Friday, November 18, 2011

Advanced Domesticity: A Flailer's Guide

Photo from here, where you can get this sort of thing if you are more skilled than I.

At the risk of exposing my tendency to be insufferably haughty, I like to utter the phrase "I make my own."
I make my own laundry detergent. I make my own bread. I make my own soup, though I still buy Campbell's Tomato because you just don't mess with that. I never make cake from a box. Why would you? Jeez. (See how I am?) I realize something about myself, though. I choose my DIY projects very carefully. Things that involve too many steps, zoning variances, permits, or touching guts are generally on the 'bridge too far' list.

I pushed my luck with canning.

Until other commitments and a second-shift work schedule intervened, I use to belong to a women's organization. They are a great group of ladies who work hard to contribute to the community by encouraging young women to pursue their dreams. And annually they fund these efforts by flirting with Certain Death. This involves a fundraiser selling fudge (homemade) and bread in a jar. Each member was obligated to make a certain amount in a certain flavor in order to have enough to sell. I was handed an oversized photocopy of a decade-old newspaper article and recipe as a reference.

You may well wonder what bread in a jar is. I quote from the recipe:
"For those of you who haven't seen bread in a jar in gift shops, it is homemade quick bread baked in a canning jar. The jars are sealed and the bread lasts for at least a year...fancy up the jars after baking and cooling, with scraps of gingham or other fabric, and you'll have the hottest seller at the bazaar or bake sale."
So right up front you know you've got yourself a crowd pleaser, for the sweatshirts with cats on them set. The author taunts us further:
"The procedure is simple and just about foolproof; even if you've never done any canning. I've made bread in a jar with all kinds of recipes and never had a failure."
Now, I've never so much as had a canning jar in my hand for any reason other than scooping out someone else's jammy goodness, but to me this declaration smacked of superiority. "I am a nationally syndicated cooking editor and you are a slob who has a measurable layer of cat hair on every surface." Okay, maybe I'm projecting. But it made me look around my suddenly very unsanitary kitchen. I watched as my husband wandered in and ate a slice of ham out of the cold cut drawer with his fingers, blissfully unaware of my panic.

The directions I was given went on to address the sterilizing of things "per manufacturer directions" and suddenly I was feeling very paranoid and outside my DIY comfort zone. Follow manufacturer directions? Okay. I turned the case of jars over to find a set of Canning Commandments that covered the entire back of the box. I figured out that the jars need to be heated, not boiled, and there are strict instructions in block print to NEVER BOIL THE LIDS. I got this set up after I located and scoured my giant pot and inspected it for specks of archeological chili and errant cat fur.

Batter made, I spooned exactly-measured portions into my jars that were greased "generously inside but not on the rims", which was a bit like trying to eat a spoonful of something without getting it on your lips. I baked them "at 325 degrees no matter what" because that is what the recipe says. Dire consequences could result from failure to adhere, and I would not have dire consequences.

Two things happened that didn't bode well. First, all six cakes rose above the top of the jar, which I'd been warned against, and almost immediately, all the cakes got very brown. But I am nothing if not obedient. I baked them for every minute of the designated time and since the recipe directed the use of a 'sterile spoon' to push the overeager cakes back down into the jar, I did this, and successfully got the lids on and sealed. I stood back to admire my handiwork and discovered I had six jars of something that resembled wizened veterinary fecal samples.

What to do? would anyone willingly purchase these? If I deviated from any of the never fail baking commandments, would I unwittingly trigger some kind of terrible strain of cake ebola? And if I did, would it be traced back to me?  It was clearly time to set aside my fears and start over. With trepidation I tweaked time and temperature, anxiously watching and waiting. To my surprise, despite failing the 'never had a failure' assurances of our intrepid food editor, the result was twelve jars of golden splendor that sealed with a satisfying 'poink'.

The bread in a jar weekend is upon us again and I salute the ladies who will once again brave home economics and science to make them happen. I have a special place in my heart for fancying up things with a bit of gingham. But I'll be sticking to safer and less stressful waters.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Precinct 1..Sign in Please

I'm going to take a walk today.
I'm going to put on shoes that fit, that I had money to buy. I'm going to put on a pair of headphones so I can listen to music. I'm going to take a walk today, a clear-sky, sun-filled crisp fall day, through the crackle of leaves and the busy hum of my town. I'm going to listen to music, and walk.

