Dan and Canon, A Story of Friendship

17 01 2012

“The world is so full of a number of things. I’m sure we should all be as happy as kings.” Dan turned to his friend and fixed him with one beady eye.

It didn’t matter that twenty of Dan’s eyes would have fit inside one of Canon’s. Size is immaterial to all creatures of good sense. Dan and Canon are nothing if not sensible.

“You are right, of course.” Canon commented in the slow and ponderous speech of a creature larger than a semi truck. “But are we happy, I wonder.”

“Do you mean “we” sentient creatures or “we” you and I?” Dan spoke quickly, punctuating his words with quick tail flicks.

“I meant the word to reference the world at large.”

“You’re pretty large. Are you happy?” Dan chittered at his small joke. All his jokes were small, as indeed was everything that he did.

“Why yes. I think so. In general.” Canon moved his flippers in slow circles, blowing air noisily out his blowhole.

“CANON!” A soaking wet Dan strode to the edge of the dock and bellowed at his retreating friend. “I asked you not to do that when we’re talking! It’ll take me hours to dry off.”

“My apologies, Dan. I forgot.” Canon swum apologetically nearer to the dock.

“I thought whales were supposed to remember everything.”

“I believe that colloquial wisdom refers primarily to elephants. As you know, whales and elephants share only the most tenuous of biological connections. No-one expects whales to remember anything.”

“Well I do. And I, for one, am NOT happy.”

“At this moment or in general?”

“In general.”

“Whyever not?”

“Because, Canon. I am a squirrel. We have a very limited scope, you know. There’s no ADVENTURE in my life. I want to travel.”

“Dan, I had no idea.”

Dan sunk his small face into his smaller paws and stared out over Canon’s broad back to the horizon. “I know. No-one thinks squirrels care about that stuff. We’re supposed to store nuts and climb trees and run away from dogs. But I’ve done all that and now I want something more.”

Canon’s large face was incapable of much expression, and he had no paws with which to hold his face but he did have a warm heart. He loved his small friend very much. Since they had met several seasons previously they had often met to talk and share thoughts on the world. Dan spoke of the sunlit tree tops and Canon told stories of the deep mystery of the sea. Both friends regretted that they could never see life through the other’s eyes.

But Dan’s latest words struck deep in Canon’s very large heart. He excused himself and swam out to sea, thinking hard all the while.

Dan retreated sadly to the trees.

It took Canon three days to come up with a plan. He was a slow and deep thinker and his plans formed slowly. Good plans took at least a day and great plans took longer. He spent several weeks gathering driftwood and pulling apart shipwrecks to find nails and a hammer. Early in the process he recruited three seals, four crabs and a pair of eels. Between all of them they managed to build a platform to Canon’s specifications. The rest of his pod helped him attach the apparatus to his broad back.

A month or so after their initial conversation Canon swam proudly back into the bay. Attached to his back was a platform with a cask for water and a box for food.

“Dan!” Canon’s sonorous tones echoed around the bay.

Dan came running, bounding down the dock to it’s furthest edge. “Canon what IS that thing?!”

“You said you wanted to see the world. I can’t swim quite that far but we could certainly go on an adventure or two.”

The squirrel’s tiny face almost cracked from smiling. Joy radiated from his nose to the tip of his tail. “I’ll grab some food and a handkerchief and we’ll go. Can we go now?”

“As soon as you are ready.”

It was the work of less than an hour for Dan to fill the box with snacks and spare handkerchiefs. Sunset saw the two friends heading out of the bay.

A watcher would have seen only the silhouette of a squirrel, pushing forward to the farthest edge of the platform, watching his fondest dream come true.



24 12 2011

With thanks to Timothy for the idea and many more thanks for his continual kindness toward me.

Never is an intolerable word. To a scientist it is blasphemy. To me it was a challenge.

Genetics was not then the flourishing field it is now. When I walked away from school with my PhD I decided to venture into the highly experimental field of animal genetics. My motivation was a combination of genuine academic curiosity and rebellion. At the time there was no glamour or respectability associated with the study of genetics. Especially in regards to animals rather than people.

