Sunday, January 31, 2010

To Do:

I’m sure you do them, too. “To Do” lists. I was told at a Franklin Covey workshop that we experience a positive psychological reaction when we can put that check mark in front of a task. Yep.

Today I was able to check off:

  • Laundry
  • Front yard cleanup
  • Specialty Society minutes
  • And a laptop “fix” that I needed to try. 
And the day is only 2/3 done! I can now goof off without guilt.

Okay, I can goof off with minimal guilt.

Okay, the guilt is here, but I’m goofing off anyway. So there.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Lunacy

I stood outside tonight waiting for my little dog to pee. It was chilly and unusually quiet. The moon, full and exceptionally bright, lit up the back yard with a glow of peace. A few brave stars were visible through the light pollution of the city and I squinted to see them more clearly.

It was a moment before I tuned in to the public address system at the light rail station that lies half a block away. The voice was giving a detailed description of a man. Not wanting to know any more, I shrugged deeper into my jacket and dashed back into the house.

My dad was a highway patrolman in rural Minnesota for 25 years. Even he believed in the influence of a full moon. He swore that a full moon on a payday weekend spelled trouble and even offered to show me some of his field notes to back it up. Apparently, for tonight anyway, it proves him right.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Write about a gate.

Rust coated the hanging hinges and the latch swung loose. The wood, rough and grey, wobbled on rusted nails that poked out at odd angles. The gate scrapped along the dirt path when I carefully tugged it open. It creaked a bit and then came entirely off the post it had hung on for these many long years. I leaned it up against the fence and followed the path into the grove of trees that bordered the long retired farm.
It was early spring here in the Midwest. Trees were dreary and bare. The snow was mostly melted but was still too cold for any greenery. It matches my sour mood, I thought. Life couldn’t get any more dull and colorless now that I’d lost my job, my house, and my husband. In that order.

“Fuck!” I yelled it as loud as I could into the grey overcast sky. The sound was sucked away quickly as if it were swept under the rug in shame. What nice Midwestern farm gal would be so crass?

“Me,” I said aloud. I tramped through the soggy snow melted leaves and twigs. The only sound was a slight squish when my foot came up and I took another step. The birds had not returned yet and the trees rattled their branches in the wind that blew as though to chide me for my intrusion in their sleep.

I followed an old cow path down to the creek. There was a small meadow here that I would share with them when I was a child. They would nip off the tuffs of grass and as they chewed they would stare into the middle distance as if they were dreaming philosophical probabilities. Occasionally, one would wander over and nudge me with their wet, snot-covered nose or lick me with their thick sticky tongue. I’d shove them away and go back to reading my book.

The meadow was empty. The creek trickled through the ice and dirty snow that remained. Even the sound of the running water sounded reproachful. 

“Shit.” I turned back and returned to the farmhouse. At least I would have a cup of hot chocolate waiting for me. Mom was great that way.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Write about memories underfoot.

“I hate school.”

“Yeah. It’s so boring. The only thing good is recess.”

“Yeah. My tummy feels weird.”

“Did you eat paste again?”

“Yeah. I had to. It was all over my fingers and I was sticking to my desk.”

“Yeah. Hey, look at the trees! They’re pink!”

“Hey, yeah! All that ice looks pink with the sun shining on it like that. I wonder why the grownups grumble so much about winter.”

“Yeah. It’s neat. Listen. The snow is squeaking. It’s like Styrofoam when you bite it.”

“Take that! And that! You bad monsters! I’ll crunch your heads.”

“Yeah. I wish I could get a picture of those trees.”

“Draw a picture when you get home.”

“Nah. Mom tells me to stop making things up.”

“Tell her to look outside then.”

“No. She don’t listen to me. She just tells me to go to my room and stop bothering her. She says she’s tired.”

“Yeah. My dad says that. Most times he yells it at me. I stay away from him.”

“My dad isn’t home much. He sleeps all the time when he is.”

“Yeah. I wish my dad would sleep and not wake up.”

“Like that Rip Van something guy?”

“Yeah. I’d throw a bowling ball at his head.”

“That’s not nice.”

“I don’t care. He yells at me for everything.”

“That’s all grownups do. The teacher was yelling at Tommy today.”