While no place is perfect, and anything can happen, I can be reasonably assured of arriving at my destination safely. And safely returning home.

I'm going to walk into a polling place. It will not be surrounded with sandbags and armed soldiers. I will walk in there because it has been designated for me personally for proximity and convenience. My name is on a list saying I can be there, that I can participate in the process regardless of race, party, gender, orientation, or religious affiliation. People, lots of people, have died to make it so. And I can make choices based on my own convictions and informed desires without fear of violence or intimidation, and be reasonably certain those choices will be counted as equal.

I'm going for a walk because I believe in this process. And I believe that the only antidote for shabby attitude and inexcusable indifference is to participate in all forms of dialogue, of entreaty, available to us. To say "This matters" with one's voice, one's labor, one's aspirations. And at absolutely every opportunity, in large battles and small, one's vote.

Hope I see you on the way.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

The Weight

It didn't take me long at all to find it.

Tucked in my fire safe among years of tax returns, beside the folder of  letters from my then-fiancee-now husband, behind the program from my wedding, the file.

It contains these things. A newsletter from my former company showing our trucks delivering supplies to the Red Cross center at Ground Zero. A message from a pastor friend of mine that can only be described as an epistle of hope. An email from the then-president of my collegiate alma mater. A message from Jim Goodwin, the CEO of United Airlines that ends with a toll-free number for families and, in bold print 'All United flights worldwide are suspended until further notice'. I run across it every so often, I look at the contents, and I put it back in the safe.

I was reluctant to write this post. 'Everyone will write one,' I thought. And some have stories more relevant than mine. But I feel the burden of this anniversary more so than the others. Maybe because in the last 10 years I've immersed myself in a world that was previously foreign to me. I had no experience with emergency response. 343 was just a terrible number then. Now I can imagine a face to every number, a precious willingness to do what others could not. Now I stand in a shining and orderly station listening to laughter and the clang of tools, see work calloused hands boosting children into trucks and I know what was lost forever.

On September 11th, 2001, I was at work, like many others. We stood gathered around a small TV and watched the towers fall, watched black smoke billow from the Pentagon. The phones did not ring. It was a brilliant and beautiful Tuesday. I'm always struck by this; the day could not have been more perfect, which made the sky all the more empty as I drove home. My grandmother had left a message on the machine, "Just checking on all my chickens," she said. I watched CNN until I couldn't take any more in. I had to leave the house. I drove to church, thinking I could sit in the quiet, but when I pulled open the heavy door I found that 400 other people had the same idea. No one spoke. I saw how getting to that place beyond words was necessary.

In the documentary 'Seven Days in September' people gather in a park in the week following the attack. One particularly difficult scene to watch shows a man and a woman who seem to be on opposite sides of an argument about justice and blame. They are each shouting about what the other does not understand, and the man describes what he saw, having been close to the towers when they fell. The woman says "I saw it too!" He says, one more time, "You don't understand!" and then, his voice breaking, "I just don't know how to process this!" The argument is over. The woman says, "Well, neither do I!" Two people who were nose to nose yelling a moment before, embraced and cried together. Past the anger and the rhetoric was the thing that made the days after September 11th so unique and amazing to me-- we were united in our brokenness and, at least for a little while, we had clarity of purpose--and the question, "Who is my neighbor?" had a much larger answer.

There is one more thing in my September 11th file-- I was asked to write something to be read over the PA system in my office during the National Day of Mourning the following week. This is what I read.
"There is in people simply an urge to destroy, an urge to kill, to murder and rage, and until all mankind without exception undergoes a great change, wars will be waged, everything that has been built up, cultivated, and grown will be destroyed and disfigured, after which mankind will have to begin all over again. In spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart. I simply can't build up my hopes on a foundation consisting of confusion, misery, and death. I see the world gradually being turned into a wilderness, I hear the ever approaching thunder, which will destroy us too, I can feel the sufferings of millions and yet, if I look up into the heavens, I think that it all will come right, that this cruelty too will end, and that peace and tranquility will return again." ---Anne Frank

Eternal and Merciful God,
We ask your help today, a day of remembrance after a week of grief. Our heart as a nation is broken and words seem trivial in the face of so much sorrow. Yet we come to You with hope, in the confidence that comes from knowing You never forsake us. We ask that you grant endurance to the rescue workers. We ask that you sustain those searching for loved ones. Grant them strength and patience. Comfort families who grieve. Remind us that in the face of so great a loss You are yet a greater God.

