Guest Blog: Ed Cook, Breakfast in Vermont


Last week I drove 126 miles to Vermont for…breakfast.  Yes, just for breakfast.  My wife and kids thought I was a quite daft for driving all that way for only 2 ½ hours.  Well there was another motive.  More on that later.

The drive was beautiful as it was at or near peak foliage color in middle New England that week.  It really was a beautiful red, yellow, and orange splashed trip.  I left home at about 5:30 so about the first hour was in the dark.  After that it was just what the picture post cards of New England in October are supposed to look like.  I passed through the North-Central part of Massachusetts, part of the Mohawk Trail.  Through this area the hillsides and small valleys were draped in their Fall Finery and was very bright when the sun hit it.

Later there were some clouds and sprinkles as I entered southwestern New Hampshire.  The scenery was colorful but not as bright.  Through this very rural part of NH and into southern Vermont I was able to see roadside items I never see near my home in the Metrowest area of Boston.  There were many barns, cows, horses, other farm animals along with farm houses and farm equipment.  My dad grew up on a farm in Southern NH for the first part of his boyhood so these things reminded me of him.  To offset the country character of the area I listened to my iPod for the entire trip.  Around this time the Beatles Long and Winding Road appropriately played.

Some of the fun (odd?) things I saw along this Long and Winding Road were a billboard for an attorney who claimed to have “Knuckles of Brass, Heart of Gold”.  Another landmark was a sign in front of a Diner that read “Famous since 1988, before that, not open”.  A store called Sam’s that claimed to be the “Biggest little store in the world”. And finally an Inn that advertised on the sign out front “PLAN YOUR SPECTACULAR EVENT HERE”.  Too bad the place was boarded up with a Closed sign on the door.

So, why did I go to Vermont in the first place? Lyn Gaas and I first met when we were 12 or so.  (Her name was Lyn Beard then.)  She was the grand-daughter of my Aunt Lillian from Lillian’s first marriage.  Lillian had married my Uncle Max and they moved to Nashua, NH.  Lyn’s family was up visiting her grandmother and we had a big family party.  The next time I saw Lyn was just after Max died in 1974, when Lyn and I were 16.  Now by this time I was past the “girls have cooties” stage and in the two days we spent together I developed a crush on Lyn.  While my mother and Lillian packed for Lil to go back home to Texas, Lyn and I just hung out.  We walked to Dairy Queen, watched TV, just hung out.  It stunk that she lived 2,000 miles away and I figured when she left, that would be it.  Lillian had other ideas.

Lillian and I continued to communicate, mostly by letter, (you remember those, with an envelope and a stamp) and a couple of letters went to Lyn too.  Lillian thought it would be great for me to come down to Texas to go to college at Rice University.  She also thought it would be great if Lyn and I got together as a couple and told me so many times.  That would not have hurt my feelings either.  In a 17 or 18 year-old’s head that sounded damn good.  Aunt Lil was sure Lyn was going to go to Rice too, so she convinced me to apply, and visit the campus.  So I applied and made arrangements to go down, but a few days before I was to leave she broke her wrist and we postponed the trip.  I ended up going to Northeastern Univ. in Boston.  If I had gone to Rice, it would have been some joke, since Lyn went to school in Missouri. That was 1976.

Fast forward 34 years…2010.  Lyn finds me on Facebook.  We converse on FB and then on the phone.  We have both married and had 3 kids.  When we talked it was very comfortable.  She remembered an amazing amount about my family which she met only twice.  I found that Lillian had passed away a year or two before my mother.  We kept in touch a number of times after this and saw and wrote to each other on FB.  She called 10/2 to say she was coming to New England the next day and for 4 days, was there any way we could meet up.  She had some stuff of my uncle’s she wanted to give me too.  She and her husband were staying Friday night in southern Vermont and that was the closest point she would be standing still for any time at all.  And that is why I drove to Vermont for breakfast.

