Do you go with the flow?

“Cursive writing does not mean what I think it does.”- Bart Simpson

The other day on the train, my eye fell upon the stack of papers clutched by my seat partner. The text slashed the page; all letters touched together, the rounded curves squashed flat against the bottom line. What language is this, I wondered. I realized at long last that it was English cursive… but a very terrible attempt at cursive. This really did look like chicken scratches or hieroglyphics… it was that bad.

I read an interesting article this morning in the New York Times about the disappearance of cursive handwriting. Many schools do not teach cursive anymore… most stop their instruction by the third grade… which is, ironically, the last year I remember doing cursive in a formal environment.

I was in public school at the time… as a Kindergartner I was given a large landscape-oriented sheet of newsprint with a blank space on top and a block of tri-ruled lines at the bottom. You know the ones I mean… the two inch wide green lines with a dashed demarcation running down the middle… frightening word highways… repositories for the letters I was still learning. At the time, it was not expected that we know how to write in the traditional sense… in fact… we were expected to draw a picture in the blank space and draw squiggles akin to children’s representations of mountains. Up/down/up/down/up/down. It could say whatever you wanted… it didn’t matter. All the pencil peaks and valleys were the same.

Then, once you reached the number grades… the mountains came crashing down… real writing was required. I suppose the mountain writing was a way to acclimatize us to the flow and movement of cursive… just a softer, more grown-up squiggle. I probably was dyslexic, but I was dedicated. A different marble composition book was required for every subject, and I used a new page for each assignment to make it seem like I wrote a lot. I must have learned the cursive letters… one at a time, copying them in my wide ruled note book over and over…but my memory is very hazy. All my elementary school classrooms had cursive alphabet borders running around the room near the ceiling line… they were high up there. I wonder if any children actually paid attention to them, craning their necks, following the 52 squiggles left to right… uppercase and lowercase. Sadly, what I remember clearly is that some of the people in my class still couldn’t read by the 2nd grade… and the first class of the year was spent on a remedial alphabet refresher.

I don’t remember cursive being required… I wasn’t writing book reports in cursive, nor did I have handwriting tests of any kind. As a 4th grader, I transferred to private school where no one cared about cursive… it just wasn’t done. I remember envying one of my best friends for her cursive “M”s… I practiced my own signature over and over again, in case I grew up to be famous.

When I spent time in my mother’s office while on a school break, I took it upon myself to improve my lettering. She made examples of the cursive letters for me, spaced out on a yellow steno pad. I would sit in a leather high-backed chair for hours, chewing on the straw of my cherry coke, forming the letters over and over… row upon row of every letter, both cases. After many long afternoons in her office, the steno pad was completely filled up with dark blue penmanship. It did not resemble my mom’s handwriting, but at least it was a valiant effort.

The Times article mentions that some younger folks can no longer read the eloquent scripted writing… the mythological beast known as cursive. While I may not be an expert in graphology (that’s the study and analysis of handwriting), I feel confident that I can at least READ the stuff… even if my lowercase “u,” “v,” and “w” all look relatively the same. I do empathize, though, with the children who were surprised when they learned that cursive “D” in Disney’s bubbly script at the start of old VHS tapes was actually a “D”!

In college and graduate school, I continued to practice my cursive as a deterrent to falling asleep in class. Cursive, since I was not a born natural, required just that extra bit of concentration. I slanted my notepad… pulled out my disposable fountain pen… and began to script continuously. Whether or not I could read it later when studying was another matter… as the smooth squiggles slipped off the lines from time to time, trailing off into swooping curves.

I understand that times are changing… that word processing skills take precedent and smart phones, IM and text messaging are pervasive ways of communication. My current print is only a more refined version of the print I did as an elementary-age kid. I value my handwriting. I much prefer to write long hand for just about everything. I’m a list maker, a letter writer, and I have my own wax seal. Believe me; the concept of a blog is still very foreign.

Who cares if no job requires cursive… I don’t know many professional scribes these days… but that’s beside the point. Why not learn to do it for the love of doing it? To improve your own print by honing another side of it… or to marvel at the sheer art value if you think it’s otherwise irrelevant? We shouldn’t eliminate these skills from our repertoire simply because they’ve been targeted as “outdated”… ludicrous.

Go write a letter in cursive and spend the money to post it… it won’t kill you. If you’re feeling really racy, see if you can use roman numerals in the process… there’s another thing we’re missing out on these days.


run a little slower.

