Sunday, October 31, 2010

Some Halloween pics need no explanation...

Some Halloween pictures need no explanation. Grandma bought Michael the frog costume, and he looks so thrilled...October 31, 2003

All original writing and art copyright A. Dameron 2000-2010

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Sickness Affects Your Outlook (and your Productivity)

Yes, I'm back after a few days of being sick. I'm still tired as all get out, but at least I've got coffee.

A flare-up of my rheumatoid arthritis made my hands so swollen I couldn't type, draw or paint. The medicine I take for RA saps my strength and makes me just want to curl up and sleep. That doesn't do wonders for the productivity factor. My brain tries to push my body into doing something, anything, but my joints inform me, "I'm not going to cooperate. Go to bed. Thank you."

Frustrations abound, big time. Even now, I get impatient at my body's limitations. "Okay, now that you've had your little R&R, I've got to play catch-up." And the Muse shoots back with, "There really isn't any good time to have a breakdown. I don't care if you're Human or a car. Live with it."

Live with it. Writing, at least, is flexible enough that I can do it anywhere, even when I'm stuck in bed. Even if I scratch out a few words, it's better than not having written at all. A little writing goes a long way, and my mind says, "At least I'm getting something done and it doesn't matter if it looks like chicken scratch. I'm a linguist, I can handle it." And when I'm better, I can transcribe it to the computer.

But still, I've never been one who did well just being sick. And it's true that if you don't give your body the rest it needs, it'll take that much longer to recover. It's like a chain of dominoes...when one falls, they all fall and you can't do anything to stop the process. When it's all over, you just pick 'em up and set them up again.

Isn't that how life goes anyway?

All original writing and art copyright A. Dameron 2000-2010

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

One at a time vs. multiple projects?

I know some writers who write one story at a time, some artists who paint one painting, some potters who fire one pot at a time. They focus their energies on a single project and don't divide their attention. This way, they complete their tasks before starting new ones, and nothing is left unfinished. On the other hand, a complicated project can take weeks (or months) before it's completed. A fellow painter puts it this way, "The quality of my work is more important to me than just the quantity. If I end up cranking out picture after picture, the process loses something. I end up losing my soul."

Other creatives have multiple pots on multiple burners on their stove. I admit that I'm more of this type. If my writing Muse hikes Her way to Key West again on my novel, I can work on my poetry, or my drabble collection. If I can't make any headway on my acrylic painting, I'll grab a few old magazines, cut and paste a collage to my heart's content. Sometimes I'll get an idea on how to approach my original problem (by doing something completely unrelated), so I'll scurry back to it.

Of course, some of my projects sit untended for a while, and eventually may go to the reject or the recycle bin. But that doesn't bother me as much. Things ebb and flow, and change, other ideas come and go.

Everyone has their own style, methodical or chaotic, but as long as it suits your creative life, have fun!

All original writing and art copyright A. Dameron 2000-2010

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Admin Post: Art Store on Rainbow's Art

Just a note, since we're going into the holiday season soon!

Check out my art store, Artistmum Creations at*

If you're looking for gifts for Halloween, Veterans Day, or Christmas, drop by and see the designs I've made for shirts, posters, mugs and other items. Some of the artwork are also featured in Lady Rainbow's Art.

Thanks for reading my blogs and supporting creativity! I appreciate it more than you know.


All original writing and art copyright A. Dameron 2000-2010

Monday, October 25, 2010

Thinking too Much with the Intellect, Not Enough with the Heart

"Lovers and men of intellect cannot mix:
How can you mix the broken with the unbroken?
Cautious men of intellect shrink back from a dead ant:
Lovers, completely carefree, trample down dragons.

The intellect says, "the six directions are limits; there is no way out."
Love says, "There is a way; I have traveled it thousands of times."
The intellect saw a market and started to haggle.
Love saw thousands of markets beyond that market." 



I read this quote and this really spoke to me. Thinking too much can hamper our creativity. When confronted by the unexpected (the dead ant), sometimes we panic and freeze in our tracks. If we don't allow the weird and the wonderful to throw us off balance, we can tackle the biggest problem and triumph over it.

Once we hit a barrier, it's so easy to just give up. "There's no way around this problem; there's nothing I can do!" Look for unorthodox solutions, try new ideas, see what works. If it doesn't work, try another way. And another, and another. 

When your livelihood depends on your creativity, it's easy to fall into the 'will this sell and for how much?' trap. The practical side keeps us fed, clothed, and able to make more creative items. Once your main goal becomes achieving a bottom line, the quality of your product suffers. It becomes just a means for an end: to satisfy a certain "market". "Love saw thousands of markets beyond that market". Don't lose sight of what matters the most to you, and don't limit yourself to just one way of doing things.New roads and new directions can inspire more ideas and the circle begins again. 

Think, but also use your heart in your creative efforts.

