Friday, March 23, 2012

If I Only Had a Brain

Did you know that March has been declared “Brain Awareness Month”? I sure didn’t.
That is, until an email popped into my inbox on March 22nd declaring, “March is Brain Awareness Month!”
I repeat… on March 22nd.
Is anyone else sensing a little irony here?
The email went on to tell me that The Society of Neuroscience has pronounced March 12-18 as “Brain Awareness Week”.
Is anyone “aware” that that was last week?
Here we are rounding the final turn toward April, and NOW they tell us. We could have been celebrating our full brain awareness all month long! Alas... such lost opportunities.
At any rate, let us take some time out right now to celebrate brains. Don’t you just love ‘em? They’re so dang helpful for things like, well, thinking…creating… breathing… or having awareness of important dates.
And yet, some of our most memorable characters of film and print are clearly cases of “brains gone rogue”. For example, Dory in Finding Nemo is endearing precisely because her noggin is so defective. And who, besides Dory, could forget Rain Man? Then of course, there is the scarecrow in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz who claimed to have no brain at all – and yet managed enough “awareness” to notice that his “thinker thingy” had, in fact, gone AWOL.
And while a neuropsychologist could create an entire career out of the cast from Alice in Wonderland, who wouldn’t want to have the brains of Hermione Granger for just one day?

Brain, Brains
so wonderfully pink,
the more you use ‘em
the more you think!

Clearly, my brain just had its own rogue moment.

PROMPT: Celebrate your brain today – with awareness! Just think, I can give you an alphabet of only 26 letters and your brain could come up with the greatest story ever told. Or I can hand you just three primary colors and your brain could paint a masterpiece. Or… it can spend all of its time playing Angry Birds… It’s up to you.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Black Cat Confessions

Black cats have a bad reputation. In fact, many folks avoid them if they can.
In animal shelters, the black cats are always the last ones to be adopted. Like the scrawny, uncoordinated kids in gym class, they wait with slumped shoulders and pleading eyes while even the psycho Siamese with a twitch gets picked for the home team.
Sadly, no governmental agencies have taken up their cause.
However, hope is on the horizon. One vet I know gives a free pizza with every black cat adoption. Many shelters offer lower adoption fees for those “shadowy” felines. I also read a story about a young shelter volunteer who took things into her own hands by giving all the black cats new name tags. Each was dubbed with the moniker “Jelly Bean”. In an instant perceptions were changed, and the “Beans” were snapped up in a flash. Now that’s creative thinking!
As the adoptive mom of a black cat, I can completely, undoubtedly affirm that black cats are NOT unlucky…

You are a unicorn.

For reasons unknown, our black cat LOATHES unicorns. Of all the animals, stuffed and otherwise, residing in our home, he has decreed that it is ONLY the unicorn
Trust me, I’ve tried everything to save the unicorn. I’ve washed it 37 times. I’ve kept it on a high shelf. I’ve even attempted anger management classes, implosion therapy, and past life regression on the feline. Nothing has worked.
Maybe he’s just not a fan of the fantasy genre.
And while rodents of all shapes and sizes can saunter in and set up High Tea in my living room, I can sleep like a baby each night knowing that I will never experience the horrors of a unicorn invasion…

Another one bites the dust.

PROMPT: Let’s let pets inspire us today! Do you have an animal with an interesting “quirk”? A parrot that sings Puccini, perhaps? Maybe you have a duck that escorts you to the school bus stop – my sister did! How about a dog with excessive flatulence? If you are a children’s writer, you know that a million dollar industry has been built from that last one. Seriously.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Paging Doctor Dolittle

As previously posted, I spent last weekend in Ellensburg, WA watching arrows fly. However, as I made my way to the tournament headquarters, I also saw something that had me uttering, “Well, I’ll be a monkey’s aunt” – a simple brick building with signage proclaiming:
“Chimpanzee & Human Communication Institute”
Well, I just had to investigate.
It turns out that the Chimpanzee & Human Communication Institute (CHCI) has been in operation since 1966. It is the longest-running research project of its kind in the entire world (quite possibly, the universe)!
In Ellensburg, Washington?!
Yes, Ellensburg – a place in the middle of nowhere with a landscape that I can only lovingly describe as “the moon”.
Wow. Let me tell you, before last weekend, the very idea of a chimpanzee family well-versed in American Sign Language cooling its heels in Ellensburg – well, that would have ranked pretty high on my list of impossible things. But, as we’ve discussed before, there are no impossible things. (See Impossibilities, Feb 22)
And why not Ellensburg? Turns out, those chimps probably feel right at home – they are retirees from the space program.
And boy, can they sign! While most of the words they use are fairly general (for example, DOG is signed for any dog), they can come up with their own word combinations on the fly to describe new things. For example, a radish was quickly labeled CRY-HURT-FOOD, and watermelon became DRINK-FRUIT.
Don’t you just love that? Such simple beauty cutting straight to the truth – I’m telling you, those chimps are not “speaking”, they’re creating poetry. In their honor, I think I shall refer to chocolate as my BLISS-BAR from now on.
As the “Chimpanzee & Human Communication Institute” name implies, the chimp residents can communicate with people. However, they also sign to one another, and teach signing to their children. They even sign to themselves when alone…
What do you think they say in those quiet moments?
Trust me, there’s a story in there.

PROMPT: What would you say if you could chatter with a chimp in chimpanzee? What poetic word combinations would you come up with? Better yet, today would be a GREAT day for primate poems! Write one to your SWEET-LOVE-PERSON and send along some SMELL-FLOWERS for a romantic touch. Why, this could be more fun than a barrel of…

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Welcome Spring!

