Thursday, January 29, 2009

Snowbody knows the trouble I've seen...

My neighbor let me borrow his snowblower yesterday...

The TV news just reported that an airplane was frozen to the tarmac here for nine hours yesterday!
pics by sara

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Cleveland State Poetry Performance Class

Paid a karma-gig visit to Cleveland State as a guest teacher last night. Good group who absorbed a whole lot in a little bit of time. We had a couple laughs and I think the kids may have learned something to boot. In fact – we were having so much fun a student who was just passing by the class asked if he could join in. We said sure! I was especially pleased to see the vivacious Kisha Foster sit in on the session.

And the reviews are in, the instructor writes:

Dear Michael,

Your presence at last Tuesday's Poetry class was so very refreshing, and extremely informative to the class, as well as invaluable from a performance and instructional perspective.

I cannot thank you enough for your unselfish contribution to our students' development, as well as to my own, during your visit. You covered quite a bit in your very limited engagement, yet offered many perspectives in the pursuit of writing and performance.

Again, thank you so very much for acting as a resource and your avowed support.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Two Minutes Flat

Two Minute Play – Number Three


Digital clock numbers appear as if projected – it is 3:25 am. Tight spot light gradually comes up illuminating a Kitchen-Aid mixer on a counter– enough light spills over that we can see the silhouette of a man sitting at a breakfast bar on the other side of this kitchen – He is wearing boxers a t-shirt and slippers – he is eating a bowl of cereal – the box and an old fashioned glass milk bottle are on the counter near him.

We hear an older woman’s accented voice:

Voice: Don’t be expecting anybody to be doing the right thing, okay? ‘Cause ninety nine percent of the time it ain’t gonna happen. Okay, those adages - all of them - they’re a crock. You go home with the one that brought ya to the dance. Yeah – unless they think they can get a little bit ahead by leaving you in the dust. Get it? There’s a whole bunch a folks out there that got no problem climbing over your back to get a better whiff of the cheese. But I ain’t tellin’ you nothing am I – when ya gonna do somethin’?

Man: I am doing something, I’m eating a bowl of cereal then I am going back to bed. Give it a rest.

Voice: Whatever

Outside a dog starts barking – the barks rouse the dog in the next yard and then the next until the barks fade away as the noise get handed down. Thirty seconds or so from start to finish.

Voice: How’s that pointing out that the emperor has no clothes going for ya? Everybody all gasp at once? Everybody appreciate your effort? What about the folks that agreed with you – you know the ones that just couldn’t afford to be public about it – whatever that means – how’s that going for you? Working good? People don’t want to know - they don’t want to know – they say they want to know – but they don’t – they don’t want think that much. People. Ha, but do you ever listen to me?

Man: Why would I listen to you? You’re a mixer, you never leave the counter.

Voice: Oh nice, you’re gonna drag that up – like that has any bearing on what I’m telling you. Fine.

Man: Fine

Voice: Whatever.

Lights fade to black.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Failure is an Option.

When was the last time
you pushed yourself to the breaking point, physically, mentally, emotionally - any of the above. How can one know one’s limits until standing at that precipice and looking down and tossing a couple stones into the valley?

There’s a certain comfort that comes from failure. Not failure in the sense of not achieving a goal – but more along the lines of Underwriters Laboratories type failure, knowing that instant when the aluminum step ladder will buckle under a certain weight or how many chickens shot from a cannon does it take to crack the windshield on a 737. Destructive testing is the monikor.

A lot of the physical fitness things I do require me to work ‘til breakdown – whether it is lifting in the gym, running a tri or attempting to peddle a bike up to the top of Mount Lemon in Tucson or more recently Monte Alban outside of Oaxaca, Mexico. One time I was rock climbing with my oldest son in the hills of West by god Virginia, I was trying to make it up a forty foot wall that he had skittled up like a house gecko. The holds were iffy and I was tethered to a harness, but I wanted to try and erase that safety factor from my mind. I did my best to imagine that there was nothing holding me to the face of that rock other than my hands and feet, I wanted to convince myself that if I fell it would be without the proverbial safety net. I hoped that tricking my mind into believing I was actually in a life threatening proposition would spur me onto success.

