City of Writers

Iowa City, home of the famed Iowa Writers' Workshop, is a place where I expect to run into fellow writers. And sure enough, when I asked two gentlemen at the coffee shop attached to Prairie Lights Bookstore if they would tell me about the city, they both turned out to be writers and graduates of the Workshop. Tony Colby, left, and Bill Murray talked about their experiences in the MFA program, and about the writing life. This podcast lasts about nine minutes.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Consider Mona and Lily the Map Girls

City Park in Iowa City, late yesterday afternoon

This morning we are waking up at the Sheraton in downtown Iowa City. Darlene is out walking Claire. We have a light itinerary today, a three-and-a-half-hour drive to Chicago. I can't wait to see Mona the map girl doing her GPS thing in a big city. My friend Kes Woodward e-mailed me yesterday about the Lexus built-in version of a GPS system, which he experienced last week while driving his father's LS 430. Kes writes,

Just as you did inadvertently, I didn't follow directions, but I got a huge kick out of trying to frustrate and annoy the somewhat more mellifluous, almost sultry woman's voice on his GPS--which it never occurred to me to name, even though I thought very much of her as an individual speaking to me in real time. We disagreed with the way she routed us to the Interstate (though she may have been right, and we were just slaves to habit) and then my dad knew numerous shortcuts once we got off the interstate. I kept wishing I could annoy her, but she never batted an electronic eye--or even said, "Recalculating..."--just tried each time unsuccessfully to herd me back onto the "correct" route with new directions, and then realized amazingly quickly what new way I'd picked and phlegmatically prompted me along that route, just as if I'd never disobeyed.
Even before reading Kes's account, I had been thinking of Mona (and her mellifluous cousin Lily?) as pointing to a spiritual model for navigating life's so-called wrong turns. What if each time during the day when I went off course, or found myself where I hadn't expected to be, I simply adjusted the route to my destination, entered into the system as "a day well lived" instead of "210 South Dubuque Street"? A related tech/spiritual paradigm would be rebooting. They say 90 percent of all computer snarls can be solved by rebooting the operating system. A prayer for help reboots my own operating system just as reliably.

Trains and prayer, two of my favorite interests. Travel unwinds me. It is now time to fetch Darlene some coffee and a croissant.

You Can Hear the Whistle Blow...

The bed and breakfast where we stayed in Grand Island, Nebraska, was a half-block from these train tracks, so yesterday morning I walked over in hopes of catching the sounds of a coal train for a podcast. What had sounded so thunderous during the night turned out to be tame by comparison in the morning light. But still and all, I love a train story. This one lasts four and a half minutes.

Finding Grand Island

With the help of our new Garmin Nuvi 350 portable GPS system, whom we have nicknamed Mona, we find our way to Kirschke House Bed and Breakfast at 1124 W 3rd St., Grand Island, Nebraska--highly recommended. This podcast includes Darlene's review of several shows we listened to on the drive from Denver: Driven to Quilt, Dogcast Radio, and Sen. Barack Obama. The podcast lasts just under nine minutes. I'm uploading it from The Mill Coffee Shop in Lincoln, Nebraska, where images of local boy Ted Kooser, former U.S. Poet Laureate, decorate the walls. Next stop: Iowa City, Iowa, where our hotel is several blocks from the amazing Prairie Lights Bookstore.

Friday, June 23, 2006

My Niece the Purchasing Supervisor

Breanne Determan, my niece who lives in Phoenix and works for Rinker Materials, is visiting us for a few days. The last time she was here, she was about eight years old, and now she's almost 22. In the meantime she's grown up in Texas, one of two daughters of Darlene's brother Stan and wife Beth. I see a lot of Stan's easygoing ways in Breanne, who talks about her work and college life with a matter-of-fact confidence well beyond her years, or at least well beyond anything I remember having myself at her age. In this eight-minute podcast episide, she talks about concrete things, like crushers and rock, and she has some advice for anyone just about to finish high school.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

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