Friday, January 16, 2015

Arthur and Matilda, An Act of Fiction, Part 2




Once again, this is an old act of fiction that has been simmering in my drawer for years.  I dusted it off and began to think of these characters during my writing workshop in my second grade class.  I am nearing the end of the final chapter – it being written way out of order.  I have drafts of about 3 others including this first one where we meet our protagonists.  Here is the final small chunk of the first chapter.  If you want to read it from the beginning, click here or simply scroll down to my last post.



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“Wanna race?” he dared.

“Sure.  To the tall pine down in the valley and back to this old stump.  I’ll give you a head start, Brother.”

This was too much.  “Oh, no.  I insist.  Ladies first.”  This was all she needed.  Like a streak she was off. 

“What…  Who is this bird?” he asked himself.  With that he took off as fast as his wings could pull.

She had a good lead on him.  Why had he let her get that head start?  Now there was a good chance he would lose – and to a smartbeaked female.  His pride would take a beating if he lost.  But he was a strong flyer as well as agile and, after straining with all his might, gained on her steadily.  The muscles in his shoulders and chest heaved.   His legs and feet were pinned back to make his form more aerodynamic.  He wasted as little energy as possible to get maximum speed.  Snowcapped pines sped by along with scrubby oaks still clinging to their crinkled, golden leaves.  It began to snow lightly and Arthur had to squint his eyes.

Gaining.  He could see her well now.  Slowly he got closer.  He couldn’t believe how fast she was.  No female he had ever known came close to his flying ability.  The distance between the birds decreased and Arthur could see the muscles through the female’s feathers; flexing, extending, bulging, smoothing.  She was a magnificent creature.  But the closer he got, the more he sensed that she might actually be holding back. 

She was playing him.

While she should have taken the straightest line to the tall pine, she darted between limbs and rocky ledges, taunting him to follow at incredible speed.  There was a break in the clouds where a shaft of sun shone.  Playfully, she headed for it.  When the sun shone on her sleekness, on her muscular body, Arthur was lost.

He caught up after a tremendous burst of speed.  For the first time during the race he could see her face.  She didn’t even look as though she were straining.  “Oh, there you are,” she spoke calmly, not at all like one flying in a race.  “I was wondering if you would ever catch up.  So much for ladies first, am I right?”

With that she began pulling ahead, even though Arthur was flying flat out.  “Who is this bird?” Arthur repeated to himself as he viewed her again from behind.  Once again the sun slipped behind a low gray cloud.  The gently falling snow increased.  Arthur no longer looked ahead at the tree around which they would fly.  He had eyes only for this bird.  This magnificent black creature.  The tall pine was about 100 meters ahead and the winner of the race was a foregone conclusion.  Knowing full well that she would arrive first at the stump, Arthur only gazed at his new acquaintance, his rival in this race.  He was mesmerized by her bulging shoulders, her streamlined form, how effortlessly she pulled herself through the air. 

As she reached the topmost bough of the tall pine, instead of circling it and heading back up the ridge to the stump where they agreed the race would end (this was no race, Arthur thought), she quickly fanned her tail and spread back her powerful wings.  It was a near perfect landing, almost unbelievable considering her speed.  And yet she made it seem effortless. 

Arthur swooped around her awkwardly and lit beside her on the branch, snow drifting down lazily as the bough bounced from his ungainly landing.  “I thought the race was to be around this tree and back to the stump in the snowfield,” he puffed.  The female examined him calmly.  Once again she cocked her head to the left, then to the right and back.  Her beak was smooth and shiny, the tiny hair like feathers at its base were just… perfect. 

“I didn’t want to embarrass you any more than was necessary.”  She spoke calmly.  She was not out of breath from the strenuous flight.  Again Arthur was impressed.  His own heart was beating mightily.  He tried to suppress his respiration so as not to give away his weariness.  “No need to hold your breath Brother.  You flew hard,” she said matter-of-factly.  “You are not half bad.”  Again, she eyed him up and down. 


“You’re not so bad yourself,” was Arthur’s weak reply.  He could not take his eyes off of her.  “The name’s Arthur, by the way.” 

“Mine’s Matilda.  Pleased to make your acquaintance, Brother Arthur.”  He hoped that she wouldn’t see him as ‘Brother Arthur’ for long.

