Blossoming

Day 65: Blossoming

(iPhone photo #65 in my 2012 365+1 project)

After taking more than a week off from my attempts at something resembling exercise, I finally got out and walked a little today. I think that means I’m feeling better. It at least means I’m feeling well enough to know I should be in a state of panic over all of the work I need to do. I did remember to panic today. I went out and walked around looking for calm. Maybe I’m getting there, and maybe I’m not. All I really know is that I’ve recovered enough energy to know when to panic. If I keep this up, by tomorrow I ought to be right back up to record levels of attempted exercise.

If the whole thing doesn’t backfire, sending me into an exhausted collapse before I every get back on track (and yes, I mean literally on the track), maybe I’ll try to get some closer up photos of pear blossoms. They are really quite lovely today.

The Quiet Gene

The Weedy Life

(iPhone photo #58 in my 2012 365+1 project)

My resolution for today will have to be to write more. On that note, I’m going to share what I shared with my writing group this evening. I’m calling it a prose montage. It’s the same form I called flash memoir the last time I wrote one, though, so you can call it whatever you like. It’s a story. It’s a poem. It’s an essay.

The Quiet Gene

I.

The more you try to talk, the more I ignore you. Every human preference has the name of something sinister, and you will call me passive aggressive while I call you obnoxious. Because you are intense, and I am shy. Because you think I am doing nothing when I sit here thinking, and I think you are wasting time, talking so much when there is nothing to say.

You are a human trowel coming after my weedy parts. Go ahead then. Strike me here where I rest. I am not so weak that I will not pop up again from the roots, that I will not continue undeterred my slow winding around your bad nerves.

I have wondered for forty years what they threw off the Tallahatchie Bridge, but I have not wondered why Bobbie Gentry does not want to tell me where she is.

It is easiest to kill the things we love best. The young roses need special care. The dandelions do not. We have loved Whitney Houston and Amy Winehouse to their deaths, but Bobbie Gentry does not want our love. Bobbie Gentry is a blackberry vine sprouting up volunteer in a cotton field. Bobbie Gentry is quietly hidden and alive.

II.

No one talks to me when I put the earbuds in. No one respects your right to silence, but everyone respects your right to music. If you want a quiet day, put the earbuds in, and leave the iPod off.

III.

My great-grandmother writes a letter in which she describes her grandmother as a quiet woman. I read it to my mother who says, “She sounds like my granddaughter.” There is a gene for everything, and even hundreds of years ago, a woman with my mitochondrial DNA sat thinking about something else while the people around her swapped stories. If she was anything like her granddaughter, my great-great-great grandmother, she outlived everyone except the one child who wrote down, “She was kind to everyone, but she did not talk very much.”

IV.

I tell you I do not want to be at this party, and you say I should have said so, and I say I did say so. You say, you did not say it like you meant it. I think but do not say, I said it like I meant it. What I did not do was to say it like you would have said it if you meant it.

V.

My grandmother made biscuits before dawn every morning of her life. She set them out hot on the table just as others were crawling out of bed and walked back to the kitchen alone. We do not know if or when she ate.

I played “Ode to Billie Joe” in my grandmother’s house while she sat on the back porch shelling peas alone. I stood on the bed with a hairbrush for a microphone, and for an audience of no one, pretended to be Bobbie Gentry.

Spring time is the right time

Day 57: New day blooms

(iPhone photo #57 in my 2012 365+1 project)

My 6-year-old nephew explained to me today that you have to wait until spring to plant a garden if you want it to grow. He said this is the best way. He wanted to be sure my father, who has been working gardens for the past 70 years or more, understood this as well. My father had cleared out some of the area around his garden this week, and I think my nephew thought he was about to start planting too soon. Spring time is the right time, he said. I don’t know who told him that, but he was concerned that we all understood.

I’ve decided spring time is the right time for resolutions as well. I have no resolution accomplishments to report today, and I’m afraid I won’t have anything much for the next few weeks. I’ve been sick. I’ve also been out of town for a conference. Now I’m just overwhelmed.

I’ll keep posting my pictures for the next few weeks, but I may not try to write many updates on my personal progress until I’ve had time to regroup a little.

I got completely off my exercise plan this week, and now I need to spend some time catching up on work before I can even think about catching up on exercise. I also need to be sure I’m over my infection this time. There’s at least some possibility that the reason I can’t shake my cold is because I’ve been pushing myself too hard.

