Thursday, January 29, 2009

"I found your salt shaker, Jimmy."

I never mind hearing "Margaritaville" on the radio, whether it's a balmy June night or a painfully cold February afternoon. In the first instance, the song just matches the moment, and in the second instance, the song provides a backdrop for a mental escape (and sometimes a longing for a tattoo).

But what I do mind, what I always mind -- no! -- what I detest, is any other Jimmy Buffet song.

What sparked this entry was one too many plays of "Fins," and a play of "Margaritaville" followed by a loaded statement from the disc jockey: "Yeeeeah, and he's still makin' money off that lost shaker of salt."

I have a feeling the DJ feels the same as me about the rest of Jimmy Buffet's "catalogue." I love it when DJs are honest. The best was when a very cool lady DJ on the same station said of John Mellencamp's "Little Pink Houses," "I usually can't stand Mellencamp...but that song's alright." You can probably guess how I feel about him. More on that another time.

In case you are not familiar with "Fins," it's a song about an good looking girl who moved to South Florida and can't keep the men away. They are referred to as "sharks" and she as "bait." Here are the lines of the chorus:

Can't you feel 'em circlin', honey
Can't you feel 'em schoolin' around
You got fins to the left, fins to the right
And you're the only bait in town
Guess what. It took four people to write this song. And one was a woman.

This song is too stupid for me to rail about the sexism in it. It's the kind of innate sexism that a good red-blooded American man seems to expound as soon as he leaves the womb. (The womb-owner being the only woman who might be exempt from his attitudes about women.) I don't think Jimmy can help it. You can also find this (almost) forgivable sexism in our buddy Mellencamp, who needs a lover "that" (not "who") won't drive him crazy. And so on.

So the issue I take with this song and with Jimmy's other musical gems is just that it's bad. And that the only reason he can get away with it is because he was, long ago, inspired by a lost shaker of salt. "Margaritaville" has been his ticket to margarita money. He rides his own coat-tails (or poncho tails, or whatever fits the imagery).

Middle-aged, pre-sloshed men and women throng to Jimmy Buffet performances to relive Jimmy's life in Maragritaville. The whole show is in the style of "Margaritaville." Granted, many of his songs have a tropical or sub-tropical theme, so the straw hats and Hawaiian shirts work for almost all of them. The funniest thing about these shows is they are almost never outdoors.

In a darkened arena, thousands of pot-bellied businessmen bedecked in flowers grunt and hoist their overweight, over-aged, bleach-blond cuties onto their sloped shoulders, laughing as their ladies' beer spills down through the hat fringes to the floor, cooling sweaty flip-flopped feet.

After the show, they can go back to their hotel at the Margaritaville Vacation Destination, turn on Margaritaville radio, and order some room service from the Margaritaville Cafe. I'm not even kidding.

These Buffet aficionados call themselves "Parrot-heads." I call them tone-deaf and tasteless.

Sure, the Beach Boys share Buffet's weakness of having recorded too many overly-themed songs, and occasionally they tour around for old people to gawk at them. But the Beach Boys are a far from a one-trick pony. I don't know why Buffet is on the classic rock stations. I don't know why he can sell out tours every single year. I don't friggin' get it.

Before I close I must confess that there is one other Jimmy Buffet song that has grown on me. I think it's just because I'm a vegetarian and I miss eating meat and pickles together...

I like mine with lettuce and tomato,
Heinz 57 and french fried potatoes,
Big kosher pickle and a cold draft beer,
Well good God almighty which way do I steer for my
Cheeseburger in paradise!

Somehow, I don't think this ditty would have rocketed Jimmy Buffet to success the way "Margaritaville" did.

The salt shaker, had it been found before Jimmy had a chance to wax poetic about it, could have saved us from three decades of really bad music.

UPDATE: Episode 11 of Yacht Rock offers support for the "Buffet = Crappy Music" Hypothesis. See Michael McDonald and Kenny Loggins lay waste to the throngs of Parrotheads!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Can't Buy Me Words

That is, the client won't pay for my words. The quality of my words is not the problem. The problem is that my company charges a decent rate for these words, and the client can't or won't cough up that kind of dough for words.

I am the only copywriter at a tiny internet marketing firm. This may imply to those with knowledge of good copywriting salaries that I rake it in, but that's not the case.

