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March was made of yarn

Scattered thoughts in my notebook and marginalia in the above were the only things I’d written of our visit to the coast until now.

In the summer of 2014, we visited Japan and stopped along the coast to see areas affected by the tsunami of 2011. Accompanying us were friends whom we’d thought we’d lost in that very tsunami. Ironic and reassuring at the same time.

What we saw, what we experienced, what we felt … it all made an impression. I can’t see someone sharing a space with such an occurrence — even separated by time — and not feel … well, something. I can only imagine what it was like to look up to see the ocean moving toward you, 125+ feet higher than normal at its peak.

Coming into focus
This is the first I’ve published anything I’ve written about the experience. A few years ago, I read March was Made of Yarn, a collection of literature (and even a manga) about the Great Tohoku Earthquake of 2011 and related events.

But recently I’ve had occasion to read articles on subject, some pieces coming from the fringe. Stuff like how taxi drivers along the coast report passengers who ask to be take to the coast and then disappear along the way. And others a bit more harrowing.

Another one — altogether grounded in this realm — was a report on tsunami stones, which were places along the coast to warn future generations of past tsunami catastrophes. This was the article that finally spurred me to attempt to share my experiences visiting the coast.

Ayukawa

Building, torn off concrete footings and set on its side, near Ayukawa

Not broken, just incomplete
This post … It’s short, incomplete, as I see it, but that’s fittingly one of the feelings impressed on me along the coast. Once complete, thriving, now … still many years afterward … incomplete, scattered.

To remedy things (at least from a literary angle), I’ll add more. Maybe more to this one, but likely additional posts of a more personal nature.


Aneyoshi’s stonemason

Tamashige’s calloused hands picked up the metal chisel and hammer again. Fresh dust, dry and coarse, blanketed the ground at his feet. Dust – so much dust. So much it formed a pale nimbus around the base of the short stone pillar that was his work today.

Japan 2014 slideshow (170).jpgHe looked at his tools and weary hands, but couldn’t stop. He had to continue. He loosely cradled the tools of his craft for a moment. Then glanced at the stone before looking beyond it, his eyes coming to rest on the ancient mountain laurel still clinging higher up the hillside.

A sigh.

He turned, back toward the resilient shrub, and looked down toward Aneyoshi Town. What was left of it. Its rubble now littered the ground at his feet – broken beams, ceramics, roof tiles, even a fabric doll.

These items didn’t belong here, not on the hillside above the town. They belonged near the bay, not pushed and crushed, scattered by the irresistible, adamant force of a rising sea.

These things didn’t belong here – didn’t deserve to be covered in stone dust. He did. That was his calling. But he couldn’t understand why he still … was. Perhaps it was because he, as the settlement’s stonemason, was the only one who could carve these warning stones, the only one who could ensure the fresh, rough-torn impressions of the tsunami would reach others decades after he was gone.

“Present melts into past,” he murmured to himself, turning back to his work, “and past — that becomes distant memory. Unless it’s carved in stone.”

Future generations would see the stones, and hopefully take heed of their recessed words, which implored readers not to build homes between stone and sea.

Perhaps that was the reason Tamashige, the Aneyoshi stonemason, still lived. Perhaps he could invest his hope in that.

Dig for your truth

I write. That’s nothing new. But I have a friend now who’s doing the same, trying to a put a story to paper. Her story. About herself and the struggle to get to where she is, and that entails the struggle to get through some caustic ka-ka. And perhaps that’s why it’s so hard to complete it.

On writing

This guy says to write about “anything you damn well want … as long as you tell the truth.”

I’m helping out — at her request, mind you. None of that unsolicited “Y’know <AHEM> I’m a professional writer, so you might consider blah-biddy-blah-blah”BS from me. No, I’ll save the unsolicited advice for subjects I don’t know anything about.

Writing truthfully about ourselves is, I’d say, one of the most difficult things to do.

Narcissists aside, if we really strip it down … throw varnish on our ego and are truthful when we write about ourselves — what we feel, experience, believe, are — we find that committing to that honest expression of yourself gives you pause.

Seeing yourself on the page
For me, writing honestly about myself is like a quick dip in hot vinegar. What the hell kinda simile was that? An honest one, but it sucked. Trying again … writing honestly about myself is scary. Yeah, that’s it. Scary.

