Tuesday, September 3, 2019


This blog's title -- Cast of Characters -- is a nod to writing within constraints. Years ago now, a slippery slope of tweets connected me to one of Two Writing Teachers' ambassadors (Shout out, Mrs. Sokolowski!), which opened a door to this community of writer-educators. I shifted from character limits to word limits for my first slice in 2016 and proceeded to contribute most weeks since, daily during the last three March Challenges. It's become a habit both constructive and productive, leading to a few hundred pieces of writing that wouldn't otherwise exist. Plus priceless connections to like-minded folks. The routine fostered by the Slice of Life Challenge is its own gift.

Now, though, two moments are leading me to change my mind or mindset or both: one involves a nearby educator-blogger I read regularly who announced her own writing hiatus in words that struck chords in me (Shout out,  Ms. Yeh!); the other, fittingly and unsurprisingly, unfolds from a Twitter exchange about alternate modes of writing (Shout out, Ashish!). These influences along with a dose of my own inner restlessness have me fumbling in search of alternate outlets. Energy conservation laws, meantime, necessitate me ceasing slicing to redirect what resources I have elsewhere. Or, if you'll indulge one more metaphor, it's like this blog is heading into hibernation.

I am grateful for and humbled by the cast of characters who've visited to read what's here. Thank you.

Monday, August 19, 2019

Glasses, half empty

As my caricatured avatar attests, even without speaking: I wear glasses. I've done so since eighth grade, in fact. (Editor's note: I'm still technically in eighth grade.) That's why spending a day on the job last week for the first time ever without my spectacles felt bizarrely momentous.

I was several miles into my bike commute, taking in the world through prescription root-beer lenses, when I registered the day's general overcast-ness. Guess I didn't need these sunglasses after all, I thought to myself -- a thought chased quickly by the high-definition mental image of my regular eyeglasses lying on the kitchen counter where I had placed them during the process of packing my work bag that morning. If I swore in this moment, it wasn't aloud.

I cycled through obvious solutions like turning back for home (too late), passing the day as a celebrity whose eye candy for all settings and light levels is sunglasses (too eccentric), and letting the day pass in a literal as well as metaphoric blur. The last option proved the path of least resistance, my nearsightedness navigating most tasks passably while stirring up servings of empathy for students with mediocre vision who sit far from projector screens. I'll take a page from Robert Ludlum and title my experience The Mr. Magoo Solution.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

They said it might rain

The trail's edges cup finger lakes,
gather temporary seas,
parted by sizzling tires into momentary waves
that fan behind me like some wild animals' tails;
my mountain bike drifting as if on crazy rails,
rain and mud spotting my sunglasses,
behind those, my eyes wide like a child's.

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Nine people I met

My slice hiatus was caused by disconnecting from the Internet last week. Among the bonuses, I can now write micro slices about people I met while away...
  • The bed-and-breakfast proprietor's sister who joined us for the latter (not the former, which would've been awkward) and graced us with tales from her native South Africa plus frequent doses of her delightful, contagious laughter.
  • The ferry captain with penchants for high-brow food -- smoked Gouda and egg sandwich on rye toast -- and low-brow puns -- "When the fog's gone, it'll be mist."
  • The First Nations caretaker in bright-print Bahama shorts who, in a remote island location, incongruously used his cellular phone to provide a weather update about a coming storm. 
  • The architect from New Jersey, paddling with his two teenage sons who offered us toasted marshmallows and accepted in return the first Fig Newtons of their young lives.
  • The grateful Russian couple, now based in Toronto, seeking our kayaking company across a choppy, breezy channel.
  • The transit operator who testily warned passengers knocking on her vehicle's door while waiting to board that "Bus drivers need breaks too."

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Better dresser

My slice last week touched on the topic of salad dressing -- specifically, one enumerated here, a delicious amalgam for drizzling on several kinds of greens. It lands at that synergistic taste intersection of tart, sweet, savory, and intriguingly spiced.

