Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Inspiration by another name

"How's your writing going?" a young man asked me during a holiday gathering.

"It's going exactly as well as my ability to stay in my chair and keep writing," I responded.

He nodded with a knowing smile. He's a writer, too.

We went on to talk about the importance of butt glue.  Butt Glue is the rather irreverent term I picked up from a speaker at the Iowa Summer Writing Festival. I loved it and adopted it at once. Butt glue acknowledges the reality that writing is hard work and a writer can find more reasons to do another load of laundry than to type one more word.

I'd thought butt glue was a clever new phenomenon. Imagine my surprise to find that in the early 19th Century a similar substance was in common use. Anthony Trollope, a successful British novelist, shared that 'the surest aid to the writing of a book was a piece of cobbler's wax on my chair.'

Non-writers often believe that writing is inspired and flows effortlessly from the writer's brain and fingertips. So strong was that belief in Victorian times that when it was learned Trollope believed more in cobbler's wax than inspiration, his writing fell out of favor amongst critics of the day.

Another author cleverly gave the nod to both inspiration and dedication. He said, 'I must be inspired to write. So I make it a point to be inspired every day from nine a.m. until noon.'

I have stocked up on butt glue for 2011 and am using it faithfully every weekday morning. If it gives out, can anyone recommend a good source for cobbler's wax?

*Photo by Rick McCubbin

Monday, January 17, 2011

Simple solutions

Vinegar, cold water, and Epsom Salts. My mother was a great believer in simple solutions to what ails you. Poison ivy? Wrap it in a cloth soaked in vinegar. Cut or puncture wound? Soak it in Epsom Salts. Burned on a hot pan? Hold it under cold water.

It took a lot to get Mom to a doctor. She just didn't think a doctor could do that much for most things. And why pay good money for what you could fix yourself?

Another of her simple approaches was walking.  After she and Dad left the farm and moved to town, she took up walking. With a vengeance. She walked at least three miles every day. And she walked so fast I was often out of breath trying to keep up. She walked for weight control. She walked to see what was going on around town. She walked to pick up cans.

Only after she broke her hip and macular degeneration limited her sight did she give up walking - outside. Then she continued to walk in the house. She set up a route in the basement - around the pool table, past the furnace, to the toilet and back again. Again and again. Every day. She lived to a healthy 91.

Science is proving Mom right. A recent study published in the Journal of American Medical Assn. showed that walking speeds serve as a predictor of longevity. The faster you walk, the study shows, the longer you live.

Mom had strong opinions and she seldom hesitated to share them. My husband and I laugh that Mom was often wrong but never in doubt.

She'd be tickled to know she was right about this one. Simple solutions are often the best. You go Mom!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

What separates us?

What lines divide us? Who put them there? What happens if you step across? Kathryn Stockett's novel The Help challenges readers to think about that.

Stockett takes us back to Jackson, Mississippi, in the 1960s, a time when white women hired black women to clean their houses, cook their food, raise their children. But would not allow them to use the same toilets because, they believed, these same black women carried diseases they would surely spread.

In The Help, we see the lines that were drawn by Jim Crow legislation and the desire or need for white people to see themselves as better than black people. Lines that were crossed only at great peril.

Growing up in the Midwest, I didn't experience segregation firsthand. But reading this book makes it a short step to thinking about the lines we draw between ourselves and others - whether those others are old or handicapped or black or Muslim or gay or Republican or Democrat.

Stockett says her favorite line in the book is: We are just two people. Not that much separates us. Not nearly as much as I thought.  She says this is the point of the book. The point she hopes readers will realize.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Loving winter in Iowa

I've always admired Minnesotans for how they embrace winter. I admit I waffle on the subject of winter.  I love it. Or not. A couple of years ago, I vowed to go out every day. The right clothes! Yak Tracks!  They make all the difference, I trumpeted!  I got through that winter in good humor.

Last year would have been the year to act on my perennial interest in snow shoes. Maybe if I had, I would have survived the seemingly never ending winter in better shape. Physically and more importantly, mentally. Attitude does make a difference.

So I applaud the folks up in Clear Lake.  They hold a Color the Wind festival the third Saturday of February. Color the Wind is a kite festival, but these are not ordinary kites. These kites are 40 ft. up to 90 ft. long. Kites more like what you'd see in a Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade.

Event organizers draw spectators out on to the frozen lake with sidewalks plowed in the snow, kites, music and hot chocolate. Stunt kite fliers dance kites across the sky in moves choreographed to music.

Personally, I think it's impossible to look at kites in the sky and not be happy.  Those folks in Clear Lake have the right attitude. I'd like that attitude to rub off on me.

Snow is falling outside my window right now. Okay - where are those snow shoes?!

*Photos courtesy of Kay Day and David Bunkofski

Friday, January 7, 2011

Destruction disguised as pretty

"Oh, what a pretty thing!' I know I'll think that when I see the first one.

The Emerald Ash Borer has a regal name and it does look stunning in it's jewel-toned, green shell. But we can not be deceived by its beauty. This little insect is destructive to ash trees. And it's coming our way.

Within the last two years, I've heard horticulturalists say we don't have to act too quickly. The invaders haven't been spotted in Iowa yet. Though they were just across the Mississippi.  Then the pests were in northeast Iowan. All of a sudden, a couple of weeks ago, they were cutting down ash trees on the Iowa State campus. Now, today, the Register trumpets the preemptive removal of ash trees in Des Moines.

I looked up as I walked down our drive this morning. Ten ash trees line the south side. In the heat of the summer, I enjoy walks to the mailbox in their cool shade.  In the winter, frosted with snow, they add to the winter wonderland effect of our yard. Another ash tree stands right outside my office window. Two other huge ash trees shelter our house from afternoon sun. Thirteen ash trees in all.

We haven't seen Emerald Ash Borers on our property. The trees are healthy. We are continually advised not to act precipitously. The insects may not come to our trees anytime soon. Even if they do, it could take years to kill our trees. Replace them? We could start the process but no doubt not see the result in our lifetime.

We wonder. We wait. We look up. I know I'll think the first one is pretty. But its beauty will make me sad. It can not be as pretty as all our trees.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

He thought of everything

My mother commented often about how well educated people like George Washington, John Adams, and Benjamin Franklin were. The implication being that they were better educated than people today.

My comeback was that yes these men were well educated, but fields like medicine and science had hardly begun to be explored. There were fewer books. Fewer things to know.

Setting excuses aside, getting your head around 'everything' at any time would be daunting. Some days I can hardly get my head around the most simple aspects of anything. That's part of what makes Leonardo da Vinci so fascinating. He had a mind for everything.

This week, we visited DaVinci, The Genius - an exhibit at the Science Center of Iowa.  The largest showcase of Da Vinci's work ever. The scope of his work is astounding - from art to astronomy to flight to architecture to war machines.

He built on the best work of the past - Greek mathematician Archimedes and Roman architect and engineer Vitruvius - tackled the challenges of his day, and created designs that are the basis of mechanisms used today.  Bridges. Parachutes. Clocks, Scuba equipment. Gears. It was amazing to see. And inspiring. Particularly since, born a bastard, Da Vinci was barred from formal education.

If you have an opportunity to see this exhibit, take it. I doubt you'll be disappointed.