“Ding dong the merry-oh,
Sing it high! Sing it low!
Let them know
The wicked winter’s dead!”

I am in full celebration here because it is spring at last – spring at last!
Who can blame me? I live in the Pacific Northwest where it has rained 5 ½ years in the last six months.
Be advised – if you are being enticed to move to the Seattle area (as I once was), you may hear people say things like, “You know, it doesn’t really rain that much in Seattle. In fact, Pittsburgh, PA receives more of the wet stuff every single year!”
Do not listen to these people. Note their pupil dilation – they are on crack.
Sure, sure, I’ve seen the statistics. Seattle receives a mere 37.07 inches of rain per year, while Pittsburgh is hammered by a whopping 37.85! I’ve lived in PA. Trust me, I know what I am talking about here. What those Seattle pushers fail to mention is that PA gets its precipitation in delicious downpours, while Seattle’s accumulation comes in the form of continuous drizzly mist.
Do you have any idea how long it takes continual drizzly mist to create 37.07 inches of measurable rainfall?
 Answer: one year that feels like eleven.
Those well-meaning, high-on-life folks also fail to mention that when it is not raining here, there are at least 87 layers of useless clouds just hanging out topside. And so, we live in perpetual twilight (for those of you under the age of 20, I am referring to dim or diffused illumination, not vampiric lust).
It is no wonder that Seattle is the only place I’ve ever lived where I’ve heard “sun warnings” on the radio. As in, “Be extra careful on your evening commute today, all you west-bounders. You may be temporarily blinded by an orange orb. Do not panic! It is a natural phenomenon and will be gone by 9 PM.”
But to be truly fair, I must admit that our winters have incredible benefits. Those too-damp, too-dark, too-muddy-to-play-outside days give us plenty of time by the fire to hunker down and dream of wondrous things. And that is why the Pacific Northwest is home to many amazing writers and artists.
Who drink lots and lots and lots of coffee!
Yep, the world can thank us, and our winters, for Starbucks.
Venti quad-shot mocha caramel macchiato, anyone?

PROMPT: Ah, winter! It wasn’t that bad, was it? Good news – even if it was completely, miserably wretched, you can still get a lot of creative mileage out of it. Laura Ingalls Wilder certainly did in The Long Winter (catchy title, huh?). Today give winter a sweet kiss goodbye by thinking about all of its fabulous qualities. What was the best part of winter for you? Cozy firesides? Catching air on your snowboard? Singin’ in the rain… rain… rain? Write, paint, sculpt, create…. Then coffee!

Monday, March 19, 2012

Living Dangerously

One room.
450 adolescents.
All armed to the teeth with deadly weapons.
Cue creepy music…
A new dystopian movie? The “Full-Belly” Games, perhaps?
No, just the way I spent my Saturday – enjoying the quivers and quiet of the Washington State Archery Tournament.
You see, my son tends to choose activities that force me to stew in my own silence (see chess post from March 8th). Archery is no exception. Unlike chess, parents at archery tournaments are actually allowed to watch. However, “watching” involves holding one’s breath and clenching one’s teeth for two solid hours. Seriously, I thought my eyes were going to take leave of my skull. But maybe that’s just me.
Okay, I'll admit it... I am a yeller. Give me a good ball game, and I will shout until I’m hoarse. Ask my daughter – she’s the basketball player.
I suppose all of my clamor would be perfectly fine, but sadly, the things that pop out of my mouth are not your garden-variety cheers. And having had five years of vocal training, unfortunately, I can yell loud enough to be HEARD. I tend to shout things like, “Keep your wits about you!” or “Way to go, IdaHO!” (when that particular state has nothing to do with anything happening on the field or court), or “That’s it Girly Swirl – give ‘em the old Grace-zilla!”. In my defense, that last one is specifically for my daughter who has curly swirly hair, goes by the name of Grace, and stands over 6 feet tall. To my mind, this is a perfectly logical cheer choice. However, by the stares I receive from those around me, I’m apparently the only one who thinks so. Sheesh.
Anyway, back to that “mom-quiet” sport of archery…
Since I had two hours of oxygen-deprived “meditation” during my son’s “flight”, I got to thinking about what it feels like to be an archer.  How you have to paradoxically marry fierce concentration with serene relaxation. How it’s necessary to keep a good grasp on your desired outcome, yet you have to let go in your attempt to get it. Then… missing. So, you refocus and try again… and again… and again, until your head and arms ache from the effort. And then… Ah… that sweet sigh when you hit the mark.
Archery… So much like writing. So much like art. So much like life.
Back to reality.
Forced tranquility notwithstanding, Saturday’s tournament was a lot of fun and quite a success for my son’s team – they brought home the silver (WOOT!)! Thankfully, all reports of dangerous possibilities were highly exaggerated. No injuries occurred, no dystopian novels were conceived, and the meet was largely uneventful…
Except for a moment at the very end, when a man grabbed my arm with the urgency of someone needing medical attention. He pulled me in close and said...
“You do know that you look like Sarah Palin, don’t you?”
I raised an eyebrow.
“I mean, people do tell you that, don’t they?”
No. Never. (Doppelgangers)

PROMPT: Stop, take a breath, and ask yourself – what is my bull’s-eye? What do I want to achieve with my art? A great hobby that brings me joy? Something that morphs into a career? A way of life? Any answer is the perfect answer. It is YOUR bull’s-eye, after all. Now pick up your pen, paintbrush, or laptop… focus… relax… and let it fly! (Metaphorically please – do not, I repeat, DO NOT throw your laptop!)