All original writing and art copyright A. Dameron 2000-2010

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Quotes about Music


"I want to sing like the birds sing. Not worry who hears or what they think." Rumi

"I began to hear music differently. I began to hear something in bare sound I had never heard befrore to experience in the very act of hearing an upward intention, as if some current were drawing us toward it." W.A. Mathieu

"In the beginning was noise. And nose begat rhythm. And rhythm begat everything else." Mickey Hart

"The drum is sacred. Its round form represent the whole universe, and its steady beat is the pulse, the heart, throbbing at the center of the universe." Nick Black Elk.

"There is nothing better than music as a means for upliftment of the soul." Hazrat Inayat Khan

"In writing songs, I've learned as much from Cézanne as I have from Woody Guthrie." Bob Dylan


"Music has the capacity to touch the innermost reaches of the soul and music gives flight to the imagination." Plato

"All passionate language does of itself become musical---with no finer music than the mere accent; the speech of man, even in zealous anger, becomes a chant, a song." Thomas Carlyle

"Seek out a man who is skillful in playing the harp, and when the evil spirit from God is upon you, he will play it and you will be well." 1 Samuel 16: 14-16

All original writing and art copyright A. Dameron 2000-2010

Saturday, October 23, 2010

More Digging in Old Files...

When I have the time, I'll clear out the old files in my computer. I have manuscripts (and various sundry parts of manuscripts) dating back nearly ten years. I save everything on a separate hard drive; after several computer crashes and outages, laptop malfunctions and kid-caused keyboard spills, I've become a wee bit paranoid about losing stuff.

On the one hand, it makes me a literary packrat. On the other hand, you find all kinds of treasures you completely forgot about. This past week, I stumbled over:

1) several old chapters of a science fiction novel I abandoned a couple of years ago.

2) short stories that I was convinced I lost when my second laptop crashed three years ago

3) Old poetry chapbook layouts

4) lists of story ideas that never quite gelled

I was stunned at the stuff I found. Reading through those words gave me more ideas for new projects. I might combine two ideas into a new story, and three snippets in particular might work. My Muse has plenty of ideas to mull over and when She's busy, I'm happy.

All original writing and art copyright A. Dameron 2000-2010

Friday, October 22, 2010

Writing Exercises: An Unhealthy Obsession

Directions: Plan a story about a person's obsession with collecting something.

Collecting books
Miranda collects books. She scours used bookstores for prizes as well and the big chains. She jokes that books just jump into her hands. Her home is one huge library--almost all shelves. She even has them in displays and in her bathrooms. The town she lives him holds her up as an example of literacy.

Rewrite the story so the character's obsession is against this person's best interests.
The books are literally crowding her out of her home. Miranda is socially handicapped--she would much rather be home reading instead of being with people. She doesn't need TV- the shows are in her imagination with her as the star. Her collection sits and gathers dust-a valuable collection hidden away from public eyes.

Sketch out a plot based on the information above:
"Between Two Covers"

The story is told by Miranda's friend who runs the local used bookstore. Miranda leaves her enormous book collection to Susan Yoo when Miranda mysteriously dies. Susan dreads the required cataloging and sorting through the massive shelves, but she finds Miranda's secret diaries...that blows the lid off the secrets in their small town.

All original writing and art copyright A. Dameron 2000-2010

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Quotes about Living WIth Gusto

"I make the most of all that comes and the least of all that goes." Sara Teasdale.

"You will do foolish things, but do them with enthusiasm." Collette

"Jump into the middle of things, get your hands dirty, fall flat onto your face, and then reach for the stars." John L. Curcio

"I don't want to get to the end of my life and find that I have lived just the length of it. I want to have lived the width of it as well." Diane Ackerman

"To be energetic, act energetic." W. Clement Stone

"You have to be careful about being too careful." Beryl Pfizer

"Don't bunt. Aim out of the ballpark." David Oglivy

"Act as thought it were impossible to fail." Dorothea Brande

"Love the moment, and the energy of that moment will spread beyond all boundaries." Corita Kent

"Success is a ladder that cannot be climbed with your hands in your pockets." America proverb

All original writing and art copyright A. Dameron 2000-2010

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Many Ways to Say It, courtesy of Language

One of my favorite language pages on Facebook is Language  They often put up quotes for people to translate into their native languages. Here's one that is very true, no matter where you come from:

"The world is a book and those who do not travel only read one page."---St. Augustine

It's amazing to see the translation talent, not to mention the variety of languages! Check them out! (This list is hardly comprehensive. :-)

Spanish:  El mundo es un libro y los que no viajan leen solamente una página.

Esperanto:  La mondo estas libro, kaj tiuj, kiuj ne vojaĝas, legas nur unu paĝon.

German: Die Welt ist ein Buch, und sie, die nicht reisen, lesen nur einzige Seite davon.

French: Le monde est un livre, est ceux qui ne voyagent pas n'en lisen qu'une seule page.

Italian: Il mondo e' un libro, e quelli che non viaggiano leggono solamente una pagina.

