New York City – What Cruz Doesn’t Get

I’m not a New Yorker. I worked in New York City for over ten years and commuted from my wooded domain in Connecticut via train into Grand Central. I often go into The City to…well, pretty much do anything. It is unlike any other city in the world. Not better or worse, just unique. As I writer I am a natural and trained observer. I may not be a New Yorker, but The City offers the best opportunities in the world for a writer to see diversity and people interacting.

I think it is interesting in the U.S. if you say you went to The City in a conversation most people will understand you mean NYC. I am surrounded by cities, but New York is The City. And for good reason. The City is a microcosm of the United States, just revved up to New York speed.

My attachment to The City goes back a couple of generations. My grandparents on my mother’s side came into this country from Italy through The City. NYC is the gateway to our wonderful country. And it has attained that status for several reasons that Ted Cruz truly doesn’t understand. So I want to set him straight.

I spent the weekend in The City with my wonderful wife. We like to go free form, so we don’t really plan much. The night we arrived our middle eastern cab driver took us to an authentic Japanese Sushi restaurant (Yasuda). Authentic to the point that the management makes note that the staff is compensated well and, in Japanese tradition, tipping is not done. The table to the left of us had four Scandinavian men conversing and laughing. The table to the right was a couple from France having a good conversation.

We spent the next day looking at an art exhibit of Picasso’s sculpture, eating at a Greek restaurant, talking with a Jamaican cabby, having a drink in an Irish pub and finding a Starbucks. Yes, that is a joke. Duane Read and Starbucks are in competition for number of locations in The City.

The City is the great attractor. Every work day the population swells to 11 million. It absorbs the equivalent of a Los Angeles every day and then sends everyone home through the busiest train stations and roadways in the world. It hosts conventions, marathons, the US Navy, sports, music, art, The Beatles, the wealthy, the destitute, the brilliant, the foolish, and me on a regular basis.

The list can go on, but here’s the deal. What makes NYC so great is that it accepts anyone as long as that anyone does not have malicious intent. Don’t get me wrong. It is not Kumbaya and flowers. To be a successful New Yorker you have to have intention. And that means you have to believe in yourself and your ideas. New Yorkers are a contentious lot. Opinions are held strong and long. Just walking down the street this morning I heard a man berating his union (my assumption) for not supporting him on an issue. His use of invectives was colorful and passionate. And easy to misinterpret.

That is what Cruz doesn’t get.

New Yorkers hold their personal beliefs and values strongly, but accept that others have similar conviction. Cruz seems to think that New Yorkers are divided when what they have are strong opinions. It is quintessential America. People contest each other’s opinions, but are still united. The fact that Cruz doesn’t understand how fundamental that premise is to the success of America is alarming. I shouldn’t be alarmed since he comes from a state that regularly rises up to secede from the union.

As diverse as the population of The City is, there has never and will never be a desire to leave this great union of ours. New York, like Connecticut, was one of the original states. Our country’s history and the men who crafted the Constitution, so often misquoted by Cruz, all had strong ties to New York.

Yes, New Yorkers can be arrogant and self-centered. Learning to live in The City is like learning a craft and you take pride in accomplishing that craft. Don’t mistake that pride. New Yorker’s are giving people. I have seen it so many times in so many ways. It is far from perfect. There is corruption, condescension, prejudice and some really bad professional sports teams. Isn’t that what our country is all about? We are imperfectly fantastic. We celebrate diversity and in so doing, we encourage all the bad behaviors that go along with the good. But try to fuck with us and you get a unified response. Cruz, the Koch Brothers (sounds like a cough drop or a boy band), and ISIS can’t fathom how America continues to succeed with such diversity.

They should come to The City for a week and work here unfiltered and without the minions. Walk the streets. Observe. Listen. After a few days they will discover America and what makes this country so great. The ability to have strong opinions while accepting someone else’s right to a different and just as strong a point of view. To recognize that greatness comes when those opinions build tension that energizes creativity.

It is all right here on display in The City.

Run Free. Run Easy

Playful Light

I was playing with light this morning. More correctly, it was playing with me.

Objects lying on my table picked up a glancing blow of light filtered through a window screen. It made me stop and take notice. To see the page I was writing on as something different than a receptacle for my words dripped there by fountain pen. It gave me a view of an alternate reality. One in which the object becomes the subject.

Photo Jun 22, 6 25 19 AM

The light snuck up on me while doing my daily journal entry. It was more how it played on the page and bent around the curve of the notebook, like light under the force of gravity. Through the lens of an iPhone I caught a fleeting moment.

Honestly, light is to a photographer what “squirrel” is to a hunting dog. Am immediate and irresistible distraction. Add to the mix that I have ADD level distractedness and you have a recipe for periodic dalliance.