So, the reason I went to Vermont, was to meet up with someone I had not seen in 39 years.  I got to my destination in Vermont about 8:10 and she was on the porch of this quaint little New England Inn with her husband.  She came out to the parking lot to greet me and told me she recognized me right away as I drove by.  We went in for breakfast. Lyn and I talked for 2 ½ hours and could have talked for 2 ½ more.  It was great.  Rich, who seems like a good guy, joined us for much of the time and went to do stuff at other times.  It was a thoroughly great time with thoroughly great people.  I am so glad I drove up.  Lyn promised the next time they come up they will come closer to my home area.  No need Lyn.  It was a beautiful drive and time.  Next time though let’s plan to have more time to chat.

Here are the Texans in New England.  She wanted it to be colder…just wait a while Lyn, just wait a while.

 

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The Imposter


Sometimes, oftentimes, I awaken thinking I am the great imposter. Yes, I am. I think I’m not brilliant, not beautiful, not even smart and sexy; I am an imposter. And one day people will find out. Then what?

I mentioned this to a friend recently and her response was, no, not you! But you are brilliant!

No, no I’m not. I have a high—genius high—IQ. I have a photographic memory. A total of six college degrees, But, brilliant’s a stretch. Brilliant is something complete, knowing it all, not needing to learn anything new.

Last night, I was discussing my brakes with Ian. They are behaving strangely. He asked, “Is it the brake pads or the master cylinder?  Do you have disk brakes?”

I have no clue—he might as well have been speaking…Martian. My brakes aren’t working right and someone needs to fix that.

The list of things I cannot do, or do not understand, goes on ad infinitum.  Cars, I can’t change my oil; math; carpentry, I can’t build things, even with directions; music, I love music, but I am completely inept musically; dancing; singing; football (American and World)—well, really athletics in general once I move beyond baseball; science—all of them; engineering; languages outside of Romantic, well and a smattering of Irish (I can cuss in Irish, well I guess I can cuss in several languages; it’s the Irish way); math, did I say math already? I really suck at math.  Ok, so I can do languages that use the Roman alphabet, no I can’t do Teutonic, Scandinavian, or Slavic languages; economics is a foreign country. I can’t knit, crochet, or sew. It took me over a week to figure out how to make the cable box work, seriously!

I could go on, but you get the idea. Brilliant is the last word I would use to describe myself. And yet, people describe me that way. She’s brilliant, a college professor, a published writer, an amazing organizer, cook, gardener!

Well no, not so much. I teach English. I have amassed four degrees in English. If I couldn’t teach that, I would be … mentally deficient. And well, yeah, I can organize just about anything because if whatever it is, is unorganized, my cover may be blown. Cook? I like to eat. Garden, not really, I sort of plant, and let Nature do the rest. I guess I am a brilliant planter? Although I somehow doubt that, twenty-four years of horse manure makes for good fertilizer. I just planted at the bottom of the hill—no genius required: shit runs down hill.

No one told me I was brilliant when I was a child.  No one even told me I was smart.No, not me. I have two sisters, the oldest is “the smart” one, and the next sister is “the pretty one.” So, by default, I was neither of those things. I was the invisible sister, the tomboy, the bookworm, the child who liked fantasy worlds, the problem child. My mother thought I required finishing school—really, that’s a thing.

And so, I took that in. Obviously, unlike my smart and pretty sisters, I was incomplete, less than. I needed finishing school. (In my own little corner in my own little world…) So, if I succeeded at something, I must be an imposter.

I was an imposter when I modeled, I wasn’t pretty enough for that. Too tomboyish. Too hippie-like. Too not what a model was thought to be, at least when I wasn’t working. I wasn’t the cheerleader type. I wasn’t the popular sister. Not pretty enough to date anyone on the football team (which is probably for the best, because I don’t understand football).

My smart sister once told me the only reason I pursued a college education was because I was an imposter, if I had degrees people would think I was smart…even though I wasn’t. Not compared to her, anyway.

