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Reclaim the Morning

Yesterday was one of those days. Yes, those days. The ones that you know are going to be tough the moment you wake up. And, to be honest, it was my doing. I plucked that morsel of negativity out of nowhere and let it fester in my body. For many reasons, which I’m not going to focus on, my life feels uncertain, ungrounded and upended. Yesterday marked two years of life and work in Colorado, in the Roaring Fork Valley and, for those many reasons, I felt distant rather than connected. Homesick rather than joyful.

Halfway through the day, I met a fellow writer from the Aspen Writers’ Network for lunch. We talked a bit about her latest novel and the editing process she is currently consumed with. When she asked about my writing, I couldn’t tell her too much. Except that I wasn’t writing very much of anything. And, with that, came an anecdote about my reservations of life here, what I was doing, how uncertain everything felt and the disclaimer that I felt a bit sheepish about this sob story.

Well this is the perfect time for you to write, she said, right in the middle of angst and times of great emotion. It’s true, writers do accomplish some of our best work it these times of strife. After all, the catchphrase “troubled artist” has to come from somewhere. But, in all seriousness, what she said resonated. Why couldn’t I use this “blah” to my advantage, and turn it into something else.

Time. It’s always my biggest excuse. When do I have time to write? Not after work, when I am always too tired and the thought of looking at a blank page or screen – and producing creative words – induces a mild wave of panic that settles into a dull ache between my shoulder blades. Ok, perhaps it isn’t that bad but, nevertheless, post-work creativity is rarely an option.

About four years ago, I found myself in the Balinese jungle of Ubud talking with an Ayurvedic doctor about my life. The circumstances sound so much more exotic than they really were. Instead of trekking through the jungle to find a 110-year-old man with a century of Ayurvedic knowledge, I was on a resort property, in a tiny little office, talking to a young man behind a desk. Nevertheless, his words stuck with me and at the time I took fastidious notes – on my ideal diet, exercise, sleep patterns and, interesting enough, my most productive hours of the day.

I’ll have to find those notes. I can’t quite remember if the most “productive” hours were the exact words he used, but I’ll use those for now. His answer? 6am – 9am. At the time, my inner self groaned. I was not, nor ever thought I’d be, the kind of person who popped up in bed at 6am without an alarm clock, ready to seize the day, and make the absolute most of the next three hours. I’m a snoozer.

Four years later, I’m still that snoozer and there have been hundreds of 6am-9am windows of productivity that I have consciously missed out on because I was deep into my last cycle of REM sleep. But to give myself a little credit, it is rare that I sleep past 10 or 11am these days, perhaps once every few months. I consider it progress, especially when at one point – in my much younger years – sleeping past 12noon was not uncommon.

And now I have a new catalyst to launch me back into mornings. A dog. Her bladder has a max hold time of 6-7 hours. Going to bed at 10:30/11pm means that by 6am, she’s up and ready to pee. We’ve only had her for two and a half weeks but getting out of bed for her isn’t all that hard. And, with that, it’s settled. After she has done her business and we set foot back into the house, it’s time to do mine. It’s time to reclaim my morning hours in the name of productivity – and creativity. I’ve only got myself to blame for missing out on these hours for as long as I have but, then again, it’s not about the hours that have passed.

Gathering the regret and discontent lodged in between my shoulder blades, I’ll take a step back, a deep breath, and redirect. These feelings don’t have to be a concrete road block, instead they can be fuel to get it all started. So, with the dog back in bed, and the house still, I’ll quietly re-stake a claim in my early mornings to come.

Just My Opinion

So the topic of this week’s writing workshop is opinion.  And I’ve decided to include the first draft of my submitted opinion piece below.  While the content, Hurricane Irene, is a bit dated. I still feel it’s relevance… after all, news is news.

White Noise

On Monday August 22, we were still anticipating the weekend ahead at the Delaware Beaches, which would be spent celebrating the closing of my friend’s single chapter by drinking margaritas and playing in the sand.  In the midst of our pre-planning email fury, one of our friends mentioned the possibility of a hurricane coming up the East coast.  What hurricane?

A day later things started to get shaky.  Tuesday afternoon a 5.8 magnitude earthquake, possibly the strongest to ever hit Virginia according to the Washington Post, rattled people from Maine to South Carolina.  I didn’t feel a thing.  Emails, calls, and instant messages about the quake derailed everyone’s productivity for the afternoon. Hurricane Irene was suddenly on the back burner, finishing last on the ticker tape headlines.  There were plenty of news stories, CNN alerts, and radio broadcasts about the earthquake, but they seemed to dissipate as quickly as the earthquake had.  No aftershock.

