Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The World is Quiet Here

{Spoilers in this post. If you have any interest in reading A Series of Unfortunate Events, this is not for you}

The first time I read A Bad Beginning, the first book in the series A Series of Unfortunate Events, I hated it. I didn't understand the author's brand of humor and his constant definitions drove me crazy. I chocked it up to "not my taste" and put it away. Then I picked it up again this past year and loved it. I read every one of the 13 books. I couldn't stop talking about them. I loved the humor. I loved the characters. I loved the definitions. But most of all I loved the VFD.

The concept of a secret society that for lack of a better word fights crime appeals to me. Even better a secret society that uses knowledge to do it, whatever form that knowledge takes. The title of this post is the VFD's motto. It hung above their library, a safe place in a chaotic world. They are a society that values learning, that values creativity, that values curiosity. The idea is inspiring to me. For me the tales of the Baudelaire orphans were more about learning how much power they had through their curiosity and knowledge.

Klaus, the reader and scholar, is who I identified with, but each of the characters has their own strengths. Klaus's ability remember the things he reads, his unrelenting curiosity, his copious note-taking, are all things I admire. He's the bookworm of the three and I saw myself in his role. I'm not an inventor like Violet or a cook/biter like Sunny. But I can read and remember with the best of them. As Klaus stood in that burned library and read the words above the door, I had chills go through me. Partly they were about the burned library (horrific) but partly they were because I'd found a motto I could agree with.

The world is quiet here, is what I think every time I walk into my own personal library. Here I can learn and study and be at peace, away from the stress of the world. I want to paint it above my door. I want to tattoo it on my skin. Curiosity and knowledge are two things I value very highly. How wonderful to find the same value in a children's book series.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Happy Hunting

There's something special about wildlife encounters. Every time I see a deer crossing the road or a bunny eating grass at twilight I get a little thrill. And then when it is a bigger more elusive animal, it's even more magical. I've seen a porcupine in a tree, a fox one morning before work, pheasants crossing the road, and even a wolf. And each time I stop whatever I'm doing and just watch. I like to say that spending time with wildlife and nature is the closest feelings I have to a religion. Bird, mammal, even insect encounters can feel like magic to me.

I've had two hawk encounters at home in the last couple months. The first was when I noticed a ground squirrel making an alarm call on the patio. The chipmunk alarm call is loud, loud enough that you have no idea how such a small creature makes such an intense, and irritating, noise. I went to the window to see the little guy sitting on top of my air conditioner, calling away. I was curious about what had alarmed him, until a hawk walked around the side of the air conditioner. Walked. It was already on the ground hunting the chipmunk. But sadly the little bugger had eluded him. We tried to get pictures of this huge (and beautiful) bird just standing on the patio but before we could snap a picture he noticed Jeff and was gone.

See how close I am       ^

The second encounter was just this past weekend. For anyone who's a Facebook friend you've already seen one of these pictures. On Saturday I'm sitting on the couch knitting when all of a sudden Jeff gasps. Then tells me, in a low whisper, to look to my right. Sitting on the patio fence is this beautiful hawk. He's alternating watching us and watching the mice that I keep unfortunately attracting to the feeder. There are several of them below him but he's taking his time to hunt. Jeff grabbed the camera and this bird was far more accomodating than the previous one. He sat for about 25 minutes, watching the mice, debating an attack. All the while we snapped photos and video. It was only when my neighbors left to go out that he flew away. I was less than 10 feet away from this bird. I was able to watch him at leisure. It was such a fantastic moment. I only wish he had managed to get one of the mice. Before they find their way in. Wildlife encounters are the wild. Not in the house.

[Edit: I forgot about Jeff's encounter in mid-summer with the bird below. He/she landed on the fence and mantled there. Then after a while it dropped to the ground to spread its wings further. I wonder if most of these encounters are the same bird. The stomach banding is the same. The bird below (the earlier one taken) has yellow eyes, but hawks eyes often darken as they age. I wonder if we are seeing our juvenile all grown up. 

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Forgetting Practicality

I'm dealing right now with a creative block that is far more extreme than any of the ones I've had before. I'm letting my work situation and my fears about the future get the best of me. And sadly whenever I sit down to write I keep thinking about money. "If this won't pay the bills, aren't I just wasting my time?" is the question that plagues me. And it instantly kills whatever I was going to write, or create.

I've always been a practical person. Given the choice of a car, I'll always pick the dependable one. I look at the consequences of every single one of my decisions. And I keep falling back on words I heard a lot as a child, how will you make a living as a writer? Those questions dug into my psyche and wedged there. For the last couple years I've been so focused on paying the bills, that I've forgotten about writing. It doesn't help the bottom line, after all.

What I've also forgotten is how much I used to love just making things up for the fun of it. I used to do it all the time. I still tell myself stories in the car and find it far more entertaining than any music on the radio. I love stories and storytelling. And I miss them. This week I'm going to start stories again.  I'm going to play with words and write down ideas. It won't be good writing, but it'll be writing. And I bet it will make me happy. I need to remind myself that anything that makes me happy is worthwhile. Anything that sparks my interest and soul is worth pursuing. I might never sell a story or a poem. But I will start enjoying myself. Which is more than I have been doing.

"The arts are not a way to make a living. They are a very human way of making life more bearable. Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow. Sing in the shower. Dance to the radio. Tell stories. Write a poem to a friend, even a lousy poem. Do it as well as you possibly can. You will get an enormous reward. You will have created something."
~Kurt Vonnegut

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Playing with Pictures

For my birthday this past year I asked for a camera I could carry around in my pocket. As I'm still technologically backwards when it comes to phones, I don't have anything on me that would take pictures that I could then download. My poor ancient cell phone takes pictures but has no way to transfer them. So I wanted a small camera that still took good photos.

