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When I Grow up…

There’s a meme going around social media to the effect of, “When you grow up, no one asks what your favorite dinosaur is anymore.” Which is true, sadly, and an indication that adults have more weighty things to think about than extinct creatures, I guess. Still, I loved dinosaurs as a kid, and triceratops was always my favorite, for the record. Still is. I think they are the cutest, and I love their armor. That big shield is just an awesome sight to behold, even if only in museums now.

When I was a kid, we used to go to the drive-in theater occasionally too, which was always fun. At the one we used to go to, the screens would face each other, so us kids could lay in the back of our huge boat of a car and watch whatever was on the back screen while we were supposed to be sleeping, and the parents watched the front screen (with sound, of course). There were lots of rides to play on, and benches out in front of the cars where you could sit too, and with a speaker for each car window, you could easily hear the movie outside the car.

Movies had intermissions then, and singing hotdogs, and that’s when you’d get up, stretch your legs, get a treat and see who else had come out for the night. It was a great time, and a special night out.

So it’s fun to go out to our local drive-in now, as an adult, and see that though much has changed, so much hasn’t too. We went and saw Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom this weekend, mixing dinosaurs, complex ethical dilemmas and the overall drive-in experience. A natural progression, it would seem.

I’ve been thinking a lot about writing lately too…the craft itself, specifically, and how I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was 16 or so. When I was young, people would ask me what I wanted to be when I grow up (another thing no one asks anymore), and for a long time, I would answer “an astronaut”, because I was obsessed with space, space travel, and convinced that there was a scientific way to make Mars inhabitable (Issac Asimov may have had a little to do with that belief).

When I got to high school and actually looked into what was required of astronauts, I was pretty disheartened to learn that fighter pilot experience was a big plus, and I would never qualify with my incredibly poor eyesight. Not for fighter pilot school, and not for an astronaut program. So I started thinking about what it was I really wanted to do with my life, and the only thing that ever truly appealed to me, an avid reader, was writing. Writing fiction, specifically.

My parents are inherently practical people, and upon hearing my new vocational goals, they both promptly asked, “so what are you going to do for money?” and when I frowned and said “I’m going to be a writer,” they both looked at each other, looked back at me, and said, “you need a backup plan, because you need to be able to take care of yourself in case you can’t get published.”

Back then, self-publishing wasn’t an option. Ebooks weren’t even around yet. And when I said I’d publish my books myself if no one would publish me, my parents reiterated how important it was to have a job that would pay the bills because writers are “creatives” and they’re always poor.

I never really wanted to be anything else, but when I went to college and took my first formal english classes, I failed to see how those would help be become a better fiction writer. I decided to get a history degree, because I enjoyed my history classes more than anything (other than philosophy classes, which I discovered later), and I figured I could teach (until I took a semester of student teaching), or I could go get a law degree (until I looked into exactly what it would take to go on to higher education).

Long story short, I have a history degree and an inherited proficiency in IT. The latter ended up being more useful in the long run as far as supporting myself goes. But of course I was so busy in college working to pay for it that I didn’t write – I thought about it all the time, but never had the time or energy. After college, I dabbled in writing, but by that time, I had bills and a house payment and writing is, unfortunately, not one of those things that I’m just inherently quick at picking up.

You would think I’d have given up on writing by now. I have a good job that I like, and I’m pretty decent at doing it, if I do say so myself. Writing is hard, it takes a lot of time that could be spent on other things, and my brain is naturally skewed more toward the technical/realistic worldview rather than a fictional/dramatic/”creative” one, so writing is always going to be a challenge, and I’m constantly trying to figure out what’s missing in my stories (which is extremely frustrating, though I do take a baby-step forward here and there). My life would be a lot simpler and less stressful if I just gave it up, honestly.

Thing is, I’ve tried. I’ve stopped writing for months and years on end, and I always come back to it. I can’t stay away – there’s something magnetic about it that I just can’t resist, even though it slaps me down and frustrates the heck out of me on an almost daily basis. Maybe that’s why – maybe it’s the challenging aspects of it that draw me in. Or maybe it’s just that I can’t help thinking I’ll be able to “crack the code” one of these days, and end up writing something people want to read (even if it’s just by accident).

In any case, watching the movie this weekend actually got me thinking about this, because I found myself enjoying the show thoroughly, but also kind of pulling apart the story structure (which is normally something I refrain from doing) in order to see what I could learn and use to apply in my own writing later on. And I had an epiphany about structure and depth in plotting that made me very happy – not that I’ll be able to apply it right away (because figuring out how to apply it is often more difficult for me than just recognizing it), but it made me feel like another piece of the writer’s puzzle finally fell into place in my brain. A piece I’d been ransacking the whole house looking for for ages, it seems like, and this weekend I finally found it in a dark corner underneath a heavy piece of furniture (or pile of dinosaur bones, as it were).

