Archive for January, 2014

Marking the Miles, January

TV shows in the 1980s liked to dorecap episodes, where nothing new happens and the main characters sit around reminiscing about their previous adventures— entire shows dedicated to edited clips of previous shows. In the ‘80s, I didn’t like them. Forward movement was all I wanted. photo

I don’t know if primetime shows still do those episodes. My work schedule and interests keep me on the History Channel, BBC America, and of course, late night ‘80’s reruns. But I’m learning to appreciate those old throwbacks, mostly because of a revelation I had with my fellow Sunday School teacher, Ms. Jennifer.

Ms. Jennifer is a dance instructor in her daily life. She’s energetic, creative, and fun to be around, which is perfect for the skillful corralling of donut-filled 2
nd and 3rd graders and their glitter projects.

Recently, a prominent couple at the church retired and said their goodbyes to
everyone as they look to move northward to the next phase of their life. I’ll miss them—we’ll all miss them, and greatly. But I see life as a continuum, not a series of starts and stops, so I’m looking forward to a trip north to visit once they get settled. Ms. Jennifer is different—she lives so fully in the present that she took the time to explore this change and really feel what it meant for her. She did her own memory recap, if you will, and I suddenly saw the great importance of this process. The world needs people like her, so that we stop and remember.

Ms. Jennifer is the one marking the miles and milestones. She reminds us to fully appreciate where we are today, by showing us how far we’ve come.

With that, I give you a look back at my January blogs, my never-thought-I’d-do-this recap episode, but with a twist. This is how I see January, delivered in the blog:


Behind the scenes, thanks to the new computer I gifted to myself at Christmas, I found I could touch a key and the computer immediately reacted, who knew? I suddenly discovered that I wanted to post more often, and thought shorter bursts might be interesting to try. Some days the writing flowed, and others, it was a struggle—a labor of love, I suppose, because in the midst of frustration I found myself happy about the struggle.

I see the moods of January, having fun with my Mom and nephew and my Dad and remembering the words of my Grandpap, the angst of paying my health insurance bill, the appreciation and the avoidance of the polar vortex, inspiration from a book read and a book written, the questions I have, and the love of putting words to the page, no matter how revealing.

Ah, now you: Pieces resonate differently with different readers. You gravitate toward specific posts in ways I couldn’t have predicted. And we picked up more readership in January—I say “we” because they’re reading my posts as much as they’re reading your insightful comments.

So, thank you, each of you, for a great January! The journey has only just begun…



Noun and Nerdy

Forgive me for this, but I find these things fascinating. Today I was reading about eye health when I came across the opias: myopia (nearsightedness), hyperopia (farsightedness), presbyopia—This one caught me. Seriously, there’s a presbyopia?

photo-2Indeed there is. Oh, those Greek origins!

Hopefully the words I tracked down and looked up are correct, but even if not, it’s a fun exercise—one that helps with lateral thinking.

Opia is a condition having to do with the eye. To find the kind of opia, we of course look to the front of the word. Myopia comes from myein, a Greek word meaning to shut. Wondering about the etymology, I came across associations with closing the eyes and even being closed-minded.

I get that hyperopia would go awry in the opposite way. Hyper, meaning beyond. Farsighted and even longsighted appear in the etymology.  And then there’s presbyopia, which made me think of Presbyterian, in my mental word association game.

Presby- has to do with age. Presbyopia is the need for reading glasses, which typically (not always) happens with age. Presbyterian is a church governed by the lay elders.

You try it. Here’s the game I played yesterday when someone asked me to spell ambidextrous. Ready? Make the connections: Ambidextrous and ambivalence. Go!

Magic of Happenstance

I have some happenstance friends—people I encounter randomly and often. We run into each other at restaurants, airports, and even in other cities. The beauty of these friendships is that we never know when we’ll cross paths, so our conversations are never rehearsed, never boring, and can be filled with the magic of the unexpected. Often it seems we have messages for each

Yesterday I stopped for dinner before going to a meeting. I placed my order and sat down to wait, and I had an odd phrase repeating itself in my head. “The writing remains, the writing remains.” (Cryptic right? Welcome to my head.) But I think it’s from a program I’d watched recently where archeologists were astounded by some written records they’d found.

