Saturday, August 13, 2011

Splinters Get in the Way

I always thought that a splinter was something that became embedded in your skin. When I went to look up methods to remove a splinter—I not only found several You Tube videos, but I discovered that Splinter was a horror movie. Splinter with a capital was a parasite that turned pleasant people into dreadful hosts.

Words have that way of morphing into something unexpected, but I could understand how splinter meandered into another territory. Those innocuous small pieces often cause a disruption way beyond their size.

And if splinter becomes a metaphor for those small things that get in the way I can see how it wanders off in another direction.

And small splinters over time and if they're not removed infect the entire area. Is that what happened when we stopped listening to one another?

Today I went to KMart —we had a list of items needed for hygiene bags being assembled for Homeless Female Veterans.

Standing in front of a rack of toothbrushes a woman picked up brush after brush—and read the price for each one.

"Everything," she said "is so expensive. Don't you think so?"


"Don't you think so?"

Too many people line up on one side and put blinders on—encouraged by the media.
Too many people feel that the way to get their way is to yell louder and push harder.
There are always some people who don't play that way.



• If you're into Open Water swimming—serious unfriendly creatures may be swimming under you

• What makes people take on tasks that are surrounded by splinters?

The Marathon des Sables is considered the apex of desert running— "Athletes must cross scorching desert flats, treacherous sand dunes and shadeless, dried out watercourses, or wadis." Oh—they are running 150 miles through the Sahara Desert.

They also carry their food and water, sleeping bags and clothes. The organizers provide the tents. In order to make this more challenging no one knows the route until the the day before the race.

The entry fee for the 2012 race is $3,900 dollars. It's too late to send in any money. The first $1600 was due by July 29th, 2011. They do have a waiting list.

Not to be outdone— 2012 will be the world's first multi-discipline Siberian Black Ice Race across Lake Baikai, Siberia.

Tony Martin described the race as "Longer than England, colder than vodka and harder than granite! Our Siberian Black Ice Race is a challenge that can break even the toughest of the tough—the Marathon des Sables is a walk in the park compared to this..."

This is winter at its cruelest: "Competitors race either the 155 mile sprint or 379 mile Marathon by bike, ski, snow shoeing, skating, foot or kite-ski."

Ah the temperatures will go as low as -40C . Expect strong winds. The Sprint must be completed in seven days or fourteen days for the entire 379 miles.

For those who need specialized training—there's an Extreme World Races Training Camp in Norway.

When I walked twenty miles in a day I did note that my heel had a blister—and I was walking with many other people. In the evening I soaked my feet and then
went out to eat.


Some people don't need to take on extreme tasks to find their lives surrounded by splinters.

Saturday, August 06, 2011

What We Don't Need

I've figured out what may be part of the problem with our contemporary society. This afternoon when I picked up my mail I found a new catalog offering up a selection of items that, for the most part, were pandering to people's fascination with unusual and unnecessary purchases.

Imagine ordering a 12 foot inflatable headless horseman for your front lawn? For a mere $299.95 you can own this blow up decoration. The horse's head turns from side to side while a moanful sound penetrates the atmosphere. This first in the neighborhood display inflates in one minute. You will need an outdoor plug in order to enjoy the animation.

Then there's a golf club that's a 33-in-1 club. No more decisions about what club you need --just dial the club from putter to driver. Because the club retracts it may be placed in your luggage when you travel.

If you have $350,000 around think about purchasing a 20 foot Animatronic Triceratops. You'll need a large great room for this twenty foot long beauty. Given sensors this beauty tracks subjects by moving his head and stomping a foot. Inside of this hulk a 1000 watt speaker emits a sound that attempts to emulate the sound of the original triceratops. Of course no one was around 67 million years ago so this sound may not be accurate.

Do you recall all the cotton candy you ate? Of course indulging is still possible, but why wait until you attend a baseball game or go to an amusement park. We are a society consumed by immediate gratification needs— so why wait—buy a tabletop cotton candy maker.

I imagine if I went through my house I 'd find too many items I never needed, but bought because I thought I needed them.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Thirteen Instigators for Writing



The journal opens, the pen barely touches the paper—and words, like loose pebbles, form themselves into shapes. The writer describes, often in excruciating pain, the sensation of anxiety, of worry. The events, named and accused by the tribunal of language, don't wither, but scrounged under the torrent of words they are tamed. The catharsis of writing engages the angst and holds it at bay.



This is a pivotal instigator. We stand mute in front of loss. Often it is inexplicable, other times expected. Writing immediately after a loss— a montage of a person emerges—before time softens the edges of grief.

When my mother died I wrote pages about her kid gloves. I recalled her washing the gloves and reshaping each hand before placing it on a terry towel. I wrote about going with her to buy sequins. She made vests that shimmered with luminescent colors. I wrote about how she taught me to love coffee houses where we shared sandwiches. I wrote about how she used paper bags to draw dress patterns and how she loved hand sewing although she did own a sewing machine—one with a treadle. My writing became a litany—from her leopard bathrobe to the teacups she collected. Later on I wrote about how she didn't care for cooking and cycled through similar menus, never veering from iceberg lettuce even after I suggested healthier choices.

