Latest Entries »

Coal MineAppropriately, yesterday I toured the Tour-Ed Mine, a coal mine in Western Pennsylvania. Inside the mine, our tour guide, John, walked us through 100 years of coal mining technique and safety. Unfortunately, not much was done in the way of safety for the workers until it simply became too expensive not to keep them alive. As for technology, as our tour guide, John, put it, “Electricity was a godsend to the coalminer.” Interestingly, 37% of our electricity today is powered by coal.

Also, today, there are sensors built into the [extremely] loud mining equipment that test the air for gasses rather than sending in a fire boss (a man doused in water sent in first with a torch) or canaries for their faster susceptibility to airborne poisons, miners wear hardhats with battery-operated lights built in rather than candles fastened to a canvas hat or later, carbide acetylene torches attached to leather “turtle shell” mine hats. Modern coal mines don’t have much need for the use of explosives, either, which does away with the warning, “Fire in the hole!” called out from relative “safety” around the corner as black powder blasted a hole (around the corner because explosions travel in a straight line).

Coal MineMy favorite parts of the tour were the rope line, patent filed as recently as 1998, consisting of a fire-retardant rope strung through the mine that miners could [hopefully] find and follow to the mine entrance in the event of a blackout. The rope line has little cones on it that indicate by touch which way is “in” and which way is “out” of the mine. Another favorite detail was the way John talked about superstitions in coal miners, even in modern day, as John himself mined coal for more than 20 years. Coal miners save part of their lunch for “later,” when they reach the surface again, and John said he’s never seen a coal miner kill a rat, ever. Rats, to this day, are an early warning system to ground tremors.

As we celebrate the Labor movement today, I thank our nation’s coal miners past and present for their backbreaking work in dark, cold, and incredibly dangerous conditions.

Today I’m reminded that, as far as we have come over the years, there is still so much further to go. Keep striving, America.

~
Jody Brown is the author of Upside Down Kingdom, and is a multi-blogger, poet, and traveler. Her current writing projects, including her daily blog endeavor, #Project365, can be found at JodyBrown.com/writing

Marking the Miles, August

August recapI don’t know about you, but I’ve enjoyed August. This month has been full of lists, stories, conversations, and even a Zombie Sonnet.

Behind the scenes, I took on a part time job to help cover expenses as I write. Grant funding would have made this process much, much smoother, but then, that’s the purpose behind grant funding in the first place. So, I make lemonade from lemons. On the one hand, mapping out deadlines has become a little hairy now that I have hours committed to being at a job site, but on the other hand, the writer brain never stops writing regardless of where it is. And these things have a way of working themselves out for the best: With the job, I’ve also had some fun experiences that feed the writing, from training that brought to mind Deer in Headlights and The Intern’s Job, to the frustration of training, which brought out some edgier stuff like the F Word and Righteous Indignation. I must apologize for the angst in Who Died and Made You King?, even though I thought it through for a few days before writing it and I’ve been getting positive feedback on it.

On a gorgeous day off, I penned The Language of the People. And from the comment conversation that took place around the Typo piece with fellow blogger ChiTrader, I wrote Traversing the Galaxy of Lost Ideas, another person favorite of mine because I’d been noodling on it for a week before ChiTrader said something that unlocked the writing in my brain.

Thank you to all of you for following and for commenting. This daily blog project, #Project365, was a big bite to chew that has become an exciting “family” event thanks to all of you.

Here’s to a great August. I’ll meet you back here tomorrow.

~
Jody Brown is the author of Upside Down Kingdom, and is a multi-blogger, poet, and traveler. Her current writing projects, including her daily blog endeavor, #Project365, can be found at JodyBrown.com/writing

PittsburghToday I’m playing tourist in my own hometown because everyone should spend time being a tourist in their own home.

The morning began with a ride on the Duquesne Incline, built in 1877 as a way for people who lived on the hill (now called Mount Washington) to get down into the city and back up again. Following that was a rousing lunch at the Church Brew Works for a falafel hoagie and coconut stout. (How could I skip Primanti Bros., my ‘burgh friends will ask. But Primanti’s was yesterday. Pittsburgh My Way means there’s always food on the tour.)

