Saturday, September 25, 2010

Autumn has arrived! While some see this season as a time for slowing down, it is a season filled with energy. The air is crisp, sunsets golden, and in only a few days Diana Peterfreund's new book Ascendant hits the shelves.

As you all know, I love mythology, fantasy, and a good story with a medieval twist. Back for a second tale, is Astrid Llewellyn, a young woman with a mind of her own, who is not afraid to be herself. Previously, readers were introduced to the ancient and very secret order of young unicorn hunters who, for hundreds of years, protected the world from the not-so-fluffy single-horned creatures. Trust me, these are not the soft, cuddly creatures won at the carnival midway. In Ascendant, Astrid continues to struggle with her commitment to the cause, as well as her commitment to do what's right. Along the way, she struggles with the balance between science and nature, well-meaning activists, and the personal choices that so many young women must make-career, school, romance, family, and which weapon also earns points as an accessory.

I thoroughly enjoyed the first book, Rampant, and I have to admit, Ascendant is even more thrilling. The story weaves a tale as rich as the tapestries that hang in the ancient Italian abbey where the story begins.

I desperately don't want to give anything away, yet I can tell you I was completely engrossed in this story; so much so, I read it in two sittings! Mystery, romance, fantasy all conspire to keep readers turning pages. Appropriate for young adults, the heroine appeals to anyone who is young at heart...Astrid is ageless.

Ascendant hits bookstores on October 1.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

       With the strains of  "It's a Small World" still playing in my head from my stroll through the park last night, I registered for the writer's convention, procured my packet and tote bag, and sat down to schmooze.  Within five minutes, I found myself being introduced to a writer from~of all places~Paducah, KY (located halfway between Possum Trot and Monkey's Eyebrow).  Well, after the guffaws and hugs, we sat down to a proper chat. After all, its not everyday, one meets somebody from one's hometown.  
  
     Having said that, so often, I find myself face-to-face with people whom I know, or who are part of that whole six-degrees-of-separation phenomena.   My husband is cursed (or blessed) with it.  We've been strolling in NYC, and have heard his name called; have been in line at Universal, and have run into co-workers.   A few months ago, someone read his name and immediately asked, "Do you have a brother named 'soandso'?"  This man had made  a connection between my husband and his brother.  In New Jersey.

We live 1500 miles from New Jersey.  

I was once in an airport out west, when I heard a familiar voice, and turned around to see a former coworker.  She was there with a tour.  I was there catching a connection.  Even more bizarre...the woman had grown up near my mom  (once again, hundreds of miles from where we lived).  
Stranded in Wales, doing research for a book, I ran into a road construction worker to lent me his phone to call home to the states.  I turned out this guy's mother who lived in northern England, was also an historical novelist.  Go figure.  After I spoke to my husband, the construction worker called up his mom and we had a fine chat.    
      
      We once stopped for gas at a hole-in-the-wall station in Mississippi, only to run into my parents~who are not from Mississippi.   They had stopped for gas, too.   Seriously.

Oh, the stories I could tell!

        Consider just how small the world is.  Walt got it right, somehow, all those years ago.  As did my husband's grandfather when he told his kids, "Remember, no matter where you go, there will always be someone who knows who you are."  In this age of Face book, Twitter, Blogspot, and Skype, it seems we are making the world ever smaller. 
So...talk to me.  How many of you have run into someone you know in the most unlikely places?  Have you found yourself in the 3rd, 4th, or 6th degree of separation?  What cosmic quirks have you experienced? 
       

Sunday, July 4, 2010

What color is your rainbow?

Color can set mood, denote emotion, incite action, or non-action. 
 
   This week,  two movies have set my mind whirling about the importance of color.
I went to see Eclipse, as did numerous others.  I was struck by the simplistic color scheme.  Brown and grey were the predominant hues throughout the movie, with the exception being Victoria's red hair (no spoilers).  Although the season is spring, the cinematographer did  a wonderful job of presenting a quilt of scenes that are just a touch off black and white...thereby giving the audience that sense that there is a hint more to good vs. evil in this tale.  

   Having contemplated this, I sat down and watched The Village this weekend, as well.  M. Night Shyamalan is a genius for his ability to take something simple and turn it into something unsettling, or horrifying, depending on your perspective.  In The Village, the predominant colors are gold (all things bright and beautiful), and red (all things alarming and dangerous).  While the sets, costumes, and lighting are neutral, these two colors which he brandishes like flags set us on edge, pulling us into the emotional turmoil, into the panic.  