I went back to my journal entry and finished it. Closing the Clairfontaine notebook that has become my addiction, I was caught again. Light was chasing me. Taunting me.

Photo Jun 22, 6 56 28 AM

This time I placed my favorite Aurora fountain pen on the notebook and snapped a shot. And looked around. An old calculator used last night was finding new life under the fractured light.

Photo Jun 22, 6 56 05 AM

Then the light reasserted itself and I recaptured my notebook thinking that the objects aren’t really what we see. What we see is the reflection of light in a way that our brains interpret the waves bouncing against the back of our eye sockets. What my image captures is the illusion I live in every day.

Photo Jun 22, 6 53 58 AM

Then I looked outside and remembered how many times I have sat on the deck and tried to understand what light shows me every day. Sometimes it is a rainy moment, reflecting the grey sky while giving up the textures below the water. The lines on the notebook page made me think of an image I found during the previous day’s rain.

Photo Jun 21, 5 57 01 AM

I usually don’t crop photos, although I have no set rules. In this case I liked the plants hovering at the top of the image. They seemed to fit with the gleaming sky against the patterned wood. A set of textures and touching textures.  Lost in the gleam of sky I remembered another image from a few days earlier.

Sitting on the deck I looked up and watched clouds painting pictures against the blue sky. Over the past few days of summer the clouds have been poetic.

Photo Jun 12, 5 49 13 AMPhoto Jul 20, 6 01 19 AM

IMG_3602 IMG_3606 Resevoir cloud

The ideas of refraction and reflection tickle neurons in my brain when I look at these photos. I am one of those who love how the simple laws of physics explain the beauty we see around us. How life and living is such a gift. It begs to be understood. We shouldn’t shelter ourselves from looking for the explanation. From being like the light. Looking at things from different angles and seeing the same thing anew.

That is why life is so beautiful. We all see it through our own optics.

I offer you this challenge. At least once today, capture an instant of light the makes you think. That opens your awareness. Post it in the comments on this blog for all to see and enjoy. I look forward to your images and thoughts.

Run free. 

Four Things I Wish I had Known Before I Started Writing

You Don’t Need a Compass

When I was in fifth grade I sat at my sister’s Smith Corona typewriter and started punching out a story. It started with an accident during a Gemini spacecraft training exercise. There had been a news story about how they were training and it caught my imagination. I recognized the kernel of a story. And then I stopped. Because I didn’t know what was going to happen next.

I left the page in the typewriter and went off to do whatever a fifth grader does. My older brother happened by the short piece and read it. At dinner he said, “When are you going to finish that story. I want to know what happens.”

I shrugged. That is as far as the story went. Compost in some landfill in Pennsylvania.

compass

I give you permission to start writing without knowing where you are going.  Actually, I encourage it. Let the characters tell you where they want to go and what they think. If you let them drive the story, you’ll get a much better end result than if you start to think about how it will end. That doesn’t mean you can’t outline and plan. It means you need to listen to what is going on. Don’t force and ending or a plot shift.

In my first published book I had included some technology that I thought was cool.  It was like a Siri who did real time editing.  The book is in first person, so I thought it’d be fun to have him getting frustrated trying to get technology to work. Since it was a techno-thriller, wouldn’t the contrast be perfect?

Wrong. My first real beta reader said that whole little process sucked and diverted from the story. That was a great lesson. I had found something I wanted to include but it was not something my characters wanted or needed.  When I got rid of it, it was like moving from 720p to 1080p. The story became high def.

Jump in. Start putting words on paper and introduce yourself to the characters in your head. I virtually hang around with a lot of writers and the successful ones always talk about their characters demanding them to do certain things or surprising them with plot twists they hadn’t considered. It’s true. As a writer you need to open yourself up to the characters in your head and let them run.

Pen and Ink, Keys and Ribbons

Which brings me to input. I was lucky that my first attempt at writing was on a keyboard of a manual typewriter. I wasn’t a great typist and that keyboard forced me to think of each word, misspelled often, as the key hit the paper. That is what I know in retrospect.

Decades later I decided to give writing a novel a try. Since I liked sci-fi and was a technologist by occupation, I envisioned a space opera (I didn’t know that term at the time). On my computer with MSWord I set off crafting a story that I still love. Trouble lurked in the software. Word allows you to find many reasons not to actually write. You can delete, rearrange, format, reformat, change font, change font, change font, insert section breaks, insert page breaks, create a table of contents. You get it. I was trying to craft a final, physical version of my book in the WYSIWYG capabilities of a word processor and losing the story.

My daughter, who, as editor, had led her high school newspaper to a national award, made a comment to me one day that “using a manual typewriter is a great way to overcome writer’s block.” I didn’t have writer’s block. I had writer’s interference. But I thought I’d give it a try.