I stopped thinking about the phrase when I heard a familiar voice talking to the hostess behind me. I turned to see my friend Taryn, who was looking to sit at the bar for a cup of soup. I hadn’t seen her in months and figured she was out of town. We struck up a conversation, and of course we included everyone else who was sitting around us–because eating dinner at the bar rather than at a table produces organic and all-encompassing conversations.

When Taryn finished her soup and was getting up to leave, she suddenly said, “Life isn’t about what you take with you. It’s about what you leave behind. So make a good path.”

There was the connection. “I can’t believe you just said that. Thank you!” I told her. As she left, I thought about what we leave behind, how my writing remains, and about the magic of happenstance.

UDK is on Amazon.

Hostile Territory

Five Man Electrical Band wrote the song “Signs,” which was later famously covered by Tesla and has had lyrics borrowed over the years by various artists. Today it’s my turn: And the sign said anybody caught trespassin’ would be shot on sight.

Scenario 1 [Are you still singing?]: Bill is out hiking. He doesn’t see the sign, so he proceeds into hostile territory.

Scenario 2: Joe is also out hiking when he reads the sign. He decides to keep walking, straight into hostile territory.

Question: If you had to choose, would you rather hike with Bill or with Joe? photo-2

I must say I like Joe’s style. This is a person who knows what he’s getting into, and he has his reasons for doing it. Can he handle what’s about to transpire? Possibly not. What great reason could he have for continuing on? We don’t know. But I want to find out. We can certainly speculate some great and tragic reasons. All we know is, Joe knows what he’s doing and is willing to accept the consequences.

As for Bill, there’s some hope. This poor soul has no idea what he’s getting himself into, but once the fit hits the shan, he may make some great decisions that’ll boggle the mind. We all know a Bill, someone who gets in way over his (or her) head through little fault of his own, and is then forced to handle the fallout. Will Bill learn what it takes to survive and thrive in this new situation? Will he step up to the challenge, the ordinary man turned hero? Will this turn into a great campfire story after all, or will he continue to bumble?

However misguided Joe may be, he’s a man with a plan. I trust him. I want to know what he’s up to, what happens next.

As for Bill, if he figures out what wrong he’s committed and adapts to handle the situation, I’ll follow his story, too. The key to my interest in Bill is whether or not he learns to adapt. Without that, his story is just a bunch of strung-together snafus.

Follow me on this: If you’re going to break the rules, be deliberate about it. Joe has a purpose. Bill doesn’t yet, but he may find one.

If you want others to trust you, to follow the story to whatever end you write, and you want to break all the rules as you do it, you need to know the rules you’re breaking. That’s where the real power lies, in knowing the difference. Learn your grammar. And we, the readers, will be by your side–even through hostile territory.


Amy Ashe makes her own rules in Upside Down Kingdom.

photoAs another Polar Vortex arrives, I find myself dreaming about the ocean. And I found this journal entry, from my newspaper internship days when I lived in Pawleys Island, South Carolina:

“When I first got to the beach, I was afraid to go into the ocean past my knees. You never really know what’s lurking all around you in that dark salty water, and just the thought of something being able to see you, and you not it…

But then one day I went in with friends and we all held hands. I felt like a little kid having to hold someone’s hand, but the others insisted that we were going to swim away from the shore a decent distance, and this would keep us together.

It was terrifying, and then: I realized the ocean creatures couldn’t just see me, but could see everyone else in our chain, too. Somehow, not being alone on the menu made all the difference.

The ocean became my third love in life, behind football and hockey. By the time I left I’d learned to love swimming and diving into waves where I couldn’t feel the sand under my feet. I was still afraid, but I could be brave.”

