And Boom Goes the Pickup

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I had a bit of an accident this evening, and despite the relatively mild consequences, I can’t slow my brain down enough to stay in bed yet.

I left work five minutes early to get a jump on the evening. I’m usually in at least ten minutes early, but try to not be visible cutting out before the whistle blows. Only I had things to do tonight, and while I wasn’t looking forward to the evening, I figured I needed to make some time to grab a bite first. I got to the intersection at 21st South and 13th East fairly quickly. Traffic wasn’t too bad and the snow was just dusting down. I pulled into the intersection to turn West onto 21st South and waited for the inevitable turning of the light to red to finally allow me to proceed. Traffic, you know. The light went yellow and I took my foot off the brake pedal. I watched the oncoming car slow and stop and I hit the gas to get through the light that had turned red, only out from the occultation of the car I watched come to a halt shot a little silver meteor of a car. In a brief second I thought, “I hope they’re not planning on turning into my lane”, thinking that it was going to turn right onto the two lane street I was aiming for. Only it didn’t turn at all, but plowed directly into the front passenger side wheel, grinding clear across the grill of my truck and ending up coming to rest lamely in front of me. It was one of those slow moment things where I had time to think of so many things.

“Where did she come from?”
“What did she think she was doing?”
“Why didn’t I stop at Taco Bell?”

I sat there for a minute trying to remember where I had my last save point. I got out only to discover that there was a car rammed into the back of my pickup.

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The girl in the car that hit me from behind was pretty shaken, as was the one that came through the red light. The red-light-runner had a baby in the car. My heart sank. I got out my phone but my hands were shaking so bad I had a lot of trouble dialing the police. An unmarked police SUV pulled into the intersection and an off duty officer from Park City got out to check on everyone and said he’d called the Salt Lake Dispatch. After talking for a minute to the driver behind I walked around to the front. A guy who had been waiting to cross the street was making sure everyone was ok. He came and gave me his phone number, saying he wasn’t watching the lights, he was just focused on the crosswalk fixing to change, but would tell what he could. I picked up the large chunk of my front bumper that had my license plate still attached from the ground and tossed it in the bed of my truck. Another woman gave me her name and phone number. I paced back and forth in the snow a bit, painfully aware that we were impeding traffic across almost every lane.

I was glad nobody was hurt. I was amazed that no airbags had deployed. But my heart began to sink, because I’m a pessimist. I figured that it was probably going to work out that I was going to get the ticket for failing to yield. Ironically I had priced out new and used trucks earlier in the day and came to the conclusion that I couldn’t afford one, although I wasn’t sure if my ol’ beast would make it through the winter. Coincidentally, I had found the night before when clearing my desk, that I hadn’t put my new insurance card in my truck and had taken it out before I went to bed. Debbie had said I could just wait until morning, but I thought I would forget.

Time dragged on. Cars fought for position, attempting to merge or turn around the wreck against traffic to get on their way, beeping at each other, or maybe us. The temperature dropped. A fire engine showed up and purposefully blocked the intersection allowing fewer yahoo’s to skirt by on the wrong side of the wrecks. I had to sign a primitive digital tablet to the effect that I was ok to keep walking around in the frigid snowy drizzle and not be taken to a hospital. The firemen rode off to their next adventure as the police pulled up. I handed over my info and gave my side of the story. The officer seemed to not buy my (and the third party in the accident’s) story that the light was really red. I gave them the witnesses phone numbers. Another officer had the girl behind pull her car back and into the car wash parking lot. The tow truck drivers began to appear. I grabbed a couple items out of my vehicle. The officer that took my license brought it back and said that the woman who had given me her number was the woman who had stopped at the light. She said as she stopped (while the light was still yellow) the woman who hit me honked at her from behind, wheeled out from behind her and screeched into the intersection as it went red. The officer said he was giving the impatient woman the ticket due to her corroboration.

I was relieved that it wasn’t going to be my fault. And relieved that her and her husband who had shown up and given me several withering looks were not around. The officer dismissed me and I began to walk down the hill. I figured I’d have Debbie come get me, but I’d walk a bit so she didn’t have to get in the snarl of traffic. I dialed her up, and to my surprise she was just across the street from me coming to my rescue.

