Saturday, December 19, 2009

The Third Eye Blinds

Today after lunch, I went for a three mile walk in the neighborhood. It’s an exercise I’ve been perfecting for twenty-four years, always following the same route, passing the same homes, people and landscapes. At my 1.5 mile mark, I turned round and headed home along the postcard beautiful Intracoastal Waterway.

I never tire of these forty minute immersions in urban nature, a landscape manicured yet still capable of stunning wildness. I have seen hurricane driven waves pound across the roadway onto waterfront lawns. Water spouts dancing near barrier islands. Nighttime electrical storms flashing webs of lightening.

Wild critters roam here too. Dunedin is home to ospreys and owls, coyotes, armadillos and raccoons. A run-over raccoon once dragged itself to a church entrance and died, stretched out in prayerful prostration.

Wood storks have also taken up residence. Groups of these gangly birds have moved up from disappearing Everglades wetlands. Magnificent in flight, storks on land shuffle along like old men at the mall. They are safe here and, armed with oversized beaks, fear no dogs.

These things I have seen and in every instance they have come to me unbidden. It’s amazing what one can meet when approaching nature without expectations. Tiny indigo wild flowers reveal themselves near a rain culvert. A belted kingfisher hovers inches above the water.

Today, for the first time, I took along a camera to capture nature. Throughout the walk, my attention remained focused on the next creative shot. I made dozens of photographs, hoping for the best exposure, composition, and interest. The session ended quickly and I returned home feeling like an intruder. Something special was missing and later I realized that today nature had been hiding.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Society of Children's Book Writers & Illustrators

SCBWI is alive and well in the Tampa Bay area. A call recently went out from our area coordinator, Sue LeNeve, and on Monday evening a large group of us convened for an introductory "meet and greet" at Bahama Breeze restaurant in Tampa. I was surprised to learn there are presently ten critique groups in Tampa Bay.

When joining SCBWI four years ago, I was hard pressed to find any group in Pinellas County. Now a concerted effort is being made to bring these groups together on a regular basis and have workshops and guest speakers.

This bodes well for those of us who often pause at the keyboard, wondering if we are the only writer in the world stuck on page sixteen with a plot going nowhere.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Clan of the Cave Rat

In 1954, 160 acres of orange groves in Anaheim, California were cleared to make way for the first Disneyland theme park. The park opened its gates to the public a year later.

One night several months after that, a group of displaced fruit rats went looking for their old home. After squeezing under Disneyland’s front gate, they scurried down Main Street past Tomorrowland and soon came to Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride. Old Riley Rat peered all around and scratched his gray whiskers.

“I’m positive our grove of trees was right here.” he said and stamped the ground next to a concrete toadstool.

“No, no! chimed in Ronnie Rat, “I’m sure they’re over there on the other side of that river.”

By now dead tired, the rat clan trudged on, dodging shiny exotic cars in Autopia until finally arriving at the Jungle Cruise attraction. Standing at river’s edge, they gazed down into the dark water.

“What now?” squeaked Ruthie. “I certainly can’t swim across.”

Riley spied a Styrofoam tray floating in the reeds and using his cane pulled it over to them. The tray was big enough for four rats and an argument broke out on who should go. Riley, being the wisest, agreed to pick three companions to make the crossing with him. The old rat selected Rocco, the strongest of the group, Rico, the fastest among them and finally, Romeo, the best talker.

“If we get cornered by a cat,” he said, “we’ll need a politician to divert its attention.”

After a slow and soggy river crossing, the four rats scrambled ashore on mysterious Jungle Island. Before them rose a wall of thick mahogany trees. Strange sounds echoed from within. The rats glanced at each other and trembled. Wise Riley pushed Rocco out in front and off they went into the jungle. After an hour, the trees began to give way and the four came out into a sunny clearing.

At the center stood a bright striped tent with mouse-head balloons bobbing in the breeze. A flowing banner above the entrance proclaimed, “Welcome to Mickey’s Toontown!” All the rats scratched their heads. Who is this Mickey and what is a Toontown?

“I wonder if he’s friendly?” said Rico.