So…enough of that for now.

I’m going to be buried in work for the next couple of weeks. I’ll do only what I can do and not even a little bit more in the way of exercise during that time. Maybe by spring break I’ll be ready to regroup and get a new plan together.

Meanwhile, the signs of the season are everywhere. It won’t be long now before it really is time to plant. The fruit trees are starting to bloom, as you can see from the picture above. By the time there is fruit, you’d better move fast to beat me to it. I’ll be back on a plan, and I’m certain my spring resolutions will far outshine my winter resolutions. I just don’t see how they could help it.

Gone to a Happy Place

Emily's Gazebo

(iPhone photo #54 in my 2012 365+1 project)

I’m sure the world is still falling apart and the sky is still falling somewhere, but I don’t care. I’m in a hotel right across the street from the riverfront gazebo where one of my nieces got married. I just had dinner with one of my best ever students, and I am getting ready to go to a conference session that sounds like it will be interesting and entertaining and all things good.

Besides all that, my mother intervened in my plan to ignore my sore throat until it either magically disappeared or escalated into pneumonia. I’ve taken some antibiotics, and I am feeling better. That’s why my mother is cooler than your mother.

I haven’t accomplished a thing today other than arriving at a happy place. I’d say that’s a good day’s effort. I might as well say that. It’s all you’re getting from me today regardless.

Luck of the Irish American

Day 53: Looking over a two leaf clover

(iPhone photo #53 in my 2012 365+1 project)

My niece says that her father, my brother, must be Irish because he spots four-leaf clovers like nobody’s business. He doesn’t have to search for them. He just spots them while walking across the yard. She says this is irrefutable proof of Irish ancestry. I think it might be the excellent pattern recognition skills that also make him good at building things. I don’t know if that is Irish or not. Either way, it is a skill that has eluded me.

I grew up assuming we were of Irish ancestry, but after seven generations in the American South (nine if you count down to my brother’s grandchildren), it’s a little difficult to verify anything. Turns out other branches of the family think that our great-great-great-great-great grandfather came from France instead, and no one can track down the paperwork to prove any differently. He’s our genealogical brick wall.

His name was James Gerald (m. Mildred Taliaferro), and he lived in South Carolina in the 1700s. After working hard for a couple of days to find the information on him that others have failed to find in half a century of shared family research, I decided that I had to prove we were Irish with or without the paper trail.

I ordered a DNA test. That was before I knew anything about how DNA tests for ancestry worked. I’m glad I did order that test. I was fairly well fascinated by the results. Nonetheless, it wasn’t the type of test to tell us whether James Gerald was Irish or French. We needed another James Gerald and a Y-DNA test for that.

Y-DNA tests check for certain markers that are handed down generation after generation from father to son. Once again, I encountered something I could not do. Only men can take this test.

Luckily enough for a potentially Irish American, my brother James agreed to take the test, and my three brothers all chipped in to pay for it. Results are in, and things are looking pretty positive for the Irish in the male line from one James Gerald down to another.

Nothing is definitive.

1. I’m playing amateur detective in all directions. I have no experience in interpreting DNA reports.

2. We haven’t found anyone yet who is a close enough genetic match to verify a particular family connection.

It pains me to admit the results are not entirely definitive. At first I thought they were more definite. That was before I figured out how to read all of the charts. We might have “strongly leans toward Irish,” but we don’t yet have “definitely Irish.” Not yet.

What we do have is a handful of genetic matches to people who have listed their family ancestry as Irish. Our earliest known ancestor was 7 generations back. The closest of the family matches we’ve found in the DNA database has a common ancestor at about 15 generations back.

If I had to make a call on it right now, I’d say we have good evidence of Irish ancestry. We did not hit any verifiable genetic matches to people with ancestry other than Irish, and we did collect several matches to people with Irish ancestry. Still, this trend could change as more people take the Y-DNA test and enter their results in the same database. We could also end up with other results if other known descendants of our James Gerald added their DNA to the project. As I understand it in my very amateur capacity, Y-DNA can be handed down for thousands of years virtually unchanged, but it can also mutate somewhat along the way. We would need some DNA from distant cousins to truly verify the results.

I wasn’t sure I had time to wait for Gerald men to decide to spend money. I ordered an additional test myself, and we are still waiting for the results.

