Saturday, February 28, 2015

Musical chairs was an important learning game when I was a kid. It taught me that just because I was walking around, I hadn’t necessarily earned a seat at the table. But it was also a lesson in paying attention and being prepared.  If I didn’t want to be stuck on the outside looking in, I had better focus on the music and the movements of everyone in the game.

It was also a lesson in the role that chance plays in our lives. Particularly in the early stages, you needed to be lucky enough to be near a seat when the music stopped.

I wrote Musical Chairs (Riding in Boxcars, 2006) about the game of life. I felt this simple game contained a message that really followed us throughout life. There is certainly an element of chance and luck that oversees all of our experiences. Good health and being born to parents who love and care for us is a huge advantage in life (the chance for a good seat improves). But we also need to have a will to succeed, and the wisdom to make good choices in work, family, etc. (listening to the internal music that fills us).

I don’t know if kids play this game anymore. It seems like the current lessons are that everyone deserves that seat at the table no matter how little they work or how bad their choices. But that isn’t the real world of life, and it’s a lousy lesson to teach people who will suddenly face a much more demanding environment when they reach adulthood. If you want life to be an adventure instead of a slog, you need to be prepared to face up to the challenges of working for the best seats at the table.

In the end, we all will see that the musical chairs of life gradually disappear. The drummer may play a long or short song, but ultimately, he fades away. All we can do  is try to make the best of it while we are here.

Glenn K. Currie

                            Musical Chairs

The music starts
Before birth.
The gentle rhythm
Of the beating heart.

Growing stronger,
The drummer within,
Plays in the band
Of the marching world.

Rockin’ and Rollin’,
Cruising to the classics,
Singin’ the blues,
Easy listening.

Sooner or later,
Out of step.
We work harder,
To keep up.

The familiar beat,
Becomes more erratic.
Speeding up,
Slowing down.

The parade,
Gets smaller.
Circle closer.

One ear to the drummer,
We wonder
If there’s a seat,
When the music stops.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

I just finished reading “The Boys in the Boat” by David James Brown. It’s about an eight man crew from University of Washington that won the Olympic Gold in Germany in 1936. It brought back my own, much more limited memories, of freshman crew at Dartmouth.

As a coxswain, I didn’t have to work as hard as the other eight guys, but I learned a lot about how important teamwork is to success. My job was to steer the shell and provide leadership and strategy to the race. That didn’t matter, however, if the stroke and the rest of the crew weren’t working together.

Our country, right now, is like one of those shells where everyone seems to be pulling oars at different times and with differing degrees of effort. The result is we are catching a lot of “crabs” and going nowhere. And the coxswain isn’t providing much leadership in getting things coordinated. We don’t know how long the race will run, where the finish line is, or who and what is our competition.

In crew that combination would lead to a lot of losses, dissension in the ranks and no gold medals.

I wrote “The Fall Championships” (Riding in Boxcars, 2006) about my experience in a race on the Connecticut River in 1965. It was a race where our crew put it together and entered that zone where everyone was doing their job. It is an experience you don’t forget if you are part of a team that finds that magic place. My reward was a swim in November in very cold water and a small copper cup. Our current crew in Washington, D.C. is competing in a far more important series of races for much greater stakes. So far, we aren’t working together very well and our shell is having trouble even getting out of the boathouse. Here’s hoping we get our national act together soon.

By the way, “The Boys in the Boat” is a great read even if you know nothing about crew.

Glenn K. Currie

Fall Championships

Fog rising, from the river,
Edgy silence at the gun,
Short, quick strokes, mark the start,
Then a pace for early run.

North wind knifing down the course,
Penetrating hearts and souls,
Water heavy on the oars,
Fingers aching in the cold.

Rhythmic movement, through the stretch,
Shell gliding in fluid grace,
Lungs burning, muscles straining,
Vision tunneled on the race.

Coxswain’s shouts, imploring more,
Drawing strength, from deep inside,
Strokes counted at fevered high,
Rising on emotion’s tide.

Driving through the finish line,
Crew bent, in exhausted rest,
Oars riding, their work complete,
Fog rising, from heaving chests.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Here’s some new haiku. I’m up to eyeballs in snow and slowly going crazy so it seemed like a good time to get philosophical. 

