Monday, June 17, 2019

A Grammar Interjection

The last months have been busy, so I fall back on my old friend, grammar.

Today, I give you interjections.

In one school of grammatical thought, interjections are a classification of English words, like nouns, verbs, pronouns, and the rest.  Interjections are words typically used in dialog or informal writing: well, eew, uh, um, yes, no, huh, aha, hey, wow, and lots of other words.  The point about interjections is they, well, interject into a sentence, usually with some emotion or emphasis.

Three interesting things about interjections.

1.  Interjections (in traditional writing) are always separated from the rest of a sentence with punctuation, usually a comma and sometimes an exclamation mark.
Well, yes!  I did know that the eggs were spoiled, but I didn't think that mother would mind eating them.
2.  The placement in the sentence does not really affect how we use interjections.  We still put commas around them.
That's the funny thing about cats, huh, you can only skin them one way, right?
3.  Like nouns and verbs and almost any other type of speech, interjections can be people, swear words, and more.
I don't want to walk through this horrible field, Randy!  Oh, hell!  It's been raining in Indiana for weeks, and, oh, drat, Mike, I have enough water in my boots to fill a bucket!
Here are a few more (remember, these can act as other parts of speech but can interject as interjections):
no way
oh, dear
any swear word
onomatopoeia, too?

What else you got, huh?

Sunday, June 2, 2019

Monte Carlo

“The knowledge lingered so that I would suffocate from it.
Sleep came so that I would wake breathless, anew.” When Knowing Eyes Meet

Monte Carlo had no issues crawling up Appalachia -- but she wasn’t quite sure why I drove her out here to these foreign lands at her old age. Getting down Appalachia felt more burdensome, and I did my best to keep from rolling us off the mountains. Monte Carlo drank a bunch of gas -- although not as badly as I had calculated before taking my first trip alone with just my 70s built car and my extraordinary naiveté beyond the Hoosier border. 

Turn the music up! Monte Carlo had a Sherwood stereo system in her, and we both rode the sounds of New Wave music and listened more closely to its uniquely relatable lyrics. Monte Carlo appreciated my singing, too; because it must have kept her occupied from the worry of us wrecking, or followed by a salivating serial killer, or stranded with bears and Bigfoot, or killed by a falling boulder-- or worse than all that: pulled over by a cop!

Like Monte Carlo, I appreciated the frequent gas stops. I needed to get out and walk around; to feel my independence and to make sure that I was still confident in executing this trip. Ah, a strange notion, Independence. I felt powerful knowing the ocean was really not too far away at all and that I would succeed in reaching that great wonder -- despite my original self-doubting and my parents excessive worry over Monte Carlo’s condition -- for she carried a lot of her burdens.

Wilmington had its own heaviness, too, with thick sea air and heat that could lull one to naptime. Still...I was ecstatic to have made it to my destination! I struggled to find the downtown, traveling many streets lined with huge, old and somewhat dilapidated mansions and dull, tired, and nearly exhausted shopping centers. Monte Carlo didn't care. She was more relieved to be back to civilization near some mechanics shops, if need be. When I finally found the village, Monte Carlo rolled her windows down to take in the sleepy air, and I cranked up the Eurythmics -- to share with the pedestrians my success at finding them. Monte Carlo and I drove up, down, over, and across that village like we were interested in purchasing the place. This, I asked myself, could be my new home? Sea gulls? Southern homes? Big porches? Faded signs and brick alleys? Old, Civil War monuments? Ocean?

And then Monte Carlo hit the brakes. What the heck?

We were witnessing an anomaly. I must have done a double-take, for Monte Carlo drove us by the scene real slow-like, to make sure what we were observing was accurate. Two men about my age were walking down the street...and they were clearly and undoubtedly, openly and uninhibitedly...holding hands.

Yes. Two young men were holding hands! And while the sun -- hung over them! Other pedestrians -- walking with them, behind them, ahead of them; they did not seem to flinch or recoil or miss a step. And stranger than all, the couple was...smiling?

So, it was true? 

I parked Monte Carlo – she and I needed to compute this scene.

So, it was true.