   Many years ago, a book hit the racks with a white cover.  Ghost Story was a hit, and part of that might have been the strategy of the cover.  Few books at that time had such a stark cover, but for this one, the color caught the reader off guard. Ghostly figures and white just seemed to go together.  It worked.  Sales hit a high; ultimately the story headed to Hollywood and became a feature film.

   When my daughter was young, I discovered that she responded negatively to red. It was just too bold for her, and her perpetually calm sense of self would suddenly react fretfully to the brightness of the color when she found herself in a room or store where red was the main color.  Likewise, when I did work for the public affairs department of a hospital, we helped develop a color scheme that emphasized neutral shades of mauve, spruce, blue, grey, purely for their calming effect.

   I've read that some studies show that men respond favorably to the color red.  I know someone who gets headaches from the color orange.   Some people look better in pastel colors, others in gemstone or dark colors.  Some choose earthtones for their statement.   Marketing personnel know how important color is to packaging. Color affects sales.  
   What colors inspire you to buy? What colors turn you pensive?  What hues brighten your day? Give you a headache? Make you want to get up and dance?  Go look at your living room, your closet, your car, your favorite sweater.  Then tell me, what color is your rainbow?

Sunday, June 6, 2010

School's Out for Summer!

Summertime!

Well, it's here.  School is out, kids are headed to beaches, amusement parks, and summer camps.

For me, well, it's time to commune with nature.  But only after an ample supply of mosquito repellant and zinc oxide (forget that 30 SPF stuff) have been liberally applied.  [Yes I recognize the redundancy of the previous statement~ and I embrace it.]

For me, embracing nature, also means embracing my own true nature.  It means sleeping in to get the full eight hours of sleep my body yearns for nine months of the year.  It means being able to eat when I want, and what I want (good, healthy stuff), versus the slew of fast-food-on-the-go things that I invariably snarf on my way to a meeting I'm already five minutes late for because if I don't grab something now, I won't get another chance until Thursday.  
And summer means being able to find a forest, or a lake, or a pond,  feed the ducks, listen to the birds and frogs, and  take a bit of time to just relax.  Read.  Write.  Read some more.   Traveling, visiting, touring are all wonderful, and they are part of my-own-true-nature self nurturing regimen for the summer.  However, when my legs are weary, my wallet is light, and I am faced with the mild inconveniences of day-to-day life, I can always escape in a book.  As I have told students for more than ten years now,  "With a book, you can go anywhere, be anyone, experience anything."  

Therein lies the magic.   

I am planning to go back in time and study the history of Wales, and maybe do some frolicking with Christopher Moore's  Jester (medieval, satirical...what's not to like?)  And then there's always that stack in the upstairs study that grows by a  book or two every conference or bookstore I hit.  TMB TLT  (too many books, too little time).

Enough of my rambling.  It's summer and somewhere,  daylight is waning!  Grab a tale, take a load off, and find your own moment of respite.   Any favorite reads, or hope-to-read tales on your summer reading lists?   Do tell.  
   

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Layering. We layer our clothing and we layer our cakes. Are we ourselves layered?
Several years ago I watched a movie called Layer Cake. Daniel Craig spent the better part of two hours trying to maneuver through the layers of a plot that was almost Hitchcock-ian in its multi-layered plotting.

More recently, I have become a fanatic for LOST, which comes to an end this weekend after six years. The show, and its complexity, have given me a basis for some self examination.

I adore books and shows with complex plots. I have never thought of myself as a particularly complex person, yet if friends and relatives were queried, I suspect they would laugh at me and reveal me to be one of the most complex individuals on earth.

A simple plot is boy meets girl, they fall in love, they live happily ever after. Or Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall, fell off, and died. (For those of you who follow the theatrical thread of my thoughts, that would be a Shakespearean tragedy). Now while we all love a happy ending or a truly dark tragedy, the fact is that such simplicity is, from a dramatic point of view, not entertaining enough to keep us reading or watching or even listening (books on tape).

My life is simple enough (somedays I'm the girl with the happy ending, somedays I feel a bit like HD). But for entertainment purposes only, I'll take the complex plot everytime.