The rats approached the entrance and saw off to the side a trap door with stairs that descended down into darkness. Now more curious than afraid, they looked quickly around, saw no cats, and started down the steep steps. Holding onto each other’s tails, the group came at last to the bottom and found themselves in a narrow passageway. Further along, they made out the faint outline of a large head. Moving in for a closer look, Romeo came face to snout with a grinning clown face. And below the face was an ornately carved door.

Riley tip-toed to the door and pressed his ear against the clown’s wooden nose. He heard nothing except his beating heart.

“Clowns scare me,” he whispered, “but I’ve just got to see a Mickey.”

With that, Riley grabbed the door’s brass handle and pulled. The door groaned and moved a few inches. Then the others took hold and together heaved open the door. They stood on the threshold of another room, staring into inky blackness.

Riley plucked up his courage. “I will be brave! I will be brave!” he mumbled and forced his feet to inch forward. The other rats crept behind. About twenty feet into the room, Rico stepped on a raised bump in the floor. He instantly pulled back, but too late.

Flashing technicolor lights suddenly ricocheted around the room. The interior lit up until the rats saw they were in a great circus hall. Laughing cartoon faces looked down from every wall. Stars twinkled in a cotton candy ceiling. Carnival music filled the thick air.

Somewhere far away a humming sound grew louder and louder and just then, the floor itself began to open. The rats tried to run away, but their paws felt glued to the floor. Wide eyed, speechless, they watched as something huge began moving up through the opening. On and on it came, until the colossal thing shuddered to a stop. Fifty feet high, it towered over the trembling rodents.

Terrified, all four covered their eyes and huddled together. None dared peek, lest they be completely vaporized.

A thought zipped through Riley’s troubled mind; Will we ever get out of Toontown alive?

After several minutes, Riley felt for his snout and found it still attached to his face. He counted his fingers, all eight still there. The rats had not been zapped after all. They were alive. The music and humming faded away. One by one, they opened their eyes and squinted into the bright silent hall. None could believe what they saw before them.

The giant creature stood alone in the center, bathed by the glow of dancing spot lights. All four rats gazed at its fat yellow shoes and oversized red shorts. Two white gloved hands reached out to them. But it was the face that took their breath away and opened their eyes in amazement. Riley, Rocco, Rico and Romeo stared up into their own rat faces.

But here was a face like they had never seen. Radiating compassion, its warm smile and twinkling button eyes melted away their fears and filled their puny bodies with hope. No longer lost in a strange land, the rat clan felt for the first time in the presence of divinity. All fell to the floor, prostrating themselves before the great magnificent being. They had finally come home.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Not In The Cards

In 1979, in an effort to revive my ailing illustration business, I started a greeting card company called Bullfrog Press. Why hustle trying to sell one drawing for $500.00 when I could sell 250 cards at $2.00 each.

After researching the market, designing six Christmas cards, and convincing a printer friend to let me pay on the cuff, I had several thousand cards printed. My company of one was up and running.

Step Two of my Success Plan transformed me into what I considered a savvy sales rep. Samples in hand and chafing in coat and tie, I cold called gift shops in Atlanta's trendiest neighborhoods - Buckhead, Virginia-Highland, Midtown, and Little Five Points.

Step Three was supposed to be me writing up huge orders but my pen never left my pocket. Most shop owners would not even bother to talk. Others allowed they bought all their cards at the big spring wholesale show. One buyer suggested I add a dozen cards to my line and come back. So much for Step Three and the savvy sales rep.

Realizing my research was faulty, I visited the Atlanta Merchandise Mart and discovered several companies that offered greeting cards. The owners of the second showroom loved the drawings and irreverent humor. They agreed to handle my cards, but warned they would be up against major companies with lines for every occasion.

Their commissioned salesmen fanned out to all major Southeastern markets, but after four months, my cards always ended up on the bottom of their sample cases.

My excellent greeting card business folded after selling a dozen cards to one shop in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. It was, I assured myself, a great idea whose time had not yet come. Not wanting to dwell on "what ifs," and "maybes," I sought gainful employment and found it - designing brochures and trademarks in a corporate art department. Bullfrog Press still simmers on the back burner.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

The Faithful Fridge

In 1973 my parents bought a small wood frame house built sometime after World War II. The fixer upper had all original appliances some of which my dad swore came over on the Mayflower. The ancient ice box was soon replaced by a new refrigerator from Frigidaire, the same company that invented the self-contained refrigerator in 1916.

