Meet Me Halfway

Meet Me Halfway

Their climbing tree stretched out its shady limbs to soak up the last drops of sunlight. Touched by a soft breeze, the sturdy sweet gum brushed its fire-gold and deep-green autumn foliage against the old slate roof. Ten-year-old Marina scrambled up the tree. Her long, tanned legs stood out in smooth contrast against the rough, weather-beaten crevasses of the bark that chipped and fell away under her bare feet as she climbed.

“Come on, Geordie!” she called, oblivious to her friend’s fear of heights. Geordie sighed heavily and pushed himself up from the ground. He was tall for his age. In a few years, he would be drop-dead gorgeous, but for now he was a lanky, slightly awkward lad of twelve. He would have followed Marina to the gates of Hell and beyond, had she asked him to. But Marina was as oblivious to Geordie’s devotion as she was to his fear. High overhead now, Marina shook a branch; several seed pods, their prickly greenish brown surfaces resembling tiny spiked maces, pelted Geordie from above. “Ouch!” Geordie ducked and dodged and momentarily forgot his fears as he grabbed a branch and brought his foot up to chase after Marina, who was perched in the forked branches at the very top of the tree. “I’ll get you for that!” Geordie warned, laughing.

“You’ll have to catch me first!” Marina said, teasing the boy.

Halfway up the tree, Geordie reached for an easy branch. It was one that Marina avoided out of habit, for it had scruffy brownish leaves— if it bothered to sprout any at all— even in the spring. It was grayish black, not the rich tarry brown of the stronger, healthy branches. And it creaked and groaned with even the lightest touch of a breeze. Conveniently situated it might be, but Marina— operating as much on instinct as understanding— didn’t trust it. There was a sickening crack of dry wood, followed by the sound of Geordie yelling as he flailed his arms and legs, desperately trying to catch hold of another branch on his way down. He smacked his arm on a gnarled, leafy limb, scraping away layers of skin and drawing beadlets of crimson through the dirty scratches. He landed in a heap on the hard ground, groaning softly as he rolled to one side and grasped his mangled arm.

The paramedics told him and his parents— just twenty or thirty minutes later, though it might’ve been hours for all Geordie could tell— that he was lucky his friend thought to call them so quickly, and especially fortunate to escape with nothing worse than bruises, scrapes, a fractured arm, and a dislocated shoulder. He didn’t feel lucky, but he was relieved to be alive. He was glad Marina hadn’t stuck around to see him discharged from the emergency room; he was too humiliated to look her in the eye.

* * *

Randy and Duane, dressed in their “stealth suits”— black jeans, black t-shirts, and black Nike high-tops— crept up behind Marina and whispered, “Boo!”

Marina whirled around and pulled her punch just before her fist connected with Randy’s six-pack abs. “Don’t scare me like that!” she hissed.

“You finished?”

“Rigging’s all in place, kiddo.” Duane unloaded a heavy backpack from his well-muscled shoulders and tossed it to the ground. “Don’t get caught.”

Marina laughed. “Hey, once I’m halfway across, it doesn’t matter. They’ll fine me, what, a few hundred bucks? Tell me I’ve been a bad girl, make me swear never, ever to do it again? You know, it’s ironic— you don’t bat an eye at the fact that I’m willing to risk my life for this, but you’re worried about my meager life savings? Duane, you’re a hoot. Just tell me the rigging’s secure.”

Duane nodded and looked to Randy for confirmation. Randy nodded. “All set. Ready when you are.”

“Okay, Duane, I want you to go around to the Canadian side and meet me there. Randy, you stay here—”

“Why, just in case you chicken out and head back this way?” Randy laughed.

“No, just in case I need a diversion.”

“Oh, so you are worried about the fine.”

“No, but it’d be more fun if I didn’t get caught, now, wouldn’t it?” Marina stepped up to Randy as if to kiss him; instead, she wrapped her long fingers around his ribs and tickled him mercilessly.

Life’s cruel irony wasn’t lost on Duane or Randy. They’d been friends with Marina since their freshman year in college. Each of them had a crush on her, but so far, all they had won was an easygoing, platonic friendship.

