Monday, February 28, 2011

Behind the Scenes

It may seem that the production of this blog only involves the quick writing of whatever I’m thinking about that week, plus a quick click of my camera. But there is more to it – it’s more complicated that it seems! So I’ve decided to give you a behind-the-scenes glimpse of what it takes to make this happen every week.

First, there’s the writing. Sometimes it’s so incredibly easy. Something obvious will happen and inspire me to write. Or a photo from the week will give me a topic. Sometimes I’ll write several in advance. But often Sunday night comes and I’m blank. No one said anything interesting, no one pissed me off, George didn’t do anything funny. Those are the times when I ask my husband for help. His third suggestion is usually a winner. That’s why he says he should get a byline on this blog.

The most fun thing for me is creating the photos. Sure, sometimes all I have to do is point and shoot, at the dog park or at Starbucks or wherever works for that week’s subject. But often I have to create the shot by posing George. And that’s where the Behind-the-Scenes action gets good.

George has learned that if I get out the camera, he is going to get a treat. So now he’s very good at posing patiently until I get the shot. But first we have to get him into the right pose.

The following photo from the post on February 23, 2010 is a great example of using a treat productively. I needed George to look like he was thinking about himself, so we moved our bedroom mirror into the hallway for better light and then placed him facing it. To get him to look at his reflection, we put his treat on the ledge of the mirror. You can see it if you look closely.

The shot of George cleaning (July 13, 2009) was easier than it may seem. We put the paper towel on the coffee table and then set his paws on it. Lance held a treat in the direction I wanted George’s focus to be, and eventually in his excitement he put his paw on the paper towel. Click.

The one on January 24, 2011 was difficult to take because I needed George to stand behind the stacks of books in our front room. He would walk behind them, but when I held up the treat to change his focus, he immediately ran around the books to get it. He was very confused, but eventually I got the shot.

On October 25, 2010, I needed George to sit in my cap and gown, and it was the easiest shot I ever got. Usually I need my husband to hold the treat or hat or whatever while I take the photo, but George was super patient. I safety-pinned my graduation gown so it would stay on his shoulders, slipped it on him, held the hat over his head with one hand and snapped the pic with the other. By the way, hats are often not really on his head. I try not to catch our fingers holding them!

On September 13, 2010, I needed a photo of George peeing on a fire hydrant – awfully specific. So I put him in the car in the morning before he had his first pee of the day, and I drove around trying to find a good hydrant. But it was hard. Many were in strange places or hard to get to or just not right, artistically. (I wanted a red one, but no luck.) By the time I finally found one, George was really anxious. I let him out of the car and he immediately wanted to pee on the nearest bush, then the nearest light pole, but I kept dragging him back to the fire hydrant, which obviously didn’t interest him. Finally he peed on it out of desperation. I’m sure we made a hilarious scene.

On September 7, 2010, Lance carried George around to the other side of our backyard’s wall and held him up so it looked like George was peeking over. (Another time when anyone nearby would think we were crazy.)

March 15’s post was the blog’s birthday, and George actually sat with that little hat on his head. He didn’t seem to mind at all. The crumbs on the plate aren’t cake – they’re crumbled-up pieces of his treat.

The tumbleweed in our yard on March 8, 2010 was not there naturally – I picked it up along the road and threw it in my trunk to take home for the photo. I think there are still stickers in my trunk to show for it.

Oh, what I do for my art.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Important Hours

I’m in Starbucks right now, after having written three more pages of my second book, and across the room is a little girl and a man sitting at a table. He is a little older, so he’s probably her grandfather, and they both have grande-sized drinks in front of them.

Since I’ve been here, I haven’t seen them speak. The Grandpa is staring at his iPhone and the girl is working on a computer and wearing headphones. And while this could be a situation which prompts me to bemoan this technological age that prevents everyone from talking or socializing or communicating in a real way, instead, it’s a nice scene.

I’ve seen this duo here many times, at that same table by the window, with their coffees and computer and iPhone. And the point is that they’re here, together. They aren’t sitting at home in separate rooms watching different TV shows. She isn’t with a babysitter while he’s out playing golf. They are here on a sunny afternoon, with hot drinks, on another outing together. No, they’re not talking, but he is showing that he has time for her. And time is important.

How much time do we devote to the people we love? All it takes is a little time to write a note, make a call, or just sit down together. What percentage of our lives is spent on things that matter?

I think that girl and her Grandpa have logged a lot of important hours. And it’s a comforting thing to see.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Charlie Brown would have gotten a Valentine from me.

Ah, Valentine’s Day, the cut-and-paste holiday. That’s what it always makes me think of: pink and red construction paper, white heart-shaped doilies, white paste in that little pot that had an applicator in the lid. It was fun to put effort into the holiday, to get a little excited about the giving and the getting.

I don’t know what they do in elementary schools now, but when I was little, we all made construction paper pockets to tape to the front of our desks. These became mailboxes that we decorated with our names in crayon and awkwardly cut out hearts. Then when it was time to distribute the valentines, we all got up from our seats and “delivered” all our valentines to the class.

Even when I handed out the store-bought Garfield or Smurfs valentines, I still took the utmost care in deciding who got what card. The night before the big day, I would sit at our kitchen table and consider carefully who got the prettiest cards and who got the duds. I mean, I couldn’t give the “Be My Valentine” card to the cutest boy in class…that would be too forward. Better to give it to my girlfriend. The ugliest card went to the girl who was mean to me. The coolest one went to that cute boy. Everyone always got one – I never wanted to hurt anyone’s feelings by omitting them from the fun.

