Sunday, May 31, 2009

Pretentious Artists

As neighborhood taverns
go the Literary Café in Cleveland’s Tremont neighborhood has long been one of my favorites. It has a regular cast of characters (heavy on the character side) and also hosts one of the best poetry series in the city.

Another bunch that calls the Lit Café home is the Pretentious Artists of Tremont Drawing Club. Every Friday this crew invites a model to come in for a three hour sitting. To be a model all one has to do is sign up on the calendar that is hanging in the back room. The poobah of the event Tim Herron invited me to sign up back in the beginning of the year. The calendar was booked five months into the future so finally this past Friday I was their guest.

Here are three of the resulting portraits.

by larry zuzik

by tim herron

by Artour

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Hook Line and Sinker

Spent Memorial Day at my sister's farm - Here's a pic that she took of my son Frank that just defines bucolic. The tall blond is Stella and the short salt and peppered one is Mabel.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Please Don't Kill Me


I signed up for a trio of triathlons this year (with a fourth in Connecticut possible depending on what funds look like at the end of the summer.) My big race this year is going to be the Cleveland Triathlon again. I liked the race last year. It’s fun being downtown with so many folks, over a thousand participants are expected. I’m also running the Fairport Tri – it’s close to home and affordable and then I’ll be doing the Lorain Tri where I placed second in my division last year (my division being that of Clydesdale – competitors weighing over 200 pounds.)

All the running I did in order to run the Cleveland Half Marathon has laid a pretty good base endurance-wise now I need to get my bicycle legs and swim back up to speed. Frankie and I chopped down a tree for my parent’s yesterday and on the way home we passed a half dozen or so cyclist. The number of people on bikes on the side of the road seems to be increasing each year. I’m sure some of this phenomenon can be attributed to the fact that I ride and am more aware of others out there on two wheels – but I’d be willing to bet that the number of folks out there pounding pedals has increased.

So people – please remember to share the road. By law that spandex wearing cyclist has every bit of right to be on the road as those behind their two tons of glass and steel. In fact it is illegal for a cyclist to ride o the sidewalk in most instances. A little common sense comes into play here – when on my townie bike going to the grocery or something I will take to the sidewalk since I am going to be travelling under ten miles an hour for the most part and can make adjustments for pedestrians – on the other hand if I am on my racer pushing twenty five mph – I would be a menace to walkers.

Like any subset of humanity there are idiot cyclists out there but for the most part we have a vested interest in staying alive. To whit I would like to offer a few tips to drivers out there. Firstly, relax. The extra fifteen to thirty seconds your trip will take you to safely pass the guy or gal on the bicycle up there is not going to alter the trajectory of your life a whole hell of a lot. As soon as it is safe to do so pass safely and quickly – prolonging your time behind the rider only prolongs the time that something could go wrong.

Let’s see - you don’t need to beep your horn – we know you’re back there, shouting out your window trying to scare a rider is just stupid – especially when I just might be catching up to you at the next light – fair warning I WILL squirt you with my water bottle. . Oh, this is important, watch your right hand turns – that cyclist you just passed didn’t disappear into the ether because you overtook them – they’re still back there moving forward. I’ve been run off the road a half dozen times in the last three years by people making right hand turns. Every time, I was in a designated bike lane.

So that’s it – keep your eyes open. Even if you raise your awareness to bicyclist by five percent it’ll make a difference ‘cause any of us out there two wheeling it with any sense are spending one hundred percent of our time watching out for you.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Catch me if you can! (you probably can.)

Putting all the hills at the end was absolutely diabolical.

So I survived my first half marathon. Not only did I survive – but I crossed the finish line with a smile on my face even though two of the last three miles were uphill. I was hoping to finish with under eleven minute miles - having already decided that my original idea of nine minute miles was ludicrous after beginning my training program in earnest – but I blew that goal away.

I don’t know if it was the inspirational quotes on the backs of other runners t-shirts “Pain is weakness leaving the body” the beastie boys blaring in my ear buds or just the pure adrenalin rush of running in such a large pack of humanity (five THOUSAND runners in the half marathon) but I came in at about a 9:50 clip finishing in the top third of my division – shaving seconds off each successive mile. A little over four months of training boiled down to a two hour finale.

This event was a family affair in every connotation of the term. Sara walked the 10K my 17 year old son Franklin and my daughter in law Kelly raced the 10k, Frank cruised in with a eight and a half minute pace and my oldest boy Max, up from Ohio State, glided through the half at a 7:30 clip. Max and I used the same training regimen that we downloaded from so we were able to commiserate after each Saturday’s long run.

