Friday, October 28, 2011

Working it out

Step aerobics before dawn does more than wake up my muscles, it plays with my mind. I step out of the car and the cold morning air slaps a washrag in my face.  I was too sleepy to care how close I came to hitting a deer crossing the road in the dark, but I’m awake now!  

In the weight room, the boom box is pounding out the lyrics to “Highway to Hell” and I know what I’m in for – an hour of heart pumping agony. I have choices. I can grumble, but then I engage the wrong muscles. As I punch and kick the air I can visualize the faceless fund manager who lost a chunk of my money, but that’s probably a misdirection of adrenalin as well. Self-talk sometimes carries me through a session.

This morning I looked down at my step askew on the floor and thought about the four countries of the heart that people live in. Maria told me about a personality model that divides people into quadrants. According to this model, the perfectionist would kick the step into place repeatedly until it squared with the tiles on the floor.  The person who lives in the country of control would divert her attention to figuring out the proper way to get the step to adhere to the floor.  Then she would inform the rest of us how it should be done. The peaceful person would align the angle of her body to the angle of her step and breathe. Then there’s me. I’ll look at it, see the irony and go home and write about it. Yup, I live in the fun country.

So why am I up at six AM doing curls and crunches? Because it feels so fun when I stop!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Joining the Party

Heading out to a Zumba class I threw a backward glance at the laundry piled on the chair in my bedroom waiting to be folded. As I pushed myself forward past my writing studio I felt a strong desire to make a detour. I really wanted to get back to work on a ghost story I’d been writing. I turned back and wailed in the direction of my spouse.

 “I wish I could clone myself!” 
He looked up from the book he was reading as I continued my rant. “I would like to be three people. One of me would work out, one of me would write and one of me would put the house in order.”
“What do you want to do?”
“I want to do all three at once! But I want to be one person experiencing all three activities at the same time.”
I entertained that idea all the way down the stairs.  “Maybe my clones have different personalities,” I shouted up to him from the bottom of the stairs.  “Hey, maybe that’s what God did – cloned himself to form the Trinity!”
I’m not suggesting that is actually what happened, but it does give me a different slant on Christ’s role experiencing life as a human to edify the Godhead. Perhaps the esoteric Spirit who hovered over the waters is the celebrant of the secretive, mysterious nature of God. Maybe God is a party of One, attended by three guests of honor and we are on the invitation list because we live in Christ’s heart rent-free.
Does God entertain Himself with us, in the broader sense of the word – holding, possessing, preserving and cherishing? That’s a party I’d like to attend.

Thursday, October 20, 2011


We smuggled the contraband out in a tote bag filled with voltmeters. The stuff is easy to get in our county. You can buy it at Walmart but as it happened, I had some hidden in a cupboard in the garage.  It was part of our plan to get kids hooked.

In Santa Cruz, you can’t buy this stuff!  We were careful about how we distributed it, placing it in front of the children only after a detailed explanation.  Mr. A. assured the children that what they were about to do would not give them a jolt. “It will be fun,” he promised, “although if you aren’t careful you could get burned.”
Parents gathered around their children as they began to experiment. When Mr. A. felt they were ready, he signaled to his helpers to pass out the stuff. They controlled it carefully to make sure there would be enough for everyone.

The children maneuvered tinfoil wrapped sticks, wire and batteries with awkward fingers and intense concentration.  “Oohhh,” one said, “I can smell it burning!” Finally they began to cut the stuff. They were hooked.
“Awesome!” said one boy. 
“Can I keep mine?” I want to go home and burn something!” a girl said.
The helpers gathered up what was left of the illicit goods. One of the parents jumped at the opportunity to take the remaining stuff home, saying “I’ll stash it where I hide my plastic bags.”
From the get go, Mr. A had these kids – voltmeter probe, nickel chromium wire and D-cell battery. When they sliced the hot wire foam cutter they made through a Styrofoam cup to test Ohm’s Law that defines the relationship between (P) power, (E) voltage, (I) current, and (R) resistance they got their first lesson in circuitry at Fun Science Night at school* and some lucky parent scored some plastic foam to keep for posterity.

*The name of the school has been withheld to protect the innocent. The school is not responsible for the reprobate behavior of volunteer Mr A. in importing illegal Styrofoam into Santa Cruz County.
For a copy of Mr. A's Basic Electric Circuit slides, click here.

Monday, October 17, 2011


The economy hasn’t affected the California sea bird population.  They dine on a bounty of shellfish delivered in waves by attentive Neptune. Like revelers at a melodrama downing sudsy brews and tossing peanut shells on a plank floor, sabre-beaked sandpipers long step through foamy surf to catch up fresh crabs and toss them down.

The wasteful Pacific Ocean piles up the leavings on the beach, shells of former selves who have moved into larger quarters or been sucked from their habitation by greed.  Up the beach a lone cormorant unable to fly waddles into the surf and bobs like a cork out to the sea and certain death, enjoying the fine day as the tide carries it away.

Waste and greed, reviled by Take Back Wall Street, are celebrated on Sunset Beach.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

And the Oscar goes to...

