Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Tempus Fugit, Part IV

And then, sometimes, you walk — not run — around the city.

You leave your iPod at home and tune in to the sound of the wind beating across the water and banging American flags against metal poles; the whirl of cars sweeping by, one after the other all along Lake Shore Drive. The blare of horns from angry taxi cabs and the anxiety of small children hungry for dinner.

But the sun is low by this point, and by the time it's gone the people are, too. So it's just you, and the sounds, the waves and the no swimming sign. There's the pier, and small dunes, and electric light reflected from tall buildings.

And it hits you, standing there, absorbing and perceiving, that you haven't been fair —

Haven't been fair at all.

That it is not — despite your protests — the city that you so despise.

But rather your life in it.


Yesterday a co-worker and I went to REI, one of few stores at which I actually enjoy shopping. She and her husband have decided to take up snowshoeing and hiking and maybe even camping, and though I am by no means "seasoned" in any of these things, they are most certainly among my favorite past-times.

As we wandered around the store I realized I'm not quite the novice I once was. I gave her advice on supplies for all of the above. Looked at packs and explained which ones were for day hikes, which ones were for back country, etc. I explained hydration packs, and showed her which poles she'd need with her snowshoes. Told her the secret to zipping two sleeping bags together, and said (forgive me, REI) that for their purposes they could find cheaper tents elsewhere.

Don't get me wrong: I'm no expert on camping or hiking or snowshoeing or anything for that matter. But it felt strange, later, when I realized just how natural it was for me to talk about these things, how easy it was for me to offer tips to someone with less experience.

Like driving six miles from home in a busy part of the city last night, a feat that would've terrified me even just a year ago. But I did it all the same, arriving at my destination without a compass or a road map or even breaking a sweat.

Me: the same girl who once drove for hours trying to go to a friend's party just ten miles away. Me: the same girl who nearly won a Darwin Award for her hiking travails in the Blue Hills. Me: the same girl who nearly drove over a frozen Walden Pond in an attempt to find it.

That's not to say I don't still get lost — I do.

But in very different ways.


Today is Halloween. People are in costume, offices are decorated, and at 10 a.m. a group of kids will start circling around, opening their bags with silent pleas for candy (most kids these days can't be bothered to forge those three magic words).

TANGENT: Whenever I type the word "forge," I instinctively add a "t" to the end. Thank goodness for backspace.

I didn't decorate, though I thought about it. I didn't come in costume, though I have one at home. Everyone's excited, and the whole office is abuzz with chatter. There will be a party at lunch time, and contests, and photos and at one point the day will be over. Tomorrow will arrive, and with it the task of undoing the day before.

The ritual tearing down of the celebration. My least favorite part of every holiday, of every gathering.

The long wheeze of a balloon slowly deprived of its helium.


And then, yes, there will be lunch.

But you will sneak away minutes before with your shopping list of shaving cream, lotion and No Doz.

You will fill your tank with gasoline for the possibility of road trips, and empty your wallet for an uncertain gift.

And you will sneak back, quieting away to your desk in hopes that you can avoid the questions:

"Aren't you hungry?" they'll ask.

"Yes," you imagine your response. "Very much so."

And they will point you in the direction of food line, never understanding that that is not what you meant.

Not what you meant.

At all.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Jimmy Carter Man from Plains (Movie Review)

Say what you will about Jimmy Carter's stint as president — he's done some amazing things since leaving office, and his work with Habitat for Humanity is really just a fraction of his good deeds.

At 83, he's still nailing away with his hammer, working as a diplomat, writing controversial books, and exercising daily. And, wouldn't you know it, but he still holds hands with his wife and you can sense a genuine tingle of excitement in his voice whenever he speaks to her?

OK, OK. So I admit it: I may be a bit bias. I had a fair amount of respect for Carter even before I watched the 2007 documentary Jimmy Carter: Man from Plains, but I mean how could you not like a man who started life as a peanut and cotton farmer, and then rose to the ranks of nuclear physicist, only to later become president?

