Thursday, September 1, 2016

Train Tantrum

Ever hear of road rage? Some moron on the L.A. freeway cuts you off at 67 miles per hour so he can get one car length ahead of you and then slams on his brakes to avoid an accident? It might happen daily but one time, this time, it really sets you off. You gesture with an aggressive middle finger or you resort to near homicidal driving tactics to get back in front of him. There’s a reason why they make you get a license to drive those killing machines! Road Rage. 

Not much of that in a small town in Indiana. No ten lane traffic traveling at high speeds. 

But what we DO have is about seven different train lines that pass through this town, and I mean THROUGH town. No alternate routes, no bridges, just crossing one street after another. And they are required to blast their deafening horns several times at every intersection. At all hours of the day. And night. 

I realized, today, I succumbed to Train Tantrum. 

I’ve been driving to work and back home for lunch and dinner for several days while my wife is out of town. I need to let the dog out and to feed her and the cats. Yes, That Guy Who Walks has been doing time as That Guy Who Drives. With only a small window of time before I need to get back, I DO NOT want to get caught by a train. 

I was driving home for dinner and the warning lights started flashing at the intersection. I hit the accelerator. I was NOT going to wait for a train, not THIS time, Bunky! I flew past the tracks as the cross bucks came down behind me and I zipped through the intersection on the other side. Ha! I won!

No, really, it was very exciting! At one point I think all four wheels left the ground and I was James Bond or Jason Bourne, or someone exciting whose name begins with J. Luckily I didn’t become a Jackson Pollack. 

Train Tantrum.

This evening, without the adrenaline rush, and with a calmer demeanor, I confess now that it was stupid. But dammit, even as I write this, I can hear another train wailing its way across the intersections in town. And I’ll hear them again at midnight and two-seventeen and three-oh-eight! Where is the raven to appear at my chamber door and croak Nevermore?! 

I need to get back to walking. 


Stay safe, my friends.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Walking with Neil Diamond

Guest blogger C. Hope Clark gives us a story of walking, and of walking her way into a story. She is a gifted novelist and shares this insight into her writing process.


My publisher asked me to create a new mystery series. Tough assignment, right? A dream for many writers, but with three books under my belt in a different series, my heart wasn’t into creating another world and a new cast of characters. I expected to be Sue Grafton-esque, with two dozen episodes of the Carolina Slade Mysteries, and me still writing the stories in my nineties. 
Walking opens my mind and releases some sort of magical physiological something I don’t know the name of, and this assignment warranted my feet hitting the ground someplace to set my brain in gear. I cherish walking outdoors mostly, drawn to forest paths and all their glorious nature. The musk of rotting leaves, sweetness of honeysuckle, even the richness of dirt empty my mind of so much stuff. 
But I didn’t need an empty mind. I needed new ideas. Made-from-scratch ideas about stories I wasn’t keen on writing. So instead of the woods, I entered the recreation center with hubby, him seeking the weights and me the monotonous oval track. The forest gave me permission to not to think. The track represented the opposite. I could walk without worrying about stumbling, without the distraction of a squirrel up close, or a rabbit scooting across my path.
Monotony of setting also dictated ear buds and the music of my choice. The publishing assignment stymied me, so I fell into old Neil Diamond tunes that opened old memories. Back when I was a teen and enjoyed hiding away to hear Neil pine about lost sweethearts, heartbreak, and forbidden love. Drinking wine to forget. Floating on water and feeling sunshine. Bitter-sweet, poignant songs of a lonely individual lost in life.
Two, three, four miles each day I walked, ten Neil Diamond albums on my playlist, replayed so many times I knew which song would come next. 
My character took a rough form. She was once strong, once in control, and now broken, a foreign concept to her. She spiraled into a sense of loss. (Cue Neil for a song or two so I could wallow in the loss. Let it touch my heart and maybe loosen a tear. Neil cuts to my soul.) But what loss? At three miles, I tucked away my iPod, went home, and took notes. 
Several visits and several miles of track later, I set the new series on Edisto Beach, South Carolina. That’s where I’d been so many times when upset, or sorting through issues, often with a good friend who lived there. A woman who addressed her life through yoga, who lived life large but on her terms. Maybe a secondary character?
More miles, more track. The playlist memorized to where I could set certain songs to cue specific feelings. The protagonist had to be a cop, per my publisher. During Neil’s bluest songs of loss, I saw my character despondent, seeking solace, feeling guilty for her choices. 
Four months later, Callie Jean Morgan assumed her place in Chapter One. Her career choice cost her a husband, and her job. She retreated to home, to Edisto Beach, to find herself and raise her only son. And the only solace she found was listening to Neil Diamond on her porch, seated in an Adirondack chair, gin and tonic in hand. 
Murder on Edisto released a year later. It was the best book I ever wrote. 