Fast forward to my post e-Bay purchases and I transitioned to a manual typewriter. I haven’t looked back.  I also use pen and paper and always have a small notebook with me. But the best rhythm I strike is when I am at the keyboard of my trusty Olympia SM9 – the ultimate in manual typing.

My Oly SM9

My Oly SM9

The beauty of hand crafting your first draft is that you can’t get diverted from the writing. Sure, you can cross out and backspace, but that it a laborious process and it is much easier to move forward. Plus, on a manual keyboard you can only type so fast. Which forces you to think of each word, and gives you just the right amount of latency to have time to think about the next sentence clicking in your mind.

pen and clairfontaine

It is your first draft. It is the draft just for you. It is strewn with crap and vile writing, but don’t worry about it. Under the covers of your lousy prose is the story that wants to come out. That story will become crystal clear and beautiful once that raw diamond is polished by the jeweler.

50 Shades of Editing

Great writing can be crippled by poor editing. Here’s a 3-star review I got for my book. It is one of the best reviews I have ever received.

This is a SIX star story. The quality of the writing easily rates FIVE stars. However, the edition I read had apparently not been copy-edited nor proof-read. This diminished the pleasure in the reading. Imagine “puisant” in place of “pissant” and “passed” for “past.” As one doesn’t love the child dressed and polished for a party any less for turning up scratched, smuged and muddy, I still look forward to more works from this master storyteller – wordsmith.

I confess. I self-edited my book and published it on my own. I did have a very expert proofreader go through it twice, but some things slipped through anyway.

editing generic

Working with a good editor is like getting involved in a BDSM relationship. There’s even a contract involved, but it isn’t like the one in 50 Shades.  It is painful, but necessary. A good editor will understand your voice and force you to make it clear. They don’t rewrite your work. They find where you need to rewrite it and help you fix it. My editor (and I do take that with a lot of personal ownership) is dSavannah George. What struck me when she and I first talked about working together was her approach. It resonated with me and has proven exactly the kind of editing I need.

So, Sav is editing my content and when she is done I am going to enlist a copy editor to proofread everything. I don’t want to have a “puisant” insert itself when I really want a “pissant.” (For that I’ll blame autocorrect.)

There is a side to self-publishing that is reflected in my multiple 5 and 4 star reviews. All of those seasoned readers looked passed the editing mistakes and loved the story. I call it the cell phone effect of indie publishing.

In the days before cell phones, our calls were exceptional. You picked up the phone connected to a land line and you got dial tone. If there was any scratchiness, you called the phone company and they fixed it. Solid quality. Cell phones taught us to accept less than exceptional quality because we got great convenience.

Traditional publishing subjected books to many edits before they hit the brick and mortar store. To find a typo was like finding a four-leaf clover (1 in 162,000). Now, I think we have grown to accept formatting and spelling issues along the way. If they stay below a certain level of obnoxiousness, then we ignore them and read on. After all, we have a queue lined up in our e-readers.

Write Where You Live

In my thirties I had this great idea I got from one of the women I dated. Her mother read a lot of romance novels and bought hundreds of them a year. That seemed like easy money to me, so I started to pen a romance novel.

Go back to the top of this post and you’ll know why it didn’t go anywhere. But there was more. I had no clue what I was writing about even though my friend gave my a typical synopsis of a successful story. I had never read a romance novel and I made no effort to understand that genre. It wasn’t in my blood.

When I took to writing in earnest, I chose areas that I felt comfortable in – sci-fi and techno fiction. That doesn’t mean I won’t extend myself into other genres or create my own – I am working on a sci-fi erotica right now. But wherever I go will be because it is something I want to write about. Something that makes me explore areas of interest and characters that are compelling.  Hell, my sci-fi might turn into a romance if that is where the characters want to take it, but I’ll put my own twist on it.

Don’t write about something because you think it is what will make you money or what will be popular or what someone else suggests you do. Write because you are compelled to tell a story.

For that matter, don’t classify you story to a genre until you are forced to in the publication and promotional phase. Just let it rip, then rip it up and make it better. What I am really asking you to do is not judge yourself before you even put pen to paper. Don’t think of your story as being in a class of stories. Think of it as a story that needs telling and you are the best person in the world to tell it.

Because you are. One word at a time,

As always, I would love to hear from you and get your comments.

Remember. Run free. Run easy.

Three Problems With Being Funny

The original version of this post appeared in Organic Coffee, Haphazardly, a forum for creative use of words and interesting minds.  Many thanks to Allie Burke and the staff at OCH for extending the platform and hospitality to me. Please, drop on over, read some  interesting work and let them know I sent you. I get bonus miles on Merriam-Webster for each referral.

Three Problems With Being Funny

In fifth grade a classmate ratted on me to our teacher, Mrs. Bashore. It was near the end of the year and we were called out of the room for some special thing I can’t remember. Probably a health lecture. When we came back to the room Mrs. Bashore asked if all was well. That’s when I got turned in.