It is still very hard for me to watch the documentaries and rememberances, to hear the sounds and see the images of that day. The loss is still  incomprehensible and when I look at those pictures I feel it pulling as if every silenced voice has a weight. But I realize that I owe it to the brothers who walked willingly into that hell to keep asking "Who is my neighbor?" And to put my own hands to the largest answer possible.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Summer Breeze

I recently read a blog post about scent and memory. When I think about these two things my brain seems to have a favorite connection.

We were campers when it came to summer vacation. I'm told I was taken camping as an infant, sleeping in a sleeping bag my grandmother made for me out of a baby blanket. I can still remember all the steps involved in establishing our home away from home; find the site, back the camper in, unhitch, level it, unlatch the four corners, crank up the center, pull out the beds, and snap the canvas top all the way around. (We had a fancier camper that didn't require snapping, later, but the old camper with the snaps and the bug-eye brake lights is the one that is affixed in my mind.) Once our campsite was established and we'd scoped out its relation to the bathrooms, it was time to walk the loop and check out the campground; to peek at motorcycles in shy admiration, to strain to hear guitars (before I could play one myself),to feel pity for the people in giant RV's,their TVs visible through the screen doors (because they weren't REALLY camping), to look for distinct landmarks that would make nighttime navigation to our site easier. Once my compass was set at two sites past the red water pump near the people with the plastic tiki lights on their canopy, I'd return to ours and sit listening to the ring of stakes being pounded in the ground echoing off the canopy of trees, or to the fascinating rill of languages other than my own.

Camping was great for a lot of reasons. I got to spend a week with my Dad. I can still see him showing me how to light a gas lantern, how carefully he tied the mantles and added pressure to the tank. I can smell its ignition and hear it quietly seething while we dealt Uno cards or listened to stories. (A note to veteran dads: war stories make even the woods of West Virginia scary. Choose carefully.) We always did a lot of learning and exploring. Museums, caverns, historical sites, if it was there, we'd see it. And even in my kid brain I was fascinated by the idea that a campground was a community, a temporary and ever changing one, a place to live for a few days that would never ever be exactly the same again. (The sort of musing that no doubt kept my nose in a book and sharpened my vocabulary but made me hopeless at projectile sports.)

What brings all of this to me in vivid detail? A bar of Dial soap. I can open the package and I am eight years old, crunching down a gravel road, staring at my feet in green flip flops in the halo of light created by a silver flashlight with a red shade. I am retreating from the cinderblock shower building where we scrubbed off the day's dirt and bug repellent, ready to tuck in to my bed and listen to the snap of campfire wood and the murmur of conversation. Long before adult struggles and champion-level anxiety interfered with sleep, before "What if" became a weapon instead of a toy. At 41, I want that clean and simple peace back. Maybe the answer lies in that fascination with ever-changing community, the shifting and temporary sand of where we are, and who we are. We aren't working toward a permanence, a secure place where absolutely everything is exactly how we'd like it. Every permutation, every step along the loop has its own beauty. We can't always be two sites past the red water pump. But what we can do is hang our tiki lights, light a welcoming fire, and play a little music.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

The Big Man Joins The Band

Clarence Anicholas Clemons, Jr. 
January 11, 1942 – June 18, 2011
Its like this. Its like church.
I've only had the opportunity to see the E Street Band once. My seats were so high in the place that I was looking for those little dangling oxygen masks they have on airplanes. It didn't matter. Everyone sang. Everyone. I've never been to a concert where the arena was so full of love. Love for the music, love for the musician.

