Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Monday, July 4, 2011

TALK NERDY TO ME


A grandchild of mine was accused, some years ago, of being a “Nerd” because she played War Craft, read and reread Lord of the Rings, and got hooked on TV shows like Fringe and the X-Files. I wondered about this label at first, because she’s bright, outgoing and swims in a sizeable pod of friends. Then I realized that although the term “Nerd,” is fairly new, the profile remains the same. It’s an inherited condition, even unto the second generation.

My husband was always neat, even, his mother told me, as a child, a born organizer. The system might not always be apparent, but he will explain it to you, and he will back his preferences with inescapable logic. He built and flew model airplanes through adolescence, and in labeled boxes in the basement, beside his mourned for, obsolete darkroom, are the engines. I have not the least doubt they could be resuscitated.

After we married, he worked as a programmer. For fun, he spent a decade studying Ansel Adams’ Zone System. He could bring a loud party with the latest Stones album and a fresh jug of Mateus to a stand-still in five minutes if given an opening. His photography, as he practiced it in darkroom and with endless test sheets and kitchen table grokkings, was inspired. As a result, we’ve got rafts of wonderful pictures of our growing boys.

As for me, I was an only lonely child living in the country. Nearsighted, (“Lizzie Lens” was the standard ‘50’s joke) it was easier for me to read than to relate to a world of other children I couldn’t quite see. I hung out in my imagination, creating an entire world ruled by dogs; I drew charts of their dynasties. Oddly, the dogs rode horses, and I had a box of plastic and china stand-ins. Later, I cut to the chase and simply sat on the floor and talked to myself. When I was little, this was called “good” behavior. As I grew older and the habit of talking to myself continued, Mother had second thoughts. All of a sudden—or so it seemed to me—telling myself stories all the time was “weird.” In the fourth grade a Bambi fixation drove me to write a play–I guess you’d call it “fan fic” today–which was performed by my class. I’ve always been vulnerable to historical biography. I began with Davy Crocket, but by the time I was eleven, my affections had fastened upon Alexander Hamilton. This was a fairly odd choice for a crush in the age of Elvis Presley.

Next — granddaughter’s parents. Here we have a Nurse Practictioner and a ramblin’ wreck from Georgia Tech who is–no doubt about it– A Helluva Engineer–the kind who devises break-through software and whose basement ceiling is singed by experimental salutes to Ol’ Nick Tesla. So, when this grandchild puts on her “Talk Nerdy to Me” tee shirt and heads out to play Trivial Pursuit or computer games at the local teen hang-out, I feel a warm glow. She’s a member of Our Clan.

.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Two Wheel Fashion




It's funny to watch all the different kinds of motorcycle riders around our neighborhood. Considering it, they're probably pretty much the same anywhere in the US.

Most conspicuous is the Born to Be Wild crowd, each guy in the parade more of an outlaw HD biker than the last, with LOUD pipes and bald head. Sometimes there's a variant where the rider has a pony tail of grizzled gray. You've got to have a skull tat per inch of bared skin, possibly a lit cigarette dangling from lower lip. You've got a doo-rag but no helmet, because that would be chicken. Sometimes there's a woman on the back, wearing form fitting leathers no matter what kind of shape she’s in. She’s often younger and skinier than her “old man.” The joke Teeshirt in this crowd has written across the back “If you can read this, the bitch fell off.”

Nowadays, though, The Bitch rides in own right, all she likes to be dressed in leather. It must be tough on some the boyfriends when these gals show up on a better bike! At her best, she looks like Angelina and wears leathers that match the color of her show-room glittering cruiser.

Now, I shouldn’t ignore the genteel HD/big bike riders, because there are a lot of them. They appear to have money, and they spend it on vehicles—big diesel trucks they might not strictly speaking need are parked in their driveways along with boats, and RV’s. They ride beautifully cared for, fully decked HD’s or brutal BMW's, those luxury vehicles of the m’cycle world. They can be spotted astride machines of pastel colors, sailing our interstates, rigged with travel trailers. They are taking long treks to Florida or to the West Coast, or down Route 66, or across Canada, whatever the dream ride. One thing all big bikes love in common is a parade, sometimes to the annoyance of other travelers.

