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patterns of ink

How fruitless to be ever thinking yet never embrace a thought... to have the power to believe and believe it's all for naught. I, too, have reckoned time and truth (content to wonder if not think) in metaphors and meaning and endless patterns of ink. Perhaps a few may find their way to the world where others live, sharing not just thoughts I've gathered but those I wish to give. Tom Kapanka

Monday, January 31, 2011

It's a "Watch" Not a "Warning"
But Consider Yourself Warned...

The followng text is from weather.com






According to this radar map, it's already on its way and will hit west Michigan Tuesday evening.

[Note: My daughter Kim is in Chicago a few blocks from the lake. We typically get her weather about five or six hours later. Here is what they are bracing for: SNOW ACCUMULATIONS IN EXCESS OF A FOOT ARE EXPECTED OVER MUCH OF THE WATCH AREA FROM TUESDAY AFTERNOON

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Big Night for Nat and Big Day for Nora!

Last night our boys and girls Varsity Basketball Teams won their Homecoming Games in hard-fought matches against taller teams with deeper benches. It was a proud night for our school.

Let me pause for a moment as I "free write" to explain that there are two kinds of pride: there is the "Pride goeth before a fall" kind of pride the Book of Proverbs warns us to avoid, which is haughty and arrogant and leads to one's own destruction.... and then there is the "Well done, thou good and faithful servant" kind of pride that comes from taking whatever talent you have and adding interest, instruction, effort, and teamwork to become better as a whole than you are in your individual parts. It is in this latter sense that I say "It was a proud night for our school." Because Natalie is on our girl's team, I'll take a minute to further explain.

This is a team of seven girls from the smallest school in the conference (some of our competition have student bodies that are 8 to 9 times our size); none of our girls had the benefit of playing on a junior varsity team (because we don't have a JV team); some (including Nat) were not sure they were good enough to play at all. Our varsity girls consist of one gifted 8th grader, one feisty 5'2" freshman, four improving sophomores, and on inspiring junior who stands 5'4".  These seven girls have been well-coached and have held their own all season against teams they have no business beating. "Better" upper-classmen teams with deeper benches have underestimated this team right up to the last buzzer when they sulk back to their guest locker-room in disbelief.

(I never noticed Nat's secret for making free throws until I saw this picture. I do the same thing when I'm concentrating. See it? Her Gramma Kapanka used to do that when she made a cake. Nat hit 7 of 7 from the line last night.)

Printed on the back of the girls' warm up shirts are four words: "Hard work beats talent." They were hoping that was true at the beginning of the season, but what they didn't know was that, through hard work, they have multiplied their talent since the last time they met this Grand Rapids team six weeks ago (and lost by 9).

That's the kind of good playing that makes hundreds of parents in the bleachers smile as their "little engine that could" team huddles around their coach in victory as they did last night.

He knows the game; he works them hard; he coaches with intensity (and sometimes gets too intense and he knows it); but after the games, win or loose, he  gives his players phone calls of encouragement, positive text messages, and Facebook "Attagirls!". He studies the tapes and teaches accordingly. The girls know he cares. More importantly, he is a big enough man to own up to mistakes and say "I'm sorry" or "I blew it" to the team and others when he gets too harsh or too focused or too "in the moment" of the game. It takes a big man to apologize when he realizes his passion and intensity has become a stumbling block to the things that matter most. He's working on finding that balance, and I respect that.

It has been interesting to watch this particular coach-player relationship grow over the season. It's been encouraging to see both the coach and the team work on their individual weaknesses and by working together become better versions of their former selves—not perfect by any means…but making progress in the right direction. The most important element of athletic competition is not in the "win" but in those steps toward becoming and in those shared "well done" moments with or without the win.

Oops! I almost forgot... [This photo and paragraph added Monday.]

It was also a big night for Nat because she was her class representative on the Homecoming Court. After the basketball game, she ran back stange, waved a magic wand, and POOF! she came out looking like a princess in royal blue!
But I digress... this post was not originally about last night's game or Homecoming; it was intended to be about today, which happens to be my granddaughter Nora's first birthday.

Last year, Julie and I missed the Homecoming Game and presentation of the court because we were downtown at the hospital enjoying our first hours as grandparents. A few weeks later, shared that being a grandpa was a lot of hard work. And back in October, I showed you Nora in her skunk costume. Wow! A whole year has passed. She has been walking for three or four weeks.

We're having a birthday party tomorrow with Keith's parents and all the siblings that are in town. Can't wait. This has been a great year for Julie and I in our new role as grandparents. It's been a difficult year in some other respects, but through it all, I would say that Julie and I are more focused on the things that matter most in life, and I didn't realize it until this morning when I sat down to write this post that some of that focus—maybe perspective is a better word—is because of Nora. Below is a poem and post from last February.

