Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Guest Blogger Feb 2


   Thursday, February 2, Rob Guthrie is going to be blogging here, and I will be blogging on his site – Rob on Writing.  
We will be writing on the topic – Why I write.
   This is the first time I’ve done the guest blogging thing; however, Rob is a pro at it, so I know that everything will be fine. 
   My biggest concern now is the confusion that exists all across the worldwide web regarding our identities.  To compound the rapidly escalating problem, someone, and I should point out that no one knows for sure who is responsible, has photo-shopped my new avatar with Rob’s black cap.
   It’s bad enough to run through downtown Huntsville wearing MY BLACK CAP and have people come pouring out of the taverns, businesses, and churches, shouting, “Here comes Rob Guthrie.  Look, he’s getting younger, and he’s grown a beard.”
   Add to that my photo-shopped avatar that has gone viral and… well, you get the idea.  It’s very confusing for my thousands of followers and both of Rob’s.  So before we do our Guest Blog appearances, I thought I had better set the record straight once and for all.

 

This is Rob Guthrie, in his famous black cap – note: it’s not famous in Colorado because everyone wears one 365 days a year.




This is me, wearing my black cap, on a cold night in Huntsville.  Notice how much younger I am than Rob.  I cannot understand how anyone could confuse the two of us.




This is my new avatar – photo taken by Adrienne Wall




 This is the photo shopped version of my wonderful avatar.  By the way, I understand the FBI, aided by Clint Eastwood, is close to discovering the identity of the person who did this – their search is now centered in the Parker, Colorado area.



OK, that should resolve the Carson/Guthrie identity confusion.  Check in here Thursday, Feb 2 and discover why Rob Guthrie writes.  Then go here and find out why Bert Carson writes.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

I've got your back...

   On December 11th, I noted two things about myself that I wasn’t happy about.  The first was, in thirty-three years of running, I was about to finish a full year without running more than 1,000 miles.  Overall I’ve run more than 40,000 miles in those thirty-three years, but, in 2011 the total was barely over 900.
   Within minutes of noting that disturbing fact, I made my second unhappy observation: I saw myself in a full-length mirror and was slammed in the face with the obvious.  At least half of my running problem stemmed from carrying at least forty pounds of excess weight up and down the road.  
On the spot, I made a decision to run more and eat right.  In case you didn’t notice, that’s not a decision – that is a cop out.  Anyone could run more than I’d been running.  More than next to nothing is simply a bit more than next to nothing.  And, don’t you love the eat right one?  Cokes and Twinkies have nutritional information stamped right on their packaging. 
   Immediately after “making that decision” I missed two nights of running and ate everything I could catch and overpower.  That’s when I revamped the plan.
I committed to my idealized, but never stuck with for more than ten days, running plan.  It’s a simple plan.  I run three days and take the fourth day off.  Each run must be at least four miles.  That means, on a week with two off days, and running the minimum of four miles per run, I would be running at least twenty miles every week.
   My dietary objective was to weigh 165 pounds.  I’m 6’2”.  When I was a high school junior, I weighed 168, so 165 seemed a worthy objective.  I turned my dietary plan over to Christina when I said, “I intend to weight 165 by the end of April.  You’re in charge."
   She smiled and said, “You can do that.”
   So, how am I doing?  I don’t know how much I weigh today, but I know I weigh a whole lot less than I did 33 days ago.  I can look in the mirror that panicked me last month and note that a whole lot of me is no longer present, and I can tell it every time I get dressed, undressed, or go for a run. 
   Last night, I ran for the 33rd consecutive day (including off days).  So far this month I’ve logged 129 miles.  With two more running days left in the month, I expect to finish January with 144 miles of running.   I wear a Garmin runner’s watch with heart rate monitor and GPS, so I know that I’m getting faster and running further.  I don’t need the watch to know that I feel better, a lot better.
Early on, I had my most severe test of the commitment.  On the fifth day, a day that I was scheduled to run, I was on the road headed for Columbus, Mississippi.  Christina had packed plenty of the right things for me to eat, but rain was in the forecast for the evening and that little voice in the back of my head was suggesting that I skip running and restart the commitment when I got back to Huntsville.
   I had an idea that this might be my last chance to get in the kind of shape I’ve wanted to be in for as long as I could remember, so I screamed the little voice down and stopped at Dick’s Sporting Goods, in Tupelo, and purchased a windbreaker that was labeled, “Water resistant.” 
   In Columbus, work done, I went back to the motel, and took a short nap.  I got up at 7:00 PM and, without looking outside, I began to dress to run.  I slipped through the door and turned toward the parking lot, finally checking weather conditions.  It was raining.  I didn’t even consider canceling the run.  I pulled my baseball cap down lower, zipped my new water resistant windbreaker up to my neck and stepped into the rain. 
   A mile later I was in the center of downtown Columbus, moving well, for a 69 year old overweight runner, and I was soaked.  There is definite difference between water resistant and water proof.  I didn’t care.   In thirty-three years, I’ve run in places you wouldn’t believe and weather conditions you’d believe even less.  I turned left toward the Mississippi University for Woman while marveling at how much water a water resistant windbreaker can hold.
   At the school, the street I was on narrowed from five lanes to a skinny two lanes.  Since traffic seemed to be having a tough time noticing me, I turned right and began searching for a quiet street with a good surface.  After a couple of blocks, I found one that met my requirements and turned left.  A block away from the school, I noted I was in a less than wonderful residential area.
   Frankly, I wasn’t concerned.  I’ve run through San Francisco’s Tenderloin Area, more than a few times – there isn’t a neighborhood that concerns me.  However, I soon discovered that there was someone in Columbus who was concerned for me.
   About half a block before I reached a dark corner, a Columbus Police Cruiser pulled into the empty parking lot of a long-ago closed corner grocery store.  As I passed I waved but the windows of the vehicle were tinted, and I couldn’t see the driver, so I had no idea if the police officer saw me.  I kept running, thinking that the patrolman had just happened to stop at that corner and his presence had nothing to do with me.  That idea went away when a half-block later another cruiser stopped at the corner I was approaching.  Again I waved and again I received no response. 
   I ran another mile along the quiet street before turning south, going one block, turning west, and a block later back north.  In that two mile section of my six mile run, police cruisers stationed themselves at six intersections that I ran through.    I didn’t need their assistance, and I knew it.  On the other hand, I loved it.  In thirty-three years and over 40,000 miles of running, I’ve never experienced anything like that.  
   It’s reassuring to know that someone has “your back,” whether you feel you need the assistance or not.  The best part was discovering, on a cold rainy night, a long way from home, someone cared, and they showed it.
   Whose back do you have?  Do they know it?