“Jerry talked out loud,” the squealer squealed.

There was a silence. Mrs. Bashore looked at me and said, “Well, he’ll be someone else’s problem next year.”

1) Being funny is disruptive

Problem?

I was in fifth grade just being my expressive self. As a 10-year-old boy, I didn’t quite have the self-control to not say whatever popped into my mind. In today’s world I’d be diagnosed with ADHD and given happy pills. Or, actually, mild speed. We didn’t even know about sugar or gluten and it was well ahead of GMO.

Listen, I am only trying to make a point, not garner sympathy. Well, not much. I had problems. We all do. I was the shortest kid in class and an introvert who talked out loud. I didn’t want attention (which is what some must have thought). I wanted to say the funny thing in my head.

if-thought-bubbles-appeared-above-my-head-id-be-screwed-92b5b

I am well trained in quippery. That is the art of quipping and a word I made it up. Quipping is the act of taking any comment, turning and twisting its context until humor is rendered from its linguistic bones. That twisting, when spoken out loud, interjects itself into the stream of thought of those listening. It provides an alternate take on something just cognized, acting, therefore, as a disruptive influence.

Not every comment can easily be augmented with a quip, but there are enough opportunities everyday that I guess you could be considered disruptive if you took advantage of enough of them. Which I did. I think. It might be that my affliction with quipping is a kind of Tourette syndrome for humor.

I came by quippery honestly. My family did it all the time, especially at dinner. The ability to make a funny comment was laughed at, encouraging even more funny comments. What wasn’t understood was that I lacked that cluster of grey matter and nerve endings that gave some form of control.

I still interrupt people a lot. Which annoys the shit out of my wife. It’s not on purpose. The thought jumps in and I say it.

2) Funny Doesn’t Mean Clown

I was never the class clown. Clowns need attention, like a Kardashian. I have been an introvert as long as I can remember. My outbursts were not calls for attention. For me it was about the alternate way you could say something to shift the context and create a humorous meaning. I am not well polished at telling jokes, but I can slip a quip with ease and grace.

I guess the force of my creativity found the path of least resistance – my mouth. My satisfaction was found in expressing the alternate view of things more than it was in getting laughs.

Being a comedian is hard. I don’t tell jokes well, although I do have some practiced funny ones that I can pull out as needed. Comedians write and practice jokes all the time. They are like musicians working on timing and changing words and phrasing to make the joke hit home. For them it is a performance. They get on stage, all eyes on them and they give their humor in a way that makes it feel like a conversation even though they have done it a thousand times before.

george carlin

I am funny because I am quick to see an opening into a different reality. I jump in and take advantage of the moment and watch the recognition of “funny” blossom in other people’s eyes. A quip is short lived. It can be repeated in a different context, but once it happens it is gone like breath on a mirror.

You can’t quip without sexual innuendo. Maybe you can, but if you avoid sexual innuendo, you are missing an entire category of quips. I loved the people I worked with in my first real job out of college. We were part of a sales organization and my kind of sexually laden quip was well accepted. One of the women I worked with had a waiver from sexual harassment thumbtacked above her desk. It was all good natured fun. It is way to serious today, so the workplace is off limits.

That leads me to the final challenge in being funny.

3) Being on the Watch

There is a constant vigilance that comes with being a compulsive quipper. After years of practice, it becomes second nature. It’s all about context.

Two things make quips funny. First, a quip works in a moment with a short decay, as mentioned. If you miss the cycle of conversation when the quippable comment is made, than you’ve lost the opportunity. You can’t rewind and throw it out. That isn’t funny. The best you can do is log that funny comment for some future use and have it at the ready. You have to identify the trigger that would make it usable and wait for it to happen.

Second, quips are all about context. Context has multiple meanings and shadings. It is why quipping takes practice. And the willingness to deal with failure.

context clues

I was in a fraternity in college. We would invite a sorority over for a nice dinner once in a while. During one such dinner I made a couple of my typical comments and was put up for auction at the end of the dinner. Auction meant that I would have to do the winning brother’s house chores for a week. At the start of the auction the house president noted my dual offense by saying, “Gentry’s up twice.”

My immediate response was, “That’s what she said.”

Once the laughter subsided, I was absolved of any obligation to do chores. Several of the sorority sisters sought me out to say hello later. When your mind works like mine it is always a crap shoot. It could have easily turned the opposite way, but I read the endorphin rating of the room correctly and felt free to take the chance.

Had we had parents at that dinner, I would not have made any comments to be put on auction. By college the cerebral cortex or whatever part of my brain is engaged in making quips had matured enough to give me some sense of control. I would have understood the context and kept my funny thoughts to myself.