Japanese: 世界とは一冊の本であり、旅をしない者は(その本の)同 じ一ページだけを読んでいるに過ぎない。

Filipino (Tagalog):  Ang mundo ay isang libro at ang hindi bumiyahe ay bumabasa lang ng isang pahina.

Portuguese:  O mundo e um livro e aqueles quem nao viaga le uma pagina.

Catalan: El món és un llibre i aquets que no viatgen llegeixen només una pàgina.

Hebrew (transliterated) : Ha olam hoo sefer, v'ele sh'lo m'tayalim bo kor'eem rak amud echad,

Turkish: Dunya bir kitabtir, yolculuk etmeyen yalniz bir sayfa okuyorlar.

Arabic:  العالم هو كتاب والذين لا ىسافرون ىقرأون صفحة واحدة فقط

Afrikaans:  Die wereld is `n boek en diegene wat nie reis nie lees net een bladsy. 

Korean: 이 세상은 한권의 책이며, 여행을 하지 않는 사람들은 인생에서 단 한페이지만 읽고 마는 것과 같다

Hungarian: A világ egy könyv és mindazok, akik nem utaznak, csak egyetlen lapját olvassák

Russian: Весь мир - это книга и те, кто не путешествует, читают одну и ту же страницу

Uzbek:  Dunyo bu kitobdir va kimki sayohat qilmas ekan faqatgina uning birgina sahifasini uqibti.

Balinese: Jagat puniki buku lan sane tan sida malunga ring mancanegara wantah maos lampir siki. 

Greek:  Ο κόσμος είναι ένα βιβλίο και όσοι δεν ταξιδεύουν διαβάσει μόνο μία σελίδα

Indonesian: Dunia ini adalah sebuah buku dan orang yang tidak berkeliling dunia membaca hanya satu halaman. 

Malay: Dunia bagaikan buku, sesiapa yang tak mengembara hanya membacai satu mukasurat.

Balinese: Jagat puniki buku lan sane tan sida malunga ring mancanegara wantah maos lampir siki.

Swedish: Världen är en bok och dom som inte reser läser bara en sida. 

Danish: „ Verden er en bog, og dem som ikke rejser, læser kun en side„

All original writing and art copyright A. Dameron 2000-2010

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

What am I Reading This Month? October 2010

I haven't done one of these in a while...

The Godfather by Mario Puzo. Yeah, the original one.

The Last Don by Mario Puzo. This one is definitely different from the original. Most of the action takes place in Las Vegas and Hollywood, as opposed to New York and New Jersey. But the manipulations of the Mafia members don't change a bit.

The Art of War by Sun Tzu This is no way connected with the above two books, and to the fact that I have The Book of Five Rings by Miyamoto Musashi lined up after this. Or the fact I just finished The Sword and the Mind, translated by Hiroaki Sato.

Hyperspace by Michio Kaku. I also have his Physics of the Impossible. I'll say it again: I like physics, but I hate math. With a passion.

The New Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards (I'm part of a group doing the exercises from this book. We post our drawings and observations for each assignment.)

And last, but not least (yes, this is a writing reference book): FUBAR, F**ed up Beyond Recognition: Soldier Slang of World War II It's amazing how many familiar words come from this era of history.

All original writing and art copyright A. Dameron 2000-2010

Monday, October 18, 2010

My Comfort List for When Life sucks...

1) Watching Star Trek Episodes (any) or Doctor Who (classic or new)

2) Bubble baths. Calgon, take me away!

3) Chocolate. Lots of it.

4) A pint of ice cream.

5) Music to fit my mood. (Celtic, classical, rock, rap, whatever)

6) Playing a mindless computer game.

7) Holing up with my sketchbook, my pencils, my pens and a sign saying, "Mummy's Time. Go see Daddy."

8) /Grooving to my belly dancing/samba/Tae Bo/Budukon DVDs.

9) Take Baby Girl out to the playground and watch her spent hours in the sandbox. Snuggle her afterwards.

10)  Bang on my djembe drum.

11) Brew some coffee.

12) Go window shopping.

13) Go to Nonna's Sweets (Charlotte NC) and indulge in the most decadent thing I can afford. (usually less than a dollar).

14) Go to the Dollar Store and get a cheap pack of crayons.

15) Curl up in my Virginia Tech Snuggie and sleep.

16) Send a SOS for a picspams on Twitter, FB and Skype.

17) Comfort food.

18) Books. 'Nuff said.

19) Smell the roses.

20) Count my blessings.

All original writing and art copyright A. Dameron 2000-2010

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Creative Art in Real Life

Squeezing in time to make art can be a challenge, especially with 3 kids, and a hubby. "Irish Lass" was drawn in about 15 minutes, with pastels...on the back of a paper grocery bag. LOL! That's why it looks partially crumpled...Not neat and tidy, but that's Creative Art in Real Life.

