Tools are just tools

With the anticipation of the Dark Tower stories coming to a theater near you, I was reminded of a quote by the Gunslinger, and I am going to paraphrase (with respect to Mr. King): I do not aim with my hand, I aim with my eye. I do not shoot with my hand, I shoot with my eye. I do not kill with my gun, I kill with my heart.

(If I may have one brief comment, I’d like to say that I’m a big fan of Mr. King and have been since childhood. The way he crafts stories and paints my imagination is wonderfully amazing. Movies are great, but his printed words are genius.)

Now, back to the post. Folks who read my all-to-lazy blog know that I don’t have any issues with guns. I like them. I use them. I shoot them. I’m not political and don’t get into heated debates about their use, or their very existence. Of course, I have my opinions regarding all manner of public debate, but I’m not the kind of person that feels compelled to express them openly. We can talk, if you want. But it’s not a subject I’m going to bring up over coffee just because I don’t have another topic on hand.

That being said, I think this quote by Mr. King expresses what I think about gun violence. The people who commits acts of violence only use guns as tools. They could easily use other tools to commit the terrible acts they intend to. Guns are just the means. Folks who have already committed the act with their mind and their heart, only need to choose their tool.

I am saddened when someone has come to the point in their relationships with fellow humans that they choose to kill with their heart. That’s a sad place to be.

Inspiration From Others

I have long desired writing a story.

I have been a student of the creative process all my life. Not in the sense of wanting to learn to paint or draw or sculpt; no, I have been fascinated by watching others perform what I cannot and, then wishing I could that. When I read, and admittedly it’s not often I have the time, I am amazed at how some authors are able to craft, seemingly fully-formed plots and characters that are both complex and at the same time, effortless.

JRR Tolkien has long been a favorite of mine. Not because his stories have made it to the screen time and time again, but because his education as a linguist and his imagination and historical curiosity  about his own country led him to imagine a history either long-forgotten, or never presented. There has been so much written about how his stories hold the core component of good versus evil and, honestly, it’s quite evident. What I find most appealing is the manner in which he’s joined words to form sentences that, in turn, weave pictures together in my mind. The mark of a good author, if ever there was one.

So I will continue to practice stringing together words that weave stories that I enjoy telling and others may enjoy reading.

 

The Foot-long Receipt

When I go to the grocery store or my favorite sandwich shop, I’m given a receipt that keeps getting longer and long! How many fuel points did I earn? What are the specials of the day? Care to take a survey; there’s a free cookie in it for you! It’s maddening.

Since I purchase everything with a card (who carries cash anymore), I’m dependent on collecting my receipts to record in my register. (I guess, if I didn’t want to do that anymore, I could go truly Millennial and check my account balance and receipt on my phone after each purchase.) Therefore, I carry around so many wadded receipts that it’s frustrating.

Even if I wasn’t at wit’s end with this phenomena, what is the deal with retailers trying to get more and more information into my hands. Seriously, you already send me a circular in the mail, you send me e-coupons, I can check my fuel points with my app. What more is there to say? Why not allow me, as YOUR consumer, to opt out of the extra-long purchase record? Give me the power to save you some paper! If you’re tracking my shopping behavior so closely, why can’t you see that I NEVER act on the enticements offered on my receipts?

I get that it’s hard to work in all spheres of market and advertising these days. We in America literally have four generations of shoppers using who knows how many levels of data and print media to inform their decisions, but I think that this advertising world has to choose a few well-worn paths and stay with them, eschewing the desire to act on every opportunity. Choose your metric, select your consumer, and direct your efforts toward them (and leave the rest of us alone). Alright, if you’re a grocery store, you’re kind of screwed because everyone still living eats, regardless of age. You’re on your own there. I can’t solve everything for you.

Anyway, rant over. I’ll either change (not likely) or I’ll just keep ripping them in half at the checkout line like I do now.

Lilacs

When I was growing up, my great-grandmother lived in the same town as my grandparents. Having lost her husband before even my mother was born, she lived alone in a small house three blocks from my grandparents. Picture, if you will, a rotund woman with a perennial smile and horn-rimmed glasses. She wasn’t obese by today’s standard; she was what we politely called “big boned.”

Growing up during the turn of the last century, she was still very prim and proper when I was little. She matched her shoes to her handbag, wore a dress every day, and wore gloves to church on Sunday, being the God-fearing Christian woman she was. The other thing she did was bake. I don’t mean the odd cake or a tin of muffins. This woman baked every day. There was a fresh loaf of bread each day with an accompanying cake in a glass cake plate. If you had dinner (lunch) with her on Sunday after church, there was always baked goods.

After the death of her husband, she moved into town at the insistence of her son, my grandfather. He took care of her from that time on. She continued to work, cooking for the residents of a local private Christian college, today’s modern equivalent to a “dorm Mother.” She did that until she finally retired and stayed at home.

