How a Print Writer With a Lisp Turns to Radio

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Tools of the trade for the Twin Ports Newspaper of the Air.

On a recent Sunday morning, I faced a test of my skills when I led a radio broadcast for the Twin Ports Newspaper of the Air (TPNA) for the first time. This is a service of the Lighthouse Center for Vision Loss in Duluth. I am one of about seventy volunteers who read local newspapers every morning for two hours over a closed-circuit radio system for people who can’t read the newspaper themselves. Some are blind and some have had strokes and can no longer hold a newspaper.

Now, if you know me, you realize that getting up early on a weekend morning is definitely not in my character. But I enjoy reading the Sunday paper. I was looking for an organization to volunteer for, and because I have a background in audio work, this just seemed sort of fun.

Once a month, I haul myself out of bed at 6 a.m. and head down to the Lighthouse Center. We have two copies of the newspaper and read in teams of two, switching off every other story. The leader opens the broadcast, keeps track of time, reads public service announcements and the weather forecast, and has final say on which stories get read.  All the other person needs to do is read their assigned stories. It’s much easier not to be the leader!

We don’t have time to read everything in the paper, so we concentrate on news listeners can’t hear elsewhere – the local stories. Other broadcasts focus on national stories, so we don’t need to read those. The obituaries are a big draw, so we are required to read them at the top of the hour. Some people tune in just for those.

It’s tricky because the broadcast is live. If you mess up something, you need to muddle through the best you can. If you have a coughing fit, you need to run out of the room and cough outside, with your partner taking over instead. If you need to pee, you have to hold it until it’s your partner’s turn to read a longer story so that you have enough time to go.

20180318_080050None of these things have happened to me yet, although I did lose track of a story once. With all the story page jumps in the newspaper, it can be confusing to know which page to find it on. Thankfully, my partner noticed my confusion and handed me his copy of the article.

Besides having to overcome my natural weekend laziness, another reason this volunteer job is a challenge is because of the speech impediment I had as a child. In elementary school, while my classmates were out playing during recess, I was sitting in a room with four or five other children, practicing my “s”es.

I wasn’t aware I had a lisp until I got singled out for Speech Class. In fact, when I first heard about the class from my teacher, I thought it involved learning how to stand up in front of people and give speeches. I imagined that might be sort of fun.

It wasn’t until I started going to the class that I understood it involved the drudgery of practicing how to speak correctly. Once a week, we would sit around a table, concentrating on how our tongue moved in our mouths. I needed to learn to redirect the tip of my tongue to the roof of my mouth when speaking, instead of thrusting it forward against the back of my front teeth.

We practiced tongue-twisters and were drilled on certain sounds over and over again until we got it right. I don’t recall how many weeks I was in Speech Class, but I must have made progress because I was able to rejoin my classmates full-time.

My foray into audio began years later in graduate school, when I decided that learning how to do a radio show would be a more interesting capstone project than writing yet another article.

Some nice ladies at KUMD Radio (Thanks Christine Dean! Thanks Lisa Johnson!) were willing to show me how to record and work with the files, and I produced a pre-recorded series called Listening to the Lake, which had public health and environmental themes.

I found my “radio voice,” and this led to a later series called Superior Science News on KUWS Radio, which was produced by Dani Kaeding. Lo and behold, nobody complained about my “s”es.

Along the way, I got to see these radio professionals at work, and always marveled at their ability to simultaneously load CDs, remember to announce the time, and find the day’s weather forecast to read.

Now here I was, groggy on a Sunday morning, put to the test to see if I measured up to my radio lady role models.

I’m happy to report that everything came off without a hitch. They, and my speech teacher, would have been proud.

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Creativity, Motherhood and Rats: How They All Go Together

Mom rat and baby

Image by Howcast.com.

I was asked to give a short talk today on creativity and motherhood for a local organization. Here’s the result:

When I became pregnant with my first child 26 years ago, I started to panic. It wasn’t that I was afraid something would be wrong with my baby or that I was afraid of the labor process — although these are justified fears and I did think about those things.

The real issue was, I was afraid that the idea I had for a novel would be subsumed by the demands of a newborn. Having a child would strike a death-knell for my creative dreams. My story would never see the light of day. I had floundered around with writing it, and had come to the realization that I needed help. This fear was foremost in my mind when I signed up for a novel-writing correspondence course offered by Writer’s Digest Magazine soon after I found I was pregnant.

I had heard all the cultural messages that tell women that being creative and having children are incompatible, and I believed them.

The novel-writing course provided me with structure that saw me through the rest of my pregnancy and motivated me to keep working on the story once I had my baby boy. The instructor’s encouragement also helped.

Even so, it took me a long time to finally finish my novel and to get it published — as long as it takes to grow a child into adulthood.

The thing that held me back wasn’t motherhood, it was waiting for the right moment to feel creative – the moment when I wasn’t busy, stressed, or emotional. I was too much at the whim of my outside life. I hadn’t learned yet how to control my inner life and allow room for the creativity to flow no matter what was happening “outside.”

