Wednesday, September 30, 2009

One Line Wednesdays

Today I had a botched meet-up with a Dirty Chai, ran long and hard, and eventually turned myself in at the police station for fingerprinting.

Which may lead you to believe that it’s been a notable day, until I tell you that the events didn’t occur quite in that order and that the Dirty Chai was just a wonderful brew on which I missed out at my local coffee house, the run was just my morning loop around the neighborhood (which I’ll typically file underlong and hard) and that the fingerprinting was just the last of a tedious list of routine in-processing items required by my employer. But it kind of sounded pretty intense there for a moment, didn’t it?

The opening line came to me early on, and it cheered me considerably to be able to think about my average day in such epic terms. My first thought was that I might finally be ready to get on Twitter, a social networking feat of which I’ve largely considered myself incapable due to the required brevity. I find the prospect of consistently expressing my thoughts in an engaging manner using no more than 140 characters frankly intimidating. Because, let’s face it, no one really wants to read tweets about actual, real-time events in the spirit of: “teaching yellow and blue makes green today!’ or “fridge empty—looks like pasta for dinner again!” But I think it would be a relief, every so often, to be able to craft a good line and put it out there without the pressure of further explanation a good blog post requires. Problem is, I figure I’m good for about one of those a week, not the constant stream effective tweeting would require.

Which got me to thinking that it might be fun to host “One Line Wednesdays” here at Running With Letters. I see it working kind of like this: I’ll get us started with a post each Wednesday with the single best line I’ve managed to craft in the intervening seven days –maybe I’ll include the story behind it, but I likely won’t, what with it being One Line Wednesday, and all. I’ll also include one of those cool Mr. Linky widgits that will let you leave a link to your one line post of the week (where you can include the story behind your line, or not—you choose!) Your line can be about anything, as clear or cryptic as you’d like, and who knows—maybe even be true! I may as well just put it out there that I’m not-so-secretly hoping that by setting the bar sort of low-ish, at a single line, I might be able to get my sister, husband, and maybe even Jen blogging again, but that may be too much to expect. It would also just make my week if a whole lot of other bloggers got into the fun and joined us!

In the meantime, keep a pencil and paper handy and jot down that witty one liner that pops into your head this week, post it to your blog on Wednesday, and zip back over here with your link. What do you think? Are you in?

Monday, September 28, 2009

A Recipe for Contentment

“I’m going into a sugar coma just breathing,” my husband remarked, easing our van to a gentle halt at a stoplight and glancing in the rearview mirror at the three sleepy backseat occupants and the three tier cake they were guarding with the vigilance of armored vehicle guards en route to Fort Knox.

I’m not entirely sure how many pounds of sugar or tubs of shortening went into the fondant-coated creation our team of five transported to our church on Saturday, but I do know that six boxes of cake, eighteen eggs, and several bags of mini marshmallows went into the mix. I also know that that the three kids who designed, baked, and decorated the cake had invested all but two of the previous twenty hours into the effort. I’m fairly confident, as well, that I’ll be scraping icing from my counters, floor, and cabinets for weeks to come, but I digress.

Several weeks ago, my children’s friend, Brian, asked my daughter the aspiring baker, to help him make a wedding cake for his mother. Over the past month, they’ve whipped up batches of fondant—a blend of marshmallow and powdered sugar rolled into a smooth, thin sheath. They purchased tools and gadgets, interviewed experienced bakers, and test-driven some ideas in tasty, well-crafted prototypes. Along the way, they imagined. They hoped. They dreamed.

And then they worked. All. Night. Long. Even taking my son’s siestas into account, they easily lost a collective twenty hours of sleep.

Sometime around 11 o'clock the next morning, they decided that nothing was left other than onsite presentation details. The kids gathered around the behemoth dessert, half in awe and half in horror at the prospect of moving it.

“Do you know where this cake will be in twelve hours?” my daughter asked the boys.

“In people’s stomachs,” Brian nodded.

The kids basically shrugged off this seemingly disturbing fact, chalking it up to spreading around a lot of happiness.

I keep returning to the images of these children—the work, the excitement, the acceptance of the fleeting nature of their pursuit--even their willingness to embrace the inherent risk associated with their undertaking. I return to these thoughts not only out of sheer pride in their accomplishment, but as a reminder about why we work, and dream, and strive, because, let’s face it, most of us aren’t going to change the world. The majority of us throw ourselves into efforts only slightly more fleeting and likely less tasty than the kids’ wedding cake.

