19 November 2012

Birthday Reflections

I am not prone to wallowing in superstition, especially Chinese superstition, which seems to be the most abundant variety.  Nonetheless, I am experiencing a disproportionate feeling of relief to bid farewell to the age of 44, the Chinese pronunciation of 'four' closely resembling the sound of the word for death.

It has been a rough year, and while there is no particular reason to be more optimistic about the year ahead, I cannot help but feel a hurdle has been crossed.  Is it odd that I still feel that middle age is some vague destination that lies ahead of me, despite a deep knowing that I am indeed beyond the mid-point of my life?

Birthdays are a natural time for reflection, a time to pause, take stock of the past and see what resources are available for the journey ahead.  To check the map, the compass, and the weather maps.  Why bother?  Impossible to chart a course when you don't have a destination.   So hard to choose a direction to travel when you have learned, through trial and error, that it doesn't really matter where you are, neither physically nor figuratively.  There is but a singular conclusion to Life.

But instinct and philosophy point to the inescapable notion that *something* matters, and it seems to have far more to do with 'how' than with 'what'.  Not what you do or what you accomplish, but how you do it.  The most important texts in this world all deal with the how of living.  Generations have been sacrificed for arguments over the religious and secular details of the 'how'.

When I reflect on the 'how' of my life, I get a mixed commentary from my internal Luddite, and all my single-sided dialogues come down to one-word conclusion : whimsy.

Why did I let whimsy slip so quietly out of my life?  I miss giggling and silliness, and decisions made from sheer frivolity.  The last few years have been heavy with departure and seriousness.  The weight of circumstance and the consequences of actions have squeezed out the best defence I had at my disposal.  And it feels like personal failure.  I have lost my weird.  I want it back.

Thus, I do here by declare my intentions to cultivate whimsy,   In my life, in my mind, and in my wardrobe.  I am going to go through my closets, my shelves, and my psyche and throw out everything that does not cause me to experience complete and utter delight.  Ugly pants that don't quite fit but are practical and safe?  You're outta here.  Sticky non-stick frying pan?  You're outta here.  Guilt, shame, regret?  Into the bin with you.  Hipster Zombies?  I have had quite enough of your shenanigans, get lost.  Cranky husband?  Well, you're on the watch pile.

Yellow panties?  You're in!  Possum skull? A place of pride awaits you hanging from my rear view mirror!  Joy, lightness, goofballs?  Get into my belly.  Cat in the Hat?  Come on over...

...and clean my house before you leave.  A whimsical home doesn't have to be messy.

28 September 2012


Perhaps I was merely the victim of an effective marketing campaign or maybe my young tastebuds lacked discrimination, but in the early stages of our alcoholic career, Kevin and I were quite enthusiastic about Miller Genuine Draft.  One year, I saved up box tops and sent away for an inflatable floating island with built-in can holders.  We would anchor the island in the middle of the Stanislaus River, lash a cooler to the side, and laze away Central Valley Summers in the paltry plastic shade of the attached inflatable palm tree.

When we moved to Portland in 1992, we relocated our portable resort to Sauvie Island on the banks of the Columbia River, where we would ride the ripples of the giant tankers as they steamed out to the Pacific. The captain would blow the horn in passing, and the beach volley ball game would pause and everyone would wave emphatically - this image is far more amusing if I point out that this was a nudie beach.

The nudie beach at Sauvie Island was particularly sociable - far more so than the clothed beach up river where everyone kept to themselves, even as they inspected each other thoroughly, if not surreptitiously although it was clearly not as sociable as the Boys Beach down river, judging by number of used condoms that littered the trails from the parking lot through the woods.  At the nudie beach, everyone shared their lunches, looked after each others well adjusted children, and had a good chat.  Direct eye contact was far more common than one might expect and only rarely was there physical evidence of corpulent approval.

One sunny morning, slathered in oil, Kevin vigorously brushed sand from the rubbery shores of MGD Island.  FLING - SPLOOSH - PLOP and his wedding ring splashed into the cool depths several meters away.  Everyone on the beach joined in the search, but to no avail.  Sure, it was only a $100 strap of crappy gold from BEST, but I was nonetheless distraught, being only in the second fragile year of matrimonial devotion and assigning a fair weight of significance to the symbolism of the ceremony.