On the other hand, when we did have our first parent dinner of the year I did manage one comment. I was sitting with my dad at the corner table. After dinner we were asked to introduce ourselves and I was the first. I said my name and where I was from while seated. The president instructed me, “Please, stand up.”

“I am,” was my response. Laughter and light heartedness resulted and I felt good. I stood and waved. My dad laughed because I caught that sense of humor from him.

And that leads me to the governing principle of good quipping. The result of my family inspired and coached quipping was learning intelligent humor. Well, the comments are stupid, but intelligent because they do not belittle other people in order to be funny. They are funnier because they require some thought.

I am glad I grew up in a conversational household. With social media you can’t always tell a quip from abuse. Not without an emoticon.

I have a friend who is a paranoid schizophrenic and sometimes hears voices. After a recent post siting the book being read, my first thought was to post a comment asking what the other people in their head were reading. I didn’t.

My friend is confident enough that I would have gotten a chuckle and a friendly “fuck off.” I was worried about the people I didn’t know who might not have understood my compulsive humor or that I was, indeed, joking. The main exception to the principle of not belittling other people is being able to gently poke at people you know. Never with malice. Always with respect.

Here’s what I do know. The mental athletics that my life as a quipper have put me through have made me very creative in a disciplined way. That creativity bleeds through to all aspects of my life. As the CEO of a consulting firm I used to work for commented, “You sit quietly and listen and observe, then you come up with a flash of brilliant insight..”

You see, I can be quiet. It just took me a few decades.

DilbertContext

The Body of Writing

You won’t find blogs from me with the “N things you need to do to be a successful writer.” Frankly, there are a lot of people out there giving advise on how best to succeed as a writer so my voice would just be lost in the din. The best  advise I ever got was from Stephen King in his book “On Writing.” In that tome he dispelled some misbeliefs I had held and which had kept me from writing for decades.

Up until then I thought you had to have a fully formed plot in your head to be able to start a book. As I read other books I’d often wonder how authors thought of all the plot twists before they started to write.  I tried outlining and found that I was not built to construct that way. After each little attempt I would put it aside and let the idea simmer on a back burner.

At one point I decided to try writing the kind of literature people were buying. Romance novels! I had a friend who was an avid romance novel reader and she told me what made a good romance.  I attempted a few starts because at least I had a plot strategy. (Sorry, I can’t remember what it was. That notebook is decomposing in a dump in Arizona.) I did learn that I was not up to writing that style of book. I couldn’t even get out of the starting gate. I hadn’t read any romance novels, so it was not territory I could navigate. Reading is the foundation for writing. I didn’t really understand that, but have always been an avid reader.

Years later, when I read the King semi-biographical tutorial, everything changed. He recommended a very simple mantra. “Just fucking write.” Stephen freed me from the deception I had. He explained that he seldom knew where his books would go, he would just come up with the premise, start the story and let things get mixed together and develop as he went. It was as much a surprise to him as it would be to his readers.

So I decided to make my start and reinforced the effort by buying a fountain pen and a nice notebook. That was just something I wanted to do. Little did I know that creative first draft writing is all about using a pen or typewriter. A manual, tactile connection to each word.

Words on the page

Words on the page

Computers are fantastic. I love my MAC. But my first drafts are almost entirely written in ink or typed on a page.  I learned the difference between a first draft and an edited draft from King, too. That was the second liberating idea. Kind of a corollary to the first.  “Just fucking write and don’t look back.”  Get all the rambling thoughts and ideas out on paper first and don’t stop the stream of thought by trying to fix things that will obviously need to be fixed. There is no delete key on my fountain pen. Yes I do cross things out and make little notes, but I move forward with each touch of the nib to the paper or the key to the ribbon.

My #1 Olympia SM9

My #1 Olympia SM9

It might be that I am just a physical person, but this works for me. My sister, who is an expert typist and has immaculate penmanship, thinks I am funny. She was a professional secretary and she types faster than a manual typewriter can sustain. That little delay in putting the words to the paper makes me have to think of the word I am committing to. It makes me have to phrase the sentence and feel the rhythm of the writing. Good typing is all about keeping a smooth rhythm.

I got rhythm and off I went. At first by hand and later by keystroke, six-hundred pages later I had created my first novel.  It is entitled “A Bend in Space” and is still nicely tucked in my filing space awaiting my deft hand in reforming it into something that people would like to read. I like the concept and the plot but it needs work. I have learned a lot since then and need to go back and apply that learning. The beauty of it is that I have all my original writing to reference. Every moment of brilliance that leaked from my pen and every WTF-did-I-mean sentence that seemed necessary at the time. Nothing deleted.

