#IStandwithAhmed

As I was procrastinating getting ready for work this morning I ran across the story of Ahmed, a young high school student who made a clock and was subsequently detained as a potential terrorist. I was so angry for the idiocy of the whole situation and ashamed at the way this young man was treated by people who should know better, people entrusted with the nurturing of today’s youth, that I could hardly deal with it. I know times are different now then when I was about his age, but I can’t picture a situation where an intelligent person would make the leap to have Ahmed detained for posession of something that could even be considered a hoax bomb without any sort of actual threat or malicious action.

It made me think of a certain incident from when I was in high school. Several of my friends and I had an inquisitive nature as Ahmed seems to have. We enjoyed building things and finding unique ways to use interesting objects that came into our posession. On one particular day as we neared our graduation one of these guys called me up and asked if it would be hard to hook two air horns up to a car battery with some sort of a switch so it could be activated. I told him it would be really easy and I had some spare switches around and he should bring the stuff over to see what we could do. He came over lugging a big battery in a wooden box and we quickly wired it up to an old light switch and some salvaged wire. It really did the trick and made quite a racket.

I don’t remember my friend including me in his plans for the device, I had a strict policy of willful ignorance back then, but it’s possible I just chose not to ‘remember’ being part of the planning of the op. I suspect there wasn’t really a plan, but more the knowledge that an opportunity surely would present itself once the device was created. They always seemed to pop up once we were equipped, often to our detriment. There’s probably a story in that, somewhere.

Anyway, I learned after the fact that my friend had taken the device to school and decided to stash it in another friends locker, taping an improvised tripwire string from the switch to the locker door. While he was rigging the system a girl asked, “What’s that?” To which my friend gave a brief, simple reply, “A bomb.”

Now, this is most likely not the use I would have found for the device, nor the response I would have given to such an inquiry. But it was consistent with expected behavior from my friend. Subsequently my friend found himself called to one of the V.P.’s offices and as he entered, the school police officer, standing out of sight next to the door closed it. Mr. Hicks, the V.P., a very serious individual, asked him what he put in the locker. My friend briefly described the device. This is the part where time, and possibly the fact that my friend’s name doesn’t hail from the Middle East causes a diversion in the possible results of his actions. The school officer laughed (presumably at the V.P.) and left the office. My friend was let go without threats of detention or withholding of his diploma.

My friend came and found us to tell the funny story of getting called in to the office. When we asked what happened to the device we were told it had already worked perfectly, and that the prankee was so startled he slammed the locker door in hopes it would stop the noise. It didn’t. Also, he was so flustered he had a hard time getting the combination right to open it back up and shut it off. In a way getting hauled in to the office just made the whole thing a little sweeter, I think.

It’s really not an epic story, but I can’t imagine even white bread students getting away with such a thing today. And maybe they shouldn’t, although I don’t think any real harm was done back then. But on the obverse, what was done to Ahmed had the potential for real harm, and it’s only the fact that the story went viral to such a degree so rapidly and found support among those who were in a position to recognize his potential and nurture it, that the whole situation seems like it will turn out for the best.

Remind me sometime to tell y’all how I came up with an idea that almost got half the senior class arrested and filled the school parking lot with police late one night the week before graduation.

 

This is bit of a downer

This is a post I’ve been putting off writing for years, mostly because I don’t see that is much more than sounding off about a subject that won’t bring a laugh to anyone. That’s the reason I write these, mostly. I’d like to think that it brings something positive to the few people that read these thoughts. But this has been heavy on my mind for a long time now, and I’m not sure that there really is a point. I’ve been thinking seriously about writing this since Robin Williams took his life last year. Maybe before that, when Tony Scott parked his car on the bridge in San Pedro and jumped in 2012. Or maybe when Richard Jeni shot himself. Or maybe when Michael Hutchence …

Every time I hear about someone that feels forced into that corner where they make a final choice, or fail to chose another option in lieu of that choice, is like taking a blow to my own heart. And it sticks with me for quite some time. Probably because I made that choice before, and have personally known others that have too. In my case it probably worked out in the best possible way in that it didn’t leave any signs that the choice had ever been made. I guess I finally decided to tell this story because I heard it’s suicide prevention month. Not much of an excuse, but I’ve been hoping I could do something to help for quite awhile.

When I was 17, before I’d been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and before I had ever really begun to look introspectively at all, I just thought everyone felt like I do. I wasn’t sure how anyone could stand it, and I felt weak because I wasn’t handling it well. I felt strange and alien and utterly alone, despite having just opened a chapter of my life that was filled with some of the most wonderful friends anyone could ever have. One Sunday morning I woke up and knew it was my last day on Earth. The effort of just breathing was too much and the idea of going on another day was unbearable.

I drove myself up to the Storm Mountain recreation area up Big Cottonwood Canyon, at the time one of my favorite places. I parked and crossed the reservoir and started climbing the sheer rock face, figuring I’d fall, and hoping I would get far enough to make it fatal. In a short time I’d gotten pretty far (for a novice with no gear or experience) and my arms were getting tired from clinging to the wall. I figured I was high enough that it was just time to be finished and as I got to a little ledge I decided to just turn around on it and dive. To this day thinking about that moment I can’t believe I was ever so committed to anything. I can still taste the decision and everything is so clear in my mind. I turned and leaned forward and I saw a young couple across the reservoir pointing up at me showing their toddler where the guy was climbing. I reversed my motion and leaned back on the wall. I just knew I didn’t want to be seen doing something so terrible, especially by someone so young. I also wanted there to be a large measure of doubt that it was intentional for my own family to spare them more anguish. I figured I’d wait for the ones watching me to move on before jumping.

As I stood on that ledge that was narrower than my shoes, the endorphins began to work on me, and I didn’t feel as bad as I had when I started the reckless climb up the face. More people began to show up, and I noticed how nice the day was going to be, and I decided not to jump. I felt like a coward and ashamed, not that I’d tried, but that I’d failed. Then I got really worried that I wasn’t going to be able to get down. It seemed silly that I was worrying that I might fall, now that I’d decided not to go through with my plan. But I surely wasn’t going to yell for a rescue. I traversed to a less hazardous area and made it down ok. I got back in my car, went back home, and buried this story. But I wasn’t able to bury it so deep that I haven’t dredged it up on a regular basis.

Now that I know what is going on, and I see the patterns of how the depression works it’s been somewhat easier to deal with, and as they say, things got better. Not so much better that it doesn’t cross my mind anymore, but enough that I know they’re just really black moods and the option isn’t on the table. It’s not that the release isn’t attractive, but I can look back at all the things I’ve been able to do, when I’ve been able to do them. But sometimes I can’t, and I have to find some way to keep putting one foot in front of the other until I get through to a point where I can again.

It was only a few years after that time when I found some hope in religion and, to my great surprise, found myself on a mission for the LDS church in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Just after I got there, I met a young lady there that was very musically talented. A couple weeks after I met her she tried to take her life in an overdose, and it almost stopped me cold. She was in the hospital, saved I was told because her antidepressants said to not take with milk, and thinking that would make it worse, she drank a lot of milk. I barely knew her, but I wanted to go visit her in the hospital. I wanted to tell her I understood, and I wanted to try to help. I don’t think I ever voiced this to my companion. I was new and I thought it would look inappropriate. It was also out of our area, and we would need to get permission. I found so many reasons to not do anything, and at the time they all seemed valid. Within the year I heard in passing that she’d succeeded in another attempt. I can’t explain the loss I felt. It doesn’t seem to make any sense. This was a beautiful young girl with a great talent and ability in music, she seemed to have much more than me by way of potential, but I could only see what she was showing. From what I understand she had her demons, but all of us do. For some of us, though, it feels like we’re having to face them all alone in a world where nobody else can really help.

In reality it doesn’t make any sense, except to the person going through it. I don’t think it is understandable, from the outside. You can look at it logically and you can see some of the whys, but from inside all you can see are whys. And I suppose, like everything else, it’s not just black and white. From inside the blackness there seems to be very few choices that can be made.

I’ve been very fortunate.  For the most of my life I’ve had people around who weren’t afraid to let me know they cared. People who made an effort, even though they couldn’t do much more for me than to say, “I hear you and I care”. My parents have always been there, and if I didn’t know they cared and if I hadn’t known that it would hurt them to lose me, I might have taken that step. And I almost took it anyway. There’s so much I can’t find the words to say. The fear, and the self-loathing; the anger and loneliness; the aching love that has no direction and a feeling not only that you’re never going to be happy again, but that you’ve never been happy at all. It’s so overwhelming.

And it’s getting to be autumn. My bad time. The last few years the impending doom of the shorter days has been less than it was when I was younger. Maybe because things are getting better, maybe just because I know from experience that it can be survived. Things have been bad this year, but I have people and I’ve learned that I can make it through with their support. I don’t feel as bad as I used to when I say to someone, “I’m not doing to well right now.” Sometimes I make the shorter statement, “I’m broken”. It’s easier to say.

But the whole reason for this exposure is I want people to know that I can be there for them, too. I understand these feelings very well, and while maybe I can’t make it better, I can listen, and maybe say “I understand” and maybe share the load. For me, it’s made all the difference possible. It’s made being possible. I wish I’d made the effort to see that girl in Minneapolis, to let her know that I kind of understood how it feels. Maybe I could have made a difference, but I’ll never know. Maybe I’m making a mistake by being this open, but I hope not. I hope in some way I can help.

No diet for me, sorta

Since March I’ve been kind of keeping track of what I eat with the MyFitnessPal app on my phone. I’ve gone from 233 pounds down to 212 pounds since then (mostly in the first couple months). I still eat crappy, drink Cokes and eat cookies, but it has shaped things where now I only have two cookies, and not the whole bag. And frequently I think, I don’t need a soda today. Every day I’d put in my breakfast (too many egg McMuffin and a large Coke days), but I’d stop eating sooner and not go off the rails as often, and it’s paying off little by little. I don’t give much mind to the sodium goals, and I laugh at the saturated fat ones, so obviously I’m not trying hard at all. But I did have to punch a new hole on my belt, and there’s very few pants I have to unbutton to take off anymore.

Just knowing that I’ve only got 400 calories left in my daily goal after a crazy lunch where I ate a whole personal pizza at the Pizza Studio helps me make better choices with dinner, and sometimes I go over, but don’t have to really worry about it. I can scan bar codes to easily put something like almonds from Costco, or string cheese into my digital cake hole monitor. It kind of makes it real when you decide to record everything as best as you can. I know I don’t get weights right, and I just had the app search for “Funeral Potatoes” and put in what looked like a mid-range caloric choice (and then added a half-cup just to make up any deficiencies (Debbie does make some sassy Funeral Potatoes). But eating at a chain restaurant is easy, as most of them have been entered by other users, only take the entries with a grain of salt if they’re not verified. The hard part comes when I’ve got to say, “Well there was about 4 asparagus, some cream of something soup… would you say that was 6 ounces of chicken?” when entering individual items from my meals, and I’ve become a little lazy about recording dinners. But I don’t sit at my desk at work and graze out of my drawer of inappropriate starches as I used to do. I consider what a snack retrieved from there will do to the rest of my day and make better choices.

And that’s a big part of what it’s all about. Debbie is a great cook, and where I’d frequently have popcorn, or a can of tuna for dinner, I now (usually) get a healthy meal. The problem was the meals were so good I’d usually end up with seconds, or thirds. I’d eat until I was cross-eyed and then go looking for dessert as soon as it settled down some. But having the numbers right in front of me, and not wanting to be the fattest Winter Soldier on Halloween has been enough to make a difference. I’m sure it’s not a change that many people see, and 20 pounds isn’t all that much when I know I’m not even halfway to where I’d like to be, but I do feel better, and I’ve not had to make any real sacrifices in my diet. I only have made an adjustment of scale.

Years ago I heard that Jerry Seinfeld has a productivity habit of marking a big yearly calendar that sits in a prominent location in his office. On the days that he writes he marks a big X over the date and as he gets a streak going he keeps doing what he’s supposed to do to not break the streak. Having the MyFitnessApp has been that sort of motivation where every 5 days it would tell me that “Erik has logged in for 135 days in a row!” and so I always made sure to do it daily, even if a couple times I found I could search for a “cheat day” and put it in with 0 calories and forget it for that day.

But today I came in from glazing in the studio for lunch and figured I needed to enter my ham and egg breakfast and whatever I was having for lunch and I noticed that it was telling me that I had logged in for 5 days in a row 2 days ago! Somehow I missed a day last week and broke the streak I was trying so hard to keep. It was a weird little mix of emotions (weird enough so that I’m actually writing something). On one hand I was kind of relieved that I’d finally made a mistake that I’d been trying to avoid, so now I could stop obsessing over it, but on the other I had to start a new streak. At least I didn’t notice for a week and already have a new streak started.

 

Calling it done

Yesterday as I was delaying my inevitable chores and having a bit of bacon and eggs for breakfast, I was browsing reddit and saw another rumor article about Disney releasing the original Star Wars movies without all the George Lucas changes. I get excited to see this, because I’m looking forward to having a copy of the unadulterated version and would even (probably) pick up a copy of “The Empire Strikes Back”. In the comments I saw one in particular that caused me to put down my fork and make a quick response. Only the response grew as I started to type it to something beyond my usual two-sentence, flippant reply. Enough so that I thought I ought to put it here (and, perhaps in Lucasian fashion enhance it a bit).

The original post that caused me to respond was:

It’s ridic how people spend so much time talking so much shit about a guy for doing what he wants with his own creation…and the people who talk all the shit about him are the ones who worship his work.

And my reply: (Somewhat edited for clarity)

As an artist I’ve come to realize that you can work on a piece forever if you really care about what you are doing. Nothing is ever quite up to what you envision, so you rework and modify, bringing your project closer and closer to your concept. Depending on under what constraints you are working (getting paid, deadlines, etc) at some point you have to release it. Once it’s out there for others to experience, part of it ceases to be your creation and merges with those that are influenced by what you created. At that point it actually changes people, and their perception of things in their future will be colored by that change. Peoples lives are altered to a degree depending on how deeply  they are moved by whatever you’ve created. It can be argued that Ronald Reagan was shot, in part, due to the influence of a film.

Now if an artist goes back and alters the creation to better fit some inner eye view of what the concept could have been, they’re able to do that, but the people who experienced a change in themselves may not like the result of the changed work. Look at popular songs that have been remade by artists years after their work made an impact on the music scene. Many people who loved the song won’t like the newer version and cling to the original, while those that were first exposed to the new version and had their perceptions altered by it might appreciate the original, but often still cling to the version that changed them as the best one.

Now if an artist wants to ‘destroy’ the original work so that his vision continues, and he still has the rights to the original, it is his prerogative to do so, but he risks alienating those who love the original work because of the impact it had on them. I’ve been known to destroy pieces I’ve made that I really dislike because I don’t want them out there, and I’ve also been persuaded to sell some of those I’ve hated because someone loved what I created. At this point I can’t go back and alter or replace that piece because I’ve created something better, because I no longer own the rights to that piece, but I can certainly understand Lucas’ drive in this.

It’s the depth of the effect of these movies on the people that first experienced Star Wars before there was A New Hope, who see the altered versions and their reaction is to tell all those around them, “This wasn’t in the original!” It feels disingenuous to see Jabba in a scene that wasn’t even there before to us and, I believe, that is what many people are reaching for. We want a chance to go back and see the version we fell in love with, the one that altered our lives and dreams, without the jarring breaks of “this isn’t right”.

I can’t fault Lucas for trying to improve his movies, he had the rights and means, but I don’t think it was wise. At some point I think you need to let your art be, especially if it has had the mega impact my art will never have. I’ve learned that it is sometimes better to create a new vision where you can try to hit the mark closer to home on a completely new try without the baggage of what came before.

I could have gone on and on (and I’ve been known to,  just not on reddit)

Dreamtime Soundtrack

I always wake to a song ringing in my head. Sometimes it gets chased out by something that needs immediate attention like a small black cat who thinks it’s time to play fetch at dawn, but frequently it pesters me for most of the morning until I can supplant it with something I choose. The irritating part is it often is just a few seconds of a song playing on a loop. Sometimes I can’t even identify the artist, but it’s often music I own and know, although one time it was a mix of Third Eye Blind’s “Jumper” to the tune of another song, both of which I don’t even like.

At the end of June I woke up with Carly Simon’s “You’re so vain” running on a little loop. I don’t even own the song, but I knew the dream technicians had swapped some of the words because what I was hearing were the lines:

Well I hear you went up to Saratoga and your horse naturally won
Then you flew your Lear jet up to Nova Scotia
To see the total eclipse of the sun

Except they’d switched Nova Scotia and Saratoga and I could feel them giggling in the control room.

I thought about the dreamtime soundtrack all morning and decided I’d record as many as I could remember through the month of July and see if there were any patterns.

July 1, 2014 Aztec Camera, Walk Out to Winter
July 2, Howard Jones, No One is to Blame
July 6, Stone Roses, Made of Stone
July 7, Stone Roses, Made of Stone (no joke)
July 9, 4:30 am Sheryl Crow, I Don’t Wanna Know
6:45 am Abba, Waterloo
7:50 am Stevie Nicks, Planets of the Universe
July 15, 5:50 Wilco, Heavy Metal Drummer
7:45 Men at Work, Blue Sky Mining
July 16 Blondie, Fade Away and Radiate
July 17, The Fixx, Secret Separation
July 20, Sheryl Crow, Motivation
July 21, Elton John, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road
July 22, U2, Surrender
July 24 Concrete Blonde, The Sky is a Poisonus Garden
July 26 Echo and the Bunnymen, The Killing Moon
July 28 Fiona Apple, Get Gone

I don’t get much of a pattern, but I do own all of it, except the ABBA song. I don’t think I heard much of it recent to the occurrence, except maybe the Blondie “Fade Away and Radiate” I think played a day or two previous to the dream. A couple of them I couldn’t quite place the song until I poked through my iTunes collection for the artist that it sounded like. I’m quite the Sheryl Crow fan, but haven’t listened to her newer albums much, which surprised me that the two songs of hers that came up were off an album I hadn’t listened to more than a couple times. From the clips in my head I knew who it was, but I had to listen to the songs to find out which ones they were.

This morning I had a different clip from “Motivation” than the part that was playing in July, but it was so strange that I made a clip for this post, so listen to it on loop just to get a feel of what my mornings are like.

But do it with a cat jumping on your stomach.

Infrequency

Apparently, I’m back to not writing again. It is odd how the times that grab me with something to say aren’t when I have time to address the affliction. Possibly it’s lucky for me that I can put it away and not recall it in the times where there’s space to fill. Like now, I should be off to bed, and I could be. But I’m here composing because I thought of this on the way to my room and returned to the computer after it was put to sleep. And it isn’t flowing. And maybe that’s what I worry about most. Writing is hard, at least for me. I find it to be very rewarding, when it goes well. Which isn’t often.

I worry a lot about what I’m writing. I don’t want it to be trite, or (too) melancholy, or just tinged with the reflection of better days gone by. I listen to what others have written for tv and roll my eyes quite often. And I don’t want to be the source for such awful tropes and stilted dialogue. But there’s bad, and bad, I guess. I’m not sure I really have anything to say* that hasn’t been said, and in better ways.

I’ve been watching the commentary on the Firefly tv episodes on DVD. I don’t often pay attention to DVD extras. I think it was “The Lord of the Rings” that did me in. I put the commentary on for a lark when I watched “The Avengers” once after about a dozen times. I really enjoyed it because Joss Whedon gave a lot of what I considered valuable, educational information, not just anecdotes. (Although that was quality also)

After “The Avengers” I was really hungry for more Whedon commentary and found that the “Serenity” commentary did not fail to satisfy. I (virtually) ran out and obtained a copy of “Cabin in the Woods”, which turned out to be a movie I could get behind despite it being of a genre that I usually avoid. Unfortunately I got a copy without commentary there. So I started in on Firefly, and was somewhat disappointed that not all episodes have commentary, but it’s been fairly educational. In all the commentary I’ve found out two basic things. First: some of the dialog they thought was awful turned out surprisingly nice in the way it was delivered by the actors (despite the problems the actors have with wishing they’d delivered it differently). And Second: sometimes expediency dictates the path you have to travel for the overall narrative, even if you don’t like exactly how you get there.

That second one seems like a little of a cop-out, but the example Joss gave was the killing of the alien mothership in “The Avengers” and having all the aliens still in Manhattan falling dead. He didn’t really like it, but needed to get past the ‘mopping up’ phase to resolve the movie in a timely manner. I remember at the time I saw the movie in the theater I knew what was coming and was a little disappointed in that resolution, but I got over it pretty quick.

It is hard to believe, though, that the real groaner dialogue from some of these b-grade tv shows that I’ve been hearing is due solely to the actors portraying their characters woodenly, and the directors letting them get away with it. I have, on occasion, taken some dialogue I really like out of context and just said it plainly in my mind, and it does sound like some of the crap I write, so maybe there is something to that.

Following that train of thought leads me back to “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” and the issues of Quality that drove Robert Pirsig around the bend, which is where I sit now, stuck in a Gumption Trap with just about anything I’ve been trying to do lately. One of the things I think I learned from Zen and the Art was that to get out of the trap you just start by doing little things. Cleaning up the shop was one of his examples. By putting the tools away and making order it kind of gives you the kick to overcome the inertia in starting a project. I’ve been trying that the last couple weeks in the studio trying to get some momentum to do the things I need to do to get pottery going. Possibly it’s little things like this that will help me to get writing again, which I feel some inexplicable compulsion to be doing, even though I don’t know that I have anything to say. Apparently, I’m not going to find a muse with attitude and a knife to my throat.

* I think I’ve mentioned Lorites before

Never a Masterpiece

if [[ $i =~ .*%.* ]] && [[ ${i/\%/} -gt “$crit” ]]
then
echo “Critical: $previous is $i used $timestamp”
exit 2

So, I’m banging my head against a coding problem this morning and I slog on through to the end, it’s a fancy piece of fluff that doesn’t amount to more than 20 lines, but it does what is needed, and yet in the back of my mind I can hear across the ages… Doris Jensen is yelling, “Are you with me?!” from back in high school, telling me I shouldn’t be jumping out of the program at that juncture. The code works, and it’s just a bit of a hack anyway. But I can see the way to finish the code. It just takes storing the result and letting the conditionals finish. And I’ll have to set up an upper limit test for the warning, but I can see it, and it will only take a couple minutes.

The whole thing kind of glows in a golden light, the GOOD CODE. I know it’s right there and can knock it out real fast, but what I’ve got works and won’t fail, but it’s just kind of kludged together. It’s not glowing in the golden light. Maybe it’s glowing a bit in some sort of black light. It’s proud that it will fail critically first, and then warn next because of jumping out of the loop you don’t need an upper boundary for the warning, but you can kind of still see the mustard stain.

In my mind Mrs. Jensen yells again.

At least it’s not obfuscated for the sake of preserving my job. I had a mandate, once, a long time ago to follow some coding rules I didn’t agree with which required rewriting functions with aliases which referenced other functions which were aliases… And, it’s true, I did get laid off from another job because my scripts made me superfluous once others learned how they worked.

But I have learned to look critically at bowls and put them back on the wheel to take that last 1/16th of an inch off the bottom to make it feel lighter, and I cut a new board if I take a little too much off the one I just cut. I wondered for awhile if it’s just because computer nerds are supposed to be lazy, and there’s something gratifying about ‘getting away with it’.

Or maybe it’s that there’s not actual physical material involved. Nobody is ever going to see this code, and I’m not kidding here. It’s a bit of monitoring that may be scrapped for a better system in a few years. I’ve written code for a bank that some friends say may still be in existence fifteen years later. I bet nobody ever looked at the code.

But if they did, they’d see some fine haiku documentation.

 

progress is a lie?

I’m sitting here in disbelief, slack jawed and boggling. Nicholas Cage’s rant about The Beatles White Album from the movie “The Rock” is poking around the borders of my consciousness. I’m trying in vain to rationalize this experience away, but this cassette sounds so good! Last week sometime I saw a story about Robert Smith of The Cure playing an acoustic set in Spain during a glitch with the instruments on stage. There were three songs he played, none of which I remember particularly fondly, but they were good and it was very classy how he smoothed over the interruption with something personal. It reminded me that when I switched over from cassettes to CD’s that I only managed to repurchase (don’t get me started on that) a couple of the albums. My favorite tape from the Cure was “Faith”, which was the first to make it to the technologically advanced collection, but the first album that made me a fan was “Standing on a Beach – the Singles”. I don’t think I’ve actually listened to that album in literally 20 years. Thinking about it I hurried online and picked up a used copy for $.01 plus a couple bucks shipping. Unfortunately, the CD is called “Staring at the Sea: the Singles”, and doesn’t include the B-Sides that are on the cassette. It does have a couple bonus songs, but I think it was the missing songs that really got me.

I joked that I needed to dig up a cassette player and try to rip my old cassettes that have been boxed up and sitting in the basement for 10 years. It was really a joke. Really. But I couldn’t shake the thought. I’ve got so much on my plate I don’t have time for a silly diversion. Yet, somehow, here I am at 11:30 headphones plugged in to a partially broken and completely dusty boom box listening to The Cure. And I’m blown away. Maybe it is just that I’m tweaking neurons that are dustier than the stereo and cassettes combined and it’s sparking some additional serotonin, but the technologically ancient, magnetic coated tape sounds so much better than anything I’ve heard in years. But it can’t be, can it? Not that I’m any sort of luddite, or even an audiophile snob, but there’s something to this experience that is more than I’ve been getting from my usual listening habits. For several years I’ve been pondering how I used to buy an album every payday and head home to plug in and just stare at the walls while the music took me away. I’d written it off as something unique to youth or inexperience, and that maturity changed things. But maybe I was wrong, because as I sit here, right now, trying to write as I listen to this tape, with the fire rekindled between my ears, I’m finding it hard to complete a sentence as I keep drifting off. My eyes glaze and I’m carried away with that feeling from my youth.

Sorry, as I wrote that last, the song “New Day” ended and I had to rewind the tape to listen to it again. No kidding. I had to rewind the tape and stop it three or four times to get beyond the start of the song and then listen to the last 45 seconds or so of “Stop Dead” before it started again. No click of the mouse and ‘dit’ I’m back at the start of the song. I remember how much I hated some songs and to skip past it to the next song was murder. Manual song search before AMS (look it up, kids, you won’t believe me) was probably as dangerous as texting in the car. Skipping songs or replaying them was one of the best things about cd’s when they came out. That and not having to listen to blank tape, waiting for the end on the shorter side, which I’m doing now. My first copy of Pink Floyds “Dark Side of the Moon” had the song “Time” swapped to the other side of the album to even the tape run time out. Talk about Sacrilege. Also my Rush “2112” cassette cut the final song in half. It just sort of faded out, the cassette would flip over and it would fade back in and finish.

But I digress.

And I drift away again.

Maybe I need to find me a Walkman.

Sea shells by the sea shore

shellsAll things being equal, I’d rather be outside–unless there’s snow, I’ve not yet been able to overcome my aversion to cold. But if it’s not cold, and I could be anywhere outside, I’d pick the ocean every single time. My parents used to take us to California every few summers to go to Disneyland and/or Sea World and during those weeks we always had a day at the beach. Those were the golden moments of my youth, although you wouldn’t know it from the early 8mm movies. The last time I remember visiting the beach with my parents I was almost 16. I remember that day very well. I spent an hour or so standing chest-deep in the troughs of the waves and bobbing up over the top out beyond the breakers. The wave would lift me up off the sand and set me back down, over and over. Near where I was a girl almost my age in a white bikini was doing the same thing. It seems strange to me now that I didn’t try to strike up a conversation, or even really make eye contact, knowing more with hindsight what 16-year-old kids are supposed to be like.

I don’t think I saw the ocean again until I was 23 or so. That year I kind of got fed up with everything and just took off by myself and eventually ended up in Eureka, California. I sat on the beach and watched the sun set. Corny as it sounds, it’s almost as if I could feel the waves unwinding all the knots that were in me. I just sat for a couple hours and watched the waves crash. That was the start of my beachside therapy. Whenever things got bad I’d pick up and run to the beach by myself for a couple days. I went up the coast to Oregon a couple times, just to see new beaches. Frequently I’d be gone four or five days without having a conversation that didn’t include somone counting back change or asking if I would like fries with my order. Mostly, as it was when I was 16, I didn’t mind.

Now that I’m married I’ve found out not everyone likes the beach. I think I’m winning Debbie over, but I don’t think she will ever see what I do in the ocean. She seemed to get a bit of a kick today watching me scramble in the knee-deep surf, grabbing shells and rocks and trying to stay reasonably dry. I didn’t fully succeed. There is something else I realized today that changed. When I was a kid I spent a lot of time and energy trying to find perfect shells. I’d toss out most of the ones that were broken, or had worn down in the surf. My goal was to find matching halves and keep them together, although I rarely succeeded. I hadn’t realized until today that when I find a whole shell, unless it’s really interesting I usually toss it up on the drier sand for someone else. (Uninteresting finds go back into the surf.) There’s something about the shell fragments that I now find really intreguing. I can wax all sorts of philosophical at times and come up with reasons why I’m interested in the little broken things in life, but boiled-down right now in the hotel, after a day at the beach, I think that things just don’t have to be whole and perfect to be beautiful. And finding the beauty in things that are fragmented gives a whole lot more to think about in the long run.

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