“Yeah. She gets all funny looking when she yells.”

“Yeah! Her face gets all spotty.”

“And her hands go all crazy wild. Waves ‘em all over the place like this.”

“Yeah. But don’t laugh at her. She gets mean then.”

“Yeah. Okay, well, I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“Yeah. See ya.”

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Snarky Comments: Are They TRULY Necessary?

A fellow blogger was expressing her views on the lack of etiquette in today’s world. On one particular issue, she repeated the old pearl: if you can’t say something nice, don’t say it at all. I agree. What is the point of being nasty when you don’t have to be? If something absolutely must be said, frame it in the best manner possible. She went on to say, “Snarky may sell, but it has no class, no matter how popular it is. Snarky is the trailer park of public discourse.”

While most comments on the post agreed with the blogger, there were some that didn't agree:

“By admonishing each other to stay silent, we're weakening our ability to respond to criticism with humor and perspective.”
and

“I for one, will not be silenced just to be sweet and polite and compliant and oh so politically correct...never ever. Never.”
They are confusing civility with censorship. Come on, people! There is a time and place for everything. Use your intelligence to respond thoughtfully and not spout off the first negative, hurtful thing that comes to mind – even if it is your “right.” Your message will then more likely be taken seriously and not dismissed as a rant from a nut case or hate monger.

That’s all the blogger was really saying. Be thoughtful.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

A Test Before You Press "Send"

Sunday, a blogger friend of mine, Ricë at "Notes from the Voodoo Cafe" wrote another of her famous rants that I'd like to add to.    In her post "Holes in the Karma," Ricë told of a fellow blogger's encounter with a poison email comment to a blog post and not long afterwards, she herself received one.  Please read the post.  It is very well written.

My husband recently reminded me of some wise advice that he received from a friend long ago.  It's a self-test that everyone should consider.  It is three easy steps or gates, if you will, that if you can pass through them, feel free to hit that "send" button.
  1. Is it true?
  2. Is it necessary?
  3. Is it kind?
That simple.  But oh, oh, so incredibly hard to remember when we are pissed off or just plain emotional.  I'm not going to cast any stones because I don't always follow this advice either.  And you know what?  I usually get myself into hot water when I don't.

Something to think about, eh?

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Accidental Tourists? I think not.

It was 6 a.m. on a partly cloudy winter morning here in Phoenix, AZ. Beverly, my friend and neighbor, and I were heading out on one of our photo hunts. She’s the photographer and I’m the one who keeps her from backing into oncoming traffic or stepping on animal poop while she focuses on her subject.

I wanted to check out the Northwest Regional Library in Surprise. It opened at 9 a.m. We were heading down US60 towards the library when we realized that we’d be waiting for three hours to get inside. While our goal was the waterfowl on the tiny lake next to the library, we knew our senior bladders wouldn’t make it that long.

“Have you ever been to Wickenburg?” she asked.

“Not for 20 years or more. We drove through it on our way to Las Vegas before we were married. Didn’t stop.”

“It’s only 45 minutes away. We could get breakfast there.”

“I need coffee. Let’s go.”

As we ate, Beverly casually mentioned the Vulture Mine and the Hassayampa River Preserve as attractions around there. Since I knew that the Vulture Mine would be something my artist hubby would like to see, I agreed to go to the preserve now and wait on the mine.

The Hassayampa River Preserve, owned by the Nature Conservancy, is not a park. Let me make that perfectly clear, because I was expecting one. The difference is that a park is groomed and polished and is essentially an outdoor museum. A preserve is not.

After paying our $5 entrance fee and being regaled with bird watching tips from delightful fanatics, we stood outside and considered which trail to take. Beverly had been there before, so we decided that regardless of our aging knees and the cautions of steep terrain, we’d head down the River Ramble until it branched off to Lyke’s Lookout.

On the way, I realized the difference between parks and preserves. We are in the middle of our winter here in Arizona, which creates the peculiar look of green grass and leafless trees. The trails are groomed only up by the visitor center and beyond that, they are merely kept passable. Further, along the trail, we encountered stark scenes of dead trees, both fallen and standing broken trunks, everywhere. It was if “the bomb” had gone off some years before and only the skeletons of trees remained. Then we looked closer.