Interested in Oceanography at the time, I had picked UNC-Wilmington as a possibility due to their well-known science curricula. Texas A&M at Galveston would be my second choice. Actually, reverse that, because I put UNC at the top after reading in some Blue Boy magazine that Wilmington was outrageously gay friendly at that time. Texas, not so outrageously.

I had to know if what I read was true. Seemed awfully convenient that UNC at Wilmington was one of my picks....

That's why I really came to that seaside town in North Carolina. That's why I would eventually leave it. But, before I did leave, I momentarily grew a small spine at the moment. I felt compelled -- despite a truly terrifying sense to escape -- to look for more of this strange new openness.

I parked Monte Carlo up the street. She warned me not to go too far and, before I do just that, to keep her windows cracked so that she could cool off in the hellish heat. Businesses in the village appeared closed or shuttered but for a coffee shop a half-block down and a touristy looking one where Monte Carlo had soon wheezed to sleep. I went through the tourist store, walked down each aisle of trinkets, t-shirts, wind chimes, jewelry, and candles -- but with my eyes on any locals who might give way hints to their orientation. No one appeared to have the slightest urge to entangle each other by the hands like the two guys outside.

What about that coffee shop? I talked myself into checking it out - but not until I grabbed my college-ruled notebook from Monte Carlo where I had shoved stapled UNC information and outlined some forgettable story ideas. 

Everybody sat close together in the tiny coffee (and ice cream) shop. It looked uncomfortably close, frankly. I guessed that most of them were students: books opened, young faces glowing in calculations and absolution, and their young bodies clothed in made-to-look-old-but-really-new shirts and jean shorts. A sense of awareness among their kind was obvious to me in an instant. So, it was true after all. Yet, when eyes were eventually cast my way, I instantly crawled into my notebook and scribbled words meant to impress upon the viewer that I didn’t mind his looking -- but, I could take it or leave it because...because I didn't need anything in the world but this here iced tea and this mostly blank notebook. 

I appreciated his stare. I wanted him to stare. I wanted him to talk to me. How I would've died if he did!

Time to go. I couldn't do it. I suddenly realized that I opened myself up to receive information that I could not yet calculate in broad daylight, in a coffee shop serving ice cream to handsome men my age -- people more like me than I could ever have imagined existed. And in the daytime?

Monte Carlo knew, too, that I wasn’t ready for such openness. I wasn’t ready for such strange independence. She and I couldn’t escape Wilmington fast enough! What was meant to be a week’s stay became a 4-day trip all around. Monte Carlo and I had no issues flying over Appalachia - and that's about what we did. I returned home to Lafayette, thanks to Monte Carlo’s riding us to our safety and to that vast familiarity; returning us to greet surprised, yet relieved parents who said nothing more of the odd trip that I had planned for months, but in all honesty, failed to execute.

No harm done. 
I just decided Wilmington wasn’t right for me. 
I’ll try Galveston. 
A&M. … .

I was accepted, but my dad knew something, too. He knew that I wasn’t ready to live some place beyond Lafayette, Indiana. He knew I wasn’t ready to go to a big school like that way out there -- alone. He laid out a plan for me to go to Purdue - a mere four miles away -- to get on with my undergraduate. Sure, if I was still serious about Oceanography, then he would support me going to Galveston for further education. Only then. Only then.

So, I did what my dad wanted. I stayed. 
Yes, Lafayette: where I was born and where I was raised...and where I would remain. 
I went to Purdue. I didn't want to take Geology. Didn't they all work for oil companies? I chose a different major: Anthropology. I then chose a different major: Biology. Biology was more practical: Lilly. Industry. Paycheck. Anthropology? Adventurous. Humbling. Paycheck?

Eventually, I left Monte Carlo to a "friend" who abused her -- and to an extent, abused me. I had made a terrible mistake. The last I had heard, Monte Carlo was sold to someone who wanted to revive her. I would later leave for Indy to join my boyfriend who had just bought a house and was getting tired of driving back and forth -- and who was wanting to settle down. Twenty-eight years later, I am a Biologist working in Academia, as a cancer researcher...and a lab manager of both studies and students. I am a free, gay man partnered to that very same gentle man who beckoned me to stay with him in Barely-a-Ripple, Central Suburbia, Indianaville, living safely, predictably, and peacefully.