I fell, several times, swinging at the end of the rope like the pendulum of a clock. In fact I never did make it up that rock. Similarly, last week, as I was making the mile plus high climb up to the Zapotec ruins atop Monte Alban I failed. I eventually had to get off my rented mountain bike and walk one or two of the ten kilometers of the winding road up. Legs burning, lungs sucking in the thin air, I was forced to admit to myself that I couldn’t make it all the way in the saddle as the rate of my forward progress could no longer keep me upright. (I did get back on with a half kilometer or so to go so that I arrived at the site atop the cycle just in case anyone was watching.)

On the other hand, I did get to the ruins under my own power – and that was an accomplishment. Not the goal I had originally set for myself – but still not too shabby. Also, now knowing the lay of the land I think I might be able to make it the whole way next time. The point is though, I would never have known without trying. Like I say, it’s not so much that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger as it is amazing what one can survive when pushed a bit.

Yesterday Sara and I had the inaugural festivities on the tube all day. What do you think - are we getting back on that bike to finish the climb now?

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Table for Three

One of the highlights
of my trip to Oaxaca was the great food and company kept at meals. Here are a few pics of dinner with the Smiths.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Shaman you!

The guy looked like
a Robinson Caruso character sent directly from Paramount Pictures central casting, Mexico branch, a little lion of a man bushy haired and bushy bearded - a salt and peppered sunburst framing his brown face. When he answered the door I half expected him to dash behind a chair or table leg squatting on his haunches glaring at me like he hadn’t seen another living human in half a lifetime. Instead I was welcomed in and offered a cup of tea. “Muy Caliente!” he warned me.

I’d been in Oaxaca (pronounced wahawka) for almost a week and this was my last adventure before heading back to the States, Temazcal, an authentic indigenous pre-Columbian sweat lodge purification ceremony. I speak no Spanish and my wiry little chum spoke no English so we had that going for us.

As I drank my tea the shaman scittered around his place getting things in order for my appointment in a skintight gray wife beater and matching boxer briefs his lean muscles stretched over his bones like partially inflated bicycle tire tubes. He reminded me of one of those mid jump aerobics instructors you click by while channel surfing. I handed him my empty cup and he got the show on the road.

First he walked around me shaking a bouquet of aromatic branches low pitch chanting as he circled. Then he switched the branches out for a three legged pot filled with burning charcoal and incense permeating me and my clothes with the smoke. All the while recordings of chanting, drum beats and wooden flutes are playing in the background. He put the incensory aside and took a big sip of what I assume was Mezcal (tequila made from the agave plant) walked behind me, lifted my shirt, and sprayed the contents of his mouth on my back. This was bit startling – when he filled his mouth again and walked in front of me lifting my shirt and exposing my stomach the fact that I knew what was coming made it no less disquieting. He then sprayed each of my hands and motioned for me to disrobe.

While I was untying my shoe he whipped off his clothes and quick as a lizard pointed at then scurried on all fours into the sweat lodge. The sweat lodge itself a structure inside the building made from adobe bricks about four feet tall and I would estimate eight feet square with a small doorway covered with a thick woolen blanket. I followed behind and he pointed to a far corner of the space indicating where he wanted me to sit, then he dropped the rug over the doorway.

Okay, so now I am naked in a tiny pitch black room with a little wildman making noises that sound like he is washing dishes cattycorner to me while the temperature is slowly rising – what could possibly go wrong? In just a couple minutes I am sweating like I am in the middle of a triathlon, the shaman rustles a bunch of branches, directing more of the hot air in my direction. This goes on for about fifteen minutes – every now and then he asks “Bueno?” and I reply “Bueno.” All the while the darkness and drum beats are punctuated by his deep loud bearlike sighs. And it’s getting hotter.

He says something and I reply, “No Comprende.” He lifts the rug flap a bit letting in a slit of light and motions for me to lie down on my back. I notice that it is a bit cooler nearer the floor than it was sitting up but our guy fixes that by pouring a bit of water onto the steam source and fanning the result over my body with the branches again. This is where I began to lose track of time. It was literally too dark to see one’s hand in front of one’s face so space was perceptively limitless except for the sounding attributes of the medicine man’s exhalations. I am completely drenched in my own sweat, sloshing as I adjust my position on the carpeted floor beneath me. Subsequently we go through the "me not understanding his directions” ritual of letting in a sliver of light and I figure out that now I am to flip over to my stomach.