In addition to finding family matches, one potential way to narrow down the country of origin for an ancestor is to identify your haplogroup. Currently, my brother’s haplogroup is listed as R1B1A2. This is the group that 80% of Europe belongs to. There is something called a deep clade test, though, that attempts to place you in a more specific sub-category. Sometimes these sub-categories are associated with particular countries or particular clans of people. That’s what we’re waiting for now. It will probably take about 6 weeks to find out if this new test places us in a group that is more specific than Western European.

That’s where we stand now. If you are interested in tracing your own ancestry through DNA, we ordered the Y-DNA test from www.familytreedna.com. If you are trying to find family matches, you need at least a 67 marker test — or so I have been told. If you are a Gerald man who is a descendent of James Gerald of South Carolina in the 1700s, I’d be very interested in finding out how your DNA matches up to that of my side of the family. I’m not interested enough to pay for your test, you understand, but I’d be happy to see you order one from the same company and post the results to the same database.

Meanwhile, I’ll just go on with my efforts to prove my Irishness by searching for four-leaf clovers. So far, not so good. I only found the two-leaf clover pictures above today.

Better luck next time.

Don’t Worry; Have a Moon Pie

Day 52: Let the good times roll!

(iPhone photo #52 in my 2012 365+1 project)

This has been a stressful day. I worked hard all day, but I only managed to do about 1/3 of the work I needed to do. That’s just the way it is. If you work too hard on one thing, everything else falls apart. I worked very hard on grading today. I made inroads upon inroads. I just couldn’t turn off everything else that needed my attention while I accomplished this great feat. I had to ignore it all and let it spin out of control instead. There was nothing else I could do. I had to grade.

I’ve basically been grading and grading and grading for days. I can’t remember when I wasn’t grading. My eyes are crossed from all the staring, and my legs are cramped from all the sitting, but the grading must go on.

When I think about all of the things that need my attention that cannot be done if my grading is done, I want to sit down and cry. I probably will sit down and cry. It just won’t do any good.

The only thing left to do is to have a Moon Pie and go to bed, hoping for uncrossed eyes and calm nerves tomorrow. I don’t know whose idea the Moon Pies were. Someone left them in my department for the instructors today. Someone must have known it was a stressful day. And what’s better for a stressful day than a Moon Pie? Who can look at a Moon Pie without smiling?

Of course, you really should walk about a mile and a half for every miniature Moon Pie consumed, but who has time to think about that?

A Wish in Hand

A wish in hand

(iPhone photo #51 in my 2012 365+1 project)

One of my aspirations in life is to be a photographer. This is something I’ve been interested in since the days of sneaking shots with my mother’s Polaroid, but I’m not a photographer yet. I am a photo enthusiast. One day, after a lot more study and practice, I might start calling myself a photographer, but right now I’m taking time off from even working toward the goal. I have enough pressure on me without turning every aspiration into a big job. I have to go after this at my own pace. Right now my pace is to relax and spend a year taking iPhone photos just for fun. This is my placeholder year. I’m hoping that if I just keep up daily photographs even if I don’t consider myself to be working on photography, I will still be in the habit of daily practice when I’m ready to get back to work.

One thing a lifetime of trying to become a writer has taught me is that dreams are accomplished through work. You learn to be a writer through work, study, deliberate practice of craft, and deliberate practice of self-analysis — plus a whole lot of do-overs. I’m pretty sure that’s how you learn to be a photographer as well.

One thing my year of daily photographs taught me last year is that real photography is not a result of happenstance. I called my 365 project “Happensnaps,” and that was appropriate. I was just bumbling along. Real photographers might do their share of bumbling along, but they will also plan and practice for weeks just to get one shot right. A good writer might work for weeks on one paragraph. I don’t know why I had to learn that photographers work just as hard for each great shot, but I did. If I had to name one thing I learned from my 365 it’s that I have a whole lot left to learn. You’re only just getting started in your study of photography when you have mastered all of the controls on the camera. That’s just like a writer saying “I’m ready to write my prize-winning novel now because I’ve figured out how my keyboard works.” You’re just beginning to learn, baby. You’re just a beginner.

Big dreams require big dedication. This I believe.

I believe, and yet I also recognize that thinking this way means I’m kind of hard on myself. Today I walked four miles after scrambling all day at work to just get through all the details of a Monday. I could have finished my walk thinking, “I walked four miles! I’m spectacular.” Instead I finished thinking, “When am I ever going to work up to walking six miles at a time on a regular basis?”