My parents bought me the Canon Elph 530HS. I honestly can't remember a birthday present I'm more excited about. I find that I'm taking pictures of things just for the sake of playing with it. This camera has a number of setting that allow me to take tilt-shift photos, fisheye photos, and other gimmicky shots. It also offers video and slow motion video. Just the basic setting takes pictures that are ten time brighter and better than the ones from my old camera. I love my new toy.

Two weeks ago I took the camera out to play with the Snow setting. Since it's Iowa in winter, I didn't have to look far to find snow. Above is the view of the creek right outside our door. Lovely with the snow isn't it? The shots are crisp and bright. But the real advantage of the new camera is the zoom. Note the area across the creek, under the branch on the right. Here is the zoomed in photo. Aren't those cool snow structures? I wouldn't have seen them if it wasn't for the zoom. It's as good as some binoculars I own. And the photos are still crisp.

I took the camera to all of my family events last week. I took video and photos and only had one or two that came out badly, a sharp contrast to my previous camera. With that one, I would be lucky to have one or two that came out. Something like the picture below would never have come out.

I'll leave you with one last picture. It's of the newest guest to visit my bird feeder, a less than welcome guest. Hint: It's not the squirrel. Jeff had to forcibly remove it from our garage this afternoon. It's becoming more and more of a frequent visitor so I might have to end up doing something. We'll have to wait and see.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Poetry Friday

I've been reading a lot of  Billy Collins lately. And I mean a lot. Collins writes perfect poems to read when you don't have a lot of time and want to dip in occasionally. I have a copy of his Sailing Alone Around the Room on my dining room table. I pick it up when I have a moment, open to a random page and fall into Collins world. He's a poet that mixes humor and poignancy. When I read his work, I'm transported to a calmer more enjoyable world, normally his house. His focus on home resonates with me. I just love his work. But I probably shouldn't explain so much about it. As he points out in this poem, we often think too hard about poetry.

Introduction to Poetry
by Billy Collins

I ask them to take a poem
and hold it up to the light
like a color slide

or press an ear against its hive.

I say drop a mouse into a poem
and watch him probe his way out,

or walk inside the poem's room
and feel the walls for a light switch.

I want them to waterski
across the surface of a poem
waving at the author's name on the shore.

But all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope
and torture a confession out of it.

They begin beating it with a rubber hose
to find out what it really means.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Thinking of Diving

The first time I dove, anywhere besides a pool, I nearly panicked. I was 35 feet down in perfect crystal clear water off the Turks and Caicos islands, when I realized I was all by myself. My sister was slowly coming down the anchor chain. My older sister and the instructor were still at the surface. I was all alone. And my only thought was...surface...surface...surface. Scuba divers are taught that the worst possible thing they can do is shoot to the surface (it's the fast track to the bends). But that was the only thing in my mind. It felt weird to be on the sandy bottom looking up. It didn't feel natural. I worried that I wasn't breathing. I took a deep breath and worried that I couldn't breathe. It didn't make sense. Then I did the strangest thing. I took my mask off.

It was my first instinct other than shooting to the surface. Instead I pulled my mask off and put it back on. I cleared it. I checked my pressure gauge. I checked my depth gauge. And then I knelt quietly in the sand and waited for the rest of my group. And I was fine after that. I used the routines that I'd been taught to steady my nerves. And once that initial moment was over I started to enjoy. I was diving in some of the prettiest water I'd ever seen. There was coral everywhere along with fish and sponges. I even saw a barracuda that first dive. I wasn't completely comfortable but I wasn't anxious. I loved that first dive and the ones after it. I still get nervous before every dive. I have a horrible fear of drowning. But I love the colors and the wildlife. I love the sound of bubbles rising. I love the feeling of weightlessness where nothing but my own breath (and my buddy's) is important.

The first fish I saw underwater

It's been a couple years since I last dove. I herniated a disc diving and haven't been since. But this past weekend I finished reading a fascinating history of diving and memoir and have been thinking about getting back in the water again. I'm no longer too nervous to dive and the experience is so worth the fear. There are underwater worlds to discover, and I know that I've been trained well enough that I can enjoy them safely. When the summer comes, I'll be back in the water, ready to dive.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Happy New Year!

I'm sitting in the middle of a messy house, eating chocolates left over from Christmas, and wondering what I'm going to resolve for 2013. I like New Years. I'm a fan of beginnings. They seem so filled with promise. And I love resolutions. Not accomplishing them really. Just thinking them up. I'm good at thinking them up. This year, I'm resolving to be more mindful. More awake. Oh and to blog more.

I've been on vacation for the last 10 days and much of it was spent with family. My older brother and his family came in town from Christmas day until that Friday. I spent Christmas Eve with my parents and then every day from Christmas up until Friday with my brother and his family. I was home on Friday, outside of meeting some friends for drinks. On Saturday, my little brother and his fiancee came into town. I spent Saturday night and all day Sunday with them. I had planned to spend part of the day yesterday with them but I woke up feeling odd. I wanted to hermit up. So I read all day yesterday. I read until past midnight, the kind of New Years that only I can get behind. I loved staying in while everyone else was out celebrating. It was wonderful.

Today I'm relaxing with a cup of tea. I spent part of the morning outside scraping ice from the driveway. I keep talking about buying a rowing machine to lose weight when all I really need is a shovel, an ice scraper, and some persistent ice. I worked for about 30 minutes with no luck. But I worked up quite the sweat. Now I'm catching up on my email, blogs, and planning out my 2013. I have plans I tell you. Big plans. Here's to a wonderful New Year! I hope you have a wonderful coming year filled with big plans and exciting things.