I needed these images to get me back on track yesterday, in the wake of an afternoon at an outdoor book event inhabited by a population of decidedly glum writers and poets. Oh, everyone adopted a make-the-most-of-it sort of outlook, but it was hard to miss the fact that nobody sold much printed matter of any kind, and that this wasn’t the first time this sort of thing happened to people other than me.

Which made me wonder why I write. Why I invest so much imagination, so many hopes, and a large percentage of my dreams into a craft that seems frankly disappointing. My husband, who has never written anything outside of school papers and a couple dozen blog entries, found it surprisingly simple to relate the feelings to some of his own passions. And that’s when I realized that most of our human ambitions are small efforts destined for rapid consumption; that life probably works best when viewed through the “process, not the product” approach elementary art teaches are trained to adopt.

The kids probably have it about right: whether we bake, write, or hold any number of other hopes close to our hearts, we have to go into it hoping for little more than the distribution of happiness, hope, encouragement, or peace for others, knowing that somewhere along the way we’ll find the same for ourselves in the pursuit.

At the wedding, the kids hovered around the cake table, witnessing the whittling away of the efforts. They left exhausted but with their perspective intact.

…the finished cake lived shorter than your average housefly,” my daughter wrote in a facebook status upon her arrival home. “It was so worth it, though.”

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Rediscovering and Redesigining

Life for me, lately, has been a little like that first fall sip of pumpkin latte-- a rediscovery of sweet goodness all but forgotten in the hubbub of intervening seasons. Having recently emerged from an intense season of life called graduate school and unexpectedly finding myself back in the favorable climate of artistic employ, I’m finding that most days are an exercise in getting reacquainted with myself. Absent the constant stress of assignments, three-hour classes, and the duties of a graduate assistantship, I’m remembering all kinds of things I used to enjoy. My most recent renaissance is in the arena of creating mosaic facades for unappreciated furniture.

I hit a few thrift stores over the past week, looking for some prime candidates for a tile facelift. I was initially thrilled with this quirky little find until my daughter claimed that it evokes the feel of a below average manger:

Not entirely sure of its original purpose, I initially envisioned a plant stand, as it seems an ideal size and height to boost a group of potted plants up to a sunny window. My friend Lori, who is infinitely wiser and better acquainted with reality, informed me that it was likely a butler-something-or-other designed for food service, but heartily agreed that it could be repurposed for horticultural use.

A couple days later, I snagged this great storage box for $6.95 at a new thrift store, a deal that convinced me that the $15.00 I paid for the sub-par manger was probably four times too much. What can you expect from a thrift store novice?

It even came stocked with bonus items!

My next step is to come up with some color schemes and patterning themes to give these pieces new life—a process that I plan to document here as the season of my rediscovery continues. Ideas welcome!

This Space Reserved for Wednesday's Post

There will be a post today. This just isn't it. So grab a pumpkin latte (at Starbucks, if you've got the $5 to burn, or 7-11, if you'd rather pay under $2), catch a movie--hey, if you're feeling ambitious, go get some work done. Linger awhile. Enjoy the day; then stop back on by. With any luck, this advisory will be replaced by today's Actual Post.

This message comes to you as a public service form Running With Letters. Statements contained therein may not be suitable for any purpose.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Sound Check

Work, for me, is a noisy place. Oh, I’m not talking the jackhammer/heavy equipment/industrial kind of noisy of which experts tell us to be on alert for aural health purposes. It’s just the sort of noisy one can’t avoid with a job description that calls for extended interaction with 70 elementary children--45 before lunch— all wielding scissors, glue bottles, and an alarming number of coloring implements.

During my brief time with my new students, I’ve discovered that they aren’t appreciatively different from my former ones. Just like the students that populated my old classroom, these children came with a built in propensity to say my name in a repeated loop, complete with audible exclamation marks as each syllable leaves their lips. As is apparently customary, each child arrives fully equipped with an artistic emergency requiring my immediate and complete attention. And, just like in my previous classroom, I’ve had to amend my class rules with a “no singing” clause. Because, really, I absolutely CAN NOT have 70 kids singing jingles from TV commercials, theme songs from popular shows, and the inappropriate lyrics of assorted rap and R&B artists--even if we weren’t dealing with all of the other auditory stimulus.