 

As a professor, I am always terrified that my bosses will find out that I am not the sharpest knife in the drawer. Some faux paux will expose me. I will say the wrong thing, showing my less-than-brilliant-self for what I am. I will give a student incorrect information, forget an important piece of paperwork, or fill it out incorrectly. And they’ll know!

Um, ok.

I was surprised to discover recently that most people feel this way. We all experience the terror of being found out, of being exposed as less than. It’s not just me.

 

This is an affirmation. Faking it til you make it is a human condition. Fuck you, smart sister! And when I look at my life, I don’t see too much faking it. I did graduate with honors from every program I have ever pursued. Hell, I graduated with honors form William and Mary. I felt like an imposter all the way through, but I did it, damn it.

So, as the new school year begins, I bury the imposter. I tell myself it is human to feel this way. That perhaps this feeling of not measuring up is what drives me to keep learning, keep growing. Maybe it’s what keeps us one step ahead of those who would expose us. Perhaps it is a question of word choice.

Perhaps we are not imposters and frauds, perhaps we are just travelers striving for perfection. And once perfection is achieved, all we learn is that we are simply on a plateau—and we struggle to reach the next level. Maybe because I am always a work in progress, always looking forward, I see myself the imposter. I want to be in that next level. I want to be brilliant. Maybe, that comes after I figure out how to be a human being, and not a human doing.

Maybe.

Fat Enough


I’ve always been fat.newborn

Always.

I have never had a Barbie-doll shape. As a teen, I was told that I had “good hips for having babies.” – because that’s something every adolescent wants to hear. It, of course, translates to, “Yo, you have a fat ass.”

It does. It helps to create a negative body image. How about just, “you are beautiful just the way you are.” What the hell is wrong with that?

In high school, I listened to things like that. It didn’t matter that I was tall, and mostly thin, with washboard abs. It didn’t matter that I modeled. It didn’t matter that on a fat day, at 5’8”, I weighed-in at about 120 pounds. In my head, I was fat.

I fulfilled the expectation of having babies, and with each, I got fatter. After my third baby, I was a horrifying 135 pounds. I was fat!

POCONO

the vest

The commentary changes as one ages. It changed from, “good hips for having babies,” to “oh, you’re so much bigger than you were in high school.” Well, yeah, I’ve had three babies, and gained fifteen pounds. So, my BMI went from under 19 (the charts don’t go lower than that), to a healthy 21. But I wasn’t as thin as I had been in high school, when I was considered fat enough to easily birth babies. I inched from 130 to 140 to…

I hurt my back in 1989, and as a result, I was unable to do any sort of high, or even moderate, impact exercise. No more aerobics for me. Goodbye Jane Fonda and Richard Simmons. Weight became a whole new challenge. Up and down my weight went.

closefat

melbirding

I was never big on sweets, but I drank a lot of Pepsi. So that had to go. I successfully weaned myselfaugust09 off of soda in 2004. I lost fifteen pounds in a week. I did all of the right things, read all of the right books, and dropped three sizes. Thank you, Jillian Michaels.

But then my schedule shifted. Meals became…random…eat when the opportunity presents itself. Dinner at 11 p.m.. I began drinking Mountain Dew on days that were “long days”. Two, sometimes as many as four, days a week began when I left the house and 7 a.m. and ended when I made the thirty minute drive home from a class that ended at 10:30 p.m.. Caffeine, I drank Mountain Dew to sustain myself; that’s what I told myself. Other than soda, my diet was healthy, if not time-wise, at least food wise. But, ounce-by-ounce, my victory was chipped away. I inched from 140 to 145 to…

IMAG0584

My clothes got tighter, and had to be replaced with larger sizes. Once, twice, a third time. I suffered with heartburn, headaches, exhaustion, and weekly Rheumatoid Arthritis episodes.  I was short tempered, harried. Frumpy.

Frumpy! That wouldn’t do.