I’m in one of those places where I know there’s nothing I can do right now. I’m not worried, I have friends and family that are always right there to take care of me. They’re all the best. I’m not sure I let them know that enough, but I try. I’ll work something out with the car. I have to talk to the insurance first and look at the options, but I’m fairly sure the truck is totaled. It’s been in zombie mode for 4 or 5 years anyway. Avenues always seem to open up for me. I just saw the other day that with our last house payment we should be eligible to get the mortgage insurance dropped. That’s at least a third of a car payment there. Funny how my silver linings always seem to be a couple yards short of a first down, but it’s better than nothing.

The Reflective Season is Upon Me

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Yesterday at work I took my usual afternoon break outside, ostensibly to stretch my legs and get away from my computer, but additionally to hit the pokestop across the street. It was surprisingly pleasant for the time of year and I lingered a little longer than I have been since the weather turned. I crossed the street and headed back to my office and found a small dead bird lying on the pavement. I was struck by its beauty and it made me a little sad that what appeared to be a healthy creature had probably succumbed to the cold. Naturally, I felt I ought to take a picture of it. A bicyclist was coming my way and I felt a little obnoxious as I stood in his path protecting the small body at my feet. I’m sure he didn’t see the bird and wondered why I was just standing there in his way. After he passed I crouched down and took the photo, but I couldn’t bring myself to just let the bird lie in the road. I picked it up gently and it was still very limp and must have only recently died. I wanted to take it back and bury it in the back of our parking lot where there are a lot of bushes, and flowers in the spring, but the ground is frozen and I didn’t have any means to accomplish anything appropriate. It struck me as many things do anymore as unfair, or at least needlessly unfortunate, but I know that’s the way of nature. I laid the body down on a clean patch of snow just away from the road, and went back to the office.

The rest of the afternoon I couldn’t really shake the memory of holding the little bird. I thought of when Stan the cat died in the driveway a few years ago and how Debbie and I held him one last time before burying him. I also thought of the death of Carrie Fisher and the pain of losing someone around Christmas. My Dad’s brother had died just after Christmas not many years ago, the same Christmas as a close member of my wife’s Mount Pleasant family. I make a joke that Debbie likes to watch the sad Christmas movies, generally referring to them as “Everybody Dies at Christmas”. To me they seem cloyingly heart-wringing in a melodramatic way that leaves a bad taste in my mouth, but I try to be understanding of other peoples entertainment choices. Heaven knows I have my own cinematic guilty pleasures.

But this is a hard season for me, although when I stop and think about it, that isn’t unusual for any season anymore. Maybe that comes with age. When the memories you have  come back unbidden with every little neural nudge it’s hard not to be a little melancholy with memories, good and bad, that pile up over the years. Maybe with certain personalities like mine more than others. I guess the important part is not to dwell on the losses as much as the connections made in the times we have together. Now there’s a Hallmark sentiment if there ever was one. But melancholy as I may be, I do think I remember things fondly that happened, rather than dwell on the fact that they had an end.

And that little bird that came into my life as it left its own and sparked hours of contemplation on the nature of existence and our part in relating to those around us. None of us can see the extent of our influence, I only hope that I can see enough of myself to recognize when the things I do are not being beneficial, and hopefully change that.

Caribbean Sampler

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The time had come to expand my world some. I daydream of travel all the time, and I’ve done my best to poke around the southwestern U.S. on my own. I’ve also been lucky enough to explore several cities when I went to SuperComputing conferences when I was with CHPC at the University of Utah. Several years ago Debbie, Kayla, and I went on a cruise to Hawaii, and I learned that while a cruise is not really great for experiencing a location, it’s really good for getting a taste of places so you can see if you want to come back. My friend Jack and his family invited us to tag along with them on a cruise to the Western Caribbean and it sounded like just the right medicine for me.

The cruise was on the Norwegian Cruise Line ship Getaway, a monster of a floating hotel. It set sail for the seven day cruise from Miami and headed to the furthest south point of the trip, the Honduran island of Roatan. I think this was my favorite stop. We had booked an excursion of snorkeling and sea kayaking.DCIM100GOPRO

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The sea was a little murky because of some storms that had come through the last few days, but we did see a lot of cool fish and corals.  Kayla got an up-close experience with the reef, but didn’t get too scraped up. When we headed out to go kayaking, Debbie wasn’t too sure she wanted any part of it, but we had a really cool tour guide named Christopher Flores who convinced her to give it a go. In fact he told her to go on the front of his Kayak and he’d make sure it was ok. She did, in her zealous paddling, dump them both out into the drink just a bit out of the gate, but Christopher talked her into continuing on. He did take away her paddle, though. The water was really warm, more than I remember from even Hawaii, which was nice and seemed too warm to be real.

