Monday, September 24, 2007

Poetry in Government

Here is a great example of poetry used by the government.

This was installed in Riverbend Park by the Fairfax County Park Authority.

The poem is delightful, and I've reprinted it below for your reading ease. Much thanks to Matthew Kaiser and Judy Pedersen of the Fairfax County Park Authority — and my fellow hiker Lois, who has friends in the right places.

Creatures of the Seep

Beneath the rock ledges
And rotting leaf litter,
Live many a bizarre
And strange little critter.
Some that are snail-like,
And some that are shrimpy,
But to survive they must be strong
And not too wimpy.
The petaltail dragonfly larva
Hides in the mud,
Waiting to capture
The little shrimp-like scud.
The planaria’s head
Is shaped like an arrow,
And it’s body is wormlike
And very narrow.
The springsnail lives
On leaves that are decaying,
And salamanders walk underwater
While hunting and preying.

- by Anna and Marty Smith
(Riverbend Park manager and his daughter)

(Image courtesy Fairfax County Park Authority)

Friday, September 21, 2007

A Stranger and Lost

Please read this story in the Washington Post (Random Acts, 9/18/07).

You'll know which one I mean when you read it.

When I read these kinds of inspirational stories, where someone gives not only her shirt but her shoes as well, it makes me strive to be a better person.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Everything But the Vatican

I encountered a new co-worker the other day who seemed nice enough.

Then I read her blog.

Wow, she’s not very nice to my co-workers. Her grammar is awful, too. She also announces when she has written something when she is naked.

These transgressions are not truly crimes (of law, though grammar violations should have more serious consequences than just my derision). Everyone can misspell, use incorrect grammar and be mean. I just didn’t expect to have it sent to me by Google.

You see, Google has this great service: the company will comb blogs and Web sites for keywords upon request, and return with one or more hits whenever the keywords are found. I have four such searches conducted by Google every day: one for work and three for subjects of interest to me. Work is sent to my work e-mail and the rest are sent home.

You, my readers of this and my other blogs, have benefited from this: many news stories I post are from those very sources. This excellent resource allows me to save some time while remaining surprisingly well-informed.

And now it allows me to read what at least one co-worker thinks.

I sent the link to a couple interested parties of authority in the workplace. If they saw nothing wrong with it, no harm, no foul. I also was possibly shooting myself in the foot: I blog. If the Big Boss decided there is to be a blog policy, well, that wouldn’t necessarily bode well for me.

However, I have a few things this other blogger doesn’t.

First, I have a little smarts: I don’t put information in that makes me spot-on recognizable, such as my last name and workplace. I doubt she blogs under her real name (if so, her parents are very cruel), but I do know where she works and for how long.

Secondly, my boss has seen my blog. More than once. In fact, I hope he has checked out the puppy haikus.

Thirdly, I don’t write about work. I love my blogable job (and does anyone else think there should be a second "g" in that word?), but no one would believe half of what I write about it, anyway. It would sound nearly as fantastic as a Dan Brown novel, with people who are too beautiful and too smart and perfect for real life, not to mention close Vatican ties. And it stars Tom Hanks — so how believable is it?

So, really, I can’t blog about work with any credibility.

But I can plug reading and libraries, animals, poetry, pedicures, fitness and common sense (รก la Chris), beg drivers to stay out of my left lane on the highway and pray that I’m not enough of a celebrity to get anywhere near 15 minutes of fame. It’s fleeting and fickle, fame and public adoration, so I’ll just skip it all and live a life of obscurity.

That is, until the Coen Brothers, George Clooney and/or Amy Heckerling read my blog and hire me to write for her/him/them, adding to his/her/their fame and/or fortune — then, well, who am I to refuse her/him/them such talent? (With as much ambiguity in that last sentence and way too many slashes, I'm sure my opportunity is shot. At least, I hope it is. Oh, well, see previous reference to "fleeting and fickle." At least I got it over with quickly and relatively painlessly before I got used to it.)

Friday, September 14, 2007

Puppy Poetry

Despite the fact that poets are reputed to wear black, mope and be terminally and eternally depressed, at times we also can frolic. (Well, as much as one can while wearing black.)

So, here is puppy poetry — just for Vicky.