Don't get me wrong -- my pay is not what I'm taking issue with here. My company is amazing -- they accommodate my crazy school schedule, let me do some work from home (er, the school library...), and make sure I have good lighting, a big enough screen, and have offered me a job after graduation and throughout grad school. And they pay me a better hourly wage than any college student I know (who isn't a stripper) can boast. If I'm poor it's because I can only work five to fifteen hours a week, not because I'm not being taken care of.

That said, my company has to charge a fair market rate for their services as a company. The real problem with getting words sold lies in the client's underestimation of how important good content is for his websites, and in his not understanding what a specialized and skilled job the copywriter does for him.

Here are the average U.S. salaries for a couple of copywriter "species":

Web Copywriter - $48,000
Advertising Copywriter - $62,000

These spiral onward and upward with seniority, location, and taking on more roles, i.e. editor, creative director. As one former advertising copywriter puts it, "That's a lot of scratch for being able to wear jeans!" And at my company you can even wear your pajamas.

My copywriting "level" falls somewhere in between the advertiser and the web writer. Not just because what I do is a mix of advertising with and "webifying" the words, but because I think I would be a considered a more rare find than a mere web copywriter -- because of my focus on meaningful content. The advertiser gets paid more than a web writer because he has to be a psychologist, a businesman, and a writer. I would ask for more than a web writer because I have to be a researcher, a diletante, and a writer.

So this is why my company asks for a little more for my words. And I think we deliver a lot of bang for the buck. Many corporations hire overpriced PhD holders (I mean "holders" in the most derogatory sense) to churn out lots of corporate-speak nonsense that reads at a grade level of 20 to 30 and doesn't tell the customer a damn thing, even if he has a PhD too. One site on reading indexes calls this kind of writing "government conspiracy" level. I call it total crap.

My company keeps me in this writing job because I have a natural ability with words (words of the people, lets call'em), and I am interested (or can become freakishly interested, at the drop of a hat) in the most obscure and inane topics. As I mentioned in earlier work-related posts I have written on quite a gamut of topics:

--Recycling used office equipment
--The history of dog collars
--The history and meaning of nurse hats
--The history of chefing and chef uniforms
--How to choose the right envelopes for your business
--The dangers and benefits of taking fish oil

You can probably guess what all these articles were latently trying to sell. But we hide it pretty well, and give real information on topics people actually search for! Yes, it is quite the tight rope that I walk, if I do say so muhself. It's not a big secret how it works, but I've given away enough details now.

My argument comes back to the client's misunderstanding of what copywriting entails, and his disregard for meaning and content.

"Web 2.0" is moving toward Web 2.1. Now that we have internet gadgets, blogs, social networks, feeds, and tools that manage and concord all these beasts, we are getting savvier about what we want out of them. People know how to ignore or navigate through banner ads, forum and blog lurker ads, internet infomercials, etc. We may have little control over guerilla advertising's affect on our souls in the real "3-D" world, but we can control our experience of the internet and take what we want from it.

In a steaming pile of information dump, we're learning to be the little dung beetles who seek out the nuggets of true content. And once we've made it second nature to dig for the content nuggets, we're going to start caring about what they taste like -- the quality.

The businessman or the webmaster, or whoever is in charge of "buying the words" for websites, has so far refused to adapt to Web 2.1. He has refused to consider the next generation's (target consumer's) high expectations for internet content. Perhaps even worse, he has refused to consider the next generation of highly intelligent content-lovin' search engines! Finally, he certainly has refused to consider how much time, effort, and might I add talent, it takes to turn their shitty, soulless messages of consumerism into something regular people enjoy reading.

So I make good nuggets, I suppose. The client is still happy with his old dried-up dung piles. He deserves to pay through the nose for what he's getting. And until he realizes that, he won't get any new words for his site. Not from us anyway.

Now that I'm freed up, I get to apply my craft to my company's own websites. My bosses know that value of what I'm doing. And even though they don't pay me what they charge the other guys for my services, at least I'm writing for some good people with good messages and good products.
Now I can forget about that "copywriting duel" me and that cloven hoofed feller had scheduled a la "The Devil Went Down to Georgia." Until we pick up another client, my soul is safe.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Ain't that America

This May I am planning to go on my first overseas, passport-required journey.

I have flown over an ocean to get to that island in the Pacific we like to call a state. That was quite exotic, but everyone spoke English.