Stephen King wrote “Good writing is often about letting go of fear and affectation.” Because I don’t journal nor keep a diary, everything I write is open to others’ eyes. Even this very blog, which I tell myself I write for me, is available to others. Even here, where I assure myself it’s safe, I’ve a tendency to be measured in my meter.

Do I really want to admit to this?
What are they going to think if I end it that way? 
How does this word affect their perception about me?

I guess that’s what’s so self-damning about being in marketing: You’re trained to see your work, and I’d argue yourself, from another’s perspective before your own. Hell, you’re paid to forgo your truth.

The truth we don’t know
So enough of me (did somebody say “narcissist”?) and back to this friend’s writing. It’s bringing to light something more than just the question of being truthful.

okinawa-cape-manzamoThat’s because the facts are all there … from the solace of girlhood conversations with God through the trials of a distanced home life across the harsh reality and veneered independence of adolescence up through young adulthood’s discoveries to the resolution of her present reality and positive future. It’s there, and it’s good.

But she’s at the point — we are, I suppose, since we’re at this crossroad of tackling this draft together — of looking at the story and going deeper.

Asking the why behind the what.
Seeking the motives behind the motions.
And the soul-level drivers behind destiny-changing decisions.

To me that’s seeking the truth we don’t know.

BedrockI can’t do that for her any more than anyone could do it for me. It’s a sojourn that we gotta take; I can only consider the directions before her, talk through those, maybe weigh each one, but it’s she who heads down that path.

That truth we don’t know, too, can be scary, because you might just discover something you didn’t want to admit.

But then, and there’s always a “but then,” if you can dig deep enough, just like hitting bedrock, there’s a certainty to your truth that’s immovable.

 

 

“Now, there is yoga.”

That title’s apparently the first statement in the Yoga Sutras. I know that not from personal experience, at least not beyond the personal experience of hearing our instructor quote the author Patañjali during yesterday’s awesome class at FORM{yoga}. And trust me, the title is about as Zen as this post gets, y’all.

 

FORMhdl

“Yeah, no … I’m not about to attempt this.”

Stretch. Now repeat 75x.
I’ve got fitness goals this year, one of which is to hit up 75 yoga classes. Now I was absent the day they taught math in school, but I figure to hit that target I gotta knock out 3 classes every 2 weeks. Doable. Or so I thought.

 

Yesterday’s class was the 6th or 7th attempt this year. But I made it, finally, to a class. That class’s name: Hips Don’t Lie. I kid you not. Hell, my hips don’t even stretch the truth hardly.

Polka-powered prana
The class was chill, so very chill … almost glacial as it turned out. At first though, I had my doubts. We were up in the (noticeably warmer) loft part of the studio, so I was thinking we’d be sweating buckets as we flexed our hips in ways that would bring shame to my puritanical ancestors.

Harmonium

This is a harmonium, as seen through the hazy, chilly-chill post-class ambiance. (Foot for scale.)

And then there was the accordion.

Well, make that a harmonium. I had no clue what the squeezebox-lookin’ thing was there on the floor at the front of the class, my teacher sitting on the business end.

I couldn’t help thinking, “If she thinks I’m starting my Monday with a polka, I’m outta here.”

But nah … a couple chords and a few Ommms  later and it was back to being an intruguing conversation piece.

Hans and Franz and Patañjali
This was the first class I’ve even done with my eyes closed. It wasn’t volitional; we were instructed. And I liked it! Sure, as close in as we all were to each other, we ran the risk of bumping body parts.

Did I mention I was the only dude there? Hellooooo, ladies. I see by your bumper sticker you too have a child on the honor roll … Ah, my game ain’t what it used to be, and it wasn’t much to begin with. I hardly passed Go, and rarely collected $200.

But, said bumping didn’t occur. And neither did any the Hans and Franz-era pumping up of the gluteal region. No complaints there, though today I definitely feel some soreness in my maximus, medius, and minimus, which happens when you get it kicked, even slowly.

And that’s never a bad thing.

Check out a class at FORM{yoga}. You’ll be glad you did … and your ass will thank you.

 

For her, it was never a question of if things would get better, but when.

