Wednesday, December 4, 2013

December 4

I don't have enough of a single topic for a single blog post; rather several random, non-cohesive thoughts. Here goes:

Now that it's December, the three TVs in the lobby of my office building are playing Christmas movies and the Yule log. I love it. 

This morning I put on a new striped sweater that I hadn't worn before. Linda assured me it looked good.

"I don't look too much like Freddy Krueger?"

"No, he had his own set of issues."

"Well, so do I. Which is why I want to check I don't look like him."

"No, you don't have scissor hands."

Also, no weird burny scar face or dapper hat.

I was at the grocery store this morning before work and saw some garlic that wants to be something else when it grows up:

Speaking of the grocery store, I do stop there frequently on my way to work. It's a good time to go if I'm getting non-perishables or stuff for work. They usually have one check stand open, and then someone standing at the "self check out" area to help.Which - if you need help doing "self check out," then it's not "self," right? Anyway, I caved on doing it once, but hate it because it's inconvenient for me and involves too much thinking - usually I'm buying fruits and veggies, so it's not as simple as just scanning a barcode; it involves looking up the right item manually, and I just don't want to. So there was one checkstand with a light on, indicating it was open. I headed there, and got sidelined by a "helpful" employee:

"Good morning, would you like to go to self check out?"

"Um, no thank you. I don't like it. Can't I just go here?" indicating the one check out lane with the lit light signifying its openness. She wasn't happy with me, because it wasn't manned and she had to call for "John" to come take his post.Whatever, Ralphs lady. I'm paying you for groceries - I shouldn't have to do your job for you too. 

But the sparkly European trees I saw on the way out made me laugh: 

 Clearly there is more sparkly glitter in European soil than American.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

The Parable of the Pico de Gallo Sauce

It’s December! (Oh, that reminds me, I need to change my calendar pages. I’m always two or three days behind on that.) This means different things for different people, but in my world, it’s the start of the holiday season. We all know it’s a stressful time etcetera and so forth, henceforth and forever, and I get that. One of the stress causers, for me at least, is feeling a genuine holiday spirit. I consider myself fairly kind and generous during the balance of the year, so feeling the pressure of peace on earth good will towards men in December feels, well, like more pressure.

This morning I hit a fast food drive through on my way to work. The person taking the order sounded like she woke up on the wrong side of the bed. I even said to the non-responsive speaker, after placing my order, “Wow, Miss Sunshiney-Pants. Someone’s having a bad day,” and then immediately felt guilty for thinking that because that’s how I roll. Instead, I imagined what the mystery-voice person would look like. Was she crying? Upset? Did she not get a lot of sleep? Was she actually happy but didn’t have a matching voice?

When I got to the window the headsetted person smiled at me, but no teeth were showing. She took my card for payment and I wondered if I could say something that would get a genuine smile from her.

Then I remembered this blog post from someone I know who works in fast food (and deals with cranky people all the time, thankyouverymuch), and thought, “That's it! I’ll pay for the person behind me!”

Only, there was no one behind me.

Then the cashier appeared with my food order and asked if I wanted any sauce or anything. I said, “Do you have any pico de gallo?” hopefully, with a big smile.

She said, “Well, yes, but, I mean it’s, well, never mind. I’ll get you some.” She disappeared again, and then guess what?

A car appeared behind me. She handed me my bag, presumably complete with pico de gallo, and I handed her my card again. “I’d like to pay for the person behind me.”

And guess what else? A genuine smile appeared. She said, “He ordered a steak and egg burrito,” and when I allowed as that was fine, she ran the card and handed it back to me.

And that was it. Melissa was right – I felt warm and fuzzy inside. I considered pausing to see what the man’s reaction was, but wanted the joy of remaining anonymous, so noted only that it was a red Lexus before taking the turn to finish driving to work.

And then traffic wasn’t great. And there was a dumb garbage truck mucking up the works. And I got stuck behind someone else, and then stuck at a red light. And then I noticed that out of all the drab neutral-colored cars, a red Lexus appeared behind me, then got in the lane next to me. There was no car in front of him so he could have easily pulled all the way up to the crosswalk lines, but he paused next to me and mouthed through the window, “Was that you?”