I looked back through old photographs of all the earlier fat me’s—I looked at how thin I was—at PURPLEhow deeply ingrained those tiny voices from the past are. I thought about how society—American culture—thought I should look. I thought about the patriarchy and how detrimental it is to the female psyche. I thought about how every woman I knew bought into that, that image of what a woman should be. That unrealistic image that says, you will never be thin enough, pretty enough, smart enough; you’ll never be enough (because you’re not a man?). I thought about how I define the word fat for my Composition 1 students; it used to mean rich. I thought about how American culture encourages me to be unhealthy: eat this American-processed food. It makes you ill? Take this pill, have this operation, do therapy. Medicate. Anesthetize. You are healthy enough. Well, I’d had enough, enoughs for a lifetime.

And so began the quest, to be the fat me of previous years. I needed to do this for me. To be healthy, whole, pain free.

I needed to use the gym membership I was paying for, in the first week of June, I did just that. I began using the recumbent bike four times a week. I stopped drinking Mountain Dew—eliminated soda from my diet completely (well, with the occasional exception of a Dry Lavender Soda).

On June 19th, I bought a Jawbone Up. This simple act radically changed my perception of myself. According to the documentation, a healthy human being needs to take 10,000 steps a day. The average person, in the United States, using an Up took 5,500 steps a day. In the first week, I averaged a little less than 4,000.

Damn it. So, what to do? Well, obviously walk more, a lot more. But I realized quickly, that wouldn’t be enough. People have asked me what I have done to lose weight, so here it is:

Phase 1:

Change mindset. Do this for me. Let go of old tapes in my head.2013-06-21 13.30.10

Eliminate soda. Check.

Reduce gluten. Check.

Eliminate dairy. Sort-a check.

Eliminate half and half from my coffee, replace with vanilla almond milk. Check.

Reduce cheese and butter. Check.

Eat breakfast every day. Working on it.

Ride recumbent bike thirty minutes, four times a week. Check.

Walk a minimum of 5,500 steps per day. Check.

Within two weeks, I had lost fourteen pounds! No one noticed. But onward! All heartburn episodes disappear.

Phase 2:

2013-08-16 08.47.10Eliminate meals after 9pm. Check.

Eat a GMO-chemical-laden Nutrigrain bar every day before leaving for work. Check.

Vow to find a better breakfast choice. Working on it.

Subscribe to Jillian Michaels app. Check.

Add a 15-minute weight circuit to gym activity. Check.

Increase minimum step count to 6,500. Check.

In three weeks, I was down by 22 pounds. A student walking in the hall notices. All Rheumatoid Arthritis symptoms disappear.

Phase 3:

Vow to find a better breakfast choice. Working on it.

Add mall walk three times per week, approximately 2,500 boring steps. Check.

Reduce time on recumbent bike, increase weight circuit to 30 minutes. Check.

Increase steps to 6,800. Check.

Focus on weekly counts to eliminate guilt of daily shortfalls. Check.

Phase 4:

Vow to find a better breakfast choice. Working on it.2013-08-17 12.01.17

Eliminate processed sugar, replace with organic coconut sugar (except in lemonade, because that was gross). I noticed no difference in my coffee. Check.

Add a walk through Garden Ridge to mall walk making it less boring, increase overall mall steps to 5,000. Check.

Incorporate inch measurements in success rate. Check.

Eliminate recumbent bike. Increase circuit training to 50 minutes alternating weight and laps around the gym. Check,

Increase steps to 7,000. Check.

Weight loss: 31 pounds.

Phase 5 (where I am now):

Experiment with breakfast choices. Egg white omelet on days off…a nut-granola mix on workdays. Who knew breakfast could be so challenging? We’ll see.

Eliminate remaining (few) processed foods.

Increase step count to 7,500 daily.

Things I still need to work out:

Obviously, breakfast.

Incorporating writing time without sacrificing exercise time.