What of that younger me? No blame. I can still feel his desire to travel, search, and find. I can still feel his fear when discovering the thing he wanted most. I can still understand his reasoning to flee it.

Just the same, I don’t know what might have happened if I had actually moved to Wilmington and had become an Oceanographer…if Monte Carlo carried me back up and over Appalachia safely...if we survived the 90s and the death of New Wave so far from home...if we drank sweet tea and ate fresh seafood...if we monitored whale migrations and worked on research boats and if I had traded Purdue Pete for Tar Heel. 

I don't know if Monte Carlo and I could've survived that new kind independence; if she could've kept her metal from rusting all those years as I drove us deep into that Wilmington sea of strange.

Monday, May 20, 2019

"I Hope We Meet Again"

Jim Johnson is a tall man of slender build, white hair, and clear grey eyes. In all the years that I have known him, I have never known him to frown or be anything but positive. He is not the relentlessly upbeat person that causes instant loathing in an old cynic like me, but rather a calm and pleasant demeanor that even I cannot fault. He is a native son of Seymour, a small hamlet in southeastern Indiana that one passes on the way to Louisville and other parts south. Yet, ten years ago, I was fortunate enough to be able to meet him on a project just outside of town.

Now, I won't bore you with the technicalities of my job, but rather give you this synopsis. If a client wishes to impact an area with wetlands or streams, then said client must do mitigation. In other words, if you bulldoze a wetland or stream, you have to put it back somewhere else. Mitigation is exceedingly expensive and the permitting process would make a Vogon proud (if such a thing were possible). You must also know that very few people outside the industry understand any of this.

Thus, approximately eleven years ago, I was contracted to permit, install, and maintain a mitigation site for the local Economic Development Corporation. Permits take a long time to obtain (six to twelve months, typically) and it didn't take long for the process to become contentious. Enter Jim Johnson. A successful business man in his own right, he understood the basics behind any permitting process. He was able to bridge the gap between local obstinance and my Escher-esque explanations of the permitting process. I do not doubt that, without his help, the project would have never been completed.

It has been ten years now since the mitigation was installed and at least five years since last I visited the site. Last week, I decided to return to obtain some pictures for propaganda purposes. I called Jim and asked if he would meet me at the site. He rolled up in his black F150 smiling as ever waving a bottle of water at me as I parked.

"I kinda figured you'd be thirsty after walking around out there." he said tossing me the bottle.

That's the kind of man that he is. We talked for awhile about the site and how their lawyers had not been able to get closure from the regulators. I smiled and nodded as he talked knowing that they would never get there with their approach. Jim knew it, as well. The site had performed well over the years, and we walked about a little talking about this tree, that shrub, and that group of flowering things over there. Afterwards, I took him to lunch as all good marketing people should do. We talked about his farm and his grandkids. He gave me a brief history of the railroad presence in town and how it was named after John Seymour - the man that built the east/west rail line.

And then it was time to go. We walked out of the dinner and said our goodbyes. As he was walking away, he waved and said, "I hope we meet again."

I paused then, watching Jim gingerly pick his way across the tracks to his truck parked near the town square. Jim is 77 years old now and though I know the EDC would choose me to do any ecology work for them, it is not likely that this sleepy little town will progress much farther than it has. I stood there next to my truck listening to the carillon bells in the Presbyterian Church ring out "Nearer my God to thee."   I realized that it was likely that I would never see my friend again.

Monday, May 6, 2019

Book Value in todays Culture

What is the value of a book in today’s culture?

I find myself now and then thinking what it might be like to write and publish a book.  

Who doesn’t? 

Holding a book in your hand. Your book that you spent months, maybe years working through.  Completed in you hand and staring back at you.  Your title, your name.  It’s a very proud accolade to have under your belt.  

Then I start questioning. 

Stumble down never-ending thoughts. 

Who would read it?  
Why should I even consider publishing a traditional book?
After all, how many books are already out in the world?
And really, will having that accolade of being a published writer mean something? Or will it just be an ego boost for myself? 