Not everyone cared as much about the cards. Matt N. used to walk around the classroom and slip a valentine into each person’s mailbox, but he obviously didn’t care who got what - because his envelopes had been marked “boy” or “girl” by his mother. All he had to do was give the appropriate one to the correct sex.

In 5th grade I gave friendship pins to everyone with my valentines. These were safety pins that we decorated with pins and charms, gave them to our friends, and wore them pinned to our sneakers. I wonder who started that fad.

Nowadays I don’t give many valentines anymore, which is a shame. Sure, I get one for my husband, and maybe my Grandma or aunt if I think of it in time. But overall the excitement of the holiday has faded. Mainly, I think Valentine’s Day is a holiday for the unmarried folk. That’s when you have the excitement of possibility. That’s when you judge someone’s affection by what they buy you on February 14. I’m glad I no longer have that kind of pressure!

Save the Words!

My perky friend wrinkled her nose in disgust as she stood haughtily in her bell bottoms and Dr. Scholls sandals. “That’s ignert,” she scoffed, flipping her hair as she turned away from the nerdy kid who had offended her.

The insult caused me to ask my Mom that night, “What does ignert mean?” It sounded familiar but I couldn’t figure out what my friend had meant.

“She means 'ignorant.'” Mom rolled her eyes. “She’s just saying the word with an accent.”

My young mind didn’t understand why someone would so drastically mispronounce a word, but after that, I chose to say it, too. I mean, the one time I did say the word correctly they looked at me like I was from another planet. Or at least another state.

There are so many words that are mispronounced where I grew up in southern Indiana. Yes, I had an accent back then like everyone else, which was painfully pointed out to me when I visited my cousins in the northern part of the state. But as I grew aware of that accent and the differences between the pronunciations and spellings of the words around me, I slowly pulled myself out of the accent. At least mostly.

Some of my family members say “kittle” instead of “kettle,” and “Huh-why-yuh” for “Hawaii.” I’ve heard many people around there pronounce those words that way. And when I think about it, it is an easier way to speak. You don’t have to open your mouth up as much to say the words that way. For a long line of hard workers and people who woke before dawn for chores, it makes sense that they would save their energy for the more important tasks.

There’s a town in southern Indiana that I always heard of, called “Sigh-ree.” One day when I saw it on a sign, imagine my surprise to see it was actually “Syria.” And Versailles, in northern Indiana, is pronounced just as it’s written: “Ver-sailes,” instead of the French pronunciation.

Language has always fascinated me. I love the differences for words across the country, like using “gum band” instead of rubber band, lightening bug vs. firefly, or couch vs. sofa (or “davenport” as my Grandpa used to call it). The History of the English Language class I took in college was an eye-opener.

It’s interesting how words come to be, how they’re used in popular, everyday speech, then fall out of use and become extinct. The website is dedicated to preventing the loss of words that are about to be removed forever from the Oxford English Dictionary. The site is fun to browse through, and then you can do your part to save an endangered word by “adopting” one and promising to start using it in your everyday speech.

For today, I adopted the word “jobler.” It’s one that could be used quite a bit in today’s economy. It refers to a person who does many small jobs. I hope I keep my job and don’t become a jobler! This weekend my husband and I are going to be joblers in our own house. There – I did my part by using the word twice. Save the words!

Monday, February 7, 2011

At Least I Wasn't Always Picked Last.

One of the most humiliating moments of my life occurred at a high school football game when I was fairly young. Having grown up watching basketball, the rules of football were somewhat foreign. I remember being in the stands, wrapped up in the excitement of the game, and when play stopped on the field and I saw the clock continuing to run, I stood up and screamed “Stop the clock!” My basketball-mind knew that the clock was supposed to stop with the players. Imagine the looks I must have received from the people around me – people who knew the game – people who knew football. I cringe every time I think about it.

And I think that was my problem with sports in school – I just didn’t know the games that everyone was already supposed to know. I didn’t grow up throwing a ball around in the yard. I didn’t play touch football or baseball. Well, I did play baseball occasionally with my cousin who grudgingly placed me in the tallest weeds in the outfield when he played with his friends. That memory isn’t great either – I remember someone hitting it way out to me, and I caught it with my bare hands (I never had a glove) and was so excited I did something right I remember holding the ball in the air triumphantly because my cousin would finally think I was cool. Instead, the guys all yelled at me to throw the ball for the double play, which I missed while I paused for glory. I never could win.

I also remember playing basketball in gym class in junior high, particularly one afternoon when I was placed on a three-man team with Laura Gilmore, the most athletic girl in school. Of course I didn’t want to let her down. But every time they passed me the ball, I would foul, because I didn’t know what a double dribble was. I thought it only meant putting both hands on the ball. Over and over I tried valiantly not to use both hands, and over and over they kept blowing the whistle and calling double dribble. Now, why on earth didn’t anyone realize I didn’t know what it meant?

And that was my problem: the gym teachers just assumed there were certain games everyone knew, and if you didn’t do them well it was just because you weren’t athletic. That is bull.

I know this for a fact because I was decent at the sports that were taught brand new to all of us. We played hockey (on the gym floor with no ice) and were all taught the rules. I actually looked forward to gym on those days. And we all learned bowling for six weeks and went to the local bowling alley every day. I was great at that – after all, I was a dancer – I can be taught physical movement. My bowling form was perfect.

Then when I went to college and took my one required P.E. class, I was surprisingly the most athletic person in class. When we ran laps I was the only one who ran the whole time, ahead of everyone else. Either I was free from the stigma of “gym nerd,” or college had weeded out the most athletic, leaving me the cream of the crop.

So I beg of you, gym teachers out there, don’t assume anything! Teach your students the rules of the game. Help them all understand. No one is a lost cause! And for God’s sake, please teach them about the clock in football. It can save them a lot of humiliation.