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Christopher Flores and Debbie

Christopher, at the end of our Kayaking destination took us into the fringe of the jungle and showed us a lot of things like how to dig up a crab in its hole and bush remedies from the plants growing along the beach. He climbed up a tree and grabbed a coconut and showed how to husk it and grate it and get some of the milk from the coconut meat. He also gave us a method for the way the Hondurans cook rice and beans in the coconut milk that I really want to try.

As we were sitting on the ship as it was getting ready to sail from Roatan I suddenly had the urge to jump ship and go native. It passed quickly enough, but I had to actually pull out my pencils and try to capture this view in my sketchbook before the sun went down.

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The next stop was Belize, which was somewhat of a disappointment as far as the city went. It was a run-down kind of sad, and lots of the buildings were leaning and sunk in the earth up to the first floor windows because of improper foundations in the swamp it’s built on. We were headed to the Mayan ruins at Lamanai. We needed to be the first ones off the ship because we had a long bus ride followed by a long river trip before getting to the site. The river jumping off point is significant in that next door to the cafe is the house that once belonged to John McAfee before he fled into the jungle to evade the federales.

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McAfee’s former property.

The river trip took us up past Belize’s Amish country and through several rain squalls. There was abundant life along the river including termite nests in the tops of trees and the aptly named Jesus Bird that walks on water. One fellow cruiser in the boat ahead of us showed me a picture of a river crocodile he took.

The rains let up just as we reached the ruins to hear the most horrible sound. It turned out to be just Howler Monkeys, but they sound just like a broken bone chainsaw. The amazing thing, to me, about the ruins is that people are just allowed to climb all over them. It’s probably a point of view particular to people raised around U.S. national parks. I could post pictures of this place all evening, but I’ll spare you and just pick a few of the best.

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Jack and his family atop the pyramid

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I think I need to mock up something like this for my yard.

The next day we got to Costa Maya, Mexico and went on our second ruins trip.  The ruins at Kohunlich were a little more diverse than the Belize ruins in that there were more buildings and common areas preserved.

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And just a little proof we were there and that this isn’t just a fabrication, unless it’s a really good photoshop.

Our last stop was in Cozumel, Mexico for another round of snorkeling and a stingray encounter. Debbie was fairly adamant that there would be no stingray touching, or stingray kissing, or possibly going in the water. But she proved to be more daring than her predictions. A few minutes cab ride from the port was the stingray preserve where they let us snorkel in the fenced-in area where they’re protecting and breeding the stingrays. The fish here were of the petting-zoo variety in that they clustered around the person that was going to feed them, but it was still pretty cool.

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Snorkeling with a wedgie.

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There were even some Mexican Pokemon.

I didn’t explore the ship much like I did on the Hawaiian cruise, but we had fewer days at sea. I never went through the ropes course, or on the several water slides. I just wanted to relax and sat on the shady side of the boat watching the water slide by. I wish this kind of trip was doable every year, there’s so much out there I want to see, but when I think about what few opportunities my forbears had in experiencing things like this I have to count myself very lucky.

Another Cinematic Dream

This is the closest thing to a good dream I’ve had in a long while.

The dream goes way back into the night, but the significant part was the perfect closing scene for a movie that I’ve ever had. It had an ensemble cast: a young Walter Matthau, Paul Rudd, my friends Jason Bennion and Jack Hattaway, Susan Sarandon’s character from Bull Durham played by a Laugh-in era Goldie Hawn (but not played ditzy). There was a love triangle between Goldie Hawn and just about everybody (so, not a triangle, really) that was nuanced and weighted perfectly. A confrontation between everyone in a large hotel suite where Paul Rudd goes off on a rant about need and want and the saccharine sweetness of a commercial breakfast cereal, Sugar-oo’s.

Individuals move from room to room having conversations about related fragments of the situation, Jason goes off and smokes a cigarette down the hill by a garden and an old barn. Rudd and Matthau have an argument about the nature of their relationship with Hawn and how each one had what the other wanted. I almost fall down a set of stairs tripping on a vacuum cord. Walter Matthau shoots a flaming arrow at the barn where Jason is smoking and explosively sets the whole thing on fire, and Jason looks around at it nonchalantly.

