Urban Ranger

I have simply not felt like working out “properly” lately.  I just am not into it for whatever reason.

So, because if I don’t move I feel bad, and I get blue, I’m going to use a cute little metaphor to keep myself motivated to do a minimum.

It’s called Urban Ranger and was invented by Reinhard Engels, the same guy who wrote the No S Diet.

Engels combines a serious level of geekiness with some rather down-to-earth sensibility.  Why yes, I like his Everyday Systems.  Self-improvement that doesn’t take oneself so damn seriously is a Good thing.

The concept of Urban Ranger is mostly a mental image to get you to walk1.  We all know walking is great exercise.  It’s what the human body is built for.  While I love swimming, I did start doing it because it hurt to walk. The fitness work I’ve done in the past couple of years has built up enough of a baseline so it is no longer painful for me to walk, even when I’ve been crap about workouts.

So, for the month of December, I’m going to walk.  If I can hoof it wherever I need to go, that’s what I am going to do.  I will walk to my job at the gym.  I will walk to the grocery store.  That alone will force me to walk more often because you can’t carry a week’s worth of groceries in a backpack.

If I don’t have anywhere I have to go, I will make a lunch hour for myself  and walk to the library and see if I can find some audiobooks on CD or something equally as interesting.

I know, I “should” be going to the gym, ‘specially since I’m workin’ there and all.   There’s nothing there I’m finding more interesting than walking at the moment, so walking it is.

1 Do check out the Urban Ranger article. His Aragorn explanation is priceless!  I was imagining a sword strapped to my back as I went to the grocery store today.  Don’t laugh at me. Check it out.

People and Things

A Wal-Mart employee in Nassau, NY was murdered by shoppers breaking down the doors and trampling anyone who fell down in their focused drive to get to the Black Friday bargains offered at the discount chain.

I don’t know how any of them feel.  I’d bet a lot of ’em feel pretty damn shocked and horrified.  In fact, I’m even willing to bet that most of ’em are trying to convince themselves they were in the wrong part of the crowd to have stepped on the temporary employee hired for the holiday season.   I’m none of them want to think it’s their foot that dealt the death blow.

This is not going to be a piece decrying materialism.  As far as I am concerned, anyone writing a piece on a laptop with her iPod syncing to her electronic music collection who is also mentally debating whether nor to to make herself an espresso from a machine she has in her kitchen has no right to sneer at materialism.

I don’t think it’s materialism that did it.   It was a rather twisted sort of competitiveness.  No, not gonna sneer at competitiveness, either. I’m a self-employed writer.  You have to be pretty damn competitive to be able to make a living like that.  It’s the twisted part that’s the issue.  It’s losing sight of what’s truly important.

If you do not keep constantly in mind that people are more important than things, your priorities are way out of whack.  Anyone willing to participate in a mob scene that knocks people down and ends in a death to get to a sale on something that’s not even necessary to keep you alive has gone from from focusing on people to focusing on things.

If this had been a bread riot or something like that, I could understand it.  But it wasn’t.  These weren’t people going hungry here who had a chance at more food.  They were more like this guy 500 miles away,

“Even with the economy, you’ve got to go with the deals,” said Robert Balboni of Centreville, Va., while loading his shopping cart with a 42-inch flat panel TV, a portable DVD player and a Philips 2GB MP3 player.1

Notice the urgency of the words that were quoted.  “Got to”.  People are putting survival urgency on non-survival things.  The behavior at the Wal-Mart where the employee was murdered was survival behavior applied to a non-survival situation.   We do it all the time — in relationships, in our business lives, in our home lives.  And that’s where the priorities are screwed up.


The Quickening

There would be times when I’d do some quirky thing and my father would shake his head a little ruefully and a little fondly and comment, “Ruby’s coming out in you.”

Ruby was my father’s mother.  In many ways, I’m a great deal like her, though with a large enough helping of my maternal grandmother to horrify her if she ever really knew me well.  Ruby was an odd duck.   She was cranky and didn’t like people much, but she’d always do what she felt was Right, so her behavior was moderately benevolent most of the time, though never warm.

