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Snapshot of a lake in morning

Normally, I include a picture with all of my posts. Not today. Erica, over at The Daily Post, pointed out that with the prevalence of camera phones, we’ve gained the ability to visually capture any moment at any given point in time. But, in the meantime, have we lost the ability to capture the same moment in words? In this week’s Weekly Writing Challenge, Erica dares us to put down the iPhone and pick up a pen to record a moment we’d like to remember. “Using words only, take a snapshot of the experience.” 

I pause for a moment near the lake, only a mile or so into my four-mile loop around the neighborhood. From the roadway crossing the dam, I hop the shiny metal guardrail and pick my way over shoebox-size rocks to a peeling wooden bench overlooking the northeast corner of the lake. It is quiet back here at this time of morning; commuters have long since hit the highway, the school bus has already picked up all of its pint-sized passengers, and even though it’s a weekday, it’s still a bit too early for the considerate to shatter the calm with the drone of their leaf-blowers.

Ahead, on the glassy surface of the lake, a lone mallard tows a V-shaped wake as he moves with purpose toward the far shore, where canoes offer their colorful bellies like worshipful beachgoers, despite a lack of warmth from the weak wintery light. The mallard’s journey disrupts the crystal clear reflection of corpulent pewter-shaded clouds jockeying against each other to conceal wayward patches of pale blue sky. Read from the surface of the lake, the weather forecast looks even less promising than the radio DJ predicted earlier.

In the patch of woods off to my left, a pair of fuzzy grey squirrels chase each other in a tight spiral down the trunk of an aged oak tree, claws scritching against time-worn bark. Bare trees of every species stand ankle-deep in fallen leaves, a rustly, crackly hunting ground for half a dozen black-faced juncos. Try as I might, I cannot detect even the faintest whiff of oak, pine, or maple rising as the tiny birds stir the leaves in their search for insects and seeds. The crisp, dry winter air that is stinging my cheeks and making my nose run has body-slammed the scent of autumn like a wrestler pinning his opponent to the mat.

Suddenly my subconscious registers the sound of a far-off train whistle. In all the years I’ve lived here, I’ve never heard a train before. Strange. While I know that technically my neighborhood can’t be too far off from the rails that carry passengers and freight north and south between Washington and Richmond, I’m not exactly sure where the tracks are. This puzzle gives me the impetus I need to rise from my bench and continue my journey around the lake towards home. Google Maps and a steaming mug of English breakfast tea await.

 
 

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Honey, it’s in my DNA

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My hubby might possibly be the only married man in the Western hemisphere without a wife-generated Honey Do list haunting his every weekend. In nearly eight years of marriage, I’ve never penned one and he’s never questioned why. I even have a Honey Do notepad, handed down from my mom, but it’s only ever used for grocery lists.

How did the hubby get off the hook? Credit for his good fortune can be traced along several branches of my family tree.

First, let’s climb the tree to my paternal grandmother. She and my grandfather divorced when I was a wee one, so my memories of her were always as a single woman. She lived alone in the house my grandparents once shared until well after my college graduation. She was very financially savvy, she kept a spectacular yard and garden, but she couldn’t (wouldn’t) do a damn thing for herself around the house. Dread absolutely oozed from my parents whenever it was time to go to Grandma’s, because she was inevitably waving a mile-long Honey Do list at each of them before they even had both feet out of the car—once we were of a responsible age, my brother and I got lists as well (it was my job to wash and polish the crystals on the dining room chandelier). I don’t remember a single time when we went to Grandma’s just to sit and visit. In high school, I discovered the true depth of her dependency when I learned that she called the neighbor over twice a year to reprogram her thermostat for daylight savings time. For reasons I can’t explain, that single revelation eclipsed all of her previous “I’m just a poor helpless female” antics, and my theretofore-dormant feminist hackles went up. I swore in that moment that I’d never, ever, ever call a man, be he family, friend, or professional, for simple home maintenance chores. Hence, no Honey Do list for the hubby.

