Sunday, February 10, 2013

Packing Up

I've ignored this blog long enough, and when I returned recently, many of the design elements were broken, so I've decided to start fresh at a new URL, because what the interwebs needs is another inconsistently updated blog.

Please update your bookmarks and follow me as I put my blogger hat back on at Ton Fifty-ONE.

(I only had room in my suitcase for one hyphen.)

"A daily blog would just about
finish me off completely."
—Robert Plant

Saturday, September 03, 2011


Last week, an old Asian man had a display of bonsai trees set up in an unused parking lot along Calumet Avenue in Manitowoc. He had three rows of various sizes on display for the passing cars to see, and a red sign with white letters that said, "Bonsai Trees" tied to the pole near the curb.

And as there was very little business, he sat in his van and waited for curious folks to come along and buy his baby trees.

The first day I saw him, I drove past, but took note. And the second day, I became one of those curious folks. Maybe the only one during the four days he was parked there.

I immediately found when I walked up to his display that bonsai trees are...expensive. He had several small three-year-old trees about the size of my fist for about $25 each, and the older and bigger they were, naturally the more expensive they were. Ten-year-old trees were between $70 and $80, and he had a few 25-year-old trees for about $250. All were untrimmed, unshaped...ready to be artistically developed.

I had my eye on a three-year-old tree, nothing older. With my barely green thumb, I wasn't going to chance an $80 purchase. I pictured the "Karate Kid" scene where Mr. Miagi is teaching Daniel how to trim and shape the trees (and how to pronounce the name: bone-sai, not bahhn-sai).

I walked away that day without a tree, pondering my possible purchase. For two days after, I'd announce to Jessica when I got home, "The bonsai tree dude is still there." And then...he wasn't.

I still want a bone-sai tree, though, someday.
And a tiny pair of scissors with which to trim it.

"The Japanese think of bonsai as representing
or evoking a larger tree."
—Tim Shea

Friday, September 02, 2011

An Engaging Sunday Morning

[This is a few weeks old, but I thought it was worth posting to the blog, anyway. It's a column I wrote the day after asking a very important question.]

— • — • —

I didn't leap out of a plane last weekend, and pull the rip cord to reveal letters sewn on the underside of an open parachute as I floated toward the ground.

I didn't flash a message on the scoreboard at a Detroit Lions game.

I didn't spell out words with organic vegetables as we strolled around the farmers' market, or arrange an assortment of fresh herbs in the form of a question.

I didn't pen a Shakespearean sonnet, or record a mix tape in which the fourth word of every song was part of a puzzle.

And I didn't bury a surprise in a cheesecake or a vegetable quiche, or drop anything sparkly into a glass of Mawby sparkling wine.

I didn't rent a Learjet and fly to France to strategically unscrew the light bulbs on the Eiffel Tower so that a question was visible when it lit up at night.

I didn't grab a pail of blueberries and shoot them through a blow dart gun against a freshly painted white barn wall, meticulously aiming to create legible letters.

And I didn't...I did it to the Facebooks, or the Twitters, or send it as a txt msg.

No, on Sunday morning I woke up unusually early to answer nature's call, and on my way back to bed, I detoured into the living I often look out our wall of windows at Lake Michigan several blocks away, and saw a few sparse clouds sitting just above the horizon, waiting for the sun to rise.

As I lay back down in bed, Jessica stirred next to me, and when she rolled over, I whispered, "Wanna go and see the sun rise?"

She whispered back, almost immediately, "Sure."

"Really?!?" I said, louder than a whisper this time. I didn't expect her to be awake enough to hear the question, much less mutter an answer.

Another minute or two of groggy discussion, and soon we were grabbing cameras and flip flops and car keys, and heading for the beach.

We pulled into the parking lot and the eastern sky was getting brighter, but there was still no sun to be seen. The clouds waited eagerly inches above the horizon to greet it.

Before we reached the sand, a sliver of pink peeked over the horizon, and a glowing ball with sharply defined edges rose to greet us. It began to disappear behind the small cloud before it completely separated itself from the horizon.

I waded into the comfortable Lake Michigan water and snapped a few photos, while Jessica sat on a big rock on the beach and did the same.

After we saw the sun rise "all hot pink and golden," as Jessica would later describe it, I put my camera in its bag, and led Jessica down to the water that connects my hometown and her hometown, the water that we see every day from our living room, the water that we’ve traveled across by boat and around by car.

Yes, on Sunday, I knelt on one knee in the water, soaking half of my shorts as I pulled a ring out of my pocket and held it up to sparkle in the sun we’d just watched wake up.

And after I let Jessica stare at the ring for several seconds, to alert her that this was more than a sunrise morning, I asked what I didn't ask in vegetables or parachutes or Parisian lights.

