"Reality Shows" or Why I'm a Fan of Ice Road Truckers

Sunday, September 29, 2013
Yes, I have watched a few reality shows in my life. I didn't used to. There was a time when I was above all of that. Oh, I did check in on Survivor once when everyone was talking about it just so I could understand the conversations. I watched a few episodes and then I stopped. It was so obvious to me that the shows were engineered and not reality at all it didn't hold my interest for more than a few weeks. And that's all I had to do with reality shows for a long time.

Then a coworker mentioned she was a fan of Pawn Stars. Obviously this was another show I hadn't seen, although I had noticed the name while scrolling through the TV listings with my remote. One night, with nothing I wanted to watch on television, I clicked it on. And promptly became hooked. Soon after that, I added Storage Wars. The attraction of both these shows is the same as that of Antiques Roadshow, a program I had been watching because, you know, it's on Public Television, so it must be quality. You watch all of them for the vicarious thrill of seeing someone find something they own is worth a lot of money. We all dream that that ugly painting Aunt Martha left us will be worth a million dollars so we can quit the day job and have someone else clean the bathrooms and take out the garbage. American Pickers is similar, although the stories of the people Mike and Frank meet are as fascinating as the objects they find.

After a while, these shows get to be all too similar. The pawn shop guys continue to bid low on items so they can sell high. Storage lockers contain something amazing--or they don't. The pickers stumble upon a treasure trove of items they can sell or run into a "collector" (many of whom would also fit on Hoarders) who refuses to part with any of his beloved goods. The shows then try to add tension by scripting in conflict. On Pawn Stars this included sending Chumley off in search of Bob Dylan's autograph, a weight loss segment, and other things. Since these guys are not actors, it was obvious we had crossed the line from reality, such as it was, to scripted.

Worse, they spawn clone shows with a different set of characters: Storage Wars Texas, Storage Wars New York, for example. I'm not sure how that's supposed to make any of them more interesting.

So what reality show am I still watching, indeed, am sorry the season is over and that it will be months before new episodes are shown?



Ice Road Truckers


When you stop laughing, I'll tell you why.

Ready yet? No. Okay, I'll wait.

That's long enough! People have better things to do than listen to you laughing your head off.

I think the key to the success of this show is the variety of characters. Hugh and Todd are what I think of as stereotypical truckers. They're tough, it's all about the money for them, and half of what they say has to be bleeped. Darrell is the seasoned pro, the one you hand the toughest jobs over to, confident that he'll deliver the goods.

Lisa is one of my favorites. A rookie just a few years ago, she's applied herself to learning everything, taking every challenge, and succeeding in a rough world. She's an attractive blonde whose appearance at first misleads you. But if there's anyone who deserves the title of kickass heroine, Lisa is it.

And then there's Alex. He's older, more experienced, and never seems to be other than calm. He doesn't swear. He prays. A devout Catholic, he prays when starting out, when he thinks someone could use some help that he can't give, when approaching a dangerous situation, and, after the crisis has passed, he gives thanks. Definitely a role model and a man I respect.

I've come to respect him even more after following him on Twitter at @IceRoadAlex. That's where he promotes the message #DontTextAndDrive. Having been t-boned by a teenager whom I'm sure was on her cell phone at the time of the accident, this is a cause near and dear to my heart. He isn't a celebrity showing off on Twitter. He's a real person you can connect to.

Then there's the premise of the show. It's not just the competition among the drivers. It's the drivers against nature. Driving the ice roads in northern Canada and Alaska isn't for sissies. It's cold. Really cold. There are snowstorms and the potential for breakdowns (worse because of the cold) and driving across a lake on a layer of ice that might give way, especially in the spring, is often a case of--literally--you bet your life. And because the roads are... uh... ice, sliding into the ditch is not out of the question. And this is not a case of whipping out your cell phone and calling Triple A. Triple A doesn't drive those roads. Some of them are so remote, there is no cell service.

Sometimes a trucker in trouble will get help from another driver who's passing by. But sometimes he--or she--just has to improvise and figure out a way to get going again. Overcoming obstacles is a lesson in cooperation and resourcefulness.

It's possible I'll get bored with this reality show just like I have the others. But, for now, I'm looking forward to Season 8.