She hung out with them, went to all the hot basketball games, chugged beer and ate chips enough for two of them during Monday night football – though you’d never guess it by looking at her lithe, boyish figure. How could a girl who was such a guy— be so tantalizingly seductive? They’d gone skydiving together two years ago on a dare. Last summer, Marina had run off for a few months to join the circus— literally— and came back with a passion for tightrope walking and other aerial feats that gave Randy and Duane stomach-knots to imagine. But somehow, in their fascination with Marina, they had become her devoted servants. Which is why they were now standing at the edge of Niagara Falls, having jury-rigged a high-wire act for their friend’s amusement, and praying to a God they weren’t sure of to keep her safe and deliver her to the Canadian side in one piece. It crossed their minds, more than once, that they’d fallen for a woman who had more balls than the two of them put together.

* * *

 Marina had plenty of suitors. She just hadn’t found one who could hold her interest or match her wild, reckless passion for life. She didn’t have a death wish at all; for Marina, the thrill of the ride was everything, without which life was meaningless. Just as one could never appreciate contentment without having experienced pain, or want, or despair, Marina knew deep in her heart that she could not fully appreciate life without occasionally looking into the eyes of death, staring it down, and laughing in its face.

She watched carefully for the signal from Duane that he had reached the Canadian side of the falls. At long last, she saw it— three short bursts of light from a high-powered flashlight at the far end of the sturdy cable the two engineering students had secured for her. Marina dropped her raincoat to the ground and stretched, knowing that it would be important to limber up before attempting the crossing. Piece of cake, she thought. After all, in 1876, Maria Spelterina crossed wearing peach baskets on her feet, for God’s sake.

“Marina?”

“Yes, Randy?” Marina paused, mid-stretch, and looked at her friend.

“I know this is gonna sound crazy, but I’m crazy in love with you—”

Randy paused, searching Marina’s face in the darkness, hoping to find encouragement there. “Mar, will you marry me?”

“I’ll think about it,” answered Marina, reaching around to the small of her back to locate a tiny plastic switch. “If you’ll meet me halfway,” she said, smiling and pointing towards the eerie mist that rose from the center of the chasm. “And ask me again, out there.” She flicked the switch, and a hundred tiny white lights sewn into the side-seams of her leotard and tights illuminated and outlined her perfect curves. She winked at Randy, and stepped out onto the cable.

Halfway across? Randy watched Marina as she stepped gracefully out into space, her feet wrapping themselves around the slender steel cable with steady confidence.

* * *

Working a U.S. Customs booth on the border of Canada and the U.S. was hardly a glamorous job, but it paid the bills and gave Officer Camden an opportunity to meet people from all over the world. People rarely bothered to smuggle things over the border here; more often than not, Camden found himself giving directions to the best observation point near the falls, or making dinner recommendations for newlyweds who couldn’t decide between intimacy or a spectacular view. And when his shift ended, Camden still enjoyed a leisurely stroll along the cliffs above the American Falls; he still marveled at the colorful lights as they played upon the mists rising from the Horseshoe Falls.

Tonight was no different from many other nights. Camden was in no rush to return to his empty home, where sleep would elude him for many hours. He preferred to listen to the thunderous rush of water cascading over the falls, to be lulled by the roar as millions of gallons spilled over the rocks each minute, as they had for 12,000 years.

He gazed out across the dark chasm of the Niagara River. Something caught his eye— something utterly unexpected that sent a little thrill of fear down Camden’s spine. He rubbed his eyes, blinked, and looked again. Surely, he hadn’t seen what he thought he’d seen, or else it was merely the product of fatigue— too much work, too little sleep. Sweet Jesus, thought Camden. He began running; as he ran, he reached for his cell phone.

Camden didn’t take his eyes off the illuminated figure, walking through the darkness as if upon the air itself, tinted mist occasionally obscuring the daredevil and making him appear to be some otherworldly being. Camden didn’t see the man standing at the side of the falls, dressed all in black, watching the scene with his own desperate intensity. As he collided with the man, they landed on the ground and quickly scrambled back to their feet, both talking at once.

“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” demanded Camden.

“Aiding and abetting,” muttered Randy, as he reached into his hip pocket for his tattered wallet.

“Save it,” snapped Camden. As he watched, fascinated, he realized that the figure on the wire was that of a woman. Her movements were fluid grace; each steady step was even and relaxed. He and Randy both gasped as the woman bent to touch her toes, then executed a flawless handstand and held it to the count of five. “Holy Mother of God,” murmured Camden.