Twenty pounds to go. I won’t have a Barbie body, but I will be happy with myself and live a long life in which I will be able to disrupt the patriarchy! Who’s with me?

Social Media Conundrums


I’ve been active on the Internet almost since its public inception. I ran a bb using Qmodem, I subscribed to Prodigy, Compuserve (I loved that service), and AOL. I migrated to the World Wide Web as soon as possible. I went from dial-up to DSL the week it was offered in my community.

I have a MySpace account – still. Tom and I are still there, you should come friend me, we’re lonely. I’ve had my Facebook account since it required a .edu email. I have a Twitter account. I was on Google+ before it opened to the general public. I’ve done Classmates, Blogster, LiveJournal, DeviantArt, MeetUp, Questia, and Goodreads. I still use LinkedIn, Open Salon, and LibraryThing. I have accounts with Amazon, iTunes, Netflix, iCloud, Google Drive, SugarSync, Skydrive, Dropbox. I like technology. I use the Internet.

I used to approach social media sites like Goldilocks; Google+, too quiet; Twitter, too busy; Facebook, just right. And in many ways, that still applies. In the time it has taken me to write this, my tabs show 41 tweets, 8 notifications to Facebook, and nothing on Google+.  Many of the tweets are by the likes of John Cusack, The New Yorker, and The Department of Education, Keith Oblermann. On Facebook, the notifications are from people I have designated as close friends, but the feed itself is filled with suggested pages, and posts from “liked” pages. The other day, I went through thirty-two posts before getting to one by a friend! What the hell? I have considered un-liking every one of them! But periodically, I get information I like from them. Damn it. It’s a conundrum. And now it seems Facebook wants to move away from personal connection into an information-based system, with too many commercials. So, that’s why I don’t watch TV, or listen to the radio.

Bastards. In my insanely busy life sometimes connecting online is important to me. So, what’s a girl to do? I’ve been looking at this all week. I signed up for Bebo, but yeah, it makes Google+ look too busy to keep up with! And no one in my gmail contacts has an account. No one! Crickets, I tell you!

In trying to find a good work-around for this growing issue, I have discovered some things:

The Facebook app for my iPad displays fewer personal posts than my laptop. And on my phone, I miss everything but the ads, no matter how I set it. So, yeah. No.

Hootsuite works. From Hootsuite I can look at Facebook without the BS, I can read Twitter, follow specific hashtags, and access direct messages. It includes MySpace. But, it’s a process to be learned and Google+ isn’t accessible, unless you set up a page (like a Facebook like page). Posting to all of my social media accounts in a single click is easy, well, except Google+. So Hootsuite might be a good choice for some people.

Flipboard is an app available on the iPad, iPhone, and Android based devices. It combines social media with news, hobby, and entertainment sources and creates “magazines” for the user. And I miss nothing. It even allows me to save most things to refer back to – so if I see something that one of my liked pages posts (say a recipe for an all natural tick repellant), I am able to save it into a personal magazine. But there’s a but. I find that I have trouble posting to Facebook directly from Flipboard. I am able to use a work-around by posting to Twitter and Flipboard posts to both. I have just added Googl+ and LinkedIn to this, so I will have to update y’all as to how that works.

I downloaded iSocial, but immediately discarded it – I couldn’t change the font size and I have old eyes. And it doesn’t turn when I turn my iPad (rendering it a useless app when I am out-of-doors with sunglasses on).

So, for now, I am planning to increase my presence on Google+ moving to make it my primary social media site. I can target specific groups, make both public and private posts with the click of a mouse. I will decrease my presence on Facebook gradually. I will keep my Cultural Salad page on Facebook (and if you haven’t liked it you should).

 

 

 

I’ll Take the Diamonds… (Review Joan Baez and the Indigo Girls)


I started yesterday talking to students, in my 8am class, about the importance of being involved in the world around them; about the value of civic conversations; Edward Snowden; The Patriot Act; misappropriated outrage. We discussed what a text is—it’s a book, a painting, a building, a classroom, it’s you, and me—and we must examine all of them critically. We must, as active world citizens, engage in textual analysis. At every turn.

