Sunday, August 14, 2016

A musing on the Writing Life and the Fit Life

In addition to being a Writer, I am a Fitness Enthusiast.  There are at least three obvious parallels between the disciplines of Exercise and Writing.

1. They both operate on momentum.  It is lore among some writers that Ernest Hemingway would often complete a writing session mid-sentence so that when he returned to it, he literally would pick up where he left off.

Whether or not there's any truth to that story, getting into a Mid-Sentence Hard Stop is a great way
to create momentum for the next time you face the page.  In the context of exercise, there may not be a direct "mid-sentence" equivalent, but sometimes I'll leave my workout clothes out for the next morning so they're ready to put on, or I'll schedule the next day's workout the night before (assuming I'm not attending a scheduled group class), all the way down to the minute.

2. They both improve tremendously with slight challenge increases.  When you "hit a wall" in fitness, you either take a break (which also helps in writing) or increase the weight, time, any X challenge slightly. This way, you can keep the momentum going and also maintain enough challenge to keep from injuring yourself (i.e., giving up writing because it's too hard) or from getting bored, with the same result.

3. When you're starting from scratch, there's nothing like the "Just Do It" approach.  In 1988, Nike came out with its famous ad campaign that has become a pervasive part of the Type A personality's culture of ambition and achievement.  When there is a risk of seeing my momentum slip, another trick I use is to ask myself:  "The time is going to pass anyway, so how will you wish you had spent it?").

The same applies to writing and facing the blank page. There's really no way around it, or put another way, a saying attributed to a variety of different sources but here from Gavin Rossdale's Bush song "Superman":  the "only way out is through."

When I'm lagging and feeling like I just may hit the pause button on my fitness routine, that's the phrase that nearly always comes to mind, and one hundred percent of the time, it works.

Ultimately, these tips apply to learning any skill, including and especially writing.  When you get to a plateau, just keep going.


Sunday, July 24, 2016

When All You Find is an Obit...

Or, "On Googling Old Acquaintances."

A conversation I was having recently prompted me to recall a guy I'd gone on only a couple of dates with eons ago, back in high school.  He was a year ahead of me, and I knew him from one of the extracurricular activities we were in.  I didn't know him well, though.  That, combined with the fact that I was a painfully shy, introverted teenager with very little confidence and even less social awareness, led me to feel a little shocked when he asked me out on a date.

Like, an actual evening "I'll pick you up at..." date.

I went.  Twice.  Both times it felt weird, amateurish, as I imagine many teenage dating experiences do.  Having never been on a formal date with anybody, I didn't know what to say in this new context, outside of school, outside of the extracurricular activity.  He did nothing untoward, was entirely appropriate, but I wondered why he asked me out. There had never been any flirtation on either side, perhaps no more than a few exchanges among classmates, and I was unaware of any "signals" I had given, aside from being mildly friendly on the few occasions we spoke. I knew who he was; I knew his name, but that was about it.  Again, it was a combination of teen awkwardness, multiplied by my own personal brand of awkwardness, multiplied again by my pretty sheltered upbringing to that point.

I don't remember much about them, but I do recall that one of the date activities was a serious, mature, grown-up movie.  This was the late seventies, but he didn't take me to see Animal House, or Saturday Night Fever.  No, nothing like that.  It was a foreign film, with subtitles nonetheless, and everybody else in the theater was over the age of thirty five.

It was fine.  In fact, for the right girl, it was incredibly charming and perfect. I just wasn't all that into it, being who I was at the time, and I would much rather have been at home, in my room, watching TV, baking cookies, or just doing something that didn't feel so bumbling.

At the end of the second date, in the car on the way back to drop me off at my house, while stopped at a red light, unrelated to anything going on as far as I can remember (or maybe it was in response to a request for another date, or a suggestion for "next time" or something), I dropped the bombshell:

I did not want to go out with him again.

Now that.  Was.  Weird.

He blushed.  Oh, how he blushed.  I remember the red face on white skin.  I remember how I was glad I got it out, but still I felt so bad about it.  He was so appropriate about it, too.  He didn't say anything mean or angry back at me.  He was just a really nice guy.

So I thought of him recently, and now we have something we didn't have then:  Google.

Google turned up something that made me think, no, it couldn't be.  Same guy?  Really?