Consider just about any story by Charles Dickens. What a monumental knot of duplicity, secrets, surprises, love-lost, and treasures revealed. Sprinkle in a little tragedy, madness, and a smidge of true love, and there is enough to entertain everyone. The same is true of Diana Gabaldon's books. Layers, hurdles, mysteries.

And don't even get me started on Twin Peaks.

Years ago someone did a survey and discovered that young urban professionals with high-stress jobs loved Telly Tubbies at the end of the work day because it was simple, mindless, comforting. They could let their brains and bodies rest and just absorb the simplicity of childish play, bold colors, soft sounds. No pressure. No conflict. No stress over characters' tribulations.

For me, Lost (which could have turned out to be a dramatic cross between Gilligan's Island and Knot's Landing), epitomized the concept of plot layering. The simplicity of people trying to survive the plane crash morphed into Milton's Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained, retold with a modern twist. My brain spins with the concepts condensed into the few short minutes that the writers feed the audience each week. Alternate realities, good vs. evil, morality, mayhem, Mythology, espionage, and the classic love triangle.

Complex plots challenge us. Like crossword puzzles, chess, Jeopardy, or Wait Wait, Don't Tell Me (NPR), complexities generate our brains to use grey matter that I suspect doesn't get used on the daily drive to work.

So, as Lost comes to an end, and Law and Order fades into the sunset, give me some feed back. Do you like your stories simple and soothing? Or, do you live vicariously by suspense, multiple plot lines, and the one who got away...



Sunday, May 9, 2010

       Alright, folks,  it's a culture check.   I recently introduced students to classical music.  I opened by querying their knowledge of different types of music.  Yikes...so many knew so little about various styles.  I was surprised to realize that my household seems to be an anomaly.  

       In my house we heard everything from 20's style ragtime to classical, to blues, to rock-and-roll, to country, to spiritual...it was all good.  Likewise, my husband grew up knowing his Bach from his Bluegrass.  

       I remember the day my eighteen-month old shouted from the car's back seat, "This is jazz!"  Never a prouder moment~sigh.  I didn't even know she knew jazz.

       I encourage parents to surf the radio for various music styles and play games with your captive audience  (spouses, kids, and pets), for the duration of the drive.  Challenge each other to learn about the different styles of music.   While not every style appeals to everyone, it is safe to say that one song does not a music genre make.  I've heard Christian Rap I  thoroughly enjoyed, and mellow Beatles songs that left me cold (pretend you didn't read that last one, and I'll pretend I didn't write it).  

      As I try to instill in my classes.  Learning about the art, and analyzing it (or enjoying it), tells us something about the culture that produced it.  Music is such a fine example for this.  From the lilting waltzes of Strauss, to the compelling, nature-inspired works of Aaron Copeland.  We can look through the eyes of the composer, and "hear" what they saw.  

Break out of the bonds of conformity, find a composer or a style that is as foreign to you as a new language, and immerse yourself in the wonder of its melodies.   Blues, Opera, Baroque, Celtic, Tribal, Bluegrass, Country, Jazz, Hip-Hop, Spiritual, Rock-n-Roll, Show Tunes , New-Age, Contemporary, Movie Scores, Folk music, Salsa, Classical, Big Band/Swing, Tin-Pan Alley...orchestral, chamber, garage-band.  

Did I mention I learned the Preamble to the Constitution of the United States of America, as did my Eighth-grade classmates, by listening to School House Rock?  Talk about cross-curricular instruction! And don't get me started on Les Miserables.  From history, to literature, to musical composition~what's not to like?

Do you wander up and down the dial?  Do you dabble in music diversity?  Or does your stereo only have one station?  Rise up, take up the charge, and change your tune.  You might like the beat of a different drummer.  

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Imagine...not

Where has imagination gone? It is surely on the endangered list.


Remember when, as a child, you would play for hours on end in the front or back yard, using little more than imagination, and perhaps an old spoon from the pantry?  


My father used to stack hay bales together to build me a clubhouse.  Inside my cave of straw, I could pretend that I was hiding from outlaws, or that my prison was a castle turret.  Close by, in our small woods, I kept company with the likes of Robin Hood, faeries, and the creatures from Jungle book, or pirates from Treasure Island (yes, I was an only child).  