By the time I started my second book, SYN-FIN, I was no longer afraid to just start attacking with words. In a nice bar in Santa Clara after a Cisco Users Group meeting I had a beer and began writing this image that started to form in my mind. For me writing is about how I describe the movie that is unfolding in my mind. Here’s the image:

Hungover, face down on the crushed granite of the Arizona desert, the early morning sun warmed the skin on the back of my neck.

frontcover

I loved the start. It still makes me smile, and that is all any writer can ask. Write what you like and about what is interesting to you and it will come off in the words you choose and the phrasing you make.

I guess I did come up with a list. You see what happens when you just start and let the words take you along?  This is what happened just now:

  1. Read.  Read a lot. Read often. Read good and bad and every genre you can stand.
  2. Just fucking write. It will get better.
  3. Don’t look back. Save editing and self doubt for the second draft.
  4. Don’t write to an audience. Write what you like. The audience will find you.
  5. Write anywhere and everywhere at any time.

Photo Nov 07, 5 15 18 PM

Sometimes, if I stop for a refreshment while waiting for a train, I’ll start putting words on paper. At home I have a writing area. Here’s my desk. I show it because it means you can pretty much write anywhere. I need to clean it up a bit, but it represents the history of writing because there is pen and paper, a manual typewriter (actually, several) and two laptop computers (MAC and Windows). And coffee. Coffee is important.

Photo Nov 18, 8 59 04 AM (1)

This is where I go word surfing. I like that term. Does that mean I have to wear a bathing suit when I write? Hmmm.

Want to be a writer? It’s all up to you. There really aren’t any rules. Go and discover your own and then publish a blog with a list of what you found. Feel free to use any of mine.

Run Free

It Hurts When I Do That

There’s an old joke, I think told by Henny Youngman, about a man who goes to the doctor and reports, “Doc, it hurts when I do this,” as he raises his arm. “Well, then don’t do that,” the doctor responds.

That is kind of what happened to me. When I went to an osteopath who is a specialist in hip issues for a diagnosis of my hip pain. It was osteoarthritis, which I already had a decent idea it was.

He did some mobility and flexibility tests (he moved my leg in several directions for about 10 seconds while I lay prone) and watched me walk for about 3 steps. His counsel consisted of basically saying that if there was too much pain he could prescribe something or give me a shot (neither of which I wanted). When I asked him about physical activity he said what I already knew. Ease up. I told him I was a runner and he said I should stop running or reduce it significantly. I did get to see the X-ray, and he pointed out where the arthritis is. Like I could really tell. I guess I got my $35 co-pay’s worth. He spent less time with me than I did waiting for him.

hip xray

Not my X-Ray

On a contrary note, my family physician, who did the referral, called me to see how it went (actually left his cell number for me to call back). He knows I am an avid runner and that this was a big issue. He spent a fair amount of time talking to me and doing the preliminary exam.

The difference between the two is their sense of self. My family physician has deep pockets of knowledge, but he never assumes he knows it all. When he did the exam he asked a lot of questions and did more flexibility tests asking how it felt with each one. The specialist seemed to have a conclusion as soon as he saw the X-ray and responded with a set diagnosis. Whether I was a physically active runner or not didn’t alter his approach or comments. I felt like I was almost bothering him to be there.

As a result I am left with finding options on my own. Yes, I am starting to look for a different specialist who is more oriented toward sports, but unless you understand what motivates a runner, you really can’t treat them for something like this.

What am I doing?

Well, I’ve shifted a lot of my workouts to cycling. I am building those muscles back up. I hadn’t realized how much I had lost in the last 2 years when I focused mostly on running. The motion and alternate muscle use feels good.

I’ve been able to run 3-5 miles and feel pretty much the same afterward, but I can’t run every day. I often do 5-10 minutes of treadmill running after I do a bike workout. The warmup seems to help and the dual workouts give me a boost.

What does it all mean?

Well, I doubt I’ll be running any marathons in the future. That’s OK. I can live with that. I do want to get to the point where I can reasonably to 10Ks and hit a half a few times a year.

To get there I am looking for ways to help my body find a new path. I am taking glucosamine daily and some ibuprofin if it gets too much. I make sure to stay in motion as much as I can during the day and I’m finding information about specific stretching and flexibility exercises. I have also gone back to cushioned running shoes since most of my running is on roads, not trails, but I have kept my minimalist form. When I run I feel very little impact. The benefit is that now I can shop for different running shoes! I’m thinking these will be my next purchase.

NB1400

I have noticed that the harder I work out, the better I feel the next day or so. That is a message my body is sending to me, although I am not totally willing to listen right now. I have a lot of faith in the human body. It can’t necessarily fix itself, but it can adapt if you work with it. Yeah, someday I may need a cortisone shot or even surgery. I’d like to see how far I can go without that. There is something inside me that says I can run again, like I used to. Maybe not as fast, but at least at distances that let me find the runner’s pleasure.

After learning to run again in a more minimal style, I am now going to learn to run again, period. Cycling has always been a love of mine, although not as convenient as running. These two movement exercises will help me find my path.

