Monday, January 28, 2008

The Muse Takes A Snow Day

My morning routine always starts with the Nike. I have never subscribed to the philosophy that the dog should have to wait until the pack alpha (me) eats and is ready to feed and care for the lower pack members. Here the pack comes first. Unfortunately, that also means that the pack has to suffer through my half-awake, pre-coffee bumbling in order to get fed. Nike is lucky he’s never gotten orange juice in his Corn Flakes. He doesn’t eat cereal, really, but you can see my point. After “hungries” comes “outsides”. I usually just jam my feet into flip flops or slippers, since Nike is the ultimate wuss when the ground is cold or wet, and is usually done with his “business” in under ten seconds.

This morning I stepped out into three inches of snow.

We don’t really get snow here. It isn’t normal. A few inches shuts down the world as we know it. Schools close. Nick has a snow day from high school. He’ll probably have a great time playing Xbox and catching up on his homework. Well, playing Xbox anyway.

For me, however, it’s a great alarm clock. I develop instant footsicles. Not the Nike – for all his fussiness about wet and cold, he loves snow. I stand on the back porch with freezing feet while he zooms happily about the best he can at the end of his flexi-lead.

I love the audible silence of snow, particularly in the early morning hours. I’m not so crazy about the deafening hush from my writing muse.

It’s not for lack of something to say. I’m rarely speechless. It’s more about getting the ideas to form a complete pattern. For me to have something worth writing about, the thoughts have to form a snowflake. No two are ever the same, but they have to come together to make a unique and yet logical design. That’s the hard part.

At any rate, my muse has been having a snow day. Actually, it’s been more of a snow week. I have lots of pieces, and nothing coming together. Too much rain, not enough snow.

For fun I looked up “muse” on Wikipedia this morning. Oddly enough, (or not) the word “amuse” has the same etymology as “muse”. To amuse is why I write, mostly for myself, but I do hope to entertain others as well. There are nine muses in Greek mythology. I find I can most identify with Thalia, the muse of comedy. Nike isn’t the name of muse, but it is the name of the Greek goddess of victory. Hmmm. I think Thalia would be a great name for a whippet.

It is snowing again. That’s got to be a good thing for my writing inspiration. I’m going to go find Thalia and drag her butt off the Xbox.

Another slideshow at the bottom!

Thursday, January 24, 2008

A Strange and Unusual Trip

“I have been on a strange and unusual trip; and there are many ways in which I would like to talk about it”
Author Unknown (to me) – inscribed on the steps to the bus tunnel, Third & Seneca, Seattle, WA

My commute home - January 17, 2008. I had a hair appointment with Lisa at Aveda, so I’m taking a later train. I emerge from the salon at 6:15 very pleased with my hair, feeling very urbane and blasé. However, I am a little nonplussed that it is now dark. I’m not sure why my picture of the evening failed to include a sunset. At any rate there is a 6:40 train, that I can catch if I find a bus to take me the 13 blocks south. My high-heeled boots make cheerful clicking sounds as I walk up the hill to Second Avenue in search of a bus.

Approaching the bus stop at Second, I encounter a Very Interesting Person (VIP). A gentleman in his early 20’s toting a backpack and carrying on an animated and completely unintelligible conversation with himself. The woman behind me drops back and crosses the street to avoid him. I stay on course, and presently he directs his dialog to me.

“Mugh dwokr somser vlug”

While I’m trying to decide exactly what the appropriate response might be, the VIP spots something much more interesting than me. An empty plastic shopping bag blows along the sidewalk – he pounces on it with all the enthusiasm of one of my whippets attacking a lure.

I’m not really sure how I feel about being disregarded for a plastic bag. My friend is captivated by it. I twist my mental kaleidoscope a couple of degrees trying to find a view of the world where a plastic bag is the center of my attention. It doesn’t work. But clearly I am useless as a conversationalist and the bag is better company. At first I’m jealous – how exciting to live in a world where a plastic bag has the same distraction value as say, the $655 pair of leopard print Jimmy Choo’s in the window at Nordstrom. On the other hand, I’m pretty sure my Prozac dose would have to increase.

I catch my bus and make it to the train station just in time. Unfortunately, the train fails to keep its part of the bargain.

The train’s tardiness is conveyed to me by another VIP. The Amtrak attendant at the desk is a very nice gentleman with a five o'clock shadow, deep voice, long blond hair, and completely the wrong shade of lipstick for his complexion. His name tag informs me that his friends call him “Jessica”.

My kaleidoscope spins crazily for a few nanoseconds while I process Jessica. We have a lively debate over the merits of waiting for the train, which is running over an hour late and has no ETA, or taking a bus. Despite Jessica’s insistence that the train will be more comfortable, I vote for the bus. Turns out I should have listened to Jessica.

First off, I miss the next Express bus to Everett. That means I have to kick around the SoDo and Pioneer Square district after dark. Not good. I check out the bus tunnel to get a city bus to the next Express bus stop. The bus tunnel closes at 7:00. I miss the last bus. And, no one told the blasé urbane city girl that the regular buses go on an evening schedule. I make my way to a surface street bus stop and encounter two more VIPs. I do not speak their language, but it is clear from their gestures and expressions that they are not my friends.