Our property had once been a drive-in cinema, which held such promise for an imaginative child.  The overgrowth of bramble, the trees with bowing limbs, the dark crevices of the cistern shed, all were portals for adventures. These were the beginning of great tales.


I have seen people who had a difficult time with classic tales because the characters were fantastic (face it, beavers do not talk in real life, and rabbits do not wear vests).  Thus, such people cannot enjoy the Tales of Narnia, or Alice in Wonderland, or anything that exists “outside of the box” .   Why I know students who cannot entertain themselves if they do not have a visual aid (television or videogame) in their hands.  They will not read. They cannot daydream. They cannot make up stories.


I did a show recently where I needed mermaids.  The local store had mermaid tales that were tailored and all the same color.  My life probably would have been easier if I could have used them~alas, I could not.  They were too much like cookie cutter costumes.  Instead, I used sequined scraps, and the flouncy skirts from old dance costumes to make billowy fishtails for four mer-princesses.  Each mermaid was unique...and beautiful, and proud.


Encourage children to use imagination and ingenuity.  I once had students make 3o-demensional books with their favorite story scenes coming out of the book.  Some of them were wonderful~ribbon spools became clock faces, birdhouse charms became flying houses, cotton became clouds. One student, however, spent money instead of time, going to the craft store to buy a pre-made book, a wooden pre-cut pig, and a plastic spider.   

Not one item in the project was made by hand; the text had been copied from a printer; and the margins were perfectly set.


Comparatively, another child, had a hot air balloon she had made from a real balloon, glue,and tissue paper, had built a house of foil and ribbon, and had used an old worn and discarded paperback novel, painted and bound for the base. 


Without imagination, scientists would never have found subatomic particles, or a cure for smallpox.  The Eiffel tower would not be a landmark, and a mouse would not be an ambassador for children everywhere.  Without imagination, the telephone would not have been invented, and we would not be able to view the ponderences of people sitting halfway round the world.


What will we do as a society, when imagination becomes extinct?

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Fodder for fable is fuel for the imagination.

I’ve been glued to my local news channel all week.  Between Eyjafjallaj√∂kull and  the lost treasure of the Saxons, I have been a news junkie.  

“What Saxon treasure,” you ask?  Gasp and guffaw!

Well, last summer while I was investigating Tintagel, Glastonbury,Stonehenge, and my favorite spots in Wales, apparently, someone was doing a bit of treasure hunting a bit  to the north in Staffordshire.  Had I but known...

It turns out that a man with a metal detector, a dream and some spare time on his hands quite literally stumbled on the largest  collection of Saxon gold and silver that Britain has ever seen.  There is even a jewel encrusted sword hilt (ooh, visions of Excalibur dance in my head).  All of this dates to the Seventh century A.D. 

Be still my heart.  Just when I was wondering if my plot was going in the right direction, here comes National Geographic to reassure me. Sigh...

With no cable, I must depend on the kindness of others to see the special tonight.  So far, I’ve sneaked a peek online, and on the morning news whetting my appetite for the mysteries yet to unfold regarding the gold, garnet, and silver weapons and trinkets found in a farmer’s field.  

Check out  the National Geographic website~http://www.nationalgeographic.com/   

to take a look at this and all the assorted articles that thrill nerds, such as I am.  

Scientists figure it will take years to get to the truth of this archaeological treasure trove.  I already have some ideas of my own.   Anyone else out there interested in guessing about the treasure???

Could this be the fodder for the legend of Arthur’s knights, the roundtable, and Excaliber?  So far, I’ve checked out medieval hill forts,  ancient Roman/Briton sites, Tintagel, Merlin’s mound, the glass lake area, old abbeys, subterranean caves, and stone circles all around Britain (England, Scotland,and Wales), plus various sites around Ireland.  There is not much evidence to support that the stories have no basis.  

Remember, somewhere between fact and fiction lies the real stories that help build the myth...and therein lies the magic.


Sunday, April 18, 2010

Fodder for fable...fuel for the imagination.

I’ve been glued to my local news channel all week.  Between Eyjafjallaj√∂kull erupting all over Iceland, and interrupting  the rest of the globe,  and  the lost treasure of the Saxons, I have been a news junkie.  

“What Saxon treasure,” you ask? 

Gasp and guffaw!  I can't believe you don't already know!