As always, Run Free!

Running for Team Hole in the Wall

This fall I plan to run a 60K distance in support of the Team Hole in the Wall.

Team-Logo-Web-2013-copy2

My event is entitled 60 at 60 and you can link to it here:  http://events.teamholeinthewall.org/2013communityevents/jlgrunr

Why the Support the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp?

The organization was started by Paul Newman and is dedicated to giving seriously ill kids and their families some time to have fun. As Paul said, every kid needs to “raise a little hell.”

I can totally get behind that sentiment. Having three wonderful children and a beautiful granddaughter who are all healthy and hellraisers in their own right gives me reason for thanks.

The Camp started here in Connecticut and has expanded. All of the proceeds go to running the camp and helping kids be kids. I’m just a big kid at heart anyway.

What’s with the 60 stuff?

On June 23, 2013 I tick off my 60th year. I consider myself to be pretty average – as in I’m nothing special. But, I’ve made the most of it. My ability to do that is, to my estimation, related to my running. I am not an obsessive runner, but I am a constant one.

Let me be clear. I am a very lucky man. When I run I celebrate my good fortune. That is also why I feel compelled to help others while I cover the distance.

Running has been in my life since I was a freshman in high school. Actually, running was been part of play and entertainment as long as I can remember, but it became part of my “workout” when I was thirteen and joined the wrestling team. I’ve had off times, but never for very long. Running has been a constant companion for me. It is the place I go to meditate, solve problems, vanquish stress, and celebrate life. While that is happening I also fight disease and aging while justifying eating these every so often.

A Boston Creme!

A Boston Creme!

To celebrate my love of running and my temporal achievement, I decided to run 60 miles in one day. Then I had some hip/IT band problems. I’m now recovering from that issue and decided that 60 kilometers (37.28 miles) is more doable. That’s about a marathon and a half. I hope you can understand that I don’t want to risk pushing it because I do want to keep running in comfort for another 47 years.

The main event will happen in the fall of this year when the weather is more suitable for distance running. In the interim I am doing the Fairfield Half Marathon on my birthday. That will be the official kickoff to this event.

I’ll be running in my Luna Monos.

Photo Jun 02, 8 10 44 PM

There is more to come.  In the next few posts I’ll explain more about my decision.  I’m going to ask you to weigh in on a couple of options, so please keep linked to my blog. I will also explain how you can participate in the event beyond giving your pledges.

Please, follow my blog and forward the link to this page to your friends and family.

Thank you, in advance, for you support!

Run Free!

Leaves on Fire

I learned photography shooting black and white film. My go to camera was my trusty 35mm Nikon FE2. I must have pushed thousands of rolls of film through that little beast and is still works. I don’t do film anymore, but I can’t part with that camera.

When the digital age came along, I started experimenting with them, but I wasn’t really impressed. Then Nikon introduced their pro level cameras and I saw the end of film on the horizon. I bought a D70 on a trip to Kuala Lumpur and have been hooked on digital ever since. My latest rig is a D700, which I have had since it was released. There are newer and better cameras out there, but I’m happy with my D700.

Yesterday I was on a run and paused to take a shot with my iPhone. Actually, I took several because…well, just because. That’s what you do. You just respond to a scene that calls out to you. It’s part of my running mode these days. Stop and enjoy what you see. Running can take you to places you won’t/can’t see from a car.

Photo May 03, 9 22 13 AM

The reflection of the sky on the water caught my eye and then the edginess of the trees offered an unsettling contrast to the tranquil sky. I was 7 miles into a 10 mile run, so there’s no telling where my mind was.

Then I saw a rock.  One that I have passed a hundred times, but this time it looked different.

A rock

A rock

I don’t like how the top of the rock is washed out. Extreme contrast is a limit on phone cameras. The new growth of spring was a soft contrast to the hard rock surface that reinforced the grey to green.

I thought about that shot as I ran the last couple of miles and had wished I had my old 4×5 view camera to take it in black and white with excessive detail. A view camera is one of those with a bellows and a ground glass plate where the image is focused. You have to drape a cloth over your head and around the back of the camera to see the image. And the image is upside down and reversed left to right. There is no better way to develop compositional skills. It is also a real pain in the ass to carry around, setup, load film into and develop each sheet of film. But the results were astounding.

This morning I followed my black and white muse as the sun rose. Leaves are just beginning to emerge on the trees surrounding our house. The juxtaposition made it feel as if they were on fire. In color it looked interesting, but bland. My vision was in black and white when I took them. I previsualized what I wanted. In both cases I cropped the shot and did a little post production shift of contrast, but not much. It would have been the same work I would have done by altering the developing times and shooting the print on different contrast paper if I was using legacy methods.