And she said yes.

"My mother says I didn't open my eyes for eight days
after I was born, but when I did, the first thing I saw
was an engagement ring. I was hooked."
—Elizabeth Taylor

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Lions In, or Lions Out?

I've been an optimistic Lions fan for the past 20-plus years. And I've been a pessimistic Lions fan for the past 20-plus years. Always both during the same season, and often during the same game.

Every year, the team on paper gives me hope, and then the regular season begins and soon thereafter all hope is lost, as they win only a handful of games, or fewer. Or...none.

This year, their defensive line should be the best in the league (if they can ever get their No. 1 draft pick Nick Fairley on the field), and their quarterback is showing some moxie, but it remains to be seen how his shoulder will hold up when he, um...well, when he falls down on the ground. It's been glass-like thus far in his young career.

They're coming off a four-game winning streak to finish last season, and tonight they completed an undefeated pre-season. Although, the last time they went 4-0 in the pre-season, they followed that by becoming the NFL's first winless regular-season team. Ahh, optimism. Ahh...pessimism.

This is the perfect year to pick them to make the jump to the playoffs, and many analysts are. Having suffered through so many seasons of big potential, I'm leery. I want to pick them, too, and I think they've got a great shot at a post-season berth. Which is why I'm leaving them out of my playoff picture. If they live up to the hype and play past Week 17, that will be reward enough. And if Stafford goes down in Week 3, and Suh gets suspended for a few games for...wait, what is it he's doing wrong?...oh yeah, for playing football!...then I can be glad I didn't waste a playoff spot on a team that never quite delivers.

Here's how my 2011-12 playoff picture shakes out:

AFC Division Winners
East — New England Patriots
North — Baltimore Ravens
South — Indianapolis Colts
West — San Diego Chargers

AFC Wild Cards
NY Jets; Pittsburgh Steelers

NFC Division Winners
East — Philadelphia Eagles
North — Green Bay Packers
South — New Orleans Saints
West — Arizona Cardinals

NFC Wild Cards
Atlanta Falcons; St. Louis Rams

AFC Championship Game
Baltimore over San Diego

NFC Championship Game
New Orleans over Philadelphia

Super Bowl XLVI
Baltimore over New Orleans

Let the criticizing commence!
And go Lions!

"But when you lose a Super Bowl, it's twice as bad.
It's like the further you go, the harder you fall."
—Bill Cowher

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Creativity Seekers Encouraged to Apply

[As was the last blog entry posted here (more than a month ago), this is another column I wrote, and instead of tweaking it to fit the blog, I decided to add this blogger's note instead, and leave it as written. Please read, and then...come on along for the journey.]

— • — • —

I’ve always considered this sort of an interactive column. I write, you laugh (often at my lack of writing skills, I’m guessing), and the next week we repeat.

This week, I’d like to introduce a twist. How about if I write, write, too?

Two weeks ago, I shared a few ways I try to keep my creative energy flowing, by taking photos or writing poetry or short stories. I think it’s time to kick the creativity into high gear.

Author and creativity guru Julia Cameron developed a workshop more than 20 years ago called, The Artist’s Way, which she describes as, “a course in discovering and recovering your creative self.”

Cameron’s workshop is aimed at anyone who wants to be more creative, be they painters, sculptors, crafters, photographers, writers, or musicians.

The course is 12 weeks long, and uses two basic tools for one’s creative recovery: morning pages, and artist dates.

Morning pages are three pages of longhand, stream-of-consciousness writing, done as soon as you wake in the morning.

I’ve tried to write morning pages before, sometimes in the afternoon or evening. But there must be a creative advantage to writing them in the morning, or they wouldn’t be called...morning pages.

These pages are not meant to be artistic, or even well-written. You don’t have to consider yourself a writer to write morning pages. The goal is to get your hand moving across the page, recording whatever comes to mind. Throughout the 12 weeks, no one will ever see these pages but you, so there’s no pressure for them to sound smart, although Cameron assures us that sometimes they will.

The second tool is a weekly artist date, on which you spend an hour or two alone each week, on a trip to the beach or a museum or a park, or for a walk in the woods. Or, Cameron says, your artist might like bowling.

These dates are designed to nurture your inner artist.

I have a difficult time thinking of myself as an artist, by the way, because even my stick people don’t look like stick people. But the term "artist" is a broad blanket over so many varieties of self-expression.

In the book, The Artist’s Way, each week is broken down into a chapter, in which Cameron guides us through topics of discussion and reflection, with a list of suggested tasks at the end of each chapter, and a check-in to record how many days during the week you wrote your morning pages, and thoughts on that week’s artist date.

Here’s where the community comes in. I’ve seen Artist’s Way groups formed online, to promote a sense of motivational camaraderie and help keep each artist moving through the 12-week program. And I’d like to create a group, to start and hopefully complete, our first Artist’s Way workshop.