After lunch, a quick look around at the Cathedral of Learning, my old haunt when I was a student at the University of Pittsburgh. All of my writing classes took place in this gothic-style building. I love not only taking pictures of this building but walking through it and putting my hands on the stones themselves.Pittsburgh

We then purposely headed south so we could turn around and burst through the Fort Pitt Tunnel for the dazzling panoramic view of the city of Pittsburgh.

And what day would be complete without zombies? We headed north to the tiny town of Evans City where Night of the Living Dead was filmed by Carnegie Mellon’s George Romero. Evans City is also the new location of the Living Dead Museum.

All in all, a great day, and it’s not over yet. Many people remember Pittsburgh of the 1970’s, with the smokestacks and the grit. Today’s city is a world away from that. It’s clean, it’s bright, and it’s filled with historical architecture, comfort food, and a spirit of whimsy that even the surrounding area cannot deny.

It’s so exciting for this world traveler to call Pittsburgh home.

~
Jody Brown is the author of Upside Down Kingdom, and is a multi-blogger, poet, and traveler. Her current writing projects, including her daily blog endeavor, #Project365, can be found at JodyBrown.com/writing

Siena boar's headA couple years ago, I attended a metal smithing class in chasing and repoussé with master metalsmith Valentin Yotkov, who had arranged to take us to the nearby town of Siena to sightsee for the day.

We were dropped in Siena, in Italy, and my classmates and I broke into groups and agreed to meet back at a designated time. Well, we broke into groups to an extent. A pattern had been established where one participant consistently wanted to go off by himself, specifically to find a pub. This time around, some classmates placed good faith bets as to whether Todd would make it back on time. I alone was on what I called “Team Todd.” I believed he’d make it back. And I took a lot of good-natured ribbing for it. Given the track record, the odds were not in my favor.

We split up, wound our way through the craggy and steep streets, ate lunch at the town square, the Piazza del Campo, looked at olive wood in the small shops, dodged the rain on a bank terrace, and eventually found our way back to a butcher shop under the boar’s head. The shop had been about to close up when the shop owner spotted Valentin’s assistant Sharon, and immediately, the shop was re-opened for our group and we proceeded to indulge in wine and cheese that appeared out of nowhere for us inside the little shop. And lo and behold, Todd was in the shop when my foursome and I arrived. He was telling the story of his adventures that he began again for our benefit.

He’d walked the same streets as we had, down to the Piazza del Campo, and found a trattoria/pub that overlooked the square. When the rain started, he watched the square clear out as everyone huddled under the storefronts ringed around the piazza. The entire bustling place was suddenly hushed. That’s when he saw one couple, hand in hand, walk into the center of the piazza. Slowly they made their way, and once in the center, the man stopped. He turned to the woman, got down on one knee, the woman nodded and he sprung up, and they exchanged hugs and kisses as everyone in the distant perimeter erupted into cheer. Todd said the people on either side of him were in tears seeing this, and everyone in the pub started hugging. He’d been filming the event on his phone, and hoped to find the couple somehow and send it to them.

Siena, ItalyI think of this story from time to time, and it never fails to make me smile. It also reminds me, that no matter how many times someone has let you down or shown up late or managed to get lost at the most inopportune times, there is always room for belief in each other. Bet on that.

Go, Team Todd.

~
Jody Brown is the author of Upside Down Kingdom, and is a multi-blogger, poet, and traveler. Her current writing projects, including her daily blog endeavor, #Project365, can be found at JodyBrown.com/writing

charge postWhy is it that people with no real authority in life always seem to get a bee in their bonnet and decide to pick on the lives of others?

Sometimes they’re coworkers, other times neighbors, friends, or family, but regardless of the form they take, they always appear out of nowhere and try to wreck someone else’s day. This is not, “Hey, watch where you’re walking, there’s a pit ahead,” this is, “You’ll do what I say, starting right now, because I’ve had enough and I’m taking over this ship.”

The problem is that self-appointed, angry people don’t really make good leaders. Life isn’t Designing Women, where one sharp-tongued woman steps onto a new scene and suddenly decides she’s taken all she can from “the way it’s always been done before” people. When this happens in real life, it’s from the loudest person in the room, the one who focuses on his or her own voice so much that they overlook everything else at stake. Imagine: There’s a piece of trash sitting on the ground next to the can and it needs to be picked up, but beyond the trash can there’s a three-car pileup and people are injured, so do we scream about the trash, or do we help the injured? To a non-leader, all that matters is making that big voice boom and they’ll yell about trash all day long as the injured attempt to crawl from their cars.