Made before “planned obsolescence” trickled down to appliances, the Frigidaire ran and ran and kept on running. Over the years, its housemates, toasters, televisions and telephones came and went; their stamped circuits no match for over use, power surges or Florida humidity.

But for thirty years the “Frige” did its job quietly and efficiently, never once calling in sick or taking a day off. It was only during hurricane driven power outages that we realized the importance of “old faithful.”

About five years ago the Frigidaire began leaking from somewhere deep in its mechanical innards. Its dry rubber seals began peeling off like shedding snake skins. Finally, the compressor started making large clunking sounds, causing visitors to exclaim, “What in the world was that?”

We knew it was time for “Frige” to go. As often happens, a few days after we decided to pull the plug, I was given a practically new refrigerator. Lightweight and energy efficient, the Hotpoint looks sleek compared to the squat coils-in-the-back Frigidaire.

Yesterday we made the switch and with much effort pushed and pulled the old Frigidaire out to the curbside. In a final act of indecency, we removed the doors, and “Frige” stood naked to the world and people using the laundromat across the street.

Taken from its familiar kitchen environment, the dismembered Frigidaire looked unrecognizable; a derelict chunk on the urban roadside. After thirty-five years of loyal service, it deserved better.

Postscript: I wanted to take a photograph of the Frigidaire and drove over early the next morning. It was already gone and I am hoping an industrious family resurrected old faithful for another ten years of chilling service.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Jimmy Roy, King of the World

One of my children’s stories, "Jimmy Roy, King of the World," was recently published by Stories For Children Magazine. Featured on page 38 in the September issue of the popular e-zine, "Jimmy Roy" expands on the reoccuring wish of children to rule the world.

The story recounts what happens when a mischievous and creative boy is grounded for the weekend with a computer. His outlandish wishes become real, but with some unforeseen and funny consequences.

The essence of Jimmy is autobiographical and becomes a vehicle for my own childhood shenanigans. Now that I think of it, this could lead to a series, "The Further Adventures of Jimmy Roy."

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Out Of The Blue

My writing buddy Augusta Scattergood recently sent a link to writer Sue Monk Kidd’s Top 10 list of writing advice . Monk Kidd, author of The Secret Life of Bees, and The Mermaid Chair, is an engaging and wise woman. I printed out her list for future reference – wisdom words for when my mind wanders or I find myself re-reading the same sentence over, over and over. These are sure indicators of an imagination in need of kick-starting.

Advice Number 4 held my attention. It’s about going with the third idea generated by an initial flash of inspiration. Kidd believes that one’s gut instinct is often a jumping off spot for completely new creations.

This insight comes as I’ve just completed an excellent book, The Tipping Point, by Malcolm Gladwell. New ideas are not linear, Gladwell writes, and the most successful ones spread like epidemics - exponentially doubling and re-doubling. People who have these sudden inspirations are called Innovators and, more often than not, their groundbreaking ideas are unorganized and misunderstood by the public.

It is up to another group of people, the Translators, to take these new ideas, shape and refine them, so they become acceptable to large audiences. Innovators and Translators are necessary for a product or movement to reach the tipping point – mass market success.

I wonder if this same process holds true for writers. Our initial inspiration could be called the Innovator – an exciting but un-polished idea. Fortunately, the Second or Third Thing arrives to function as the Translator, whose job is to repackage the idea or come up with a new creation. The evolution of our idea proceeds to a point where it tips and the message of our writing becomes a clear and potent force.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Back To The Garden

Today marks the 40th anniversary of the Aquarian peace and love-in known as Woodstock. Americans even then knew they were in the midst of a defining cultural moment. Years later, people I met would look back wistfully on those days and say, “I was there.”

I, however, was not there. I wanted to go, but several months before, I moved to Atlanta and got a job in the Merchandise Mart display department. As Woodstock made history, I was gathering Fall gift items for the Mart’s display cases.

Atlanta had become a mecca for hippie life and the epicenter was a midtown area known as “Tight Squeeze.” Attracted to the freedom and camaraderie of communal life on Peachtree Street, part of me longed to join them. Rent, car payments and job security pushed aside those thoughts.