But the news stations got another chance to overdo it.

Thursday rolled around and, suddenly, there was no longer a bachelorette party to look forward to.  In my office, low grumblings of cancelled events and inconveniences gave way to anxious chatter about evacuation zones and emergency supplies.  A friend of mine, who lives downtown in the Financial District, asked if she could bring her family to my apartment, which perched on the higher ground of the Upper East Side.

They arrived on Saturday around noon, and, upon their arrival, we promptly plopped ourselves down on the couch to do what every good citizen would in the wake of a state emergency: watch the news.  Purging itself of regular scheduled programs, the network stations (which were the only ones received by my television) fixated on the pending storm.  And wasn’t this their moment to shine.  Anchors were tucked comfortably into the mahogany desks while meteorologists pranced in front of their radar screens, outfitted in their Sunday best, hair placed perfectly and teeth as white as ever.  Video footage of grayish-blue, foamy storm surge was slipped in between broadcast developments, hinting of possible danger.  Novice field reporters in slick raincoats braced themselves for gale-force winds and downpours.  It was slated to be the worst hurricane the Northern East Coast had seen in decades and it seemed as though the news was going to squeeze every last drop of airtime out of it that they could. As the hours of Saturday evening dwindled on, and there was nothing left to do but sleep, I dreamt about the late-night crews still broadcasting, howling their projections on perilous developments into the wee hours of the night.  Each twist and turn of their footage contributed to the sheer force of this story as a spectacle of entertainment.

On Sunday the TV came back on.  Scenes of fallen trees, muddy streets and flooded roadways were narrated with stoic commentary.  We watched reporters valiantly slush through mud and plough through flood waters in pick-up trucks as they traversed the most affected parts of the city.  Water lapped deviously at the edges of the Battery Park promenade.  Look at this! They exclaimed. The tide was sure to rise.  A clip of a girl in a bright pink shirt walking through two feet of water cycled over and over.  Just as I thought I was seeing a twisted expression of amusement on her face, the screen would flip to an image of the empty, eerie New York streets.

Enough was enough.  We ventured outside, at the behest of the media, to find breakfast.  The sky was light, and a fine rain sifted through the air.  Off of first avenue, the only open diner was packed with people wanting to see for themselves how the city had fared against the storm.  Hours and days later, we would come to find out that, while the city was (for the most part) in tact, nearby areas in upstate New York and New England had been completely demolished.  CNN reported the following week that the death toll as of August 30th stood at 43 (it is now known to have caused over 56 deaths) and that over 2.85 million customers were without power.  And we were watching close-ups of piles of sticks and panoramic views of broken boardwalks.

With full stomachs were returned to the apartment, back to the couch, to the news, and to the reporters, hoping that they might have the answer to the most pertinent question of the hour: “When can people go home?”  A live press conference was soon to start, we were assured as our eyes lingered on the empty City Hall podium.  We waited, anxiously for information that might actually serve us, help us, and inform us.  We were tired of watching reporters splashing around.

Finally, Mayor Bloomberg centered himself behind the microphone.  The news anchors hushed.  Bloomberg’s mouth opened but there was no sound.  All that we heard was a bit of fumbling with microphones mixed with improvised apologies about technical difficulties.  And then, silence.  But, no fear, the reporters would eagerly fill the void.

 

Helter Skelter

Word of the day:
Skelton (noun): definition TBD

So today, Sunday, I am up early. It’s 9:30(am)! Since leaving New York on Tuesday evening, I have had one main objective: sleep. To date, my sleep count is 62 hours in 5 nights. This is awesome.

So back to today, up early, and I find myself in a quiet house. My parents are off to Lancaster, to drop my Grandmother off with my Uncle, and I am here, undisturbed for at least another hour. After making a pot of coffee, burning some bacon, and smoking up the house – I have decided to sit down and work on my final projects for grad school.

But, not until I check Facebook. And it so happens that, today, I needed to ace one of those word puzzles to get in, which is either a sign from above that I should just call it quits or a precautionary measure from the site, some level of security that I don’t really attempt to understand.