I told you that to tell you this. When I was little, I spent weekends at my grandparents house. And because I was always there, my grandmother would direct me to take something to Great-gradnma’s house. I would walk down the alley, cut across the elementary school lawn and walk the half-block to her house. She would invite me in and I’d have a piece of cake and deliver whatever I was tasked with. On the occasion that my parents were in town to pick me up, we’d eat over there. While the meal was being prepared, the kids were asked to go outside and play.

Great-grandma had a gigantic lilac bush in her front yard. It was gigantic to me, anyway. The kids would crawl on hands-and-knees under the bush where the boughs would create a small clubhouse. We’d take our toy soldiers or Hot Wheels under the bush and play until we were called into the house to eat. It was a great time to be a kid.

Great-grandma died in the late 1970’s. Her house was eventually sold and another person moved in. As I got older, I’d drive by the house when I was visiting my ailing Grandmother and look at that ancient lilac bush in the front yard. Eventually, my Grandmother died and the only reason to go back to her town was to visit the cemetery on Memorial Day. I still drive by the houses I used to occupy as a child. Great-grandma’s house is gone and the corner lot is now part of someone’s yard. The lilac bush survives.

Yesterday, I was riding my bicycle long a rural roadway and happened to pass a farmhouse with a large lilac bush out front and the wind was just right, bringing that telltale scent and sending me back to my childhood for just an instant. That smell reminds me of my Great-grandma and I appreciate it every springtime when the purple blooms are in full maturity.

Photo by DougAlder, Flickr, No Derivs.

Just Pens and Pencils

Writing instruments are to some, an extension of their personality and to others, an extension of their hands. For those who have professions or hobbies that bring them into contact with particular instruments in a use other than jotting meeting notes or writing checks, they tend toward finding something they like and sticking with it. Still, there are people walking around in the world today that have no regard for what they write with. I find that idea strange because I belong to the world of the former, rather than the latter. I have a preference for even the common #2 pencil (Dixon Ticonderoga, but only to a certain length). I also find a preference for common writing instruments as well as expensive one. I have a favorite marker (Sharpie) and a favorite disposable pen (Uniball Signo). I have a preferred lead softness (depending on the activity) and size (also dependent on the activity).

There are things to consider like the paper used (vellum, cotton, muslin, recycled and virgin content), the tooth of the paper (rough, medium, and fine), the type of writing engagement (dipped nib, converted nib, ballpoint, roller ball, technical lead, sharpened lead), the size of the engagement (Parker makes twelve different nib sizes), the angle of engagement (some nibs are custom ground), the type of ink used or the softness of lead preferred (vehicle, pigment, binders, additives, 2B, B, HB, H, 2H, 4H), and the activity being performed (writing, drawing, sketching, technical drafting, calligraphy).

I have used several technical pens and pencils during my time. I enjoy precision so venture into script using fountain pens was a stretch for me. In time, I grew to enjoy feeling the paper beneath my nib. Knowing when my thought weren’t flowing because my pen wasn’t either. I’ve also become enamored with with the technical nature of caring for the fountain pen. Disassembling, cleaning, reassembling, and loading the converter is a welcome and enjoyable aspect to ownership. The same is true of technical pens and pencils. After use, they are cleaned and put away rather than just set aside. The better the equipment, the better the maintenance, the better the experience.

Use is another important factor to consider. I enjoy rolling a technical pencil in my fingers as I draw the line, striving to keep the tip of the lead as evenly worn all around the edge, thereby drawing the perfect line weight stroke after stroke. Equally, I enjoy chiseling the point to make sure some lines are thin while other enjoy the broadness of graphite on paper. These are all aspects to using the writing instrument as you like, bending the tool to meet your expressive needs.

Sometimes we gravitate toward expensive instruments with particular a build list for use with expert, as well as everyday, tasks. Sometimes not. It’s really individual. The next time you pick up a common writing instrument, feel the weight in your hand. Spin it in your fingers to acquaint yourself with its physicality’s. It could change the way you live (or, at least, the way you write about living)!

Image by Kamujp, Flickr Creative Commons, No alterations.

Shooting

Many people around the world, who don’t have gun rights or property rights or public lands, don’t understand the American gun culture. They always ask why the per capita gun ownership numbers are so high. How is it that America is in love with the gun? That’s because they don’t stop to consider the context.

I can’t speak for the whole of America, and certainly never having lived in the giant cities of the United States, I can’t give any insight, but in the Great Plains and the American West, we have a lot of land. When I say that, I mean that we live in places where our neighbors live miles (kilometers) away. Aussie’s and people living in Africa probably understand what I mean. Because we have so much room, and that room is occupied by many game animals and few humans, we have a history and culture dating back more than 100 years (that’s old for us) where we actively hunt. Today, some hunt for trophies, but most hunt for food. It’s not that we need to, necessarily, although I suppose there are probably some that still do. We enjoy the sport and the meat. We plan to fill our freezers two or three times a season. We like the idea and practice of self-sufficiency. We like free food. We like feeding our family.

