Friday, September 25, 2015

Through an Aorta

In my sophomore year of college I chose poorly when my English literature professor suggested that I redo a paper I had submitted on Joseph Conrad's The Heart of Darkness or fail. The professor explained that more critical analysis was expected instead of my own experience of the work. In the impudence of youth, I was sure I could write my truth, my way. I took my chances and the F, earned a D+ in the class clinging to my stuburness, and, in the end, changed my major.

I have often looked back on that day, standing before the stodgy greyed professor in his tweed jacket in the cool of the Florida panhandle and wondered if I chose wisely. I realized as the years went by that in that one decision, I chose to hold onto my desire to write, but I also withheld a ticket to get on the bus.

That day I also sentenced the novice artist within to a dungeon of sorts for over twenty years and let creative expression grow fallow. When I finally dipped below my brainy world-face, I knew I had to resuscitate that long lost wanna be writer residing just below my heart space.

I began in fits and starts with blogging. The more I wrote, the more I wanted to figure out how to do it better. The more I tinkered, the more I realized I needed to learn. I felt like No-Face (Kaonashi), the insatiable character from Hayao Miyazaki’s animated film, Spirited Away, there wasn’t enough of anything to feed my long lost artist.

I wrote a magazine article. I tried to do a few more, but without further success. I pecked away at blog posts wondering what was I trying to get out in my writing? What was my body of work to be about? 

Statistics from the blog told me that my audience was most interested in posts on both Japan and food. Though these topics were in the moment interesting to me, I was still adrift.

Last summer, I set out to write a film script about college rape. I went through several iterations and approaches. I workshopped it in screen writing class. I learned a ton, but the story fell short of my ambition. This summer, a year into writing, at a loss as to where to go with it,  I let go of the story. It resides in a file now.

Still, I kept wondering why was I writing? It takes so damned much time. Why write? What was I after?

Part of the struggle with writing the film script came from the fact that though I was focused on telling a story I thought was worthy of my time, it wasn’t territory I enjoyed exploring. 

Taking that feeling as a sign post pointing in a new direction, I have returned to an English department all these years later, a Creative Fiction writing class.

Through the story of woman called into sobriety, I am focused on the inner dialogue and life choices encountered in adulthood. It feels like territory I want to explore, one sentence at a time.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Poetry on Chocolate Wrappers

My fav chocolate bar, almond and sea salt, gets deployed for a variety of excuses ranging from menstrual cycles, happy days, to today's post recovery from heatstroke/hypoglycemia after bicycling on a hot day without water longer than my usual twenty minute rush uptown. The best part? It was the last piece of chocolate so I got to read the poem inside the wrapper.

"I got a golden ticket," knocks about in my head when this happens. I always loved that Harry Potter had to eat chocolate to feel better in that series.

Poetry printed on the inside of chocolate wrappers is a marvelous thing. However, I have to admit, sometimes the poems are over my head even though they sound fabulous. Maybe it's language of long ago, some structural thing that I don't comprehend, my thick skull, or general lack of experience with poetry. Still, it's the thrill of finding the poem, like getting the toy in a Cracker Jacks box (I never got the sweet cereals as a kid unless it was the mini multi packs) that adds an extra dose of happiness.

Surprisingly, more packaging doesn't contain artistic nips of poetry like bad jokes on Bazooka bubblegum or self-help mantras. It's an opportunity to cheerlead the customer.

Tonight my daughter asked me, "If you could redecorate the world, would you do it?" Thinking of the great undertaking it would be, I turned down the offer. Surprised, my daughter said, "You wouldn't redecorate the world to make it better for poor people, put in nice bathrooms, plant more trees?" I replied, "I didn't know that's what you meant by redecorate."

Now that I think about it, more trees would be as fine an addition to the world as poems on wrappers.

Friday, August 28, 2015


  1. an inscription on a building, statue, or coin.
    • a short quotation or saying at the beginning of a book or chapter, intended to suggest its theme.

“When you see me killing something you should reason that it will want to kill me back, she screamed.”
Russell Edson, “The Difficulty With a Tree

Setting out to conquer something as illusive as writing a story by attacking it with vigor or piercing it with insight, might cause the words to fight back or at least try to elude a writer. Besides, brut force seems so much easier than luring something as shadowy and slippery as a story.

My eyes roam over a scene in a quiet restaurant. Can I craft it onto the page so that days later a reader can be here with me? 

A bartender’s shadow flickers into my light. I glance over but only up to his knees. He has unusually short limbs, I think. He pulls on a beer faucet to fill a glass. Cool, someone is having beer for lunch. I turn my gaze toward the window and stare at the sunlight pouring into the room. Dust particles dance on the air as if fairies in a child’s imaginary garden. Overhead, discordant sounds hurl into the room through speakers as someone’s idea of music. I fidget; it’s too early for my lunch date.

How to seek a story? I can see that pushing a story into existence could be a step toward my own demise. There must be a gentler approach? Perhaps a sidelong glance or an invitation to regularly be together? The muses seem to be perpetually on vacation unless they are visited, cajoled, or enticed daily by showing up with presence, patience, and a willingness to follow their lead.

