Friday Fictioneers: The Ruins*

Over time, the fortress crumbled and the crows took over, fighting battles of their own over the parapets. Ordinary people, no longer as valiant or as bloodthirsty as the ones who had thundered across the hills, built houses, cheery green and yellow boxes everywhere. The railroad men drove their tracks boldly right below, and people climbed on and off the train as if nothing had ever happened.

But the stationmaster always shook his head when asked about tours up the hill.

“Up there? Nar. I never goes up there.”

As the 4:17 started to chug its way, his feet felt the vibrations. Felt them as always, continue long after the cars had blurred across the fields, continue underneath, as if something there was just waiting.

*Based on a 100 word flash fiction prompt from Rochelle Wisoff-Fields, based on this photo by Sandra Crook.

26 July 2019

Beat the Dictionary

In 1936, the winning word was eczema. In 1967 and 1970, the words were chihuahua and croissant, commonly viewed words in TV ads for Eucrisa, Taco Bell, or Burger King.

Somewhere along in the 2000s is when the spelling bee contestants stepped up their game so much that the words became more difficult, less recognizable. In 2003: pococurante. 2011: cymotrichous. 2017: marocain.

2019 spelling bee winners
The eight winners of the 2019 Scripps spelling bee, photo by Erik Lesser

In 2019, as you may already have heard, there were eight winning words because the 2019 Scripps Spelling Bee resulted in an eight-way tie. Just for the record, those words were Auslaut; erysipelas; bougainvillea; aiguillette; pendeloque; palama; cernuous; and odylic. I’d be surprised if you even recognize anything besides bougainvillea.

Social and technological changes have created a competition that seems otherwordly in difficulty, yet there are more ties and more winners than ever. Contestants hustle to cram as many words in practice as they can, use special computerized services, hire coaches, and reportedly spend 30 hours a week looking up the meanings of prospicience and antipyretic.

One question widely circulating is: Should we do anything about it?

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Betty Reid Soskin: Social Justice Ninja Warrior

In honor of MLK day this past Monday, I’ve been thinking for a few weeks about dedicating this entry to Betty Reid Soskin. I have to admit, though, it’s been difficult to get going, and as I began pulling quotes and details to share, I finally realized why it’s been hard. She is damn intimidating!

Soskin, Glamour magazine.
Soskin, magazine cover of Glamour.

A five foot three, soft-spoken 97-year-old might not seem particularly overwhelming. For those lucky enough to have heard her speak, you know also that she is extremely approachable and willing to share both her thoughts and listen to yours. But what she has accomplished in her life makes clear that this woman is a force of nature. What she lacks in height, she has made up for with a lifetime of copious activism and the promotion of American ideals of liberty and equal opportunity.

Chock Full O’ History

Here are just a few portions of her remarkable life story. She comes from Cajun, Creole, Spanish, and African ancestors, with a great-grandmother born into slavery and an ancestry that stretches from the time of witches to Dred Scott through the Civil Rights Movement to Black Lives Matter. She came to California from New Orleans and served in a segregated Jim Crow union hall in Richmond California during World War II. Opening a gospel-themed record store in Berkeley with her husband, she raised a family, experiencing redlining in Berkeley and both subtle and overt racism in the suburbs of Walnut Creek. Continue reading “Betty Reid Soskin: Social Justice Ninja Warrior”

Choose Your January Adventure

It’s the second week of January, so a traditional time to sip on a steaming cup of self-recrimination while you finish putting away holiday decorations. Why’d you eat so many of Aunt Marnie’s cookies? Why that extra bottle of wine? So many parties with melted Brie…so little time.

Resolutions get made, then broken or ignored. Exercise machines are purchased, then used as clothes hangers. January can be a dangerous time because–and I’m going to get northern California new agey here–so much negative energy is generated from remorse after all the positive warm and fuzzies from December celebrations now decisively over. You have to clean up after the party, not just the house, but your body and your emotions, knowing that it’s a long time to the next fun and games.

Still, January can be useful. Let’s talk about how.

Adventure diagram
Diagram by Carl Richards, “It’s 2019. Want some Self-Improvement?”

Adventure=Change

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Homo Sapiens at the Monuments

I was inspired with today’s word “camera” to share mostly photos rather than words, although some explanation is required. You see, I have a penchant when we travel for capturing the interaction between humanity and monuments. What tends to catch my eye is potential humanity, in particular, which is to say children being children.

The earth is 4.5 billion years old, humans around 6 million years, and civilization about 6,000, so you might say the rocks have it all over us. As Virginia Woolf once said,

The very stone one kicks with one’s boot will outlast Shakespeare.
–To the Lighthouse

Yet while we stand around in reverence, snapping photos of the million-year-old natural rock bridge or a Michelangelo masterpiece, children do what they do, which is to say play games, be naughty, and generally act as if they own the place. Which they do, in the most essential way.  I first observed this at Arizona’s Canyon de Chelly back in 1993, where a late April water gully created a stream where a dozen Navajo children played. The sight of the massive rock edifice and 500-year-old abandoned Anasazi ruins carved out of the walls, set against the kids splashing water around and shrieking with laughter was both incongruous and perfectly natural. To me, it was like our genetic potential breathing.

Those are highfalutin’ ideas, but I frame them around this “photo essay” to help explain why these photos were taken in this way.

OK, it’s not Stonehenge, it’s Carhenge in Alliance, Nebraska. But wouldn’t be cool if you saw a toddler running through the sarsens erected by the ancient Celts?

Carhenge
Toddler at Carhenge, Nebraska. Photo by kajmeister.

Continue reading “Homo Sapiens at the Monuments”