Photo Credits:
Ice Road: cityofstrangers via photopin cc
Alex: Lester Public Library via photopin cc

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Someday

Sunday, September 22, 2013
I finished Lesson 4 in Holly Lisle's How to Revise Your Novel class this week. I have never looked at my writing in such detail, and I alternate between feeling as if I'll never be able to fix this book and getting excited about how awesome it's going to be once I finish the revisions. Totally typical for a writer.

I have to admit that I never did get all the way through Holly's How To Think Sideways class. There were some concepts of Holly's that I never did get. The dot and the line was the big one. How to Think Sideways is her course on how to write a novel, as opposed to how to fix one. I've pulled out the looseleaf (Volume 1 of 3) in which I stored the lectures from that class because I really have to get started on planning for my NaNoWriMo novel if I stand any chance of actually writing a new book in November. I also pulled out James Scott Bell's Plot and Structure this morning for the same reason. And I'm looking at 20 Master Plots and How to Build Them on my bookshelf right now. Yes, I'm hoping that there's lightning stored somewhere in one of these three places.

So far, How to Revise Your Novel is awesome. It fits right in with my left side of the brain tendencies to overanalyze everything. I'm getting to look at what I wrote from several different perspectives. I'm really looking forward to pulling all the pieces together and getting the rewrite done.



Because I've taken a course with Holly, I'm on her mailing list. You don't have to take any courses, though. Anyone can sign up for her mailing list. Authors love it when people ask to be put on their mailing lists. (Hint: You can sign up for mine over to the right of this post.)

This morning, she sent out an email with the heartbreaking story of the event that caused her to quit her day job to write full time. I won't retell that story because it's hers, and what I really want to focus on is what she said after that:
At some point in your life, you face a watershed moment---everyone does---a realization that you are no longer the person you once were, and that if you continue on the path you're on, you will lose the part of you that you that matters most to you.

At this point, people make one of two choices. Either they say, "I can't do anything about this," and then start numbing themselves with alcohol or drugs or food or falling asleep in front of the always-on television or any of a hundred other ways that turn their minds off...

Or they say, "I am going to fix this now." And they act.

I don't know what your dream is---that promise you keep tucked inside of you that is going to be the magnificent thing you do "someday."

But I know THIS.

SOMEDAY NEVER COMES.

NOW is all you have.
Which is why I didn't wait until my full retirement age to give up the day job. My only regret is that I didn't do it sooner.

It was about ten years ago when I figured out that I no longer wanted to be a programmer. I wanted to be a novelist. But I was afraid to take that leap of faith and go for it. As a matter of fact, I was so afraid to take the risk of following my dream that, in addition to some of the self-medicating behaviors Holly describes, I sabotaged any hope of trying by putting myself in a financial position where I had to continue to work in IT. Looking back, there were other choices I could have made.

But that was then and this is now.

It's still all too easy for me to come up with excuses to not write. Or not do the other things that a self-published writer must do to be successful. I'm still adapting to being "retired" and trying to figure out how much of my time I want to spend on my new career versus exploring other interests. There's always something else I could be doing.

It's a daily struggle to remember that writing is my dream. Henry Ford said:
Whether you think you can, or you think you can't--you're right.
I really want to think I can.

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The Joy of Live Music

Sunday, September 15, 2013
When I lived in the Boston area, where folk music is very much alive (as you can see from the listings at the Boston Area Coffeehouse Association), I frequently went to live music performances. Most of these coffeehouses are run by volunteers and held at local churches. They are done for the love of the music and not for the profit from selling tickets. It was one of the things I hated to leave behind when I moved to Tucson.

Here in Arizona, there are fewer opportunities to hear live acoustic music at a reasonable price. Yes, there is the annual Tucson Folk Festival in May, but that's only once a year, quite a change from multiple shows every single weekend.

Sometimes you have to drop the "reasonable price" requirement. Last Thursday night was one of those nights. Bonnie Vining, who used to own the wonderful Javalina's Coffee Shop, is now the Director of the Vail Theater of the Arts. I'm still on her mailing list and I trust her judgment in music, so when she sent out a notice of a don't-miss-it performance, I bit the bullet and ordered a ticket.

She was right.



The opening act was The DreadNutts, a local bluegrass band that I had not previously had the pleasure of hearing.



You never know what you're going to get when you go to a live performance, so I was pleasantly surprised at the professional  quality of this band. They won the Telluride Bluegrass Band contest in 1991, so I shouldn't have been.

But the Kruger Brothers, the featured performers, blew me away.