Well, last summer while I was investigating Tintagel, Glastonbury,Stonehenge, and my favorite spots in Wales, apparently, someone was doing a bit of treasure hunting a bit  to the north in Staffordshire.  Had I but known...

It turns out that a man with a metal detector, a dream and some spare time on his hands quite literally stumbled on the largest  collection of Saxon gold and silver that Britain has ever seen.  There is even a jewel encrusted sword hilt (ooh, visions of Excalibur dance in my head).  All of this dates to the Seventh century A.D. 

Be still my heart.  Just when I was wondering if my plot was going in the right direction, here comes National Geographic to reassure me. Sigh...

With no cable, I must depend on the kindness of others to see the special tonight.  So far, I’ve sneaked a peek online, and on the morning news whetting my appetite for the mysteries yet to unfold regarding the gold, garnet, and silver weapons and trinkets found in a farmer’s field.  

Check out  the National Geographic website~http://www.nationalgeographic.com/   

to take a look at this and all the assorted articles that thrill nerds, such as I am.  

Scientists figure it will take years to get to the truth of this archaeological treasure trove.  I already have some ideas of my own.   Anyone else out there interested in guessing about the treasure???

Could this be the fodder for the legend of Arthur’s knights, the roundtable, and Excaliber?  So far, I’ve checked out medieval hill forts,  ancient Roman/Briton sites, Tintagel, Merlin’s mound, the glass lake area, old abbeys, subterranean caves, and stone circles all around Britain (England, Scotland,and Wales), plus various sites around Ireland.  There is not much evidence to support that the stories have no basis.  

Remember, somewhere between fact and fiction lies the real stories that help build the myth...and therein lies the magic.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

DragDragons rule!

Dragons Rule!

Hurrah for mythical creatures.  Hurray for the imagination that creates such wonderful stories through books, films, and art.


When I was a child, my father plucked a thorn from a rose stem, stuck the flat side to my head and said, “There, you’re a unicorn.”  What magic there was in those words.  I was four.  Around the same time I saw Sleeping Beauty for the first time.  Though she was the antagonist, I saw the beauty in that animated fire-breathing creature that existed within Malificent’s being.  It seemed that the power of a thorn had transformed mad faerie to dragon.


I’ve loved unicorns and dragons ever since.  When I was in college, I attended a renaissance faire and chanced upon “Lancelot”, a unicorn  (a goat bred with one horn).  He was traveling the  renfest circuit, and making quite a hit with the crowds.  Love at first site.  He trotted over to me and, yes, plopped his head down in my lap and sat contentedly. No laughing out there~seriously.


This week, I am consumed with a sense of wonder for those things the modern world considers mythological.  The Greek and Roman gods, creatures, King Arthur, etc.  I’ve skulked around caves in Cymry (Wales) and Cornwall (England), and can verily imagine such beings and beasts.  Such architectural marvels as exist in some of the most remote areas of the world give me cause to wonder at their creation.


Of course, that leads me to simultaneously marvel a the commonalities in folk tales around the world.  From faerie tales, to pour-quoi tales, there exist many common factors.  Giants, beasts, dragons, angels, sea monsters,  treasures, fey, miracles.  


So, tell me, dear readers, what  creatures do you believe in? What creatures or tales inspire a sense of wonder in you?


Dragons rule!


Hurrah for mythical creatures.  Hurray for the imagination that creates such wonderful stories through books, films, and art.


When I was a child, my father plucked a thorn from a rose stem, stuck the flat side to my head and said, “There, you’re a unicorn.”  What magic there was in those words.  I was four.  Around the same time I saw Sleeping Beauty for the first time.  Though she was the antagonist, I saw the beauty in that animated fire-breathing creature that existed within Malificent’s being.  It seemed that the power of a thorn had transformed mad faerie to dragon.


I’ve loved unicorns and dragons ever since.  When I was in college, I attended a renaissance faire and chanced upon “Lancelot”, a unicorn  (a goat bred with one horn).  He was traveling the  renfest circuit, and making quite a hit with the crowds.  Love at first site.  He trotted over to me and, yes, plopped his head down in my lap and sat contentedly. No laughing out there~seriously.


This week, I am consumed with a sense of wonder for those things the modern world considers mythological.  The Greek and Roman gods, creatures, King Arthur, etc.  I’ve skulked around caves in Cymry (Wales) and Cornwall (England), and can verily imagine such beings and beasts.  Such architectural marvels as exist in some of the most remote areas of the world give me cause to wonder at their creation.