One of my favorite things to do toward the end of my time in college was to take a long winter’s run on the weekend. I’ve always been athletic, but never the star of any of my teams, and certainly not the fastest. I’m tall… and take huge lumbering antelope-like strides. While having a running partner was always something I welcomed, I always tried to schedule time for a slow jaunt by myself. I probably never went further than two or three miles—just enough to get that itch in my calves.

I never ran outside with headphones (something that I do all the time in the gym). Listening to silence is an art; running hones my concentration and (ironically) my stillness. I’d go so far as to say that running alone is a “Sabbath” activity. Sometimes I feel like nothing can break my meditation… and other days I purposefully open my ears to the environment streaking by me. On my college runs, I frequently stopped in the middle of my run to watch an inning or two of a Little League game.


Today, after who knows how long, I went for a Saturday run. I couldn’t find running tights, and was reduced to wearing capris and soccer socks. I am nothing if not a fashion warrior on the trail (kidding).

After 10+ years of running in the same place, Saturday runs have become vehicles to discover hidden neighborhoods in suburbia connected by labyrinthine paths. I decided to start my run by heading to the lake nearby, which was much more of an adventure than I anticipated. The remaining detritus of the winter storm had turned to a substance reminiscent of sparkling concrete and rough glass. I slipped while vaulting up a mud and ice-laden hill, falling forward onto my hands. Sometimes it’s good to get your ass kicked by nature.

I had forgotten that running “without purpose” could be one of the most fulfilling things in my life. Perhaps Saturday runs are the best because they are elected weekend activities on typical days of sloth—you can’t help but wonder (and be entertained by) the other runners who cross your path—or maybe its because with each rhythmic pound of my foot I become one step closer to emptying myself… so I can be full again.

After my run, I found myself breathing deep and doing sun salutations on shaky legs with a smile on my face…reaching my palms to the sky as the winter wind bent the tops of the trees. In the immortal words of Forrest Gump, “I just felt like running.”

and… listen to this.


kitties in the headlights (looks like a "Wanted" poster?).


First of all, here are two portraits of our “new” kitties, Leo and Cricket. We adopted them both this past summer. They’ve come along nicely– Leo (bottom) is no longer afraid of people, other cats, loud noises, open spaces, or his own shadow (the shelter had named him Skittles, so sad). Cricket is still fierce and incredibly serious (we call her Burt sometimes, because she has a straight black line of a mouth just like the character on Sesame Street), but she’s gotten a lot better with us. She tolerates being held… and then lets loose a very articulate and long statement on why she needs to be put back down. They are not littermates, but I think they have grown to like each other well enough. They are polar opposites, and occasionally take a swing at one another (they are especially good at the “I’m-not-touching-you” game)…

As I get older, I inevitably get closer to becoming a Crazy Cat lady (think of the film “Grey Gardens”). The other day, while dropping off some donations to the cat adoption center, the volunteer woman told me about the fourth cat she had brought home from work– an “occupational hazard” as she described– who had maxed out at around 20 pounds. That’s a footstool of a feline!! Yikes!!

I don’t think I’d let myself get more than two cats, but now that I have two, I realize how lonely our elder cat must have been for 17 years. The “species friend” bond is something very unique. Cricket will nicely groom Leo while he is sleeping, tenderly licking his face and straightening his whiskers… but if he moves, she’s quick to back-foot-rabbit kick him in the face until he stops squirming or cries out in protest. But then again, maybe that IS what siblings do… I wouldn’t know ☺

“what we’ve got here is…failure to communicate.”

I’m incredibly shy by nature—that might come as a surprise to some of you who know me. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve found that I’m much more verbally confrontational than most folks. I’ve turned up the volume on my life and tuned up my observation skills…not only because I think these are paramount to full societal membership…but also because most people just don’t seem to care… about anything!!

I do contemplate how certain individuals can continue along the path they’ve chosen. I’m in no position to tell anyone how to govern their own lives, or instruct them on proper interactions. But…here are things I witness every single day on a micro level that just… irk me…

The other day, I stumbled down the escalator in the metro and darted onto a train just as the doors were closing. It’s not like me to get on a train without being absolutely sure it’s going to the right station, but sometimes the allure of darting in between the automatic doors is too much to resist. As soon as I sat down, the conductor announced that the train would be terminating in a few stops. When the doors opened at every stop, the conductor announced that the train was a “special” and would be ending early, and thus NOT going to the end of the line.

I disembarked the train at the new “end of the line,” as had been announced by conductor as many times as there are stops on the whole metro line, still reading my book. When I looked up, there were still about half a dozen people sitting on the train… not noticing that the train was stopped, that everyone else had gotten off, or that the doors kept opening and closing. One guy in a coal colored overcoat dug his hands deep in his armpits and seemed to incline his head and listen closer to his ipod. A couple sat with paper grocery bags on their laps, staring straight ahead at the other guy sitting across the car.