All original writing and art copyright A. Dameron 2000-2010

Saturday, October 16, 2010

How to Deal with Cold Noses and Wet Blankets (Part II)

Then there are the other ones, the Wet Blankets and the Cold Noses. We've all run into them, the naysayers of gloom and doom. Cold Noses are worse---they stick  those noses into your creative life and try their best to freeze your enthusiasm. It's harder to ignore a Cold Nose than a Wet Blanket. You could always disregard a Wet Blanket's Pessimism, or at the very least, toss them in the Dryer for a few cycles. A Cold Nose is like getting your tongue stuck frozen on a flagpole. You can get it unstuck, but it's pretty damn painful.

I ran into a Cold Nose/Wet Blanket combo just earlier today. It's not unusual to find one with the other, one following the other, or both in one delightful package. This one was the specialty package.

"What're you doing on your computer?"

"Just doing some editing." (I had a picture editing site up, processing digital pics of my recent art).

"Really? Wow. You know, those colors look too bright. Maybe if you move the slider a bit that way."

(pause). "They're supposed to be that bright."

"No, trust me, that doesn't look natural at all. Maybe if you crop it from, it'd look kinda lopsided. This doesn't look like a real person. Looks more...'organic'."

"You make 'organic' sound like a bad thing."

(Cold Nose/Wet Blanket backpedals) "Oh, no, it really isn't. I know some kinds of art isn't supposed to be like Da Vinci or Michaelangelo."

"Or a technical drawing."

"I'd be lousy at technical drawings. They wouldn't get done because I'd be obsessed with getting it exactly right."

"But this isn't a technical drawing, and this is my style."

"Oh, I know that, but still..."

Yes, this was an actual conversation. Cold Noses don't care about your boundaries; your business becomes theirs and they have all sorts of "helpful" advice to impart to  you. First and foremost, learn the magic of containment. Julia Cameron talks about this in her "Artist's Way" series, and her advice can save your sanity. Don't share your artistic work indiscriminately. Find supportive people that will offer constructive criticism while nurturing your talents. It sounds difficult, but your personal cadre of cheerleaders can make the difference.

Wet Blankets try to dampen your enthusiasm. They point out how difficult it is to make a living in the arts. Artists are crazy, broke and/or drunkards. Can't you find a steady, reliable job that brings in a predictable income? Get your head out of the clouds and back to reality. Their negativity is enough for you to tear up your manuscript, burn your canvases, and find a pub somewhere.

We're hypersensitive to criticism like this. We must learn to have selective hearing and thick skins. A writer friend of mine puts it this way, "Those who can, do. Those who can't, tear down the ones who do. Don't let 'em." Sound advice. Ignore such gloom and doom (easier said than done), and/or get away from the Wet Blanket. Some people decide to throw the Wet Blanket in the dryer for a couple of cycles. Others gently hang them out to dry on a clothesline. 

Still others fold the Wet Blankets and store them in their linen closet. The problem with that is that eventually, all your towels get soaked as well, and that leads to all sorts of moldy problems. It takes courage to throw out the ruined stuff and restock with pretty sheets and fluffy towels.

It also takes courage to find the Warm Fuzzies and Itchy Toes. They're out there. If they're not local, then find some writers/artists/sculptors/jewelry makers/scrapbookers/designers/whatever your specialty on-line. Support is crucial to finding your bliss and nurturing it against the Cold Noses and Wet Blankets. 

Go on and be daring!

All original writing and art copyright A. Dameron 2000-2010

Friday, October 15, 2010

Warm Fuzzies and Itchy Toes (Part I)

Ever since I decided to give a creative career a go, I've run into two kids of people. One kind is the Warm Fuzzies and Itchy Toes. They hear my plans with great enthusiasm and suggest all sorts of ideas. Sure, the ideas may be kooky and impractical and just plain silly. We sit in the coffee shop and hatch all sorts of plots:

"Walking Zombies overrun the Earth!"

"A big boat sinks in an overrated explosion!"

"A reindeer stalks hunters with a machine gun!"

"Oh wait, a minute. Those are already taken! Damn!"

"So? In that case, every plot's already been taken. Put your own spin on it."

"How about boy meets girl, boy and girl are stranded on a tropical island---"

"---boy finds a treasure chest and becomes rich and girl kicks his butt and opens a spa and salon."

And we're off again. We feed off each other's energy and give each other permission to be as crazy as we want. No one judges (the Warm Fuzzy) and each person takes an idea and runs with it (the Itchy Toes). Creative energy thrives in such an environment, among the lattes and black coffees, the croissants and carrot cakes.

These are the friends I call at 2 AM and say, "Hey, what about..." And they forgive me. Even with the time zone differences.

Then there are the other ones, the Wet Blankets and the Cold Noses. We've all run into them, the naysayers of gloom and doom. Cold Noses are worse---they stick  those noses into your creative life and try their best to freeze your enthusiasm. It's harder to ignore a Cold Nose than a Wet Blanket. You could always disregard a Wet Blanket's Pessimism, or at the very least, toss them in the Dryer for a few cycles. A Cold Nose is like getting your tongue stuck frozen on a flagpole. You can get it unstuck, but it's pretty damn painful.