It was an obituary.  Not a recent one, either.  It was from over four years ago.  Now, for a long time after reading it, I was shocked.  I went searching for pictures of him online -- Google Images.  Not much, but I did find one, and I recognized him, even through the changes of age.  He looked good.  He left no wife, no partner, no children.  There was no mention of anything "unexpected" or a "long battle" or anything like that.

A swirl of questions went through my mind, but mostly I just felt sorry that I might have hurt him, if in fact I did -- at one point so many years ago.  That I said something that caused his face to flush with -- what was it? -- anger? embarrassment? surprise?  I don't know that we spoke after that at all, or even crossed paths. 

I certainly don't assume that such an experience informed anything else he did with his life, or even impacted him beyond that moment, but for me, it is that one memory that I'll forever take forward about him. I thought well of him, before and after that, and always have since.

Rest in peace, MW. 

Sunday, July 17, 2016

The falls and the Fields

I have been back in the U.S. for a while now, since end of May 2016, from what was an uplifting, educational, and truly inspiring experience.  Two out of three of those would have been worth the resources invested in this trip, but the Inspiration Mojo was a major bonus.

The uplift came from the sheer newness that lights the paths of all those who love Travel and its glories -- the anticipation of sights only imagined or seen in pictures, the immersive experience of details of the coming and going, passports, security checks, border crossings, the babble of foreign languages on arrival, the way things are just done differently, from the outbound flight all the way to an open air market (where, frankly, many things are done quite the same as anywhere else).

The education came from, well, pretty much everything I didn't already know, plus one bit of unwelcome education (to be covered in a future post).  The up-close-and-personal learning about zebras, elephants, cheetahs, springbok (which I learned is the national animal of South Africa, as well as a tasty lean meat), and other native fauna. But education also came in the form of meeting locals, learning from guides (who were in many cases locals), practicing the native tongues (e.g., Xhosa), and seeing first-hand that even twenty years later, much has yet to be done to leave behind the disgraceful legacy of South African Apartheid.

The inspiration came from waking up every morning in this stunning, alive, primordial country that has surprise at every turn, beauty that defies description, and flavors -- literal and metaphorical -- that will stay long after landing back on home turf. 

Thing is, in many ways, in fact, it felt very much like home.  It is Africa, after all.  The cradle of humanity.  The place that unites all of us who are descended from our original "source material," whatever one believes that to be.

I am eager to return to Africa.  But until I do, let me tell you....

Thursday, April 21, 2016

The passing of Genius

Precisely five years ago this month, in April 2011, I attended (and wrote about, here) a personal event at a Prince concert at The Forum in Inglewood, California.  The Purple One was doing a series of concerts at the time to raise funds for the venue, which had fallen on hard financial times and was facing closure.

That was the last of five times I had the experience of seeing this great man perform.

I grew up in a household where my siblings and I all took music lessons on various instruments, though piano was always the starting point. Over seven years of lessons, I developed more than a modicum of skill.  Eventually, I went on to play guitar, too.  First acoustic, then electric.  And eventually, later in my adulthood, I learned the electric bass.  I always sang.  I was in a band and played a few gigs and wrote a lot of original songs, though not as a profession, just as a thing to do.

The point is that I know music.  I don't know it, obviously, in the way or to the degree that Prince embodied it, but I know it well enough to grasp fully the exceptional nature of his genius.

It strikes me that the Genius moniker gets assigned to people somewhat haphazardly (maybe just nowadays, or maybe always), but to use the term genius in association with Prince Rogers Nelson is about as accurate an appellation as one can be.  Each field or discipline has genius in its history. Some even have several.  Eras, periods of time, have their own.
Darwin. Einstein.  Shakespeare. Michelangelo. Jordan. Mozart. Prince.

Each of us has a gift, a talent, something unique to offer.  And then there are those, like Prince, who are given something so far beyond the pale that they carry it for the duration.

Those whose gift seems otherworldly, who seem almost like gods in human clothing.

So many phrases and thoughts come to mind when I think of Prince.  He marched to the beat of his own drum.  Played by his own rules.  Things that imply that he made choices others of us don't, that he worked harder, was more inspired, more driven.  But maybe he didn't have a choice.  Maybe it was simply his purpose.  Like how the Sun's purpose is to support life on Planet Earth.

I think, too, of cliches about how stars that burn the brightest have the shortest life spans.

Things like that.

But if the Sun died, we would die with it.  We wouldn't be left here to mourn.  So I struggle now to find words to reflect the profound feeling that matches the heartache that I, and so many others everywhere, are feeling over this monumental loss.

