Month: April 2014

Meriwether

I had a crow when I was a kid. No joke.

My dad brought it home from a campground where he had been working. It was a baby crow that fell out of the nest. Dad found it and brought it home.

Notice that I keep saying “it”? We had no idea if this bird was a boy or a girl. I’m sure you bird experts out there could tell me a surefire way to never guess the gender of another bird in my life, but I don’t really want to know. I’d rather keep the mystery.

But since my siblings and I didn’t know if our fine feathered friend was of the male or female persuasion, we gave it a neutral name.

Meriwether.

This may not look like a non-gender-specific name on the outset, but let me walk you through the thought process of four elementary-aged home schoolers.

We had been learning at the time of the great Lewis and Clark expedition. We had also heard rumor that my mom is a descendant of their guide Sacagawea. How better to honor the great explorers and our great-great-great-great-(I could keep going)-grandmother than to name our gender confused crow after Mr Lewis?! If the crow does decide it is a she, we’ll shorten her name to Mary. Or Meri, which we called him/her anyway.

And this is how I spent one summer of my childhood. I soaked dog food for the baby bird so s/he could swallow it. Meri grew quickly. We couldn’t allow him/her to stay in the house soon after Spring had sprung. I was terrified that if we allowed Meri a moment of freedom, s/he would never come back to me.

But despite my protests, the day came. Together with my siblings and mom, we took Meri outside. We said our goodbyes and shed a few tears.

“What’s the matter with you? We’ve only had it for 2 weeks!” my sister chided.

“But I don’t want it to leave!” I replied. I guess I was the only one upset about it. My brother never really cared for the bird, and my mom thought s/he was too dirty to have in the house.

So she let him/her go. Meri was finally big enough to carry his/her weight with the now strong wings, and s/he flew high into the trees, never to be seen again.

For about five minutes.

Meri never strayed too far from our house. S/he nested in one of the garages and was up every morning to get his/her soggy dog food from me.

I would tell my friends that we had a pet crow that lived in the trees, but no one believed me. “Crows just live in the trees. They aren’t your pets.

“Well most of them don’t come when I call their names. But Meri does!”

They wouldn’t believe me until they came over to play. I would stand in the middle of the yard, yell “MEEERRRRIIII!!!!!” at the top of my lungs, and our crow would come swooping down to astonished faces and my beaming pride.

But Meri wouldn’t just come on command. For months when we came home, Meri would greet us. S/he would do this by landing on the hood of the car, usually before the car had come to a complete stop. It made Mom scream which made me laugh.

It was this nasty habit that took Meri in the end. S/he was trying to greet the mailman while he delivered the letters. He wasn’t aware of our psycho crow and its car-landing habits, and Meri wasn’t aware that just because a car stops, doesn’t mean it won’t go again. She landed in front of our mailman’s car this time, and didn’t fly away fast enough when he was finished in the mailbox.

I was devastated. Trying to cheer me up, my dad brought home a baby purple finch which he also found at work.

It survived about 3 days.

 

Image Credit: JR Compton

Throwback Thursday – Water

A post from December, 2013:

Water

After a conversation with my colleague, Adam, my thoughts turned to sounds.

Dogs have super sonic hearing. They can respond to frequencies that are too high pitched for the human ear. What kinds of sounds do they experience?

Perhaps, if we could rein in that hearing energy, magnify it, and convert it into a listenable format for the average human, we would have a brand new territory to explore. A new “last frontier.” We could hear plants growing, insects gasping, or water thinking.

Water has been described as the life-giving element. The sustainer which keeps all living organisms afloat. I have heard people say it is patient, strong – almost like it has a mind of its own.
If this is the case, does it have similar insecurities as humans? Do poisoned water holes have a bad conscience? Do rain clouds ask each other if they look fat? Could we hear H2O scream in terror (or perhaps exhilaration) as it careens off the side of a waterfall? Niagra would be the worst vacation destination ever.

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What would we hear if we could listen to the life-blood of Earth?

Image credit: BoomsBeat

The Study

I awoke with a start. I must have dozed off with my paper. The pipe in my hand was still warm, but the smoke had stopped sifting out of the bowl. Striking a match, I inhaled the comforting cloud into my lungs. I relaxed. My Newfoundland, Rufus, was sleeping at my slippers. He sneezed in his sleep.

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I returned to the article I had been reading about a new Boeing 747, but realized the article had been the cause of my drowsiness in the first place. I shook my head and set it back down. Reaching for one of the many antique books lining the cherry wood shelf next to my chair, I cracked it open to the middle just to fill my nostrils with the scent of old book. Withdrawing it from my face, I realized I had selected Wilde’s Picture of Dorian Gray. I’ve always felt bad for Basil Hallward. Throughout the story he held onto the hope that there was still good in Mr. Gray. It did not bode well for Mr. Hallward in the end.