Second, and less familiar stateside, are the Rocket Boys. In our part of the country, world, so near an HD plant, this is necessarily a smaller group. Rocket Boys seem to cling to the coasts and have a strong presence in sprawling urban areas, like Greater Atlanta. My husband and I belong to this group, although we are geriatric members. I ride behind him and as he’s at heart a cautious fellow, there are no stunts for us. It is thrill enough to accelerate down a winding country road, leaving other traffic behind like a black Japanese UFO. We ride in helmets, jackets and boots—maybe we’d go for the full Rocket suit if we traveled longer or less tamely. My husband and I go quietly, unlike some of our brethren. Noise has never been a preference for us; stealth is always our Grail.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Characters that Keep Coming Back, Or, Blumchen slips in the Window Again



The character who keeps coming back; most writers have them. The book that can’t or won’t be finished--those too are endemic. My particular dark horse always returns in the first warm weather, this year occurring in April. She’s here, sucking up my waking hours. Needless to say, I’m reediting and reimagining scenes and conversations I’ve visited many, many times. Wearingly I’ve journeyed to this imaginary world over a period of almost thirty years.

To explain more clearly, a reworking doesn’t take place every year, at least not since the first decade. “She” is the first book I ever completed, although a satisfactory ending, I think, still eludes me. Like Constanze of Mozart’s Wife, this young heroine insists on speaking in the first person, which both narrows and deepens her POV. It’s like writing from inside the confines of her 18th Century dress.

I’ve heard authors talk about having a “channeling” experience with their characters. There are many tales of automatic writing and spirit dictation, which sound as if they should be taken with handfuls of salt. However, after the experience I had writing this old and perhaps never-to-be-finished novel, I know it can happen. Ordinarily it takes a period of work to make your dolls get up and moving independently, but in this case, it seems I was the vessel chosen by a voice from the past—for at least a part of her story.

So began tulip-time April, and now burgeoning green May, and her voice is back again, calling for rewrites and stringent editing. She insists I do my best work, despite the fact that the story is “romance.” I hasten to add that it’s “romance” and in the truest sense of the word, in the way Romeo & Juliet is romance. I’m not using the modern commercial sense of the word, but am talking about the old-fashioned bloody insanity, which can so easily end in tragedy. It’s the true nature of the beast, which makes completing a tale of a hopeless passion so difficult. I don’t really want to know the end.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Schuyler RIP







We lost a cat recently. He was one of the "legendary" one. Every lover of the domestic feline knows what I mean by "legendary." These are the cats who who have strong personalities and compelling backstories--rather like the best kind of character.



Cat owners usually have at least a pair of the furry dominators in residence, and this is because "You can't have just one" is as true of cats as it is of potato chips. The standouts aren't common. You may only host two or three of these in a lifetime of pet parenthood. It isn't just that these special cats are sociable, interested in the doings of their owners and in keeping them company. These cats possess an elusive, almost mythical aura.

Schuyler came off the hard streets of an adjacent semi-dead steel town. He was about two years old when we found him at that Humane Society, with a tail broken in two places and a bad hip. He called to us, then reached through the cage bars to hook my sleeve. It didn't take my husband and I long to realize he was the one. We learned that he had been dropped off by some people who couldn't keep him, but thought well enough of him to try this last resort method of finding him a home. I was in a Revolutionary War writing period, and already had a "Hamilton," so he was named another favorite character: "Major General Philip Schuyler."

When we got him, he was skinny and roman-nosed. He would always favor one back leg, but when our Vet first checked him out, she said he was basically healthy. "Just feed him up, and he'll be fine," she said.

There were three other cats here when he came, but he quickly promoted himself to what the German's call "Furst" a/k/a Top Cat. I don't remember much fighting, but his long Tom-Cat-hood and streetfighting experience probably gave him the ability to psych out his new mates. Schuyler quickly became my husband's favorite. He spent most of his fourteen years at our house either in Chris' lap or curled up beside him. He greeted Chris when he came home from work, and said good-bye, too, every morning. He stayed with his human tirelessly while my husband endured a slow recovery from cancer surgery.

He was a pretty cat, the kind you'd expect to see in a Flemish painting, curled on a bench in a black-and-white tiled kitchen scene. He had pink paws and a pink nose and shell pink ears. One of my online friends, seeing his picture, observed that he had "TES." I had never heard of TES, but she explained that her cat also had this condition. She said it meant "translucent ear syndrome."