Because fear can exist without bravery but not the other way around, whenever I’m afraid I remind myself to stop and remember: bravery is close by.

And every time I’ve plunged headfirst into fear, there’s old Bravery waiting for me, patiently, and sometimes, with a bit of a smirk.

My first book, Upside Down Kingdom, is on Amazon.

Ralph, the World

Peter's House

Introducing Ralph. The world, Ralph. Ralph, the world.

You’ve seen this sock monkey grace this blog, Facebook, and he now has a board on Pinterest.

I came across this little guy in the grocery store here in Minnesota a few years ago, at a particularly difficult time in life. I rounded the corner, saw the display of these locally-made keychain sock monkeys in blue, green, and yellow, and I laughed.

But I knew I shouldn’t spend the money to get one, and I had all sorts of real life problems to attend to, so I kept walking toward the milk aisle.

And then I realized: that was the first time I’d laughed in quite a while. It was foreign–a release—and it felt good. I rounded back to the display, chose the only green monkey left, and went on my way.

Since then, Ralph—long story to the name—has been all over the U.S., around Europe, and even to the Middle East. He’s usually clipped to my bag, my purse, or to my belt loop. And everywhere he goes, weirdly enough, strangers want their picture taken with him. From those first moments when he cheered me up at the grocery store to the [no kidding] scores of pictures of smiling people holding him, this little sock monkey has had quite an impact.

I’d like to say that I bought him and never looked back. But the truth is much better than that: I remember that moment, often, and what it taught me:

Don’t second-guess joy.

Invite it in.


My book, Upside Down Kingdom, is on Amazon.

Notes to Self

photoI write myself notes. I realize I’m following in the footsteps of my family members with this behavior, but so far I don’t write household repairs with workarounds and maps to where I put important papers the way my Grandma does. Not yet, anyway. (My Dad once casually remarked that the handwriting experts on the crime shows should take a look at these notes. His offhand humor kills me.)

My notes are time and place descriptions: walking through the Carnegie museum in Pittsburgh, the thoughts running through my head during a job interview in front of a panel of interviewers (that’s a good one—I’ll have to post it for you at some point), a New Year’s Eve party where I felt really out of place (though, when don’t I?), etc.

Many of these notes are reasons why I chose to do one thing over another, to take one path or direction instead of a different one.

I run across them from time to time stuffed in books I was reading, in drawers, and saved in strange places in my computer. This week, organizing some computer files, I found a particular description that I’d written about 13 years ago. In the note (by note, I mean 2-pages, really), I’d just returned from a trip, and I described all the traps I was glad I’d escaped: things like stagnancy of writing, getting caught up in what others think, the monotony of daily life, etc. Much as I enjoyed the trip, I needed to come home. End of note.

But as these things go, I had just been thinking about that place lately and wondering if I should make the journey again. I may still go—travel is good for the soul. But now I have a roadmap of what to avoid. As I read the note, I actually said out loud, “Oh, that’s great to know. Thanks!” And I realized I’d just thanked myself of 13 years ago.

Continuing my little Doctor Who moment, I wondered what I’d write today that would affect a future me. Not so much what, really, as when: I wonder when today’s written pages will re-emerge to help me. Because they will.


UDK on Amazon: 

Purity of the Pen

A Friday rant: I was talking with friends yesterday who told me that they haven’t read a book in years. “Maybe since grad school,” one said.

Friends, I can’t tell you how disheartening this is. I realize there are work schedules and kids and family obligations and things that come up, but to stop reading altogether??

I hear similar stories now and again, and no one ever thinks to explain themselves. They never stop and say, “Oh, you’re a writer, that’s right… Uh…” And they don’t think to lie awkwardly to me by saying that they’ve given up all reading except for mine. (I’m reminded of the Julia Roberts line in Pretty Woman when Vivian says, “When I’m with a guy, I’m like a robot, I just do it.” Then she looks at Edward and rolls her eyes and says, “Except for you.” And he smiles and says, “Of course not with me.”)

