Tuesday, November 29, 2011

My Evolving Bucket List

An old 80s or 90s rock song—by Bad English, I think—includes a line that says something like, “…will it always be that the dream gets changed as it gets close to reality?” It is inevitable that our dreams, and with them our bucket lists, are changed as time passes. Some things we accomplish, some things we put on the back burner, and some things we decide are no longer important to us.

When I was a child, I thought if I could just own my own horse and get my pilot’s license, my life would be complete. I did eventually own a dark bay half-quarter horse filly for a few years, during which I realized I really like to look at horses. Ride them—not so much.

When I graduated from high school, I thought my life would be complete if I could get a college education, marry my high school sweetheart, get my pilot’s license, and make a living writing. I did all those things except get my pilot’s license, but not in the order I expected and not exactly in the way I expected. I did them—well, kind of inside out. And in the process, I learned to love photography. Hadn’t even been in my sights.

When I finally graduated from college, I already had a husband and family, and I thought my life would be complete if I could get a job I enjoyed that would allow me to contribute to the family income and work on that novel that was beginning to percolate in the back of my head. I got a job I enjoyed that included writing and editing and paid enough I could support myself, and I eventually completed that novel—plus a novelette that started percolating somewhere in the middle of the novel. I also did a lot of other things I never dreamed I would, but somehow I don’t think learning to weld or standing on the hood of the largest truck in the world the first time its engine was started or planning a party for 10,000 people would ever have been in my bucket list anyway. And somewhere along the way, getting a pilot’s license fell out.

When I retired, I thought my life would be complete if I could learn to water color, finish visiting all the national parks of the US, go to Scotland, and get my first book published. I’ve visited Yellowstone and Scotland, and I’ve found a publisher for my first book. I took watercolor lessons and realized maybe I should stick to photography.

So you’d think I’d be about finished with my bucket list, right? Um…remember what I said about adding things? Now I want to go to Scotland again, because the sequel to the first book is set there. Then come the two other sequels and the two sequels to the first novelette, and the stand-alone novel. I also want to go to Wales.

And that’s how I like it. I should always have another book to write, another trip to take, something new to learn. Because if your bucket list contains all the things you want to do before you die, and you complete it, you’ve symbolically completed your life, right? I hope the day I die, I’ve just thought of something else to add to my bucket list.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Time for a Little Laughter

Years ago, I took a poetry class at a local community college. The teacher was a well-known Illinois poet named Kathryn Kerr. During one class she showed us "Another Muse Poem" that she had written in response to a number of poems on that subject, and she challenged us to write about our own muses. This was the result. And I hope this makes up for the poem I posted a couple of weeks ago. : - )

On Reading Kathryn Kerr's "Another Muse Poem"

The Greeks thought of art personified
As nine beautiful and graceful ladies,
Each lovely lady identified
With an aspect of creative activities.

They gave each a melodious appellation
Like Terpsichore, Urania, and Calliope,
And seemed to derive satisfaction
From calling them Muses collectively.

In our day of scientific knowledge
We talk about right-brain phenomena,
And when desiring poetic tutelage,
Run back to the arms of Polyhymnia.

But one lady poet of my acquaintance
Swears her Muse is no lovely Erato--
He's a dirty old man of impatience
Who makes advances at inopportune moments.

I think my Muse most definitely
Can be diagnosed manic-depressively.
He's split my personality effectively,
So I write horror and humor successively.

 And there are some times of near normality
When the idiot just sits on his hiney
Staring cross-eyed in total banality,
Twiddling his lips with his pinky,

Going “Blub—blub—blub.”

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Surprised by Art

I started taking photographs with an honest-to-goodness Brownie box camera (Anyone else old enough to remember those?) that belonged to my parents when I was about 10 years old. Got some pretty good shots with it, too.

But I didn’t really take photography seriously until went back to college when I was in my thirties. I was required to take photography in order to earn my journalism degree. When I was introduced to the 35mm SLR Minolta, I fell in love.

I think part of the reason I love photography so much is because I’m such a control freak, and photography forces me to let go of some of that. Yes, you can control most of the results from studio photography, but the kind of photography I like is taking the camera on walks around the neighborhood, drives through town, vacations across the country or even across the ocean where you never know what you might see, what the lighting will be, or how fast your subject might be moving. It’s part art, part technical knowledge, and part treasure hunt. And sometimes it’s just dumb luck.

I remember seeing a wonderful photo of a fence line that glowed golden against a twilight sky and reading that the photographer had gone out to take a picture of the sunset. For some reason, she turned around and there behind her was the sun bouncing off the fence posts. Dumb luck.

One of my favorite shots of my own was even more dumb luck than that. In fact, it was a complete surprise. I didn’t even have a good camera with me—just a digital point-and-shoot I could stick in the pocket of my jacket. Hubby and I were on a tour of Yellowstone Park, and the guide had taken us to a river in a nearby town. I was standing on a bridge watching ducks and seagulls swimming below when one of the gulls took off. I panned, trying to get a shot of it in the air with its wings outspread, but the little dickens turned directly toward me. In panic, I tripped the shutter.

Later, when I checked the shots I’d gotten that day, I came thiiiis close to deleting it. Even on the small screen of the camera, I could see it was so blurred it was hardly recognizable as a bird. But something about the colors made me keep it.  

When I got home and put it up on my Mac I found this surprise:

To me, this photo has a beautiful abstract quality that I couldn’t have achieved if I’d been trying. Dumb luck.