Saturday, January 28, 2012

A Kidnapped Short Story

I love to tiptoe into friend's websites and blogs just to see what I've missed in my frantic, timed-contest, rush to see how much I can accomplish.


I just found gems on on Claude Nougat's blog - a bunch of short stories that are unique, eloquent, and thought provoking - a beautiful combination.


So I decided to share one with you - yep, without asking Claude or checking with the copyright police, I kidnapped a story.  Read it and you'll know why I brought it to you.  And don't worry I have the link to the rest of them at the of the story.  Enjoy.

Friday, February 4, 2011


I AM NOT LEAVING YOU BEHIND!

Henry Fuseli - Hamlet and his father's Ghost (... 


It used to be that old age was viewed as an achievement and while reaching 100 years is still held in high consideration, I think most people would subscribe to Shakespeare’s unforgettable depiction of old age:
"a moist eye, a dry hand, a yellow cheek, a white beard, a decreasing leg, an increasing belly...
your voice broken, your wind short, your chin double, your wit single, and every part about you blasted with antiquity.
"
Yep, it’s not something to look forward to!

Have you ever searched on Internet the ways to fight old age? Amazing but true, Google gives you over six million results in 0,21 seconds. There’s even a Facebook Community Page about Fighting Old Age! It is described as “a collection of shared knowledge concerning Fighting Old Age” but if you access it you’ll be disappointed. There’s nothing in it. Not yet. I bet the Facebook community will soon fill the gap!

Because, if you look around, there’s lots and lots of ways to fight old age (with varying success): genetic manipulation and hormones (the science is still in its infancy), hypocaloric diets and vitamin supplements (much of it unproven), exercise (never a bad idea), mind stimulation with crossword puzzles or Sudoku (I prefer reading and writing), and of course plastic surgery (expensive and risky, with long lasting results not guaranteed).

Some day perhaps, in the not too distant future, Mankind might "make it". I don’t mean achieve immortality – we all know it’s impossible and would cause a ghastly traffic jam on this planet. But we might find a combination of ways to circumvent and reduce the most annoying and depressing aspects of aging, the stuff Shakespeare went on about. We might finally be able to age gracefully, right to the last instant, and disappear painlessly into a cloud. Wooofff. Wouldn’t that be nice?

Or would it?

That set me thinking…and I came up with the following short story. Hope you enjoy it!