I needed to enter the following words: Skelton and Column. Column is easy, I’ve been spelling that since the third grade. Skelton is… not a word. Now, most people might not care but, being the scholar that I am, I stopped to think twice about why these people who make up these puzzles actually choose “words” that aren’t really words. They definitely wouldn’t win Scrabble. Do they want to keep people on their toes? Or just confuse them? Or play a joke on some poor innocent facebooker and make them feel helpless and brainless? (I know I am hinging on the slightly scary/pathetic conspiracy theory here, and no, I won’t go there.)

So I looked it up. (Thanks Google.) And “Skelton” really does actually exist:
– Skelton is a village and civil parish in the unitary authority of the City of York, in North Yorkshire England
– Representative Ike Skelton (D – MO)
– Burges High School standout quarterback, John Skelton
– The world’s greatest clown, Red Skelton

There we go. Mystery solved.

The Literary Dude Ranch

erstwhile\ERST-wile\
adverb: in the past : formerly

Several weeks ago I truly believed that I had met my soul mate. He sat down next to me, holding a banana and a Grande Starbucks cup. Check. Then I realized that we were reading the very same article (about Brad Paisley), from the very same magazine (the New Yorker), from three months ago (that’s the kicker). I spoke to him, we laughed, said that was “like, random,” and those 30 seconds were it. I might be hopeless.

So today’s Daily Candy newsletter gave me a bit of a lift. “10 Guy Writers We’d Like to Cozy Up With.” Sweet! I guess if you can’t find a guy, the next best thing might be to get a good book written by one.

I liked Daily Candy’s introduction to their Fall literary round-up: “Forget the idea that male writers are shy, sensitive souls. We think they’re like wrestlers: They coax us to a ringside seat; butt heads with bad grammar; and spin, slam, and twist plots until they come to dizzying finishes. Here, ten guy-produced books that will keep you mesmerized this fall.”

Erstwhile hopeless, now literary lush.

Do It Yourself

perfidious • \per-FID-ee-us\ • adjective
: of, relating to, or characterized by faithlessness or disloyalty : treacherous

During one weekend visit at home, my Mom made the case that my Starbucks routine might be conveniently subsidized by buying my own coffee maker. I suggested a Keurig One Cup Coffee Maker… and that was that for the conversation.

A few days later a surprise package arrived at my desk. I opened the box to find a stove-top cappuccino maker. A Italian-made “mukka express!” Accompanied with this machine came two mugs with the face of a cartoon cow on them, saucers to match, and a package of ground mocha coffee. I was SO excited.
My cappuccino fix originated in Italy when I visited the country on a cruise. Every morning after breakfast we’d board a bus to take us to a prominent city, like Rome or Florence, and everyone morning the bus stopped at a highway rest stop. It was the Italian thing to do, they told us. There we would order cappuccinos and be up and running when we arrived. Since then I find myself to be a cappuccino consumer outside of the States – Switzerland, Turkey, Monaco… all wonderful spots for cappuccino.

My kitchen would soon be another. Home I went with my little machine, cups, saucers, and coffee and come Sunday I gave it a try. There were seven “simple” steps to putting the parts of the Mukka express together – the most important and, of course, complicated was fastening the pressure valve to the main console. I then added the milk and switched on the burner. Three small minutes later a geyser of cappuccino erupted, spewing water, grinds, milk into the air. I stood there, shuddering, in the wake of this explosion – not knowing quite what to do. I turned off the burner, evaluating the damage and the thin but sticky layer which now rested on the fridge, the stove, the floor… and the post-eruption drops that sucked on the ceiling before succumbing to gravity.
I evaluated my mishap. The pressure valve hadn’t locked in completely but, fortunately, had been blocked by the top of the machine – instead of being released into my kitchen to cause further destruction. I slowly dismantled the other parts of the perfidious machine – prepping it for another go. I gave the pressure valve a solid two minutes of time. Fastening and unfastening the device several times in the appropriate position. Water, milk, mocha. Go.
I never took my eyes off of the mukka express. My hands grasped together with hope. My feet stuck to the previous cappuccino drying on the floor. Pop!
The milk steamed and bubbled perfectly, the contents and parts of the mukka express remained in tact as my beverage took form. Quickly removing the device from the stove before my successful attempt could be foiled, I transferred the contents quickly into my bovine cup. The first sip… delicious but lukewarm. It’d suffice. I removed my stick flip flops before heading to the living room. I’d clean the kitchen later.

What’s in your cache?

