Friday, December 17, 2010

Shaking Hands with the Future

Well, I've done it. I've joined the digital revolution. Sort of. I still shudder at the thought of actually reading a book on an electronic device, but I've made my own novel A Merger of Equals available on Kindle. Now, I'm fervently hoping that all the people who assured me this was a good idea, a necessary step, absolutely essential, will get busy proving they were right. Let the e-buying begin.

Little in life makes me happier than cuddling up with a book. It's a sensory pleasure as well as an intellectual one. The heft of a book in my hands gladdens and reassures me. The font and spacing of the text interest me (or, in the occasional case, make me wonder what lunatic thought extreme ugliness or illegibility was the way to go). Equally delicious are the choices of cover art and colors, of matte or shiny finish for the jacket or cover paper, the formatting of the front matter - copyright page, acknowledgments, dedication - and the tantalizing brevity of the About the Author paragraph, which is inevitably pristine and enigmatic in what it says and, even more, in what it doesn't.

And then the story unfolds, a sinuous mental flow of ideas, characters and events evoked by a black-ink parade of words marching across and down each porous cream-colored page. The way letters look etched into paper. That experience of flipping a page because you can't wait to see what the next words will be, then going back because the words at the bottom of the previous page are calling irresistibly. The story's the thing, to be sure, but, for me at least, the delivery package is so intrinsic a part of the enjoyment, so integral to the full experience.

I've sampled a friend's Kindle. (The very friend, in fact, who previewed my book to make sure the conversion process hadn't gone horribly awry - a million thanks to you, Jeanine!) It's a super-cool device, and a superb alternative to hauling a suitcase full of books when you travel. Maybe it even offers tactile and visual pleasures comparable to those of paper-and-ink books. But I seriously doubt I'll ever find out.

The love of learning, the sequestered nooks,
And all the sweet serenity of books.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Clearing the Path

Apparently, I'm not going to get around to writing the post I have in my head about the Rio Grande Rift and the geology of New Mexico any time soon. Honestly, the opening paragraph and a snappy conclusion have been mentally written since late August, but neither the middle itself nor the motivation to create it has been forthcoming. Worse, other potential posts seem to be log-jammed behind this unwritten obstacle.

This may or may not help, but I've decided to post photos from the Rift and the beautiful northern New Mexico landscapes around it before even more time passes. With any luck, the desire to put some delectable text with the photos and to commit to paper the three or four other posts knocking around upstairs will soon follow.

Monday, August 9, 2010

♫ "A-standin' on the corner in Winslow, Arizona..."*

I didn't really grasp the concept of elevation until I moved to the West. I understood intellectually that higher elevations meant cooler temperatures and different topography, flora and fauna, but knowing something like that intellectually and experiencing several different elevations in the course of one afternoon are two very distinct ways to comprehend.

Our travels today took us from 2500 feet above sea level to over 7200 feet, then down to around 5,000 feet. The temperature swung from 104 to 72 to 86. Desert scrub and sandy, barren mountains gave way to tall pines and green-carpeted slopes, which in turn transformed into the dusty greens and gently rolling contours of the high-desert railroad towns along Route 66. The air stopped sucking the moisture out of everything not already bone-dry and started hydrating skin and tightening curls. (I imagine the wildlife also differed significantly from elevation to elevation, but I'm not particularly interested in fauna, and we saw neither snake nor mountain lion nor buffalo.)

Unless I've forgotten or something's changed in the last five-and-a-half years, one cannot travel by car from Chicago in any direction and encounter in the course of a single afternoon meaningfully higher elevations. (Lower elevations need not be mentioned; Chicago is barely above sea level.) So my Midwestern-born-and-bred understanding of elevation was based on book knowledge and the intelligence gleaned from travels by plane. Taking a plane to a destination that's novel, whether by reason of elevation or other attribute, is not the same as experiencing entirely different environments within 30 miles of one another.

I've been wondering all afternoon what else I might know intellectually, but not truly get because I haven't actually experienced it. I bet elevation isn't the only such thing.

*I really did write this post in Winslow, Arizona. Though I wasn't standing on that corner (or any other) at the time, how could I resist using the title everyone (or at least everyone alive in the 1970s) associates with this sleepy little town full of railroad- and Route 66-related history? Here are a few photos from Winslow:

Friday, August 6, 2010


I'm getting ready for our trip to explore the Rio Grande Rift. Like the Rift, our route will bisect New Mexico, from north of Santa Fe all the way down to Las Cruces. There will be geologic glories galore, including calderas (volcanic craters), lava frozen in place by millions of years of time, mountains (ditto), and the sparkling water of the Rio Grande itself. This trip will also feature the sophisticated man-made glories of Santa Fe, which will be our home base for a variety of mostly geology-related side trips before we head south.