Due to the realities of my working environment, I find myself seeking some good silence for an hour or so after I arrive home. I say Good Silence, because it’s occurred to me that there are, really, two types of silence. Good Silence is the sort in which I basked on my front step after work on Tuesday. Soaking in the warm afternoon sun, I closed my eyes and focused on the chirping of the neighborhood crickets. With a little mental editing, I deleted extraneous traffic noise and briefly transported myself to the deep country acreage where I spent the long, lazy afternoons of my childhood.

And it was Good Silence that allowed my husband to detect the call of a great horned owl—an owl--and urban owl! Who knew?—one evening earlier this week after the kids were in bed, the computers off, and our own creatures at rest. That night, I feel asleep near my open bedroom window to the lullaby of a distant song. That silence was very good, indeed.

Good Silence energizes, restores, refreshes. Good Silence is an incubator for ideas and creativity, and it’s as essential to my well-being as the noise is on my work days.

Life would probably be just about perfect, then, if it were simply an even balance of noise and Good Silence. But alas, Good Silence has an evil twin. Bad Silence is the sort one encounters after an ominous crash. It invariably speaks of distress, disaster, and/or destruction. Bad Silence means something is broken. Although the wreckage may be admittedly be minimal, but it is real nonetheless.

Bad Silence has, unfortunately, crept quietly (can it arrive any other way?) into little corners of my life, upsetting the otherwise happy Noise/Good Silence Combo I have going. Bad Silence is hovering on the periphery, taking the usual-yet–still-disappointing forms: those prayers that can’t seem to get past the ceiling, the empty inbox when a reply to an important email is expected instead, the *cough* blank comment section on a faithfully updated blog.

I’m not sure, yet, of the role Bad Silence plays in life. I don’t know why some prayers offered in complete confidence are obviously answered, while others seem lost in cyberspace. I don’t know why friends sometimes aren’t there when we need them. And on the comments…well, I choose not to comment, except to say that for reasons likely related to those aforementioned, Bad Silence feels kind of lonely.

Feel free to grab a violin at any time, here— in fact, someone please do! The sound would do dual duty by breaking the Bad Silence spell and preventing this post from ending on a sour note.

In other news....

Yesterday was marked a momentous occasion: I sent off my first magazine submission in, well, a couple of years! It felt good: like life is on the right track.

I made reservations to return--just with my husband--to the site of The Great Migration. We toot a fall trip there last year and I found myself craving the beauty of the fall leaves, the camp restaurant's warm cobbler and cracking fires to ward of the mountain chill. T-34 days until departure.

Although my posts have been more reflective than humorous lately, that fact is not intended to signal a change in format--I just happen to feel reflective lately. Not always a bad thing :)

Friday, September 11, 2009

Of Big Red Engines and Little Yellow Rubber Duckies

I’ve just finished cleaning up some items to donate to our local Youth Challenge thrift store, and if I’m a little sniffly I’m afraid I can’t blame the dust. Since I’m on a good antihistamine, I’ve got nothing to blame but irrational attachment issues.

Oh, I can make a clean break from the tired old sweaters and the ho-hum sandals. Ditto for the clunky old laundry cart and over the door ironing board (seemed like a good idea at the time, until my ironing flew askew one too many times by a sudden flinging open of the door on which it was mounted). And, I’m frankly ecstatic to finally pass along four large closet organizer units, as it means my husband finished a long-anticipated bathroom remodel, complete with custom closet.

What’s giving me trouble is the evidence that my youngest is growing up. I’ve got a bag full of bath toys I probably should have culled half a dozen years ago. I almost choked on going through with it this time—I hate the thought of living in a house with no bath toys, but in the final analysis, I just couldn’t bring myself to fill up my new vanity with items destined for a long, dark retirement. There’s the requisite pile of out grown clothes, of course, and a cute little green tractor.

But I was in pretty good shape until I got to the big, red fire truck.
Its paint dulled by layers of dust, the truck hasn’t seen hard action in more years than I’d like to admit. “You just need a little love,” I found myself saying as I wiped its surface shiny. (OK, so I talk to inanimate objects. Now you know.) I got a little misty as I remembered my son’s “I want to be a fireman” phase, and, in two seconds flat, I was right in the middle of a full-fledged heart wrenching sob, of the type that probably just my fellow mom readers can relate.