I know I've talked before about music and how every bit of music I love soundtracks some part of my life. I can listen to an album and tell you exactly where I lived when I first heard it, how old I was, whether I had a Walkman or a simple tape recorder or a CD player, but when it comes to Bruce Springsteen, it goes a little deeper. I can tell you exactly where I was in 1982 when I finally got my own copy of The River (so I no longer had to sneak my sister's double album into my room when she wasn't home to play on my portable record player), I can tell you that I was in the car driving past the place where I took guitar lessons when I was pulling the shrink wrap off the cassette. And I can tell you that I played it until it broke, to be replaced later by a CD. Born in the USA was the very first CD I ever owned. I'd stay up late to tape interviews and rare B Sides, wait for broadcasts of janky, informal concerts at the Stone Pony. I even recorded the station ID Bruce did for Philadelphia's WMMR. I learned 85 of Bruce's songs.

Its frustrating to try and explain how much this music means to me. I'd lay on my bed with headphones on, listening and pulling it all apart; the gorgeous piano. The story that was being told. I got lost in the pictures being painted. And like a gold thread running through it all, that saxophone. It could sashay loud and sassy through a fun song or wail, disconsolate, through a sad one. I loved the songs and I loved that the band seemed like a family. A family that invited us, the fans, to celebrate, to laugh, even to cry with them. Which is what I feel like doing today.

Thank you, Mr. Clemons, for being part of the music that made my childhood. I will miss you.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Studio 30 Prompt: Hotels,or why I'll never sit on a polyester bedspread

At one time I had a job that required fairly regular travel for business. Every couple of months I'd be packed off, usually at short notice, to a city that required a flight and a hotel stay. I was still enough of a peasant to be delighted by these opportunities, and every hotel with a free continental breakfast, however frightening the instant eggs and flaccid english muffins, seemed super nice and I sat at my small table under the everpresent bleat of CNN feeling smug and important.

One trip in particular took me to Atlanta for a GSA conference. The GSA, or General Services Administration, is in part the purchasing department for the federal government. This trip involved the standard conference experience of standing around smiling, smelling stale popcorn, handing out swag and business cards, our only entertainment whipping the occasional squeezy hand exerciser shaped like a moving truck at the douchebaggy lawyers across the aisle. 

My getting there was a whole 'nother story, which is explained here . Once we got there we discovered why its really better to make your own reservations.

The  salesman who was coordinating this shindig told us to stay at a particular chain hotel on Peachtree. Now for those of you unfamiliar with the fairest of fair cities, Atlanta, Peachtree St NW is a main corridor that runs through downtown. And there is one of these hotels very close to the conference location. This is the one he meant. The only wee problem is, its not on Peachtree. Its one block off. The other wee problem is, there was another of this chain on Peachtree. It was six blocks away. This is where we had reservations. And as every other hotel downtown was sold out, we had to keep them.

We got there and from the lobby, the hotel seemed to be full of old world charm. That is, after I shook off the creepy feeling from the historical marker outside, which detailed a horrific fire that took place there earlier in the century. Our rooms were done in early Miami Vice. Very, very early. In the case of mine the dusty floral and aquamarine-appointed room was obscured in a layer of funk comprised mainly of nicotine and despair. The night stand was sticky and scarred with multicolor stains much in the way a toaster gets when you leave the bread bag too close to it.

I peeled the gold bedspread off with two fingers and flicked it in the corner.

At this point in my life I wasn't much for making a fuss and complaining so my meek request to move to a non-smoking room was dismissed with the explanation that they couldn't move me until the middle of the day and WOULDN'T move my stuff if I wasn't there. I decided to make the best of it. I spent my life camping. I was a camp counselor. How bad could it be?

Any hopes of a luxurious soak in the tub were squashed by the jaunty, cheerful curl of a rogue pube. At this point I had no real desire to even take off my shoes. But the best was yet to come. The closet in this room had been moved in a remodeling, leaving a shallow recess in which a safe had been installed. Some terrible compulsion made me poke my head into the dead space alongside the safe, in the unused right hand side of the old closet. 

This was a mistake.

Unfurled and stuck to the carpet was a used condom. A furiously whispered conversation at the front desk resulted in its removal....the next day.