The cast stands at the top of the rise looking down at the flaming wreckage. Goldie Hawn has left with some man that’s she’s chosen on the spur of the moment to be her next project and pulls off in a convertible Cadillac, leaving all the jilted men contemplating their relationships with her. Walter Matthau walks off towards the kitchen and as we watch his back he ends the movie with the perfect line, “What are Sugar-oo’s?” The camera pulls back and up on a dolly crane shot and we see what’s left of the cast milling about in front of the hotel with flaming wreckage from the barn in the background.

No kidding, I woke up after a crane shot when the scene ended. If you made it this far you’re a Good Person, the kind of person who smiles and nods at your friend when they say, “I had the weirdest dream last night!” Even if you grit your teeth the whole time wondering when it will end. But I did try to ease the pain and didn’t talk about our class being on the first bus to the theater, or the mix up in seat number cards. I did mention almost falling down the stairs, though, because I wanted you to know I was in the dream. I was a minor character, though.

The Algorithm Life

Not many people are cut from the IT cloth, but I believe that the hurdles most people face when dealing with computer problems are largely psychological. There is something about computers that seems like it should require some insight more mystical than Google to solve. Now I’m not saying that the average person will feel confident in setting up an LDAP server, but there are a lot of small maintenance tasks that everyone has to go through just to bring these silicon beasts to heel. Nearly every day I’m faced with questions that leave the users looking sheepish over the simple tasks that just took me a minute to do.

On the other side of that coin, IT people sometimes take what is an easy problem and try to solve it through more arcane processes when a “normal” person would easily solve it. While solving a simple problem earlier I was handed one of the wireless handset phones our users carry with them. After a bit of confusion we decided it was one that didn’t belong to anyone present at the moment, so I took it and said I’d find the proper owner. I looked at the number on the phone’s display and compared it to the dead tree directory list on my desk, but failed to find the owner. My next thought was to log into the cisco administration server for the phones, and I proceeded to try to find the number there. Strike two. finally I looked up the phone’s IP address on the handset and started to look up IP’s on the server. It was only then I realized all I needed to do was call my desk phone from the handset and look at the caller ID for the owners name.

So, next time you see your IT guy struggling with some simple task please remember, he’s probably looking for the most difficult way to accomplish his goal.

ELO as a transition point

Music means a lot to me. In high school I learned that it could be used to mitigate aspects of the worst of my mood swings. I’d listen to Judas Priest to burn through my rage, Pink Floyd’s “The Wall” as some sort of lyrical commiseration for alienation,  and  Oingo Boingo gave me somewhere to redirect surplus energy. Music got me through a lot of tough times, and still holds a near-mystical power over me as it does with most people, I imagine.

We had a small record player when I was very young and some kids records that I think came from the childhood of my mother. Disney singles of Cinderella’s “Bibbidi bobbidi boo” song and the like. My sister and I listened to them often and eventually we were allowed access to the bigger stereo in the living room and my dad’s LP collection.  Oddly enough, other than the occasional Christmas album, I really only listened to a Roger Miller LP and the soundtrack from “Paint Your Wagon”. Still, it was enough to get me hooked and I began to feel the need to build my own collection.

By the time I was old enough to have an allowance I would usually spend some of it at the record store in Fashion Place Mall when my mom would cart us off shopping. Eventually I had a growing collection of 45’s. I vividly remember approaching the checkout counter at The Music Stop at the mall with the single for ELO’s “Turn to Stone” when I was about 10 or 11. A tall guy* waiting in line noticed what I was doing and  asked why I was just buying a single when for the price of a few singles I could have the whole album. I remember feeling like I got caught doing something wrong. After about a minute I put the 45 back and started looking at the whole “Out of the Blue” album. I think it cost $8 and it was a real hit to my child’s velcro wallet, but I did have that much. I remember kind of sucking it up and making the decision to go with the cassette of the whole album.

You might have guessed that I’ve just finished listening to “Out of the Blue” for the first time in decades. I seem to have a couple of ELO compilation albums, but somehow “Out of the Blue” never made the crossover from cassette to CD. It seems to be beyond my abilities to get over the power of music to transport me across the ages. I haven’t heard (or thought of) “Night in the City” since my teen years, yet I find my mind leading the music by a half a second anticipating the lyrics.