So why is it that people with no real authority in life always seem to get a bee in their bonnet and decide to pick on the lives of others? The answer lies in the question: They have no real authority. They don’t see the forest for the trees and they never have. No one should ever give them a true position of power because of it. But think about it from their end for a moment: It’s frustrating to decide to control the world, to march up to the podium donning your bee bonnet, and yell into the microphone only to find the world isn’t listening. The best they can do is make you angry enough to yell back, and that’s what they want. So don’t. Oh, the simplicity of those two words! And yet, for most of us, it can take a lifetime of meditation and love to accomplish something like that. So while we work on it, there may be an interim answer.

When yelled at for something asinine, take five seconds and think to yourself, “Who died and put this person in charge?” It’s childish, but you’re thinking it anyway.

If this person is the boss, then quietly do what they say and explain your position later (and possibly look for another place to work).

If, more likely, this person is not the boss nor ever will be because of that forest-for-the-trees thing, then look them in the eye and calmly point out, “There are bigger things at stake here.”

And go about your business.

~
Jody Brown is the author of Upside Down Kingdom, and is a multi-blogger, poet, and traveler. Her current writing projects, including her daily blog endeavor, #Project365, can be found at JodyBrown.com/writing

Zombie Sonnets, because nobody ever said you had to write about flowers.

Zombie Sonnet 5: Zombies at the State Fair

The entrance workers try to stamp their hand
To grant them access through that steely gate,
But zombies lack the flesh enough to brand
So bracelets for the kids become their fate.The Zombie Sonnets
But once inside, the zombies get on par.
They win at goldfish, tossing plastic rings,
And try to keep their limbs inside the car,
While gazing at the view the Sky Ride brings.
In dodging llama spit they make a mess,
And overtake the funhouse playing tricks.
But vendors like the hungry zombies best,
For zombies love to eat their food on sticks.
They get a kick from pictures that they take,
Those cardboard human cutouts take the cake.

 

~
Jody Brown is the author of Upside Down Kingdom, and is a multi-blogger, poet, and traveler. Her current writing projects, including her daily blog endeavor, #Project365, can be found at JodyBrown.com/writing

The Mouse that Roared

The Mouse that Roared postMy great aunt Irene was the person in the family who told it like it was and she didn’t mince words. When you acted up at the dinner table and everyone sighed and looked at their peas, she was the one to voice what everyone was thinking, “Stop acting like a fool,” she’d say. And because she was opposing factions in one body (which are so very Pittsburgh), on the one hand an old, wise woman, who’d seen hardships; on the other, a bosomy hugger who opened her door to you when you needed comfort, advice, tea, and a cookie from the tin on her kitchen table, everyone listened when she talked. And she talked no-nonsense.

She’d tell you to “Cut the crap,” then plant you on the right path in a way that let you know you could do it. You left her house with a sense of purpose, and renewed belief in yourself no matter how crazy your dream. On your way out, she’d always remind you where she hid the key so you could return anytime you liked.

She passed a few years ago, and it seems another of my aunts is slowly becoming more and more like her. Typically an unassuming and quiet person, my younger aunt let it fly the other day when talking about some unruly children in church.

“The Pittsburgh fire burns within,” I thought to myself.

My sister said, “She’s the family’s new Aunt Irene.”

And my Dad remarked, “She’s turning into the mouse that roared.”

And in all this, it amazes me that we all strive to have her qualities—qualities of seeing the clear-eyed truth and converting hardship into belief. She developed these gorgeous gifts the hard way. And yet, you can ask anyone in my family, we’d choose the hard road any day for even the smallest blessing of these gifts.

~
Jody Brown is the author of Upside Down Kingdom, and is a multi-blogger, poet, and traveler. Her current writing projects, including her daily blog endeavor, #Project365, can be found at JodyBrown.com/writing

The Ringers of Earth

ringer post 1Watching golf with Dad…

“With that shot, we have a new leader,” Dad says.

“Where is this one from?” I ask.