I laughed, because what else are you going to do? We both rolled down our windows, and I said, “I just wanted to say have a good day. Have a great day!”

He shook his head and said, “Wow. Thanks so much, that was just so awesome.” He started to pull up to the crosswalk lines and said, window still open, “No one’s ever done that for me before. Wow.”

And that felt good. Maybe he’ll pass it along to someone else (there was no other cars behind him in the drive-through; I checked), or be a little nicer to someone today because someone was nice to him. I’m certain he could have afforded a steak and egg burrito ($3.20 before tax) on his own, if appearances (red Lexus and all) are anything to go on (there I go being all judge-y again.) But it was still nice to do something nice.

And then it looked like we were both headed to the same parking garage, so I took the long way to work, because enough is enough already. Heh.

And P.S.  I got an extra huge helping of pico de gallo!

So don’t stress this holiday season if you can’t get the house decorated the way you think it’s supposed to look, or the tree up on time, or the dog swallows the Baby Jesus, or you don’t the money you think you’re supposed to have to give everyone the merry Christmas you’d like them to have. Just..stop.

Breathe, enjoy. Rinse and repeat.

Then go get a burrito, ask for pico de gallo, and pay for the guy behind you. Let me know what happens.

P.P.S. I don't share this with you because I like being all braggy-pants and "LookWhatIDid? Aren'tIAwesome?" because I don't like it when people do that. This isn't about bragging. It's about pico de gallo. Mostly.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Thanksgiving Walk

Linda and I went for a walk this morning and saw some really interesting things. Here they are for your enjoyment:

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

NaNoWriMo: A Summary

November's almost over, and though you may feel neglected - all five of you - I have not been lazy in the writing department. I have been plugging away furiously, attempting to meet the 50,000 word goal over at NaNoWriMo. I finished today - not because I hit 50,000, but because I finished the book. Well, "finished." The first draft is done. There's a lot of work to be done, but I'm ready to let people read it. I need to find a balance between people who will read and offer constructive advice, versus those who will read it and tell me what a great job I did. I mean, I want the compliments - don't get me wrong - but it will be more valuable to have a critical eye towards what I can improve on. There's stuff I know can be improved on certainly, and other things I have ignored up to this point. Granted, I haven't really read it through myself all the way yet, but that will come.

Meanwhile, to try and reach the 50,000 goal, I did a little P. S. That's what this is. If you're interested in reading the actual book, let me know and I'll get it on Google Docs or something like that for you. The condition is that you need to be willing to be constructively honest with me, 'k?

As of this version, the book is at about 38,000 words. The challenge for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) is to get to 50,000 words. I could tell early on that I wouldn’t have enough to fill that quota, and it doesn’t make sense to put in a dream sequence where one doesn’t belong just to have more words, so I’ll start filling up some of the word count here. I suppose I could be satisfied with the idea of writing a book, a very rough draft of a book, in less than a month, but by golly, I’ve written a book in a month! I want credit from the organizing website for doing so! Even if it only means getting a badge I can post (with pride!) on my blog or something. So I’m putting some thoughts down here. I want to capture what this meant, and some of my thought process, and maybe even what I’ve learned.

Oh, I know this isn’t a perfect book. Far from it. I know there are edits that need to be made, evidenced by the highlighted parts indicating entire sections that need to be reworked, rewritten, or just plain ol’ written. Published? Don’t make me laugh. Well, do make me laugh  - go ahead. I like laughing. I just can’t write comedy, apparently. And that’s one of the parts of this “book” that will get fixed. I had to put that as a placeholder so that I could myself permission to carry on and not get stuck.

I didn’t know when I first started this that it was going to turn into a love story. I knew I wanted to do a fairy tale, because some of my favorite authors have done treatments of traditional fairy tales. Or at least, some of my favorite stories and/or books lately have been treatments of fairy tales, and those authors have since turned into some of my favorites. You know, like Gail Carson Levine. My sister recently introduced me to Charles DeLint, via one of his “Jack” books, which is where I got the idea of having Jack be a recurring character, a cross-over from the human world, into the faerie realm.