My morning class in my freshman year in high school had a pair of talkative girls, probably seniors, who liked to tease the shy little freshman that sat across the table from them**. One day they asked me what my favourite band was and I told them ELO and they laughed at me. Ever since then when I admit to liking ELO I feel a bit ashamed, and sometimes even apologize.

That one little interaction from those girls as well as the one from the guy ahead of me in line at the record store both had huge repercussions in my life. I’m forever altered by something so seemingly insignificant that happened in passing. I have no doubt that anyone but me involved in those exchanges has any inkling of the conversation’s existence, much less their impact. Listening to the album today brought both instances back to mind and has made me wonder how often I’ve off-handedly reacted to something that’s had similar repercussions for someone else. My thoughts tend to roll off the tip of my tongue without much consideration, and I imagine I’ve done my share of damage, though over the last half of my life I’ve tried to excise any mean spiritedness from my personality.  Hopefully, as clichéd as it sounds, I’ve had a net positive result. Although it’s possible I wouldn’t feel too bad if in 40 years someone feels a little ashamed of admitting to liking One Direction because of something I said.

* He could have been 16 or 36 for all I could really tell at the time
**When they noticed him at all, which, mercifully, wasn’t often.

War Dream

I had another one last night, one of those dreams I can’t quite shake. There was some kind of war. I had my .22 pistol on me and a small machine gun that took the same ammo as my familiar sidearm. I was a little dismayed at having such a small calibre weapon. We were taking cover behind cardboard boxes stacked loosely behind some rail fencing about 15 yards apart from the enemy. They had similar ineffective cover, and I seemed to know who they were. I was laying on the ground hiding in vain behind my box and watching a soldier, someone who had been my friend, training a browning .50 calibre machine gun on a tripod on me diagonally to my left. We were at the park just downhill from the University on 1st south, below the tennis courts.

There were soldiers on both sides calling to keep calm and point weapons in a safe direction, but everyone was nervous. Most of us were trying to comply, but a sudden move would bring the weapons back to bear and several times we came within a hairs breadth of opening fire only to return our weapons to pointing at the ground. I was checking my ammo supply when someone opened fire. It was quickly suppressed and I saw that one of the guys across the fence from me had been shot up, but not killed. They were angry and started to train their guns on me, anger in their eyes. I opened fire.

In these dreams I don’t ever seem to be able to deal lethal damage, and this was the same. I put several small slugs into the chests of a couple soldiers in front of me with my machine gun. They opened fire on me, the dirt spraying up and holes chewing through my cardboard box. The soldiers all around me were getting cut down by superior weapons. Most of them fled back and to the right towards an amusement park. I realized I couldn’t stay as the enemy quickly crossed between the two fences, so I jumped up and began to retreat also, but turning left instead of right.

I began to take fire and was struck in the head by a small calibre bullet just above and behind the ear. It hurt so bad. I took several more in the shoulder, right side, and one in the right elbow and wrist. I fell down and played dead. The enemy solders walked past me making for the amusement park and I was afraid for the civilians in their path. I got up and began to inspect my wounds. I could feel the bullet that struck my head just below the skin. There wasn’t much blood from any of the wounds, but I didn’t know if I could get far. I thought I was going to have to walk myself clear down to the hospital, but I was scared for my wife.

I began to walk towards the amusement park and found Debbie playing with a class of small children in the amusement park by a carousel and ferris wheel. She didn’t seem to concerned about my wounds but thought I needed to get to the hospital. She couldn’t leave the children and the soldiers seemed to be nowhere around so I began the long walk to the hospital. Again I started to probe my wounds because I couldn’t understand how I was still alive.

I awoke right after that, about 4:30 in the morning, but I could still feel the pain in my head, wrist, and elbow and the dream stayed with me for several minutes. The little Stella cat had come in earlier than she has lately to sleep against my feet. I disturbed her as I sat up halfway in bed and she came over and laid down on my shoulder as I fell back on the pillows and hoped to not dream anymore.

Habits

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About a year ago my friend Ken pointed me at the book “The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business” by Charles Duhigg. I finally got around to finishing it, and I’m finally getting around to writing about it, although I don’t think I’ll ever get around to finishing thinking about it. I’d made a post on Facebook about some  habits I’d been making and Ken recommended the book and I picked it up, and so did my wife.