Within the last year, three different people that I grew up with have written and published a book.

Two out of the three didn’t surprise me at all.  The third person was a complete surprise--that came out of left field.  

But good for them, I found myself saying as I scrolled through their Facebook posts.  Each of them posted a picture of themselves holding their published hard copy.  A few open boxes at their feet, filled with their new book along with a big smile on their faces.

It must be an exciting feeling.  

Then what?
What happens to those books? 
How many get sold?
How many actually get read?
How many end up on some bookshelves or nightstand?  
A reader noting to him or herself that it’ll be their next book to read.  But do they?

Today’s culture almost makes a book an antique.  Something special that isn’t necessarily understood or fully appreciated.

At the same time, the culture will put someone on a pedestal for writing whatever book or numbers of books. Almost as if, because they have written a book, some how they are more important and more all knowing.  

To prove this: Listen to the news when they are interviewing whatever guest about whatever topic.  The guest has usually written a book about the topic, which, yes, is a good resource.  But the guest somehow becomes displayed as the all-knowing person about whatever topic the new is reporting.  

And really the common viewer or listener of that news story won’t have a clue to who this guest is/was. Nor will they care.  But they will take his/her word because they wrote a book, right?

Another cultural phenomena regarding books or publishing a book: Should you be famous or should something happen to you that puts you into a momentary spotlight of fame. 

Your story isn’t true until you have written a book about your story.  

Most of the time those kinds of writers/stories are ghost written.  But yet the “Author” takes full credit for putting in the time to write that book.  That book will get purchased as a Christmas gift to your parents or grandparents. Only to be set on a shelf or nightstand for a while before getting put into the goodwill box.

It amazes me how many politicians have autobiographies…Just a thought.

Some really old books seem naturally to be considered valuable or more important culturally. That whole antique thing again.  

It looks old so it must be important or valuable.  Better hold onto it and put it on your bookshelves.  I’ll read it at some point…

I know I know.  The glass is half empty.  But then again I see some truth to my post.  Why else is there a chain of stores across the country called Half Price Books?

The last chance to make a buck on a book that has been sitting on a shelf too. 

Sunday, April 21, 2019

The Demons of Writing

I'm going to use another writing prompt from Jack Heffron's book, The Writer's Idea Book.  In Chapter 2, Heffron describes the "Enemies of Creativity" for writers, and one sounds so familiar that I may nickname my alternative self, "The Judge."
He appears when we feel guilty about spending time writing.  Would our families be better served if we were with them instead of shut behind doors with "Do not disturb" signs warning intruders to stay away?...
How selfish of us to demand this time to indulge pointless fantasies of publication.  How silly to be working through yet another draft of the memoir, dredging through events that took place twenty years ago.  This is the voice of The Judge.... 
My husband and I were just talking about how our parents never took time off, and we learned this work ethic, this sacrificial, never-ceasing approach to work, from the older generation.  This is good, and I am proud of my work ethic.

But when I want to sit in front of my computer for an hour, I can think of ten, perhaps fifty other chores that I should be doing.  In fact, to get a productive hour of writing done, I really need a day to get chores done before I can write for an hour.

This weekend, I had to clean the house, clean the car, wash the rugs, do the laundry, call family, and reconsider the lawn (it's been raining, so this was stricken from the list), before I could even pause to write this blog.

Jack Heffron offers two prompts for these negative thoughts:
PROMPT: Write about your need for a creative life or simply your need to write.  Why do you do it?  What needs are fulfilled through it?  Call your essay "Why I Write."...
PROMPT: Write a character description or a poem about a person based on you, one struggling to create some type of art but who is bound by family obligations.  When you finish, ask yourself how you feel about this person.  Are you sympathetic to his struggle?  Then ask yourself if you extend such sympathy to yourself. 
And, where do we go from here?