The preserve is doing just that. It leaves nature alone. It lets it do its “thang.” The original recycling program is on full display here. The fallen trees and the chaos of limbs intertwining creates dens for the foxes and coyotes, hiding places for smaller creatures to wait while the hawks circle overhead, and the like.

We crossed the river by means of a small pallet-like bridge and after inspecting the duckweed that travels in tiny leaflets down the stream, we continued up the path. Ducking under arches created by fallen trees, we wound our way up to Lyke’s Lookout and discovered beauty in a way that I would not have expected.

We sat on the granite bench looking over the winter bare treetops, the BNSF railroad tracks, US60 and its still audible traffic, and we “got it.” Birdcalls and songs echoed through the trees. Red rocks on the other side of the tracks were punctuated with the Saguaro cactus of the Sonoran desert.

After we wrestled ourselves back from the awe-abyss, we continued our exploration around Palm Lake. Again, we encountered rough, chaotic, and somewhat melancholy views due to winter. The artificial lake was being left to its own devices to return to its natural cienega state.

Before it came under the protection of the Nature Conservancy, the property began as a ranch and stagecoach stop in 1856. Life continued as a dude ranch, a trailer park resort, and then the Nature Conservancy purchased it in 1986. The docent told us it took a full year to haul the trash out of the property. They missed a rusted out water heater shell partially buried under fallen tree limbs.

If you go, please visit their website for hours of operation and restrictions. This is a beautiful site and deserves respect.

UPDATED: 01-19-10  Corrections on the bench on Lyke's Lookout and the date that the ranch began.  Thanks to Martin Lawrence, Preserve Manager, Hassayampa River Preserve for calling my attention to these errors.  I guess I was so taken with the zen of Lyke's Lookout that I didn't even notice exactly what I was sitting on!  Thanks again, Mr. Lawrence!

Friday, January 15, 2010

I recall that evening together.

We sat side by side, on the carpeted floor, staring into the fireplace and each lost in thought. I could never tell what he was thinking and I knew never to ask. My thoughts drifted over the day at work, replaying each scene over and over until I created an alternate scene in which I won the argument, I won the bet, or I won the right to walk out.  Someday, I thought, I will get the chance to walk out. And it will be on my terms, too. Yeah, someday.

The flames were slowly diminishing and the crackling gave way to small snaps and an occasional click. The light in the room was growing dimmer, too. I looked over at him. His eyes were shut and his chin rested on his chest. He snored softly. It made me angry.

How can he sleep? I feed him. I clothe him. I pay all his bills – even the ones I shouldn’t have to. Yet, he does nothing in return. I looked closer. Under the wrinkles, the loose skin, and the graying hair, I saw who he was twenty years ago when we married. I had been in love with him but didn’t truly love him then. That built up over the years. The times of plenty and the endlessness of near poverty. The moments of infidelity. The hours with my cat, the days with our dogs, the years with our daughter. That was what love truly is.

I rocked myself onto my aching knees and wrestled another log onto the fire. The flames went dangerously low but within a minute had started to curl around the new log. The crackling came back after another minute and the light in the room lifted.

What the hell is wrong with me? I asked. I feel so bitchy. I feel lost and lonely at the same time. What is it that I want out of life? Not this! came my first response. Surely there are better times coming again. There has to be or what is the point of it all? I’ll be dead soon if I don’t have at least a glimmer of hope on my horizon.

Okay then, I said to myself, what are you going to do about it? No one is going to help; you must see that by now. You are totally alone and on your own to get what you want out of life.

I stood and went over to my suitcase on the bed and pulled my journal out of the side pocket. I sat down closer to the fireplace, propped the journal on my knee, and began to write. I wrote. I wrote until my carpal tunnel caused my hand to spasm and the pen to fall from my fingers. Cradling my hand to my chest, I looked back at the pages I wrote. The words large, scrawled out and feathered with leaky ink went on for six pages. I read them for the first time.

There was my truth.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Write about a dream

I dream of leaving this grimy and dangerous city behind me.

I dream of a farm house surrounded by tall trees and lilac bushes with fields of ripening grain stretching to the horizon.

I dream of a cabin on the edge of a mountain meadow, its back to a forest and bordered by a small stream.