“Do you think she’ll make it across?” he asked, his voice hoarse and barely audible.

Randy shrugged. “I hope so.”

Duane was suddenly joined by several Toronto police officers, all of whom seemed more concerned with Marina’s safety than with slapping handcuffs on him or charging him with international lawbreaking. One of the officers called out to Marina on a bullhorn, strongly urging her to bring her little escapade to a safe, but quick, end so they could all go home to their families where they belonged. He couldn’t be sure that she heard him; just then, Marina leapt into the air and landed on the wire, testing its elasticity as she lowered herself in a single, fluid movement into a split. The men on both sides of the river gasped; one clawed at his chest and began to pray.

Although it wasn’t exactly cold, Marina had worked up a bit of a sweat, and now began to shiver in the chilly mist. Her muscles began to tighten and ache; she thought perhaps she’d pulled a tendon with that split. With a sigh, and a glance at the flashing blue and white lights at the Canadian cliff ’s edge, Marina decided to turn around and head back to the American side of the river. A sudden gust of wind caught her, tired and unprepared, and for a moment she wavered, moving her arms wildly to regain her balance. Marina let her feet drop to either side of the cable— she could straddle it and pull herself along, hand over hand, if necessary. But again, fatigue and a fickle wind conspired to knock her off kilter, and she flipped upside down, her right leg hooked over the cable, her head pointed down towards the turbulent waters below.

This can’t be happening, thought Marina. She reached up and grasped the cable, but it was slick with condensation and hard to hold onto. Well, dammit, she thought with a sigh. She tried to pull herself upright but couldn’t gain the leverage she needed.

Camden saw the girl fall. He didn’t hesitate for a moment, despite his stomach-churning fear of heights. Focusing on the girl, instead of on the breathtaking spectacle of the falls to his left, Camden stepped out onto the cable. He would have preferred to wear a safety harness but didn’t even stop to ask if one was available. Just a walk in the park, he told himself. One step at a time…

The cable was surprisingly sturdy and somewhat thicker than it appeared to be from a distance. Camden tried to imagine that he was simply walking along a curb or pacing the line that ran down the center of the bike path he liked to ride. Not too bad, really, if he thought of it that way. Don’t look down, a little voice in the back of his mind urged. He fought the temptation to do just that, and instead he concentrated on the girl desperately clinging to the wire just a few feet away. He had no idea how to help her; he only knew he had to try.

Marina couldn’t believe her eyes. As she tilted her head back to glance at the cliffs, she saw a man walking towards her! Surely Randy hadn’t mustered the guts to come after her and repeat his proposal. The thought made her giggle hysterically. Marina knew in her heart that she could never marry a man who wasn’t willing to walk a tightrope to win her love. After all, what was love if not a precarious balance on the high wire, without a net? How could she marry a man who was afraid to fall in love? As the man drew closer, she saw that he was strong and attractive— not terribly muscular, but amazingly calm and confident.

“Are you okay?” he called, his deeply resonant voice carrying over the rush of water.

“I think so,” Marina answered. The man stood over her now, and Marina could make out his features. “Geordie?”

Camden’s face registered surprise. “How do you know my—” He blinked and did a double-take. “Marina?”

“Oh, shit, Geordie—when did you take up tightrope walking?” Marina’s heart skipped a beat. She knew that Geordie was deathly afraid of heights; once he realized where he was and got over his need to be a hero, he’d probably pass out and plummet to the frothy deep below.

Geordie Camden lowered himself slowly, grasped the cable with both hands, and sat on it, letting his legs dangle to either side. He took Marina’s arm with one hand and helped pull her up to a sitting position in front of him. “Everything’s going to be fine, Marina.” He smiled.

“Geordie—”

“Shhhh.” Geordie noticed that Marina was shivering uncontrollably. The cable vibrated with her chills, and he wrapped his arms around her protectively. “How are we going to get out of this?” asked Marina. Geordie had never seen a trace of helplessness in her flashing green eyes, and it scared him to see it there now.