Of course, that leads me to simultaneously marvel a the commonalities in folk tales around the world.  From faerie tales, to pour-quoi tales, there exist many common factors.  Giants, beasts, dragons, angels, sea monsters,  treasures, fey, miracles.  


So, tell me, dear readers, what  creatures do you believe in? What creatures or tales inspire a sense of wonder in you?

Friday, March 12, 2010

Judging a book...

Be forewarned~ I am about to annoy those who are narrow minded, and this may end up being  politically  incorrect.  As my father would have said, "Wheeeee! Let the fun begin!"


I used to work at the airport in Newark.  We had a grubby man who came up every week to buy a ticket home to  North Carolina.  He looked horribly ill-kemp, spoke with a pronounced southern accent, and paid cash for his tickets.  While some others did not particularly like to wait on him, I found him to be charming.  It turned out, he owned a salvage and disposal company in New Jersey, and commuted.  He was probably one of the wealthiest--and most humble--customers we had travel on our flights.  And he was also one of our most loyal customers.

This week, I became aware that several acquaintances were wary of allowing their middle school students to attend a county-wide field trip festival day to a Renaissance Faire, based primarily on the notion that they didn't like the kids being exposed to "those kinds of people".

What kind of people?  Actors?  Artisans?  Merchants?

I suspect the prejudice here is that in keeping with the characters they portray, many of "those people" sport long hair, tattoos, pierced ears (and occasionally eyebrows), and facial hair.

Gasp and Guffaw!

Truth be told, I have been involved with Renaissance faires for nearly thirty years both as patron, and occasionally as performer/server.  The fact is, the majority of the faire folk are employed in regular jobs throughout the week, or they are busy creating the wares they sell. 

 I knew a man who sold medical equipment for twenty years (suit and tie and all), before he decided to try his hand at selling custom designed boots on the renfest circuit.  He lost the suit, grew a beard, and made a modest living traveling the country working for a west coast based company that created the footwear.  And he found wonderful happiness in his work.  He would definitely be classified as one of  "those people".  

I have known people who worked as martial arts instructors, teachers, accountants, booksellers, and even architectural and engineering design assistants who spent their weekends donning period costumes and affecting accents to create a world from the past, for the enjoyment of others.

These are the people we're supposed to be  wary of?

The same people who are eager to label the law school student as a ne'er do well because of his garb and coif, are likely to proclaim a book with the word  "sorcerer"  in the title, a heinous creation of some atheistic monster.  Consider how ludicrous that last supposition is.  Now, consider how on-the-mark it is.

The performers are just that.  They adopt a character and perform for their target audience.  When the county sends the schools to the faire on that special day, the performers, and vendors, and artisans will cater to that special target audience.  I doubt that they will judge the teachers or the masses by the rudeness of a few patrons.  I doubt that they judge the crowd by their lack of costume, or the money in their pockets, but will focus on the laughter, and the smiles, and the joy that they, as performers, inspire.

And if, by some miracle, a student ends up picking up a book, or doing some research on the Renaissance period, or takes up fencing,  then maybe  those who were initially so concerned will take the time to thank "those kinds of people" for their dedication.

I know.  I doubt it, too.  But it is wishful thinking.


  
 