Part II to come: How to Deal with Wet Blankets and Cold Noses.

All original writing and art copyright A. Dameron 2000-2010

Thursday, October 14, 2010

That old, cranky, manual typewriter of mine...

 I began writing when I was 8 years old, first by hand, then by a manual typewriter. The Smith-Corolla was an unexpected gift from my mom and one of her friends. We lived in Italy at the time, and the friend went to Germany for his son's operation. When they returned, they brought back the manual typewrite in a hard, black plastic case. I put it to work immediately on a series of stories. Of course, I used whatever paper I could find, which usually was college-ruled, narrow lined notebook paper. Both sides. Neatness didn't really count on first drafts, and I wasn't picky.

That Smith-Carolla saw a lot of use and abuse in the next several years. These were the days before word processors, before the internet, before laptops, before cell phones and iPads. Two wheels of ink; the ribbon split into black on the top half and red on the bottom half. You used liquid white out to mark out mistakes, but it was messy and dried in a gunk, or correction tape that left powdery residue on your fingers. The only other alternative was to rip the paper out of the carriage and start all over again.

Dried ink in the keys was a problem, especially with letters and numbers whose type include nooks and crannies, like "p", "q", "o", "s", and (my nemesis), "B". Water, rubbing alcohol, soap (as long as the ink ribbon was removed first, of course), with a fine toothbrush or if I was desperate, a handy toothpick to get ink out of the middle of "O" and "P".

Eventually, I moved on to my sister's word processor, and by the time I went away to college, I haunted the computer labs to type and print out papers and projects. The manual typewriter was relegated to the attic over the garage. Even if I wanted to use it for old times' sake, typewriter ribbons were hard to find. Computers were becoming more user-friendly and convenient, and with the advent of the Internet, MySpace, Facebook and Twitter, the era of the of the manual typewriter was over.

But I still have it, and I'm sure my kids will look at this nobly ancient relic and be amazed there is no screen, no power button, and no way to play games on it. It does have one thing, though.


All original writing and art copyright A. Dameron 2000-2010

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Ten Things I'd Really Like to Do in My Life

Ten Things I'd Really Like to Do in My Life

1) play in a musical group or an orchestra

2) travel all over the world

3) make the best-seller list

4) take up salsa/tap/ballroom dancing

5) teach ESL or music

6) learn as many languages as I can

8) have a bit part/walk-on part in a popular TV show (like Doctor Who, Chuck, etc.)

9) plant my own garden

10) open my own art gallery to display my works

All original writing and art copyright A. Dameron 2000-2010

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

5 Alternate Lives

An exercise from The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron

Directions: Write about 5 alternate lives you might lead if you decided to go in a certain creative direction. Name your alter ego and describe what they've achieved and what they want to achieve.

1) Kelly the Cook: Cooking is her passion. She went to Culinary School and graduated at the top of her class. She has done internships in Paris, Rome and Tokyo. Currently, she runs a chic restaurant in London, and plans to open another one in Manhattan. Presidents, prime ministers and celebrities rave about her restaurants. She is friends with cooks like Emeril Lagasse and Giada de Laurentiis. Kelly is restless and always stretches for new ideas in the culinary world.

2) Sherilyn the ambassador: She lives in the future on board the International Space Station. More people live and work there, both Earth-born and not. Sherilyn negotiates treaties and welcomes dignitaries. She speaks several languages and is well versed in customs and protocol.

3) Tamlie the violinist: Tamlie is a concert violinist with the London Symphony. She also teaches music and composes her own songs. Tamlie strives for the best in her performances and encourages her students to do the same.

4) Sophia the editor: Sophia works in New York for a major publishing house. She is brisk and organized and has connections in the US, Europe and Asia. She has the knack of picking out good manuscripts that turn out to be bestsellers. Although she has a quiet elegance, her power is felt throughout the literary world.

5) Wanda the cinematographer: Wanda runs her own production company, but she has worked on the film crews of movies like "Star Wars", "Star Trek", "Avatar" and "Lord of the Rings". She plans and stages special effects shots. Wanda is laid back and always ready to try new ideas and new technologies. Her first question isn't, "That's impossible, right?" It's "How can we do this?"

All original writing and art copyright A. Dameron 2000-2010

Monday, October 11, 2010

14 Years and Counting

Today, 10/11/10 marks 14 years that I've been married to Hubby. If you count dating, I've known him for closer to 18 1/2. Time definitely flies.

In 14 years:

Moved twice.
Switched careers from teaching to writing/art
dealt with depression and low self-esteem
had 3 kids
had 2 of those 3 kids diagnosed with autism, sensory issues and other problems
learned quickly how to deal with teachers, therapists, doctors, etc. etc.
reached out to others with similar issues (mum friends w/special needs kids, other writers and artists)
discovered FaceBook and Twitter friends
expanded my writing repertoire and experimented w/creative art
did a family geneology; struggled with the discovery of issues because of that
got back to my first love: languages and linguistics
dealt with power, trust and money issues within my marriage (still in progress)

What a different life I have now, as opposed to 14 years ago!