To that end, everyone in our families knows how to operate guns. We shoot shotguns and rifles, and we’re familiar with all manner of handguns. My grandmother carried a .38 caliber revolver in her car to shoot rattlesnakes around the house in south Texas. She was protecting her children, not her second amendment rights! But without that right, she would not be able to do that without breaking the law. Could she have killed it with a hoe? Sure! But who wants to get within five feet (1.5m) of a seven foot (2.1m) snake?

Yesterday, I went shooting with my son. Since the age of seven, he’s been shooting guns. He enjoys the plinking of a .22 caliber rifle, but as pulled the trigger on a 5.56 x 45 NATO and a 7.62 x 51 NATO. He likes small-framed pistols but has shot a 9mm, .40 cal and a .45 caliber handgun. All of this is to say that we Americans (at least the ones I hang around with) don’t have guns because we’re crazy. We have them because we like them. We like to shoot them, clean them, operate on them. We like to participate in competitions with them. We like to hunt with them. We have guns that perform different tasks. Could we own just one? Sure. But why? We could also only have one car or one child. But why? We have the means to have more than just one, so why stop at one? Some people have more than one house. Why would a family need more than one house? Because they want another one and they can afford another one.

So, yes. America has a gun culture and there are many people who have and use guns regularly who don’t also carry out nefarious deeds in the dead of night. Therefore, next time there’s some school shooting or bell tower incident in the States. Remember, we’re not all crazy; just that one person was. They intended to inflict harm. They had purpose. and unfortunately, they used a gun to commit horrible acts of violence.

Photo by John Reece. No alterations.

People We Know (but really don’t)

Every day for the past five or six years, I have visited the blog of Mr. Steve Tilford. He was born into a regular family in Topeka, Kansas in the 1960’s. Through good genetics and  a willful spirit, he began spending his time and childhood energy enjoying the outdoors and riding his bicycle. It was because of this that he found his way into bicycle racing and soon became a young professional athlete.

He traveled the nation, the continent, and the world racing bicycles for various teams, and when he retired from the professional world with a list of palmarés in road biking, mountain biking (including an induction into the mountain bike hall of fame), and cyclocross (Masters World Champion), he continually repeated it all for fun. There are many people who have stories to share about their experiences meeting and racing with Steve.

The word “stories” is a good segue into Steve’s blog, http://www.stevetilford.com. Not only did he invite you into his daily life, which was filled with traveling, riding, skiing, and racing, he also shared how something that day reminded him of the days when he was in this race or that, a ride here or there, or something he’d learned from one of the vast array of American professional riders in many disciplines. His head was filled with remarkable stories for those of us who read it daily and only wished to be on the fringes of competitive racing that so many of us either enjoy or aspire to. Many times, folks would ask him to write down this vast array of stories and publish a book; they wished he would capture both the narrative of a first-hand account of some historic race, or to impart the lessons learned, knowledge gained, and wisdom accrued from living such a life.

When I opened my browser this morning, I found a post from Steve telling us that he and his good friend Vincent, were driving from Utah where they’d been mountain biking the past week, back to Vincent’s house where they would plan their next adventure. Sadly, and that is the word that sparked this entry, when I opened my browser this evening I saw a post from Vincent: Steve and Vincent and Steve’s dog Tucker, were involved in a late-night auto accident and Steve lost his life in western Colorado.

When I read that my jaw hung open and I genuinely felt sad. Yes, I have personally met, talked with, and raced against Steve Tilford. But like so many other that can say the same thing, I didn’t know him. Today, I am sad that a person I never really knew, but kept track of daily for the past half decade, lost his life. I have lost a daily honorific ritual. The cycling community has lost a wealth of knowledge. For all close to Steve, I send my most heartfelt condolences. For me…I think I’ll go ride.

R.I.P. Steve Tilford

American Bison

Bison are primarily prehistoric creatures. They have not been bred and manipulated to meet industry or customer demands. Instead, they have been left to live as wild a life as elk or deer, moose or caribou. Not even nature has changed the design since we only have two varieties alive in the world today, the European Bison and the American Bison.

When the land masses were connected, bison freely moved between the Asian and North American continents numbering in the millions of animals. Before the age of the modern guns, herds in the five and sometimes six digit size, were commonplace on the plains of USA and Canada (before they were nations). They ranged from just below the Arctic Circle to present-day Mexico. Today, they live on public lands and as part of private herds.