The brothers, Jens and Uwe, play banjo and guitar. A non-brother is on base. The accuracy and speed of their picking was amazing. The three of them played as if they were one person.

I used to own a large collection of vinyl. Unfortunately, I gave it away when I moved to Massachusetts, along with the stereo with the huge floor-standing speakers. When you're doing an interstate move, poundage is important, and I hadn't been listening to my records often enough to justify moving them. Now I mostly listen to music on my iPod played through a Bose docking station. The quality of the sound is important to me.

Thursday night I was reminded of the vast difference between live and recorded music. This morning, previewing Kruger Brothers albums on iTunes, I was reminded again. It's not the same.

Inside the theater, with the musicians on a stage no more than fifteen feet away, playing through a great sound system, you are immersed in the experience. The music is not only coming through your ears; you can feel it in your body, a visceral experience, and see the facial expressions and body language of the performers. You can watch their fingers fly over the frets and the non-verbal communication among the musicians. There are no distractions,

Life today is full of distractions. People are texting everywhere. They do their grocery shopping while talking on the phone. I've gone to dinner and had one of the people at the table prop up his smartphone so he wouldn't miss whatever he had going on on it. I do it myself. While watching television, I'll grab my tablet and check Twitter every time there's a commercial break. Sometimes when there's not a commercial because my Twitter feed is more interesting than whatever's on the television. It makes me wonder if anyone has an attention span of longer than five minutes.

I think we need more live music. For the better part of three hours, my smartphone silenced and safely in my purse, I remembered what it was like to experience life first hand and not on a two by four inch screen. The music part of my brain lit up with pleasure. And I'm looking forward to having that happen again.
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Open Windows

Monday, September 09, 2013
I can't remember the last time I opened my windows to let cool air in, but, thanks to the remnants of tropical storm Lorena, the Weather Channel tells me it's 68 degrees outside, so the first thing I did when I got up was exactly that. It's the second day in a row that I've woken up to showers. As I've written before, monsoon thunderstorms, which give us most of our rain, are short, violent, and spotty.

It's wondrously refreshing to have a gentle rain fall for an extended period time and feel cool air coming in windows and doors. This is the time of year when Tucsonans start to get cabin fever from staying inside. We're basically outdoors people, walking and hiking and riding bicycles as often as possible. But, when it's over 100 degrees for weeks on end, outdoor activities are out of the question. We look out the window, seeing bright, sparkly days and want to be out there, knowing the heat will hit us like a blast furnace if we give in to our urge.

It's marvelous to sit in the quiet of a morning and not hear the air conditioner compressor kicking in every hour or so. I'm listening to the raindrops splashing in puddles and water coursing through the downspout. Every time a car goes by, there's the snick of tires on wet pavement, a sound I remember from other places but rarely hear in Tucson.

I could sit hear and watch the rain all day.
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African Violets

Sunday, September 01, 2013
I have a black thumb.

I admire those who effortlessly grow houseplants and vegetable gardens. I have a friend whose yard, even here in Tucson, explodes with roses every spring. I struggle to keep anything alive. Whether it's over or under-watering, lack of sun or too much sun, too much attention or too little, plants and I do not always get along.

So it was with great joy that several years ago I discovered that African violets are relatively easy to grow. They bloom most of the year, cheerily flowering in bright colors. The watering problem was solved by using self-watering pots. These are actually two pots. The outer one is where you put the water. The inner one nests inside it and holds the plant. The porous clay lets the water pass from the bottom pot to the soil as needed. I found that the plants like to go a bit dry between waterings, so it was no tragedy if I forgot to check the water level for a few days.

My plants survived several moves, and in each place I lived I found a suitable window where they could get enough sun. Sometimes that required keeping the blinds closed so they wouldn't burn. I was happy and so were my plants.

Until I decided to become the owner of two kittens. Curious kittens. The female in particular is a problem.


This is Agatha. I named her after Agatha Christie. After all, I'm a mystery writer. Cats and mystery writers go together, and Agatha seemed a most appropriate name.

I should have named her Shiva Destroyer of Worlds.

Agatha gets into everything. She's not only curious, she's smart. She can open closed doors. And does.

She got into my African violets. I would come home from work and find several plants knocked off the table near the window, water and dirt scattered all over the carpet. I'd pick them up, repot them as best I could on a temporary basis, and vacuum the carpet. But there are only so many times a plant can survive this kind of abuse. Eventually all the plants died and I gave up on having houseplants.