BW Leaves on fire

The graphic pallet of this shot is very nice. I see some issues with it, but the image is still strong. Stronger in black and white than in color. I worked it so that there were no absolute whites and some texture in the very dark areas. What appeals to me is the repetition of vertical strokes with some lateral conflict as a backdrop to the shimmering leaves.

Admittedly, I should have taken a bit more time and used a tripod. There was a slight breeze, which would normally have stopped me because of loss of clarity, but not today. I was just playing around and having some fun with my visualization. Just like my running, I don’t take it too seriously these days. I just do it for enjoyment and my own enrichment.

Here’s the other shot from the same timeframe.

BW of backlit leaves

I softened this one a little. Quite frankly, I screwed up the exposure, but the result was to make the shadows very dark. Which worked out OK. You know they are leaves on trees, but if you look at it long enough your eyes follow a pattern and each grouping leads to the next. The bright leaves centered on the abyss keep you coming back to the center.

I had forgotten how nice black and white is and how it makes you think more about what you are shooting. These are not the best shots in the world, but I like them because they reminded me to look deeper at what is around me.

More to come.

Run Free!

Being Grateful

It has been a difficult time here in New England. Between hurricane Sandy, Sandy Hook, strange weather and, now, the Boston Marathon atrocity, we’ve been put to the test.

I woke early, which is my habit, and sat with a cup of coffee not as focused on the work staring back at me from my computer as normal. My eyes looked out to the rising sun and this is what I saw.

A reminder…

Sunrise Reminder

Sunrise Reminder

 

 

 

 

What is in a Smile?

They say that three’s a charm. This is my third attempt to make this post.  It helps me prove the point of the post, though.  Read on…

I wanted to make a short entry about the importance of smiling.  Figuring the best place to start was with some facts I decided to get the specifics about smiles.  What I wanted to find out is how many muscles it takes to smile.  You know the old adage about smiling taking fewer muscles than frowning? Well, it turns out that is bunk. I hate to upset all those motivational speakers, but, it just ain’t true.

The human face has 43 muscles.  Don’t ask me why there is an odd number for a symmetrical face. To add to the confusion, there were other numbers referenced, but 43 seems to be the most common so I’m going with it.  At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter.

The real issue is defining what a smile or frown really is.  Is it a slight curl at the edge of the mouth? Is it an elegant curve of the lips? Is it a full toothy expression? They all fit the description and when you see one version or another you know if people are smiling or not.

I thought about it a bit and realized that the face is a complex system of muscles. In any complex system you can’t just change one thing. From that view, any smile or frown is going to use all the muscles to some extent or another. A smile will use those muscles differently than a frown, but they all come into play.  I smiled when I had that idea. Then another idea hit me.

I’m a runner.  I know that muscles need to be exercised and when you start working them they get sore.  How often have you heard people say that they had had such a good time the night before that their muscles ached from laughing so much?  If you don’t smile often, then that actually might happen.  Same with frowning, but you don’t hear people talking about muscle aches from too much frowning.  Usually, they are bitching about something else.

So, it’s not about the muscles.  It is about the smile.  In all its varieties. Smiles are powerful.  Smiles are healthy. Smiles make other people feel better.

That’s when I remembered something from my first full time job after college.  I worked for ATT when it was a monopoly and they were the only ones who controlled 800 numbers. There was a job, a Phone Power Specialist, whose focus was on how to use 800 and toll numbers most effectively.  Our rep was Johnny Smith and he used to tell the call center agents he trained to smile when they talked to customers.  He said “They can hear your smile.”  I loved that line.  And it is true.

Even today, when we type to each other instead of talking, if I smile while I type, like I am now, the words that enter the screen are more positive and paced with greater excitement.

So, here’s your assignment.  Sometime during the day today you will be faced with having to deal with angst or anger or frustration (especially you parents). When you feel that well up in your mind, take a breath, stand with good posture and smile.  It just has to be a little bit of a grin. When you do, the issue will seem to take on a different face. You’ll be able to handle it better and the people around you will think you have your shit together even if you don’t. That ‘s what I did after the second attempt to make this posting work ended up with a blank screen!

Smiling is natural to me. I am not a comedian, but I love to twist reality for my own fun and pleasure. People seem to like my company and I think it is because I smile and create smiles. I am an introvert and my smile (facial and vocal) has been my greatest weapon for dealing with some of the side effects of introversion. People like to see you smile when you are their leader. If you do, they feel better.  Maybe that’s why we fear aliens.  They don’t smile much.

Give me this example. Life is hard work. We were evolved to be hard workers. There is joy in a job well done. When I am on a long run and it starts to feel like it is more of a workout, I smile.  When I do my form adjusts to normal, my stride evens out and the road disappears. I remember the pure joy of movement even though I am running long miles.

Life may be hard work, but it doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be fun.

Keep smiling! Run Free!

NOTE: no emoticons were harmed in the creation of this post.