There's place loss. A friend of mine came from Chicago and moved when he went to college and then moved to a small rural community after years of working on a mid-sized city newspaper. When the chance to run a rural newspaper was offered to him, he jumped at the opportunity. Years later, still ensconced in a small community and loving what he did, he told me,"Every once in awhile I miss the smell of concrete and take a trip back to Chicago."

I've written poems and essays about my neighborhood in the Bronx. The sounds of skates on concrete, the alleys, the empty lot where we played King of the Hill and Kick the Can.



Spend too much time recalling the past and you lose the present. Nostalgia differs from the events we chronicle in a memoir. In one we reflect on the past while in the other the past draws us in and there's the risk of being subsumed by the cloying lavender of nostalgia.

Yet, the journal may offer a place to indulge in a longing for the past.

Once after a disappointing visit to a store that sold candy, I found myself longing for the corner candy store of my childhood. My journal provided a place for my yearning and nostalgia. Whatever happened to those wax lips, or wax bottles filled with sugar tainted water, or small cups of peanut butter confection that came with doll-sized spoons? I pined for long strips of taffy and Double Bubble gum. I visualized myself eating Yellow Bananas and candy dots. Nothing, I thought, compared to sucking a red hot Atomic Fireball that turned my mouth a deep crimson color and left my tongue numb.



Perhaps the strongest impetus is love—be it another person or an animal. Who has not devoted pages to describing the new passion in their life? A friend of mine once asked me if I wanted to read several pages she intended to submit to a new anthology . A call for submissions about your pet prodded her to write about Sol—her bird. She wrote pages of purple passioned prose about Sol's daily activities and her love for the bird. Sol, I learned, was able to understand two dozen commands and he cocked his head to one side whenever she entered the room.

My love writings were more prosaic. I wrote poems. Poems about dinners where I lovingly described every vegetable in couscous with seven vegetables. I often started with the pate and ended with dessert. In between I wrote of fingers across the table.

Once, with reckless abandon I wrote a risqué love poem and sent it in to an anthology where it was accepted.


Righteous Indignation

Aside from the sidewalk or a speaker's stump or a a meeting hall where else can you pontificate and not deal with hecklers or questions or the other side?
I wrote six pages in longhand, a tiny tight script, all about my anger at people who don't follow the rules, or people who feel that they are above the rules. The rule in particular—cleaning up your dog's mess on the sidewalk. I see dog walkers carrying a plastic bag and discreetly bending down and with their hand in the bag expertly pick up their dog's droppings. I don't ask where they deposit these leavings or what happens to the bag. It is enough to know that they are doing their civic duty.

The day I stepped in the mess left by a dog walker who eschewed their civic responsibility set me off. I was wearing sneakers with a heavily ridged bottom and despite my rubbing my shoe on the grass, across the sidewalk and over a pebbled spot— the smell permeated the area around me. It was only after I found a place to sit and a stick and spent time laborious cleaning out the ridges did my sole return to its prior state.

After my ink tirade I felt better.



We're such a polarized nation that sharing one's political convictions is easiest with those who agree with you. Who has not used their journal to question the sanity of "the other side"? Why don't they see my viewpoint? Why can't they come to the table and listen—or compromise.

Last year I attended a dinner party and without thinking expressed some moderate statement,'. "What are you a Republican?" "No," I immediately responded, "but I don't think we can paint everyone with the same brush." Everything escalated after that—with a truce called before dessert. An uncomfortable white flag truce.

My journal became the repository of the responses I swallowed.



The doubts, the assurances, the questions, the mediations, the prayers, the paths all are fodder for the journal. A journal doesn't require obedience or deference or a singular path. It's a place that provides a clean page and a place to explore.

How many people have penned prayers in the margins of the journal? Or how many people have been angry with God? or rejected God in their journals?

I have a friend who spends time every year writing down her goals for the following year and then revisits those goals during the year to assess her progress. I've tried that, but it doesn't seem to work.

Yet at least once a year I take out my journal and attempt to list those things I'd like to accomplish in the coming year. I'm always sincere and think that my list is attainable. I stopped writing down "Complete a Novel" and then in 2010 I took part in the Write a Novel in a Month competition and actually finished a novel. To say that it was raw is probably an understatement.



Complaints that wear thin when shared with others find a place in a journal. You can write a litany of all your failings, close your computer and move on.



Dreams aren't the same as goals. Goals are rooted in listed objectives. Dreams are entwined with desires and fantasies—woolgathering. Writing about quixotic daydreams, romantic wild-eyed possibilities lures the writer into mythic territory. Perhaps this is where the threads of some novels begin.



How many words are written about peak experiences or experiences of survival in the wilderness? How many words are written about the natural world—from a hike up a mountain to a walk around the local pond? Who hasn't poured out words about the loss of pristine areas?

After climbing Old Rag Mountain, my first significant hike, and after I soaked my blistered feet I wrote pages about scrambling up and over rocks—of hand over hand climbs, and of finally reaching the top. I couldn't stop writing about how I had been smitten with hiking—up.


Forgiveness and Redemption

What writer hasn't written about the thorny issue of forgiveness? How many stories are about liberation, deliverance, atonement?

The river is moving
The blackbird must be flying

Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird by Wallace Stevens