The master of fairy tales though, and the most original ones, is Neil Gaiman. It was him who gave a talk not too long ago about the importance of libraries – one of my fondest memories of my childhood. Within the text of that lecture, he says, “fiction …opens a door, shows the sunlight outside, gives you a place to go where you are in control, are with people you want to be with(and books are real places, make no mistake about that); and more importantly, during your escape, books can also give you knowledge about the world and your predicament, give you weapons, give you armour: real things you can take back into your prison. Skills and knowledge and tools you can use to escape for real.”
He says a lot of great things, but that one really resonated with me, because I had been thinking about doorways a lot before undertaking this little adventure. I asked a friend of mine, in fact, if she believed in magic.

I’m not talking about a Magic Castle sleight of hand artist or illusionist, but magic magic. Harry Potter magic. The stuff-great-kids’-books-are made-of magic.

If fiction is based somewhat in reality, I think there may be such a thing as magic. Rather, there must be such a thing as magic, if you follow that logic thread. I suppose that argument could go the other way too for things that I’m not sure are real, like vampires or werewolves or faeries, unless you take the approach that they’re based on real-life monsters, of which there are plenty. Not faeries – those are based on butterflies and crickets and hummingbirds. Mostly hummingbirds, I think. Not crickets – I take that back. (Also, I do not like crickets. Never having met a fairy, I'm not entirely sure I like them either. ) 

But back to magic. I suppose miracles of the biblical sort could be considered magic, because it’s something that can’t be explained with science or logic, but my intent isn’t to downgrade miracles either. It’s a fine line, this idea’s border. I could be a crazy person, or I could be the one adult in a kids’ book that believes magic is real. 

Obviously I’m still working on this idea, and haven’t come anywhere near coalescing a coherent thought. I think this may be preliminary thoughts for NaNoWriMo. Hmm. But it IS one of those things you don’t talk about with just anybody. Is it just a trick in literature to get children/young adults to believe beyond a real-world capacity? To stretch imaginations? Or is there something to it?

So yes, that’s where my thoughts were leading up to this grand month of November.  Oh, her answer, in case you’re interested, was this:

Magic - I'm not sure you really want to be coming to a person who already has an extremely tenuous grasp on reality for confirmation of your sanity, but since you asked - um, duh. Doesn't everyone believe in magic? Never mind I just answered my own question. No, they don't. But I certainly do, at least from a certain point of view. And I think more people should because, come on. You already said, we're a church full of people who believe in things like parting the red sea and walking on water. I think if anybody should have a pretty high tolerance for the out of the ordinary/strange/fantastical, it should be members of the church.

I too would like to think that if one day some children came to me and said, we found a portal to another dimension in yo ur closet, my answer would be, 'fantastic; let's leave now.' I think if I live my whole life without ever once encountering a dinosaur or a time machine or a secret underground world, I'm going to be severely disappointed. Maybe my books have just given me unrealistically high expectations of what life is supposed to be like, but at least if I can't live it I can still read about it.

Tying magic in with books also makes me think of a speech Neil Gaiman gave a few days ago. He said, among other generally brilliant things, because he's Neil Gaiman and saying brilliant things is what he does, that "truth is not in what happens but in what it tells us about who we are. Fiction is the lie that tells the truth."

Or, to put it another way, "Of course it's all happening in your head. But why on earth does that mean it's not real?"

I have been mildly obsessed with the idea of archetypes for a long time now - like how every culture passes down the same couple of types of stories over and over again, about parents and children and heroes and caves and monsters and light and all kinds of lovely stuff. And it's all just different symbols being used to say the same things. So I think you're right about werewolves and fairies and what have you - there's truth, and then there's fact, and all the stories are based on fact, or some version of a fact, and the facts get used to say true things about people and life. It's like in Doctor Who, or Indiana Jones - they go and investigate some weird thing, and the townspeople will be like, oh, well, there's this legend that nobody really believes except some old lady out in the woods. But the story goes like this...and then they tell the story and then of course whatever weird thing that's happening is exactly what happened in the story. And then the townspeople are like, ohhhh, so werewolves are real. Huh. OK then. And then they become the crazy old people out in the woods telling stories to their children. It's kind of how life works. (Or at least how stories work, which is much better.) I just like to think that I'm in on the joke.