When I reused leftovers as part of dinner with family visiting from afar, my nephew repeatedly gushed about what he called "the best salad I've ever had." Those leftovers gone, we decided that we needed to make another batch. So, he and I set to work the next rainy afternoon. He read the ingredients from the recipe; I collected them from cabinets and pantry. He held the measuring spoon; I tapped seasonings into it. When my clumsy bump delivered too much cayenne to the spoon, he said, "Guess we'll just add more honey," speaking like someone who knows his way around a kitchen. Needless to say, the second-draft dressing proved to be an equally big hit.

The morning after our teamwork, I was thumbing through a book of quick writing prompts by Paula Borque, called Spark! In it, she quotes author Rachel Naomi Remen who advised: "Often finding meaning is not about doing things differently; it is about seeing familiar things in new ways" (81). Turns out Remen's words apply to the not-necessarily-mundane world of emulsifying vinaigrette. Making that salad dressing the first time was a fine, satisfying experience; repeating the process with my nephew and seeing familiar moments anew through his sparkling eyes was memorable.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Ten observations, hold the metaphors

In a New York Times Smarter Living column on Monday, editor Tim Herrera explored ways to counteract people's prevailing sense of over-stimulation and under-focus. One way to resist the world's constant clamor for our attention, he noted, is to look closely without technology's mediation. Herrera shared a strategy used by Rob Walker, author of The Art of Noticing: "Report 10 metaphor-free observations about the world this week." Here are mine, from the past 36 hours:
  1. The morning temperature in my apartment was 77° Tuesday morning, six degrees warmer than the day before.
  2. After a weekend when I hiked and biked many miles, my legs ached with fatigue Monday whenever I walked up or down stairs.
  3. A man who sat near me in the library had two bottles of Powerade on his desk; he finished the blue one and kept a green one in reserve.
  4. An electric bus I rode had less robust air conditioning than the gas-powered alternative from which I had disembarked earlier.
  5. Speaking of buses and hurt legs, I saw a man using a cane to get on and off mass transit. His cane was decorated with a collage of flower stickers.
  6. Paprika, cumin, coriander, cardamom, turmeric, onion, salt, honey, mustard, cider vinegar and sunflower oil made a tasty, tangy dressing to toss with toasted almonds, poached chicken, and spinach.
  7. Taking groceries out of their bags was a counter-intuitive way to fit more of them into my bicycle panniers.
  8. I counted fifteen lines of water arcing from a lawn sprinkler.
  9. There are many places in the world about which I know little, including the Philippines and Moldova.
  10. The classroom where I'm learning this week is in a college hall that opened in 2007, and it has zero windows.

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Recalculating route

Technology leads, via multiple paths, to unintended consequences. Exhibit A is this news item from last month. Exhibit B is me and my wife sitting in holiday traffic last weekend. In an hour, our car had crawled about two miles along a jammed two-lane highway. We suspected, having traveled this road before, that a traffic light miles ahead was responsible for the back-up. Sitting shotgun, my wife popped open a maps app in a Quixotic quest for alternate routes.

Moments later, she said: "You could flip it and save about 15 minutes." So I u-turned.

She directed me to make a right onto a nondescript side street. That set us (and a half dozen other vehicles, presumably with the same intel) trundling along chunky junior-varsity pavement, winding through a once peaceful valley. In less than two miles, its twists connected back to our same highway somewhere farther up the queue. Of course, we had to rely on the patience of other motorists in the jam to permit our alternate merge from the smaller artery.

"Take the next exit," my wife said.

I slid off to the right, heeding my wife's and the digital navigatrix's cues. We paused at a stop sign, turned left to cross beneath the highway underpass, turned right onto a frontage way for a fraction of a mile, then right again to reach that confounded stoplight, which obligingly turned green to let a handful of cars including ours through to the now open road.

No doubt, we made up a little ground, but my inner Ethicist couldn't help but wonder: Were our tech-fueled machinations part of the problem, creating needless cross traffic that clogged the works more than necessary?