Have you noticed the new set of characters popping up in stories? People who used to interact with each other now spend a fair amount of screen time interacting with digital media. What a challenge for a writer.
Writers employ exciting events to move plot lines – explosions and car chases, dialogue that reveals ulterior motives or murderous intents, scenes that employ people and nature to depict conflict. In today’s world, human characters must also interact with digital devices because they are, well, interactive.
Instead of the detectives circling the body and discussing the crime with each other, I’ve seen them turn a shoulder to the action in front of them to glue an ear to an electronic device. They talk to their partner back at the office, their mole in crime lab or the principal of their kid’s school (secondary plot line).

Do drama teachers assign students scenes to perform with in-your-face props?  

Teacher: Your cell is playing “who let the dogs out” so you know it’s your sister calling from the hospital. A tweet is coming in from your campaign manager about a big announcement and your iPad is signaling a Skype call from a name you don’t recognize – GO!
In The Elegance of the Hedgehog the annoying little French girl remarks that watching action on TV fires the same neurons in the brain of the viewer as are triggered in the actor -- our bodies actually feel what the actor feels. I feel my ear getting hot and my neck developing a crick when I see a detective on a mobile phone. When I see crowds of people walking heads down, paying no heed to the world around them I feel alone in the universe.

What would make me feel better?  I love the moment in the story when the main character gets fed up and flings his cell phone into the river.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

World Views

Small town gals with big city aspirations need to push their boundaries if they want to live in a bigger world.  Technology makes it possible for us to live in rural landscapes and still find ourselves at the table with the movers and shakers.

Last week I got an email invitation to join the Associate Publisher of World Magazine and other subscribers for lunch in San Francisco.  Let me digress: When I moved to the top of the mountain I invested in subscriptions to two publications I consider journalistic epitomes, the Wall Street Journal and World Magazine, to help me stay up to date on world events.  So when I got an email invitation from Warren Cole Smith I dialed Chili’s in Millbrae into my GPS and pointed my Buick West.

Only in the Age of Technology could I enter a room full of strangers and be greeted by Michelle with these words: Cherie says to tell you “hi.”  Cherie is my sister.  She and Michelle have never met face to face but they know each other through forums. Small world, isn’t it?

I sat with Michelle from Santa Rosa, CA on my left, the CEO of God’s World Publishing Company from North Carolina across the table, and a homeschooling mom of four who lives on a ranch in Dixon, CA on my right. As it turns out, Michelle works for a literary agency. She has written her spiritual memoir and published a book, A Log Cabin Christmas. It made the New York Times Bestsellers List in September.  As it happens, I am circulating the manuscript of my first novel, The Sheepwalker. She graciously gave me her card.

So, who are the World Magazine subscribers? By in large they aren’t Northern Californians. World represents a conservative Christian viewpoint.  Now I’m a Christian with conservative leanings and a U.C. Berkeley education. Go Bears! I majored in English and muddied the waters with Master’s level education in Mass Communications.  If I were forced to express my philosophy of life in one word, it would be “balance.”
So I asked World Magazine CEO Kevin Martin how he would characterize the magazine’s editorial style. He thought a moment and said, “thoughtful and reasonable.” He offered this illustration.  A faction of his readers were upset that World did not cover the brouhaha over Obama’s citizenship.  There is no reasonable evidence to suggest our President is not a U.S. citizen. It is not news.

This is what I love about Christianity. Regardless of how we might like to think the world works, there are principles at play that are unaffected by our desire to see things our way. I think Kevin’s words, thoughtful and reasonable, are the fulcrum that balance opposing world views.  If we present our viewpoints in thoughtful, reasonable ways we can hear and be heard.  God will sort out the truth.

Push your boundaries.  Give an ear to what is thoughtful and reasonable and I don’t think you can go wrong.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Traveling Solo

An invitation to have lunch with the associate publisher of World Magazine was ultimately too good to pass up so I drove down the mountain to the Bay Area, a three hour trek.  I couldn’t think of a friend quite as enamored with getting the scoop on the future of publishing a news magazine with a Christian world view as myself so I made the trip alone.

When I was working my travel arrangements were no brainers.  We traveled in packs and stayed in corporate approved hotels.  Traveling solo, I find I make decisions differently.  I nixed an airport hotel near San Francisco in favor of the Best Western “boutique” hotel on the Alameda in Santa Clara. It was half the price and twice the charm.  Santa Clara has aged well. It feels like anycollegetown, USA.  It feels like being back in the ‘hood.

A quick OnStar search turned up Antonella’s Ristorante on Park and Naglee in San Jose, 0.7 miles from my hotel.  It’s a great little neighborhood restaurant where you can get a cup of homemade minestrone, a caprese salad and a nice glass of Sangiovese for under $25.  I read a Ray Bradbury short story about a house that survives without its people while I ate. I people-watched  the neighbors in this wonderfully cosmopolitan city come and go.

Tomorrow I’ll head to San Francisco to join Warren Cole Smith and other World Magazine subscribers who have decided this is worth their time.  I wonder what we will have in common, other than an interest in quality journalism that provides in depth coverage of world events.

It pushes me outside my comfort zone to travel alone, but not that far out. Funny how you can make yourself feel at home by choosing what feels like a familiar corner in a large landscape. I’m intrigued with the thought that I might be able to make myself feel at home anywhere in the world.