That’s how this started. I wanted to explore the ideas of doorways into magical lands. Probably because more than anything, I want to find a doorway into a magical land. I want it to be there, and accessible, without the pain and hassle of air travel, of dealing with TSA agents, and the high cost of airplane tickets. For now, books are it. I hold out hope that, though, I’ll open a closet door and see a removable panel hidden there that reveals a pathway to somewhere else. Or that one day I’ll discover a pull-down stairway that goes to an attic in my own house. And in this scenario, I never knew that attic was there, but you climb the stairs, and the attic isn’t just a thing that transverses the house, but is a place. A place of … magic, intrigue, mystery.

(I have that dream, by the way. Frequently. I also have the dream that I’m a kid again, and in my dad’s shop, and I press the button made from paper that my sister made and put on the wall. Because when you press that button, and go through the black revolving door that allows access to the photographic dark room, you can go wherever you want. True story – that button made of paper and the revolving door really did exist in my childhood. My sister made it, and my dad indulged us by letting us put it on the wall. And every time we went to visit him in his shop, that raggedy piece of paper was still on the wall, ready for us to push, so that we could then go to any place we wanted. Any place our minds would let us, that is.)

(The Neil Gaiman talk, by the way, was delivered on October 14, 2013 in London at the Barbican., if you’re interested in looking it up in its entirety yourself. It’s quite good.) Neil Gaiman also quotes Albert Einstein thusly: “If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales."

I didn’t think about that when I chose to do a fairy tale treatment. I thought about my limitations. There are many, but this one specifically I thought was the one most likely to hold me back from writing a book, and that is, I don’t have any story ideas. I’ve tried writing fiction before, with disastrous results. I’ve had the beginnings of ideas, but then don’t know what to do with after that. And I certainly don’t know how it ends. I know the beginnings of things, but not the middle or ends, and that doesn’t make for a very good story. So I figured if I could leverage a fairy tale, embellish details, place it in a context familiar to me, I’d be able to overcome that obstacle. After all, I like writing. I’m good at it. I think. It remains to be seen if I’m good at this type of writing.

And that’s something I’ve learned from this. (This is all about me, if you couldn’t tell. But I warned you about that at the beginning.) It’s been a good exercise. Just write, write, write. Focus on the story, get the words down, see where it goes. And I started to see what authors mean when they talk about how the characters in their books take over and have a mind of their own. It’s like those people come to life and are telling the author what to write, rather than the writer giving the characters the story. It’s an interesting feeling. I imagine it’s kind of like acting – you have to really get yourself into the character to portray it accurately and truly. With this writing process, this fiction writing, I just kept asking myself if I was being true to the character. And even though I didn’t start with a written outline or full character sketch of each person, I had those ideas in my mind when I started.

Ah. I will show you what I did have written down before I started:
Difficult choice- impossible choice- Garden of Eden type something. The owner of the palatial gardens is named (Kim). She likes glitter. She sings some of her sentences because she knows how ridiculous everything she says or requests is. 

Girl stumbles ... Magically, unexpectedly, into a spacious garden. Woman there offers refuge. The choice- choose a gift of whatever she wants, or return immediately to her world. 

Sylvia is very independent. The same qualities that her boyfriend was attracted to are the ones he's complaining about. She's been struggling with ... Job? Career? Boyfriend?

Meet four women- 
Daphne- too talkative Greek bay tree
Cynthia- too eager to please Greek moon goddess
Iris- too pretty Greek the rainbow
Phylida- too sharp-witted Greek a green bough

Sylvia's choice- quiet spirit. Latin from the forest

Returns to her home, feels no different, even after the adventures she's been on. The exception is that she feels completely indifferent to her boyfriend. In fact, he  is almost repulsive to her now. Her boss is still crazy, but she feels immune to that now.

And she meets...someone who looks familiar, not because she needs a someone, but because she's been on adventures with him already. Because they're already friends.

Yup, that’s all I had. Not a lot. I referred to it a lot to refresh my memory about the different fairy princesses – their names and qualities. Other than that, once I had that idea in my mind, the rest of it just took form as I put fingers to keyboard.

So a couple of notes about my notes. (Still only at 40,000 words. Don’t worry – this won’t take another 10,000 words.)

