Thursday, February 2, 2017

Think Like A Stamp Collector To Produce More Topics And Juicier Blog Posts

Stamp collecting rocks! There, I said it. Stamp Collectors live long and productive lives and our hobby helps perpetuate sustainability. Think intellectual recycling. We also build legacies for our families and sometimes come across rare gems that can help reduce our mortgages. But we’re not in it for the money. Ahem. It’s about the joy of finding beautiful pictures on wove, pelure, laid, or even granite or silk paper (to name a few of the materials).

Many collectors love to fill their acid-free pages with topicals. There are societies dedicated to this endeavor, the ATA American Topical Association being the largest and one of the most venerable orgs. Maybe you caught them at the World Stamp Show 2016 at the Javits Center. Trains, Ships, Butterflies, and Cats are some of the most popular topicals. I myself enjoy locomotives from foreign countries. Also Coat of Arms, Chess, and Great Apes.

Recently, I’ve begun to put my topical acumen from stamp collecting into my blog building. My list keeps blooming like those sea monkey packets from way back when. Remember those? Sometimes you only get seedlings. Most of the time though I get a slew of ideas from a few concrete images. Here’s a few of been working on:

1— Cats (You didn’t think I’d let them astray?)

Such a broad topic but ripe with possibility. I’ve been working on literary essays where cats play a strong part in stories. So far I’m exploring some Murakami short fiction, Ursula Leguin’s The Other Wind, Harry Potter And The Sorcerer’s Stone. Emily Ruskovich’s “Owl” (a 2015 O. Henry Prize Story) is absolutely brilliant and will knot my main thread.

2— Chess

“All The King’s Horses” by Kurt Vonnegut is, bar none, my nes plus ultra favorite chess story. There’s Brad Leithauser’s novel Hence, which is pretty interesting, a man-versus-machine take on the game. For a breezy read, there’s Anthony Glyn’s The Dragon Variation kind of behind-the-scenes peek into the world competitive chess circa the 1960s. Of course, I’d be replete if I didn’t throw my own Shades of Luz into the mix. You recall those street chess hustlers don’t you?

3— Fishing and Fisherman (and not Bobby Fischer)

Anton Chekhov has to top the bill for this category, but I find the novels of Craig Lesley to be some of the best fishing fiction ever. Check out his The Sky Fisherman which was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in 1996. You also can’t go wrong with Rick Bass. I’ll be culling through some of his collections right now.

4— Baseball

The Natural by Bernie Malamud tops my list, but one of my favorite shorter stories is T.C. Boyles’ “The Hector Quesadilla Story”. How could I not include Stuart Dybeck’s “Death of a Right Fielder.” Michael Chabon’s “Smoke” is also not too shabby. One of my writing friend’s, Jon Sindell, has an excellent, politically-charged baseball novel called The Mighty Roman.

These are some broad brushstrokes. Certainly, you can tinker with your topicals. In terms of stamp collecting, stuff like stamps on stamps, coins on stamps and famous stamp personalities (Sir Rowland Hill) on stamps have always been great categories. That mimetic juice has a lot of pulp.

5—Books about Writers on Writing

Of course I’m a card-carrying Malamudian so I have to top another list with my maven. The Tenants is an amazing, later work of the great writers’ writer. It’s about the Sisyphean struggle to write and also about race and humanity. A truly brilliant work. Add it to your TBR. I mean like right now. Philip Roth seems to have this as an ongoing thread is much of his work. Wonder Boys by Michael Chabon is worth a read.

So friends, I’ve hit my word count for the day. I’ll leave you with this golden nugget. Keep writing. Try stamp collecting. It’s not a hobby. It’s way of life. It’s thoroughly engrossing, and, it’ll give you plenty of topicals to consider. It’ll load up your basement too.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

January Junkets

(photo by John Gorman)

Happy New You!

Is there anything better than the fresh start of a new year? The tabula rasa quality to it. Maybe it’s because I’m a Capricorn that I’m so fond of January, and snowflakes (in small doses). Maybe it’s something else. I’ve had the good fortune of traveling over many Januarys, and in that time, I’ve had the wonderful opportunity to bask in many new experiences. Today I’d like to share a few memories from my favorite January Junkets.

1 – Machu Picchu

The coup de grâce. I still proudly sport my Hiram Bingham t-shirt (the archaeologist who stumbled upon M.P. back in 1911). There is nothing like scaling the sacred citadel. The fog looms as you climb up. It’s otherworldly. Majestic. It’s a heck of a trip just to get there from Cuzco. The clunky van that scoops you up and takes you on a bumpy ride. The train that snakes along Urubamba, then the second, clunkier van, and then the hike in your own weathered boots. Then the real trek begins, one of body, one of spirit. Your sinewy calves and burning hamstrings open into a new realm. When you reach the top, and peer out, you are on top of the world without a boundless view.

2 – Florence

What an amazing city for a loper! Florence is that city you can practically walk through in a day, and then you can go back and spend a lifetime trying to relish it. Relive and re-envision it. Enjoy a respite in the Boboli Gardens, chuckle at the tourists paying kingly sums for king-sized gelato cones across from the Duomo. Sit on the steps of San Lorenzo and read from a weathered paperback about the inexorable strife between the Guelfs and the Ghibellines. Plot out your next panini break. Become an artist. Fall in love.

3 – Mar Del Plata, Argentina

Spent a good chunk of my mornings whacking tennis balls on the red clay courts of various clubs, afternoons swimming at the beaches, dancing at night. I really did tango. Not well, but I gave it whirl. My carnivorous self gorged on bife de lomo and alwsy seemed to be hankering for more. My newfangled morning pick-me-up, mate sipped from a straw.

4 – Seaside, Oregon

The mellifluous sound of the Pacific splashing onto the shore and the burbling bubbles in the cold morning sand. I remember a seatless swing set on the beach during my morning strolls. Just the metal bars in the distance, my landmark, and a jetty way off. Gulls cackling to each other, enumerating their grievances, telling jokes. I was there, mainly to study. To earn my MFA in Creative Writing. It was a great time.

5 – Disneyland (As an adult)

I know your first thought might be “What a flouncy place for an adult?” but really there’s so magic there. Magic rediscovered. I’m not talking about visiting as a kid or even with your kid. I’m talking about a crisp and carefree time when I visited as a 19-year-old with my girlfriend and her family. Maybe I’ve always just been a big kid myself. I still have my stuffed Goofy.

6 – Toronto

I’ve often said that I could totally see myself here. I think I have an innate Canadian sensibility. I love Tim Horton donuts much more than Dunkin Donuts. I always keep an Alice Munro tucked under a pillow and by my coffee table. I think I spent 3 Januaries there so my memory, or more precisely, my memories are a pleasant conflation. Of course I was a good little tourist and skated at the rink by Nathan Phillips Square by City Hall (on my first trip). Something akin to skating at Bryant Park. Coffee in Yorkville then a yummy falafel. Spent time admiring old Victorian homes in Cabbagetown, walking around like I belonged.