The-rain-is-falling-lightly_1

Ame ga ochite imasu

And her friends knew that about her, too. They were accustomed to how she could always find the slightest yellow-gold fissure among the storm clouds.

 

That’s where she’d focus, even if it meant the last remaining drops might find their way into her hazel eyes.

Things hadn’t been easy for her. Hardship, loss, and change never are. But things get better.

“They always do,” she would often say, peppering their downcast chatter with her characteristic optimism.

And while some didn’t take her seriously, some took heart, making her words worth while.

Taking heed of her own words now, she looked up and searched for yellow-gold.

Gabriel wants to be an architect. Admittedly, that brought a smile to my face, not simply because I once wanted to, but because as much as he loves Legos it just makes sense. The boy loves to build.

Fatherhood-and-Legos

Let’s be honest, shall we?

Beyond G’s fascination with bricks, I’ve been thinking about houses, moving, remodeling, and the possibilities that are spawned at the intersection of all that. The reasons why I’ve been ruminatin’ along them lines will come into focus soon enough … in later posts.

Usonian Homes in Legoland
But driving back home with him today, somehow the concept of the Usonian home came into the conversation. I think we were talking about designing our own place and how we’d go about it.

When he asked, “What’s a Usonian home?” I tethered the new concept to one he was familiar with: Frank Lloyd Wright. We’d visited Wright’s home and studio in Illinois several years ago (a birthday present to me), and I’d gone through some FLW books of mine with Gabriel.

Usonian? What the @*&# is Usonian?
After I’d explained enough and the 68mph buzz of the traffic filled the lull in conversation, I found myself thinking back to my own study of that distinctly Wright-esque design.

In pursuit of my Communications & Rhetoric degree, I chose the Usonian home as a research topic in an investigative writing class. My professor approved it (thanks, Killian!) and I launched into a series that I (perhaps hoity-toityly) dubbed “Usonian: A Concept of Life, Community, & Growth.” <pause for effect>

I won’t bore you with the “mini-mini research paper,” which weighs in at a not-so-mini-for-a-blog-post 1,500+ words. However, what follows is the feature article from that series, written by a decade-younger Derek.

It ain’t published yet, so if you know of anyone who’s looking for some decent writing, please send them my way. (Typos, as originally included, are on the house.)

FLW UsonianThe Usonian Home: A Cursory Guide to an Architectural Concept
If you’ve ever been involved in the housing market – buying, selling, or fixer-uppering – then the concept of the ranch-style house is not foreign. But few people are aware of the origin of this design.

And what is the origin? In a word: Usonian. More than a short-lived buzzword, Usonian is a concept of affordable, simple housing with a strong visual connection between the interior and the exterior. Striking to those both familiar and unfamiliar with the term, the Usonian concept originates with none other than Frank Lloyd Wright.

Designed to satisfy a modest budget, harmonize with the environment, and please the owners’ aesthetic tastes, Usonian homes shared several characteristics.

  • Unpretentious in size (1,200-1,500 square feet)
  • Designed for the American working class
  • Energy-efficient, using much less energy than a modern home of similar size
  • Constructed for a cost-per-square-foot consistently lower than market price
  • Comprised of modular materials
  • Supplied solar heating during winter, natural sunlight during daytime, and cooling by virtue of the homes’ orientation and landscaping

In addition, many of these homes are, simply put, beautiful. The straight lines, natural materials, and hybrid of function and form that they seem to effortlessly crystallize assure their place in the annals of architecture. They are not as grandiose as other Wright works.

There were only around 100 designed and 60 or so Usonian homes constructed. However, their simple answer to the need for not only affordable, but pleasing working-class housing is indelible on the American landscape: Wright’s Usonian is considered the precursor to the modern-day ranch home. While she stated that belief herself, writer Suzanne Boyle admits it’s “a radical notion coming from an architect born in 1867.”

True enough, such monumental architecture as The Guggenheim Museum in New York City and the Fallingwater residence in western Pennsylvania come quickly to mind at the mention of an eccentric architect named Frank Lloyd Wright. Yet, the Usonian home, the more humble aspect of his genius, reaches American families living in their single-story, 2bed/1bath ranch homes still today.

And that makes the Usonian home an architectural concept that hits closer to home than we think.