Kim, Sylvia’s friend from work, is based on my tap dance teacher. She has the most joy for life and living and having fun of any adult I have ever met. She often says that she is a child in an adult’s body. And in spite of her childlike attributes, she’s very responsible. She fascinates me, and I haven’t known her for very long, but I knew she had a place in this story somehow. I think she needs a bigger one somehow, and that’s one of the things that will get fixed in subsequent drafts.

I changed Phyllida’s name to Adele, because I wasn’t sure how to pronounce Phyllida. Probably just how it looks, but it isn’t a name that’s readily recognizable in a modern-day context. Adele means “happy,” or “joyful,” as I was trying to convey the idea of her humor. And I obviously need to do some more work around Adele/Phyllida’s home and its environs. I struggled with that character the most. At one point, I even considered combining her with Daphne, the talkative one, since the effects the two have on others are similar. That may still happen; we’ll see.

So yeah, the names matter, but the characters tell you that themselves.

And Sylvia is autobiographical, or a lot of her is, at least. And that’s the beauty of taking a fairy tale that was written more than a hundred years ago – you have the liberty to do a lot of fun things. And in the absence of being able to think of fun things, stick with what you know. That’s the one thing I remember from that one creative writing class I took a million years ago in college. But it’s also one of the areas that has the most room for change. For instance, I’m not sure now if it makes sense for Sylvia to have the same aches and pains I do. At first I imagined her being my age – a single woman in her 40s. But she’s probably closer to being in her late 20s, and that’s okay too. That’s how old I am mentally. But it also means running doesn’t hurt her the same way it does me.

Speaking of the age thing, I don’t know who would read this book. I know a lot of women my age, or around my age, read books that are intended for a younger audience, simply because the content is clean and they don’t want to read smut. I don’t want to read smut either, let alone write it. But I also didn’t want to write another book where the protagonist is a young teenager. It’s not real. And even though this is a fairy tale, it’s meant to be real. There’s nothing more real than a woman in her 20s, or 30s, or 40s still figuring out this mystery called life. I know that because that is my life. Each day is a new mystery, something new to figure out – either about myself and how I perceive the world, or react to people around me – or about other people and their perceptions. Writing fiction, (loosely paraphrasing Neil Gaiman again), or fiction itself, teaches us more about ourselves than any other medium. It teaches us how to relate to people, and even how to empathize. So if you’ve enjoyed any layer of this story, I’m glad. I’ll keep working and getting better, I promise.

Someday, one of my books may be the portal to a magic world you’re looking for.

Final note, I promise – the fairy tale I got this from is called “The Fairy’s Wish.” I found out about it from a marvelous book called, “Beyond the Glass Slipper: Ten Neglected Fairy Tales to Fall in Love With,” by Kate Wolford. The version of “The Fairy’s Wish” she cites as being from Andrew Lang’s “The Green Fairy Book,” 1892.

Friday, November 8, 2013

On Tap Dancing and Bicycling

One of my favorite things that we’ve been doing lately in my tap dance class is a capella. At least, that’s what I call it. The teacher plays a song, we get a sense of the beat and rhythm, then take a few moments to come up with a four or eight count step of our own that matches the song. She listens to what we’ve chosen, then tells us what order to go in. Then it turns into a round, kinda. The most basic, beat-keeping bass sound goes first, followed by the next complicated and so on, and it builds up to the most complicated, highest tone sound. Then in reverse order, each person stops making their sound until only the basic bass is left.

I recorded a couple of samples last month on my phone – hopefully they work here. (Aha! I had to turn the audio file into a YouTube video. Stupid technology.)

So here's a simple one, easy to hear the different sounds and the breakdown of the different rhythms.

This one's a bit more complicated, and more fun!

In unrelated bicycling news, I rode in the Tour de Sewer a couple of weeks ago. Some of my family was preparing to ride in the Tour de St. George, which sounds so much more sophisticated, doesn’t it? At first I thought about joining them there – it’s only a six hour drive from LA to St. George, but then it seemed like a lot of effort just to ride my bike a few miles. So I decided to do something with them in solidarity that day, even if only in spirit, and found this ride that was still a drive, but only of the 30 minute variety.

