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Sunday, March 28, 2010

Race Report: Johnny Cake Lane #2

I woke up early on Saturday, and, AGAIN, my clock radio was playing Foghat's "Slow Ride." Maybe I should call PYX 106 and request "We Are the Champions" or something. I had a big breakfast and prepared four layers of clothes for what was surely going to be a couple of chilly hours in the saddle. The fickle March weather had taken a turn again. I had some of the usual pre-race jitters, and reminded myself that they tend to go away once we're actually rolling.

I got to Coxsackie and did some warming up, and spotted some of my Tuesday-night buds. We were all in the same place mentally, taking a what-the-heck attitude toward an early-season race of three six-mile loops on winter-ravaged country roads. I rolled up to the start on the late side, and consequently got a place near the back. The "C" group was a motley mix of riders and bikes: men, women spanning about 40 years of age, and a few kids bravely straddling bikes with grown-up wheels.

We got the usual lecture from the race official, and were reminded again of the center-line rule, due to some unfortunate mishaps last week resulting from a few racers' bad decisions. We were soon off and rolling. The first lap felt like a parade, as we filled the entire lane. I assured the triathlete (and newbie road racer) by my side that the pace would pick up.

The bullhorn from the follow car barked occasionally, sounding like the adults on "Peanuts." No matter--I knew it was repeated reminders about the center line. I settled in, absorbing the mid-pack ebbs and flows in speed. The pack expanded on the slight downhills and contracted on the gentle rises. I was on the wheel of a big guy, who was wearing some kind of floppy pants, his number haphazardly pinned to the center of his back. I'm not a bike snob, but I knew this guy was a bit green. Not that I'm a war-hardened rouler or anything, but enough time in packs gives anyone a sensibility, even if--like me--one does not get much faster. We hit that little rise by the tar-paper shack, and the pack folded in on itself, riders standing and throwing their bikes back. Mr. Sweatpants started to swerve, and I got around him.

Okay, cool, I thought. Lap one, done, and I'm in the pack. The speed was reasonable, and I was hanging. Threading my way through to the front? Not happening.

Lap two, the carnage started. The speed had picked up, and the pack felt twitchy. We went up the tiny hill again, more sloppily, and riders bumped and went down right in front of me, cursing as they fell. I escaped, somehow, and managed to join the riders who had pulled slightly ahead. It's a ruthless triage, but in the absence of any real hills, crashes split the pack.

Bell lap, and the pace picked up even more, but I wasn't feeling the pain the way I have in the past. A little burn after the s-turn and the rise after the Murderkill Bridge, but that's it. I and others would gain a few places, then lose them. I found one of my Tuesday-night homies, looking strong after a long pull at the front as we barreled toward the 1K mark.

Sprinting is one of the nerviest things in bike racing. I've seen enough on Versus to know that it's not for the faint of heart. I felt pretty content to be in the pack, and decided to take it easy and stay alert. Good call, as it turns out: the rider in the lead wasn't familiar with the course's last turn, and he turned prematurely, taking out the two riders behind him. I saw the whole thing from about 50 meters back, one racer hitting the pavement on his right hip. The little splash of cheers and applause from spectators was cut short by that awful sound of bikes and bodies going down. The pack reacted quickly and skillfully, and the rest of us remained upright. We sprinted the last 400 meters, and I'll bet all of us felt relieved that we'd made it to the totally nondescript finish line on the windswept industrial road. I overtook two or three riders in the last stretch, making for a finish in the top 15 or 20--not bad for a cold day in March. Upright and intact.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Your creative writing homework

Journal Topics

Remember, when we write in journals, we are focusing on expression first. Don’t worry about form or mechanics—simply get your ideas out there. Tell your internal editor to chill out. Try to write without stopping for at least fifteen minutes.
By the way, my stats tell me this is the most-visited post on my blog. Let me know, via comment or email, how these topics work out for you. Also let me know of other creative-writing topics you've found useful. Thanks!