While they have never been truly domesticated, they have been managed. Separated from the commercial cattle herds for health reasons, some ranchers today raise them to market for the niche meat industry. People who want to witness these massive animals must visit zoological gardens or nature preserves because of their scarcity. But specifically because they have not been commercialized to the same degree as American meat cattle varieties, (and since they were nearly hunted to extinction in the 19th century) they have become rare.

To me, it is tragic that an animal that so symbolized America and the American West that it once graced the U.S nickel, would today be relegated to history and lore. I find these animals to be both brilliant and beautiful. Not brilliant in the sense that they are smart or clever, but that they survive the harshest climates and continue to survive as a species for thousands of years.

As exciting as seeing roadside wildlife, spotting a herd of bison always compels me to stop and draw in the wonderment of our past pioneer spirit of freedom and tenacity, as embodied in the American Bison. I’m glad they’re mostly still living a free life. To think that such an animal should be owned is almost a criminal thought. The American Bison is truly an awesome spectacle!

 

Books and Reading

I’m reading a good book right now. I haven’t finished it so there are no spoilers in case you’re reading it, too. And, I won’t be reviewing it until much later, either. It’s called Tales From the Radiation Age by Jason Sheehan. It’s an entertaining story set in an apocalyptic future. It mixes science and fantasy, and the author uses almost every creative muscle in his body to describe the masses of imaginary creatures and situations that the main character encounters.

The reason I’m writing about it today is because I recognized something about my reading style  that I sort-of knew, but now only proudly declare: I like reading out loud!

When we’re children learning to read, we are asked to read aloud to allow the instructor to know we’re actually reading and we’re pronouncing the words correctly. That’s the technical aspect of reading.

What some people develop is a cadence to reading aloud. They are practiced enough to know how to add inflection and feeling, to take dramatic pauses and add make the story more enjoyable for the audience. I’m sure that’s what voice actors do for a living. Well, I like to do this, too. And, I’m fairly good at it, if you don’t mind me saying so.

I’d like to think I started getting good when I read to my son when he was little. But what I suspect happened transpired when I was still in university. I would read aloud to myself while pacing up and down academic corridors late at night in an effort to understand, and sometimes memorize, material and information. I chalked it up to being an aural learner. Perhaps I am, but now I’m finding I enjoy pleasurable reading in an auditory way. That is to say, I like reading to myself. Now here’s the tricky part; I don’t listen to audiobooks!

It’s not that I don’t like them or have some artisanal need to smell the pages of a new paperback. Nor do I eschew technology. I simply like to see, process, and speak the written word. If you haven’t read out loud in a while, try it. Are you any good at it? Were you ever? Practice a little and see what happens. Who knows? Perhaps we’re both voice actors with unfound careers awaiting us!

Photo from Flickr Creative Commons: Boston Public Library. No modifications.

Reinvention

There’s a lot to unpack in that word. It can mean a thousand things in a thousand different contexts, but for me, it’s life. During the economic depression of the 2008 housing crisis in America, thousands of people were laid off from their jobs and forced to find work elsewhere. Many tried to stay in their fields and some were able to do that. Many, however, were forced to try their hands at something new. Something they were capable of, and perhaps even trained for, but hadn’t explored until then.

Skills are important in any life. We gather them through schooling, work, and life experiences. Some are innate in our personalities and we need only recognize and cultivate them to add them to our list of useful tools. What makes skills particularly useful in life is the part they play in reinvention. What happens to a person who decides to reinvent?

I have read and heard stories of people who move through life being unsettled. They seek more and different opportunities that are both within and outside their spheres of influence and understanding. Many go back to school to learn new skills and trades; some opt to move into another employment opportunity and explore it manually. But the underlying question I struggle with, and it’s the same one that some teenagers face when graduating from high school, is what do I want to do? Perhaps the difference between me and high school grads, is my accumulation of knowledge and experience. Those things help me differentiate between what I think I can do and what I know I can or can’t do.

But maybe that’s the hitch! Grads often see the world wide open without borders or constraints. They see their opportunities as vast and endless and only seek to explore what catches their eyes and interests, not what fits neatly into their toolbox of skills and abilities. Perhaps the difference is rhyme versus reason. What do my dreams say and what does my mind accept? Isn’t this the age-old question? Do we not all struggle with this very question at least once in our lives? Sometimes the question is as simple as deciding whether we want that Snickers and whether it’s better for our diet if we don’t. Other times it’s pausing to consider how fun the Corvette would be to own, on our way to purchasing that used pickup that fits our budget and our needs. Heart versus logic.

But how does this question get answered at the life-level? Differently for everyone, is the obvious answer. I love questions like this and the only thing that makes them more enjoyable is when there’s more at stake than a Snickers. I don’t mean that I crave the unknown and the risky. Not at all. What I mean is that, when decisions have magnitude and one has time to ponder the eventualities, it’s a real treat to entertain.

So, what life-changing decisions are you thinking about?

Photo by Flickr user Morgan. No modifications made.