BIO: C. Hope Clark recently released book three in the Edisto Island Mysteries in August. Echoes of Edisto is now the best book she ever wrote, and she cannot imagine her writing life without these characters in it. www.chopeclark.com 

Sunday, August 7, 2016

The Winding Stairs

I was with my Dad and, for some reason, I was chasing after him as he was running like a teenager down several flights of stairs. The stairs went round and round and I could see him getting further and further ahead of me no matter how much I tried to reach  him. 
I didn’t intend to write about my dreams twice in a row, but this one just popped out of my head over the breakfast table and said, “This is what you need to talk about.” Yeah, I probably do. 

My Dad has been diagnosed with Lewy Body Dementia, or LBD. If it sounds familiar to you, it may be because Robin Williams was also diagnosed with this condition. In his case, it was exacerbated by depression, with tragic results.

LBD exhibits symptoms of both Parkinson’s Disease and Alzheimer’s. Several years ago Dad had a couple of incidents where he lost his balance for no apparent reason. In one instance I was standing right behind him and caught him as he tilted backwards into my arms. Later, his walking turned into a shuffle, presumably to keep himself vertical. We don’t know for sure. He can only say that his feet won’t do what he wants them to.

During those same years he also began having memory problems which began with what I referred to as a swiss cheese process of memory loss, where holes appeared in his memories for no apparent reason. Today he lives in the present, retains very little, and has forgotten many of the most day-to-day skills, like using a telephone or how to make coffee. Like all dads, though, he still remembers to turn off the lights!  Even when my Mom wants them to stay on. 

This summer my wife and I have been going through a lot of my parent's papers and possessions to help them get ready to move into retirement living. Besides old bills and contracts and such, we’ve found photographs, letters and memorabilia that gave us glimpses into their past. Dad hand-wrote 15 pages about his 1967 trip to Europe to meet with fellow scientists in England and Germany. It was a very engaging travelogue and when I read it to him and Mom at the dining room table he was quite interested, but repeatedly interrupted to ask who wrote it. It was all new to him. 

Is it any wonder that this was what I dreamed about last night? It’s a simple metaphor. That Guy Who Walks can’t  catch up with That Guy Who Shuffles, his father, who is gradually moving beyond his reach. 

———————-

Lewy Body Dementia Association

To learn more about LBD, Whoopi Goldberg recorded a short video introduction that you can watch at LBDA.org/whoopi. Thanks to the Lewy Body Dementia Association (LBDA.org).

Photo Credit

(http://notjustcute.com/)  Not Just Cute: Intentional Whole Child Development — a blog written by Amanda Morgan. She gave photo credit to Shi Yali, but with a broken hyperlink. 

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Ghost Kitten

It all began with a dream. 

In the dream, I came home to an apartment where our adult cat let me know that the kitten was behind the couch. (We don’t have a kitten.) I had to lie down on the floor and reach back into the dark depths to find her and pull her out. She was so small I could hold her in one hand as I stroked her soft belly which was plump with kitten food. A little too much food, I thought. 

I woke with that lingering scent of infancy that makes you want to nuzzle a kitten, a puppy, or an infant. And though I don’t usually remember my dreams, this one stayed with me, along with a protective feeling for that kitten in the shadows. 

That day, rain fell in sheets, but cleared up enough for Angel and me to make our evening walk to the park. On our way home we were walking up to the red brick real estate

building and I spotted a little shadow dashing across the steps at the side door. My mind flashed on images of otters, moles, and rats, but resolved into the realization that I had seen a wet, charcoal kitten. It had leaped  away from a bowl of cat food, across the first step, and disappeared into a gap in the handmade steps. I pulled a few good pieces of cat food out of the rain-sodden bowl and placed them where she could easily reach them, but I knew she wasn’t coming out as long as I had the dog with me so we went home. 

The next morning I returned with fresh food and water and waited for the kitten to make another appearance. Eventually she poked her head out, eyeing me cautiously before chomping down on each piece one at a time. Her fur, had dried to a gray ash remarkably similar to our cat, Sasha, who had grown old and died several years ago. It was like she was back for another one of her nine lives.  

I returned later in the day and brought some kitten food. Little Sasha ate it up happily. When I tried to get near her, though, she ducked back under the steps. Not ready to  trust. 