I’d been a good kid all growing up. Respectable, bookish, without attraction or charm but with more brains than my teachers knew what to do with. Even in my post-graduate work my professors largely left me alone to do my own work. Mousy looks and painful shyness ruled me out for extra attention. Of course, I didn’t mind. At a young age I’d accepted my lack of glamour and over the years I began to embrace it. My life was molded around study and academia; my isolation was purposeful.

My colleagues will tell you that I was anti-social, devoted to my Project. They aren’t wrong. But that isn’t the whole story.
Read the rest of this entry »


21 12 2011

We met on an elevator at work, of all places. I actually made a real effort NOT to notice him because I couldn’t bear having to tell my mother that I met a guy on an elevator. Mom has very specific ideas about dating and none of those ideas involve elevators, escalators, moving sidewalks or even the bus. As best I can figure she only approves of men that her daughters meet at cocktail parties or in line at the DMV. She’s nothing if not whimsical.

Point being, it was my third day of work. My arms were full of paperwork and a small bunch of flowers for my cubicle. I felt him try and make eye contact but I purposefully didn’t notice. I squared up my shoulders and resolve and promised myself I would not engage in conversation.

Of course, I underestimated James.

To this day he claims he didn’t do it on purpose. As the elevator started moving he pushed my elbow and my armful of papers and flowers fell to the ground. We both stooped to pick them up and I found myself staring right into the most perfect eyes ever made.

“I am so sorry!” He efficiently gathered my stuff and stood, still holding the pile. “Please accept my apology.”

More than a little flummoxed I smiled but said nothing.

“I’m James.” He holding the my papers carefully but made a move to hand them back. The elevator’s sudden stop knocked the flowers off the top of the pile. He handed me my papers then snatched up the posy.

It was my floor. I smiled again and reached out a hand for the flowers. “I’m Sarah.”

I left the elevator quickly, embarrassed somehow by the encounter.

It took me twenty minutes to get my mind back on my work that day. According to James it took HIM two hours.

For the next three months we rode the elevator together every morning. After two weeks I had figured out that he left much later than I. As a low-level programmer my shifts at the start-up software company were vastly different from James law-career-induced hours.

But we saw each other every morning. Exchanging a smile and maybe a few words. Once he brought a coffee that he claimed was “extra”. I took it and couldn’t bear to tell him that I never drank the stuff. The gesture was too kind for honesty. Read the rest of this entry »

“High Tops and Graffiti”

12 11 2011

For Levi, with great affection for one of only a dozen people with whom I have had dance parties in front yards in Illinois.

I swear, I didn’t mean it to happen. I was just a nice kid from the suburbs, transported to city life by a combination of cultural expectation and parental pressure. The big University was the only “acceptable” choice for the son of a successful businessman and an Ivy-league graduate. I’d have given anything if they’d let me go to art school in England but a biology degree from a prestigious university was my only option. At least as far as THEY were concerned.

I’m getting off-topic. Like I said, I never meant it to happen. All I wanted was to keep my head down, get done with my four years and get OUT. Once I had a job they wouldn’t be able to tell me what to do. I have never had the illusion that being a college student made me in any way independent. A host of teachers, RA’s and my ever-present parents made college another gilded cage. And the gilding was flaking off with dangerous rapidity. Read the rest of this entry »

“The War With the Raccoon People”

12 11 2011

I have a feeling of creative energy and the desire to write a story. I asked the all-knowing facebook and my friend Tim came up with “The War With the Raccoon People” so here ya go. Dedicated with nerdy affection to Tim.

Not all the tunnels the children made were of the hands-and-knees variety. Of the half-dozen children who frequented the green space behind the suburban sprawl, only two liked their tunnels low and close. Anna built her pathways high and wide, Jeff used tree limbs to make bridges over nothing instead of tunnels through the brush. Zach liked to make small corridors through the thorniest bushes and slimiest mud. Nobody followed Zach for long. Alyssa (“Lyss” to all but her mother) refused to use anyone else’s paths and instead followed the animal trails. It was Lyss who first saw them.

The green space was a last bastion of earth, stone, and tree in a city which expanded daily, throwing itself onto new ground with every exhalation of smog and cement. Covering something like five square miles the forest had been early claimed by deer, squirrel, rabbit and coyote. No other animal stayed long in a place so near the stink of human.

No animal, that is, until the raccoon came.