"You can have one of mine.  I have 4 of them that I am no longer using...stop by my house on the way home and I'll give you one."

And that is how we met Bob.

Over the next 20 years, we would share so many wonderful adventures with Bob.  We would make each other double over with laughter and collapse in sorrow.  We would bring each other grief and comfort, pain and pleasure.  We spent dozens of Friday nights drinking beer and shooting pool, scheming and commiserating, telling stories, sharing burdens, celebrating milestones, and just passing time, because togetherness makes the simple passing of time significant and meaningful.

Loving Bob was not always easy.  He was (ah, the tell-tale switch to past tense will alert the clever reader that this is no mere exercise in reminiscence) so smart, so wise, so insightful, yet so...frustrating. He was generous to a fault, a phrase that gets bandied about carelessly at times, but is an accurate descriptor in this case.  He would give anything and everything to the people he loved, and some of them would take it and more, not realizing that this acceptance of generosity came with unspoken conditions of behaviour and loyalty that often lead to deep painful grudges.  Bob's devotion was strong, but so was his sense of betrayal.  It was very easy to unknowingly cross a line, and each transgression would get filed away and pulled up for review whenever he was feeling fragile.  It caused him unspeakable agony, this constant swirling of love and indignation, and it would bubble up at dark moments and leave you defenseless, apologies inadequate, forgiveness elusive.

So it was, a year ago, buckling under the weight of my own emotional burdens, that I struck out against a particularly nasty tirade recounting past trespasses, some of them 20 years old and inconsequential at best.  "Sorry" was not bringing solace, restitution was not possible.  Cornered by the fierceness of his savage accusations and pained memories of our shared past, I rallied the only defense available under the circumstances - withdrawal.

I had no intention of culling Bob from my heart nor from my life, but I did not have the emotional strength to take on the burden he was handing to me.  And so I took a sabbatical from our friendship, having every intention of returning to reassure him of my unconditional love for him, to work through whatever trauma I had allegedly caused him, to embark on new adventures.

But in the mean time, he went and fucking died.

Our last exchanges were both heated and cold, punctuated with exclamation marks and dangling sentences...my final word to him so laden with strangled emotion, that I couldn't even type the 'o'...could only reply with a lower case 'k'.

Now, I am forever burdened with regret.  My own memory is generally and fortunately biased against negativity such that I typically only recall the good times and any unpleasantness that may have existed at the time merely provides gauzy filter, softening the highlights but never supplanting them.  However, for the moment, every recollection of Bob, every torrent of joy, hilarity, and camaraderie funnels down to the inevitable drip drop drip of lingering anger and sorrow.  Unresolved.  Unresolvable.

 I am sorry. I love you so much.  I hope you know it, that you never doubted it.

02 June 2012

The Ins and Outs of the Ups and Downs

For several years now, I have had an increasing suspicion that there is no such thing as real value on Wall Street...that stock prices have nothing to do with the true value of a company in terms of being able to deliver, experience growth, or even have assets that exist in a physically recognizable form.  It is so obviously a numbers racket, that I am often astounded that it gets serious treatment in the news media at all.

...wait, scratch that, the news media gave serious treatment to Britney Spears' hair color change.  Obviously, they are not to be trusted.  At all.

My concerns over the non-reality of the stock market were further solidified this morning by a commentator on ABC news.  Now, the more astute among you will instantly recognize the hypocrisy of me citing a source in support of my position when I lambasted that same source in the previous paragraph.  However, THIS commentator was wearing a dress shirt with The Cat in The Hat all over it, so he obviously knows the shit about which he is talking.**

The Dr. Seuss fan declared that 70% of the daily movement of share prices is governed entirely by computers adhering to various (and wholly imperfect...can something be 'wholly imperfect'??) algorithms.  His supporting evidence included the fact that every time a certain young actress has a favorable mention in the news media - a new movie release, a magazine cover, or an increase in the number of search engine hits - Warren Buffet's wealth grows by 1-2%.  This is not because The WB has a vested interest in digital  wank sites, but because the algorithms cannot distinguish between Berkshire-Hathaway and Anne Hathaway.

And *I* am expected to perform independent market research to determine the risks before making an investment?!?  I for see a niche for an entire new breed of market research - investigating the algorithms so you can hedge your bets.  Wait, now I for see a whole new breed of Gordon Gekko - writing viruses and worms that artificially inflate click-through rates.  

More and more it seems, when it comes to investing, there is no such thing as truth (and perhaps, there is no such thing as truth at all, but I have not had enough coffee to go that deep yet).  Accounting is a completely deceptive occupation, some of the most profitable companies have no corporeal form, even real estate is no longer 'real', considering it is possible to purchase condos on a simulated space station.

I often espouse the notion that the value of an object lies entirely within its utility - and NOT within what someone else is willing to pay for it.  In the grand scheme of survival, a 600 year old bottle of wine is worthless without a $2 corkscrew.  Skills, tools, and malleable resources are the only truly valuable things on earth - and even these are useless without strength and health.

This leaves me with the uncomfortable question "what should I do with my money?".   

Well, if there is no such thing as real value in the world, then it obviously exists only in my own conscience and thus is entirely subjective.  Therefore, the only worthwhile thing to do with my money is spend it on whatever the fuck makes me happy, no matter how transiently or superficially.

And this is how I justified spending the extra fifty cents to buy brand name butter...besides, it was Berkshire Farms, and it would suit me just fine if Warren Buffet had ALL the money in the world.

No wonder it takes me so long at the grocery store!

**I do hereby declare, that from this day forward, I no longer subscribe to the rule that one must not end a sentence in a preposition.  It is a stupid rule that makes for very cluttered clauses.  I see no reason why a participle should not be allowed to dangle in such circumstances where it will not leave the reader breathless with anticipation in regards to what I am speaking of.

10 April 2012

All Men Are Islands

What is it about an island that so captures the human imagination?  Nothing erases the cares of the ordinary world so much as crossing a small channel of water and wandering around an unfamiliar landscape, bumping into the sea in all directions.  Lately, the stress of daily life has been weighing quite heavily upon me, so we decided to spend the long Easter weekend on Kangaroo Island.

My anxiety began melting as soon as we pulled out of the drive way, aided by the warm evening breeze drifting through the open windows as a nearly full moon smiled upon us upside down, which should look more like a frown, but it didn't.  The sea was benevolently calm as we drove onto the ferry at Cape Jervis.  The Sea Lion 2000 glided smoothly across the dark passage, the froth off the bow boiling blue in the moonlight.

Sitting on the bluff outside our hotel, we sipped beer and swapped stories as small penguins made amorous overtures beneath us.  I felt more energized than I have in months and had to force myself to go to bed to recharge for the day ahead.

The morning was glorious!  Sunny and warm - for about 20 minutes - then the wind shifted and the sea became a roiling flurry of whitecaps, the breeze flavored by the blue ice of Antarctica.  But the chill weather could not cool my spirits as we headed along the southern coast of the island, a loose itinerary in mind.  We suffered our first pair of casualties at the base of Prospect Hill - a 503 step staircase to a stunning view of the island.  One was my calve muscles, the other was the wiper on my rear windscreen, which saved Kevin from skinned knees and elbows as he careened across the pea gravel, so a worthy sacrifice.

By the time we pulled into Little Sahara, the wind had reached gale force speeds, dashing my plans to surf the fine white dunes.  I nearly turned the car around, but adventure caught the better of me and we decided to climb the dunes despite the excruciating exfoliation courtesy of the howling sands.  And I am so glad we did!  It was one of the most surreal and exciting experiences of my life.  Climbing steep face of the dune, we were in relative shelter, but as soon as we reached the crest, the wind assaulted us in the most ferocious manner.  I am sure my dentist will comment on the lack of enamel on my front teeth at my next visit, but I couldn't help but smile as I leaned deeply into the wind, searching for the steep angle of repose that allowed me to relax and not fall forward.  The sand swirled and curled over the ridges, simultaneously erasing and rebuilding the dune with each gust, and threatening to send me over the bluff as I made my way along the shifting peak. Forgive me for not illustrating this adventure photographically, but my camera is not as regenerative as my own skin...

Fearing my day had achieved crescendo before noon, we drove out to watch the waves pummel the shore at Vivionne Bay and found an unusual treat at the camp store - a bag of REAL American Marshmallows!