These days, I get to stay in better hotels. Even so, I inspect them before I take off my shoes, checking  all corners, scrutinizing surfaces. So far these inspections have yielded no more unpleasant surprises.

I still hold my breath when I peek into the closet.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Where the words come from

" a child I was given much of the language of adults, and I continue to use it, even to describe my youth. I court the freshness, the immediacy, and all the resources of language that make the past tense strangely shine as though it were the present."
----Ahab's Wife or, The Star Gazer    Sena Jeter Naslund 

I was one of those kids. One that was given 'much of the language of adults'. I don't know where it came from. I grasped, comprehended, and seized on words in great greedy fistfuls.  Adults would laugh and comment about the way I expressed myself. At the time, it confused me. 'This is what I have,' I thought. 'This is how I say it. All these words are here to use.' To me, settling for less was eschewing the box of 64 Crayolas with the built in sharpener for that four pack of generic crayons you get in a family themed restaurant so you can color on the placemat. I didn't want quadrichrome horses tacked up behind a cash register. I wanted great oceangoing behemoths heaving on swells of murk and shimmer, decks of walnut and ochre creaking under the dappled shade of snapping sails. 
I wanted the words AND the color. These things have always been strongly and closely related. When I picture a calendar of months in my head, that calendar is and always has been exactly the same both in orientation and organization. Even the angle at which I view it in my mind has never changed, though it twists slightly as we progress through the year, almost as if it hangs on a wall not quite high enough to keep the bottom (October, November, and December) from resting on the floor. My mental calendar of a single week or entire month is much more simple and appears in my mind as if it is written on a chalkboard. But it always slants slightly downward toward Saturday. Centuries march through my mind as if in a parade on a broad city avenue. I look to my left toward the 1600s-1800s (where the buildings just begin) and see big skirts and horses, carriages and carts, which give way to early automobiles as I turn my head (in my mind) to the right; the cars get first bigger and then smaller, and then I can insert myself in this left to right progression of time. Its almost as if every block the fashion changes. Some of the cars have presidents, musicians, poets and writers in them.
I've always been fascinated with synesthesia, and wondered if I had it in one of its forms, first because of this calendar business, and second because I am instantly drawn to any series of objects that are identical except for their color. Eyeshadow palettes. Sets of colored pencils.  I can stand in front of a paint display and stare at the cards of paint chips for several minutes and the only explanation I can offer is that seeing all the colors together makes my brain happy. I own close to 130 bottles of nail polish and choosing one to put on is one of the small but deeply enjoyed pleasures of my week. And if something is packaged like this, you can be sure I'm going to get it. I found this in a local drugstore and it was in my hand before I ever consented to purchase it. 
Whatever its called, and whatever it means, the colors, the words, and the memories are tightly braided and always at the ready. I like to think that my strangely shining past tense is not a maudlin recitation of past glories or a desire to cling to things as they once were. I just enjoy taking out the colors of memory, laying them carefully side by side, and looking at them. 
Maybe it makes my soul happy.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Mozart for Babies

          I was doing some chores this morning and turned to our on-demand music service, MOG, to soundtrack my efforts. I usually use these house-to-myself opportunities to blast show tunes, which I sing at the top of my lungs.  I wasn't feeling quite that energetic. I wanted something I could turn on and let rip without much song-skipping or fear of getting randomized to something that would be stuck in my head all day. I turned to the search function and typed in  'Search albums by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart'. *click* Wow. So many choices. I took a whirl through the virtual 'album covers' and stopped, amazed at a lengthy series entitled 'Mozart for Babies'. Now, I'd heard about the 'Mozart Effect', the idea that classical music makes kids smarter or somesuch, though a study seems to point to this being largely hooey. Hooey or not, I have a friend who successfully soothed all of her children to sleep with classical music when they were small, so the albums labeled 'Calm and Soothe', 'Relaxation', and 'Peaceful Sleep' made perfect sense to me. Heck, I may try them myself.  I kept flipping, though, and it got a teeny bit ridiculous. The rest of the albums were:
  • Communication
  • Concentration
  • Confidence
  • Controlling Energy
  • Harnessing Emotions
  • Inquisitive Minds
  • Memory

My first question is, who decided which particular piece of  music improved which functions? Was there a control group of babies who were given concentration and memory tasks while listening to Vanilla Ice or Clay Aiken? I'm not sure I want to know what the 'confidence' control group had to listen to. And it occurs to me that if you want a child to 'harness emotions' or 'control energy' you'd give him something that would stir up a mosh pit. Get those emotions all harnessed in a big ol' circle. You can even surround it with baby fencing to give them the total concert experience.  And since they lack the balance and muscle tone to crowd surf you don't have to worry about anyone getting dropped on his head.

Don't get me wrong. I wish this worked. More so, I wish it worked for adults. If only music could be piped into public places that would encourage people to balance budgets, to pick up litter, maybe a 'Mozart for Considerate Behavior'. No more leaving a mouthful of scorched coffee in the office pot or two squares of toilet paper on the roll. Amid the swell of strings and the silvery piping of flutes people would share taxicabs, use phrases like, "Please," "After you," and "Thank you." Bloodless coups could be a mere Violin Concerto in D Major away.

What role has music played in my development into a passable-if-satisfactory human? I developed a fondness for classical music in my teens courtesy of WFLN, the now-defunct classical station in Philadelphia. Far too late to hone my hormone-addled brain. My earliest music memories are more of the Top 40 radio variety. I was one of those kids that sang songs word for word LONG before I had any understanding whatsoever of WHAT I was singing about. Here are a few of my formative 'concertos'. Do treat yourself to the videos, there are many golden 'What the...." moments here.

Believe it; I was 'git cha git cha ya ya da da'-ing all the way to afternoon Kindergarten. I figured out what this song was talking about roughly 23 years later. I have no explanation for the outfits. I guess my Mozart effect lesson here was, er, Effective Merchandising'.

My mother tells me I knew every word to this song when I was four. The only explanation I can offer is that it was probably on the radio ten times a day. It mentioned trains and I always associated it with my father's commute into Philadelphia for his manager job at Grant's. Mozart effect lesson: Dealing with 'The Man'.

This is a song I associate with riding in our Camaro in the summer, my legs sticking to the back seat (which was probably good since my feet didn't touch the floor and I wasn't wearing a seatbelt. You have to dig this video--I suspect the set designer for the Smothers Brothers was doing some serious acid. Mozart effect lesson: Respecting Gravity.

This is one of those songs that was just creepy. I couldn't put my finger on exactly what it was about, it just gave me a weird feeling when I heard it on my bedside radio late at night. Staring at the luminous dial I imagined all sorts of things, some probably darker than the song's intent. I also thought Helen Reddy was awesome. Don't judge me. Mozart effect lesson: If the glove doesn't fit, you must acquit. (I think.)

Now if I could just find that Mozart for Housecleaning and Organization album.....I'll be all set.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Writing the Words

(This post was inspired by the lovely Meleah, who asked the question 'Where do you write?' In this post. You should read it. And everything she writes.)

I was answering the question this morning 'Where do you write?' I found myself not so much answering the 'where' as the 'why'. I've been writing since I was eight years old. Stories, terrible poems mercifully lost to the ages; it seems that I have only ever been happy if I had a place to put down whatever I had to say. When I was 11 my aunt gave me a blank journal for Christmas. It was a large one; 8 1/2 by 11 with a pebbled black cover and my initials inside that she'd placed there in bold black rub-on transfer. Something about the size and heft of that book impressed me. This was no dainty pink book with a feeble, pickable lock, a diary worthy of Brady Bunch episodes and afterschool specials. This was a book that promised permanence and seriousness. Of course, I still filled its pages with nonsense about boys and when I might get my period.  I wish I still had both that journal and a later, prompt-filled journal called 'The Judy Blume Diary' that I filled cover to cover, because I'm quite certain they are filled with entries both hilarious and cringeworthy. I don't know what happened to either of them.Since then I've written in tiny leatherbound volumes, colorful blank books from bookstore clearance tables, dollar composition books, and, of course, in the flat blank spaces of Blogger.