Raccoon are scavengers. Clever with their paws and more clever still when faced with the challenge of outwitting humans. It took only a couple of raccoon to lay claim to the entire green space before they moved their entire clan. Lock, stock and weapons they came, bringing their intelligence and their long-standing hatred of the humans whose blind power sought ever to kill all creatures but themselves.

Unfortunately, the humans were too big to be fought off by even the smartest raccoon warrior. At least, the adults were.

Lyss saw one. A glimpse only and that too quick for recognition. Drawing herself up and squinting she followed the line of waving ferns until they moved no more. It took one long whistle to call the other children to her. Read the rest of this entry »

On the Modern Gym Experience

30 08 2011

With mention of and pleas to various sub-groups of gym members.

For the gladiators working out was not an elective so much as it was “do this or die more quickly”. The Greeks worked out so that they could take home a crown made of deciduous vegetation. (Olympics anyone?) My grandparent’s generation engaged in physical activity if and only if they were in the military or owned a farm.

Something happened in the 1980’s though that changed our cultural perspective. For the last thirty years or so working out has been… well… cool. With a host of fitness and health oriented books, magazines, day-time talk show specials and reality tv shows we are now a culture of gym rats. The fact that 80% of people don’t know what to DO when they are at the gym is irrelevant. There’s always “standing around pretending to be mid-super set” or “getting a drink of water” or “listening to one’s iPod”. As a last ditch effort the confused can find a personal trainer who will guide them through the maze of equipment and activities.

I like to think of myself as part of that elite 20% who a)know what to do to use my gym time well and b) don’t shoot myself in the proverbial foot by eating crap ten minutes after a workout. And, since I’ve been working out and have had access to a personal trainer off and on for the last eight years, I am able to workout while simultaneously observing the idiosyncrasies of fellow gym members. Today during my intervals I composed the following mini letters to different groups of people I see at the gym.

Dear Middle Aged Men,
Way to go! Now is the time to get heart-healthy. Now is the time to learn to love anything from bicycling to kayaking to running. But please, don’t think that your newfound hobbies give you the right to wear spandex. Manly man shorts of appropriate length and volume would greatly enhance your manliness. Trust me.

Dear Overweight Ladies and Men,
Do you know who the most inspirational person in this building is right at this moment? Nope, it’s not that guy over there who was once an Olympic pole vaulter. Nope, not that lady who has been running on the treadmill for an hour without stopping or even breaking a sweat. The most inspirational person here is YOU! You are the one who conquered unknown numbers of insecurities, unhealthy habits, hatred of gym clothes, embarrassments and cruelties. YOU are the one who decided that you wanted to make a change. YOU are the one who SHOWS UP EVERY DAY. Well done! I doff my cap to you and thank you for being so amazing. Keep on keeping on.

Dear Teenage Boys,
Good habits start young. You are off to a good start if you are already making working out a daily part of your life. It will benefit you for years to come. That said, please do your research. Watching you lift improperly day after day after day is painful to me. Not to mention that you’re front-loading your muscles. Your pecs and biceps are admirable but your back is weak and your triceps must feel neglected. Read some books! Get a trainer! LEARN! Also, don’t waste my time. If you aren’t using a piece of equipment GET YOUR ASS OFF OF IT! Some of us have jobs and classes and life to get back to, I don’t have the leisure to watch you watch a football game while sitting on the bench I need. Also, last thing, please do not stare at that girl’s butt so obviously for so long. This is her gym too and she needs to feel safe and comfortable. You leering like she’s the porterhouse steak and you’re the hungry pit bull does not encourage her to spend time here.

Dear Young Women,
First, when you come to the gym make sure that your butt is fully covered and your boobs are contained. I know, I know, the men should not be staring at you in the first place but you are hardly making this easy on them. Feeling cute at the gym is important, I get it. I myself put effort into being both comfortable and cute when I’m going to pump iron. One cannot wear baggy sweats and a sweatshirt at the gym without passing out from heat stroke. But you can work your outfits so that you have maximum comfort with minimum distraction-potential. Oh, and dear dear girl, doing the stair master for an hour six days per week will not make you fit. Cardio alone will not cut it. Do some research and start lifting free weights. It’s the best way to protect your body, build bone density and see results. Just wait until you wake up one day and have triceps! It’s the best feeling ever.