I dream of a house in a small town where I’m labeled as the town eccentric and pretty much left alone.

I dream of an adobe house in the upper level of a small canyon with wildflowers blooming on the sides of the mountain.

I dream of a cabin by a lake in Minnesota in October when no one else is there.

I dream of a houseboat moored on the Mississippi or the upper Colorado.

Deeper into the blankets I snuggle.  You can't hear the gunshots that way.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Write about the street you lived on.

Four miles south of Saint James on County Highway 27, past the cemetery where the gypsy queen is buried in the mausoleum that bears the name of Thompson, you’ll come across a gravel road on the left. Two miles along this, kicking up dust and giving quick looks in the ditches for the wild asparagus that grows in spring, you turn right onto a narrower gravel road. Up ahead is a grove of trees. Slowing down for the tractors and other farm implements, you crawl along until you come to the driveway that leads into my farm.

It’s an old farm. The main part of the house is well over one hundred years old. Additions were built on as the years and the family progressed. Grandma’s dowry paid for some of it, I think. Her father was a railroader and lived in town. Grandpa’s folks were farmers all the way back to Germany. They did pretty well for themselves. Grandpa’s sister had a new farm down the road as her dowry. Grandpa inherited the smaller homestead.

There are apple trees, lilac bushes, and a big garden located on the far side of the brooder house. An old grindstone sits along the side of the garage slowly melting with rust. A pump close to the huge cottonwood tree brings up the sweet cold water that your summer sweating body craves.

The corncrib down by the machine shed is a haven for field mice. Tiny grey bodies with twitching whiskers eat well over the long winters. Grandpa encouraged the farm cats keep the population down, but they were never successful in getting them all.

Passed the big red barn with its grey cement silo is the path to the alfalfa field where Grandpa taught me to drive. It became the cornfield, followed by other crops over the years. Crop rotation was a religion to Grandpa who didn’t have a lot of money to spare for the chemical fertilizers after he gave up the cattle and lost their manure.

The grandparents are both gone now. Dad, too. If you want to get technical, the farm disappeared about 18 years ago. Sold to a neighbor who tore down the buildings, uprooted the grove of trees, and plowed the soil under where corn, alfalfa, soybeans, and oats now take their turns growing under southern Minnesota skies.  But it still remains in my heart and my mind’s eye. I see it clearly.  It is mine.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Taking up the challenge!

Alex Moore at Write Anything has issued a challenge that I cannot let pass.
Alex Moore Challenge: Join me! Pick a new writing goal or achievement for the next year. It doesn't have to be fancy or stressful or inventive or creative. And don't select something just because it sounds classy or bookish or hip. It just has to be something that means something to you.
1. Put new GOAL in writing. Use sticky note or parchment paper, whatever - just get it down.
2. Find a picture that represents that goal. Rip it out of a magazine, doodle it, snap it with your iPhone.
3. Tape them together & post in prominent place: mirror, bedside, locker, computer.
4. Snap a picture of the duo -- and email to me. Let me post the pretty pics over the next 365 days on this blog. Well...er...at least on the Tuesdays of those 365 days... :)
5. Include your goal in the comment section, too -- leave evidence of your hope in the blogosphere. We here at Adventures in Writing want to ridicule support you as you reach for the stars.
Here's my answer Alex:


Saturday, January 9, 2010

“I remember how it was to drive in gravel.” (after Theodore Roethke)

I grew up around gravel roads. They led to the best places. The paved highways and county roads just led from one town to another. But gravel roads led to farms, the small airport, the gravel pits, the river bottom, lakes, and unknown parks.


A gravel road led to my grandparent’s farm, which was my favorite place on earth. You couldn’t drive fast. The stones would crunch under your tires and offer to slide you sideways if you weren’t careful. The dust would plume like a great peacock tail behind you and signal your passing for miles around.

When the gravel road leading to my grandparent’s farm became weak and pitted, the only way Grandpa could get it repaired was to run for a seat on the city council. He won. The road was re-graveled and nicknamed for him. Mission accomplished, he did not seek re-election.

The gravel roads here in Arizona are not maintained and are frequently washed out in Monsoon flash floods. However, they, like the gravel roads in Minnesota, lead to the best places. For instance, the breathtaking Superstition Mountains are only approached by a winding rutted gravel road.