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

'Line. Line!' and Other Lines such as 'Dioecious Tells Monoecious to Die but Monoecious Grows an Intersex Branch Anyhoo'


“Dioecious Tells Monoecious to Die; but Monoecious Grows an Intersex Branch Any-hoo”

Holly’s prickly leaves scratched and clawed the River Birch branch in the gusts of a roiling storm. His seed spread by the wind before his bank was washed clean, and he was satisfied as his branch remained rigid and exposed in the collapsing storm. Where his seed would go, he did not know, only that a fruiting Holly would receive his gifts, and naturally so.

The tremendous rain drowned River Birch’s catkin dangling from the thin branch he shared with River Birch’s flower and sadly leaving the flower’s thirst unquenched. River Birch, robbed of potential fruit, hoped to spend the summer preparing for branches anew and sprout enough green diamond-shaped leaves that sung in the wind to meet the sun’s blessing and grow a trunk strong with bark that peeled in elegant patterns.

Holly’s sharp leaves still scratched and clawed the River Birch branch in the gusts of the parting storm. Holly thought over the fate of the River Birch and felt the need to say:

“I cannot tell if you are male or female. This disturbs me, for I should know. How exactly - where exactly does your seed sow?

“Your gender should be separate. Your gender should be manifest. Oh! How disturbing your kind are not so obvious!

“I produce seed for an opposite sex, and I do so with ease. Thus, I am most proper. Thus, I am most pleased.”

River Birch failed to untangle from the Holly whose leaves sliced into the bark and dug in only deeper. Holly had more to say:

“I think you should kill yourself. Let your root run dry. Do not sprout leaves that sing -- just shrivel up and die. Do not take pleasure in sun at all, or grow your trunk bent and tall. Why shed your skin in such elegant patches and waste God's time making abnormal branches?

River Birch felt the rainwater evaporate from the upper branches most closest to the clearing sky. If only River Birch could have been planted near the black oaks or that lovely Willow who so pleasantly dips her branches over the pond. Holly felt the need to say more:

“We do not need your kind to thrive. We detest you’re even alive! We have no use for things like you...demented, unnatural, and most confused.

"Listen here: We either eject our seed for wind to carry or expose our branch to bare red berry. We dare not do both -- quite the contrary! -- do understand, you little fairy?”

River Birch’s branches finally broke free from Holly’s scarring claws sending many catkin to the mud below the canopy. A sad thing for certain, yet River Birch thought of the word: soon.

Soon, River Birch will catch the warmth of a peeking sun and roots will drink the filtered, cold rainwater. Soon, bark will dry and peel in elegant patterns on an ever taller trunk stretching and bending and twisting wherever the sun so blessed. Soon, small diamond-shaped leaves will sing in the breeze, and new catkin and catkin flower will find themselves blossomed along thin brown branches old and gray branches somewhat old and, soon, bright green branches sprouting anew.

Due to scraggly growth, bothersome scratchy leaves, detestable and poorly metered and downright forced poetry: Holly soon died by weedicide.

Sunday, April 7, 2019

Don Ricardo de Codicia And the Yellow Line

In the annals of my corporate life, there are many things which would strike an outsider as odd. There are stories that would make you laugh and those that would make you despair for the fate of humanity. There are even some tales that make the reader and narrator scratch their heads in wonder. What follows is of the latter category. It is the tale of Don Ricardo de Codicia and the Yellow Line.

Don Ricardo is one of the great and good in our little corporate village - a veritable founder of the town , if you will. He is a tall man with little hair and of narrow waist, though his personality more than makes up for his lack of follicular activity. This is due in large part to his ego, which shares a gravity constant with Jupiter. Not prone to humility, Don Ricardo revels in leading tours of prospectives through the building touting this or that wonderful aspect of our little world. He enjoys the uninterrupted attention and the opportunity or dazzle the uninitiated with his knowledge of the inner workings of our craft. The fact that those inner workings, as narrated by him, change in scope and nature depending on whom he is leading about does not bother him, though it is amusing to the rest of us.

There is one thing however, that the Don will not tolerate in the least. One must never place anything beyond the yellow line. You see, within the deeper parts of our little village there are three bays each with its own automatic garage door. These doors are how we, the villagers, move our goods and tools in and out. One is blocked due to lack of storage options and the other is used copiously by all who reside in the hamlet. But the last one, dear readers, this last bay is for Don Ricardo only. This area is bordered on three sides by a bright yellow line painted on the floor. Where the line came from, no one knows but there it rests defining that area which shall not be used.

