Monday, May 16, 2016

My Little Town: Bicycle Guy

(Not actual Bicycle Guy. This is why I don't usually attempt to Photoshop anything.)

During the week, I get up at 4:30 a.m. and make my way to the gym three miles up the road. (Yes, I know this sounds crazy, but I also go to bed at 9:30 p.m. Which only sucks in the summertime, when you can hear kids still out playing.)

Many mornings, as I'm heading to the gym, I see a guy on a bicycle heading toward My Little Town. It's always dark--even at the solstice, the sun doesn't rise here till 6:08 a.m.--but there he is, pedaling his heart out, making his way toward work or school or wherever he's going.

This is impressive in summer, but in winter it rises to the level of inspiring. The past couple of winters have been brutal, with lows well below zero (Farenheit) for days at a stretch and lots of ice and snow. And through the worst of it, I'd see him.

I have no idea what he looks like. I have the impression that he's young (in his 20's maybe) and African-American, because the flash of my headlights swooping across his shadowy figure reflects back dark skin, but that may be a trick of the no-light.

Some of you are probably thinking, "Bicycle Guy is crazy," and he may be. I don't know his story. Maybe he doesn't have a car. Maybe the bus doesn't run that early in his part of town. Maybe he's getting ready for the Tour de France. I don't know.

All I know is, Bicycle Guy inspires me. There's something he wants to achieve, whether it's a competition or staying in good shape or simply being on time for work, and he's committed to it. So every morning when I pass him, I send a little prayer out into the universe, asking for his safety and protection.

Because my world would be a sadder, smaller place without him.


Monday, May 9, 2016

Instagrammification

Wild Hyacinth
On the first of May I set up an account on Instagram.


Although I've been told Instagram is where the cool kids hang out, I was reluctant to do that for several reasons.













Dogwood


I already have this sorely neglected blog, a website I've never finished building, a Twitter account I have no idea what to do with (I don't get Twitter. I'm trying to be a team player, but I just don't get it. It's just all these fractional thoughts whizzing by at the speed of light.) and a Facebook account I spend way too much time cruising.

(Although I'm proud to say I've never played a single round of Candy Crush. On the other hand, I'm a total sucker for those Buzzfeed quizzes.where you find out which Jane Austen character you'd be.)




Fleabane
Given these facts, you may ask, "Why the heck do you want an Instagram account?"

















Lilies of the Valley (from my yard)
Because of wildflowers.



Mayapple
On Saturday mornings I hike at a local preserve with Pauline Pruden Persing, whose hands you see holding the Dogwood blossoms. We stroll through the woods and take pictures of wildflowers. We've been doing this for several years. Pauline is a painter and a photographer and a wildflower fancier and she has a great blog.









Over the years, she's taught me a tiny bit about which wildflowers are which and what constitutes good composition for a photograph.


Shooting Star


Plus Instagram is all pictures. It just takes a second to look at a post and get this little hit of beauty. Unlike Twitter, which appears to be all self-promotion and huh?










My plan is to try to post one picture of a flower every day. The pictures on this page represent my first week's efforts. (No idea what I'll do when winter comes.)















If that sounds like something you'd enjoy, come join the fun. I stuck a button in the upper right-hand corner of this page to make it easy.




Nodding Trillium seen from below



Monday, May 2, 2016

My Big, Fat, Gay Wedding

If you've been a Chronicles reader for any length of time, you know that one of the happiest days of my life was June 26, 2015, the day SCOTUS recognized the right of gay and lesbian couples to legally marry.

My daughter and her partner did a commitment ceremony years ago (in Hawaii, on a boat, no guests invited) before they started their family. After the Court decision came down, they started planning a real wedding. Here are a few pictures:

Happy couple at the rehearsal dinner

View from the boathouse

They decided to do a destination wedding in Folly Beach, SC. and arranged their rehearsal dinner at Bowen Island Boathouse,

                                                                       
They served Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams for dessert at the rehearsal dinner. Jeni's is a favorite in their hometown of Columbus, OH. Due to some kind of order mixup, instead of the 70 servings they ordered, they wound up with 936.                                                                                                                                                                                    
Ice cream all around!

Before you ask, no they didn't have to pay for it and, yes, the extra ice cream was donated--to the local fire station and to a non-profit run by one of their friends down there.                                                                                                                                                                                                                            
The morning of the wedding dawned bright and cloudless. Perfect for a beach wedding!

The day was spent getting ready.


Including some help from Mom to daughter.