I was just making deviled eggs to bring to a Thanksgiving gathering and was griping to myself because the plate didn’t look all neat and beautiful and perfect.  That was Grandma all over — no matter what she did, it never measured up in her own mind.  She used to tell me a story of her childhood where she and her younger sisters were canning peaches.  Her younger sister was moving slowly, arranging everything perfectly and beautifully in the jar while my great-grandmother was trying to hurry them along, saying that what it looked like didn’t matter, that they needed to get the chore done!  My great-aunt retorted that when she was grown-up, that she was going to arrange the peaches in the jar so that they’re pretty.

Grandma commented that she felt like she’d be lucky to have peaches, never mind getting them pretty in the jar.

Grandma’s canned peaches weren’t pretty, fair enough.  I can tell you they tasted great. I told her so.  She smiled a little, so I know she was pleased.  She didn’t smile much.

I often wonder if that was a source of friction between my mother and Ruby.  Mom is good at pretty –it’s just this natural thing to her.  I wonder if it bothered my grandmother.  I ‘spect it did.  I used to wonder if that was part of the distance between us, since Grandma knew I was used to pretty surroundings.  I don’t think I ever told her it was okay not to be good at pretty and making everything look perfect.  I’m not neat-handed.  If I bake a pie, it’s not going to look professional.  It’ll taste great, ’cause I am a good cook (though Grandma’s pies were far superior to anything I can do), but it’s not gonna be a showpiece.

Whenever I worry about making things pretty enough, I think of that story in Grandma’s kitchen eating those sweet canned peaches and thinking that I didn’t give a damn how pretty her peaches were.  Pretty’s great and goodness knows I enjoy it.  But in her scrubbed kitchen with the worn out dishtowels and the ancient fridge with the old-fashioned locking handle, there was something to admire, too.  Those frugal home-canned peaches she’d grown herself spoke of a self-made, handmade life that I don’t think she ever knew how much I admired.  The peaches were delicious, but even better, it felt great that Grandma was willing to say something personal and vulnerable to me.


My son wanted to learn how to build a fire in a wood stove.

I decided to teach him when I realized I was teaching him Bad Fire Safety as he was shoveling out the ashes.

You see, we have a bucket for ashes, but it’s plastic.  Means you can only put cold to the touch and well scattered ashes in it.  If  it feels even comfortable to the touch and you’ve had a fire in less than 48 hours, you better be using a metal ash bin.  I gave him a big lecture on that and explained that ashes often have live coals in them even if you think they don’t.

After that, I did teach him how to light a fire in the stove and gave him a big lecture on why he must never ever do that unless the adults are in the house. On the other hand, if he learns how to do it safely, that’s a Good Thing.  I’m teaching him how to use the damper to regulate temperature and all that smack. (Why yes, we have recently-tested fire alarms in our house!)

All of this concern comes from a childhood of great good luck.  I remember a couple of chimney fires when I was a child, both from the wood stove and various fireplaces — usually started by my pyromaniac maternal grandmother burning all the Christmas wrapping in the fireplace and a lit bit flying up the not too recently cleaned chimney.  Virginia winters are notoriously wet, so sparks didn’t catch fire on the roof during these episodes.  Each time there was really no more damage than a big scare, but it sure does make an impression.

‘Course, as much as we joke about Nanny being a pyro, the best fire story is on the other side of the family.

My paternal grandfather was a volunteer fireman in Chesterfield County, VA for many years.  Being community-minded, my grandmother also participated in the women’s auxiliary.    They had a rather large plot for a small suburban home — large enough to have a garden and a shed where they raised chickens for awhile.  I say for awhile, because it turned out that my father and his siblings were quite reluctant to eat animals they’d gotten to know, much to the digust of my farmgirl grandmother.

Anyway, they did stop raising chickens and after awhile, the shed fell into disrepair and needed to be disposed of.  One evening, Granddaddy decided that was the day they needed to get rid of the chicken shed and back at this time, laws about burning refuse weren’t so strict as they are now, so he decided to burn it.

“Now Garfield, I’m off to the auxiliary meeting,” says Grandma. “You make sure that you knock that shed down before you set it on fire.”

“Ruby, I’m a fireman!”  says Granddaddy in exasperation. “I know it’s illegal to set fire to a standing building.”

“Just be sure it’s knocked down,” says Grandma before she leaves for her meeting.

After she leaves, Granddaddy and the children go out back to knock down the old chicken shed.  They do so.  Well, sort of.

