Archive | October, 2011

Today’s resolution: Spinning a dizzying low

30 Oct

My world has been spinning for a solid week now as I fight vertigo resulting from labyrinthitis brought on by who knows what. A virus? Upper respiratory infection? Gremlins? BPA in my water bottle? A lack of hops?

I feel like I’m walking on the Titanic  and when I’m stationary, my head’s still a top on a string. So I haven’t been writing and I’m sorely missing it. I feel out of touch with reality, with imagination, with life, with the words that are the tools for my connections and how I keep things sorted. Every word puts something in the right spot, regulates flow of meaning like rings on pistons. Or something like that. As I said, spinning here.

My good news this week is that the venerable NPR radio show for Southern writers, Tales from the South, has accepted my story “Tony’s Gift.” I’ll read it on the Nov. 8 show at Starving Artist Cafe in North Little Rock.

I sent the story in last month as a exercise in moving beyond my comfort zone. I figured if that went well, I would proceed on the next phase of pushing even farther outside the C-Zone. So now I’m out here, thrilled and terrified and hoping I don’t stutter.

Fortunately, I’ll be in the good company of fellow writer Tim Bennett, who I’ve had the pleasure of knowing for more than 20 years.

If you’re inclined, please come to the show and buoy me and Tim with positive vibes, all that good stuff. Tickets can be purchased here.

Now I feel the need to spin off in another direction… the inner ear provides a wild ride. But I know my friend Laura would add a song if she were writing about vertigo, so here you are — U2-Vertigo.

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Creature Feature: Red-knee or pink toe, tarantulas are colorful but not cuddly

25 Oct

BY RHONDA OWEN
Special to the Democrat-Gazette
My son thinks he wants a tarantula for a pet. I don’t know anything about them. Are they hard to take care of? The main thing I want to know is if they bite and are poisonous.

Mexican Red-Knee Tarantula

These hairy arachnids bite and are venomous but the effect on humans is described as similar to the sting of a honeybee. They’re painful but cause complications only in people who are allergic to tarantula venom.

Tarantulas are low-maintenance pets — more of a hobby, really — and interesting to watch, but if your son wants a pet that he can handle frequently or play with, he’ll disappointed.

Spiders aren’t “interactive” pets. They can be picked up or stroked but it’s not recommended, primarily because of the possibility of harming the spider.

The American Tarantula Society  says there are more than 850 species of tarantulas worldwide and you need to be sure of what you’re getting to know how to care for it properly. Most people buy their spiders from online breeders (although some pet stores carry them) so you should be able to get specific care information for the type you choose.

Burrowing tarantulas, for example, will need material in the bottom of their housing (typically a 2-gallon tank or aquarium) that they can dig in. The burrow material (or substrate) should be a peat/vermiculite mix. Trees are the natural habitat of arboreal tarantulas so instead of burrowing material, they need some kind of wood that’s like a tree branch where they can make their tube-like webs.   

The Tarantula’s Burrow  offers a library of information about how to care for several tarantula species, such as the Costa Rican Zebra, Peruvian Pinktoe, Greenbottle Blue, Thailand Black and Mombasan Golden Starburst. There also a trio of Mexican tarantulas — Red-knee, Red-leg and Red-rump. CQ All

You can find more care information at exoticpets.about.com and tarantulas.com, which specializes in breeding tarantulas.

The Chilean Rose tarantula (native to Chile, as its name suggests) is one of the most common species kept as pets. It and other “starter” spiders (like the Red-knee and Pinktoe) are burrowers, docile and require little attention.

“Wild” tarantulas — you’ve probably seen at least one creeping around outside — aren’t considered pet quality. Sometimes they’re crawling with parasites or they may have been injured when captured (have lost a leg, for example). In fact, it’s a good idea to check out a tarantula before you buy to make sure it has eight legs and two pedipalps, the arm-like things on the front of the spider’s body.

