Wednesday, August 19, 2015

August newspaper column

Flimsy, but here is my August newspaper column that appears in today's Daily Hampshire Gazette under the headline, "Why Not Let Sleeping Questions Lie?" I really am running out of steam.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015
(Published in print: Wednesday, August 19, 2015)

NORTHAMPTON — As once it was for the astronomers and poets of Egypt and Greece and Rome, so it is today as the dog days of summer reassert themselves in all their slurpy, sluggish splendor. Things slow down in July and August.

Literal dogs seek shade beneath the nearest porch. U.S. congressmen, who bring home a median $174,000 per year for an average three-day work week, take a well-defended summer vacation. Schools are still. Some of those with the wherewithal pile into cars and head for realms in which Twitter and Facebook cannot reach. Puffy clouds meander and float, as if to advertise a quieter, less-purposeful universe. The cubicle-crazed importance of winter is reshaped in the languid heat.

Dog days are a time to catch the breath in a hurried life.

One of my favorite dog-day pastimes is watching an 11-minute documentary called “Thought Moments.” ( It’s a deceptively simple bit of filmmaking.

A Brit named Michael Simon Toon got an idea, grabbed a camera and walked the streets of several English communities asking people 10 questions to which any one of us might imagine there were easy answers.

The 10 questions were: 1. What is your name? 2. What do you do? 3. Who do you love most? 4. What do you hate most? 5. Who do you think is beautiful? 6. What do you think is ugly? 7. Are you happy or sad? 8. What do you most want? 9. What are you most afraid of ? 10. Why is the sky blue?

What I love about the film is the perplexity that can fill the faces of those attempting to answer. Nor am I exempt from that perplexity. These are questions whose fullness is dimmed in less attentive times.

The challenge of the interviews is this: These are questions about which there is no reason not to be honest. After all, taste is taste and who would know me better than me? But having been offered an opportunity to be honest, the question arises, “What, precisely, is my honest answer?”

What do I love most? Well, d’oh! I know that! What I most love is ... uhhh ... uhhh, uhhh .... What do I hate most? Well, that’s a snap ... or is it? What do I want most? Hold on a sec — I have to think about that one too.

The perplexity does not translate well to the written page. It is better seen and perhaps sympathized with in a filmed format. I did try the questions on my daughter, asking them without the presence of a camera. Not all of her answers were lifted from a book of self-help platitudes. Once or twice, she too was perplexed and it showed on her face. The chiseled answers just refused to materialize.

And perhaps that is the best part of a dog-day universe — the chance to be perplexed by what, during the rest of the year, is a lead-pipe cinch. Isn’t there something to be said for examining and being bereft of simplistic answers?

The perplexity such questions can arouse is a strange gift. Perplexity leaves me uncertain and wobbly. But when I see the visual evidence that others feel what I feel, I am warmed by the closeness we share.

Yes, we all know the answers. Yes, we are all deeply perplexed. Can’t both be true and isn’t this a more truthful indicator of a shared humanity?

When were answers anything other than a way of stating the next question?

Really: If I am not rock-solid sure of what I love or hate or fear, is there some reason to pretend that I am?

These are dog-day questions, perhaps, the ones asked when there is time to stop and smell the roses. They can easily be put on the back burner when the world of cubicles and productivity and mortgage payments and wealth management and social outrage sweep in on wintry, with-it winds. Roses that deserve smelling need not last forever, but it is nice to see them bloom and to sniff their scent occasionally.

It is nice to know something you or I might know.

Why is it any less nice not to know what we don’t?

Many years ago, Chuck, a friend of mine, was walking down a New York street with his then-young son when the boy asked the question all kids get around to: “Daddy — why is the sky blue?”

And without a moment’s hesitation, Chuck responded, “Because the smog lifted.” Not a dog-day answer, perhaps, but close enough.

Adam Fisher lives in Northampton. His column appears on the third Wednesday of the month. He can be reached at


  1. My question should arouse no perplexity, but i'm curious. Did you write down the questions to ask your daughter? Or is your memory that good? By the end of the article, i had forgotten the ten questions. Not surprising for me. And while i expect your memory is better than mine, rocks being smarter than me, i'm wondering if your memory is that much better than mine.