Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Today's Sheffer Crossword Puzzle, A Poem


Drink your Tab. Other wits learn Arabic,
punch awls into idols, identify novas.
We watch The 7 Faces of Dr. Lao, turn to
Zoroaster for our news cycles, paw
ones like helots dig soil below
the zeppelin. Ah what we might redo.
Ono meets Lennon on that ladder,
they dine, vin santo toasts and a
list of what not to. No zucchini,
adhoc street walks, squa sightings.
Fie on all and any lying. Refill my
zinfandel and see what we can redefine.
Erie, isn't it? We vote with our ova,
Pen dele a year, think our now is new.


We talc away, parent bloc wizened
from I do to the Tor of baby slop.
We answer rot with Ave! but never
pass a bar. Aah! How lop comes
to shove. Even Zola had his Enid,
posh-necked Levi? Odin found
not Toni but Greenland. Hail sculler!
Hay or toffee? The CIA asks. Envy
follows zed like ire becomes nil.
Doe contains that long long O and eta.
Icon in the far nave, we grin you gnaw.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Tigerlillia Terribilis from Edward Lear's Nonsense Botany
The explorers of the 1500s brought plants from all parts of the world to the attention of European botanists.... One of the more remarkable naturalists of this period was Andrea Cesalpino (1519-1603), an Italian philosopher and botanist who directed the botanical garden at Bologna and taught botany there in 1555. He was one of the first persons to make a collection of dried plants mounted on sheets of paper. This collection, called a "herbarium," was bound together as a folio of 260 pages, containing 768 plants listed with both Latin and Italian names. His chief work, De Plantis (published in 1583) was the most accurate botanical treatise since the days of Theophrastus... Cesalpino accepted the old Aristotelian idea that plants have no sex and followed the view that leaves were merely protective organs for buds and fruits.
-taken almost verbatim from my college text, BOTANY, by Michael Neushul, published by Hamilton Publishing Company, Santa Barbara, CA

Jinglia Tinkettlia
from Edward Lear's Nonsense Botany
Love Letters
To Plant Taxonomy
I placed your syllables on my tongue
Acer palmatum, Pseudotsuga,
tasty as white truffle oil.
I thought you my calling,
pressed leaves between pages
of my taxonomy tome,
kept crumbling testatments
odor of rot in a shoe box
plant stained notecards
blue in a cramped hand
for twenty years.
I stroked leaves in the arboretum,
called to you in code.
You didn't acknowledge me
I embraced a tree and longed for you,
your gossip and Latin, how it felt
to enter your intricate hierarchies.
I never questioned your motives,
would have lit a votive to your
perfection if you had called me yours.
To the Head of the Charles
Railroad, BU, River Street, Western Ave.,
Weeks Footbridge, Larz Anderson, Eliot
I learned your turnings and timings, sought
your orange buoys and your green,
kept watch for the blue dome where
Weeks meets Cambridge shore.
My voice over the cox box speakers
enchoed inside bridge arches.
Last year I wasn't ready to meet your needs,
I am glad I waited. You were too grand,
too impressive. I mastered
some of your complications, recognized
my limitations in passing - others
passed me but you stayed,
your steady flow every call and stroke.
We swung together through The Big Turn,
my rudder and rowers sure.
You favored others more.
I know what it is to feel unworthy.
You took me on,
the moment to moment calls,
sun across your surface,
our time so sharply gone.
To the Dead
I'm a sap for you, clumsy
in my breath, sweat, my
bloody corporeal form.
Let me slip out of this skin
and show you who I am.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Head of the Charles Race Report, Part II: The Race

After the first segment of our warm up down river we rowed the outside perimeter of the warmup area between B.U. Bridge and MIT Bridge, the corners marked with giant orange buoys. We rowed at half slide, 10 strokes at half pressure, 10 at three quarters pressure, then 10 at full pressure, with a coordinated return to full slide rowing for another 10 strokes, then back to half slide, to reinforce rowing as one, which is after all the immense grace of this sport, that eight bodies can come together as one smooth series of movements that propels a 60 foot long hull through water. Rowing is no sport for the individuated hot shot who must stand out and be recognized. If anyone stands out in the boat, the grace and thus the race is entirely lost. Every stroke presents its opportunity for grace. As one of the rowers said to me, rowing is an ongoing act of forgiveness. To dwell on a bad stroke, bad catch, rushed slide takes attention that is badly needed, immediately and repeatedly essential to the boat. Forgive and row. Lock, send it. Lock, send it.