I AM NOT LEAVING YOU BEHIND!

A SHORT STORY BY CLAUDE NOUGAT


It happened in the middle of our love-making. I was beginning to fly when my watch beeped, bringing me down to earth. With a thud. I was frightened because I knew what that beep meant. I looked into his face hoping he hadn’t heard. He hadn’t, his eyes were closed, his mouth clenched as he strained towards the climax. I relaxed, trying to catch up with him and enjoy it too. I made all the appropriate sounds but my heart was not in it.

No more. A terrifying thought.

Afterwards, I sneaked out of the crumpled bed sheets, leaving him to rest. I had to get away to check what my watch said. I locked the bathroom door making sure the lock clicked in silently. I didn’t want to arouse his suspicions. But I needed to know, and I needed time for myself. I couldn’t see at first what was written on the watch’s dark screen, then I remembered to push in the side button. A string of illuminated numbers popped up: a date: 10.10.2116, and a time: between 3 and 6 pm.

The exact date and time of my programmed death.

I turned on the spotlights over the mirror and scrutinized my face. Were there any sudden signs of aging? I half-expected to find new wrinkles around my eyes or a sagging throat line. Nothing of the sort. No wrinkles at all, just a perfectly smooth skin. I poked at it, pinched my cheeks and the skin just bounced back, firm and elastic. I still looked young, precisely the way I did ninety years ago, when I had turned thirty. I had been a beautiful woman then – I still was. Unchanged.

That was a relief.

I remembered how aged my mother looked when she had turned one hundred: bent, bleary-eyed and aching all over. Unable to walk and with a voice so feeble – more like a croak – you couldn’t hear what she said. That was something I’d never wanted to go through. Better dead than old. Thank God for the advances of science – no one needed to go through the ghastly process of aging anymore. All you had to do was to join the APP, the Age-Preserving Programme that monitored the process. You paid in yearly dues and were provided with all the necessary medical attention to ward off age. Expensive perhaps, but effective. A simple procedure, just a matter of taking a daily hormone pill, adjusting the diet and wearing this watch which controlled the genetic aging. And lo, your youthful looks were preserved till the last day of your life. Neat. I had bought into it, like everyone in my generation who could afford to.

Of course, I knew you didn’t buy immortality, I was no fool. For life has a natural arc – and a limit: on average one hundred and thirty or forty years, depending on the individual. And for genetic reasons that still escape explanation, life could be shorter too. My husband had died ten years ago, when he had hit the 110 mark. It seemed my life was programmed to last a little longer, but not the full arc. Only one hundred and twenty-two years. That looked suddenly too short.

I knocked on the watch, hard, trying to budge the date. 2116. It wouldn’t move.

There it was, unmovable, Death tomorrow afternoon, between 3 and 6 pm. I had little more than twenty-four hours left.

I had better get used to the idea.

I stared in the mirror. Still no wrinkles. I leaned forward, as close as I could get to the mirror’s smooth surface. Yes, nothing. I supposed I should feel grateful I had none, but for the first time I regretted it. If only I had had some kind of warning. Time to prepare for it. But no, I had lived my life fully to the very last, as if it would go on forever. How could I ever believe it wouldn’t stop? Looking young, feeling young had made me forget that we are all mortals.

And my love for him? What would happen now? I moaned out loud. No tears came, the pain was too deep, too new. I had loved him so – he had been the first real love in my life. That’s how it felt, as if I had never been married to someone else before. As if? No one, nothing before him counted. He made me feel special. We were one: a tired clichĂ© yet so true. I suppose that too was part of feeling young. But he really was young, only thirty-five. He still had his whole life ahead of him. He’d said I was the first woman he had ever truly loved.

I had believed him and let him plan on having me for the rest of his life. I never told him my age. He never asked.

Now there was no future left for us. None.

I could slip out of his life without saying anything, and go to the APP medical station. They would take care of me and ease me out of this world without any pain. That was part of the APP deal, a perfect death. That’s what my husband had done. One day he was gone, without a word, without a good-bye note. At first I had panicked, and with a friend I’d gone to check out the nearest medical station. When I arrived he had already passed away. Like a leaf blowing in the wind. A cool and clean death. No more than a swirl of dust. Grey and depressing.

I realized I didn’t like that kind of death. I wanted to mark the passage. I wasn’t going to go away in a puff. My death had to be big and violent and spectacular. Something to remember.

I went back through the bedroom and glanced at the sleeping shape on the bed. My love looked so vulnerable, like a child. He was breathing regularly, a half-smile playing on his lips. My heart went out to him. I would never leave him behind. I couldn’t. That’s what our love was all about.