I'll post a travelogue with photos while we travel, but the rift I want to write about today is the one caused by Arizona's immigration law.
For the first time in over fifty years of traveling within the United States, I feel obliged to take my passport.

I am not a fan of "shoot first, ask questions later" type laws. I'd just as soon not visit Arizona or patronize any of its businesses until its state legislature decides to recommit to the principles of democracy. But
the only sensible way to drive from Las Vegas to Santa Fe is via Arizona's roads, so out come the documents proving we're U.S. citizens.

It's very strange to think we might need our passports to travel to an adjoining state. I'll be surprised - and horrified - if we actually do need them. But who knows what some over-zealous officer in some middle-of-nowhere Arizona town might conclude based on my curly brown hair and my and my husband's tanned, olive skin? I don't relish the idea of spending part of our vacation being detained, interrogated, confined to a jail cell or deported.

I'm a law-abiding sort, and I do not support illegal immigration. I also do not support racism, racial profiling, intolerance or fear-based legislation that fails to take into account or respect inalienable Constitutional rights. Appearing to be "foreign" or, for that matter, actually being from somewhere other than the United States is not an appropriate basis for being suspect under the law.

The U.S. as we know it has benefited from the contributions of immigrants ever since the Pilgrims first arrived at Plymouth Rock. Immigration and immigrants aren't the problem - illegal immigration is. Immigration reform is certainly necessary, but ill-thought-out, misguided, and fundamentally un-American responses like Arizona's have no hope of effecting it.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Deserts, Mojave and Palm

We decided to spend a couple days visiting the Mojave Desert before it gets too hot. Actually, most years it's already too hot by mid-May, but this year we're enjoying an unusually cool spring/beginning of summer around these parts. The drive through the Mojave National Preserve was wonderful: spectacular desert scenery via a bumpy two-lane road, full of roller-coaster rises and dips. The road would be annoying if there were traffic, but we saw maybe a dozen other cars the whole time.

I'll get to the scenery and some photos, but we stayed overnight and spent a delightful day in Palm Desert before we headed home, and I have to exclaim over how incredibly friendly the people were. They were super-friendly, Midwestern-level friendly. We felt like much-loved regulars as we enjoyed fish tacos, queso fundido and entertaining conversation at the bar at Armando's on Friday night. It was like being at a great dinner party. Not only do we feel like we now have friends in Palm Desert, we also have a bouquet of California-related vacation suggestions for future trips. We had similarly convivial experiences with everyone we encountered on Saturday. What's this about? Southern California has in the past struck us as much more...well, let's say standoffish.

The journey from Las Vegas to Palm Desert through the Mojave Preserve swings back and forth between elevations barely 600 feet above sea level to nearly 5000 feet up. At the low point are the salt flats near Amboy, CA, and they are about as cool as scenery gets. Check this out:

Looks like snow, doesn't it? But no, it's salt. Here's another flat, this one less liquid:

And here are some snaps of the crazy rock mountains*, scrub and Joshua trees in the Mojave Preserve:

*I've written about these crazy formations before, in the second paragraph here and the ninth paragraph here. They are outlandish; it's hard to believe they're a naturally occurring phenomenon.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Honest Scrap Blogger Award

Rather to my dismay, Jamie Harding (a normally delightful person whose blog, The Life and Times of a Househusband, I love and who is a complete kick on Twitter) "honored" me with the above-titled award.

I don't usually react to honors with dismay, but this one comes with a suspiciously meme-like obligation. Here are the rules:

1. The Honest Scrap Blogger Award must be shared.
2. The recipient has to tell 10 true things about him/herself that no one else knows.
3. The recipient has to pass on the award to 10 more bloggers.
4. Those 10 bloggers should link back to the blog that awarded them.

I don't plan to follow these rules. What a rebel, huh?

I'm not one for chain letters; in fact, I can be counted on to break the chain, no matter the entreaty, the cause or the direness of the promised consequences. (Hmm, I wonder if this bit of explanatory narrative could count as one of my 10 things. So it will if it turns out I can't think of 10 others.) But, hey, I can be a good sport about Rules 1 and 2. We'll see about 3 and 4.

My 10 things (some of these aren't quite known by nobody; it's hard to come up with those when you've been married for over 30 years to someone you met in high school):

1. When we were children, my youngest sister ate French fries slowly. She always had some left by the time my other sister and I finished ours. We would ask her for a few, and she would command us to bark like dogs: Bark! Bark for French fries! Yep, we did. Woof.