 

IMG_20151124_160359.jpgWelcome to 2016, the year I write for myself. Buckle up, buttercup.

I’ve got a vague idea what writing for myself actually means, what I intend it to mean, or what I’ll have to show for it 12 months from now. But somehow I’ll muscle it into something entertaining.

For those new to my blog, I’m a writer. (Sounds sexy, don’t it? That’s why I chose the profession … kinda.) And while I write a metric crappe-tonne of copy each year, I don’t blog often.

Writin’ for the man, while being the man
I feel fortunate (and I do mean that sincerely) to write for living. A majority of that writing, however, is for other people, namely my employers: a Big Four firm, a local bike shop, a start-up solar energy company, an asana-kickin’ yoga studio, and a top-ranked MBA program.

Yes, I pimp my prose and bullet points alike. Don’t judge … because it pays the bills.

But in kicking around the idea of writing in the New Year, it became clear there was this rift between what I want to write and what I’m tasked with writing. I have been struggling with the fact that there are things that I want to write – the words and ideas that I feel I need to write – that I have not written.

Herdin’ the copy along
And I believe I recognize that rift more clearly than ever because other areas of my life (beyond words) are shifting for the better, areas that have been stagnant for so long … almost calcified to the point of my not believing that they could change. I’m ready for my writing to follow suit. And I’m ready to make it so.

So what do I plan to crank out on my keyboard?

I won’t list my ideas and half-drafted/half-assed topics here, because it’d be too easy for me to say, “Oh, well, I made some progress when I mentioned some topics in that first blog on January 2nd, so I really don’t need to do any work on it this week.”

Screw that. I’ve procrastinated long enough. Too long, in fact. Now, other things can wait.

That’s why I’m struggling to write, ready, and publish an entire blog post while sitting in my car when I should be grabbing groceries at Rainbow Natural Foods. Sniff sniff … Ah, the smell of nutraceuticals in the morning.

Nothing to see here. Move along.
My intent is to use this blog as an exploration … push off the bank, jump into the canoe, feet wet, paddle cutting into the current, and see where each trip takes me (and anybody else crazy enough to join in).

12410563_840870542691802_3734562292201310941_nFlash fiction, character development, images, ruminations, poetry, short stories, writing/editing tips, recollections, book proposal outlines, perhaps a sestina on the oedipal/electral undercurrents in Star Wars. Hell, I might even try my hand at a podcast. Who knows? I don’t.

And depending on what’s on my mind, whatever shows up might look like I used this blog like a chalkboard, sketchbook, velum, ransom note, canvas, or even the side of a dumpster.

It probably won’t be pretty, folks. But it doesn’t have to be pretty as long as it can simply be.

And if what comes to be happens to be something you dig, then lemme know in whichever way tickles your fancy: like, comment, share, subscribe, or email.

Thanks for coming along for the ride.

Bliss by chance

Last week I wrote about a family tradition, one that my wife and I have carried out with an exacting precision that would make a German engineer proud. This morning, I find myself midstream of another, albeit a tradition that’s three-quarters unintentional and one-quarter “Sure, why not?”

Two-thirds of The Ham Fam slumbers this July 4 morning. Who could blame them? Yesterday was full and fun. Rain’s falling slowly, steadily, and (contrary to those slogging through the Peachtree Road Race a few miles away) seemingly unconcerned about making good time. Meanwhile, amid all this anti-activity, this third of The Ham Fam finds himself awake, unable to get back to sleep.

I could get up. Get a cup of java. Put a couple slices of raw toast in the toaster. Pull back the curtains at the kitchen sink. Appreciate the bric-a-brac on the sill. Look past it to take in the vernal view of our backyard. Maybe pop a squat on the back stoop and enjoy simply being there.

“Sure, why not?”

image

Sitting out here, I feel a little Zen monkish…
Before enlightenment — eat toast, drink coffee
After enlightenment — eat toast, drink coffee

Typically, mornings such as this provide not so much excitement as they do quiet satisfaction. I think that’s kinda the point. I did, however, see (and hear) a sizeable limb fall in our neighbor’s yard. Pretty neat.

Songbirds sometimes get closer than is typical, taking a splash-bath in a puddle forming within a shallow exhalation in the concrete driveway, or maybe  searching for worms driven to the yard’s surface by the incessant rain.