In every generation, those who are alive at the same time as that genius -- those whose existence on this planet overlap -- have a great opportunity.  Whether or not we actually interact with one of these geniuses, the opportunity we have is to witness their lives, their performances, their creative output, their ideas -- basically, the shows of their lives.

And then, when they are finished, when it is their time to step off the stage, they lay their genius down before us, and they let us use it for the long haul home.   Peace b 2 u 4 ever.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Next stop, South Africa

Johannesburg. Pretoria. Cape Town. 

These are the names of cities and towns I'd heard throughout the late 80s and early 90s when I was only half-listening. 

Mandela.  Apartheid.  De Klerk.  

Now, I'm going.  Fifteen days in May, including two luxury trains, plus a couple of nights on the Zimbabwe side of Victoria Falls.

Much to anticipate.

More to come.

Monday, June 1, 2015

A wedding milestone

Over the weekend, I attended the wedding of my year-out-of-college nephew, marrying his just-out-of-college sweetheart. It was held at a converted barn.  I'd never been to a wedding held at a barn before. I wasn't entirely sure what to expect in terms of decor, dress, style, and things like that. But figuring hey, it's a wedding, I constituted an outfit befitting the ceremonious nature of the event, barn notwithstanding.

So, either in spite of or because of the context (i.e., barn), I ended up feeling much as if I'd dressed for the Kate & Wills wedding and that the only thing missing from the outfit was a Philip Treacy fascinator, rather than for a casual, natural, earthy, simple, relaxed event taking place in a bucolic environment near Pennsylvania Amish.

Kind of a striking contrast, though.

That introduction is not the point, though. The point is the wedding. Specifically, the emotions at the wedding. The long-lost faces of some of the guests at the wedding. The mental flashbacks evoked via interactions with said guests at the wedding. Reminders of my own wedding. Reminders of my own marriage. Reminders of marriages that were and then weren't. Couplings and uncouplings. Conscious and unconscious.

There was a lot of road travel involved. Transporting an elderly grandmother to the wedding in time for the rehearsal and subsequent rehearsal dinner. Getting her ready (initially thinking she was ready to go at the designated time, only to find she wasn't actually packed). Organizing hotel rooms. Mapquesting addresses. Remembering device chargers. The car was full, since, after the wedding, four of the five of us (myself, husband, and two large dogs) would be traveling back to our home base, while Mom would be transported back to her home base by someone else on Sunday, post-festivities.

At least for me, Friday was stressful. There was the disquieting three-and-a-half hour expedition, we made it in time for the tail end of the rehearsal, but well in time for the rehearsal dinner. Saturday was joyful (and later stressful, but that will have to be another post). Sunday eventually led to the abatement of the stress, and going home. The weekend went through a full cycle, with several mini full cycles within it:  Trigger, reaction, emotion, consequence, disconnection, reconnection, resolution. (This last thing doesn't mean makeup sex. Not in this case. But it does mean bringing an emotional boil back down to at least a simmer, if not a full cool-down.)

The cycle of the relationship that just stepped into "forever-hood" is at Friday.

I hope they make it to Sunday.

I think these two have a really good shot at it.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Far away and still too close

I am traveling for work on the west coast.  I called in to check on my mother, since she had seemed disoriented shortly after I left, leaving two voicemails on my cell phone indicating that she thought I was simply out for the evening and coming back "around midnight."

We got it all sorted out when I called and reminded her that I would be in San Francisco until Saturday.  That I would be mostly out of touch for the next three days.  That I would be back Saturday morning.

My interactions with my mother have always felt chaotic, because her mind is chaotic, and as a result, everything around her becomes haphazard, jumbled.  Conversations aren't so much with her as they are witnessing conversations she has with herself.  These conversations leave me, historically throughout my teens and twenties, and now even more so because I have more outside information, stunned, like the proverbial deer in headlights.  Her alarmist, catastrophizing, chaotic, and upside-down streams of thought leave me shaken at a very deep level, wanting to run just anywhere.

It's a mark of the ambivalent relationship (ref. Ainsworth's and Bowlby's theories of attachment styles) to have this constant push-pull, distance-closeness, desire for a relationship vs. the need to run away.

Balance is the (increasingly, every-elusive) goal here.  One step, and another and another, but am I getting closer to balance or farther away from it?  Different days present different answers.