Arthur felt a sea change.  He knew that there would be no turning back.  He doubted that he would ever again encounter a crow such as this.  Looking into Matilda’s sparkling black eyes he saw his own tiny reflections.  She must have seen hers too.  She bent forward.  Slowly, delicately, until their beaks almost touched.  Arthur was holding his breath again.  But this time he was not trying in any way to impress for he was lost to her.  He just didn’t know what this lovely, unpredictable creature would do.  There was a pause when the two seemed to exchange breath.  She cocked her head to the left very slowly as though she were considering something very important.

“Beat you to the stump!” she cried in a burst of speed and black feathers.  The clouds parted and a sky of deepest blue was revealed. 



“Oh no you won’t,” Arthur was after Matilda in a flash.  But of course, Matilda won.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Arthur and Matilda, An Act of Fiction




Years ago, so long ago that my only copy was printed on a dot-matrix printer, I wrote a little piece about two crows who fall in love.  It’s called “Arthur and Matilda”.  I wrote it in my third grade class and used it as a way to teach my young ones out of my own writing.  I showed them how to outline a potential story (prewriting notes).  I shared my craft throughout the process (setting, character development, conflict, mood).  I shared how authors often ask others for ideas and advice (author’s circles).  I remember talking about how generative writing is; that one idea often leads to another to another – but one has to write to get the momentum going.  Using an overhead projector (yes, I am that old), I went through my revisions in front of them.  Then, along with everyone else in the class, I published my piece by reading it aloud. 



I had forgotten about the story but discovered it in a file drawer in my closet last fall.  I thought it might be a good idea to dust it off and keep it going.  I looked through my old prewriting notes and there were other chapter ideas, some notes about my research into crows along with pictures of crows I had gathered from nature magazines.  There were false starts and scratched out paragraphs torn from my writer’s notebook – my original drafts were all written by hand.  This was probably back in 1994 or 95. 

So this fall I started what might be the last chapter for a manuscript about these characters.  I am not quite done writing it yet and have a bunch of middle chapters to go.  I spend about 45 minutes per week on it in my current second grade class.  Once again, I am teaching from my own writing, sharing passages, asking for ideas, discussing setting and character development. 

I thought I’d share out this act of fiction a little at a time here on the blog.  I’ll start with part of that first chapter, where Arthur and Matilda meet.  Perhaps it will give me some needed momentum to keep working on this book idea.  

Arthur and Matilda – Part One – At the Stump
 

Arthur the crow was old.  He was so old that he didn’t even remember.  Not that it mattered.  All of his acquaintances had died or become lost to him.  All of his family had gone.  It was a curse, this old age. He often wondered why he was chosen to live this long, to see so much.  

On Arthur’s last day he flew around aimlessly.  He didn’t know that it was his last day but he had a feeling that the end would be coming soon.  He wasn’t sure where he was.  He didn’t care.  He knew his time was short and he was glad for it.  Glad because he felt that Matilda was close. 

Matilda.

How he missed her.  Like most crows, they had mated life.  Since Matilda was gone, Arthur’s life had no real purpose.  He still ate, preened his feathers and generally took care of himself, but he was no longer a young sparky bird.  No.  He was old and lonely and sad and longed more than anything to see Matilda.  His Matilda.

Arthur spotted a stump below in a snowy field.  He was tired and sore.  He wheeled and swooped.  Nothing fancy.  There was nothing fancy in his flying anymore.  His sharp talons gripped the stump.  It was a tree that had been cut by humans.  The top was flat and unnatural, and rose about his own height above the ground.  The frigid snow and ice that capped the stump made his bones ache.  He didn’t care.  He wanted just to rest.  Perhaps to sleep.  He was simply too tired to go on.    He didn’t know if he would ever fly again. 

A gray mouse scuttled across the edge of a crusty snow bank where the snow had drifted before freezing.  Arthur spotted it easily.  That scene reminded him of Matilda.  Most things did now.  Matilda.  She was close.  Somehow he could feel her.  Matilda, whose eyes shone like no other bird he’d ever known.  Matilda, whose feathers were jet black and sleek, every one in place. 

It was on a day not too different than this that he first saw her.  As he sat on the snow-encrusted stump, he remembered…

Part Two

a crow at my bird feeder


Foolish mice, he thought to himself.  Don’t they know how easily they can be seen in this snow?  This will be easy.  It was a juvenile mouse.  Not quite a meal, but definitely an appetizer.  With a flip of his right wing tip and a fan and curve of his tail feathers, Arthur dove sharply left.  It was a tight, fancy maneuver.  Arthur had always prided himself in his ability to make sharp turns, stop quickly, dive and swoop sharply.  In all modesty, he was the best at flying.  He knew it.  

