Friday, September 30, 2011

Mind Candy: This Week's Finds

The truth is that I don't have a lot going on these days. Oh, sure, I'm busy as I've ever been, but the family is on a sort of "buzzing along comfortably" track that's moving us past our short fall here in the AK and into colder weather.

But I hate to fall off the blogosphere radar because once I do, it's so incredibly hard to find motivation to pull myself back up.

That, and there have been some super fascinating reads out there this week that I figured I'd just share. A chance for me to check in, and a chance for you to find something useful. Win-win, see?

On to the mind candy, Jeeves.

Top Ten Books Lost to Time at
The list includes Jane Austen's Sandition, so what's not to love about this post?! (Yes. Still. Love. Austen.)

7 Reasons Why We Love 7 Reasons at Psychology Today
A look into why the number 7 is fantastic for many, many reasons. (Seven, to be exact!)

21 Ways to Pray Throughout Your Day at
Can never have too much face time with the Big Man, can we? And did you notice how the 21 was basically the 7 from the previous link, three times over? Ha! I didn't!

Would Jane Austen and the Bronte Sisters Have Self Published? at all about Jane's Ranch
Again with the Jane Austen. But I can't help it. I love her, I really do.

Have a fantastic weekend!


Thursday, September 15, 2011

Dispatches from bottom cross-sides: A girl's guide to BJJ

(Author note: This is a sad attempt at humor, and definitely not an approach I recommend you take on your path in jiu jitsu. It's simply the truth dispatched from from my tiny corner of the world's jiu jitsu mat--where I'm usually pinned beneath an opponent with plenty of time to mull over things like this. True story.)

I've been a part of the art for five years now. Can you believe that? I started out as a chubby newly-minted Judo brown belt (sankyu) with nowhere to train. Over the course of the years, I've dabbled in MMA, had a baby, had a brain surgery, had another baby, had a few temper tantrums, had some fun at Worlds, and picked up a few tricks along the way for surviving your occoasional "off day."

I hate to admit it, but the road back from LONG, LONG months off is tough. It actually sucks BIG TIME most of the days of the week. In fact, I was lying on the floor of our living room the other night, talking to P about what a crap-tastic night I had on the mat and I had an epiphany.

"I want to be good," I said to my husband, a blackbelt who hasn't had a bad jiu jitsu day in five years (he's been doing the art six, I think. Poo on him.)

"I just don't want to get good."

He nodded in his sage-like fashion and shrugged his shoulders in that "what can ya do" manner he does so well. (Well, for starters, you can give me that "get good quick" guide you're hiding from me....)

Does that make sense? It did in my head at the time, and I guess that's what counts anyway. So while I've been pinned beneath Brendan, or backpedaling like my life depended on it from Bo, I've come up with the following survival techniques. Hope they come in handy for you sometime. They sure get me through the agonizing hour or two....

A Girl's Guide to Jiu Jitsu: Surviving the Occasional Bad Day

1. Learn the gift of gab

We could be total strangers when the match begins, but if I'm stressed or at a loss of what to do, you can be certain I'm going to become your best friend. I'm going to ask you about your family, your favorite color, any good movies you might have seen, your pick for Sunday's game, or whether you'd take Big Bird over Grover in a cage match.

I'll talk faster and with more focus the more you push the pace. I'll comment on my toenails and their fabulous green color. I'll ask you to look and when you do, I'll increase the distance between us and shrug when you realize I've just talked my way out of a potential foot lock.

2. Choose your opponents wisely

Listen, you might be the next Dalai Lama with a pure soul and the cure for cancer somewhere in that brain of yours. But please believe I'm watching your roll, and if your a grabby, limb yanking maniac, well, chances are high that we'll never occupy the same 10-foot radius of mat together. We'll be like opposite ends of a highly-charged magnet...the closer you come when looking for a partner for the next round, the further I'll scoot away. We'll keep the same twenty feet of space between us no matter where you go.

It's nothing personal, it's just that since I turned 30, my joints are made of glass and my skin screams in protest whenever its pinched. What I used to be able to power through and return in kind when I was 29, now makes me weepy at 33, as though you meant it on purpose and had no other goal in that match other than giving me a thumbprint bruise on the fat part of my arm. And then I have to tattle on you to my husband, and then he as to address the situation...I'm kidding. Sort of...