As I was reading, there was a soft knock at the door. There was no need for words in that study. I looked up to see Ilsa, my beautiful wife, walk in with two glasses in her hands. Written on her face was a look of contentment. Her favorite time of the week was when we retreated to our safe haven, and it was finally Sunday, the day we set aside for the study. She smiled at me and closed the heavy wooden door behind her. She stepped to the wine rack and selected two bottles of our favorites: Pinot Noir for me and a Chardonnay for herself. She handed me my glass, leaned in for a kiss, and pulled the cord on the brass lamp above my head.

As always, I could hear my father’s voice telling a younger version of me, “Reading in the dark causes unnecessary strain on your eyes.” He’s been gone for eons, it seemed, but never have I met a man I more deeply respect.

The lamp-shade was yellowed from age and years of tobacco smoke dancing in its illumination. The bulb hummed lazily. Satisfied, my wife retired to her spot on the couch and opened to her favorite chapter in an old Louisa May Alcott novel.

How long had we been keeping up this routine? Five years? Fifteen? More? Every Sunday evening we climbed the rickety spiral staircase to reach our sanctuary of solitude.

Early on in our routine I considered whether an elevator was in store for us. Even then I wasn’t sure how much longer my tired legs could struggle up those wooden steps. My feet were like gears turning without enough grease, whining with every step.

I rose to consider this alternative to the worn brass handrails. Would I honestly disgrace my home by putting in an electric elevator? No. Back then and even now, I would rather have our son carry us up every week than to push a button to lift us to our hideaway.

I stepped behind my oak writing desk. Used strictly for handwriting, this tabletop had never felt the weight of a computer. Computers imply work or connecting to the outside world. That study was intended for escape. I had written many a letter to friends and family, yet never to businessmen or politicians here. I had written poems about happiness and loss, love and love-making, the earth and all her splendor. I had written stories about my son and my son’s son; about my travels, domestic and abroad. I had written out of joy. I had written to stay sane. I had written to remember and to be remembered.

I sipped the dark red liquid. An orange glow appeared on my wrinkled face from the singeing ash in my pipe. A large half-moon window stood behind the desk. Through it, I gazed up at the starry night sky and appreciated, as many times before, the wonder of the moon. Had it really been forty years since Ilsa and I moved into this house? It was late. Numbers meant nothing to me at this hour, whatever time it was. We had never put a clock up there. The study was intended for relaxation.

Just then I heard the door creep open. Rufus raised his head in curiosity. Sleepily, our grandson walked in with his blanket, rubbing his eyes.

“Papa, I can’t sleep. Will you read me a story?”

I glanced to Ilsa who looked as if her heart might burst with pride at the sight of our four-year-old grandson, Jack. She knew as well as I did that he had been trying not to sleep so he could sit on my lap and listen to my deep gravelly voice, and smell the sweet aroma of my Virginia leaf aflame within my pipe. Who was I to deny him his request? He brought with him his trusty blanket and the moccasin slippers we bought for his last birthday. He wanted a pair that matched Grandpa’s. While I read Andersen’s fairy tales to him, he slowly stroked Rufus with his foot and stared mesmerized at the smoke that lingered in the lamplight. I blew smoke rings just to see his eyes light up with delight. Did this remind him of his toys that lit up and sang to him when he pushed the circular button? Maybe his young mind was remembering the mobile that hung above his crib and the shapes, suspended in the air, that demanded the consciousness from his eyes. For his sake, I hoped these rings harbored similar magic.

Ilsa turned the gramophone down a notch while Etta James’s voice soothed Jack’s frazzled nerves. It must have been late. I couldn’t imagine what kind of willpower it took for him to keep awake until an opportune moment arrived for him to present his innocent request. I rewarded his hard work with a grandiose retelling of his favorite story.

Despite my theatrical execution, six pages into The Steadfast Tin Soldier, Jack was breathing slowly and steadily. His head felt heavy against my chest. I looked to my Ilsa for confirmation. Amused with my performance, she grinned and readied a makeshift bed for him on the over-stuffed leather couch. I laid him down and watched a mischievous grin appear in his sleep, almost to say how swimmingly he pulled off his deception.

I packed another pipe and surveyed my surroundings. A short book stand separated an identical leather, button-holed chair from the one I was occupying. Both were facing the davenport. On top of the book stand sat a thick, transparent cigar ash tray with the remnants of my previous smoke. Ensconced on the next shelf down was a large glass jar with a lid which caged the tobacco waiting to be burned.

In front of the chairs was a large redwood coffee table with a few of our favorite magazines and the Sunday paper. We subscribed solely for the crossword puzzles. Also, Jack loved to look at the comics. He would ask me to read the funnies to him, but I doubt he understood the irony of them. His laugh was a bit too contrived. The table legs swooped down like an old claw foot bathtub. They were intricately carved to give an essence of the stability of a kingdom tried by time. They stood their ground against any foe, natural disaster or conspiracy from within. For a coffee table, I assume that would translate to heavy platters, spilled drinks or perhaps the clambering a four-year-old.