I began to look around for boats that would be in our race. The eight with forty year old men? No, those guys were late lining up for their race. The fours? Uh, no. On the back side of the warmup area I saw boat number 6, and then 9 and then we were with our group, looking for our line up slot to move into the chute. Our boat was odd numbered, 23, so we needed to find our line up on the left, the Boston side. Boat 11 was behind and a huddle of us let them pass. The creep forward was long. The marshalls seemed to be spacing boats closer than two boatlenghts. The marshall standing with megaphone on the stake boat to starboard of us asked for my attention. I gave it and he thanked me. I took that as a good omen. We went on the paddle, were called to half pressure, the boats ahead of us closer than I wanted them, but I called us to half pressure, then, on the marshall's call, full pressure, and we took it up, passing between the yellow triangular start buoys. "We're on the course," I said, and then took us into a focus 20, as boats in front pushed through BU Bridge, and everyone appeared to have seen the same video I had, all of us hugging the green buoys to starboard around Magazine Beach, where the singles and doubles launch. A boat went to port and passed us as we eased to port to line up with the center arch openings of River Street and Western Avenue Bridges, the powerhouse stretch where the race came into focus as a race. Head of the Charles no more an institution or some kind of ediface but a contest we should not be content to meander through. My job was to call and encourage, to steer and keep us safe from bridges and other boats, the rowers' job was to row, which they were doing, at a steady race pace of 30 strokes per minute.

We did another focus 20 that took us through River Street Bridge and towards Western Ave. I talked our agreed mantra, "Relax, Ratio, and Rhythm" in various forms. We had rhythm, we had ratio, and we had a set boat, leaning neither to port, as we often did, nor to starboard. Everyone was working for the whole.

As I changed point for Weeks Bridge, from where the bridge meets Cambridge shore to the starboard abutment of the middle bridge opening, boat 26 moved in and tried to pass us. They did not announce themselves a half length back, as the rules said they should, and when I turned to look, saw their bow pointed towards our hull. They had not begun their turn. I gave way, but had I given as much as the cox wanted, we would have been forced to go through the far right bridge opening, where the possibility of going off course was one hundred percent and the possibility of hitting rocks was likely. Their bow seat was yelling at us the entire time to move over, which was unnerving. I moved to starboard, but I was going to take us through that middle opening and their cox was going to have to turn her boat, which, thank god, she began to do. We clashed oars inside the bridge opening, their bow seat still yelling, my crew and I intimidated, but feeling, at least I felt, wronged. I had had them ease off the whole time, and we weighed enough to allow boat 26 to pass us, immediately taking it back to race pace, which everyone so strongly did. Watching that boat head off in front of us was the nadir of the race for me. I knew I needed different tools, a strategy, a voice to yell back and assert our right to space on the race course, to call that cox on her unsafe decision, call her to take her turn and take control of her rower. We went into a focus 20 during which we let go of the bridge and pulled ourselves back into the race. Everyone got right back on pressure, to the 30, to sending the boat, taking control of the Doris and moving her forward. I set our point to the right edge of the white apartment building and Doris's rudder did most of the work turning us port around the Big Turn. We stayed on the orange buoys, inside, and then eased starboard to give us that sharp turn through Eliot Bridge. We came through lined up perfectly towards Belmont Hill Boathouse. Ahead of us about four boats clustered together. I thought we were moving up on them, but by the time we passed the green buoys and hugged the shore around the turn, easing to port for the last forty strokes of the race, those boats were too far ahead to catch. I'd tried a couple of times to go for power twenties, but the speed we were going seemed to be the speed we had. I opted not to take us to a sprint for our last 20, though I sort of left it to Nora, our stroke, saying, we were taking our last 20 "on this one," so that if she wanted to take it up two, she still could. We crossed between the finish buoys with good rhythm and ratio, having held off the number 24 boat the whole race. Suddenly I wanted back on the race course, knowing what I now knew, in that flood of relief for having made it unscathed and unhumiliated, the adrenaline rush of the race done. "That's it? That's the whole thing?" I thought I thought but said aloud. "You guys must want to kill me," I sort of apologized. "You could have waited a few more strokes," Marcie said. We paddled slowly along another several hundred yards to the turn around point, a mass of eights, two or three motorboats with orange jacketed marshalls with their megaphones. After our turn, we had to paddle past several connect a docks before we approached ours, our teammates on shore to help us lug Doris from the water, carry our oars and seat pads and water bottles. It was all congratulations and relief, earned fatigue. We brought the boat back to the slings, and ran back to the shore to try to see our 40+ four finish their race. We missed seeing them, but helped them in on return. We derigged boats and I called my eight together for a tiny meeting, where we sang "Que Sera, Sera" and I passed out "medicinal" chocolates with the word "Renewal" on their wrapping paper, as well as our car window stickers that announced we were 2007 Head of the Charles Race Participants.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Race Report: Race V (22) 2007 Head of the Charles, Part I: Pre-Race