Around the same time, the rising Southern rockers The Allman Brothers played several free concerts in nearby Piedmont Park. Friends who went talked about the magical experience for years. I somehow managed to miss them.

In college three years earlier, I often observed fine art majors throwing Frisbees or lounging on the grass, seemingly without a care in the world. They were the closest the University of Florida came to having hippies, and I envied their unconcern with grades, classes or graduation. I wanted to be like them, but an inner voice urged diligence, study and the promise of a career.

Most of what I know about Woodstock came from the excellent 1970 documentary. Listening to Allman Brothers records, I still play a mean air guitar, and freedom can be sitting with friends under the Golden Rain tree at twilight. These are enough.

Iconic Woodstock photo thanks to Burke Uzzle

Saturday, July 4, 2009

The End Of The Road

A mother and her young son drove to town for an afternoon of shopping. On the way, they passed an ice-cream shop decorated with bright balloons. The boy began sobbing.

“What’s wrong honey,” asked his mother, “don’t you feel well?”

“I want ice-cream!” he wailed.

“Maybe later," she added, "if you’re especially good.”

He whimpered once and grew quiet. Presently they drove by another ice-cream store with a laughing clown waving out front. Again the boy’s tears flowed.

“Now what is it Billy?” His mother turned to look at him. “We’ll be at the super market in a few minutes.”

“Ice-cream!” he cried.

Billy continued crying all the way to the market. He cried in the can-goods aisle. He wept as they passed the produce section.

Exasperated, his mother gave in and bought him a scoop of Raspberry Road.

Billy’s eyes lit up and with great gusto he slurped the frozen treat. Soon his face and hands and even his little sailor’s suit were magenta colored. He resembled a grinning raspberry.

It took a while, but finally Billy ate down to the sticky sugar cone. Suddenly he stopped. He stared hard at the last bites of cone. He looked up at his mother. Slowly, his smile turned upside down. Billy burst into tears.

“What in the world is wrong?” said his mother. “Raspberry Road is your favorite.”

With the last of the ice-cream dripping down his hand, Billy stood weeping on the sidewalk.

Then, as if the weight of the world pressed down on him, he whispered.

“In two more bites there won’t be any ice-cream left.”

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Good Things, Small Packages

In my extended gig as a health food store "vitamologist," word got out that I also dabbled in the Arts. Before long, I was asked to exhibit work in the store cafe, next to the "all you can eat" salad bar and across from the "grab 'n go" deli. It occurred to me one day, while noshing on an organic radish, that in a restaurant setting a different kind of art exhibit would be better appreciated.

Thus was born the Grab 'n Go Art Show, featuring scores of original 3"x 5" drawings covering the deli walls. Customers simply pulled off the drawing they liked and left $5.00. I made enough money from that exhibition to buy more art supplies.

The Grab 'n Go Art Show will make a reappearance at the July Cool Art Show in The Cloiseum in St. Petersburg. Above are samples of many new works that will be available. Just grab 'n go....after paying for them.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Not Fade Away

Standing in a dim theatre lobby,
the woman looks at her husband.
“I see two of you,” she says.
“There’s a blue glow behind your head
that travels all around your body.”
“Just forget it,” he answers.
“Let’s go back inside.”
“I never noticed it before,” she says.
“You live with someone twenty years,
you realize you don't know them at all.”
Following him into the darkened theatre,
the woman stares as his once familiar figure
dissolves into blackness.
"Who are you?" she whispers.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Happy Birthday Barbie

Barbie, with a waist that remains impossibly slender, turns 50 this year. For a gal who doesn't say much, she still has the ability to turn heads. Perhaps that's part of her mystique -the beautiful and silent type. And wealthy! At 1.2 billion dollars a year, Barbie earns more than any of those Hollywood blabbermouth beauties.

The curvaceous cutie also outlived her steady beau Ken by two years. While attempting to light a panatella, the poor chap incinerated himself.

Life goes on however and Barbie is again playing the field. Our sources report seeing her exit a Toys 'r Us, with a certain Russian hockey player. Careful Boris, it will take more than a few rubles and a hockey puck to corral this high maintenance beauty. We say, hats off to you doll - still hot after all these years.