And I wonder, as I muddle through this whole “learning to write” process, slowly, if it would have been easier to stay focused and learn these lessons when I was young. To worry less about money and more about learning how to do what I really and truly wanted to do professionally, instead of being so very practical. My life would have taken a very different path, to be sure, and I’m not all totally convinced it would have been a better one, but would I have become a better writer at a younger age? Would I have been able to make a living from writing earlier, instead of waiting until retirement (which is when it looks like I’ll have the best chance at being good enough to make money)?

No way to know now, I suppose, and I’m not unhappy that my life has gone as it has so far. But it does make one wonder. Or it makes me wonder, anyways…

So…what’s your favorite dinosaur? And what do you want to be, now that you’re all grown up?


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Of Wheels & Motion & Things That Go Round

I’ve had wheels on the brain a lot lately. The back tire of my bicycle, specifically, that needs a little pump-up before I can continue the journey I half-started last year of reacquainting myself with bike-riding after falling off my skinny-tire ten-speed as a teen. I left those two wheels behind soon after for four wheels and an engine.

I loved that bike. It was a gunpowder blue and had black curly handlebars that made me feel “like, so adult” when I cruised downtown to work and back or to the park to hangout with friends. I saved up for it, bought it myself, and went all over on it for several summers back when I was in lifeguard-shape, often sitting up and riding “no-hands” because that’s what all the cool-kids did.

Understand, I was not a cool kid. I just wanted to be one.

I also hated backpacks back then (still don’t care much for ’em, honestly). So I carried a bag over one shoulder. Not cross-body, because…I never have understood how people can do that comfortably, but just slung over one shoulder with a wide, preferably padded strap.

When you have skinny tires and gravel on the road and you think you’re so cool you can adjust the strap of a bag heavy with wet towels while balancing on a bike…well, gravity has a way of keeping you humble. Half a mile from home I found myself tangled up in my bike and bag on the street, and unable to use my right wrist for anything, including balancing said bag or getting back on my bike. I tried.

I walked the bike home (no cell phones back then, we just…dealt with stuff), told my mom I’d fallen and couldn’t move my wrist. My mom’s a practical, resourceful sort who doesn’t tend to panic (thank goodness), and she splinted my wrist with a wooden spoon and towel and off to the hospital we went. After she finished what she’d been in the middle of, of course.

Several hours later, I came out with a bright purple cast that started at the very tip of my upturned thumb, and covered not only my wrist and forearm, but also a few inches above my bent elbow. I could not unbend my arm, or twist my wrist. It was nearly impossible to deal with my waist-length hair, and I had to write with my left hand because you can’t really grip a pen without your thumb.

As it turns out, I’d broken the bone at the bottom of your thumb, shattered the back of my hand and put hairline fractures up into my wrist. To this day, I feel the weather in that hand/arm, and the doc said it was going to be like that forever.

Eight weeks I was in that huge, unweildy cast, and then a smaller one that allowed movement of my thumb and ended just below my elbow for another four. Three months in a cast will atrophy some muscles, I tell you what, and it took awhile and some really annoying stretching/lifting to get the movement and strength back in that arm/hand.

The itching. OMG…the itching!

By the time it was healed up, it was the dead of winter and my bike was safely in the garage while I took driver’s ed that following spring. I may have ridden it a couple of times the following summer just for kicks, but cars were cooler

Last May was the first time I’d been back on a bicycle since. And when I stood in the parking lot of the local bike shop and prepared to push off, I really wasn’t sure I’d remember how to ride a bike, much less keep my balance. But as everyone says, muscle memory took over, and I was fine.

The road bike I bought that day (there’s a pic of it here somewhere – probably last May’s blog posts) is mint green and white, and the frame and tires are at least twice the size of that old 10 speed. It’s stable and strong and comfortable to ride for the most part, though I wouldn’t say no to more seat padding. I’ve been itching to get back on it this spring, and start cruisin’ around the neighborhood, building up those leg muscles again, not to mention some stamina.

Yesterday was payday, and after I got home, I went on a bike-accessory shopping spree (gotta love Amazon). By Thursday, I’ll have a new basket for the front, a new big tire pump with a pressure gauge attached, a mini-tire pump that attaches to the frame, some patches, a bike-specific multi-tool and front and rear USB rechargeable lights. Weather-willing, this weekend I’ll be cruisin’ around town, making my legs and heart actually work in a way they haven’t for quite a long while. It’ll be fun.

My plan is to incorporate a good bike ride 2-3 times per week. Good for metabolism and muscle, good for clearing the head and just getting out for a bit after the nightly dog walk. Maybe a good way to run small errands on the weekend too, depending on where I need to go.

If that goes well, who knows what’s next? I have been thinking it would be fun to have a pair of roller skates again (not inline, just regular quad skates)…hmm.


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