But what I like most about him — and much of what this film showcases — is what he's done since then: for the U.S. and the world at large.

And while this film does borrow from old footage and news reels, it does so in the context of the 2006. In other words, the director essentially followed Carter around all of last year, and then flashes back to previous Carter exploits only when it's pertinent to do so. By this design, the film doesn't so much aspire to biograph a former president, as it does to capture his psychology.

Director Jonathan Demme also has a clear fondness for Carter, but that's not to say the film doesn't offer fair representation of Carter's critics. In fact, when Carter's last book, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid was published — and Carter was deemed an "anti-semite" in some circles purely on the basis of him laying some of the blame on the Israeli government for conflicts over the West Bank — you get to hear from folks who took issue with Carter's controversial stance.

And that gives way to another facet of the film: it's not just a movie about Carter. Rather, it seems to touch rather poignantly on two other topics: ongoing conflicts in the Mid-East, and how the American media (not to mention, political circles) react to people who take unpopular — albeit educated — stances on controversial topics.

Whatever you think of Carter, there's no denying the way he's looked at by people who know him: whether he's at a church function mingling with fellow parishioners; riding his bike with his wife; or sitting in a car with his publicist in the backseat... the people he knows all seem to look at him with this undeniable hint of affection in their eyes.

Not the sort of "look" that comes from being in the presence of the rich and famous, so much as the awe that comes with realizing genuinely good people can and do exist.

That's not to say he's perfect; just that he should serve as an inspiration to the rest of us to stop sitting on our butts and bemoaning the shape of the world.

See the film, and you'll know what I mean.


Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow

Contrary to popular blogosphere belief — and contrary to my previous post — not only am I am a female, but I'm a heterosexual one to boot.

Which makes it particularly odd when I say that as a kid, I kept my hair long not for aesthetics and certainly not to fulfill any "Princess" stereotype. Quite the contrary.

In fact, my hair was invariably all the way down my back primarily because of my four-year-old response to the story of Samson and Delilah.

Silly, huh?

Even as I grew a bit older and my mind was able to rationalize the difference between legend and reality, I nevertheless continued to associate long hair with strength, which made it especially difficult to part with when I donated my mane to charity the first time.

But, what do you know but people responded rather positively to me with hair just above my shoulders. Enough so, in fact, that I resolved to keep it that way for quite some time. The shorter hair grew to symbolize all variety of drastic life changes, and in this manner a new facet of my personality was born.

I've grown my hair long again since then. It was mid-way down my back this time last year, and when I cut it off before the holidays I was quite glad to be rid of it. Every now and then in life, we need a drastic change.

Which is ironic when you consider that I decided this morning that I want to grow my hair long again, if only to offer myself the option to cut it off.

But, you know, next time I'm not so sure I will.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

An Awkward Moment between Two Female Friends

Friend A

I'm fed up with men. I soooo wish I were a lesbian.

Friend B [A little too excited]

Meeeee too!

[Awkward silence]

Friend B

Uh, sorry... that was kind of creepy, huh?

Friend A [Nodding]

Let's never speak of it again.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Dinner with Madre

My parents seldom — nay, never — travel. In fact, it's a wonder I've made good on my wanderlust, when you consider how averse my family is to wandering too far from home (our longest trip was five hours from home by car... once, when I was four).

But I digress.

In honor of their 40th wedding anniversary, my sister and I scraped together what we could to help my parents take another road trip (they refused to fly) — this time three states and nine hours away "in the mountains."

We paid for their hotel, their gas, and I believe we even gave them more than enough money to eat decent meals two times a day (breakfast was provided at their hotel). We bought an atlas; road maps; printed directions (thanks, Mapquest); and also presented them with a Visitor's Guide, underscoring cool places to dine.

So imagine my chagrin when my mother revealed to me not only that she and my father had cooked "Healthy Choice" dinners in the microwave one night, but also other related disagreements they had in regards to food choices.

And, I swear to God, here's what she said next:

Your dad wanted to go to Arby's, but I told him I wanted something with more substance than that. I mean, we're on vacation. So we drove around town a little more and ate at Kentucky Fried Chicken.

When I asked if KFC was also at my father's discretion, she made it quite clear that she loved KFC and that it does, indeed, have more "substance" than Arby's.

But, anyway, if there's one lesson my sister and I learned, it's this:

If we ever do this again, we're making sure their hotel room does NOT have a microwave. And rather than cash or a prepaid Visa, we'll just give them gift cards to specific restaurants.

Maybe even something fancy, like Long John Silvers.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Tempus Fugit, Part III

...And then sometimes you drive 200 miles and stay awake all night to watch the Orionides, only to experience the fortunate side effect of witnessing the sun rise over cornfields.

There's something to be said for wishing every day were as good as the last.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Memoirs for the Living

If you want me again look for me under your boot-soles. ~Walt Whitman

No amount of sidestepping will keep you from walking on the dead.

Whether by the crunch of autumn under your feet — or the dearth of space between tombstones — the result is a mere inevitability.

And so it goes between the Lights and the Hurts, the Fausts and the Fickles: any attempt at getting closer to the memorial itself means you're rattling old bones beneath you.

This worry has a funny way of rousing old fears concerning death: not so much the end of my life, per se, as the end of every life. Or more particularly: the end of generations and families and centuries such that one day maybe all the cemeteries as we know them will be full (Sorry! No vacancy!) in which case: what will we do with all of those bodies?

(Or so my eight-year-old-brain once pondered, visiting a cemetery for the first time.)

But there are some of us who go all the same, not just for funerals but for funerals in passing: marveling at old markers and quirky names. Photographing the changing leaves, and the art that sometimes rivals the most noted museums.

[I might argue that some of man's finest work is in the grave.]

But it is impossible, at any such instance, to not become invariably reverent and yet: so sad for our ilk (the living).

Everywhere under my feet, those bones. Those people. People who breathed, laughed, cried and loved. People who were hurt and scorned and, in most cases, died a bit sooner than they'd planned.

[Not that we ever really prepare for these things, but bear with me.]

It is impossible to think of these dead and not immediately think of the converse: the living who will — despite the best efforts of 16th century explorers and modern science alike — invariably join them.
There was a president, so noted by a tiny plaque behind his headstone (and still further back, the American flag tangled in tree limbs).

There were the president's men.

There was the criminal.

And a hint of the woman — that infamous Lady in Red — who loved him.

There was the poet: remembered only by those educated in his state, and forgotten by anyone who wasn't.

There were mothers...

And children...

And tokens to remind us of just how terribly difficult it is for the living to part with the dead.

But time, that implacable vixen, has a funny way of changing everything (specifically) in that it doesn't change a thing (generally). That is to say: the leaves change, snow rolls in and the flowers bloom. And there's not a damn thing we can do to stop any of it.

[Global warming notwithstanding.]

In fact, you might even say that our universal fear of death all boils down to this:

The fear of the unknown (the afterlife). And the fear of being forgotten (life).

Between these two worlds — between these two fears — it's a wonder we ever make it through the day without losing our lunch.

But, listen, there is beauty in this bittersweet.

I dare you to look at this

And tell me otherwise.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Numb Benign: Reprise

Just a gentle reminder that there exists a companion website to this one, whereby a handful of writers (it's an open forum) post the occasional poem. Some of them quite good, I might add.

Well, OK, all of them but mine.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Movies I've Seen

So, yeah, I've been lousy about posting. Lousy about reading/commenting. And just all around lousy.

But I swear there's something in the air, as many of my the blogs I tend to read are likewise suffering from neglect.

But I digress. Here are some quick thoughts regarding a handful of movies:

Into the Wild (2007)
A bit on the long side and anything but flawless, this film is based on Jon Krakauer's nonfiction work of the same title. Catalogs the 2-year adventures of a recent college grad trying to escape his past all the while tapping into his true self by escaping society and making way for the mountains of Alaska. At times overdone, I was otherwise touched by the film's overall message regarding society, human relationships, and a lust for adventure... not to mention, the soundtrack which includes several acoustic ditties performed by Eddie Vedder.

Resident Evil 3 (2007)
Yeah, I know. Zombie films aren't my cup of tea, but I saw it anyway. Must admit to the occasional adrenaline rush, but otherwise the main pro for this film was that it made me to stop to think more about man's obsession with the undead insofar as it connotes a living, breathing fear of death.

Broadway Danny Rose (1984)
Woody Allen stars as a low profile talent agent who helps a few C and D stars climb their way to the B rung, only to dump him once they obtain a modicum of success. Parallel to this, one of his up and comings has a mistress and wants Rose to serve as the beard; said mistress has ties to the mob, however, and chaos ensues when Rose is hunted by the hitman brothers of a scorned lover. A decent comedy from Allen's early repertoire that's no Annie Hall but certainly more flavorful than some of the films to follow.

Paradise Now (2005)
The story of two young Palestinian men chosen for a suicide mission in Tel Aviv. When these best friends are separated, they've got to decide whether or not to continue their mission alone — an interesting film that certainly creates tension and explores both sides of a very complex age old conflict. Still, this one smacked a bit too much of Hollywood for a foreign production.

Monday, October 15, 2007

The Next Gasp

Now for a limited time, you can see the Louvre (or a reasonable facsimile) without updating your passport.

And so people came in by the bus loads Saturday, filling the parking lot and cramming into the entryway to purchase their tickets for this special exhibit.

But it was too nice a day to spend indoors, if you ask me. Never mind that I hadn't been to this particular museum in nearly a decade — and never mind it's not often I make it back "that way" — try as I might, I just couldn't bring myself to walk through those big glass doors for anything other than the occasional restroom break (in which case: thank goodness for free public art).

You see, the Indianapolis Museum of Art has a rather impressive general collection — particularly relative to the size of the city — but it also has one sizable advantage over most other art museums: it isn't landlocked by concrete.

So not only is general admission free, but the surrounding gardens are free for the traipsing. And so: rather than find myself alone among a sea of faces inspecting ancient Roman art... I kept to the trails, where I was (quite literally) alone with my thoughts.

For 90 minutes, there was no one but me. No one but me and, for a brief 30 second encounter, an old man who shuffled his feet to walk. We smiled at each other: he as he exited the greenhouse, and me as I stooped down to photograph random wildflowers (forgive me, I don't know the names of most things).

We walked onward to our respective destinations: that proverbial nowhere and everywhere, just... wandering... hoping (or so I imagined) our random paths might lead to whatever it was we were looking for.

And I did find something out there that day: things I'd forgotten about. The sound of my footsteps crunching over leaves and through pebbles. The smell of an autumn breeze jaunting around the bend. The chattering squirrels and the occasional shout of a child somewhere far off in the distance: ("Look, Mom! A waterfall!").

It is funny how these sounds sometimes echo, rousing us out of that proverbial lethargy as quickly as they return us to it. Waking and sleeping, waking and sleeping...

You keep walking; thinking. You shake your head so as to work loose the toxins, but find yourself stumbling upon the same thoughts and images time and again.

You bend down to pick up a red leaf, its chlorophyll restricted to the ravine along its veins. You spin it stem-first between your thumb and your index, drinking in the smell of it before you return it to the ground (but this time: a little off the path, so no one steps on it) and move onward, as before.

Just walking. And thinking. And kicking dust up with your shoes, filling the air with fog and your lungs with the painful anticipation of your next breath, which you fear — somehow — may never come.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Not Much Else to Say

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Behind the Curtain

Monday, October 08, 2007

On Missing

Off and on for several months, and then non-stop for the past two, Maude has been entertaining a guest cat.

Now you may recall she started off chasing him out of his own litter box, growling whenever he'd dare to sit in her favorite chair, or hiss when he'd sniff her, uh, "region."

But after awhile there was a sort of playfulness about their interaction. They didn't cuddle or clean each other, but they'd take off after one other down the hallway, sometimes often well into the night. At first I thought they were fighting -- thought Maude was being cruel again.

But then I realized sometimes he was chasing Maude. And sometimes he'd take off running while she was sitting and licking her own paws, causing her to pounce up and make way for him.

And sometimes when he'd be up in that aforementioned chair, tail wagging just inches from her face, she'd paw at it as though it were a toy mouse scotting along the hardwood floor.

But as of yesterday, he's gone.

And since they never cuddled, or preened, I never would've thought she'd miss him.

But she spent much of yesterday walking around my apartment, peeking into corners, and meowing this pathetic little cry.

At various intervals she'd return to me in my chair, meow, and then resume her search.

Is she sad? Lonely? Confused?

I'm starting to think it was cruel, honestly, to have made them part.

Friday, October 05, 2007

The Beauty of Anorexia

So, listen, I don't consider myself to be poor by any means. On paper my salary looks fine, but when you add in living expenses it's just enough to make ends meet in this city (and take the occasional plane ride to wherever) — provided I stick to a reasonable budget.

But in the past three months, things have been a bit unreasonable. I'm lost without my camera, but my Sony decided it was time to leave me. So I got a new one.

I was under a time constraint to make a VERY expensive fix to my old, beaten up car that literally wasn't worth the cost to fix it. So I stressed about it for weeks, weighed the pros and cons of all my options... and finally got a new one just in time to avoid a pink slip (and a huge fine).

And then almost immediately thereafter, my computer showed gross signs of distress. I tried to make it last as long as I could, waiting for my savings to recover from the amount lost for the down payment of my car. I spent the interim researching laptops (mine was five years old), in search of the best proverbial bang for my buck.

But I realized early on that I couldn't wait for long — my computer was getting worse and worse, so I ordered a new one, finally.... only to have the old one officially give up (taking all of my files with it) two days before my new one arrived.

I still haven't figured out if my files are retrievable — been working too late to even try, except to note that the new cord does indeed work, and my old machine will stay on for however long I care to look at the blue screen of death. Believe it or not, that's a good sign as it means my hard drive isn't necessarily fried (though maybe it is) — it probably was a matter of the recurring electrical shorts making it very, very unhappy until it eventually gave in altogether.

Last night I purchased an enclosure for my laptop hard drive, and will try accessing my files that way... I'm told (thanks AJP and Washington) that even though an operating system is installed on my hard drive, when you convert an internal drive to an external drive, a new computer will treat the old drive like a storage disk, from which you can pull data.

My hope is that I can pull data. Cause if not, there's no other option but dropping my drive off with an expert.

And I hear that's not cheap.

So, anyway, in honor of all these expenses — coupled with the fact that I've only worked out twice in the last three weeks — I've decided to stop eating.

Or, rather, to eat significantly less.

Not only will I save BIG, but I'll look smaller.

Everybody wins.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

In Tangles

In addition to the significant increase in traffic, the computer woes*, and sundry other life events, the pace at work has picked up considerably.

That is to say: I've worked through lunch, and then stayed anywhere from 30 minutes to 3 hours late almost every night in the past three weeks (excepting a couple nights last week, which appears to have been the lull between two very hectic storms). And, yeah, staying 30 minutes late isn't a big deal — the average is closer to 70 or 80 minutes late a night, honestly.

I knew early on that yesterday wouldn't be much better; I had to cancel lunch and post-work plans by 9:30 a.m., when I realized there was no chance I'd have the time to get away for either. Jump ahead to 40 minutes after I'm scheduled to leave work. I drop something off with my boss (who's also been pulling a lot of late nights) and he says something to the effect of: "I know it's been a rough day — go out and have a beer."

One of his peers is sitting across from him, and nods approvingly.

Me: Oh, yeah. That's right up my alley. I'll go have a few beers and then drive home.

Boss: Hey, whatever it takes to relax.

His Friend (Laughing): Just go and do whatever it is... you do.

Me (Turning to Walk Away): Go home and cry myself to sleep it is!

They both laughed.

(They thought I was joking.)

COMPUTER UPDATE: I didn't go to the Geek Squad just yet — waiting for my new cord to arrive in the mail to see if that is indeed where the short is (the wire is exposed in one spot near where it connects to my laptop, and other folks who've owned the same machine generally complain about how easily the cord wears out, leading to shorts), and whether or not I can power up. If I can, I have a few options of things I can do on my own before I enlist the aid of professional help. Best case scenario, this is a power short that ticked off my hard drive and caused it to start in safe mode, making all of my files to appear to be missing though they're there if I can force it to start "normally." Worst case scenario, my hard drive is completely fried and data cannot be retrieved (or it can be retrieved at the $1,600 "worst case" expense quoted to Washington). There are some in-between options, too.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Nightmare on My Street

Almost a year ago to this very day, I abandoned the (not so) ExpressWay that marred my daily commute — taking anywhere from 40 minutes (rare) to 2 hours to travel one way (I've had it take 3-4 hours when the weather is bad) — in favor of a single side street that was a reliable 45-50 minute commute each way.

I mean, on this alternative route there's only one lane 80% of the time, and the speed limit is always 30 mph (though in some stretches it's easy to get away with 40)... yet you're moving almost constantly, and are considerably less agitated by the time you arrive to wherever it is you're going. And, sure, occasionally there are problems and interludes of road rage, but those moments are few and far between in comparison to the "Express"Way.

The added bonus: if traffic sucks and you want a diversion, you have the opportunity to turn off every 1/4 mile or so, which compares to the "Express"Way where there are only 5 or 6 exits on a 20 mile stretch (in other words: if things tank... you're stuck).

After months of taking the "Express"Way, my alternative route bordered on a godsend. I didn't look back and haven't bothered to take the "Express"Way since — excepting rare times when I was was traveling between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. (a wide-open pocket of opportunity for comparably "fast" travel).

But, alas, my solace is no more.

You see, the "Express"Way is undergoing construction... a minimum of one lane down in both directions at all times — and two out of three lanes down late in the evening.

They're telling people to not even bother taking the "Express"Way, and this morning as early as 5:50 a.m., traffic was already in the red.

How does this impact me, you ask, since I don't take the "Express"Way?

I'll give you one guess as to the officially sanctioned alternative route for people traveling from my section of the city, and heading anywhere in the same general direction.

Yes. That's right.

I left 15 minutes early today and was still 15 minutes late.

Now, before you tell me I should take the train or ride my bike, you should know I would *love* to do either... or any combination thereof. But I live nowhere near a train stop that goes in the same direction of where I work, and between the transfers and buses and shuttles I'd take, that commute is estimated at just over 2 hours one way.

As for cycling.... I live 20 miles from work, and we have no shower facilities. Couple that with the fact that there aren't any nearby bike paths linking my home to work (in fact, I'd be on busy city streets about 1/2 of the time, and then dark forest preserves the second half), and that alternative isn't safe, either.

But that's not all!

The news just keeps getting better....

Three weeks ago I ordered a new computer, as my home machine has been giving me serious problems. I was even worried enough about it that I tried backing up some of my files multiple times, but there's a short somewhere on my machine, and it randomly shuts off, making it impossible to do anything.

But I got an e-mail yesterday telling me my new computer was finally on its way and I was ordering a new electrical cord for the old one (where I believe the short to be) so, never fear, I'll be able to transfer everything to my new machine in 3-5 days. Right?



Because, last night, all of my files disappeared.

All of them.

My master's thesis. All my old papers. All my stories, my poems, my e-mails, my pictures and my music.

It's all gone.

So much for getting a big hard drive on my new machine. Looks like I don't have anything to put on there.

And, now, before you tell me I'm over-reacting and it's no big deal....

I'm a writer. A photographer and, above all other things,

A sentimentalist.

I'm just hoping the Geek Squad can help without causing too much financial damage (though, honestly, I'll "charge" whatever it takes). Cause between the new car, computer and camera (why does everything have to break at once?!!)... I may just have to cut food, health care and Christmas out of my budget.