Tag Archives: Essays

Story: Photo Finish

Sprint finish: Dunaden (top) beats Red Cadeaux to win the 2011 Melbourne Cup at Flemington racecourse (Photo: Reuters)

It has been some years since I’ve gone to the races. Here in Seattle, the racecourse to head to is Emerald Downs. I will be making a return to it on opening night, for the first live race of the season, which is set for April 8th. The race will kick off the 22nd season and it starts at 5 pm. There will be a fireworks show presented by Washington Cedar & Supply to follow. I will place my bet. And I sure hope to be counting my winnings followed by a good cocktail. Such is the plan. For now, I can share with you a story about horse racing.

Now, any sports bet is a highly sophisticated endeavor. Even if your betting is based upon a feeling in your gut. Most likely, you’ve done some sort of research and/or are following some reasoned logic. Maybe it’s just the fact that you always bet on your favorite team. Maybe your dog touched your sleeve and it was Wednesday, your lucky day. Whatever works for you.

How about horse racing? Now, that seems pretty exotic for some folks. You could rely upon the name of the horse for good luck. That’s a start. Following the odds is good. Researching is good. Add whatever extra sprinkle of good luck, and hope for the best.

Ah, then there’s the classic nail-biter of a race with a couple of horses neck and neck. It happens more often than you might think. The horses are out their giving it all they’ve got. They’re competitive in their own way. They’re in it to win it! There are no ties, only one winner. And the photo finish results can prove it down to the slight tilt of a nose.

But getting back to what happened to me. I was a young carefree guy with a bit of a swagger and attitude. This was back in my college days in Houston. We were at Sam Houston Race Park. And I decided that day to place a good healthy fat bet on a horse that caught my fancy for some reason. Hey, I’m no horse guy. I’ve never ridden on a horse. I don’t know that much about them one way or another. But I was there with a few guys and I was dating a girl who I wanted to impress. This was many years ago, mind you. And then the race began. They were off! Sweat was already rolling down by back as I took in the scene and my girlfriend gave my hand a squeeze.

Just like you’d expect, the race got tighter and the real contenders closed in towards the last leg of the track. It was a fierce competition. The horses, the four that had emerged as the finalists, were tearing down the course. It was literally a blur. The announcer rattled off the names of each so fast as to mimmick what we were all seeing. In those seconds I lost myself in the sensation of primal competition. What goes on in the mind of a horse?!

To this day, I don’t recall the exact details, mostly the blur and excitement. At that very moment, I let out the highest pitch shriek I have ever yelled. It sounded like a little girl screaming at the top of her tiny little lungs! It was horrible. The race, ultimately, was not quite as close as we thought it would be. Close but not photo finish close.

My girlfriend gave me a wink. “I’ll have to make sure you man up tonight!” Wow, such a crude remark, in retrospect. But, we were crazy kids. My horse, whatever it was called, had lost. But I had come out the winner after all.

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Filed under Emerald Downs, Essays, Horse racing, Seattle, Sports, Story, Storytelling

Book Review: ENCYCLOPEDIA GREENWOODIA

ENCYCLOPEDIA GREENWOODIA

ENCYCLOPEDIA GREENWOODIA

On March 9, 2016, around 1:30 a.m. Pacific time, there was a gas leak explosion in the Greenwood area of Seattle. Businesses were destroyed and people were displaced. The crisis also brought people together. The community center, the Phinney Neighborhood Association (PNA), stepped up to co-ordinate the Greenwood Relief Fund. And the literary center for youth, the Greater Seattle Bureau of Fearless Ideas (BFI), chose to donate all proceeds from their newly-created book to the relief effort. The book, “Encyclopedia Greenwoodia,” begun a year before the explosion, took on a greater significance after the explosion, and has an uncanny relevance to community-building.

Firefighters work at the scene of a building explosion in Seattle's Greenwood neighborhood. March 9, 2016 Reuters

Firefighters at the scene of explosion in Seattle’s Greenwood neighborhood. March 9, 2016 Reuters

The explosion took place right across the street from BFI’s storefront, Greenwood Space Travel Supply Co. All tolled, the blast damaged more than fifty establishments, destroying Neptune Coffee, Mr. Gyros, Greenwood Quick Stop grocery, and much of G&O Family Cyclery. So much disruption. So much to rebuild. In fact, as of this writing, BFI’s operations are currently housed at the PNA. A reopening of BFI at its original Greenwood site is set for this July.