All original writing and art copyright A. Dameron 2000-2010

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Football 101

Football season has arrived at my house. I'm the one most likely to be the one parked on the couch on Saturday and Sunday afternoons, eagerly watching the college and NFL games. Of course, I have to cheer on my alma mater (Virginia Tech Hokies!) and Hubby's (Old Dominion University, who recently brought their football program back after about 50 years). The local team, the Carolina Panthers, haven't been doing well so far this season., but we're of the "anyone who plays against the Cowboys is our team of the day" mindset.

My mum told me the story about how she stumbled over (American) football. It was 1976, the year my family moved from England to the United States, and Mum was watching a (then-Oakland) Raiders game with my dad. Dad had to explain the rules to her, since it wasn't exactly like rugby, definitely not like cricket, and obviously like "football" as the rest of the world knew it.

1) Each team has 11 players on the field at one time. One team is the offense, the other is the defense. there's a third group called "special teams". The only time you see the special teams group is during kickoffs and extra points (explained below).

2) The field is 100 yards long, with goal posts situated at either end (like rugby). There is a designated area in front of the goal posts called the end zone.

3)The game starts when one side's special team "kicks off" the ball to the other special team. The receiver  has to bring the ball back as far as they can before he gets stopped (usually, tackled) by the other side. The ball is placed on the spot where the carrier got stopped.

4) The special teams leave the field. The offense (the team that possesses the ball) and the defense (the other one) take to the field.

4) The offense has a total of four tries (each try is called a "down". First down, second down, third down, fourth down) to advance the ball forward 10 yards. The guy who coordinates every play is called the quarterback. He throws the ball to an available receiver, who attempts to traverse the 10 yards. If the offense is successful, it's considered a "first down", and they have a fresh set of tries to continue down the field. If they fail after the fourth down, the offense and defense leave the field and the special teams come back on. The offense forced to "kick off" the ball to the other team. Now it's the other team's turn to try to score. They become the "offense" now.

5)If the offense is close enough to the end zone by the third down, they have the option to "kick a field goal" through the goal posts (also called the "uprights") A field goal is worth 3 points.

5a) If the offense reaches the other team's end zone, it's a touchdown, and worth 6 points. After a touchdown is scored, the offense sets up to "kick the extra point" through the goal posts. If that's successful, the extra point is added, for a total of 7 points.

5b) After a touchdown, the offense has the option of a "2-point conversion" instead of kicking an extra point. In that case, the offense has 1 chance to throw the ball into the end zone (like a touchdown). If they're successful, 2 points are added, for a total of 8 points. If not, no extra points are added and it remains at 6.

6)After the end of each series, the offense kicks off the ball to the other team and the game continues.

7) The defense's job is simple: keep the other team from scoring.

The referees (dressed in those infamous black and white "zebra" uniforms) call fouls that players make against each other and review controversial plays. Fouls usually bring penalties in yardage (for example, a personal foul carries a penalty of 15 yards). Some fouls include (but aren't limited to) personal foul, delay of game (quarterback taking too long to start a play), and extra people on the field (12 instead of 11).

So say the referee announces, "Personal foul, pass interference, 15 yard penalty, first down!" It translates to: "Personal foul because the receiver was roughed/tackled by the defender before he had a chance to catch the ball, the ball gets brought forward 15 yards, and that means it's a first down!"

So that was basically Football 101, and Mum grasped the concept pretty fast. So now she's a die-hard Cowboys fan.

That's OK. We all have our preferences.

All original writing and art copyright A. Dameron 2000-2010

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Kabuki, Japanese Theater (Part II)

Kabuki is another form of Japanese classical drama. Unlike Noh, which follows strict traditional rules handed down from generation to generation, kabuki tends to be lavish, loud and includes strange characters and plot lines. Instead of masks, the actors wear the white powder make-up and exaggerated black eye and lip-liners.The Japanese expression kabukimono describes people who dress oddly and act in obnoxious ways.

Productions tend to be elaborate, with scenery changes and costume changes in the middle of the action! Like the Noh stage, actors arrive and leave by a walkway (called the hanamichi or "flower bridge") that extends into the audience. The stage rotates for transition between scenes, and trap doors are built right into the floor for dramatic entrances and exits. Characters also "fly" in the air by wires set into the costumes (similar to the wire-work effects in today's martial arts films). All of these stage techniques and tricks are collectively called keren.

For more information about Kabuki, Noh and other forms of Japanese theater, A Guide to the Japanese Stage: From Traditional to Cutting Edge by Ronald Cavave, Paul Griffith, and Akahiko Senda is a good resource to start.

All original writing and art copyright A. Dameron 2000-2010

Friday, October 8, 2010

Noh Drama (Japanese Theater, Part I)

Noh is traditional Japanese drama, first performed in the 14th century. All the roles are performed by male actors, with masks and elaborate costumes. A classical Noh presentation lasts all day, with 5 plays interspersed with shorter works.