I have been to Middle-of-nowhere, Mexico and even lived for a time in Canada. Neither of those places are very exotic (at least not near the borders), and neither required passports at the time.

I spoke enough French to buy some roller skates in Montreal, and to tell the country store owner I didn't want gravy on my poutine (or on my gâteau for that matter). Let's say I spoke enough Spanish to get whatever I wanted in Sonora.

That was the most out of my element I've ever been, drinking a warm Tecate by a dirt highway where eighteen wheelers, outfitted with less than eighteen wheels, went racing and lurching by.

And now I'm bound for an entirely new continent, over a ne'er traversed ocean, to land in Luxembourg, a country where everyone and their mother speaks French. I can only make embarrassing small talk (and buy patins à roulettes) in that language. A fluent friend of mine asked me if I'd seen any films and I replied indignantly, "Je ne fume pas!" So I will probably not even be able to ask where the bathroom is without insulting someone's mother.

As exciting and monumental as this trip will be for me, I want to remind the reader and myself of a thought I've had many times. We Americans have practically a whole world of vacation destinations in our backyard, and lack of exposure to Luxembourgian museums or exotic islanders is nothing to be ashamed of if you've ever taken a road trip across our very own patchwork of culture and beauty.

I'm not about to launch into a prose rendition of "O beautiful for spacious skies..." -- I do believe and appreciate that we have just about every imaginable climate, landscape, ecosystem, whatever-have-you, worth visiting nestled here or there across this wide continent. That glittering fact is apparent to anyone who looks at our big ass political territory with regard to latitude and longitude.

What isn't so apparent from looking at a map is the startling variety of houses, of roads, of dialects, of smells, of doughnuts, of human beings, that can be found in our diverse states and counties.

Henrietta, Oklahoma: The Super 8 motel is booked. Pink neon beckons you across the street to the Rockin' R motel. You part the cloud of smoke wafting from two doors down and unlock the door. Exploration. The first motel you've been in where someone's borrowed pages from the bible. The bathroom has a drain smack in the middle -- toilet, sink, showerhead in a tiled-to-the-ceiling closet. Putting your suitcase away, you find an empty tuna can under the bed. You remember dinner. There's a bar-b-que joint back across the street by the Super 8. Dad recommended it on the phone, but you think twice about weaving through the black mass of Harleys to get to the door. You lay on top of the sheets, and drift off to the sounds and smells of the deals and steel drums in room 5.

Patagonia, Arizona: Art fairs are nice. Terra cotta ladies with dangly turquoise everything crowd the dusty aisles. You've just come from the campsite and had bacon and toast down the street. The bathroom there looked like home. Shell soaps, basket of fake flowers, breeze fluttering at the crank-out window. You drag your greasy ass and your flat Dr. pepper into a gallery by the street. The dark, youngish owner explicates his paintings of cows. One of his teeth is a slightly different color. His black strands are pulled in a tight sticky pony tail. Who would do this guy? His wife walks in with coffee, leather, and fringes. Not bad.

Labyrinth at the Tree of Life Center, Patagonia, AZ

Marion, Virginia: You shouldn't be able to hear the sermon for the noise of the fans, but the preacher speaks loud. So far he hasn't actually banged any bibles, but he looks the type. Why do they have to tie those plastic strands to the fans? Don't you know it's turned on from looking at it, from the breeze it blows? Maybe it's like bike streamers, just one of those accessories no one questions. You fan yourself with the Bristol Shopper paper. There's an ad for a bluegrass festival on page 4, but that's all the way in town. The motley assortment of hats and hair buns in the pews keeps your eyes occupied and awake. You want to get out of there and traipse around in that flat sparkly creek just out the window. You have soft baby feet but you've never minded the dull pain of a cold creek bed. You look up the hill at the graveyard. You took grandma's picture there yesterday, while she sat on her headstone: 1926 -- . Maybe after the creek Dad will let you head back to the motel and get one of those 35 cent sodas. They still have Mello Yello down here.

