Friday, July 27, 2012

It Ain't Easy

It was cold when we left Wyoming in the dark early hours. Without windchill, the temperature was just above freezing. At speed, it was well below. At that temperature, heated accessories keep you functional, not comfortable. Jim hunkered down behind the short sport windscreen to avoid at least some of the wind, and I tucked in behind him as closely as I could. We had over 1000 miles to travel across 4 states... and fewer than 24 hours in which to do it. We were racing the clock to complete an Iron Butt Association Saddle Sore 1000 motorcycle ride, and neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night* was going to keep us fools from the swift completion of this crazy stunt.  

We made it, with a few** hours to spare even. The following day, we were both dehydrated, exhausted, and useless... and ridiculously happy.

According to legend, when asked why he wanted to climb Mount Everest, mountaineer George Mallory replied “Because it's there.”

I propose the following refinement to this oft-quoted justification for doing preposterous things: Because it sucks.

It's fun to participate in activities that you find “easy” and at which you excel. It can also be equally, if differently, rewarding to try your hand at something you find extremely challenging. Even making the attempt is a notable accomplishment. If you succeed, all the better.

Beginning today, July 27, athletes from all over the world will compete in the 2012 Summer Olympic Games. They've been training for years in preparation for these few days. They cannot remember a time when their bodies did not ache, or a day when they did not push themselves to the limit of human endurance. They've taken no holidays, vacations, or days off. They've pursued competition over comfort, excellence over ease. They've battled for this chance to compete at the top and now they face their most daunting opponents – each other.

Some will win gold, others silver or bronze. Some will take home only bags of swag from the sponsors – along with a well-earned sense of pride for having undertaken this Olympic challenge. 

Today's lesson: In case you've been hiding under a rock for the past month, the Olympic Games begin today.***

Next: A Writer Prepares – a look into my writing process.

*We rode through all that and then some. Also, my husband has made runs like this several times now. He is, after all, Jim Strider, big bike rider.

**No, I won't tell you the exact finish time, as Highway Patrol officers are proficient in basic math skills and I'm not sure what the statute of limitations is in, say, Utah.

***Debate: Team USA's 60s flight attendant chinoiserie chic vs. Team Spain's Burger King look. Post snarky observations in the comments section below...

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Mockingbirds, Finches, Motorcycles, and a Courthouse

On July 11, 1960, the world was first introduced to Miss Jean Louise Finch of Maycomb County, Alabama.

But you probably know her better as Scout.

Since that day, people all around the world have come to cherish her, Jem, Calpurnia, Miss Maudie, Tom Robinson, May Ella Ewell, the exquisite Atticus, and the other characters who so richly inhabit Harper Lee's masterpiece To Kill A Mockingbird.

Like many people, I rank this book and the 1962 film, with it's Horton Foote screenplay, among my very favorites.

Today, however, I write not of the book, its characters, the importance of its themes, or the enormity of its effect around the world, but of the town that inspired it.

The courthouse exterior
Monroeville, Alabama

Even when I lived in Alabama, there was no reason to go to Monroeville. It wasn't close to the Interstate or near a city of any size. You didn't drive through it on your way to the beach or back from one of the University towns after a football game. In fact, you pretty much had to go out of your way to get there at all, which may be why the outlet mall didn't make it... and paper pulp and lumber industries did.

Monroeville was as much a “tired old town” as its fictional counterpart Maycomb when I first knew it and I'd be lying if I said it was a bustling metropolis today. Like Maycomb, though, what Monroeville does have is a population of extraordinary townsfolk.

The first time I visited the Monroeville County Courthouse, my father and I sort of stumbled across it while out for a meandering motorcycle ride.* I was aware that the town, and specifically the courthouse, had inspired the settings of the book and film. I did not dream, however, that we would be able to walk around inside and explore the old building – which ended up being not only a fantastic museum dedicated to the town's most notable residents, Harper Lee and Truman Capote, but the home to the annual Southern Alabama Writer's Symposium** as well. I was blown away.

Then a smiling docent asked us, “Are y'all here for the play?”

Every year since 1991, an all-volunteer cast of locals has staged a full-length production of To Kill A Mockingbird in and around the iconic courthouse. I had the good fortune of seeing the 2012 production and can see why every performance sells out every year.

We sat in the courthouse square of the town where Harper Lee grew up and still lives today, where she and fellow literary giant Truman Capote once played, and where the real-life experiences that would one day inspire the novel had unfolded. We walked the same grounds, sat beneath the same sky, smelled the same pines, saw the same sunset, heard people speak in same purring drawl, and fanned ourselves against the same stagnant, sticky heat, watching as those same events were reenacted in real time. That experience is possible in only one place in the world -- the town of Monroeville.

I did manage to snag a seat on stage for Act 2. Gotta be me...
Monroeville is still a small, rural Alabama town, just as it was in the 1930s when Harper Lee was a child, in the 1960s when the world knew it as Maycomb, or in the 1990s when I was barely aware of it at all.

It is not blessed with favorable geography, a breadth of salable resources, or an over-abundance of material wealth. It will never be a center of fashion or culture or a capitol of commerce or industry. Yet, it will always be the home of Scout, Jem, Dill, Boo, Atticus, and Miss Nelle Harper E. Lee.  

Today's lesson: Great inspiration rather than dense population is what makes a place special. 

Next: Given my recent pattern, probably a long stretch of silence. :-(


*My dad is cooler than your dad.

**Y'all should call me.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Stuff I Learned While Trying To Research a Blog Post About Independence Day

I started out intending to write an insightful, thought-provoking post about the July 4th holiday. After doing a bit of internet research, I ended up with this strange mix of semi-information instead.

Flag Stuff!
In 2011, we spent $3.6 million importing U.S. flags. Of that, $3.3 million was spent on flags made in China. (Which is nothing compared to what we spent importing fireworks from China in 2011 – over $232 million!)

Which country imports the largest number of U.S. Flags from us? Mexico.

The stars were added to the flag by Francis Hopkinson of New Jersey, a signer of the Declaration of Independence who also helped to design the Great Seal of the United States. Hopkinson submitted to the Continental Admiralty Board an invoice for "a Quarter Cask of the public Wine” as “a proper & reasonable Reward for these Labours of Fancy and a suitable Encouragement to future Exertions of a like Nature," but was denied. 

Comfort Food!
From the National Park Service Website: Bess Truman's Mac & Cheese

From the Senate Website: Bean Soup

The hot dog* eating contest allegedly began as a way to settle a dispute among a group of immigrants over who was more patriotic – because nothing says “I'm an American” like excessive consumption and heartburn?

George Washington was said to have marked the occasion in 1778 by giving his troops a double ration of rum. There was a reason this man was elected our first president.

Martha Stewart recommends celebrating by making “Festive Window Swag” and “Tissue Fan Fireworks.” I recommend that we all ignore Martha Stewart.

The post office will not deliver mail on this holiday, so plan ahead, Netflix-wise.

Banks will also be closed for the day, probably for our own good, since we as a Nation seem to have no sense of fiscal self-control when flags and fireworks are involved. 


The result of typing the words “Independence Day” into Google could lead one to believe that the 1996 Will Smith movie was a far more seminal event in our nation's history than anything that happened in 1776.

Today's lesson: Tomorrow is July 4.

Next: July 5. 


*In 1870, German immigrant Charles Feltman first introduced the hot dog to the United States. 105 years later, descendant of German immigrants Theresa Feltman (no relation) first introduced the hot dog to my tummy.