Wing tips back, tail feathers slightly fanned, claws extended, almost to the mouse, brown fur, snowy backdrop, frightened beady little eyes, a squeak of fright, then… 

A shiny black flash in front of him, a rush of feathers and wind, and the mouse was simply gone.  Arthur was so startled that he took a tumble on the rigid surface of the snow.  There was a light dusting of crystals on top of the crust and it rolled off his weather resistant feathers as he stood back up.  “What the…?”

Perched on a stump, looking down at him with the dead field mouse under her left claw was a beautiful young crow.  A female.  She was about his size. 

She paused a moment examining him.  “So sorry,” she said as she tossed the mouse up into the air.  It rotated in the air above her head for a moment.  “I guess you weren’t quite fast enough.”  The small mouse dropped into her open beak.  She gobbled it down in one swift gulp.  Impressive, he thought.  She turned her attention back to Arthur and looked down at him with curiosity.  “You are pretty fast,” she said with some admiration.  Arthur thought she might be smirking at him, making fun. 

“That was going to be my breakfast,” mumbled Arthur, embarrassed at his tumble in the snow. 

Was,” she chuckled.  “That is the operative word in that statement.”  She eyed him critically, cocking her head to the left, then to the right and back again.  “You braked a little too hard, Brother.  That mouse almost got away from you.”   Her black eyes sparkled.  The sun reflected from her feathers.

“That mouse,” Arthur interrupted as rudely as he could, “never had a chance.”

“True,” the young female shot back.  “It never had a chance as soon as I spotted it.”  She looked past him now, as though she were looking for her next meal. 

He ruffled his feathers and laid them neatly in place.  “You got the drop on me is all,” he remarked casually, trying to seem nonchalant about losing the meal.  “Anyone could have done that.”  As he looked up at her, trying not to be too obvious, he noticed how perfectly black and even her feathers were, how smooth and muscular her wings and shoulder muscles were, how powerful she seemed.  Sure she was pretty.  Almost all young crows with the self-respect to keep themselves in shape were pretty.  But this bird had something special.  She was cocky and strong and apparently flew like the wind. 

“You’re not as fast as you think you are,” he said. 

“Oh Yeah?  Maybe not, but I am a lot faster than you.  I just proved that I think.”  There was more of that boldness he found so inviting. 

“Wanna race?” he dared.

“Sure.  To the tall pine down in the valley and back to this old stump.  I’ll give you a head start, Brother.”

This was too much.  “Oh, no.  I insist.  Ladies first.”  This was all she needed.  Like a streak she was off. 

“What…  Who is this bird?” he asked himself.  With that he took off as fast as his wings could pull.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

The Camera in My Pocket







I've said before what a great thing it is to have a phone in your pocket all the time with a camera.  Some days I don't make any calls at all but I rarely go a day without taking a picture.  So maybe it's a camera with a phone attached.  It's not a great camera - although they get better all the time.  But you can do a lot with them.  I'm going to include a few shots that have been littering my desktop so I can clear the deck.  This is not great photography.  I know that.  It's just being in the right place at the right time - with a camera in my pocket.





A dewy little argiope we watched until she 
was great with eggs.


We are loaded with bumble bees.  I've never been stung 
by one but we hang out together all the time.



They seem to like just about every flower 
we have to offer.


For several days we were in the migratory 

flight path of these monarchs.  They were all 
over the lantana.





Another butterfly we see regularly is 
the spicebush swallowtail.



How lucky was I to catch this wolf spider 
covered with her youngsters?




These little guys are regular visitors to our 

hydrangeas and hang out near the 
lights at night for easy prey.






Here are a couple lucky shots of a dolphin in Charleston.




Finally, I took this little one's picture 

downtown while
waiting for a haircut.  



There are examples of technology that I haven't quite gotten used to yet.  My friends will tell you that I need to answer emails more regularly and by the time I get on Facebook it will be old fashioned.  Oh wait, I may have already missed the boat on that.  But I will always be glad for the camera in my pocket.