3. In case of emergency, deploy "girly scream"

God, this one is embarrassing to admit. But I do it so often it has to count...and when I see my sisters on the mat out there doing the same thing, well, I understand its power.

When I say scream, what I really mean is that sort of shriek-slash-laugh we do when we're suddenly hoisted up in the air in a mega-sweep.

Usually when I've been caught unaware (which is always)...the moment I'm airborne, I'll let out this banshee-esque squeal that serves two purposes: one, it'll alert everyone in earshot that I'm up in the air and could end up warned.

Two, it lets the sweeper know that I'm terrified and have the expectation that when I land, I will have my spleen and kidneys still intact. It's a sort of "OMG" shriek that hopefully sends the message that I'm about to pee my pants in fear and for you to reconsider that the next time you catch me off balance. I'm like a cat and my claws will stick in the ceiling if you keep it up...

The girly scream's close cousin is the slipped expletive. I use this one mostly as I'm crashing to the ground in a failed take-down attempt. They slip out, unintentional, but make me feel better just the same. Therapeutic even, as my face is ground down into that smelly blue mat while you perfect your awesome sprawl. (Have I mentioned how much I hate your sprawl? Almost as much as I hated your jab when we used to spar, but nearly as much as I think your triangle is the Spawn of Satan.)

4. Embrace the power of distractions

Do you think it's a coincidence that I bring my beautiful kids with me to training? Sure, it's partly because nobody in the city of Anchorage wants to babysit all three of them at a time five nights a week...but it's also that they come in real handy at about the 42 minute mark of the 60-minute class.

You know, that point where you heart is hammering in your chest so hard you can't keep up with your your lungs are sucking in while you're trying to push out and all you manage to do is make a lot of noise and NOT get a lot of air in?

The point where you can no longer sip water and you just sorta douse your face with half your water bottle and hope some ends up in your mouth?

Yep, that point.

It's no secret that my baby girl doesn't cry, but I still pick a point in practice to hover over her like she's wailing and hollering in panic. I'm not above pinching her foot to garner the desired sound effects.

In gi class, my favorite trick is the ol' belt/pants emergency. Just flattened me out for three minutes straight? Suddenly I have no mission in life save one: create the perfect obi (belt) knot. I will tie, retie, tie again, retie a fourth time until that darn thing looks so good Sensei Jigoro Kano would give me the thumbs up from his grave. After that, I'll redo my ponytail. Fix my eyebrows, and trim my toenails.

Beep beep!

Round's over? My bad. Next time, my friend, for sure... Ha!

5. Dish out "grossio jiu jitsu" and learn a few dirty tricks

I am not above the "accidental" elbow drive into your thighs to loosen a guard.

Have you ever watched two women roll? Especially two women who are'll see moves that would make Ric Flair proud. I've been in matches with Lauren that have ended and I have about a quarter less hair then when I started.

I've used a friend's ponytail as a means to keep her head pinned to the ground (a move we've dubbed the "hair bar") and I'm not above "accidentally" kicking you in the sportsbra if the situation calls for it. I've spit in Jayson's eye (not on purpose, but it sure helped the situation out a lot), pulled Patrick's leghair, and used Jordan's forehead as a post to help me stand up.

I'm ruthless, it's true, but what I lack in technique and gas tank, I sure make up for in creativity.

See you on the mat...


Monday, September 12, 2011

A Real, Live Writer

I got to attend my very first writers' conference this weekend. Be it money, time, energy...whatever...I've wanted to attend one ever since I started my MFA program back in 2002 and have never been able to.

Over the summer, I saw a call go out for scholarships to attend this year's Alaska Writers Guild conference and threw my entry into the pool, thinking nothing would probably ever come of it.

That's the way most exciting stories start out, isn't it?

So there I was, scholarshipped to the max and sitting in a large hotel conference room waiting for brilliance. Waiting for leadership. Waiting for that line to be drawn in the sand that is my life, clearly marking "before" and then one for "after."

(Cue crickets.)

Turns out, not even access to literary agents, publishers, and industry experts can validate your feelings and dreams as a writer. Hell, if anything, they seem to be there to knock your dreams back a few notches and into the "doable" category.