“Piece of cake,” he lied. Well, he hadn’t exactly lied, but they would have to wait for the real heroes to arrive, because Geordie knew he couldn’t stand up and lead Marina to safety on either side of the Niagara. It was all he could do just to hold on and not look down. “Hang in there, kiddo. They’re bringing a helicopter. Should be here any minute now.” He hoped that was true. Marina laughed, then. Her bright smile lit her face, and warmed Geordie’s heart. “Remember the tree?”

Geordie nodded. “You were so fearless. I was such a dork. I’d have followed you to hell and back, but I couldn’t even follow you up that damned tree. I avoided you for the rest of the year, and then you moved away.” Geordie shook his head sadly.

“Oh, Geordie.” Marina sighed. “I felt so guilty. I teased and teased until you came after me, climbing that stupid old sweet gum tree. I knew you didn’t want to, but I knew you would. It’s my fault you fell and broke your arm. I was the one who deserved to be ashamed. I was relieved when we moved away, because every time I saw you, I felt guilty. But I missed you, you know.”

“I missed you, too.”

“Ever since then, I’ve looked for a man who could measure up to you— a man who would follow me in some crazy, daredevil scheme, never stopping to think twice about the danger— just to be with me.”

It was Geordie’s turn to laugh. “All this time, I thought you thought I was chicken.”

“Geordie, you’re the bravest man I know.” Marina rested her head against his chest, drawing warmth from his arms around her. “I don’t think I ever stopped loving you, you know.”

Geordie drew back and gazed into her eyes. The naked sincerity with which she regarded him almost knocked him off balance; he grabbed the cable with his left hand and pulled her close with his right. “Marry me,” he whispered. He felt her answering nod against his chest. A searchlight swung round from above and landed on them; a rope and harness fell from the sky. Everything would be all right, thought Geordie as he strapped Marina into the harness and watched the rescue team reel her into the helicopter. As he waited for them to lower the rope a second time, he dared to look down.

How I Met The Spyders

How I Met The Spyders

Hello!

First of all, I’d like to thank Holly for giving me this opportunity to interact with her readers.


I’m Apeksha Rao, a YA author from India, and I’m here to talk to you about my debut novel, Along Came A Spyder.

Guys, if I had a penny for the number of times I’ve been told to “show, not tell”, I’d be zipping around the world in my own private jet. Only in non-COVID times, though, since India is still in lockdown.

So, in the interests of “show, not tell,” I’d like you to meet a kick ass group of teenagers from Mumbai – The Spyders.

Meet The Spyders
These girls are juvenile covert operatives, which is just fancy-speak for teen spies!

Along Came A Spyder is a book about a seventeen year old girl, Samira Joshi, who wants to be a spy.

Samira Joshi

When she accidentally discovers a secret sisterhood of teen spies, she wants in! The question is, do they want her?

The answer to that lies within the pages of my book, Along Came A Spyder.

For updates on the release date, do check out my book page.

Contrary to popular belief, I. Am. Not. A. Spy.

Because, simply writing about spies does not a spy make. I should know.

I spent most of my teen years convinced that I was deep undercover for R&AW, India’s foreign intelligence agency.

I waited and waited for my handler to find me, until I made peace with the fact that my level of klutziness did not recommend itself to espionage.

Meh.

I decided to do something even cooler than being a spy. I decided to create my own spies.

I just didn’t plan on writing about them, because I wanted to be a doctor.

Well, I grew up and became a homœopath, set up my practice, and like the adult that I was supposed to be, put away my writing dreams.

Until… I gave birth to twins.

Motherhood gave me the courage to start writing again, because if I didn’t follow my dreams, how could I teach my kids to follow theirs?

I knew that if I ever wrote a book, it had be about spies. I’d been researching that topic for years, after all.

Hey, reading spy novels totally counts as research!

My obsession for teenage spies has led me from tiny pieces of flash fiction to a full novel, the first in a series of four books, and I hope to write a lot more in the same line.

In my next post, I will give you a peek into the world of The Spyders.
Stay tuned!