"ENCYCLOPEDIA GREENWOODIA: A Compendium of Writing About Our Neighborhood by Famous Adult Writers and BFI Kids"

“ENCYCLOPEDIA GREENWOODIA: A Compendium of Writing About Our Neighborhood by Famous Adult Writers and BFI Kids”

It is essential to be aware of and to care about your neighborhood. Fortunately, no one died or was severely injured. But this crisis did spur on renewed energy and commitment. One of the things that makes Phinney-Greenwood unique is the activity going on at the Bureau of Fearless Ideas. Originally part of Dave Eggers’s 826 network of literacy centers, BFI still remains loyal to 826 but has also branched off on its own. That added freedom is what allowed BFI the flexibility to respond to the Greenwood explosion by donating the sales of its latest book. And it is this book that is a testimony to what makes this neighborhood so vital.

What you can expect from this quirky “encyclopedia” is an anthology of wonderful writing from all ages and backgrounds, from professional writers all the way to kids just starting out. Flip through and you’ll land on some gem. We start with former Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn’s lively essay recounting the local effort to save Pluto’s status as a planet. Look further, and there’s BFI’s own anthology editor, Bill Thorness, sharing the story of Seattle’s first Ferris wheel, part of the Woodland Park Pavilion, operating from 1919 to 1934. The kids from BFI provide joyful and insightful work too. There’s the report from 9-year-old Maya Mullaney about the director of the Phinney Neighborhood Association, Lee Harper, and her being a professional service dog trainer. Another story comes from 9-year-old Meghan Doyle. She recounts the sensory experience of visiting the venerable Couth Buzzard Books with its great selection of books…and brownies.

Getting deeper into the quirky and literary side of Greenwood is Paul Constant’s piece about a mysterious mailbox in Greenwood that promises each visitor a touch of poetry. Such a dazzling prospect! Paul is a co-founder of The Seattle Review of Books. He has written for The Progressive, Newsweek, Re/Code, the Utne Reader, and many North American alternative weeklies. He proves to be the perfect person to consider the merits of this poetry-delivery mechanism. Does it work? You’ll have to buy the book to find out!

Reading David Schmader's "Cleaning Greenwood"

Reading David Schmader’s “Cleaning Greenwood”

I’ll leave you with one more from this impressive collection. David Schmader is a writer known for his essays and one-person plays and is now the Creative Director for BFI. When David first arrived in Seattle in 1991, fresh out of school and looking for a job, he worked for a time in Greenwood as part of a house cleaning team. As he describes in his own inimitable way, this wasn’t anything like being a chummy part of the family like on “The Brady Bunch.” No, this was like a military operation, mission-focused. David attacks his tasks with precision until one fateful day when he’s ordered to dust these massive mounted busts of wild game. That’s a challenge that a devout vegetarian must face one way or another.

“Encyclopedia Greenwoodia” proves to be a timely book on neighborhood goodwill in so many ways. It is a 200-page paperback, with photos and a local map, priced at $10 (US) plus shipping. Consider picking up a copy for yourself. All proceeds go to the Greenwood Relief Fund. Find this book right here.

You may also consider a donation to Bureau of Fearless Ideas. Your tax-deductible donation to BFI supports the only program in Seattle created solely for and dedicated to improving the communication skills of Seattle youth through a wide range of free writing and tutoring opportunities. For more information, visit BFI right here.

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Filed under Bureau of Fearless Ideas, Dave Eggers, David Schmader, Literacy, Paul Constant, Phinney Neighborhood Association, Seattle, Seattle Review of Books

Essays: When You Need Help

Bryan Cranston, as Dalton Trumbo writing in bathtub

Bryan Cranston, as Dalton Trumbo writing in bathtub

Dalton Trumbo was a very prolific writer. Even during the time he was black-listed during the Red Scare, he steadily kept on creating screenplays. His one weakness was writer’s block. He solved that my relaxing in a warm bath–with a typewriter. Yep, he wrote his best work while siting in his bathtub. We all do what we need to do.