As I approached retirement, I started thinking about African violets again. If I were home, I rationalized, I could watch Agatha. Maybe I could even train her to stay away from my plants. So I couldn't wait to order a few from Rob's Violet Barn. I spent several evenings browsing the web site, trying to decide which plants to order. I eventually settled on two dark blues, a red, a yellow, and a pink miniature. Yes, I chose on the basis of color for a reason that will become clearer later in the year. Two were standard African violets (the red and the yellow). The two blues were streptocarpus. I had no idea what that meant, but they appeared to be a truer blue than the standard African violets and I was shopping by color.

After the plants arrived, I realized I had a light problem. I tried the table near the window thing, but Agatha (remember Agatha?) was sneaky. Just when I let down my guard, there she was trying to get up on the table and knocking it--and my baby plants--over onto the rug again. I decided I had to put them out of her reach on a standalone cabinet in the kitchen. The dimly lit kitchen. After several weeks of debate over whether to spend the money or not, I finally invested in a small plant light.

Being retired, I thought it might be fun to check out the Tucson African Violet Society. One of the potential problems of being retired, not to mention being a writer, is the tendency to become isolated. For a lot of people, me included, going to work represents not only a paycheck, but a primary means of social contact. Knowing this, I spent a lot of last year getting involved in activities outside of my job. Getting together once a month with other women who enjoyed African violets might be fun. I might even learn a thing or two to help me grow better plants.

I didn't realize these people, men and women, took growing houseplants so seriously. At my first meeting, they started talking about when I'd begin to show my African violets.

Show?

Look at that table of beautiful plants. Now look back at my puny specimens. They blithely reassured me that I'd be showing within a year. Several people wanted to give me leaves from their plants so I could increase my collection. This was at the same meeting where the topic was "Pests" and how you were going to get some no matter how careful you were. Just what I needed was leaves from other people that would almost certainly contain some kind of insect, if the presenter for that day was right. My black thumb doesn't need any help.

I also got a notebook filled with useful information. At least I think it's useful. There's a page illustrating the 11 types of leaves and another with the 12 kinds of flowers. Instructions on light, watering, fertilizer, soil type, temperature, humidity. The second meeting was filled with "advice for beginners," about repotting and separating plants and suggestions to save plastic butter tubs for wicking and how you can buy plastic grid thingies at Home Depot and have them cut to the size of your trays (trays?).

Then there were cautions about how your electric bill would go up because of all the plant lights. And stories of African violets taking over people's homes. The bathtub seems to be a particularly popular place to nurture plants. One rather daunting piece of advice was that "There are plants to be watered and repotted at all times when the number reaches 30."

Thirty?

My idea was to have a few little plants to cheer up my home. Because they're easy to grow, you know. I went to the meeting and joined the Tucson AVS on a lark. It wasn't supposed to become an obsession!

But there is that lighted plant stand that would go nicely on one wall of my living room, particularly if I get rid of one of the chairs Agatha has torn apart with her claws. And I don't have to have thirty plants, now, do I? Maybe fifteen. Or twenty. And maybe I could show just one next year. Not that I would win a prize or anything. But it would be an interesting experience. Wouldn't it?

Photo Credits:
African Violet Capturing Wonder: Mary J.I. via photopin cc
Violet Show:  khufram via photopin cc
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African Violets

I have a black thumb.

I admire those who effortlessly grow houseplants and vegetable gardens. I have a friend whose yard, even here in Tucson, explodes with roses every spring. I struggle to keep anything alive. Whether it's over or under-watering, lack of sun or too much sun, too much attention or too little, plants and I do not always get along.

So it was with great joy that several years ago I discovered that African violets are relatively easy to grow. They bloom most of the year, cheerily flowering in bright colors. The watering problem was solved by using self-watering pots. These are actually two pots. The outer one is where you put the water. The inner one nests inside it and holds the plant. The porous clay lets the water pass from the bottom pot to the soil as needed. I found that the plants like to go a bit dry between waterings, so it was no tragedy if I forgot to check the water level for a few days.

My plants survived several moves, and in each place I lived I found a suitable window where they could get enough sun. Sometimes that required keeping the blinds closed so they wouldn't burn. I was happy and so were my plants.

Until I decided to become the owner of two kittens. Curious kittens. The female in particular is a problem.
1
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