So I walk. From King Street Station to Fourth & Union. I lost track of how many blocks that is. Many. In heels. I am not amused. In fact, I am downright cranky.

A large crowd has gathered on Fourth Avenue, a few blocks from the train. It takes a few moments for me to figure out that they are lining up to get into the mission for the night. There were well over a hundred people. Hmm. And I’m in a bad mood because my train is late and I have to walk? Perhaps I should re-evaluate.

Finally I collapse on the bench at Fourth & Union. I have 15 minutes before the bus home arrives. My feet are swollen, bleeding and numb. I look down at my brown knee-height leather boots in dismay. I would take them off if I had a way to carry them. If only I had a plastic bag.

I laugh hysterically out loud until I realize that people are crossing the street to avoid me.

I bet my VIP friend wouldn’t relate to my need for a plastic bag at that moment. But I bet Jessica would.

Friday, January 18, 2008

My Father's Knees

My Father’s Knees

I was always the shy kid. At age four, I could be found lurking behind my father’s knees when strangers were about. By the time I was eight, I preferred the company of my own self-created world of fictional characters and far-away places to the company of other kids.

Part of the reason may have been the remote rural location where I grew up. We had a lovely farm, plenty of fun, healthy, “kid” things to do, but not a lot of close neighbors or social opportunities.

At age ten, an oral book report in front of my fifth grade class could bring on a full-fledged panic attack. All through high-school and college, I was plagued by teachers and professors grading for “classroom participation”. Algebra and trigonometry story problems were less intimidating.

As an adult, the problem did not improve. My wedding, ridiculously large and formal, was intended to impress everyone except my husband and me, and presented no less of a challenge. I walked down the aisle to the strains of “Trumpet Voluntary” clinging to my father’s elbow. As an adult, elbows are a credible substitute for knees. I am convinced that I did not pass out from sheer terror only because an actress friend recommended a stage trick to me.

“Don’t wear your glasses or contacts”. “You won’t be afraid of people you can’t see”.

For some reason this worked pretty well, although it’s entirely possible that I was actually married to the Best Man and not the groom.. You couldn’t prove it by me.

In spite of the marital identity crisis, stage-fright wasn’t something I laid awake worrying about.

And then we got a whippet.

You might imagine that the whippet served as some sort of therapy, miraculously allowing me to emerge from my silly shell, like a Reader’s Digest Condensed version of the wonderful Therapy Dogs that support and assist people with truly critical issues.

You’d be so wrong.

Carson and I went to training classes for agility and obedience. We were fairly good. Never having been good at anything competitive in my life (see “Shy Kid Tries to Play Basketball”) I was absolutely delighted. Carson and I entered a competition.

You can imagine what’s coming next. Dog shows are the ultimate in limelight, a soloist on a concert stage with an unpredictable accompanist. The soloist is the dog. The unpredictable accompanist, in my case, was me. I stood awaiting my turn, unable to catch my breath, a feeling of panic constricting my chest as if I was suddenly being strangled by my bra.

Our foray into the show-ring probably would have been more successful if I had actually been able to speak, move, or better yet, breathe.

And my Dad’s knees were nowhere in sight.

I tried reading sports psychology studies. I tried breathing techniques. Inevitably, every show left me paralyzed. Dog trainers will tell you that your emotions travel down the leash to the dog – if that were the case, Carson should have been a canine mummy, so utterly bound in fear and anxiety he would be unable to move. Carson moved! In fact, he zoomed everywhere EXCEPT where he was supposed to, adding to my helpless lack of control and consummating my worst fears. At least he was having a good time.

I do not habitually read my horoscope, but I know that I am a Leo. If you believe in such things, somewhere deep inside I must share character traits with the pop star, Madonna, who is also a Leo. While I’ve never been tempted to write a coffee-table book about sex, or dance around on a stage in a cone-shaped pasty, as Madonna has, there is almost certainly a part of me that craves to be the center of attention, that refuses to give up, that insists on being the best I can be.

There is no pivotal moment or epiphany to my story of stage-fright and shyness. For the last ten years I have persevered. I do not give up, even on the days when I enter the show-ring unable to catch my breath, struggling to convince my own knees to work. We don’t do so well those days. We have moved on from obedience and agility to coursing, racing, and conformation. I don’t have to be in the spotlight at running events, but early on I lost a beloved whippet after a spinal chord injury during a running practice. Wobbly show ring knees are nothing next to the absolute terror I experience every time one of my dogs is boxed at a race event.

But the truth is that I show because I love my whippets and I enjoy the bonding time with them. I let them run because they love the lure and it is what they were bred to do. And I like to compete, and I like to win. My confidence is building. I no longer always need my father’s knees to hide behind. That’s probably a good thing, since he has a Brittany, and prefers pheasant hunting.