It's not that I miss marshmallows so much, but this unexpected taste of home conjures up more than gastronomic delight.  When you are an expat, something as simple as a marshmallow suddenly represents every time you have ever eaten a marshmallow - it conjures up memories of being curled up against my sister, still inside the womb, as Mom and I kneaded them into cream, of that night at camp when I had them baked into s'mores, and of that cup of hot chocolate we shared after walking home in the rain...

 The evening's entertainment was rather ordinary...fine wine, a rack of lamb, and a gang of ravenous wallabies. 

The next day we ventured out to some tourist attractions in the Chase Flinders National Park.  We looked at some Remarkable Rocks, watched a colony of New Zealand Fur Seals frolic along the shore, visited a few lighthouses and read the sad stories of shipwreck survivors eating rancid penguins, and peeked through an Admirable Arch.

The next was spent in pursuit of cultural rewards - i.e. wine tasting.  We had a fantastic private tasting 'by appointment only'.  For reasons that should be obvious to most of you, there isn't much else to say about the rest of this day, but if you would like to come over for a rack of lamb, I have the perfect accompaniment - or twelve...or twenty-four...

A quick check of the credit card balance persuaded us to spend the following day in pursuit of free cultural rewards.  To my delight, some of the best spots on the map of Kangaroo Island are, in fact spots on the map.  Well, little squares to be precise.  We visited several interesting and secluded beaches and an old school house.  Most striking about the school house was not the meanness of the building

 or the sparseness of the conditions

 nor the ridiculous social rules to which teachers were held (Sorry - couldn't seem to manage the rotate function here tonight...)

 but the fact that several historical artifacts were left on display, unlocked in a facility that was freely accessible and unattended by docents.  It was impossible not to observe the impossibility of such a display being on display in America...(again, apologies for the rotational challenges).

 Following on from our success at the school, we opted for a picnic dinner at Duck Lagoon, site of an old homestead.  The park was riddled with mysterious implements, preserved by rust and apathy.

However, the location not only featured superior BBQ facilities, but a resident koala and a stunning selection of logs, most suitable for falling from.  The site also featured a colony of especially angry ants, but due to my rotational challenges, I have opted not to feature the video of Kevin taking urinary revenge upon them for having crawled up the legs of his sweaty pants.

As we drove away from our peaceful repast at Duck Lagoon, we were accosted by a field of sheep, who very clearly expected something from us...they were not at all satisfied by my offer of a marshmallow.

 There were many other memorable and noteworthy moments, but there is just not time enough to recount them. 

I was overcome with melancholia as we boarded the ferry home, and by the time we breached the mainland, my anxiety was in full bloom...hastened by the speed camera that snapped my license as I departed the dock, and the screw that embedded itself in my tire on the highway...and especially by the realization that this is the first of my blog posts that will not be read by Heidi...and that is a whole new brand of loneliness.

11 March 2012

Fuck This Shit!

For various reasons which I am not allowed to fully disclose - perhaps it is merely a symptom of middle age and circumstance - my conversation has of late been dominated by end of life issues.  Death is such a taboo subject, so painful, so frightening to contemplate, that it must be skirted around, an elephant in a tutu, dancing on the coffee table.

There are no bad intentions surrounding the topic - but what words can be used?  none.  There is nothing that can be said which magically grants solace.  What is right one day is so wrong the next.  What feels soft in your own heart might stab.  The fear of adding more pain prevents me, us, you, people, from saying anything at all.  In our silence, do we safeguard or isolate?

When it comes to emotions, I cherish details.  I do not shrink away from the pain or joy of empathy.  I don't just want to understand, I want to *feel* what you feel, *learn* what you learn, *know* what you know.  This is the blessing of language and communication. It is why art exists.  I get frustrated by private people, who hide the experience of their hearts.  I know that to them it may be self protection, but to me it feels like deprivation.  Hmmm...the same word root in privacy and deprivation...

My own attitude towards death may seem nonchalant, but it is deeply felt.  Perhaps it stems from being a true atheist, from knowing, believing that death will be exactly like the time before birth.  Nothingness doesn't scare me.  I think death is far scarier for those that believe in an afterlife of some sort - it raises so many questions of doubt and accountability.  I have no such worries.

It seems to me that the most common concern about death is being forgotten.  All those moments will be lost in time...(Bonus points for the reference and/or the completion of the quote).  It is estimated that 99 Billion people have died (on Earth).  Of those, there are only a handful of names that survive history.  Who knows what they *really* felt or thought or cared about.  Will the enduring records of your own life accurately reflect who you are right now - or who you were yesterday - or who you will be tomorrow?  Does it really matter that the rest of the world knows what you were thinking - and how will they know if you don't share freely?

But wait - that sounds depressing - how can I explain adequately that does not depress me in the least bit?!  I look at life from a geologic time scale.  In that scope, everything is so insignificant.  The only thing to do is cherish every moment - EVERY moment - even the ones spent in line at the DMV, or yawning on Facebook, or fighting with your partner, or hating your job.  That is all you have, and those are the moments that vanish.  Why not cherish them?

And also, we humans underestimate the power of progressive knowledge.  The Darwinistic Dogma of evolution does not account for how much of our personal knowledge and experience gets transferred to others.  The collective human experience is recorded into our genes in ways we do not yet fully comprehend. In that context, we all contribute to future generations - even those of us without direct genetic passage.

Oh but what a world is this where the internet allows you to witness your own memorial in real time..Is it wonderful or horrible?  I am not sure, and the people who could answer this for me, probably won't...or can't...

My husband often tells me that he would probably kill himself if I died.  How can I express to him how much that pisses me off?  How dare you evade that fundamental human experience!  If he dies first, I will feel every horrible moment of his absence.  I will walk around wearing his clothes, cry like a baby for years and bore the crap out of anyone who has the patience and fortitude to listen to my endless stories of our good times and bad times.

And if it is me - I want my own terms!!  I want to be with my pets, somewhere lovely and comfortable.  I want celebrations and joy and forth-right conversations, not tip-toes and euphemisms and forlorn looks.  I want to know how much I am loved.  Don't save your thoughts for a card..tell me...and if you need to, go ahead and cry.  Cry, cry, cry.  Just because death is natural and inevitable, doesn't mean it isn't sad.  And sad isn't bad, or wrong, or forbidden.  It is just as much a part of life as joy, and you have to take it too.

Perhaps I am lucky, in that I have lived a life with few regrets, and maybe that is why I face the prospect of death with relative peace of mind.  Of course, I reserve the right to become a complete hypocrite when faced with the inevitable myself - yet another of those unique and wonderful human conditions!

22 February 2012

A Rare Politicoreligious Treatise by Me

I really should be working.  I have a ton of stuff to do...but the internet is a formidable distraction and for some reason, I suddenly had the inexplicable urge to research Rick Santorum's religious beliefs.  Which lead me to the highly annotated (sarcasm) website, godvoter.org, evidently maintained by some web savvy goofballs who feel compelled to keep track of the Faith Testimony of political candidates.  Although there seems to be no question of his values, godvoter.org is not pleased with Rick's lack of Faith Testimony.

But this is all very boring.  What captured my attention and compelled me to take finger to keyboard was the following statements:
Speaking of Jihadists, in a 2007 article penned after Mitt Romney's speech on Mormonism, Rick Santorum expressed the following beliefs:

"I'm more concerned about losing our children to jihadis or a materialistic culture than losing them to Mormonism." - Rick Santorum, The Philadelphia Inquirer, December 20, 2007

Christian children martyred by "jihadis" go to heaven, while children who die as Mormons go to hell (here is why). Jesus said:

"And I say to you, My friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear Him who, after He has killed, has power to cast into hell; yes, I say to you, fear Him!" - Luke 12:4-5

 I'm not quite sure what the hell Luke is on about, but I am absolutely delighted to hear that godvoter.org is in complete agreement with my own personal dogma - mormons are worse than jihadis.

It's true.  I have never had jihadis knock on my door, interrupting my afternoon cartoons and bong loads to discuss my personal beliefs, nor have I ever been inconvenienced by a group of jihadis while camping at a hot springs resort in Idaho.  I am so relieved to know that godvoter.org and I can find a happy middle ground.

Given the statements above, I assume the following refers to Mitt Romney, and I absolutely adore the logic of it:
Continued campaigning by both Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich is dividing the conservative vote, risks handing the Republican nomination to the High Priest of a Satanic cult, and should stop.

 Yes - just stop it.  All of you.