Friday, July 17, 2009

Wordless definitions: Obstruction

Good thing Callie's so cute, or I might suspect her of deliberately trying to get in my way.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

The hamsters in my head

No, I'm not about to blog about how rodent-shaped aliens are trying to control my (and your) actions as their first step in taking over the world, primarily because I don't think the first aliens we encounter will resemble any creature familiar to us. (Although I'm of two minds on the issue; at times I also think life on Earth can be so wildly strange and varying, what haven't we seen yet? A good question for sci-fi writers, and I love to read alien contact stories.) Anyway, back to the subject, which is not rodential* alien mind control but metaphors. That's right, those figures of speech we learned about back in middle school, the ones that aren't similes. Everyone remembers similes, because simile sounds like similar, which also means like, and oh yeah, a simile is when you say something is like something else. Example: My toenails are like little golden pebbles. (From my lucky golden pedicure, which isn't all chipped away but is getting close. Sigh.)

Similes are handy tools, but I prefer metaphors, and not just because I hear enough use of the word "like" with a teenager in the house. (It's, like, a speech impediment when they, like, are trying to say, like, something.) Metaphors set up an equivalence between two unrelated things for purposes of comparison, and without the word "like" they are stronger and more direct. Some metaphors almost tell stories of their own; they provide images and connections that build on what the reader already knows. You can take a common metaphor and add to it and people know exactly what you mean. For example, "My train of thought wasn't just interrupted, it was derailed." That's more concise—and more interesting—to read than "I was trying to think about something, but I couldn't focus and I started thinking about something else entirely!" It's like a figurative version of that old writers' chestnut, "Show, don't tell."

So, about the hamsters: yesterday I was trying to think of what to write for my status update on Facebook. It may sound silly, worrying about what to write and whether you sound interesting or not, but it's actually a good exercise in pithy writing. In any case, I was trying to decide what to write: something about my cat troubles? about my plans for the day, or for the week? As I waffled back and forth, indecisive, an image came into my mind: a hamster falling off its wheel, dizzily walking around and banging into its cage walls. So this is what I posted: "The hamster in my brain has run off its wheel and I can't decide what to write for a status update, so you get a dizzy hamster."

Yes, it's a bit silly, but people understood what I was talking about. Sometimes your hamster is running all out and you're focused; sometimes it's lazing along and you're playing games; sometimes it's fallen off the wheel and dizzy; and sometimes, as my critique buddy Todd said, the hamster gets one leg caught in the wheel and is caught spinning out of control, head banging the floor and ceiling. All that is so much more fun than saying, "I'm feeling focused/slow/silly/crazy today." Mmmm, metaphors.

*not a real word, but I like it anyway.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Quilt Files, Episode 12

Maybe it's because I'm officially old (just ask Boy), or it's because I can't get enough of playing with fabric, but when any occasion calls for a gift I start thinking about quilting. Babies are easy, of course; I've mentioned before how I love a quick baby quilt project, even if I end up with the wrong color. So when I got the little card inviting me to the graduation party of one of my wonderful coaches at Olympian, who has been showing me how to be a good martial artist since he was 12, I couldn't help thinking: is there a quilt for that?

I recently mentioned how hard I'd been working to get ready for the National Taekwondo Championships this year, and this young gentleman was a big part of that, keeping our weekly workouts challenging and interesting, and never making fun of the crazy old lady running around with all the kids. So I wanted to make something special to commemorate this season, which could be his last with us for a while, depending on where he goes to school. I thought it would be nice if everyone could contribute, and after a little brainstorming I came up with the idea for a pillow cover where each teammate could write something on a piece of fabric. I got some fabric markers, wrote down some ideas for the kids, and—most challenging of all—managed to corner all 18 of my teammates and get them to write something down without anyone from the family noticing.

It was easy enough to assemble the pieces into a pillow cover, complete with everyone's signature and the team logo (printable fabrics are so cool!)*, but I also wanted something just from me. That's where the quilt comes in: I find my little lap quilt so handy for sitting at the computer (I'm even using it today, the house is so cool and breezy), I thought it might make a good addition to the pillow: small enough to travel, but big enough to be useful. I already had some reds and light blues, and found some coordinating dark blues in patterns that seemed suitable for a young man. Just because it's a quilt doesn't mean it has to be girly, right?

So I assembled a simple quilt top, and machine quilted by starting with the circular yin-yang symbol that is on Korea's flag and thus on our uniforms, and continuing the circle all around. I thought it made a striking contrast to the squares of fabric, and it certainly makes the quilting stand out, much more than in your usual stitch-in-the-ditch technique. I think it turned out pretty well, and the young man in question really appreciated it. Not bad for a couple weeks' worth of work, don't you think?

*Unfortunately, I thought I'd taken a picture of the pillow, but I didn't. It was just squares and posts, and no quilting involved anyway, so you can just use your imagination.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Photo of the Week--7/13/09

We visited New York in the summer of 2006, to catch a show ("Spamalot") and do a little sightseeing. Of course, we made a trip over to the World Trade Center to visit the Ground Zero site and pay our respects. I remember thinking back then that despite all the construction equipment we saw, it sure was taking them a long time to rebuild on the site; even now, there are still delays in erecting new buildings. However, this one, at 7 World Trade Center, had just been finished in 2006. (The original had been damaged by debris from the WTC bombings; fire further weakened the building and it collapsed in the late afternoon of 9/11.)

I love the look of this new building. They used an ultra-clear, highly reflective glass, backed by stainless steel to reflect sunlight. I don't know if it's the color or reflectivity that makes the upper reaches so close in color to the sky that they seem to disappear into the heavens, but I thought it made a very striking photograph.