You see, according to Granddaddy, if the roof was touching the ground, then the building was knocked down, making it totally legal to set it on fire1.

Meanwhile Grandma is at the fire station getting herself a cup of coffee and sitting down by her neighbor when the alarm goes off, making everyone jump.

You know whose house the fire trucks came to, don’t you?

It’s really rather surprising Grandma didn’t die of embarrassment right then and there.  Come to think of it, it’s actually a wonder that I ever knew Granddaddy at all.  She had a temper on her, Ruby did.

1Granddaddy, being a preacher’s kid, was more attached to misbehaving then claiming the virtue of the letter of the law than most.

How Profound, Wizard

I think that what’s going on is that people need to interact to a degree, even the cranky introvert, and watching TV is kind of like putting artificial sugar in a hummingbird feeder. It tastes like you’re feeding the need while you’re starving to death.

Eatin' Cheap

in experimenting with the idea of trying to work out a way to eat on a buck a meal, I was doing some calculations on food prices.  I’d always heard beans and rice were a cheap meal.  I often wondered about that and did the math.  You know, if you make it from dried beans, you’re looking at about a $1.20 for a pretty filling meal. That’s figuring in onions, garlic, peppers, spices and all that smack.  I think beans and rice are going to show up in the menu rotation a lot more often. At least, unless someone in the household complains too much.

I then did the calculation on my typical breakfast.  This wasn’t looking for sales, but simply what I got.  I usually have steel cut oats, nuts and some sort of dried fruit.   The oats themselves are about .21/serving.  The nuts and dried fruit (if I’m not eating raisins and I usually don’t.  Dried berries or apricots are GOOD) drive the price up to somewhere around $1.75/serving.   I think I need to get my lazy ass to a bulk food store at some point because I know I can do better than  that.   Still, not too bad when compared to the Starbucks liquid dess^h^h^h^h^h drinks so often favored by the rushed among us.

Still, it was sobering to realize that’s still considerably over a buck a meal.

Learn to Sell

I was talking about writing recently and had someone comment that she wanted to be a writer because she “hated sales”.


Free advice to aspiring professional writers:

First, you must learn to write well.  The way to do this is really simple.  You sit down and write every single day without exception.  Write something every single day.  It doesn’t have to be great.  It doesn’t have to be profound.  But you must practice your craft every single day with no exceptions at all.  If you’ve never read Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh, do.  That’ll give you the general idea.  Get used to getting your thoughts out in text form.  Get used to trying to get the rhythm of your thoughts across in words.  Get used to plot, get used to pacing.  For heaven’s sake, learn appropriate spelling, grammar and punctuation.

Second, you must learn to sell.  I know a lot of you are thinking that’s what an agent is for.  That’s not entirely the truth.  Yes, indeed, if you get a book contract, you want someone to help you out and make sure you’re not getting screwed.  Chances are almost nil that the book contract will happen without knowing how to sell.  Oh, the publicity articles about the Cinderella stories never mention it.  It makes a poor story.  It’s much more exciting to read about luck than hard work.

Learning to sell isn’t about learning to be Leisure Suit Larry.  We have a skeezy image of sales and marketing these days that doesn’t really fit with the reality of making it work.  It’s about finding out what a potential client needs, then giving them that.  It’s about making contacts, meeting people, hanging out and just getting to know what people need.  If it becomes about putting one over on someone, you’re really doing it wrong.   You have to have something of genuine value to deliver.

Neil Gaiman is a good example of what I’m talking about. I cannot imagine someone less like Leisure Suit Larry and the general salesman stereotype.  He’s astoundingly successful, and that’s amazing.  He started by learning to write really well.  Holy mackerel, can that man tell a story!  He’s just plain an excellent writer.

If you take a look at his career, however, you’ll notice he didn’t hole himself up, just write and then leave it at that.  No, he got out and met people, he made contacts, he made friends.  Anyone I’ve talked to that has met him at a con or signing has nothing but nice things to say about him.   When I talk about learning to sell, that’s what I mean.  You can be cyncial about it, but you know, you don’t have to be.  And sometimes it really works better if you’re not.

You're Not Making Any Friends. Just Sayin'

Dear Telemarketers Working for Political Campaigns,

I’m unplugging the house phone now. I know who I am going to vote for, work from home and need to finish work for my clients more than I need to be informed why I should vote for your client.

No Love at All,