The Don guards this area with the tenacity of a peacock defending its hen. Should some unwary or unknowing serf be so unlucky as to attempt to store an item there for lack of a better space, the Don swoops in the scuttle the item away all the while clucking discontent at any near enough to hear. Now, it is not that he himself keeps anything in this area either. No, this is an area that he has designated for himself and must be kept clear “just in case”. The event that this space would or could possibly be used for has not been defined, but woe unto the lackey that places anything across that yellow line.

So we, the poor village folk, watch as Don Ricardo parades through stopping only long enough to chastise whomever is unlucky enough to be at hand to go and sweep out his area (yes, we are expected to keep it clean for him) before sauntering off trailing his audience. Those of us left in his wake grumble not so quietly as we push our brooms across the floor beyond the yellow line.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Melting Sunflower Tears

March.  Oh, you miserable month.  

The only positive you bring is Alek’s birthday.   

And yes.  The great event of St. Patrick’s Day rests in the middle of the month.  How can we forget? 

That day in March when anyone with a drop of Irish blood in them has the right to partake, and should partake, in gorging themselves in alcohol and corned beef brisket.  
The glorious corned beef brisket with potatoes carrots and cabbage.  It seems like the brisket doesn’t last long when served.  You’re lucky to get a second helping of the beef.  
Now the cabbage and potatoes… there’s always enough to go around 3 times.  We all know the brisket is the star in the meal.  And everyone wants more and will fight over the last bit of corned beef.

Outside of these few events, the month of March really sucks. 

March is full of anxiety.  

The weather can’t make up its mind.  

Yesterday, here in Central Indiana it was sunny with a high of 60 degrees.  The wind was a tad chilly, but it was gentle.  The warmth of the sun had a refreshing feeling against our sickly pale, vitamin D deprived skin.  

It felt nice.  

People were out and about walking their mammal pets.  

Migratory birds were making their presence known by their various calls.  

It was a nice day.  

A day to say, “Hey, the cold winter is almost over.  I can feel spring in the air.”

This morning, it was snowing.  

It was a short-lived snow shower.  It did a good job of giving a good ground cover.  Like maybe we might see a few inches by the afternoon.  

But just as quickly as the snow started, it stopped. And within an hour after the snow stopped, the snow was gone.  

Melted into the muck’n mud of the brown barren countryside landscape that winter brings us in central Indiana.  By mid-afternoon the sun was trying to show its face.  It was warm enough to get outside to play, or accomplish whatever outside with just a light jacket.  

New River West Virginia,
Ndyakanoff Photography
Oh, March.  You tease us. 

You give the crops and gardens hope of warmer days to come. The tiniest signs of spring show up with the smallest of green sprouts trying to come out to show us the beauty of life.  

You give us hope of no longer seeing bleak brown farmlands and gardens but lush green vegetation.  

Warm days and long summer nights to come. 

Oh, March you tease us with the signs of what’s to come. And then you shut us down.  You blast us with another cold reminder that winter is still here.

And for that, I thank you.  

I thank you for delaying the coming season.  The season full of beautiful colors and warm days with blue skies.   The season where you wake up warm and comfort.  You look forward to letting the sun kiss you all over.   You look forward to going out and doing adventures outside. 

But when you do go out you become paralyzed.  Paralyzed by the humidity that the spring and summer proudly brings.  The humidity that can melt you down to a pile of goo the moment you step out in it.  Humidity that is always there no matter the time of day, sucking the life out of you. 

So go on March.  Please continue to hold back the inevitable.  Blast us with just a few more weeks of cold.  I am in no hurry to get into the humid months to come.  I do not want to be like the sunflower in the picture below.  Engrossed in magnificent green all around.  Admiring beautiful flowers and a magical monarch.  At the same time, peddles melting away by the Indiana humidity.  

This Alaskan loves the summers for all that it brings but the humidity.  
Soon, I will be just like the melting sunflower.