A performance consists of the orchestra, actors and chorus. The main character is called the shite, who usually has a friend or companion called the shitetsure. The waki is the antagonist (if the waki has an assistant, that person is called the wakitsure). The shite is usually the only one who wears a mask, although the other actors might do so for female and/or mystical characters. All use their body language and mannerisms to convey their characters

The chorus (4-8 people) is called the jiutai, and the orchestra is called the hayashi. They usually wear formal black kimonos, emblazoned with family crests.

Unlike Western dramas, the background scenery is kept to a minimum, except for a narrow bridge on stage right, where the actors arrive and leave (called the hashigakari). Even the stagehands (dressed in simple black) remain on the stage in full view of the audience and sometimes even become part of the action!

The stage itself is polished Japanese cypress wood, so the actors glide in highly stylized dances and chant their songs.(5-7-5 waka poetry, mentioned here and here). The cypress wood conducts sound throughout the stage, which is the main reason why the builders usually raise the stage 3 feet above the ground.

A list of traditional Noh plays can be found here and for more information, The Tuttle Version of Noh Plays of Japan by Arthur Waley is a good source.

All original writing and art copyright A. Dameron 2000-2010

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Renga, (aka Collaborative Poetry), Japanese literature Part II

Renga, or "collaborative poetry", is a form of Japanese poetry that uses the tanka form (syllables of 5-7-5-7-7, see this entry for more information on tanka). One of the most famous renga poets was Matsuo Basho (1644-1694). Although a single person can write a renga, three or four people are considered the minimum number for a group. If you can find more people to join, the more the better!

Here's the basic set-up for a group:

1) A person (usually the honored guest) is chosen for the first stanza, or hokku.  The form of the stanza is 5-7-5 syllables. It should have a kigo (a seasonal word, like "spring", "summer", "winter", etc.) and a keireiji (a line break) within it somewhere.

2) The next person does the second stanza (the waki), which is the 7-7 part. The person who organized the party is usually the one who does it.

3) The third person continues with another 5-7-5 verse, the fourth with another 7-7, and so on.

4) It goes on until it reaches the predetermined number of stanzas (12, 36, 100 or even 1000). The person with the last verse (called the ageku) should refer back to the hokku in some way, shape or form.

A renga doesn't have to follow a specific chronological order, so it's not like a round-robin story, where each person has to build on what has been written before. It can be confusing for Westerners who are used to a rigid time order. The length of a renga varies from 1000 (senku) to 12 (Junicho) verses.

One of the most popular forms is the kasen, which is 36 stanzas long. This one is supposed to mention flowers (like cherry blossoms) twice and the moon three times. The hokku usually reflects the atmosphere of the group at the time of the party, the middle (verses 7-29) is more relaxed and free-form, while the end is the last 6 verses.  The agaku should refer back to the first stanza  and take it full circle.

This can be a challenging game, but is well worth it! Grab your friends and try a renga.

All original writing and art copyright A. Dameron 2000-2010

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Tanka Poetry (Japanese literature, part I)

Tanka is a form of poetry that has its origins in Japan's Heian period (c. 1100 AD). It's a subgenre of Japanese classical poetry, called waka. Sometimes whole collections of Japanese poetry is written in this style, including the Tales of Ise and the Tales of Yamato.

The syllable pattern of tanka is 5-7-5-7-7 per line, no matter which language. The first part (5-7-5) is called the kami-no-ku, or "upper phrase", while the second part (7-7) is called the shimo-no-ku, or "lower phrase". If the kami-no-ku looks familiar, it's the same pattern as the well-known haiku.

Many poets use wordplay and puns in their tanka, and some verses are difficult to understand without knowing about the cultural issues of the time. Two Heian-era pieces that use tanka are The Tales of Genji by Lady Murasaki and The Pillow Book by Sei Shonogon.

Here's an example of tanka in English:

Where is the small cat? (5)
He is not hiding out there. (7)
He is not inside. (5)
We will have to search for him. (7)
Ah! A tail is sticking out! (7)

Here's another one (for baseball fans)

Pat the Bat asks you: (5)
What can I wear for tonight (7)
for a big party? (5)
Catcher's mitt, cleats, and billed cap: (7)
It's time for the World Series! (7)

Challenge: Write your own tanka!

All original writing and art copyright A. Dameron 2000-2010

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Thoughts on my Daughter's Birthday...

Today, my Baby Girl turns two years old. I can hardly believe it. Where did the time go?

It sounds pretty cliche, but I look at my kids and I think, Time goes way too fast. I remember Sarah as a newborn, and when she learned to crawl and walk. I remember when she first said "Mama" and "Dada". I remember the fear that went through me and hoping that she would be "normal". Sarah was an "Oops!" baby in every sense of the word. I found out I was having her when I was 16 weeks pregnant, sick with pneumonia in the hospital, and terrified of how the rheumatoid arthritis meds I was taking at the time would affect her.