Tucson, Arizona: You came back for a visit and its dusty as hell. It hurts as much as it did before, to walk in the street in the sun. You set out for Fourth Ave, the Haight-Ashbury of Tucson. The Jesus sandals start to chafe. You can see the moles on your arm taking on sinister shapes. You imagine they spell out "melanoma" in little brown dots. Ten blocks later there's definitely a blister. Ball of the foot, size of a silver dollar. Saved by the thrift store. You buy some socks, a pair of european sandals, and some designer shoes and everything is half off. $8 later you are wearing those socks with those new sandals and dont care who notices, and you reek of consignment. At the food co-op you're welcome in that getup, and the check out kid, a curly, fuzzy, red-haired man-child, starts telling you about his marathon training. All you wanted was an organic vegan popsicle and some weird hippie beer for later. You eat your popsicle on the sidewalk at the co-op's cafe table and catch a lot of glances. Must be the cut-offs. You feel like Lolita. You cross to the other side of the street, still working on the popsicle, balancing the beer bag on a hip. Two college boys in Greek letters call you a lesbian.

Mercersburg Pennsylvania: You run and jump face-first onto the wet black plastic. They've made a mountain-size slip n' slide down the side of the capture-the-flag hill. Three green garden hoses running from God knows where (it's a Christian camp) spill their trickles down the vast sheet of 3-mil. A pool is forming at the bottom. It gets deeper, muddier, and for some reason, sudsier. You slide an eternity, as the smoke blue mountain tops disappear and the army green trees get bigger. Your head goes in and then your red-white-and-blue bottom goes up. You pop up into the humidity that's as dirty and wet as the mud pool. Run up the hill, slipping on long grass, stepping on thistles now and again, to take another dive.

I could write these forever. I'm going to work on some for the weekend. And do a few more French lessons.

I just looked outside and was shocked to see snow. Where are blue valleys when you need them?

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Vittles for Vegans

I am a vegetarian. The first of this year marked my one year anniversary of going down the leafy green path. It was not a 2008 resolution, but some bad Christmas meat of 2007 that was the catalyst for my conversion. That, and several years of learning about "what's in the meat" and what it does to the planet.

So while I am vegetarian for both health and ethical reasons, there is nothing militant or proseletyzing about my attitudes on my food orientation. There is no meat in my house, but there is quite often meat in the stomachs of my family members. How they come by it is not my business.

Yesterday my son had a sample at Trader Joe's. He thinks we go there just for the samples. He thinks that's going out to eat. The "sample lady" was carving a pink, juicy prime rib into bite sized morsels, stabbing them with toothpicks, and flopping them into little cups. Mikey grabbed one and downed it. "It''s MEAT MAMA!" Chew, chew, chew. "Mmm! Dontcha wanna try some mama!?" This kind of thing comes up often at the sample table, and I often worry the "sample lady" thinks I'm preaching to her as I explain to my son (again) why I don't eat meat.

So I have a sense of humor about the whole thing. I crave meat and I joke about it. I see the Arby's five for $5.55 on TV and I tell my kid, "I'm goin' to get it! Right now. I'll smell them all, maybe lick off the sauce and chew on the drippy buns a little..." He tells me I'm crazy. I'm still imagining the pleasures of horseradish sauce mixed with blood as I hear the next commercial begin: "Badda bah bah baaaaah! I'm lovin' it." And it begins again.

Not that I ate such disgusting things when I ate meat. I ate it infrequently even then, and my favorite things were borderline healthy. Beef was never on my shopping list, and my number one meaty meal was the carnitas burrito from Chipotle -- that's some happy pig meat you know. Mmm, carnitas...

But, curiously, vegetarianism has lately had me craving things that I never would have eaten, even as an omnivore. Arby's, hot dogs, Big Macs, SPAM! And also things I rarely ate, like huge fatty slices of bacon, salty shavings of cured ham, or... Trader Joe's prime rib.

All this has led me to come up with loving names for all my favorite fake meats, to find a way to hold them close to my heart and my palate so that any cravings for the "real thing" can be instantly squelched with a bite of surrogate meats. Yes, I eat fake meats. And I find it hard to explain to someone that I had a killer BLT for lunch, when really there was no "B" in it at all (and certainly no killing). "I thought you were vegetarian?" Explaining this stuff always sucks.

So here is a list of monikers I've come up with for fake meats of all brands, selected to replace the meats they are copying almost seamlessly in any conversation about what you had for lunch:

Bacon = Facon (Fake-un)

...hence BLT = FLT

BBQ Riblets = Fiblets

Hot Dogs = Not Dogs

Sausage = Falsage (False sausage)

Ham = Sham (Ha! My favorite!)