2. I have never owned or come into contact with a toaster that worked properly.

3. No, I did not get married in high school. Or in college. I'm just older than you think.

4. If I had to choose one favorite song,
just one, it would be "Roll Me Away" by Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band (as recorded for "The Distance" album way back when). If naming it meant listening only to it and nothing else, then I would choose the first movement of Schubert's Ninth instead because I'd hate having to get sick of "Roll Me Away" and I appear to have an infinite capacity for listening to the best first movement ever. (Just ask my husband or kids.)

5. I routinely slather my feet with Bag Balm, a lanolin salve meant for cows' udders, before I put on socks.

6. After knee surgery in 1989, I spent an entire week on the couch, determined to conquer Super Mario Brothers 1, 2 and 3. By the end of the week, my knee was fine, I could rescue the princess in every game, and I was very popular among my kids' friends.

7. I have been in every state in the U.S. except South Carolina and South Dakota. I don't have a problem with states named South something; this is just an odd coincidence. Oh, and by "been in," I don't mean drove through or changed planes in; I mean actually visited long enough to have to take a shower in.

8. I try to understand it and, failing that, to be tolerant of it (at which I also fail dismally), but I can't shake my sense that Facebook is the dumbest f*%#in' thing on earth.

9. I played Ado Annie in a high school production of Oklahoma! Lots of bizarre things inherent in that experience, but the ones I recall/care to disclose are the thrill of being cast, the surprising raciness of the old-time musical's lyrics, and the appalling smell of the costume (eau de years and years and years of sweating teenagers).

And ta da! Number 10 is that I always break chain letters. Now you know who deserves the blame for the promised riches that never arrive.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

A Cheesy Clip Show

I got the nicest note from one of my Twitter friends a couple days ago. She noticed I hadn't blogged in a while and wanted to know if I was OK. She also said she missed me. This started me thinking about how oddly wonderful Internet friends can be.

The term "Internet friends" has more dubious connotations than anything else, at least for me - can't help remembering the end of Old School, when Juliette Lewis' character invites Will Ferrell's character to a party: "yeah, you know, just some Internet friends."

But I've found some of the most charming, intelligent and delightful people on the Internet. And it's weird: we've never met, we've never spoken voice-to-voice or face-to-face, but I have the sense we know each other. Turns out a lot can be communicated in the accumulation over time of 140-character snippets.

Anyway, I feel remiss about blogging, but I've been in a writing frenzy for several weeks. I'm working feverishly on my new novel; my characters have co-opted all the space in my brain. I have no unexpressed thoughts that aren't going into the book. Every now and then, I get a nubbin of a side idea, but both these and my will to explore them are too weak to flower into a blog post. They're barely enough to sprout a tweet.

So how about a clip show instead? (Cue the Simpsons singing about how lame it is "when a long-running series does a cheesy clip show.") Still, I'm always a little sorry old posts get buried in the past. Even if the ones linked below aren't new to you, I hope you'll enjoy the encore.

What it's like to write obsessively

Where blogging fits into life

Where blogging doesn't fit into life - or the value of privacy

A little tidbit about the new book


Why I dislike and try not to use the noun "bitch"

The dangerous silliness of political correctness

A spreadsheet approach to sex and parenting

Ode to a lost friend

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Corporate Cranberries

In what must have been a fit of inspired creativity, the holiday decorators at the Palazzo came up with utter brilliance. The bedecked papier-mâché bears were good, the snaky branch, flower, ornament and light thing was super-cool (if a little reminiscent of one of Lord Voldemort's scarier incarnations), but the ornamental pool filled to the brim with cranberries was pure genius.

(Click on the picture to get a better idea of the full force of a profusion of cranberries.)

I can just imagine the corporate meeting at which this design was pitched. Purchasing: We're going to need a cranberry guy. Number-Crunchers: How do you measure ROI on a gazillion cranberries? Idea People (all but the one who came up with the idea): I wish, wish, wish I'd thought of that! And the Suits: Top this, Steve Wynn!

Actually, in the context of the Strip's fanciest over-the-top hotel/casino/shopping/dining/entertainment extravaganzas,
the whole concept of business meetings in conference rooms is hilarious. In what other corporate setting could cranberry-related agenda items nestle comfortably and sensibly right alongside occupancy rates, profit margins, Impressionist art exhibits, and the latest in uniform concepts for leggy cocktail waitresses?