Stop trying to kill what you seek.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Movie Ratings for Immature Audiences

"Did you check the rating?" asks my kid. We're at the movies to see Mr. Holmes (2015). "Yes," I assure him though I've only just checked a moment before. A few days prior I had been caught off guard when a parent sent me a link to all of the offensive moments in a film I planned to take three elementary students to see. It was a Science on Screen Athena Cinema event with a lecture from a naturalist and birder from the co-founder of the Ohio Bluebird Society and conservation education co-ordinator from the Athens Soil and Water Conservation District, followed by a film.

Summer brought hummingbirds and interest in identifying birds so a lecture and movie about bird watching seemed like a great transition for the first day of school. Ratings schmatings.

Yeah, I know about Common Sense Media. I just keep forgetting to check every single thing I expose my children to let alone what they expose themselves to when not even trying. Besides, my own childhood memories of horror scenes cured me of all desire to watch that genre and has saved me from countless hours of tedious movie watching. Profanity, sex, nudity, violence, and gore are not easily avoided whatever medium viewed. It generally does help to consider offensive things through the context of the story. Stories all about shlock and violence do nothing, but take a story that moves through them and goes somewhere else like The Silence of the Lambs (1991), and it becomes something powerful and worthwhile, but not for kiddos. Navigating ratings and stories with childrearing requires an appreciation for individual differences even at the same age.

One child hides their face during a kissing scene in practically every movie, the other watches. One child asks to read a book that another refuses. Kids know when they are ready, especially if you talk to them about what they are reading and what your concerns are. I may rely too much on trusting my children to talk about disturbing scenes and issues, but it hones the ability to talk about uncomfortable subjects.

"The movie may contain some profanity and nudity," I say to the three kiddos sitting around the kitchen table eating cheese rice. "What's profanity," asks the guest child. I look at their faces wondering if my own children will answer the question. Everyone is looking at me. No one appears to know the what profanity means. "Words you may know as cuss or curse words," I say. They all nod in understanding. They've learned a new vocabulary word, I think to myself. "Well, any questions," I ask. The kids are back to eating cheese rice. "You can always close your eyes if something makes you uncomfortable in the story or ask your parents if you have any questions. Remember things that are part of telling a story are there because they mean something to the storyteller," I rattle. The talk turns to other things. I extract myself from the conversation, feeling that enough has been said.

My fav example of the say less approach of parenthood happened years ago when from the rear car seats one child, out of the blue, says, "Aunt X is married to a girl." I look up and into the mirror to see the faces in the backseat. They are both looking out the windows. "Yes. Some women are married to women and some are married to men," I say with more nonchalance than I feel. I guess I expected some grilling that never came. I held my tongue in truth because I didn't know what else to say, but in holding my tongue I realized, they had all the information they wanted.  Kids will ask more questions when they want to know more. I've been a fan ever since.

One kiddo ducked, as usual, at the sight of an on screen kiss, but we all enjoyed the A Birder's Guide to Everything (2013) even with the offensive moments and PG-13 rating because the story worked and it made us laugh.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Binge Watching Movies

My life is full of things like, "My shoulder hurts," or, "I'm hungry," and even the, "I can't stop thinking about this thing I saw on YouTube," stuff. Yeah, me either, I inwardly bemoan. Turfing these minor problems back to the encroaching party is like playing a very long tennis match, back and forth, unrelentingly, and then I feel awful for wishing that I could just do some one thing without an interruption.

If there's some life lesson in all this focus on others business, I keep missing it which is probably why I keep reliving the problem. So I press for mealtimes, routines, PG ratings, and limited excitement at bedtime in acquiescence to the reality that parenthood has put me in charge of everyone's stomach, brain, and schedule. But. Sometimes. I want to stay up late. Watch three movies in a row. Eat guacamole for dinner. Sometimes I wish I was on a jet plane so I could watch whatever I want for as long as I want or at least until someone has to go to the bathroom.

The last time I binged watched three movies in a row on terra firma, one of the films was La Femme Nikita which means it was some time after 1990. It's easier, ok, quieter, to read a book or type a story. I hide behind book covers that can be opened to that page I've read three times, or I try to conjure the thought I was having that keeps flitting about my head like dust particles on a windy spring day with the windows open.

Some day I'll be lonely and no one will want me to find their I heart Germany t-shirt, but I'm guessing I'll be glued to the TV watching fifty years of cinema that I've missed. 

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

When Wonder Woman Rules

Not long ago a friend at the end of a hectic day sat down with a glass of wine and a wistful look in her eye. "I feel like I do everything at seventy-five percent-- parenting, teaching, marriage, art. I can't do any one thing at a hundred percent anymore. It's so disheartening," she sighed. I could only nod in agreement. Who hasn't felt stymied in the attempt to be Wonder Woman, and, for me, my friend is Wonder Woman. It got me thinking about the juggling act of life.