Haikus are not just for cats. Actually, a haiku is very good for the dog, whose attention span is rumored to be somewhat limited. (Hey, don't shoot the messenger!)

In honor of the pup, and without further ado, here is a dog haiku:

I am your best friend,
Now, always, and especially
When you are eating.

So, pet the dog at Yuckles and chuckle about your best furry friend. Read a few to the dog — she'll probably find 'em funny, too.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Buddy, Can You Spare An Eye?

I think I'm in a little over my head. And that's with the stack of books starting at chest height.

My reading list is getting almost dangerous. Between the two Isaacsons (not counting his newest), a couple of Alboms (yes, I'm hooked on the "Brad Pitt" of the book world, thanks to Carole for her criticism and phraseology!), another Gaiman and a book of women poets from antiquity to the present, I'm going to be a little busy for a while. And we won't even get into the newest releases in a new stack next to the Fall for the Book authors.

Or the All Fairfax Reads book.

And how about The Red Tent, which I have shared with three people, put a fourth copy on a communal bookshelf and have promised to discuss with at least two other people?

Or the new-to-me copy of Benefits, the feminist science fiction from college I finally found? Or the two — no, three novels on the living room chest?

Really, I am in over my head. I need to give up my day job to get some reading done. Or give up sleeping. If I didn't have to worry about a house payment, the decision would be a no-brainer. (Wait, which would I sacrifice again? Sleep or the job? Or both?)

So, please, save me from myself. If you see me wandering into my Borders (it is "my Borders," with as much as my paycheck that stays there when I leave with my new stack), stop me. If you see me balancing books precariously in my arms as I step blindly out of Yesterday's Rose, don't believe me when I say they're all for the lunchroom. The public library isn't safe by any means: those books are free! (Fines not included.) Intervention isn't a bad idea.

But instead, I'd prefer a second set of eyes so I can catch up on my reading.

Until then, look for me behind the towering stack of books on my table. I'll see you on the other side of the page.

Friday, September 7, 2007

What About That Quick Brown Fox, Anyway?

Nowadays, my fingers fly over the keyboard, hitting the letters they seek (for the most part). Bystanders think I am just playing, so they stand behind me, peering over my shoulder as my words appear on the monitor. They look at my hands at work, the monitor, then me, and mutter, “Wow.”

The dubious and obviously unbelievable skill of typing pretty darned fast was a long time coming. In fact, it nearly cost me a failing grade in, of all places, summer school.

At age 13, I took two summer school courses at the high school I would attend that September. I loved school so, for me, summer school was a bonus. We wore sandals and shorts and felt the heat of the day emerge while we were in the cool shelter of the classroom. I planned to take fun classes to let me begin developing skills I wanted to have: typing and gymnastics. The latter was no more than a late wish to be graceful; athletic and perky, I never felt sure-footed, particularly next to my sister the dancer.

Typing, on the other hand, was a necessary skill for a budding writer. Poems and stories emerged from my hands through pencils and pens, and landed soundly on the page. However, Papa Hemingway and Slyvia Plath, Ray Bradbury and Stephen King all sat in front of a typewriter, so I figured all writers had to learn the skill. Plus, every campus newspaper required typed copy. I had to learn.

I had seen keyboards before, and typing guides, but they remained as much a mystery as shorthand scribbles (another skill I was convinced that, no matter how much I could use, would evade me my whole life). If I survived typing, shorthand would be the next monolith to fall. How convenient both skills would be to a journalist!

On the first day of typing class, the room filled with teenagers I had known for my entire academic career. The girls came in clutches, finding seats in groups of three or four. The boys lingered in the halls, filling in the gaps when the tardy bell rang. None of my closest friends had been interested in joining the world of typists in the years before “keyboarding” was foisted upon preschoolers. I wound up sitting on the fringes of a group of cheerleaders. I was the “smart girl,” and those who might be in need of my tutoring casually took the seats around me. They relaxed noticeably, knowing they would not have to pay attention because I would be there to tell them and teach them. Having been the “smart girl” since kindergarten, when I was whisked off the playground and plopped into a first grade classroom for my habit of reading aloud to my fellow students, I understood the benefits I derived from tutoring. However, I would have much rather preferred Beth or April sitting next to me; they would have needed nothing from me but my smile.