Come see me at a dog show sometime. I’ll be the one dancing around the ring, being strangled by the cone-shaped pasty.

*New Slideshow added 1/20/08 - scroll to the bottom of the page*

Monday, January 7, 2008

Far From the Madding Crowd...

First off, I'm right. It's "Far From the Madding Crowd" not "Far From the Maddening Crowd" as most suppose. Know your Thomas Hardy if you want my blog to make sense! I'm sorry, I had a minor in English...

And good old Thomas is precisely the reason I don't "moo" at my fellow ferry commuters, as Vanessa and Charlene suggest. (See comments to blog post #1 - December 2007). You don't want to go around messing with people who are frenzied and on the edge. I don't trust the "madding crowd" . This cross-section of humanity Just Wants to be Left Alone. To infringe their personal space is an act of war. There are Rules as to how one selects a seat amongst the throngs with their Blackberries, Best-seller novels, and Bicycle rest time. I typically sit across from a gentleman who steadfastly reserves the seat next to him with his backpack. Just before Christmas, a woman wanted the reserved seat so she could converse with a friend sitting in the next chair. The World May Have Possibly Been Close To Ending.....the gentleman moved his backpack, and shortly thereafter, removed himself in quite an elaborate huff.

And I'm going to make cow noises at these people?

I think not. But I will moo at cows, as I drive past on the highway. It amuses me, even if they don't understand my sense of humor nor do they grasp the sarcasm of my experience in a maddening crowd. Gary Larson has immortalized that quirk of human nature in his cartoons. But now I think I understand the transient that pursued my friend Laura and I through the London Underground at night "meowing" persistently.

Because of that, someday I may moo at the viaduct guy. I'm pretty sure he'd get it.

My thanks to my friend Sandy for pointing all this out to me. (See also comments to blog post #1, December, 2007)
"Far from the madding crowd's ignoble strife
Their sober wishes never learn'd to stray;
Along the cool sequester'd vale of life
They kept the noiseless tenor of their way"
From my favorite poet, Thomas Gray ~ "Elegy in A Country Churchyard", this work was the inspiration for Thomas Hardy's most famous work "Far From The Madding Crowd". Required commuter reading...unless one prefers Stephen King.


Friday, January 4, 2008

New Job, New Year, New Hampshire?

So, I've described a day in the life of Jennifer. In December. Since life is an iterative process, January is different for me.

My mother decided to be a snowbird. Nice for her and Chuck, my step-dad, and for Mona, the 500# Beagle (okay, okay....50# Beagle). Not so nice for Nike. To begin with, I'm sure a vacation in the sun in Mesa would have worked out okay for him. But he wasn't invited. Secondly, he can't be left home alone all day while I'm at work with no one to look after him. This is the dog that lit the gas burners on our stove top at one point in his life - how does one explain that one's dog burned down one's mother's house?

So I'm staying in Snohomish with Rob (boyfriend) and his son Nick for the month of January. The commute is basically a repeat of the ferry commute, only substitute "Sounder Train from Everett" for "ferry" and my hike to the Wells Fargo building now skips the viaduct guy and includes the Union Gospel Mission folks on Second Avenue between Chinatown and the International District, Pioneer Square, and Belltown. Interesting to watch the 'hood change as one walks north from the train station. Also, there's no mud in the Park n Ride lot in Everett.

For those associated with Olympic, I love my new job! I'm awfully sorry. It is not without dysfunctionality, don't get me wrong. Perspective shows me that there are some things that Olympic does really well. Olympic folks should appreciate that. You know the business inside out. Not everyone else does. And the ability to get things accomplished. My job is very process documentation oriented. The Business Analysts in my group all get different projects, so I don't work a whole lot with Chaille, even though we are in the same department. I'm implementing enrollment and group administration for our new contract with Clear Choice health plans in Oregon/Montana. My job is to develop and document all the workflow processes. But Adaptis has never done enrollment for a client before, so I'm getting sucked in all over the project. And that's okay. It's fascintating, and sometimes frustrating, to experience real project management at work. I am grateful to Mark, Scott and Steve at Olympic for their work creating the project management framework - without it I'd be lost in this environment.

And, I get to go to lunch in the International District. Chinese? Pakistani? Thai? Had wonderful home-made barleygreen Chinese noodles in my squid, chicken, and shrimp Chow Mein at lunch today.

On a lighter note, I had a choice at one point in my life to take riding lessons, or to learn to ski. I picked the horse thing. Duh. I had a pony when I was nine! Consequently, I've never been out to play in the snow. Really. I put a car in the ditch in it, but I've never really made a snow angel or gone sledding except once in Denver when I was about 12. Therefore, without fanfare, pictures of Jenn pre-tubing at Snoqualmie Pass over New Years. Go figure. Never knew being cold was actually fun!

Next week - one of my original compositions. That's going to be hard to do....I don't have that much self confidence, but I promised Charlene...keep scrolling down to see the new pictures at the bottom of the blog...
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Jenn and the City

An Award

An Award
Thanks Patience!

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