Sunday, July 27, 2014

Picture stories

I'm enrolled in a five-week data-visualization class. The idea is to learn the mechanics of telling stories with numbers and pictures, which happens to be quite tricky.

I woke up in the middle of last night, restless and thinking about my latest assignment. I tinkered for hours with a map component. This evening, I finished. I'm damn proud of these visualizations that explore the top baby names in Vermont.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Time to take flight

June and now half of July have rushed past. I’m afraid that summer will be a distant whistle before I get the chance to acknowledge her presence.

Still, I’ve enjoyed all the things that have kept me from those long, do-nothing summer days. The weekends have been packed with family, friends and weddings. The days filled with work, coffees, drinks, dinners and travel — all at a pace out of sync with the slowness of my writing. I need an expanse of time to form complete thoughts from words. For me it cannot be done during the 30-minute ferry ride across Lake Champlain or the 45 minutes between yoga class and my workday.

I’ve thought about slower and too-slow times in my life and wondered where the balance lies with my current constant state of motion.

I think of summers in Massena, N.Y., during my adolescence. The town had very little to offer me at 14. There were trips to the library and the beach on the shores of the Saint Lawrence River. But I didn’t care much for reading then and the river was far too cold for more than a dip. In the evenings I crossed the road and the park to my grandparents’ house to watch “Wheel of Fortune” and “Jeopardy” and on Saturday nights, “The Lawrence Welk Show.”

I remember being moderately depressed in the mornings by the expanse of time that lay before me. I tried to make the most of it. I read “Gone with the Wind” one of those summers and knit half an intricately patterned gray wool sweater. I also obsessed about irrational fears. After seeing “The Exorcist” at a friend’s house, I grew terrified of being possessed. And despite having a healthy dose of sex education, I worried that by pressing my bellybutton in just the right (or wrong) way I’d become miraculously pregnant. Without more engagement and structure, my mind roamed to dark places.

Bread Loaf blooms

It wasn’t until my mid-20s that I found the happy balance of purpose, structure and time. I started Vermont’s Bread Loaf School of English after a year of scattered work and unfocused writing. I got to the mountaintop campus in June as the fields bloomed with color. I took classes and worked as a server in the dining hall. The coursework nudged my mind away from obsession. Serving breakfast, lunch and dinner separated my days into workable bocks of free time. My writing took flight in the sunny, Adirondack-chair hours between lunch and dinner service.

My writing has come to a standstill in the past months, but thanks to those Bread Loaf summers I understand what I’m missing. Although I don’t regret the activity, I need more Adirondack-chair hours. I need to remove some structures from my day. I need to clear a runway for takeoff.

Bread Loaf path