? Hell, for that money we could get two colas and an scoop of ice cream to boot! Most folk that blow into town selling something peculiar have this big schpiel, maybe even a shill or two for good measure. So everybody gets ready to hear her tell how this mud is the greatest mud in the world, that it can cure halitosis, red-eye, bad posture and an even a bad case of the ruminations.

But Shirley does nothing of the sort. She just stands there next to her big bucket of mud and answers the questions like every word costs her 50 cents multiplied by carrying distance of her voice, or says nothing at all. No patter, no Step Right Up, no I Bet You’ve Tried a Dozen Different Tire Patch Kits. No nothing. Pretty soon most of the folk that came up looking for a show walk away confused and disappointed. But a few stay. And before long one of them buys a scoop of mud.

Now this here is where the story really begins. Not with the rain or the spiders or the little kid who got pushed of the roof, or even with the moment when Shirley Rodgers dragged her tall hair and barrel of brown mud into town. It begins here with her first sale, to one Forest Graves.

Forest Graves took his scoop of mud home and put it on the counter. Plop. And there it sat for some time. Soon Forrest forgot about the mud and went about his business, which for Forest meant trying to toss red superballs into an old wine bottle, which proved to be harder than he thought as evidenced by they fact that he hadnt gotten one in yet. Most people thought he was too far away, but my own suspicion was that the balls he used were just too large to make it through the neck of that old bottle of wine he had.

At any rate he didn’t get any balls in that day, and as evening rolled in Forest got hungry and walked over to Molly’s for a hamburger, a cola, and some of those thick-greasy hand-cut fries that you can still get at Molly’s, though they cost a bit more these days. That night at the saloon Forest Graves met a woman, fell in love, and took her home that very night, which for Forest seemed more spectacular that if he had landed a queue ball into his old bottle of wine.

Next day everybody knew about Forest’s good luck. Mostly on account of it being a small town and you know how things go in a small town, but also because Forest went out and told everybody. Pretty soon people were talking about Forest’s good fortune and what might have occasioned it and they found out that the only, the one and only thing Forest had did differently that day was to buy a scoop of rich brown mud from the lady selling it in the town square for 50 cents a scoop, and plop it down on his kitchen counter.

Now some folks were skeptical about the connection between Forest’s good luck and the 50 cent blob of mud on his counter, but for others the confluence of events in and of itself was enough. They went out to the town square in search of the blessed mud that did so much for Forest.

That day Shirley Rodgers had her large wooden bucket of mud in front of her with a sign that said: “Mud. 1 dollar a scoop.” A 100 percent increase in just one day! But all those who came to the square to buy a scoop of mud bought one anyway, figuring that maybe Shirley Rodgers had a good thing and knew it. How else could you explain what happened to Forest or that she thought she could charge 1 dollar for a scoop of mud?

Each and every one of those folks who bought a scoop of mud went home and plopped it down on their counters, so as not to disturb the sequence or what might very well have been the critical step in the luck bringing process.

As you might imagine most ended up with nothing more than a dirty counter, and more than one had to deal with wives who weren’t too happy about the scoop of mud on their counters.

But one fella, Jack K. Riley, bowled a near-perfect game on that very night at Arrow Bowling Lanes, and the best he’d every done before was to bowl a 200, though on that night there were no witnesses and everyone suspected Jack K. was either exaggerating or that he scored the game wrong on account of his inability to add simple numbers or on account of his misunderstanding of how the last frame worked.

Next day even more people wanted mud, and even some of the people who had bought mud the previous day without any luck were back to try another round. And there Shirley Rodgers was in the middle of the town square in the middle of the town with her container of mud and a sign that said: “Mud. 2 dollars a scoop.”

Now even a dimwit like Walter, who nearly drowned in his bowl of French onion soup, could see where all this was going, with a rapidly diminishing bucket of mud and prices going higher and higher each day. Why it was simple supply and demand. Any fool could see the trend, and any fool could see that if you didn’t get yours now it would cost you twice as much tomorrow and might be all gone by Tuesday so you’d be best to buy now.

Mr. Anderson bought two. One scoop for himself, and the other one on speculation that once all the mud was gone people would be looking in vain for scoops of mud that hadn’t been plopped down on a counter yet and there he’d be sitting pretty with his virgin scoop of mud that everybody wanted.

And indeed, by the fourth day Shirley’s bucket was nearly empty and it had a sign next to it that said: “Mud. 4 dollars a scoop.” Which of course made those who got theirs at 1 or even 2 dollars a scoop feel pretty smug about their purchase. At the end of the day only scrapings were left, and the next day Shirley Rodgers and her once-full bucket of mud were gone, though it was all the town talked about until a week later when the rains came and the spiders invaded the general store and the little kid finally climbed down from the roof.

According to this graffiti, you miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take.

If Hall has a completion percentage of 75 + n – n^2 or zero, whichever is greater, and Oates has a completion percentage of 4*n, where n represents the n’th shot taken by that player, and a total of 25 shots will be taken, when should Hall stop shooting and pass the damn ball?

Beavers, gnawing at me night and day
Never giving me no time
To heal myself won’t go away
Slow down, I’m not gonna disappear
Unless you chew through all the way
That would be my greatest fear

All mediums of creative expression follow the same kind of cycles, broadly speaking. Pioneers explore some aspect of the medium, laying down the initial rules and setting the early templates. This is followed by a round of improvements and tweaks, where rules are adjusted and extended. Competition drives up quality, richness and complexity explode. Talented individuals and groups dominate their medium and begin to explore it’s edges, pushing boundaries and challenging audiences. Before long, burn out and fatigue sets in, especially among the creators. The conversation turns inward, as do the jokes and references. Complexity reaches a breaking point, where appreciating the latest artistic expressions requires years of study.

Sometimes the medium ossifies (as in The Opera). Other times the creators – now bored, restless, worn out or lazy – blow up the medium, overthrowing old rules and patterns. Quality gives way to novelty, constructing rich artworks is replaced with a rush to deconstruct previous assumptions. Counter-reactionary elements try to hold the core, but their efforts, however popular, seem trite, insipid, the application of talent to cynical exploitations of nostalgia (see Kinkade, or trace the whole story from early Beatles to late Beatles to Yoko Ono to Wings).

Eventually, a new round of innovation begins, sometimes in the guise of a return to past ideas of quality, now updated to include the latest technologies and techniques. Other times innovation emerges as meticulous attention to detail fuses with unlimited imagination, accepted patterns expand to subsume populist elements in ironic or post-ironic fashion (see Mark Ryden and the Lowbrow art movement – or an old article I wrote about post-irony).

Architecture, especially big expensive public architecture, has the least room to hide, and is the most susceptible to rot as familiarity and iconic status elevate dreck and schlock into warm fuzzy feelings through the magic of nostalgia (as in the CN Tower, or local landmark Honest Ed’s). This drives architects to experiment with novel forms on the assumption that distinctive designs will come to be accepted over time, independent of quality and foresight (see my recent post about the Royal Ontario Museum). Other times, these forms become instant classics, fusing great design with extraordinary presence, redefining the rules at a higher level of innovation, as is the case with Ai Weiwei’s ‘Bird’s Nest’ stadium, or Frank Gehry’s masterful addition to the Art Gallery of Ontario, show in the photo above.