It was fun to see a different part of my city, especially by bike, than I would at any other time. The trails I rode were well-maintained, and I was only on city streets for the last four or so miles, maybe a bit more. There were three separate (I think; maybe four) bike paths/trails – Rio Hondo, LA River and something else. It’ll come to me as soon as I publish this post, I imagine. Oh, San Gabriel River (I looked on the site) bike path. One gentleman told me that if I took the path where we started from and just kept going, I’d end up in Azusa (it’s a made-up city name, though not made-up city, that means “A to Z in the USA.” We’re too clever by half here in Los Angeles.) and the San Gabriel foothills, going past lakes and all sorts of beautiful scenery. I’ll have to try that someday.

Anyway, I did the 25 mile version. Other available rides were 15, 50 or 60. The week before I went on a 25 mile ride on my own just to make sure I still knew how to ride a bike. I do, but only just barely, and discovered that any “calluses” I’d built up after years of teaching indoor cycling, and more recently training for the Huntsman, were pretty well gone. In other words, my butt hurt. My training ride the week before took me about two hours to do, but that includes stopping at just about every red  light in the San Fernando valley. I was pleased that this ride took me about 90 minutes or so. I still went at a fairly leisurely pace, as it was a “ride,” not a “race,” so I’ll have to work at getting consistently faster.

At one point though, a group of four riders passed me. I had been studying the signs on the freeway that ran parallel to the path I was then on, and didn’t realize they were coming up behind me until they hollered, “On your left!” A big guy was pulling lead for them and they were all merrily drafting behind, especially the little guy in the left who was happily listening to his MP3 player and doing his own thing. I watched them for a bit, then realized they had either slowed, or my competitive nature kicked in, so I leaned forward a bit, used a better pedaling form than I had been, and blew right past them. I don’t think they cared for that very much, especially since they had someone drafting for them and I didn’t, and we were all riding into the same head wind. Oh well. I can’t help it if I’m better than they are. I just needed to be reminded, I guess.

So what does biking and tap dancing have to do with each other you ask? Well you might. I recently discovered that next year’s dance recital and the Huntsman 140 ride are on the same weekend.

Yes, that’s right. I plan on riding my bicycle one hundred and forty miles from Delta, Utah to Salt Lake City one day, get in my car, drive all night, then perform in a dance recital the next evening. My only logistical concern was that I’d miss dress rehearsal the day before the actual performance, but my teacher is totally fine with that, and in fact is expecting it of me now.

There are, of course, many other concerns, such as the afore-mentioned sore butt, other sore muscles, and a general fatigue and tiredness. Take all those and mix well with a liberal dose of stupidity, and there you have me in June of 2014.


Monday, November 4, 2013

Rough Draft, Second Pass

Here's a slightly different take on the same excerpt I posted earlier. Which do you like better? Or is any of it even any good? Should it all be trashed?


Sylvia woke a few moments before her clock radio’s alarm was scheduled to go off. Keeping her eyes closed, she started flexing her feet and legs tentatively. She was training for her first marathon, and despite following recommended training plans, noticed that her muscles were more sore than they ever had been. It was frustrating that her muscles weren’t responding as well as she hoped. These waking minutes always presented a mental struggle. It was so tempting to stay in bed, easily justified by needing the extra rest, but the guilt inevitably set in if she didn’t follow her training regimen, and she could never fully go back to sleep.

Exhaling forcefully, she rolled over to turn off the alarm just as the radio started squawking, the early morning DJs more enthusiastic about the latest Top 40 hit than she had felt about anything in a long time.  She knew she’d start to feel better once she started moving, so she slowly got dressed, finishing by lacing up her running shoes.

After brushing her teeth, she ate an apple, a quick source of energy. Feeling more awake, she did a few last stretches, wincing slightly at her muscles. She knew she would feel better once she got going, so she pushed her earphones into her ears, turned on her MP3 player, and walked out her back door.

Out of habit, she looked up at the still-dark sky, and even though she knew exactly where the North Star was, located the Big Dipper and counted the five lengths of the two end stars to find Polaris. There was something about the sky that always calmed her. Smiling slightly, she took one last deep breath, exhaled forcefully, and started running. This was her favorite time of day – before the sun came up, quiet streets all to herself – all she had to worry about was putting one foot in front of the other, steadily if not slowly. Once she fell into a rhythm, breathing hard with the effort of exertion, thoughts could flow and she fell into a semi-meditative state.

