Tuesday, October 5, 2010


We live in a world of lines. Vertical lines, horizontal lines, Cartesian lines, Euclidean lines, parallel lines, perpendicular lines, headlines, topographic lines, longitudinal lines, latitudinal lines, straight lines, curved lines, hendecasyllabic, alexandrine, and Sapphic lines.

Lines at the bank, lines at the grocery store, lines to see a popular movie, lines to go on a ride.

Lines on fingernails, lines on the highway, lines at Disneyland, lines on maps, lines on hats, lines on dollar signs, lines in webs, lines in ebbs, lines around the eyes, lines around the mouth, lines around the neck, lines around the lips, lines stretching back five million years, wavy lines moving left to right, lines leaping and soaring into the sky, lines teeming with angst, lines flowing into trunk lines, lines for moving and storage, lines humming with volts, lines tumbling around in a Celtic tattoo.

There is no official record for the world’s longest line, though people have claimed to stand in line 12 hours to buy an iPhone, 15 minutes to use the bathroom at Wal Mart, two days to obtain a section 8 housing application in the heat of Atlanta, Georgia, five hours to get a shot of the H1N1 vaccine in Fairfax County, Virginia, 12 hours to audition for the reality game show Biggest Loser, in which obese people compete for a prize by losing weight, and 16 hours to buy a Playstation 3 to resell on eBay or Craigslist for a sizeable profit.

Two days in scorching heat outside Rockefeller Plaza to see Lady Gaga on the Today show.

Three days in Houston for assistance from Red Cross, following Katrina.

Lines are idealizations of objects that do not exist. They have no width nor height and are considered to be infinitely long.

A line is tangent to itself. A line touches itself at all points.

A line of poetry is a unit of language in which the form of the poem evolves into a highly structured entity, or loose confederation of lines congealed in the glow of a moment, or nimbly driven by intuitive impulses.

A sonnet is fourteen lines. A sestina is 39 lines organized in six six-line stanzas followed by a tercet.

A stanza is a grouping of lines, set off by a space.

“Lines Written Among the Euganean Hills,” by Percy Bysshe Shelley, is 373 lines long, “Every little living nerve / That from bitter words did swerve / Round the tortured lips and brow, / Are like sapless leaflets now / Frozen upon December’s bough.”

Stripping the line in fly fishing means retrieving the line without using the reel.

A position line, in celestial navigation, is a line that can be identified on a nautical chart or aeronautical chart and by observation out on the surface of the earth. It is often a circle assumed to be a straight line, representing a circumference of space too large to plot on a chart.

A leading line is a line formed by two or more marks indicating safe passage through a shallow or dangerous channel. The marks are often seen by estuaries and harbors, and will consist of a tower or scaffolding painted bright, easy to spot colors.

The horizon line is the line that divides earth from the sky. The part of the sea closest to the horizon line is called the offing.

What a delightful word.

In the captain’s log of Lord Horatio Nelson, in an entry dated June 26th, 1796, we find this sentence: “Found at anchor His Majesty’s Ship the Inconstant, the Gorgon and Sincere, with a Convoy in the Offing.”

And in Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, is the sentence “The offing was barred by a black bank of clouds, and the tranquil waterway… flowed sombre under an overcast sky.”

Johnny Cash’s song “Walk The Line” was written backstage one night in 1956 in Gladewater, Texas, shortly after getting married. It was originally recorded at Sun Studio on April 2nd, 1956, and spent six weeks at the top spot on the U.S. country Juke Box charts, crossed over and reached number nineteen on the pop music charts. Cash said he hummed during the song to find his pitch, since the song required changing keys several times.