Every turn.

If you’re outraged, I told them, be outraged by the apathy that surrounds us. It is a common conversation in my classes. I teach composition, writing; but I have learned that students must understand we are surrounded by the composition of our lives. It’s a tapestry your life, my life, that life over there, and in order to make it work we must work in concert, be interdependent—and that means being a responsible citizen—aware of what The Man is doing—and consciously working to make the world a better place, one little word at a time. And so, we examine the world in discussions, and then write. Yes, I am probably what many Tea Party people consider the epitome of liberal education (even though that term really means expansive, classical, including a liberal [i.e. generous] helping of a variety of subjects).

For a brief moment, in the shadow of another school shooting, this one in Santa Monica, we talked about the text of the room—what were the walls made from? Where would we be safe? We made a plan. One student commented that our schools are, in general, safe. A chorus of voices began… Iowa, Columbine, Tech, that reservation in Minnesota, the Amish school, that crazy professor in Alabama, wasn’t there a shooting at a Christian college in California?

Newtown.

They looked around the room. And planned.

After class, I did this and that. Jamie and I packed the car and we began our journey to 2013-06-11 14.41.46Charlottesville, Va.. We stopped to vote in the state’s Democratic primary, at about 2:30; we were voters 9 and 10 in our precinct. Nine and ten. I slapped my “I Voted” sticker on my white oxford and took a picture of it.

Indigo Girls and Joan Baez waited. The hour’s ride was uneventful (unless you consider the six cars, with government tags, suspicious. Six government cars en route to the town where a concert by a long-standing political activist is taking place…if I were a conspiracy theorist…). I made it to the Water St. Parking Garage without getting lost, I always get lost in Charlottesville. Always. It’s a rule, so I was proud of myself for this accomplishment.

We walked the artsy brick pathways to the nTelos Wireless Pavilion. And by artsy, I mean it’s an artsy sort of place; new age shops, independent book sellers, coffee shops filled with artists and poets, street vendors selling scarves with eastern and Celtic designs—100% cotton, you know the type, I have more than a dozen of them, each different, each unique. My empty wallet and I gave the table a wide berth. Charlottesville is an artsy-folky sort of place. It’s a good venue for Baez and the Indigo Girls.

The crowd began to gather, mostly women, lots of purples, tie-dyes, paisley, Dr. Scholl’s. Many of these women shopped at Holy Clothing. Long flowing hair, braids that were once brown or blond, or red that had now faded to a graceful sort of gray dominated the crowd. Because both acts openly support the LGBT community, many women, lesbians, walked through the crowd unabashedly holding hands.  The snippets of conversations I overheard included talk of the Stones new tour; recent bucket list check-offs like seeing Bob Dylan; low voter turnouts. I heard several people ask about recycling. I saw lots—lots—of “I Voted” stickers. These were people who were involved in the world around them, writing the texts of their lives, these people critically analyzed the text that is the world around them. These were my peeps, my peers, my sisters (and brothers). I breathed in hope, more so, because although many of the people in the audience were older than I am, many, many were younger. I thought about my students.

The Indigo Girls opened the show. They engaged the audience with amazing renditions of Galileo, Shame on You, Least Complicated, along with several songs, I didn’t know. They closed with a powerful Closer to Fine – a song that helped to define a period of my life.