Today’s word of the day: Ripsnorter

\RIP-SNOR-ter\ noun: something extraordinary, humdinger
I spent the labor day long weekend in the city with my sister.  I was excited to have her come up, not only was it her birthday but the weather was beautiful and the city was a little more “mellow” than usual.  I had plenty on the “to do” list: Italian dinner at Novita followed by a rooftop bar crawl Friday, an afternoon Mets bar with a visit to Ed’s Lobster Bar on the way back, and a Sunday trip to the zoo or… geocaching.
What?
My sister received a GPS for Christmas, for the obvious reason that her sense of direction needed a bit of assistance.  And Mindy Garmin (I learned this weekend that the GPS has a name) introduced Cory to geocaching. 
According to Wikipedia: Geocaching is an outdoor activity in which the participants use a Global Positioning System (GPS) receiver or other navigational techniques to hide and seek containers (called “geocaches” or “caches”) anywhere in the world. A typical cache is a small waterproof container (usually a tupperware or ammo box) containing a logbook. Larger containers can also contain items for trading, usually toys or trinkets of little value. Geocaching is most often described as a “game of high-tech hide and seek”, sharing many aspects with orienteering, treasure-hunting, and waymarking.  Geocaches are currently placed in over 100 countries around the world and on all seven continents, including Antarctica.  As of September 2009, there are over 893,500 active geocaches over the world.
And while Geocaching isn’t an official word in the Merriam-Webster dictionary, Geocaching.com (a ripsnorter of a website) certainly makes a great case for the hobby.  Cachers are required to sign-up, create a profile, keep a log of the caches you visit, etc.  Social networking for global trekkers anyone?
There are a few basic rules to abide by when caching:
1. Once you get close to the cache, act stealth.  Non-cachers can’t know what you’re up to, or the cache could be compromised.
2. Once you find the cache, take a trinket from the box and leave one of your own.  Think, take a penny, leave a penny. 
Well, because geocaching was very much like a spy mission (in my opinion), I was intrigued.  The website lists over 2100 cache locations within reasonable distance of my zipcode.  Since I was worried about going “off the beaten path in Central Park,” Cory and I set off to find a cache located of Chambers street in Tribeca on Sunday afternoon.  It was a kid’s cache, and Cory wanted to leave a travel bug which – without making too many references to money in this blog – was like those dollars bills you get that have “where’s George been” written all over it.  Cachers who find a travel bug, once again, log into the website and they are able to view where has been.  This particular bug was an airplane, had originated in Canada, and stayed dormant in Delaware for the past few months.  I think it may have also been to the Grand Canyon. 
We made our way to the park and as we neared the location, I was truthfully excited.  Mindy was chiming in to let us know that we had arrived at our destination, and were within 100 feet of the exact coordinates.  It so happened that three nomadic homeless men followed our path.  Instead of looking for the cache, they were searching the trash cans, but we didn’t feel that it was appropriate to disclose the location of the kids cache.  I was more worried that they’d get territorial.  
Sadly, we abandoned geocaching for a search for fried chicken and albeit difficult, we found a Popeye’s without Mindy’s help.  

Subway Cowboy

Today’s Word of the Day: contemn
\kun-TEM\ verb: to view or treat with contempt : scorn

I usually don’t sit down on the subway in the mornings, but because two seats opened up before me at Fulton Street I decided, well why not? So I nestled in at the end of the bench, quite happy really.

Amidst the rumbling, I noticed the sound of slow swaying steps and out of the crowds emerged a serious looking cowboy, ready and prepared for anything that the MTA might throw his way. His deliberate steps moved him closer and closer to the empty seat next to me.

Crocodile Dundee? maybe… he did have the miniature-vest look going, he wasn’t very tan, and way to hairy.

Wyatt Earp? maybe… he did have a mustache that mirrored the legendary lawman’s (I was seeing Kurt Russell’s in Tombstone without the sexy factor) and he did seem to possess the ability to contemn the souls of outlaws.

Contrary to Monday’s lapse of complete alertness in the midst of petty theft, I was fully aware of this cowboy as well as the fact that we were sharing limited amounts of personal space and oxygen.

Silently thanking myself for keeping my sunglasses on in the subway today, I decided to, every few seconds glance in his direction. He was reading the New York Times. His big fingers wrapped around paragraphs and brought the words close to his face. The jeans he donned smelled as dirty as they looked, and were partially covered by tall, black rubber muck boots (whether or not he had spurs, I didn’t check). His open vest was host to a walkie-talkie which rested gently against his bare chest, and a red-light contraption was situated on the back of his collar. On his head sat a wide brimmed black western-style hat. A thick set of keys, hung by a metal clip at his waist, splayed every which way across the bench like stubby roots. Every so often he checked the time on a black wrist watch. Where was he going?