Other things to know about tarantulas:
■ Different species grow to body lengths ranging 2-12 inches.
■ The largest tarantula in the world is the Burgundy Goliath Bird Eating Spider (native to Guyana), which has a leg span of 12 inches. They’re not recommended for beginner spider enthusiasts.
■ Most eat crickets but larger tarantulas can eat baby mice — or birds, as in the case of the Goliath.
■ Water in a shallow dish should be available at all times.
■ They’re not social so each spider needs its own house.
■ Spiders native to humid climates need to be misted regularly.
■ Humidity and temperature have to be regulated; this differs depending upon the species.
■ Spiders can “bleed” to death if injured; their blood (hemolymph) is pale blue to cloudy clear.
■ Female tarantulas live longer than males. A male might live as long as two years, but a female can live more than 20. Some dealers will guarantee the sex of a spider.
■ Tarantulas grow by molting, shedding the old exoskeleton for a new one. Shedding the old exoskeleton take several hours, then the new one needs several days to harden. The spiders are fragile and easily injured when molting.
■ They aren’t cheap. Prices found online for adult tarantulas range from $29 to $75 each. They’re often sold in lots of three.
■ Young spiders can be kept in small plastic boxes instead of the larger aquariums.

Mating season for tarantulas in the wild starts in July-August and continues through November, according to the Encyclopedia of Arkansas Heritage and Culture.

Tarantulas in Arkansas (we have the Texas brown variety) typically keep to their burrows, but the males venture out during mating season. One may travel as far as a mile to find his perfect hairy-legged girl. So romantic.

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Creature Feature appears weekly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

Today’s resolution: A little mind dance

20 Oct

There have been times when my imagination has gotten me into trouble or thrown me into an anxious looping frenzy. Mostly, though, imagination has been my salvation. The world of my mind is a bright, brilliantly intense place of dance, color, light and song (yes, there, I can actually sing … and I dance, dance, dance in the music video of my life), and it’s full of imaginative people with the faces of flowers. As you may imagine, I have never needed hallucinogens.

Imagination means I never run out of ideas for articles and stories, and I never tire of interviewing interesting people. I marvel at my life sometimes, amazed that I’ve managed a career that allows me to run with my imagination.

So, today, I share with you another favorite passage from J. Ruth Gendler‘s The Book of Qualities:

“When Imagination walks, she writes letters to the earth. When she runs, her feet trace postcards to the sun. And when she dances, when she dances, she sends love letters to the stars.

“Some people accuse Imagination of being a liar. They don’t understand that she has her own ways of uncovering the truth. She studied journalism in junior high school. It gave her an excuse to interview interesting people. She was surprisingly good at writing articles. When in doubt, she just made things up. More recently, Imagination has been working as a fortuneteller in the circus. She has this way of telling your fortune so clearly that you believe her, and then your wishes start to come true.

“Imagination is studying photography now with an eye toward making films. She has no intention of working in one of those factories where they manufacture images that lull us to sleep. Her vision is more complex, and very simple. Even with the old stories, she wants us to see what has never been seen before.”

I very much want to meet Ms. Gendler.

Dancing statues near the Clinton Library, Little Rock, Ark. (2011/RO)

Today’s resolution: Simplicity in time of decrease

18 Oct

Over the past 2 1/2 years, my life has become both simpler and more complex because of the economic downturn — complex because I must be ever more resourceful and creative to earn a living and simpler, too, for the same reason but also because a decrease in fortune requires me to strip my life down to essentials. It’s not always easy or desirable, but I try to make it work. Most days, it does. And it’s good.

This passage from I Ching, or Book of Changes, resonates on this first cold rain of fall as I pass through my time of decrease:

“Decrease does not under all circumstances mean something bad. Increase and decrease come in their own time. What matters here is to understand the time and not to try to cover up poverty with empty pretense. If a time of scanty resources brings out an inner truth, one must not feel ashamed of simplicity. For simplicity is then the very thing needed to provide inner strength for future undertakings. …

“One must draw on the strength of the inner attitude to compensate for what is lacking in externals; then the power of the content makes up for the simplicity of form.”