Baez took the stage quietly, no introductions, no fanfare. She opened with Lily of the West. And then, true to reputation, she got political with Steve Earle’s Jerusalem:

I woke up this mornin’ and none of the news was good
And death machines were rumblin’ ‘cross the ground where Jesus stood
And the man on my TV told me that it had always been that way
And there was nothin’ anyone could do or say

And I almost listened to him
Yeah, I almost lost my mind
Then I regained my senses again
And looked into my heart to find

That I believe that one fine day all the children of Abraham
Will lay down their swords forever in Jerusalem…

She sang Woody Guthrie’s Deportee, dedicating it to Virginia’s pro-immigration senator, Tim Kaine.  She also did Guthrie’s House of the Rising Sun, Donovan’s Catch the Wind, Dylan’s Don’t Think Twice (with the Indigo Girls), Swing Low Sweet Chariot,  Diamonds and Rust, and a dozen or so other songs. The show was shorter than I would have liked, but Joan is 72. She is a consummate performer; funny, irreverent, thought-provoking, pensive. The show was well worth the ride, the Indigo Girls making the show that much richer. A good time, good socially conscious music, shared with good people. A ray of hope.

But, so as not to break my record, I got lost on the return trip…

The Creative Habit


Humans, as a species, are lazy. It’s easy to check Facebook, Twitter, email. It’s easy to come home and turn on the TV. Habits that demand nothing of us are easy, and so we default to them. It’s easy to keep a job that we dislike, because it’s habit, it’s what we know.

I broke the TV habit years ago. It was mind-numbing. Now I make conscious choices about what I will watch. It saves me money and I have reclaimed untold hours of my life. Untold hours. Sure, I periodically get lost in pop culture conversations. I have no clue why everyone is upset about the latest twist in Game of Thrones. I haven’t seen the series (although Sean Bean is always tempting to watch).bean I didn’t read the books, before I started the first, someone told me that the story gets lost in book four. Why would I start it then? Hours reclaimed.

I have read several books in The Dresden Files series. Butcher writes well enough. But then, I made a disastrous mistake; I went to Netflix and watched an episode of the ill-fated TV series. Oh. My. God. So bad. I watched episode one and thought, ok, it’s a pilot, I have to watch more than the first one. Not true. Each episode was worse than its predecessor. I stopped reading the series for a while. I could hear the bad series voices narrating the books. So bad.

Writing is a habit. It really is just that simple, like exercising, reading, or gardening it’s a demanding habit. I try to foster demanding habits, conscious living. It’s not easy. People work to discourage it. I recently obtained a reel mower. You know, a push-mower with no motor. Why? Well, why not! Why do I need gas to cut the grass? Ok, so it’s harder work, but I’ve lost almost five pounds pushing it.mower I like the idea of exercise, as a concept, but, in the end I don’t feel productive. I like being productive, so I push the reel mower. I am being environmentally conscious by not expending fossil fuels; I’m exercising; and my yard is cut. A win-win. When I suggested that I wanted one, you would have thought I was asking for, oh I don’t know, heroin, access to a nuclear reactor.

Seriously.

We don’t foster demanding habits in the people around us. We have a riding mower. You’re going to do WHAT? Why?

The same is true of writing. I maintain a writing schedule, and by that I mean I keep it in my Google calendar. Actual writing is another story. It’s an under-valued, invisible habit. Oh, she’s on the computer, probably playing on Facebook, not doing anything of value. Oh, she’s just writing, it’s ok to interrupt, she can go right back to what she was doing.

The thing about conscious, deliberate activity is that it requires focus. It’s not interrupted every ten minutes by commercials. Interruption breaks the flow, disrupts something vital, tangible. Removes consciousness.

I find this same level of concentration when reading, and gardening. I was so engrossed in my garden yesterday that my poor uncovered Irish skin was scorched. But, I cleaned the weeds and encroaching grass from around the strawberries, tomatoes, and mints; edged the box gardens; placed solar lights.With my grandson Ryan’s help, we planted another tomato, watermelon, radishes, and two varieties of hot peppers. All of my plants are bearing fruit. It’s focused effort, a habit to care for them.2013-06-04 06.59.53 And one thing leads to another. I have moved from growing things to making things with what I have grown.

And making things, that feels productive. I helped to make plants, now the plants help me make food—better meals, slower food, and bug spray, and lotion, and house cleaning solutions… It’s awesome.