Batman’s Voice is Scary

The other morning I was drifting away from work for a few minutes, reading the “most viewed” articles on CNN. Scanning the list I immediately clicked on What’s with Batman’s voice in ‘Dark Knight’? and I could not have been more excited.

After seeing Batman Begins that was my ultimate question: Dear Christian Bale, Why are you talking like that?

His Batman voice is far beyond deep… it’s startling how ugly it is. Of course his voice is enhanced by sound technology used in movies, but wow. In Batman Begins, Batman’s lines were short and to the point but in The Dark Knight, there are scenes where Batman bellows for a bit longer than expected. Today I walked by a duo of jackhammers in the street which reminded me of the article and my intention of blogging about it.

My favorite part of the article speaks to other people’s critiques of the voice: “Why does Batman talk like the offspring of Clint Eastwood and a grizzly bear?”

Why?

Rocky

Every now and then there is an afternoon that I spend reading the NY Times online. I usually start with the list of most popular articles – the top emailed list or the most popular blog list. Either way, I usually end up reading something about the newest thing to cause cancer (which is vitamins by the way, and I am not quite sure I am ready to give up my Flintstone’s chewables) or a recent movie or in many cases politics.

In recent browsing I learned that the states of Ohio and Kentucky have bestowed fame onto A rock. This particular stone made its home, once, in the middle of a river bed which served as a natural state line between the two states. Resurrected in the summer of 2007, the rock has been catapulted into the news, thrown into a riveting custody battle and subjected to a wide-variety of physiological and psychological examination.

When I was in third grade, we had an “economy” project that lasted several weeks, where each student started a business, sold a product, spent money on the things he/she liked and “learned to save”. I sold rocks. Blue Rocks (as they were the mascot of the AAA baseball team in Wilmington, DE). I painted the rocks blue, gave them little eyes… and they sold. I gave my rocks identity. They wore it proudly and before long, each classmate had a little Blue Rock of their own. I am sure that lucky stones, pond-skipping rocks and like felt threatened, but each had their fare share of dresser, drawer and pocket space.

It’s sometimes hard to remember, in the complex midst of something like a political race, how ordinary everyday things can foster success, pride, debate or emotion in people. And like the caption says in this article, “It loves to be the center of controversy”.

I’d like to share my favorite passages from the article below:

I’ve been distracted by war, recession and a presidential campaign, so forgive me. But are we fighting over a rock?

In the late 1960s, though, an Ohio Valley schoolboy read of the Indian Head Rock in a musty book of local history, and he never forgot it. That was Steve Shaffer. He grew up, studied historical interpretation at Ohio University, developed an interest in prehistoric rock carvings, and quietly resolved to find the rock.

He and some divers began the hunt in 2000, using clues in old newspaper accounts about the rock’s location. He remained in the boat, though; he had lost 70 percent of his hearing to Meniere’s disease, and diving could cause further damage. But when the expeditions of 2000 and 2001 found only abandoned cars and dumped refrigerators, Mr. Shaffer earned his diver’s certification and joined the search — at great risk to his hearing.

The risk paid off. In September 2002, a diving buddy rose to the surface to exclaim: That’s it!It’s got initials all over it! Mr. Shaffer immediately went down to see for himself. There, amid the river’s murk: the Indian Head Rock.

Nearly every summer after that, Mr. Shaffer dove down to pay his respects to the rock. “Just to check on it,” he said.

Then, late last summer, and almost on a whim, he and some diving friends resurrected the boulder with a harness and some barrels and air bags. They soon reported to Portsmouth’s mayor, James Kalb, that they had something to show him — and it’s bigger than a breadbox. The stunned and grateful mayor thanked them, saying a piece of Portsmouth’s past had been salvaged.

Some said the rock should not have been disturbed because that Charlie Brown-like face was an American Indian petroglyph. In November a delegation from Kentucky — with Dr. Fred E. Coy Jr., a prehistoric carvings expert, in tow — visited the Portsmouth municipal garage and waited anxiously while the doctor conducted his examination. His expert opinion: “I can’t tell.”

No matter. Jagged verbal stones continue to be tossed from either side of the river.

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