If this sounds like a creative endeavor you’d like to attempt, please leave a comment below or contact me at the email address in the left sidebar for more information. I’d like to set up a closed group on Facebook as a gathering place for our check-ins and chapter discussions, so you’ll need a Facebook account before we begin the first week, and I’ll send each member an invitation to the group.

I’m new to this workshop myself, so we’ll be stumbling through it together the first time. I’ve known about the concept for years, but have not attempted a full 12-week session. The more artists we have working toward the goal, the better our chances (well...mine, anyway) of reaching the finish line.

My loose plan is to begin the program on July 4 (surely three scribbled morning pages won’t interfere too terribly with your holiday plans, will they?), with check-ins once a week, and morning pages as often as you can possibly write them.

So gather a notebook and a fast-writing pen, one that you’ll be comfortable holding for the next 12 weeks, and buy your copy of The Artist’s Way.

We have some creativity to wrangle!

"Art is not about thinking something up.
It is the opposite—getting something down."
—Julia Cameron

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Teacher, Teacher...Can You Teach Me?

About a month and a half ago, I wrote a column about teachers, when they were under attack from many different angles. And I meant to post it here sooner...but the timing isn't so bad, as it's National Teacher Appreciation Week. So here it is. [note: all of you teachers out there, feel free to edit for grammar, punctuation, spelling, and style.]

— • — • —

I’ve been told many times that I have a conversational style of writing, which is fortunate, because that’s what I strive for.

It should come as no surprise to anyone who’s read this column more than a handful of times that very little attempt is made to be formal or technical in these paragraphs. I show up each week with a tale to tell or an opinion to share, and I “um” and “ah” sometimes a bit too much, and throw in a comma here or there where my brain is taking a momentary pause.

It’s been my lifelong love of words and language that has brought me to this point as a columnist and writer, and it is yet to be determined where it might take me.

I credit any number of teachers in my past for instilling in me that love, and since teachers are receiving a bad rap these days, I thought I’d share what they’ve meant to me from an early age to today. 

I learned to read when I was 4 years old (or so I’ve been told; my memory from that long ago is sketchy), sitting alongside my mom as she helped my older sister with her reading assignments.

In first grade, my class used reading assignments from a company called SRA. All I remember about them is those initials, and that the various levels were color-coded. I read at least one or two colors above other students in my class. And as my reading path continued and became more advanced, who guided me? My teachers.

Later in elementary school, I delved into subjects and predicates, direct and indirect objects. In middle school, I eagerly absorbed the finer points of colons and semicolons. (And whomever was responsible for teaching me about ellipses must have had some…kind…of influence. I paid extra attention in that class.) It all made perfect sense to me, and I was good at it. Better than most.

In high school, I met my most eccentric teacher, and the one who made the longest-lasting impression on me, with encyclopedias of information regularly posted on the chalkboards, and a passion for books and literature and the idiosyncrasies of language.

My teachers were there for every step, pushing me to the next level. Although English was my strong suit, I’m not discounting teachers of other subjects. I may not have excelled in calculus, but I credit my wildly demonstrative sophomore geometry teacher for my love of the rhombus.

And my chemistry teacher taught me to light a Bunsen burner without triggering a class-interrupting explosion. He also provided a daily dose of dry, subtle humor and sarcasm, which proved to be an invaluable life lesson.

This column is not to brag about how smart I am. On the contrary, I don’t even have a college degree (which, in and of itself, tells little about a person’s intelligence). But even on the college level, I had professors who cared, when I was at a point in my life when I didn’t.

It took until my late 30s to stumble across my soul mate, who, fittingly, is an English teacher, and ironically, is a professor. With almost more degrees than I have fingers.

We sit around and argue hyphens and compound words and grammar for fun, and I win my share of those battles. And then we discuss literature or poetry, and she blows me out of the water.

I’ve been surrounded by teachers all my life, and now in my 40s, I get to hang with some wicked smart people and learn about some of what I missed by not fulfilling my college experience.

In the nearly nine years I’ve been writing this column, it’s been widely accepted by 20-somethings to octogenarians, from students to doctors to, yes, teachers.

And for that, I thank all of the teachers along the way who’ve helped and continue to help build my love of language. Teachers are to be praised, not vilified.

That’s not taking anything away from psychologists or landscapers, lawyers or masons. The work they do is as important as anyone else’s. But it was a teacher who guided them on their career path.

Oh, and my mom?

She was a teacher.

“No bubble is so iridescent or floats longer
than that blown by the successful teacher.” 
—William Osler

Saturday, April 30, 2011

American Sentences: 30/30

Dull cross-state road trips are made less so with an expressive co-pilot.