I find one habit fosters the next. I am focused about my gardening, and feel more focused in my writing. I feel more conscious, more grounded. I have fewer moments of mind-numbing, commercial-filled laziness. I sleep better at night, my mind is busy—trying to make up for the dullness of my day, my body isn’t restless because it wasn’t active.

And so, after a weekend of gardening, I played with two book ideas this morning and posted them to one of my writers’ groups.

And now I have blogged. Life is good.

Star Trek: Into Darkness (review)


I saw Star Trek: Into Darkness this past weekend, twice. My first reaction was, hmm, this is all very familiar, but different. Well, different until the villain, played by Benedict Cumberbatch utters, “John Harrison was a fiction created the moment I was awoken by your Admiral Marcus to help him advance his cause. A smoke screen to conceal my true identity. My name is Khan.” in response to a question asked by Kirk (Chris Pine).

Khan? As in The Wrath of?

Well ok. So I spent much of the first viewing thinking, well that’s not how it happened in the original timeline. After lunch with friends, I went home and streamed the original.

And then returned to see Into Darkness again the next day able to consider what the movie actually had to say. I like movies (and TV shows) that have something to say. My friend Mattie had suggested that the film made a commentary about the modern world and terrorism.

Hmm. Yes, and no.

It does (deliberate or not) in that John Harrison/Khan commits an act of terrorism in the film. I suppose, the opening sequence in which Kirk and company save a primitive species on a remote planet from a volcano could be considered terrorism. The natives were terrified, and altered their behavior as a result of the actions of the Enterprise crew.

But, I don’t think it is a movie about terrorism, or even modern life, but rather the indomitable human spirit (or Vulcan, or Klingon, or…whatever that little guy who follows Scotty around is). It’s a movie about pulling yourself up by the bootstraps –as Star Trek always is – and carrying on.

It’s a movie about the big bad universe and how we navigate that. You broke the rules and lost something precious to you (for Kirk the Enterprise, for Spock Kirk’s trust and companionship, Scotty loses hope and a friend…I could go on, but you get the idea). But surrendering to you disappointment isn’t an option, there’s work to be done. Your mentor dies – you must carry on. Your superiors lie to you? Tough luck. Your lover doesn’t take your feelings into account? Well, buck up, you have a mission to accomplish.

Everything you have come to believe is challenged, grab those bootstraps, the sun is coming up tomorrow anyway. Your ship has lost its gravity function? Hold on, because you are not finished yet.

I think, if the film is to be considered as analogous and representing modern society, terrorism, while it impacts all of us, not as directly as the pain of losing a friend, feeling betrayed, overwhelmed, helpless…human. And just as our ancestors outran the dinosaurs, our descendants will run from space monsters and as we always have, monsters of our own creation.

Several reviews I read talked about shifting away from the original intellectualism of Star Trek to a more super hero, violence oriented franchise. And to them I say, go watch the movie again. Kirk is excited, near the beginning of the film because he believes that Enterprise will be chosen for a five year exploratory mission, and in the end he reminds us that humans move into space to explore, to learn… to be that old intellectual-like show.  I like that the bad guy isn’t killed – he is returned to his frozen state; leaving open the possibility that, perhaps he can be redeemed later, again, not the traditional super-hero ending.

Ian suggested that, perhaps, the producers (and script writers) were setting the stage for a return to the TV format. I don’t know that it is possible, with the current cast (all of whom do amazing jobs). To bring this timeline to television without the current cast, I think would be disastrous.  But it has been set up for several more “episodes” and I will gladly watch. Because space is

 …the final frontier. And we are all captivated by the voyages of the starship Enterprise and Her five-year mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no one has gone before.

It is my opinion that the story line will continue to go where no one has gone, to buck the system, have the smart, peaceful guys tempering the macho man because, at the end of the day, that’s the only way we will ever live long and prosper…

Go and see this movie, be reminded that part of who we are as a species drives us to go where no one has gone before.