If you’d like to see more of my photography, the rest of it much less surprising, check my foto blog at http://www.thrumyeyes-angelaparsonmyers.blogspot.com or click on the "thru my eyes" link on the left. I try to add a shot a day.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Nature or Nurture?

I’m sitting at the table trying to come up with a blog while Hubby is talking to me. He just informed me that girls like to play with dolls and cooking utensils. I said, “I never did.” He stammered around a little and finally said, “Well, you never really were with the program.”

My mother tried her best to get me to like dolls. “Santa” brought me a new one every Christmas, and my mother made cute little outfits for them. None of it worked. My father, on the other hand, bought a set of encyclopedia when I was two years old, my mother was pregnant with my sister, he was unemployed and they were living with my grandmother. First I looked at all the pictures, then as soon as I learned to read, I started with A and read through Z. Then I did it again when I understood more of the words.

Nature or nurture?

Both, obviously. If I hadn’t been interested, I’d have treated the encyclopedia like I treated the dolls—put them on a shelf somewhere and forgotten about them. But they were available, they demonstrated how important knowledge was to my father, and they just whetted my appetite for more reading, more learning. And that appetite has yet to be sated.

People seem to be almost like computers. We’re born with hardware. If the hardware we’re born with functions correctly, software is installed by way of learning and experiences. But just almost like computers. With people, the hardware can be changed by the software, so that learning and experiences cause new synapses and pathways to form in the brain. Children who have grown up playing video games have both software and hardware that is different from children who have not.

So we are a complex combination of nature and nurture. Add to that the wild card of human will that leads some people to follow completely unexpected paths, sometimes to achieve beyond all expectations, and predicting the exact path a child will follow becomes almost impossible.  

And when family, school and society all fail a child, all we can hope is for nature to trump nurture and give them the resilience to draw one of those wild cards somewhere along the way.  

The Dog Child

She seemed happy with her pack of dogs,
Like Mowgli with his wolves.
The tangled hair,
The ragged shirt
With that strange musky smell
Of unwashed child,
The green-hued snot
On upper lip
Seemed more marks of freedom
Than neglect.

Yet when a puppy disappeared,
Victim of an irate neighbor,
She was so accustomed
To adult-caused pain
That tears left silent tracks
Down dirt-smudged cheeks.

She and her family disappeared one night,
Left rent three months in arrears,
Unpaid water, lights, and gas,
And an angry D.C.F.S. agent
Trailing them across the state
With charges of abuse.

One by one the dogs
Allowed themselves to be picked up
And taken to the pound
To be destroyed.


Thursday, November 3, 2011

Popularity and Basketball Stars

I don’t think I’ve ever been popular.  But if I had been, I wouldn’t have noticed it, because I walk around with my head in my own little world most of the time, thinking about the last book I read or plotting the next one I plan to write. I liked being a nondescript person in a nondescript world who lurks around the edges of the crowd and just observes everything that’s going on.

That worked well for me, and I spent many years doing it. Then I became a journalist who specialized in feature stories about ordinary people with extraordinary hobbies or experiences. My observations grew into a file box stuffed with stories that had been published in the Central Illinois newspaper where I worked. I had a brush with popularity as readers began to recognize my name. It was unnerving, and I didn’t really I like it.

But it helped qualify me for a job at a Fortune 500 corporation that allowed me to write stories about some extraordinary people with extraordinary jobs or experiences, but stay mostly anonymous. I was known only by my publications, so I could still lurk around the edge of the crowd and observe most of the time. This worked especially well when I was photographing events for my stories, because I was able to get great candid shots. And it was photographing one of those events that taught me a very important lesson about popularity.

I don’t remember where the actual division photographer was that day, but about mid-morning I got a nearly frantic call from the human resources manager. Karl Malone was a huge heavy equipment fan, and he was coming to visit the plant to see how it was made. The entire management team wanted pictures.

For those of you too young to remember Karl Malone or, like me, sports illiterate, he was the second-highest scorer in basketball after Michael Jordan, and held the record for the most free throws attempted and made. They called him “The Mailman” because he always delivered—for the Utah Jazz most of his career in the NBA.

So I walked into a visitors’ center packed with upper management frantic to be sure they had their photo taken with Karl Malone. They were milling around, jostling for position, introducing themselves and explaining their responsibilities in the corporation. So I just stood back and started taking candid shots.

Malone shook the hand of the division vice president and had starting greeting the department heads when he just stopped—and looked directly at me. He left the group of dignitaries and walked over to me, holding out his hand.

Now, if you’ve never stood next to a professional basketball player, you cannot imagine how impressive one can be. Granted, I am barely over five feet tall and accustomed to dancing with my head on the chest of my partner instead of cheek-to-cheek.  But if I had danced with Karl Malone, my face would have barely reached his diaphragm—which appeared to be rock hard under his golf shirt. The breadth of his shoulders was at least half my height, and his biceps could have been as big around as my thighs. I had to reach waaaaaaay up to shake his hand, and mine disappeared into his. No wonder those guys can pick up a basketball in one paw. He asked my name and what my job was, and surprisingly, I remembered. Then we lined up the management team like school children waiting for recess and snapped their photos one by one.

I followed Malone and his tour guide around the rest of the day, continuing to take photos for the division newspaper, and I saw him greet several others like he had me—leaving the group of  “important” men to approach two women who worked on the assembly line, stopping to speak to a welder, asking one of the test drivers to ride with him while he drove a piece of heavy equipment. Karl Malone was a popular man when he arrived because he was a rich and famous athlete. But by the time he left, he was popular for an entirely different and much better reason.

He was a class act.