Opposite the chairs was my wife’s favorite spot: the sofa. She was sitting on the end that was close enough to catch a bit of light from my hazy lamp. She pretended to read, but her book was upside down. She was rubbing Jack’s feet whose head was on the dark end of the sofa. Most likely, her thoughts were of what kind of man he would grow up to be. Perhaps we would have another Graham to admire. Jack’s father went above and beyond what any father could hope for. Our only son was a man of great character and honor. Would Jack follow his footsteps? Of course, though Ilsa prayed that Jack wouldn’t have to relive the hardships Graham had. When Graham’s wife died during childbirth, we thought he would come undone. But like a Phoenix, our boy rose up and grew into being the father I could only wish that I had been. The plush cushions of Ilsa’s couch enveloped her petite frame and cradled her as the worries of time passed out of mind. The study was intended for relief.

Behind her was the dark, cherry wood wine rack, half filled with half-filled bottles. The bottles were nestled in triangles that sat behind the bold frame of the hutch. It stood on the only end of the study that would allow for such a tall shelf. The ceiling swung down nearly to the floor on the opposing side of the study, but a short wall reached up to catch it just in time.

Looking back on our years in the study filled me with a sense of completeness. Yes, we had a hard go of it from time to time, but every Sunday we had the study to look forward to. Once inside, the rest of life seemed to dissipate from our thoughts. My Ilsa asked once if the world remembered we existed when we closed the heavy doors. “Yes,” I replied. “She just can’t find us right now.”

Rufus sneezed in his sleep again, returning me to the moment. Ilsa had put aside her book and joined Jack in the world of the sleeping. After all, that is what the study was intended for:

Safety to sleep like a child.

 

Image credit: Rinabobina

Extroverted Writers

I have been doing some research to find out if I am the only extroverted writer in the world. Obviously not, but a Google search of “Famous Extroverted Writers” will pull up thousands of hits about introverted writers. It feels like a lost cause.

During a vacation to Jamaica my wife and I took last spring, we were faced with the glaring difference of introverts (her) and extroverts (me). We were at a resort for 6 days. By the fourth, I turned into a moody brat. I walked around the gorgeous beaches with a scowl on my face. The rum punch couldn’t even help.

It wasn’t until that evening when we realized that I was socially drained. Not in the sense that I’d been around too many people all week, but in the fact that we had spoken to no one the entire time. Dana was having a blast, but I needed to talk to strangers if I was going to enjoy the rest of the trip.

We went and played drinking games with a few of the other guests that night, and my socio-meter filled. It was two-fold awesome, because I won all the games.

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I’m currently reading a helpful/unhelpful book. Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop TalkingI’m reading this mostly because I’m trying to better understand my wife’s preferred energy reboot. In the book, Cain talks about how introverts have the focus-power to deliberately practice his/her passion or skill. That’s why bestselling authors are able to write such masterpieces: because they don’t need people around for energy. They chisel out time in their lives to be alone, focus and be brilliant.

That sounds harsh on the extrovert. I would like to tout the fact that I deliberately practice my writing. I focus and write several thousand words per day. But that’s simply not the case.

If I choose to stay home, I rarely open my laptop. If I go to a coffee shop, I meet friends so we can “work” together. Also, since coffee shops are expensive, I’ve been finding myself at libraries instead. This doesn’t help because it’s quiet. I don’t have the social stimuli to rev up the creative juices.

Am I a lost cause? Will I ever finish my first book so I can start on one of the other 13 grand ideas I have simmering on the back burner?

No. I’m not. Sometimes I believe that I am, but I cannot fall into that trap. Ninty-eight percent of my favorite authors are introverts (I just made that number up. Maybe all of them are. I can’t find extroverted authors on Google), but I will work my hardest to become one of the few successful extroverted writers.

How? Focusing. Accepting my fate as a hopeless extrovert, and using that to my benefit. I will seek out bustling coffee shops to write in and invite my friends to join me there. It will take me longer to finish my projects, but that’s a sacrifice I have no choice but to make. Unless, of course, an editor needs 500 pages revised in three weeks. I’ll deal with that once I get a book contract.

I will also build on the platform that was created for introverts: blogs! Blogs offered an outlet for introverts to express ideas from the comfort of their own home. Cain talks about an introvert who would never raise her hand during a lecture hall class, but could easily go home and write a post for thousands of people to read. Blogs have definitely changed from their early days, but it’s still a huge venue for introverts and extroverts alike to spread ideas.

If you are an extroverted writer, perhaps you’ve felt the discouraging pressure. Being passionate in a field that lends itself to a personality type that doesn’t fit you makes you question if you should just give up. I’ve questioned it many times. But I keep going back to the fact that this is what I love. This is what makes me come alive. This is what I want to do for the rest of my life. Why should I turn my back on that just because I like people around?

Let me know if you have any helpful suggestions for me. I’m always looking for new motivation tools. If you don’t give up, I won’t either.