Monday, December 29, 2014

What's In a Name? The Motor Home Edition


Yesterday was one of the longest stretches I have ever spent on the road.  We woke up at 5:30 in Chicago (bumping the alarm up a half hour for one more precious segment of sleep) and hit the road as soon as we could (6 Chicago time).  There was on traffic snarl just before Knoxville TN, but it was a long one.  It probably layered on an extra hour and fifteen minutes.  We were tempted to stop in TN for the night, but pushed on.  We pulled into our home on Valleydale around 10:30.  I know that there are many people who pull that kind of drive routinely.  Long haul truckers probably do it almost daily, but 15 ½ hours is a long time sitting.  Rain, fog, winding roads in the mountains, knuckleheads who should not be driving, darkness when we started out – and darkness for the last 5 hours of the drive.  No stars.  No moon.  Just road.
Sport, Airstream Sport, Sport Model

While I drove most of the way on this, the last leg of our holiday journey, I had enough time in the passenger seat to record the names of RVs.  It started out with the classic Airstream.  Such a cool old-fashioned recreational vehicle.  While not exactly streamlined, its shiny round aluminum exterior is so timeless.  As far as I know, they have the same design as when I was a child.  But then I saw a Maverick, and I thought cool name.  So I began writing down the brands to consider the meaning behind the model.  Not that anyone would buy a motor home, fifth wheel trailer, travel trailer, truck camper or folding trailer strictly for its handle, but it must say something about you to haul a Mako along for your holiday trek. 

Banshee
























Take The Banshee for example.  According to dictionary.com, this means (in Irish folklore) a spirit in the form of a wailing woman who appears to or is heard by members of a family as a sign that one of them is about to die.  This seems like an unlikely name for something you want to travel around the country in.  My guess is the person who created this moniker didn’t look it up.  What does a sign that one is about to die have to do with vacations?  You would think that someone would go behind the person whose job it was to come up with this brand name and check it out.  You know, just in case.  

The Big Sky Montana says something different.  That one makes me want to git-up-and-go; get out to the land of vast horizons, gaze up at the starlit sky and camp out under the full moon.  The license plate said Delaware, so the brand name might have been a wish fulfillment. 



I saw several RVs with animal names including The Beaver, The Cheetah, The Eagle, The Wolf Pack, and The Viper.  You’ve got to like the animal names.  They are wild, right?  Free to roam, hunt, forage.  Mate.  Animals seem at leisure.  They are unencumbered and unhampered.  Pretty good deal.  I can see why folks came up with these names.  Although The Beaver seems to stand out a bit from the others.  It seems more related to the Squirrel or the Hamster, The Chipmunk or The Field Mouse.  They are all rodents right? 

Some RV names are all about the place.  Sunnybrook, Heartland, Sunset Trail, Forest River are related to Big Sky Montana.  You want to be there, to get there.  Those names seem to make one a little dissatisfied with one’s current location.  You probably won’t see The Suburb, The Downtown, The Mall, The Boondocks inscribed on the sides of RVs.  No, when you see Lakewood or Gulf Coast you want to get the heck out of The Bedroom Community. 

find your current crossroads


I love the names that are simply inspiring, like Inspire, Allure, Idea, Harmony.  Others probably give the owners a much needed image boost, like Hideout, Roughneck, and Outlaw. 

There is definitely an art to naming these vacation travel vehicles, just as there is to naming any brand I suppose.  Here are a few that seem to defy the rules of naming, although they probably mean something to someone: Fuzion, Navion, Okanagan.  The first two came up underscored with red squiggly lines which means someone probably just made them up.  Okanagan is an actual name of a river in North America that flows south from Okanagan Lake in Canada into the Columbia River in NE Washington, US Length: about 483 km (300 miles) Also Okinagan. a member of a North American Indian people living in the Okanagan River valley in British Columbia and Washington (dictionary.com)  You learn something new every day. I wonder how many folks driving around one of these vehicles know what their name brand means.

While I was thinking about brand names I came across this cool/bizarre/useful tool called WORDOID.  Wordoids are made-up words.  They look nice and feel great.  They are good for naming things…  Wordoid is the most creative way to find a catchy name for your new venture… In other words, if you're looking for a creative name that's brand-able but doesn't necessarily need to make sense, then you might find this tool helpful  What a brilliant idea for today’s brand naming.  No need to actually think of a label that makes sense when you can go to a name generator for a word that just feels good and makes no sense.  I have a feeling they used WORDOID when they came up with The Tentrax, The Montaj and the Lexor.

I wouldn't mind having a go at this RV naming thing.  And I don't think I'd have to rely on the WORDOID either.  How about The Autohome, The Funmobile, The Swankwagon.  No?  How about Zepherwind, Terminuslanding, Luxuriation?  (HA!  I come to find out that last one is really a word.  Go figure.)

OK, maybe not.  I'd better leave that to the wizzessionals, professenominons or the adeptuosos.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Looking for the Sun



It was cold here last night.  Our big yellow dog Mallie was a chili-dog when we got up.  Don’t get me wrong; while she is not an indoor dog, she has an insulated doghouse.  With a rug.  And a comforter.  She does all right for a backyard dog. 