It's the falling short of our own expectations that haunts us, but do we consider that our standards are set for olympic conditions much of the time? Let's think about this.

Wonder Woman looks fabulously fit, lives in a palatial yet immaculate villa, kicks villain butt regularly, wears spectacular gold bracelets, and manages to have a successful career including comic books and a television show. I don't recollect marriage, children, or household chores factoring much into her days, but she's the one we conjure up in our hour of despair. We compare ourselves to the idols of course.

I'd like to blame it all on Wonder Woman, but the truth is I drive myself like Andrew Carneige or J.D. Rockefeller drove the steel workers or oil contracts-- with ridiculous demands fearful of an unproductive moment or relationship. I also exhaust myself. 

In the attempt to consider new juggling methods while looking as fabulous or not as Wonder Woman, these thoughts come to mind:

Buckets. Different buckets need to be focused on at different times. Think of it this way, you focus on learning in college, the screaming kid in childhood, the job at hand in the pressure cooker of your career. The perfectly balanced life is an illusion--read Fast Company article by Keith H. Hammonds, Balance is Bunk!  Your sanity is better served by accepting your fate at hand, doing what you're good at, and redesigning life regularly.

Sabbaticals. Academics and priests break away from routines at least once every seven years. Try a change of focus for a whole day, a whole month, a whole year. Do a side project that follows your bliss just for the fun of it. Commit to it, plan for it, make it happen. Take a break from the way you normally go about business and redesign it.

Meditation. The research on mindfulness is pointing the way for anyone who doubts the value of this restorative practice. Blocking the time is often a struggle, but it's really the mind game of valuing calm over chaos. Start with five minutes. Really, you can do five minutes, everyday. Go from there.

Focus on the now. My least favorite activity is shifting my focus from what I'm doing to what someone else calls me to notice. However, I think this is at the root of the falling short fear noted above. If I don't focus on the moment at hand, I'm missing it. Very few brains can simultaneously listen and hold a thought so stop trying. Focus on the who, what, the now, right before you, and let go of that thought. The crux of the struggle is the attempt to control our attention- attention gets pulled, the counter attempt to shift back attention competes with the demands of the moment at hand, but instead of fighting the shift, do it, be done with it. Once the wall of attention is breeched, the focus is gone anyway so get into the moment, be there. Then you can wander back into the abyss. It helps to block off schedules, phones, internet access, or set time limits to avoid total access all the time, but know that some things will manage to get through. Be in the now.

Go outside. I know my mother was a fan of this one, but it does reset the mental energy. Go out into the expanse of the great outdoors. Some how I come back in with a new feeling of possibility. Skip the smoke, but wallow in the sunshine, watch the rain drops, feel the breeze, look up at the patch of sky drifting some where near you. The world is so very large. Connect to that largeness and loose yourself in it.

Power moves. I recently watched Ann Cutty's TED talk, Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are. I've got one thing for you. It takes two minutes. Put your arms up in the victory thrust. Wait for it, wait for it. Feel the surge of testosterone and calm? Let them fuel your attitude. Stay there for two minutes. Now, go forth and lead like the Wonder Woman you are.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Fair Viewings

I went to the fair. Oh, the horror, the horror. I went to the fair thinking that I was some version of normal. I stood in line at a concession stand, walked through the animal barns, and some where along the way my senses flashed I'm the one that's out there.

Fair thoughts inspired by fair viewings:

1. I know it's the fair which should be my annual indulgence, but I'm slightly repelled by the visuals. Diet matters- care about what you eat. Processed foods and high fructose beverages will kill you or make you really fat. Besides, tea, coffee, water, and beer just taste better and only one of them has any calories and the caffeine is optional. There are no short cuts to real food. You have to shop, chop, and cook. Eating processed food makes me feel terrible, unhealthy, if you don't regularly eat it. Deep fried Oreos will kill you if the funnel cake doesn't. Try eating real food for a month and then eat a highly processed meal, boom, it's like drinking the bird and barfing your brains out, you won't go back.

2. You'll have more respect for yourself if you focus on showing off your wit, brains, humor,  dance moves, something besides skin please. Clothes should cover your hind end- no one really wants to see your fleshy thighs, protruding abs, or hairy or hairless chest. Keep that covered please! There are plenty of offerings at Goodwill if budget is your issue. With a needle and thread its possible to even get creative with your wardrobe and from what I can see, it's worth a try. Anyone not in that category may want to consider donating excess wardrobe items to Goodwill soon- remember feel the joy.

3. Motor cross is still driving around in a circle.

4. Blue hair, pink hair, I kinda like it, has a cartoonish effect. I think superhero. Got any lines for this? Look at me! I'm cool, pass the cotton candy. 

5. All the rides are really some verizon of spin and puke. It's all a secret test for flight school. Hello Navy recruiter!

6. The animals are beautiful, they are brushed, groomed, walked, loved. Why do we eat them? Oh, they taste good and those plastic packages are quite harmless looking. "Thank you People's Bank for buying..." Oh dear, where is Charlotte when you need her?