I started paying close attention to the behaviors I had fairly early in life, around 10 years old or so, when I ‘figured out’ I wasn’t human and needed to learn how to fit in so the townsfolk wouldn’t discover and burn me on a pyre. It all started with a close call when one of the young humans noticed I had to touch things equally with both hands to balance out the sensation. But that’s another story.

Last spring I’d decided that I really needed to get serious and lose some weight and I decided there ought to be a good app for my phone to track calories. I downloaded and began to use “myfitnesspal” to track how much I was eating and the progress of my weight. I knew I consumed way more than I should but didn’t know, really, how to change it. The strange thing was that in keeping track of what I ate with the app I was able to put the brakes on the amounts and types of food I was eating very easily. I’d know that if I got seconds for dinner I’d be way over my goal and was easily able to pass on the extras I’d normally have between meals. Within 6 months I was down 30 pounds without even really noticing that I’d missed much. I still drank the occasional soda, but stuck to mediums instead of larges when I ate out. And I ate out less frequently than I had been.

In the book it talks about habit cycles, the que->routine->reward cycle that people slip into. In my case, dealing with being bipolar and not being able to be medicated, led to the creation of a lot of habits, and the eating ones are fairly problematic. Early on in my diagnosis and treatment it was impressed upon me that i needed to eat regular meals and stop skipping them because I didn’t feel like eating. This habit had a couple effects on me. I ended up eating all the time whether I was hungry or not, which led to weight gain, but it also kept me eating through the cancer treatments no matter how sick I got, so kind of a mixed blessing.

To modify an already present habit the book says to recognize the que that triggers the habit and then to alter the routine that will lead you to a reward. Looking back at what I did with my app was inserting a step where I recorded what I was planning on eating and modified the amount or type of food I was consuming to stay within constraints I had set. I didn’t improve the quality of my meals as much as just recognized where I stood in relation to my goals, but in the end it had the desired effect.

Around the middle of last November I got smacked by the usual winter depression that seems to come with the shorter days. This year it seemed to be worse than it had been in a long time and I ended up abandoning all caloric tracking. It’s kind of a survival method I’ve got where I jettison all the excess baggage and just concentrate on making it through the next day. I’m not sure it’s a healthy habit, but it’s one that has kept me around this long. The surprising thing was that the habits I’d built over the previous seven or eight months didn’t suffer too much. I gained back seven pounds I’d lost as I overindulged in the holiday snacks, but despite the occasional overindulgence new routines held up despite my lack of supervision.

Now that it’s spring and the depression has mostly passed I really need to fix some of the habits that died over the winter. Somehow I’ve just been wasting my evenings in front of the computer or the TV (with a tablet in hand). I’ve needed to get back into the studio and get back to creating, or doing yard work, or exercising. It’s things I plan to do all day, but somehow lack the gumption to go after once  I get off work. I suppose I need to look at the que in the evening that gets me on the couch and replace it with actually accomplishing something.

Reading Matter

A few weeks ago I briefly took part in a discussion on Facebook that got me thinking about how I started down the road of prose I’ve been following for a really long time now.  I don’t remember exactly what the post was about, or even who originated it, but I do remember that it sparked a memory of an early love of parody and farce that I think I can trace back to Mad Magazine.  I remember my introduction to Mad came from my father, unlikely as that sounds. My dad used to travel a lot for business, and he’d often pick up some light reading for the flight that usually ended up in the hands of his kids. Often it was a Johnny Hart pocket paperback of comics like “The Wizard of Id” or “B.C.”, but on this occasion it happened to be the  Mad Magazine “Jaws II” issue from January 1979. I was just 11 years old, and I remember my mom’s concern and asking my dad if it was really ok for me to read it. He said he thought it was, which upon reflection makes me wonder if it was really my dad, or possibly some time-traveling hero hoping to bend my path away from evil. It just doesn’t feel like something of which he would approve, but that one incidence has had a profound effect on the way I perceive and deal with my world.

Reading was always important in my family. My dad often read stories to us. “The 500 Hats of Bartholemew Cubbins” by Dr. Suess, is one I remember hearing frequently. We had the usual children’s books, a whole bookcase full of them in our room, and I remember my mom frequently carting us off to the library to get an arm full of loaners. I went through the usual kid path of reading. It seems like someone in my elementary school would discover race cars, then all the boys would check out all the race car books in the tiny elementary school library. Then it would be skyscrapers or some other little-boy fad subject.