A Candle Came
A candle came
to mid-day light
and even then it shone
bright with the hope
that one tiny flame alone,
a wick aglow in a window,
can change the night;
its faint and flickering cry
from two points far apart
can burn just bright enough
to catch the eye
and turn a wandering heart
t’ward home.
© Copyright 2010, TK, Patterns of Ink

“Her name means light,” my daughter Emily said as we began to leave the hospital room last Friday, “I mean… in case you want to know what Nora means for something you might write someday.”

I smiled, because I knew it was Emily's way of planting a seed (if not giving me a small homework assignment), but nothing clicked at the time, and I forgot about it until last night.

After leaving school around 5:30PM, I dropped off a meal that one of our secretaries made for the young couple’s first week at home with a new baby. I stayed about a half hour, holding Nora in my arms the whole while. She opened her eyes only once. Toward the end of my stay she did make the faintest cry while being changed, but the rest of the time she just slept and squirmed and made cute baby noises.

Before I gave Nora back to Emily, she said, “I read your blog. That was real nice, Dad."
"Did you read all the comments"

"Yes, those were nice, too. Did you see the pictures from the delivery room on Facebook? I just put them up today.”
I hadn’t yet seen the pictures, and since I’m not on Facebook [Julie is], Emily pulled them up on her computer right there in the front room. As we were looking at pictures, she showed me the one I included above and said, “Isn’t it cool how the light caught her face just as the doctor was trimming the cord? She’s is less than a minute old in that picture.”

It was a remarkable picture taken at 1:43 in the afternoon by a new father in a moment of sheer relief and joy. When Emily mentioned the light on Nora's face, I remembered what she had told me Friday about the meaning of her name.

Just then I noticed that the candles in the front window had come on while we were sitting there.[i.e. small brass-based window candles Emily inherited from my mother’s house]

"Were those on a second ago? I didn't see them." I asked.

"They're on a timer to come on at dark," she said, clicking to the next picture.

That's the picture there to the right. It made me laugh because it looks like Nora was smiling and winking at her daddy's camera as her footprints were being taken for the birth certificate. There were lots of other great snapshots, and I chuckled and said "Awww" a lot in the way that only grandpas can do without sounding light in the loafers.[I mention that last part for my fellow grandpa, Keith’s dad, who has been a good friend through the years and shares my growing inclination toward misty eyes and wonder as we enter this new phase of life.]

It was after six o'clock and time for me to head home where Julie was making some chicken corn chowder for supper. I gave Nora back to her mommy, and stepped out the back door to my car.

The window candles again caught my eye as I backed out of their long driveway, but I thought nothing more about it. Then this morning, about ten minutes before my alarm went off, I woke with some lines tumbling around in my head. This happens to me sometimes so I keep a notepad in my bed stand, but to be honest I haven’t touched it in months. I scribbled the lines down, and to my surprise they still made sense after I took my shower.

I’m sharing this explanation only because it’s strange how, like in some dreams, there is a connection between seemingly unrelated events and a much more concrete image they later bring to mind. Only Emily will know first-hand the tie between real life conversations and the scribbled lines, but I hope someday they bring a smile to Nora’s face and remind her of the meaning of her name.
0174 and then 88657

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Another Ten Inches To Boot

In the Tuesday "Snow Day" post, I shared a photo Natalie took two weeks ago. Here is another snapshot from the same vantage point. We woke today to another ten inches on Top of Tuesday's snow. I said "ten inches to boot" but it was actually well over my boots when I plowed us out this morning. Scroll up and down between this post and Tuesday's to see the additional snow.

I mentioned Tuesday that the mailboxes in that post's picture were now buried. Here is a close-up of them... just to the right of the pine. See them? The snow there is about three feet deep. Somehow we still get mail and a newspaper each day.
Temps are in single digits. This would have been another snowday if it hadn't happened on Saturday. Sorry kids!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Snow Day Today

I must confess, this picture was not taken this morning. I found in on my daughter Natalie's Facebook page from last weekend. She took it from our front porch window. She is developing quite an eye for photography.

Had Nat taken this snapshot this morning, there would have been another foot on the ground and a huge mountain ridge of plowed snow along the street and even more flocked on the trees. See the mailboxes down by that pine tree? You can barely see them now. They are buried.

Typically, a snow day is a chance for me to nestle in with the family and get caught up on my thoughts and writing, but not today. Today I was wrapping up a four-month pile of paperwork as deep as the last night's surprise. I'm not complaining, and the good news is that mountain of forms and faxes is now plowed off to the side and I can move on to other things. I believe I will feel like a new man in the morning.