I’m not exactly sure how it happened, but at some point it hit me that I’m clutching a big red fire truck and sobbing…and it's September 11. And I’m not exactly sure what point it was when I remembered that my son suddenly stopped wanting to be a fireman sometime around the fall eight years ago when he was six, and he saw that being a fireman meant a lot more than diving a cool truck and hanging around the fire house with a well trained Dalmatian--but I did, and things got a little rougher.

I thought then, about the little boy or girl who will inherit my son’s truck. That child probably wasn’t alive to witness the events that ended my son’s fascination with firefighting. I know our world isn’t necessarily any safer now than it was eight years ago. I know that the few children who do grow up to become firefighters will put their lives on the line on a daily basis and for that, will become true heroes. But I’m also glad that they’ve had the chance to allow their dreams to develop slowly and safely; that they aren’t scarred by televised images of domestic disaster.

So it’s with this thought that I discharge my son’s fire truck to a new assignment; hoping that its innocent new operator will have the chance to test his mettle on many an imaginary brush fire and some hard afternoons on treed kitty rescue before he’s old enough to handle the knowledge of what the real heroes operating the Big Equipment courageously face each day.

Wiping my eyes, I plucked a little rubber ducky out of the final bag before tying it off. The world is uncertain, and I, for one, don’t really want to face it in a house with no bath toys.

Posted with a sincere thank-you for those who sacrifice their safety to make this world a place where kids of all ages can play

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Dreams May Be Sweet, But They're Not Dessert

“Tell me another dream,” I’ve been saying to my husband as matter of recent routine on our semi-regular evening walks around the neighborhood.

He’s come to expect the question, as he’s astute and, as I’ve mentioned, the query has become predictable.

Now, my husband isn’t big into walking, and it’s not too hard to imagine that big-picture life assessment might be taxing at the end of a long day. Nonetheless, he seems to not-so-secretly enjoy the regular scrutiny. It was, loosely, his idea.

One evening on a mid-summer beach walk—a longer-duration after dinner excursion that often invites contemplation—my husband told me he was reading about the importance of writing down dreams, an idea of which he seemed enamored. Considering the state of his blog, which hasn’t been updated in almost a year—I filed the actual writing down in the “not likely” category and decided to give him a hand by helping him articulate his thoughts.

So I ask, now, about his dreams on every walk. I ask because it’s important. I ask because I know how easy it is for dreams to simply get lost in the everyday shuffle, and I just can’t let that happen. After all, dreams aren’t the desserts of life—improbably sweet concoctions on which we usually pass for reasons of good judgment and practicality. Dreams are the meat-and-potatoes (or veggie burger and salad, if you prefer) substance of our time here on the planet. They nourish us to the very core, give us the energy to slog through the mundane—they are our lifeblood. And they are absolutely anything but optional.

Too often, we act as though valuing our dreams means stuffing them in metaphoric deep storage—bringing them out, every so often, to admire in their untouched splendor. But our passions aren’t collector’s items, treasured all the more in an unblemished state. Which is a good thing, as most of my relics resemble Grey Teddy—my threadbare, love-worn, childhood companion who I’m told was originally of golden hue. But I have no memories of Golden Teddy. The bear I’ve always known sports a distinguished coat of weathered grey, which is just fine with me. I am determined, then, for my dreams to become the Grey Teddy of my existence: hardy, rough-and-tumble specimens marked with character earned through hard hours, rough play, and the occasional scar from a helmet-less wild ride.

But transforming a dream from artifact to adventure is a serious, time-consuming undertaking (see ‘hard hours” above), which invites consideration of the humanitarian value of our personal goals—is it selfish to invest ourselves in our dreams? As a Christian, I find this question of utmost importance, as my beliefs tend toward viewing wasted life as tragic, and, really, spiritual conviction aside, does anyone want to discover that they spent their life chasing the wrong things? After all, not every dream comes true. Perhaps most don’t—at least not in the way we expect.