Next, we can swing over to my maternal grandfather’s branch of the tree. I did not inherit much from my mom’s side of the family, but the few traits I did get are worth their weight in gold. The most valuable is Granddad’s willingness to tinker. I’m not sure there was anything the man could not build, repair, redesign, or improve. I have some physical reminders of his ingenuity…an aluminum pot that he made from scraps at work on his lunch break, a set of roofing plans that he sketched, a level from his basement workshop. But better than that, I have his curiosity about how things work, his creativity to overcome obstacles, his common sense to plan a solution, and his mechanical aptitude to carry out the plan. As a result of my granddad’s influence, upon returning from a TDY the hubby found his wife had installed brand new tile in the entry rather than writing an entry on a Honey Do list.

Finally, we can climb back down the tree to my parents. There was a Honey Do system in place while I was growing up. Mom, unlike my grandmother, was willing and able to do a lot of the day-to-day household maintenance that cropped up. But she was busy taking care of two kids, and there were just some things that she felt Dad should do, so they went on the list. Problem was, Dad’s priorities and timeline didn’t always mesh with Mom’s priorities and timeline. Unfinished (unstarted) projects caused tension. Tension occasionally escalated to anger. I don’t like tension. Or anger. I knew that whenever I got married, no matter how wonderful and willing to work he was, my type-A personality would likely mean disparity between my priorities and timeline and my husband’s. For the sake of marital harmony, I’d rather just do things myself. If I am the one procrastinating, or taking too long to finish a simple job, I can’t be angry at the hubby. So the Honey Do system has never been implemented in our house.

Sometimes I wonder if the hubby is glad to have a self-sufficient wife (possibly even proud that she has her own drill and knows how to use it?), or if it hurts his feelings when I get out the ladder and replace the air filters myself instead of asking him to do it. Personally, I like that the absence of a list means our weekends can be spent doing things together rather than me micromanaging supervising while he struggles to complete designated tasks before his beloved Patriots play on Sunday. So unless he asks to join the ranks of the Honey Do husbands, I’ll continue to lean on my ancestry to preserve our harmony and his freedom.

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The Daily Post’s Weekly Writing Challenge was to examine how certain inheritances come alive in our looks and/or personality.

 

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Buddha

 

Every Wednesday, Yumiko came with her stool and her sketchbook and perched delicately in my shadow, applying pencil to paper to capture the scenes around her, sometimes worrying the small details for weeks on end. Shinji, with cameras dangling from his neck and bags of lenses criss-crossing his lithe frame, circled me week in and week out, intent on capturing the subtle differences in the sunlight on my face as the spring days lengthened into summer, but never unaware of those who shared this sacred ground with him. Today, the clicking of Shinji’s shutter grew louder as he maneuvered into Yumiko’s space, framing candid shots of the uniformed high school students boisterously posing around my base for a classmate’s iPhone snaps. Yumiko put her pencil aside and opened her bento bag, peeking from beneath the brim of her sunhat to offer Shinji an onigiri with a shy “Dōzo.” Bowing his thanks, he sank to the ground next to her, and small talk over the shared meal of rice balls eventually turned into tentative requests to view each other’s work. As Yumiko scrolled through his camera’s digital archive, Shinji flipped the pages of her sketchbook, expecting to see my profile but finding his own likeness filling several pages instead; that discovery sent a thrill through him and simultaneously made him a little less nervous about her reaction to his memory card’s imminent revelation of the portraits he had furtively stolen earlier today with his zoom lens.

 

I’ve combined today’s letter, B, from the A to Z April Challenge with the Weekly Writing Challenge: Iconic from The Daily Post…and threw in a six sentence limit just for fun. I realize Buddhism is not an exclusively Japanese religion, but Daibutsu, the giant Buddha of Kamakura, is THE iconic image of my time in Japan. Every time I see a photo of this Buddha’s placid face, I am reminded of the gentle people, beautiful scenery, and all-encompassing peace I found in Japan.

 

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Tag

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There wasn’t nobody in the park Monday, Billy and I checked. He stood lookout while I tagged the bin. I wanted to do a throw-up, but Billy says to lay low for a while since I just got busted last month. Won’t be no community service, them cops catch me again…judge says I’m goin’ t’ jail next time. But I ain’t no pansy. I ain’t gonna let worry infect me, keep me from writin’. I gotta practice, show some mad skills if I wanna get in with Billy’s crew.