It all comes down to pacing – throughout the race I passed other runners, my pace for each mile never varying more than a minute or so, and then only because I was shaving off five seconds here and ten seconds there as I progressed through the race, I’d be willing to bet my last mile was my fastest. When I hit those hills at the end I was able to push through while a lot of the folks around me decelerated into a trot and then a walk. Don’t get me wrong, when I encountered the hills with three miles to go there were plenty of racers in front of me who had already finished and were snacking on bananas and lounging in the sun but I am proud to know I ran what was probably the best race I could.

As I entered downtown a half mile or so from the finish I saw Max appear next me – he had finished forty or so minutes ahead of me and I had earlier in the day told him that a real son would track back and find his dad and finish the race with him. Well the kid did it. We crossed the line together, he for the second time (which completely screwed up his ranking since his timing chip was recorded going over the magnetic strip twice.) He pushed me to finish strong which is why I think my last mile was my fastest.

I didn’t forget who I was racing for and I thought about Stephie a lot while I ran and I cried a couple times too – this fact hidden by my wrap-arounds and sweat. I think this race is a good analogy to dealing with the loss of a loved one. You put one foot in front of the other, at your own pace and you move forward the best you can hopefully you pick up a little speed as you go along. Don’t expect it to be easy though – it’s supposed to hurt, if you’re not in pain you’re not trying hard enough - don't worry there are folks at the finish line who are going to cheer you in no matter when you come in. Sometimes T-shirts make good sense.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Release the experts!

Spent yesterday at Berkshire High
working with 9th graders on personal narrative – the day before I videoed the same exercise for an online course at Chancellor University in downtown Cleveland. So Karmic-ly, I guess this is a week for telling and gathering stories.

While I was working at Berkshire (the kids were great – I forgot my camera so no pics, rats) there was another consultant at the school working with teachers on reading across the curriculum. I was heartened to see this. My host teacher – sort of makes me sound like a tick – in her first year of teaching was fresh out of the teacher oven glowing with ideas and enthusiasm but, she was already involved in professional development - kudos to the administrators at Berkshire. (Kudos by the way, is one of the words hilariously defined and whimsically illustrated in my recently published book of SAT level vocabulary word poems – click on the cover over there at the right.) So to torture the host parasite metaphor a bit more, Berkshire High was lousy with consultants.

Consultant – kind of a catch all phrase – that nebulous occupation question line answer that never really satisfies the questioner.

What do you do?
I’m a consultant.

See? Kind of flat, you don’t know if the person answering is really saying, “I am not sure myself what I do” or “it’s none of your business” or “I’m a spy for the Dayton, Ohio chamber of commerce.” Back when I was working in the manufacturing world - consultant meant someone with a briefcase from out of town charging exorbitant amounts of money to tell you things you already know. Even so, when I get bumped into a first class seat on a plane ( an occurrence I consider hazardous duty pay for all the miles I’ve flown in the previous year) I am more likely to tell the guy or gal sitting next to me in their gray fitted business suit that I am an educational “consultant” than a poet. The wispy miasma of consultant-hood is much more easily digested by your typical front of the plane dweller than the perceived cold cock to the back of the ear of poet.

So what is a good consultant?

From my perspective a consultant is a specialist – someone who has studied and become really well versed in one aspect of your whole job so that by conferring with this person you can improve your overall success by implementing new ideas and strategies suggested by them into your routine.

How’s that? Do I sound consultant-ish?

Another way to think about it would be to utilize the ubiquitous sports analogy. Baseball teams employ all kinds of coaches: pitching, catching, fielding, batting, strength, nutritionists, sports psychologist and seemingly lately pharmacists. Now, you’re obviously not going to ask the nutritionist how to hit a high slider – it’s not their job to know this but you would ask them which is higher in potassium, a banana or an avocado. By taking advice from the right experts you improve you overall performance – taking advantage of the extra time these folks have put into that particular aspect of your total profession.

This weekend I am running a half marathon in memory of our granddaughter Stephanie, who we lost to complication of ITP last year at this time. I had no idea how to get ready for a race of this length. So, I went online and found a program to follow put together by an expert – an online consultant - that supposedly will see me crossing the finish line under my own power this Sunday. I’ll let ya know how it goes.

Oh yeah, an avocado has more than twice as much potassium than a banana.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Hiya Watha!

30,000 feet above Illinois
the clouds below look like something a couple of bad dogs might have rend from a couch’s cushion – puffs of stuffing scattered across a transparent living room floor. Fortunately the ear piercing whine that accompanied our takeoff has subsided leaving only an ocean roar that might be emitted from a twenty or thirty foot conch shell as we jet from Minneapolis to Cleveland.