I've written on airplanes, on trains, hunched in stairwells of political party offices in Belfast,  in museums, on park benches, brooding by lakes, on bluffs overlooking summer camp waterfronts, on my couch in the wee hours when all my petty worries organized and presented a unified current of sleep-chasing anxiety. Lately I write at my cluttered kitchen table, despite a clear and perfectly serviceable desk in my bedroom, because the desk does not afford a pool of sun for the cat to sleep in.

In 2003 I undertook a major challenge; a 150 mile bike ride, and wrote 'dispatches' about my training and preparation. I emailed them to interested friends because other than some vague awareness of Salon. com, I didn't know about blogging. I started blogging the year we moved from our suburban home outside of Philadelphia to very rural North Central PA, mostly to cope with the four months of separation required by the move, since my husband  had to be up here in July and my then-job obligated me to stay within striking distance of Delaware until October. Once I got here I blogged to cope with the fact that I was a 'flatlander' who felt like I'd moved into a Larry the Cable Guy anecdote. 

People tell me I should write more. This is made difficult by the fact that these days I make a concerted effort to do less brooding than I used to. The 'humor' part of my brain has another passenger, one more Plath than Bombeck. Skimming along the surface and not peering overmuch into the depths keeps her contributions to a minimum and this is good all the way around. Or maybe I should be honest and say its easier. Maybe its just time to let go and Write the Words without restraint like I did when I was young and everything was raw, critical, vital and my internal censor was engaged elsewhere.

I can't promise it'll be pretty. Heck, I can't promise it'll be coherent. But whether you were here from the beginning or a new reader I hope you can say 'at least I'll enjoy the ride'.

Friday, April 15, 2011

The Official Answer is 'NEVER', and other questions that need answering

Many people picture every call that comes in to a 911 center as a dire, life threatening emergency. Don't get me wrong. We have those. All the time. But I'm learning that there are three general categories of calls and radio requests. They are:

  1. Stuff we do in the interest of the general course of justice
  2. The aforementioned dire emergencies
  3. Actions taken for the protection and betterment of people who spit in the face of 'Survival of the Fittest' every day
Now I would say that the first item is probably what we do the most of, the second item is the most challenging/rewarding/thing that gets you out of bed in the morning, and the third thing? Well, you are looking at what that gets you.

Case in Point:
"911, do you have an emergency?"
"Um, yeah. I just got back from a drive, and there was this guy in my yard, and he attacked me, but I defended myself with a baseball bat, now I'm in the house but he's still in the yard acting crazy and I want to know when its OK to shoot him." 
Now, I'm no home defense expert, but I'm pretty sure "When you can shoot him" is NOT  after you've successfully defended yourself by another means, barricaded in the house, called for help, and declared your intentions on a recorded line.

I went through some stages when I started this job. First, you are too overwhelmed with the sheer volume of things to learn to pay much attention to individual calls and situations. You sit very still and watch, and believe me, watching an experienced dispatcher pull all the elements together and coordinate a multi-department response to a fire is fascinating.

Second, you start to notice patterns. Who calls every weekend? Where are the trouble spots? Which police seem to always get those people driving on a suspended license and sketchy plates? I call this the 'holy crap, people are breaking the law ALL OVER THE PLACE' phase. There's a little righteous indignation.

Third, you get a little paranoid. Did the county suddenly tip precipitously into lawlessness just when you started this job? Was it all 'Gosh, Wally, your mom sure makes good pie' before you got here? Of course not. You're just more aware of Stuff That Happens.  Because you don't deal with the 85 people who went to the bar, sang a little karaoke, had a couple of beers, and went home, you only deal with the one who drove on the wrong side of the road, knocked over a couple of telephone poles, flipped the truck, self-extricated, and made the rescue crew chase him through a cornfield. Again.  So you start giving unsolicited mini-lectures on defensive driving. On personal safety. On just saying NO. When you are aware of Stuff That Happens its really easy to start sounding like your own grandmother--full of buzz-killing, querulously-delivered information that no one wants to hear at parties.