But man, now I’m freakin’. Somebody been blowin’ up my phone since 2 a.m. with the same effin’ picture, over and over. Caller ID says UNKNOWN. CCed to UNKNOWN RECIPIENTS. WTF? Who’s doggin’ me like this? What’re they tryin’ to do to me? Who they sendin’ this picture to? If that judge sees this, he gonna lock me up for sure. If my mama sees it, I’m gonna wish I was in jail.

This post is a mash-up of challenges…First it’s a response to The Daily Post’s Weekly Writing Challenge regarding a mysterious photo coming through on a cell phone at 2 a.m. It also incorporates Trifecta’s Week 69 challenge to use the third definition of the word infect (3a: contaminate, corrupt  b: to work upon or seize upon so as to induce sympathy, belief, or support ). Finally, it’s a shameless attempt to use one of my Iceland photos as a writing prompt. 🙂 

NOTE: I am NOT up on the current lingo used by young graffiti artists. If anyone has any suggestions to make the vernacular more realistic, I’d be very appreciative!

 
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Posted by on March 19, 2013 in Fiction, Tuesday Tales

 

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Shiwase

100_2871-001100_2871-001100_2871-001Today’s post started out as a belated response to last Monday’s Weekly Writing Challenge: Truth Is Stranger Than Fiction over on the Daily Post, in which we were asked to take or find a photograph in which the subject showed true joy, rather than that I’m-smiling-for-the-camera brand of fake happiness. I had bookmarked this photo in my archives last week, but my postings went in other directions and I couldn’t find a day to squeeze this one in. (What?! Too many blogging ideas? Must we start two-a-days?)

The truth behind the photo: I took the original photo (top left) during a visit to Hachimangu Shrine in Kamakura, Japan, in November 2010. I noticed a family feeding the pigeons, and snapped a few random shots in passing, without really stopping to compose the images. It wasn’t until I was back home reviewing the pictures from the day that I noticed that the little boy found it HILARIOUS that his father was covered in pigeons and I wished I’d focused my lens on him rather than just the overriding family scene. I wanted to draw the viewer’s eye to the boy’s shiwase (happiness), so I tried cropping the original shot (top right) to get rid of the empty baby stroller that was on the left side (his younger sister was standing tentatively on her own a few feet away, surrounded by a dozen pigeons), but by trying to keep the same scale, also eliminated the birds around the dad’s feet. I hate creating headless corpses when I edit photos, but in the bottom version the boy is much more the center of attention, although the severity of the cropping has highlighted the fact that he is out of focus. Now I wonder if I’ve removed too much of his body language for the viewer to truly appreciate the extent to which he was enjoying this close encounter of the feathered kind? Other than the obvious advice to be more thoughtful in the way I initially shoot my subject, any feedback on how I should have edited this image to highlight the little guy’s happiness would be appreciated.

Now I veer off the track of the original prompt, and contemplate the contrast between the shiwase in my photograph and the emotion the entire nation of Japan is likely feeling today. March 11, 2013, marks the two-year anniversary of the devastating Tohoku earthquake and its resulting tsunami and nuclear crisis, collectively Japan’s worst disaster since World War II. Some 19,000 victims perished and a further 315,000 either lost or were forced to flee their homes (300,000 are still lodged in temporary housing). I was living in Japan in 2011 (though was vacationing in Hong Kong on the day of the earthquake) and I witnessed firsthand the shock and sadness permeating the whole country as the scope of the tragedy became apparent. Yet almost immediately a wave of compassion, support, and encouragement (ganbatte!) spread across the nation, and survivors showed unbelievable resilience as they pushed through their personal anger, confusion, and heartbreak to work together for the good of their neighbors and communities. Today is surely a somber day for the country, as citizens mourn individuals, families, homes, schools, businesses, and entire towns lost to the catastrophe. But I also know today is a day of renewed hope and determination for the Japanese people, as they are wholeheartedly committed to rebuilding and revitalizing the devastated areas as quickly as possible. To all of those still struggling with loss, I offer wishes for comfort, peace, and hope. To all of those involved in the ongoing recovery efforts, I send prayers for continued guidance, strength, and endurance. Above all, I wish the people of Japan shiwase.

 
 

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Fence-sitting

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This week’s Mind the Gap writing challenge on The Daily Post asks, “How do you prefer to read, with an eReader like a Kindle or Nook, or with an old school paperback in hand?”