“I forget,” he says. “Uh, Earth. He’s from Earth.”

“Earth?” I ask.

“Yes.”

“Wasn’t last year’s winner from Earth?”

“Uh, yeah, I think he was,” he says.

“Got some golf ringers on Earth.”

“That they do,” he says. “Lot of talent on Earth.”

~
ringer post 2

My first book, Upside Down Kingdom, is available on Amazon. I’m working on the second.

wheel postAs I posted yesterday about the young man who instructed wisdom beyond his years, I also spent some time thinking about the fire of youth. I wondered if this young man’s youth helped him to be so staunch about making up his own mind versus going along with the crowd.

Youth has its advantages. For many, not for all, but for many, being young means they haven’t spent years trying to get noticed by their boss, followed by years of trying to fly straight and keep their heads down. They haven’t spent time arduously working their way up as doors slam in their faces. They don’t have a family and a mortgage riding on their decisions. They haven’t had to choose between what they really want and what’s good for the household. They haven’t had to live long term with the stress of going against the grain. Time and aching joints have not worn them down in life. And sometimes, they’ve even spent the last few years figuring out that pleasing their parents and teachers to their own detriment is a concept to be thrown out the window.

These things, yes, may have helped this young man to stick to his guns. Yet youth did not help him reach his conclusion that “you should make up your own mind, regardless of what anyone says.”

No, as much as going rogue is a youthful concept, making an unpopular choice and sticking to it is not.

You can spend your whole life, eking out a living and taking on what others give you. You can sit up straight, work hard, and speak only when spoken to. You can keep your eyes open and an ear to the ground. But it’s not enough. The vitality of beating the beaten path and the fiery will to try have to play their part. Those are the advantages of youth that so many of us allow life to strip away. But they’re also the wheels that are turning in the recesses of the heart and mind. And they’re worth dusting off.

~
Jody Brown is the author of Upside Down Kingdom, and is a multi-blogger, poet, and traveler. Her current writing projects, including her daily blog endeavor, #Project365, can be found at JodyBrown.com/writing

Life in the Quiet Places

quiet places postAt a recent event, I was standing with a friend when another person approached us and started chatting. Soon, the conversation turned into a hushed discussion about someone who wasn’t present but who needed some comeuppance. At this point, I decided to politely excuse myself and walk away, as I didn’t need nor want to know any details.

That’s when someone approached me and said, referring to the others’ conversation, “Don’t worry about them,” he said. “This stuff happens all the time, sometimes for a real reason and sometimes for nothing at all, so just make up your own mind. Give people a chance and don’t like or dislike someone just because the others do.”

Now, I’m not that old, but how do you hear someone younger than you say this without wanting to gush, “Oh, you’re so sweet!” I’m new to the scene, so he has no idea how much I make up my own mind and then tell the world about it, in my own way. But I got it together and thanked him, assured him that I know how to think for myself, and I told him that I appreciate his looking out.

Whether he believed me or not, he repeated, “Just make up your own mind.” (Still so sweet.)

I was blown away by the sweetness not in an effort to be condescending to his youth, truly. The thing is, he (and most all of us) has had plenty of time to learn these lessons for himself, even though he’s in his early twenties. And in his case, he not only learned the lessons, he saw a situation and felt compelled to speak up. I admire this ability in people.

I may not be the person shouting from the rooftops, but I’ll be on the roof, a little distance away, watching and learning from my own vantage point before I speak.

I’m also blown away by how well done it was. He didn’t go into a rant or a lecture, he didn’t tell me his whole life story, he didn’t swear up a storm, and he also didn’t just walk away. He approached, gently said his piece, and even gave me a chance to rebut, which of course, I didn’t need.

And all the while, a few feet away, the comeuppance conversation was still taking place by people older than this kid and certainly old enough to know better. And we can dwell on that, or we can find the good and quietly effect change.

The fact is that while the news is filled with worldwide atrocities, life in the quiet places is still being lived, still being learned, and there is still hope. Even without the cameras.

~
Jody Brown is the author of Upside Down Kingdom, and is a multi-blogger, poet, and traveler. Her current writing projects, including her daily blog endeavor, #Project365, can be found at JodyBrown.com/writing

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,506 other followers

%d bloggers like this: