Thursday, May 31, 2018

I coulda been a contenda

But today I got work, and I like it that way
It's a case of a still life gone cinema verite
In love but not at peace
In love but not at peace.

It’s a known fact that a lot of people struggle around holidays. This is especially true of the season from Thanksgiving through Christmas. People become stressed and overwhelmed, or disappointed when family gatherings are less than idyllic. There is so much pressure related to finding perfect gifts, sending too many cards, attending endless parties, eating too many calories, spending too much money, and for some, all the buildup before the big letdown.

Others feel marginalized by the mainstream festivities, the lights and music and trees and jolly Santas everywhere you turn, especially if Jesus isn’t the reason for the season in your frame of reference. Some people are sad because they are far from home, or they are home but loved ones are far flung, either physically or emotionally. Divorced families mean splitting holiday time with exes, or having to celebrate with up to four sets of parents, and lets not even get started on grandparents.

For me, though, it’s these summer holidays, Memorial Day, Independence Day, and Labor Day, that are the hardest. They aren’t important enough holidays that many people make travel plans to spend them with distant families. It’s summer and thoughts turn more to three-day weekend getaways, trips to the seashore or the mountains, than to home and hearth.

And yet, I have this pervasive idea that in every back yard there’s a Norman Rockwell picture perfect barbecue happening, gatherings of friends and relations, hot dogs and apple pie and ice cream, Mom and Pop. There are sprinklers and wading pools, toddlers and teens, aunts and uncles, sisters and brothers, neighbors and kids and puppies and kittens. I imagine deviled eggs, potato salad, chips and salsa, pickles, cases of beer and two liter bottles of soda, watermelon, popsicles, iced tea, and lemonade.

Neil and I will be grilling some chicken sausage and veggie burgers on our little electric grill. We’ll be having them on toasted sesame seed buns, with a side of mixed vegetables and rice. We’ll end with bowls of mint chocolate ice cream. On a typical Sunday, that would be a nice dinner. On Memorial Day, it feels oddly hollow and lonely.

Now I know that it’s not all happy families out there, and we’re not alone. Social media is a highlight reel, not the whole picture. It’s parties and travel and dining out with friends. It’s cute pet antics and adorable grandchildren. I suspect for every backyard barbecue there are just as many people spending the day at work or at home alone. There are people spending the day at hospital bedsides, or in their own beds, sleeping off the effects of chemo.

There are people grieving losses, deaths, broken relationships, people jonesing for a fix or white-knuckling through early days of sobriety. There are people strung out on drugs, doped up on opioids, battling chronic pain. There are people in jail, and people who miss them, people with mental illness, and people whose hearts break for them.

Someone had to say goodbye to a beloved pet today, someone is worrying about a beloved soldier deployed to a war zone. Someone lost their job last week, someone lost a limb, someone lost a friend. Someone is frantically worried about paying rent, or a car note, or a credit card bill, finding a place to live, feeding their family.

And all I have to feel bad about is not having a posse to party with on this one day, which really is just a day, and specifically a day to remember those who died defending our freedom to do whatever it is that we do on this day, and yesterday and tomorrow and any day. I don’t even have any special person to commemorate today, no close relative who died in service to our country.

That’s a good thing.

When I think about my life, it’s a study in contradiction. It’s most likely that I’m in the fourth quarter now, or close to that. Even so, there’s plenty of time left to do some amazing things. But it’s a fact that I will never be an Olympic medalist. I won’t be elected to high office. I won’t go to medical school, I won’t finish law school. I won’t run a large company, I won’t join the Peace Corps, I won’t travel all over the world. I won’t be a rock star, I won’t star in a major motion picture, I probably won’t write a best seller and be interviewed on network television. I won’t produce an award-winning documentary, I won’t pilot a jet plane, I won’t win a Nobel or Pulitzer prize.

I will never celebrate a golden wedding anniversary.

In other words, my life isn’t ahead of me and the world is no longer my oyster, if it ever was.

Part of me wishes there were do-overs. God gave me a brain and I failed to fully use it. I could have been a contender.

Another part of me says, no way would I want a clean slate and 40 or 50 years back. Without knowing what I know now, who’s to say things would have turned out differently. To know what I now know, I’d have to have lived through the lessons. Or I’d have to have been a different person. And if I wasn’t me, what difference would it make how successful I was. I would be someone else.

I don’t know why I’m so hard on myself. I’m not a superstar but I’m not a failure.

I raised two lovely children. I spent 35 years in the workforce, including almost 30 with one company. I won't call it a career, because it was mostly a job, but still, I supported myself and my family. I stayed out of debt, I paid off the mortgage on my home of 19 years, I sent both kids to college, and because of me they graduated with no student debt. I contributed to a 401 K plan, and grew my retirement nest egg.

After I accepted a severance package in 2011, I was able to supplement my payout with bead sales, without having to dip into savings until we bought this house. And really, that was just exchanging one type of investment with another. I did withdraw a little more money to tide myself over to Social Security. I still owe some money on my car but I'm planning to pay that off this year. And since I estimate driving about 3,000 miles a year only, this car may well be my last car.

I learned from my failed first marriage and didn't compromise on my last marriage. So I'm married very happily, live in a beautiful home, don't have to go to work at a job I don't love.

Since 2002, I've known little heartache. That doesn't mean there was no sadness. I lost both parents, my dad in 2010, my mom in 2013, but my dad was 3 weeks shy of 90 years of age and my mom was 90 years and a few months old. I miss them but such is the circle of life. Losing some of my peers has been sadder.

I'm healthy. That's huge. I know so many women and men who have fought the grim battle with cancer. Those who survived have the battle scars, the experiences under their sword belts of surgery and chemo and radiation, the lingering after effects, such as neuropathy, metabolic changes, compromised immunity, the fear of recurrence.

I'm very lucky. I have a lovely life. There are things that aren't perfect, but as my mom used to say, when life is perfect, then you are dead.

And even the things that aren't perfect aren't necessarily inescapable or unalterable. There are things I can do, steps I can take to be less lonely, to have more interaction with my children, to give back more to society.

Those things still are my oysters.

Love took a long time, it followed me here
And it landed on light feet, and it whispered in my ear
Love spoke of my past as a valuable test
And smiled, and said she who loves last loves best
'Cause you know life is hard, but now you also know your mind,
So now you're going out to love, but on your own side this time
Where you still think of famine, and you still dig up train fare
And you won't mind the wrinkles, 'cause you know how they got there
In love but not at peace
In love but not at peace.

Once for me love was the boat inside of a bottle,
It felt like a gondola ride,
When you float with the nicknacks, and you don't hear a sound
Where the fish never lived, and you don't miss the ground
And the moon hangs above like a Valium pill
And I say I'll be fine, but I don't think that I will
But today I got work, and I like it that way
It's a case of a still life gone cinema verite
In love but not at peace
In love but not at peace.

And I still need the beauty of words sung and spoken
And I live with the fear that my spirit will be broken
And that's the way I thought it would be
That's the way I always wanted it to be.

So I'll keep you wondering what time I'm arriving
And you'll drive me crazy with your backseat driving
And I'll talk in my sleep and you'll steal all the covers
We'll argue it out and we'll call ourselves lovers
And I'll stay in my body and you'll stay in your own
'Cause we know that we're born and we're dying alone.
So we turn out the light while the sirens are screaming
And we kiss for the waking, and then join the dreaming.
In love, but not at peace
In love, but not at peace.

(Dar Williams)

Monday, May 28, 2018

The point, if there is one

And then the darkness fell
And the moon's a harsh mistress
It's so hard to love her well

I can't seem to stfu.

And because I'm weary of shouting into the abyss, I posted my thoughts in the off-topic section of the forum, Lampwork Etc. (It's called the Bathroom and threads are read-only on the second day, at the end of which they are "flushed.")

Here's what I posted. The title was, I’ll probably regret posting this ...
Because it’s very much a first world problem.

I’ve been making beads for 10 years, full time for almost 7 years.

I’ve been selling them since when they were good enough to sell, sometime in the first year.

I started selling at trunk shows at bead stores with the local bead group, back when there still were actual bead stores.

I also had an Etsy shop and sold on eBay too.

About 4 years ago, the bead groups on Facebook took off and I did really well for a while.

I also did some production work for a couple of regular customers, and still do for one.

Artistically I’ve hit the wall. I’m not improving any more. I’ve taken classes, taken breaks, practiced and practiced, but I lack something, patience or vision or a steady enough hand.

I still love making beads. But I’m starting to drown in them.

I donate a lot of beads to Beads of Courage and also do some custom work for them.

When sales are so slow, I question everything. Why I’m doing this, what I’d do if I didn’t make beads, why my beads aren’t selling. Yes, it’s slow for a lot of people, not just me, but beads still are being sold and bought every day.

I don’t think my beads are ugly. They’re not brilliant but some are very nice, I think. I don’t have to sell beads to pay the rent. I can do it for love. But I can’t do it without validation. When no one even “likes” or comments on my beads it makes me feel bad. I try not to take it personally, but at times it gets to me.

I’m not like a lot of you with multiple talents. I don’t sew or quilt or paint or metal smith or have any other creative skills. I write a blog that no one reads.

We moved across the country 8 months ago, and it takes time to make friends. I’m also shy and very much of an introvert, so it’s easy to isolate. There’s no local Lampwork community that I’ve found here.

My husband doesn’t have much social need. He plays softball and that seems to be enough.

Back to beads though. There are days when I think about giving it up. I never thought I’d say that. I’ve stuck with Lampwork longer than I’ve ever stuck with anything, and I really do love it, but what’s the point?

What is the point? I’m not even sure what the point of this post is.

Oh well. It’ll be flushed in 2 days.
I got a lot of good feedback. One idea that I liked a lot is something that I've thought about before, "art abandonment." I could leave beads in various public places for people to find. I'd attach a tag to them. One side might say something like, "I'm yours" or "Adopt me" or "Finders keepers." The other side might explain that the bead is a handmade glass bead, also known as a lampwork bead. It might or might not have my contact information.

It's always interesting to hear other people's perspectives. Some admitted to struggling with similar issues. Others just offered encouragement. Here are some excerpts.
Pat: I would be completely unable to function creatively if I didn't do shows ... I *need* the validation ...

Phill: Maybe it's time to take a break or maybe its time to splurge and buy yourself some of those fancy glasses that are just too expensive to play with and go ahead and play with them like a newbie just starting out.

Kathy: I am the complete opposite. I have no urge to sell. I like to make what strikes my fancy for the day, not what I think will sell.
Lynn: I know exactly how you feel. I didn’t seem to have a natural talent for it like some people do. ... I decided it wasn’t worth it anymore and gave it up to find something more productive to do with my time.
Liz R: I have found that my masked dot beads just sit and no one is interested in them. Now I seem to be doing a lot of frit beads and some sell, but are only selling for far lower price than I'd like, still I enjoy making them and that is my main focus. 
Queen: I love your beads. I hope the stress and adjustments of the move pass soon and you can find some happiness at your torch. 
Pat 2: Maybe it would help to purchase a new tutorial. 
Linda: That is really a hard issue.... Validation.... This is something I wonder about a lot... How much and what kind of personal validation should a person be seeking in life... Should validation be external, internal, some mix of the too? Has social media changed the face of the quest for validation? Do artists have a higher need for validation? ... Where did you move to? 
Eileen: Maybe consider offering lessons? You have a lot of skill and are generous with your knowledge of glass ... 
Sheri: I abandon stuff all over the place with a finders keepers tag. My info and why I’ve left it. One that was left in Iceland ended up in Dubai. She told me it was a good marketing strategy.  
Phill: I make lampwork beads because I like making them and playing with fire and molten glass. Some day a grand child will be cleaning out what is left of my "estate" and will find a trove of stuff. They get to figure out what to do with it then. For now I just do things to please myself.
Roberta: I’m glad you posted. I also think about validation a lot. ... I have never sold my beads, but I’ve spent many years wondering why I keep making them when I also crave simplicity. And I don’t wear a lot of jewelry, lol. For me, at this point, flameworking is gratifying because it’s meditative and a good escape from DH’s health issues. 
Nikki: If you have just lost your spark, then maybe try a new technique to get your interest flowing again? 
Kew: Try to remember the fun you had learning. It doesn't matter if the end result is brand new (is there anything in beadmaking that is truly 'brand new'? peeps have been making glass beads for centuries), it's the enjoyment of melting glass and producing a usable bead that is gratifying.
    All of this caused me to reflect further.
    It’s not so much that I’ve lost my spark. I don’t even know what “it” is.

    Maybe more of a feeling that I’ve lost my compass. I still like melting glass. I’m just not sure why I’m doing it.

    I don’t think the world needs more beads. I know I don’t. (Did I mention my collection of other artists beads?)

    So, it’s not really a lack of creativity or ideas or motivation. It’s not really about new glass or tutorials or techniques.

    Gah! I’m not explaining it very well. Validation is a big part of it. As long as my beads were selling I was happy. Not for the money, but because of the feedback, and because my beads were bringing joy to someone.

    Donating to Beads of Courage partly meets the need (to know that I’m doing something worthwhile) but it’s not as personal. I loved making BOC Dream Beads because they connected you to a specific child. It’s been a while since I’ve been asked to make one.

    Linda - we moved to North Carolina. Neil retired and wanted a change and 4 seasons. We’re both from the east coast originally. I don’t miss Texas but I dearly miss my glass community friends there.

    The crazy thing is, I finally have a proper studio instead of garage space. I have to keep going for another 10 years at least.

    Roberta is right, it is meditative and for me, a good escape from overthinking everything.
    And finally, here are two of my favorite responses.
    Stephen: I hope you get your groove back. ... I became “work friends” (lol) with a young couple... a couple weeks ago he stopped me in front of their building to tell me they were moving out and to take care, and then she came outside and gave me a big hug (I’m NOT the hugging type ha ha) and I ended up giving her an off mandrel pendant thing I made (I don’t know why, but I always carry something I made with me, today it was a little zombie head) and she gushed over it, said she’d be making a necklace and we went our ways. It was nice. I guess I’m trying to speak to your “What’s the point?” There is no point, nothing matters. Sometimes. Other times there is a point, and even little things can matter big. I guess. Flush flush.
    Phill: I, for one, do not regret your having posted this. I got a good deal out of this conversation.
    So there you are. It felt good to have a dialog about this "thing" that continues to oppress and gnaw at me.

    I'm still not sure what I'm going to do going forward. Sitting here, looking at my trays of beads, I see a sea of dot beads. I might begin by spending a few days making anything but dot beads.

    Hmm, I can't quite do that, I'm still working on a 200-bead custom order for beads in Halloween and Christmas colors. They don't all have to be dot beads, but I know my customer really likes them.

    But except for custom work, I plan to see what else I feel like making besides dot beads.

    When I torch, it is a little like when I write. I might have an idea about what I want to say, but I don't make an outline, I just start typing and see where it goes.

    Likewise, torching, I'll select glass colors, whatever appeals to me at the moment, and lay them out on my bench. But I don't make a list or a game plan. One bead (or bead pair) at a time, I just pick up a mandrel and a color and start melting and winding.

    Usually, I dip 30 mandrels and make 30 beads. I started doing that to limit myself, to spare my right hand and arm which always hurt. There was a time when I'd just keep going, going, going, didn't know when to call it quits. For the beads I've been making lately, 30 is a reasonable number. But there's nothing that says I have to make 30 beads. I can make 10 more elaborate beads and call it a day.

    I'm also going to think some more about doing a larger project with my smaller beads.

    Despite all this, the good advice, the good intentions, the commitment to find my way, the love I still have for this art form, it didn't prevent me from saying this to Neil at breakfast: I've never felt so discouraged about bead sales.

    His response was, I've heard you say things like this many times.

    He's right, I've said things like this before. But not those precise words. I've reached a new low point.

    Does that mean there's no place to go but up? Damn, I hope so.

    There is one thing about this I can control - I can stop complaining about it.

    It is what it is. Either I find a way to live with it or I find a way to live without it.

    See her how she flies
    Golden sails across the sky
    Close enough to touch
    But careful if you try
    Though she looks as warm as gold
    The moon's a harsh mistress
    The moon can be so cold

    Once the sun did shine
    Lord, it felt so fine
    The moon a phantom rose
    Through the mountains and the pines
    And then the darkness fell
    And the moon's a harsh mistress
    It's so hard to love her well

    I fell out of her eyes
    I fell out of her heart
    I fell down on my face
    Yes, I did, and I, I tripped and I missed my star
    God, I fell and I fell alone, I fell alone
    And the moon's a harsh mistress
    And the sky is made of stone
    The moon's a harsh mistress
    She's hard to call your own

    (Jimmy Webb, © Universal Music Publishing Group)

    Friday, May 25, 2018

    Lost in cyberspace

    I gave my heart, whole, I did, I gave my heart
    And although it's lost, iIt is still beating
    And I gave my whole soul, I did, I gave my soul
    And although I'm broken I am still breathing.

    I keep reaching for this blog like a baby for its pacifier.

    I’m using words to self-medicate feelings of anxiety, frustration, and, yes, anger.

    Instead of sitting quietly and staying present to the peace and beauty of this moment, I’m rabidly pecking at letters on my iPad keyboard, trying to dissect and analyze and understand and fix my feelings, instead of just being with them.

    If this technique worked, even a little, it might be worthwhile, but I’m not fully convinced that it does.

    I’ve been writing here for more than six years now. Recently I chose some random posts from a couple of years ago to read.

    To a great degree, I’m babbling about the same damn things that weigh on me right now. To wit, what am I doing with my bead making? Why don’t my beads sell better? Are my beads beautiful swans or ugly ducklings? Have my skills ceased to evolve? Why do I see perfectly atrocious beads getting bids, selling for good money? What, if anything, can I do to change things, make better beads, take better pictures, improve my marketing, become more successful?

    Nothing has changed, nothing changes. I keep making beads, I keep trying to sell them with limited results, and I keep writing about it.

    OK, that’s not all I’ve written about. I’ve written about what’s going on with the rest of my life, where I’ve traveled, what I’m reading and watching, what Neil and my family are up to, and once in a while, commentary about current events.

    When I read my older posts, I think they are mostly well written but lacking content. I can be funny, I can come up with inspired turns of phrase, but how much of what I write is the least bit interesting to anyone but me?

    And maybe that’s not the point, because as much as I’d love to go viral and have real readers and comments and a book deal, I’m writing mostly for myself. I don’t really expect my kids or anyone else to ever plow through my hundreds of past posts.

    While we’re on that subject, that’s exactly what I’ve been doing with someone else’s blog. This is a blogger I discovered when I read her memoir after I read her guest post on another blog I follow. That was several years ago, and After I finished her book, i read through all her blog posts as far back as I could find them.

    Blogs aren’t necessarily forever. Her original blog is gone, long lost in cyberspace. There’s a period of about 20 months still online, from when she started it again after a hiatus. But three years or so we’re missing and I had a craving to reread that part of her story.

    Recently, I figured out that by manipulating the URL, I could read the posts from the missing years that were no longer linked to an index. So I’ve been working through them, from oldest forward, and what I’m seeing is a lot of repetition. She does have a theme that she works into almost everything and eventually she tells the same story over and over. Maybe repetition is the nature of the beast when you blog on a regular basis over a period of years.

    One of the curious things about this exercise is that the writer’s life has changed direction over the subsequent years. I’m reading through the time period when she met her first husband, fell in love, married, and had her first child. The writing is often lovely, mesmerizing, as she talks about the great love she has for her husband, how she was never sure she wanted children until she met him and wanted to create something lasting, make a family with him. And they did go on to have a second child together.

    Of course I’m reading this time with a jaded eye, knowing that she has since divorced, fallen in love again, remarried, and is expecting another baby. She stopped blogging around the time she split up with her first husband, and I think it’s no coincidence that the posts about the course of their relationship are not easily found.

    I don’t know the whys and wherefores of the end of the marriage, who chose to leave, what factors influenced the decision, and it’s not my business anyway. So while I’m curious about how such deep love ends, I won’t speculate or pass judgment.

    It does remind me of how sometimes things that we think are immutable turn out not to be so. I came across this letter that I wrote to Marty in 2002, although I never sent it, nor ever seriously intended to. It was just something that I needed to put down in words at the time. Yes, I have used words as my drug of choice for a long time.
    Dear Marty,

    Why does it amaze you that I love you still? OK, I know part of the answer. You think that I should despise you for what you did to me -- professing such enduring love and offering me forever -- and then turning away for an older, more mature love -- and for closing your heart to me so completely. For waking up loving me and allowing me to love you one morning, and telling me that same night that you could not get another woman out of your heart, that you couldn’t bear to think of her with another man. For saying that you are a good writer and that I am a very needy woman.

    But remember, hatred is not the opposite of love -- indifference is. The day is distant yet that I will be indifferent to you, to the profound effect you have had on me, to the way you made me bloom and the way you indelibly changed me. I may love others, I may not ever see you again in this lifetime, but my heart will not forget you.
    Real love doesn’t end. It may change. It may transmute. It may grow weary. It may flicker or fade. But ultimately it endures. It never fails. In the end, it always prevails.

    I do not believe that you don’t love me. You may choose to snuff it out of your consciousness with your anger and your fear and the mountain of baggage you carry from the woman before me. You may choose never to see me again, never to speak to me again, never to volitionally remember the beauty we once shared -- but it existed and exists and will exist throughout the eons.
    If I tell you that I love you, I hope you understand that it obligates you to nothing, that it obligates me to nothing, and that it lasts only as long as eternity. I will never rescind it.
    My god, I was so dramatic. And so mistaken. My mind may remember the man but my heart has long since forgotten. I believe the love I once felt was real, and the fact that it did not endure does not mean it never existed. But the fact is, it did not endure, it did not prevail, it did not last through eternity, nor eons, not even decades or years.

    Of course I had no choice, I had to get over it, I could not let that loss ruin my life. And there's no way to know, if he'd not walked away then, that the love would have lasted, that we'd have been happy. It's possible, but I'm pretty sure it would not have been simple. I'm lucky that Marty left because it meant that I was free to love Neil when the time came. I can't imagine I'd have been happier with anyone than I am with Neil.

    Life is quiet right now. We are past the frenzy of settling in to our new house and locale. Neil ordered four pieces of furniture this week and that leaves us pretty much done with that. At some point we may add some more landscaping and garden furniture, but I can’t think of any other big things we need.

    As I mentioned in my last post, many good things have fallen into place with our family. All four of our kids have jobs in their fields now. My older daughter finally went from contract to permanent employee and her public relations degree finally applies to her work for a major hospital system. She is earning more money and has much better benefits.

    My younger daughter left her university job to go to work for a media giant with enviable pay and benefits, along with professional challenges and opportunities. Her boyfriend of many years will be going off to film school at a prestigious university, so the timing is good insofar as being able to afford her apartment on her own. The separation will be hard but it will work out one way or another. They’ve been in limbo for a long time, wanting a change, treading water, so movement in any direction is all to the good I think.

    My stepson has a job as a registered dietitian, finally, after more than a decade of being a student. That is huge. My stepdaughter continues to grind away at her corporate job while balancing motherhood. She struggles, but it’s in her nature to be stressed, so I’d say she’s in her personal steady state. Her husband was thrilled to land his dream job teaching at a high school close to home, which he’ll start after a summer of being a stay-at-home dad.

    I see parallels to my first marriage where I was the breadwinner and benefit provider, while my former husband changed jobs a lot, not always by choice, had gaps in employment, and worked on commission from home at times. I grew very resentful. I wanted him to be the wage slave while I was the freelance writer and stay-at-home mom. He wasn’t supportive of the idea from an emotional as well as from a practical standpoint.

    In retrospect, it’s good that I kept working, because when we separated, I was able to keep my house and continue to raise my girls. It was hard enough to end the marriage. If I’d been financially dependent, it would have been hopeless. It’s possible that, had he been a good provider, or even an equal contributor, our relationship might not have failed. But that would have meant he’d have been a different person. At the end of the day, people are who they are, and we were not right for each other.

    So maybe my stepdaughter won’t come to resent having the stressful corporate job with long hours while her husband has summers off and gets to stay home with the baby, or babies, down the road. It was after I had two children that I really struggled with how much time I spent away from them, how much of their childhoods I missed. They had good care and I always say that it didn’t hurt them, that I was the one who suffered, I was the one who lost out.

    It’s all water under the bridge now. We survived. I’m now married to a man who I love and respect, who makes it possible for me to not just be retired from the corporate world for almost seven years now, but to live in a really nice house with a beautiful studio. I pay my part of our bills but he has made it possible for us to travel, to enjoy life more, not to have to worry so much about money. It’s not a perfect world, he’s not the father of my children, I’m not the mother of his.

    And that’s a topic I have a lot more to say about. I’m sure I will, given how often I reach for this medium as a means of pacification these days.

    It may not be perfect remedy for my malady, but until I find one better, you’ll be hearing more from me here.

    Gave you all that you needed
    You cut but I'm bleeding
    And all of my strength
    That I gave to you

    I love completely
    You lose then you leave me
    And all of my hope
    I left with you too

    But I gave my heart
    Whole, I did
    I gave my heart
    And although it's lost
    It is still beating
    And I gave my whole
    Soul, I did
    I gave my soul
    And although I'm broken
    I am still breathing

    I will sleep through the moments
    All the moments you've stolen
    All for my love
    I'll learn the truth

    That I gave my heart
    Whole, I did
    I gave my heart
    And although it's lost
    It is still beating
    I gave my whole
    Soul, I did
    I gave my soul
    And although I'm broken
    I am still breathing

    (Amy Wadge)

    Sunday, May 20, 2018

    Imagination collaboration

    "After curtain calls and bows
    I can't see the front row now
    Hand me my red shoes just one more time."

    We’re back from our overnight trip to Asheville.

    It was fun and it wasn’t. We could have made a better plan.

    The weather predictions for scattered thundershowers were right on.

    We got a late start because with so much rain in the forecast, we weren’t very motivated to arrive early to go hiking.

    Plus Neil isn’t over his cold. He sounds terribly hoarse and doesn’t feel well.

    And also because we’re us and unless we have a plane to catch, we’re always later to leave than we thought we would be.

    Neil booked a Hampton Inn about 30 miles away, in Brevard, because the rates were lower and it was right on the edge of the Pisgah National Forest. Trouble is, with Asheville traffic and the crazy winding roads up to The Biltmore estate, 30 miles takes a good solid hour.

    We took a southerly route from home and went to the hotel first. By the time we checked in, it was time to head out for our dinner reservation at The Biltmore Stable Cafe. I had high expectations for a dining experience at The Biltmore, even a casual one. We had disappointing burgers, lukewarm fries and over-marinated salad. Happily the cappuccino crunch ice cream that we split for dessert was a winner.

    It rained on and off, but stopped long enough for us to walk through the gardens and enjoy the Chihuly glass exhibit, first in early evening light, later lit up at dusk. In between, we and a few hundred others queued up and walked through the mansion, where one of the most elaborate Chihuly works graced a rotunda.

    Afterwards we wandered further through the gardens and I took some pictures of my beads that I was wearing, with some Chihuly pieces in the background. I posted this one to Facebook and it may be my favorite and most liked post ever.

    "Collaboration with Dale Chihuly." 100 likes and counting.
    After wandering the grounds for a while, I suggested we call it a night, since our tickets included reentrance the next day. We just made it to the car before the sky split apart and hard rain began falling. We wove our way back down the switchback roads to the highway, Neil at the wheel, me constantly vigilant for deer. And we did see, first a pair of eyes glowing, then a creature scamper off into the forest. Neil though it was a small deer, I thought a large rabbit or perhaps a fox.

    We’d barely got on the highway, rain coming down in torrents, when the driver‘s side windshield wiper swiped left and kept going. It slapped the side of the car a few times before coming to rest on the side mirror. Neil drove the rest of the way back to the hotel with only the passenger side wiper working, through bouts of blinding precipitation. It was a long and scary ride on a dark and stormy night.

    We arrived with no harm done, except to our patience and nerves.

    The next day, after a Hampton breakfast, we went back to The Biltmore, wandered around some more, took a few more pictures. I took some more shots with my beads, generating some attention and interest from passers by, who admired my beads as though they were Chihuly’s own, asking me if I sold them.

    I’m easily amused.

    Somehow, although we didn’t stay overly long, the drive home, with a stop for coffee, killed the afternoon.

    We got home to the jackpot of two-days mail, including a dress and a couple of books I’d ordered, except not the book I wanted most, the one I’d gotten a delivery confirmation email about. So it was either delivered to someone else’s mailbox or the post office scanned it delivered and it will get here tomorrow.

    And now the weekend has gone by. About the book, turns out they sent the wrong one. I had another one on the way, both by Dorothy Sayers, with similar titles, Hangman’s Holiday and Busman’s Honeymoon. When the latter arrived, I realized the former was sent by mistake, instead of the Sayers book I wanted, Strong Poison. The vendor refunded and told me to donate the one I got. I didn’t want a refund, I wanted the book.

    All’s well, I found a copy on Amazon and it will come in the mail.

    I should mention that I tend to buy used hardcovers in good condition, so it can sometimes mean wading through a hundred listings for the right one at the right price.

    Oh, and the saga of the red shoes goes on. I did wind up paying about 50 percent more on eBay for the same sandals as the ones the vendor cancelled. Imagine my surprise when they showed up in that same vendor’s packaging. Not only that, but the box contained an invoice with the price I’d originally been charged. It seems the eBay vendor took my money and bought the shoes on Amazon and had them drop-shipped to me.

    I was chapped. I called the original vendor and asked how my order was cancelled on May 9 but on May 10 an eBay vendor was able to purchase the exact shoes in my size and same color via Amazon. The vendor said the shoes must have come back in stock after my order was cancelled. It all just seems a little too coincidental to me.

    Since then I’ve been corresponding with the eBay vendor about why the invoice in the box shoes is an amount roughly $20 less than I paid. I know I don’t have much recourse. I could return the shoes and hope to snag them again when they’re back in stock, but I’d have to pay return shipping, and it’s way too much bother. I’m just hoping to shame the eBay vendor into a refund of some part of the price difference.

    If that doesn’t float, I’m tempted to leave feedback along the lines of this. “Be aware this vendor will take your money and have the item shipped to you from Amazon for a much lower price.” Neil said that makes me look stupid, like I didn’t look around for the best price, but the point is, I did. I specifically checked Amazon for the sandals and did not find them in my size. And what do I care how it makes me look anyway?

    You know that life has to be good if I can invest so much energy writing about a shoe clusterfuck.

    And it is good. We went on a nature hike sponsored by the Davidson Lands Conservancy, and had frozen custard at Whit's afterward.

    And now I’m sitting on the porch again, watching the wind kick up and bandy around the branches of the trees in the little stand of wood behind our house. The trees have fully greened out in their summer wear. Rain is threatening, the breeze is freshening the air. It’s a nice Sunday end-of-the-week feeling, made all the better by knowing that the week stretches ahead and is mine to do with as I will.

    After I take care of getting the windshield wiper repaired, I mean.

    But first, a little more Biltmore eye candy.

    I'm stoned in the twilight
    Screaming on the inside
    Give me your water, help me survive
    Gonna miss the sunlight
    When I lose my eyesight
    Give me my red shoes, I want to dance

    They searched for an answer
    But that old man wouldn't listen
    Back then I was handsome
    Back then he was ignorant

    And shave off the years now
    It's all inside my head
    The boy in the red shoes
    Is dancing by my bed

    Put them in a box somewhere
    Put them in a drawer
    Take my red shoes
    I can't wear them anymore

    Had garlands in the wings back then
    All the pretty little things back then
    Calling out my name, oh what fame brings
    After curtain calls and bows
    I can't see the front row now
    Hand me my red shoes just one more time

    They pushed aside our presence
    They refused to go the distance
    Back then I was Sigmund
    Back then he wouldn't listen

    And shave off the years now
    It's all inside my head
    The boy in the red shoes
    Is dancing by my bed

    Put them in a box somewhere
    Put them in a drawer
    Take my red shoes
    I can't wear them anymore

    (Bernie Taupin, Elton John, © Universal Music Publishing Group)

    Wednesday, May 16, 2018

    Arborvitae make good neighbors

    "Just throw away the book and take a second look
    Behind the door, a guided tour, what we came here for."

    Right on schedule, just like in Texas, the weather has turned summer like.

    We used to joke that summer in Texas was May 10 to October 10. Five solid months of heat and humidity that made being out of doors unbearable.

    True, I worked in my garage studio all summer. If I got out by nine and was done by noon, I could manage. I had a strong fan blowing on me, and our garage was west-facing, so the sun didn’t hit it before noon.

    My studio here is heated and air conditioned. Most days while I work, I keep the sliding door open. My studio opens onto a covered patio, so sun won’t be an issue. This house also is west-facing, but my studio faces east.

    My habit here has been to work in the afternoons, but I may have to rethink that for the summer months. Temperatures will be more pleasant in the mornings.

    It’s possible this early seasonal heat is an anomaly, a heat wave, and we’ll have more temperate days before summer sets in to stay.

    I’m writing this on our screened patio. Our neighbors are having another pool party. The music is annoying and too loud. We - and by we I mean both Neil and I, and our neighbors - have insufficient privacy.

    When we were building this house, my neighbor George tracked me down on Facebook and tried to persuade me to build this house with the floor plan flipped. That would have put our patio on the far side instead of facing his. He said if our builder said no, we should go to the owner of the company.

    We were under the gun to sign off on the final design before our locked-in interest rate expired. I did ask the builder about it, but he said no way. It had something to do with the way the lot is graded. Right now we have three steps up from the garage to the vestibule leading to the kitchen. If the floor plan were flipped it would have been more steps up, seven or eight, if I’m remembering right.

    It didn’t really matter all that much to me. Unfortunately for him, George and his family lost more privacy than we did. Our house is built up to accommodate the basement, so even though our patios are both on the first floor level, ours looks down over his.

    Ours also is screened, which George’s is not, although he could have chosen that option. On the other hand, we are very quiet, hold no parties, rarely even have guests. Whereas I’m forced to listen to some horrible rap music that’s playing as I type this.

    Not much I can do about it. Our neighbors have a lot of parties, one per week now that swim season is here. Clearly they suck every bit of enjoyment out of their beautiful pool. At least their parties end early, as lots of their friends have small children and babies.

    When we selected our landscaping we chose a row of fast-growing arborvitae on the border between our properties, mirroring the row George has planted and staggered between his. In a few years, I expect we’ll have a green wall buffering the space between us.

    For an obviously very social person, George has not been friendly to us. We’ve only had one real conversation with him, on Halloween, when he came over to chat while we were sitting outside to hand out candy. Other than that, he has actively ignored us. I always wave if I see him, he always, always pretends not to see me.

    It might be because we didn’t flip our floor plan. It might be because, before we moved in, I contacted our HOA about a rope swing hanging over the rain garden behind our house. I said it was both unsightly and a safety hazard. The rope swing belonged to George and had been there since before we bought the lot. The builder promised to take it down, but never did, although I reminded him each time we met.

    The HOA asked George to take down the swing. He took his sweet time about it, but the swing was down when we moved in. It was coiled up and hanging from his fence post. I’m not sure whether George did it or the HOA took independent action. I’m not planning to ask.

    It bothers me more than it bothers Neil not to be on good terms with our neighbor. Although Neil probably would have just lived with the rope swing. Neil thinks George’s aloofness might be more because we didn’t join the madding crowd around the fire pit on Halloween and throw back a few beers. I don’t think that’s it.

    Whatever. Fences and green walls make the best neighbors, right? I admit I secretly hope George will move away. Our other neighbor has been very pleasant. He told Neil that George spent a lot of money landscaping his back yard, then shortly thereafter tore it all out and had the pool installed.

    Money appears to be no object next door. George and his wife (who has been nothing but nice) drive expensive cars, or so Neil says, I don’t notice cars. They have people constantly doing work on the house. They send their wash out to be done. I didn’t even know that was a thing, but we’ve seen the trucks picking up and dropping off the bags of clothes.

    So my secret hope is that George will get bored and decide he needs a different house, something bigger, maybe on the lake, to go with the boat that, if he doesn’t already own, he eventually will.

    Of course I know we could have worse neighbors, but it’s my fantasy, so I’m going to install a couple like us in the house next door next. They’ll have grown kids and a grandkid or two, preferably about the ages of Ryland and Blake. And of course they’ll invite us over to swim in the pool, and we’’ll have them over for cool drinks and conversation on our screened porch. And we’ll bring them tomatoes from our bumper crop, naturally.

    It’s a nice dream.

    Neil has a cold. It’s really hit him hard. His throat is sore, it hurts him to speak. He’s a little better now, but he lost an entire day to fever and chills and the basement sofa.

    It put the kibbosh on some nice plans we had. We were going to go to the farmers market and buy veggies and make a big pot of soup. We were planning to go to buy tomato cages and look at a table and chairs for our basement patio. It would be nice to grill something and eat al fresco.

    Ironically, George’s porch looks down over our basement patio. But the arborvitae he planted already provide a fair bit of screening. With time a green wall will make a good neighbor.

    But I'd rather have a good relationship with a real live human neighbor.

    Talk of relationships, Mothers Day was nice. Both of my girls called me, both of my step kids wished me a happy day. Neil still wasn't feeling 100 percent and it was hot, so we didn't go out or do anything special. I made beads and had a decent day at the torch. Late in the afternoon, Neil and I took a walk through the neighborhood preserve area. It was a bit sticky but it felt good to move. After that, Neil fixed hot dogs for dinner at my request.

    We finished the second series of Unforgotten on Masterpiece. It wasn't entirely satisfying, there were a lot of lingering questions. We talked about it for quite awhile, so the fact that it provoked conversation made it a success. Now it's back to Tabula Rasa on Netflix, a Belgian crime/suspense drama. We're enjoying that a lot too.

    Later this week we have an overnight trip to see the Dale Chihuly exhibit opening at The Biltmore in Asheville. The weather predictions are for rain but I usually have good weather luck, so I refuse to worry about it. We have tickets for the opening and a dinner reservation, and included is a tour of the estate the following day. We're committed. If it rains, we'll make the best of it.

    Photos from the Biltmore Estate website
    I haven't been away from home for a night since our early-December trip to Texas. I'm a little anxious about it, but I'm glad we're going as I need to get my head in the right frame for travel again. We'll be away for 10 days when we cruise to Alaska in July. And now Neil wants to follow that trip with a coin show and a visit to his mom and to his dad just three weeks later. Since I didn't go last time and I said I'd go next time, I'm wrapping my mind around going.

    It will be fun. It will be fun. I just have to take those first steps out the door.

    Now that you've made your mistake
    Now that you know how the heart bends and breaks
    Just throw away the book and take a second look
    Behind the door, a guided tour, what we came here for

    One, don't let the sun go down on
    Two who love, but are undone by
    Three whose name is I won't even start
    Before we learn the rules rules of travel
    Inside each other's hearts
    Inside each other's hearts

    When do the walls tumble down
    Into the sky, into the stars and the ground
    It's a good day to give it up, surrender to the love,
    No man to hold, no way to know that you are home

    One, don't let the sun go down on
    Two who love, but are undone by
    Three whose name is I won't even start
    Before we learn the rules rules of travel
    Inside each other's hearts
    Inside each other's hearts

    (John Leventhal, Rosanne Cash © Downtown Music Publishing)

    Thursday, May 10, 2018

    Fear of agoraphobia

    "Through your eyes the strains of battle like a brooding storm
    You're up and down these pristine velvet walls like focus never forms."

    I had a little emotional setback.

    When we first moved here I rarely went more than a day without tears.

    In fact, in the months leading up to the move, I cried on a regular basis as well.

    When people asked about the move, I said I felt conflicted. I agreed to move, and part of me wanted to go.

    But I also loved my home and my life and I was worried about leaving all the familiar things, my small group of friends, my doctors, dentists, hairstylist, masseuse, nail salon. Most of all I feared the physical and psychological distance from my children.

    Having gone my rounds with depression a time or two, I didn't know what to expect. Would I lose my appetite? Would I have trouble getting out of bed?

    And for the first few months it was a hard adjustment. I didn't have any routines, we didn't have any comfortable furniture, and oft times I just didn't know where to put myself.

    But things got better, especially once I had my studio set up and furniture was delivered and I was able to finish unpacking and getting settled. I didn't miss Texas and I started to like it here. I stopped missing my former home and started loving this one. I missed my friends, no getting around that one. But getting my life set up here was easier than I expected. I found a doctor, a dentist, an optometrist, a vet, a dermatologist, all without too much trouble. I changed my address on my bank accounts and credit cards, got my North Carolina drivers license, traded in my car.

    I had some challenges this winter. Neil was away several times. He spent almost two weeks in New Jersey, helping his mom, who was undergoing chemo and radiation. He played softball tournaments in Myrtle Beach and Virginia Beach, which meant he left on Thursday and got home late Sunday. He also spent almost a week visiting his kids and his friends in Texas.

    And I did OK while he was away. I stayed busy. I shopped, I made beads, I went for walks, I walked on the treadmill, I read and I watched a lot of series on Amazon and Netflix. I had a massage and a manicure. I attended an HOA board meeting because I agreed to become secretary. I figured it was a way to meet some people and do something civic-minded.

    I didn't cry once. I didn't need to take any extra anxiety medicine. I felt lonely but I coped.

    The one thing I could have done, but didn't do, was to call either of the two people here that I have made a friendly connection with and plan a lunch date. I'm not sure why I didn't, I had plenty of time, but each day I put it off.

    And then Neil got home, on the Tuesday, and we had a couple of nice laid-back days. And then he played in another three-day tournament.

    This one was local. We talked about me going out to watch and meet his team mates and any of the spouses who might have come out to the field. But it didn't happen.

    I'm not sure how much I'd have in common with the team members and mates. After the games, they all go to a tavern and order wings and drink beer, or they go someplace to eat like Hooter's. None of that is really Neil's thing either. He came right home after the games on the Friday. On the Saturday he went to the tavern with the team and had some chips and cokes, but came home to have dinner with me.

    And that sounds nice. But someone was hosting a party and Neil did not want to go. And I felt sad because here was a chance to be out in the world with other people. I know it's not Neil's job to organize my social life. And deep down, I always would rather stay home with him, if I'm honest.

    On the Sunday, the day I was going to come to the field. There was some question whether they'd play two games or three. After the first game, Neil texted that they'd won. I texted back, asking if I should come then. An hour or so later Neil texted that they'd won the last game too, and he was headed home.

    I really got the sense that he didn't want me to come. He said it was really warm, there was no shade, and I'd have hated it. Which is probably true.

    But it's become really easy to stay home in my soft pants. It's become so very easy not to leave the house for days in a row. And I felt sad about that.

    Sad enough to shed tears.

    To make it up to me, I think, Neil talked me into going out to dinner on Sunday. So I did put on some real clothes and some jewelry, and we went to a local barbecue place, and had a nice meal.

    And I've been trying to feel better since then. I got out and did some errands one day, had a key made for our housekeeper, dropped off an Amazon return at UPS, got bagels. The next day we did some errands together, took my car in for a recall repair, dropped off an old VCR for recycling, picked up some coffee pods, got smoothies, stopped in at a local consignment shop and checked out the current offerings.

    We were home by midday, including picking up my car, but it felt good to be out and about.

    I'm trying to be more relaxed about my days. I'm trying to be less obsessive about making beads for one thing, especially since I have so much inventory right now. I've been selling some things, mostly to my core customers, but also a few new ones, and I've had a few custom orders too.

    But I'm also trying to be more still and present. I'm trying to give myself permission to sit out on the porch and enjoy the sunshine and watch the birds and smell the new growth and listen to the frogs and just be.

    I want to read more and write more and write more meaningfully. I want to try to cook more, specifically more healthily, more vegetables and less hot dogs, more homemade soups and fewer frozen meals. I want to learn to knit or crochet, or more accurately relearn, since I once knew the basics of both.

    I want to explore Charlotte and more of North Carolina. I want to plan more trips, travel more. Neil and I sat down and made a list of the places we'd most like to travel, and tried to prioritize them. Bryce National Park wound up high on the list, and I took a look at the lodge there to see if we could sandwich something in this year, either before or after out big trip to Alaska in July.

    Of course the lodge was booked through every month until October, when there were four days available, but not sequentially. So on a whim I looked at next summer and we wound up booking a random week next June, almost 14 months in the future. I think that's just how we have to do it. Because once it's on the calendar, we can work around it to make it happen. And chances are we will wind up going, whereas if we'd waited to plan it until next year, we'd be looking at sold out lodging again.

    Now I'm thinking about what else we might want to put on the calendar. Acadia National Park is on our list, as are the upper peninsula of Michigan, the Badlands area, Death Valley, Lake Tahoe, a return to both Lassen and Yellowstone and Great Sand Dunes. I'd love to go to the Virgin Islands National Park, but that would be another huge splurge, much like Alaska.

    In the near term, I have to decide if I'm going to go with Neil to any of his upcoming softball tournaments. The next one I think is in Knoxville, in June, and that may be a good one for several reasons. It's a reasonable drive, through beautiful countryside, and I've always liked Tennessee. In the even nearer term, I think I will go to one of Neil's weekly league games.

    It's time for me to step out of my comfort zone, and by comfort zone, I mean this house. Which is harder than you'd think, harder than it should be.

    In other news, I made 6 pairs of beads for a customer who wanted more of my encased black with dots in bright colors.

    I sent her the photos and she responded, "Hello, my friend...not the color combos I was hoping for...please don't hate me!!!"

    I wasn't happy. I said, "Brighter dots, more primary colors. I tried."

    She said, "I know, honey....I know it was a lot of work....I am looking for them in Mary Engelbreit colors...with bright yellow, true red with white on black..."

    I said, "My fault. I should have asked for more specific guidance. I thought there’d at least be one or two pairs that you'd like."

    She said, "I'm terribly sorry, Elizabeth"

    And I said, "It‘s OK. Someone else will buy them."

    I thought that was the end of the matter.

    I also made a couple of sets for another customer, who wanted me to match a dress.

    Photo fabric swatch.

    She redeemed my morning with her reaction. She said, " Oh. My. Dog. I knew you’d knock it out of the park! These are simply stunning. May I have them all? I would love to make two necklaces and wear them together. I am just amazed!!!"

    And then that evening my first customer decided to buy two of the encased black dot pairs after all. I felt like I guilted her into it, but she said she was sure.

    Lastly, it seems the universe does not want me to have red sandals. The first pair I ordered from Amazon were more brown than red and didn't fit well. I sent them back.

    The I ordered a pair from another online retailer. I had to order two pairs to get an advertised discount and free shipping. I got a shipping notice that my order was shipped, with this little caveat. "Because we utilize warehouses across the country to better serve you, items may ship separately."

    Two days later I got a notice that my order had been cancelled. "We regret to inform you that one or more of your items has been cancelled from your order." And of course it was the red sandals.

    Since then I've been to both ends of the Internet without finding a pair of red sandals that I like, in my size, at a price I want to pay.

    I've gobbled up way too much time searching, and I may just pay a lot more for the same ones, just so I can stop obsessing about it and put my time to better use.

    Like reading more, writing more, writing more meaningfully. And all those other more lofty goals.

    But first things first. Because red sandals.

    In the desert of my dreams I saw you there
    And I'm walking towards the water steaming body cold and bare
    But your words cut loose the fire and you left my soul to bleed
    And the pain that's in your truth deceiving me has got me scared

    Oh why
    Oh why

    Through your eyes the strains of battle like a brooding storm
    You're up and down these pristine velvet walls like focus never forms
    My walls are getting wider and my eyes are drawn astray
    I see you now a vague deception of a dying day

    Oh why
    Oh why

    I fall into the water and once more I turn to you
    And the crowds were standing staring faceless cutting off my view to you
    They start to limply flail their bodies in a twisted mime
    And I'm lost inside this tangled web in which I'm lain entwined
    You're gone and I'm lost inside this tangled web in which I'm lain entwined

    Oh why
    Oh why

    (Sarah Mclachlan, © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Universal Music Publishing Group)

    Sunday, May 6, 2018

    Censoring myself, or not

    "And somewhere in the darkness
    The gambler he broke even
    But in his final words I found
    An ace that I could keep."


    I wrote two posts last week and I published neither.

    That's a first (and second) for me. Until now, I have always published what I've written.

    I mean, this is a blog, right? A web log, a journal, a diary if you like. It's not supposed to be literature. It's a brain dump of whatever I'm thinking about, which will at some times be more meaningful, more interesting, more thought-provoking than at other times.

    One of the not-posted posts was about events that took place in my life twenty years ago. A pivotal time, yes, but I already wrote about it, in March and April of 2013. Why I keep going back and poking a stick at it, I don't know. It was a time of great changes for me, steps taken toward a happier life, when many positive things happened. But it was also a time full of emotional extremes, wild joy and deep sadness, sleepless nights, guilt, remorse, hope, and possibility. But must I continue to revisit what is past and done, in some compulsive, recherché search for lost time?

    The other post I didn't post might have been called a short history of close friendships. I've written about that before too. It's a thread woven throughout all my self scrutiny. Once more I lay bare all my insecurity, self-consciousness, loneliness, isolation, uncertainty, self-deprecation. I write about it, I think, to explore and understand that part of me, as though through words I can find the seeds, the roots, the implements to weed, the toxicology to fumigate. But no one wants to read about it again, including me.

    Blogging, the way I do it at least, is totally self-indulgent. I write about myself, my life, my thoughts, my fears, doubts, successes, failures, me, me, me. There are blogs that are impersonal, topical, objective, partisan, touting every shade of perception, on every subject from politics, to health, entertainment, technology, gardening, sports, on and on, ad infinitum.

    There are also blogs like mine, what I'd characterize as a sub-genre of memoir writing. Some have a general theme, some examine a unique attribute of experience, some are about ordinary lives like mine. And I have to admit, I like reading this type of blog, if it is thoughtful and well-written and broad-ranging and not a rehash of the same thing all the time. And I like writing and I write about what I know and what I think and what I feel, and I do it for my own benefit. Because I don't flinch from sharing my ponderings, on the off chance they strike a consanguine chord in someone else, I make it public. Because I'm not sure anyone cares, I don't actively promote it or seek readers.

    Yet because I'm sensitive to a possible random reader reaction of, "why would this be any of my business?", I try to be relevant, amusing, provocative, poetic, meaningful, stimulating, and inspiring. Not all of the above, all the time, obviously, but I shoot for something more than a progress report on a to-do list. I try not to censor myself too much or too little, but I do try to recognize when to hold 'em and when to fold 'em.

    Sometimes I know what I want to say when I sit down here. Sometimes I just want to put down words to illuminate for myself some feeling or emotions that is flitting at the edge of my awareness. Sometimes I start out with a vague sense of direction and where I wind up is a total surprise to me. Often it's just a stream of consciousness that may lead nowhere but often circles back around in some revealing way. I'd like to be more intentional about writing but if I wait for an idea to be fully-fledged, there'd be a lot more crickets.

    It amuses and bewilders me that I regularly get comments on my posts, mostly from what I assume are bots. They are benign and generic and I'll admit I am sometimes tempted to publish the less obvious ones to create the illusion of a readership.

    Here are some examples.
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    I'm not sure about the comments regarding my formatting, since I am using a standard Blogger template and my posts look fine on on Chrome and Safari. But all the other comments strike me as impersonal, rote, not genuine. Although I can't for the life of me see what the writer hopes to gain. Unless it is like one of those click farms, maybe a commenting site for hire and to hide the fact that the comments are on the same sites over and over, the comments for hire guns make a certain number of random comments, sanitized to have no relation to actual content, i.e., one size fits all. In which case, if true, the comments about my formatting are downright hostile.

    So, I just did a little social experiment and downloaded the Opera browser. My formatting looks perfect, fuck you very much. Tossers!

    Anyway, I will keep writing because I like writing, because I think I'm not terribly bad at it, because I think I have something to say, if I can just drill down to what exactly that is.

    Today is a lovely day here in North Carolina, just north of Charlotte. Neil is playing softball. I might go watch him later or I might stay here in my soft pants. I might make some beads or give myself the day off to rest my arm. I might start writing a book (but probably won't, not today at least). I might take a walk. I might read and think some more.

    Those are the things I do.

    On a warm summer's evening
    On a train bound for nowhere
    I met up with the gambler
    We were both too tired to sleep
    So we took turns a-starin'
    Out the window at the darkness
    The boredom overtook us
    And he began to speak

    He said, son, I've made my life
    Out of readin' people's faces
    Knowin' what the cards were
    By the way they held their eyes
    So if you don't mind me sayin'
    I can see you're out of aces
    For a taste of your whiskey
    I'll give you some advice

    So I handed him my bottle
    And he drank down my last swallow
    Then he bummed a cigarette
    And asked me for a light
    And the night got deathly quiet
    And his faced lost all expression
    He said, if you're gonna play the game, boy
    You gotta learn to play it right

    You've got to know when to hold 'em
    Know when to fold 'em
    Know when to walk away
    And know when to run
    You never count your money
    When you're sittin' at the table
    There'll be time enough for countin'
    When the dealin's done

    Every gambler knows
    That the secret to survivin'
    Is knowin' what to throw away
    And knowin' what to keep
    'Cause every hand's a winner
    And every hand's a loser
    And the best that you can hope for
    Is to die in your sleep

    And when he finished speakin'
    He turned back toward the window
    Crushed out his cigarette
    And faded off to sleep
    And somewhere in the darkness
    The gambler he broke even
    But in his final words
    I found an ace that I could keep

    You've got to know when to hold 'em
    Know when to fold 'em
    Know when to walk away
    And know when to run
    You never count your money
    When you're sittin' at the table
    There'll be time enough for countin'
    When the dealin's done.

    (Don Schlitz, Publisher: Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC)

    Wednesday, May 2, 2018

    Depraved indifference

    "And Indian chiefs with their old beliefs know
    The balance is undone, crazy ions
    You can feel it out in traffic
    Everyone hates everyone."

    If you saw Seven Seconds, the title of this post will make sense to you.

    I just finished watching it, 10 episodes over five days, and while I enjoyed it for the most part, the ending left me feeling like I'd invested all that time for naught.

    It would be sort of like reading a lengthy and complicated detective story in which the crime is never solved and you don't find out whodunnit.

    Spoilers ahead. You have been warned.

    In this case we do know whodunnit from the get-go. We know the who, where, when, why, and we think we know the what (but wait, there's more).

    Seven Seconds is the story of a cop who accidentally hits a black kid on a bike, because he's on the phone and distracted, and never sees kid or bike before impact. This pretty much happens in the first seven seconds of the show, although the meaning of the title is unclear until the last quarter hour. I sort of assumed that it meant that seven seconds was all it took to turn many lives inside out, although it seemed pretty random to me as the amount of time it would take to hit a boy on a bike, have the car come to a stop, get out, see the bike under the front bumper and realize what you just did.

    Anyway, the copper calls his new boss, who comes out to the scene, a deserted park in Jersey City, along with two other cops. They convince him, against what seems to be his better judgment, to split the snowy scene, because a white cop killing a black kid, even accidentally, would add to the racial tensions already running rampant in the township.

    What they don't know is that the kid isn't dead. Yet. Because they didn't fucking bother to check. By the time he's found, some 12 hours later, lying in the ditch where he was thrown, exposure to the elements and loss of blood have his organs shutting down. Emergency surgery does what it can, but the teenager dies in the hospital.

    The story was developed by the creator of the series The Killing, which as you know, I loved. And there are similarities, particularly in the odd-couple crime-fighting partnership, this time of a booze-addled public prosecutor, KJ, and Fish, a misfit homicide detective.

    Shades of Holder and Linden. Only without the redemption.

    Sarah Linden (Mireille Enos) in a classic shot from The Killing.
    KJ Harper (Clare-Hope Ashity) in a classic shot from Seven Seconds.

    The Jersey City cops are flagrantly bent, bent as paper clips, taking cuts from local drug dealers and just generally being bad actors, closing ranks, chanting "blue lives matter." We think the new guy, the driver who hit the kid, may have some values, a conscience, because at first he wants to turn himself in and take the rap. He's overruled by his new colleagues, and later also pressured by his wife, complete with new baby, to avoid pleading guilty and serving jail time.

    There are many sub-plots and the full range of emotional damage and outrage and desperation from the family of the kid. And was he or was he not a good kid or a gangbanger? Why was he in that park at that time, riding an expensive bike? I won't get into all 10 hours of it, but the pivotal plot point is that there was a witness, a teenage junkie hooker who was sleeping rough in an abandoned building. She didn't witness the accident, but she heard the crash and she saw the four cops convene at the crime scene and then drive away.

    The cops rationalize the cover up to each other and themselves by claiming the kid was dead, but no one bothered to take a closer look. Hell, to them it was just one more black banger, just another totally disposable life. Why else would he have been out in that park at that hour on an expensive bike? Only as it turns out, the teen wasn't in a gang, he was a good kid, just a gay one, sleeping with a gang member and borrowing his pricey bike to get home so his parents would know he'd stayed out overnight.

    Cover ups can get complicated, each cop is watching his own back, suspicious of the others, paranoid about being allowed to take the fall, especially the Hispanic one. And then there's that darned witness who can place them all at the scene, who watched them drive away.

    So they do the logical thing. They take her out. They don't know that she only smokes smack. They inject her with a fatal dose of heroin. This happens off camera at the end of episode eight, and I was so shocked that I couldn't believe it. I looked on IMDB to see if she was credited in episodes nine and ten, and she was. But only as a corpse it turns out.

    The last two episodes are mostly the trial of the cops, but without the eyewitness, the evidence is sketchy and circumstantial. There's the bumper of the car that one cop kept and then planted at another cop's home. That's enough for KJ to drive a plea bargain deal. The hit-and-run driver agrees to an 8 year sentence if he will testify about the other cops' involvement.

    But then on the stand, he denies that they were there at all and instead tells a sob story about how, after the accident, all he did was stand there, looking at the Statue of Liberty in the distance, remembering a visit as a kid when he saw the bruises on his mother's legs as he climbed the stairs behind her (because his father used to whale the both of them). Could he have played a better sympathy card for the jury?

    And that might have been his undoing. Because on the morning of her closing argument, KJ goes to the crime scene and realizes that you can only see the statue if you climb up on the bank overlooking the ditch, which would have meant the cop would have seen the kid's bleeding body. He would have seen the color of his skin.

    How long did he stand there looking, KJ asks the jury. One ... two ... three ... four ... five ... six ... seven seconds?

    It's a powerful moment and we think that, against all odds, justice will prevail.

    But here in Jersey City, courts simply don't convict cops of crime.

    The jury returns a verdict, not guilty of a racially motivated crime, guilty of vehicular manslaughter, sentence of 364 days, commuted to 30 days. The other cops all walk.

    I felt like I'd wasted 10 hours.

    Because where was justice? Where was the retribution, the reprisal, the redress? The penitence, the accountability, the deus ex machina? The redemption?! Isn't that the reason we watch crime drama?

    There wasn't even a hint that the cops would be investigated for the murder in cold blood of the eyewitness. After all, she was just a teenage junkie prostitute, just one more disposable life.

    All along, I kept wondering how vengeance would be dispensed. Would the Hispanic cop, the one who administered the fatal hypodermic, crack? Would the accessory-after-the-fact cop's wife or her similarly implicated cousin ultimately do the right thing? Would the driver man up and own his cowardly mistake?

    Except now, penultimately, we know that it wasn't wholly an accidental mistake, now that it's been revealed that he stood there and made a decision not to render aid. Which wasn't just a humane responsibility, but his obligation as an officer of the law.

    Oh sure, there's the implication that all of their lives will be irreparably blemished. The murdering cop can't sleep. Relationships with wives and girlfriends are hopelessly screwed. Surely the cops will suffer guilt and remorse for the rest of their days, or years or months or a week, maybe.

    Except I don't think guilt and remorse are likely bedfellows for depraved indifference.

    So that's it. KJ at least gets the respect of the black community, who all rise, row by row, as she exits the courtroom. Fish tells her she did well. She already knows she's lost her job, along with any vestige of faith in the system. In the final scene she takes a long look at the statue of blindfolded justice, before walking off into the proverbial sunset.

    Netflix didn't renew the series, despite leaving some hedge-your-bets loose ends, so there won't be any closure, no flash forward to a magical Linden-Holder-like happy future.

    Which is fine, because if anything these characters had less romantic chemistry than Linden and Holder, which is saying a lot.

    And as Harry Bosch said, in another series I'm watching, closure is a myth.

    I pulled up behind a Cadillac
    We were waiting for the light
    And I took a look at his license plate
    It said, "Just Ice"
    Is justice just ice?
    Governed by greed and lust?
    Just the strong doing what they can
    And the weak suffering what they must?

    Oh, and the gas leaks
    And the oil spills
    And sex sells everything
    Sex kills
    Oh, sex kills

    Doctors' pills give you brand new ills
    And the bills bury you like an avalanche
    And lawyers haven't been this popular
    Since Robespierre slaughtered half of France
    And Indian chiefs with their old beliefs know
    The balance is undone, crazy ions
    You can feel it out in traffic
    Everyone hates everyone

    And the gas leaks
    And the oil spills
    And sex sells everything
    Sex kills
    Oh, sex kills

    All these jack-offs at the office
    The rapist in the pool
    Oh, and the tragedies in the nurseries
    Little kids packin' guns to school
    The ulcerated ozone
    These tumors of the skin
    This hostile sun beating down on this
    Massive mess we're in

    And the gas leaks
    And the oil spills
    And sex sells everything
    And sex kills
    Sex kills
    Sex kills
    Oh, sex kills
    Sex kills.

    (Joni Mitchell, © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Crazy Crow Music / Siquomb Music Publishing)