A grizzled and grimy older man with a cane and an awkward gait ambled up to the train and rapped on the door with the rubber tip of the walking stick, barking, “this train is out of service!”

And yet the passengers remained (I suppose because he looked a little “off,” no one listened to him). Another man managed to shout the same message as the doors opened and closed like trash compactors. The guy in the coal overcoat finally got the hint and barreled through the door just as it was closing again. The couple with the shopping bags got to their feet slowly, but by the time they reached the doors, they had closed again. The overcoat man shoved a few gloved fingers between the doors and ripped one back to the right (I should note, these are not like elevator doors, they don’t stop if they close on a limb, nor do they magically reset after being jarred). Everyone was finally out of the train car… and the door was now jammed in a half-open position.

POINT BEING… these folks had a whole train ride, with multiple audio announcements and visual clues that this particular train was not going to the rest of the stops… and yet they failed to be observant. This whole encounter happened in just a few seconds. No lives were lost–everyone was fine—the trains continued to run on time.

Or… how about this past fall… when I was walking on the sidewalk downtown during a rainstorm…

I spotted a girl in front of me, waiting for the light to change so she could cross the street. She was maybe a little younger than me…clearly a student of some sort. She had no umbrella and no coat. She wasn’t even wearing a hat. Her UGG boots resembled two aquatic rodents, and squished dark liquid when she walked. She clutched an unprotected book and a binder close to her chest, squinted against the raindrops and gave one large shiver as she waited to cross the street. It was clear to me that she had walked several blocks like this. Idiot of the week.

This was not a casual rain shower… this was a full-blown rainstorm… an all day event… forecast in advance. HOW do you leave your home NOT KNOWING that it’s going to rain? Really?? TELL ME. Everyone is sucked into their smart phones and laptops these days (ok, me too, I admit, but at least I have multiple weather and news apps)… this girl must have NOT watched TV, looked on the computer, listened to the radio, or, heaven forbid, LOOKED OUT THE WINDOW. It’s mind-boggling.

What has happened to permit this type of behavior… this lack of responsibility for our actions? There’s that… which is aggravated by the fact that others don’t seem to care about what’s happening around them. A bunch of drunken kids jumped off the metro platform on a Saturday night, and were playing round on the tracks dangerously close to the third rail. I said, “hey kids, let’s not do that” (in so many words– “stupid” might have been included too). I was the only one who said anything to them.

Be involved in the world (she said wisely). Being present and not passing through life with the conviction of a wilted piece of spinach is not that difficult. If you have all five senses intact, please use them.


clarity, times three.


Originally uploaded by hepcatbeatnik

Sometimes things don’t happen until you let them ferment… for a year. As I mentioned the other day, a friend of mine from college commissioned me to make an image of a pomegranate. After some toil last week, I finally put things together today…

This summer my hard drive on my laptop had a meltdown and needed to be replaced… I lost very little and was lucky… but the SD cards have been mounting up in my photo case and I’ve found it easy (too easy) to neglect my photo responsibilities. Today I uploaded hundreds of photos… ones I haven’t seen in months.

With a mega mug of Earl Grey, and Pandora set to an a capella selection, I slogged through every image. I’ll be posting many on Flickr as the week goes on. I hope that revisiting some personal work from the end of 2010 will help me shed some light on how photography fits into my life…as overly dramatic as that sounds!!

Confessions of a book hoarder.

“He [the writer] is careful of what he reads, for it is what he will write. He is careful of what he learns, because that is what he will know.”- Annie Dillard, “The Writing Life”

As cabin fever started to set in, my mom and I decided that today would be the day for brief errands. In addition to getting the fixings for a yummy quiche for later this evening, we stopped by our favorite used bookstore (run by our local public library). My grandma, who is in nursing care, was in need of “new” large-print reading material.

Our neighborhood road is still not plowed in places, with wet gnarled branches littering the snow banks on the sides of the street. The bookstore parking lot was empty except for our Jeep, but the shop light miraculously flickered to life as we ambled out into the cold.

I should tell you… I’m a book junkie. I’d say I’ve read about a third of the books in my collection, and I’m constantly picking up new things wherever I go. The bookshelves in my family’s home are bowed in the middle, packed horizontally and vertically, and braced with other stacks packed in front of the original row. For those of you out there who love the smell of yellowing pages and soft-thumbed corners, you know that there is no greater paradise than a “good” used bookstore.