I think my obstetrician nearly fainted when he found out. Doctors usually give that particular med to cancer patients, to suppress their immune system for chemotherapy. My rheumatologist was just baffled...pregnancy just WAS NOT POSSIBLE with this med.

Like I said, major OOPS!

But life has a funny way of balancing things out in the end, I think.

Sarah loves Legos, Wedgits and building blocks. She watches the Wiggles and Thomas the Train. Whenever we go to the toy store, she goes straight for the cars and trucks and ignores the dolls. She has no fear of the big slide on the playground and could spend hours in the sandbox if I let her. She shows her dad's aptitude for building and solving puzzles, but carries around a stuffed yellow lab puppy dog. Her favorite word is the toddler favorite, "No!" Figures. But I don't mind. Her two older siblings are non-verbal autistic, so every new word she says is an exciting gift.

Happy birthday, Sarah. Mum loves you.

Minutes after her arrival
Is she winking at us?

 Sarah in Sandbox, 
Labor Day Weekend 2010
Virginia Beach, VA

Sarah and her cousin Chase, being cute in the sandbox
Labor Day Weekend 2010
Virginia Beach, VA

All original writing and art copyright A. Dameron 2000-2010

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Sei Shonagon and Pillow Books

A Japanese "pillow book" is a collection of observations, notes and lists, which paint a picture of someone's life at a particular moment. It first became popular during the Heian period of Japan (from about 794-1192 AD) when the women of the court jotted down their thoughts at the spur of the moment. They used scraps of paper under their pillows, hence the name "pillow book". Some of the books were used in romantic rendezvous, rather like the Indian Kama Sutra, but not all of them were so explicit in their content.

A Heian courtesan named Sei Shonagon penned the most famous Pillow Book. No one knows her exact identity, but her observations span a period of ten years. They include anecdotes about the court, her personal opinions, and one hundred and sixty four lists. Some of those lists have mundane titles like "Distressing Things" and "Elegant Things", but they reveal details about Sei and the day-to-day doings of her contemporaries.

Sei's final entry in her book is as follows:

"I set about filling the notebooks with odd facts, stories from the past, and all sorts of other things, often including the most trivial material. On the whole I concentrated on things and people that I found charming and splendid: my notes are full of poems and observations on trees, plants, birds and insects. I was sure that when people saw my books they would say, 'It's even worse than I expected. Now one can tell what she's really like." After all, it is written entirely for my own amusement and I put things down exactly as they come to me." (as quoted from A Collection of Beauties at their Height of their Popularity by Whitney Otto)

She wrote to please herself, not the critics and included what she thought was important at the time. This form of writing is called "zuihitsu" or "following the brush", since the writers simply take down what inspires them at that particular moment. A form of free-write, so to speak.

Unfortunately, Sei's final fate is unknown. Her empress, Teishi, was banished from the court by Teishi's uncle, and Sei was forced to leave with her mistress. Teishi later died in childbirth, but there is no other record of Sei's life after that.

Yet her Pillow Book remains as a historical document as well as valuable insight into the mind of a Japanese courtesan from over a thousand years in the past. Her words remain.

All original writing and art copyright A. Dameron 2000-2010

Saturday, October 2, 2010

A Riddle of Life...

Here's a riddle:

85% of fifth graders solved this riddle in five minutes or less, but only 7% of Stanford grads solved it at all.

What is greater than God but less than the Devil
             poor people have in abundance, but
             rich people need more of it,
             and if you eat it, you'll die.

The answer: Nothing.

All original writing and art copyright A. Dameron 2000-2010

Friday, October 1, 2010

Writing Exercise: Sentence Beginnings

Directions: Take the beginning of one sentence and think of as many ways to complete it.

He opened the door into the courtyard.
He opened the heavy safe- deposit box.
He opened the book and began to read.
He opened the hatch to the submarine.

She walked into a barfight.
She walked into a patch of moonlight.
She walked headlong into busy New York traffic.
She walked along the path through Hyde Park.

The children discovered a snake under a rock.
The children discovered a gold ring in the treasure chest.
The children discovered boxes of model train pieces.
The children discovered his stamp collection.

What if I said to you, "How is your sex life?"
What if I said to you, "You can drive a car, but you can't put wheels on it?"
What if I said to you, "Keep it safe for me?"
What if I said to you, "Turn left at the next intersection?"

We aren't sure if this is even possible.
We aren't sure if he'll pick up the phone.
We aren't sure how long it'll take.
We aren't sure what kind of batteries that needs.

A man waved me over.
A man picked out a present for his wife.
A man danced around the salon.
A man pulled out a gun.

A woman glided across the floor.
A woman tap-danced to the beat.
A woman whizzed by us on skis.
A woman carried her child up the stairs.

The large horse cleared the gate.
The large cake fell off its pedestal.
The large elephant sat on the car.
The large truck rumbled past early this morning.

All original writing and art copyright A. Dameron 2000-2010