Spam = Sham Can

Bologna = Baloney bologna

Jerky = Nicey

Meatballs = Cheatballs

The corporates have already come up with "Tofurkey" and I can't get it out of my head -- so I have yet to coin a new fake-turkey title. I never eat the stuff anyway. Their Thanksiving loaf is like a giant turkey pill with a gelatinous brown capsule shell, filled with gooey rice and stuffing medicine.

The only cheat (i.e. meat) favorite of mine that I have not found a name for is vegetarian corn dogs. It's torturing me!

The title includes vegans (which I am not) because all of the cheats listed here are available in vegan form, so those dedicated plant-eaters can join in the lunch conversation too. Fortunately for vegans (but not for America) so many people are lactose intolerant and/or afraid of eating eggs that the extra step of throwing in a reference to soymilk or egg substitutes won't throw off their meal talk.

Although, if someone invents fake honey (agave syrup?) they may have to start calling it "funny." Wait -- many meat-eating people are not thoughtful enough to realize that vegans don't eat honey! Shoot. I'd better move on before I belie my earlier claims of food tolerance.

I'm going to go look at the Steak and Shake coupons that came in the mail today...just look. And maybe chew the corners a little.

UPDATE 5/9/09: Tofurkey is now my friend. I think I'll just call it Tofurkey, except that confuses things because it comes in ham, Italian beef, etc. I've been making "kicked out of the club" sandwiches with Facon and Tofurkey. Anyhow, I take back what I said about the gelatinous meat capsule, and I might just try to make one this fall.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

O Where Has My Fictitiousness Gone?

Virginia Woolf called her fiction writing mind the "fictitious mind." Sounds funny, almost derogatory.

She had her essay writing mode as well. This critical mind tended to dominate, because she loved to work, and because there is always something worth reading and then writing on. But Woolf also got stuck in essay-voice because fiction doesn't present itself as easily as an essay topic.

I am in a similar fiction drought to the one faced by Woolf after publishing her first book of essays. While I have never published any book of essays, I have spent the last year on them. Besides one short story and several finished poems, all composed in the early spring for a creative writing course, I have not produced anything fictitious.

My writer's group is starting to fear my stack of stapled papers. The women eye it at a slant before I begin passing, looking for indents where dialog might sit, or varied paragraph lengths that might indicate description and exposition rather than topic sentence, supporting sentences, topic sentence, supporting sentences . . . not that I write essays that way. But the essays fill the paper to the margins and spill rambling paragraphs over two or three pages. They tend to look rather square on the page when contrasted with the jagged right edge of a short story. And before the women can scan the first lines and find out how they will spend their next twenty minutes, my mouth invariably opens to give a disclaimer: "Sorry for my essays . . .again."

I blame my newfound (well, my year-old) intellectualism. It's a return to a passion for knowledge I had as a teen. And it's especially overwhelming in its intensity because I feel I threw away much of my spongy-brained twenties not absorbing anything of value. As I near thirty, I am afraid I won't learn.

By contrast, my creativity, since adulthood, has only has brief setbacks. It would be a shame, now, to let the return of philosophical thinking, rampant literary theorizing and avaricious hoarding of classical books eclipse my eternally fictitious mind!

But you can't force a story, or even a scene. I forced some poems last semester, only because I didn't know what else to do. After a tired morning of studying I wrote one about hot chocolate -- the kind that comes from a machine. Ending line: "One should always be suspicious/Of floral notes in food." Ahem. . .

Next writer's group is in three weeks. I will not bring a disclaimer, because I will not bring an essay. And if I actually begin a story, I'll even bring cookies to celebrate.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Yanked from the Shelves!

Today I am writing only to make reference to two very old blog entries which I have pulled, and the subsequent existential writer's head mush caused by that action. The entries are not controversial, embarrassing, nor do they contain anything that I would want to hide. I pulled them because my writer friends told me to -- they said someone would surely steal them.

"In Virginia's Room" and "A Novel" are the titles of my two works now under protection. I brought Virginia with me to the writers' group and it caused a wave of head nodding and womanly approval grunting to circle round the table. Then the women were astonished to find that I had it sitting out in the open, just waiting for its ideas (if not its prose, verbatim) to be snatched up and republished. Then they asked if I had any more "darlings" poised for pilfering. I have some fun ideas and interesting turns of phrase in many of my entries, but I could only think of one other that would have to be removed immediately.