The fourth phase is harder to explain. Its just a reconciliation with the fact that people will hurt, people will suffer, people will make poor choices, and despite our best efforts, this will not change. I heard someone say once 'Be kinder than necessary, because everyone you meet is carrying a heavy burden'. I have a keener understanding of what those burdens are these days. In one degree or another we're all lost, all flawed, all disappointed, all searching. If I am to do this job with honest diligence I have to remember that patience and compassion can't be things I turn off when I'm 'off the clock', no matter how infuriating 'other people' can be.

That's not to say there will not be snark. But I snark in love.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Swimming with the Undercurrent

This is brooding weather.
In younger days I did my best brooding in the Fall, when days shortened and every blazing tree was a threat of colorlessness; their leaves swirling around the bus where I sat with my head against the rattling window, headphones clamped and music filling my head, drowning out the voices.

At the risk of falling into gender stereotype and inviting flippant dismissal I will be honest; this internal wellspring of drama that I seem to be drinking deeply of is most likely PMS-sourced. All the same I recognize the monthly increase of doom and difficulty that envelops my every task this week. I am as acquainted with its intensity as I am with the way it dissolves like mist with very little warning, leaving me wondering what all the fuss was about.

I have no desire to wash dishes. I wander through the grocery store and nothing appeals. I have just the inspiration I need; house guests on Thursday, which will insure that I spend my day off making my house as presentable as it would be if I was a real adult and not one that spends more time doing her nails than doing housework. On Thursday the house will be all clean and shiny and pretendy and full of good smells. The only inner life I seem to be able to cultivate these days is the one that used to lean on the bus window, watching leaves swirl downward to colorlessness.

But this too will pass. And in the meantime I choose to write for the reason I used to write so much; to articulate, to triage, to overcome. And I'm going to be making some changes; for a while now I've had three seperate blogs, but I realize its kind of absurd on two fronts; one, I hardly write enough for one (though I'm trying to change that) and two, all aspects of my life are just that....all aspects of my life. I think I've been compartmentalizing a bit overmuch. So you may see some posts cruise on over here from my other blogs. And you may see more here about some of my other passions that I've kept separate. Which is a good thing. I promise it won't be about nail polish. Most of the time.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

My Mixed Marriage

Thus so wretched is man that he would weary even without any cause for weariness... and so frivolous is he that, though full of a thousand reasons for weariness, the least thing, such as playing billiards or hitting a ball, is sufficient enough to amuse him. ~Blaise Pascal

My husband is a sports fan.

It doesn't much matter what sport it is. Oh, he doesn't follow them all with the same worshipful attention. But he can find something he likes (or something he knows) about each and every televised event, be it college or professional.

To be fair, he writes for a newspaper, and at one time he even bore the title 'Sports Editor'. This meant our very lives were enhanced in a measurable way by the efforts of others who donned jerseys and competed against one another in organized competition. So in a sense, there was a time when I had a reason to care about sports.

I am not a sports fan.

Allow me to clarify and elucidate the depth of my sports-atheism. I follow no team. I have no allegiances. I don't care which group of overpaid individuals is putting its smeary fingerprints on any trophy while being showered with confetti and wearing Official Championship HatsTM. A game (particularly the frequent and endless standing-around bit) feels like a nine-hour insurance seminar. I understand the rules. I get the objective. I just don't care.

Don't get me wrong; I 'Understand The Value Of Sports' for kids, etc etc. I get it; exercise, teamwork, yaay. But all those things are benefits of PLAYING. Watching a man who makes more money while he's standing there shaking what God and his mama gave him back into the correct quadrant of his pants than I make in 10 years is of more dubious value. He's going to win or lose, get renewed or traded, reconcile with his third wife or marry his fourth, and there are a hundred in line behind him to play the same game when his turn is done.

Sometimes I wonder if he's disappointed in my lack of interest, my 'just show me the last two laps/pitch/thirty seconds and I'm happy' approach to paying attention to any game. I know I have interests he finds less than enthralling. At least I can make pretty kickass if we do attend a social event that is built on the premise of watching some kind of sporting event I can at least come bearing a dish that, I hope, makes up for the fact that I'm only there for the chat and the commercials. And for those of you who, whether secretly or overtly share my antipathy....
.....see you in the kitchen. I'll bring wine.