It was excellent packing-snow--perfect for making snowmen, but that was not to be.... Still, I'm very glad it came.  Snow has a way of making bleak pictures bright!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Between Brilliance

Considering all the facets of my life, 
I should sometimes feel
more like a diamond
--once in the rough--
but cut to catch the light
and gently cast its glimmer 
to a glancing eye.
But dice have facets, too:
six sullied sides,
pockmarked squares
that claim to cast our fate
or dictate our next move.
Far better, I believe,
to cast the light than fate
and to profess
the former holds the latter
in His hands.
And yet, I must confess,
too often do my best-laid plans
fall short and hover hopelessly
between brilliance... and a crapshoot.
© Copyright 2011 Tom Kapanka/ Patterns of Ink
Thoughts about the writing process:

In Through the Looking Glass, Lewis Carrol explains what he calls portmanteau words which carry meaning by blending two or more words into one. The word brunch is an example of a portmanteau word, blending breakfast and lunch since it is served somewhere in between. This term makes a metaphor of portmanteau, a hand-held suitcase, into which two or more things may be packed. [Port is of Latin origin, meaning to carry (e.g. portable) and manteau is Middle French for coat or cloak.]

I mention this only to say, that if you read a sampling of short pieces including the one above, you may see that I use something I call “carrier terms,” Like portmanteau words, they are meant to pack more meaning into the few words around them by vaguely alluding to another piece of literature. Quite often I will use a term or phrase from scripture or a hymn. Some might call them code words, because unless you know the code, the greater work alluded to, the terms hold meaning in and of themselves. It is only extra meaning that comes from knowing the source or connotation of the carrier term.

In my library, I have an old paperback copy of Jacob Korg’s introduction to poetry entitled The Force of Few Words. Taking nothing from the contents of the book, the title alone makes an enormous contribution to the study of poetry. It lays bare the secret: the essence of poetry is its power to spin our minds with a tiny sip. In that sense it is not so much like vintage wine as it is distilled spirits, boiled down to potent drippings of thought. Carrier terms are a tool in that process. Changing metaphors a bit, carrier terms crystallize more meaning than the words themselves convey in saturated prose. Like all effects, they are more effective when they go unnoticed.

There are at least two examples of carrier terms  in "Between Brilliance." The first would be more subtle had I not included a link and capitalized the word His. The carrier term is light. The first image of the poem is diamond with cuts that capture light and cast it. We call this brilliance or sparkle. And if we recall that Christ said “I am the light of the world,” we understand that all the facets of our lives are meant to reflect Him. Likewise, the line “the former holds the latter in His hands” means, Life is not a roll of the dice, not left to chance, the Light holds our fate is in His hands, in his sovereign plan.

So why then end the poem on a less certain note? Because life is lived somewhere short of where we know it’s meant to be. Somewhere short of brilliance. Sometimes, in spite of what we believe (inwardly) or profess (outwardly), we find ourselves in times of uncertainty where we simply don’t know how things are going to turn out. Which brings me to the second carrier term: “best-laid plans.”

To some "best-laid" may simply be a hyphenated adjective, bringing nothing else to mind. To others it may evoke the old saying, “The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry.” And to still others, it brings to mind the entire poem from which the original version of that quotation comes. For readers in this last category, the carrier term is a fully loaded suitcase bringing far more meaning when unpacked.

I’m speaking, of course, of Robert Burn’s poem “To a Mouse” in which the speaker is plowing a field in late fall and breaks open a mouse’s borough. He feels bad for the small creature and begins talking to it, but as is true in much of the poetry from the Romantic Period, the conversation transcends the brush with nature and addresses man’s condition. What begins in common experience ends in wisdom. The second stanza says,

I'm truly sorry man's dominion
Has broken Nature's social union,
And justifies that ill opinion
Which makes thee startle
At me, thy poor, earth born companion
And fellow mortal!

The familiar quotation is found in the last two stanzas:

But Mouse, you are not alone,
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best laid schemes of mice and men
Go often askew,
And leave us nothing but grief and pain,
For promised joy!

Still you are blest, compared with me!
The present only touches you:
But oh! I backward cast my eye,
On prospects drear!
And forward, though I cannot see,
I guess and fear!

And thus my purpose for using “best-laid plans” as a carrier term at the end of the "Between Brilliance" is to invoke (for those who know or subconsciously remember Burn’s most famous poem) all the feelings of uncertainty we sometimes have about the future.

I’ve heard it said that we should “work as if it all depends on us and pray as if it all depends on God.” The problem with that advice is that it reflects isolation from God rather than collaboration with him. It is probably better to say, “Work as if you work for God; pray as if He’s working with you.” The latter suggests a more fatherly, side-by-side relationship. But either way, if we’re honest with ourselves, there are times when our faith seems too short a blanket for our bed, we pull it up to our chin and expose our feet. There is sometimes tension between the brilliance we hope to show and the sullied commonness that comes when we settle for the work of our own hands.

It’s in the uncertainty of waiting when we wonder and rejoice that we are not at the mercy of fate or a roll of the dice. It’s in such times, when we stand palms high, face up, eyes closed, as if longing for a needed rain. It’s when we cannot see that we see what matters most.

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