That night, in a panic, I put the entries in the vault. "Virginia" may be a real essay of criticism someday. In fact, I plan on making that happen, even if I have to wait for grad school to find the right moment in my reading, or to master the right words for expressing ideas in a sequence and style worthy of publishing on real paper.

"A Novel" is something I'd love to submit to a magazine, once I figure out which one. I think my non-intellectual article writing voice, the irreverent, funny one, is ready to see some ink and aqueous coating. Maybe even be paired with some of those bad magazine paintings, you know the ones with bright colors and pensive near-stick figures in striped shirts, or a stick-tree on a hill surrounded by dot-flowers. Hmm. Maybe they'll let me paint my own.

Of course I write a few good things every semester that I would not leave out for public viewing. But these goodies are usually in the form of critical papers and poems, and sometimes "articles" for my own tension relief or to create a private forum for complaints. The good stuff is not usually in the form of electronic ramblings.

It comes to me now that the two entries that came out yankworthy had extensive notes as their origin. Perhaps that should be my new rule of thumb. If I research something beyond Wiki, if I have more than two pages of notes on it with paragraphs already composed, perhaps I should aim it at a word processor, not a blog publisher. I'll "publish" it on my own paper, only for the eyes of a helpful professor or for those of the women's writers group.

I was planning to write about Harold Bloom today. He is a critic whom I earnestly appreciate, but who sometimes makes me cringe and cry out in protest. That entry was slated to be titled "Harold Bloomin' Onion." Might have to change the title if I intend to make it scholarly.

I think my problem lies in my being a "humorist" and an intellectual at the same time. I wish the two parts of the mind had a place to be published together. That's partly why I created this blog. But now that I've produced some creative criticism (that's what I call it) worth reading, where can I put it but "in the vault"?

Maybe when I get my license to write (the M.A. as it is called in the business) I can attempt to start some sort of criticism publication that has the enjoyment of reading as its background -- and not a frightening flow-chart of theory or a solemn duty to that monolith "history."

I think even old disagreeable Bloom would approve of that. But probably not of being compared to a menu item at a theme-restaurant.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Negative (Literary) Space

Today as I sat in the bathroom, I gazed at a photo which was perefectly juxtaposed with the toilet -- for toilet-viewing purposes of course. The photo showed a sea cave foaming away in some tropical paradise. And at the end of the cavern where the sun shone in was the flat white shape of a giraffe's head.

The camera flattens light into two dimensions, and this particular photographer had failed to notice the potential giraffe head at the end of the tunnel before he snapped his shutter. He didn't watch his negative space.

I always loved to look at negative spaces in fine works of art. When I made my own art, it was an especial pride that I took in attention to negative spaces. My teachers took note of it. I trudged along through painting and photography classes with decent marks, despite my inattention to grey zones and my inability to properly mix oils. I had composition on my side.

But most of all I saw things in the great works that some other students did not see. I theorized like crazy the over triangles and vertical lines in some Romantic work, or the bare edge of a canvas that threw a Kandinsky into balance. Art history class was my respite from the mediocrity I felt blanketing over me, smothering my creativity in those uncomfortable studio classes. If I could not create, I would discuss the creations! I would own them.

When I succumbed to the pull of writing in 2006, I had arrived at a place where I felt I could not criticize or theorize about art forms in which I myself could not even begin to participate. Since then I have had the good fortune to come full circle from my early creative and critical aspirations, and land in the right field. A new place where a passion for writing is coupled with a sometimes rival passion for interpreting the writing of others -- they call it literary study.

I just realized today, looking at that bathroom art, with its foamy seas coaxing out the bladder contents of its onlookers, that this new place where I am is a good one. I have a positive space: my fiction, poetry, and essay writing. And I have a negative space: my studies and papers, which will eventually (when I am properly mortar-boarded, sashed and defended) be called works of "criticism" or perhaps "theory."

So I accept the temporary serenity I achieved today, even if it is only a surface calm with great pulling currents and shadowy cryptids swirling underneath.

P.S. An abstruse theoretical topic for further contemplation: Can we define a real "negative space" in literature? Like the kind we find in paintings?