While the day quickly warmed, I noticed while I was putzing around doing chores that she kept moving around in her yard.  She does that all the time.  She’s looking for that little spot in the sun where she can snooze and warm her bones.  Sometimes it’s in the doorway of the porch; sometimes it is in the pine straw at the bottom of the steps.  Sometimes it is on the other side near the fence.  On these cool days, she keeps moving around in her fenced in area seeking the most comfort.  When she moves to a spot that is a little warmer, a little more comfortable, she walks around in a tight circle for a few moments – nesting I suppose.  Then she drops down, lets out a contented sigh and usually drops off to sleep.  Not a bad occupation.


That’s the way it is with people too I think.  We are all looking for that spot in the sun where we can be just a little more comfortable, just a little more content.  Some of us have it easier than others.   Being a teacher with 35 years under my belt, I’d say that I have it pretty easy.  I make good money.  I am one of the fortunate ones.   Not too hard for me to find a little bit of sun to warm my bones.  Between Heidi and me, we do all right.

But I heard the other day that Walmart was having a difficult time even considering giving its employees a living wage. 


From Wikipedia: In public policy, a living wage is the minimum income necessary for a worker to meet their needs that are considered to be basic… A living wage is defined as the wage that can meet the basic needs to maintain a safe, decent standard of living within the community.

Seems to me that the Waltons can afford to pay their employees a living wage.  Seems to me that decision would be good for business.  Maybe people would want to work there and not just see it as a starter job, or one that they would easily give up if something else better came along.  Walmart would probably make out by keeping a continuous set of motivated employees if they paid decent enough money so that workers didn’t need to receive food stamps. 

I Googled Walmart and Living Wage and came up with some facts to put things into perspective.  In 2007 The Walton family, heirs to the Walmart fortune — had a net worth equal to that of the bottom 30 percent of Americans.  

Things have been looking up for the Walton family though.  In an article for PolitiFact.com dated November 27 by Molly Moorhead: “Today the Walton family of Walmart own more wealth than the bottom 40 percent of America."  This statement was vigorously fact checked by PolitiFact and indeed, 6 members of the Walton clan own the same as the bottom 41.5% of Americans.  In 2010, the median family in America had a net worth was just over $77,000.   Collectively the Waltons’ worth is over $100,000,000,000.  That is almost 13 million times the median income.  My thinking is that they could probably afford to pay their employees a living wage without having to dig too deep into the principle of their holdings. 



Christy Walton, widow of Walmart founder John Walton, has a net worth of 25.3 billion.  If she made a very modest 5% on that amount her interest alone would amount to 1 billion 175 million per year.  Just the interest. 

It’s hard to figure just what Walmart pays its employees.  This from Salon.com The company pegs its average hourly wage at $12.78, but that figure includes managers and excludes workers who aren’t full-time. Drawing on 2011 IBIS world data and GlassDoor.com surveys, OUR Walmart activists have pegged the wage at less than $9 per hour.  But if 1.4 million Americans work at Walmart, and their salary was increased from around $19,000 a year to $25,000, it would be the proverbial drop in the bucket for the Waltons.

Many who work at Walmart struggle to make ends meet.  And many must receive government support in order to feed their families.  According to Forbes.com, Walmart’s low wage policy costs taxpayers around $6.2 billion. It found that a single Walmart Supercenter cost taxpayers between $904,542 and $1.75 million per year, or between $3,015 and $5,815 on average for each of 300 workers.”  Honestly, to me that sounds un-American. 


I agree with Pastor Troy Jackson of the AMOS Project in Cincinnatti.  He marched with workers who were trying to convince management to pay them a living wage.  “In Luke 12, Jesus talks of a rich fool who kept building bigger and bigger storehouses for his wealth, while those around suffered…  I am here today, because the leaders of Walmart have become rich fools, so focused on their own growing empire that they are blinded to the pain and suffering of their workers, whom they are oppressing.”  



Don't get me wrong.  The Waltons should be rich.  This is America.  Sam Walton left his fortune to his heirs.  I get that.  But to hold the wealth of the bottom 40% of Americans seems absurd when many of their workers qualify for food stamps.  You'd think that would be embarrassing, even mortifying for the Walton family.  

Some of the numbers in my piece I crunched on my own (calculator.com, thankyouverymuch).  The video below is much more precise and very convincing.  If you've read this far, please watch.    



That perfect little spot in the sun.