Sky was a hunter, as you'd expect from an ex-stray, and merciless to mousies and voles. Many mornings we found them laid as offerings on our front steps. He had a musical purr. He also had a great fondness for doughnuts. We quickly learned that we had to hide these inside the cupboard, because if we simply laid them on the counter, they'd be on the floor in the next second, the bag torn open, the contents spilled and hastily gobbled. So much for the notion that cats don't enjoy sugar!


Sadly, he's with his mates now, out in our pet necropolis. This autumn, I'll plant daffodils on his grave. RIP Schuyler, who had every reason in the world to dislike humans, but who, through his innately generous nature, always gave us the benefit of the doubt.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Kick Your Ass Yoga Class


I dabbled in Yoga back in the 60’s. The first thing I learned was that I was “white-man-stiff”. A naturally bad back left me unable to touch my toes, even on my youngest, skinniest day. Even the simplest yoga posture was a tough proposition for me. As a kid, I’d always tried to “be strong” even when I wasn’t. I really pushed the poses. You can imagine what I felt like the day after.

I injured my lower back. I froze my neck. I couldn’t bend down to my toddler without collapsing in pain. Even my eyeballs throbbed. After that initial experience, you better believe I approached yoga practice with deep respect for my built in limitations. I even kept it up for a few years, slowly and carefully running through a few asanas every day. The most adventurous I got was a sunrise salutation or four. The emphasis in the book I followed was on stretching, focusing, centering, and, finally, relaxing, feeling the welcome tingle of blood flowing into stiff, starved places.

Imagine my surprise when I, now an elder who has been through a couple of large surgeries, thought I’d check into my gym’s yoga class. I found that Yoga has become, over it’s years in the West, a Type A sport. Misunderstanding of what it is now is my fault, for the class I attend is at a Gold’s Gym©. I’d joined one a few years back in order to mess with the machines so that the few moving parts I had left didn’t completely rust shut. At this kind of gym--what did I expect? The first yoga class I attended destroyed me in less than 30 minutes. I had to pick up my mat and hobble out the door in utter humiliation, while I could still be sure I could drive my car.

Limping around the house a day later, I came up with “Kick Your Ass Yoga.” Joke aside, I’m still going. I found the “second best” teacher in my gym, whose class is not so full, and who is closer to me in age. She’s not the least interested in her resident “cripple,” and in my baggy sweatpants and tee shirts I’m likely an embarrassment among all the flexible Lycra Ladies in proper yoga garb. Despite that, and with an increase in my daily ibuprofen intake, I go and follow her instruction as fully as the body Nature gave me is able to do.

It is a yogic saying that "you are only as old as your spine." I hate to think how old this makes me, but at least a little practice now is a holding action. Eventually, I think, I'll feel better for it.

Monday, January 3, 2011

THE MOON AND I


It’s hard to recreate a time when there were no words, only feelings.

Moon/Tree/Clouds. These are the first things I remember. Crib slats casting black shadows on a summer smooth sheet. White face through spreading branches. Next, a perfect silver disc lending its sheen to arching branches. The sugar maple that grew behind Grandparents house was enormous.

(Perhaps it had been brought west to Ohio by a homesick Yankee.)

Of course, I knew nothing about it. All I knew was that the maple was good to see, the harmony of black and white, the leafy patterns,somehow created a sound in my head like a clear note.

I was secure. Outside the broad leaves with their sharpened edges barely moved against a velvet sky. Moon face gazed down serene; a cloud edged in rainbow and silver slipped past.

In the next room, women’s voices. They cared for me, two young, one old, getting ready for bed in the spacious bathroom on the other side of the door. It was big enough to accommodate one at the dressing table mirror, a bather in the claw foot tub, one at the sink running water--or, perhaps, even "enthroned." Indoor plumbing was the first improvement Grandpa made after purchasing his house. He had jokingly called the place “a girl’s dorm” for years, and now here I came, the newest female--the one quietly wondering in the room full of moonlight. Sleep was impossible bathed in silver, but it wasn’t frustrating or lonely. Body comfortable, I didn’t need to cry and call them to me. After all, the women were nearby--and so was the Moon.