I gleaned a lot from the speakers. I learned one's preference when it comes to the allmighty query. I learned how another turns her feature-writing abilities into short stories. I heard a take on where publishing stands in 2011, and even how I can be funny even if I am pretty sure I am not.

But nowhere in there was the magic equation to turn word documents in to literary alchemy that I always assumed one learned at a writer's conference. This entire time, I've been waiting for some experience to validate my existence as a writer...whether it's a big chunk o' change advance, landing an agent, or making that golden connection at a conference. Something out there would turn me into a real, live writer and I just had to find it.

Didn't find it hiding under the lunch buffet Saturday afternoon and it sure wasn't taped to the white board later in the afternoon. I was stymied when it wasn't on the agenda. Nobody took the time out of their presentations to tell me I was a writer. A good one. One that was going to make it big, and while they were at it, lay down the road map to get there, and believe me, I was ready. Never happened.

Alaska is funny, too. I think if a moose walked in and sat down at a table, the speakers wouldn't have been more taken aback than they were with the rag tag group of rowdy writers who showed up this weekend. Loud. Persnickety. Opinionated. Not impressed enough by the talent to wear an unstained shirt. Unimpressed by the pedigrees and the client lists, the Alaskan writers were unabashadly themselves and likely sent the guests back to California wondering what they just witnessed.

No. No literary alchemy this weekend. Just a couple new friends and the feeling that I've been on the right track all along...that I've been a real, live writer the whole time. Funny, right?

No shame in the long way, I guess.



Thursday, September 8, 2011

Vox Humana: A Manifesto of Sorts

I've been lukewarm about blogging lately for some reason.

A lot of it has to do with the schedule changes, the season changes, and the regular, mundane stress that ebbs and flows. (Though we are most definitely on the upswing of an ebb, please believe!)

Much of the time, I read other blogs with a slight twinge of envy. How do they come up with posts so often? Where do they get so much material? I flipflop back and forth about what the hell the point is of this blog. Informative? (Probably not. I was never the greatest student, and there's a reason I didn't go into full time teaching after I earned my MFA. ) Anecdotal? Yes, mostly. Fun? I'm trying.

Today, NPR posted links to the StoryCorps project. (You can read all about this project and listen/watch their amazing stories here.) They collect stories from Americans of every background, creed, and age and save them. Some stories get turned into incredible animated shorts. Seriously. Go. Look.

One of the shorts is from a historian and he talks about how humans have used their voices over time (written and verbal). The power of a whisper, the excitement of a shriek. The timelessness of stories from our grandparents and how they're all disappearing before they can be told. And that's even if somebody's listening...

There a times when I'm typing these posts andI feel a little self-indulgent. More so when I link it to my facebook account. Who the heck really cares that I had a bad day? That my toddler can have the manners of a baby mountain gorilla? I drift, now and then, on a sea of doubt about what my voice is for in relation to this blog.

But then there was StoryCorps. And while I don't have tales of 9/11 or life-long loves (yet...we're working on it), I still have something to say.

I have our stories.

The chances are pretty high that a New York literary agent isn't going to come knockin' on my e-mail door with a big book deal to turn these snippets into a "Marley and Me" we could call "Gorilla Boy and Me." But I think that was never the point.

What I think this entire project is for, has to do with my kids. For them. Their kids. Their grandkids.

One day I'll be gone, and assuming that a zombie Apocalypse hasn't gripped the world and the Internet still exists, they'll have these words and they'll hear my voice telling them about us.

Our family. The time Andrew woke up forty-seven times in one night. The time Dominic stuck his tongue to the frozen flag pole. The sweet baby Makenna is, and how she'll smile for an hour straight as long as you say her name over and over in a sing-song voice. The struggles Patrick goes through earning his engineering degree while raising a rather robust family of loud individuals. My role as ring master in our entertaining circus of life.

Snapshots. Stories I won't remember ten years down the line, but matter just the same.

I'll remember the big stories--the births, the moves, the grand life changes--but maybe I won't always remember the way Andrew drinks his bathwater no matter how nasty we tell him it is. (We're almost 99 percent sure he pees in his tub. Just sayin'. Don't judge.) And I want them all to know who they were. How they became who they are. How Patrick and I, and our friends and families, helped them get there.

At last, I know what the Funny Little Blackbird is all about. And I'll never run out of material again.