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I remember running out of dinosaur books and turning around and hitting the small science fiction section. That was the first big turning point to me. I’d seen Flash Gordon serials and other sci-fi shows, but I hadn’t really ever given much thought to fiction. I think “Elevator to the Moon” was the first one I read, and in short order I’d plowed through the two shelves of science fiction in the library, including  Wells’ “War of the Worlds” (possibly dumbed down for kids).

Then came that Mad Magazine. Not only was it dealing in a large part with popular fiction, but also parodying works I often hadn’t even experienced first hand. Mad Magazine was way over my head, but somehow I filed away those parts I didn’t understand to come back in a flash of understanding years later when the context presented itself. I think that it introduced me to thinking above the threshold of my understanding and caused me to stretch out and really consider the meanings of what I was reading. Maybe it’s presumptuous to attribute so much to a juvenile rag like Mad, but I don’t think I’d be the person I am today without it. In fact, I know I wouldn’t. Remind me to tell you about The Rainbow of Texts someday if I haven’t already.

A dream with a different tone

I’ve swung back to the intense dreaming portion of the cycle where I don’t really seem to get any rest and wake up exhausted, like I’ve been working hard all night at something ridiculous. Thursday night was different, perhaps it was all the New Years Eve junk food, but I remember the dream perfectly. Instead of a repetitious task I can’t quite do correctly or to my satisfaction, I was actually doing something I enjoyed. I don’t often dream about things I enjoy, and I’ve heard it suggested that it’s because you don’t dream for fun, you dream to work something out internally. I never dream of making pottery, or going to the beach, instead I’ve visited hell and been shot up a few times.

This week my dreams have been more narrative than it has of late. Maybe that means I’m past the hump of this seasons depression. The main event was a very vivid dream where I was in a heavily-used wilderness area with a lot of places to rock climb. None of the walls were very big, but there were a lot of them around, with people everywhere tied in and ascending. I found an interesting little  pock-marked face with a lot of potential that was completely free of climbers. Despite not having any gear, and remembering I was out of shape I decided I’d only boulder a bit down low.

I took hold of a couple of the little pockets and pulled myself onto the wall and took a few steps up, intending to just fool around a little, but soon found myself much higher than was safe. I’d come to a slight overhang, but could reach back and up almost to the top. I was excited by the challenges I’d already faced and really wanted to get back to this place when I had my gear with me and someone to properly belay. I extended just enough to reach the top of the overhang and found a really good hold. I knew that if I let go with my other hand and just went for it I could easily get over this last part and stand on top of this cliff. But I wasn’t tied in, and didn’t have the right shoes on, so I downclimbed a bit and found a diagonal crack I could chimney down and made it back to the ground safely. I felt so good and I was excited to do it again, and make it all the way to the top that I knew I had to get in shape and come back next year.

It seems to me what this is saying is that my own self doubt about my preparedness and my unwillingness to let go of what I see as safe or secure is keeping me from accomplishing what I’d really like to do. What’s baffling me enough to sit down and try to write about it is why I was so happy in this dream. It was a profound, genuine joy that I haven’t feet in waking life in a long time. Appropriately, I have had bits of Hamlet’s speech to Rozencrantz and Guildenstern running through my mind quite often this last month:

I have of late—but wherefore I know not—lost all my mirth, forgone all custom of exercises, and indeed it goes so heavily with my disposition that this goodly frame, the earth, seems to me a sterile promontory

Except I know why, and the exasperation of dealing with it for 30 years is taking its toll.

I’m not one to take too much direction from my dreams, but I’m more than a little impacted by this one. I can remember being happy now, and what it was like to actually, genuinely enjoy things. And not only that, but to enjoy the processes of things as opposed to the perception that happiness would be obtained by achieving a goal. In the dream I was filled with happiness at just climbing and I knew I’d be happy completing the climb, but it didn’t matter that I hadn’t finished that day. But if I had just let go with my other hand and made the move around the overhang I could have been on top of the cliff. I knew I could do it, I had a good hold to move from, but I backed down because it wasn’t ‘safe’.

It’s given me a lot to think about over the last day, and I don’t have any sort of solution yet. In fact, I don’t even know the direction I should be looking, but I’m taking a look at everything. Maybe that’s a good point to start the new year.

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