On my bare feet, I slid away like a ghost and descended to the kitchen. I came back with the biggest carving knife I could find. The rest was easy. He never knew what happened. I slit his throat, and mine.




Connected


In mid-July, 1995, a dog crossed a highway in north Alabama.   The dog, a medium sized, black, female, with no pedigreed ancestors in her lineage, had been exploring the five acre patch of woods that bordered the southern side of the highway near her home.  Her empty stomach told her it was time to go home and see if her food dish had been refilled since she had emptied it earlier in the day. 
The highway the dog crossed is a federal highway designated by the Department of Transportation, as U.S.  Highway 11.  Most of the construction of the highway occurred between 1926 and 1929.  From its northern most point, the U.S.-Canadian border in upstate New York, it travels 1,645 miles, ending near New Orleans, Louisiana, after passing through seven states.  One of the states that U.S. Highway 11 passes through is Alabama.  Just before leaving Alabama and winding into Tennessee, it travels through Fort Payne, Alabama, the county seat of DeKalb County, and its largest town.
Fort Payne sprawls across a valley formed by Sand Mountain on the south and Lookout Mountain on the North.  In 1995, I lived in Mentone, Alabama, a hamlet perched on the northern edge of Lookout Mountain.  I had lived there for eleven years, with my partner.  Our business was professional speaking.   In our arena, we were well known and always in demand.  Our speaking engagements took us from one side of the continent to the other.  Generally, we were on the road three to five days a week.  The days at home were consumed by wrap-up tasks from the previous trip and preparation for the next one.
The day the dog crossed the highway, I was traveling south on U.S. 11, heading back to the house after picking up dry cleaning.  The last traffic light of Fort Payne was fading in my rearview mirror as I eased my Jeep up to 65 miles per hour.  I topped a low rise and glanced ahead.  The only vehicle in sight was a UPS delivery truck heading toward me and the UPS terminal in Fort Payne.  I thought about the upcoming trip, turned on the radio, took my left hand off the steering wheel and moved my right hand to the two-o’clock position.
At that moment, the black dog, totally focused on food and home, moving faster by the second, popped out of the waist high weeds on the south side of the road, and ran directly in front of my Jeep.  I swerved hard left, missed the dog, and then swerved hard right to get back on the highway.  The Jeep, which I had recently equipped with a 4” lift kit, wasn’t up for the maneuver.  I did get back on the asphalt, but I was upside down and spinning slowly when I arrived.  The Jeep and I were a sitting duck for the truck, which struck the driver’s side door (note the dent).  That was more than the hard top could handle (that’s the flat beige object lying on the ground in front of the jeep), so it detached itself from the vehicle and took me with it: that’s right, I wasn’t wearing my seat belt, which is why I lived to tell the story.
The UPS driver, an acquaintance of mine, lost his kneecap.  Thanks to rehabilitation, he learned to walk without a limp.  He took medical retirement from UPS and opened a cafĂ© in Fort Payne.  It has prospered since the day he opened it.  In fact, the last time I was there, he was in the midst of his second expansion.
The dog was fine, and I understand she sat by the road for a couple of days before resuming her normal routine.  I’ve always believed she was waiting for the show to come back to town.
As for me, I broke my back and seven ribs.  I wore a body cast for three months, during which time my ex discovered that she could handle the travel and our speaking engagements very well without me.  I discovered that a relationship that works all the time, not just the moments when I was on stage, was more important to me than anything else. 
A year after the dog crossed U.S. Highway 11, I pulled onto it in my new Jeep and drove a few miles south and then turned left on Interstate 59 and headed west.  Three days later, I met Christina Bell, my friend, and pen pal, at the Missoula, Montana, International Airport, because I didn’t want to spend two more days without her beside me.  We left the Red Lion Inn the following day and drove west, toward Vancouver, B.C., where we rented a U-Haul trailer to carry all of her things.  Then it was “eastbound and down,” heading back to Alabama.  Today, Christina and I share an office, a house, and a life.  We’re heading toward our fifteenth wedding anniversary, and the rest of our lives together, due in large part to a dog that crossed the road.
That dog also connected you and me.  You see, I wouldn’t be writing this if the dog hadn’t headed home when she did and you would be doing something else in this moment.  Now, if you’ll take a few seconds, relax, and let my story sink in, you’ll realize that we’ve always been connected.  The dog that crossed the highway simply introduced us.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Game Face