Philosophical Haiku

Keys to happy life:
A good imagination
And poor memory.

Ashes to ashes
Ignores the part worth knowing,
The journey between.

Every new soul
Changes our world forever,
Stirring high gene’s  pools.

Copyright 2015 Glenn K. Currie

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Iris (In the Cat’s Eye, 2009) is the third poem in the flower trilogy. It is about beauty captured and beauty lost.

The memory of a beautiful flower can stay with us long after the blossom has faded.

In the end, all that any of us can hope for is that we too are remembered for images that stand out against the darkness of the surrounding forest.

Glenn K. Currie


Iris danced
In a sun-drenched field
At the edge of a dark wood.

They rocked
To a careless breeze
That blew a hundred years ago.

The artist’s eye
Had captured them
In the immortality of youth.

Now they lay trapped
Beneath a pane of glass,
Too old to dance.

The once-bright blues and yellows,
Slowly fading into the wall
Of my mother’s hospital room.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Okay, football season is over, the Patriots are back in their rightful place atop the world, and most of you guys are still lying on the couch in an alcoholic haze, burying your sorrow in another rant about those dirty cheaters, or back at work wondering why the hallways have gotten narrower and your belt doesn’t fit.

I wrote “A Call to Arms” (Granite Grumblings, 2011)  specifically to deal with this unfortunate situation. You need someone to “build you up”.

Glenn K. Currie

A Call to Arms

The following is addressed to the men of New Hampshire, who, for the most part, need a call to arms…and legs and abs and everywhere else.

While I know that many of you believe that preparing for winter involves piling on layers of fat and hibernating until spring, there is some scientific evidence that indicates this may not be the best approach to good health. Sure, it could work pretty well until football season is over, but then what? Three months of watching pro basketball, figure skating and reality TV?

Wouldn’t it be nice to spend that three months actually working on making a six pack instead of seeing how many you can drink? All right, maybe I am overstepping the bounds of reality a little, but come on, admit it, at sometime in your life you have wondered how it would feel to have a really ripped body. Wouldn’t you like to get off the couch without help and be able to grunt and groan in three syllables?

Well today is the day. After a few years of “pumping iron”, and learning everything the hard way, I have decided to give you the benefit of my experience and provide you with a beginner’s guide to weightlifting. Read this carefully and you could soon be on the road to the fitness adventure of a lifetime. (Be advised, however, that the path usually runs through a really smelly gym with bad ventilation.)