A recent article in The Atlantic Monthly magazine backs up the premise that having children does not harm creativity. In fact, it can change the biology of the mother in ways that can allow for even greater creativity.

Kelly Lambert, a professor of behavioral neuroscience at the University of Richmond, studies the maternal brains of rats. Yes, on Mother’s Day, I am going to talk to you about rats, and their brains, no less. Lambert found that when rats become mothers, their brains, which are closer in structure to a human’s than even those of mice or dogs, start reprogramming themselves.

Their sensory and motor systems sharpen. Their circuitry becomes more efficient. Maternal rats are more direct and lethal hunters, catching their prey four times faster than non-mom rats.

Even after having their babies, the changes persist. Lambert found that the mother rats experience less memory decline in old age and have quicker navigation skills than non-mothers, outsmarting them in mazes.

Although neuroscientists do not yet understand what direct impact pregnancy and childbirth have on the human maternal brain and creativity, I am here to testify that, yes, it is possible to be a mother and be creative, too. And I’m sure plenty of other women can testify to this. It’s just that sometimes when you’re a parent, you have to find more creative ways to allow for that creativity.

If you have a partner, have them take care of the kids for a while so that you can go on a writing retreat. Don’t allow your creativity to take a back seat to the other demands of life. Try different things until you find something that works for you.

I learned how to make this inner creative space while I wrote my second novel. Even though I had a second child by this time, after reading a story about right-brain, left-brain thinking and how to make both sides of your brain work together to foster creativity, I learned how to put myself in that elusive creative mind zone, instead of waiting for the zone to come to me. Thanks to this, it only took me two years to write and publish the second one.

You don’t need to be superhuman to have children and to be creative. Mothers have been doing it forever. As the magazine article said, creativity takes time and periods of reflection, and a willingness to let go of ideas that don’t work and move on to better ones.

Learning to look at the world through the eyes of your children, be they yours biologically or children of your heart, is not a bad way to make your own thinking more flexible.

Vegan Shoes, Who Knew?

Vegan shoes

Did you know there’s such a thing as vegan shoes? I didn’t either, until I bought these, and the veganism came as an unexpected side benefit. They feature “microbuck vegan leather uppers,” whatever those are.

Does this mean I can eat them if I get hungry?

Communing with Vultures on Ely’s Peak

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One of the views from Ely’s Peak.

Last weekend, a friend and I meandered up 200-300 feet in elevation to the top of Ely’s Peak near Gary-New Duluth. I don’t have a more specific elevation to give you because the different trail guides that I consulted are inconsistent on that point. But I can say that for my 50-something-year-old legs, it felt more like 300 feet. Also, some of the guides say it’s a 1.5-mile round-trip hike. Others that it’s 1.8 miles. I vote for the latter.

20180428_181031We chose the trail to see a new place and because the crisp and sunny spring air seemed to demand it. We didn’t go seeking a vision quest like Native Americans are said to have done on the peak, nor to seek our spirit animals, but we just might have had a dose of both of those things along the way, too.

The trailhead is off of Becks Road. On this particular day, the trailhead parking area was easy to find from the many other cars gathered there.

I followed the directions given on this website, although I would argue that the “beginner” level trail classification is not accurate. I would rate it as “moderately hard” because near the peak, I found myself thinking it would have been helpful to be part mountain goat. And a young mountain goat at that.

(I would say that this trail is not for 80-year-old mountain goats, but for all others it should work as long as you are reasonably fit and coordinated.)

At the start, a boardwalk invites you into a spindly birch forest. The boardwalk gives way to a muddy climb up an incline to an old railroad bed for the Duluth, Winnipeg and Pacific Railway.

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Inside the railroad tunnel.

Follow the railroad bed to the right until you come to a rocky tunnel. The tunnel was built for the railway in 1911. There are trails on the other side of it, but we did not attempt to go through the tunnel because of the sheet of ice layering the way. You may run into some rock climbers, who practice on the craggy basalt in the tunnel.

Although it may seem counter-intuitive, from the tunnel, you should follow the main trail, which goes down the hill to the right. Don’t take the spur that goes up along the side of the tunnel, unless you really are a mountain goat and want to test your mettle.

Don’t be impatient, you will come to an incline soon enough. You are now on the Superior Hiking Trail, which is marked by blue blazes on the trees and rocks. Keep to the left and follow the blazes up the blazing &!*()%$ hill.

Soon enough, wide vistas will offer views of the St. Louis River and the Gary-New Duluth neighborhood.

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Dogs like the Ely’s Peak Trail, too.

No leaves were out on the trees yet – everything looked stark and clean.

The peak offers breath-taking 360-degree views. It was named after Edmund Ely, a Presbyterian missionary from Massachusetts who began teaching the Fond Du Lac Native American community in 1834. Local lore says that this was one of his favorite spots.