Mother, Touchstone, Friend

Mother, Touchstone, Friend

We mothers – we are merely rudders, guiding our children’s ships through the storms and over the turbulent seas of life – we guide them as steadily and as best we can, but we are not the only influence that determines the outcome of the journey…

Who am I today? I am a woman, a daughter, a wife and mother, a writer. I am confident with unexpected moments of self-doubt, calm with occasional thunderstorms, selfish but generous, affectionate but reserved, intelligent with a few Swiss-cheese holes in my brain, rational but prone to flights of fancy, a dreamer with her feet planted on the ground – and I see none of that as contradictory. I am my mother’s daughter.

mom-childMy mother nurtured me with love and learning. My parents married young, with the understanding that both would attend and graduate from college. Did having a baby at nineteen deter my mother from her commitment? No! She told me once that my earliest bedtime stories were chapters from her college Psych texts. If I am determined, efficient, and able to multitask, it’s because I was raised by a woman who could study, cuddle an infant, and read to her child simultaneously!

Astrologers might argue that the Pisces child, born on a Sunday, so near the pull of the ocean’s tides would naturally be gifted with creativity and a vivid imagination. But I contend that any innate creativity and imagination I possessed was nurtured by a mother who got down on the floor and played with me, allowing herself to be cast in the thousands of roles I invented for her. My love of writing was sparked when she installed a bulletin board in my room, and daily pinned a writing prompt – a quote, a photo, some whimsical item – to it, and supplied me with endless reams of paper and a variety of pens. She later insisted that I learn to type; much, much later, I thanked her for it.

SLS-Gr1-croppedI have a great appreciation for languages. If I can’t speak fluent French today, it’s not my mother’s fault! My mom’s answer to a whiny eight-year-old who cried out, “I’m bored!” was to enroll her in private French lessons at Berlitz. Latin was a 7th grade elective; my mom elected it for me. If I believed that college was just an extension of a child’s compulsory education, it was my mom’s doing – she was still working towards her Master’s degree when I was twelve! She made reading and studying seem as natural as breathing, as essential as eating. Blame my mother for the fact that I started college at age twelve – the early French lessons, her schedule of classes from Kent State lying open on the bed, and my natural curiosity combined: “Do you think they’d let me take French I?” Well, why not? With three years of French under my belt and both of my parents there to support my request, doors opened – and I was enrolled in summer school!

mom-deb-portraitOkay, maybe I can’t speak French fluently today, despite eight years of lessons – but I have learned to entertain myself! If I love Oldies, it’s because my mother handed down her 45 RPM records and a phonograph; if my tastes are eclectic, it’s because she also made sure I attended the symphony and the ballet, met Beverly Sills, saw Linda Ronstadt and The Irish Rovers in concert, and took piano lessons. If I can appreciate fine art, it’s because one of my mother’s most cherished books was Jansen’s History of Art – and because she saw to it that I got to tour the Louvre.

While my mother built my confidence and self-esteem, she took care never to talk down to me, never to sugar-coat the truth, never to inflate my ego unrealistically so that the world at large could tear down what she had so carefully built. All her life, I could rely on my mother to be a trustworthy touchstone: she was an honest critic as well as a staunch supporter. If I am happy, content with who I am, it’s because my mother never allowed me to believe that my best wasn’t good enough. If I am able to appreciate constructive criticism and learn from it, it is because I had a mother who dished it out with love.

Three decades years ago, I became a mother, myself. When I held my daughter in my arms, I realized the awesome responsibility my mother took on at the tender age of nineteen. For the first time, it hit me just how much I was loved. And that’s when I knew that the debt I owed her was marked “payable to my grandchildren,” and I know that it’s probably one that I can never fully repay.

july-2001grandpaWhen my mom died – on Valentine’s Day, 2002 – I lost not only my mother, but my best friend. Though she always insisted “It’s not my job to be your friend – I’m your mother,” she couldn’t help but be both. I miss her, especially on Mother’s Day, but because of her, I am strong enough to wipe away the tears, smile, and go boldly forward in my own journey of motherhood.

It’s a wild ride, with all the crazy ups and downs of a world-class rollercoaster. But I am thankful for every minute of it, and I am so proud of the people my children are becoming.

The Inconstant Blogger

The Inconstant Blogger

It is a poorly-kept secret that I have been writing “elsewhere” and not on this blog, the last couple of weeks.  My friend Rasheed Hooda, who once declared me Queen of the No-Niche Bloggers, likes to do to me what I so blithely do to others. Like the Pied Piper, but instead of a flute he balloon-twists his way through the Internet, leaving breadcrumbs and nudging and cajoling until it’s hard not to follow his wanderings. This time, he lured me back to Medium, where I had an account, circa 2015, but only as a reader.

An Accidental Writing Portfolio?

I had stumbled onto the site long ago – The Atlantic has a presence there – and that may be where I first read work by Ta-Nehisi Coates. Is it any wonder, then, that I had never ventured to write, there? I had not seen Medium as it is widely regarded – as a blogging platform. And as a writer who viewed Medium as a platform for more serious, professionally vetted and edited writing, can you imagine my horror at returning there to learn that every comment is treated as a Story? That people had actually “clapped” for some of the passing comments I’d left behind? I had…followers. A lot of followers. 1,277 of them, as of this moment. I’d already built an audience there, without even trying.

Who were these people and why were they following me? Mostly, I think, they were writers, hoping that I would follow them back. But of course, I hadn’t. I hadn’t returned to Medium at all in about three years. I followed everyone back, indiscriminately. And then I deleted all my Stories – my comments. I tested the waters by re-posting an old blog post. A few readers, there, liked it.

And then Rasheed started nudging. Join the Medium Partner Program, he nudged. Maybe it’ll be another income stream, he suggested. I’m all for getting paid to write, but I had no intention of publishing listicles and formulaic blog posts like “8 Things You’re Doing Wrong with Your Life – Pay Special Attention to Number 6,” just to earn a few pennies. Been there, done that: Themestream, Redpaper, Vines… The idea of micropayments, tiny amounts of cash in return for the time spent reading an article – the challenge of holding a reader’s attention long enough to earn a payment for the work – has its appeal. But I was still determined to be worthy of rubbing elbows with writers published in The Atlantic.

I’m Not a Hack, I’m a Busker!

pink and white concrete building

By January, that first “dip-a-toe-in-the-water” story that I’d posted had earned a whole penny. Dreadful.

Then came The Great Pause. Celebrities showed up on TikTok and Instagram and competed for attention with ordinary, but extraordinarily creative, people. They came without make-up or camera crews, and they came with bad lighting and laundry baskets in view. The originality was breathtaking. “We’re all in this together!” we all proclaimed, but almost as soon as we shouted the hurrah, it was clear that we were not, in fact, “all in this together.” The real celebrities still had more expensive homes, even if they tried filming from their walk-in closets. Pandemic brought into sharp relief the differences that separated us: wealth, “essentialness,” ideology, sense of duty, sense of humor, maturity. Who had the capacity to find the silver linings among the scraps of rust; who could turn rust into useful things? And, if nothing else, who had the capacity to entertain themselves and not be bored under #StaySafeStayHome orders?

Normally, I’d have relished the quiet, the solitude, the ability to sleep in late without guilt. I had plans, too. Vague, but serious, plans. I was going to write a novel, finally. But now, it wasn’t a choice, and I felt less inspired, less creative, less imaginative than I’d envisioned my April self. I felt like a small boat, anchored, motor running, with no one at the helm. Rudderless. There were no waves, just little circular ripples.

So. Why not try Medium as a writer, for a change? Why not. 

Busking is performance art. So is impromptu collaboration, as you can see here:

View at Medium.com

two biplane on flightThat was fun.

So Where Am I Going with This?

I still don’t see Medium as a “blogging platform,” even if that’s what it is. Jahangiri.us is my website, and Medium never will be. It’s more like a warm-up area before the performance. As is this, in a way – but I control it. My original plan was to use Medium to increase readership on my own blog. I know that Amy Marley gets that; I think she’s the only reader from Medium who ever followed me from there to here – and that’s probably because I’m one of the few who went straight from her bio on Medium to her own blog.

I think that I have widened my reach and found a new audience for my writing, but there is little cross-pollination. “Build it, and they will come,” is utter bullshit. Marketing and PR are exhausting.

It’s not my intention to drag you, Constant Reader, over there. Although I have done exactly that, to at least two of you – and I don’t think you were disappointed. You will find some of Medium’s best articles tucked behind their paywall, including most of the ones I publish there. But even a few of those are free each month whether you choose to pay the $5/month membership fee, or not. Much of that is distributed to the writers whose work you spent time reading (so no skimming, okay?) My plan is to use whatever pennies I earn busking over there to support my own $5/month Medium membership and maybe help pay for the domain and hosting fees (about $250/year) here.

I’m Not a “Joiner,” but It’s Nice to Find a Writing Community

I’m not big on writing groups, but that’s probably just because it’s hard to find the right one. To build a sense of community isn’t easy, and why would you trade reads and edits with people you don’t feel a sense of kinship with?

Shortly after dragging me over to Medium, Rasheed coaxed me, like a wild bird, over to a Publication called, “ILLUMINATION.” Its founder, Dr. Mehmet Yildiz, has the sort of boundless energy for promoting himself and others that you might attribute to a whole team of PR people. He, himself, swears it has something to do with the strength of his mitochondria, and I can’t quibble – whatever it is, no amount of vitamin supplements is giving it to me. I became a contributor there, and to two other publications: Writers Blokke and The Bad Influence. In the process, I’ve made writer-friends. I’ve connected more with my Facebook friend, Bob Jasper, who is spreading his wings over on Medium as a writer – I’m not the only one Rasheed plays Pied Piper to!

I’ve also learned how to use and administer Slack workspaces, and started building my own little community of writers – independent of Medium or WordPress or YouTube or any other platform, just a small community of friends who don’t talk about the horrors of the day. We write about them, if we must, but for the most part, we’re pretty determined to write about the worlds that live in imagination or the silver linings we’ve found and want to share. We don’t just trade links and outrage and mutual despair. We trade links to say, “Hey, I made this thing. Come lookit!” like excited nine year olds. Because we’re starting to feel energized and creative, and having fun with that, again.

 

How to Use Flipboard: Curated Content & Feed Reader

How to Use Flipboard: Curated Content & Feed Reader

What is Flipboard?

Flipboard is a place to discover and share content you enjoy. “Over the years,” they say, “in partnership with the world’s greatest publishers and with you, our community, we’ve built a curated experience with a plurality of voices, where people can find quality stories on any interest, investing in their lives and their passions.”

Flipboard is curated by individuals, like you and me, and by publishers, like CNN or your favorite bloggers. Including me.

How to Sign Up

Signing up with Flipboard is easy. Just go to flipboard.com. You can Sign up using the link at the bottom of this dialog, or you can sign in using Facebook, Google, Twitter, or a registered email account if you already have one.

Click on your profile picture (or the gray circle) at the upper right corner of the screen to display the drop-down menu shown below:

Click Profile. Here’s an example of what you might see – but with fewer Magazines, until you create some!

Start by clicking Make a New Magazine (the first square below Magazines). Add a Title and give it a Description. If you want to keep your Magazine private and not publicly viewable and shareable, click to deselect the checkbox next to Public – let everyone see my magazine.

Next, start flippin’! There are several ways to do this:

Browser extension:

Share buttons (if available on the website – see the bottom of this post, for example, and feel free to try it out):

Manually, using the URL and the pencil icon (upper right corner, next to the magnifying glass – search icon) on Flipboard:

Use any of those, and you will see this dialog (if you are using the last method listed above, you’ll be asked to enter the URL; the other methods will prepopulate the link and show a preview image):

You can, optionally, add a comment – perhaps a note about why you found the content interesting or why you think others might enjoy it. Then, click Flip (or Cancel).

What is a Publisher on Flipboard?

In theory, any producer of content with an RSS feed can apply to be a Publisher. This allows you to automatically publish RSS feeds to a Magazine (you’ll see one additional option, Source, in your Magazine options). Make sure that the content meets Flipboard’s standards before applying, and have your RSS feed URL handy. When I applied, several years ago, review and approval took months. Be patient, if you do decide to apply.

How to Sign Up as a Publisher

Click on your profile picture (or the gray circle) at the upper right corner of the screen to display the drop-down menu shown below:

 

Click Settings. Scroll down to the Account Settings section, then click Become a publisher.

You will need to add an RSS feed to your publication, and wait for Flipboard to review your application.

 

Notifications? Really?

Notifications? Really?

I finally started using Microsoft’s Snip & Sketch utility – the coming replacement for the old Snipping Tool in Windows. You can open it from the Start menu or Windows Logo Key + Shift +S. If you don’t have it already, download it from the Microsoft Store. It’s free, and it’s convenient. I was resistant, but this little app slowly converted me into a fan, at least while I was on my work PC.

At home, I had other tools: Paintshop Pro, for one. It was easier just to prt sc,  paste the whole thing into Paintshop Pro, add annotations, and crop out the bits I didn’t want, than to use the Snipping Tool to snip the bits I did want and then edit in the annotations.

I’d only recently started using the little known, built-in Snipping Tool, when Microsoft shoved Snip & Sketch in my face and said, basically, “Wanna try it now? We’re going to force you to switch, pretty soon! Get a preview, now, before we do that!” They still haven’t forced anyone to switch, as of this writing, and it’s been years. At least three of them. Two, since the utility last had an update. @Microsoft, if you’re reading this, we don’t all have a touchscreen and stylus – please make it easier to add text to the snip.

Why Does It Work Differently on Different Laptops?

I liked the way Snip & Sketch worked on my work PC. I hated the way it worked on my home PC. The shortcut key to open the utility was the same on both: Windows Logo Key + Shift + S. But at work, this opened a new window for Snip & Sketch to add annotations and highlight things. At home, all this did was let me snip – and whatever bit I snipped was available only on the clipboard until I used Ctrl + C or made another “snip”! The only way to capture a snippet of the screen and edit it in Snip & Sketch (this is really its main advantage over the old Snipping Tool) was to run the app, click one of the capture buttons at the upper left, capture part or all of the screen, make my edits, and save. That didn’t save me any time over other tools.

I diligently checked all the app settings. Both were the same:

The app versions were identical, as well. But just to be sure, I updated both. I even uninstalled and reinstalled a fresh copy of the app on both PCs. The behavior was unchanged: at work, the app behaved as expected; at home, not so much. I left feedback about this on the Microsoft site, but it’s hard to describe, there, what’s going on – and when Feedback says, “Hey give us a screen recording of this thing happening to you,” it miraculously appeared to work the same way on my home PC as it does on my work PC! But this only happened during screen recording – the minute I finished and closed the feedback box, thinking there was really no point leaving feedback if the app had somehow fixed itself, it went back to not working on my home PC.

I had a mystery on my hands, but no time to investigate. There was so much more interesting work to be done.

Mystery Solved, But WHY, Microsoft?

Thanks to recent retirement and the pandemic lock-down clipping my wings, I have time on my hands. I finally went on a quest to solve this mystery. Someone else’s instructions on using the app gave me a clue: They mentioned snips showing up in the Notifications and Activity pane in Windows. I rarely use or think about that pane, and I’d turned off notifications altogether, on my home PC. Could that somehow be related? Surely not…

But apparently, the behavior I wanted (which was for Snip & Sketch to work on my home PC to exactly as it does on my work PC) is tied to allowing Notifications in Windows. This is as brilliant, @Microsoft, just like only allowing Feedback from users who also allow you to run Cortana and capture all their speech and writing so you can “give them a better user experience.” That’s another nit to pick, another day – but I am tired of Cortana reactivating on my PC and randomly “listening” to my conversations. I do not want it sending my novel drafts and emails to the Mothership. And no, I did not say anything that sounds remotely like “Hey, Cortana,” so don’t even.The closest you get to that excuse is me, occasionally swearing at “Coronavirus,” and I’m starting to wonder if Cortana thinks that’s her real name.

So, to recap, Snip & Sketch works so much better if you enable Notifications in Windows. Why the app’s behavior is tied, in this way, to Notifications, I cannot begin to guess. I’d say it’s a bug. Certainly an opportunity exists, here, to “improve the user experience.” Are you listening, Coronavirus? Please pass it on to the brilliant folks at @Microsoft.

To enable Notifications:

  1. Go to Settings > System > Notifications & Actions.
  2. Turn Notifications ON, as shown below.Now, each time you create a snip by using Windows Logo Key + Shift + S, your new snip will appear as a toast notification and you can access it by clicking the notification as it pops up, or through the notifications bar.

Sure, there are other screen capture utilities out there, and some work much better, but this one’s free. It’s also great for showing people, visually and quickly, what you’re trying to explain how to do for umpteenth time on Facebook, without going to a lot of trouble to create professional-looking illustrations for a manual.

Enjoy!