Some of us out there would never dare ask for any kind of help when working on a writing project. And, sure, most of the time, most folks can handle something like an essay–but not always. There are a number of things that can help and I’ve tried them all at different times. Let’s see, the first thing is to have a clear mind that allows you to focus. But if various factors start to close in on you, and you have a looming deadline, then keep in mind that, all is not lost. You can always find essay writing help.

Now, in college, I thought of myself as a perfectionist but, at such a young age, I was still battling a really bad case of procrastination. Lucky, for me, way back then, I had Barbara, a friend I could rely upon to help me out of a tight spot. In fact, she was my best friend in all the world. We’d go out. We’d kiss. She’d tease. But, basically, we were just friends. In the same spirit as our relationship, she wouldn’t come right out and write my whole paper for me, even though I sometimes begged her to. But, rubbing my back, and reassuring me with hugs, she would provide the necessary hints to get me going. And that always did the trick. She got me going really well with jokes, puns, even acting out passages I should dictate. She never charged a fee, of course. But I would easily have paid for her services. One of the best helping sessions, perhaps the most inspired, was Barbara’s doing a sort of charades to “Beowulf.” Yes, all those years ago, before the internet, and before that venerable classic had yet to be turned into a movie. It was such thick reading, I never dreamed it was possible to turn it into a movie!

Inspiration can never be rushed. It’s like they say, a watched pot never boils. But, once you relax, that’s when the creative juices start flowing. It’s as simple as three B’s: in Bed, on the Bus, or in the Bath. Those are three places that you find yourself off guard and ideas bubble up to the surface. I recall another story from my early years. I had a little studio apartment. I had undressed and was just about to jump into the shower when inspiration hit me. I had been feverishly trying to figure out the ending to a short story and, right then and there, I had it. I had the whole ending just dangling in front of me. I knew I could either think about it in the shower or I could rush to my typewriter. I chose to just sit down naked and start typing. It was actually pretty liberating. And, in no time at all, I had my story set down on paper! And there was a bonus to all this. The doorbell rang and I remember, just like an impulsive youth, I ran up and answered it without covering up a stitch. I had a very good guess as to who was at my door. It was my old pal, Barbara. She had never quite seen me in all my glory. I guess she was impressed. I know that we dated seriously for a while after that.

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Filed under Essays, writers, writing

Is There an Ontologist in the House? A Review of ‘The Book of Trees’ by Manuel Lima

"Tree of Consanguinity," 1471, by Loyset Liedet (1420-79)

“Tree of Consanguinity,” 1471, by Loyset Liedet (1420-79)

Roy came in late to the Comics Grinder offices and dropped off his latest offering. He smiled his wry little smile and said, “You and your ontology issues!”

What about my ontology issues? When did I tell him?

Issues about ontology don’t get discussed much outside of certain circles. Stray away from these rarefied circles that are invested in such discussion and you could go years, maybe a whole lifetime, without ever needing to concern yourself ever again with that tiresome chit chat often foisted upon someone who enjoys reading by someone who fancies themselves no mere book lover but someone superior, someone who regularly uses the word, ontology!

This type most likely wears a beret, or perhaps a cloak, maybe nurtures an odd facial expression, or sports a baffling attempt at an English accent. Where are the true believers, sans the affectation, that make me want to go back to thoughts of ontology? Well, how about Manuel Lima? Yeah, how about Manuel Lima!

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Filed under Art, Art books, Book Reviews, Books, Data, Design, Infographics, Information

WHERE HAVE ALL THE HEROES GONE? Gloria Swanson and a Talk About How We Got Here From There

Gloria Swanson photograph by Edward Steichen, 1924

Gloria Swanson photograph by Edward Steichen, 1924

“Where have all the heroes gone?” asked Sherman. He asked this plainly and earnestly, without even a hint of irony. He looked to be about 16-years-old and not remarkable at first glance, just a kid. He wore a cardigan sweater, had messy hair, a well-worn t-shirt, jeans, and Converse high tops. Maybe a geek but not a proud geek.

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Filed under Commentary, Creative Living, Culture, Essays, Facebook, Henry Chamberlain, Heroes, Hollywood, Internet, Media, movies, Silent Movies, Social Media, Superheroes, writing