1. What is the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen?
2. Write about one perfect day/hour/moment.
3. Desert-island lists (books, CDs, mementos, etc.)
4. Describe the song in your head using shapes, colors and textures.
5. What are you most like: a poem, a novel, a song, or a play?
6. Write an advertisement for yourself.
7. Write status updates for someone famous/infamous.
8. Are you a sketch, painting, photograph or sculpture?
9. Where were you ten years ago? What were you doing? Who were you with? What was most important?
10. Describe five people in exactly five words each.
11. Write a third-person voice-over of your day.
12. Write song lyrics for a really boring, ordinary thing (feeding the cat, taking out the trash, riding the bus). Good practice for situational irony.
13. Write a really bad essay question or word problem.
14. Best/worst meal, vacation, weekend, holiday, birthday.
15. Write about an intended punishment that was nothing of the sort.
16. Write about the light at a certain time of day.
17. Describe your day by its different light sources.
18. Pick a picture from the bag. Tell the stories of the people you see.
19. When did the world get bigger for you? Smaller?
20. What do you miss the most?
21. How did you learn the meaning of any one of the following: family, sibling, parent, grandparent, step-, half-, foster-, adoption. (You may do this one several times, with different choices.)
22. Freewrite: You are to write your thoughts as they come. Simply transcribe. Do not stop or censor. You may choose this option more than once.
23. Write a poem in the style and rhythm of a school PA announcement.
24. Write a dictionary definition for someone.
25. Imitate another writer or written piece. Parodies optional.
26. Personification: Write from the perspective of an inanimate object. Possibilities: your locker, a ceiling tile, a pen, a paintbrush, a knife, a gun, a pill.
27. Unopened box.
28. Rhyming: make lists/columns, then write something that rhymes. Meaning is secondary.
29. List poem: things to celebrate; things to apologize for; things I wish I said; things I’d take back.
30. Ode poem: praise someone or something, and address him/her/it directly.
31. Write down a dream as completely as possible. No commentary, just reporting.
32. Movie last lines: Pick a famous last line and use it in a new piece of writing.
33. Picture response: Imagery, details, beyond borders, dialogue, characterization for people in the picture, who is the photographer?
34. Direct address: Write as if you are speaking directly to an object or person. Option: use personification.
35. Metaphor practice. List/pick one/expand
36. Ambiguity: make sense out of nonsense; make nonsense out of sense.
37. P.O.V./personification. Write about a storm from the perspective of: a lightning bolt, a tree, a raindrop, a leaf, a cloud, a lightning rod, etc.
38. Music response.
39. Write about a room you haven’t been in for three years.
40. Images: sound of ice; rust; a breeze; two or three ____; a crinkled note.
41. Images: first star; bare branch; sound of the wind; taste of salt; feel of old denim.
42. Sound first. Make a list of words that sound good. Combine them somehow. Meaning is secondary.
43. Ways to waste an hour.
44. Get lost.
45. Observation: go to a public place; observe and transcribe.
46. Documents that provide characterization: excuse note, police report, resume, incident report, referral, letter of recommendation, etc.
47. Write an excuse note. A parent to a school, Adam and Eve to God, etc.
48. List of names/characterization.
49. Pick five words and write about them.
50. Write something using only what you see in front of you.
51. Pick a word that makes you smile or frown, and write why that happens.
52. Write about your weekend.
53. Write about an event in which you remember feeling very awkward.
54. If you could change one thing about yourself or your life, what would it be?
55. One’s flights of fantasy.
56. The first time you hated someone.
57. Write about what you admire.
58. Favorite memory.
59. Character study about one person in the class without saying the name. (Note from Mr. W: Be honest, but not mean.)
60. What does the saying “blood runs thicker than water” mean to you?
61. Would you rather be deaf or blind?
62. What do you think happens when you die?
63. Write about something you heard someone talking about in the hallway.
64. Write about something you see in your surroundings.
65. Write a story with an ironic ending.
66. Write about a time when something turned out unexpectedly.
67. If you had a superpower, what would it be? How would you use it?
68. If you were an evil genius, how would you take over the world?
69. Something that bothers you.
70. What season reminds you of love, and why?
71. Pots-and-pans robots.
72. Your biggest fear, and why.
73. Write a fictional story about animals with human characteristics.
74. Write from the perspective of food and you are being eaten.
75. Write a scene in which everyone’s body language is different.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Spring Villanelle

Melting ice and damp earth--
muddy water rushes to the valley below.
A turning, a rousing, a birth.

A crow’s eye, sharp and alert--
geese who know where to go.
Melting ice and damp earth.

Everything in a restless search:
frozen water freed to flow.
A turning, a rousing, a birth.

Still, light teases and flirts.
Shadows hide what I want to know
under melting ice and damp earth.

My wheels leave tracks in soft dirt.
It’s questions that make me wander so—
seeking a turning, a rousing, a birth.

Why worry? What’s that worth?
Don’t ask the river to slow.
Melting ice and damp earth.
A turning, a rousing, a birth.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Red Radio

I was a teenager
stuck in a
shadowy room--
wait on it:

the radio, my electronic island--
a silver trombone
skipping stones
continuous chuckles
from a golden trumpet

seeing moondust,
grandfathers’ hats
and cocktail dresses—
wait on it:

johnny cash,
jump my curb,
and johnny b. goode—
see you when I feel you,
back when
milk was so rich
and delicious.

Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott
“Back When All Was Continuous Chuckles,” Colette Inez
“Late Night at the Pawn Shop,” Martin Espada
“Ode to American English,” Barbara Hamby
200 Sundays, Billy Crystal
Juliet, Naked, Nick Hornby
Partly Cloudy, Gary Soto

A Letter to My Students

I don’t say it enough, but I care about you. Each of you. That’s why I’m here. It’s too much work to do it for the money, so there must be ...