I am a complete fence-sitter on this issue—so much so that after fifteen minutes of contemplation and internal struggle, I gave up on clicking either radio button in The Daily Post’s poll on the subject.  If you put a gun to my head and made me choose, I certainly would, but I think it would take the click of the safety being released for me to actually commit.

I am a staunch supporter of reading old-fashioned paper books. Nothing beats going into a bookstore or library and wandering amongst the shelves, pulling down this volume or that, looking at the cover art, pondering the title, reading the dust jacket, and deciding with those three simple actions whether or not you’ll devote a few irretrievable hours of your life to the words contained within. I love the crackle of the dried glue in the spine when I open a book for the first time, and the smell of the ink that wafts so easily from whatever paper they use in today’s mass-produced paperbacks. I like the hardcover library books that have those ruffly, unevenly cut pages, and appreciate them even more if there’s sand stuck under the clear protective cover. If someone cared enough to read that book while relaxing on the beach, it’s surely worth my time as well. At home, a bookcase full of texts, their neatly aligned spines marching along the shelves until they collide with a family photo or personal keepsake, makes an office or living room warm and inviting. If an author’s words make a deep enough impression for me to purchase my own hardcover copy, the book becomes a treasure on those shelves, part of the art and ambience of the room.

However, now that I’ve defended my love of real books, I do have to admit to owning an eReader (well, four if you count the free Kindle apps on my iPad, desktop, and laptop in addition to the actual Kindle). I travel, and with the increasingly unrealistic airline baggage restrictions, the eReader eliminates the need to figure out how to transport a week’s worth of paperbacks and still have enough room to pack a swimsuit and some clean knickers when I go on vacation. I like having multiple books on my Kindle, so if I finish John Campbell’s biography of Margaret Thatcher while I’m waiting at the DMV, I can flip over to the latest novel by Maeve Binchy without skipping a beat. The anonymity of the Kindle is also refreshing…I don’t have to explain to anyone why I’m just now getting around to reading Pride and Prejudice or endure any judgmental glances while I’m working my way through the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy. It’s amazing that so many classics are available for free download to eReaders…the benefits of having a library card but without the due dates (two weeks is not long enough to tackle some of those classics, and knowing there’s no pressure to finish a book on someone else’s schedule makes it much more likely that I’ll choose to read it).

I find the Kindle easier to prop up than a chunky hardcover novel when I’m reading in bed, but there’s no way I’m taking my eReader anywhere near the bathtub, one of my top three reading locales. I’d not think twice about leaving a paperback in the car to read whenever I’m waiting to pick up my husband, but possible theft or baking/freezing of the electronics would dissuade me from keeping an eReader in the glove box. A good storyteller can leave me sobbing—tears are absorbed (almost) harmlessly into the pages of a paperback, but what does a salty torrent do to the inner workings of an eReader?

Deep down, I harbor a secret longing to one day own a used-book store—a place with big comfy chairs, maybe some cakes and coffee—where people can bring the books that didn’t rate high enough to grace the shelves of their personal libraries and trade them in for someone else’s cast-offs, in hopes that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. I feel I’d be killing my own dream before it has a chance to come to fruition if I come down squarely on the eReader side of the fence. I can’t throw my full support behind traditional books, either; as an aspiring writer, I believe eReaders have increased my odds of eventually getting a work in front of a reader’s eyes compared to when traditional kill-a-tree publishing houses were the only option. Now, even if I am rejected by any number of reputable agents, I can still self-publish electronically (and comparatively cheaply) in the hopes of attracting an audience from the public who troll Amazon’s Kindle Store looking for free or almost-free novels by unknown (temporarily!!) authors. Going that route, I may never achieve the fame and fortune of J.K. Rowling, but there’s a certain satisfaction knowing my words could be scrolling across the screen of some faceless commuter’s Nook as the 6:45 train rumbles toward his downtown office.

My eReader is convenient and I’d hate to give it up; traditional books are my first love, to have and to hold till death do us part. I have different, but not totally unrelated, dreams for my future that count on both paper books and electronic books being widely desired and available. I am hoping that by reading an equal number of books in both formats now, both industries will see demand for their products and I won’t contribute to the demise of either. Bottom line is I love words, and will pick up a book in whatever format I can, so I’d really appreciate it if you didn’t force me to get off the fence.

 
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Posted by on February 7, 2013 in On Me, True Life

 

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