Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Photos Are Easier than Words

When I started feeling a bit under the weather on Saturday, it didn't seem like much of a cold. My husband figured that with my being more active and healthy overall, a cold didn't bring me down as much as it used to. I liked that idea, and I even bought it until yesterday.

That's when the illness decided to remind me that no matter how active and healthy I might be, I can still be laid low by colds. Or sinus infections as the case may be. Could be.

At any rate, my brain has become mush. Enjoy these pictures in lieu of coherently ordered words.

Made me think of my mother-in-law, Judy - it's even a Toyota truck. 

A picture of a picture of the swing at St. John's College, Santa Fe. I miss that swing.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Visualize Turn Signals

I guess the "Visualize Turn Signals" bumper sticker was a reaction to the "Visualize World Peace" bumper stickers, indicating, perhaps, that drivers would be better off concentrating on how to make the world around them safer than the world at large more peaceful. As a cyclist, I count on the fact that all drivers are reckless, careless and think I'm an asshole.

Now, I can't entirely blame cars for thinking that I'm an asshole, because I see, both as a driver and a as a cyclist, a lot of asshole bikers. They run lights instead of treating them like stop signs (which is allowed under Idaho Code); they don't look before turning; some of them even use their phones while riding. But I'm not like that. I'm a paranoid cyclist, or perhaps a realist cyclist, because if every car really is out to get me, that's not paranoia, right?

The other day I made a post on Facebook about a car that had not turned right in front of me. I was offering kudos to this random driver, because they respected the rules of the road and treated me like a vehicle. Just as they would not turn right in front of another car, or a motorcycle, so too did they wait patiently for the light to turn, and for me to clear out, before completing their right turn. However, on Facebook, the response was not what I expected. Expressions of concern for my safety and well-being, instead of kudos for the good car.

Maybe I wasn't as clear as I could have been, but, frankly, car horror stories are more the norm than tales of law abiding safety. Just this week, I was approaching that same intersection as the light was about to go green. The first car in line had a turn signal on, so I slowed, not wanting to ride into their turn path. The second car in line had no signal, so I rode up beside it, hoping to cross the street in line with it and let cars behind turn if they wanted to. But as I drew abreast, the turn signal came on and I braked.

Was I supposed to keep going, with an obliviousness that assumes cars won't hit me? I don't know. The car, to give it credit, also braked, and I started pedaling again, releasing a brief obscenity regarding turn signals into the air. It being a brisk 40 degrees outside, I doubt the driver heard me.

Maybe it's time to replace my bicycle bell with an air horn.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Inspiration and Concentration

On Tuesday, before my Writing Creative Nonfiction class, I overheard a classmate talking about the writing that they'd done this semester. The words were something to the effect of, "I've been writing out of my ass all semester. I don't know where any of you are getting inspiration from, because I'm not."

And, over the course of the semester, I have heard other complaints about the format of the class and the work that we do in it. That the in-class work is boring; that they don't understand how to respond to the short pieces; that the online work can't be done. And I commiserate without agreeing.

My circumstances are different than theirs. I never took a class like this when I got my first degree. At St. John's, every class involved writing, but no class really taught it. And creative writing was not a part of the curriculum. Perhaps, if I went to a more traditional college and took this kind of class when I was younger, then I'd have the same issues that some of my classmates do.

I know that my writing has matured as I've gained more life experience (and as I've practiced). I don't have a problem analyzing excerpts as short as two paragraphs in two free-writing sessions of five minutes each. The pieces are layered, and there are many aspects which can be teased out and analyzed: the language, the use of research, imagery, turns of phrase, repetition, rhetorical devices, format choice, word choice, Biblical references, pop culture references, mythological references, punctuation, sound, personal reactions... I could go on.

But, for whatever reason, my classmates have trouble. They may lack focus, drive, interest or energy for a class that they might have hoped would be easier. I don't mind, much. I mean, I mind that my writing group has trouble sending out their drafts 48, or even 24, hours in advance of our meeting. But I don't mind that my classmates aren't enjoying the class as much as I am.

Because I do enjoy this class. I'm learning from it and developing a greater awareness of how research can enhance not just nonfiction but fiction as well. As a kind of brain break, I recently reread The Metaconcert, by Julian May. It is a part of a series of science fiction books involving telepathic powers and aliens. And from it, I have conceived a desire to visit Mount Washington in New Hampshire, because the descriptions from this book, and others in the series, are so vivid, so real. Small aspects of research are all over those books, and form a part of why I can read them over and over again.

If I were a different kind of person, maybe I would have replied to that classmate complaining of a lack of inspiration. Maybe I would have said, "No one is going to give you inspiration, so there's no use waiting for it. You have to dig for it, hunt for it, hammer it out on a keyboard. And you have to want it."

But I didn't say that, or even a less thought out variation. I sat and watched, seeing others nod or not. And then I took it and used it to make my own inspiration.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Doing the Right Thing

If the right thing were always the easy thing, then no one would ever choose to do wrong. But it's not. Sometimes you make mistakes and you are faced with that choice, that path of the right way.

It's lined with thorns, and overhead the skies threaten with leashed thunderheads. The outcome is out of your hands, unknown and it could continue getting worse beyond the shadows you can see.

But it is the right thing to choose, however personally painful, however agonizing that choice might feel.

Knowing that does not make the choice easier.