And someday, when driving south on I-10 to Tucson, I’ll turn off the interstate and take one of those gravel roads that branch off and disappear into the distance. Maybe I’ll disappear with them.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

The Argument for Paper

I've been reading Simon R. Green's paranormal spy series whose main character is Eddie Drood.  Really good escapist reading (with apologies to my high school English teacher, Miss Waysman, who insisted that we never read for escape but to learn).  The first of the series is The Man With the Golden Torc.  The story centers around an ancient family whose members are the secret protectors of the world.  This family is extremely high-tech and beyond.  The "toys" that Eddie uses are something of a cross between Star Trek and James Bond.  Really cool things like a watch that lets you rewind and re-live the last 30 seconds.  Or a gun that never runs out of bullets and always hits its target.

The thing I noted was the Drood family's philosophy on keeping history and records.  They were all paper.  The idea is that technology can fail.  Paper cannot.  Technology can suffer from power outages, hard drive crashes, etc.  Paper will be there.

Yes, paper has drawbacks.  Fire, flood, and many other natural disasters can wipe it out.  But you don't need a battery or a power cord to use it.  A notebook and pen are the ultimate portable recorders you can find and almost everyone can afford them. 

I write this post using a computer.  I'm reaching people all across the United States and someday I may even have a reader from another hemisphere.  But a book will do it too.  A real paper book.  With pages.  With texture.  With soul.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

The Symphony of Science

From the Symphony of Science website:
The Symphony of Science is a musical project by John Boswell designed to deliver scientific knowledge and philosophy in musical form. Here you can watch music videos, download songs, read lyrics and find links relating to the messages conveyed by the music.
If you loved Cosmos by Carl Sagan, you will love this website's musical videos.  Other greats in the scientific world you will see here include Neil deGrasse Tyson, Richard Feynman and Stephen Hawking and even my favorite, Bill Nye the 'Science Guy' is in one of them.

Masterfully executed!  Science and art are not that different.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Um, yeah.

It's been many years since I could let myself love another cat.  My Muppet, a siamese mix, had been with me 13 years when she died.  That cat literally saved my life.  (Another story sometime.)  So, when our big dog, Bill, passed away last April, we could not replace him with another dog. 

Gracie, our little dog, was confused and kept looking for Bill.  Then it was obvious she was entering a sort of doggy depression.  This is when Minerva moved in.


She is one weird cat and so unlike Muppet that I can relax and let her be.  Even when she does things like ambushing Gracie and jumping up on the kitchen counter, or like this:


This was what was left of the toilet paper roll in our little bathroom.  I'd show you the rest of the roll lying on the floor, but some people are faint of heart.

01/04/10 Update:  Minerva finished the job in the wee hours of this morning.  Sigh.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Setting the tone for 2010

There is a common belief/advice out there that says that what you do on the first day of the year sets the tone for the rest of the year.  I took this to heart and made myself get up in front of a crowd (8 people) at a poetry open mike event last night. 

I started out by reading a piece written by someone else in the first round.  There were some names of places I was unfamiliar with and stumbled over them, but it went okay.  The next round I read some of my own.  I think it went okay.  My hubby, who is a regular at these things said he liked one piece in particular.

The thing is - I did it.  I read some of my work to strangers.  And I survived.

I know that sounds silly, but the last time I did that I had a panic attack afterwards and I couldn't leave the venue fast enough.  That was two years ago and it has taken this long to try again.

It takes courage to stand up before a room of people and in essence open a vein and bleed all over the stage.  Because that's what you do.  You open yourself up in ways that most people don't.  It is safer to lock it all away inside.

Special thanks to Bill Campana, host of "Sound Effects," held at Mama Java's every Friday night from 7 to 9 pm in Phoenix, Arizona. 

Update: 06/09/10 - "Sound Effects" has moved to Saturday afternoons from 4 to 6 pm at Mama Java's.  The economy "encouraged" the owner to shave down his hours of operation.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Happy New Year! Welcome 2010!

I agonized until the last second trying to figure out what to say.  It had to be profound, wise, scholarly, and really really funny.

I got nothing.

Happy New Year, one and all!