Thursday, May 22, 2014

Spiders, Snakes, and Writing

I hid some of my traits from our children in order not to pass them on. They were young teenagers before they knew fast-moving spiders made the hair on my arms stand up (and the ones that jump did the same for the hair on my head), or that snakes and worms were fully e-e-ew no matter their perfection in Nature. My stifling of my genuine reaction was a parenting success.

But other traits I should have suppressed, I did not. My own self-doubt and introspection undoubtedly birthed theirs, and my small triumphs over it don't translate to theirs.

What I wish they, and many other people I know, could do came to me rather late: Get on board with the notion that it's okay to suck, to be low on the learning curve, to strive and flop. I wish I'd realized that good people don't judge you for trying and failing, that it's normal to be pretty awful at something you've only just begun.

Too many would-be writers who take it up when they are adults accustomed to doing well fall into this mindset: They have to be decent right out of the gate. But it makes no sense. Nobody became a master gardener, great waitress, fine surgeon, or accomplished pianist at their first attempt.

When you take up writing—or art, or violin—you're even with high school students, or college student if you're lucky. Those people are young enough to be all right with themselves as unskilled learners. Swallowing your pride and lowering your self-expectations doesn't come easily to people who are used to being great at what they do, but if you want to master new skills, you've got to do it.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

What's In *Your* Suitcase?

As many of my online friends stress about packing for RT—that's the Romantic Times Booklovers Convention, this year held in New Orleans—I am reminded of my wisdom (who, me?) of years ago: The Master Packing List.

Within this document, in a folder cleverly labeled Travel, I jotted down in considerable detail the things I always took with me when I traveled. I update it when I realize I never touched an item I packed during multiple trips, or when I really could have used something I did not have. I tend to copy and paste then correct, rather than delete old versions, so it's interesting to watch the list's progression as I no longer carried pacifiers and started carrying wine glasses. (Call me a snob: I hate drinking wine out of a water glass or worse, a disposable coffee cup. Thrift stores have lots of wine glasses cheap.)

Naturally, what you pack will vary depending on whether you're traveling by car, train, or plane. When you're limited to one suitcase of a certain size, or will be shlepping your suitcase on city streets yourself, you're smart to travel light. What your plans are on arrival will affect what needs to come with you, too.

I'm aware that some of what I bring could be replaced by a laptop, ipad, or phone—but I'm not letting being unable to charge my devices due to a power outage in my hotel mess up my plans. I also tend to bring a swimsuit and athletic wear even though I don't swim or work out at the hotel more often than I do. And last, I'm a huge believer in having a light source for power failures or evacuation of the hotel. Yes, both happen, although not often.

For the travel itself, I wear or pack:
comfort clothing (including athletic shoes, which double up for workouts) with pockets for glasses, keys, etc. Unless it's baggy sweats, nobody will pay much attention to how I look when I check in or out. Yoga pants, knit top, cardigan sweater or wrap for the win.

For the hotel, I pack:
nightlight, tiny flashlight, flip-flops, change and singles for vending, wine glasses (and wine), chargers for all electronics, earplugs, music source and headphones, paperback or other novel, notebook and pen, printed itinerary with addresses and phone numbers, printed area map, swimsuit, resealable plastic bag for taking wet swimsuit home, sleepwear that can double as a coverup, workout clothes, clothespins to shut drapes, tea bags. I usually pack a laptop with a DVD in its drive and a movie or several TV shows downloaded at home, since hotel internet connections are rarely fast enough for streaming and I need some down-time.

For times away from the hotel room, I pack:
clothes appropriate for the event, especially items I can mix or match (wear the same jacket and sweater with a skirt, over a dress, or with pants, and later with jeans, for instance), shoes I can stand or walk in all day (at least two pairs unless I'll be there only one day), a cardigan sweater, a camisole (I'm covered if the weather is colder than forecast), one pair of jeans to make the day's end more casual if need be, the lightest coat suitable for the season (unless I'm likely to be outside a lot), a scarf which can serve as fashionable or warm, a compact umbrella, a larger purse than usual or a nice tote bag (stocked with two Band-Aids, Kleenex, a hairbrush and barrette if my hair is ruined, Tylenol or similar all-purpose painkiller, a notepad and pen, business cards, lip gloss and other makeup touch-ups, and a bottle of water).

We have relatives who travel a great deal, yet when we meet them away from home they never have an umbrella or change for vending machines. How they manage Europe I don't know.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Spider-Man Won't Like It Here

I'm seeing the first trailers for the newest rendition of Marvel's Spider-Man, "The Amazing Spider-Man 2." Our kids were too old to get into it last go-round but do not have kids of their own yet, which suggests the franchise is so eager to make a buck they're trotting it out awfully early. Doesn't Tobey Maguire still look like he's just out of his teens?

A recent trip to Manhattan and the phenomenon of Spider-Man's abilities got me thinking. I live in a close-in suburb of a medium-sized city. While the city has tall buildings, it doesn't have many. Its sixteen tall buildings were enough to justify filming  exterior shots in the new Spider-Man movie here, the high point of the city's cultural year. Manhattan, as a point of reference, sports 206 tall buildings, most in close proximity.

So if Peter Parker were to move to the nearby city, he could swing between buildings, but only within a fairly small radius. That might be sufficient if the bad guys were doing their thing in the city center. But what if they're acting up at the outskirts, or in a suburb? Spider-Man is going to need a car, because few buildings outside the downtown area are taller than five or six stories, and most of those in areas of green space with large adjacent parking lots.

Poor, poor Spider-Man. I hope he can afford the monthly car payments. At least his commute will be short.

Can We All Get Along?

On this day in 1992, Rodney King, whose beating by Los Angeles police caught on video sparked riots, said, “Can we all get along?” (It's often misquoted, but the gist is usually right.)

Apparently not. Racism continues to fester, both subtle and overt. Police brutality thrives. Hate speech is more widely disseminated than it was in 1992, courtesy of the internet.

Good people try not to be racist. When they identify such leanings in themselves, they seek to erase them. But for many, such feelings crop up again. We humans are programed to recognize patterns, to fear what is different because it can be a danger. It may have helped us make it this far, but now it's holding us back.

One of my own more shame-inducing moments occurred years ago, when I was jogging on the street. A car passed, and the men in it shouted, one cheering me onward. They were black.

If they'd been white, I'd have thought either Stupid teenagers or Jerks, but my WTF? reaction was tinged with fear. Sure, I was in a residential area where cars were not infrequent. Nothing was going to happen. But I was substantially more uneasy because the men yelling were black.

A few weeks later, it happened again. Now I was getting angry, with myself for having this reaction, with the black man—this time driving alone—for calling out. Perhaps another month after that, again a car with several black guys.

The worst moment was when I returned to the gym when the weather made running unsafe. The personal trainer who'd taught me to use the weight resistant equipment in proper form mentioned he'd seen me running several times during the summer and was glad I'd kept in shape. "I called out 'Way to go!' and all, but I didn't think you heard me, even though I couldn't see any headphones."

The trainer was black, and I was ashamed.