Friday, February 19, 2010

The Olympics have seduced me.  I am not sleeping; I don't care about celebrities' love lives or press conferences; I have even forsaken reruns of favorite television shows.  Who knew snow boarding could be such a spectator sport?  And I don't even like snow.
Wait. I do not personally have anything against snow.  I just don't like to shovel it, or drive in it, or have to walk a dog in it.   If I can just enjoy the fire, watching the flurries, sipping hot tea, and reading a good book, then snow is wonderful.  And as a device in plotting, snow is good. Characters can get trapped in a snow storm.  Snow can slow the action down, can be used to enhance romance, intensify suspense, or provide humor.   And don't forget the conversations characters can have regarding how each flake is unique.  Why, snow, in this case has even provided me with a subject for today's ramble.
Last week, a friend taking a quick trip was delayed a due to snow.  She had to chortle a bit at the inane behavior of her fellow passengers when the airport they were traveling to closed due to blizzard conditions.  Everyone seem so upset that the airport had closed due to bad weather and low visibility (de-icing delays might have been foreshadowing).
While everyone else was yelling at the customer service agents (because apparently they should possess the power to control the weather), my friend sauntered over a cozy corner, dialed reservations, gave the res agent the pertinent information and got booked on the first flight for the  morning.  She then popped into the news stand for some snacks and a drink, then returned to her cozy corner where she set up the cot that the airline had provided for the passengers.  
When her fellow passengers questioned her about why she wasn't in line at the desk, she told them.  While they were foolishly yelling at the agents who had no control over the weather situation, she had taken care of business like a responsible adult should.  Their amazement was no doubt compounded by the fact that she had gotten one of the last seats on the first flight the next day.  No complaining.  No yelling. No problem.  She was ready to pull out her  laptop and watch "hulu" for the next few hours until she fell asleep.
Ironically,  she was probably one of the youngest travelers on the flight (in her mid-twenties).   Her parents raised her right... life is an adventure, not a tantrum waiting to happen.
Despite the fact it was Valentine's weekend, and she hadn't seen her husband in weeks, and he couldn't drive the four hours to meet her at her connection airport because roads were closed, she found the good in her situation.  A warm, quiet space.  A moment to reflect (she wasn't trapped in a ditch, she wasn't trapped outside in the cold).  Just like life--she reasoned--snow happens.
For those wondering how her story ends, she made it to her destination the next morning.  Her husband was thrilled to see her, and they had a wonderful (albeit short) weekend together. Most importantly...everyone remained safe.  
As for me, I am grateful that these days the only snow I have to worry about is the kind I get on the television.
     

Monday, February 8, 2010

A Pocket Full of Change~
In the past couple of weeks, I have been reminded just how a little change can make a big difference.
   Following the earthquake that ravaged Haiti, everyone started collecting money, including a small school in Tampa.  Though the student body is small (around 150 students), their hearts are big.  The kids were challenged by Student Council to create a dime line; the classroom that yielded the longest line of dimes would win the accolades of their efforts, and a small prize (like a free dress day, or a pizza party).  
   With less than a week's notice, the students rose to the the challenge.  Even the local media turned out to document their efforts.  Spirits soared with a "spirit day" attire as parents, staff, and students laid dimes side by side.  When all was said and done, the students managed to raise more than three thousand dollars.    Most importantly, they did it not so much for themselves as for others.  All from a coin that used to have a store named after it .Remember the "Five and Dime"? Go ahead, look it up.
   The second example of change appears in this week's TIME magazine which features an article about a man who hopes to foster a small change, himself, by opening a coffee house and used bookstore in Cairo, Illinois.  Although Chris Johnston is not a native, he hopes to help become part of a solution for a town that has dwindled over the past several decades.  The "Ace of Cups" might be a small step in the right direction.
   Think about it.  Coffee, books, conversation.  If communication is a pathway to change, why not offer an opportunity to grab a cup, and a chair, and engage in something that can bring people together.  Stories shared.   A history preserved.   Something so simple could help build bridges in the community.
   Admittedly, I have fond memories of Cairo.  Since my grandmother and grandfather and assorted other relatives lived there (some still do), I spent many muggy summer afternoons strolling along the sidewalk in front of my grandmother's porch, playing with cousins. Occasionally Grandma would take us to Woolworth's, where she worked, and we would be allowed to choose something from the "five-and-dime" bins.  
   Once, when I was about four years old, my grandfather bought a sack of tomatoes from a roadside market. For about fifty cents, we got a large paper grocery bag filled with juicy red fruit balls only slightly  larger than my four-year-old fist.  Grandpa and I sat down on the stoop, and he showed me how to eat a tomato  and thoroughly enjoy it, sprinkling it with a shake of salt for flavor, and giggling as the juice ran down our arms.  The messier it was, the better it tasted.
     As cited in the article, there were many reasons that this small river town (immortalized by Mark Twain's scamps, Tom and Huck),  began to fade as a center for commerce.   And yet, there may be just as many reasons to try to reinvent the sleepy town that rolls up its sidewalks as the sun begins to sink. 
     Cairo is a testament to history, both the good and the bad.  It is the first city one passes through when crossing into the state, heading north.  It sits cradled between Missouri to the west, and Kentucky, to the east.  Just across the river is a significant archaeological excavation.   The "City of New Orleans" train stops in Cairo around midnight to let weary college students off, before continuing on to the Crescent City.  
Most importantly, Cairo is where the mighty Mississippi and Ohio rivers meet.  Standing at the "Point" park just south of the town, one can see the dark murky waters of the Mississippi as it blends with the current of the Ohio.  And it is an amazing thing to see.   There is a fantastic sense of force, of nature, and of  time flowing incessantly as the currents combine and continue toward the Gulf.
Remember, I mentioned that Huck and Tom visited Cairo in Twain's books?   I can very well imagine their adventures.  I think my uncle and my dad used those tales as a guidebook for adventure. My daughter just finished reading Huck's adventures.  She had no problem envisioning the river.  She'd been there often enough.
Magnolias, hydrangea bushes, front porch swings, and Shemwell's pressed barbecue sandwiches  are all part of the Cairo I grew up enjoying. 
Change helped transform a school's spirit; it promises to help a nation irrevocably changed by tragedy; and change might help save a town struggling not to fade into history. 
Ah, to revisit childhood and once again know  that sense of wonder that a small bit of change can inspire...That would definitely be worth the price of a cup of coffee.  