I’m no good at all at spotting a fast line at the grocery store. I look for elderly women armed with coupons, bratty kids that can’t make up their minds, cartloads of groceries, someone pondering a label with a look of earnest inquiry, all the usual symptoms, clear-cut signs of an interminably slow line. I am scrupulous. But I am always fooled. My precautions go awry. As soon as a complication emerges, the obvious choice is to move to another line. But I don’t. I can’t. I feel compelled to continue my loyalty to that line, on the assumption that if I leave, abort my position, and move to another line, I will encounter a fresh set of complications. Fate will intervene. My caprice will be penalized. And so I end up standing in that particular line for a much longer time than the other lines, even when I see the people who entered my line, then moved to another line, get through the check stand faster, way faster, absurdly faster, I stay committed to my line, thinking of it as an investment of my time, a commitment I am unwilling to let go of, simply because I have withstood its complications up to that point, its unforeseen intricacies and entanglements, believing, earnestly, that I deserve a pay-off, as if my loyalty to the line, my willingness to accept my destiny, to surrender my velleity to the vagaries of fate, needed some form of compensation, even if that compensation, whatever form it may take, which may simply be getting to the check stand at last, ends by consuming more time than it would have had I been less stubborn, had sighed, shrugged, given up, and moved to another line.

The poverty line in the U.S. is $22,000 a year for a family of four. Severe poverty is half of that, $11,000 per year for a family of four. It is now 6.3 per cent of the population, or 18,900,000 people.

Hamlet, at 1,422, has the most lines of any character in Shakespeare’s oeuvre. Richard, the duke of Gloucester, at 1,124, has the second most. Iago clocks in with 1,097. Henry V 1,025. Othello 860. Coriolanus 809.

When we help someone, we say we “throw them a line.”

When we misbehave, or commit a faux pas, or break a taboo, or point a gun at a bank teller, we cross the line.

The proverbial line. The line that, once you cross it, points you in a direction you did not expect. Line of fire, or line of fate.


Line of thinking. Line of scrimmage. Line of argument. Line of blood. Lines of the Nazca desert.

Line of putt. Line of work. Line of lividity. Line of questioning. Line of command. Line of thrust. Line of handbags. Line of gravity. Line of magnetic force.

Some lines are imaginary. These lines are called borders. They divide Arkansas from Texas, Germany from France, Afghanistan from Pakistan.

Spectral lines are dark or bright lines in a continuous spectrum. Their luminosity results from an excess or deficiency of photons in a narrow frequency range. They are emitted by elements and chemicals associated with a particular spectrum, and so can be used to identify the compositions of planetary atmospheres and the velocity of stars.

Is there such a thing is as a good pick up line, or is it simply the chimera of lonely young men?

The dumbest, though, would have to be: “did you fart? Because you just blew me away.”

I don’t think that one would go over well.

Though I don’t see “wish you were DSL so I could get high-speed access,” being much better.

What do line of credit, line of inquiry, line of duty, line of sight, line of coke, and line of succession all have in common?

Besides the word line?

All suggest a way of being, and occupying a space, in the social realm.

A line, said Paul Klee, is a dot out for a walk.

The Russians dashed on towards that thin redline streak tipped with a line of steel, said Sir William Howard Russell in describing the British infantry at Balaklava for The Times of London, in October, 1854.

There is an endless variety in what we think of as a line. A line can be long, or short, or dangerous, or clogged.

Filamentary, nickeliferous, frilly, or non-existent.

A dragline is used for dragging. A frozen sump pump line can be problematic. A good tagline can be worth its weight in gold.

Lines can be used to convey movement and create texture. Adjust alignment, divide space, deduce properties of charge and force, direct the eye to a focal point, tie a boat in place, add clarity, measure central venous pressure, form patterns, or screen hybridomas for the production of monoclonal antibodies that inhibit factor-dependent proliferation.

Palmists generally look at the heart line first. It is found at the top of the palm, under the fingers, and is read starting from the edge of the palm under the little finger towards the thumb. It is believed to indicate matters of the heart, emotional stability and romantic prospects.

A chained heart line is not good. It indicates potential cardiac trouble.

This is not the end of the line.

This is the end of the line.

Or it would be.

If it weren’t for the above line.


Craig said...

I couldn't find a line of descent in the catalog of lines. Perhaps I was in the wrong line.

John Olson said...

Could be you were in the bloodline, which I accidentally put in front of the bloodmobile. Before the bloodmobile disappeared over the horizon line.

Steven Fama said...

Hi John,

You do everything in this prosepoem-meditation except draw the line, may you never have to do that! Keep on keeping on!

John Olson said...

Thank you, Steve. May all your lines be short, and all your shorts be lined.

Liz Brennan said...

Nothing out of line in this post!