More steam, more branch waving, more heat – I notice a puddle in the small of my back, I believe I might be getting a little lightheaded. I hear sloshing again and am thinking that I am not sure how more heat I can take but this time instead of pouring the water over the hot stones to raise the temp a bit he throws the cold water over my body. Just a little wakeup call, he does his three more times and I realize the relief that this provides. He then has me lift my legs up in the air while I remain on my stomach like a person saying an evening prayer who has had the bed snatched away and fallen onto their face locked into position. More steam, more branch rustling, more sighs, more heat.

I feel his hands motion my feet back down and I am prone again sweat pouring off of me like an overflowing bathtub. I hear the branches rustling again and figure more heat is on its way, but instead, he starts smacking me up and down my legs and back with the bundle. Not hard enough to cause any real pain but still it stings a bit. He goes up one side of my body then down the other four times paying special attention to the back of my head and neck, grunting a bit under the exertion. This is followed by the quadruple dousing of cool water which I am actually beginning to look forward to and he has me flip onto my back again.

We follow the same pattern; he cranks the heat up again, beats me up and down the front with a bundle of branches and douses me. God knows how much time has passed by. I am returned to the seated position and by now the air at head level is searing. Just when I am thinking I may have to call an end to this ceremony he throws open the door “Vamose.” I crawl out into the light like a sloth from a swamp and lie face down on a pile of blankets just outside of the doorway where I am covered with small pile of similar blankets to cool like a pie draped with a washcloth on a windowsill.

My spirit partner buries himself under a stack of his own as well. I am feeling pretty good but I can’t help wondering how much time has passed – I am also laughing to myself at the absurdity of my life, in a good way. Then I hear the shaman snoring – he’s passed out under his blankets and I’m thinking I may never get out of here so I let out a pretty loud bear sigh of my own and he rouses, wraps a blanket around his waist and brings me back another cup of tea – lukewarm this time.

This is followed by a routine massage similar to ones I have received at health clubs in the past and then I jump into the shower and get dressed. While I am showering the phone rings, my hosts here in Oaxaca are wondering where I am. It turns out that instead of the hour and a half session that they and I assumed I was getting, I had been there just under three hours! I’ve got to say, I felt pretty good afterwards. Not too bad for thirty eight bucks, the massage alone would have cost more back home and I don’t think it’s even legal to have a naked man beat you with branches in Mentor, Ohio!

Friday, January 9, 2009

Chinese Carryout in a Houston Super 8 Motel

Today I am participating
in a self imposed social experiment by spending eight hours in the Houston airport. As I said earlier I am at the whim of the air-mile gods whose infinite wisdom decreed that I had to fly here last night and wait ‘til 6 this evening to continue on my expedition to visit the Smiths in Oaxaca. I could have taken a bus or something into the city – but I decided to skip that expense and just tough it out.

Traveling alone is rarely a pleasant experience. Little things become more complicated. Say you’re just sitting minding your own business typing away on your laptop in the Continental lounge (which you have successfully talked your way into – no doubt with the help of your snazzy new hat) and you need to use the facilities. Well there is nobody to look after your stuff – you must shut down and re-pack your backpack and shlep your gear along with you. As much as I would like to trust my fellow man – losing all my junk isn’t worth the hazard. Even so these little episodes of minor annoyance do help punctuate your time. When tossed into an unfamiliar situation our psyches will take what they can to get through the passing of time. For example – it only takes a day or two of incarceration until one’s whole world revolves around mealtime – one’s self perception can be reduced to that of a snorting Boston terrier dancing on kitchen tiles with very little effort – Wonder Bread and Kraft cheese slices – mmmmmm.

Another batch of pastimes I am guilty of is eavesdropping, reading over folk’s shoulders and coming up with life stories for people based on their wardrobe and items that are carrying.

There are two major types of conversations that one may overhear when on the road. First you have you communications by people traveling together. These are usually short transmissions of info and questions about destinations, boarding pass checks – a tall shaggy haired 30 something in a shirt with a pattern that shouldn’t have survived 1968 and his skinny black clad straight raven haired female companion get up to head to their gate – he asks her if she still has her driver’s license. I think, no bozo, she tossed it into the trash when she came into the lounge.

But these are the kinds of things that go through a person’s mind when on the road. One checks their pockets to be sure their wallet is still there, looks at their passport, checks their boarding pass for departure times over and over and over again – I like to call this syndrome (actually I just made it up right now) Travelers Tourettes. You’ve seen it – you’ve done it – looked inside your purse or backpack for an item you know is there and then check for it again a half an hour later or sooner.

The second type of conversation I have noticed is the rehearsed story. This is the pat mini autobiography shared with complete strangers. These can veer in a couple directions – you’ve got your one-up-manship usually between a couple “marketing” types.