Cold rain at Lake No. 1, North Little Rock, (2011/RO)

 

 

Today’s resolution: Keep on the sunny side

12 Oct

“In Claude’s landscape all is lovely — all amiable — all is amenity and repose; — the calm sunshine of the heart.” — John Constable, A Course of Lectures to the Royal Institution

If this pig’s name isn’t Claude, it should be. A little snooze in the sunshine looks like a bright idea, doesn’t it? Reminds me, too, that it’s always helpful to look on the sunny side of life. Don’t believe me — listen to Mother Maybelle.

Sunny side up (2009/RO)

Today’s resolution: Love Whimsy

9 Oct

From The Book of Qualities by J. Ruth Gendler. The first time I read this passage, I thought, “This is me!”:

I painted my bathroom a bright shiny purple and put a huge gecko on the wall. It's a little crazy, but I like it..

“Whimsy is not afraid to be outrageous but she is basically shy. She has all kinds of books, and she arranges them on the shelves by the color of the cover or how the titles sound next to each other. She was especially pleased to put a book on African dyeing called Into Indigo next to a dark blue book on Jewish mysticism. Her clothes are also kept by color in the closet.

“When Whimsy was a little girl, she would stay in the museum with the marble walls talking to the statues after everyone else left. She has trouble keeping her shoelaces tied but in every other way she is as practical as your next door neighbor. Because she is wild, people expect her to entertain them. She is not encouraging anyone else to live like her. Remembering how abruptly her brother was locked up for being a troublemaker, she fears people who treat her like a curiosity. Freedom is her lover.”

Today’s resolution: ‘After the mystery’

5 Oct

As a writer, I’m always interested in other writers — why they write, what they get from it, what they hope to convey. Sometimes I look to them for explanations of myself, of what I do. Today, I turned to Wallace Stegner and his essay “The Law of Nature and Dream of Man: Ruminations on the Art of Fiction” (Where the Bluebird Sings to the Lemonade Springs) and found this:

“The writers I admire, and still admire, are not carpenters but sculptors. Their art was and is a real probe of troubling human confusions. … They were after the mystery implicit in the stone.”

Yes, the “mystery implicit in the stone.” That’s what I hope to uncover while writing. I want to reach a deeper meaning of something, of anything, of everything. I want to dig into those “troubling human confusions” that confound me and create currents of anxiety that are somewhat soothed by the perception of having touched upon a pebble of understanding.

The writing process is a struggle for I can never be satisfied with knowing just the facts. I have to find the why — more than the why, in truth. I often compare myself to other writers and wonder what satisfies them and if I’ll ever be satisfied with what meaning I manage to uncover through thought and language — or thought through language. So many doubts.

I find some comfort and inspiration in Stegner’s words: “By now I am prepared to guess that any method that lets a writer lay bare a moment of mystery is legitimate. Skill is whatever works. Different skills will work for different writers, and upon different readers, but any skill must work toward something.”

I have work to do.

Today’s resolution: If there is no choice?

3 Oct

As we begin another work week, here’s something to think about from one of my favorite poets, W.B. Yeats.

The Choice

The intellect is forced to choose
Perfection of the life, or of the work,
And if it take the second must refuse
A heavenly mansion, raging in the dark.
When all that story’s finished, what’s the news?
In luck or out the toil has left its mark:
That old perplexity an empty purse,
Or the day’s vanity, the night’s remorse.
(1932)

Entering the woods of the river walk at Two Rivers Bridge (2011/RO)

Today’s resolution: Hold on to beauty

2 Oct

Yes, it’s easy to be happy on a sunny day, but knowing that shouldn’t diminish the appreciation of either.

Yesterday was a glorious day to check out the new Clinton Bridge and wetlands walkway in downtown Little Rock. The bridge wasn’t officially open, but Simone and I enjoyed the view from the wooden path in the wetland area. I still  have the bridge to experience. Looking forward to it.

The Clinton Bridge as seen from the wetlands walkway. (2011/RO)