.
And daughter to son. 

Phinn walked his Moms down the aisle

And Harper did ring-bearer duty. 


The wedding, and the brides, were stunning, One friend led them through their vows while another (sorry, no pic, I was crying by that point) read the decision that allowed this wedding to finally take place.

Now all they have to do is cough up the thousands of dollars required to adopt the children they had as a couple before the law of the land finally recognized what I've known all along.

They're a family.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Make Way for Ducklings


I am not a big fan of humans interfering with nature. I think, in general, we're too focused on short-term goals and too unaware of possible unintended consequences for this to work well most of the time.

Last Monday when I got off work, a mama Mallard and her eight ducklings were crossing four lanes of traffic to visit my campus.

I pulled out my phone to snap a picture, only to realize the babies were too small to hop up on the curb.

Mom was on the sidewalk, quacking encouragement, but try as they might, the little guys couldn't scale a cement cliff twice their height.

By the time I was in range, the kids had given up on mountain-climbing and wandered off, looking for another option.

A few feet away lay an open storm drain,

It was obvious this wasn't going to end well, so despite my misgivings, I threw down my purse, lunch bag, keys and phone and scooped up the first duckling. His leathery little feet paddled frantically against my palm until I set him down on the sidewalk, squawking indignantly.

Instead of being happy to have her baby back, Mom started quacking at me.

"Calm down, birdbrain. I'm trying to help."

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw one of the remaining ducklings toddling toward the storm sewer. I ran over and herded him back to the flock, then picked up a second duckling and set him beside Mom.

She still didn't get what I was trying to do. Instead of counting her blessings, she hopped off the curb, quacking. One of the kids tumbled off after her while the other looked around frantically, trying to figure out what happened to Mom and brother.

I started to scoop up the jumper, only to see one of his brothers toddling in the direction of oncoming traffic as fast as his tiny webbed feet could carry him. I ran over and herded him back to Mom. Meanwhile, another duckling was halfway to the storm drain.

I settled into an unseasy rhythm: pick up a soft, fluffy, freaked-out duckling, set it on the curb, then run around in a circle, herding the remaining ducks away from traffic and the sewer. Grab another duckling and repeat the process.

All the while, the ducklings kept waddling in all directions and toppling off the curb as soon as I set them on it. I was making negative progress. My heart sped up as I realized one of them was almost certainly going to plunge into the sewer or toddle under a passing car tire before I could get the whole family relocated.

About that time, one of the students who'd been studying in the nearby grass ran over to help. His assistance more than doubled our throughput because he didn't have to handle herding duty, too. In no time, the entire family was safely on the sidewalk.

Without so much as a quack-you, Mom led them away like they were escaping from a pair of duck-o-philes.


My takeaways from this encounter: occasionally humans can help Mother Nature  and never expect gratitude from a Mallard.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Still Jeanne

This year's Erma Bombeck Writing Workshop yielded a huge epiphany for me: I don't have Alzheimer's. (At least, not yet.)

A couple of weeks ago was my third time attending this great conference, The first time was back in 2006, a year after winning the local division of the Erma Bombeck writing contest. My essay, entitled "A Mistake in Identity," told the story of running into my old high school drama teacher at a local theater and gave him a big, exuberant hug, only to realize he was not, in fact, Mr. Scott, but a former co-worker.

What does that have to do with my non-Alzheimer's diagnosis?

Here's the deal: Over the past few months, I've had two separate occasions where I failed to recognize someone at work. These people are not strangers--they're co-workers I've interacted with occasionally for years. The first one occurred when I quoted someone in a meeting, "Well, Janet Schmitt says...." And a middle-aged blonde woman at the table said, "Wait. I'm Janet Schmitt and I never said that."

That one was fairly straightforward. Somewhere along the line I got another woman (young, brunette, apparently prone to false statements) attached to the name Janet Schmitt.

It could happen to anyone.

The second time was a little scarier. This time, I waltzed into a meeting, saw a woman I didn't recognize and thrust out my hand, "Hi. I'm Jeanne. I don't think we've met."

She stared at me, bemused. "I'm Angie," she said. "We work together all the time." While our work together is mostly via email, I had met her face-to-face a few times.

It totally freaked me out.

I came straight home and Googled "impaired facial recognition" and discovered an aggressive though rare form of Alzheimer's that presents with this symptom. Both of my grandmothers spent the last 10 or 15 years of their very long lives (they lived to 97 and 99, respectively) in nursing homes, wearing diapers and not recognizing anyone. Alzheimer's is my greatest fear. I'll take cancer, heart disease or a bad car wreck any day over that bad boy.

