Saturday, June 27, 2009

One girl's canvas... our front yard.

This depicts a place "like Alcatraz" on one side of the stairs connected by water to a place "like San Francisco" with the sun shining brightly.

Back before cable TV, the Internet, and smart phones, chalk and a sidewalk were pretty much all a girl needed to stay amused, especially if a friend was available.

You still see a game of hopscotch played here and there around town, but it is a rare occurrence.

Drawing outside with chalk also means its summer vacation. Today's kids do not have enough time during the school year for that kind of leisure activity. They are scheduled.

A little kid's social life and appointment calendar can be much busier and more complicated than her father's. At some point in recent years my youngest found a pile of those old paper appointment books (that displayed a week at a time) from a much busier stage of my life.

They are crammed with ink and pencil notations indicating numerous appointments every weekday and many weekend days as well. She put them in a purse, along with a calculator, a small portable phone, and several other objects, and invented an imaginary game.

From time to time she still plays it. Out come the calendar books, the small phone, the calculator and she moves between one room and another, busily doing -- something. I've never asked her what the game is about, although I know she also plays it with a friend when one is over for a playdate.

She'll tell me about the game on her own time. She'd tell me if I asked -- for sure -- but it simply has not occurred to her talk about it yet. That's how it goes with flights of imagination. You don't talk about them because they are imaginary.

I get it. And I don't want to break into her magic world until she invites me in...


Friday, June 26, 2009

Bent by the Sun

It all depends what you're made of. Some of the plants in our backyard, including the trees, can become permanently bent by the predominant winds that sweep in from the Pacific to our west.

Flowering stems bend toward the sun, regardless of the wind, seeking their maximum exposure to the solar power that is such a key component of their growth strategy.

Birds and butterflies ride the winds in and out of the neighborhood. A certain species of flies hover; they occupy only a certain band of the atmosphere, as if any elevation higher or lower would be unsustainable.

Hummingbirds dart in and out of the trees to flowers that please them, landing occasionally. Honeybees land for a while on lily pads. The fish swim gracefully throughout the big pond peacefully until one of us approaches. Then they race to the surface, expecting to be fed.

A spire of red wax from a lighted candle ran down the edge of a can on the back porch. Once detached from the can, it stood proudly on its own. Then, as out temperatures increased one recent afternoon, the spire began to bend back onto itself.

Everything adapts; bends but does not break.


Thursday, June 25, 2009

Different Window, Different View


On a ridge far outside of Tucson in a conference center, I first glanced, then stared, open-mouthed, at the morning view. Arriving after dark, in a cab, I was unaware of the natural surroundings.

But this is the kind of place that transforms you to suit its own needs. As when I visited Death Valley earlier this year, I'm transfixed. The plants that thrive here thrive only here.

An ecosystem uniquely spare and lovely stretching as far as the ridges and mountains permit. In your imagination, it never ends.


Tuesday, June 23, 2009

the Athlete, the Flowers, and me

There he goes, dribbling with one hand, pushing off an opponent with another. "Using his body" is the expression coaches use.

A long time ago, growing up around the then-great city of Detroit, I used to watch my dad coach basketball. He was patient but demanding; he liked kids. I'm not sure how successful his teams were, in winning percentage, but I know he was well-liked back by his players.

One of whom, for a while, was my cousin, Ed. Eddie was a natural athlete, who played several sports well, and eventually made all-state. One time we went to see him play in high school, for Royal Oak Dondero.

Possibly happy to have the chance to impress his old coach and uncle, Eddie had a "career game," as it's called, hitting shots from everywhere for 17 points, leading his team to an insurmountable lead, by halftime.

They coasted after that and he ended up with 27 points.

Once you have the physical gifts and the practice, athletics becomes emotional. You have to want to win to win. Which is the simple reason athletes often excel in business; they are used to hard work in pursuit of a goal; they're not easily side-tracked by failure; and they believe that they will ultimately prevail.

Artists, however, run on a different sort of fuel. I was talking to a singer/song-writer friend today about how hard it can be to do what he knows he must do to succeed. You see, it's all about marketing. You've gotta burn a CD, and aggressively push it out to the handlers, the agents, the door-keepers for the stars.

Once they sense your talent and that your style might mesh well with one of their clients, you might get the chance to front for them on a tour. After that, the sky is the limit for a musician.

If we are talking about boys here, boy athletes and boy musicians, there are girls who just adore athletes and girls who just adore musicians. We all know this. The truth is that girl athletes and girl musicians do not always garner the same adoration.

But from the perspective of what the producer wants and needs, as opposed to the consumer, it really doesn't matter what the fans think. An athlete wants to play, she wants to win. A singer wants to sing, she wants to connect emotionally with her audience.

There are plenty who care mainly about money, and there always will be. They sort themselves into professions called marketing, banking, or investment adviser. They have their place and their own small moments of meaning and accomplishment.

But they don't need to be celebrated. Wealth is its own reward.

That's why I write about athletes and artists, primarily. Theirs is the much harder path to travel in this life. You may be jealous of the success a few of them enjoy, but that simply identifies you as neither an athlete nor an artist.

No one does these things primarily for money. Money happens. More often than not, it doesn't. Personally speaking, all of the money the U.S. Treasury could print could never, for me, replace the pleasure of watching one of my child athletes glide across a court, a field, or a pitch with the speed of a rocket and the grace of dancer, handling a ball as if it were an extension of their lovely bodies, fending off opponents as if they were fleas, streaking toward a result that will make them and their mates successful in the challenge at hand.

Nor can money touch the feelings unleashed by art, be it writing, painting, photography, film, performance, dance, poetry, or my favorite, music. Money will never buy my love.


Monday, June 22, 2009

Dad Bird Free Flying

So here is one of the pictures my ten-year-old daughter made for me for Father's Day. It's of me riding a bird high in the sky. She made many pictures, all of which had the phrase "just keep living" attached to them.

I think I will do my best to live up to her entreaty.