I’m tempted to adopt the enjoy-the-journey philosophy which maintains that the actual achievement of goals is immaterial as long as there’s joy in the pursuit, but I’m not so sure if I can truly embrace that thinking. Oh, I know there’s truth in that approach, but somehow the up-front admission of possible failure ruins it for me. I prefer the mindset of Doc Brown of Back to the Future fame, as epitomized in his 1955 reaction to meeting 1985 Marty McFly fresh off the time machine: “Knowing that I invented something that works gives me something to shoot for!” In many ways, I’d love to have even a still frame of myself cracking into a fresh box of hardbound copies of my future bestseller hot off the press from my publisher (that moment, as Julia Child observes upon doing the same in Julie and Julia, in which “anything is possible”), or dropping anchor on a houseboat off the coast of Nova Scotia or, ironically, Cape Disappointment. Those snapshots, would, indeed, give me something for which to aim and provide validation of my current efforts.

In real life, none of us get to glimpse the results of our efforts during our murky days of striving, but what if we acted as though we had? How would the knowledge that our dreams were destined for success change the way we live now? My guess is that we’d work harder and play longer. We’d experiment without reservation. We’d push through the tough spots. We’d embrace optimism and avoid discouragement. In short, we’d actually live the way we should anyway.

My plan is to live like I’ve seen the snapshot. To chase after my dreams with expectation. To believe that God gave the interests, hopes, and aspirations I have for reasons that are both a gift and a responsibility. To trust that unless I’m specifically issued some new passions, my job is to invest in the ones I currently have, and leave the results to Him.

And my husband? So far we’ve got some land, a made from scratch house, and a few experiments in self-sustainability, aka “getting off the grid.” There’s a few quasi-political thoughts in there, and possibly a career change. How all that meshes with me writing from a houseboat is a little blurry in the still frame, but that’s OK.

And what about you, Reader? Tell me one of your dreams-blurry or not, it’s a picture I’d love to see.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

New Business; or RWL Gets a Facelift

With yesterday's Old Business behind us, I'm pleased to announce that today's news at Running With Letters is our new look, designed by young technological mastermind, Brian Tucker. The look went live this afternoon, although we are aware-- and working on--a couple minor bugs.

Of special note: see the RWL "button" in the panel on the left? How about that code underneath? I'm inviting all of my loyal readers cut and paste that code into your own blogs and websites so you can let YOUR readers know that you read Running With Letters and together we can help grow our strange and wonderful online community.

Let me know what you think!


Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Old Business

As small child who whiled away many an hour inventing diversions with the minister’s kids during the alarmingly frequent and shockingly long business meetings that took place in our itty bitty country church, I learned the importance of settling Old Business. Nothing—and I do mean nothing --stands a chance of moving forward when there’s Old Business lingering on the docket.

So let’s just clear away some Old Business here at RWL, specifically in regard to last week’s collision of latte and laptop. I am happy to report that my computer survived, although a series of setbacks caused me to be cautious to share the news.

Secondly, I am going forward with the promised virtual tour of my new art classroom, although I am sorry to report that the photos do not reflect the latest developments and will convey a slightly unpolished appearance. However, my determination to lay Old Business to rest causes me to be considerably less cautious in sharing the slightly outdated pics.

I painted the elements of art around my half of the shared room (the other side is a science lab, which works out better than it sounds, thanks to having a great professional "roommate")beginning with line.

Value, color and texture appear just to the left of the shelving at the edge of the "line" photo.

The back wall looks a lot better in real life, as I had time today to finish the bulletin board.

I hesitate to go on, as I'm beginning to feel like one of those bloggers who posts all the little minutiae of their lives-- dinner choices, the cleaning of the bedroom photo shoot--you know the ones--but I've gone this far, I really have to show you the closet/workroom:

There's a sink, which I find really amazing, except of the funky smell, for which I've been provided with three canisters of environmental cleaning packets I'm told to use "at least once a week."

There's also room for all sorts of supplies!

OK, I'm going to stop now. Thanks for visiting my art room, even though I fear that there's an outside chance that all of this is only interesting to me, which would, in turn, make this the dullest post that has appeared at RWL. But then again, I don't recall any items of genuine import appearing under the "Old Business" heading. So, Dear Reader, should you find yourself identifying with me and the gaggle of minister's children huddled in the dank church basement wondering when the Old Business will ever conclude...let me assure you that some very New Business, indeed, is on tomorrow's agenda.


Blog Widget by LinkWithin