Okay – a little aside here - when did salespeople become marketers? Is it an image thing? Who do you think you’re fooling - you’re peddlers – you’re adding no value to your product you’re simply selling the goods – are you ashamed of this fact? Let me know.

So one can overhear these “marketers” bragging about where they’ve been, what they’ve done, who they met and all the while the guy that is being spoken to (and it usually is a couple males participating in this metaphorical head butting) does his best to cut down the achievement of the first. “Oh, you were selling data systems to the Buddhist monks in Bangkok and they taught you how to kick box? Well of course you’ve not really seen Thailand ‘til you get out of the city.”

Well, I see I am getting to the end of the page here and I’ve managed to kill a little time. Guess I should go out and dig up something to eat on the concourse.
Next installment (hopefully) – arrival in Oaxaca.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Oaxaca this way...

I am off on an adventure to visit some beatnik friends in the bowels of Mexico. I’ll be hanging out on the roof of Mr. and Mrs. Smith (their names have NOT been changed to protect the innocent) in Oaxaca watching the world pass by far from the ice and wind of the north coast. I’ve been to a few border towns over the years but this is my first foray into the interior of this other North American country. I’ve always found it a bit pretentious that US citizens call themselves Americans, as if Canada and Mexico are just vestigial adjuncts to the country, tonsils and appendix if you will.

I’m flying on air miles so I am at the whim of the capricious overlords of Continental Airlines whose abundant wisdom believes I need to spend a night in Houston on my trek – so I am going to have to find a way to kill a day in the Magnolia City. I do have a short stack of pedagogical texts I have been threatening to read a couple plane rides and an itinerant hotel stay will provide that opportunity. I do my best reading 30,000 feet in the air.

I have absolutely no plans planned for Oaxaca, which is a rather new way to travel for me since most of my escapades revolve around working in a school, and I am traveling without my usual partner in crime so who knows what trouble I’ll get into minus that mitigating force.

Stay tuned.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Giving Cheerleaders a bad name...

Okay, so I am sitting in the whirlpool
at the gym after a spinning class and swimming some laps. Fox News is on the idiot box on the other side of the glass enclosure which surrounds the whirlpool. I usually switch the channel wherever I am when Faux News is on but I was chest deep in bubbling 104 degree water. The closed caption was on the tube – so I was able to follow along.

The report was about some new face recognition technology being used in conjunction with the cameras in ATMs. Seems this software can scan the image coming into the security camera and then run it against a criminal database and flag any suspected wrongdoers that it matches.

The guy reporting then lauded the 93% success rate. I’m thinking to myself – I don’t want to be that seven out of a hundred that’ll be having their doors kicked in for no reason. The reporter addresses this by saying some Civil Libertarians - in I imagine that “what a bunch of nut jobs” tone that Fox does so well – are worried about the Big Brother aspects of the practice.

After the reporter finishes – the leg flaunting blonde ditz portion of the America’s Newsroom anchor duet Megyn Kelly questions - and I paraphrase accurately though, “Why would anyone’s big brother be worried about this, what do people talk about big brothers all the time?”

Her Clark Kent lookalike co-anchor explains that there was this author named George Orwell…

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Adios 2008!

2008 has been a remarkable year and I am glad it is over.

We logged a butt load of travel miles in ’08 – Kazakhstan, Java, Bali, Turkey, Singapore and Egypt plus various locales in the US. We’ve been attacked by monkeys, crawled inside pyramids, paid bribes to various public officials, eaten horse and camel meat, sailed on the Nile, woke up to call to prayers, chased a snake through a rice paddy, met thousands of school kids and scores of teachers, taken and led and listened to workshops and keynote addresses, made new friends, had a couple books published, ran some triathlons, painted the garage, planted a garden, had a kid grow up and move out of the house, driven through blizzards and witnessed an historic presidential election.

We also lost loved ones – some needlessly too soon, others whose lifelong presences will be missed – each leaving a hole. We’ve seen stock markets swallow savings and watched violence erupt and boil in some of the places we have visited over the years, we’ve been disappointed by folks and organizations we trusted and watched family members face their own crisis wishing we could do more.

But – we’re still here, moving forward.

This has been a remarkable year – the highs have been stratospheric – the lows subterranean.

Good bye ’08 – thanks for the memories – now don’t let the door hit you in the ass.

’09 – bring it on.