Raindrops reach the stoop’s railing, sending small droplets to land on my bare legs and arms. It’s like Nature’s placing a hand on me, as if to say, “You don’t have to go just yet.” So I sit here. And enjoy it. And sooner or later I think to myself that I should start my day. So I do. Until next time, whenever that may be.

Proximate pitch

Ever since our son’s first birthday, we’ve had a little tradition in our family: We sing happy birthday to him at 8:54 a.m. each June 30, the time he showed up.

Today marks a decade of doing that. It’s also a mile marker of sorts since this is the first time we’ve done so without him here with us. He spent the night with a friend yesterday, but thanks to some telephonic coordination, our tradition continued.

Admittedly, it didn’t occur to me until yesterday that we three wouldn’t be occupying the same space when the time came for our tradition. And when it did, it felt… odd. The best i can give for why I feel this way is that we weren’t sharing the same space. We weren’t proximate. The more I consider it, the more that reason stands its ground.image

As an 11-year-old big boy (as of an hour ago), he’s moving so to speak into his own. Growing up. Filling out. Speaking up. Standing out. See… Even the words I scratch up to describe his journey reflect that.

It’s a far cry from a decade ago, leaning over the edge of a bassinet and quietly singing to a (thankfully) sleeping little boy for the first time. Proximate. Intimate. As close as you could get it seemed without actually reliving his birth. Family.

Ever since that day, there’s been change in that proximity. Not bad, mind you. And as we continue our little tradition, it will continue to change. And that’s OK. This year, it’s aloft thanks to the wonders of the T-Mobile network. And years from now… Who knows? There may come a time when singing to him requires calculating time zones and paying international rates. Still, I think we’ll continue to do it undaunted.

Today’s call was quick. His voice told me that he liked it. I could tell he was having fun with his buddy and wanted to get back to that business. Can’t blame him. But there’s meaning for me and his mama.

The irony of writing about National Screen-Free Week using a screen that I carry on my person at all times ain’t lost on me. At least it’s authentic irony rather than the veneer of irony that’s mistaken for wit these days.

OK that was kinda haughty. Sorry. Truth is, I’m having a hard time with keeping screen-free week screen free. And it’s beyond the fact I use a computer for my job. Maybe it stems from having an Atari 2600 Childhood. Maybe I’m hardwired so to speak. But I don’t think so.

At home, we don’t really watch TV. No computer games. Heck, not even phone games anymore. But I find myself reaching for my cell out of boredom, checking my Facebook or email, using it as a crutch. That’s not good.

image

Don't kill it. Don't love it. Just cool it.

With all conveniences, I suppose that in using them, our (unspoken) task is to self-regulate. Otherwise we risk using them to our detriment,  opting for pixels over personal interaction or… gasp!… reflection. That sure beats using “the truncheon in lieu of conversation,” but in the long run I’m of the mind that the effect of both are similarly detrimental, making us more subjects than sentients.

Still, screens provide an escape. And that isn’t always a bad thing. But for me, for this week, going screen free is quite the challenge. Looks like I picked the wrong week to quit the fourth wall.

Advent Spiral

It’s that time of year again!
No, not rampant consumerism, running amok and foaming at the mouth, promulgating debt-driven spending traditions as artificial as the plastic that enables them.
In this time of holiday traditions, I’m reposting one of your favorite entries and one of my favorite traditions: The Advent Spiral!
What is it? Find out.

Heavy Mental ~ Derek Hambrick's blog

This year witnessed our son starting kindergarten at the Waldorf School.  We knew that it was very much a step for our family in terms of involvement.  What I mean by that is that families – not solely the children – are a large part of the school.  This is exactly what we wanted: involvement.

Such was what we got this morning as we got to see our children participate in the advent spiral.  It’s a winter tradition, as I understand it, one that revolves around the theme of light coming from the darkness.  Illumination, in a word.

Some of you might be familiar with this tradition, but until a month ago, I wasn’t.

Our class’ advent spiral – like others – was a reverent activity. Picture a dark room, the floor cleared save for event’s namesake, wrapped in a cloak of soft lyre music and all but devoid of words. The advent spiral…

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