I was determined our race day launch would not be a repeat of the dangerous and frightening experience we had Friday attempting to launch the Pocock 8 from the plastic Connect-a-Dock squat T . I scouted for nearby permanent docks and came up with zilch, both up and down river. Carrying the boat would be stressful too. It's heavy! I asked the coxswain in the orange jacket bbeside our nearest nightmare formation if they'd made any structural changes, which they had not. The cox the previous day had offered me one bit of advice about launching. She held up a stick and pointed 6" - 8" down its length. "That's how deep the water is off the dock," she said. I hoped for 8" and an intact rudder. This cox remarked that the previous day's helper was very inexperienced, and proceeded to give me a workable plan for getting the boat safely onto the dock. We followed her directions, spun the boat so the stern faced the water, took the boat up and overhead, and rowers slid so they were bunched between 2 and 3 seat and between 5 and 6 seat. Only then, boat still held high, did the stern group mount the connect a dock blocks that formed the stem of the T, angle up river and walk towards the end of the left side of the t-top, at which point it was workable to get the rowers holding the bow onto the T stem and over to the right side of the T top with nobody having to assume the Atlas-position, as Becky had done Friday. Rowers took the boat (borrowed from Navy, who had named it the St. Joe's, renamed by us "The Doris" in honor of Doris Day and "Que Sera, Sera" which was our fight song,) around and down and pushed it out a little as it landed on water, my hand on the stern by the rudder (a larger turnier rudder attached by and borrowed from John Titus of Pocock the previous day) which did not touch bottom or break off. The rowers got their oars and I attached my borrowed cox box (from the kind folks in the NK booth) and borrowed speed coach (from kind Nicki of Pocock). I called "Oars across," waited as the port oars went out to steady the boat like outriggers, called "one foot in," and then "Down." As they tied in to the mostly giant size 14 shoes on the foot stretchers I crawled into the stern cox seat, attached my headset to the coxbox in its round cradle, turned on the speed coach, we counted up, pushed out into the Charles River and joined the parade of mostly 8's on the down river journey to the starting chute.
No stroke rate registered on the cox box, though the amplification system worked. Two thirds of the way through our warm up, after turning the stroke coach on and off half a dozen times and just as I was about to have us weigh enough so folks could get a final drink and rest a minute the stroke coach gave me a rate of 19. I asked them to take it up two in two and lo the stroke coach registered 21. Nora, our stroke, shed her cowl of worry, dropped her shoulders three inches, and we were ready to do it for Doris.

Monday, October 22, 2007

"Nobody told me how fun this would be!" - Shelley (AFTER we raced)

Conibear 40+ 8 plus cox (that would be me, which is to say my arm in this photo) rowing the Head of the Charles on Saturday. We more than made our goals, which were:
1. do not dfl
2. do not hit bridges or other boats

The reindeer pulling this sleigh:
Nora, Denise, Marcie, Paula, Beth, Shelley, Becky and Jen.

Cox yells, "On Dancer!" and etc.

Average age: well above 40, except for Jen who is way, way under.