1)      The first thing you need is to be able to speak the special language that is unique to us iron aficionados. I am assuming that most of you are of above-average intellect (since you can read) so this should not be a difficult task. Mostly, it consists of shorthand references to various parts of the body like “pecs” and “quads” (pectorals and quadriceps), but sometimes it gets a little more complicated by adding “ie” to it such as pulling “hammies” (hamstrings). You should not get carried away with the “ie” thing. They don’t talk about “peccies” and “gluties” and “latties”, nor would it be good to apply it to clothing items like pants and shorts. Your knowledge of anatomy doesn’t have to be too extensive because most lifters have a universal code for complicated stuff. When they injure unknown places, they just swear a lot and start holding the damaged body part.
You also need to know the special names for the weights. For instance the circular metal round things that you put on the end of the bars are known by their poundage. Nickels, dimes and quarters are pretty self-explanatory. (Hint: If you can’t figure this out, you are too stupid to pursue weightlifting, which would make you very special and probably qualify you for the Guinness Book of Records). The tricky weight is the “plate”, which is forty-five pounds. Since we don’t have a 45-cent coin, one can only speculate as to the origin of this name. I am guessing it is probably the size of the dish that holds the meals that some of these guys put away after a workout. For some reason, forty-five pounds has special significance among lifters. The normal big bar also weighs that same amount. Perhaps it has something to do with metric systems, since it is about 20 kilograms or a little over three stone. However, since no one there had a clue exactly how much a gram or a stone really is, that theory was quickly dismissed. This is apparently a need to know thing and no one in my gym needed to know. So it remains simply a plate.
The rest of the special gym language consists mostly of multi-syllabic grunts, groans and squeals that take years to understand. The only one of these that you probably need to learn quickly is the high-pitched gurgle/squeal that is emitted when a guy has lifted too much and now has a heavy bar resting on his throat.
2)      Now that you know the language, you are ready to do some actual lifting. My first piece of advice here is to wear lots of clothes. There are mirrors everywhere, and as a beginner, you don’t want to see what you really look like. The veteran lifters love these mirrors. They stand in front of them dressed in “muscle shirts”, with heavy weights hanging off the bars, and admiring their clean and jerks. An unspoken rule is “don’t get between a lifter and his mirror”.
As a new lifter you should find a quiet corner and work on some light weights. Perhaps you could start with a pair of nickel handweights. Do not mess with the colored or rubberized weights. Find the ugliest, most evil-looking, rusted, blackish iron weights you can locate. Remember that you are now a macho guy who is out to pump some iron, not squeeze some plastic. If all they have are plastic-coated weights, it means you are in one of those sissy gyms where some of the members wear color-coordinated outfits, and where women are seen in great numbers. A word of caution   here. Many of the women in these places will tell you they are just out to tone their bodies. Don’t believe them. If they have been there a while, they can probably lift you into the ground, and if you try to compete with them you will quickly be swearing and pointing to a broken body part. My recommendation is to tell them you are lifting “light” while recuperating from an injured quad/pec/etc. that happened when you were competing in last weeks car-throwing contest.
If you survive the first couple of weeks, you can gradually add some weight, and someone will probably clue you in on which exercises are good for which muscles. Remember, however, that none of these people can be trusted. Do not believe anything they say unless it is confirmed by at least two independent sources. Veteran lifters are a sadistic group who will enjoy watching you make a fool of yourself. Not that any of them were able to do that to me. Nor do I harbor any lingering resentment about the scale incident.
3)      Never forget that, except for you, most lifters are crazy. Who else would spend useful waking hours moving dead weights around a room, while making their eyes bug out. (One of the high points of any lifting session is watching the faces some of these guys make when they are pushing their limits.) Once you have accepted the fact that these guys are nuts, however, it gets easier. They can be a scary-looking group, but most of the ones in my group spend a lot more time trash-talking than actually lifting. And they are not as macho as you might think. An example would be the other day when I was down at the other end of the gym doing some real lifting, and I noticed four of them standing around, as usual, engaged in a heated discussion. I wandered down to commend them on achieving a talk to lift ratio of 20:1, when I noticed that the argument was over the virtues of a front-loading washing machine versus a top-loader. This is not an acceptable weightlifter topic. This is a subject for discussion at a wedding shower or a women’s knit night. I gently pointed this out to them in my most politically correct tone. When they realized the damage they had done to their images, they all scattered back to their weights like chastened schoolboys.
4)      Finally, I also would like to advise you to stay away from group lifts. When these guys start to do “special” exercises, move to the other end of the gym. I still haven’t figured out the purpose of all of these, but it reminds me of a fraternity hazing. The other day four of them were standing around one guy who is stretched between two benches on his back with his hands on the edge of one and his feet on the other in a position to do dips. Then these other guys drop two plates on his groin. After writhing in initial agony, he starts actually doing dips. While the group counts out loud, the guy’s facial contortions indicate that they are ripping his heart out and feeding it to angry squirrels. Ultimately, he is reduced to a cringing mass of quivering flesh. Everyone then cheers. For veteran lifters, this kind of activity is as good as it gets.
One final word of caution. If you are thinking about hiring a personal trainer, remember that they are all unstable sadists who enjoy inflicting pain. You will be paying them to turn you into a psychotic masochist. My personal guess is that most of them are part of the Federal Witness Protection Program and used to work for the Russian Mafia.
I hope that this brief introduction has inspired you to head down to your local gym and sign up to be one of us. It’s a great escape from the real world, lets you focus on the truly trivial and insignificant, and gives you the opportunity to still attain that childhood dream of “pumping iron”. A winter of this stuff and you will know every muscle in your body, and maybe be able to get off the couch on your own. And who knows, maybe one day you could even become the Governor of California, or a personal trainer.