And every time this happens, I’m in polite company where I can’t exactly grill the non-reader on the whys and hows and ins and outs of their refusal to read. But mark my words here and now: I’m going to stop being so polite. I’ll start asking. My world, my love, depend on writing and knowing that there will be an audience there to gravitate to the words.

When IBM fired the bulk of their electrical engineers and logic designers last summer here in Rochester, they left a lot of very smart people out on the street to reinvent themselves. Is that what writers will have to do? Will the movies and videos of the world push us out so that if we’re not writing for the big screen we’re not being heard? Will we, gulp, go see the movie before we read the book?

The stark question presents itself: Will the writers write when there’s no one left to read?

photo-3That’s a sad state of affairs. But, ultimately, I think: Yes. We’ll continue. Bigger and better, even. We’re frivolous like that. We’re hopeful like that. We’re pure like that. Ultimately, we like to line the words up on the page. It doesn’t matter who’s looking.

With words, I can build worlds, solve puzzles, escape to new realms, fire up dormant emotions, and immerse myself in my own imagination. Some people need music, or art, or sound, or alcohol to do this (and more) for them. I get these things. I get launching into another place and allowing full possibility.

I remember learning to read as a small child and loving it. Life clicked for me. And I understand that some people don’t have the same love experience. We all know someone for whom reading is such a chore, and it’s possible that their numbers are increasing.

Please excuse my extreme curiosity here because I’m not trying to be rude but rather I just don’t know:

Where do they go in their minds?

What—what are they doing in there?


The Chasing Hammer


I traveled with friends a while back on an amazing trip, which was as much a learning experience as it was a vacation. For part of the trip, we took a class in Chasing and Repoussé with the Master Silversmith, Valentin Yotkov. Mr. Yotkov, or Val, as he is known to his students and friends, is as kind as he is talented and that makes him a remarkable teacher. See for yourself from the picture; that’s what I was able to do after five days of class. In my ordinary life, I can barely draw stick figures. And until this trip, I’d never held a chasing hammer or worked with the tools.

One day we were given free time to sightsee, and as we were wandering in Florence, we spotted a nondescript little store selling hardware. Tools were hanging in the window, screwdrivers, pliers, and wrenches. And a chasing hammer. I’m pretty sure the four of us walked a few steps beyond the tiny storefront when we each stopped in our tracks and turned to see the hammer that caught our eye, not quite believing that we saw what we thought we saw. There it was, a chasing hammer. We went inside and asked about it, and the shop workers produced three more such hammers from the back wall. After holding and weighing each of them, I chose this one and I bought

My thoughts today are twofold: First, surprising results come when given the right encouragement. From family to friends to teachers, I’m living proof. And second, when the time is right (and usually when you’re not looking) the exact right thing finds its way to you.


Little Gems

Most people are downright fascinating. Their speech patterns and mannerisms, especially when discussing things they’re passionate about, make for great study. This is precisely why some writers love to sit in cafés, bars, and restaurants as quiet observers with a notebook and pencil in hand.   photo-4

Good dialogue is the way people actually talk, not the way books tell you we talk. Listen to the word choice, the cadence, the changing tones, and hesitations. Watch for body movements, quirky ticks, and facial expressions. When you least expect it, someone will say something absolutely amazing, and these quotes can pave the way for great ideas to flow. Some gems I collected over the years:

“I’m not a safe person to know if you crave mental health.”
–K.B., said with a large spoon in one hand and a giant bowl of popcorn in the other

“Sometimes you have to call bullshit for what it is: Bullshit.”
–S.B., after a long day at work

“A nice, soothing game of checkers turned into a wild game of hockey as the night neared its end.”
–S.T.E, in college

“Prepare yourselves.”
–H., in Jerusalem

“Not bad for Armitrons.”
–total stranger

So grab your notebook and head to the nearest clean, well-lighted place. There’s work to be done!


As always, UDK is on Amazon.

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