The ladies in the insurance office came out to see their little visitor when I told them about her. They had no idea she was there, and we discussed setting out a safe capture cage. This was when I took the pictures, and Little Sasha allowed me to get much closer. 

Did you know that when you name an animal, you’re five times more likely to want to keep and care for it? Don’t ask me to back that up statistically, just take my word for it. (It’s election season—I’m allowed.)

The next day, Little Sasha was gone. 

The food hadn’t been touched, and it stayed untouched for the next three days. I looked for a little corpse in the road or signs of blood. Nothing. 

I call her my ghost kitten because she showed up in my dreams, was untouchable by day, and haunts me still today, echoing the loss of Sasha Prime and leaving me asking why it happened. (Yes, I just made a Star Trek reference. The new movie is coming out—I’m allowed.)

Why am I so haunted by the Ghost Kitten? Was I supposed to help her? Bring her to safety? Why was I “alerted” by my dream and then unable to follow up? Or was it, as my wife suggests, that my actions alerted someone else who was able to capture her and give her a good home? 


My thoughts turn to Shakespeare: “The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones.” (I was an English major—I’m allowed.)

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

All You Need Is Love

After one of my first blog posts, a friend asked me to share all of the podcasts I listen to on my walk and though I sent her a reply, I thought I would share individual podcast recommendations as they arise. I’d like to give them their full due. 

I’ve been a fan of SF for many years, subscribing to various short story magazines over the years, like “Galaxy,” “Isaac Asimov’s,” “Fantasy & Science Fiction” and more. So when I learned about the science fiction podcast called “Escape Pod” I was all ears. (See what I did there?)  
This past week I was quite moved by a story called “Joolie and Irdl” (Escape Pod #154 at escapepod.org). It’s a story of interracial love between two actual races, not just two human beings. And they have to navigate the prejudices of family and friends as well as each other. (Fair warning: there are references to interracial lovemaking, but nothing obscene.) They become truly devoted to each other, despite all these challenges. 

The podcast was released closely on the heels of the Orlando shooting, and the host of the program, Alasdair Stuart, followed the story with a poignant commentary that’s really worth a listen. He embellished on the theme of “All You Need Is Love” and I found myself repeatedly thinking the line from Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Tony speech “Love is love is love is love is love is love is love is love.” We were thinking in sync because Alasdair eventually added that to his commentary, as well. 

In this current climate of tribalism, of us-against-them, we miss so much by not being open to the thoughts and ideas of others. That openness is love. You can’t both push away and embrace at the same time.  

My last blog about meeting Abu-Sheik and the simple joy of learning about another person with a different background is a simple example of this. We didn’t change the world by walking and talking together, but he expressed his relief at meeting a friendly face in a foreign county. Anybody out there need some relief? I know I do. 

In your walk through life, can you bring some relief to another being? Can you hold love in your heart and be open to the feelings and perspectives of someone else? It’s a muscle that needs to be exercised regularly like the calves or the quads, to bring it back to walking. 


And will the other person leave the door open for you? You can’t control that, but you can set the standard for such behavior. Let’s not build walls, physical or psychological. Let’s open doors.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

My Walk With Abu-Sheik

A friendly smile can start the most interesting conversations. Like my walk with Abu-sheik. (I hope I didn't mangle the spelling, it’s my best guess.)

Angel and I were walking through Happy Hollow Park over the July Fourth weekend when a young man slowly pedaling his bicycle into the park stopped and asked me if there was some place to lock his bike. I directed him to the playground and picnic shelters over my shoulder and he thanked me, saying he had never been there before. 

Angel and I got to the end of the park and, heading back through again, we caught up with Abu-sheik on foot as we headed up through the woods. 

“Did you find a place for your bike?” I asked as we came up behind him. 

“Yes,” he said. “Thank you. And I was looking for a place to go running. This looks great.”

I agreed and told him how I had grown up in the area and walked these paths as a boy before they were paved. In some places the brush grew up so high that you had to turn sideways on the narrow footpath just to get through. Not like you see it in the picture today.

His accent reminded me of Raj on “The Big Bang Theory” and, he told me he was from New Delhi. He is an I.T. student at Purdue, and still nervous about being far from home and meeting new people. I told him that I had a similar experience, living in Germany twice as a boy and once in England. When I added how important it was for everyone to be a global citizen he brightened and looked relieved. 

“I am so glad to hear you use those words,” he said.

“Well, when I returned to school in the U.S. I was surprised how I already had a different world view even in elementary school. My teacher asked the class to name the barriers to creating a United Europe, and someone said the different languages would get in the way. ‘Nonsense,’ she answered, ‘they can all speak English!’ I couldn’t believe she would say that, and I realized that I understood something that she didn’t.” 

Abu-sheik told me that many people in India speak English but that there are sixteen different languages spoken in his country. When he visited the south of India he couldn’t understand anyone and was completely unable to talk to them. His native language is Hindi. 

“Don’t the languages have the same roots?” 

“No, theirs was from Sanskrit and completely different from Hindi.” Even in their own country there are barriers to understanding as basic as language. 

“Have you seen the new movie, Independence Day: Resurgence?” I asked him. 

“I’ve heard of the first one, but I’ve never seen it.” 

“Well, there’s lots of action and fighting the aliens, but I really liked how this movie made the effort to show everyone on Earth as members of the same race. The Human Race.” 

“Yes,” he agreed readily, “we are all one race, even though we speak different languages and come from different countries.” 

When I lived in Los Angeles I met a woman from India who talked a lot about how crowded it was there. When I asked Abu-sheik if Indiana felt very different. He agreed that New Delhi was also very crowded, but that he found places outside of the city to go running, just as he had done today. 

“You may not be able to run here in the winter, though. It’s hot and humid now, but it’ll get a lot colder.” 

“It gets cold in India, too. It can be a lot like this, but it can also get down to zero in the winter. That’s Celsius.” 

“Well that’s 32 Fahrenheit, so that’s pretty close. Depending on the the year, though, we can get lots of snow.”  

We were at the end of the path and we climbed the slope up to the street. He asked where we were and I said that it was Indian Trail Drive. I felt the need to explain that all the streets connected to it were named after Native American Indian Tribes. 

“Are you walking back?” He asked hopefully. 

“No, we need to go down this street to get home. But if you follow the path straight back to the park you’ll find your bike.” 

“I’ve met two people now who have been very friendly to me and I feel better about being here.” 

“I’m so glad. I hope you enjoy your stay.” 

We shook hands and introduced ourselves before going our separate ways. 

Welcome to the USA, Abu-sheik. I hope we’re good hosts and that your visit is full of friends and interesting places. 

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

My Pied Piper Syndrome

I was crossing an intersection a couple of weeks ago where a car facing me was waiting to make a right turn. A little girl standing at the window greeted me with a cheerful “hi.” Setting aside the why-isn’t-that-child-in-a-carseat discussion, she was a pop-up ray of sunshine in my day and I happily returned the greeting as I stepped up on the sidewalk and the car turned past me. 

My Pied Piper Syndrome. That’s what my mom called it from the time I was a pre-teenager. It’s the tendency of children to recognize that I’m someone who will share a smile and who is willing to be playful. I like to think they recognize the child in me. Time and time again, children see me and say hello to me, smile at me, and trust me. From infants to pre-teens, they just look at me and know it’s okay.

When I was a boy, the neighborhood kids that were five to ten years younger than me would come knocking at our door to see if I could come out and play. I often went out to run around the yard with them, pretend, play tag, that sort of thing. The kids my age couldn’t understand why I wanted to play with these little ones. I couldn’t understand why hitting a baseball could be so all consuming. Mom watched and shook her head, bemused.

With great power comes great responsibility, right? I know what it is that parents fear about predators. I’m a parent. I’m very careful to guard my amiability until I get a clear sign of approval from the adult who is with that child. When I’m in the company of my wife or daughter, the adults are ten times more trusting, but when I’m on my own I feel the need to rein in my response to friendly children. It’s too bad, really, because a woman can ooh and ahh over another person’s child, but as a man I have to be more restrained. Again, I fully understand, but it does reflect on our societal ideas about gender roles. 

Walking in the park with Angel also gives me with a pass when children want to come up and say hello. They want to know if they can pet the dog and I get a smile from the adult when I say, sure, but she might lick your face. I’ve enjoyed coaxing shy children to overcome their fears when they clearly want to touch her fur. And kids love to help me give Angel a drink at the water fountain, holding down the button while I cup my hands to catch the water. 

If, by being a Pied Piper, I can get a sad child to laugh, or a scared child to relax, I like to think I’m making my contribution to the happiness quotient overall. I know it makes me feel better. They say that we should listen to our inner child, and maybe we need to listen to children in general in order to hear that child inside. If nothing else, it’s an excuse to be silly or to see the world from a different perspective. That’s an important quality for creativity and, if you want to dredge up a tired metaphor, thinking outside the box. 

What do you do to increase your happiness quotient? How do you explore open-ended creativity? I walk.