I am in a period of mourning for the anxiety and anticipation of the big event. I have downloaded the course map for the Head of the Lake, which will be November 11. Twice, but the second time it was accidentally. I also have played the Coaches & Coxes Video, both parts one and two, for this race. At the cox clinic Friday I bought a HOC "From the cox's seat" video, which shows Yas Farouk, former #1 cox in US, coxing the 1992 US Olympic Team Reunion 4 through the course last year. We saw a "do not try this at home" section of the video at the clinic, involving almost but not quite cutting off another boat just before the Weeks Bridge, which apparently the cox of boat 26 in our race took to be the way to take that bridge, so that we had a near collision with this boat that failed to announce itself before coming inside and attempting to pass us as I was setting up our turn, so that we clashed oars within the middle arch of the Weeks Bridge while the bow seat yelled at us in an intimidating manner. I had given and did give way for them to progress, but dammit was not going to let her make me go through the right hand arch which would have put us off course and possibly into the rocks. Oh! Did I mention that this boat also didn't seem to be taking this necessary turn? Neither of the boats got a penalty and I got a lesson in learning to be more aggressive. AT THE TIME, IN PROGRESS. SHEESH but sports are an in the moment activity!

Monday, October 15, 2007


We went fast, beating all 8s including the Mt. Baker Men's 8 by 26 seconds. We even beat the 50's 4 boat's time. It being a head race beating doesn't equal passing a boat, but we did pass the Mt. Baker Women's 8 along the wall before the finish line, which was extremely exciting and encouraging. After waiting three hours and warming up on the ergs four times as the fog pranced around on its little cat feet teasing us - now we could see the police boat, now we couldn't see the launch dock, now the entire bay was clear but the starting sailboat was invisible, etc., the water was glorious, sun bright, sky blue and our boat as I may have mentioned before performed the best ever.

Maybe I should (pardon the pun) launch a coxing blog?

note: archive scenic photo from Conibear's website .

Saturday, October 13, 2007

One Week to Go to Race Day

But first I will veer wildly from course, cutting buoys with my thick hull. I have just finished and returned to its owner a bad bit of my dog and me memoir which number one makes me mad, this being the woman's seventh book, and how the he** does she get her work published when what my work receives on my meager enveloped outings into the world of publishing is mostly a typed reply with no ink from a human being? Number two was going to be that I too had a full and charmed relationship with my dog, but I ran out of steam as I began tumbling into my actual first topic of the day which is that I got an envelope in the mail yesterday from Artist Trust. It was a thin envelope, which was not encouraging, but I still hoped I had received one of the bi-annual fellowships. As I opened the envelope, I could see that it contained a photocopied list of recipients rather than an individually addressed letter. There were three hundred something applicants for 22 fellowships, in crafts and I don't know domino balancing, as well as literary, which was my, and I do mean that I thought it would be my, category. I had told friends that I felt winning the fellowship would validate me as a poet in a way that I need.

I'm in a disappointing place in my teaching career what with the leaving no child untested climate of WASL and the direction my main artist in the schools job source has taken. With writing, I think what is important is what happens in the gaps. That's where the astonishment lives. I once had a novice writer in the schools shadow me. When I checked in with him during a lesson I saw that his notes tracked my actions minute by minute. 11:23: Laura holds up funnel and says, (whatever the h#@ I said.) He wrote down everything but had no sense whatever what was going on in that room. The Seattle School District has gone to a writer's workshop model that comes from Columbia University's Teachers College. Swell and good. But not for those who work as I do, which is not to dependably travel from point a to point b in a straight and predictable line. My teaching credo holds that I resist such certainty in service of surprise, which I believe is essential to creativity. I hold to joy in the work. The writing and the teaching. I want to be where the juice is, pulp is, rich and squishy, smelly and alive. Opening that Artist Trust envelope, I felt flattened and dead.

So peeve number two after the big rejection and the competently written but not so scintillating dog memoir is the novel I picked up at the lady store based on a blog its author wrote after a big break-up. It too contains okay writing. It also adds page count through expanses of text from the blog, which I guess was famous and that's fine. I just don't understand why she's published and the dog lady is published and I'm rejected for the big fellowship that was going to buoy my confidence and instead I have to buoy my own confidence with the usual why care what others think write for and from yourself blah blah blah.