I needed time off this year not from the judgments of other people on my photographs, but from my own judgments. I would not have been able to post the photo above if I had taken it with a real camera. The fuzzy parts of the dandelion are in fuzzy focus. This would be a total failure in my mind if I had been in control of the focus. With the phone and its auto-focus I have to talk myself into letting a lot of shots just be what they are.

I started reading the book Quiet this week. I answered “Yes” to every single item on the introvert checklist. I am an introvert among introverts. Because it is my nature to be quiet and contemplative, and because I spent a great deal of time studying in a program that taught me to be self-critical, it is not so easy for me to just let something be what it is.

Nonetheless, this is my resolution of the day. Accept the fuzzy parts of life for what they are. See the beauty in the imperfection. Embrace the joy of the moment even if you are being a disappointment to yourself.

This too I believe.

Taste and Tension

Day 50: Even cowgirls get the blues

(iPhone photo #50 in my 2012 365+1 project)

I wish I could remember where I first ran across the idea that expressions of superior taste in music, art, literature, food, and so forth were nothing more than expressions of prejudice against people perceived to be of a lower class. I should have taken note of the context for this idea because it changed my life. It made me realize that the world was a richer place for me if I did not try to police the tastes of others, or indeed even of myself.

If you teach upper level classes in literature or art or whatever, or if you run a fine dining establishment, or if you work as a professional musician, a certain amount of your professional credibility rests on policing taste. You want people to believe that what you have to offer is superior in some way to the dregs that do for the rest of the world.

If you write poetry or literary fiction, there is a bit of professional snobbery required as well. If we’re honest, though, we’ll admit that the lines of demarcation are largely manufactured for self-serving purposes, and that what matters in the end is that you are writing something that speaks in some way to other human beings.

Fine dining, likewise, I imagine is only really fine if people actually want to partake of it.

Still, this is built into the culture of “the cultured.” We show contempt for things that we consider to be beneath us socially and intellectually and in all matters of taste.

I’ve been thinking about that this week as I’ve watched basically two types of posts steadily stream through my social news feeds:

1. People posting memories of Whitney Houston, links to Whitney Houston songs, and comments about Whitney Houston’s death or funeral or family.

2. People mocking or expressing some form of disdain for those talking about Whitney Houston.

It’s all a matter of taste I suppose. If the subject interests you, you will join the frenzy of other people talking about it. If it does not interest you, you will join the mockers off to the side talking about their own social superiority to the frenzy. We have all been on both sides of this equation. We flip and flop between the two depending upon the situation. Sometimes you’re the player. Sometimes you’re the hater. But you’re almost always in the game.

I’ve been thinking about this in context of what kind of resolutions I want to work toward this year, and this is one thing I know I can improve upon. I hope I will learn to refrain from playing the part of the taste police. I hope I will learn to be joyful for the joy that others feel and to respect the sorrow that others feel and to embrace the beautiful diversity of interests and tastes that make up humankind.

I hope I will remember that even grown women who constantly quote from Twilight books deserve my compassion and respect.

This is something that I read today as I pondered what it means to refrain from posturing as culturally superior: “Those who are wise must finally die, just like the foolish and senseless, leaving all of their wealth behind” (Psalms 49:10, New Living Translation). This idea that the wise die the same as the foolish is repeated several times in the Bible. I daresay you would find something similar in most religious texts. Regardless of our prejudices, regardless of our feelings of superiority, regardless of our belief in our own wisdom, we all come to the same end after all.

Give up a little pride and learn to live and let live. That’s my resolution today.

The forest of good intentions

Day 48:  Lost in a forest of good intentions

(iPhone photo #48 in my 2012 365+1 project)

I have nothing in particular to report today. I did walk, but I didn’t keep it up as long as I’d hoped. I’m still recovering from feeling blah and beaten earlier in the week. I guess we’ll have to call it a win that I got out there and tried.

Good intentions are like all other good things. You hit the point of diminishing returns all too quickly. One or two good intentions at a time are okay, but if you take on too many, everything falls apart.

I should probably follow that statement up with something to explain what I mean by it, but I’m just too tired. I have every good intention of posting something useful to this blog every day as I track my progress toward fitness and health and other nice dreams, but this is all you’re getting from me today. I’m just adrift right now, wandering aimlessly in a forest of my own best intentions.