I’m coming back from the International Reading Association Annual conference. This was a good one – I made a lot of really great contacts and even finagled my way into working with one of my pedagogical heroes, Ellin Keene – author of Mosaic of Thought and her newest To Understand. Both are seminal texts on comprehension theory and both make me want to stand up and run around the room in circles to expend the energy infused from the insights I’ve garnered while reading them. I will be a part of her institute at the end of June in Albuquerque New Mexico – I offered to empty waste baskets and park attendee’s cars – I hope she doesn’t take me up on that. In reality I’ll probably end up leading a couple break out sessions or hosting a reading – singing for my supper if you will.

Now is one of those times where it is right for me to sit back and appreciate how good I’ve got it. The last year has been a tough one for so many different reasons but it has also had some pretty high moments as well. This conference I am returning from is one of the higher ones. I was one of the organizers along with Magritte Ruurs, of an event called the IRA Poetry Olio – a fun reading featuring children and young adult authors, poets, and storytellers. This was the 14th annual installment and the third or fourth that I have been a part of.

To mix things up a bit I invited four local Minneapolis poets who have represented their city at the national Poetry Slam to also be on the bill with our more famous and established authors. Working with slam poets is always a precarious endeavor. You never know when one of these firebrands will decide that their “freedom of speech” usurps the sensibilities of their audience. I’ve seen visiting author programs shut down because of a certain “spoken word artist’s” misplaced sense of his or her right to say what they want audience and location be damned.

My trust in Cynthia French, the local organizer I counted on to wrangle me a posse of performance poets was well rewarded – the crew she assembled couldn’t have been more entertaining, gracious, thoughtful of their audience or professional – in a nutshell they made me look like a genius. Their good work has greased the rails for the inclusion of more local slammers when the convention moves to Chicago next year and years to follow.

On a side note – as I was riding the light rail train to the airport I eavesdropped on a conversation between a very pretty and petite blonde young woman and her male companion. She was extolling the virtues of field gutting salmon to make them easier to carry back from a river. I just love the Midwest dontchya know. That pretty missy serving you that apple caramel and pecan pie at the diner might have a smile just as sweet but chances are, if she had to, she could butcher you out and make bacon outta your butt – youbetchya.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Two wheels are better than one...

The woman next door

is walking down her drive wearing flannel red and black checked pj bottoms and a big grey t-shirt to pick up the Sunday paper. Outside everything is greening – the grass needs cutting – the maples that straddle our street seem to have sprouted leaves overnight. Hector – the rat terrier mix - is sitting on the arm of the red chair by one of the two front windows of the house. He takes it as a personal insult if anyone has the audacity to walk across our front lawn – if they do so with a dog on a leash – well that’s just beyond the pale. We’ve already put a fair sized portion of our garden in – betting against frost – so far so good.

I’m thinking about going on my first real bike ride of the season – I’ve logged a couple fifteen milers but today I think I’ll attempt something along the lines of a forty mile or so ride. Since I have been preparing to run the half marathon I have been putting in a whole lot more running time than usual. Have I told you how much I hate running? I was hoping to finish my thirteen miles at a pace around nine and a half minutes per mile. Well it seems I could keep that up for maybe five miles – it’s looking much more pragmatic to shoot for just an under eleven minute pace for the whole race.

Biking - on the other hand – allows me to move out at a much quicker clip. While twenty to twenty five miles an hour may seem like crawling from within the confines of three thousand pounds of rubber plastic and glass – on a bicycle it feels like you’re being sling-shotted over a canyon. I’ve hit near fifty miles an hour on some very serious downhills – this is quite nerve fraying. I don’t know if my over two hundred pounds helps me accelerate downhill or not – any physicists out there? I do know one realizes one false move, one unseen chunk of asphalt, one slip onto a soft berm or an inattentive automobile pilot backing from a drive could end up hurting a whole bunch.

I’ve become more scientific in choosing my routes. I check wind direction and elevation trying to insure that most of my climbing and riding into the wind is at the beginning of my route – downhill and wind at my back if possible on the way back. A ten mile an hour wind in one’s face while perched atop a bicycle makes a whole lot more difference than one would reasonably imagine and of course, it is way easier to finish up heading downhill.

The service I use to figure these things out is called running map dot com. This free online program not only lets you set and save different routes it also will show you elevation – take this info swing by weather dot com and scope out the wind’s direction and you’re good to go. This site has also allowed me to stay on track (no pun intended) with my training for the marathon by allowing me to set courses while I am out of town. Scope it out – ain’t the internets amazing?