To punish myself I will now write that my output has nothing like the page count of dog memoir lady or blog babe. Okay, okay, they write prose. I'm writing prose this minute! Could I scissor it into a book-length manuscript about me and what is important to me and how everybody wants to know what is going on with me including my wardrobe, at this moment orange cashmore fleece top (Title Nine, no idea of price as Julia worked there before she went to coach women's rowing at U of Miami, leaving the top here because it is 90 humid degrees there in October), brown cords (Fury Consignment $16), brand new vintage glasses (Ottica $150 plus lenses covered by my insurance), Smartwool socks (Mirage Shoes, $8), and Keen green sandals (Mirage Shoes $82 with $5 off coupon because I buy lots of shoes there)? Does anybody remember why there is a question mark at the end?

There may be something age appropriate in all this behavior. I've been reading The Wisdom of Menopause which has its appealing moments even though its author reads a bit smug for my taste. "When I can't sleep, I go downstairs and brew myself a pot of chamomile tea, then pop back into bed," which, along with skin of gherkin and three butt hairs from a Tibetan rat is about what I do. The fifties, when I was born and the age I am. That's all. I just wanted to write that phrase. But back to the book which features I may have mentioned in a previous blog a ginormous photo of its author as I don't know free mountable photo for over the fireplace maybe. I've dropped reproductive hormones and with them the scrim of happy attachment to going along, getting along, a state of being I had a tad tentative hold on in the first place if you ask anyone in my family. The angry "now I see life as it really is" clarity of PMS has hit the fan all month long for me at fifty five.

There are themed blogs and then there is mine where I get to rant into the ether and push PUBLISH POST which since I read the world is publishing to me. By the way, I have foregone any attempt to punctuate in a standard manner. I blame this on the fact that I am in the middle of reading through and grading eighth graders' short stories. Notice we have now entered a fifth or sixth topic which is not the Head of the Charles Regatta.

A paragraph about the Head of the Charles. I am scared though I prefer to frame it that I am excited about and giddily anticipating the challenge of coxing my eight through this three mile head race course. Last night I hosted a movie night for the boat. Four starboards and two ports attended. We ate pizza and popcorn, drank wine and beer, ate brownies from a heart shaped mother brownie and sweet spicy pumpkin muffins, talked about the race, watched the HOC safety video and then Bend It Like Beckham to inspire us to great girl athletic action. As one of the starboards (who had to leave early) noted, we could very well do very well in the race. We have no idea who the other competitors are. Nineteen of the thirty-one were invited, the other teams, like us, were chosen not for prowess but by lottery. Last year our 40 4+ boat, who came by lottery, was surprised to come in third. We could do that!

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

To Cox the Head of the Charles

not actually a primer, more an attempt to write down what I need to remember so as not to:

1) run into anything such as another boat, the shore, a bridge arch

2) come in dfl*

This morning the HOC (Head of the Charles) 8 practiced with the two 4's that will be going with us to the HOC Regatta. Very exciting in the dark dark predawn. For example, Eleanor said, "Laura, aim at the fishing pier." I looked into the murk and pointed the boat where I thought the fishing pier should and turned out to be. And lo the light increased and by the time we were to 50th street I could see the division between land and sky, water and land, and I saw it and it was good. Strange large rollers this morning, but these calmed down as we headed south into the bay within Seward Park's thumb. We were concentrating on easy speed, on pulling together so that we can pick up the pace again moving together to send the boat rather than tightening up, shortening up and rowing at individual times and elevations to cause the boat to lurch back with each stroke. What we're looking to do is to send the boat forward with each drive. Yes!

We practiced pause drills, pausing at arms away and at body over in order:

1) to move arms and body BEFORE legs

2) to have all 8 moving together when we resumed regular rowing

We continued to have the issue of being low to port, with immediate corrections of having ports raise hands and starboards lower hands fixing the problem which then reemerged when rowers went back to comfortable defaults. We worked on returning again and again to what works best for the boat.

I've watched the safety course video two times. There are six bridges, it is a buoyed course, there will be folks rowing back on our port side, outside the course buoys. There are places where the river is very narrow. The marshalling point by Boston University Bridge is huge. The first thing the guidance video says is that the first rule for the race is finding the beginning of the course. I think I've got it. I wish there were many videos, one for each sort of light we might encounter.

* dead fucking last. an official racing term.