As my mom went in search of large-print Reader’s Digest collections, I headed for literary criticism (a shelf I usually never touch) and poetry. Before long, I ended up with a short stack of thin delights: T.S. Eliot’s “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats,” Dylan Thomas’s “Portrait of the Artist as a Young Dog,” Annie Dillard’s “The Writing Life,” and Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s “A Far Rockaway of the Heart.”

Old books= new friends.

Old books have the potential to yield stories not printed on the page. I once found a perfectly preserved maple leaf in a 19th century grade school reader. I discovered extensive handwritten notes on loose-leaf paper wedged in the back of my Ezra Pound collection. For those of you who frequently seek out used books, how often are you tempted to investigate the previous owner? I once read a magazine article that featured a woman who made an argument against used books. In so many words, she said, “I don’t know where they’ve been.” Seriously?

Perhaps I just have an overactive imagination, fueled by fiction about books (“People of the Book” and “The Shadow of the Wind” ). I like to speculate on the shelf history of my reading material. A crazy cat lady owned my T.S. Eliot and a young hipster college student shoved Dylan Thomas in his back pocket on a long bus ride to New York…. Perhaps this is an unhealthy habit, but it hasn’t killed me yet.

God bless used bookstores. They make it easy for me to continue my literary binges.

Enjoy the weekend and Happy reading!

a true snow day.

a very happy snowman

After shoveling the driveway this morning, I built this guy in my backyard. Pretty dapper, don't you think?

building the torso:
rolling snowballs round and round
breaking sticks for limbs.

clay-pot hat, slight tilt…
sly mouth and a crooked nose
quizzical eyebrows.

Yesterday afternoon, when I switched on the TV to check out the storm track, our local weatherman relayed the exciting news… 3-4 inches of snow an hour!! At the time, we had a little sleet on the ground and some snow from a few hours before. I feared that we wouldn’t get anything, as is usually the case here in the Mid-Atlantic (I should note that I was not here last year for “Snowmageddon”– I was in Boston– the one place that ironically had an uncharacteristic winter… READ: LACK OF CRAZY SNOW… much to my dismay). While I waited for the snow, I decided it would be best to start on an art project I had been putting off for about two weeks.

A friend of mine from college commissioned me to photograph a pomegranate. I know what you’re thinking… easy (here was one of my early attempts.) Poms look like the product of a particularly nasty argument between an uppity citrus and a passion fruit. I like the juice well enough, but it’s a messy fruit. Its dismemberment is a sort of carnage… and I’ve had a tough time conceptualizing how to make this whole project work.

Let me just say that it reminded me of the scene from the film “Sleepy Hollow”– when Ichabod Crane chops up the roots of the tree and gets splattered with blood. I had to wipe off the exterior of my mini softbox a few times (have yet to process these images, but when I do I’ll post the finals). I emerged from the downstairs with a tray of sanguine pomegranate pieces and rosy fingers to find sideways snow crusting windows and weighing down trees.

I’ll leave you with a list of things I’ve done on this true snow day:
-about 10 “hard” Sudoku puzzles
-accepted a job offer
-shoveled the driveway
-built a snowman
-tried to brush my kitten’s teeth… with malt-flavored toothpaste

well, hello.

For quite a while now, I’ve struggled with the idea of a blog. Seriously. I’ve grappled with the torrent of content running through my brain (those of you who know me personally know that sometimes my brain moves faster than my mouth)… continually revisiting themes, organizational ideas and reworking a structured “plan of attack” sketched out in pink pen on scratch paper (per the suggestion of WordPress, it features me as an emaciated stick figure with a happy face, surrounded by all the things I’m “passionate about” in bubbles).

And then… there was the great hurdle of finding a name. I told myself I couldn’t really give birth to this project unless it had a savvy name. “Spiralis” was on my short list—that’s medieval Latin for spiral. I’m kinda a spiral nut in all honesty (I see them everywhere, draw them obsessively, etc.). Once I started to investigate further, I realized that “Spiralis” reminded me of “Trichinella spiralis.” Yeah, talk about a buzz kill.

I turned to my favorite poem by Lawrence Ferlinghetti— “Dog.” It’s one of the few poems that I have almost memorized (I’d be a terrible bard, but it’s a skill I secretly hone as I read). The Dog sits on the corner of a San Francisco street and observes his world:

“… looking like a living questionmark into the great gramaphone of puzzling existence…” (L. Ferlinghetti)

While sipping my tea and scrawling alternative names on paper, I realized that the Dog and I have a lot in common.

I have too many interests to blog authoritatively on just one. So, at least for now… this blog will be subject to whatever happens to be cycling through my brain at the moment.