Monday, January 18, 2010

Procrastination, productivity, and Python (sort of)

   Hello everyone!  
  
   I hope your week is starting off peacefully and productively~although the two concepts seem mutually exclusive.

   At least in my life they seem to be.  I prefer peaceful for a time, yet it is when I exist in a swirl of chaos that I am my most productive.  If I am working on a production, three projects at work, and trying to coordinate my schedule with friends and family, that is inevitably when I will produce some of my best writing.  This is no doubt the power of the adrenaline that surges through my veins pushing me toward the deadlines, denying me the opportunity to even consider not meeting them.

   Yes, I am a procrastinator, in the purest sense.  It is not laziness that motivates me to push things to the very last minute, but the subconscious awareness that often my best work comes from that adrenaline rush.  As absurd as it sounds, that cerebral panic to finish in time, seems to make my brain edit, focus my attention, sharpen my words.  

   I do not advocate procrastination for others.  Goodness knows I often wish I could get things done immediately and just sit back and observe chaos from afar, sipping lemonade, "tsking" at others as they scramble.  The moment I attempt to do it, I forget things.  I leave things out.  I make mistakes.  

   Once a year, I create an ornament for a social gathering I attend.  I brainstorm and collect pieces to use for the ornament, and draw designs, and line stuff up.     Invariably, I am burning my fingers with the glue gun an hour before I am supposed to walk into the party, ornament in hand.  When I have made the ornament in advance, it turns out drab and I end up redoing it the morning of the party.  If the glue isn't quite set, and the ink isn't quite dry, it's a winner...

   Enough about procrastination.  On to genius.

   This weekend, I saw "The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus", Terry Gilliam's newest film.  For those who may not recognize the name, he was a member of the Monty Python troupe.  

   What might our world be like if we had never been touched by the humor and genius of these performers?  

   Luckily, we don't have to wonder.  Monty Python and the Holy Grail, The Life of Brian, Time Bandits, Brazil, The Meaning of Life, and The Brothers Grimm are all examples of the brilliance that Python spawned.

   Remember the Seven Faces of Dr. Lao?  How about Something Wicked This Way Comes? Now add a dash of Dante, and sprinkle with special effects and a stellar cast (Christopher Plummer, Tom Waits, and Heath Ledger, Johnny Depp, Jude Law, and Colin Farrell).

   ...I know!

   Mortality, faith, dreams fulfilled, and wishes wasted are all brought to life in this dark, magical tale.  Though there are truly funny moments, this one is more a drama.  Faustian in its concepts, Imaginarium challenges us to look at the choices we make, and at how we perceive happiness.   Gilliam is a master storyteller, and uses that gift to once again focus on how important stories are to our humanity.   

   Have you guessed that I truly enjoyed it? 

   I deliberately waited a couple of days to let its magic soak in before I commented on the film.  Dark comedy, poignantly philosophical, and psychodelic parody all packaged in one large decoupage box~a truly decadent treat.  Like so much of Gilliam's work, wonderful crumbs of the story linger in the viewer's imagination, long after the ride home, tempting us to ask, "Please, sir, may I have some more?"