Today though, her thoughts were a swirl of disorganization. Besides the injuries she felt like she was constantly nursing, work had been particularly stressful lately. It shouldn’t have been – she usually liked her job, and she was definitely good at it, but a new director had recently come in, and the stress level had risen exponentially. While the job itself hadn’t changed, her new boss made all sorts of crazy demands, and constantly changed her mind about what she wanted or when. Sylvia constantly felt unsettled, a little bit like being on a roller coaster with an unknown track.

She knew that this exercise would release some of her stress. She determined to not let her work stress interfere with this precious time. She looked around her appreciatively and turned down the path that runs alongside the river. The early morning air was cool, and where just a few moments before she had been able to clearly see the stars, an autumn mist had quickly moved in. Not cool enough to warrant a sweatshirt, it was a welcome relief from the heavier summer air of only a few days ago.  Even though fall seemed to be arriving a bit early this year, the low clouds didn’t deter the colony of hummingbirds that swooped and zoomed over and around her head in the pre-dawn light. She smiled at one that seemed particularly scrawny as it fluttered and hovered above her head.

The path turned a bend parallel to the riverbed, and Sylvia noticed a figure ahead of her. She squinted into the distance, trying to determine if it was a shadow from a telephone pole or a person. There had been reports lately of women disappearing, and she didn’t want to be another statistic. Even though she listened to music while she ran, she made it a point to be aware of her surroundings. Sylvia stared harder through the mist. It seemed too short to be a shadow, but she still couldn’t detect any movement. Slowing to a walk, she approached the shadowy figure, finally determining it was an older man, stopped in the path.

She realized why it had been difficult to figure out if was human or not - he was motionless in the path, seemingly lost in his own world of thought. As she got closer, she saw that he was slowly twisting back and forth, swiveling his torso with arms outstretched. He wore a ratty red knit hat, but she saw strands of grey hair sticking out around his ears. He continued rotating slowly, with the measured movements of an old man cautiously exercising at his top speed.

He noticed her approach, turned to face her, and smiled broadly. Sylvia took one of the earbuds out of her ear and smiled in return. “Good morning,” she called to him. Her theory was that if she acknowledged other people while she was out exercising, it lessened her chances of being attacked, even though she didn’t feel threatened by the elderly gentleman.

She raised a hand to wave, and was going to keep running, but the old man smiled back, widely.  “Yes, yes it is!” he replied. “Isn’t this weather wonderful? It makes me feel like anything is possible. It feels like…magic.”  He paused, still smiling, and looked her directly in the eyes. “Do you know, today is my birthday! I’m 90 years old today.”

Sylvia returned his smile. “Happy birthday! You look much younger than ninety. This exercise must be the reason. “

“Oh, I wouldn’t dream of missing a day of it.  It keeps me young! Here,” he reached into his pocket and producing an orange, handed it to her. “I picked this off my tree just last night. It’s the last batch of the summer. It’s my birthday present to you.”

She laughed. “It hardly seems fair for me to receive a gift when it’s your birthday, but how can I say no?” Sylvia took the orange he offered. “Thank you so much! I wish you a very happy birthday, and many more to come.”

“Thank you my dear. It’s nice to see a beautiful young woman enjoying the early morning.”

Sylvia laughed again, “Well, I don’t know about the beautiful part, but it is a beautiful morning, I’ll agree with you on that point. I hope your day is magical!”

They both turned, ready to resume their respective journeys. Sylvia put her earbud back in and resumed her pace.  She turned one last time to wave to the old man, but he seemed to have disappeared. Just then a twinkle of sunlight reflected through the mist, flashing brighter than she would have thought possible given the overcast conditions. As quickly as it had come, it disappeared. She shrugged, turned again and continued down the path.

Several minutes later of jogging, she checked her watch and realized it was time for her to turn for home so she could get ready and be to work on time. She turned around and headed the other direction. As she passed the spot she had encountered the old man, she noticed the same hummingbird she had seen earlier, flying from one branch of a tree to another, pausing in a seeming erratic pattern to investigate leaves and dying blooms. It paused in the path just ahead of her, hovering steadily, seemingly considering her presence in his territory, then zipped off in another direction. Sylvia noticed some discarded orange peels just off the path, obvious traces of the old man’s early morning snack. She smiled, remembering his exuberance, and continued home.