The knowledge can only offer the cold comfort of righteousness. The real comfort comes from knowing that making alternative choices is only setting yourself up for future turmoil and paths that are chosen for you, rather than ones that you choose. You jump with a parachute, not knowing for sure that it will prevent injury or catastrophe, but knowing that it is better than jumping without one.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Inspiration Everywhere

I keep up with reading the blog of Dean Wesley Smith. He writes about writing, and about the business of writing. I try my best to learn by absorbing.

One of the things that he emphasizes is that you can apply lessons from other areas to writing. Specifically, he often cites NBC's The Voice as a way for writers to learn. Now, I haven't watched The Voice, because my husband can't stand singing shows. (He doesn't like musicals either. I blame whatever teacher told him when he was young that he couldn't sing.) But I do try to keep an eye out for lessons elsewhere.

And, the other day, I found an interview with a director and actress about a movie that was filmed in one take. No gimmicks, no tricks - 138 minutes in a single take.

Of course they practiced, rehearsed, blocked and planned. But the final cut is the uncut length of a single run through. The director, Sebastian Schipper, had this to say:
I think one of the least important things you need for making a film whether you’re an an actor or director is your brain. One of the most important things is your intuition and to get into the flow and really understand. That’s what makes a film radiate. Your brain can get in the way so that you’re controlling everything and eliminate mistakes, so that all of a sudden your job as a director is to always make everything clean.
And when I read that paragraph, I thought of Dean. This director, this creator, in my mind, rephrased one of Dean's frequent admonishments to writers about not letting critical voice take over your writing.

Beyond that, the idea of filming in one continuous take is akin, though not exactly similar, to writing into the dark. Even though they practiced this film, they didn't rewrite the final take. Its final form was defined as it was created. No editing. No oversight committee.

There is inspiration everywhere, if you just take the time to notice.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

If You Want Something Done...

You should probably do it yourself.

That's what I decided after my disastrous hunt for strawberry sorbet last week. I've never made sorbet before, which is actually surprising considering how much I love eating it. Fruit as a snack was almost a vice for me in high school. Sure, I ate candy bars, but I'd feel guilty about it afterwards. But a quart of strawberries? A pint of blueberries? I could make them disappear and only suffer a mild stomach ache from the quantity of fiber I'd ingested.

I searched the internet for strawberry sorbet recipes and found that the process was extremely simple. Take strawberries, puree, add sugar, freeze.

Most of the recipes did recommend using an ice cream maker to get the frozen texture just right, but I don't have one and didn't want to invest. An alternate solution was to put the frozen chunks back in the blender, and that's what I planned on doing.

On Saturday, my husband and I went to the farm stand on Broadway near the Shopko. I acquired a quart of strawberries. Their sweet scent teased me on the car ride home. Some of the recipes advocated for freezing the strawberries before pureeing them, but I wasn't that patient. I removed the green tops and dumped them into the Cuisinart.

Berries became puree in short order. I added half a cup of sugar and blended again. Then, just because I'd read it on several recipes, I added a splash of lemon juice and a bit of salt. One more blend and then I poured the heavenly smelling mixture into a glass baking dish. Into the freezer and the waiting game began.

Every hour or so, I scraped down the sides and stirred the mixture that became steadily more solid as time wore on. To be honest, I could probably have eaten it right out of the blender. Even a mere three hours gave a nice soft serve type texture. But I held out.

After five hours, I deemed it fit to eat and served out portions to myself and my husband. The rest was place in a plastic container for later consumption.

And I find that I must thank Haagen Dasz for discontinuing their strawberry sorbet. Mine is far superior.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

The Cruelty of the Internet, or All I Wanted Was a Strawberry Sorbet

I remember the flavor of Haagen-Dazs strawberry sorbet with the kind of fondness that can only be attached to a food item that you haven't eaten for a long time. Every time we go to the grocery store, I look for it, check and see if maybe this time it's in stock. When it isn't, I put that down the our store. No store has the capacity for carrying everything after all.

So when we occasionally go to some other place, to pick up prescriptions or get some item that we can't get at our regular store, I check the ice cream aisle for the elusive strawberry sorbet. And when it isn't there, I blame the region. Perhaps, here in Boise, that flavor just isn't popular. Something about the climate or the region or some obscure buying habits metric that excludes the strawberry sorbet from being stocked.

I really wanted some yesterday for my birthday, but since my husband and I went out for sushi we only checked one grocery store before calling it a night. But today, the craving became irresistible. I wanted it.

I went out on my bicycle to the one place I figured would definitely carry it: Whole Foods. Whole Foods hasn't been in Boise long, but it was definitely a go-to place for me in Santa Fe when it came to specialty foods.

But, it turns out, there wasn't any Haagen-Dazs at all at Whole Foods. I did find these things called sorbet pops, and they came in strawberry, but the only flavor in stock was raspberry. I would have bought them, on the off chance that they might taste like I remember. But they were not and I did not.

I checked Walgreens. I checked Albertsons. And then I checked my phone. This is where it got painful.

The mobile site gave me this horrible, horrible tease:

There - right there - the strawberry sorbet of my dreams! 

But when you click on that link, it leads you to the main sorbet page, which lists only four flavors: Mango, Orchard Peach, Zesty Lemon and Raspberry. 

I was torn between crying and emulating this video: 

All I wanted was a strawberry sorbet!