In the days of typewriters, a single stroke might mean the difference between a clean term paper and starting the page over. Teachers were strict: no eraser marks or correction tape. Later, dabs of Wite-Out could save a soul as long as the liquid was applied lightly and the typist was patient enough to wait until it dried. Wet Wite-Out made a keystroke look like a footprint in wet sand: sunken, deep and (on the page) permanent. In those days, typing was a risk, and I wanted to avoid the pitfalls to which I watched others succumb.

When the teacher pulled down the typing screen, I studied it carefully. Letters were jumbled about in an apparent random order. What was the ”a” doing next to the “s”? Later, I was told typewriter keyboard setup was changed soon after typewriters first were manufactured because typists using the first setup typed too quickly. It makes sense: it was the only way to comprehend the bizarre letter arrangement.

My first day in typing class was spent trying to not understand why ASDF were together. The exercises were slow and laborious, and my fingers, unused to that cramped space, refused to stay on their own keys. My fingers worked in unison, and lightly. Typing a semicolon repeatedly put a few Ls on the page as well. Striking the F made my other fingers want to leap off the keyboard to support that poor index finger. There was a war going on at the ends of my hands, and the good folks at IBM were losing. If any finger could hit the D strongly, I mused, why restrain the perfectly willing middle finger to the task? Give everyone a chance!

I learned the answer soon, when the second row was introduced. If the pinky wasn’t anchored to the A, all hell would break loose on the keyboard. And at least A was at the end of its row — the semicolon pinky has no wall to help mark its boundaries. Even such a simple word as “the” posed a risk, what with its letters residing on two different rows. Then three. Oh, heavens, V and B sounded alike in the air, then someone put them side by side on a typewriter — whose idea of a joke was that, anyway? Go ahead, try to type “vacuum” or “buoy” without a slip-up, I dare you. Then, when numbers and their shift-symbols were introduced, I would lay awake at night and try to make my fingers remember who needed to reach for a 2 and whose job it was to see if a 1 was up there, or if we had to remember the L instead.

In the end, I got it all down, but I was slow to committing my fingers to a letter. When I sped up, my fingers were like the legs of a newborn fawn: wobbly and all over the place. The teacher was sympathetic. He knew I was capable, just cautious. He gave me ample opportunities to practice, and he was generous with his time and tips.

Despite this, coupled with my burning desire to succeed, I could score no higher than 16 words per minute. With a score like that, I never would be a writer! I never would be a journalist! I would — have to practice, I resigned myself. It was not the most successful summer on record: in gymnastics, I discovered I still could not execute a cartwheel. I could have used a slam-dunk in typing, but it was not to be the case.

Not until my second full-time job in journalism were my typing skills put to the test. A stringer would dictate his stories over the telephone, and when no one else was in the small office, the task fell to me. The previous 10 years of typing practice set the stage for the coming of age. In no time, I was typing at the speed of his speech with few errors, if any. True he knew how to dictate, pausing every few words or phrases for the typist to catch up, but an incompetent typist still could not survive. Yet I did, and beautifully.

Soon, all stringer calls were routed to my desk, the desk of the excellent typist, and my success afforded me more practice. Now, mistakes occurred not because of my inexperience, but because my fingers were too fast for the typewriter (then, later, the computer keyboard). It took a while, but in time and with practice I finally learned to type accurately and quickly, and to wow the audience at home by my prowess at the keyboard.

Today, the idea of transmitting information instantly via e-mail or even that lately outmoded method of facsimile, coupled with keyboarding for infants, have rendered the “typist” nearly obsolete. Now everyone thinks herself or himself a typist — an idea I hope will fade soon. Frankly, between that and the myth that “talent” of writing and design are relayed in a computer program, I fear for the future of communication. While everyone can type, and hence write, not everyone can do it well, or even do it professionally.

However, no matter the future of typing, writing or even creating, I can honestly say typing taught me one unforgettable lesson: the quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Fall for the Book September 23-28

Plan to spend time in Fairfax for Fall for the Book September 23-28! There are fabulous authors and incredibly fun events planned for the festival.

Visit the Fall for the Book Web site for information, and plot your visit carefully so you don't miss anything. I hope to see you there!