Yesterday, I spent the morning getting ready for my first “day job” sale of the year.  At noon, I went out to run a couple of errands and pick up lunch for Christina and me.  The first errand was a trip to C.T. Garvin’s Feed Store, where I bought cracked corn for the pigeons and squirrels and suet for the starlings, grackles, and woodpeckers.  Garvin’s is a throwback to earlier years.  Unlike a lot of throwbacks, it does a thriving business, and people seem to enjoy shopping there. 
As I pulled away from the loading dock, Virgo that I am, I began planning the rest of the trip in my head.   That’s when I remembered that Christina had just mentioned that we were on our last package of paper.  With that in mind, the plan came together – North on Pulaski Pike, stop at Staples, then go further north on Pulaski to Oakwood, turn right and go to Golden Star.  Don’t call in the order.  Order at the counter and read a book while waiting.  OK, that’s a plan.
At Pulaski and University, I got caught by one of the longest holding traffic lights in Huntsville.  I’d been sitting at the light for about thirty seconds when I heard a siren.  I looked west, in the direction of the sound, just as a fire truck blasted out of the station about three quarters of mile west of my position.  A second fire truck was hard behind the first one.  In moments, they were at the intersection of Pulaski and University, running hard, in the center lane of University which is six lanes at the intersection.  I had a gut feeling they were going to turn south on Pulaski and do it without braking.  I was right.
Having been in trucking for many years, I have an ingrained appreciation for good driving, and I saw a marvelous display of it in the next few seconds.  Moving like the lead planes in a Blue Angels formation the two trucks negotiated the turn perfectly, gaining speed as they ate up the asphalt at an ever increasing rate of seed.
Now, why I’m sharing this two minute segment of my day with you? Here’s why.   As the fire trucks turned, I was in a perfect position to see the faces of each of the firemen in the crew-cab trucks.  Their expressions and focus were identical:  eyes fixed straight ahead, determination, and commitment, to the power of ten, was their common visage.  The sight gave me goose bumps and transported my mind to another place and another time – Vietnam, 1967 and 1968.  What I saw was the look that has become known today as their game face.
The light changed, and I moved across Pulaski.  Suddenly I thought of November 5, 2011.  I’m not a true football fan.  I’m an Alabama football fan, thanks to Bear Bryant.  I’ve even spread Alabama fever to Christina and Adrienne.  We were gathered around the TV to watch undefeated Alabama play undefeated LSU, at Bryant-Denny Stadium, in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.  Everyone who follows college football knew that the winner would come away from the contest holding the undisputed number one position.
When Alabama came out of the tunnel and ran onto the field, Christina exclaimed, “They are not ready for this game.” 
Adrienne said, “I can see that.”
Optimist to the end, I said, “They’ll be alright.”  But deep inside, I wondered. 
It was a game of field goals.  No touchdowns were scored and at the end of regulation play the score was tied at 6 points each.  In overtime, Alabama missed a field goal and LSU made one.  Final score, LSU 9 Alabama 6.
As luck, and from my point of view, a bit of intervention from the gods of football, would have it, Alabama and LSU finished the season ranked 1 and 2 and were matched against each other for the Jan 9th Bowl Championship Series to determine the number one team in college football. 
Thursday, Jan 5th, four days before the game and exactly two months since their meeting in Tuscaloosa, I turned on the TV to get an update.  As luck would have it, Alabama had just finished their first practice session in the New Orleans Superdome and that’s what two sports commentators were talking about.  Actually, one was talking and the other was listening and nodding his head in agreement.
“Jerry, I’ve never seen anything like that.  Have you?”

Before Jerry could reply, the first commentator continued, “We’re still four days from the game and Alabama had its game face on – every player, every coach, even the student assistants were wearing their game face.  They got off the bus wearing their game face….”
That was all of the conversation I could stomach, so I turned off the TV, but I did so with a confident feeling, in spite of knowing that most of the “experts” predicted another LSU victory. 
At 7:30 PM (Elvis time), Monday, January 9th, the Alabama football team burst onto the Superdome field.  This time Christina said, “That’s better.  They are going to win this time.”
Adrienne, without looking away from the scene that was unfolding five hundred miles south of us, said, “Yep, I can see that. 
Once again, they were right.  Final score, Alabama 21 LSU 0, and worth noting, LSU never crossed midfield.  The difference, summed up in one two words, GAME FACE.
Game face isn’t an act.  Game face is the outward expression of a person’s commitment, dedication, and willingness to do whatever is necessary to achieve the desired outcome.
How’s your game face looking today?