Creative Exercise #4

Tiny Masters
The notion of tiny masters comes from author and  New Yorker  writer Susan Orlean, who once explained that she’s most interested in writing about people who are masters of their “tiny domains.' Adapting her approach to personal essays can help writers discover a rich subject near at hand — something they already know a lot about, something that interests them. It helps shift the focus from writing exclusively about the self to writing about knowledge, ideas and processes. As writers explore their mastery on the page, they instinctively begin playing with structure and making connections they never knew existed. Meaning begins emerging naturally from their drafts, pointing the way to future revisions.

This is how it works:

* Make a list of 10 things of which you’re a master. Include talents, skills, hobbies, qualities of character. I've created many lists over the years, and they surprise me every time: Making enchilada sauce. Building fires. Finding beach glass. Crossing rivers. Writing thank you notes. Collecting maps. Procrastinating. Teaching tricks to my dogs.

* Choose a mastery that appeals and free-write about it. Describe how to do it, when you learned it, what you accomplish, where you do it — whatever comes to mind.

* Now write about a person connected with this mastery. Maybe it’s the person who taught you how to do it, someone you’ve done it for, or someone who discouraged you from doing it. Include details that capture the person’s personality or mannerisms.

* Next, write about a particular scene or event that involves your mastery and/or your person. Look for opportunities to add dialogue and setting.

Be sure to also comment on a classmate's post for full credit.

29 thoughts on “Creative Exercise #4

  1. Benjamin Hayward

    I enjoy shooting for accuracy. I don’t really care much for the practical aspects of it, such as hunting game or defense of others, though to be honest it was the defense of others that got me into shooting. I picked up my first fire arm during week six of boot camp, Range Week. For weeks now I carried around my rifle. Her name was Betty and her phone number was 7382695. That’s how it was in boot camp. Our Drill Instructors made us name our rifle, so we would learn to care for it. We had to memorize the serial number if we ever needed to search for it in a pile of other weapons, and the easiest way to do this was to memorize our girlfriend’s phone number.

    I remember my Senior Hat telling us about our new girlfriend. He was about as hick as they came, born and raised in deep ‘Bamba. “This is your girlfriend. You will learn to take care of her, to clean her, protect her. You eat, you shower, you sleep, and she goes with you. Don’t let Jody take your girl. Like any woman, it is all in how you hold her.” Whenever I hear Granddaddy’s Gun by Aaron Lewis I think back to this day. We would gather around during Senior Time, and he would regal us with his stories of shooting and hunting, making Arabian Night’s seem like a simple fairy tale. Every time he would finish speaking a sentence he would end it with, “Ya’ll understand that?” Of course we did. There was no other acceptable answer.

    This day was muggy worse than swamp balls at Parris Island, South Carolina, where The Sand Make the Man, in July. We just had a tropical storm blow though, so standing water was everywhere. Day or night, indoors or outdoors we were sweating up a storm, giving Pain and Weakness their due. This was not just on the quarterdeck. It was my Senior Hat I really connected with on the range.

    I’m in my shooting position, dialed in on target, when Senior Hat comes over and askes, “Recruit, what are you aiming at?” I answered, “Sir! This recruit is aiming at a black dot far, far way, Sir!” shouting of course, because that is the only way to respond, by sounding off. My Senior Hat got down prone next to me, and spoke fatherly, almost lovingly to me. “It’s like this Recruit. The distance from your rear sight to the front sight is sixteen inches. That is how far your target is. Your girlfriend does all the work if you point her in the right direction. You’re not aiming at a small dot far, far away. You’re aiming for the center of a big white square far, far away. In that center, is her dad, who won’t let you marry his daughter. So you have to send him a message. Let him know you want to keep his daughter, protect her, and care for her. You do that, Recruit.”

    My Senior Hat got up and walked off to the next recruit, to give words of encouragement I guess. I believe it was this day he delivered his passion for shooting to me. Watching the 2012 Olympics, and how bad the American Team did made me focus on a goal of shooting in the Olympics. My plan currently is Tokyo, Japan in 2020.

    1. Kait

      Wow, your story is very riveting! Learning to shoot sounds unforgettable, I can’t imagine eating/sleeping with my gun or finding it in a pile that might look exactly like my own. I was in skiing all throughout high school, also practicing with my brothers and dad when we’d be out hunting for ducks to make soup. Senior Hat’s use of metaphors made me smile cause it’s a unique and smart way to motivate. Through all of that, you must be pretty good. Keep at it and you’ll go far!

    2. Courtney Kisner

      That’s a very clever way to inspire people to possibly look at their weapon, an item, as if it is a person. If I was trained to think of it that way I would probably feel more connected to my gun, than if that analogy was not used. I liked your mix of humor, dialogue, and setting–it helped paint a picture for me. I wish you the best in your shooting endeavors.

    3. Courtney Williamson

      Shooting is a very good thing to master. I was in the army and I mastered the M16 and the 50 CAL. I’m not that much of a shooter anymore, but its like a relaxing thing going to a shooting range once in a while.

    4. nmfleming

      I think it is so interesting how your relationships with guns is so different than mine. When I moved up to Alaska my mom was really into going out an picking wild blueberries, so my dad bought her a 38 Special and that was the first gun I had ever shot and the kickback on that thing scared me so much that I never shot another gun until December 2017. And you had to sleep and shower with your rifle and not be afraid of it.

    5. Brenden Couch

      It is fun to shoot whether it be a rifle, shotgun, blackpowder, or a bow it feels good to hit your mark. Thanks for the post

  2. Tometria Jackson

    I think that I’m pretty good at working with children. Maybe this comes from being raised in a large family, and having to learn how to be selfless in order for things to run smoothly. Growing up, I was always in a group of kids and of necessity had to develop good social skills. As I matured, babysitting was a natural avenue for me to pursue; it was also pretty lucrative for me because I was usually solidly booked for most weekends. I think I was in demand because I would play with the kids (which they loved), and I would make sure that the parent’s rules were followed (which parents loved).

    One of my first real jobs was in a daycare center, which is probably one of the most challenging jobs there is. We worked with children from ages two to about eleven or twelve (during the summer). Large groups of children can be pretty wild, and managing their behavior takes patience and skill. There seemed to be two types of childcare management styles that I observed: herd control (which involves yelling and threatening), and behavioral control (which was more individualistic and dealt with specific behaviors).

    Mavis (not her real name), a retired private school teacher had zero tolerance for foolishness, and often used old-school herd control tactics. She was in her mid-sixties and was raised in an era when a child’s self-esteem was a non-issue in their upbringing. She would make stinging remarks about children in their hearing and would jerk them by the arms if they dared to stray out of line or she would give their heads a little push. Once, we were chatting in the main room while our groups played at different stations, and she was telling me about a mom who was proud about the intelligence of her daughter. Mavis replied sarcastically in a rather loud voice, “I don’t know what she was bragging about. Cindy is dumber’n a doornail!”

    I was appalled that she would be so blunt in the children’s hearing but it never occurred to me to challenge Mavis’ remarks or management style. I was raised to respect my elders and I was only sixteen at the time. Mavis’ callousness toward the children strengthened my resolve to be kind even if I was frustrated. I determined to treat the children as little individuals deserving of respect. I remembered too keenly what it felt like to hear unkind things said about me by adults, and I didn’t want to inflict that pain upon innocent kids.

    The lessons I learned at that little daycare center have stayed with me over the years, and I have applied them to my own children. Everyone responds positively to kindness and respect, and that approach has reaped dividends for me as I’ve dealt with people in everyday life.

    1. Lilia Lundquist

      I am a tutor at a elementary school here in Fairbanks and spend most of my time with first and second graders. Growing up I had an older sister and one who was not much younger than me. I have yet to fully gain the patience needed to deal with children and I work with them regularly. I think this is an extremely useful skill to have, patience learned from children can go a long way when dealing with people in general.

  3. Lilia Lundquist

    I consider myself to have a gift when it comes to creating killer playlists. I dedicate time in my week to sit down and browse through my Soundcloud, Spotify and YouTube to find music that appeals to me or that people I know would enjoy. I think the process itself is very similar to how Lamott describes writing. You just have to force yourself to set a consistent schedule. Often times I run into a plethora of songs that lack the ability to spark my interest. This can be frustrating in that you can feel like you’re just wasting time. But then when you do find even one song that just fits your mood, it is a special kind of satisfaction. I’m not a great gift giver, but I make it a point to send my friends SOTD (songs of the day). I think of this as my way of making up for mediocre presents. The best part about it is I can listen to music almost anywhere and anytime; this convenience only encourages me to continuously expand my library. I always have my headphones on me and keep songs downloaded on my phone in case I ever find myself without cell service. Music is the one thing that is guaranteed to calm me in times of stress or ease any negative moods.
    My dad was the first person to show me how intoxicating a good album or artist can be. Growing up he would always burn cassettes and then CDs with his favorite tunes. He never stuck to one genre, so I was able to be exposed to everything under the sun. I remember when I was in elementary my favorites were always Talking Heads, The Tubes and ACDC. As songs would play on the stereo or on our car rides my dad would tell me all about the bands and how they came to be along with what their inspirations were. He was like an encyclopedia strictly for music. I soaked up all his knowledge like a sponge, careful to not leave anything behind.
    One time when I was in sixth grade my mom found me laying in our yard listening to my dads Pink Floyd CDs. She asked me where I had found such music that was far before my time. When I told her, my dad had lent it to me she started laughing. They had gone to a Pink Floyd concert together as one of their first dates. My mom said my dad fell asleep 20 minutes in, and she ended up jamming out at the concert by herself as he napped. Now that I am grown and having gone to multiple music festivals and concerts, I am well aware of the crowd and activities happening behind the scenes. I find it hard to believe my dad just “fell asleep” but I think the innocence of the PG version makes it funnier.

    1. Kelsey

      I find it awesome that you send songs of the day! How fun! I’m sure you send all sorts if genres too so your friends get exposed to all sorts of music too. I like different genres, but have always admired people who have so much knowledge about music from different time periods and varied types of artists. That’s hilarious that your mom told you that your dad fell asleep! I think falling asleep during a concert may be a little hard to do too without extra influences! 😀

  4. Tometria Jackson

    I think your love for music has a lot to do with your beautiful relationship with your dad. By his taking the time to explain the history behind the groups you listened to, he was able to take music beyond sound and provide the context for the lyrics. It sounds like you were blessed with two wonderful parents, and it’s sweet that your mom tried to shield you from the dark underbelly of the concert scene!

  5. Kelsey

    This is going to sound silly, but I’m really good at making mashed potatoes. It sounds silly, because how hard can it be to make mashed potatoes? The answer is, it’s not hard, but there are definitely some secrets. A lot of potatoes are too runny, or grainy, or have no flavor. I have always loved mashed potatoes and my mom made the best, with the perfect amount of lumps. However, my mom and I don’t really have the relationship where I would ever ask her to show me or get her recipe, so after I got married I became determined to find the best recipe.

    I love Ree Drummond, she’s like an upgraded home cook and baker, but is also funny to watch and has great ideas to amp up seemingly simple dishes. I became inspired by her to start playing around with my own recipes and to pull from other recipes until I had found the master creation that I was pleased with. The secrets are that you most definitely need cream cheese and a lot of butter, garlic, just the right amount of skins left on, and use only an old fashioned potato masher. No hand held mixers. These components, along with some other key ingredients, will get you delicious mashed potatoes with great flavor and texture with just the right amount of lumps.

  6. Kait

    I like to think I am a master of baking bread. You start with mixing your salt and flour, dissolve it in hot water then add cold water. When your water is cooled off, sprinkle your yeast on top of the salt-flour-water mixture, then pour in the vegetable oil. If the yeast rises to the top then you know your bread will rise and turn out fluffly. Start slowly adding in your flour while mixing with a fork until you have a ball of dough. Next, knead the bread until all of the air bubbles are out, then cover with a cloth placed in a plastic bag. Place the plastic-covered bowl on a high place like on top of a refrigerator and let it rise. Once it rises to the space of the plastic bag, take it out onto a clean counter-top and knead it again into loaf shapes. Then grease your bread pans lightly and bake your bread until it rises golden brown. You can also make biscuits or donuts with the dough.
    The woman who taught me how is my ex-boyfriends mother, who was happy to teach me. She decided, very sternly, one week before the holidays that I was going to learn and told me to get ready by getting the ingredients and make the banana bread for everyone. I was surprised as she trusted me to do the recipe with her only instructing me on the first try and not just letting me watch as my aunt would. Our cultures are different as she is Yupik and I am Inupiaq, so we learned differently which was really intriguing to talk about and learn. Throughout the process above, she would tell me not to forget a certain thing like you’ll know if your bread will rise if the yeast floats and she wouldn’t have exact measurements for the flour which made me nervous, but I learned with practice. Like Pauline said with a laugh “My poor dad, I used to hope he wouldn’t get a stomach ache because I was just learning how to make bread too. He would still insist on having my bread with his coffee.” She was so happy after I told her that I taught my cousins how to bake bread because our village only has a small general store that runs out of bread and other necessities, a lot. We’re still friends even after I moved away while her son and I are no longer friends, which isn’t awkward at all. I call her anytime I have doubts about my bread turning out and she’ll give me advice. We ask how each other families are doing and catch up or run into each other on trips during the school year since we both work with the school district. It’s nice to have a good friend to make bread with.

    1. Shana Waring

      You taught me more in this post than I could have learned in a handful of youtube videos. I now know that seeing my yeast confused in its submersion of hot water, I was doing it all wrong. I love that you were forced into learning something you still enjoy doing today. You had the chance to incorporate practical life skills, culture, family, and memories. I think I will end it here as I am now ready to go pull out some ingredients and get to work!

      1. Kait

        All of the ingredients have exact measurements except the flour 🙂 I love the smell of fresh bread baking in the oven and seeing the loaves all done rising.

  7. Courtney Kisner

    I will likely never feel I am an expert at anything. However, I know I am well-versed when it comes to my personal alignment (goals, perspective, needs, wants, etc.) and with strength and endurance training (lately, weight lifting). My theory is, it takes weight to grow. It takes force pushing you down, whether this is metaphoric or literal.

    I feel as though I learned from an expert. He was an expert at self-manipulation. I whole-heartedly believed, at the end, that when he looked in the mirror he saw two faces. Well, not literally, but I do think he had a messy relationship with his “self”. Anyway, in turn I became an almost-expert at realizing when I’m being too materialistic or too “shallow”. I believe we all have that in us to some degree. After years of tripping over myself, I finally realized that instead of looking up and looking for opportunity (whatever that was at the time), I needed to look down, and dig deeper. Through time, I could tell when I wasn’t delving deep enough. Not deep enough to discover the “why” behind my exhausting actions. Soon my self-awareness shifted.

    My sense of self is a bit skewed, and always has been. I will adapt myself like Velcro, fitting into the grooves of someone else, trying to balance them–in the name of security. But he was the kind of weight that only holds you down. Like a boat anchor, not a barbell. So this newfound self-awareness I discovered post “him” was a good thing. I actually did find I had a self, it just took some digging.

    I remember being in his dorm room, getting ready for our second gym-trip of the day. I would watch him like a hawk, like I was studying my prey. I was studying his moves, maybe because I felt I could replicate and then be as disciplined, structured, and consistent as him. He was robotic in his movements, when his head moved, his body moved. It was a kind of choppy fluidity. He always seemed deliberate in his actions. I would watch him fill his shaker cups with water, placing his pre-workout in one, and in another cone-like canister he would scoop his amino acids, and protein for during and after his workout. The logistics don’t matter here, just know that he was meticulous but not in an obnoxious way, “causally meticulous”. I envied that. I envied how he wouldn’t get bored of the routine nature of his days. I was almost jealous of this quiet consistency…so much that I became like him for about a year. That’s when I built my “base”–both muscularly and when it came to the base or structure of my life as well. I lifted at least 6 days a week, and for a few months it was twice a day. I religiously took my amino acids, my vitamins, fat-burners (you really don’t need them at all), and probably over did it on the protein. It worked, and I gained a respectable amount of muscle. I was always afraid to look bulky, but he told me he respected the physiques of female physique competitors for the amount of time and effort they put in–also maybe because it was like they were rebelling against the status-quo. That’s something I can truly thank him for. He grounded me for that short year, and a part of me will always aspire to be more regimented and “robotic” like him (in the nicest way).

    This leads me back to my “why”. My why is both shallow and deep. It is both instant gratification and sustaining, nourishing happiness. Don’t get me wrong, it’s definitely not all peachy. But what the barbells and dumbbells taught me, is that health is the foundation to everything. I’m not saying that lifting weights makes you healthy, but that process of dedicating time to make a simple positive change towards your health can pave the way to bigger things–a life maximized. I realized that in the selfish gaze he cast at himself in the gym mirror. I realized I needed to do the same, and turn inwards. But of course, health is more than physical, it is mental and for some it is spiritual as well. It is realizing what gives you life, and doing all of the tedious things that will help you get there. You do those tedious things with passion. I lift weights because I love people, which sounds non-correlational but to me they are intertwined. As a CNA, I need to be able to hold patients up, lift them, and do other manual tasks for them. It takes some physical strength and it takes some knowledge of how to bend your body so as to not injure yourself. I can thank weight lifting for a stronger back, one I will be able to carry people on, metaphorically, as corny as that sounds.

  8. Shana Waring

    Crocheting has always been something which calms me and makes me take the time to sit down. Many people my age laugh at the sight of my yarn stash and usually have some type of comment about being an “old lady”. Considering I’ve provided income for my family and been able to bring joy to other’s, I don’t care much about opinions!

    Learning to crochet can be a difficult and frustrating task. There are weird templates and verbiage printed in books. Sometimes the books include a couple of pictures, but none that would suffice in showing an actual sequence of productivity. There are also a number of weights in yarn, yarn styles, and needle sizes. Even when a pattern for the perfect project has been found, every person has a different technique so steps and stitch counts may need to be altered. Like for instance, I chose to pull my yarn tight with each stitch giving my blankets (most frequent project) a thicker and warmer feel. Due to this fact, I know I will generally need to add about 4-6 inches of stitches to each row. Otherwise, the pattern will come out smaller than anticipated. There also needs to be a consistency in the amount of tension you leave on the strand of yarn which keeps being fed through your fingers onto the project. If you start with a tighter tension and gradually relax, the rows will be uneven and the end product needs a really masterful border added or it will simply be lopsided.

    When I think of a person and crochet, it is definitely a friend from high school who I was lucky enough to get paired with as a roommate during my freshman year of college. We shared similar interests and she watched me intently a few times as I sat on the couch (itchy, ugly, but free) moving my needle in and out of stitches before she asked me to teach her. We spent many nights sitting on our couch, listening to music (or rather singing/screaming along to our private audience), and crocheting while many of our fellow college mates were likely out doing far different things. To this day we talk very randomly, but it generally has to do with crochet. I am thankful for our memories and that I was able to share time with someone when I was feeling pretty homesick!

    Recently, I finished a huge elephant head rug I had been working on and off for the past couple of years. I remember seeing multiple notifications on Facebook tagging me with the pattern to this specific piece. Since it is worked in sections, which really make no sense until you are able to attach them all together, many people were unaware I was already working on the elephant. When I finished and posted pictures of my most intricate and by far favorite piece, I was excited to see Melanie’s response. She said “This is absolutely amazing! I’m so lucky to have been able to learn something so special from someone like you.” This particular comment is something I revisit on occasion as it really makes you cherish your talents, the people in your life, and those who you get to share special moments with.

  9. Courtney Williamson

    The mastery I am proud of myself is getting things done! I would say I slack a little when it comes to homework, ill admit, but during work and home chores its like a battlefield. There is a lot of drama going around at my work, and it feels like a high school. When something pops up that I don’t like I will go to the highest command about it because I know the lowest person in charge will do nothing about it. My ex husband always discouraged me by gas lighting me all the time. He told me I was always lazy and didn’t get anything done until the last minute. He depressed me so much, but now that I am in a happy relationship I feel like I can do anything. I feel so much more confident in myself, that I feel like a boss sometimes. I am currently working on this Bachelors degree in English, and at my work I’m working on a Childhood Development Associates degree as well. My boyfriend always tells me he’s so proud of me and that he has noticed I get stuff done. I’m also proud of myself for coming this far along in life, having a baby on the way with all this stuff we need to do. I’m just so happy and I feel like I’m a master at it now.

    1. Angela Rodriguez

      Being a master at getting stuff done is the best skill of all. Working, going to school and managing a home life is very difficult and most people can barely manage to do all of that on their own. That is awesome that you can balance all of that while actually getting stuff. Congrats!

  10. Angela Rodriguez

    My talent may not be so impressive, but I am a master at board games. Give me a board game, and I will win it. I have always loved board games since I was young. I loved the competition and camaraderie between my family and friends. Growing up, I would play board games any chance I got. My friends would hate coming to my house because they knew that they had to play at least one game. I would even take a small card game with me to class when I got into high school. I would build and destroy friendships in the middle of competitive games. If I lost, I would assume everyone was cheating, because I am perfect at playing any game. When I won, I would gloat and cheer. I was a sore loser and an annoying winner so, no one enjoyed playing with me. This never stopped me from searching for the perfect partner to play against.
    During my senior year of High School, I went to my local Youth Center to destroy a few kids in a game of Connect 4. I was in the middle of beating handfuls of middle schoolers and freshman, when one of my classmates decided to play against me. He was determined and brave enough to taunt me. On our first game, he was to confident and didn’t even realize that he was losing. After that, he stepped up his game. I had never tried so hard to win. Our moves were strategic and preplanned. We played for about an hour before I had to go to work. Luckily, I was able to beat him in each round of our game. I had never met someone who would continue to challenge me, even after losing so many times. His competitive drive interested me, so I asked him to play more board games with me the next day. Shortly after I defeated him in those rounds of connect 4, we started dating. It has been 2 years now and we still play against each other any chance we get. He will always beat me in a game of Monopoly, but I always go “down and out” in our games of Shanghai Rummy. There is no one else that can get me more angry and frustrated while playing a game. We are both masters at board games, his strengths make me work harder and forces me to challenge myself. I could never ask for a better opponent.

  11. nmfleming

    1. Swimming
    2. Shooting
    3. Helping children
    4. Making pancakes
    5. Driving
    6. Talking
    7. Talking and explaining things to children
    8. Typing
    9. Painting my nails
    10. Doing my hair

    “Hey, do you want to join a swim team? My mom and dad are couching the one on base.” These were the words my friend spoke to me during a Halloween party eleven years ago.
    “Um… I don’t know how to swim.” I muttered.
    “That’s fine, my mom can teach you. Come on it will be fun!”
    “Yes!” I exclaim.
    At the time I didn’t realize that, that one word would have such a big impact on my life. When I arrived at swim practice, I was so nervous. I was an eight-year-old who didn’t know how to swim, swimming with kids who were three years younger than my doing the butterfly just like Michael Phelps.
    I don’t remember every little detail about that day because it was almost eleven years ago. There was this one moment that I remember every time I swim this stroke. When you are doing free style (front stroke or front crawl as most people call it) you are supposed to breath with your head on your side. I however was bringing my head straight up and breathing if your breath in this fashion your slowing down. My friend’s father was teaching me how to breath for this stroke and he was telling me that when I breath I need to pretend that I am laying my head on a pillow. After those words and a couple of days of practicing I was able to do the free style breathing from the side. Within a month or so I was able to swim all four strokes; free style, back stroke, butterfly, and breast stroke.
    Now was I perfect, because I knew how to breath and I could swim three more strokes than most people? No, I had to practice and practice. I swam for about seven years, but there were some catches to swimming. About every year the National Swimming Association would figure out a faster way to swim and I would then have to learn and practice those new ways until I eventually mastered that new style. The next year would come around and they would figure out a new way to swim faster, this went on for the seven years I swam.

    1. Jess Young

      I love how sometimes saying “yes” can change your life forever! I try to say it as often as possible… you never know what opportunity is coming your way!

    2. Draven

      “Yes” really can change your life. For example watch “Yes Man”. It is worth the watch.

  12. Jess Young

    I have a gift for teaching. I don’t have the patience for helping children learn, but I can connect with adult audiences easily and rarely have a problem holding their attention. I grew up in the performing arts, so I’m comfortable playing to an audience and adjusting my delivery to their reactions. I think I enjoy teaching so much because it challenges me to learn a subject so well that I can explain it to others. When I am intimidated by a professional topic, I volunteer to organize a training so that I am forced to learn it inside and out.

    My husband is a remarkable instructor and was my inspiration for developing my own talent. His ability to captivate a room is punctuated by his silver hair and gnarled hands which lay witness to the experiences he has had in his 35 year career as a fireman. I have always been attracted to intelligence and experience, so naturally it was while attending one of his classes that I began to fall for him. In retrospect, it’s funny how big of a crush I had on him, but at the time it made me nervous and frustrated as I was trying to actually learn what he was teaching!

    The room was packed with men and women from around the state attending a conference and I was seated in the front row. My notebook was open and every word he said was etched down like gospel. The topic was basic fire investigation and the association managing the conference had no trouble finding the most well-versed instructor on that topic to give a four hour lecture.

    “Burn patterns are just arrows pointing to the origin site.”

    I scribbled down his comment, trying desperately to listen to his words and not watch his mouth.

    “This is not a sexy profession. I spend most of my time literally digging through trash.”

    Wrong. It is an incredibly sexy profession. Damn, this is inappropriate… he’s old enough to be my father.

    “We call truck companies the Evidence Eradication Team… by the time they’re done my burn patterns are sitting in a pile outside!”

    The whole room laughed… I giggled and avoided eye contact.

    I remember listening to his voice; the cadence of a man who knew the subject he was teaching so well that it didn’t require rehearsal. His hands moved as he spoke like an Italian Mafioso, emphasizing the importance of details with a slight grasping of his fingers. As he paced the room, his tattoos peeked out from beneath his long sleeves hinting at a rebelliousness that piqued my curiosity. When someone would ask a question, he would pause to consider and let out a slight chuckle acknowledging the novice for their elementary inquiry. He was the epitome of a detective, completely absorbed in his subject-matter, and he had one hundred percent of my attention.

    After what felt like an eternity, I gave in trying to hear his lecture and just watched him command his audience. I could listen to him talk for ages… and as it turned out I was destined to do just that.

  13. Delaney E Reece

    I like baking more for the eating part than the actual activity but the activity is a good way to pass time too. I make new things a lot and come up with new recipes of my own for the things I like to bake all the time. I think the reason I like doing it so much is because no one really did it in my family. And it was a fun thing that I got to teach myself all by myself. I like watching baking shows, they are still my favorite thing and I never bake when I’m watching them I watch them independently and then bake later. When I went away to college I didn’t have a kitchen, and so I was completely unable to bake while I was there. When I came home I baked almost every single day different things everyday so the house was always filled with baked goods. I decided that I would never willingly buy a loaf of bread again, and that I would always make one because it would always be cheaper and it would always taste just as good if not better if I made it myself.

    When I was away at College I didn’t have a kitchen in my dorm, but my best friend at the time lived in one of the dorms with a kitchen in each room. I never went over to see them and bake with them, but he would always bake will I sat at the table and watched. I am a very talkative person and when I would come over we actually sat in silence well he baked the third loaf of bread that day. Before starting a new project, or trying a new recipe we would go shopping together and spend hours perusing the grocery store picking out different ingredients. He was much more of a perfectionist than I was and he wanted to follow the recipe exactly, well I was busy throwing other ingredients that sounded yummy into the cart. somehow by the time we reached the register all of those things had managed to make it back to their home in the store.

    I sat in the kitchen writing away in my notebook about nothing in particular as he pushed onto the table numerous cookie sheets and wax paper. I was not sure what was going on but I assumed it would be yummy and so I was easily engaged.
    “I found this in the free bin, and my mom says they make these little pancake things.” he tried to explain motioning to the clunky iron like thing. It was the day before valentines day, and he had gotten out red sprinkles and white chocolate to drip over these waffle cookies. He always poured WAY too much batter into the iron, and so it would spill out and make lots of extra little pieces. I spent the rest of the night with a very full tummy eating no real cookies but all of the little scraps still warm and sweet and happy well Frank Sinatra played into the am.

  14. Brenden Couch

    I am a master at nothing, merely a student but this is where I come the closest.
    1. Good organizer
    2. Good editor
    3. Good writer
    4. Good strategist
    5. Good worker
    6. Good at making what I have work
    7. Good at cooking
    8. I like to think I am a good dad but it’s a bit early to tell. All I know is my son is always happy to see me and is for lack of a better description, a daddies boy.
    9. I am good at finding ways to help people.
    10. I am also an excellent procrastinator if I do say so myself.
    11. I do have an uncanny ability to know how much time has passed since any given moment, how long it will take to get somewhere, the exact time I will finish doing something, in addition to knowing what time it is in general. I will not write on this, this is just an abstract fact about me.

    I feel good when I can be of service. I especially like to cook small style family dinner when I have the chance, but as my wife can attest, I dislike a dirty kitchen. I like cooking for anyone who will eat the food I make. My brother shares my love, so he became I chef which is a job I would never want. I have learned that sometimes it is not good to turn a hobby into a job because then you lose your stress relief and it becomes your stress. Since I have been married, I can tell when my wife actually enjoys what I make. She always says she does but when it disappears from the fridge in the first 2 days I am positive she does.
    My family has a long cooking tradition. My grandmother, when she first got married in 1950, could not even make coffee. After raising 7 kids and multiple foster children on little to no money she became an expert in making what she had work. She taught my mom who in turn taught me. In addition, I have also been tutored at the elbow of my wife’s grandmother, who is Estonian. My knowledge has increased greatly since I have begun to observe her grandmother. I have learned to make delicious dishes not normally made by my mom. I have also learned about what they did in the old country to preserve food without refrigerators.
    All in all, I learned the basics from my mother. Any mastery status that I have since obtained, I attribute to my wife’s grandmother. Not to say my mom is not a skilled cook, she is very skilled and highly praised as a great culinary master in the family. I think it’s the way grandma teaches, its more through humility and much more gentle guidance. She rarely does so much to prepare food herself for our Sunday dinners anymore as she is now quite aged and is losing mobility, she is nearing her ninth decade. She is however very accommodating in letting me and my wife cook and she is there if we are messing up to badly or if we have questions. Mainly we do the big staple like the meat dish and she prepares the potatoes, rice, or vegetables. In the rare occasions that she does the whole meal, observation is key and she is always happy to explain but never does she ever think she is the master or the best, I am unaware that she has ever referred to herself as good at anything but there is no shortage of evidence that she has been and is incredibly talented and multifaceted.
    The first time I convinced her to change up our menu a little bit and to make a traditional Estonian dish was something to remember. Her family has never been terribly interested in her heritage and she has never pushed it onto them. So there we are looking through her cookbook which had both Estonian version of the recipe and on the page opposite was the English version. We came across Sauerkraut Soup, which is actually very good the way Estonians make it. It is a very simple recipe with Sauerkraut, fresh cabbage, fresh beef, pepper corns, and some other items. Grandma may not have seemed happy about it but she put more work into that than I’d ever seen. She prepared almost everything just for me to try, she couldn’t remember everything that she’d modified in the recipe for her own uses but it was superb. It was an alien flavor with native flavors of her home country and I will always remember the time she took to prepare everything and to make that for me and her. I will attempt below to draw a picture of her face, mannerisms in words.
    She is in her late 80’s and has been for sometime deteriorating physically. However her mind is a fortress of strength, fortitude, and wisdom unfeigned. Her face bares the marks of age and her hair has turned white and wispy. She now keeps her hair very short citing that it is more manageable that way. Her gate is slow, with knees partially bent perpetually, now she leans over a cane since her youngest son died in October. She cannot really hurry and often has to get up to heed natures calls. When I first met her she was slightly more mobile and still drove but since her son, my wife’s father passed on, her interest in life has been diminishing. She described the loss of her constant helper, son, and friend as an experience no mother should go through, something that has made her tired all the way through to her bones and this feeling is evident in her face as we watch her physically fade away. She does find joy in seeing my son on Sunday she absolutely adores him and he is a true joy to most folks. I think that gives her a little energy to finish doing what needs to be done with her son’s belongings. I had to stiff arm her into getting someone into help her with the tasks that we as humans often find difficult in advanced age. Namely, housekeeping, now cooking, and showering. She lived right in the middle of the second world war, as it raged around her country and where they fled to. She wont just share these precious memories, but if prodded she will make light of it as she shares her tales of walking many miles after their train was bombed or of how to a child war was exciting, so much happening all the time, she didn’t see tragedy everyday. She still remembers leaving her grandmother behind in Estonia, never to see her again because Estonia was occupied by Russia until the Berlin wall fell, she died in 1963 at 81.