Dear Old People,
I love you. I love your knee-high white socks and black tennis shoes. I love your sweat bands and your treadmill-walks and your awesomeness. Someday I hope to be just as cool as you.

Dear Suburban Moms,
I’m impressed. I thought all your people did was take yoga classes and meet your friends for coffee. Nice to see some bicep curls from your group. Come back soon and often!

Dear Me,
Don’t think you know everything. Remember that every person has a story and you don’t get to judge anyone. Ever. Also, do more push-ups. You were slacking today.

Dear People Who Don’t Go to the Gym,
You should. It’s a fascinating place to people watch. Besides which, “Exercise give you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy. Happy people just don’t shoot their husbands!” Thank you Elle Woods and thank you gym. It’s been a good day.

Why Every Woman Should Try Martial Arts

15 08 2011

If you have spoken to me in the past five months you have heard me gushing about Kempo. Kempo, for those of you who are unaware, is a martial art that is a mixture of karate and kung-fu. It is strike-based, versus Jujistu, for example, which is primarily grappling. The second law of Kempo is “strike first”. Basically, once you’ve assessed that someone is a threat don’t wait for him to hit you!

I have strong feelings about martial arts, and my dojo/lineage in particular. Given the opportunity I would shout to the hills the wonderful benefits of Kempo for the average Jill. (The average Joe I cannot speak for- I know only one Joe and he seems to be rather un-average.) So, for all you gals out there, I’m going to break it down and explain why I think you should visit a Z-Ultimate dojo.

1) The People My biggest trepidation before trying martial arts was not “will I fall on my face” or “will I make a fool out of myself” or “are they gonna hurt me”. Knowing myself those were automatically going to be “yes”. No, my concern was “Is this going to be some kind of macho club where the boys are boss and spare time is spent chanting to Buddha?”. It took only a few moments for those fears to be put to rest. There are a few rituals- bowing and so forth, but nary a Buddha in sight and no suburban Vin Diesels leaking testosterone onto the carpet. Quite the contrary, with very limited exceptions, every person I have spoken to at karate has been fun, funny, positive and encouraging. Even when someone is pummeling you to powder they are doing it with a smile on their face and narrating HOW you can improve.

2) The Combination Ego Boost/Constant Humbling Our teacher is particularly awesome at being encouraging but all the teachers are great. If you do something wrong they correct you, sometimes with a good-natured laugh at your incompetence. Occasionally you will fail EPICLY and the whole place will dissolve into hopeless laughter. Once, I literally ran into someone’s fist while sparring. You can imagine. My Sensei was almost on the floor laughing. But when you turn around and do something truly well, the praise is enthusiastic and lavish. It’s a great atmosphere overall.

3) The fitness Two words: weight loss. Two more words: strength training. Since beginning training five months ago I have lost almost 15 pounds, my cardio stamina is vastly increased and I’m a lot stronger. If you invest your effort and show up to class, you’ll be amazed at the results. Honestly, girls, bikini season never looked so good. In fact, I’ve been mourning our rainy summer because I have a four-pack and it never gets a chance to be appreciated.

4) Fear Factor Growing up I was no fragile flower. I climbed trees, jumped off of stuff, did flips on trampolines, chopped wood, built forts- the whole shebang. But neither did I take crazy risks. There was never a moment where I thought “hey if I hold a sheet while jumping out my second story window I bet I can fly!”. Thus, I have never really tested my physical limits. Like most women, I have been subtly afraid of pain. It’s an insidious fear, incidentally, and pervasive amongst my sex. Flash forward to kempo. Last week I took two punches straight to the sternum from a man who was 1) twice my size 2) probably thrice my strength and 3) PISSED OFF because I’d just punched him repeatedly in the groin. Needless to say his punches were NOT love taps. And you know what? I’m ok. Bruised, sure, but unbroken. Through many similar experiences I have learned that my body can take quite a lot of punishment. The fear is gone.

I understand that a lot of women will not take to martial arts. It’s punishing and difficult and there ARE those men out there who will take out their insecurity on you. But your teachers have your back always and I have never ever felt unsafe at the dojo. I cannot recommend martial arts enough. The confidence-boost, the newfound safety in one’s own skin, the health benefits and camaraderie are all unique.

So try it out. And let me know how it goes. Maybe in a few months we can get together and compare bruises.