The article linked to a Famous Faces test on which I scored 85%. That would have reassured me, but at least one article indicated a score of 85% was iffy (although another said it's only when you score below 50% that you have a problem).

So now I was even more concerned. I talked about it with Old Dog who, thank God, is accustomed to my freakouts. He talked me down. We agreed I'd mention it to the doctor the next time I saw her.

On Friday night at the Workshop, I sat next to a young woman who asked about my ancient contest win. I told her my story of hugging my startled ex-co-worker in front of his equally surprised wife and daughter. And that was when it hit me: I don't have Alzheimer's.

I just suck at recognizing people.






Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Travel Tuesday: Sedona, Arizona

I just got back from a research trip to Sedona, AZ, the setting for my work-in-progress and I was fascinated by the trees there.


 This one was in Oak Creek at Crescent Ranch Park. I should have had someone stand among those roots to give you an idea of scale. The bottom part of the trunk was roughly the size of one of those little Fiats you see everywhere these days.



According to the New Agers, the Sedona area has four "vortexes," where energy converges. They claim magnetic resonances in these specific areas cause the trees there to twist as they grow. Kelly, the guide for our Pink Jeep tour, a great storyteller and not a New Ager, says the twisting happens when part of the tree is injured or diseased and the healthy part keeps growing. I don't know which is true, but the trees were as fascinating as the rock formations.

We saw this one at the vortex near Airport Mesa.

.

This one was my all-time favorite. Near the Bell Rock vortex, it looked like a sleek modern sculpture.





This one's not twisty, but I had to admire its spunk, growing on the side of a cliff.






















This one isn't a tree, it's a yucca plant. Have a little respect, please, because it's dying. The last thing dying yucca plants do is throw up a shoot that's 18 to 20 feet high. Which seems tragic, giving that last gasp like Mimi in La Boheme, until you learn that the DNA in those shoots are exact replicas of the original plant. It's not so much dying as giving itself multiple new bodies to start over with. Who wouldn't sign up for that?










This last one isn't from Sedona, but from the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix. It's the skeleton of a dead cactus. I always pictured cacti as being all mush inside, which doesn't make any sense, since mush couldn't hold up a forty-foot tall plant. What they have inside is the fibrous skeleton pictured here.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Fiction Friday: Critiquing Beginning Writers

I've been doing a lot of critiques for friends in my various writers' groups lately. Some of them are still fairly early in their writing careers, and it occurred to me that the feedback I give to beginning writers is very different from what I share with seasoned veterans of the Writing War. Here are a few tips:
  • Stay positive. I read somewhere once that, when providing criticism, you should offer two items of positive reinforcements/praise for every bit of negative feedback.To be honest, I can't usually pull that off, but I do shoot for a 1:1 ratio of positive to negative.
  • If you genuinely don't want to do the critique, or you don't have time, say "no." A decline is better than writing up a hurried, ill-considered critique
  • Be upfront about your genre expertise. I can offer useful criticism on romance and women's fiction because I write those genres. I'm less helpful with SciFi/Fantasy because I haven't read enough of it and I don't know the rules for the genre.
  • Don't use the critique to demonstrate how clever you are. You're not writing to entertain and amuse. You're there to help. Skip the zingers and stick with simple language, couched as positively as possible.
  • Avoid critiquing word choice. It doesn't matter if it's not the word you would have chosen. When you suggest alternate wording, you're not trying to improve their writing. You're trying to turn it into your writing. Unless the word is used incorrectly, leave it alone.
  • On a similar note, don't try to hijack their story and take it in another direction. If you feel strongly that their premise or plot are cliched, it's okay to mention other books that have a similar story line, but every story is different. Cliches got that way because those themes resonated with people. Let the writer tell the story they want to tell.
  • For first drafts, stay at a high level. At McDaniel, we used the following template:
    • What Must Be Kept?
    • What Needs Work?
    • Where Do I Think This Is Going? (for partials)
That last one is especially useful because it lets the writer know what they're telegraphing via subtext or the use of familiar tropes. I've had several wrtiers say, "Totally didn't realize it was coming across that way," or "Wow, that's a little too obvious. I need to rethink this."
  • Finally, let yourself enjoy the process. You never know when you might be fostering the growth of an amazing new storyteller.

LinkWithin

Related Posts with Thumbnails