  15. Draven

    I am not an expert or master at anything, I’m simply good at a few things.
    1. I’m really good at stuffing a lot of things into a set amount of space. Like clowns in a tiny car.
    2. I’m a good therapist, but it’s not something I really try hard at.
    3. I am good at directions, but only in the woods.
    4. I’m good at calculating chance, like of certain things happening.
    5. I can cook pretty well, but I really want to learn how to bake really well.
    6. I am a good actor, always have been, always will be.
    7. I am great at being condescending for no reason.
    8. I am good at using any weapon thrown my way, from sticks to katanas.
    9. I am pretty okay at playing video games.
    10. And, last but not least, I’m good at telling stories.

    Therapy has always been a part of my life. I’ve always had a thing for talking people through their problems. This often happened throughout high school, so much drama, but I was always there for people. I think the most helpful I have been too another through therapy was when I took a trip too Galena for a class. There was a girl there that, overtime, grew insecure about her relationship. She and her boyfriend were an odd couple, and they definitely did not have a complete relationship, but when it came down to it they did like each other. Her insecurities drove the relationship down, but I was there for her when she cried.
    Therapy has always been around for me, but it was my father that was the therapist. He could talk, and convince people that their problems were only in their heads. He always helped people with their issues, and I learned how to talk from him.
    Just this last year I did my magic to help another. She was having a hard time at the end of the play, and she couldn’t wrap her mind around who she was, and who she wanted to be. So we went to a separate room and proceeded to talk. We talked for nearly two hours when people started looking for us. By the end I had convinced her that life is what you make it, so she should just be herself.

  16. Meghan Geary

    There are definitely people who are more of a master at the things on my list than I am, but I believe that I’m fairly close to having a mastery over the piano. I started playing when I was just five years old. My parents bought me a piano after my mother sat down at a friends piano and began playing fur elise, and I went up to the piano and copied her by ear. They knew I had a talent for music. I began taking lessons once a week, and continued to do so until I went off to college. Music has been a part of my identity for as long as I can remember, starting with piano lessons on my own, then learning flute in fourth grade and joining concert band, to finally joining jazz band in middle school and finding a passion for jazz. Music even helped me develop a passion for teaching when I gave my own private lessons to kids as a high schooler. My very best friends and the love of my life have all come to me because of music. I created life long memories in band and my lessons that have shaped my personality and character in a beautiful way. With music, it doesn’t matter what you look like, or how good you are at math, or whether you can win a game- nothing matters except the way you play and emotionally connect the listeners around you. Though I’m not in a band anymore, I simply don’t have the time, playing piano is still the way I escape and bring myself back down to earth.

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