As we sat, resting, we noticed several turkey vultures lazily circling the thermals below us. The more we watched, the more vultures seemed to appear from nowhere. Eerily quiet and patient, they circled and circled. We joked that they were probably looking for hapless hikers who fell down the trail.

There’s a school of thought that says if you sit out in nature long enough, an animal will appear that has a lesson to impart. Were the vultures trying to tell us something?

Once back home (and safely out of a vulture’s gullet), I looked up what vultures symbolize. Here’s what I found: the vulture is considered a symbol of cleansing, renewal, and transformation. Vultures are viewed as fearless of death – they stare it in the face and eat death for breakfast (literally)!

I did feel cleansed after that hike. It was like the sunshine and clear air burned off all the old gunk. Perhaps it’s only to make way for more new gunk (ha ha), but I’d like to think I’ll have some time before I get clogged up again.

 

A Funny Thing Happened at Bent Paddle Taproom . . .

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Laura Mullen, co-owner of Bent Paddle Brewery, introduces Deborah and James Fallows to writers in Duluth, Minnesota. James holds up their new book, “Our Towns.”

Yesterday, I meandered over to the new taproom of one of Duluth’s noted microbreweries, Bent Paddle, even though I don’t like beer (I know, gasp).

Amongst other local literati, I listened to a panel discussion in the brewery’s back room about how to apply for arts grant funding. The event was hosted by Lake Superior Writers, a group that fosters the literary scene in these parts.

The panel was sooooo interesting. Four writers and one person from an arts granting agency shared their experiences and insights. I now feel less intimidated by the idea of applying for one of these grants, should I ever be so inclined.

During the intermission, the coolest thing happened. Just by chance and happenstance, James Fallows, a long-time writer for The Atlantic Magazine was in the taproom, filming a segment for CBS News Sunday Morning. The segment will promote a new book he wrote with his wife Deborah, called “Our Towns: A 100,000-Mile Journey into the Heart of America.”

Deborah was with him, too, and when they heard from the owner (Laura Mullen) that a bunch of writers were in the back room, they HAD to come speak with us. Although it was hard to hear them over the din of the taproom, here’s what I gleaned.

James first came to Duluth to do a story about Cirrus Aircraft, a local company that makes private planes, which deploy their own parachute in times of peril. He also became familiar with Bent Paddle Brewery, which was just starting up at the time. Then he and Deborah had an idea for a book project that would allow them to take the social pulse of America as it stands now. In their own Cirrus plane, they flew to a dozen cities for their research, concentrating on ones that weren’t too large like Greenville, South Carolina; Columbus, Missouri; Burlington, Vermont; Fresno, California; and Duluth, of course.

When asked, James and Deborah said their favorite cities on their tour were the ones with “heart.” They included Duluth in this list. And they said they were so glad to see that the brewery was thriving. James offered us intel on what the Atlantic is publishing these days and even gave us his email address in case we have story ideas to pitch.

How cool is that?!

In preparation for the book’s release on May 8, they had decided to come back to Bent Paddle to film the promo segment. They also filmed in Greenville. The segment will air on CBS Sunday Morning on May 6.

I suspect I unwittingly got filmed for it earlier in the evening when I followed another writer to where the taproom offers three different kinds of water on tap (sparkling, ambient and chilled). We were talking about short stories. When we turned around from the water taps, we were met with the glare of camera lights and shadowy cameramen behind them.

We didn’t think much of it, continuing on our writerly ways, trying to look nonchalant. But after the event was over, I excitedly told my writer friend that our backs might be on national television! Can’t wait to see if we made the cut.

It just goes to show, you never know what can happen when you follow your passions, and that good things can happen in a brewery, even for people who prefer wine over beer.

Jazz at the “O”

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Patty Peterson sings during a jazz evening at the Carlton Room in the Oldenburg House. (Note their logo on the ceiling!)

If you like jazz in an intimate setting paired with great food, the Oldenburg House in Carlton, Minnesota, is for you. One weekend each month the homeowners turn their living room into a jazz club called the Carlton Room, pulling in talent from Chicago, the Twin Cities, and other far-flung places.

They don’t ignore local talent, either – including one guy who lives right in the house. Co-owner Glenn Swanson is a leading drummer in his own right, and he performs during the sessions.

When I attended earlier this month, brother/sister Ricky and Patty Peterson from Minneapolis were performing. Ricky is best known for his twenty-year association with saxophone legend David Sanborn and for having produced, written and played keyboards for Prince. Patty is an award winning vocalist, live jazz radio host, and inspirational speaker; she has received the coveted Minnesota Music Award seven times for best vocalist.

We sat at a round table with several other couples. The food was great. The music even better. There’s no better way to spend a snowy spring evening. Someday, I would like to go back during the summer to see the grounds of the house. Under all that snow lie fountains and gardens among the rocky outcroppings that are a signature of the small town of Carlton.

The house itself is on the National Register of Historic places. The owners have oodles of other things going on besides jazz. A blogger friend of mine, Ed Newman, has written many stories about the place. Check out this one for a good overview.